Ladder to the Leaders of the new age workplace – John Baldoni [Interview]
About John Baldoni
John Baldoni is a globally recognized Leadership coach who has been transforming workplaces and leaders for more than two decades. He is the bestselling author of 14 books, which have been translated to 10 different languages. He’s been recognized as one of the most influential experts in Leadership, Training, and Development by a multitude of organizations worldwide, bringing with him huge experience in the field. We are very honored to have been an interview series.
We have the pleasure of welcoming John Baldoni today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of PeopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 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, every month.
Welcome, John. It’s good to have you.
Thank you, Aishwarya. I’m very happy to be with you and thank you for that warm introduction.
Our pleasure, John. So, John, you have had a wonderful journey in your career.
Can you tell us a little bit about it and share with us some experiences that shaped you to be this amazing place now?
Well, that’s a good question. I think it begins with my parents. My father was a physician, and my mother was initially a homemaker but became very active in our community and local politics. And both of my parents were, my mother is still living. Bless her! And they served others. My father as a doctor, my mother as a community organizer, and doing better things for other people. So that’s where my outreach came and I’m walking in their shadows.
So, my education. I went to Georgetown, which is a Jesuit school, and the Jesuits taught me to think critically, or at least they tried to. So I try to do that as much as I can. I began my career in corporate communications as a writer, and so I wrote speeches, and I eventually said, Hey, I want to be saying those things on stage and So I had gone back to school and got a master’s degree in the University of Michigan Dearborn, and I’ve been writing and coaching ever since. So what I do now is a second career for me. But my writing has been consistent for 40 years.
Yeah, that’s amazing. 40 years of writing.
And so in all of your experience, what are the key points that leaders today should keep in mind while managing their ploys, especially in the situation of the pandemic because the world has shifted to remote working and lead us not only confused, so what would you advise them?
That’s a very good question. And I’m always asked about how leadership is evolving, and I actually don’t think that it is. I believe in the concept of servant leadership where a leader is there to bring people along with him or her. And so I think those principles are timeless.
They have been with us since the beginning of time. What has changed are two things. One is, more women in management and leadership positions, which is good. That broadens the scope of leadership, and we are more inclusive, and women have taught us to be that way. And so I think organizations are moving toward that. It’s not simply a matter of diversity. Its inclusion and inclusion are not just genders, but people who think and act differently.
“Different cultural backgrounds in each of us bring something different to the party.”
Now, the other thing which has changed and we’re seeing this particularly in the pandemic is globalism and this is the pace of change. All right, so a friend of mine who’s a physician said, if what had happened in Wuhan, China, had happened 40 years ago, it might have been a one or two page story.
But today, what happens in one corner of the world can easily be transformed, affect another community, particularly if it’s a virus, and so that has changed. So what do leaders need to do right now? I think they have to be there for their people. In other words, be seen, be heard, and be accessible.
Do what the organization needs them to do to keep things together. So, while we can’t physically travel, we have to use the medium that we have. Simple is a telephone, text, and video chat. So I think in some ways leaders are more accessible right now because we’re all kind of united through our technology.
So how much of a role does technology, really playing this? Do you think that people now are forced to use technology? Previously everything was face to face and they could just solve problems in the office itself. But now, leaders are forced to use technology. And do you think that that also can be a hindrance to our leaders?
I used to say that the human way as humans are not wired to look at video screens. We crave human contact. We want to see humans, and we need contact with people together. I think that will continue, but I think we will use technology in ways that make our lives easier, which is what technology is all about. So instead of calling everyone together for a meeting, let’s just do it as a quick Web chat, and instead of wasting time, it will be more to the point and will be more specific.
So I think we’ll integrate this more into what we’re talking about. And I think some organizations will find that their employees work better, virtually so they will keep them virtual. And that has to be a mutual decision because a person who wants to go to the office should, if the possibility exists, we should allow them to.
But if a person wants the flexibility of working virtually, let’s let them. And here’s my little thing about this, we do use the term remote workers remote. I don’t like that term. Remote means isolated and off the chart. Let’s use the term virtual, and that implies mutuality. It works for you, and it works for me.
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Wow, yeah, that makes a lot of sense, it’s just not about the term remote.
I think you’re right, and generally speaking, what are the skills that as a leader, a lot of leaders have trouble with communication. We’re just kind of the main aspect of being a leader trying to communicate and convey the right message and have everybody on one page aligned them to a goal. How did thinking leaders be more effective?
Communicators, I think, thinking about this question and getting back to virtual. I think if you’re a boss, you have to be more plan-full. You have to know that at 10 o’clock I’m going to have a video chat with, say, you or my team. So I’m gonna think about what I’m going to say before I get on the call, whereas before, a boss might just walk into the meeting and start talking or chat or whatever.
Maybe we’ll be more planful. And that’s good when I say, I came up with a little model thing about what speakers, leadership communications are speaking, listening and observing and then acting up. So we speak our message. That’s the plan full part, and we listen. Listen, listen. And we observe and the observation is what am I not seeing? So are people engaged in their work? Do they want to come to work? What are the obstacles? And if I say to you, Aishwarya and how things are going? and you kind of look down and you go, Well, they’re fine.
And then I ask someone else, and he does say the same thing. I’m knowing. I’m not getting the straight truth, something they might say. Everything’s okay. But I have to look at myself and I’ll say, “ What kind of message am I sending? Am I aloof? Are you afraid of me? because I’m your boss. So afraid, I mean, are you? You don’t want to tell me the straight truth. And if I’m the boss running our team, working in our company, that’s the problem. That’s a problem. So I think by speaking, listening and observing more plan-fully, I think we condone a better job.
Right. So I think we should plan in advance as to, when you want to connect with the team and just schedule a particular time, probably block their calendars and just talk and communicate on video calls and just get to know the expressions and what they’re feeling, how they’re feeling.
Right! Always read the room, and then how people are reacting. Now, interesting Aishwarya, and it’s harder on the video to do that? So that’s why we still need this human contact. And we’ll get back to that way. We will. When? I don’t know. But we will.
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We will. Absolutely.
And in all of this, what about middle managers? What is your advice for middle managers? Because they will also need to be very, very effective communicators with all the levels in the organization.
Well, I’m a big champion of middle management and because they’re the ones that make things happen, we like to think that the CEO says, do this and everybody does it. Well, it doesn’t really work that way. It takes women and men of good heart and good intention to carry forth those directives.
And we have something called alignment or everyone is united in the cause. And if we have, people will say, I don’t want to do that or whatever. Your alignment falls apart and we’re not acting as one unit, we’re not acting the best way we can. So what you said is important.
But I like to say that middle managers need to think like a CEO and act locally. So what do I mean by that? They think big picture. Where’s our company going? And they think, how can I fulfil that mission? How does what I do contribute to the whole? That’s what’s important.
Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. And, you know, in all of this we also see that the gig economy is rising, there are gig workers for all kinds of jobs.
How it is in the management of the organization is going to change given the circumstances?
Well, that’s a good question. And I think t’s easier for a company to hire gig workers because they don’t have to lease them out. They don’t have to pay them benefits. And so in a sense, what they are is peace workers. You do 10 things. You get paid for 10 things. You do nine things. You get nine things. You’re not on salary. Some people like that flexibility.
I worry about them. The sustainability of gig workers. They need to have the protections that they have. So why? So they can do their best if they’re worried about their next assignment. They won’t be focused enough on what they need to do.
So companies have to come to new relationships with them. Be more protective. As long as you’re producing for me, I’m gonna have your back, as if they would for employees. And in a way they are employees. So, they should be treated respectfully.
Absolutely. Inclusion is very important nowadays. And you have to be very mindful of all sorts of employees that you have and treat them with equality. Right? And you know, we’re talking about the challenges that leaders face. Now you have worked with several leaders and, you talk a lot about it.
So in your experience, what is that one thing that leaders need to change right now? What do you think leaders most often do wrong?
I think they need to…
“Look at employees not as assets, not as resources, but as contributors”.
And when I look at you as a contributor, I’m looking at you as a partner. And our contributor is someone who has the potential to collaborate and that means no company succeeds without the hearts and minds of its contributors and when I feel that what I do contributes to what you do, we can collaborate and your idea and my idea and my way of doing things it’s one in one becomes five, you know, because we’re so much stronger when we work together than when we work independently.
Absolutely. And then also a lot of times that there are employees that do not match with the culture of the organization or they’re not able to achieve goals, and then leaders have to give them feedback and try to improve them.
So what is your concept of performance management and measurement of performance?
It’s a good question, and it’s a tough question, and I think and I talked about this in my new book called “Grace – A leader’s guide to a better us”. And I think it begins with respect. And it’s, I assume, the best in you, Aishwarya.
And let’s say I think that you are underperforming rather than going through and saying, look what you did wrong. Let’s sit down and let’s have a conversation. Okay, tell me about what do you think about the job? What should you be doing? And we talk about it and we align our expectations. You might have expectations for this, and I have expectations for that. I am the boss. So I can say, Aishwarya, I need you to do these things.
And so we have a conversation about it and then we agreed to it. So what we’re doing is having a coaching conversation and then I hold you accountable for those expectations. And at the same time, I support you. Are you trained to do what I’m asking you to do?
Do you have the resources to do what I’m telling you to do. And that’s important because if you don’t have that you can,
“You might be well-intentioned. You have a good heart, but you can’t fulfill it because you don’t have the right tools.”
That’s my responsibility. And so if you underperform, I’m responsible for that underperformance. But if you if the employee has everything, then she or she may not be the right person and I need to find you another position or we need to go our separate ways.
Right. So leaders need to be accountable and they need to take ownership of the behavior of the team members also.
Yeah. And when you mention accountability,
“Accountability begins at the top. I have to be accountable for what I’m responsible for”.
And if I shirk that people will sense that immediately. Well, the boss doesn’t do, he expects me to do something, but he doesn’t fulfill that part of the bargain. So why should I listen to it? Accountability is critical.
Absolutely. That makes sense.
And at the individual level, do you think that leaders should have more emotional intelligence than having IQ?
That’s a good question. I think we need both. I mean, you have to have smart, so it’s gonna be able to do your job, and smart will cover up for your lack of emotional quotient. Your people skills and people do get hired because of their smart, but they get promoted because of their EQ because they get along with people.
So you actually need both and at the same time, if you put me, I know nothing about engineering, So I have good people skills, and you could put me in an engineering team and I’d probably make friends with people.
But I’d be terrible because I don’t know it. At the same time, you could take on an engineer with not great people skills, put him on an engineering team and coach him to be better, open up, more, and be more receptive to feedback with others. So it’s that balance.
Absolutely, a balance. Right on. That kind of brings me to the last question that I have for you.
So, if you have any important sound bites that you think that you know of us should know right now.
Well, it’s something I said before, but I’ve said it many times.
“I say three things : Be seen. Be heard. Be there”.
So what do I mean? Let people see you. Be around, okay. Be there. Listen, say your message. Be consistent. We talked about being planful, but also listen and listen for what you don’t hear and then be there. What does Be there mean? It means everything.
It means if you ask your team to work on Saturday, you go in on Saturday. If there’s a tough job to be done, you work extra hours to do it, being there also means you recognize good performance. And when you do a good job, I let you know about it. And I thank you in public, and I’m transparent about that. I am inclusive of other people. So I do everything that’s necessary to make my teamwork. So, be seen, be heard, be there.
That’s a wonderful message and what that implies is that you know, I think often leaders just saying that when they become leaders, you know, their job has been reduced or now they can relax and they could just manage people. But in reality, leaders have to work harder so that the team is motivated and they really need to have more accountability. And that, I think is also, you know, a big gap.
Absolutely. You have hit the nail on the head. I could not have said it better.
Well, thank you so much, John, for joining us. It was a pleasure talking to you. I really appreciate your time and your views, so thank you so much.
Thank you, Aishwarya. You asked great questions and you’ve made it easy for me. So I say thank you.
Oh, thank you so much. Thanks for your time.
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