World Reimagined

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Published
Jan 25, 2021

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 Focusing on our strengths and finding meaning in what we do will unlock our best selves and allow us to lead and succeed even when the going gets rough, even when it seems like success and integrity are at odds. In this episode, Gautam Mukunda is joined by serial entrepreneur, author, and co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy, Tal Ben-Shahar, and blog writer and author Eric Barker to discuss how creating a meaningful narrative can change our experience.

One of the biggest insights of all of social psychology is that the situation is often more predictive of behavior than individual personality traits. So, leaders need to frame the new experience of work from home.”

— Eric Barker

Books Referenced:

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, by Tal Ben-Shahar

The Joy of Leadership:How Positive Psychology Can Maximize Your Impact (and make you happier) in a Challenging world, by Tal Ben-Shahar

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong, by Eric Barker

Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field, by Nathaniel Branden

Daniel Deronda, by Mary Ann Evans aka George Elliot

On Becoming a Leader, by Warren G. Bennis

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, by Peter F. Drucker

Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut

Guest Info:

Tal Ben-Shahar is an author and lecturer. He taught two of the largest classes in Harvard University’s history, Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership. Today, Tal consults and lectures around the world to executives in multinational corporations, the general public, and at-risk populations. The topics he lectures on include leadership, happiness, education, innovation, ethics, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, and mindfulness. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and have appeared on best-seller lists around the world. Tal is a serial entrepreneur and is the co-founder and chief learning officer of Happiness Studies Academy, Potentialife, and Happier TV.

@TalBenShahar on Twitter

Eric Barker’s humorous, practical blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, presents science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. Over 345,000 people subscribe to his weekly newsletter and he has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, and the Financial Times. Eric has given talks at MIT, Yale, Google, United States Military Central Command (CENTCOM), and the Olympic Training Center. His first book, Barking Up The Wrong Tree, is a Wall Street Journal bestseller.

@bakadesuyo on Twitter

 

Transcript 

Speaker 1:

Ten, nine.

Speaker 2:

One small step for man.

Speaker 3:

The reality can no longer be ignored.

Speaker 4:

We stand today at the threshold of a great event.

Speaker 3:

That we live in an interdependent world.

Speaker 1:

Two, one.

Speaker 5:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world.

Speaker 6:

I want there to be peace everywhere.

Speaker 7:

We look for integrity, we look for intelligence, and we look for energy.

Speaker 8:

Every country, including the United States is going to get impacted.

Speaker 5:

An original podcast from NASDAQ.

Speaker 9:

Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity?

Gautam:

1928, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Inside a new jujitsu school called the Gracie Academy, a small boy sits on a mat waiting for his big brother to show up. The boy is Helio Gracie, the youngest and smallest of the Gracies. And his brother is Carlos Gracie who founded the school.

Gautam:

The air is tense when Helio receives word that Carlos is running late. Though he has never led a class before, and despite the fact his small stature has stopped him from sparring, Helio has been observing Carlos for years. He feels ready.

Gautam:

It's a classic scenario. What happens? Well, Helio can't overpower fighters who are bigger than he is. At least not relying only on the traditional Japanese techniques. He can't win on strength. He can't win on speed. He can't win on coordination. His natural deficit is just too hot.

Gautam:

So what can he do? He learns to harness his assets, leverage timing, and natural body movements. And he comes up with an approach so effective that he revolutionizes the martial arts all by tapping into his own strengths.

Gautam:

Focusing on one's strength is a foundational principle in the work of Tal Ben-Shahar. Tal is an author and a teacher. He taught the most popular course in the history of Harvard. And his books, including Happier and The Joy of Leadership have been translated into more than 25 languages and have appeared on bestseller lists around the world.

Gautam:

Tal founded the Happiness Studies Academy and co-founded Potentialife, an organization to help executives, managers and frontline staff develop positive leadership habits. He is here today with Eric Barker. Eric is an author and former screenwriter. He writes the blog, Barking Up The Wrong Tree, which offers science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. And his first of the same name is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. That and Eric trained in mixed martial arts in Brazil with the Gracies. I asked Eric what MMA taught him about focusing on his own strengths.

Eric:

There's a common saying in MMA and UFC, but you need to be good at everything, but the best fighters are better at something. Basically it parallels Tal's point where it's like strengths are really critical. Knowing where you're strong with mixed martial arts specifically, that plays into strategy. How do I get my opponent into the situation where I'm strong and they are weak, which is about as Sun Tzu as you can get.

Tal:

It applies to the workplace as much as it does to sport, if I do a lot of work with high tech companies. And if I spent all of my time trying to get a brilliant engineer to be an empathic listener, like Mother Teresa was then we won't get anywhere. Peter Drucker again said, "We need to manage our weaknesses while focusing on our strength." And what does it mean to manage our weaknesses? It means to get them to a point where they don't hurt us, or they don't prevent us from using our strengths. So if David Beckham had an amazing kick, he didn't need to be the fastest player in the world, but he needed to be fast enough so that he would get into position to use his strength and kick.

Gautam:

So can you think of a time, Tal in your life where that kind of principle really helped you, thinking about things in that way?

Tal:

Yes. Today.

Gautam:

Okay.

Tal:

Or any other day for that matter. I have an organization where we offer certificate programs and soon a master's degree in happiness studies. Now, from the minute I co-founded this organization, I made it very clear to my partners that I'm no manager. I'm not very good at managing people or dealing with the day to day. I have the idea and I have the content. I'll speak about it and spread the word, but I found partners who could compliment my abilities as well as my disabilities.

Tal:

And I think that is what's most important. When we talk about people being well-rounded, I think that's misguided. Teams have to be well-rounded not individuals. Individuals need to have specific strengths, and that usually means that they also have specific weaknesses or very extreme weaknesses even.

Eric:

Gallup did plenty of research on how people spend their time. And what they found consistently is the more people spend time doing things they're good at, the happier they are, the more fulfilled they are just across a range of metrics. Martin Seligman at UPenn has a lot of research on this as well. The more time people spend on their signature strengths, basically just all the happiness metrics and fulfillment metrics really, really start to go up. So it's a life-changing... It's not just leadership in the workplace, it's life-changing to focus on your strengths in life.

Gautam:

Eric, how about you? Is there a time from your life where thinking about things that way really helped you?

Eric:

I don't have a PhD. I don't have an academic background. I look at a lot of the research, but my strength is in really making it accessible, making it readable by the layman, making it entertaining and fun, because my background is in screenwriting in Hollywood. That's where I can really add value. That's my strength.

Gautam:

How did he realize that?

Eric:

I mean, both are writing, but they're so different. Having been in Hollywood and having written for Disney and Fox, and having spent so much time in fiction, having learned so much about story structure, telling a story, making something compelling, making the reader feel. But then when I started reading social science and seeing the academic in statistical rigor, there is a disincentive to be entertaining because it doesn't look formal. It doesn't look serious. When you are writing books for the mainstream audience, when I'm writing blog posts, well, now we're back to Hollywood. So for me to realize, "Hey, wait a second. Actually, there's a way for me to mesh these two," that was something that was a learning process for me, but it was really just deeply enjoyable.

Gautam:

This enjoyable thing actually seems like a trigger to me, right? For me, I would say that I cannot do something for very long if I don't care about it. I can't do a job, I'd be good at it just for the money. Tal, for your work on leadership, there's this idea that fulfillment seems a crucial component of that you can't feel fulfilled if you're not enjoying what you're doing.

Tal:

When people talk about strength, usually they refer to the things where they have great abilities, where they excel. I think what is no less important, what are you passionate about? In other words, what gives you strength? Yeah, you can suffer through things and get positive reinforcement, and that feels good for a while, but ultimately if you're not passionate about something, you're going to run out of energy.

Tal:

If I may give a personal example, I think I'm pretty good at doing research. You know, I did it for a while and did quite well. However, I'm not passionate about it. I'm passionate about reading about research. I'm passionate about teaching research, but not going through the process, the research process. On the other hand, I'm very passionate about music. However, you don't want to hear me sing. Not now or ever.

Tal:

So that doesn't fulfill the two requirements. On the other hand, when it comes to writing, I'm a fairly good writer and I'm very passionate about it. In other words, there is the overlap between the two types of strengths.

Gautam:

Tal, Eric and I have all built careers researching and writing on leadership and the area in leadership that I'm most interested in is ethics. I'm obsessed with the questions of how you know what the right thing to do is, and how you get the courage to do it when it's hard. Because if there's one really good, simple rule that tells you what the right thing is, it's that the right choice and the easy choice are rarely the same. So everyone, but leaders in particular face a test of their ethics when success and integrity seem to be at odds. That challenge is compelling. I asked Eric what his research on leadership has taught him about issues of ethics.

Eric:

Most of the stuff on leadership, I think is dangerously positive. And I don't necessarily mean the research. I mean, the stuff that's accessible. I mean, a lot of it just seems like syrupy, Instagram quotes more than anything else. So to me, I always try and counterbalance. When you look at stuff like The Dictator's Handbook, I mean, it was written by an NYU professor. When you look at stuff like Jeffrey Pfeffer's work at Stanford GSB where it's like, it's not always the good guys who win.

Eric:

And now certainly over the long haul, a lot of this stuff gets exposed, but we have to look at it. It's like okay, what issues are being addressed? Why would people do the "bad thing". To get more nitty-gritty, to look at the dark side of things, potentially, I think one of the big issues there is that there's always a component of leadership that is performative.

Eric:

It's not enough to merely get the results. In fact, that can lead to deeply unethical behavior, but the performance, how you look, how you make people feel being a role model. I think that's a useful lens to see where a lot of the ethical problems come up because too many people often focus on seeming like a leader or getting the results, but not balancing the two. So Tal, this is exactly where I hope the conversation would go, but given your own work on leadership and fulfillment, and sort of a very positive model of it.

Tal:

So first of all, Eric, what you're pointing to, which I think is very important is the fact that the social environment matters and it matters a lot. And there's a lot of work in the field of social psychology, showing that in most situations, the environment matters more than the individual. In other words, what does it bring out of you? When Lincoln was running for president, he gave two speeches and there were a couple of months apart.

Tal:

One was in the South. One was in the North and in the South. He actually approved of slavery in a superior versus an inferior race. Whereas when he spoke in the North, he said in his words that he finds this form of discrimination, abhorrent.

Gautam:

What Tal is talking about here comes from the Lincoln Douglas debates of 1858. Lincoln and Douglas crisscrossed the state of Illinois and had seven, three-hour debates. Could you imagine that happening today? Illinois was a deeply divided state. When Lincoln spoke in Northern Illinois, his opposition to slavery was apparent. But when he spoke in Southern Illinois, he sounds to modern ears, almost as racist as his opponent.

Gautam:

In my opinion, Abraham Lincoln was the greatest person who's ever lived, but he was a politician to do anything at all, he had to win. And that meant appealing to the people of Illinois, where they were, not where he wanted them to be. Context is incredibly important, even when we're talking about Abraham Lincoln.

Tal:

Honest Abe lied, outright lied because he wouldn't have been elected had he told the truth in the South that he was really against slavery. So he was inauthentic there. And then later on, when he could afford to be authentic, when he was already in power, then he was his preferred, I would assume self. So I think we need to make the distinction. When we talk about leadership, what kind of environment do you lead in? Are you accountable to 50 million people or are you just accountable to a five-person board?

Gautam:

Eric, when I was teaching at HBS, students would occasionally talk about iconic business leaders and behaviors of theirs that students thought they should emulate. They sometimes praise some really toxic behaviors because people they thought they should admire successful business leaders, titans of industry, and acted that way. How would you have answered them?

Eric:

I think a big issue here is short-term versus long-term, because I think many bad behaviors do have short-term benefits. Diego Gambetta is an academic who's done a lot of research on the mafia. A lot of people might look at Tony Sopranos of the world and say, "Wow, that must make things easier." If an employee is problematic or your competitors are problematic, you can kill them. And that's not what Gambetta found in the research. It actually presented more problems.

Eric:

Because in the short term, absolutely, if somebody was causing you problems, you could actually have them killed. You're a mob boss. But what does that mean? That means when you're looking to hire new people, they realize my boss kills a lot of people. I don't really want to work for someone like that. So he realized that a lot of the more successful people and organized crime were very judicious about their use of violence, because in the long term, it can be really problematic.

Eric:

And I think this same thing where you see a lot of short-term strategies that, yeah, you might want to give that, but over the long haul, you're going to develop a reputation. So I think to understand that, really helps in terms of weighing from a very rational kind of amoral stepping back objective perspective. Does this really with our longterm goals?

Tal:

I couldn't agree more with Eric's assessment, and that goes also to what Peter Drucker used to talk about when he said your best employees are volunteers. Why? Because they have options. They can go anywhere. So on the one hand, you want to obviously treat them well so that they're with you. And we know that if you increase levels of well-being off the employees, retention rates go up significantly. So that is absolutely the right way to go.

Tal:

At the same time people do bring up Jack Welch who are tough leaders, tough managers and extremely successful. So how do you explain that? They also have other qualities that for some people are more important. So you're willing to pay the price of a harsh leader because that leader is so brilliant and such a visionary, and you want to be part of what they're doing. Ideally, what you want is both. However, we still need to acknowledge the fact that there are some situations where even toxic leaders can attract very good people who are volunteers.

Gautam:

I know when I was a consultant, my best experience was when I was on a team where we were working for 30 consecutive days in the office over 18 hours a day. Right? So that was brutal. It was incredibly difficult, but it was my best experience because it was an important project, but also because of the partner who brought me on to that team was so emotionally gifted that you wanted to perform for him.

Tal:

It's the principle is there because the leader that you're describing had such a powerful pull that, that in a sense for you, outwait other things such as the need for sleep perhaps.

Gautam:

Shocked.

Tal:

Or shocked, exactly. So the question is just how powerful, how important, what the leader has to offer. And leaders offer many things. I don't think you will find a leader who has it all. However, you will find leaders who have some things that are at an extra ordinary level, and we're attracted to these people. We want to work for them. As you say, we want to do good and do well.

Eric:

There's so much, it's about objective achievement or it's making money, getting promotions and outward external metrics. But in the end for us as humans, it's like our operating system is a story. It's a story we tell about ourselves, to ourselves. Bill Swan has done some really interesting research at University of Texas at Austin, just on self-verification theory, which is this somewhat counterintuitive idea that we actually don't want to be seen positively. We want to be seen as we see ourselves, that that's the real goal.

Eric:

That's why some people reject partners who are too nice to them. We want that reflection. And so that's not an issue of objective achievement in terms of clear metrics, that's an issue of interpretation. That's an issue of here's what I did, but what does it mean to me? How does that impact my story so much of the research? So much the philosophical work is about that when it comes to meaning and fulfillment, that story of who we are less than any like objective achievement.

Eric:

What's really interesting to what Tal has been saying about the issues of passion, emotion is that for that, we're willing to suffer. We're willing to suffer. There's been repeated studies that show moment for moment, parenthood does not make you happy. Parenthood makes you unhappy. You do experience sampling on parents, they spend a lot of time unhappy. But in terms of meaning, it's one of the most profoundly meaningful things. It contributes to that story of who we are.

Tal:

The Greek said, one can only be happy if one evaluates one life in retrospect when their life is about to end. So in that respect, when I look at my life, when I'm by myself in my room and evaluate what I'm doing, I think these are the important moments that we need to bring into the equation of happiness. And you're right also about kids. Moment to moment, not great, always. However, taking a step back while that that can be, and often is a profound experience for many people, not all.

Tal:

So once again, we have the tension. We have the tension between what it looks like from the outside, how it is experienced inside, how it's experienced right now, how it's experienced in retrospect. The great leader, again, is the one who's able to take into consideration both. We do want to experience momentary pleasure, and we also want to experience a sense of meaning and purpose of our life as a whole. Yes, we want to look good in front of other people. We're social animals. And we also want to evaluate ourselves positively in solitude.

Eric:

Daniel Kahneman has done a lot of work in terms of, he always talks about the experiencing self. Again, that kind of happiness in the moment issue versus that reflective self when you're looking back. And this shows up in the research many times, where when we go on vacation and you're taking photos and recording them video, and you're not actually enjoying that as much as you could be in the moment. What we're doing is forgetting the experiencing self and focusing on the reflective self.

Eric:

For leaders, there's that issue that there's things employees are going to have to do that they may not enjoy in the moment, but when they have a story, when they have a mission, when there's this greater narrative, that I'm a part of something, that's what people value more than anything else. I mean, tons of people do work and duties that aren't fun in the moment that are awful, but they don't remember those minutes, those hours. They remember, "Oh, the great thing we achieve."

Eric:

When you hear people coming out of startups and they sound like they've been to war, but they prize it. It's like they compete to, "Oh no, I worked more hours than you did," because it meant something. And that meaning the events, plenty of people suffer, but the difference is in that interpretation, in that meaning in that story and leaders are the ones who can provide that story.

Gautam:

Eric's statement about how stories work in our lives reminded me of Viktor Frankl's iconic book, Man's Search for Meaning. Tal, Eric and I all love that book. Frankl wrote that people are called by a will to meaning, an inner pull to find meaning in life. Frankl credited his survival in a Nazi concentration camp, to his ability to find meaning even in that unimaginably horrific experience. This pandemic has been a brutal experience for many. It's devastated people across the world, but it's still nothing like that.

Gautam:

If finding meaning could help Frankl, however, it can help all of us. How do we find that meaning? How do leaders help their people find it in the face of exceptional challenges?

Eric:

So what Tal was saying, it's one of the biggest insights from all social psychology is that the situation is often more predictive of behavior than individual personality traits. So leaders need to frame the new experience of work from home and what I use specifically was entrepreneurial in the sense that it's still business, but there's an added level of autonomy. There's an added level of independence.

Eric:

I think it's going to take a richer narrative. It's going to take a more specific, more customized narrative now that people are desperately separated. But you're entrusting your employees with more autonomy, with more flexibility. You're allowing them to be more original and creative and dynamic. I think using those aspects to try, and like I said, paint a richer, more detailed narrative because you can't be there every moment looking over their shoulder.

Tal:

Eric, you talked about allow them to be more creative, more innovative and entrepreneurial. We're certainly going through extra ordinary times on so many levels and we need extraordinary leaders. And I turned to the work of Robert Greenleaf from the 1970s when he looked at the greatest leaders throughout history. The common characteristic of them all according to him was that there were servant leaders.

Tal:

So he gave the example of Moses in the Bible when God saw him chase the lamb. That's when taking care of the lamb, he decided, well, he can also serve my people. Or Jesus was certainly a servant leader. You fast forward to the 20th century, Gandhi. Nelson Mandela, when he came out of prison 27 years out of the public's eye, what words does he have to share? "I am your servant." You see Anita Roddick in the Body Shop as a servant.

Tal:

Now, the interesting thing that I find here is that the number one characteristic that Robert Greenleaf and later Ken Blanchard and others talk about for servant leaders, number one characteristic is their ability to listen. Eric going to your point, I think it's precisely, the leaders were truly able to listen today that will facilitate that entrepreneurial spirit, that you talked about, that innovation, that creativity, this ability to think differently.

Gautam:

Does happiness have a role to play? When it comes to the research, Eric is skeptical.

Eric:

It's like when you look at the happiness research, it's like what you see is that happy people are diluted. I'm oversimplifying.

Gautam:

Unrealistic positive.

Eric:

Yes. There's a positive bias. When people lack that positive bias, we have word for them, they're called depressed. That's a natural thing in the human brain. We have to know that it's there. And I think another thing to actually talk and speak to this better than I can, the issue of self-compassion or I think that's really critical in the ability to get accurate feedback and not become clinically depressed, to be able to deal with it.

Eric:

Kristin Neff has done great, great work with us. Just the idea that you don't think you're superhuman and then critical feedback destroys kind of your buzz, your image of how amazing and awesome you are to realize that, "No, it's like we make mistakes. You live, you learn. It's acceptable." And that allows for improvement. Taking that self-compassionate attitude. Kristin Neff's research has shown that it has all the benefits of self-esteem with none of the negatives.

Gautam:

I want to comment on that because that's something I've taken from each of my relationships with you. So for both of you, when you think about this ability to develop this self-compassion, how do you do that in yourself and how do you help other people do it?

Tal:

So I think what's important here is spending time in solitude because when we spend time in solitude that we connect to our deeper self. Now, the reason why people very often are afraid of spending time in solitude, because that's also when we ruminate. It's also when we feel deep sadness. However, experiencing this is important. In the short term, it may be unpleasant and it may be more pleasant to go out and to wash your sorrows away by dancing or ignoring or suppressing those emotions.

Tal:

But ultimately, they come back to bite you. Denial is not a long-term solution. Then what's important also is writing about it. There's a lot of work in psychology about the importance of journaling. There's a work by James Pennebaker and Laura King and many others. And what that research shows is that when we open up to ourselves about our deepest sorrows and pain, it hurts because we bring it up.

Tal:

However, in the longterm, it has a positive effect in terms of ultimately feeding better and positive effect also in terms of better understanding others. So being in our room by ourselves and experiencing compassion and understanding what we're going through, again, by thinking about it, writing about it, talking about it, that is the first step towards self-compassion and by extension compassion for others.

Eric:

What's really interesting in looking at Pennebaker's work in terms of expressive writing is that people who are depressed tend to ruminate. They go over and over and over bad things in their mind. And that's a profound negative, profoundly bad. However, therapy and the expressive writing exercises that Pennebaker did the work on, have huge long-term effects on helping people overcome trauma and just move forward in their life and feel emotionally better.

Eric:

And the critical distinction is that in therapy, you talk with a therapist to take all those events, those things you're dealing with, and basically to construct a narrative effectively around them, to implement them into the story of who you are, to give those events a meaning that makes sense in your life. And it's the same thing is that Pennebaker found that the expressive act, writing exercises worked best when people put cause and effect in there, when people took the events and started to say, "Why did this happen? How is this related to other things? Was does this mean? How does this connect to my greater life to think before things or after and start making those associations?" And again, creating a narrative around it, it allowed it to give it a meaning, to give it a purpose. It could become a springboard. That thing I overcame.

Tal:

Eric, I'm so glad you brought that up. The interesting question is why does writing about it work? My mentor, Richard Hackman, when I asked him for advice, when I went off to work as a consultant in the business world, he said, "Keep a journal." That was his advice. And it's so important for exactly the reason that you pointed out and that is drawing on the work of Aaron Antonovsky. It's through writing that we gain a sense of coherence, a sense of coherence. And according to Antonovsky, who was a sociologist, there are three elements to a sense of coherence.

Tal:

The first one is understanding. And you pointed out Pennebaker showed that people who use words when they write such as, "Now, I see that, or I understand, or I realize," when they reach that stage, they're getting closer to a sense of coherence. So the first one is understanding. The second one is a sense of manageability. "I can do it. I can handle it."

Tal:

The third element is a sense of meaning. Again, going back to Viktor Frankl's work. When you find what you are going through as meaningful, that is part of experiencing coherence. And when you experience this sense of coherence, this is when you can overcome difficulties and hardships and challenges.

Gautam:

I loved that both of these writers ended by explaining how writing can make meaning out of your life. But you know what? The research backs them up. Writing is one way to turn a random series of events into a narrative, a story with causes and effects, a story that has meaning. According to Frankl, we are meaning making creatures and in confounding times, meaning can help us see the way through. I always want to make sure we get in these last two questions. I asked Tal one book he would recommend to all of our listeners.

Tal:

Can I recommend two?

Gautam:

Yes, of course.

Tal:

Thank you. So the first one is The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden. It's a book that impacted my life. I wrote my dissertation on that book, and today I continue to draw inspiration from it. The second one is Daniel Deronda by Mary Ann Evans aka George Eliot, which I think is a profound book on leadership.

Gautam:

And Tal, one person you've met who you know well. So my definition of that, being something like you actually could communicate with this person, not you shook their hand ones who you found most impressive and why.

Tal:

That would have to be Warren Bennis.

Gautam:

Warren Bennis is sometimes called the father of leadership development. A lecturer, consultant, and writer. He was the advisor to four US presidents and wrote on becoming a leader. He's famous for saying, "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. And managers do things right, leaders do the right things."

Tal:

To me, he exemplified all the characteristics that I would like to see in a leader. I mean, I thought about this way when I met him, when I was 39 and I think about it today, when I'm 50 that I want to be like Warren Bennis when I grow up.

Gautam:

I put the same question to Eric, who's the one person he's most impressed with.

Eric:

I'm sure you're going to have him on the show or already have.

Gautam:

I know who you're going to name.

Eric:

Yeah, exactly. You know who I'm going to name. I mean, Everett Spain is an incredibly impressive individual on many levels. And I hope it's obvious that I don't merely mean like in terms of objective achievements, I mean in terms of being a good human being. Everything from how he comports himself to how he treats people to literally saving people's lives. With that to be an incredibly, personally humble, generous person. The degree to which he is humble, it makes me start questioning like good God, couldn't I do some things to be a better person? It's funny, Tal has mentioned Peter Drucker many times, and that's actually the book I was going to recommend is Peter Drucker's Effective Executives. So all roads lead to Drucker.

Gautam:

There's basically nothing in the management literature that Peter Drucker didn't say firsthand better.

Eric:

I would point people towards Kurt Vonnegut's book, Mother Night, which is a great book, but pass that in the introduction, Vonnegut writes that it's the only book he ever wrote that he knew what the moral of the story was. And he said it pretty plainly. He said, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

Gautam:

Remember Helio, the skinny kid and his big brother's jujitsu Academy in Rio? He faced fighters bigger and stronger than he was. But once he found his strategic advantage, once he concentrated on his strengths, not his weaknesses, he remade mixed martial arts in his image. The literature is full of case studies of people who attained positions of leadership and then faced ethical challenges. Tal talked about leaders ranging from Anita Roddick to Mahatma Gandhi, as examples of ones who passed those tests.

Gautam:

When it seems like success and integrity are at odds, focusing on our strengths and finding meaning in what we do can unlock our best selves and allow us to lead and succeed even when the going gets rough. What's the key to centering yourself on your strengths, to finding meaning, Tal and Eric agree that the stories we tell ourselves are how we do both. The great British humorist, Terry Pratchett said that, "Instead of calling ourselves homo sapiens, we should name our species Pan narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee. We are," he said, "where the falling angel meets the rising ape."

Gautam:

The stories we tell ourselves, shape our experience. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves shape who we are. A story that finds the meaning in suffering whether it's working long hours in a startup or being trapped at home in a pandemic can do more than help us bear the experience. It can transform it. Are you staying at home because you're forced to, because you're afraid to go out, or because you're making a sacrifice to protect your friends and family and even strangers whose names you will never know?

Gautam:

The actions are the same, but their meaning is completely different. Helio Gracie's story could have been that he was too small and skinny to teach a class, but that's not the story he told himself, because he didn't. Everyone who studies, martial arts knows his name. What's more, the stories we tell ourselves shape the way we see the world.

Gautam:

I tell my students so often they tease me about it, that the most powerful force in the universe is the desire to believe what we want to believe. We tell ourselves a story about who we are, then we scan the world for confirmation. We don't look for information that makes us feel good, we look for information that makes us feel right, that confirms the story we're already telling. Even if that story is wrong or unhelpful. Then we act the way the story tells us we should.

Gautam:

It's not just that you are what you think, it's that you become, what you think. Do you think you're weak? What's the story you could tell yourself about how you're strong? If you started to believe it, what would you see? When you ask your people to sacrifice, is it because they have to, or because you're doing something worthwhile, together? What's your story?

Speaker 5:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world. An original podcast from NASDAQ. Visit the World Reimagined website at nasdaq.com/worldreimaginedpodcast.

 

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