Ep45: How to Attract, Lead and Empower High-Impact Players

Liz Wiseman, former senior executive turned researcher and best-selling author on leadership unpacks her book Impact Players and its implications.

What’s the difference between an ordinary contributor, and an impact player? What differentiates them? How do you find more of them? What kind of environment do you need to create to help them thrive?

If you want to build a team of high performing impact players, you need to listen to this week’s episode with Liz Wiseman.  Former senior executive turned researcher, executive advisor and best-selling author of Impact Players (How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger and Multiply Your Impact) shares the differences between impact players and ordinary contributors but more importantly… how to find or identify them, how to lead them and how to recruit for them.  

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[00:01:00] Sean: G’day everyone. And welcome to the ScaleUps Podcast, where we help first time Founders learn the secrets of scaling so they can build bigger businesses, scale their impact and maximise the value they can create in the world and make bigger decisions with greater confidence. I'm your host, Sean Steele, and today I'm joined by Author, Expert Consultant on leader, probably lots of other titles, Liz, and I'll get to some of your background. Liz Wiseman. How are you today, Liz? Thanks for joining us.

[00:01:26] Liz: You know, I'm great. I'm doing great. Thanks.

[00:01:29] Sean: Awesome. Well, I'm thrilled to have you. For people who have not read the book that we're going to talk about yet, just a little bit of background, feel free to correct me if I miss any of it. But when I think about your executive career kind of prior to then becoming consulting to other people and going into the research space you were in Oracle, you were a former VP in Oracle University. You're a global leader for HR development. And since you've become a consultant on leadership and collective intelligence, you've been working with big companies that everybody would know who probably have shares invested in these companies, the Apples, the Disneys, the Facebooks, the Googles, maybe haven't done quite as well on the share price in the last 12 months, but that's okay. Stay for the long term. But you also write for Harvard Business Review, Fortune Magazine, you lecture at Stanford, and you've got a number of Best Sellers, including Multipliers, how the best leaders make everybody smarter, Rookie Smarts, which is about learning beats knowing in the new game of work. And then our focus today is really around your Wall Street Journal, best seller, I should say, Impact Players: How to take the Lead, Play Bigger and Multiply your Impact. You have been busy, haven't you?

[00:02:39] Liz: Well, you know, Sean, just hearing you, it's kind of like recount that, I felt tired.

[00:02:46] Sean: You should do.

[00:02:47] Liz: I feel tired. And, you know, in some ways I feel like I'm one of these cars with like low years, but really high mileage. I was 17 years at Oracle, but we referred to them as dog years. It's like, yeah, we probably like covered the ground of like 50 years somewhere else. But it was so fun and rewarding to join this young rapidly growing beyond start-up, but still a very young company. And to help build that into this worldwide, I guess, juggernaut of, you know, but kind of a software company. And so, I love just this idea of like going back to a small promising start-up being part of that contributing. So, that people who are listening who do like, to me, it's thrilling work.

[00:03:43] Sean: And you know what something that you said that just really jumped out to me, when people are listening to this episode, Liz, they will have heard hopefully the prior week, which is Bryan Watson. We were talking about how to attract great people. And he was talking about the fact that, part of his pitch in attracting great players was, ’This is the kind of place that you're going to get 10 years of experience in three years, because we're going to expect a huge amount from you. And we're going to give you a huge amount of backing and support, and we're going to expect you to take risks, but therefore you're joining us almost for accelerated professional development.’ And I having been in companies where I felt like I aged 10 years in 3, I know what you mean. And so, you get a huge amount of value and it's also exhausting. But it's incredibly enriching. And you know, I'm really fascinated by this whole concept of impact players, these standout contributors that are creating extraordinary value everywhere they go. And, you know, we generally, I don't know, I'm assuming most people will know one or two of these people, probably. And I can tell you that the Founders in our community are all hoping and praying that they find one of these, that they recruit one of these legends into their businesses. They were probably this legend before they started this business. And your book is sort of seeking to understand, well, why are some people playing at that level, and why are others, you know, maybe who have the potential, but kind of remain, I don't know, they've the sort of unfulfilled potential, if you like. So, I'm keen to unpack what you've discovered in this process, and then help us figure out what our community can do to help, if they've got one of these impact players to help to know how to lead them in the right way, if they don't have one of these players, how the hell they're going to figure out how to find one when money is not infinite and time is not infinite and so on. So, yeah, that's what I would love to unpack with you today. And maybe you could actually, one thing that's been on my mind is, whether your research found that these people are born or are they taught? This is a sort of nature versus nurture thing. What's your view having done all this work on exploring these people.

[00:05:48] Liz: Okay, well, let's start with like, how do you find them? How do you develop them? Keep them? How do you spread the mentality is I think the most powerful thing, I just got off a phone call with a Founder. He's like a serial entrepreneur, founded just his fourth, you know, venture back start-up. And he was like, okay, I want to get a certain number of things right from the get go. And I think one of the things that's important to get right from the get go is how do you get people who think and operate this way? So, of the 170 impact players that I studied, you know, there were some of them who I think kind of like dropped into this life thinking and working this way. And my guess, I don't know that they were born this way. But their early life experiences probably taught them to think this way. Like they had favourable early conditions, meaning people who trusted them, people who gave them responsibility, people who made it safe for them to learn and to adapt, like they might have had a favourable home life or they might have had some really favourable school experiences or favourable early work experiences that taught them “Hey, go big.” Like, don't wait for someone to ask you to do something. If you see something, say something. Like; Hey, that doesn't need to be your job. You know, we found it was one of the differentiators between the impact players and the ordinary contributors is that ordinary contributors are doing their job and they're doing their job well, even brilliantly. But the impact players are doing the job that needs to be done. Which is a totally different mentality. It's like, see something, say something.

[00:07:33] Sean: Can you talk to me more about that?

[00:07:36] Liz: Yeah. It's about looking around you and seeing where you can add value, where you can contribute. It's about a response to handling. One of what I found were these five everyday challenges that impact players handle differently than ordinary contributors. And, you know, maybe Sean, I should back up. So, I'm kind of excited to like this idea about like, how do you find these people? And if you can't find them sort of like built this way, how do you get more of this kind of mentality across your team? But let me roll all the way back to what I studied, because I think it's important to understand what I studied and what I didn't. So, here's what this study was not, it was not a study of High Performers and Low Performers. It like the people who are doing a stellar job versus the people you're like. Ugh, like they're taking up a seat and I could…

[00:08:32] Sean: Wouldn't enthusiastically rehire you again if I had the opportunity.

[00:08:34] Liz: I would not enthusiastically rehire you. In fact, let me help you find a new opportunity. So, it was not a study of that. Lots of people have done a study of that these differences are obvious. Here's what I went in, trying to understand, which is in a room full of equally smart, talented, capable, and hardworking people, why are some people kind of going through the motions and other people without necessarily working any harder are making a really big impact. So, the variables that I'm holding constant are intelligence, talent, work ethic. Now, there of course could be minor differences in those, but we're not figuring out the difference between like superstars and dinglings,

[00:09:22] Sean: Yeah, this is minimum entry requirement to be in the game. You're already performing at a high level.

[00:09:28] Liz: You're already performing at a high level. And when we asked managers to identify two people who fit this different profile, both equally smart, talented, hardworking; one that was doing well and one that was making a huge impact. And then we compared and contrasted it. How do they approach their job. What do they do? What do they not do? How do they think? How do they think about their role? How do they think about your role? You know, and we asked them to assess the value of their contribution, we found that, and this isn't, I think, surprising it's pronounced, but not surprising is that these Impact Players, as I called them, we're delivering value three and a half times greater than the ordinary contributor. Not three and a half times greater than a Low Performer, but three and a half times greater than other people, sort of their peer group. People who are doing a solid job. Okay, here's what else I found really, really interesting is, and I also of course found interesting the way that these leaders talked about the impact players. Because you can imagine, like I put myself in a Founder and I am a Founder and they talked about these people, not as employees, they talked about them as people they had deep respect for, kind of like, I want to be like this person, like, man, I wish I could hire a dozen of these people. Like this is my go-to person, not my go-for go-to person, but like this is a person that I hand the ball to when the stakes are high, when I need someone who's not going to drop it, but who also isn't going to hoard it. Who is going to pass it readily. It’s like who's paying attention, who knows what's going on in the game? Like this is a person I handed to, and we all know who those people are that you trust.

[00:11:20] Sean: They all came to mind as soon as you started talking about it, like each one of those people, and there's only been a few that straightened my head, I was like, yep. That's the go-to person. That's the person I would've handed absolutely anything; the keys to any business, the keys to any project, the keys to any massive difficult conversation, like huge transformation we need to do. Just give it to that individual. They may not even be in that function whatsoever, but you just know that they're going to get it done. Because they just understand it.

[00:11:44] Liz: And it might not even be their job, but it's like they're the kind of people you can hand a no look past to, and it's not even necessarily their route to use the sports metaphor, but they're going to see the play developing on the court and they're going to get their body there because that's what's needed. And here's what we found was different about these impact players. And I guess it makes sense to start with like what we learned about the ordinary contributor, because this was fascinating to me. This is how managers described these folks in aggregate. They said, you know what? These are people who did their job, did it well, these are people who followed direction, they took responsibility, they took ownership for things, they were focused. And these were people who carried their weight on teams. Like they're solid. And I was like; wait a minute, isn't that the kind of talent we want. And what I found is that these ordinary contributors were absolutely stellar in ordinary times when things were fairly stable, where things were defined. You know, maybe like when the play is sort of evolving the way you think. Like, you know what they're in position, they're ready to go. You can hand in the ball. But we found that when things got ambiguous, a little chaotic, when things started to feel out of control, like, you know, when the wheels are wobbling a little bit and things are changing and moving fast, there's a lot of uncertainty, this is where the ordinary contributors fell short. And this is where the impact players excelled and where they created extraordinary value on the teams and in these companies, and there were five of these situations. And I call them Everyday Challenges because as I looked at these situations that they handle differently, I'm like, huhh, that’s like just the normal average problems of the modern workplace, like messy problems, like problems without owners, unclear roles, like where you can't quite figure out who's the boss of this project or meeting like we're collaborating, but like, wait, who who's in charge here? Unforeseen obstacles, moving targets, where the goal is shifting, like while you're taking aim at, like the goal box is moving when you're taking the shot. And unrelenting demands where there just is, you know, a workload increasing faster than the resources are increasing. I don't know. You know, this might just be what start-up looks like, but I think it's what work kind of looks like today.

[00:14:26] Sean: More and more. Yep.

[00:14:28] Liz: And it was in these type of situations that impact players thought about them differently. They handled them differently. And the first was these messy problems where the ordinary contributor is doing their job. Like, okay, I see the problem. Like, let me go in and do my piece of it. And the impact player mentality is, oh, I'm just going to go do the job that actually needs to get done because it's nobody's job per se. They're the people who can go in and do clean up messy problems. People who don't need to own it, to take ownership for it. They're people who are kind of rangy. Yeah. They step in, they lead. I'll tell you one of my favourite examples. The book is full of examples and in some ways they're like my kids, they're all my favourites, but one of my favourite examples of this came when I was writing the book and living with our family was a man who was in his final year of his surgical residency at Stanford. We live not too far from the campus there. And he is friend of the family was living with us and he had just come home from a day of surgery. And I was talking about this difference between doing your job versus doing what needs to be done. And he said; oh, it's like Jojo. So, Jojo is a scrub tech at the Santa Clara medical centre, which is one of the hospitals where Stanford Surgical residents make their rounds, you know, they'll spend like a six week rotation there. And he said, you know, when you go into the OR with Jojo, and Jojo is a scrub tech, which is the, like the lowest skill level in that Operating Room. He said, you know, the scrub tech's job is to like, have the instruments ready to go, hand him to the surgeon upon request. And he's like, oh, you go into Jojo's OR, first of all, you know, it's going to go well if he's the scrub tech for the surgery. Two, is he doesn't just have the instruments out. He's got them like lined up in the order that they're going to be used because he's thought about the procedure. Like what comes first? What comes second? So, that when they're asked, like, he's got it right. Other scrub techs are listening for the instrument the surgeon asked for, not Jojo. He says, oh, during surgery, I just watched their hands so I can tell what's about to happen next, so I'm ready to go. And then here's the kicker. When the surgeon asks for the instrument, Jojo doesn't necessarily hand them the one they ask for, he hands them the one they need, like, he'll say; oh, hey, you know what, why don't you try this? This tool might be more helpful to you with this situation. See, a lot of them are young surgeons in training. They're little wobbly and he doesn't do it like; Hey, buddy, use this. That's not going to go over well, he does it with this most gentle way of let me help you do your job well. And so a lot of people would say, it's not my job. They ask for this. I hand him that, but it's this mentality of what's the job that needs to be done. What's the right tool for the procedure. And it's interesting, not only do the senior surgeons not resent his suggestions, it turns out they seek him out. Hey Jojo, we're going to be doing this procedure. It's kind of new. What do you think are the best tools for this? Like, this is the mentality of like, yeah, I know what my job is, but like, what's the real job, like what needs to happen right now for us to do the right thing for our customer?

[00:17:56] Sean: Yeah. I love that. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. What else did you find? Was that the most important, you know, when you think about all the findings about them, was that probably the biggest standout of the difference?

[00:18:08] Liz: You know, I define this as the first practice. It's one of five, but I think it's the most important because what it takes is it takes somebody who A) Has a little bit of a healthy disregard for their job description. You know, it's not disregarding it. It's just like, ‘Oh, that's a starting point.’ You know, ‘That's just so I'm in position so I can be paying attention.’ But it's a mentality of paying attention to what's happening around you. It's upward empathy. It's outward empathy. It's not, what's my job, and what do I want to do? It's what is my boss trying to do? What is this company trying to do? What are the people we serve? What are they trying to do? And it's putting, it's about seeing your work through the eyes of the people who are served by your work. And the impact players seem to just go about their day, able to see what's happening around them. And I think from that mentality, cascades a number of things. The second difference is, how they respond to situations where leadership is unclear. And it might just be a meeting where people are gathered together to try to like create something or solve a problem. But like, it's not totally clear who is in charge, you know, where other people, the ordinary contributors were, they follow direction. They were willing to step in and provide direction. They're willing to step in a lead, but they're waiting for somebody to tell them they're the boss. And maybe some of this is because I had spent some, my first half of my career in a large organisation. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say; Well, we're waiting for role clarification from above. Like, okay CEO, like who's in charge. Like we need like one of these, what is it? Like racey…

[00:20:07] Sean: Got to make a decision. Yeah,

[00:20:09] Liz: Someone needs to like, and like I'm willing to lead, but I need somebody to send out an email saying; Hey everyone, like Liz is in charge. If they're waiting for permission, it's a really slow cumbersome way of working in these situations. The impact players, they see a leadership vacuum and they step in like; Oh, hey, would it be helpful if I led the meeting? Like, hey, what's our objective here? And here's the beauty of it, they're not these kind of like bossy leaders who always have to be in charge. It was a very agile form of leadership where it's like; Hey, you know what, let me step in and take charge of this situation or this initiative. But then when I'm done, I'll step back and I'll follow my peers and others with the same kind of energy that I led. It's like, um…

[00:21:01] Sean: I've set it up to succeed now. So now the situation has what it's need and has what it needs. Yeah. I mean, Liz, as you're talking, there's two experiences that really jump out to me. One, in my first executive leadership role, you know, reasonably large size organisation, quite a lot of people responsibility. And we had a great, but you know, the reality was we were a bunch of executives who were functional leaders and we were relatively focused on our function and we had this great you know, kind of everyone got a 360, everybody got a private coach and then we also had sort group coaching as executive. And the one thing that really stood out to me was they said they had this big conversation, which was, what do you think your job is? Everyone's like, well, I'm the Director of Sales and Marketing. I'm the Executive Director of Operations. And like that I do Operations. I do Delivery. I'm Accountable for these KPIs, whatever. They're like, no, every single one of you, your job is to think and act as the CEO at all times. And everyone was like, huh? And they're like; Well, because that is exactly what you would expect the CEO to do. To see an issue, not wait around for anybody, have the courage to deal with the issue, give it whatever it is that it needs, ensure that it's got its help to solve the problem. Make sure that somebody's got the stewardship once the problem's kind of solved and it now needs to be maintained or executed on like, and step back, but not be trying to take any glory just because it needed to be done and thinking across the organisation, never just in their own lane. And so, to your point, the role being a starting point and then in my, I think it was second or third CEO role, I ended up with this incredible woman to work with who, who still to this day has the greatest leadership skill of anyone that I've ever worked with and was just had so much courage, which just, it made no sense to her that you would ever see anything happen that needed addressing and not address it at that moment on that spot, regardless of your role, because that's what leadership was about. And she was, even though she grew up in the people function, she had a real, she was like, great, yeah, okay, maybe I've got some HR training, but that was so not her job. Like she was General Manager, CEO material from the first day that I met her. And she was the person that you could put in any situation in any business, in a business she didn't understand with incredible, you know, you could put her in front of the IT guys. She wouldn't know a thing about the technology and the language, but she knew what people needed. She could assess the situation. She could step in and take leadership. She would craft a plan, and then she would step back and sort of fold back into the background. Once the thing was up and sailing, you were like; well, she could just be anywhere, do anything. And she was a super high impact player. I'm really resonating with the language that you're using. She was such a great.

[00:23:41] Liz: It's exactly the profile and she's kind of this impact player that sort of comes in the form of a utility player, which is like, you could drop this person in and they would be; okay, I understand the path to success and I can see what's on the critical path and I'm going to go take care of it. And it is a mentality of thinking like the CEO and it reminds me Sean of probably my favourite interview in all the interviews we did on this was, I was interviewing Zach Kaplan, who is a young professional at Google. Just phenomenal. There are several stories, two or three in the book about Zach and massive impact player. And I was kind of asking him where some of this mentality came from and he's like, oh, you should probably meet my mom. He goes, my mom, you definitely should meet her. She's a little bit of a bad ass. And then he tells me the story of his mom. And then I go and have like, two or three conversations with his mom. And she started work as a receptionist for an ad-agency called Hill Holiday in the east coast of the United States. And she was looking for kind of an easy job. She was applying to law school. She kind of just wanted a job. She could put in the background, get ready for a LSAT test. And the CEO, Founder of the company, he said like, you're the face and voice of this company. And she's like, wow, this is actually an important job. And she decided like she would be the CEO of reception, anything that came into reception, like she's on it. That's she owns that space. And then she's like, well, you know, I can do this and I can do that. And then she just started volunteering for jobs and she's decided she would make herself the CEO of every job that she took. And she today is the CEO of Hill Holiday, which is a really successful large ad agency. But it's this mentality of, well, I'm the boss, unless somebody like distinctly tells me I'm not the boss. And again, it's not, I'm the boss for, it's this fluid form of leadership. Like if I could put an ask out there to Founder CEOs, like if you want to breed impact player mentality in your organisation, treat leadership as a temporary assignment. Kind of the way now, I don't know if this is how elementary school was in Australia, but you know, for us, like if you go back to like the first, second or third grade, like there were jobs to do in the classroom and students got assigned to these jobs and you know, if you were like, let's say the recess leader, your job was to like March the class out onto the playground for recess. Like you did that job one week, but then that job would go to another student the next week. Like you can only be so bossy. You know, because it's going to come back to you. And I think when we treat leadership roles as service oriented and temporary important, empowered, but temporary, people behave differently. Like, oh, if I'm going to be following the people that I'm leading on this initiative, I'm going to be following them on the next one. Like, let me lead the way that I would want to be treated and led.

[00:26:59] Sean: Liz, for the sake of completeness, because I want to make sure we don't run out of time before we get stuck into the like how you find them, how we sort of inculcate them. What were the other three characteristics? You've given us two of those.

[00:27:13] Liz: Okay. Well now you've given me a challenge so I can do that briefly. Okay. So, when roles are unclear, ordinary contributors are waiting for direction while the impact players are stepping up but willing to step back. The third is how we handle unforeseen obstacles. The ordinary contributor takes charge, but when things get unreasonable, they tend to escalate problems up. Like; Hey, this one's above my pay grade it's out of my control. Let me give it to more powerful people than me. They make a handoff to a higher up, whereas the impact player just holds onto ownership. They finish the job and they finish not weakened by holding onto that ownership stronger because of it. So, they finish stronger. The fourth is how we deal with moving targets. And, you know, the ordinary contributor tends to stay focused, fixated on the goals. They tend to stick to what they. Like, okay, this was the objective I've been given. The impact player is adapting. They're adjusting. They're asking questions. ‘Hey, you know, is this still relevant? Is this still really the right goal?’ They're changing, while the ordinary contributor is sticking with it. And the last difference is how we deal with just unrelenting demands, where it feels like the workload is heavy. The ordinary contributor, they carry their weight, but when things get really hard, they tend to look upward and outward for help, which tends to add to the burden of already overextended leaders. In these situations where the burden feels heavy to them, they make work light for other people on the team. Now that probably comes with a little bit of a caveat. It's not like; ‘Oh, hey Sean, you seem busy. Let me do your work for you.’ It's not like they're dumping grounds for everybody's excess work. That actually is going to take you off the path of impact. It's that they make hard work easier. I mean, sometimes they lend a hand like, sure. Hey, you know, I got some capacity, I could handle that. But it's that they're easy to work with. They aren't high maintenance. They don't come with a tax. They're low maintenance. They're easy. Like they're simple things like if I'm going to afford a big long email change to someone, I'm going to sum it up for them at a sentence or two and save them a lot of work. I'm going to be clear with my requests. I'm going to be concise. And they just bring a sense of, I just would simply call it joy. Like they're fun. They just make work more fun.

[00:29:59] Sean: Yeah. Did you find therefore that they even though they know that they have this internal confidence that they know they have this, I don't, let's not call it a superpower, but they know that they can do this stuff but I haven't seen one of these people be full of self-importance as a result. That tends to be the high performer who hasn't stepped into impact player, where they are often can be filled with self-importance because they know they're executing really well and they achieve results and all the rest, but they're not. The ones who get to that next level, actually have this sense of humility like, well, like I don't really see it as a big thing. It's just, that's what leadership is. That's what we should all be doing. You know? Like they would see that as just a logical thing to do, a common sense thing to do, as opposed to, I've really stepped up and beyond and everybody look at me, they seem to come with this humility. Is that, did you find that a common sort of thread?

[00:30:57] Liz: So, you're saying in your experience, they do come with a fair bit of humility. It's what I saw in this research. And, you know, I had to admit that I thought, you know, I'm looking at superstars on teams. The people that every, the manager goes, boom, this is my impact player. Or I got three of them. Which one do you want me to talk about? I figured that, you know, some portion of them would be people who are a little full of themselves. Like there would be some pre-Madonnas in that mix. And what I was struck was not a single one. And I went back through all the transcripts of the interviews because I thought I can't think of one. And I asked someone on my team actually I'm like, Lauren, would you go through fine tooth comb alongside me and like do the same analysis because I can't find a shred of evidence that they're full of themselves. That they're arrogant, that they're demanding. But they're in demand. And I don't quite know what the…I don't know what the causality is on that. It could be that they're just on the other side of success. Like they're so valuable. They're so impactful that like, you know what, I don't need to make a big fuss. Everybody already knows. Or it could be that when people are puffed up, full of themselves, it becomes a barrier to impact. They can't adapt, they can't serve, they can't let go of leadership. Like there might be a causality, like they're high performers, but they're not your impact players. They're not the ones you give. They're really important stuff to because they might not be able to see what they need to do because they're too full of themselves.

[00:32:42] Sean: Yeah. Well, it's pretty hard to serve other people fully with whatever the situation needs and put yourself aside when you are highly concerned with how you look and how you look to others and your sort of your personal brand that's kind of not really on brand for me, why would I do that? It's like, that doesn't even enter the mind of an impact player. It's like, they're just like, see the situation, situation needs this. Okay. We're all leaders. Okay. I'll step into that. Great. Let's just get it done. Okay. Whoever needs to join that after me. Great. Slip out the door sideways, make sure that it's got what it needs.

[00:33:16] Liz: There is so much visibility and recognition. Like people know who they are. Let me put a caveat on this though, because one of the things that haunted me in this research in the book is like, what about them? I call them the missing impact players that I think there are a number of people in organisations who think and work this way, but they do it so quietly with so much humility and maybe their role is behind the scenes that I think it could be easy for a Founder, a senior leader of organisation, frontline manager to maybe miss that, like, you know what? This is a quiet impact player. This is a behind the scenes impact player. Because it's easy to see the ones that are doing the, the revenue producing, front facing on stage kind of work. And the healthiest teams are like, you know what? Our impact players here in the OR aren't always the surgeons, it might be the surgical tech.

[00:34:16] Sean: Totally. Yeah. A hundred percent.

[00:34:18] Liz: The surgeries in his OR go well. So, we have to be looking for the Jojo's.

[00:34:23] Sean: Yeah. I was just thinking a guy just immediately jumped to my mind who was the, of the IT support guy and everybody loved the IT support guy. It was like, he was just solve any problem, nicest guy ever to work with, no ego, just see problem, solve it. Always done. Everyone was like, that guy is so valuable to the organisation. Like he's everything that you would want everybody to be in every one of their jobs, you know, like just ha had the whole package. Did you find Liz though, how often did you find that a leader had either managed to recruit so well that they had just they'd recruited perfectly a full team of impact players versus having kind of one or two in a team of I don't name six or seven. Did you find that anyone had been able to craft a full team of impact players, I guess is my question.

[00:35:19] Liz: You know, it wasn't the primary objective of the research to look at like their prevalence on teams. So, everything now is anecdotal, like my observation of that, but we found a number of leaders who were very thoughtful about what they saw as like the characteristics they need. And like, let me bring people in with a few of the absolute basics and then everything else I can build. And then they do end up with this team of all stars, team of impact players. Jake Reynolds is one of those leaders that I talk about, oh, I don't know which chapters, it maybe chapter eight. Anyway, it's towards the back of the book. I always worry about putting things in the back of the book. Like, oh, what if people stop reading before they get… Such a good example. It's a great one. And here's the thing, like, I think there are a few, like if you want a team of impact players, like there are a few things that you should look. And they are harder to develop. Part of the research. I did this little extra bonus piece of research on this by looking at of all of these traits, which are the ones that are easy to develop and which are the ones that are difficult. That's in chapter eight as well. It's a little chart, but there's a couple of things like you want this a couple starter ingredients. One is someone with a very high sense of personal agency. Like someone, the psychologist would call it a strong internal locus of control, meaning a belief that I affect the things that happen around me rather than other people that I can influence, that not like; Hey, I'm in control of the universe, but like I have some degree of control over what is happening.

[00:37:08] Sean: Strong sense of cause and effect. And you know, on which side of the, above the line below the line they kind of live. Yep.

[00:37:13] Liz: Yeah. You want someone with, like some high self-confidence, which I think is an out cropping of that. And you know, my favourite kind of like talent situations are people with high self-confidence, but low-situational confidence. And if you are founding a start-up, like this is prime real estate, which is people who fundamentally think, you know what, I'm smart, I'm capable, I'm capable of learning. I've never done this before.

[00:37:42] Sean: I'll figure it.

[00:37:43] Liz: This is a tricky situation because you don't want people with just high self-confidence, because then they go in arrogant. Versus people are like, no, no, I don't know how to do this, but I am capable. You know, that's one thing that you're looking toward. You're looking for people who probably don't have a really strong sense of hierarchy, like built deeply into their worldview. Like people who don't necessarily like salute their senior leaders. Certainly don't want people who are flipping them off, but you know, it's like the sense of; well, no, I could talk to the boss's boss and that's okay.

[00:38:27] Sean: They're just another human. Yeah. We are all trying to get stuff done.

[00:38:29] Liz: They're just another human, respect for authority, but not a deference to authority. And probably the most important qualification. It's one of the hardest to retrain to coach in someone is someone who is moving through the world with it's like seeing things through an opportunity lens rather than a threat lens. What that's not is sunny optimism, like, oh, I just see the positive side of things. Like you want someone who looks at a situation that's kind of chaotic or ambiguous and moves toward it rather than away from it. And it's not with the sense of like; oh, this is going to be great. It's like; okay, no, this is actually scary. This is hard. But is this actually an opportunity for me to create value? Maybe it's an opportunity, like, okay, that got super screwed up, but maybe this is an opportunity for us to do it a different. Oh, like there's no leader here rather than like, feel threatened by that. Like; okay, we don't have someone in charge. We're going to just spin and flail. It's like, this is actually an opportunity for me to add value. You know, this is an opportunity for me to be useful and create value rather than a distraction for my job. This fundamental orientation of, do you see ambiguity as a threat? Or do you see ambiguity as an opportunity? If I had to hire for one thing, that's what I'm hiring for.

[00:40:00] Sean: Wow. And that, you know, in the current world that is just a constant, isn't it? Ambiguity. What was the paradigm that's been around a long time? The VUCA paradigm? Was it variable, uncertain… Was it variable uncertain?

[00:40:17] Liz: Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, Ambiguous, something like that.

[00:40:23] Sean: And that's

[00:40:24] Liz: It's like a typical day at the workplace and it's not getting any better. And you know, it's funny I spent the last decade really trying to like rid the world of controlling bosses, like, you know, diminishing bosses and how do you have bosses that like give other people control, but, and you know, here's what I've come to conclude. It's like, yeah, no one wants a controlling. But right now, more than ever, we need people who take control. You know, like we kind of need control freaks and not people who are controlling others, but people who go into chaotic situations and are instantly looking for, okay, what can I control?

[00:41:05] Sean: Yeah.

[00:41:06] Liz: Like, how do I give control to other people? Like, how do I stabilise the organisation? Go, okay. Yeah.

[00:41:13] Sean: Create a path through them.

[00:41:15] Liz: Yeah, like there are things we don't. But there are also things we do know, and like here's what we can control. So, like we need people who are really quick to take control of situations.

[00:41:27] Sean: So Liz, those are some awesome and I can, you know, I was in my own mind thinking of how you interview for these things and what kind of questions might you ask. And so that's really helpful in thinking about what are some of the characteristics that you're going to look for in the recruitment process. I know what a lot of Founders struggle with when they think, you know, I've got to be able to find these people. I know, to get my business to the next level, you know, like I can't be the smartest person in the room, you know, they usually can see everybody's job. They could do pretty much everybody's job. They're the Founder, like they're total utility player and they know they need some of these people, but sometimes they're struggling to afford them or to find a way to attract them. Like, how do you talk to leaders about how to find and attract these people?

[00:42:09] Liz: Well, again, if I'm looking for one thing, I'm looking for people who are comfortable with ambiguity. And you know, one of the ways that you might, there, there might be some sacrifices you have to make to get folks like this. Like you might have to sacrifice expertise and. for the right orientation. I know where I would come down on this is I would absolutely pick people with the right mindset, because with the right mindset, you can develop those skills. But I grew up at Oracle where Oracle had a very unique hiring profile. They were looking for three things. Number one, raw intelligence. Number two, an achievement orientation, like people who kind of take charge maybe to a fault. And then three, people who are nice. And, you know, they did sometimes compromise on that third quality. And this was one of the things that I thought Larry Ellison did brilliantly in building that company is, I think he acknowledged that they were trying to produce this technology called the relational database management system. Like, no one really had done anything significant. Like they were pioneers in here, which is like, okay, I can't get people who already have this expertise. Like we're going to have to grow it and build it. But what I want is people with this certain mentality and maned that organisation find people like this, and it was run with this belief of, you know what? Doesn't matter. I remember once, I was interviewing for a job internally and someone asked me to interview for one of the software groups. I come from a business background and they asked me all these questions, have you done this before? I'm like, no. And they're like, well, how about your 3GL programming? I'm like, not really. Have you done this? Mm, no. Have you? And I'm like, no, no, no, no. And they're like, we want to hire you as like a coder, a developer on this thing. I'm like, what are you talking about? They're like, you know what? You can figure this out. And it was almost to a irresponsible level of assuming, you know what? You can learn.

[00:44:05] Sean: Bet on you. You got the right characteristics.

[00:44:07] Liz: And it's one of the things I would encourage Founders to think about which is, what are you willing to let go of in terms of functional skills to get people with the right mentality? Like the woman you described, who's like, oh yeah. I'm not just a people person. I can do IT work. Like, I can figure that out, I can add value there.

[00:44:27] Sean: Liz, in your research, did you come across any, and I know that we're talking about numerous orientations, characteristics sort of mindset pieces. Did you come across any useful tools, questions, case studies, like, you know, things that in a recruitment process that seemed to be effective in flushing some of those out?

[00:44:49] Liz: So, I didn't come across any, I kind of created one that might be useful. I don't know that it is, I can't guarantee it, but here is what, about finding people with the right kinds of mindsets, I think you can use a lot of the ideas from behavioural-based interviewing to do this and like kind of the little acronym for that is a star situation, a task, an action result. So, behaviour-based interviewing is the assumption that people's past behaviour is the best predictor of their future behaviour. So, if you want someone who takes the lead, you ask them about a situation where they had to take a lead amid ambiguity, what was the thing they had to do? How did they do it and what happened? So, my recommendation is to adapt that technique a little bit. I call it a SOAR - a Situation, an Outlook, and Action, and a Result. So, you know, if I want people who are comfortable with ambiguity, with messy problems, like tell me about a time you dealt with a really messy problem where, which is really unclear. You know, like it didn't belong to anyone and then I don't want to go right to what did they do? Here's the piece, it's the O part of that is I want to know their outlook. I want to know how did they think about it. Was this messy problem an inconvenience? Somebody else's job that they had to come in and save the day, or was this ‘Hmm, sort of a delicious problem.’? Like, oh, this is interesting. Like it's not really my job, but actually, but this was like the most important thing to the company. So, like, this is like… and so I want to like spend a lot of time understanding how they thought about it, because how they thought about that is how they're going to think about these problems.

[00:46:32] Sean: Yeah. A hundred percent.

[00:46:33] Liz: So, use this SOAR technique and really… It's funny, I've used this myself and everyone wants to move off of like the O part and get right to the A, the action. So, it's Situation, Outlook, Action, Result. And I'm like; no, tell me a little bit more about how you thought about that. Like, what was the assumption? What were you telling yourself? And it's funny to be like, people, like, why does that matter? I'm like, oh, that's what we are hiring. We're hiring a mindset, not a skillset.

[00:47:03] Sean: Wow. So interesting you know, and I also think, when I think about the challenge for Founders in going well, you know, I can't afford the best player. And, you know, if these impact players have already got to the most senior levels, or how am I going to afford to sort of attract them into my organisation. And again, for people who want to hear, because I spent a fair bit of time talking about that with Bryan Watson on the prior weeks’ episode, and he said; well, you know, looking for those similar characteristics that you just talked about, and they're not the people who are already at the top of the tree, because they're also not coming in with the sense that I need to be, have everything handed to me I'm so experienced and you got to gimme all my resources. They're like, they will figure it out. They've probably been working under someone like that. They're still definitely on the way up. They definitely don't know everything, but what they want access to is that challenge, that openness to go; We're looking for leaders, like we are looking for people. We are looking for the utility players who can pick up anything and solve any problem and tackle anything and deal with all the ambiguity. That's the team of leaders that we want because those people will create some amazing stuff together, because they're not doing it for themselves. They're doing it because it's interesting, it's challenging, it develops them. They feel like they're going to be with a band of other people like that, almost building that culture and attracting the similar level, not necessarily level, but that similar mindset really can create some special stuff rather than leaving those people on an island, which is sometimes how they end up feeling. Because if you've only got one impact player in your team of six or seven people. There's a lot of weight on that individual, you know, like they're kind of going; Geez. Like why did some of these other people freaking step up for once?

[00:48:41] Liz: Step up. Yeah. Well, and I think you said something that is so important in here. It's not even about finding those people. It's about deserving them in your organisation because if you…Like, I think, you know, I've studied these people. I've worked with these people and they're not going to go work for just anyone. And if you hire someone who is rangy and flexible and adaptive and like moves towards ambiguity, and then you put them in a box.

[00:49:11] Sean: And then you tell them to report on everything that they do every 25 minutes of the day. Okay, I want like, you know, five pages on Friday of everything that's happened this week and they're like, what?

[00:49:20] Liz: Yeah, you're going to kill that spirit. And, and it's…

[00:49:23] Sean: You have to be ready.

[00:49:24] Liz: And you know, you have to be the kind of leader that those people would want to work for. And you have to build a culture where those people will stay and you have to probably most importantly, build a culture where that mindset can spread. Because I think the impact player mentality, it's like sourdough bread, which we hear in San Francisco are pretty good at. And it's all about a starter. And if you have the starter for the sourdough in the right environment, like you keep it warm and you kind of feed and nurture that starter, like it spreads like crazy. And I think this way of working is how most of us want to work. But if you create an environment where that's singled out or not supported or diminished, it won't spread on a team and then you'll get those people who aren't growing, or they're overly taxed. You get jealousy issues. Like how do you spread the mentality?

[00:50:16] Sean: Liz, I would just love to keep having this conversation for hours with you, because there's so much room to cover, but that would probably not be appropriate because people don't like listening to things that long. So, I think that is a perfect place for us to wrap it up. But before we do, I would love to just give you the opportunity to go; Hey, we covered a lot of ground here. If you were going to summarise a couple of key tips, key steps. You know, when you want people to take stuff away from this and go, okay, I want you to do something different. You get off this podcast today when you get to work or this week, or this month, you know, do these three things and it will start to lead you to a situation where you can either attract or sort of inculcate or become more deserving because you're creating the kind of right environment. What would be your sort of three tips you'd like to give people?

[00:51:05] Liz: Well, let me leave a few. I'm going to do a lightning fast. Number one, define what I call the win. What's important now? Like let people know what the agenda is. What's important in their organisation so people can flow to it. Like, don't keep that a secret, keep reminding people. Here's what's important. Number two, we talked about it rotate leadership roles, treat leadership as temporary, not a position on an org chart. You know, number three, if you want people to finish strong, define the finish line. Like here's how we know we've done a great job. Here's how we know we're done with this job so that they can get all the way there. You know, give people performance intel, not feedback like intel that helps them adapt and adjust. It's like kind of stripped-down sterile information. Hey, that's off target. We need more of this, less of that. And lastly, if you want people to be easy to work with, just state what you appreciate, like when you do this, man, it makes it easy for me to make a fast decision and let people like, describe that pause of behaviour and let people move toward it. And then if you want to create a warm environment for impact players, just bring together two things; safety and stretch. I'm summing up like everything I've studied for a decade on leaders who multiply talent is they create a safe environment, but they create a stretch environment. Do those, and that mentality will spread.

[00:52:30] Sean: Love that. Liz, thank you so much for your generosity of your time today. It's been an absolute joy to talk to you about this. And it's been, just lighting me up with… I've been very fortunate to have been able to work with some great impact players in my time and everything you said today really resonates as just being a hundred percent spot on. And people having an opportunity to really think about stuff they can go and practically do as a result, rather than just know that they're out there. It's like great to know that they're out there and kind of who they are and what they look like. But your problem is going, how do I get these people? But I love that you talked also about the deservingness because it's all great. You know, you think you can go and hire for them, but again, you spend all that time finding an impact player and readying yourself and nailing your interviewing techniques and whatever it. You manage to attract them and you come in there and you lead them the wrong way and you don't create safety and you don't create stretch, they're going to last five seconds. See you later. What a waste of time. So, there's a real leadership opportunity for everybody listening today. Thank you so much, Liz. How do people get in touch, follow along with what you're doing? Where would you direct them to?

[00:53:36] Liz: Well, let me see LinkedIn. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter at Liz Weisman. I'm really easy to find. TheWisemanGroup.com, Impact players, book.com. I'm easy.

[00:53:51] Sean: Beautiful. Thank you, Liz. Folks, I really hope you enjoyed today's episode, I'm sure and a hundred percent confident you got value from it. Huge thanks to you, Liz Wiseman. Before you go, if you got value from today, something that would really help us is either leaving a review or just telling somebody about this episode, you guarantee you have peer Founders in your network who are challenged by this entire concept, either struggling to know how to attract more impact players or how to get the most out of them and to create the right environment. This might be a great thought starter for them. So please tell them about the episode, you've been listening to the ScaleUps Podcast. I'm your host Sean steel. Look forward to speaking to the again next week. Thanks again, Liz.

[00:54:32] Liz: Thank you, Sean. 

About Sean Steele

Sean has led several education businesses through various growth stages including 0-3m, 1-6m, 3-50m and 80m-120m.  He's evaluated over 200 M&A deals and integrated or started 7 brands within larger structures since 2012. Sean's experience in building the foundations of organisations to enable scale uniquely positions him to host the ScaleUps podcast.

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