Momentum Podcast: 667
When Work is Your Safe Place
by Alex Charfen
So often these days, when I share advice with entrepreneurs, I'm sharing contrast between what I used to do and what I've learned to do with experience. When it comes to recruiting, hiring, and motivating teams, this is often the case. Unfortunately, when I was younger, I was a pretty challenging leader. I was myopic and almost entirely focused on the business, I didn't really want to know what was going on with my team, and I saw people as process who were there only to help me get things done.
Over the past, almost 30 years of leading teams, my perception has completely changed. I now know that creating a safe emotional environment for my team is one of the biggest advantages that creates our success.
Recently several members of my team have been experiencing some difficult life situations. We have a specified time to talk about what is going on openly with the rest of the team, so other people understand what is going on.
The contrast between the teams on right now and the teams are used to run clear. In the past, people did what they had to do to keep their job with the companies I ran. Today, people see work as their safe place and do everything they can to show up for each other.
Full Audio Transcript
This is the Momentum Podcast.
So often, the typical response from an entrepreneur, whenever a person on their team presents where they're uncomfortable, is myopic. They're almost entirely focused on the business and they don't really want to know what's going on with their team. The issue with seeing people as process, who are only there to help you as the entrepreneur get things done, is that you're not creating a safe emotional environment for your team. And that's one of the biggest advantages that creates our success as entrepreneurs. In this episode of the Momentum Podcast, Alex is going to get vulnerable and talk about the contrast between how he used to run businesses and how he runs businesses now. The reality is that in the past, people did what they had to do to keep their jobs with the company. But today, the people on our team see work as their safe place and they do everything they can to show up for each other. I hope you enjoy.
I'm Alex Charfen and this is the Momentum Podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creators of all kinds. Those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny, we define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop, and we don't know how.
While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future. And instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution, and we always will be.
So often these days, when I give advice of any kind, I find that what I'm doing is drawing contrast between what I used to do as an entrepreneur and what I've learned to do now with experience and with thousands of hours of running companies under my belt, tens of thousands of hours of running companies under my belt. And one of those places where there's massive contrast is around hiring, managing, and leading people.
One of the things that there's one of the biggest contrast with how I look at managing and leading people now and used to, is when I was younger and I used to manage teams. I didn't want to know anything that was going on in my team's personal life. In fact, I kind of felt like if I understood what was happening in their lives, that that would cause a liability for me in my business, that would cause a liability for me and me having to do something about it and me having to understand something about it. And I know now that that is just not the case. Let me share a quick story with you. So it's no surprise to anybody that right now, in October, 2020, there is a tremendous amount of pressure and noise in the world. The country has been dealing with the coronavirus since March, the political environment in the country is about is contentious and as juxtaposed as I've ever seen. I've never seen both parties lined up in such a violent way against each other. And I really do mean the word violent way against each other. It's overwhelming. And this is just that environment, that the environment in our country, the environment and the world, is creating a tremendous amount of pressure and noise where people. It's creating a tremendous amount of stress, and it has thrown everybody's routines off. It's made hard things hard for everyone. And on our team recently, there has been some severe, really real personal challenges. We have a couple of people who are dealing with custody issues. We have a couple of people who are dealing with medical issues. When you have a team, there's a guarantee that if people are involved, there's going to be some challenges in people's lives. That's just how the world is. That's how our lives are. Our lives are imperfect. People are imperfect. So when I was younger, I kind of had this... No, not when I was younger, now on our team today. So on our team today, there is a guarantee that people are going to be dealing with personal things. And let me just contrast of how I used to manage a team. So when I was in my twenties, I worked in Orlando and then I worked in Fort Lauderdale, but my team was spread out in offices throughout the US and Latin America. Sometimes other people working out of their house. Sometimes we actually had physical offices. At one point, we had physical offices in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, throughout Latin America, there was a couple of other ones. And my policy was, when personal stuff came up or when people started talking about their things, their stuff, I kind of tried to get out of the conversation. I tried to minimize, I wrote down, I tried to change the subject, avoid talking about it, avoid engaging. I would try not to bring it up. So in my younger, inexperienced, and really misunderstood itself, I used to think that if I didn't talk about it, if I didn't acknowledge it, it wouldn't affect me. What a crazy way to look at managing people and leading people and being around human beings. I'll play back for you what I just said, I used to think that if I didn't know what was going on with my team, it wouldn't affect me. Here's what I want you to know. If you're managing leading people, if you're growing a team, if you're building an organization, what you don't know about that it's going on with your team is probably going to affect you the most. It is going to be that which affects you the most dramatically. It's going to be what throws you off. It's going to be what blindsides you, it's going to be what shocks you in, and you didn't even see coming. And when you do what I used to do. I would actively... I can remember one specific meeting where our entire team was together, this was over 20 years ago, and a person brought up a really serious issue they were having in their personal life. I remember sitting there and thinking, I'm not going to say anything about it. I don't even want to ask about this. It kind of came up. There was a little bit of a discussion about it. And then we got onto the next point in the meeting. And I was like, dodged a bullet. Didn't have to talk about it. Well, four or five weeks later, that person didn't show up to work for a couple of days, and it was because of the issue that they were dealing with personally and it got overwhelming. They called us and told us they couldn't be there. And I should've seen that coming. I actually should've known it was coming. I should have been able to support them through what was coming and what was going to happen with them. And instead, I ignored it. I denied it. I pretended like it wasn't there. As I tell you this, I'm actually getting physiologically uncomfortable. I'm uncomfortable sharing this. I'm uncomfortable sharing just how dramatically wrong I was back then when managing and leading people. Today, there is a massive and stark contrast in how I manage and lead. In fact, in our daily huddle, which my team does a huddle every day, we all sign into Zoom. All of our team from around the world, regardless of where they are, they're all there each day, 9:27 AM central. We get on, and on Mondays, we actually have a part of the huddle where you can catch people being awesome. That's where we shout out and call each other out for anything. But there's also a segment where you can share where you were uncomfortable and what is making you uncomfortable. And these days we have people share things like, "I'm uncomfortable with the issues with my child. I'm uncomfortable with the school stuff that's going on with my kids. I'm uncomfortable with the homeschooling that's happening. I'm uncomfortable with stuff that's going on in my family." And it is not uncommon for someone to be sharing in the huddle and actually break down in tears. 20 years ago, that would have freaked me out. I probably would have tried to get the person out of my company. Like, "I don't want that emotional person in my company," because I didn't even understand people back then. And today, when somebody breaks down in tears in the huddle, here's what I know. I know we have created an emotionally safe place where the people on our team can turn to for support. I know we've created an environment where they feel comfortable sharing something that will make them emotional and break down. And I'm telling you, almost every member of our team has done this. And every time it happens now, I watch as our team pulls together and rallies around that person and talks to them and supports them. And here's what you can do when that happens. Now, when somebody brings up a challenging issue in their life or something that's going on, one, we know about it. We understand what's happening, which gives us such an advantage of it as an employer and as a team to know what's going on with that person. When you look at incredible high performing, high producing teams, like you look at teams where the salaries are tens of millions of dollars like NFL teams or NDA teams or sports teams, you better believe someone on that team knows what's personally going on with those individuals. The team psychologist, the coach, the person who is directly responsible for them knows what's happening and is talking them through their life issues, coaching them through their life issues. And shouldn't it be like that on every team? And so, on our team what happens is, people share and now our team can understand and empathize and make that person feel okay. They can reach out, they can support them, they can validate them. Just validating someone's feelings when they bring up something that's uncomfortable, just saying, "We understand and it sounds like I would be uncomfortable too, and is there anything we can do to help you?" Just the validation of saying, "We understand and you have every right to feel uncomfortable and I would be uncomfortable too," just that creates an emotionally safe place for people and can lower the noise and the feeling of pressure of what's going on with them. And now, because we know, because it's out in the open, we can now coach we can share experience. Oftentimes on our team, someone will bring up something that makes them uncomfortable and someone else on our team, who maybe they don't report to, isn't even in the same department, will reach out, share an experience they had and help that person move forward. And the contrast is incredible from how I used to get productivity out of my teams and today. Let me just share with you how it works. So back then, people did what they had to do to keep their job with me. I know now because I know the difference of how it feels today. So what I mean by that is they showed up, they worked hard, they worked the hours they had to, they did what they had to do to keep their jobs. They did what they had to do to, in a lot of ways, they did the minimum that they had to do to keep their jobs. That's really what I used to get out of people. As a 47-year-old, who's been running businesses for over 30 years, well, yeah, for over 30 years, I know that back then I was not getting the best out of my team. I was getting what they were willing to give me. And here's the difference now. Just recently, one of our team members who was having a challenge in the huddle said, "I just want you all to know how, even with all of this going on in my life, how amazing it is to be able to show up here every day and work with all of you and contribute with all of you and know that we are helping people out there. And I just want you to know that every day I sign into the huddle, I feel better because I know I'm on a team with all of you." And the quote that this person shared was, "It's kind of like when work is your safe place." And I remember when she said that I was, I was, first, full of goosebumps and so humbled by it because in my life, I've now gone from running companies where people showed up and performed because of the numbers and because they had to and because they wanted to keep their jobs, to now we've created an environment where is literally the safe place people turn to when they're stressed and when they're challenged. We've actually had people say, "Oh, I had a terrible weekend so I ended up working half the day on Sunday just to feel productive." And I always think how crazy is it that people have a terrible day on Sunday, but they lean into their jobs. They lean into the team around them. They lean into producing for each other and helping each other and moving the company forward for each other. It is such a contrast between how I used to be and how I am today. And it's such a contrast in the productivity on the team. And here's, I think, the biggest contrast for me as a leader. In the past, I used to live in fear of what was going on with the team members that I had. I used to be suspicious of what was happening and what was going on in their lives and was it taking away from their productivity. I really was. I used to be irritated with them for having personal problems or bringing them up. And I would think, what are they doing throwing off my meeting by talking about that stuff? Ah, I can't even believe that's how I used to be. It's making me uncomfortable just sharing it. But today, it's the opposite. I know that if something's going on with one of our team members and they share, they're going to get a tremendous amount of support, validation, encouragement, compassion, and empathy, that makes it so this is a safe place to be and a safe place to contribute. I know that in most cases, regardless of what's going on with one of our team members, they're going to show up for each other because when they support each other, when they reach out to each other, when they create this environment of we are taking care of each other, they do that in their work. They do that in their performance. They do that in their productivity. And that creates this incredibly engaged team where we do not have to have top-down pressure. Rarely, rarely on our team do we have a disciplinary issue where we have to tell somebody they're not working hard enough. In fact, I can't remember the last time we did it. I really can't. It has to have been years because there is so much lateral pressure, there's so much mutual responsibility, a mutual regard that people show up and they work and they do what they need to do, even when they're having a hard time in their lives, so that they are productive member of this community, of this team, of this organization we've put together. And it's so much better to lead like this. When I was younger, my companies were almost 100% motivated by top-down pressure by me motivating and telling people what they needed to do, and then getting angry when they didn't and scaring them and yelling and shaking things up. Oh gosh, I remember all of those feelings. And these days, these days every once in a while, I'll see a post on Facebook by a CEO, by somebody who's running a business, and they'll say something like, "Well, it finally happened. I had to light up my team. They're not showing up like they need to, they're not doing what they need to. I unloaded on him this morning. And it's crazy how much productivity I've gotten from then until noon." And I think to myself, you have no idea the landmines you planted for yourself by unloading on your team, by acting that way with your team. I know. See, I know. I know because when you unload on your team, anyone who's already having problems that they haven't shared with you, you've now invalidated them, which is one of the worst things you can do to human beings. And you've exacerbated them. You've made their problems worse because now they're dealing with their personal problems and they're dealing with anger and retribution from you. And what's happening is you get this short burst of energetic activity where everybody's scared, kind of like little kids when they get in trouble. But then directly after that, they're thinking and wondering, do I need to be here? And was that necessary? And do I like this feeling? And do I really want to produce here? And is this where I want to stay? And that is one of the fastest ways you can lose A players and true believers on your team. And so, the contrast here is rather than hiding from what's going on with your team members, understand, validate them, empathize, have compassion, and you will find that they will lean into your company and they will lean into your jobs, their job, their productivity, because that creates a safe place. What a difference. If you'd like some help creating that type of a culture and environment in your business, go to billionairecode.com. If you go to billionairecode.com, you will get a few things. One, you'll get a copy of our Billionaire Code Matrix, which is the nine levels you go through to go from zero to $100,000,000 in your business. Second, you will get a video of me explaining the entire thing along with our new book, The Billionaire Code Decoded. And you will also have a chance to sign up for a call with my team. So go to billionairecode.com. Let us show you the process, structure and routine that makes it safe to empathize and have compassion for your team to understand what's going on with them, and that will help you not just hire and bring on true believers, but develop them in a way that's dynamic and make sure that you keep them so that you and your team can create massive productivity and go out and make the change you want to see in the world. Go to billionairecode.com. We look forward to hearing from you and we look forward to helping you build a team of true believers around you.
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