‘Control the controllables’ – what results when we reframe our view of situations, and ourselves

Nick Snoply, Chief Administrative Officer for American Health Network

In this episode, Nick Snoply shares with us how life challenges resulted in some of his greatest life learnings. There are many nuggets of wisdom offered in this conversation, beginning with a motivational speaker’s equation which has served as a North Star for Nick: Event + Response = Outcome.

In a time when things can feel out of control, the practice of narrowing our focus to what it is that we can control is both effective and empowering. Self-awareness, and building intentional habits, can positively impact how we view both situations, as well as ourselves. Nick shares many personal examples, including (i) how a self-proclaimed “raging introvert” was able to develop the ability to authentically flex as an extrovert; (ii) how reframing failure into potential opportunity allowed him to broaden his perspective as well as his career success; (iii) and what resulted when he stopped worrying about what others were doing and focused solely on what he was doing.


Cummings-Krueger: Welcome everyone to the Menttium Matters podcast, where we talk about leadership, life, and the transformative power of mentoring. I’m Megan Cummings-Krueger, and today our conversation is going to be focused on the power of reframing our perspective, taking time to intentionally shift how we view situations and how we view ourselves. That has never been more significant or more impactful.


Our guest today is Nick Snoply, who is the Chief Administrative Officer for American Health Network, a part of Optum. Nick is responsible for driving strategic priorities, optimizing organizational effectiveness, and building workforce capability, in addition to providing consultation to overall senior leadership team. Over the arc of his career, Nick has provided project management support for enterprise initiatives, process improvement, and redesign within talent acquisition at United Health Group.


He also previously managed recruitment processes, outsourcing firms, as well as the planning, consultation, and coaching of business leaders. Nick received his Bachelor of Science from Indiana State University and his executive education in strategic growth from Columbia Business School. Nick is married to one of the top neonatal delivery nurses in Indiana.


They are the proud parents of two children, and Nick is beginning his third partnership as a Menttium mentor. Welcome Nick.


Snoply: Thank you. That is a heck of an introduction, and it reminds me and takes me on quite a journey on how I got here.


Cummings-Krueger: Excellent, we’re off to a good start. Recently you were one of Menttium’s voices of experience for our Business Education Webinar on the topic of Thriving Through Change.


Since this is such a relevant topic for so many of us right now, I’d like to discuss a few of the insights you shared during that session. For example, I particularly appreciated an equation that you shared that you learned from a motivational speaker that says: Event + Response = Outcome. Could you share a little more about that?


Snoply: When I heard it, I was an audience member and I’ve had an opportunity to sit through a few leadership seminars, and you always take a few nuggets away. This one hit me like a truck because if you work backwards, you think about the outcome, what do you want to happen? Your response, plus or minus, so said differently, good, or bad, determines what that outcome is. The event is agnostic. You can’t control the event. It’s part of the things that we must be okay with just going through the flow with. But what I do own is my response, and if it’s a poor response, largely it’s going to be a poor outcome. If it is a measured, thought out, positive response, I’m probably going to have a better outcome than I would have thought.


Cummings-Krueger: I really appreciate those simple mantras that can quickly remind you of what your goal is. What else would you like to share from what turned out to be an excellent webinar discussion on thriving through change?


Snoply: That change right now, especially in our environment, if you go back just two years ago, it’s inevitable. There is more that is out of our current control than we’ve probably ever had, at least in my very short time on this planet. But therein lies an opportunity to get better at releasing control of things that are not in your sphere of influence and focusing on the things that you can. I talk to my team all the time about control your controllables. What are things that you can influence, that you have material control over, that you can drive forward? When you do that, you gain clarity. You gain the opportunity to be a better leader because you are projecting a leadership shadow that is contagious to others. When you can control your controllables, it removes chaos, and it removes ambiguity.


Cummings-Krueger: Absolutely. It’s funny how often that old wisdom really holds truth. The serenity prayer: the courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference.


Snoply: And if I may, it’s not easy. It is an intentional thing that you must do every single day, and because I have the opportunity to speak to the audience today, it’s a development item for me. You must be intentional and get in front of your own thoughts relative to, what can I control today? What am I going to let go of and how will I make an impact?


Cummings-Krueger: That is an excellent lead into my next question and that is, throughout all the podcasts we’ve done so far, regardless of the topic, focus comes up again and again as such a critical element right now. We live in very distracting times; it is certainly one of our greatest challenges in dealing with change. You have shared what you found helpful in strengthening your ability to focus, so would you share with our audience what has been helpful to you?


Snoply: What I’m going to share is not going to be sage or earth shattering, but it’s going to be poignant. There are two things: one, pay attention, and two, make good choices. We are distracted more now than ever, at least I’ve been. I wear an Apple watch that goes off every 30 seconds with some kind of update or an email. I have two monitors here with two different inboxes. My phone’s over here. I can choose to not pay attention and ask questions later, which would largely have me received as not engaged. Or I can make a choice to focus on the content and the person. When I do that, a couple things happen. One, they know that I’m there and I’m being present. Being present is probably three quarters of the work in general. The second part would be, I understand now what the concept is that they’re talking to me about and I now can influence what the outcome of that conversation is going to be. So, if we can shut off, and it’s very difficult, but if we can shut off the external noise in our environment, even for just half an hour at a time, it will pay massive dividends.


Cummings-Krueger: So much of what you’re saying comes to my mind, especially for those of us who tend to move fast and try to get a lot done, a big piece of this is remembering to pause, which can be one of the greatest challenges with all of this. My sense of you is you are certainly someone who thinks fast and is focused on getting things done. What are some examples of what has helped you with a challenge to your natural style?


Snoply: I can tend to be a triple type A, tightly wound, get stuff done, plow through things personality. That is sometimes good and there’s other times it is absolutely a development opportunity. What your question makes me think of is what people like to refer to as work life balance. This north star of how I find a good balance. I’ll be honest, it’s provocative; I think there isn’t one. I think we make choices. We make a choice to spend time on what we think is the most important thing right now. Sometimes my family loses. They know that because work at that point in time might be more important than spending time with them.


That might make our listeners cringe a little bit, but it’s true. Other times work loses because spending time with my family is more important than potentially being here on a Wednesday when there’s not a whole lot going on. So that balance is about the choices we make, which is indicative of where we find value right now. It is okay to let work lose sometimes, and it’s okay to let your personal life lose sometimes. But we are in control of who wins and who loses relative to that balance that we’re trying to find.


Cummings-Krueger: When you think about your personal evolution, because I know this really is resonating with a number of listeners, it really gets at the core of so much of our challenge these days. Do any stories come to mind, any examples of a learning experience around this?


Snoply: We don’t have enough time for that because I have probably failed in my career more than I have won. If I’m a listener, I might say, Nick, that sounds like nonsense. Then how did you get to where you’re at? I’ll give you a little bit of theory and then I’m sure I can find a story in here. I think failing forward is cliché, but I think it’s incredibly true. I talked to my daughter who’s eleven. It’s terrifying because a lot of times I think she might be smarter than I am. She has great perspective and I talked to her about, you are going to make mistakes, but you need to make sure that those mistakes are recoverable and that they are not fatal. Said differently, your choices may not always be right, but you should be able to learn from them. Then if you make that mistake again, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice, right? You are intentionally choosing to do that.


I pushed a lot in my career. My level of ambition is maybe higher than it should be, and I constantly wanted, and wanted, and wanted. I grew up in a privileged family, I’m lucky for that. There was some goodness in there, but it also didn’t set me up for success coming out of college where I thought people were going to pay me a lot of money because I was a nice guy. I learned quickly that that was not the case. Through that, I learned that no one’s going to be your bigger advocate than yourself, and if you want to go fast, you’re going to have to go by yourself.


But if you want to go far in your career, you must partner with people, and you must trust, and you must be patient. Those are difficult for me personally to do. We all have experiences in our life. We’ve all been burned before by people that will make promises, and sometimes those come true and sometimes they don’t. But your ability to have grit and perseverance in your career that you own and that you drive will get you to where you want to be.


Cummings-Krueger: Nick, you are a prime example of what is true for all our mentors; you’re all continuous learners and you have a real passion for seeking opportunities to pass on what you have been fortunate enough to learn. One of the insights you shared during the change webinar that I also appreciated was your belief that thoughts become things. Could you tell us a little more about this?


Snoply: Yes, happy to, and within this will be a little micro story. One of the first roles I ever had out of college was within a sales organization. Growing up, everybody told me, you are a natural salesperson. And I thought, you know what? You’re right, I am. I was a miserable failure. I was a miserable failure because what I loved about sales was relationship building. But what I hated doing was trying to sell you this. I don’t want to do that. I want you to just want this, but I want to build that equity with you. I subsequently was fired. Best thing that ever happened to me in my entire life.


I was able to build a relationship and get matched with a mentor who at that point in time, I didn’t realize was going to be a mentor to me. Her name is Brooke, and she is probably the most influential individual in my very short time on this planet. It’s poignant because today’s International Women’s Day, so happy International Women’s Day to both of you.


But she was so powerful because the one concept that she said is, you need to start thinking about what you want. When you start thinking about what you want, consciously and subconsciously you will start doing the incremental things to get there. I thought that was a load of BS. I was like, you’re out of your mind. That is way out in the universe for me. But she was right, and I was a hundred percent wrong. When I think about my career, and I thought about prepping for our webinar today and what I want to tell the audience, the resounding item that kept coming up is that thoughts become things.


I said one day, I would love to be in a senior leadership role in a healthcare organization. Not on the clinical side because the Lord knows I shouldn’t be on the clinical side. But helping steer the business in the right direction to provide quality care for patients, a good experience for our providers that ultimately puts us in a position to succeed. And here I am. Now, it wasn’t as easy as just thinking about it, right? There were failures, there were wins, there were opportunities. But your ability to focus on what you want and keep that front of mind will get you to where you want to go.


Some may say, well Nick, that’s a goal. A goal is something that’s binary that I put on paper. My thoughts are evolutional. They’re going to continue to change with each iteration I have or with myself, my internal dialogue, who I get a chance to work with, who I get a chance to work for, what name is on the side of the building that I office in. All those things are little pieces that create this mosaic that ultimately becomes your career. But those pieces of the mosaic are there because you are thinking about them and then doing the things to accomplish what those thoughts are.


Cummings-Krueger: It’s interesting because while you have that focus, that thought in mind, I also know you’ve shared that you have had a unique career path. It sounds to me like you’re also staying open to possibility. Is that correct?


Snoply: It is. Before I moved into this role that I’m currently in now, historically in my career, I’ve been in the recruitment or talent acquisition or human resources field. If you would’ve told me 25 years ago, you’re going to end up in HR, I would’ve said, no way. I am not beholden to what I want to be, or what my title might be, or even how much money I want to make. To me, it is about who do I have an opportunity to learn from? Now look, if you’re hearing that and you’re rolling your eyes, I totally understand it. Yes, my income matters because it’s why we work, but you want to have that intersection of personal gratification within your life with I’m doing the right things to facilitate the lifestyle that I choose to lead.


So, if I bring this back to how do you accomplish your thoughts, don’t overthink them. Allow yourself some freedom and flexibility to iterate. When you’ve made a bad choice say, I made a bad choice and I’m going to make another one and pivot, and I will keep moving forward.


Cummings-Krueger: So that failing forward is pivotal as well?


Snoply: It is. Even if you fail fatally, there’s always an opportunity there to pick yourself back up and figure out what you want to do. When I was fired and I say fired intentionally; I wasn’t downsized, I wasn’t let go. I was fired for poor performance. I wasn’t in the right industry or the right role. But it gave me an opportunity to reinvent who I was, and if you let that go, that is a gift that oftentimes there are too many negative implications around it for people to recognize that. But if you can dust it off and see it for what it is, you don’t get that many opportunities in your life to do it.


Cummings-Krueger: That brings up something I wanted to discuss, and that is, as you said, early in your career you were a recruiter. I’d love to hear more about your perspective with our current employee employment landscape. As so many of us are keenly aware since the global pandemic, this country has been undergoing what is being termed the “Great Resignation”. It is very likely a number of our listeners are seeking a new job, and others may be seeking new employees. What is your perspective on this current state of employment?


Snoply: I will not say that one is right, or one is wrong, because I think careers meet people where they are in their life. Right now, our economy is dictating two different things. Those that are choosing not to work because they’re just choosing not to. And those that are saying, there’s an opportunity out here for me to advance my career, there’s a glut of opportunities, let me go prove what I can do and go find that role. Again, wherever you find yourself is where you find yourself. Embrace that and move it forward to the best of your ability.


If you’re seeking talent, my advice is slow down. There are so many good folks out there. You have the opportunity right now in a buyer’s market to determine what is the right talent for you, and don’t think just about functional competencies. Think about what is the right cultural fit? What is the right leadership fit? Because ultimately what you’re doing when you’re hiring somebody is you’re hiring longevity and you’re creating a succession plan. If you’re a leader, if you’re a manager, a supervisor, if you own your own business, whatever industry you might be in, start thinking about talent a little bit differently, more of an investment in the future and less transactional.


Conversely, if you are talent and you are in the market, you too have the same, if not a greater opportunity to be very intentional about where you choose to work. Employers right now are bending backwards trying to create the right environment. Is it work from home or telecommuting? Is it a hybrid where you might be in the office three days a week or is it an environment where you need to be in every single day? What is the culture like? What does it feel like when you go to work? Again, wherever you may find yourself, it’s still work. You must show up, do the right job, focus, and have a certain level of ambition.


The last piece on this is that folks that may find themselves in the middle of their career, that have a high level of ambition, and I say this from a personal point of view, I constantly was waiting for my ship to come in. Which is a metaphor to say, I’m looking for that next opportunity. I am waiting for somebody to invest in me. Why hasn’t it happened? There were so many times in my life I took the role of a victim, which I hate to say because I’m not a big fan of that, but that I waited for somebody to recognize me. The entire time I was already on that ship, it was up to me to steer to where it needed to go.


So, if you were waiting, stop waiting and start doing. Again, control those controllables. If you’re saying, but there’s so many things that I feel like I’m not in control of, I would encourage you to draw a Venn diagram, which is nothing more than two circles that overlap. On the right side of that Venn diagram, you’re going to write all the things that you can control. On the left side of that circle, you’re going to say, here are all the things that I can’t control. In the middle, this is what I should be focusing on. These are the things that are important to me. When you gain focus, you regain control. From that control you can start making good choices and good decisions that are going to steer your ship where it needs to go.


Cummings-Krueger: It’s interesting how those simple techniques such as a Venn diagram, or just deep breathing, can have the greatest impact.


One thing I’ve always noticed about you, but certainly in this conversation it has been coming to the front, is that one of the choices you make is to frame things in a positive manner. Is that intentional?


Snoply: Yes, I am naturally a pessimist, and I will admit that in front of whomever is listening to this and for the eternity that it survives in our digital age. I tend to be a pessimist and I tend to think the worst or expect the worst, so that I’m not disappointed. That’s an awful way to go through life, and I must constantly think about the goodness and find it. If it’s a bad message I’m hearing, what’s good about it? Where is there an opportunity? How can I think about this differently? And every single day, even in the meeting that I had before we sat down to have this conversation, I’m in there trying to find the goodness so that I can share that with other people and then they can take that forward down to their teams as well.


Cummings-Krueger: Another area that I know will resonate with our listeners is an area where you’ve made some choices. You call yourself, as you put it, a raging introvert who has learned to adjust, such that now you come across as an extrovert. Can you share with us what that journey was like and what helped you make those adjustments, which can be really challenging.


Snoply: It’s been exhausting in a word and let me qualify introvert, because I think if you ask nine or ten people their definition, you get nine different ones. To me, an introvert is somebody who needs solitude to recharge those internal batteries. I don’t mind going to a party and I don’t mind socializing with different groups of people, but I am not energized by that. It drains my battery. Conversely, when I am out in the woods with my dogs, or I’m sitting out in my backyard listening to two owls hoot back and forth from miles away, that enables me to think, it enables me to gain perspective. It enables me then to think about what I’m going to do next. Flexing as a natural introvert into an expected extrovert space, I think most companies, unless you’re in an industry that is predominantly introverted thinking, like accounting, finance, or some of the high levels of focus, it’s an expectation that you are naturally gregarious.


I think there’s a perspective that you must have relative to who do I need to be right now to get the things done that I need to get done? Now, I am not suggesting that people be inauthentic. I think you must find the balance between who you are as an individual and what your workplace is asking you to do. When you find that sweet spot, it’s empowering because there are times that I wonder, am I really an introvert? I love solitude, but I also love going to a meeting and being able to stand up and present in front of people. It’s certainly not because I think people want to hear what I have to say. It’s that I’m confident enough in what I’m going to say, that I think it’s going to drive value to others.


That brings me to where I would land on this, and it is, don’t be afraid to speak up. Many times, people are terrified to ask a question, to provide their opinion. Your question or your opinion, they can’t be wrong; they’re yours, it’s your voice. If you can’t find the courage to express yourself in that meeting, you will miss out on an opportunity to be heard, and to become a thought leader. That is as important as somebody who might drive revenue or might control the finances or might be a chief decision-making officer. So do not be afraid to be wrong. Your opinion is not wrong. It is yours and yours alone.


Cummings-Krueger: When you think about the arc of your career so far, and we’ve touched on a few habits already, but what other habits do you feel have really contributed to your success? What have we not touched on?


Snoply: I’m going to underscore patience. If there was something that I could go back and do differently in my career, I think I would’ve been more patient. I am on the cusp of being over 42 years old, which to me feels like I’m closer to retirement than I am. When I tell my father that, he tells me to stop talking because he’s so irritated. You’re so young, you have no idea, you’ve got the rest of your life left. When he says things to me like that, I look at my dad as a very personal mentor. He was a corporate attorney, once an attorney, always an attorney, but he doesn’t practice anymore. He spent nights and weekends talking for a living and exhausting himself to get my brother and I to have an opportunity to be where we’re today. But because of that level of ambition, we drove, and drove, and drove all the time.


Sometimes when you push too hard and you’re not patient, you can get the opposite result. I’ll give you an example, this was years ago. I kept getting passed over for a promotion. It felt like I was ready, and I kept seeing other people get promoted before me, and I kept benchmarking myself against them. I keep talking about perspective, but perspective is so important. If I had to say it differently, it’s your version of what the world looks like through your eyes, but when you look myopically, like blinders on, like a horse might have, you forget that there’s this peripheral universe around you of different circumstances, of different levels of experience, of different scenarios that are going to impact others differently. If you can elevate your thinking and change your perspective to think more holistically about you and how you might match up with somebody else, potentially you start to gain that perspective.


Ironically, I kept getting passed over for that promotion because I was too busy thinking about everybody else and what they’re doing and not thinking about what I’m doing. When I got that gritty feedback, it felt a little crummy. I’m not going to say I didn’t have a pity party for about 24 to 48 hours, but I was able to say, you know what? They’re right and here are the things that I’m going to do differently. That is one of the most pivotal things in my life that I continue to work on today and I’m going to go back to where I started, which is control those controllables in your life. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, worry about what you’re doing. If you have an opportunity to help people along the way, it’s incumbent upon you to do that because the more people that you help in turn, the more people will help you.


Cummings-Krueger: Absolutely. This next question is going to be perhaps a little tough for you because you share my love for quotes and mantras, but is there a favorite quote or mantra that you’d like to share today?


Snoply: There’s two and they’re very simple. The first one is, “do the work”. Do the work. We live in an age of instant gratification. I grew up in an age of instant gratification, and I have expectations that things are going to happen immediately. A lot of times when things happen immediately, you don’t put work into understanding why they happen or how they must happen. Or we’re so distracted, we get lazy, and we just don’t want to do the job. Then we complain, we don’t make enough money, I’m not getting that promotion, I’m not where I want to be in the middle of my life, how come this person is here? I ask myself all the time, are you doing the work? Like, are you legitimately doing the work right now?


When I say the work, I don’t mean what’s on paper or what’s on my to-do list or the whiteboard behind me. I’m talking about internally, am I doing the things that I need to do to get to where I want to go? I hold myself to a level of achievement and expectation that is probably not realistic. I think I do that because I’m constantly trying to push myself. Ask yourself, what level of accountability are you holding yourself to? If it’s there already, then proceed. If you’re not holding yourself accountable, think about what that might sound and feel and look like to you and what the payoff might be.


The second one comes back to just the level of energy I naturally bring to most environments. While it is welcomed, it is also an opportunity. I say to myself, “just be”. If I’m going to go out in front of a large group, many times I’ve had the opportunity to do it, I’m always nervous, I get butterflies. I want to make sure that I’m driving value. I want to make sure that people say, you know what? He doesn’t sound like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, right? This is somebody who we could listen to. When I say “just be” over, and over, and over again, it allows me to sit within the current environment. Not worry about what could happen. Not worry about what led up to this moment and me feeling self-conscious. It allows me to be in that moment and seize that opportunity. Those are things that I constantly tell myself to one gut check, and two, get some perspective.


Cummings-Krueger: I love both of those and I’d say certainly speaking for myself, the “just be” is probably the greatest challenge right now and maybe why we’re all heading to nature, nature’s the ultimate just be.


Nick, what would your advice be to up and coming leaders? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?


Snoply: I would say that there are no shortcuts in life relative to your job, relationships that you have inside and outside of work, and no shortcuts with your own personal growth. I provide that counsel because I’ve tried to take them, I’ve tried to find out where can I gain efficiency? What can I try to circumvent? What can I try to push? What can I try to rush? And inevitably, every single time I’ve done that, I have failed. It has allowed me to understand that I must have the patience and fortitude to let things be and operate within that. So, no shortcuts, do the work.


Cummings-Krueger: Wonderful. Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to have what has been such a refreshing and interesting discussion about focus and potential and how we can reframe situations, but also how we can reframe how we see ourselves. It really is the essence of mentoring as well. It aligns so perfectly with mentoring, so thank you so much.


Snoply: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.


Cummings-Krueger: Thank you to all of you listening to this Menttium Matters podcast. We have several excellent guests like Nick lined up, so please make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes. For additional resources, you can find show notes on Menttium’s website. We look forward to having you join us next time.