The following is a transcription of Voice of Bold Business Radio Program 39: How Responsibility Adds Value

Program Notes Can be Found Here.


Transcript of Program 39: How Responsibility Adds Value

Jessica: You are listening to The Voice of Bold Business Radio and I am Jessica Dewell of Red Direction, your host. Today, we are talking about how responsibility adds value. Now, Meridith Elliot Powell and I had a fantastic conversation that you will be listening to in just a few moments. We talked about everything from; what we can control to what we can’t control; the type of advertising and messaging that we are getting in the world around us, bombarding us every single moment of every single day; and we’re talking about how we choose to approach it. In terms of, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to only rely on instant gratification? Are we going to blame everybody else for our problems all the time? Or, are we going to know, what we can do about it and decide if it’s worth it. The choice is ours.

When we’re thinking about how responsibility adds value, we talked about different situations where responsibility shows up, we’ve talked about the people and the dynamics of teams that we encounter, and we talk about culture and values in relationship to responsibility and how responsibility shows up even when the word responsibility is not there. When we’re thinking about this… think about our growth. How do we connect the dots? How do we have skin in the game today? And if we don’t, what can we do about it? To help the growth of the company, to show the value that we bring to the table to achieve the objectives that our company has set out for us, and as leaders in organizations to do those things by developing our people and knowing where our people really excel. Right after this, you’ll hear our conversation.

Announcer (amid background music): Welcome to The Voice of Bold Business, the show that provides everything smart leaders need to evaluate situations, build relationships, and create solutions. Jessica Dewell candidly talks about the skills necessary to build tenacity, and do more with less. And now, here’s Jessica:

Jessica: Meridith Elliot Powell has been voted one of the top 15 Business Growth Experts to watch by Currency Fair. She is an award-winning author, keynote speaker, and business strategist. She has a background in corporate sales and leadership. Her career expands over several industries including banking, healthcare and finance. Meredith worked her way up from an entry level position to earn her seat at the C Suite table. Meridith is a certified speaking professional, a designation held by less than 12% of professional speakers, and is a member of the prestigious Forbes Coaching Council. She has a cutting-edge message, rooted in real life examples and real world knowledge. She is the author of four books. Her latest, Own It: Redefining Responsibility – Stories of Power, Freedom & Purpose is about how to build cultures that inspire ownership at every level to create profits at every turn.

I just want to hear in your own words, why you decided that responsibility needed to be brought up today, here, and now.

Meridith: This is a passion of mine. The whole term responsibility. I think I might have mentioned to you before, I had a publisher who said “You can’t write a book and say the word responsibility. Nobody’s going to want to read about responsibility.” There’s actually a story that I alluded to in the book, where I was sitting down and talking to some self-made men. I was looking for some patterns and themes, trying to write the methodology of… how do you go from having nothing in life to ending up being incredibly philanthropic? How do you go from being somebody who has no connections to being somebody who can open any door and build any relationship that you need to? What I found was that there are a lot of things that they shared with me that led to that, but what it came down to was that they didn’t have a choice. In other words, they couldn’t blame somebody else, and they couldn’t make excuses. At the end of the day, rather than focus their energies externally on that stuff that they couldn’t control, they focused all their energies inwardly. What I discovered is that responsibility isn’t a burden, it’s a freedom. It is the path when you control where your energy flow goes. And listen, it’s not easy. But when you can do that, how far you can go is unbelievable.

Jessica: Let’s stick with that ‘not easy’ part. It is not easy to focus energy, and there are a lot of things out there. From meditation and exercise and follow these 90 day programs and all of this stuff that will get you to have the success. To be able to have this responsibility, and I think they’re all missing the mark. I’m curious… what’s your thought about that? Do you think they are missing the mark? And what’s the mark that’s being missed?

Meridith: Society is reinforcing not putting your energies in the right place. You can watch a half an hour of television and see that our language is to blame other people. One of my favorite television commercials starts off talking about ‘Do you have belly fat? And if you do, it’s not your fault.’ And I’m like…”Yes, it is.”

They laugh

Meridith: You watch our politicians, you watch the news, I think we constantly get reinforced that it is somebody else’s fault that we are in the position we are in. As you start down the path, you make the decision. You have to get the inside strength when society is giving you… from your friends, from your community, from the television, from what you read… to be able to mindfully be aware that you’re constantly getting information and signals and things that are saying ‘it isn’t your fault. Go down the path of blaming other people.’

Quite frankly, sometimes you do have a legitimate complaint or reason to blame your circumstances. But hey, guess what, life’s not fair. It’s not a matter of a right or wrong, it’s a matter of whether you want to move forward and where you put your energies to do that.

Jessica: That starts with the types of things that we listen to, for example. Even with that subconscious message ‘it’s not your fault, but I have a solution, come buy my thing’. If all I’m hearing is, it’s not my fault, I just never buy the thing, but I’m not getting a result, how can we combat that?

Meridith: The first thing I ask people to do is to separate what you can control from what you can’t control. That’s just a really simple exercise. You’re in school minding your own business, doing really well at life, and then one of your parents passes away or you have a particular challenge, or you get fired from your job, or your job gets outsourced… there’s a lot of things there that justify you being angry, upset, or saying it’s wrong or unfair. There’s nothing in that that you can control. There’s nothing in there that you could have done anything about, so the power lies in just being able to separate those things, and then turn your energy back in to what it is you can focus on… making sure that your energies are going in to those things that can move you forward.

Jessica: When we know we have choices every single step of the way, regardless of how small, everything builds on that energy from that one single choice.

Meridith: What you choose to focus on, if you choose that something is wrong, or that something is right, it will immediately change the way that you feel. Right now if I said, “It’s completely unfair that I lost my power yesterday”, or “I lost my power yesterday, so I had a chance to get some other kind of work done”. You can feel the emotion change in your body. If you feel the emotion change in your body, your different thought processes will choose different actions.

The other thing that we’ve become addicted to in society is instant gratification. I work a lot in the sales arena. I teach people how to sell, and how to learn to love to sell. One of the biggest challenges that I’ve got to overcome is people expect when they made a sales call, they should close the deal. It doesn’t work like that, and nothing good or worth it in life works like that. It takes commitment. It takes staying committed to the behaviors, even when the road looks tough, and you’re not getting the immediate return from it.

Jessica: When you say that, the things I hear you say are ‘It’s really cool because something else gets to happen now’ or ‘You know I have this other thing on my mind and now it is front and center because everything else moved out of the way for this to continue to move forward’. Now, that’s my interpretation of what Meredith says everybody, but it’s the sense that I take away is… when things happen they happen for a reason, and it’s not to look for a silver lining, it’s to accept what’s there, and then basically adapt and say ‘Ok, so what I planned isn’t happening. So what do I adapt to? What else makes sense for me to look at right now?’ And something comes up! Usually there is always something to fill the space.

Meridith: Actually it’s fun to sit around and complain and whine. I’m just like every human being. The reason we like it is because we build community through it or whatever. The problem with it is that you stay stuck in the exact same place. I believe that if you and I both had a flight delay, and we were stuck in the airport for five hours, and I chose to sit down next to the person next to me and just whine and moan and complain about it, and then call my friends and whine and moan and complain about it, and you accepted it… you will find opportunity, and I will not. Now here’s the thing… the opportunity was available to both of us, but because you chose not to burn your focus rand energy on something that you couldn’t control, you found the opportunity that was presented to both of us. It’s a strategy that I tell people, because believe me, when things happen to me, it’s a natural reaction, I just want to get upset about it, and I want to focus on that. But if you can use some mindfulness to say ‘What can I focus on here, what can I not, and let that go, you’re going to find the opportunities that are out there to everybody.

What I found from studying really successful people is that it’s not that they’re smarter, brighter, have more luck, or anything. It really begins right here, can they grab their focus and control what they focus on?

Jessica: You make a really good point. Everybody has to complain and feel angry every once in a while. I really liked when you said that those people are missing the opportunity that is available to everybody. Sure, feel it, then stop, look, and experience something different.

You are listening to Program 39; How responsibility adds value.

Meridith: I think we’ve had a ‘perfect storm’ right now going on in our society. There are more things that can impact you negatively that are outside of your control. Gas prices go up. Regulations increase. Competition is coming out all over. Combine that with the fact that we have become addicted to entitlement, and addicted to instant gratification, I feel like we’ve lost the coping skills that we need more than we’ve ever needed to navigate the environment that we’re living in right now. I think you’re going to really see a separation between people who reach whatever your definition of ‘level of success’ is, versus people who don’t. I think there is going to be more of a massive gap, and I think the reason is because of this idea of responsibility. If you go back in our history and you think about The Great Depression or World War II or things like that… what you saw was people come through tough economic times because they were incredibly self-sufficient. Certainly they got help from other places, but they weren’t sitting there waiting for somebody else to do it. At every level of our society, we’ve got to put it back in. Whether you are young just starting out your career, whether you own a business, whether you are a leader, you can complain about your employees, you can complain about your boss, you can complain about your life situation, or you can do something about it.

Jessica: Do you have any tips when you’re working with interesting dynamics?

Meridith: I do a lot of leadership courses. Especially for high potential leaders that are coming up through the organization. The thing that I really feel that people need to realize is that the true beneficiary of employee engagement is the employee. When things happen inside the workplace that you don’t agree with, that you don’t like, that you might roll your eyes at, you’ve got to realize, that’s reflecting on you. Every moment your people are seeing you, your being exposed, is telling somebody whether they see future potential in you. I’ll give you a great example. Go to Walmart. You go to buy something and you get up to the checkout counter and two employees are complaining about a meeting they just came out of and how leadership is unfair because they’ve taken a break away from them. Leadership may have just implemented a really ridiculous rule that killed moral. But right there right then, I am looking at those two people and thinking ‘Boy, I wouldn’t hire you to come work for my organization’.

The tip is to understand that you have the right, and the ability to not agree, to voice your ideas, to voice your opinion, but at the end of the day, how you act, how you behave, body language, voice, and all of that, you are determining your future and your future success.

Jessica: If we started with responsibility, owning it, so as a leader thinking, ‘I need to develop people’. I might not know how to do that, so I’m going to be responsible to learn that skill. My team is only as good, my department is only as good, it’s only going to produce as much as I put in to them.

Meridith: You can’t engage an employee. I think so much of that is mistitled.

Jessica: I agree.

Meridith: An employee has to choose to engage. What you’re responsible for as the leader is to build a culture that makes people want to engage. A culture that makes people want to engage, that gives them the best chance, is one where they feel safe, So they feel like they can speak up, they feel like they can fail, they feel like they’re free to not have a full understanding of their job, and they are free to take a risk and a chance and to try something new and different. As a leader, you’ve got to build that culture. Every time I see an article that says ‘How to engage employees’, I think, no that’s not up to you. Whether I choose to rise to the occasion is my decision. It’s your job to only fill your culture full of people that are good at that.

Jessica: And to continue to make the space. Because some people might start out that way, and they hit their ceiling, and they grow out of a position. You’re absolutely right Meridith.

Meridith: I do think we’re living in an environment where the ‘Peter Principle’ is on fire, it’s on steroids. One of the biggest challenges I see is…because somebody was good two years ago, we don’t really recognize that the world around them has changed so much that we’re not handling that as leaders. I could talk a whole hour on that.

Jessica: Can you share a story with a resolution around that? Maybe since we can’t talk for an entire hour about it, but being able to stay here for a minute and say ‘guys and gals, this is an incredibly important point’. Times change and tenor looks different than it did 30 years ago.

Meridith: There’s actually two quick stories I want to share on that. One is the fact that back in 2008, we all remember 2008, I was asked to give a talk on how to motivate employees in a down turning economy. I thought, you know, I can do the same song and dance… how do we motivate employees? Right? We give them a pizza party, we give them an employee of the month plaque, we give them a special parking space. But when I really got in to it and I really explored it, what I found was, what motivates employees in a down turning economy motivates them no matter what. It comes down to two things. The first is support. They want to be invested in, they want to be developed. The second, that surprised me, is accountability. They want to know that what they are doing is right and helping the company move forward. But the second is they want you to get the dead weight off the team. Because that makes them feel unsafe.

That’s the first place in really understanding as a leader that it’s not only your job to support those people who are investing in your company by investing in them, but they’re looking to you to recognize, like they do, that person is a problem, and they need to go.

The second story is, back in the day when I was a banker, we had a teller who was just incredible. She was amazing. She sold like crazy. She was at the top of the company list every year. So we got it in our heads to promote her to customer service rep. We promoted her, and she did great in that job. She excelled. So again, we looked down and said, it’s time to promote her to manager. As we got to the point where we were promoting her to manager, our competition had increased like crazy. We just had a whole different dynamic. She got in to that position, and she was really bad. She couldn’t do it. We probably fudged on it for about a year before we finally just sat down and had the conversation. The truth was, she was miserable, we were miserable, She wasn’t in a position where she could excel. It’s one of those rare times that we were able to, for lack of a better term, I’ll just be straight… demote her, and she started excelling again. That was a massive lesson to me. Not only were we sitting around talking about the fact that she wasn’t performing, but she was tortured too. She was in a position where she had excelled, and we had moved her beyond her ability… her desire to learn anymore. I don’t want to say her ability… but she didn’t have the desire to grow and learn anymore to do that job. And that’s okay! It’s perfectly fine. Your job as a leader is to recognize where people can excel in their positions, and make sure that they’re in those positions.

Jessica: If somebody is really good and likes solving problems, and they like solving problems for end customers, they are going to end up being this ‘go to’ amazing resource for everybody else that helps and creates more efficiency in the whole team. A different type of structure in terms of compensation may exist for this person who is this shining star anomaly and loves what they do and only wants to continue developing those set of skills.

Meridith:  I just had an article published in the Huffington Post on Succession Planning. It’s five strategies to make your succession plan rock. One strategy I wrote in there is that you’ve got to have alternate plans. Not everybody wants to be the CEO, and not everybody is capable of being the CEO. What are your strategies for people who don’t make it to other positions? How do you keep good people in place, so that they don’t end up working for your competition? For some reason we’ve gotten in to this thought process that the only way to excel is up.

Jessica: Exactly.

Meridith: When sometimes it needs to be broad. I got promoted to corporate center when I worked for corporate America. That was my next natural piece. I hated it. I don’t want to be in meetings all day. I need to touch the customer. I want to directly manage people. I don’t want to sit in a room and make decisions. As I look at it, my career path needed to be different. It wasn’t traditional. Organizations are flatter these days, but I think we need to get even more creative and innovative with it.

Jessica: It comes down to developing the skills of developing people. This phrase of “I’m a working manager.” I have so many clients that tell me, “I have working managers”. I think, ‘What are they working on?’ They tell me “Well they have their own job, and then when there’s time, they develop people.” I say, “Well why are they managers then?”

Some manager’s role is all about people first. It’s how do we get the job done, and make decisions and get the right people in the right place to allow those people to fulfill the duties that are necessary. When that’s done, then it’s naturally delegated out. All this work that these working managers are doing in addition to people development. Is that farfetched?

Meridith: I think that people are working managers because they don’t really want to develop people. I just think sometimes we think of developing people as a promotion or as a title and really, developing people is a whole lot of work, and you’ve got to want to do it. I joke with my husband a lot… he loves the one on one patient experience. He loves the challenge of growing a business. The drama of his office drives him insane. He has no interest in it, so somebody else in his office has to develop the team. I think too often we don’t really sit back and assess what people are good at and really ask them what they want to do.

Jessica: I’m going to pull out your book here for a minute because I have one blue sticky note for this conversation. It’s on page 157 and it really goes to page 158. “The transformational transparent leader”. This is everything that we’ve been talking about so far really is summed up on this list on page 158.

[Summary of list in the book] Things like; predictable and consistent. You’ve talked about safety in a lot of ways. How do people feel safe? They know what to expect and there’s even a level of what to expect in the unexpected when everything is up in the air in total chaos. [End summary]

This is The Voice of Bold Business Radio, Program 39; How Responsibility adds value. Make sure after you watch this, or while you’re watching it right now; go over to Stitcher, go over to YouTube and subscribe, so that every program can be delivered right to your queue.

People don’t like to say that they can’t do something. If it’s out of your control…it’s out of your control. There’s nothing that can be done. But to be able to say ‘Hey, I can’t talk about that.’

Meridith: Words are such a small part of…what people are really paying attention to are your actions. I had an interesting case this morning. I was on the phone with a client, and what we were talking about was he said, “I want to learn how to inspire my team to innovate and create. I said, “Well that’s fantastic. Why?”, and he said “Well it’s not in our culture here, but what I notice is that when we do it as employees, it is the thing our leader rewards. He realizes it’s important.”

That’s how important actions are as a leader. I think one of the most difficult leadership positions to elude to this idea of what you can’t talk about, is to be a middle manager. Because sometimes you have to implement things that you’re not privy to the reason behind.

An example that I use in the book is that I had a client whose company had gone through two difficult layoffs, and she had been called in to a meeting and been told to go back to her employees and say “We are past the tough stuff, there won’t be another layoff”. She was really struggling with how to say that, because she didn’t believe it either. She knew she couldn’t. You can’t guarantee today that you’re not going to lay people off. We don’t know. The world’s too crazy. Even if you can guarantee it, people don’t believe you. So we really walked through… how could she support leadership and not risk the authenticity and honesty and transparency that she had with her team. What we came down to is exactly what you had alluded to and that was, just say to them “We’ve come through two very difficult layoffs. I don’t think we’re going to have another one, signs aren’t showing you that. But I can’t promise you that we’re not, but let’s discuss the things that we can do that are within our control to do everything we can to ensure we have put our best foot forward to ensure we don’t have a layoff.’

It’s navigating that. It’s never good to lie to employees. But in today’s economy, it will kill you. Don’t trust anything.

Jessica: You talked about some growth strategies recently, and I’m going to just tell everybody… if you haven’t signed up for Meridith’s newsletter, it is a great way to stay in touch, and just get a little bit of good actionable information. I was going to say positivity, because whenever I get your newsletters Meridith, it cracks me up, I’m like ‘I really needed to hear that right now!’

They laugh

Meridith: That’s good!

Jessica: Everybody, I would suggest you get on Meridith’s newsletter so that you can see this. She recently talked about growth, and she had a whole bunch of things about growth. When we are thinking about responsibility, and we are talking about how responsibility adds value to a company, there were two growth strategies that I thought were really important, and pertinent to this conversation. The first is; connecting the dots. Being able to know what’s going on. I would say, in terms of this conversation, I’m just going to restate it. If we’re connecting the dots, and we’re thinking about our company’s growth, we’re looking at what we can control, and we’re knowing what we can’t control, so that as it’s coming up, we can field those things.

Meridith: All too often, I go in to companies, and employees won’t really know what… well, even if they know what the goals are for the company, they don’t understand their ability to impact them. Now, in a perfect world, we would all get a leader who sat down with us and who walked through the goals and said, ‘this is exactly what I need from you’. Let me be the first to tell you that the world’s not perfect, and if you want to grow, if you want to expand, take responsibility to go in, sit down, have that conversation with your leader, say, ‘this is what I know you are trying to achieve, this is what we’ve got to accomplish,’ or if you don’t know that, ask that too. Then ask what they most need rom you. Connect the dots yourself. Figure out how your daily actions can move the organization forward.

Jessica: We’re going to stay there for just a minute before we go to the second one. Because one, it might tie in, but it definitely goes here. I’m thinking about women specifically, and I’m thinking about this big movement of “equal pay for equal work”.

Well… women are the first people to not step up and own what they’ve done. To not step up and ask a question or be willing to figure out how to show up to get the information that they need by putting on some sort of a mask.

I am not a proponent of being somebody we’re not, but I am a proponent of understanding how to play the game, because only I am going to understand and be able to articulate my value. If I wait for somebody else to do it, I’m going to be waiting forever.

Meridith: I don’t buy in to women not getting paid fairly and it’s somebody else’s fault. I have a great story where years ago, when I was a banker, I was my boss’ second in command. When he needed something done, he came to me. I handled his customers, if he couldn’t be in a meeting, I went for him. I looked around, and all the guys were getting raises, and I wasn’t getting one. My boss had volunteered me to b on another board in town, and I really got passive-aggressive. I got angry. I did all the typical things that I would do. Then all of a sudden it occurred to me, here’s the difference between me and those guys…they asked for what they wanted. Now there’s a concept. Once I stopped being passive aggressive, I got ahold of myself and went in and sat down and had a conversation with my boss and I just said, ‘these are the things I am doing. I love being your second in command. Please don’t ever take that away from me. But what I’m noticing is, all the guys are getting country club memberships, tickets to games, and a raise, and I want to know how I can get those things too.’ Here’s the big reason that I wasn’t getting them…the big reason was…my boss put his hand to his head and said, ‘Oh my god I never noticed.’ The very next day I had a $10,000 bonus, a raise, and two country club memberships. All because I asked. He wasn’t looking at me that I was a woman. What he was doing was in front of him.

Jessica: Yes, so our growth as individuals, men, women, and otherwise comes down to our willingness to step up and have the courage to point it out.

Meridith: You have to be prepared for the answer may be no, so that’s why I always tell my clients to ask it in a way that says ‘what do you need from me in order to get this.’ That way if they say no, they give you the path. But if you’re doing amazing work, your boss is not getting up every day and thinking ‘how can I make so and so’s life better? How can I pay them more?’ They’re dealing with every other fire that they’ve got to deal with. If you don’t have the cajonas to go ask for what you want, you fall in to that category of ‘you don’t deserve it’. I hate that stuff. I can’t stand it.

Jessica: I think that’s a skill that woman have to learn. I’m in complete agreement with you.

Meridith: Yes, find your voice. I just did an interview for a women’s magazine and they said, “What is the biggest thing that you find that hurts women in their career?” It hurt me too… it’s finding your voice. That’s the biggest thing. But when you do, I’m telling you, so many women that I see that are amazing, we are working circles around our male counterparts. The beautiful thing about men is that they ask for what they want, and they shrug it off when they don’t get it. If they get it, great, if they don’t, no big deal and they go back and ask for it again. Learn that lesson from them, and combine that with the skills that come inherent to you, and you’ll rock.

Jessica: See everybody, this is one of the reasons I love Meridith. Because, what can I control? I can control what I ask for. What can I control? I can control knowing what I like, and making sure I tell people that I know what I like and what I want. It makes for a deep relationship with these people. That right there is also what can open doors.

Meridith: Find out exactly what it is that they need you to do and what they see as important, and then do that. I’ll tell you, as a woman in the corporate workplace, developing people was really important to me, but it wasn’t the reason initially that I got promoted. What I discovered was that what they most needed from me was to drive business through the door. So I put my energies there, because that’s what would get me the raise, that’s what would bust the ceiling, and then I could make developing people a priority.

Jessica: Okay, so you understood the path they wanted, because you had a clear sense of the goals by having those conversations.

Meridith: The biggest thing that they wanted, and that they looked for was people who could develop business. You can change the game, but you need to play it and win first. When I excelled at developing business then I got promoted, and when I got promoted I could make developing people a priority.

Jessica: That leads in to the second growth strategy that came out of the newsletter that I was reading recently, which is, ‘have skin in the game’. We actually just talked about that in the sense that finding a voice is putting yourself out there. It’s knowing what you want and going after it. Within still doing all of the things that we’re doing so well in the roles that we hold.

Meridith: So often as an employee we feel like rules or goals are things that we’re given. If we don’t like them, we almost want them to fail. We want them to fail because we feel like they were pushed on us, they weren’t our idea, and we don’t really care about them. But again, sort of circling back to where we started… the more that your company excels, the better chance that you have of excelling. So find a way to get some skin in the game to insert yourself in ensuring that those goals, those objectives are accomplished.

The second piece of that is that I always tell leaders, and it’s back to the transformational leader piece, is that as a leader, the question of what belongs to you. What do you want to accomplish? What goals do you want to set? What clients do you want to call on? But the question of how belongs to the team. When they answer the question of how, people get skin in the game. People want to be heard, and they support what they help create. They need a part of it. They need to have some voice in what’s going on.

Jessica: That’s redefining responsibility right there.

Meridith: Absolutely. There you go. It is seeing it as… responsibility is something that should be shared. It’s not something that should be put on somebody. If you are an employee, responsibility is something that should be taken.

Jessica: We’re going to leave it at that, because that’s a very strong final point to consider. Really reflect on where you are and what you are trying to accomplish. If you’re not getting the results that you want, what can you control, and what steps can you take to move forward in a way that will allow you to feel fulfilled, that will allow you to have the rewards that you want, and that will allow you to continue to move forward and bust through your obstacles and the challenges that you are facing today.

Meridith: Just remember how far you go and what you accomplish at the end of the day is all up to you.

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