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Effective leadership strategies - Mark Crowley [Interview]

Effective leadership strategies - Mark Crowley [Interview]

Anushka Rajesh
July 31, 2023

About Mark Crowley

Mark is a world-renowned leadership coach. With his unique and original ideologies and techniques, he has helped leaders worldwide to engage and motivate their teams for better results. He is the author of ‘Lead from the Heart’, one of the best guide books for leaders. He is a professional speaker and a leadership consultant, changing workplaces and leadership strategies.

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Mark Crowley today to our interview series. I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team, before we begin, just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner to 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally.


Welcome, Mark. We’re thrilled to have you.


Thank you so very much. I’m honored. Totally honored.


It's our pleasure, really, Mark.

So, Mark, on your Linkedin Bio, I've read that, you're talking about millions of people trying to quit their jobs every month, and there is so much research around it that leaders are not yet capable of leading teams and they are not aware of how do you go about performing employee engagement in the best way. Why do you think that exists? What do you think is the main culprit here?


It's actually a very good question to start off with, so it's a big question, but it's an important question, because before you can talk about how you solve it, you have to talk about what created the problem.

So I own a business. You work for me. So I'm thinking about what's the best way to get you to perform and that I can make the most money. So the way I would do this is that I would try to pay you as little as possible, and then I would try to work you as hard as possible so that I get as much from productivity out of you in exchange for the least amount of work.

And we believe that that's the best way to go about it. Because A, you don't wanna work hard unless I really challenge you and force you to, right? Otherwise, people don't like to go to work, and so they're going to slack off. And so I have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing.

And so all of that is fundamentally flawed because there's this notion to spiritual idea that we reap what we sow and that you know, what we give is given back to us and we ignore all that. And so we're in a collision course with people because what people want is to be trusted. They want to be valued. They want to be, they want to feel like the work that they're doing matters. 

And if you work for a boss who says, 'I'm gonna try to get you less pay because that'll put more into my pocket'. People can feel that, And if they can feel that their boss isn't generous, isn't caring, isn’t supportive, isn't looking up for them, it shuts them down in terms of what they want to give back.

So ironically, we're in a situation where we are managing people in actually complete opposite of what drives the greatest human performance, which is care about them, support them, make sure that they feel that we have their best interests and hearts. 

It's all about the heart, the feelings and emotions that drive people's performance and if we're trying to squeeze people, we’re trying to take advantage of them, we’re trying to work them really hard, we're going to create negative feelings or negative emotions and negative emotions don't drive anything good in terms of performance. 


Absolutely. It's just very important to keep positivity high because negativity only drowns you out, and then you do not feel engaged or belong to your organization, which is also something that I’m hearing a lot of the employees they don't feel belonged to the organization, because maybe there's a culture mismatch or it's the leader's fault. But that's what I want to ask you Mark.

Do you think that leaders are always responsible for changing cultures and organizations?


Well, I think they have the biggest responsibility for it. Yes, I mean, obviously there are some people that you're never gonna be able to make happy. They're always gonna find what's wrong, you know. And in the real world of life, there's always gonna be something that isn't perfect for us.

So ignoring that kind of an orientation, people who are just never gonna be satisfied, the responsibility to create a culture where most people are gonna be happy and thriving most of the time is purely a responsibility of leadership. 

The issue is, is that we have to convince them first that this is important and we have this idea that hey, you have a job, you get a paycheque, you get many benefits and a bonus. That should be enough. So go do your work.

And what we don't understand is that once people negotiate their pay and they understand what their compensation package is, it stops being a motivator of their day-to-day performance, how people feel in their environment, how people feel all day long, the emotions that they're experiencing really, truly defines the culture. I believe that. 

And so if you create a culture where people don't feel safe, where they feel like they're competing against people or they don't feel that they're appreciated, they don't feel that they’re valued, they don't feel that they're growing, all you're doing is taking away from the very thing that drives them to be engaged and committed to an organization. 

"I believe that it's not about what you put up on the wall, 'we’re a caring organizations' and 'we’re trustworthy' and whatever, it's all about how an individual manager makes their employees feel."

So the biggest challenge that we have is making sure that everybody has a manager that they know has their best interests at heart. That they are somebody who truly thrives in the success of other people. 

So if you work for me and I feel threatened by you, which many managers do, I’m afraid you're gonna take my job or I'm afraid that you're gonna get more recognition than me and you know, my boss is gonna see you as being more talented. All those kinds of fears. Well, am I gonna invest in you or am I gonna teach you, coach you, help you get better? Am I gonna celebrate your successes and share it with the world? No. 

So we know that there are a lot of people in management jobs who don't have an inclination to be that generous with other people. And so when people go to work and they feel like they're competing with their boss, they just feel like I can never win here.

So we've got to change our paradigm for who we hire and have the discipline to say that just because they get the numbers or just because they get results, that they can't necessarily go into a management role unless they also have the ability to be caring with their people.


Absolutely. And maybe in the past it was a little different because you worked just for being the breadwinner, because you were really trying hard to just earn some money and a livelihood for yourself. Now it's much more than that. It's about belonging, and it's about having a purpose in life that just does not limit itself to earning money or having a good house and a good car. It's much more than that.

But do you think that for leaders from then to now, have the rules of the game changed? Or are the core principles of leaders different now or they're still the same?


No, I think that we have a belief system that says that a lot of the things that I'm talking about, how you make people feel isn't really that important. And it negates what you just said. So, Maslow, famously had this pyramid, and down here on the bottom, is this idea that we need to be safe. We need to meet our basic needs. Food, water, shelter consistently not, you know, five days a week, but seven. And three meals a day and feeling like that's never gonna be threatened. And when it is threatened, you've gotta work. And you're not thinking about anything other than how can I make enough money to pay my way and survive. 

But once those needs are met and people feel safe and they know that they have shelter, they have a place to go home to. They know they can count on food. All of a sudden, we start to look high and say, I want fulfillment. I want meaning. I want so much more in exchange for work. And I think we haven't really I mean, I think there's certainly many people that understand this now and I've been talking about this now for, you know, a good ten years and initially people just thought it was like, that's stupid, like you don't need to be concerned about that. 

But what's happened is, and I think we’re in an environment right now, where people are forced to work from home, they’re away from their colleagues, their lives are disrupted and they have a lot of time on their hands. And what's happening is that I think, just in baking bread or making dinner or just being in their homes that they have time to think about what's missing. And can I just ask you a quick question? I know it's nine o'clock at night, but can you tell me about this project, that kind of thing people are aware of now. 

"I think a lot of people are thinking that a lot is missing, like work balance is. You can't expect people to be on their devices all the time."

But also they’re aware of, am I working for somebody that really, truly values me? Like in what do I matter?  Because in all this time, people are thinking, am I in the right company? Am I working for the right person?

And I think there's gonna be a lot of, we saw this in China, where people are getting divorced in rapid numbers because people were being forced together and they realize that they're not as compatible. And so, but interestingly same thing is happening now in China, where they have a record numbers of people getting married. 

So people are looking at their relationships and they're saying, I wanna have a better relationship than I have with work than I had before and I’m talking about personal relationships with marriages and divorces, but I'm also talking about relationships with their bosses and their organizations where people are saying, I don't want to go back to that. I don't want to work in that company anymore. I don't want to work for this boss anymore.

And so we're going to see a lot of divorces, and we're gonna see a lot of marriages where people start to look and say, I gotta find a company where I know that I'm gonna matter. 


Absolutely, That's the apex of the Maslow’s hierarchy. As you said actualisation is at the apex and more and more, a lot of people are thinking about that, especially in these times when everyone’s locked down. And it's just going into perspective, looking at things just in a different light, that makes a lot of sense.

And when you are looking at organizations and you're looking at performing teams, high performing teams, how do you measure their success as a people function? 


I'm not sure I understand your question exactly. But what I will tell you is that what we know, ironically, given everything that we've been talking about, that you know, Google did this five year study where they were trying to define what are the components of all high performing teams.

And so it took them five years because if you find one team that doesn't have it, then your formula doesn't work, and what they ultimately discovered is that there are five different things that define the like premier leadership. Like in other words, if you have these five behaviors, you're going to have extraordinary team performance, and the cornerstone of all of that, like the one that you absolutely have of the five, that you absolutely have to have is psychological safety. 

Now, psychological safety, in my mind, is poorly named. It should be psychological and emotional safety because we think this is the problem and my book is called ‘Lead from the Heart’ and it's not a metaphor. I'm talking about the heart actually having a role in our bodies that tells us whether we're doing the right thing, whether we're on the right path, whether we're working for the right person, we’re married to the right person and all that.

Our hearts are speaking to us all the time. Our brains want the heart out of the way, particularly in business, so we want the smartest people in business. We don't want people to be caring. We don't want people to have emotions at work. We just, we don't really want to know what's going on in your personal life. Just say, Let's just put that aside right now. You do your work and go home, you could be concerned about your family and whatever is going on with your lives, right? Well, that just doesn't hold up any longer. 

And so when we talk about psychological safety, we're talking about the people up here (points to brain) feel like they’re safe, but the truth is this (points to hear) is where we're feeling it. It's the emotional side. Do I have a boss, is he like gonna go into a meeting and throw me under the bus? Do I have a boss who would fire me any minute if I made a mistake? Do I have a boss that is trying to teach me something, trying to advocate for me. Does this boss appreciate me? Is this boss doing anything that makes me feel good? And so that's emotional safety, too. So I think they go hand in hand. 

"This emotional side is being completely expanded in people right now."

So if leaders want to be successful going forward, particularly after this whole mess is over with, and if we don't match it with where people are gonna be, if we come back and we just keep managing people the same way we always did and don't understand that people completely changed and shifted during these months away from their office, we're gonna blow. And where we're gonna blow it is by not understanding that it all boils down to how we make people feel and whether or not they're committed, engaged, loyal and productive. 


Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. And that's why you propagate leading from the heart.

But do you also think that there are just a lot of leaders that pretend to be something they're not? When they come into a workplace, they just have an air around them that they're just trying to pretend that they are great people and they want to be somebody else, they have a mask on. Do you think that transparency is not maintained many a times? 


It's interesting because I think management is a role. So we have to perform to that role like in a play, right? So, but then, the way to do that isn't to pretend that we're something that we're not, all right? It's to embody that role. So what does a leader look like? A leader looks like a human being that is, you know trying to move other human beings to accomplish something. Right?

"So if you start off with the premise that I’m human and you are human and you make mistakes and I make mistakes, then you can be a little bit more vulnerable and say, you know what? 'I don't really know.'"

Like where we're heading, we're gonna figure out together. 

And what that does particularly, is you’re younger I think, where you have less self-security, where you're feeling like people are judging you and observing you all the time, grading you, is that you're reluctant to be authentic because if you are, people are gonna go like, he looks weak or she looks weak and we can't show weakness and ironically, it's when we demonstrate power and weakness that our power goes up with people.

We respect you more when you're willing to acknowledge. You know what, I don't have that expertise. I don't know what's coming. I can't tell you how we’re gonna answer that right now as opposed to blustering. 

So if you have to get more comfortable in your own skin and you have to get to a point where you believe in yourself so much that you're willing to say to somebody, 'I don't know'. I had a woman that worked for me years ago, and she asked me a question, and it was something like, I didn't know what she was talking about.

She was, well, I'm certain that you know about X and so what do you think? You probably had plenty of time to think about X. So you know what, what's your answer? And I said I don't really know what X is. I'm gonna have to go, look it up. I'm gonna have to ask some people and I'll get back to you. 

And I thought it was a serious question and instead she was not at all bothered, and I said, What do you mean? She says, I was just asking you to see whether or not you would, bias your way through this. Or if you would be honest enough with me to say that you don't know. So it was sort an unfair test on her part but I passed it, just by being willing to say, 'I don't know.' 

And so in her mind, my stock went way high because I was willing to acknowledge that I didn't know. And I think that, I'm proud of my response and I think we need to get more managers comfortable being that way and comfortable that way. And that all obviously requires management at a very senior level to allow those people to be that way.

Because the minute you start working for a boss, who is a CEO, or a senior vice president or whatever, and they're judging every move that you make and say, you know, that looked weak, you should have told them that you're getting that kind of reinforcement, and you're just gonna shut down that authentic behavior


Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. I think being transparent, showing that you’re vulnerable, you’re just human makes you very relatable to your employees. And you would also have a very comfortable sense of engagement with them.

But there are often times when you might be frustrated with one particular employee as a leader. And when those times come, how are you supposed to handle this? How are you supposed to give feedback to them or have a heart to heart or a very uptight conversation? How do you handle that?


So if I'm understanding the question, I work for you and I can't get you to be responsive to me. You're not really interested in what I'm thinking or feeling, and I'm trying to reach out to you. Is that kind of the said scenario?  

This is a big hurdle because some people, they just won't ever let you win, they won’t because they're not in the right job. In my opinion, they shouldn't be a manager but I would suggest to somebody who's in that situation that they still try.

And the way to try is to perhaps, send an email to the boss and say, 'Dear Sanjay, I have some things that I've been thinking about work that I'd really appreciate having some time with you so we can discuss. Just generally I’m concerned about X, Y and Z and hope that you'll find some time for us to meet.' 

And if they say yes, let's get together then you've been successful. And if they don't respond positively, then you know you're kind of working for somebody who’s gonna be an uphill battle, they're just not going to respond. But trying and giving people, you know, I always used to say, assume innocents don't come out like, say, 'I'm sure you probably won't be able to find time for me.'

You don't want to say that, you want to give people an opening in the most comfortable way so that they don't feel like you're threatening them. So you say, I really would love the opportunity to talk to you about these things, so I want to send you an email so you can think about what might be the right time for us to get together. That's very unthreatening. As opposed to what I just said. And so if you want, you know, it's ironic,

"But if you want your leaders to be better, you're gonna have to throw some bread crumbs out to get them to come to you in the way you want them to."


Absolutely. That makes sense.

And you are an executive coach based out of California. How different do you believe are the people practices in Silicon Valley versus the rest of the world?


Well, I think that in some respects, but not all. So it'd be very easy to say Silicon Valley has figured all this out. Google has done some amazing work in terms of, showing what the ideal manager looks like, and what the ideal team looks like and so, you think well, 'they’ve solved the puzzle', right? Everybody in Silicon Valley understands this, but they don't and part of it is because in Silicon Valley you've got a lot of people who are here (points to brain).

They're coding all day long, and they're oriented in their left brain and so managing people and thinking about what other people are feeling and anticipating how people will feel in response to the things that you do isn’t at first nature for them. 

So I don't necessarily think that Silicon Valley has all the answers by any means, even though they are often celebrated, like Netflix is a company that has a sort of a ruthless environment, but because they are a tech company and has made a lot of money in the stock market, people look at them and say, well, we should replicate that, and it's not necessarily so.

So you have to look at what kind of a culture you wanna have, what kind of an environment you want to have and sort of, pick the things that you think are the right ways to do things, understanding that at the end of the day, we're managing human beings, and my belief is that the more generous you are, the kinder you are, the more supportive you are, these are seemingly soft kinds of behaviors but they actually make people feel safe and supported and energized and inspired.

So things that we've traditionally thought were weak are actually the greatest leadership strengths that you can possibly have. So what I would suggest anybody listening to this is think about how you want to make people feel. Do you want them to feel fearful? Do you want them to feel threatened? Do you want them to feel insecure or you want them to feel supported and valued and that they mattered and that they don't go home on a Friday worrying about the relationship they have with their boss. Do they want to be growing and encouraging? Do they want to feel appreciated? This is binary. 

Some people think, No, I want to keep people under fear. I want to keep people scared because they won't work hard for me otherwise. I’m like, okay, you keep doing it your way, my way works better, it simply works better because it plays to the heart, it plays to what drives people for warmth.

And so, I would say if you're reluctant to do this, try it with one person. Just go up to somebody and say, 'hey, I just want to tell you I've been watching what you've been doing and your work is extraordinary lately. Yeah. I just want you to know how much I appreciate it' and walk away and see what happens. Just by that one experience, just see what happens. They're gonna tell everybody in the workplace.

My boss just said I'm doing great work and they're gonna go home, and they're gonna tell their family. My boss told me I'm doing great work and they're gonna continue to do great work. In fact, they'll do greater because somebody took the time to tell them. 

It's so simple. And yet we reject this because, well, they know I appreciate them or we’re too busy for that or if I thank them too much, they're gonna get lazy. And none of that is true.

"Just demonstrate to them that they matter to you, and you will see an enormous response. And a very, very positive one."


That's a valuable lesson, I'm sure all leaders are going to benefit from that one.

And when you talk about employee engagement, leading with heart and just trying to be as human as possible, do you think somewhere there is a role of technology in keeping these employees engaged and improving their human experience?


Well, Laszlo Bock has this new company that's nudging people. So, if you're a manager, you have a team, you're gonna get an email, and it's gonna say, 'hey, today would be a good day to send your team an email and tell him how much you appreciate them'. I suppose that's okay because I’ve worked in environments where people did need to be nudged?

But if it becomes where you just rely on the technology, the voice in your computer to tell you what to do I think we're going down a slippery slope, so in many respects, those nudges that are coming from this company should be like, 'Yeah, I already did that. You know, that's a good reminder, but I've already taken care of that', as opposed to waiting for the computer to tell you what to do.

So, put it this way, in, in a technological age that we're living in right now and where we're heading, we need to be more human.

"We need to be not human. We need to be more humane."

Humans can still do bad things. Humane is oriented on the side I’m on, which is the more you can demonstrate to people, you pick up the phone and just say, How are you as opposed to shooting any mail, you pick up a phone and you say I'm not calling just to see where you are on Project A, B and C, and whether you're gonna hit your sales numbers or whatever.

I just want to see how you're doing it. I just want to take 15 minutes. Tell me what's going on in your life. How are you feeling? Anything I can do to help you? That's the whole agenda. 

People are gonna go, what? You don't want to ask me about work, right? And, but when you do that and you, and you literally don't get seduced into yeah, go ahead and tell me what's going on with Project A and B and C, right? If you can stay focused and just allow people just to have that connection, people are like, I can't believe she did that.

Like, that effect will last forever, for days. Like, 'Wow, I can't believe that they would take the time just to see how I'm doing'. But those are the kinds of behaviors that make people go crazy in terms of their performance. It's when we feel ignored, it’s when we feel left out that we shut down and we don't realize that.


Yeah, so they probably can make a difference, in some processes, in some parts, in some ways. But it's really about the connection of the heart and the connection of mindsets that would really bring out productivity and success in the team, and that would be more humane, as you said. And that's wonderful.

And when you talk about the future, right? I mean, we are kind of in unprecedented times. There's a lot of uncertainty, but there is a growth in the millennial and the Gen Z workforce and the gig economy, as we’ve seen has been on the rise and do you think that organizations need to adapt to these changes which are inevitable, and they need to be more inclusive and leaders need to be more inclusive of them to be more successful?


100%. Google, for example, has more temporary employees. They're not even employees. They’re temporary workers, they’re contract workers, then they actually have Googlers, and I think that that's very unstable. I think that's just stabilizing, destabilizing for people because you, you're never really on terra firma.

You never really feel like this job could go away tomorrow. For example, let's say you want to add a room on to your house. Are you gonna hire people full time? Make them your employees to build the room? 

Of course not, because when the room's done, you're gonna go, now, what do we do with these people? So that's one of those situations where you hire somebody and you say, probably gonna take you six months to build the room. And then when we're done, they pay you and you go off and fill the room for somebody else. That's okay. 

By the way this whole time, right now, it's only gonna make those gig people feel more vulnerable. So everybody that's made the decision to go self employed is, I would suggest is probably not necessarily regretting it, but is looking for, how do I get a life preserver around me right now?

Because I can't do my work. I don't have a way of making a living and I’m relying on the government to give me some income. 

Now, lot of people are feeling that right now, but those people, especially because they know when the world gets better they don't have a place to go back to other than the work that they can do. And that may not pick up as fast as company calling you up and saying, okay, come back to work now, right?

There's gonna be a lag time, so people are already feeling vulnerable. So if you can, and I'm gonna expand your question to say that and 'I love our relationship, I love the product you give us. I love how well you deliver it.'

"This isn't just true of gig workers or contract workers, but it's true of the relationship you have with your suppliers, making sure that those people know that they're valued".

We don't say that to people. We just think, 'you're lucky as hell to have that job. You know, we can find another supplier if you don't develop it on time'. Right? All of those. That's how we think, 'I just decided that I'm gonna open it up, and I'm gonna ask some other companies to see if they can help pitch.' 

And we're always making people feel like it's not safe and it's not secure. And we should be doing the opposite. Go ahead and do your work. Look at 10 companies. And when you make your decision, it's like a marriage, right? It's like, I wouldn't say, 'I want to marry you and then, you know, three months later say, Hey, you know, kind of looking at some other women here and maybe I might do something differently here'. That's not a normal way of behaving. It's not even a kind or a caring way of behaving. 

But if you think about it and apply it to an employee or a relationship that you have with people at work, all you're gonna do is make them feel like, completely unsafe and vulnerable and when they feel that, that lack of trust and that lack of safety, is game over for a lot of people. There’s no way they're gonna feel committed to you. 


Absolutely, that is true.

And lastly, I just ask you if you have any other important soundbites that you think that the audience would really benefit from or anything like kind of a message that you want to give out?


It really boils down to this idea that we think that the heart is just a pump and you're in India, which tends to be a little bit more of a spiritual country than particularly in America. And so the idea that the heart is more than a pump is perhaps not an idea that's gonna spin heads, the way it does here. 

But I really, truly believe in science now that proves it that the heart is a feeling, sensing organ, and it's communicating back and forth with the mind. So if you really want to have an impact on people, think about how you're making them feel. Because if I have a feeling, for example, you and I are having this conversation.

If I had a feeling this is going well and that you're interested and you're asking me great questions, I'm having a feeling like I want to keep doing this. If you ask me questions that seemed like you didn't do any research and you weren't really interested, and tell me about your book, all of a sudden I'm having a bad feeling and I'm gonna go, well, I don't have any more time. I'd love to spend more time with you because my heart is saying get out of this and the mind is like, 'oh, I know how to do that. I'm gonna just shut the thing now'. That's how people operate. 

So if you can make people feel safe and valued and all the things that we're talking about, appreciate it that they're growing, you're gonna create an impact where the heart says, 'hey, get to work, this guy's got your back, you know, get the work. He loves you'. You know all those kinds of things. This is a big thing. So that's why the book is called ‘Lead from the heart’.

Because if you understand that deep down, that's where we are. We're not here (points to brain). We're here, and we're here first (points to heart). This doesn't negate the mind, they work together but what we do with businesses, we just say, take the heart out. Just be here (points to brain). And I'm saying you're gonna fail that way. 

Going forward, you have to be here at least 50% of the time (points to heart). It has to be back and forth for balance. And if you're just over here all the time mind, mind, mind, mind, mind, you're never gonna connect with what's most important with people. 


Absolutely. The mind and the heart has to be aligned. And that's when objectives will start coming true. And you just have to be more humane, as you said. And that's a wonderful message.

And thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you, Mark. I really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. It's been a learning experience for me, so thank you so much. 


You're very welcome. Namastey. Thank you so much. 


Namastey. Take care

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