A leader with no shortage of personal and professional shifts under his belt, digital media guru Bruce Daisley astutely lobbied to lead YouTube when no other Google UK leaders seemed to care about it and subsequently brought his passion for leadership and culture to run EMEA for Twitter. While overseeing big growth there, he also launched his podcast Eat Sleep Work Repeat, now the #1 business podcast in the UK. Bruce recently left Twitter to pursue these passions full-time, timed with the publication of the U.S. version of his Sunday Times best-selling book, Eat Sleep Work Repeat: 30 Hacks for Bringing Joy to Your Job. Tune in to hear the advice he would have given his team if he were still leading them during this anxious time of covid-19, the importance of connecting via ‘analog’ means like the phone, the secret sauce of high performance teams – psychological safety, and inspiring stories of straight talk that separate the person from the problem.
Episode 42: Shifting to cultures of straight talk with former Twitter VP for EMEA and best-selling author, Bruce Daisley
Shani Magosky: Is your team not performing well? Is morale low and turnover high? Are you falling further behind the competition? I’m here to help. I’m your host, Shani, and this is The Leader Shift Show where business strategy and culture finally meet, and we make the long-awaited shift from rhetoric to results. I promise, I’m not your typical boring leadership consultant, and I will help you get your shift together. Let’s do this.
Hello, LeaderShifters, and welcome to another episode of The Leader Shift Show with Shani. As you know, my mission is to help leaders and organizations get their shift together. Today’s guest, to me, is one of the ultimate LeaderShifters that I could be interviewing on this podcast. Let’s give a warm welcome to Bruce Daisley.
Bruce Daisley: Thank you for having me. Hello there.
Shani: Hello. It’s so awesome to have you. Guys and girls, I want to explain why I’m so excited to have Bruce on the show. Up until very recently, Bruce was the VP for EMEA, for Twitter, which as many people know is one of my very favorite clients. Bruce and I have interacted on many of the occasions that I was delivering training and consulting and leadership circle profile to the folks in EMEA, and specifically, in London.
Bruce recently left Twitter because he had shifted. Even before he left Twitter, he shifted to a podcast host. His podcast being Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat, and a little birdie tells me it’s the number one business podcast in the UK. Even more recently, Bruce has published a book by the same title, Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat: Thirty Hacks for Bringing Joy to your Job which was a number one Sunday Times bestseller in the UK, and has been translated into 14 language including American.
We’re going to talk about a lot of those shifts and probably some more with you today, so really excited to have you on the show, Bruce. Thanks for being here.
Bruce: Thank you. Good to chat to you in a non-worky capacity. It’s great to chat to you.
Shani: Absolutely. You know what? The elephant, it’s not even in the room. The elephant in the world right now is COVID19. While I don’t want to spend the majority of our time talking about it, because I think the wisdom that you have to share is evergreen, and I don’t want to taint it with the COVID19 theme, I do think we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least touch upon it. It is the thing that has shifted the world in, at a minimum, a temporary way, and at a maximum, maybe forever. We don’t know.
Bruce: I think you’re exactly right. At times, it’s difficult to imagine returning to normalcy because so much of everyday normal life has been already upended. I think it’s a perfectly fair thing to open with. From here, I think it’s only right that a lot of us are thinking, “What on Earth comes next, and how do we persist?” I think it’s probably because we are in a shift right now. We’re in the shift stage, but no matter how long we take to transition from that, there will be a new normal.
That might be in three weeks’ time where we are now comfortable, we’re working on the kitchen table, or where we’re now comfortable, we’re sitting on the sofa answering emails and that’s become our job. I think to your regular provocation, the shift is the moment of disruption, and it presents a big opportunity.
The critical thing, I would say, is that it’s no doubt with the economic situation being so perilous, that some poor performance will be hidden. We’ll find ourselves in three months’ time, six months’ time, and some businesses will have performed far better than others. Poor performing businesses will have sat there saying, “No wonder the revenue has gone down to 25%. No wonder we’ve seen the order book empty.” There will be some businesses that have outperformed them. The old truism. The old statement is, “You never want to waste a good crisis.”
Bruce: Yes, and I think it will be a really defining point of difference that some companies, and I think specifically some leaders, will find this a moment of real connection with their team. There will be other teams where actually it will sink very quickly into a morass of disconnection. The lack of team cohesion will quickly manifest itself. People won’t feel connected to their jobs, and rightfully, they’ll blame unprecedented circumstances.
Shani: Just like in any circumstances, you can be in victim mode as an individual, or you can be in overcoming mode. “Okay. Well, what am I going to do to succeed in spite of it? The rules have changed, but I’ll play the new game.” It’s not just individuals who feel in victim mode. It can be entire organizations who stay there and then just are like, “Oh, poor us,” and blame.
As opposed to marshaling their staffs and their creativity to create something different which leads me to ask you the question, if you were still at Twitter with such a huge geographic swath under your leadership umbrella, and Europe obviously right now is the epicenter, what would you be saying to your team there?
Bruce: More than anything else, it reminds me of big things that I was really interested in. I wrote a book, and the book is largely a cookbook of recipes, of interventions that any leader, that any team member, can stage to try to reconnect their team, to try to improve their team dynamic. I became really consumed with one piece of team dynamism, the study of how teams work, which was the importance of sync, of human synchronization.
Let me give you some examples of it. There was a study back 100 years ago by a Harvard professor called Floyd Allport. He discovered that when two workers did work next to each other, even if their work was unrelated to each other, one working harder would actually influence the other one to work harder. One might be working on accounts queries, the other one might be shoveling coal, but one of them putting extra industry seemed to be, forgive the wording context, but seemed to be contagious. It seems that we catch energy from other people around us.
Then you start looking more and more into how this might manifest. Some of the ways that we might see this is we observe in athletes. If you put athletes next to each other and you get them to do athletic activity next to each other, generally, we can measure the pleasure hormones in their body, the endorphins in their body. The endorphins are twice as high amongst people who work next to each other, as the people who work alone.
There seems to be something strange about human beings, even introverts amongst us, that we catch energy from other people.
Obviously, that’s one of the things that we might lose in the course of the next three or four months. I do hope that, on reflection, me saying four months there, turns out to be wildly pessimistic. We do appear to catch energy from people. What can any of us do in the absence of having that option available? It seems that one of the things that we can do is really reverting a degree to analog communication.
I was really charmed with one piece of work that looked at couples who’d sustained long-distance relationships. The researchers wanted to understand that strange secret sauce, why do some couples who live in different cities, why does their relationship survive but then another couple living in different cities, theirs doesn’t. Here’s what they discovered. In their survey of 40,000 couples, they discovered that those who stayed together phoned each other every day to talk about trivial things.
Now, we live in an era where a quick Slack message or a Google Hangout pin, or a quick SMS feels like an adequate response. Liking and commenting on someone’s story feels like it’s a great way to stay connected. It seems that, in fact, there’s something in our DNA, there’s something in our program which is far more analog, that’s far more basic. Taking a moment to connect. Here’s what I would be saying. Back to your original question. I’d be saying leaders probably who are going to have the most impact on their team right now are going to be the ones who probably over-invest in picking up the phone and having a direct chat. There’s something about video calls, sometimes it works for some of us, sometimes it doesn’t. When there’s lots of us on a video call, it can feel that we’re sort of anonymous, that we’re lost in a sea of things.
A leader on a video call needs to be thinking about engaging people, bringing them in, animating, over-animating themselves, and finding the cadence of what each of your team members wants to do. It might be that when you’re chatting to Justine, she wants a date, a 30-minute call where she’s going for a walk, and actually just that moment of connection.
One of my old bosses used to phone me every day, shoot the breeze while he was driving to work. What it did is it sort of abbreviates, it deletes distance between you because when you find yourself talking about what you watched on Netflix last night, when you find yourself discussing these plans to take these kids to the beach in the weekend, you immediately, you sort of delete that distance that we often have when we only communicate in text means.
Look, more than anything I would say that any of us probably right now need to be thinking, how can we overcompensate to bring that– remember the Floyd Allport research? How can we try and bring some of that human connection that might be lost in three or four months of electronic communication?
Shani: You’re right. It’s that informal communication that solidifies the human bonds, it’s not the sales meeting or the all-hands meeting. Those are fun, and those can certainly be culture-carrying events, but they’re not one-on-one relationship building-
Bruce: That’s exactly right.
Shani: -the way, you’re right, picking up the phone and connecting with people are.
Bruce: Yes, that’s right and that’s what the evidence says. The evidence says that we tend to feel more connected to people when we’ve operated in this analog way. I think taking pointers for that, certainly, while we’re going through this really singular period of time, that seems to be one of the critical things.
Shani: Folks, this is not a minor recommendation from someone who has spent virtually his entire career in the digital world, to recommend analog connection.
Bruce: Exactly. I think it’s just a good reminder for all of us that just thinking about what we can do to forge connections, and that might be our mom, that might be our family, that might be our siblings, forging connections seems to be incredibly helpful.
Shani: Since I alluded to your career, let’s go back. You would spend some time on the agency side, and then went to Google?
Bruce: That’s right.
Shani: What was it like going from Google, which even at that point was a monolithic, multi, multi, tens of thousands of employees, to Twitter, which when you joined eight or nine years ago was still very much a company trying to figure out what it was, and with far fewer people. What was that shift like for you, and what wisdom were you able to bring from Google to help develop the culture at Twitter?
Bruce: Yes, you make a fair point. When I joined Twitter, they were just a few hundred people, so in comparison to Google, which I think when I left, there were 80,000 people. There’s probably 150,000 people now, so they were very different. I think the first thing was, at Google, I set about trying to find something that I could work on that I was responsible for. It will astonish you and your audience to know that the thing that I was able to put my hand up and asked to work on because no one else wanted to work on it, was YouTube.
At the time, no one wants to work on YouTube because it accounted for zero revenue, and they were all ambitious and wanted to be associated with the most lucrative things. A lot of people at the time felt that YouTube would fail. Anyway, it didn’t feel that way to me, I adored it, and so I put my hand up and volunteered to work on that. Thankfully, that went remarkably well, it was sort of a good project, it was open-ended, and I found a lot of enjoyment in being able to work on that.
In fact, it was the work I was doing there that led Twitter to contact me saying, “Would you like to come to work there?” I was very fortunate that I was able to really play a part in building the culture at the London office for Twitter, and then, subsequently, our offices across Europe and the Middle East. Critically, it was really helpful for me to try to take some of the instinctive things that I felt and trying to bring them to bear on the culture.
I think what I’ve learned subsequently, and why I ended up writing a book, was that I realized that some of the things that we might feel instinctively when it comes to building culture, aren’t always the holy, the right decisions that probably– I’ll give you one perfect example. I remember meeting a business, and they said to me, “When we hire new recruits, when we hire new starters, we have something called the van test.” They were a smoothie manufacturing firm that was delivering smoothies initially in a van themselves, and it often involved long delivery holds.
They said, “The test when we hire someone is, could you sit in a van for three hours with this person?” Actually, it sounds fun, it sounds like the van test feels like sort of really nice heuristic that any of us could get our heads around. Yes, there’s some truth in it. If you or I were stuck on a plane somewhere, we wouldn’t necessarily want to find ourselves next to someone intent on talking who was very, very different to us. It’s human nature, it’s called homophily. We like being around people who are similar to us.
The challenge, of course, when it comes to building a curious and divergent and diverse organization, actually, those sort of things like van tests are just about the worst thing that we can do. I think, from my point of view, I was honored to be able to build the Twitter culture based on my instincts, but probably, the most interesting thing for me was men being able to mark my homework.
As I set about writing this book and there’s probably a hundred academic papers that are referenced along the way, and they’re playfully hidden behind stories, but there’s a lot of evidence. I think that was the interesting thing for me, witnessing that a lot of us find ourselves, as leaders, going on instinct and hunch, but more often than not, there is some academic rigor that has been done in those areas, and so I was really curious to delve into it and find it really.
Shani: Yes, and so did it frustrate you that you knew all the things, both from your instinct and from your research that would actually make the culture even more productive, yet, it’s so hard to get people to see that? For example, not being on email, late night and weekends, trying to convince people that that’s not good for their longevity and their creativity. People in EMEA, from my experience of tweeps in EMEA, they’re answering emails around the clock.
Bruce: Yes, well, that was sort of part of working in a company that woke up just as we were finishing our working day. It was an unfortunate consequence of that. The really interesting thing for me is there’s often no shortage of evidence that really can point us in a direction. I had one boss in a former job who implemented a Sunday afternoon meeting. The company was having hard times and I think this was a way to signal that the company was in a difficult place and we needed to do something radical. He implemented a two-hour meeting in Sunday afternoon.
It was really just to try– I mean, it was a slow meeting. I would hope that, as a meeting, if you were going to have one at that time, maybe there’d be a meeting right now about the virus task force, that you would try and get the meeting done as productively as possible, but there was a meandering pace to this, almost like we were serving our time. It was like there was penance involved in us doing this in as really a sacrificial way as possible. I was really interested, what you discover is that–
Let me give you one of the things that neuroscience is almost emphatic about. There’s a quote by a guy called Gregory Berns from Emory University and he says that one of the most concrete thing that neuroscience tells us is when the fear system of the brain is activated, all creative activity is turned off. That’s really interesting.
All of us probably, you’re in a job where we might not be labeled as creative, but we were asked to do and to achieve more this year than we did last year. To achieve more this year than we did last year requires inventiveness, ingenuity, quick thinking, “Hang on, I’ve got an idea.” We might be reluctant to say that that’s creativity, but it is creativity, it’s inventiveness. If you discover that you’ve got a meeting that’s two hours on a Sunday, and we’re serving this penance on it, and the very consequence of that, the stress that that creates–
Stress and fear in the brain are almost indistinguishable for the brain. The fear and the stress that that creates, is actually preventing all of the team being creative, then immediately, it feels like a self-own, it feels like a massive mistake that, unfortunately, is self-defeating. I think I found myself in situations where bosses tried to create stressful environments or in situations where the–
One boss once told me, “Now is not the time to be seen laughing.” That immediately tells you that when it comes to workplace culture, laughter is really unnecessary, it’s wasteful, and we should try and eliminate laughter. That goes into your head. What you discover very quickly is that there’s lots of evidence that that’s decidedly not the case. I think, for me, finding some of the proofs, finding some of the evidence on these things was a really important part of my own journey of understanding.
Shani: What you say resonates with me a lot and it’s why I love the Leadership Circle Profile assessment so much. It distinguishes between reactive behaviors that are always driven by fear and anxiety and are intuitive to humans. They’re not wrong, they’re actually part of our DNA, but we also have the choice to turn those reactive behaviors into creative behaviors instead by flipping the mental switch a little bit.
What tends to happen is when people are under stress, or in fear of something, it can be fear of not making their sales quota, or fear of losing their job, which obviously lots of companies have gone through that ebb and flow of the business cycle where that fear has been pervasive. They’re always in that mode of reactive. Some people comply, some people get protective, some people get controlling, and none of them result in the easiest path to success, and driving collective productivity and performance.
What I love about LCP is that framework because it is based so much on not just neuroscience, but organizational behavior, and psychology, and all the related research that goes in to show why people behave the way they do and that we are also responsible enough to choose something different when we realize that we’ve been triggered into that space.
Bruce: Yes, absolutely. I think as you say there, so often, we can inform our understanding of these things with no shortage of evidence and pointers from these tools that are incredibly powerful for us.
Shani: It’s like, how can we in tough times like we’re in now, take the fear and the impulse to control, or micromanage, or to fade, or whatever someone’s individual fear response is, and turn that into innovation, collaboration, vision, community concern, and make lemonade out of the lemons or as some of my friends have been saying lately to honor Italy, like how do we make limoncello? [laughs]
Bruce: Nice. I think for me, the challenge for most businesses is they want everything and everything. One of the things that I was really interested in is an understanding that human cognition, that human energy is rather more finite than we might give it credit. There’s some evidence that if you look at the working week that people put in, that working longer and longer seems actually to produce less.
What happens is that unless we actually find ourselves being honest about this, and we can create a situation where as bosses, companies, leaders, we give teams more to do. We want everyone to complete the survey, it’s going to be six hours’ worth. We want everyone to go through this learning, and it’s going to be this amount of work. All of this seems immensely valuable, but we don’t instruct them what they should stop doing instead. I think the more we are honest about how work is zero-sum. We want you to do this, but we’re going to free you up to do this.
Shani: That’s a leadership responsibility to reprioritize. When the deck gets shuffled, which cards can you put aside? Absolutely. That’s a failure of leadership to be communicative about what the current priorities are. It just seems like it adds and adds as opposed to keeping it the same and discarding some of the deliverables.
Bruce: Very much so, very much so. One of the I think the fundamental challenges, probably the big differentiators. Everyone who’s running a team right now will be going through a decision, which will be, if I’m sustaining the same volume of meetings that I was when people were in the office, now that everyone’s on Zoom calls, or Google Hangouts, or Skype. If I’m sustaining the same volume of meetings, they’ll discover very quickly, that their teams are exhausted. Why? Because just staring statically at 20 hours of video calls a week is just unproductive and exhausting.
Shani: Yes, and no ability to go to the break room and get some cashews and kombucha.
Shani: I know, I miss that. I’d love to shift, switch gears a little bit and talk about, what was your decision-making process for ultimately leaving a wonderful job and a great company to strike out on your own with the message that is in your book, and that you deliver on your podcast because you obviously have such a passion for it? It sounds like it was a little bit of a side hustle that you chose at some point to say, “You know what, I want this to be it now.” How did that happen for you?
Bruce: For me, I had such a fascination with trying to make a workplace that was everyone’s favorite job, by that I mean, not necessarily is an interesting thing. You’re probably aware of the idea that you need to stumble into happiness, in the sense that if you believe that by getting a new suit, or a new car, or going on a certain holiday, it’s going to make you happy, what you discover is the happiness that you actually get from those things is less than what you expect it’s going to be.
When we find ourselves stumbling to a restaurant that we love, or we find ourselves doing something unexpected, it seems to create a delight. For me, it wasn’t trying to create a great workplace that had more perks or benefits than anywhere else. It was, how can I create a workplace that enables people to feel like they’re empowered to do their best work, that they feel the rounding is inspiring them to do maybe more risky stuff than they’ve ever done before. I was really enchanted with that, fascinated with that.
I guess the book came out, it was the best-selling business hardback last year in the UK. I was thrilled with the success of that. Obviously, now, it’s come to US and it’s doing well there. I was thrilled with those things that had gone so well. The question in my head became, “Are you ever going to take the chance to jump the leap and maybe try and turn that into something more concrete?” Not necessarily the best year to launch a work culture.
Shani: Well, who knows, right? There’s a parable out there that comes from Taoism about an old farmer and his neighbor. The old farmer has this prize-winning horse and it gets stolen by thieves. The neighbor comes over and says, “Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry to hear about your horse. It’s just so terrible.” The farmer’s like, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.”
There’s a sequence of things that happen to the farmer, some are good, and some are bad, and the neighbor keeps coming over with either condolences or congratulations. Every time the farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” Then, the last iteration of it, one of the bad things that had happened was his son had broken his leg. The last thing was the army came through their village conscripting all young men for the army, and they didn’t take his son because he couldn’t walk. Finally, the neighbor doesn’t go over to the farmer because he’s like, “Oh, now I get it. Who knows what is good and what is bad.”
Bruce: Who knows? That’s it. To be honest, I’ve just been focused on promoting the book right now. I’ve not necessarily set a business up but who knows?
Shani: Let’s talk about the book for just a second. You talk about, so it’s 30 hacks for bringing joy to your job and they’re divided up into three categories, recharging to unplug, and getting involved in self-care, thinking to build relationships offline, which is a bit of that, the informal interactions that we’ve already talked about, and creating buzz to encourage a sense of engagement and positive energy that will inspire the team. Of the 30 hacks, are there a couple favorites you’d like to share right now?
Bruce: Yes. For me, I was really taken with, I’ve mentioned there some of the benefits that we seem to get when we can energize each other and when we can find ourselves building that. I think the thing I was really taken with was the science behind something called psychological safety. Psychological safety has become a bit of a buzz phrase amongst those who know these things and study these things. Psychological safety seems to be the secret source of all great high-performing teams.
That is psychological safety is the ability to speak candidly, the ability to be frank. There have been times in certain of the interactions around coronavirus around the world, where it seems like some of the leaders that we’ve got have been more intent on being praised for what they are doing, rather than necessarily hearing uncomfortable truths.
Normally, whether it’s the VW diesel affair, whether it’s the Boeing Air Max scandal, whether it’s– and, and, and probably a litany of corporate disasters through time, almost without exception. When we look back at the ingredients that led to these disasters, there was an absence of straight talk, there was an absence of candor in the way that people were talking.
Why? Because normally, because the leader had demonstrated that he or she favored those who were just supportive, just went along with it. They just agreed with it. When we find ourselves without that straight talk, when we find ourselves without absence of honesty, it generally precedes a decision failure.
Understanding that psychological safety for me was so important because you might read, there was a wonderful article by Charles Duhigg in the New York Times about five years ago, talking about how Google had identified that their best performing teams in the melange of hundreds and thousands of teams across 160,000 workers, they had some teams that seemed to be wonderful, high performing teams, and others that were performing less well.
They set some academics to work to try and understand why would some teams perform so well and others less so. Psychological safety was the secret ingredient. We’ve worked out what the magic is. Here’s the confounding thing about psychological safety is it’s incredibly elusive. You can’t mandate that your team is now psychologically safe because it works on a combination of leaders’ behaviors, it works on a combination of things that we emote.
If we find ourselves in a situation where we feel that the boss is rewarding people who suck up to him, then very quickly, we either adopt that behavior ourselves, or we disengage. Psychological safety can be incredibly difficult. In the book, I recount talking to a member of the British Special Forces, that’s the equivalent of Navy SEALs in the UK. He explained to me how they set about trying to systematize psychological safety in their organization. Fascinating. He gave me some tips.
One of the things they do at the end of every day’s military deployment is they will do a hot debrief. This you’ve got to imagine that you’ve got service people literally sweating in the combat khakis that they’ve worn that day. Very quickly, in the moment, they’ll say, “I want us to talk about what happened today. I’m going to describe what I saw, then I’m going to describe what we did, and then I’m going to describe firstly, what I did wrong, then what I did right, then I want us all to go around.”
That simple act of the leader modeling their own fallibilities has a remarkable effect because it invites others to be candid. I think, over time, when others aren’t coming up with the same degree of candor, it permits others to say, “I’m not sure that’s how I saw what happened today.” It separates the person from the problem.
We’re no longer looking at this thing being a collection of blame and responsibility, but more we’re looking at the work as a problem that we’re solving together. If a mistake has been made, it’s part of our solution. We made a mistake and collectively, we own that. I give countless other examples sort of stories because, for me, it was so fascinating to hear this magical soup of ingredients to try and build amazing workplace cultures.
Shani: I love that. I talk a lot about psychological safety, too. You’re right, it’s more of a buzzword, and people don’t really know how to create it, but the ability to be honest without repercussion is definitely a big part of it. The ability to voice different ideas from whoever’s in charge and have them honored instead of blown off, that is something tangible that people pick up on.
People feeling safe to bring their entire self to work, whether that’s their sexuality, or the way they dress, or their religion or whatever it is, and that they won’t be discriminated against or not given the same amount of inclusive opportunity that other folks will. Those are all elements of psychological safety that are really important. I want to take a timeout to address all the LeaderShifters who are listening and watching, give yourself a grade on that.
How do you really think you do in creating the circumstances on your team because it is the secret sauce, and we do need to figure it out. In this time of uncertainty, we need to invite the straight talk, or else, we will not know what the fuck is happening out there. [chuckles] If not now, when? Let’s create psychological safety because it’s challenging to create it when we’re all together. It’s probably even more challenging to create it over Zoom and Slack and all that. You know what? Now’s the time.
Bruce: What I’ll say is the challenge for a lot of bosses is it goes to the heart of your own fallibilities and vulnerabilities because if you create a truly psychologically safe environment, you will find that people tell you things you don’t want to hear and they will provide criticisms you don’t want to hear. How you respond to that will determine whether you’ve really built a psychologically safe environment because if you say, “Hey, guys, it’s been a really difficult week, here’s what we did,” and you’re looking for everyone to pat you on the back.
If you’re saying, “How have we done on this Coronavirus,” and you’re expecting the audience to say 10 out of 10, then what you’re going to find is you’re going to be disappointed. You’re going to find that very quickly, you destroyed the psychological safety. It goes to the heart of us thinking, you’ve almost got to disconnect from your own vanities and ego because if someone tells you, “Hey, I think actually what we did this week was 4 out of 10.”
Then understanding that what they’re doing there is they’re giving you something that although it hurts, the little child inside of you is a really important thing for you to get to a seven, collectively get to an eight. I think that’s the challenge. A lot of us think we just want our team to say, “You’re the best boss I’ve ever had.” Why? Because in the moment, it makes us feel happy but they quickly–
Shani: In the long run, we’re not learning and growing if we are never getting any constructive feedback or differences of opinion.
Bruce: Exactly right. These things, the reason why I spent so long trying to see, there’s never a secret formula, but it’s trying to give some examples. I gave an example of when open-heart surgery was being introduced. When open-heart surgery was being introduced, the latest version that we use now, it was at one stage about 20 years ago, it was a brand new system.
What previously had happened to be briefly graphic, but what previously happened was a rib cage was cracked open and spread open. It was such a remarkably invasive surgery that the survival rates were perilously low. What happened was a new company, actually, a private company came up with a solution, which was a tiny incision was made in the chest. The most of the work was done through an artery in your leg, the work was sort of centered there. The survival rates were through the roof, it was remarkable, transformative.
Here’s the challenge, new teams learning it, it was a terrifying piece of technology to apply. It wasn’t helped by the fact that aside from the lead surgeon, aside from the lead practitioner, no one in the operating theatre could see at all what was happening. Now, I described at length how the best teams navigated that. What you discover is the best teams are the ones where the lead surgeon, he or she, built a climate of psychological safety.
They would say, “Guys, if you can’t see what’s going on, tell me what questions you’ve got. Anyone else uncertain here how we’re getting on?
Should we have a pause, should we chat about what we think we’re learning?” They would form breakouts. There was descriptions in the original work by Amy Edmondson of how the best practitioners would be surgeons who their door was metaphorically regarded as always open. If a anesthetist, if a nurse, if a junior doctor felt that they had some concerns, there was a dialogue to have it.
What you discover is that as you go through this, the teams who had these infallible leaders who had clear ideas of the way they wanted to do it, they often found that after doing about four or five of the operations, they abandoned the procedure. They decided it wasn’t for them. It was flawed. “This is just nonsense. Why have they asked us to do this?”
The teams that had the psychological safety, where they often projected vulnerability, where they talked about things that were going wrong, very quickly, they got to the level of competency far quicker than anyone anticipated. They started requesting more difficult patients. They started requesting patients who’d been ruled out, who open heart surgery was too risky for them. They started working their way down through these cases that were regarded to some extent as inoperable.
Now, this is what I love, when we see these examples of psychological safety, what do we get? Firstly, we get these tiny little breadcrumbs on the path, which show us, here’s the way to get there. Then, we see that actually what you can accomplish is by an order of magnitude far better than anything that we might normally believe we’re capable of.
Shani: Absolutely. Terrific pearls of wisdom and I encourage everybody to go out and order this book, Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat. Where can they get this?
Bruce: If you go to my website, it’s got links to your neighborhood bookshop, it’s got links to some of the biggest retailers, and so you can find that. You can find it at booksellers big and small. Also, if you go to, so my website is eatsleepworkrepeat.com, and there’s about 100 episodes. If you are interested in workplace culture, there’s episodes where we really go into the workplace culture of sports teams, we go into workplace culture of hospitals, we go into the workplace culture of all manner of different places. I think you’ll find something in that for everyone.
Shani: Fabulous. Thank you so much for joining us today. It was so much fun to catch up with you and talk about all these topics that we’re both so passionate about. LeaderShifters, I just want to remind you of a couple of the key takeaways from today, the first of which is don’t be afraid of analog. We might be in the digital age, but sometimes the best way to empower your team is to actually just pick up the phone and have a regular old conversation with them. Don’t discount that at all.
The entire back half of the conversation that we had today about psychological safety, if you’re not convinced yet, read more about it, listen to this podcast again, look at the research that Google produced, I believe it’s Project Aristotle, read. There’s a Harvard researcher who coined the term psychological safety. Get smart on this concept because it really is the secret sauce to high-performing teams.
Frankly, the only way that I can think of to get through times like we’re in now, which are very much VUCA times volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and Coronavirus is yet just another example of something that came out of left field to disrupt our normal. The way to get our teams to shift their mentality and to shift their mindset and to shift the way they’re performing is to have a psychologically safe environment. Thank you so much for the emphasis that you were able to place on that with me today, Bruce. It was so much fun to have you on the show.
Bruce: Great to catch up and you’ve witnessed a London sunset.
Shani: Yes, I noticed that. We started off bright and now it’s gotten dark. I guess right now the difference with spring ahead because we have and you haven’t or something, we’re only four hours different than five, which is normal, I think.
Bruce: It’s good. I get my New York Times daily podcast an hour early at the moment.
Shani: LeaderShifters, thank you again for joining us. You know how to reach me, firstname.lastname@example.org and on all the various social media. Until next time, Mwah.