Ever struggle with vulnerability as a leader? Me too.
This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about values, and how I show up and live them (or don’t).
Karl Kuhnert is all about helping leaders to make their unique contribution. He teaches leadership, organizational change and professional ethics at Emory University, as well as in the Executive Education Programs at UCLA, HEC Paris, and The University of Georgia. He did his undergraduate work at Penn State and earned his PhD in industrial-organizational psychology at Kansas State University.
In 2000, Karl was awarded the Hammer Award from Vice President Al Gore for outstanding contributions to the federal government, and has served as a consultant and executive educator with many organizations big and small, including UPS, the US Treasury Department, Siemens, The Jet Propulsion Lab @ CalTech, Cox Automotive, The Federal Reserve, Federal Home Loan Bank, The Robert Wood Foundation, Carnival Cruise Line, AECOM, Farmers Insurance, and The American Cancer Society and many more.
This is a conversation about the genius and strength of vulnerability, and the levels of development that we each go through as leaders, and how we each can keep evolving to give our authentic gifts. This is about living our values.
Please enjoy learning from Dr. Karl Kuhnert.
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Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew 00:01:34 Karl. Welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
Karl 00:01:37 I’m great. Andrew, how about you?
Andrew 00:01:39 Awesome. I am so excited for this conversation. So right before we hit record, you started telling me a really good story about Pope Francis. And I would love you to just,
Karl 00:01:50 This was, this was it in our conversation before we started here, I looked through and actually went and listened to a few of your podcasts. And, um, the one that really caught my attention was, uh, uh, Sam Franklin. Uh, the quote that you did, you led with, there was a faith not tested, cannot be trusted. I read that, uh, it really caught my attention because when, when Pope Francis in his first week of being a Pope, uh, Ashley brought in, uh, a leading atheist from Europe and, uh, what a great, what a great opening line in any book. And, but, but yet he, he, you know, the, the interviewer was, was keen enough to ask him, like, why did why’d you bring an atheist in know what’s going on? He says, it’s very important for me to be regularly tested in my faith and no, no better time. Does he need to be tested right? That when he’s in his first week as being a Pope. And so, uh, it’s a great quote. And I thought it was a great tribute to the, to the Pope and what he thought about his faith
Andrew 00:03:06 Theme. We’re going to circle back to numerous times in this conversation is the idea of, uh, how, how tests and challenge are formative experiences. But I actually wanted to start at a slightly different place. And I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about the influence that two people have had on your thinking, who I, I am also a big fan of, and that’s Bob Keegan and Richard,
Karl 00:03:30 Oh my gosh. My story actually starts out. Uh, this was probably 25 years ago. And, uh, I was, I was playing tennis with a colleague and, um, he was, um, uh, uh, beating me badly at some point. And I felt like I really needed to get some air. And I said, what are you reading? Just like buying time. I said, so what are you reading? And, um, he says, well, I’ve got this interesting book by Bob Keegan, the evolving self. And
Andrew 00:04:06 Really tell me more about it
Karl 00:04:09 Again, a time, go on, go on, go on. Yeah. Please tell me, uh, by the time we left, he had given me a copy of his book. And at that time I was a, really a brand new professor and I was absolutely, uh, drawn into the idea that as individuals we grow throughout adulthood, we don’t stop. What’s so interesting about that is that we’ve now got a lot of brain science and people really come along to this idea that we don’t stop growing when we’re 18 or 19, that we continue to mature throughout adulthood, both Bob and Richard, uh, amazing at talking about that development, by the way, my they’re my two favorite writers.
Andrew 00:04:59 I’m a big fan of those two. So I was introduced just for a long time, listening to the show, we’ll recognize that recognize the title of this book, the, uh, and everyone culture and the idea of a deliberately developmental organization, which Bob Keegan was one of the, one of the lead authors of, and just rocked my world. Like that was one of the things that just it debt, you know, it just detonated my brain. And I was like, what just happened? And I freaked out when I read this book, it’s so good for anyone who really cares about the conversation we’re going to have today. So I was so delighted when I saw that Bob Keegan was foundation on your work. I was like, Oh, well, yeah, that makes sense.
Karl 00:05:38 Well, it was, uh, it really, it really was foundational. You know what, uh, we’re still evolving, right? We’re I mean, we’re still, we’re still learning a lot about how we mature and grow as adults
Andrew 00:05:48 Want to learn something here. So cause you, you said that was really foundational for you. So paint me the picture you’re in Kansas. You’re basically finishing your PhD, but what exactly, where did this book find you and how it change you? Yeah,
Karl 00:05:58 Well, my problem was, I was about to take my first job at, uh, at Ohio state. The problem was that I was in the teaching leadership.
Andrew 00:06:08 Yeah. I had just had a class in leadership
Karl 00:06:11 And I’m not trying to put any aspersions on anyone, but it was boring. I mean, it was like the books, everything I read was like, I can’t, I can’t teach this. This is like, I can’t even get through it as a reader. I can’t read it, let alone how many, you know, explain it and make it interesting to people. So that, that was it is that I had to find a new way. And in fact, in the evolving self, there isn’t anything there about leadership. It was all about counseling development, more generally, developmental psychology, but something really kicked in for me and saying, Hey, listen, this idea about growth and development applies directly to growing leaders and how we think about growing leaders and how we, how do we try to accelerate that development in the course of a short period of time? Because we do ultimately grow. I mean, whether it’s getting married, getting divorced, having children, all of these are landmark events in our life that have a way of changing perspective
Andrew 00:07:14 For any of us who are in this conversation around leadership, growth development, et cetera. What you just said is it’s like, it’s obvious, right? It’s like breathing air. You’re like, well, of course, by the time I got into this conversation, this was already taken as a given. Why, why did this have to ever be explained? Like why, why was there ever a time when people didn’t think this? Oh,
Karl 00:07:34 Cause w we really didn’t have the evidence for it. That’s the truth. Most of the research that has been done on personality theory, for example, basically say that our, our traits are given birth. Right. And so it’s a, the idea. And then we had, we had controversies, you know, over that time having to do with intelligence testing and all this, and how intelligence based you don’t get any smarter after 21, 22. And we really didn’t have, um, uh, the, the ability to the kind of the brain imagery today that we do to see how our minds change that research. I mean, I had these, I mean, I had these fights with neuropsychologist friends when I first started out, because all these structures they’re in place, they don’t change. They don’t, they don’t adapt. Right. And so, again, what’s happened is, is actually, uh, the researches has really caught up to us.
Andrew 00:08:31 Yeah, it’s fascinating. The, the, the, the, the Renaissance that’s happening right now, the explosion in cognitive science and brain imaging technology and neuroscience is truly incredible. Like, I almost feel like if I was back in school, I would, I would study that instead. It’s just super fascinating. It’s a, it’s unbelievable. It really is. Authenticity is really at the core of your work.
Karl 00:08:48 It’s sort of a journey to helping leaders
Andrew 00:08:51 Connect with and develop who they authentically are and make their unique contribution, right. Can contribute to the world, to the world in the way that only they can, but something about the etymology, that word was very interesting about the etymology of the word authenticity. And you, you brought it up to me, is something, something about accomplishment? Could you talk to,
Karl 00:09:08 Oh, yeah. It was one of those, one of those times when I decided, Hey, listen, you know, I’ve been using this word in my classes and I decided to actually look it up. Yeah, just this, this, this let’s get the Oxford dictionary out and look up authenticity. And one of the definitions absolutely struck me, which, which was being authentic is actually one who accomplishes. Right. And, and you think about that. And I said, wow, you know, kind of relevant here from, from our own development is that you would be surprised at the number of people who never get around to doing what they’re here to do. And a lot of people that I know that I’ve coached, just get so caught up in putting out fires daily. They never get around to doing what they should have been doing. What was unique about them and what happens is if they end up never making the contribution that they could make.
Karl 00:10:06 And by the way, that’s, that’s not like just a person that’s, that’s, that’s part of development is getting to the place where, um, you know, what not getting invited to this picnic or this party is not the worst thing that ever happened to me set aside a lot of, uh, of those irritants. Sometimes I like to call it noise, right? And so what happens is when we’re younger, we get caught up in the noise and we can live our life that and noise by the way, and never get around to getting to the ground, which is, which is who we are.
Andrew 00:10:43 I thought it was such a beautiful coincidence. So I’m, I’m constantly reading and engaging with new material as part of this podcast and the learning journey that it is to, to do a show like this. And right before we are right, as we were kind of getting ready for this conversation, I happened to be reading for the first time, um, falling upward by Richard Rohr and phenomenal book. And then I was just like, Oh, wow, that is so perfect. As a, as a setup for talking with you. Um, but his idea that I I’d love for you to expand on this and how, how it relates to what you do. And what you see is, is that like, it’s such an, a counterintuitive title, right. That idea of falling upward. Tell us a little bit, what does that mean?
Karl 00:11:20 Oh my gosh. I’ll be short with this, but it’s, it’s a profound idea. And I’ll use this example. It’s all I’ll ask you. How is it that we ever learned to ride a bicycle fall off? You got to fall off a lot, a lot. If our parents are actually with us at the time we’re doing it, they usually like to take us to a beach or we don’t hurt herself. But the bigger idea here is that we don’t grow unless we fall. And his distinction, I love it is it’s not fail a lot of little bits as literature goes, all, all you can fail and fail quickly fail. No, no, no, no, no. You’re not failing. You’re falling forward. Right. Is that, that, that error in judgment, that mistake, that poor decision is an opportunity for you to learn something about you and grow from that experience. That’s the idea of falling forward. Love it.
Andrew 00:12:12 Yeah. It’s it’s so like when I read it, it’s such a beautiful book. And by that I hope everyone like, go check out that book. yeah, go, please go read that book. Everyone should read that book. Uh, it it’s it’s, you know, he’s a Franciscan monk, but it is not, it’s not a book about like Christianity or anything. It’s, it’s really a book about the inner journey. We all go on as humans and it’s particularly relevant for anyone who’s aspiring to be a leader and create things with other people. So, um, I think it was a perfect kind of transition point because one of the things that our good are our mutual good friend, Muriel, Clawson who’s all right. Yes. I love one of the things she, she shared with me about you, which is one of your favorite sayings, is that we are addicted to our own way of thinking. And it just seems so relevant. Cause when I was getting ready for this conversation, I also found that one of your, one of your favorite TV shows is Deadwood. And there’s a line from that that you love, which is I am having a conversation that you cannot hear. So talk to me a little bit about that. What is that all about?
Karl 00:13:08 It took me awhile to actually come up with this, this way of thinking about how much in our conversations and in our dialogue with people, how much of that time did we spend trying to be? Right. I was trying to get this, this idea across that. It’s so important for us to kind of give up that right to be right. That I went with a metaphor of being addicted, that we’re so addicted to being right. That any information that we take in, you know, uh, I heard this phrase and I loved it. It’s called as he called it, the epistemic closure, a fancy name,
Andrew 00:13:49 That that’s a very fast, what does that even mean?
Karl 00:13:51 The way we come to understand things that we get locked into it, right? We get locked into it. We’re not right. Then someone else must be wrong. This is fundamentally. The first half of life is that we spend so much more time trying to prove ourselves. We basically, and this is, this is why I use the word addiction. We have to break that addiction. And everybody knows that to break an addiction. Uh, you not only have to fail, but you have to fail badly or fall or fall. You absolutely have to be. You absolutely have to see yourself and others in a different way when you get challenged like that. And so for me, one of the, one of the ways I think about development is, is that we have to have this challenging contradiction in our lives and be open to it and not spend all of our time defending our way.
Karl 00:14:44 And I love this. I love this story. It’s a great story. And it was actually in a book called practical wisdom and what they did talk about this hospital, janitor named Luke and Luke basically cleaned the floors of hospital rooms. And there was, there was this dad who, whose son was in a coma of a bicycle accident. And over time, Luke and the dad became pretty good friends. But what happened one afternoon is that the dad had actually gone out for a cigarette. And when he came back, uh, he had realized that Luke wasn’t there didn’t show up.
Karl 00:15:38 And no, that was what he was assuming he didn’t show up. And so the, the, the dad went out looking for, for Luke and sure enough, he came across Luke and snap that and basically said, why didn’t you clean your room? Hmm. Hmm. So the way to think about this is what does loop say? Now there are two, we call this, we’ll call this being on the first mountain or the second mountain. Okay. And on the first mountain, Luke says, sir, what do you mean I did clean the room. You were out smoking, right? Which is defend yourself, right? Hey, I was here, you weren’t right. Well, Luke in that regard is more interested in building up his own ego and defending himself. There’s another version of Luke. And he, this point, Luke lives on a second mountain and basically understands that he’s not there to clean floors.
Karl 00:16:50 He’s there to help families. He’s there to make a contribution to the lives of others, not clean floors. And so what he does is I said, sorry, that I missed you. Let me clean the room again. I can guarantee you someday. Luke will be remembered for his contributions because there’ll be numerous. He will not just be a great janitor, but he will be known as someone who made a contribution to the lives of others. So this is perfectly this idea. I love this idea of the two mountains. And that seems like kind of a nice metaphor to describe sort of the leadership development levels that are central and underlying your work. So let’s just really quick lay that foundation about what those levels are. So if you would talk to me about what are those, just so people have the frame, this is a veldt mental framework.
Karl 00:17:40 It has a trajectory. I don’t tend to put names to them, to these levels, what I call levels of adult development. We don’t talk about level one because that’s too low. That’s basically, um, a child’s view of the world. But we, we, we start here with level two and, and the way I like to think about this, and then the way I think that most people can understand this. If they have children, this is your teenagers. It’s all about them. Everything is about them. That’s like living on the first mile. Is that what you’re most concerned about is getting your way what’s you’re most concerned about is, um, being right. Um, it’s, it’s not even really recognized, and this is what’s hard to understand, but it’s almost like they don’t even recognize the other. Right. And what happens is you realize that when it’s all about you, 24, seven life doesn’t treat you very well. Um, you start realizing, guess what? I’m not succeeding very well in my relationships.
Karl 00:18:40 I’ve I’ve, you know, and, and what happens is that there’s a lot of things around you that start, stop working for you. That worked really well when you were 18, but somehow at 24, or hopefully by the time you leave college, you realized, uh, there’s a bigger world out there. And I mean, I actually had a student one time. He said, I can tell you the day that I moved from level two and level three. And I said, that’s a great story. I want to hear basically what it was was over the course of a year, he had three girlfriends, they all dumped him. I give him a lot of credit for having the courage to go back and ask them why he pumped good for him. And it was not, it was funny. Cause he goes, he goes to me, he goes, you know what, Karl, all three of them said the same thing.
Karl 00:19:22 Why is it always about you? Right. Everything about you. You know? So it was like they weren’t having a relationship cause it was all about her. So that’s the whole to level three. Again, we see many more folks here. Uh, I would say probably as many as, uh, two thirds of the population, it’s important to point out that we’re not at a particular level, by the way, we’re always, for the most part, a, this is on a continuum and we’re actually moving between levels. What happens is we don’t go from two to three, we go from two to 2.5, 2.8, three, eventually get in there. But then we have level three, which is where you find a lot of people where they actually get defined by the other. That is, I’m only as good as you tell me. I know who I am. Right. And I get my sense of who I am by how I think you view me.
Karl 00:20:14 And so if you’re my boss, Andrew, and I’m at level three, I will do whatever it takes to let you know how great you are. It’s all about that. External validation, all external validation. And what’s important though, is when I tell you how great you are, what I really want is for you to tell me how great I am, right? The versions of this though, are, are, are many because we could get our, um, we could get our sense of ourselves. I mean, we start out getting our sense of ourselves from our parents. We tend to drop that. Then we, then it’s other people. Then it’s other organizations. And what happens in the business world is that a lot of people get burned out at work. And the reason they get burned out is because they’re doing everybody else’s work and never doing your own form because they get their satisfaction from doing other people’s work. And so this can carry on, by the way, some people never leave level three.
Andrew 00:21:12 It seems like a lot of people, if I, if I remember correctly from my research that one of the most common places that people, that you encounter people in, whether it’s, you’re working with a company and leaders there, or people in, you know, you teach in business schools, um, is really at that three to four transition, which is sort of that I think you’ve called it the effectiveness transition. But this is like, this is sort of like in the journey as I understand it, this is like the key moment it is. It is.
Karl 00:21:33 And again, uh, uh, as you said, most of the people I work with, most of the programs that I do are people are actually between three or four. And, and what happens is there’s now this realization, by the way, because what you do at level three, by the way, if it’s always, if someone else is responsible for what happened to you, right. Level three, is that what you do? She would like to blame other people, right? And this cycle, by the way, we see this all the time in our culture, by the way we see this, who can we blame? We have a legal system set up to find someone else responsible, right? And so what happens is it level, this move from three to four is to Ashley. It’s that move from lane to responsibility. And what happens is at level three. And I could just, one of the, one of the things that we’ve learned over the past few years is that people actually catch themselves.
Karl 00:22:28 Um, you know, maybe that night say, you know, I should have said this, you know, I wish I would have done this. And, and what that is right, is you actually trying to get the four before, but you haven’t quite got over that threshold where now you can’t be responsible for outcomes. And for me, the hallmark of level four is being able to take more, rather than less responsibility for things around you, including relationships, everybody at work knows that there’s some, there’s some people they would rather not see and will go out of their way to avoid them. And, and the difference here at level four, is that what you’re doing, what you’re saying is that, um, I’m responsible for this relationship. Now I don’t have to have them over for dinner, but I’m also responsible for this organization and ignoring this person, isn’t helping us become better as an organization.
Karl 00:23:34 And so at level four, the real difference is here is that you don’t just have values. You can have values at level two and level three, but what what’s different here at level four, if you don’t want, just have values, you are those values, integrity is not something that you have. It’s something that you are in the interviews. I do. They’re inspirational when I do these interviews with executives, because they can tell me the times when they were in those kinds of situations, where I had to make this decision and making that decision, by the way.
Andrew 00:24:09 So let’s, let’s just round out these levels. So there’s one more level in this framework. So what what’s level five
Karl 00:24:14 Level five is actually owning your values, being those values, but actually open to change. You’re open to hearing things that would maybe make your value, the coordinate, your values with someone else’s values. And so I actually liked to think about this in terms of our, really our greatest leaders. So if you think about it through this lens, right of developmental lens, you know, when Abraham Lincoln said a house divided cannot stand, you see the whole, the whole gears, the house, right. That was his metaphor and level five leaders tend to see the whole and the situation they’re in. They’re not able, they’re not just willing to take their side, but they’re able to actually see the other side.
Andrew 00:24:56 Yeah, I think I’ve heard you describe it as a shift from, from thinking about us, to thinking about all of us.
Karl 00:25:01 I had a general who said that to me, it stuck with me much, many of my interviews stick with me, by the way. Uh, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do these, what I call leader level interviews over the years. And this particular general, I mean, he had told me that under his command, there was over 60 of his soldiers that died. There was amazing story because, you know, I, I have to take these risks, some people, and I want to take it with you. You know, you gotta be careful about these interviews. And so I said, Oh, how do you, how’d you deal with this? I would have a hard time dealing with, and he says, he says, well, the most important thing for me to remember is it’s not, that’s not what happens to you. It’s what happens in that phrase has been around.
Karl 00:25:45 I don’t know, probably for about a hundred years and different people have said it in different ways, but the way he said it to me in that context was so important because oftentimes, and I think about leaders, right? Here’s where leadership can say, because we have stuff happens to us all the time, right? It’s some, it’s some, it’s good. Some it’s bad, somebody’s really bad, but the real test of leadership is not what happens in you. It’s how you deal with those circumstances. I tend to believe that we need more level five leaders if we’re really gonna make a difference.
Andrew 00:26:20 So it sounds like you sort of have taken a lot of, uh, you know, 50 years of research around human developmental psychology basically. And, um, sort of looked at it across these levels sort of level one is where a baby is. Level two is where, you know, basically it’s all about me. It’s kind of like what a typical middle schooler is looking at the world. Everything’s very wind lose, you know? And then by level three, it’s like, okay, by level three, it’s now I’m very externally defined. I’m chasing external validation. I’m, I’m sourcing myself, I’m trying to source myself externally. And then the big shift is the three to four shifts. Cause most people are most, most people that you come across are probably in level three, but at level four, suddenly it’s the shift to kind of starting to take ownership and responsibility, not just for the circumstances, but for your role in creating them, even when it starts something you did, right? Like, okay, it’s sort of owning your part in this situation. And then, um, it seems like level five then is really this much broader view where you’re, you’re not just living your values. You are also thinking holistically about everybody and how to make this all work for all of us in a, in a very holistic sense. Is that, am I tracking
Karl 00:27:31 That’s good. Thank you.
Andrew 00:27:33 Going back to the Keegan, that’s, it’s sort of this idea, like Keegan’s idea of going from the socialized mind to the, I think he calls it the self authoring mind to eventually the self-transforming mind, something like that. That’s exactly right. Yeah. And this idea of like increasing complexity of the self over time, as we, as we evolve and grow. And I think his point there was like, don’t, don’t beat yourself up for the fact that you’re at level three, it’s a, it’s a necessary step on the path.
Karl 00:27:58 Absolutely. Hey, and by the way, by the way, let me just say that if you can catch yourself saying, Oh, that was so level three of me, if you can catch yourself saying that that’s growth, okay. That’s how growth that’s how growth happens.
Andrew 00:28:14 And it sounds like each level sort of includes an and then build upon their level before. So if you’re at level four, you can, you can meet, you know, you understand everything below that level, but you may not quite understand the level above going back to that idea of having a conversation. You can’t hear, like if you’re a level four, primarily it’s hard to really hear the level five conversations,
Karl 00:28:32 A useful metaphor is, uh, getting on an elevator. You can get on this elevator and go up to the second floor and live there, but have no idea that there are fours above you and you don’t have any idea of what the furniture looks like or the artwork or whatever that you could live there. But what happens is if you get up to the top floor, notice by the way we do on a top floor, your view is better. And, uh, and so what happens is you want in the genius here of level five, those levels two, three, and four are embedded within you. And so it’s unlikely that level five, that you’re going to go back to level two level three, because you’re going to say, nah, I’m not going to go there.
Andrew 00:29:11 It is a continuum though, right? Like where people can show up in different areas of their life at different levels. Even if they have a center of gravity, that’s at a certain level.
Karl 00:29:18 Yeah. That’s the thing the most, and this has been studied pretty extensively. We do have a center of gravity and it’s probably unlikely that we can spend any time at all at level five or four level three. Um, you know, um, I mean he may have a level five thought. I’m not going to say that, but to actually live there, it’s pretty hard. But let me just the genius here for level five and what makes them such transforming leaders. And I’ve seen this happen and I wish I had this on tape to show people, but I’ve had level five leaders go into a room of 200 people and actually talk to everybody in that room and not afraid to say, here’s, what’s in it for you. And he’s not afraid. He’s not afraid to say that because there are people who were in their twenties, perhaps who are saying, Oh, that’s the message I want to hear, but not afraid to talk about not talking about teamwork or, you know, that level four values.
Karl 00:30:19 The thing that makes them so great is they can, they can really reach a lot of people with when they’re in that situation, because they can, they can understand where people are coming from. That is they can actually meet them where they are. I think one of the main points I’d like to make here is that in terms of leading people, it’s so important to meet people where they are, right. It’s not where you will, but it’s where they are. And can you put yourself in their shoes and see it from where they seen it?
Andrew 00:30:51 Where do people get trapped up with us? Right. Cause I think anyone listening to this is going to go, all right, Karl, I get it. I’m with you. We’re where did they, how do you actually do it? Like where do they go wrong? Where is it that people think they’re doing it, but they’re not really doing it.
Karl 00:31:05 A lot of this has to do with the way you think about it. Right. And I’ll just go back to saying that to many people, you know, let’s say, um, I don’t want to give an age, but a young person might say, you know, what’s in this for me. And they’ll never ever be able to meet someone where they are. Does that make sense? Yeah. You know, and we actually, by the way, we actually know this, that, you know, most of the most people who are, um, we’ll call it psychologically damaged, uh, don’t have the ability to be empathic with others. And because that, by the way to be really empathic is actually a level four that if you have to actually give up yourself, if you will to be with someone else, and it’s a real talent and, um, uh, you know, while empathy is a, it’s a real hot topic today, uh, you’d be surprised at how many, how many, how few people can actually really do it because they can’t hold themselves at the same time and connect with others.
Andrew 00:32:05 Let’s take someone who’s, who’s very representative of, uh, the, the listener base of the show. So let’s, that’s either like a leader in a company, sort of at the director VP level or an entrepreneur running a startup. Right. And they’ve got all the pressures of an operational leader, right. Where they have, they have to do all the things, they gotta do the numbers they’ve got to make, but they’re also someone who cares deeply about how we’re getting there. Not just where are we getting in? Are we hitting the numbers, but how are we doing it? What is this culture like? What does this environment like for people? How should someone in that situation take this idea that you’re presenting it to them and actually like put it into their day to day work. Like, does it look like to live, to start to do this? What are the practices, the rhythms, the weekly cadences to do this?
Karl 00:32:46 Yeah, I think, let me just start, uh, where we’d like to start in our programs is getting people to identify what their values are. What’s most important to them. We work really hard in getting them to identify again, not values that they have, but values that they own. And the most important thing they can do by the way is convey those values. It’s not enough to actually own those values. You have to be able to talk about them, show them how they work in practice was really a fascinating part because this is one of those areas that when you start articulating your values, you will find times when you won’t be able to live up to those, or there’ll be another value that will compete with that value. But the most important thing is that you’re able to, then if you’ve made a mistake to apologize and to say, this is how I made this mistake, this is why this mistake, these are the competing values. And I went the wrong direction. I did the wrong thing. And here’s the thing. People who work for you. If they know that you are your values, they will cut you a break.
Karl 00:34:05 You know what he meant to do the right thing. It didn’t work out well, let’s go get them again. The person who’s constantly putting his finger up to the wind and figure out which way that wind is blowing, right? These kinds of mistakes stick with you, your whole career, right? Because people won’t let them go.
Andrew 00:34:28 I’m trying to think here about, you know, if most people are at level three and really this, this trend like that three to four transition is the key bed. And you go through this a much more in the book. So definitely check that out. If you’re listening to this and interested in, in this transition, but it seems like one of the key challenges for someone to take on in that transition is vulnerability, right. Is to, is to own, own the mistake and to be human about like, Hey, I screwed up there and to own, to, to actually be upfront and own that and be come out with that to people. Does that match what you see in practice?
Karl 00:34:59 Absolutely. Let’s see what happens is you’re no longer, you’re no longer in that need to prove yourself. You’ve already been there and you commit those mistakes now because you know, you’re dealing and that vulnerability, I CA this is one of the great paradoxes of leadership is that paradox. It’s actually, when you have the most influence as a leader, it’s not when you’re in control, when you have the most control, it’s when you’re vulnerable. Why is that? Andrew? This is very philosophical point here, but I think we’re, I think we, you and I, and you’re in your audience, we’re more connected through our frailties that are through our strings. We’re at our best when we’re under siege.
Andrew 00:35:54 That’s a really interesting idea. It’s the idea that the rough edges that give people a place to connect with you speaking to my own developmental journey. Like I remember how often I tried to, you know, always appear like I had it all together. Never let them see you sweat. Or it’s like that idea of trying to show up in this perfect way. But when one, one time somebody said to me, they were like, you know, when you show up like that, I don’t know what I’m doing here. Cause there’s nothing for me to contribute. And that they were saying to me was if you have it all together, which I didn’t, by the way, there was no space for them to contribute, to connect, to come together.
Karl 00:36:25 And by the way, uh, these are the same people that are free to come to you. Your people are your early warning system for, for things that are coming down that you may not even be aware of. Okay, very quickly. This is, I think it was one of my first classes I ever taught and I was way too young to be doing this. But I remember it’s a small class. It was a leadership class. And what we were doing is we had a case and the students had to talk about their interpretation of the case. Right. And so I don’t know, it was the third, third week of the class, whatever. And so the student who hadn’t said anything the entire semester, guess his analysis of this case, and I’m sitting there going, Oh my God, is this good? Not only is it good? I think it’s better than mom.
Karl 00:37:12 I’ve been working on this. This is good. And so I remember vividly thinking, how do I handle this? Hey, cause I’m a professor, multiple knowing all wise. And so I, it’s not what happened was, and it’s very embarrassing, but um, I took him out, you know, I, I said, this is what’s wrong with your face. This is why you should. I went on and on and on. I was just, Oh wow. And it was great because as I was doing that, I had enough wherewithal to look around the room and see guys with their heads down thinking I’m never going to talk it. I’m never going to bring up something like this, the women in the class. I mean, it’s just, it was, it was, I had completely lost the class, but guess what I was under, I had the most.
Andrew 00:37:56 Hmm.
Karl 00:37:58 And again, this was, this was so profound. That’s hon that actually, when I, at the end of the class, I saw, I basically stopped the class and apologize. I said, you know, Jim here didn’t really did a great case. I’m really sorry that I took them out like this. I was a little nervous. I thought actually his analysis is a better mind. And I didn’t want to be put in that situation where I was going to have to help up, you know, just say how great this case was. And I said, I’ll never do this again. What happened then? Well, what happened was amazing, by the way, at the end of the class, people in their written comments say this was one of the best leadership examples we’ve ever had. We’ve ever seen where someone was able to, to acknowledge the mistake in a class and apologize to that other student.
Andrew 00:38:38 What’s that like for you though? Like what did that feel like? And what was you, what was going through your head as you were like, I imagine you were grappling with this. Like, do I say something? Do I not do it? You know, what was that like for you?
Karl 00:38:47 Well, I, I just, I went with it. I went with what I thought I needed to do because I know I lost a class and I didn’t know enough to know. I had no idea how it’s gonna turn out, but that that’s what happens. That’s what happens when we’re vulnerable like that though. You don’t know, but that’s the genius. Okay. One more story. America’s got talent. Yeah. That show had this one helmet that blew me away, which was, they would always go backstage first for the performer would come out. And that performer was sweating. That, that performer was nervous that performer. And you’re saying, Oh my gosh, they’re going to fail. They’re not going to be able to say, and this is them at their most vulnerable. Right. They’re talking to them to these, you know, the producers. You’re never going to be able to do this for the, when the show is a Bravo performance, you know, everybody’s going crazy because they’re so good.
Karl 00:39:42 And I’m thinking to myself, how about that? You know why there were so good out there. Talent was obviously there, but you know what? People saw that vulnerability and what they were able to overcome to be able to go on that stage and they’re thinking to themselves, Oh my gosh, he goes through this every time. He’s that nervous? He’s that he’s that unsure of himself. He’s not gonna be able to do it. And what we ended up doing is we end up in some ways, in our own way, celebrate that we give them a hit. We give our votes to him when we have kids, the same thing, we can’t believe our kids are so nervous before they go out and do a play that they’ll never be able to do it. And of course they do a great and what do we do? We applaud that now, what do we do for ourselves? What do we want to be vulnerable? No. See the very thing that we see in others that we appreciate. We want them that when it comes to ourselves, we’re not willing to be vulnerable. It’s a strange phenomenon, but I’ve never met a leader who was remembered, who was not also vulnerable with his or her people.
Andrew 00:40:46 Wow. That is the heart of it. Right there. Going back to your point about vulnerability. It’s like all the, all the juices, when you show up, not knowing what the outcome is going to be and you fully show up anyway. Right. And you’re like open and you’re fully there. Those are the moments I remember. Right. Right. Those are the moments that punctuate the equilibrium and say, Oh, this just got interesting.
Karl 00:41:06 What people don’t understand is that is your strength is going out.
Andrew 00:41:10 Yeah. That’s like the strength and vulnerability.
Karl 00:41:12 That’s the strength. There’s no weakness everybody. That’s the problem, you know, in the business world, vulnerability implies. Yeah. Oh, you’re yeah, no, no, no, no. You have someone who’s level four, level five being vulnerable. That’s coming from a spot of strength. Not what,
Andrew 00:41:29 Yeah. It takes enormous strength to show up that way.
Karl 00:41:31 Absolutely. And to go into a where we don’t know the outcome and in finding our legs and being able to do what we need to do. And what happens is, is that these are the kinds of risks that go off that make us stronger.
Andrew 00:41:46 You know, reminds me of a story, told by a man. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to study with, uh, briefly my last semester of college, I was really, really lucky to get, to take a class with Warren Bennis, who is, you know, one of the, the Titans of leadership thinking ever basically. And I just remember that this class, right. And he, at the time he was, I mean, he was pretty old. This was, this was like two years before he passed. I remember he would come into class and it was just like going to class with Yoda. Cause he would, he would do this thing where someone would ask him a question. And even if it seemed like to everyone in the class, you know, we’re all a bunch of juniors and seniors in college and we’re all kind a little bit high on our own supply.
Andrew 00:42:26 Someone asked a question to dr. Bennis. You can tell like a third of the class thought that was a good question. A third of the class is kind of on the fence. And a third thought that was the dumbest thing ever. How did you just waste this? This prolific human’s time. But no matter what the question was, he would do this thing where he would just like, he would just close his eyes and he would just go and he would kind of like rock back and forth a little bit. And you just see like the wheels turning and he would just, everyone was suddenly be on the edge of their seat. Like what is, what is going on in his head? What is he about to say? And no matter what he would always give it that respect the question. But it reminds me of the story he told us, I think on may, it might’ve been the first time we ever met him.
Andrew 00:43:02 And it was about his own experience. And the high level here relating where this is going is he talks about, um, one of his big ideas is the idea of crucible moments. And these are the ideas like a crucible. I think, I think he might’ve been, I heard you talk about this where a crucible is something designed to hold, um, metal while it’s purified, like molten metal while it’s purified. And it’s like, if you to apply that to a person, that’s what these moments are there. They’re holding you in contradiction while your stuff is being purified. I actually, that’s a Richard war thing from his, from that book again, falling upward anyways. So he told us the story about one of his first crucible moments. He was sent to Europe, I believe in world war two as an officer. And he was like really young.
Andrew 00:43:44 I mean, he was like 21 or 22 or something like that. And he just shows up, he’s this fresh officer, you know, super green drops into a theater and he takes over a unit. Who’s been in theater for a while. So these guys are all, you know, they’ve been through it together. They’re all tight. And he told this story about the vulnerable. This is where he talked about the vulnerability of showing up and admitting where he didn’t, he didn’t know. So he thinks he’s got to walk in here and like have it all together. Right? He’s like, this is a unit I’m taking over where we’re in the middle of a war zone. And like, they need, you know, I gotta show up and pretend like I got it all together. And he’s, he tells the story where he’s sleeping the first, like his first night there. And they’re in some like drafty old farmhouse in France or something. And he’s, he’s sleeping on the floor of this thing with, with most of the men. And, and uh, he hears one of the men in his unit talking to the senior Sergeant. They think he’s asleep, but he’s not. And he can hear him. And he hears the younger soldier say to the senior Sergeant, Oh, is that the new Lieutenant and sergeants like, yeah. And Warren’s like holding his breath. He’s like, Oh God, what,
Karl 00:44:47 What to say?
Andrew 00:44:50 Then the, the, the younger young corporal who’s like maybe a year younger than, than Warren at this time. You know, the guy they’re all roughly the same age goes, Oh God, we really need one. But the thing that really changed for him was the next day when he hit her,
Karl 00:45:05 I heard that he,
Andrew 00:45:07 Instead of showing up the way he was going to show up, which was like, pretending he had all together and kind of pomp and circumstance and his whole thing, he was totally open with them. And he just, like he said, look, I’m new here. And you’re not like you’ve all been together. And I’m the one who just showed up and he openly admitted. And he said like, I am going to lean heavily on the Sergeant to help me do the best job for you. I can’t. And so the way he suddenly opened this up and was vulnerable with them of like admitting yeah. On the new guy, even though I’m in charge here, just that, that image of like him lying on the farmhouse floor. I dunno. I think I’ll never get that out of my head.
Karl 00:45:42 That’s a great story. And in fact, those crucible moments in our programs that we do, we actually have people fill out a lifeline where we have them put their crucible moments. We call it landmark events, but their crucible moments, we have them put these crucible moments on this lifeline. Two things surprise me about this exercise. Really one is that you find out that these crucible moments end up being moments that actually grow you. And the fact that dr. Bennis still remembers that was more likely occurred. It was a crucible moment for him to think about the crucible moments that we’ve all had in our lives. The amazing thing about it is the amount of detail you can remember about that, about those moments. I mean, you know what people were wearing,
Andrew 00:46:30 It’s like time slows down and you remember every detail,
Karl 00:46:33 But, but those, those events, Ashley ended up corresponding to our leader level model because those ended up being the moments that change has changed the way we think about ourselves and what you think about other people. Yeah. And here’s the thing when I ask people about crucible moments or landmark events, and I actually tell them, okay, I want the, I want the best ones. I want that the landmark events in your life that were very good, very positive, very negative. Right? And then once they do that, I asked them of these positive events or negative events, which ones, which ones changed you the most. It’s always the negative ones, right? It’s always it’s as close to anything I’ve ever done. It’s universe because you know what it’s done is it broke something in us. It broke our addiction to seeing the world in a particular way. And now it’s different.
Andrew 00:47:24 I want to go ahead and kind of close out here with a couple of rapid fire questions there, again, they’re short questions. Your answers don’t have to be, but what would you have someone listening to this start asking themselves to move forward in the search in the direction you’re pointing.
Karl 00:47:34 I would ask the question what’s needed from you right now that only you can deliver on what’s being asked of you,
Andrew 00:47:41 The luminaries we’ve talked about if Bob Keegan and Richard Rohr, who or what is that a really big influence on you and shaped how you see things, how you show,
Karl 00:47:49 Oh, I have, I have to tell you. I’ve been, I’ve been really blessed with great people in my life. My mother and father were great. They were in fact, I mean, they were unbelievable. And I, I never actually had a chance to say this before, but they were so much, and I don’t even know if this was intentional. I wish they were around for me to ask them this. But they, they always allowed me to pursue my dreams. You know, there was, there was nothing like you should do this, you should do this, whatever. And, um, there was, it was pretty remarkable. Um, I have two older brothers, very influential in my life. Again, I didn’t have the wherewithal, um, even understand this probably till I was 40, but how value driven they were. I mean, I actually got to see people who actually lived their values. You know, they just, you know, not have those. No, no, no, no. They, they, they were all in. And so, uh, the people throughout my life who have been that way with me.
Andrew 00:48:48 Hmm, there we go. Thank you for sharing that. If you think back you just in recent memory and whether that’s whether recent memories a week, or maybe it’s a year or two, what’s a small change you’ve made that has had a big impact on either how you do what you do or how you show up, but small change, big impact.
Karl 00:49:04 See the thing that comes to mind. Uh, not sure. Uh, I’m not sure I want to talk about it, but I think people can appreciate this is, um, uh, more of an introvert by nature. And so, you know, if I, if I have a day full of meetings, I pretty much like to just chill out. And I got into this bad habit of coming home and chilling out and really not spending as much time talking to my wife as I should have about her day. Right. Cause of course my day was terrible and I got out of that and again, it’s I said, okay, Karl, here’s what I mean. I literally, this is one of those developmental things that I do with a friend. Right. And I said, listen, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna come home. I’m gonna take 30 minutes and I’m going to listen.
Karl 00:49:50 That’s what I’m doing. I’m just gonna listen. I’m gonna ask questions. How’s your day. What’s going on? I don’t care how small the detail was. I was going to ask about it or whether I cared about it or not. I was going to ask the question and I was going to have this conversation. And again, just to be truthful about this, I had a hard time make it 30 minutes. Um, initially that was more like 10 minutes, five minutes, eight minutes, you know, then I got up to 15, 20, and then I realized after a while that they were now turning into an hour. And what I found was that it made a big difference in our relationship. That’s awesome. And so small step into direction that I needed to take and I had to practice it. And I no idea by the way that it was going to have the impact. It did.
Andrew 00:50:35 Thank you for sharing that your book is the map. We’ve been talking about it all episode. We’ll link to all of this in the show notes and also to your site and your work. Reverend can check that out. But Karl, first of all, thank you for being here and for sharing your stories, your experience, your wisdom. It’s been a lot of fun. Um, but is there anything else you’d like to leave the listener with or that you want people to
Karl 00:50:54 I’ll leave it with my favorite quote from a general who said, you know, it’s not about us, it’s about all of us. And so when we think about, when we think about doing something, we have to understand, it’s just not, not necessarily about the team. It’s about the organization, what’s in the best interest of that organization. And to think much more holistically about the things that we’re in is saying, we can make sense of that.
Andrew 00:51:17 Well, thank you so much, Karl and an absolute pleasure. Thank you for being here.
Karl 00:51:21 Take care of yourself.