Mark Sanborn is a world-renowned keynote speaker with over 30 years of experience delivering results. His interests mainly lie in strategy and leadership development. He is the author of seven best selling books and has consulted for leading multinational organizations. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and many more.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Mark Sanborn 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 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, Mark. We’re so thrilled to have you as our guest today.
Thank you, to be with you.
Our pleasure. So, Mark, you’ve had an amazing journey with the rich experience of 34 years.
Tell us a little bit about your learnings and interesting experiences that you had along the way.
I started in sales and marketing before I became a full time speaker and author, and there's two things that kind of stick out to me. The first are the experiences I had because I've had a lot of unusual and interesting experiences, like speaking on the beach in Hawaii to people in tents that we're celebrating a sales awards conference or speaking in the middle of a mall in Dubai that was owned by the ruler of the kingdom and who had invited all of his UAE ministers to hear me, to speak to the effectively, their cabinet and those kinds of experiences have been fascinating to me, and I've enjoyed and appreciated them greatly.
But the other thing that I remember is what I learned because Too often we go through life and we miss lessons. Things happen to us and unless we remember what we learned, it's not really a lesson. It's just lost on us.
And one of the things that's become increasingly clear to me is that we say that people all over the world are the same and that's true.
We are in a global economy. But what people don't understand is that even though, while we share the same hopes and dreams and aspirations, the ways we go about achieving them are very different.
There was a movie made in the United States about a GM plant in Dayton, Ohio that closed, and the plant was bought by a Chinese owner and it's a glass manufacturing plant. And the documentary was interesting to me because the American and Chinese goals, their desires were the same, but the processes and the cultural differences that they had to face prevented them sometimes from achieving those goals.
So I think right now in 2020 and beyond, really understanding not just all the things that people have in common, but the different ways that they go about achieving those things, that's gonna be one of the great skills if you're a multinational or global leader.
Yeah, that's an interesting perspective, how you put it. And I think a lot of people will definitely benefit from this because you've kind of seen it all with your experience and over the years you've been a propagator of leadership and leadership styles.
So, in your lifetime, have you seen leadership styles being morphed in different ways with changing times and priorities and what should essentially be the focus of leaders as we delve into an uncertain future?
I could answer that question a lot up until the crisis of the pandemic in Covid-19. The question usually was what's changed most in leadership, and my answer is leadership hasn't changed that much, but what's changed the most are followers.
Now, the people we leave don't think of themselves as followers anymore, and we refer to leaders and followers, leaders being in charge and followers being on the team. But today, especially with the younger employees, if you treat someone like a follower, you're really missing the point.
You can program a computer to do a great number of things, and What you hire people to do today is to use their thought processes, to have both their head and heart invested in the work, which is something that so far computers can't do.
So we have to treat the people we lead, not like followers, where we tell them what to do and they do it, but as collaborators and co-workers and colleagues and associates and team members, because the important message here is that how you talk about the people you lead determines two things, it determines how you treat them, and it also determines how they respond.
The key to leadership is to engage people to achieve a common goal or objective, not just tell people what to do. And historically, there were times that people knew what to do, but they never understood the bigger picture of why they should be doing it or how it contributed to a successful outcome. And so that's changed very dramatically.
I think people want much more autonomy and in their work lives, they want to know what needs to be done, and they want the tools and resources to do it. But they want the latitude where it's possible to bring their own, their own style, their own perspective, their own unique personality to the job being done.
Absolutely. And I think that previously and you must have seen this, leaders and organizations and employees, they worked for, basic earning capacity just to kind of be capable of earning. But now it's shifting not just from earning, but to have a valuable higher-order purpose, to really have a purposeful life.
And in that sense, do you think leaders have evolved from becoming very business-centric to more of people-centric and then empathizing with them and understanding them as people and not just capital, as that’s called?
Well, I believe successful leaders have had to make that shift, and it's a false dichotomy, this idea of people or profits, because people and profits are intertwined in such a way that you really can't separate them. If you only produce results, if you only produce numbers, the people that you lead will dislike you.
They may do the minimum amount to get by, but they won't be committed to you or to the company. If you only take care of your people, if you're only nice to the people but don't deliver the numbers, you're known as a Hail fellow, a good old boy or good old gal or a nice person, but you probably won't be with that organization for long.
You can't achieve one at the expense of the other, or you won't have a healthy enterprise financially or in terms of your employees.
Leaders have really had to become very practical and realise that if you're only getting people to do what needs to be done because they have to, that's called compliance. And nobody ever really performs well when they're simply being compliant. Leaders get people to want to do what needs to be done. And that's of course, commitment. That's when we all do our best, work our best.
And in my latest book, ‘The Intention Imperative’, I talk about three really important shifts that leaders need to pay attention to, and one of those three shifts is from motivation to inspiration. Now motivation is good. It gives you a reason or reward to do what it is you're being asked to do, and that reward can be intrinsic or extrinsic.
What we find here in the United States is that millennials, 84% of them say they'd rather do important work that matters and be recognized by their employer, and that doesn't mean that they don't value recognition. It just means that recognition is enough.
They don't want to spend eight hours a day on an entire shift doing something that really doesn't contribute to the greater good. So I call inspiration, motivation to the power of purpose. It's giving people the rewards that they need. They need to be paid. They need employee benefits and perks and time off.
That's all still important, But it's all not enough. You've got to be able to tie that to a higher purpose. The greater good, whether it's for the customer or for the organization or for the community or for all three. And that's what the best leaders do "The best leaders inspire. They don't just motivate."
That's a beautiful way of put it, it's just not about motivating, but it's about inspiring.
So, would you say that, we used to call leaders as managers before, and now the jargon is more towards being a leader and inspiring. So would you say that managers were good at managing people and probably even motivate them to an extent? But now you have leaders who stand as examples, who can ride through the storm, and who can really inspire people and get them to do, to get them to kind of achieve an objective?
I believe all leaders need to have good management skills. But unfortunately, not all managers become good leaders. There are a number of differences, and I'm generalizing a bit in limited time. But, for instance, managers tell but leaders sell. A manager tells what needs to be done but a leader sells you on why that's important to you and to the organization. Managers form workrooms, but leaders form teams.
...and in a team, the real test is, is that group accomplishing more than they would have accomplished if they weren't working together?
If you've got four people in a workgroup, you get the results of one plus one plus one plus one, four people. If that group is experiencing the synergy of teamwork, you should get greater results one plus one plus one plus one should equal 5, 6 or 7 because synergy is the ability to help leverage each other's strengths, complement each other's weaknesses so that you get more done.
I think most managers take credit, but I think most leaders give credit. I think that leaders are the next level above management skills. Management skills are important, and I know a lot of people in my profession use management leadership interchangeably. I don't buy that. I think that you can be a good manager, but not a great leader. I don't think you'll be a great leader if you're not a good manager.
Absolutely, absolutely agree with you on that one and I think you have to be leaders and not managers. I think leading something gives you a higher-order purpose.
And I think the sense of gratification is higher when you can achieve something together with your team and as managers, you might be good at micromanaging and help people do tasks correctly on time, but you're not really developing their mindset for success and that could be harmful to the organization. So absolutely agree with you on that one.
You know we talked before we started recording about this idea of a remote workforce, which, of course Covid-19 has made us rely on by necessity. And the question is, is that going to change the way we do business? And the answer is unequivocally, yes, it already has. But let's just say that everything goes back to normal. Hopefully, sooner than later.
Will people spend the same amount of time in their offices or will they spend more time remotely? Well, here's the question. And that is, are you focusing on how people do things for the results that they achieve and in the past, management wanted people in one place for primarily two reasons, one so they could oversee and control and two so that those people who were interdependent could collaborate with each other?
Well think about technology now, and of course, you know whether it's, Webex or Zoom or any other platforms that are popular. They make that collaboration possible, Slack and others. So no longer do we have to walk down the hall and sit in a room with the same people to collaborate and as long as what somebody is doing, meet the standards of the job being done, and it's ethical and moral, I'm not that concerned with where they do it or how they do it.
I'm concerned with how much they get done and how well they do it, so we're gonna, we've seen the two biggest impediments to remote working, being basically solved by technology and new ways of thinking.
There's still some jobs, like manufacturing jobs, that robots don't perform, that are gonna require people. There are still the great work being done right now around the world by first responders, whether it's in healthcare or firefighters or police officers, those kinds of things are going to require they be present, although technology obviously is affecting all of those areas as well.
But I think that if you're hung up on getting people to sit in a chair from eight until five every day, by the way, I've managed a number of employees, and I know that you can be sitting in a chair working intently on your computer and doing nothing more than posting on Facebook. So the idea that by having people in the same room that they're productive, that's really kind of an archaic idea.
Yeah, It's not just that, if you have your team face to face with you, they're gonna be very productive. It's not really that. You must find a way to measure performance. And that's kind of my follow-up question to you.
How do leaders, how should leaders measure performance of the team and then take a stance, okay, you know, my team is doing well or take a stance that I need to improve and what is that measure that you kind of look at?
Well depends on the team, but you need a baseline or what I would call minimum required results, those are results that are usually passed down if you're a middle manager from someone higher up. One of the great challenges and frankly, there's no easy formulas, how do you know when you're asking your team to do too much? Or here's another problem.
Teams that are asked to do too little are more bored than teams are asked to do too much. Teams that are asked to do too much might not be happy, but most people would rather have something to do than to be looking for something to do.
So I think that it takes a great deal of both intuition and insight into the capabilities of your team to know what that baseline minimum required work should be. I think anything that falls below that baseline, whatever metrics that you use, because I know the listeners today are very varied in the things, the jobs that they do, in the industries that they do them in.
But what you need to do is to make sure you're meeting at least base line minimum required work. But then you should also ask yourself if this is our goal, what's our potential? And a big part of my work says that if you achieve your goal by the middle of the year, let's say your sales professional and you have a sales goal for the entire year 2020.
If you achieve that goal by September 1st, what do you do for the rest of the year? Now I don't care how motivated you are. There's what I call the problem of the security of an achieved goal. Once we achieve a goal we relax, now that's not all bad, because we can't stay wound tight 24 hours a day.
But what I do think is that "We should ask ourselves not just 'are we achieving our goals' but 'are we pursuing our potential?"
Because I've never worked with any high level individual or any company that could tell me or prove unequivocally they have maximized their potential.
Most of us are far under performing our true potential. And that's kind of to me what makes business and sports and life exciting. And that is we get up in the morning and we don't focus as much on how good we were yesterday. But we focus more on how good could we be today?
So all of these different kind of measurements we have, right, like KPIs and OPRs, we've got a systems that will tell you these are your goals and these are your system team level and organization goals. Do you believe in all of that? Is that really helpful?
Well, I do believe in measurement. You know, there's an old management cliche that even though it's familiar it’s true, and that is ‘You measure what you treasure.’
First of all, you can have too many metrics state and I'm not the expert but leading indicators and lagging indicators are important because a lot of the things that we find out, you know what our sales were for the last quarter are lagging indicators, leading indicators are how many calls you're making and your close rate and your prospect.
And so the best way to manage results is by leading indicators. That's the inputs, if you will, that give us those numbers that we desire at the end. The problem is, too many metrics confuse people. When I'm a pilot, I haven't flown for many years. But I understand flying and you have key instruments on your panel and you monitor the most important instruments.
Now there are other instruments that are less important and that can give you information. But, but your altimeter, your airspeed, your ascent, descent, these were some of the key indicators.
Now I say that leaders need to ask themselves what are the most important instruments or gauges on my dashboard. You need a leadership dashboard and I can't tell you what they should be. But you need to know, are you performing in the most important areas? You'll have more than five or six metrics, but you should have only five or six primary metrics. And the other metrics should support them.
Right. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, that will cause a lot of confusion. And that could lead to an individual getting more demotivated than being motivated, brightened, and that can destroy careers as well. So the balance has to be there. It has to be thought through and strategized correctly. Yeah, I agree with you on that one.
Yeah, and I'll share a story. It’s kind of sad. It happened many, many, many years ago, and I won't mention the airline or the airport, but basically before auto-pilots were sophisticated as they are today? If you set your airplane, a commercial airliner on autopilot, you could disengage by putting pressure on the stick or pressure on the controls and this airplane had landing gear problem.
And while they were trying to solve the landing gear problem, the pilots bumped the yolk, which disengaged the autopilot. The plane started to descend, and in flying they call this task saturation. They became so focused singularly on getting the landing gear down. Nobody noticed that they were slowly descending and literally they plowed into the ground without any warning because of this task saturation.
Absolutely, that makes sense.
And what is your take on feedback? How, do you believe in critical feedback? Or do you believe leaders should do more of the positive feedback mechanism and should it be continuous or should it be managed annually or semi-annually? What is your take on that?
Well, performance reviews primarily failed because they’re retroactive, you know, they tell you what you've been doing right or wrong for the last six months. So I think that a performance review shouldn't be a surprise.
Ken Blanchard, famously when he taught at Cornell, said at the beginning of every semester I gave my students all the answers to the questions on the final exam and my fellow teachers and administration were upset. They said, why did you do that? He said, because it's my job to make sure that they know what it is they're supposed to know.
My job isn't to find out what they don't know, and I think in a way that's a great metaphor for what we should do. I call it feed-forward and that is, giving people the information they need now to be successful in the future.
It doesn't mean that there doesn't need to be feedback. Feedback is minor correction or reinforcement. There's only two kinds of feedback - positive and negative, Positive says, keep doing it. Good job, Negative says, stop doing it or do it differently.
People need that information. But here's what makes feedback work or fail.
Now yes, I know the person is responsible for their performance, but there’s a difference between saying Mark, I don't like the speed at which you talk and saying Mark, you talk too fast.
You see the speed at which I talked is my performance. I control how fast or slow I talk. But if you say you don't like me even before you get to the point that the reason for that is because I talk too fast, I get that not as constructive but as criticism. I don't see that as feedback, I see that as something that’s directed at me, something that's negative about me, not negative about what I do.
So maybe the single greatest art in giving good feedback, any feedback is to be able to be tough on the problem but soft on the person, to address the performance that's controllable and that can change but to maintain the relationship you have with the person.
And if you're a parent, it works at home, too. You know, one of the hardest things about being a parent is having rules and boundaries while maintaining the relationship with the child. Because if the child feels attacked that you don't love or care for him or her, all the rules and boundaries in the world aren't gonna work. You've gotta maintain that kind of relationship with them where you say you're valued, you're love, this behavior needs to change.
Right. That's an interesting take. How you connect parenting to leadership and that makes a lot of sense also, and somebody interesting also told me that it should be more of high frequency put forward and which would be, you know, low impact on the negative part of it because performance reviews are mostly, they’re low on frequency and they’re high impact on the negative. So yeah, that could really, really help out an individual's performance.
And we're kind of now in this turmoil, and we’re forced to kind of work remotely. Do you think this is going to be the new normal? And how would leaders balance the need for employee welfare and safety with objective business approaches and the need for being in the office?
Well, first, I'm very opposed to the phrase the new normal. It's become a cliche, and, you know, normal is whatever happens, we have to be fairly agile. I know we want some sense of certainty, but increasingly, we've got to be more agile, and certainly taking new information and factoring it in. The new normal, here's why I'm against the phrase. I know what people mean, but if you think you found what normal is, you stop paying attention.
You know, one of the things among many that we hopefully learn from this pandemic is the stuff that we think can happen and it's really horrendously terrible, but probably won't happen, can still happen.
And a lot of what happened, if it wasn't predicted, it was certainly on the radar, but we were distracted by doing other things that we thought were more important. And maybe at the time, they were more important. What I think instead you have to do as, as a leader going forward is to realize that whether or not you know, you work behind a desk or you're a technician on-field or you work from your home, that the key to any day is, to, to have a routine or to have a, a formula. And as I've worked with a number of leaders now, during this pandemic, I'll share with your listeners and viewers what I shared with them.
First, the first thing that every effective leader and high performer needs is rest and the one nice thing about the pandemic is most people, whether or not they take advantage of it, have more opportunity to rest. Rest keeps your immune system up. Lack of rest sometimes causes people to perform as if they're intoxicated. Extreme sleep deprivation has that ability, so the first thing you have to do is rest.
Because in any crisis and situation, the primary responsibility of a leader is to take care of him or herself first so they can take care of their people. Now leaders may have to sacrifice more. May have to sacrifice first. But don't become so sacrificial that you think by getting sick and dying, you've done your team a favour. A good leader takes care of him or herself first so they can take care of their team. So you need rest.
Number two, you need routine, and when I get up in the morning, I have a routine. I exercise every morning, six days a week, one day for recovery. Exercise is more effective, by the way, or as effective as pharmaceuticals and dealing with some depression.
And it's a way to keep healthy, energized your immune system up, I also wake up in the morning, and I have key activities that I do first thing in the day because that for me is the best time to do them. After I get through my routine, then I go to the third thing and that is problems, one of the most pressing problems that need to be solved. Not all problems are pressing. Not all problems need to be solved. You need to have a sense of what's most important.
Then number four, what are your projects. Do you have at least two or three things that you have identified that you are capable of and want to accomplish by the end of the day, might not be a major goal, but projects are the sub-parts of goals, and they keep us moving forward. So you got problems and then you've got projects. That's number four.
Number five are relationships. And let me just tell you two things. One is, some of the worst advice I’ve heard during the pandemic is that we have to over-communicate. You know what, we're so over-communicated, we’re not paying attention to anything. Companies that I didn't even know I used to do business with have emailed me to tell me how concerned they are in doing their part in the pandemic. And so now it's almost impossible to get people to open emails because so many are useless, low priority emails.
What you need to do as a leader is not to communicate more, you may do that, but to communicate better and better means that when you do communicate, you have something important to say that there is a reason and people are much more likely to open your email or take your call or your text or whatever means that you use when they know that it's going to be important. Not all problems are pressing. Not all problems need to be solved. You need to have a sense of what's most important.
The second thing when it comes to relationships is good leaders, always, especially in times of crisis share the Pie - PIE, which is an acronym, and it'll help you remember. I know it's corny but it will help you remember. First you’ve got to bring people back to purpose because if people get discouraged about what they're facing day to day and lose sense of their purpose in the future, they become demoralized and give up.
So you've got to continually remind people so that they stay purposeful. They know that the suffering, the inconvenience, the hard work, the changes are all for a greater purpose. Whether that be personal and/or professional.
The second thing, you've got to share are ideas, good ideas. I am in touch with about a half dozen or more friends that are very bright, that I trust and we're sharing ideas, we’re sharing books, we’re sharing tips. These are the kind of people I know have done their research, they're informed and I've learned some things that I've done during this slower time for me as a speaker and author, specifically from people that share their ideas with me. And when I have a good idea, I try to share it with others.
And then finally, the E is for encouragement. People need to be affirmed. They want to know they're not in it alone. Somebody else remembers and cares about them. And I'm not talking about being gimmicky and just sending these affirmations, little bromides. I'm talking about taking time to check in with people and reminding them that they have what it takes to succeed. So one is communicate better, don't over-communicate. And, and two is when it comes to relationships, share the PIE.
And finally, the last thing is recreation. You gotta make time to have some fun. You can't go and, and I've seen doctors. They're just going, they’re superhuman. They haven't had time, can't recreate. But eventually, they're gonna have to because you need that, that downtime or entertainment, Hopefully, that recreational will be with your family and loved ones. So those are the ways to structure day, especially in a crisis. But really, any day if you want to be more productive and effective as a leader.
Well, absolutely. I think that is the crux of being productive in this time. And let me just summarise it for the viewers because I think this is important. So you talked about sleeping well and then talked about a routine, a good routine that you start with your day and then you talk about the problems that you need to address, you need to prioritize which ones go first. Not all problems need to be solved.
You spoke about projects, have something to do during the day to complete some of them, and then take on relationships which is not over-communicating. And that is a very different opinion than what I've been hearing all this while. And, it really just made me think that we must communicate better than just over-communicating and that's food for thought.
And the second part of it is you follow the PIE, which was having a purpose and ideas and collaboration with ideas and really upskilling and getting yourself up to a different level. This is a good time to do that. And also encouraging to be, you know, just better people encouraging positivity and being in this together. And finally, recreation, which is basically having good downtime. Have I summarised that okay?
Oh, you've done, you've done great. Thank you.
Absolutely, I think this is wonderful advice. And thank you so much for kind of laying that out. I'm really sure it's gonna help a lot of viewers out there.
And the next part of it is that, what do you think about, there’s a lot of talk about gig economy and like you said, millennials entering the workforce now, there will be a lot of challenges for leaders as well to work and to be more inclusive. And do you think gig economy is now going to evolve especially when you consider the growing ranks in millennials?
You know, I'm an economist by training. That's my formal education is in. And you know, I'm not a practicing economist. I pay a lot, I pay close attention, we really don't know the impact in our respective countries or globally the pandemic is gonna have on the economy. But they will be far-reaching, and they will not come to fruition in the immediate future. This is a long term situation in terms of the impact that the economy faces. I think the economy hasn't changed as much by differences in generations as it has by differences in circumstances.
For instance, a hundred years ago, you know, you would not, you had an economy that would not have been able to withstand a Pandemic. Well, I mean, I guess you’ve got the Spanish influence in the beginning of the 1900s. But the kind of Pandemic we're having today might have been totally changed the economy, it probably would have survived, but it would have been very different than it is today.
I just think we've gotta be again. I go back to what I said earlier. We've gotta pay attention. Be very, very informed, super informed. We've gotta realize nobody knows with certainty, you know, even the experts aren't gonna get it all right. And we have to make the best decisions based on the information we have at the time and then be able to adjust or update the decisions we've made based on new information. And as vague as that is, that's really the only practical way I think we have to go over.
Right. Absolutely. We must be informed and just try to kind of, take decisions when you're, you know, you have right knowledge to make informed decisions and that would really help all, all the business folks out there, right? And, you know, lastly, to kind of end, we've come to the end of the interview.
If you'd like to leave any other important sound bites for our viewers.
Well, I hope people who have enjoyed the time we've spent today will go to marksanborn.com, especially to check out my blog and videos, because my goal is to give people information that can be used to be more successful in their personal and their professional lives. I've been blogging specifically about the Pandemic and leadership crisis. So that's it, marksanborn.com. I have about 70 or 80 short videos. I'm in the business of sharing ideas because I guess I would end on this.
Ultimately, whatever business you're in, whatever kind of customer you have, What customers buy isn't a product or service. What they buy is the ability to be more successful to enjoy their life better, to reduce the problems and challenges that they face.
And so if you frame what you do, whether you're a speaker or in health care or in law or manufacturing or AI, if you ask yourself, how can I help my customer be more successful? You'll always have an admirable and a profitable goal in mind.
Absolutely. Those are wonderful words. Thank you so much for that message, and it was a pleasure to talk to you, Mark. Marksanborn.com, I’m definitely going to visit that. And I hope all our viewers do that, too. I really, really appreciate your time, Mark.
And thank you so much for sharing your views with us. It's truly been an enriching experience. So thank you so much.
My pleasure. Thank you as well and all the best.
Thank you. Let's keep in touch and stay healthy, stay safe.