Good Leaders Are Good Learners
Brennan and Alice spent some time discussing Harvard Business Review Article “Good Leaders Are Good Leaders” by Lauren A. Keating, Peter A. Heslin and Susan J. Ashford
“ 4-5 years ago, I transitioned into a Multi Unit Role from a Single Unit Role. In the Single Unit Role, I was the Manager of the Year for my district. Manager of the Year for the region. I WAS ON TOP OF THE WORLD. I knew I was the best. I was the big fish in a small pond. What could stop me? I knew how to work hard. I knew exactly what a great store looked and felt like. Why would I fail? I WON’T FAIL“
Time and time again, we have many leaders say: “I WILL NOT FAIL” “I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING”
So why do they struggle? Why do they fail?
As the article states: “It’s not because the programs are bad but because leadership is best learned from experience”
ADVICE #1: Have a “growth” mindset
ADVICE #2: Tell yourself: “I need to learn how to..” to set a challenging learning goal
ADVICE #3: Find a mentor, accountability partner/peer that can act as a sounding board
Crazy F’in Retail: https://www.buzzsprout.com/765137/episodes/2696044
HBR Link: https://hbr.org/2017/08/good-leaders-are-good-learners
Lauren A. Keating is a doctoral student at UNSW Sydney Business School, Australia. Her research focuses on the role of mindsets in a range of career and leadership development issues.
Peter A. Heslin is Associate Professor of Management at the UNSW Sydney Business School, Australia. Peter lives his passion for discovering and sharing useful ideas in the realms of employee engagement, leadership development, career success, and Agile software development.
Susan J. Ashford is the Michael and Susan Jandernoa Professor of Management and Organization at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Podcast Transcript (There may be errors – this is autogenerated by our podcast hosting platform)
retail is crazy. Your leadership doesn’t have to be. This’ll is crazy f in retail with Brennan and Alice.
Good evening. Let’s do another episode of crazy fuckin retail. The podcast. Tonight we’re gonna talk about it. We’re going to review an article. Good leaders are good learners. It was in the Harvard Business Review back in 2017. August 2017 is written by Lauren Keating, Peter Hess Lynn and Susan Ashford. We’re gonna link it in the comments. This one has a lot of great takeaways. Um, and you know, right now, let’s just dive in. So, Alice, I think you’re gonna kick us off with a little bit of a story, right?
Great. So definitely a little bit difficult to be this vulnerable in this space, but I think it would be definitely beneficial for all our listeners to just hear this story that I have to share. So, um, about Kosh has been 56 years now. Um, I was a store manager that won every award that year. Manager of the year, regional manager of the year, and I got promoted into a different role as a district manager in an area never lived before I think I went to go visit once to go look at the market. I said, Hey, you know, I’m gonna take this job, um, coming from a single unit roll toe. A multi unit role because I was top of the district top of the region in my store manager role. I felt like the big fish in a small pond thinking that it’ll usually translate over into my new role. Um, I was in the roll, I think, from march, although until about November, a very short stent. But I thought I was the best. I was the best. That everything else so I wouldn’t say. You know what? I’m gonna kill it. I’ve really done this before. I could go into every store, right? All my visits and make everybody better thinking I got this ship right. I was a shit for a long time anyway, so I could go and kill this job. Um, you know, that mindset completely change with every day, every week, every month went by and I struggled and I never struggled before. And I said, You know what scare this. I’m leaving because I knew I was good and I didn’t want to take any feedback. I knew I could do it on my own. Um And then towards the end, I started blaming everybody else for my failures. And I said, You know what? I’m gonna go somewhere else that’s gonna pay me. Well, that’s gonna tell me how good I am because I know I’m good and once a different company for exactly two years. And as those two years that I was away from this company, I realized, Holy crap, I failed not because I was new in the role. There’s new people across a company that take this role. But I went in thinking I was hot shit, that I was the best. I’m the best store manager, so I’m gonna be the best district manager. I am the best, But I think what I failed to realize is that I didn’t slow down and appreciate the process that I am learning a brand new role I did not want to lose. I did not want to struggle. I knew what I was doing, but I was getting frustrated because it wasn’t working. So I decided to say, Screw it. I’m leaving fast for two years back with that company. Um, and I completely went into that into this role. Currently with a completely different mindset. I went to a different company, built up my confidence in you know what? I am good. But I had a completely different mindset on how I was going to do better this time around. I think it’s because I had something called growth mindset and just having an open mind saying I’m not gonna be the best by myself. I have to understand what’s going on. I have to be constantly in the learning mode because I haven’t been gone from this company for two years. I have to understand the new process. I have to understand my peers. I have to understand the dynamics of my district of my employees. And, you know, in the two and 1/2 years I’ve been back, even though I knew exactly what to do. And, you know, um I’m you know, you and I have had multiple conversations about when I got called out. I didn’t say All right, screw it. I’m leaving. Whatever. But I said you know what? So I screwed up. How can I get better? And I think That’s the biggest change from my second stint as a district manager about, you know, even though I’ve been with the company previously, and I know everything. It’s a different way of doing things and a different partnership with my peers. It’s a different relationship with my boss. It’s a different landscape in this company and really taking every interaction and understanding. You know what? I’m gonna learn something new every day. I can’t be the nodal. You know, I can’t try to shove what my experiences were down somebody’s throat, right? You gotta be open to say, You know what? I’m gonna learn today. Maybe it’s from a self associate. Maybe it’s from a supervisor. Maybe it’s from a store manager maybes from appear. Maybe it’s from my business partners. The understanding that I’m gonna learn something a different way every single time. And I think that’s what helped me this time around and be successful leader. Um, Brennan, I know you and I have talked about it multiple times, and, you know, I could definitely say I have the same struggles that I’ve had this time around than I did four years ago. Same stuff, but it was just a completely different mindset on how I decided to go forward. Have you ever dealt with that before, Brennan?
I mean, absolutely, Absolutely. I mean, just just listening to you talk. You talk, and I obviously, uh no, you know your story. Um, I would say that it’s it’s super interesting in the preparation for this podcast. You and I, our conversation, you know, we were deciding between doing an article on, um, like, ego driven leadership, or it was going to be this article on. Good leaders are good learners. And it’s so funny on we talked about this because your ego caused is part of the reason that you struggled and eventually quit the first time around, and and now you’re back. And as you people, as you read this article, it talks about how can leaders enter learning mode? Well, I would tell you, Alice, before we even talked about this podcast before this was even something that you and I we’re going to do together. You were in learning mode. I think you’ve been in learning mode since since I met you. Um, on this time around, um, you know, you approach every situation just like you said, man, I fucked up, but I need to. The article even says I need to learn how to blank. Right? We’ve talked about that so many times. And me as well. I mean, you have to have this learning mindset. Um, but then again, I also think that well, you have some ownership of of of the first time around. I think that organizations also have organ it also have or ownership of what type of mindset are they putting their people into right, or what type of model are they putting them people into? You know, you and I were promoted around the same time both with very similar backstories. Top store manager, right? All these awards, great success, right? Never really obviously had challenges, but just a track record of success and not very many failures. But when I came to the d m role, you know, when I was first promoted my boss, he set me up with with a mentor with a mentor partner and so going into it, you know, going into it before I even moved from from Colorado to Oregon, I had a conversation with my mentor partner. I had a conversation with my boss, and it was the conversation was, This is an entirely different job, your success in your last rule in your previous role. While it’s great experience for you to be promoted within the same brand, transitioning from single unit to multi unit is an entirely different job. And the next piece is is that I’m here to help you as your mentor partner. You know, I’ve been doing this for X amount of years, right? And I want to help you be successful in your new role. And outside of just me, here’s all the other peers that you’ll have in this region. So, you know, my experience of being promoted was it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a new role. You have to come in and learn how to do it and you’re not. There’s not a handbook for this, but there are things like eight other diem’s of the time. There are eight other D ems that you’re surrounded with that are going to help you be successful. So really, you know, when I was promoted, I was picked up out of being I mean, you know, everyone has an ego, ego driven store manager, right track. Huge track record record of success running one of the top stores in the company, right year after year. Sales gains. Um, picked up out of that role and put in an inserted into a role where I was the grasshopper, right? I had to learn. And so I think that organizations owe that to people organizations. I owe it to the new talent. I owe it to all leaders to not force them into, um, such a hyper competitive right. Competition is absolutely good. I mean, we’ve talked about Strength Finder. I know we’re gonna cover that on another podcast, but we know that’s one of my tops and I love competition, but at the same time, it has to be healthy. Right? Organizations have to say, I want you to go out there and I want you to be successful. But I also you have to understand. I know you’re gonna fail in some capacity, and when you fail, right, let’s figure it out together. Let’s find an alternative approach and let’s try again and try again and try again until it works. So, you know, I think absolutely good leaders are good learners, 100% The best leaders are the other ones are getting are their own worst enemy because, um, they’re going to be in a fixed position and not necessarily grow. But approach your job every single day, the article says. First leaders set challenging learning goals in the form of I Need to learn How to right so well to me. You know, that’s not necessarily the best leaders. And the best learners are people that master their existing role and then are curious around other functions of the role or their partners rolls and learning those roles. Because if I could better understand what my partner goes through, maybe I could be a better partner for them, all right? I think that’s one way to look at it. Um, what do you think? I mean, I know you have all kind of examples, but when have you or have has one of your team members approach the situation? Um, I guess from a challenging, learning gold perspective,
you know, I see it all the time. Even within my team or just even people I’ve used to work with in the past is there’s a lot of insecurities that come with. You know what? I worked my way up so hard to get into the role that I don’t want to show you, that I don’t know how to do it. And I think that also comes with the culture that you and I create for our team and how the organization creates a very not a comfortable environment, but just an environment where we’re consistently supporting our leaders to do better, right? I think my previous experience when you read the article we’re talking about it says something about consistently benchmarking themselves against others. Being competitive is super fun, right? I’m a very competitive person. I always want to be number one. You and I work together. And when you beat me, I’m kind of like, uh, I’m coming after you and we’re neck and neck, and that’s a lot of fun. But I think for a lot of leaders that are growing and learned to find themselves as a leader, that we have to create that environment where we’re supporting our alert leaders that are in the learning mode, right? We got to know them really, really well. And, you know, I do have a few employees where they might have been in that rule for a while. But with the new task there in learning mode, and they refuse to tell people they’re in the learning mode and at the end of the day is a detriment to themselves. When you’re trapped in this thing like Oh, well, does this person think I’m not gonna do well because I’m not good at it already. But we have to create that environment where it’s okay to learn. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay that you weren’t really good at it, But you spoke up and said, Hey, I want to get better, right? I would love to work with people that want to learn versus doesn’t want to learn, and that fights me and says, I know what I’m doing. Leave me alone, right? I’m sure you’re like that as well.
Absolute Absolutely. Um, you know what I’m thinking is just based on this conversation is have you ever had us like an experienced store manager that might, um, might not want to be, might not want to go into learning mode with a rookie store manager. Do you ever see that where maybe a new experienced person doesn’t want once doesn’t want to let their guard down, I guess, or be vulnerable around a rookie. Do you ever have that? Oh,
yeah. Oh, yeah. I’ve definitely had that. A few leaders has been the role for 567 years, and they think they’re the best, cause they’ve been doing it for so long. But then the rookies are passing them. Then they get all up in their feelings about I can’t believe you called me out in front of them. I know what I’m doing. Oh, I have definitely those experiences and it’s, you know, it’s it because having a growth mindset that you don’t have to be perfect at everything, it’s okay. It’s okay to make mistakes. I make mistakes all day, every day, and sometimes I have to check myself, you know, But it’s understanding. It’s OK. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with us. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a store manager I don’t carry. If you ran $10,000,015 million more like, you know, big volume doors, it doesn’t matter, but you’re you’re gonna be in a place every single day where you’re gonna have to learn something new. It’s a brand new task. Maybe this guy gets it faster than you, right? But we have to create that environment where it’s okay to learn. It’s okay. We just can’t penalise people for that. And I think I’ve seen that you know quite frequently where we penalize somebody because they’re not top of their game. You know, again, when we do competitions against each other, I think people think like that. But you know, those that she wishes are a little hard on what is your advice on how to get away Leader to be in that learning mode, no matter how long we’ve been enroll, What’s a good tip?
I think, you know, great question. I think as a leader or as an organization. Excuse me. The only reason we’re one of the primary reasons that people would not want to enter learning mode would be they don’t have a safe space. It might not feel like a safe space, because if you think about that, like maybe we talk about the perception of your first time around right where just, you know, it was really competitive, and I don’t think you really might not have reached out to a lot of people, right? Maybe it wasn’t a safe. Maybe you didn’t feel like it was a safe space, right? You have to. As organizations and the leaders, we have to create safe spaces and say, Look, because you don’t know how to do items. See, that doesn’t take away from A or B or D I. I still fully trust. And I know that you’re great in those areas, right? I just want to help you be great over here, too. And so, you know, let’s help you. I’m gonna pair you up with someone someone that you might not have worked with. This person is actually a new manager, right? But this person is really strong with visuals, and that’s an area that you need to learn. So let’s pair up there. And then after you get through that, you know, maybe you could cause I know that you do thing, eh? You’re really great at identifying and developing talent. That’s something that person struggles with. So after you learned the visuals from them, are you would you be willing to teach them how you developing acquire talent? Question mark. Right? So, you know, I think you have to create. You have to We have to be careful on. We were how how we were things, right? So you and I go back and forth with a certain metric right now, we don’t need to talk about it, but you’re currently beating me in it, right? So, um, you’re currently beating minute. Now. If our boss said, Brennan, you need to go call Alice and figure out what she’s doing because you suck. That hasn’t happened, right? But if that did happen, that would create unhealthy environment and, uh, and would push me out of that, would that would put my guard up and I would not be vulnerable with you. Right? But instead, it’s like, Hey, because I’m a learner. I might call you on saving. What did you do? How did you get so much promise? So much progress so quickly, right? Or maybe have one of my people call one of your people right and just talk about sharing best practices or learning from someone that’s doing something differently, right? There’s There’s all kind of different ways to achieve anyone. One goal. So my way is not necessarily better than your way or vice versa. But if we take our ways and combined them, I think it just everybody wins, right? What do you think,
Right? I definitely agree. And I think, you know, you kind of hit it. It’s the way we approach it, you know? Number one. We have to know her people. And as a district, as a region, we have to create that environment. Where are teen or with you and I, the team were on. I think we have an amazing culture within our region where we could pick up the phone and say, Brennan, I suck at creating Google Sheets. Do you have 10 minutes where you could walk me through Rikers? I don’t want to bother you anymore, right? We’ve Bret, you know, I’ve been back, but the company about two and 1/2 years, and that was the environment that was created. So it’s easy to spread that into my market right within our little Chino, our little spider Web, I guess of a region. But it’s easy when it’s already created, and I think that’s what we just need to continue to breed is don’t put mean you against each other, cause that sucks. Because we’re peers. I don’t wanna wish anything bad on you, you know? But you are beating me, and sometimes I don’t fire me up, But most of the time, it brings us down. So I think the best way is Hey, you know, I think you know you’re doing great here. You have some opportunities here. Just need to get better here. You know what? Why don’t you give this person a call and partner together and say, Hey, I’m not that great at this. What can I do to get better? You know, And I think you and I have an amazing relationship where I could pick up the phone and cool. You know, um but I think a lot of the store managers or leaders that struggle with that is when they don’t have a good relationship. Have you seen that as well?
Absolutely. Absolutely. But again, I think that really takes it. That really when we see that, right. So here’s an example, right on a previous podcast, you’ve talked about the panel interview? Well, today I think I sent you a screenshot of a text message. I sent my team or one of my leaders just tossing that panel of idea around. So what I’m going to do is I’m gonna Iive identified that I have maybe a handful of maybe you have some competitiveness going on, right? Maybe when maybe we all love our people and we all think we have the best people, right? But us me having the best people does not mean that you can’t have your best people, right? Me having high performers does not give. Make sure does not say that you have low performers, right? And so how do we get people to say how I have high performers and I manage like this? But that person also has high performers, and they manage, like tthat, right? So one thing I’m gonna do is I’m gonna use the panel. The panel interviews as a way to bring together, um leaders within a new area and share ideas, listen to the interview questions, and then give each other directing on a feedback for them to grow right, because I think that organizationally, as leaders and organizations, we have to say what kind of culture and environment do we want to create, and we can create a super competitive culture where everybody wants to win at whatever cost. But that’s not sustainable. Right? Um, I know when a later podcast, I think we’re gonna interview him. But our VP, you know, he used to always say he always says he gives the Nemo analogy right where all the fish are stuck in a net. Um, the only way they break the net is when Nemo gets him all pushing, pushing the same direction back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, Right. We’ll be. Think about it. Think about it. Because you could be super competitive. You could create a hyper competitive atmosphere where everybody wants to win by by any means necessary. But that’s when the fish are are out, are all going different directions. And that’s not gonna break. But if we understand this, you know, this article does talk about, uh, let me see here. Sorry it talks about I think it says something about not ranking, not ranking people. Right. I think it says something about that forced rankings. Right. Well, you know, I love rankings, right? Because I think I think that people. I think people want to see where they rank were competitive. We’re in a competitive business, right? But we want to be because we’re number one in one area doesn’t mean that we want number seven to be way off. It’s all about the gap. It’s all about how big is the gap in that area, and how do we close the gap? Because there’s always gonna be the first place is always in the last place, but how close is first to last? And that’s really talked. That really shows how successful your leadership is right is the gap between your top and your bottom performers. And so again, I think it just healthy environments. Definitely. You know you’re gonna feed. You’re going to feed a certain competitive spirit. I don’t know if a non competitive person would be as successful in in a retail leadership role, and maybe there are. Maybe they are, but I think that the competitive people are usually the most successful, but it’s the ones that want a healthy competitiveness that don’t hide what they’re doing. All right, um, I mean, every week, Alice, you’re sharing best practices, or I might be sharing sharing a form that I’m a file that I made to help ascend communicate something faster because I don’t want to keep any secrets. If I’m using the tool, I want everyone to have the tool available to him. But let’s talk about how we use that. Let’s talk. Hey, here’s the tool. I use Alice. Maybe you could tell me how if you if you use it, tell me how you use it. And so I could maybe put that spin on it when I use it also, right.
Right. You know, in the article there’s a sentence that says our research on leadership development shows that leaders who are in learning mode develop stronger leadership skills than their peers. And what’s great about our team is all of us are in learning mode. We’ll pick up the phone and challenge each other, like Oh my God, I’m struggling. What did you do? You know, I think like I say, you and I have a crew relationship, but we have a great relationship with everyone on our team. We share. We ask and say, Hey, it’s working over there, so let me pick it up right, and I in previously. I was never in a group, are in a team where we were like that with each other. And I think that is why I am more successful this time around, right? It’s not just me. We have great partners who’s been doing this role for 10 15 20 years and they even ask questions like, Hey, I’m terrible at this right now. What the heck are you doing right? There’s no ego and then we challenge each other and were able to ask questions and lean on each other that it really helps us foster that kind of environment. You know, it helps us become better leaders to help and close that gap. And what’s great is yeah, you know, we might be number 12 and three, but when you get the other people to be right behind you, that pushes us even more to do even better. So that’s a win win. That’s a win win all around, right, because if they’re right behind our but Blake Oh no can’t get comfortable there right after us and it’s a healthy competition. It is a great environment to be a part of and you know what’s great like I was saying, There’s people that’s been in this role for 2010 15 years. It’s wonderful to see that they are able to walk the walk and say, I’m still learning to I’m not the know it all all right and it just helps each other as a team.
Absolutely, absolutely. And I think again when you have that when you have that learning environment and everything you said, it’s just spot on. But when you have that learning environment, people are afraid to try a different. Try something new, try it An alternative strategy, right? When when you make, I think the most important thing that organizations conduce to foster a learning environment is to make people feel safe. I think when you make people feel safe and not only allow them two color outside of the lines, but push them to color outside of the line, think of new things. You’re going to be the most successful, and I think that learning mode and everything that we’ve talked about has a direct correlation with results, Um, from top line sales right and every other K p i ah kee performance indicator down to retention and talent attraction because we all have friends. All of our people have friends. And Oliver, we know back from our store manager days, right? You know the other stores in the mall, And when you create an environment where you feel safe, where you can color outside of the lines where you can fail, where you have a support group to help pick you back up, the results are gonna come. And that’s going to attract people from other businesses to come join your team because they want to see what makes you Why are you so happy all the time, right? And we know, Look, it’s not. It’s not all cupcakes and rainbows, right? There’s still expectations, All right, we still are expected to win, but we also know that if I don’t win, I have an environment in a support system around me that is going to help pick me up and helped redirect me. That’s going to hold me accountable for my results and often times I don’t think we see it amongst our peers. We’re holding each other more accountable than anyone else, and then we hold ourselves the most accountable. That’s one of the points in here is the fearless after action reviews. I mean, how many times do we have conversations? You and I and I love what you said because yes, me and you and I have a great relationship, but we definitely talk. Ah, lot and problem solved and we help each other get through challenging, challenging situations. But we talk about that gap. I don’t think that gap between what our relationship is and what every other person on our team is. I don’t think it’s that wide. I think it’s very, very narrow because I really feel that I could have this type of conversation with anybody about failure, right about what do I need to do next? Hey, this is what I messed up. I really fucked this up. What I want. I know, I know. I had a good week last week, but look, this opportunity over here, it could have been better. What should I do next time? I’m not afraid to go. I’m not afraid to call anybody and have that conversation because it’s a safe environment because we all want the same thing. We all want to win, and we know that the best way to get there is if we all pushed the same way. Same direction of the net. Get a break and we’ll win. So that’s what that’s what I got. What about you, Alice? Anything else you want Ad?
You know, not too much. But, you know are a few episodes ago I brought up the fact that it comes down to you. You know, if you don’t see that environment, you create it. Be the 1st 1 to do it and reach out to the pier and say, You know what? See that all of Wednesday. Hey, you know what? I don’t know how to do something. Do you mind showing me how to do it? And also, if you see progress because of it, then celebrate that partnership. That’s the first step. You know, if you don’t have it created, it takes one interaction at a time. And it comes down to you and the culture you create and the energy you put out and what you want. And you know, don’t wait around and wait for somebody to come to you. You reach out. You know, you asked for help. Because it’s easy to replicate when somebody somebody starts it off. You know, that’s the only feedback and advice I have.
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for the conversation. Alice, great talking to you. And until next week. Crazy fucking retail.
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