Here is the full transcript of seasoned consultant and author Ron Carucci’s fireside talk: Rising to Power: The Journey of Exceptional Executives at Talks at Google conference.
RON CARUCCI: So thanks for being here today. I hope this is a meaningful conversation for you.
How many of you, by a show of hands, have aspirations of some kind to elevate your role at some point in your career and lead more people than you’re leading today? Great. So this will be super relevant to you, I hope, to avoid some of the pitfalls we found in our research. So I want to do three things– talk about the data we collected and how we got the research and why, how it is that people who rise up to bigger jobs and organizations, some seem to thrive, and then talk with you in a little bit of Q&A about how it is you are thinking about applying it here.
So a bunch of years ago — our firm works on large, crazy, transformational projects with our clients. And a bunch of years ago, we were working with an organization during which one of the young leaders who had been part of the effort was super-high-potential, seen as very competent, people enjoy working with him. Everybody saw a long, promising career for him. At the end of the project, he was offered the chance to take on a much broader assignment for the organization in this new world we had just transformed. Nobody was surprised. Everybody assumed, oh, he’ll do great. About nine months later, I saw his name on the caller ID, and I was excited.
I assumed, oh, he’s calling to tell me about all the great progress they’ve made and how things are going. But sadly, he was calling to tell me he’d been fired and that he needed help getting another job. I barely had time to recover from that conversation, two hours later the CEO of this large multinational gazillion-dollar organization, who’s our client, called to also let me know they’d let him go, and that he was a bit angry, implying– more than implying– that some of the responsibility for his failure was mine, for not better preparing him. That didn’t feel good. I was devastated.
I couldn’t imagine, how could we have possibly misjudged his potential that much? Every nine-box, eight-box, six-box, whatever grid you used, he was off the charts. How could somebody suddenly go from being in one level, being the next coming, to suddenly being a disaster in nine months? That made no sense.
I asked if we might come back into the organization to see if we could learn what could have gone wrong. That short investigation we went back in and did led us to a 10-year longitudinal study of more than 2,700 leaders. And what we found out was, painfully, that more than 50% of those that take on broader assignments in their organizations fail in their first 18 months.
That young leader was just another statistic. We thought, gosh, we can do better! I don’t ever want another phone call like that in my career again. So we began digging and digging and digging to find, why is it — for more than 20 years, we’ve known this statistic. This is not — the recruiters love it, because it’s an annuity for them. But short of that, why is that OK? 50%, right? That’s a crap shoot.
Why is it OK that the carnage of families that have relocated and people who had promising ideas and opportunities that organizations were hoping to capitalize, that half of them go sideways is reasonable? That just seemed completely unacceptable to us. So we began to go digging. And the scary thing we found in the research was, when we found out how many landmines organizations put in the way of people on their way up, it’s a wonder any of them succeed. I couldn’t wait to find out what the other 50% were doing to manage to traverse those. I went back to the CEO and I said, I will apologize and take responsibility for all the landmines I did not prepare him to face.
You need to take responsibility for putting them there, because they’re so unnecessary. So what I want to spend time today talking about that we found in this study of 2,700 leaders, 1,800 of which were set aside as at least bordering on exemplary, we also isolated 100 of them in mid-ascent to see if we could sort of watch in slow-mo what was happening across this elevation season. Whether it was to an executive role or to middle management, from wherever they were, what was going on on the way up, and what caused some to stick the landing, and some to faceplant?
To hopefully avoid those. So there’s three parts I want to chat about. One is, what’s the weird things that happen on the way up? Why is there this altitude sickness? Right, you get to a higher altitude, you can barely breathe as you land there. And then the great news in the data was, in fact, that as we dug into, what were the other half doing that made them just thrive? And it turns out there were four recurring patterns. I had the research team do 99 regression analyses. And they finally said, enough. It’s not going to change. The same four recurring patterns, over and over, that set apart those that succeeded.
The problem was — and that’s where we’ll spend the most of our time today. The problem was, the data said you had to do all four well. So people who did three of the four brilliantly were in the failure group. So the reason I kept going back to do more analysis is I didn’t want to have to say you had to do all four well. I wanted to say three of the four is OK, but it’s not.
So we’ll talk about what those four are. The great news was, these weren’t four — like, some weird genetic misalignments that caused this superhuman power in these folks. These were basic capabilities that they had acquired and learned. So the good news is they’re learnable. The best time to learn them is not when you hit your first senior director job or your first vice president job. The best time to learn them is now.
So here’s just some of the things we found that were a little bit shocking to us 69% of the people in our research said, we were not prepared for the roles I’m sure, in your department, that wouldn’t be the case But in other companies, that’s what people told us. 76% said that all of the formal development efforts they had undergone did not prepare them for the challenges they faced. They had great theories and models and read some interesting articles, but what they faced in the challenges was never covered in any of their learning developments. And most of them had no coaching. Most of them had no preparation work before, and none of them– it was in the 80% of what they had afterwards 67% of them struggled to let go.
So they took– as they escalated, they took the work with them. One of the interesting things about the notion of power, we studied, how do people handle the notion of power? And these days, that’s a pretty important conversation 60% of them felt like impostors. They felt like people ascribed more power to them than they actually felt they had themselves. And so they struggled to reconcile feeling like they’re going to, at some point, find me out.
So you can see here, these are not pretty stats, right? This begins to give a picture for why it is that so many promising young professional aspiring leaders are arriving in positions that they’re not ready for. We can do better. We absolutely can do better. So one of the metaphors we use in the early part of the book is this is very much like wing-walking. Long before you were born, people in the early part of the 20th century would actually get up– both for aerial entertainment, but also to learn how to refuel planes– would walk across the wing.
And of course, the rule number one in wing-walking is never let go of the strut you’re holding onto until you have a firm grip on the strut you’re going to, because that doesn’t go well. Well, too many wing-walkers either let go too soon, or they couldn’t let go. They became paralyzed. And they could never cross the wing. But both types of failures happen on the way up.
Leaders get too confident and too cocky, and they just fly up there without taking lessons with them, or they freeze, and they get paralyzed in the terror of a different orientation and a different view of the world. So here are some of the– five of the numbers of things we found on the way up. How many of you have been involved here at Google in interviewing people for other jobs? Now, I know a little something about your selection process. You actually do a decent job of asking people for evidence-based behavioral events of their accomplishments. But many organizations still interview people using what? Their resume.
And what is it they do with the resume? This is the part where you talk. They go through it. Right. And then you hear eerie statements like this. Wow, look at those great apps you built at your company! That’s what we need! Or, my gosh, look at this incredible sophisticated coding and engineering work you’ve done at your company. That’s what we need!
Or, wow, look at these great brands you were part of building. That’s what we need! What’s happening in that statement? You’re setting somebody up to fail, because here’s the message you’re sending. You’re saying to them, you have a formula. You have a recipe for success that we would like you to bring here. How many of you have watched people enter the organization– maybe not here at Google, but maybe other companies– and have it not go well? And what’s the term we use after about six or seven months? They’re not a good fit. Right? Which is code for all kinds of things, usually not the issue of a fit.
It’s a failure of context. Right, this person failed to read the tea leaves. They come in with this mythical mandate to prove themselves. You told me this is what you wanted. Right? So they take the bait, and they come in, whether they’ve risen up and got hired by somebody inside, or came in from the outside, they have a mandate. So they took it seriously.
Well, the mandate is devoid of context, right? I don’t want your success formula slapped on my organization. I’m assuming there is some wisdom you can bring with you from those experiences that you can contextualize here. But if you fail to learn me before you try and change me, that’s not going to go well.
So from the very beginning, many of these leaders with promising talent and otherwise important contributions failed because they had this mandate that they believed they had to follow, that they should have never followed. Well, so let’s play this out.
So what happens when I’m trying to slap on this formula of success you told me you wanted, and it’s not working? What have you seen happen to the person who’s not being able to get traction? What do you see in them? They get frustrated. And why are they frustrated? They’re not making impact. And they were told to make impact.
So my first conclusion about why I’m not making impact is usually not, it must be me. Right? It’s usually you didn’t– I go to the hiring manager. You didn’t tell me it was this bad. Or, you didn’t tell me they were this resistant. And so now my diagnosis of what’s not working becomes an indictment and a judgment of why they can’t get this brilliant thing that I brought. Right?
What happens when those around this person feel indicted by their presence? And usually it sounds like this. Well, at Apple, we– or, well, at Microsoft, what we did was– and what are people saying in the hallway? If I hear one more story about where they came from– right? So now, the minute they start talking, when I was– that’s it. I’ve tuned out. What comes next could be brilliant. It could be an amazing solution to the problem we’re solving. I am not going to hear it, because I don’t give a crap about where you learned it.
And what you’re telling me, whether you mean to or not, is you don’t give a crap about where you’re applying it. Right? So now, this could have all happened in three months, six months, whatever. But look, the death spiral’s already begun. And I have had no impact.
Totally unnecessary. You still could have great things to offer that we need. And that’s the one thing we’re missing. So then, if I’ve risen up, or I now don’t trust you to handle my brilliance, I’m going to start to exert control. So if I’m in a managerial position, and I fear I’m not having impact and I’m being judged for it, I’m going to exert control.
So my ability to let go of decisions, my ability to let go of information, my ability to let go of influence that those I lead should have, is now impaired, because I fear if I let it go, I’ll be set up to fail. What I’m not seeing is, you’ve already begun to back away. We all see that back away, that sort of virtual or physical withdrawal of, OK, we know where this is going to go. I don’t want to be anywhere near it when it happens. Maybe you’ve had that experience.
Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of being backed away from, as a leader or a colleague, from those who’ve decided you’re not a good fit. So my ability to compress the organization by making people feel micromanaged, distrusted, judged by me, is now going to cause frustration in the team or the group or the colleagues, among my colleagues. They’re going to feel disempowered. They’re going to feel– they’re not going to want to come to work. When they get the engagement survey, I’m going to get dinged.
So even if I make it for a full year, I’m probably going to get some feedback that says, either there’s early signs that this is not working out, or we’re already past it’s not working out. The other thing that happens on the way up is that people– the higher up in an organization you go, the more longer-term the result and impact you’re meant to have are, right?
So there’s a little bit more ambiguity and uncertainty about what impact is defined as. For somebody who’s an individual contributor or maybe even a first-line manager, impact can look like the next few weeks or months, or maybe, in your case, probably hours. But for somebody who, as you move up, you’re thinking, hopefully, three, six, nine, 12 months out, which means there’s a little bit more uncertainty about how those outcomes will get achieved, and the pathway to those outcomes is not quite defined. For some people, their need for immediate gratification, their need for immediate impact, is such that they can’t tolerate that.
And so they struggle with the uncertainty of, how am I adding value if I can’t have an immediate line of sight to that impact? Because now my impact is through you. It’s no longer at my own hands. It’s usually through others. And for some people, that’s just a very difficult thing to tolerate. It’s an orientation you have to shift, to say, I’m no longer the smartest kid in the class.
My job is now to make other kids the smartest kid in the class. And if I’ve been rewarded for a certain outcome or a certain skill or a certain deliverable or a certain kind of work for a long time, and that’s what I pride myself on, and now I have to relinquish that in exchange for other people doing that and me enabling them to do it, that’s a– what if it doesn’t work?
Or what if people don’t recognize me for the ability to have done that? Or what if my impact will be less visible now? What if I can’t tolerate that? The good news is, if you learn to tolerate it, you’re actually seen as being a great leader that everybody wants to work for, because people leave your team and say, I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I made a great contribution. And the last one we found is a little bit more– some of these are more prone, or look a little different when you come in from outside.
But when you come in from up in the organization, the problem is, my guess is that if we went back to hardware and YouTube and support and assistance, all the divisions you mentioned, and I asked you to describe some of the cultural realities of your organizations, I might hear some common threads about Google’s culture. I might hear some differences. But Google has a very strong environment, and there are things you know about Google. Well, the problem is, your belief that you know those things causes you never to test those assumptions.
So as you rise up, or as you change groups and departments, you bring what I know with me, and you see the world through those biases, without ever understanding, well, is that really how it is in this group, or how it is in this team, or how it is in this part of the world? And so it’s very important to always test the assumptions you have about what you believe you know, about where you’re arriving at, because they know things about you as well that may or may not be true.
And just as we don’t want to be labeled or concocted in some way, neither do the environments you have. So how do you let go of what you know long enough to see if all you know is really all there is to know? So those are just some of– there were probably– there’s certainly a bunch more.
So you can see, right, any one of these could take an otherwise promising, gifted, talented person and send them off course. All of them, avoidable. With just the right kind of preparation, the right kind of communication, the right kind of conversations, nobody has to step in these landmines.
But every day in organizations, we’re throwing these things in the way, and people are doing them. But if you’re lucky enough to get to that place and you arrive at a new altitude, then there are these– you feel like you’ve arrived on a new planet. There’s this disorienting aspect of a higher altitude. And these were four of the things we discovered that leaders struggled to be OK with.
One of the problems is, when you’re leading other people, especially if the people you are leading are remote, is there’s now multiple versions of you. So you get this– almost like your life is now playing out on the jumbotron. And people are watching you, and they’re making up versions of you. I have leaders say to me all the time, I hear all the time, John said I never said it. You have to assume that when you become more influential in an organization, just assume there’s a megaphone strapped to your mouth 24/7.
And everything you say and do is amplified. You can’t raise your eyebrow without somebody attaching meaning to it. Oh, she’s in a bad mood today. Or uh-oh, she just came out of a meeting. It didn’t go well. Or he’s really frustrated with something. Could be, nothing could be further from the truth. But we attach meaning to our leaders– their behavior, their choices, their words, how they act in meetings, all has meaning, whether it’s true or not.
But we act upon it as if it is true. Leaders struggle to know, what do I do when people are making things up about me, or concocting versions of me, that don’t exist? And there are ways to manage that, but for many leaders, it’s paralyzing.
The third one was the access to information. So suddenly, people who were my peers are now my direct reports. Suddenly the way I get information, or access to it, is a little different. It feels a little filtered. It feels a little more sanitized. It’s not quite as honest. And so how I get people to tell me the truth now becomes harder and harder the higher I go, because people don’t want to upset their bosses. And so dealing with a little bit of a sifted data set becomes difficult when you’re trying to make hard choices or make hard trade-offs or allocate resources. How we do that becomes harder when I don’t know if the information I’m being given– did my mic just go off? OK Should I wait? Oh, there it is.
When I don’t know that I can rely on the data that I’m getting. And so how do I make it safe, to make sure the people that I work with are telling me the truth? How do I make it safe for people to raise tough issues? You are the company case study for how to create psychological safety among teams. So my guess is that if I went around and polled you on how psychologically safe is your team, just because the case study was written about you doesn’t mean it’s happening everywhere at your company, right? So it’s still a difficult thing to do.
For leaders, when they then have to wonder, why aren’t they telling me the truth, and what is the information that I’m not getting, and how am I getting access to feedback, can be terrifying. For some leaders, that loss of control, that sense of influence loss, can be completely debilitating.
And lastly, the entire network of relationships that shifts can be very unsettling for leaders. So people who were your peers are now direct reports. People who were bosses are now your peers. People who were direct reports before don’t interact with you at all. And so what are the rules now? What am I allowed to say? What am I not allowed to say? When you come to me saying, so, you want to go out for beers? And I’m like, well– and then you get the whole, oh, you’re a boss now. Right OK, never mind.
You get this very passive-aggressive response to you around, oh, so you’re one of them now. OK, fine. Or they try and say, hey, you can tell me. What’s going on with XYZ? Well, you know I can’t tell you that. Well, why not? It’s me. And there’s this expectation that the relationship really hasn’t changed. So how you reset all those boundaries and keep a critical network intact, for some leaders, can just be frustrating and confusing, and they make two mistakes. They do it extremely, so they really become a different person, or they don’t do it at all, and they stay the buddy.
And then their ability to exert authority, their ability to make hard decisions, their ability to make decisions that affect people that don’t want to be affected by them is impaired later. And so finding the balance of how to reset the boundaries while keeping relationships intact that are now different is an art form. And it can be done. There are ways to do it. But if no one says to you, hey, you need to go sit down with the people who used to be your peers who now report to you and have the following conversation with them.
Or, you need to go sit down with the people who you used to report to who are now peers to you and have the following conversation with them. So that everybody goes, oh, yeah, this is different now. And now I know the new rules. So those are just some illustrative looks at the landscape on the way up, and the landscape once you land on the new planet. Like I said before, the great news was there are predictable things that those that actually stuck the landing and thrived did when they landed that can be learned.
So these were the four things that the exceptional leaders did. We call them choice, context, connection, and breadth. I’ll talk about each of them individually. So breadth– these were the folks that were able to move out of a narrow swim lane, their discipline, whether it was a business unit or a functional discipline like finance or marketing, and see the bigger picture. They were able to understand how the pieces of the organization fit together. They knew that it was really at the seams of the organization that actual transformation and change happened.
So they can go from playing first chair to conductor. They could build bridges between people. If they grew up in finance, they didn’t see the world economically. Or if they grew up in marketing, they didn’t see the world through consumers.
If they grew up in YouTube, they didn’t see the world through just video. They could actually now begin to broaden how the organization came together. The broader your influence in an organization, the more you have to bring pieces together and see it as a whole. For some leaders who only could stay in their swim lane and see the world through the lens they came in with, struggled to see how peripheral– how they fit into a bigger story. These leaders instantly knew, I fit into a bigger story here.
I should want to know what that story is. And they went and found out. They were able to– if there was factions or conflict or border wars among groups, they’d bring those people together. Rather than running around and negotiating, they would bring people together to force them into conversations that built relationships. So breadth, stitch the seams around you.
Bring people together in interconnection, rather than letting them be pulled apart. Ask yourself, where are there disconnects among the groups I’m in or leading? How do I bring them together? For too many leaders, the failure rate was an issue of just ignoring. They would aim their influence at one group at the expense of others, and actually make the division worse.
Context– so these were the leaders that were curious. They came in and started asking, what is it I have to adapt about my ideas or my approach to fit in with this organization just enough to be influential? They didn’t go native, but they realized that this environment has as much to change in me as I have to change in them.
So even if I thought I had some mandate, I didn’t just go impose it. I learned, I adapted. I read the tea leaves. I asked myself outside, what influences or trends or technologies or disruptions are coming my way? What do I have to anticipate? What could be unforeseen by me now that I should know about? They were innately curious about the people around them and the business that they were in.
So in your case, ask yourself, of all the ways Google competes, what’s the actual contribution and value my team creates? I know what my tasks are. I know what my deliverables are. But how do I contribute to the bigger story? How do I fit into the context of Google? These leaders would start with those questions. The failed leaders would start by assuming the answer they had was the answer that everybody else needed. And so being brilliant, being smart was more important to them than learning.
So read the environment around you. And resist the need to be constrained by near-term results. Actually set your sights on longer-term– learn, as much as it is difficult when other people are pressuring you, to stay focused on longer-term outcomes. So choice– turns out decision-making was a major impediment for some leaders, in terms of being able to disappoint people. Leadership is the ability to disappoint people at a rate they can absorb.
So if you’re somebody who says yes too much because you want to please people, or you don’t want to deal with the rejection of people being angry at you for disappointing them, leadership will be hard. But narrowing the focus of a group– how many of you have ever said, or thought, I have just enough priorities? Nobody. How many of you have said, we have too many priorities? Right? We all feel overworked, overstretched, unfocused. So what’s the alternative? My only choice is, OK, whatever you’re screaming about today, that’s what’s important. That’s the priority.
Not, I’m clear on the three things that are the most critical. The other things I can let go I know where to make my trade-offs. These leaders could not only themselves, but help those they lead, make the hard trade-offs. And they narrowed the focus of the people to just a few things to do them with excellence.
Nobody wants to come to work and feel like I get to do a bunch of things mediocre. But given the number of priorities, or the urgent thing de jour that you bring up, I have no capacity to understand what’s really important. These leaders could construct great choices. They knew what data, what intuition, and what other voices they should include to construct a great decision. They weren’t overly cowboy-like and independent, and they weren’t overly false-consensus-driven, where I want to make sure everybody feels included when I don’t really need to include them.
How many of you have ever been in a meeting, or part of a decision, where you show up, and the leader starts talking about a decision that you can already tell they’ve already made? We call that faux inclusion. Those leaders get found out, right? So you’re sitting there thinking, really? You’re going to make me do this fake dance with you? Watched a consumer electronics CEO — I was having a regular check-in with him one day. And his assistant buzzed him and said, hey, Chad’s here. Do you want to see him? And so he said yes, send him in. I said, do you want me to step out? He said, no, no.
So in walks Chad, their IT head, tattooed and pierced everywhere. And he walks up. And I see my client, Barry, pull out a file. And I’m like, OK, this is going to be boring. So I just take out my phone, and I start dissociating. But I’m eavesdropping. And Barry says, hey, I sent this IT capital plan to the board. Just want to make sure– before I send it to the board, I want to make sure you’re OK with what I’ve committed to for technology next year. Well, I don’t hear Chad saying anything. So I kind of peek up, and Chad’s got this really contorted look on his face.
And he says, well, I don’t really know what you’re asking me, Barry. I know you already signed off on that and sent it to the board yesterday. So if you’re asking me to be OK with it, fine. But don’t ask my opinion on something you’ve already decided to do. And he left.
And I could see Barry’s neck getting all red, and he turns to me, and he goes, do you see the kind of disrespect? I said, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Barry, what is it you think just happened here? I’m a CEO, I said, no, no, no, no Barry, my script says you got caught. He called you. You were trying to pull the wool over his eyes to make him think he was part of something he wasn’t, and you got caught for it.
My script says your next line is, I’m sorry. He gave you a gift. He gave you the belief that he trusted your relationship enough to tell you the truth. Your next move is to walk down the hall and apologize, not to be all up in arms here, like– you weren’t the one that got offended here. He was.
And they went on to have a great relationship. But if you can’t make the hard choices honestly to the people you have to make them to and let the chips fall where they may, leadership won’t be easy for you, because sometimes it means saying, this is what needs to be done, or no, we’re not going to do that, or this needs to be done, and I’m sorry it’s going to take some sacrifice.
We can’t call that from our people and model it ourselves. Decision-making, especially when your decisions affect resources, priorities, people’s sense of importance, how they spend their time, how they use their discretionary influence, if they feel jacked around, your ability to be influential is going to be impaired. So this was a hard one.
One of the interesting things we found about when people had power in their roles was that we assumed we would find the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. You know, we’d find people misusing power for self-gain and self-interest and immoral reasons. They were there. That was not nearly the abuse of power as much as it was people abandoning power. People were too afraid to use it. They let go of it. And we need to see that as much of an abuse of power as self-interest, is self-protection.
If you’re too uncomfortable using power, don’t take it. But if you can’t exercise power to make things more just, to make things more fair, to make things more clear, to make things more compelling for people, then decision-making will be a struggle.
And the last dimension was connection. So these were the people everybody wanted to work for. So how many of you have leaders that you have seen this– there’s the ” I could work for her or him” boss? Right. So it’s those people. So they’re trustworthy. They’re compelling. They’re credible. They’re respected. But one of the major differentiators was that everybody believed that they were out to make other people successful, that the thing on their agenda highest in relationship was, how do I help you succeed?
One guy in our study said, he asks everybody three questions. He asks first, what can I do to improve to be a better colleague to you? Second, what are you working on that’s really important? And three, what can I do to help you with that really important thing? And for a decade, this was his mantra, and everybody knew it. And everybody knew he meant it.
And so the interesting differentiator was, I didn’t build my stakeholder network and focus on relationships that I could get something from. I focused on building relationships with– and this is peers, direct reports, and bosses, all 360. How do I make other people successful? Not politically, but because I genuinely enjoyed watching other people thrive. I genuinely enjoyed watching how I make other people soar. And this was innate to who these folks were.
And that’s how they maintained their relationships, and that’s how they built credibility and respect. So you can see, breadth, context, choice, connection– they’re four really powerful and big muscles, and why it was hard to say you’ve got to be good at all four. But if you want to succeed and be influential on the way up and navigate those landmines on the way up and navigate the disorientation of being higher, you can learn these now.
For context, start asking questions around how you can adapt more to the environment you’re in. For breadth, ask, what seams can I bridge? What seams do I sit at that I can connect better to? For choice, ask yourself, how comfortable am I saying no? How comfortable am I disappointing somebody for the right thing? And for connection, ask yourself, do the people in your network understand you to be somebody who is out to make them successful? If somebody went and asked on your behalf, what’s it like to work with you, would they say, oh, yeah, they have my back?
So you can start now to build these capabilities and layer them into your leadership so that as you become more influential, and one day when you’re a CEO of Google or a CEO of some other company here, you can have the impact you want to have and make the difference you want to make and be successful. So, thanks.
And so we’ll do Q&A. We have time for some questions. So what do you want to know more about? And there’s a microphone in the corner there. So please go use that microphone to ask your question.
AUDIENCE: Hi. So I actually– first of all, thank you very much for coming. This is fantastic.
RON CARUCCI: Thanks.
AUDIENCE: I actually have two questions. The first is, I guess I was a little confused between how to distinguish between the context source of power and the breadth source of power. They both seem to be about having an understanding of the bigger picture and elaborating there. So I was hoping you could elaborate on sort of what makes those unique.
RON CARUCCI: Great questions. Context is depth. So it’s deep. And breadth is wide. So context is about what’s happening right now, in front of me, that I need to adapt to. Breadth is the puzzle, so all the puzzle pieces and how they fit together. So if I’m in YouTube, where does YouTube fit into the broader Google strategy? What’s the bigger story we’re a part of? Context is, what’s Vimeo doing that I need to care about right now in my job?
AUDIENCE: Got it. And having both simultaneously will allow you to traverse.
RON CARUCCI: Yes. And so that’s a great point. It’s all four of them simultaneous, because for me to act upon that question, I have to have the relationships to do it. I have to make the hard choices to make it happen. So this is one thing with four parts, not four things. That’s what makes it tricky.
AUDIENCE: And I guess the second question is, you mentioned earlier on about all the different pitfalls, and those who had established poor relationships. If somebody has walked down that path and has sort of a negative reputation preceding them, in your experience, are they able to turn it around by learning the skills? Or should they be moving into greener pastures?
RON CARUCCI: That’s a great question. Yes, they can. And if you’re in the same environment that you already expect people to be looking at you a certain way, you have to confront that. You have to say, I understand you all see me from this experience. I’m asking you not to. And I’m asking you to let me earn my right to regain your trust and respect. If I don’t do that, I want to be told, but I want to be innocent until proven guilty.
So can you give me the suspension of disbelief and allow me to succeed here? And you have to ask for it.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for coming. Would you mind sharing some of the things that you found either most surprising or that seem to be most counterintuitive about your research?
RON CARUCCI: Great question. Thank you. The power thing really took us off guard, that the biggest abuse of it was abandoning it, that people are more cowardice than they are– can I say “asshole”—assholes. We have those, but they’re just– and sometimes the reason for the cowardice was so that I avoid being seen as a jerk. But you took the job. You have all these C letters next to your name now. But I think people are not trained to understand that power is a great thing.
You don’t have to be self-indulgent with it. But you have the ability to create justice. You can take things that are not fair or not right and make them right. And that should be exciting to you. So that surprised me, because why would you want the job? The other thing that surprised us that I didn’t like– I told you this before– was I hated that you had to be good at all four of these, because I don’t feel good at all four of them.
So I didn’t feel good about telling others to do it. And so I really wanted it to be true that the good ones who rise up could do three of the four, at least, and have a couple of rough edges on one of them. And the truth is, some of us do, right? The other thing that surprised me was– anybody here from HR? I’m going to say — but I’ll pretend. So, so many of the devices of the early failure issues are HR processes. Selection, reward, development, all the– and I was surprised because I come out of HR.
At some point in my career, I spent time there. I was surprised that– we could fix them. Why aren’t we fixing them? So I was frustrated and exasperated by that. Thanks for the question.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I just had a question. Did the research suggest that people were self-aware of their gaps in these four dimensions? Or was it sort of like they didn’t realize it until after they had completely failed, and that sort of thing?
RON CARUCCI: I so wish I could answer the question with yes, they were. But they weren’t. So that young man who I told you I got the phone call about, his failure was context. He had a failure of just not reading the tea leaves around him. He got so overwhelmed with the complexity of his job, he just ignored it– not because he couldn’t have learned it, because no one told him to.
And so it was usually, to your question, after the fact. And so often, so many of them– when we talked to some of the failure cases, over and over, why didn’t someone tell me? If I had known they were frustrated with my frustration with them because they weren’t taking my good idea, I could have changed. People just backed away and didn’t say anything. I tell leaders all the time, if you went to a dinner party with a significant other and you decided to leave early, and your significant other turns to you in the car and says, honey, you have a big thing hanging off the end of your nose. Get it off.
It’s been there all night. What might your question be? You tell me now? We all have. Things hanging off our behavior we can’t see. Get in on the conversation. You should want to know. And so you should always be asking, how can I do better? What am I doing that frustrates you? What can I improve? If you just ask for the feedback– and don’t wait until it’s too late.
You can ask today. You can leave here today, go to somebody, and say, what’s the thing we’re talking about on my nose that no one’s telling me about? And find a colleague that’s honest enough to tell you.
SPEAKER: All right, Rob, we’ve got a question from the livestream audience.
RON CARUCCI: Oh, cool.
SPEAKER: So the question is around, how do you get businesspeople who are the agents of change here to actually abide by these recommendations?
RON CARUCCI: Give them my phone number. I would love to have a chat with them. You know, here’s the painful question. If you don’t look at these four– so we were very humbled and honored that “HBR” named this as one of the ideas that mattered most in 2016. When we published this research, we had hundreds of thousands– our website was almost crashing, because people were like, yes! But if you don’t recognize the self-evident obviousness of, yes, that’s what I should do, then you don’t believe it, right?
But the question I would ask is, OK, so if it’s not these, then what? If you don’t think that these are the standards of being able to be influential, 2,700 people in the study wasn’t enough, OK, I’ll suspend my disbelief. You tell me what they are. You tell me, what are the success factors that you want to abide by or apply to your own behavior or pursue to be successful? And then show me who else has been successful with them. That’s what I would ask.
But otherwise, my question would be, if you’re rising up with influence and you’re rising up to want to have broader change, what standards are you using? If you’re making it up as you go, if you’re thinking, I’m all that and a bag of chips and I’ve already arrived and I have what I need, you’re dangerous.
AUDIENCE: Hi. What recommendations do you have for seeking out mentorship and coaching?
RON CARUCCI: Do it. So it’s a very personal issue, right? So you want a relationship that’s mutually beneficial. You don’t want someone to clone themselves in you. And I think those are different– I think mentorship is a much more intimate, ongoing relationship. Coaching should start with feedback. If you’re going to hire a coach, please make sure they’re trained and certified and not somebody who somebody said, hey, you give good advice! You should be a coach! They all hang shingles out. It’s bad.
The industry has become this– it’s terrible. There’s people out there just dispensing advice because someone told them– their mother told them, you’re so smart! So make sure somebody has got some clinical training and some behavioral science training and knows what they’re coaching you in. And get feedback. I hired a coach two years ago for me. And people were like, at this point in your career? You probably think it’s too late. But it’s never too late. And all I have thought for two years was, why did I wait so long? Help is so good. I mean, none of us can do this alone. And if you think you can, please don’t lead anybody.
So the idea of getting help, and having somebody– we are notoriously bad observers of our own reality. We don’t have good third eyes. So having another set of eyes on you and how you function in the world and how others experience you, even if you have people getting in your face and being honest, still, to have an objective third party tell you, here’s who you are to the world.
Now, if that’s not what you want to be to the world, here’s how you can change that. What a gift! And the earlier you do it, the better. I tell every one of my clients who run big departments or companies, I want– you have to have– I want to be your coach, and I want the name of your therapist, your personal trainer, and your nutritionist. There’s a foursome there. You should not be running tens of thousands of people and billions of dollars of budgets without at least, if not more, those four things around you.
AUDIENCE: Hi, thanks for coming. According to the study, a majority of people didn’t have all four, hence the failure rate. For the people who have three out of four, was there a normal distribution, or did you see that one particular quadrant was just really hard for people to—
RON CARUCCI: Such a great question. So context and connection caused faster failure. So in the 18-month window, the six-month failures were all failures of connection. And specifically, peers and direct reports could pull the plug on your career quicker than anybody. Bosses were a little bit out of sight.
Context was you’re obtuse, right? The interesting thing about choice and breadth was the failures came later, because here’s why. So if your company sucks at decision-making and your governance structures are unclear and it’s either all false consensus or all cowboy, you’ll blend right in. People won’t know you suck at decision-making. And if your company sucks at breadth, meaning it’s very fragmented, very siloed, and very individualistic and very piecemealed, you’ll fit right in. The problem becomes after you’re trying to fight that, right? So if you’re trying to introduce better decision-making, because you’re good at it and they’re not, or you’re trying to bridge the seams and you get resisted and no one else is on that same mission, you fail, but slower.
AUDIENCE: Hey, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on how to build trust and relationship to get some of that honest feedback, beyond just asking. How do you actually get the real answer?
RON CARUCCI: So you have to commit to other people’s success, right? And find a couple of people, find a couple of peer coaches, or get a small group together and say, hey, can we have each other’s backs here? And there are some great tools out there. Come to our website. We’ve got some great tools to offer on, how are we going to learn to give each other feedback? And how are we going to learn to– so in this meeting, I’m about to give this presentation. Or, in this meeting, I’m about to go do this. Can you watch for the following things? It takes courage to ask.
But if you find people with whom you have– the colleagues. If you don’t have the trust there, then ask them, what would it take for us, over the next few months, to build the kind of trust with each other? And just say, I’ve observed your insights. You seem someone who has a lot to offer. I’d love your feedback. And I recognize that maybe right now we don’t have that relationship. But how, over the next 90 days, can we do that? Lunch once a week? But be intentional about it. And people appreciate that. But be very– those relationships are made, not born.
Yeah Guys, thanks so much for having me. It’s been great to be with you. Enjoy your holiday.
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