In this two part episode, Dr. Roz Tsai will talk about resilience, which is an essential ingredient for thriving during turbulent times. Roz will define resilience and highlight specific practices to shift our mindset and strengthen our resilience. Using the “3G’s” (gratitude, grit, grace), Roz walks us through how we can cultivate daily habits to improve our wellbeing. Based on her research in the talent management space, Roz outlines the three most important things that leaders can do to foster resilience in their team.
FULL TRANSCRIPT PART I
Brown: Welcome to the Menttium Matters podcast, where we talk about leadership, life, and the transformative power of mentoring. This is Solveig Brown, and I am so excited to have Dr. Roz Tsai as my guest today. Today, Roz and I are going to talk about resilience, which is an incredibly important topic during these turbulent and uncertain times. Roz is going to walk us through what resilience is and give us some tools that we can use to become more resilient.
Before we begin our conversation, I would like to give you a little background information on Roz. Dr. Roz Tsai is vice president of talent, learning and organizational effectiveness at Thrivent, where she leads talent strategy, talent acquisition, talent management, leadership development, and organizational effectiveness efforts. Previously, Roz served as vice president of HR and the chief learning officer at Ecolab. She has also held transformative leadership roles at Honeywell, Lawson Software, now Infor, and Northern States Power Company, now Xcel Energy. Roz has developed a unique and strategic approach to creating diverse, inclusive, and high performing teams that drive enduring business. Impact.
She holds a doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota, where she currently serves as adjunct faculty for the Carlson School of Management, teaching global talent management for global business executives. Roz went through Menttium’s program as a mentee and has been mentoring for Menttium since 2008. Welcome, Roz. I’m so happy to have you here today.
Tsai: Hello. Thank you for having me. Good to be here.
Brown: When Roz and I did our pre-podcast meeting, I asked her what she wanted to talk about in the meeting. Without missing a beat, she said, “I have been thinking a lot about resilience.” So, Roz, my question for you is, why is resilience on your mind right now?
Tsai: Resilience is on my mind because it is something that I must work on every single day. If you reflect on the last year and a half during the pandemic, there have been health impacts on our teammates and our families, and certainly disruptions in careers, social, political, environmental, and economic situations are front and center to us throughout this period. I recently saw the latest labor department report which shows that 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in the month of August alone, which is the highest number since December 2000. Then during the pandemic, women have experienced burnout at higher rates. I saw McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report recently that shows that the pandemic continues to take a toll on employees with one in three women saying that they have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce altogether.
As a talent leader in a Fortune 500 company, this is certainly of concern. Personally, as a parent and working mother, I have also been working hard to maintain a perspective as well as be as effective of a leader as possible. We are also going through transformation in a bold and strategic way. So, that on top of the day-to-day challenges that we are dealing with, I think really does present a question for us on a daily basis of what it takes to maintain resilience and show up as the best leader that we can.
Brown: Yes. Roz, what does resilience mean to you? Can you describe what it is and what exactly it entails?
Tsai: I think you and I talked about this, nobody in the world would say Roz is an expert on resilience. But it is a personal topic right now. If you look at how psychologists might describe resilience, they typically refer to the process of adapting to adversity, significant sources of stress and so on. That has certainly been the case for all of us. Personally, I tend to also think about resilience as our capacity to recover quickly from difficulty. Maybe it is about toughness, but more importantly to me, resilience also speaks to the inner confidence that we have that we can, despite obstacles, start again armed with more wisdom from each setback. To me it is as much about recovering from difficulty as it is about building that confidence that we can embrace challenges and knowing that we can find a way to bounce back from setbacks.
Brown: What can we do to become more resilient, to develop that inner confidence, to know that we can handle these turbulent, unprecedented times or just the daily setbacks, both big and small?
Tsai: Both big and small for sure. I recently saw someone post online, talking about gratitude, grit, and grace, and I thought that is so relevant to what I am dealing with on a day-to-day basis. When I think about how to maintain resilience and any advice I might give to my colleagues, first, I think about making sure that we start with a mindset of gratitude in terms of counting our blessings as a foundation. Honestly, here we are talking in a podcast, and if you are listening to the podcast, you already have so many blessings, countless blessings. There is much evidence that gratitude has a direct link to happiness. To me it is the seed or the kernel of sanity during days when things feel out of control. When I get really flustered, I think about all the goodness that I already have and build from there.
The concept of grit, there are potentially many ways of interpreting what psychologists might call grit. But simply to me, I translate this sense of grit to showing up; show up, do the job, focus on putting one foot in front of the other just to keep going. There is something around the honor of handling the task and doing the work in the most confusing situations. Ask what is the one most helpful thing I can do for this team, for this individual, for this issue at this time? When things are confusing or difficult, the least we can do is show up and get the job done.
I have been focusing and learning from my colleagues a lot about this idea about grace. Grace for ourselves, grace for others, because it is a challenging time. We need to give ourselves the space to reflect on how am I reacting? Why am I reacting this way, and what does this mean for how I show up? One framework that I often use for my colleagues, for myself as well, is the NeuroLeadership Institute has this concept of SCARF, which really stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. To me that is a helpful framework for me to remember when change hits us, we have natural and sometimes subconscious reactions. These reactions can be triggered in a moment of change if your status feels diminished or perhaps you no longer have certainty or control. Perhaps your autonomy or decision-making power is unclear or has changed. Perhaps the friends, colleagues, or neighbors that you have been collaborating with for a long time are now changing as well. Sometimes you feel really stressed by what seems to be unfair, or whatever is happening in the world right now. When those emotions are strong, it is sometimes hard to think straight, and it is hard to see clearly.
We don’t show up with our best self sometimes in those situations. When that happens, the moment I realize that I force a pause and I reflect on it, this is not my shining moment. What can I do to step beyond this? That moment of pausing and reframing is helpful to accept the fact that we can’t always be the most perfect example of leadership and to offer a bit of self-compassion during this difficult time. Sometimes I say, a better version of me better show up soon. It might look like, I just must take a pause and say, okay, I’m going to focus on something simple that I can control, like preparing a meal for the family, or taking the dog out for one more walk, and things like that just give me that pause to come back to the issue in a more settled way. To me, this is a new level of self-compassion that I have resorted to frequently during the pandemic months.
The one thing that I would remind a lot of colleagues and friends, I see this, that we must be careful how we talk to ourselves. That voice in our own head sometimes is not our best friend. It often feels far harsher on us than the way we would talk to our best friend or family member. That is the voice that often attacks, like what were you thinking? How could you be so confused? Why did you not anticipate these issues and things like that? There is a concept about talking to ourselves in the third person. Instead of saying, how could you do this or what can you do about this? That voice could be reframed as a friend to say, what might Roz be able to do as a first step? I find that sense of a little distance, going from, you better not be late to, Roz don’t be late, right? Just framing that a little bit different gives that distance so that we can give advice to ourselves as if we’re talking to our best friend. This is where I find that I must master my own self-talk to master my response to what is going on.
Then the last piece that I just recently learned and relearned, is to maintain perspective as part of giving ourselves grace and giving each other grace. In such difficult times, I’ve had lots of conversations with colleagues and friends about making some difficult decisions. I always say, don’t make sudden decisions, don’t make sudden moves, because it is such a difficult time right now and the world is going through lots of turbulent changes. We recently lost former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he was an inspiring leader for many. I saw his thirteen rules of leadership, and number one is, “It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.” That resonates with me in trying to encourage myself and everyone around me to maintain perspective and not overreact to what is happening right now.
Brown: That is great advice and perspective. I love the three G’s: gratitude, grit, and grace. Remembering to be grateful every day. That grit of putting one foot in front of the other and no matter what you can do it. The grace, because we have all experienced those moments where we are not showing up as our best selves. To just give yourself that grace like, I am doing the best I can in this moment. Maybe tomorrow I will have better moments. Then also realize that everyone needs that grace. I liked what you said too about changing that mindset, and what you said about how you talk to yourself is a great reminder, because a lot of times your own inner critic gets under your radar. But start listening to your own self-talk and ask yourself, would I talk to a friend like that? The advice of saying, shift it to the third person, and then that gives you distance. Those are all great ideas, as is the SCARF acronym. There are so many things that people can do each day. I like what you said about focusing on what you can control in a specific moment when you are feeling overwhelmed or when there is so much going on in your family, work, or the world. What is one thing you can do that you can control in that moment?
Tsai: Related to building that sense of gratitude and just counting our own blessings, we have focused on activating generosity, activating a random act of kindness. Many of my colleagues have been intentional about, even in the virtual world, to reach out and provide support in any number of formats, because there is much evidence to link giving and generosity to a sense of wellbeing and happiness. So volunteer, even when it is outside of what you normally can do during this challenging time. It doesn’t need to be complex; it could be as simple as asking someone how they are doing. It could be as simple as making introductions for colleagues. It could be as simple as checking in on our neighbors or the organizations where we have causes that we care about. I find channeling that energy towards generosity also fuels us in terms of a sense of gratitude for the goodness that we must build on.
Brown: Definitely. I have heard many people talk about feeling isolated, especially now being remote or not necessarily knowing their neighbors. That is a good reminder to take that extra step virtually, because some of those practices are not as natural as they used to be. I think that using that generosity of generosity and reaching out is a great reminder that everyone would love to have someone check on them or make sure they are doing okay, or just say, hi, let’s catch up. Roz, what can leaders do to foster resilience in their team and in their community?
Tsai: There is so much we can do. In fact, during this time reflecting on how I show up as a leader and how leaders need to lead during challenging times, one of the most important lessons I learned is from Daniel Goleman, who is the author of Primal Leadership, which is based on emotional intelligence for leaders. There is the sense of leader’s emotional task, it is significant. We must understand that as a team, we are social creatures, and our emotions are contagious with each other. We influence each other in terms of our emotional state. If you think about the team of individuals, even in a virtual setting, if you think about the team of individuals as an emotional soup, with each individual throwing in how they are feeling and how they are reacting in the moment, the leader is the strongest spice in that emotional soup. So, it is important for leaders to recognize their importance on the team’s emotional steady state.
The emotional task is like a primal impact on the group. During significant disruption, how leaders show up, how we each show up, can add to the crazy or we can help provide the steady. I call on myself and all leaders to be mindful of how we show up, how we impact others. When we talk about how we maintain resilience ourselves, it is that sense of humble acknowledgement that leaders are human as well. We have our great days, and we have our challenging moments. Being careful how we show up and impacting the group is important for all of us. Be that steady presence and help the team navigate difficult situations, disruptions, turbulent times, all of that.
Secondly, if you look at the current reports around leadership competencies, empathy is showing up as top leadership competency right now. Be a real human to the team, so to speak; show care, show encouragement. Kouzes and Posner for decades these folks talk about what is the leadership competency model. It comes down to not only modeling the way, but also encouraging the heart. There is no more important time than now to really connect at a human level with our team’s by practicing empathy. Simple gestures, a simple question of how are you? A simple, small gesture of let us take five minutes just to stretch and get some oxygen and come back to this issue. Empathy is such an important practice for leaders.
The next thing I would reflect on is this concept of prioritization. We always talk about priorities, and many leaders end up with priority lists of twenty things to do. There is a catchy phrase of ruthless prioritization that is hard. We all have many internal and external customers to take care of. We certainly have our own families and communities that we care about. What does it take for leaders to have the courage and the clarity of thinking to really guide the team on what is the fundamental important thing right now? What is the primary objective for the team and what is the highest priority for the team to channel its energy on? Get really clear on what is important, and then have the courage and the candor to be willing to say these other things are also important, great ideas, but they must be after we take care of our highest priorities. This idea about getting clear with the team is just so helpful for the team to have that moment to breathe, to say, okay, these things I can put to the side while I focus on what is important to the team right now. I think prioritizing, showing up with empathy, being mindful about our emotional impact on the team are just the basics of how leaders can foster resilience right now.
The last thing that I am focusing on is we have onboarded hundreds of new colleagues during the virtual period that we have been working. Onboarding virtual colleagues is even more challenging. Think about someone joining a brand-new organization. Maybe they left a loving team. Maybe they just finished something on their own to join this team and make that commitment that they are going to add value, contribute their talent, make a difference, fuel a sense of growth. Then they arrive and there is nobody there, right? This idea about being focused on inclusive leadership is so important right now. We are taking extra steps to make sure that every new hire has all their technology set up and functioning well. We make sure that they have onboarding plans and onboarding partners. All these things that we try to coach our leaders on to make sure that every new hire has a successful onboarding journey planned for them are so important. At the same time, once you bring the talent to the team, how do we make sure that everyone has that sense of shared purpose, has that sense of psychological safety so that we can each bring all the gifts that we bring to the team and let the diversity work its magic. So, I think this moment of heightened awareness about psychological safety for the team in a virtual and hybrid environment, this sense of how leaders can show up in an intentionally inclusive way so that our teams can indeed flourish and become a cohesive whole.
Brown: That is great advice for leadership of the importance of all those things, the emotional aspect of it. I like that metaphor that the leader’s emotion is the strongest spice in the soup. We have all had those experiences where you can be with leaders that make you feel energized or make you feel safe, or make you feel valued and heard. Then you have been with leaders where their emotions don’t come through. I think what you said about now being so important to have that empathy to be like, I am experiencing these things too, so people don’t feel like, am I the only one? Then prioritization, because there are so many things calling for our attention right now. That is nice to have that leadership focus of this is the big priority. I love what you said about the intentionality of onboarding new people to work, because I can’t imagine how intimidating it would be to start a new job virtually, not knowing people. How do you meet people? It sounds like you have figured out a great process to make people feel welcome and to make those connections that would be easier in an in-person environment.
Tsai: You said it, this is an opportunity for all of us. It is a challenge, but it is also calling on us to bring out the best effort within us to really welcome each colleague to the team, over and over. Satya Nadella, who is the CEO of Microsoft, had a profound statement that stayed with me for a long time, which is “people go where they’re invited, and they stay where they feel welcome”. In the hybrid environment, when there are many transformative efforts going on and so much disruption in society overall, it is that much more important that we not only invite colleagues to the team, but we make them feel welcome and an important part of making contributions.
Brown: I love that: “people go where they’re invited and stay where they feel welcome”. That just sums it up right there, and it is a good guiding principle, especially for onboarding.
Roz, thank you so much for talking about this important and timely topic today. I appreciate your perspective that we all need to give ourselves a little grace right now, especially on those days when we are overwhelmed or just can’t show up as our best self. Thank you for your optimism and for the excellent suggestions of things we can personally do and on things you can do as a leader to foster resilience.
Roz and I are going to continue this discussion on resilience in part two of this podcast where we will talk about career resilience and what that looks like. Roz will offer some excellent advice for how to think about and plan career roadmaps in the world of remote work and disruption. Thank you all for listening to this episode of the Menttium Matters podcast. I look forward to having you back next week for my continued discussion with Dr. Roz Tsai. You will not want to miss this episode.
FULL TRANSCRIPT PART II
Brown: Welcome to the Menttium Matters podcast, where we talk about leadership, life, and the transformative power of mentoring. This is Solveig Brown, and I am thrilled to continue my conversation on resilience with Dr. Roz Tsai. In part one of this episode, Roz walked us through why resilience is especially important during this time that we are living in now. She talked about gratitude, grit, and grace. She offered great ideas on habits and mindsets that we can adapt to be more resilient. She also talked about what leaders can do.
In today’s episode, we are going to discuss what career resilience looks like. As we all know, goal setting season is upon us. Beyond the usual New Year’s resolution suspects such as eating better, getting fitter, and building better relationships, many people are also thinking about setting goals to advance their professional careers. Today, Roz is going to offer us a roadmap for navigating our career journeys.
Before we begin our conversation, I would like to give you a little background information on Roz. Dr. Roz Tsai is vice president of talent, learning and organizational effectiveness at Thrivent, where she leads talent strategy, talent acquisition, talent management, leadership development, and organizational effectiveness efforts. Previously, Roz served as vice president of HR and the chief learning officer at Ecolab. She has also held transformative leadership roles at Honeywell, Lawson Software, now Infor, and Northern States Power Company, now Xcel Energy. Roz has developed a unique and strategic approach to creating diverse, inclusive, and high performing teams that drive enduring business impact.
She holds a doctorate degree from the University of Minnesota, where she currently serves as adjunct faculty for the Carlson School of Management, teaching global talent management for global business executives. Roz went through Menttium’s program as a mentee and has been mentoring for Menttium since 2008. Welcome, Roz.
Tsai: Hello. Thanks for having me back.
Brown: It is so fun to have you. I’m glad we get to continue the discussion. For those of you who have not listened to last week’s episode on resilience, I highly suggest that you do. There are useful tips and practices in there. So today, this is such an important topic, talking about career planning. Roz, how do you think about career roadmaps in this world that we live in now of hybrid work and many disruptions?
Tsai: First, thank you for having me back for these stimulating conversations. I am particularly qualified to talk about career roadmaps because my personal career roadmap did not have a plan. I grew up in China, finished university in China and came to the United States for graduate school. I did not have a clear direction or plan other than I loved going to school, I loved learning and thought that through hard work, something would clarify itself. That has been the journey that I have been on. I have had a lot of different opportunities in different organizations, with great leaders who gave me opportunities, wonderful mentors who coached me along the way.
I found my own career path out of curiosity and hard work and just simply great leaders who took a chance on me in many circumstances. I get to reflect on what works and what might not work as well for other people. I have taken it upon myself to study what experts say about careers and how to have a long and resilient career. In that sense, as a student of careers and as a person who really did not have a plan, I enjoy talking about career roadmaps for professional and personal reasons.
I think about career roadmaps, both in long-term and short-term frameworks. When we think about long-term career planning, I encourage everyone to think about what is important long-term in terms of your values, your life priorities, and use that to guide how you plan your next development focus or career move in the short term. A helpful resource is from Dr. Beverly Kaye, career guru in our space. She recently had a book called Up is Not the Only Way, which I found so helpful. It is accessible, easy to read, and full of practical wisdom that it is not all about how I earn that next promotion, rather, how do you play to your strengths and leverage opportunities. It could be lateral opportunities; it could be a complete shifting in different directions. I found that to be helpful long-term.
In the near term, in the goal setting season, we all think about, what should I work on? I would encourage everyone to think about what is going to help you grow the most. It is a vibrant market out there. As you explore how to grow in your job and how to grow in your own company or potentially other opportunities, emphasize the trade off towards how is this opportunity going to help me grow? How is it going to help you contribute the most value, which inherently is more fulfilling? That is how I would look at short-term considerations. One area that we can emphasize here is we can all grow where we are. When we talk about growth and career, you do not necessarily need to leave your job. You can learn more, get to know your customers more, you can take on stretch assignments to branch out from your day-to-day scope. It is about sculpting opportunities in your current job to allow you to flourish and allow you to branch out a little.
I would just be cautious for many of us who are very motivated and eager. This is not about just working more hours. It is around being intentional about how to make those trade-offs and enlist your leaders to help you. For leaders, delegating the tasks to team members or others who may be looking to grow in your space is not simply about dumping your work on someone else. It is helping someone grow skills that they need to grow as well. I encourage everyone to think about growing where we are, but not necessarily taking on two and a half jobs at the same time. You can take on lateral moves, round out your capabilities through adjacent spaces. You can take lateral moves, especially in different areas to allow you to build what experts might call a more robust T-shaped career, so that you can stand on some deep expertise, but then have meaningful experiences in other areas so that you can lead more effectively across functions in the enterprise. Diversity of experiences is invaluable, in terms of long-term career resilience.
If you are contemplating a significant job shift, you could also consider a “try before you apply” type of approach. Look for opportunities to job shadow someone. You could do informational interviews. You can take on a short-term assignment or join a cross-functional team. That is a significant opportunity for you to learn about different areas. There are many ways to grow and when you set goals for career development, think both long-term and short-term.
Brown: Yes, that is great advice. Think vertical, horizontal. I like that you talked about how you can grow where you are, and that growth does not always mean moving up. It might mean expanding where you are and figuring out ways to contribute.
So, Roz, as someone progresses more towards senior level roles, the expectations are different. How can you anticipate those shifts and prepare yourself? Especially at Menttium, a lot of the people are transitioning into leadership roles and there is a big shift in expectations. You are the perfect person to give us perspective on this.
Tsai: That is a nuanced question because many of us grow up with this expectation that I work hard, deliver great results and I will grow as a result. It is important for leaders who are aspiring to grow further in the organization and take on bigger and broader scope to understand and be intentional about that pivot and the tradeoffs that they need to intentionally invest in. For example, when someone first becomes a supervisor of others, you make a significant transition from being an extraordinary individual contributor to someone who must get things done through others. It is no longer about you doing the job. It is about you getting the job done through others. Getting the job done through others requires you to not just work harder closing deals for the team or doing installations for the team and so on. It is a full-time difficult job to learn how to set clear goals, to learn how to provide feedback and coach, and to learn how to manage and cultivate a healthy team dynamic. When you hire team members into your group, you must also learn how to assess that talent and successfully integrate them into the team. We see challenges with new leaders who do not let go of their previous job, they just take on the additional supervisory responsibilities and that is a recipe for burnout, and it disempowers the team. When people step into supervisory roles, we need to help those leaders embrace the fact that making my team successful now is my full-time job. That is a significant shift.
For those leaders who are shifting to leaders of leaders, it is vital for you to become a coach of leaders. In other words, this kind of a role requires you to lead through leaders. You lead beyond your own line of sight, and you need to learn to focus on systems, processes, culture, so that your team can deliver on your vision, on your strategy, even when you are not there. Your full-time job is to set up that team for success and your full-time job is to coach the leaders on your team to run their teams effectively. It is a significant tradeoff for leaders. We especially see leaders who bring a deep expertise in their own technical space, it is almost inevitable that they will slide back into their comfort zone to become the technical expert, to become the master salesperson or to become the problem solver. The challenge obviously is that the more problems you solve for the team, the more you disempower the team to learn how to solve problems on their own. That is a significant shift that leaders must be willing to make.
In fact, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith did a recent book called How Women Rise. One of the examples that they used is, often women leaders show up working harder and bringing their body of expertise and they want to become that go-to expert. In that process, they neglect to do the real job of their leadership roles. One of the people they interviewed in their book said, for me to step further into leadership, broader leadership, I must be willing to let go of being the expert. I think just being intentional, if you know that upfront, you could be more strategic about how you show up and how you develop yourself.
For those who are aiming to become enterprise level leaders, your role becomes much more about vision, much more about understanding and influencing the external market, understanding the strategy and influence that it takes to bring the entire organization forward. You must almost stop relying on your own expertise and learn to really create teams of great expert players with diverse expertise. You create a team dynamic where strong leaders with diverse backgrounds can effectively work together towards a shared goal and accomplish broad strategic objectives. You must become an expert at fostering collaboration at scale. If you are going to lead the enterprise, whichever chair you sit in, we must build that expertise to foster collaboration throughout the whole enterprise. As you can see, as you progress in the organization, the expectations of the roles are different, the skills are different, and leaders need to embrace that rather than get themselves stuck in situations.
Brown: Roz, the way you spell that out is helpful because sometimes people struggle with being an individual contributor and all the skills they brought, that is what got them to that leadership position in the first place. It is hard to let that go. I think the way you described that your mindset really must shift that now your job is about either developing the leaders, developing the strategy, or coaching people, or it is about getting things done through your team, not through your individual efforts. That is very different. Like you just said, if people are more intentional about that part it makes it easier because you can catch yourself when you are being the leader and the heroic individual contributor or the expert and think, that’s not necessarily empowering my team when I pick the slack up all the time.
The best laid out plans are often disrupted by reality, and we have all experienced this in great numbers the last 18 months. How can we build a career journey amid constant disruption and how can we recover from career setbacks?
Tsai: Despite our conversations about the pandemic, we recognize that the world moves on, markets shift, roles change, etc. This conversation about career resilience is important, especially as we think about how we are going to set goals for the coming year. There are a few frameworks that have been helpful for me. One that I learned a lot from is Whitney Johnson’s book called Disrupt Yourself. This is a venture capitalist investment person who took the innovation S-curve concept to career development and there are lessons that are helpful. The most important thing to me is understanding that when you are changing your role, you are traversing what typically is called the S-curve. In other words, you start out with some kind of optimism, you take a new job, you have a new opportunity, you get promoted, you join a new company. Whatever the situation, you feel optimistic, you know that this is going to be great. Then once you get into the depth of the work, you realize this is hard. All things in life look simple until you get into it. It is hard and there are moments like this where we must embrace them to say it is a struggle therefore, I am growing.
That kind of mindset allows us to work our way through those challenging moments where we do not know what we are doing. We are not confident, and we are not sure we have made the right bet, and so on. If we can persist through that struggle, often, not always, we experience a significant curve of upward growth where we are successful, we are able to drive impact, we make a difference. You reach a point, whether it is six months or six years, you reach a moment where you feel undefeatable, that you understand the scope of the work. You are masterful at it, and you are confident. You get a lot of kudos. You are mentoring other people. All those signs that signal that you are successful in your role, you ought to feel great about that. Yet, that is the moment of the greatest risk for disruption because the world moves and expectations move.
The lesson that I learned from that framework is really understanding that when you are on the top of your game, it is a moment for you to realize that it is time for me to learn something new. Her mantra is that rather than wait to be disrupted, professionals ought to think about how to disrupt themselves. In other words, find the next S-curve to start pushing yourself to struggle again and to build more confidence and build more resilience. You go through this over and over, preferably proactively so that you not only gain a tremendous amount of capability and progression, but also confidence that if I did get disrupted, I have the muscles of what it takes to get back on my feet and work through those challenging periods in order to grow in my next opportunity. I thought that is such a helpful framework for me to think about how to handle disruption and how to be proactive at disruption. There is a cliché that says danger in the comfort zone. This is absolutely a relevant concept here when it comes to career disruption.
The second framework that was helpful for me was in graduate school, I studied Dr. Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindset and decades later, she is such an influential thinker for us to really think about approaching growth and challenges either with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. There is a body of work that you can reference from Dr. Carol Dweck’s resources directly, but very simply, from my perspective, inevitably we are going to encounter challenges. Do we embrace these challenges with curiosity and learn something, such as, that did not go well, what can I learn from that? Or that went well, what can I learn from that? So, any opportunity that we can learn from and extract the value from that and then over time you gain so much more insight, wisdom, and confidence.
Versus approaching work with a fixed mindset, which often shows up as a performer’s mindset, as in I must look effortless. I must look at the top of my game. I must look flawless in my logic. In that effort of trying to project that perfection, you lose the opportunity to learn something from each encounter. So, growth mindset and fixed mindset show up early in life. Whether we are parents or teachers or leaders and colleagues, we can signal that growth mindset is a valuable approach. It was John Wooden who said, “success is never final, failure is never fatal”. You take a growth mindset with setbacks; you can treat it as a learning experience from which you can bounce back with better wisdom over time. I have extracted a lot of value from that framework.
The third one that I value is Cal Newport has done some interesting work around the concept of deep work, the concept of craftmanship, the idea that we all want great jobs. We all want great work that has great meaning and great compensation, and great autonomy and great impact and great relationships and all of that. Taking that craftsmanship mindset to approach work as instead of looking at what does the world have to offer for me, instead take the mindset of what unique value can I bring to a project, to a team, to a company, to a community? What is it that I uniquely contribute? That takes away the pressure off, is this a prestigious job? Is this a title? Is it the square footage of an office? Instead to help us anchor down what is the unique and highly valuable contribution that we can bring. If you treat your career with that kind of a mindset, you are more likely to grow your expertise and your unique value, and therefore you are more likely to command better work opportunities. So, flipping that around a bit, and I find that super helpful. I talk with early career professionals quite a bit, and there is angst about where I should be in my career and what I should look for. I often use this framework from Cal Newport to instead of thinking about the title and the pay and the benefits of this role, think about how it is going to help you grow your unique value. These are just some things that have been helpful when I think about how to anticipate disruption, how to bounce back from disruption and how to grow despite things that might feel like setbacks.
Brown: I am going to check on all those books. I like that idea of disrupting yourself so that you develop those skills to be able to handle disruption. I love the growth mindset work. I am a big fan of Dr. Dweck and it’s amazing work. Then I like the concept of craftsmanship. What value can I add? What is the unique thing that I contribute to this? It promotes a different way of coming from that.
So, Roz, this is great information. We have time for three final questions. Do you have habits that you feel have contributed to your success?
Tsai: I have a lot of habits that do not help, but I think early in my life, my father instilled in me that need and pride in education. That continues to be something that I enjoy. It helps me keep my day in focus, so I read something or learn something each day and jot a note down. That is usually something that I accomplish first each day. It could be an industry report, it could be the latest practice, it could be just a couple pages from an author that I respect. I just take a few minutes and take in something new.
Brown: That’s great habits and you have given us many suggestions for good books today, and we will have those resources on the Menttium website. Now I have lots of things I can be read each day on all these wonderful topics.
Tsai: I love the question about habits because we are in goal setting season. And all of us know this, that we make New Year’s resolutions and then February happens. The journey to sustaining change is day to day. If you have not checked it out, there is a whole body of work around habits and how to build systems to allow you to build habits. They have good practical tools that allow you to really build habits. We integrate some of the habit building into leadership development, because every leadership development experience feels like a new year resolution, in that you are inspired, you want to be a better leader, you make a plan, and then you get busy with other things. We help our leaders think about how they are going to integrate this into their day-to-day routine. I follow the work from the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, that was years ago, that was my first introduction to habit. Recently we are using a lot of the work from Atomic Habits by James Clear. This whole idea about building a system to foster the habit building is so powerful.
Brown: I love those authors because so much of our daily life is habit. Like you said, all the things you may want to change are habits and how do you rework those habits so that it becomes automated. Those books are fantastic for changing out those systems. So, Roz, what would your advice be to up and coming leaders?
Tsai: It is so unique to each person. I think for me, just reflecting on my journey, I would share that upcoming leaders can focus on being humble, serving the greater good, and improving yourself.
Brown: That’s great advice. Our final question, Roz, do you have a favorite saying, quote, or motto?
Tsai: I do. As you know, I study leadership and a lot swirls in my head, but this one just keeps showing up all the time and I can’t even tell you who it is attributed to because I noticed that it has been attributed to multiple people. But it says that, “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader”. To me, that translates to what I believe a leader to be.
Brown: Wow. That just says it all right there. I am going to write that one down. Roz, thank you so much for your expertise on navigating your career, especially during tumultuous times. You have given great advice and many great references. Thank you.
Tsai: Thank you for having me. This was a delightful conversation. I wish everyone success in their career.
Brown: Thank you all for listening to this episode of the Menttium Matters podcast. I look forward to having you back next week.