On this episode of Dare to Lead
Welcome back and get ready, because I can’t think of a better way to start the fall than with this conversation. It’s the first of a two-part series with Erika James, Ph.D., and Lynn Perry Wooten, Ph.D., about their new book, The Prepared Leader: Emerge From Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before. It’s completely tactical and has taught me so much about leading in a crisis—and unfortunately, we have not seen our last crisis. We talk about what leaders can do today to prepare for what’s next, as they add a fourth “p” to the triple bottom line framework (people, planet, and profit) for measuring a business’s performance—and that’s “preparedness.”
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The Prepared Leader: Emerge From Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before, by Erika H. James and Lynn Perry Wooten
In no other time in recent history have leaders in every industry and on every continent grappled with so many changes that have independently and simultaneously undermined their ability to lead. The Prepared Leader encapsulates more than two decades of the authors’ research to convey how it has positioned them to navigate through the distinct challenges of today and tomorrow. Their insights have implications for every leader in every industry and every worker at every level.
Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Dare to Lead. I’m back! And I’m excited to be back, and I am post 14 weeks sabbatical. And one of the things I definitely learned on my sabbatical about myself, I guess, is how much I love the Dare to Lead work, how much I love talking to leaders who are making a difference in every context, in organizations, in communities, in government. You know, good leadership, it’s rare. When we find it and we can figure out how and why it is good, I love to talk about that and I can’t think of a better way to start back than this conversation that I am having, it’s a two-part conversation with Erika James and Lynn Perry Wooten and it’s on their new book, which I read, probably… I don’t know… Everyone say hi to Barrett, Barrett is here.
Barrett Guillen: Hi!
BB: Which I think I read in three or four hours, it was a quick book, it’s called, The Prepared Leader: Emerge From Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before. It’s by Wharton School Press. It’s just so tactical, great stories, and it taught me so much about what I’ve gotten right in the past around leading in a crisis and what I have really… What’s a nice positive way to say, screwed up? The mistakes I’ve made and how I can learn from them. Unfortunately, I don’t think COVID, this racial reckoning, which is ongoing, these are not our last crises. I think to be human is to live in unexpected event to unexpected event. But this is so grounding and so instructional without being judgy, it’s just two leaders who’ve spent decades studying crisis and studying leadership, who have just shared everything they know with us, in this very easy to digest, more difficult to put into action, I would think, book. So, I am glad you’re here. It’s a fun conversation. Welcome back to Dare to Lead.
BB: Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about who we’re talking to, so we’re talking to Dr. Erika James, she became the dean of Wharton School on July 1st, 2020. She is trained as an organizational psychologist, she is an expert on crisis leadership, workplace diversity and management strategy. Prior to her appointment at Wharton at Penn, she was the dean at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School from 2014 to 2020, she’s an award-winning educator, an accomplished consultant and a researcher. And she’s the first woman and first person of color to be appointed to the dean at Wharton in its 141 year history. Whoop, whoop. Yeah, I can’t wait to… If you don’t know her, to introduce you to her, and if you do know her, which I hope you do, let her share some of what she’s learned about preparedness. I just love this. Also joining me on the podcast is co-author, Lynn Perry Wooten, she is a seasoned academic and an expert on organizational development and transformation. She’s the ninth president of Simmons University and the first African-American to lead the institution.
BB: Before coming to Simmons, she served as the David J. Nolan Dean and Professor of Management and Organizations at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Before that, she was on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business for 20 years, specializing in crisis leadership, diversity and inclusion, and positive leadership. She is an incredible author, she’s a prolific writer. She holds a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina A&T State University, where she was valedictorian. She has an MBA from Duke, their school of business, and Lynn and Erika met in their PhD program at Michigan. So, we’re going to jump in and one of the things I’ll tell you about this conversation is they add a fourth “p” to this idea of people, planet, profit, when we think about leadership and guiding organizations, and the fourth “p” is preparedness. And if we have learned anything in the last few years, it is do not underestimate the power of being prepared. Let’s jump in.
BB: Let me just start by saying, you can tell by the number of stickies in this book… I mean, holy cow, this is so important. This is such an important book. This is an urgent book for right now, I mean…
Lynn Perry Wooten: It is.
BB: Thank you for writing it.
Erika James: Well, thank you, Brené. We are really delighted to be able to share this with the world, and I think one of the interesting things is, Lynn and I have been co-authors and collaborators for a very long time, over 20 years, and we started with an initial book, in 2008 called, Leading Under Pressure, and we said, 10 years later, “We should update that and put something else out there that’s more modern and contemporary”, and we started this book literally just months before the pandemic hit…
BB: Oh my gosh.
EJ: And that completely reinforced the need to do a book like this now, but also allowed us to put in our professional experiences of leading our own institutions during the pandemic, in the context of writing this book and leveraging our research.
BB: Tell me how you met. [laughter] Lynn, tell us.
LPW: I am a year ahead of Erika in the PhD program at University of Michigan, and we were taking a couple of doctoral seminars together. Erika is in organizational psych, it was my minor. So we met in the Organizational Psychology doctoral seminar, and then we had the honors, before climate change, to spend nice, cool winters in Ann Arbor and take research method classes and bonded over a lot of friendships over survey methodology courses. And from there, started doing research collaborations in graduate school, so it has been… Since 1991, Brené.
BB: Wow! I remember the foxhole buddies that I went through my PhD program with.
LPW: Yes. Yeah. [chuckle]
BB: I mean it was everything from, “What Cronbach alpha did you get for that? to..”.
LPW: Exactly. Your factor analysis… [laughter]
BB: Yeah. To… Could you believe this shit’s really happening in a higher education… It was all over the board.
LPW: And you know, our life has been a trajectory, so we started out as assistant professors together, and then associate professors, we went into administration together, now she’s dean at Wharton and I’m president of Simmons.
EJ: And just to put icing on the cake, we both started our respective new roles on the exact same day.
LPW: Exact same day.
BB: What day was that?
LPW: July 1st, 2020.
EJ: July 1st, 2020.
BB: I just think… You know when you’re reading something. And first of all, this is my favorite kind of book, it’s the kind of book that I aspire to write, which is academically sound and completely soul-shattering relatable [laughter] it’s like, you know, it’s backed up and you’ve got the receipts for the research, but at the same time, every story is like, “Oh God, I can’t finish the story, this is exactly the mistake I made.” or… “Oh, wow. There’s a way out of this.” After reading this, what I took away, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that you both had very solid backgrounds in crisis management going into this book and going into COVID. Is that true?
LPW: So I think we had solid backgrounds from thinking about the theory that drives crisis management and leadership, collecting data about it, having case studies and then putting it into practice. And so, throughout our career, similar to you, Brené, whatever Erika and I have done is we said, “Okay, we want the research part, we want the data part, but then we want to put it into practice. “Every product, every article, we’ve approached it that way. And so that’s how I think you got to see the birth of that in the book.
BB: Yeah, you felt it.
EJ: I think it matters that we have been doing this work together for 25 years.
EJ: So, we are experts at this point, but we’re also experts in understanding how each other thinks, [laughter] and I think that comes through in the book also. Our collaboration is, this is not the first go-round for us in the world of crisis leadership. What’s so interesting is doing crisis leadership while we’re also leading our own organizations through a crisis.
LPW: Right, so we’re not sitting in the ivory tower alone.
BB: Right, no. I want to circle back to this in the end, so don’t let me forget. I want to end with a question. You both stepped into very prominent, highly visible, often criticized, from a lot of cheap seats, positions in an entire area, higher education, that’s under fire in the midst of this. So the last question, I want to circle back to this to the end, but I want to do some learning between now and then. So, let me start with this framework, because I’ve said it to myself 100 times, people, planet, profit. And then you’ve added preparedness.
EJ: The fourth “p”.
BB: The fourth “p”. And you are telling us… And I know it’s true, but I don’t want to hear it. COVID is not our last crisis.
LPW: No way.
EJ: Not even close. No, and I think the root of this story is we have to develop the muscle memory to recognize that we go through this cycle again and again and again and again, and someone that we learn from in the course of writing this book referred to it as the cycle of panic and neglect. And that phrase just means so much to me because you can look back over your individual life, you can even look back over your professional and organizational life, and you can see that we’re always in this cycle. Something tragic happens, we experience threat, and we deal with it in the moment, and then we forget about it and act as if, nothing bad is ever going to happen again, and we know something bad will happen again. And the question is whether or not we learn the lessons from that previous experience, to help us either mitigate or prevent something from being as threatening as the last thing that we just experienced.
LPW: And so, we talk a lot about learning….
BB: Oh, yeah.
LPW: Prepared leadership really is about learning which you know.
BB: That’s what I love about this. I’m actually requiring all my leaders to read this. [laughter]
BB: Yeah, and I was saying to both Erika and Lynn before we started, I’m going to do this in two podcasts because this should be an organizational at every level book read. And then do the podcast as a lunch and learn, either between the reading or after, because if you’re using the term learning organization and you’re not picking up books like this, I mean, Wow. Let’s start here on page six, what about being human makes it so damn hard for us to foresee, acknowledge and be prepared for a crisis? What is it about being human that just works against this being easy?
EJ: I’ll speak as the psychologist.
LPW: Right, she’s the…
EJ: Among us [laughter]
EJ: We know that there are human biases, but even if we think about what we were like as children, and the first memory we have of doing something wrong and we get caught, and we immediately feel threatened by what the consequences of that initial behavior. So, three years old, you steal cookies from the cookie jar, your mother comes to you and says, “Did you do this?” What’s your first reaction?
BB: Nope. [laughter]
BB: Nope, that was my sister.
EJ: I didn’t do it. [laughter] Right, we deny anything that feels like a threat, we want to disassociate ourselves from that, and that pattern continues over and over and over, and even worse, I think sometimes people are reinforced for that pattern of denial and that pattern of being blind to the realities of what’s happening.
BB: How is that reinforced?
EJ: All too often, unfortunately, there’s evidence of people getting away with bad things, right? I’ll tell you one of the most popular business shows in the early 2000s was not Shark Tank, it was American Greed because people were so obsessed with wanting to know bad things that happened in the corporate world and how people got away with it. So, there is this innate desire to live in the yuck of doing bad things and either being in a position to criticize someone for doing bad things or, hopefully, what Lynn and I would try to espouse is, how do you learn from what other people did so that we don’t find ourselves in that same situation?
EJ: So the brain is a really powerful thing, and it’s powerful from birth, basically. And over time, we see decisions made by companies and leaders that intentionally or unintentionally reinforce some of the behaviors that we’re trying to break people from so that they can feel more comfortable… I’ll go back to using your words, Brené, being vulnerable when they’re wrong, being vulnerable when they don’t know something, being willing to ask for help. We don’t see enough of that in our leadership.
LPW: The other thing is. is that when we see this behavior that Erika is describing, we don’t call it out on others, or we don’t coach them, we don’t give them feedback. I call it The Emperor’s Clothes story, right?
BB: Oh, yeah.
LPW: We know the person is making a bad decision, but we stay in the room and we’re silent or we hide under the table. And this is how we get into these bad decision-making heuristics.
BB: Let’s talk about… You have a list of things, and I thought it was really interesting. I was like… First of all, I was like, “Yes, those are absolutely true about those mere mortals.” And I was like, “Crap, I do every one of these.” Probability neglect. We underrate bad outcomes and that’s across everything. Right? So, we’re underestimating. Hyperbolic discounting, focusing on the present over the future. “It would have made it very hard to think about how COVID-19 might affect us and to take preventive measures,” this is what you write, “to minimize the threat and contain damage.” It is like magical thinking hour.
EJ: Do you remember that time, I know Lynn and I do, when we all thought we would be back in our offices in two weeks?
BB: Yeah. Oh, yeah. And it was like, “How are we going to not be in our offices for two weeks?”
EJ: Right, exactly. We couldn’t fathom that… [chuckle]
LPW: Or that it wasn’t even going to come to the United States, or it was just going to stay in Seattle.
BB: Right, right.
BB: That’s it. Okay, so what about this? Help me understand this anchoring effect. Our first impression sinks in.
LPW: So, our first impression was, “This is just a China disease. It’s a disease that’s going to stay in China.” That’s our first impression. It’s never going to come to the United States, and we keep on anchoring on that impression, and we build our leadership plans and our strategy around it, even though it’s starting to permeate.
BB: Can I read something from your book? This kicked my ass in very good ways. “Exponential growth bias. Not everything is straightforward. Most of us struggle to imagine how a situation might evolve or grow in anything other than a straightforward linear fashion, but the pandemic expanded outward in multiple directions simultaneously and exponentially. Its tentacles quickly encircling people, organizations, communities, industries and economies all over the world.” Exponential growth bias. Y’all, I love a straight line.
EJ: Right, everyone does. And the metaphor in the corporate world is the hockey stick, right? We encourage strategic thinking. We encourage strategic leadership, which means you identify where you are now, you identify where you want to be, and you put plans together to get from point A to point B, and you assume that it’s going to be a curvilinear upward trajectory without there being any intervening disruption. And yet, what we try to highlight is that there are always disruptions and we’ve got to prepare for and plan for and expect disruptions.
LPW: And this is what we teach our students in business school, sadly, the hockey stick metaphor. We don’t teach them to think exponentially and there’ll be ebbs and flows and crisis along the way.
BB: So let me ask you, Erika, as the dean of Wharton, any headway in changing the hockey stick? Because let me tell you something, the academics and MBA programs, super excited about the hockey stick.
EJ: Of course, they are, and for good reason, right? And I don’t think it’s an either/or. I think it’s a both/and. We have to be able to teach people how to work and plan strategically and we have to be able to help people understand that when there is the inevitable disruption, how are you resilient from that so that you can get back on your plan forward? And without putting in place some structure and some courses and some guidance to expose students to the disruptions, the hockey stick just becomes… It’s unrealistic.
BB: Last one. Man, this is a hard one for me. Tell me how the sunk-cost fallacy gets in the way of preparedness?
LPW: I mean, we all are guilty of this, right? I’ve already invested this money; I’m not going to change course. Who cares that the world is changing, that a crisis is coming, I invested in XYZ technology. It’s not working. And we need provocateurs in the room, we need people who challenge the status quo so we don’t get into the sunk-cost fallacy.
BB: Why is it so hard?
LPW: Humans don’t like change and they don’t like to admit that they were wrong, that we invested in this technology that’s not working, it’s really at a crisis mode now and we need to change. It’s the vulnerability, you talk about again, and admitting that I did something wrong, I’ve learned from it and I can be better.
BB: Let me ask a question, and this is a question that bubbled up for me the whole time that I’m reading this. Preparedness is the fourth “p” in leadership. I’m an evangelist here. Y’all can just pay me an agent fee because I believe it and I’ll tell a story in a little bit about why I believe it. I was familiar with your work before this book, and I’ll tell you why I believe in what you’re saying and how I’ve lived it, I think. How big of a problem is protecting your ego when it comes to preparedness?
EJ: I think it is the quintessential problem, and it’s… Going back to the question you asked earlier, Brené, is why is it so hard for people to admit fault, or why is it so hard for people to think about being prepared? I think a lot of it has to do with ego. We’re told time and time again, and I think about our young students in our colleges and MBA programs, who have been told by their parents and by their friends and by their supervisors, “You can do anything you want to do; you can be anything you want to be.” So you start to believe the hype about yourself. And that confidence is important for sure. But we don’t ever tell people about the inevitable times when you’re not going to win, when you are going to fall, when you’re not going to meet your own expectations, when you are going to disappoint yourself or disappoint someone else. We don’t spend as much time talking about those issues and making them okay. It’s problematic, we feel like something is wrong with us if we’re not constantly being successful and constantly winning. And so that first moment when you are confronted with a failure, you feel like your life has been completely minimized.
BB: Yes. And shame.
EJ: And shame. Yes.
LPW: And that’s where the ego comes in. And when I started doing these talks during the pandemic, early in the pandemic as Erika and I were writing the book, the first thing I discussed for resiliency is taking the pause to do the inner work. Because when you do the inner work, you’re checking your ego, and now we’re best friends so you know husbands can tell you, we talk every day. We’re bouncing each other off. Did our ego get in the way? Are we doing that inner work? How do we see this cycle at Simmons or Wharton? And so doing that inner work, having that partner, are so important, and listening to diverse opinions, so your ego doesn’t get in the way.
BB: Yeah, I just kept thinking when I was reading, “Man, if you need to be right, if you need to be liked, and if you need to be popular, you can just forget about preparedness.”
EJ: Yeah. Can I share a personal story?
BB: Oh, God yes. Love.
EJ: In 2008, I took a year to go do a visiting professorship at Harvard Business School, and I remember the anxiety that I felt at the time about whether or not I had what it took to be able to stand in front of a group of Harvard MBAs. And would they believe me? Would they think that I had credibility? And the stress that I’d built up over all of that, just tremendous amount of anxiety. So we all remember 2008, it was September, I’m in the room starting to teach, and within the first week, the bottom falls out of the economic crash and all of these Harvard MBA students who gave up their jobs to come back to school, who were clear that they had the perfect internship and the perfect job lined up for the summer, being taken away because now companies didn’t even exist anymore, or they were getting rid of their internship program or they weren’t hiring that year. And you just immediately saw… I saw the humanity in those students, I didn’t see them as the scary Harvard MBA students, I saw them as people who were really, really frightened. And to me, that was my first lesson in realizing this wasn’t about me at all, this was now, “How do I help every one of these students in whatever way that I can for the year that I’m here as they’re going through this really difficult thing?” So, before it was, “I don’t want to bruise my ego for not being a successful teacher.” And then it became, “How can I help these students?”
BB: Oh my God. The shift from, “How do I protect myself, to how do I serve others?”
BB: And it’s kind of the heart at Simmons, right? In many ways.
LPW: It’s the heart at… You’ve been at our leadership conference; I’m constantly saying at Simmons we educate people to go from the me to the we.
BB: Yeah. That’s it. Yeah.
LPW: That’s it.
BB: You know I have to say just if we’re in the true confession mode I will tell you that every time I’m in an audience like you’re describing, there’s that story that I tell where the first time I gave a talk to businesspeople I was warned that I needed to change myself a little bit because they were C-level people. And I thought it meant S-E-A, like they were down-to-earth. [laughter] I had never even heard the term C-level before, so I just thought it meant, “Oh, that’s good. Their sea level, down-to-earth people.” And then five minutes before they’re like, “That’s not what that means.” And I was like, “I’ve got to go.” This is why I always carry my purse to the green room; I got it. I’m out of here. And then I remember a guy came up to me who was a big business speaker, and he said, “Why are you scared?” I said, “I’m talking about shame and vulnerability.” And he said, “There’s no one here that needs to hear that more than these people. I don’t care what their titles are, they’re just scared people in really nice suits.” And so it was very much like your Harvard story. So I do think… Can we give an example here? Tell me about the bubble. Your examples in the book are so good.
LPW: You start, and I’ll add on Erika. Go ahead.
EJ: Okay. So, we love this story… So, the bubble, for your listeners, is the NBA bubble. And, if you’ll recall, when COVID started to make its head known in the US, the moment that I knew something was serious was when Adam Silver canceled the first basketball game because there was a player who was demonstrating symptoms. And then within a day, he canceled the season. I think it was a day, a very short period of time, he canceled the entire season. And that was a huge wake-up call. But then, he realized, “Let’s think broadly. Let’s think, do we have to completely cancel the season or is the season going to look a little different?” And so, he created this new way of continuing to play by forming a bubble. All the players from all the teams would come to one city, Orlando, Florida, they would live together, they would eat together, they would never leave this bubble, this hub of that group of people in order to deliver the NBA season in stadiums or in arenas rather, where there were actually no fans, but they made it happen.
BB: And the thing is, do you think he made that decision in a silo?
EJ: Absolutely not.
LPW: I think it’s having all the important people in the world thinking creatively with your team, looking outside and scanning best practices, being resourceful, knowing that Orlando was a place that you could do this, and knowing the culture he wanted to create and to save the NBA in the middle of a pandemic, but he definitely didn’t do it alone, because leadership is not a solo journey.
BB: This was one of the other big learnings, and I’m really struggling with that right now in kind of the season of my career, it sounds like the examples that you gave in the book of people who really have moved away from neglect and panic to kind of environmental scanning, foresight, expertise collection and strategic decision-making…
BB: Have done that by committing to diverse voices and diversity in every sense of the word. Ideas, expertise…
EJ: Level in the organization.
BB: Level in the organization, yes.
LPW: Inside and outside the organization, bringing knowledge from history into the present and taking it into the future, so it’s this whole environment scanning. And I like how you say that they moved out of this neglect cycle, I often say, “We have to give ourselves grace.” It is human nature, as you said, to go into these decision heuristics and to go in this panic and neglect, but take a deep breath, give yourself grace and then move on like Adam Silver.
BB: I did not know the Delta story and about who that CEO brought aboard. Can you tell that story?
LPW: We have a lot of time on Delta.
EJ: Yes, I’m a huge Delta fan, having lived in Atlanta for so many years, and that’s their hub, right.
BB: Oh, I bet, yeah.
EJ: But I also had the privilege to get to know their senior leaders, including their CEO, who spoke at a number of institutions where I was. And he’s just a remarkable leader. His name is Ed Bastian. He’s a remarkable CEO, very well respected, and I think has built a really fine culture. And I’ll never forget when I was talking with someone on his senior leadership team, and we were still heavy in the pandemic, the airlines, as you know, were decimated…
EJ: For a period of time, and I remember this woman saying to me, “I’ll never forget the day that our revenue went to zero.” I still have trouble fathoming an enterprise as large as Delta Airlines, what that must have been like to have zero revenue.
BB: I got goosebumps, because that’s like an unprecedented, maybe 9/11, but for a shorter period of time.
EJ: Yeah, it was incredible. So, what their CEO and their whole team did was they asked the questions, “What do we need to know about this virus and about its trajectory? And I know we don’t know everything yet, but what do we know right now, what have we learned about similar viruses in the past? And not only let’s utilize that expertise, but we’re going to bring that expertise in-house and have them become a part of our long-term health care team in an airline company.” So I think just some of the risks that someone like an Ed Bastian and an Adam Silver were willing to take, you talk about ego, nobody knew how this was going to unfold.
EJ: They had to be willing to risk their ego by making some pretty bold decisions, not knowing how they were going to play out.
BB: And I remember the reaction to the NBA bubble, I remember like, oh man, if you could bottle that hate on Twitter, you could fuel a Delta plane.
EJ: [laughter] You’re right.
LPW: Both examples also show, we talk about the competencies in the book, A Prepared Leadership[sic] and how they were both good at learning. None of us knew about PPE and vaccines and de-densifying organizations before then, but we had to learn it quickly and build it into our crisis leadership [lan, and that’s part of being a prepared leader.
EJ: Yeah. We all became health care experts…
LPW: Yeah, we all became.
EJ: We all became experts in HVAC systems and…
LPW: Right, air flows and those type of things, social distancing in class. People often say, “What is it like to be a university president?” I say, “Well, I’m a lot of different chiefs and now including chief public health officer for my university.”
LPW: So it’s those hats.
BB: Unbelievable pressure. It’s my understanding that Delta brought in a prominent physician from Mayo Clinic. Is that right?
BB: And what I love about it was not only this physician’s expertise, so here’s where I think the opportunity for panic and neglect happened, “I’m going to hire this guy from the Mayo Clinic, so then every time I do something that could possibly piss off passengers or customers, I’ll be like, according to my friend in the Mayo Clinic who’s on my team.” And then, “Hey, looks like we’re on the tail of COVID, enjoy your drive back to the Mayo Clinic. We’re done.” But no, because inside of this pandemic was a mental health pandemic…
BB: A domestic violence pandemic…
BB: An education pandemic, a burnout pandemic. For many folks, for the first time, it took this level of devastation to see the fault lines around race and class. And so, we had bad stuff inside of bad stuff, but now instead of going to neglect after panic, now the same expertise is being used to look at burnout, exhaustion, employee well-being, that in itself is subversive to me, culturally subversive to the panic-neglect model.
LPW: And that’s why it bothers me when I read articles about saying, “We need to go back to work as normal.”
BB: What the hell!
LPW: The world has changed.
BB: Thank God.
BB: Before we go, I want to end this first episode with… I’m on page 30, highlight sticker 47. I knew when the highlight stickers were greater than the page numbers, I had a supermassive problem. But, I want to talk about the phases, and we don’t have to go into too much detail, but the phases of crisis management. So, one, Early Warning and Signal Detection. So, the first two years of my PhD program, I was set on studying, Futuring and Environmental Scanning, for non-profits, NGOs in public sector.
BB: Because the only people that were doing it were really the corporate sector, and there was no one doing Environmental Scanning in NGOs and non-profits and public sector, and it was so concerning to me. Early warning and signal detection. So let me see if I can phrase my question because it’s a big one for you. What is the responsibility of a leader to read broadly and deeply and be tuned into the world enough so that the reference set this leader has can respond and see these warnings and these signal detections? Do you understand what I’m asking? This is not an easy skill.
LPW: No, it’s not, like you said, you have to be constantly scanning your environment, inside and outside the organization, as I say, having a broad def analogy, not only reading about your industry, but reading about adjacent industries, knowing non-profit, knowing government, knowing what’s happening outside of your country, and so we talk about the need for mega communities to solve crisis where corporations, non-profits and government come together, but the first thing when I’m teaching in the MBA class, I would say, “What’s on your reading list?” And then how do you expand that reading list, and it’s got to be more than a Wall Street Journal and your business textbook. How do you expand that reading list so you know what’s happening in the world? I just did an interview recently, I’m reading everything from chick-flicks to cookbooks, the business books,
LPW: the history books, to five different newspapers a day and podcasts, because I want to understand and scan and sense make of that environment and be prepared for the next crisis.
BB: Yeah, I teach in the McCombs MBA program, and I think there is a real issue about, “Look at me, I’m in my second-year post-internship MBA, on the job market and I read the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal,” and I think to myself, right now you better be reading like Water Today and the Agriculture Digest so…
BB: Early warning and signal detection. Do you think leadership teams should have specialists in their company whose job it is to do environmental scanning?
LPW: Some organizations their chief learning officer, their chief strategy officer or sometimes just the person not assigned who’s always scanning. But I think every team needs a couple of scanners who are constantly looking at the environment and sense-making up that next crisis, and it’s a skill set we need to teach our students. It starts with… Erika and I both have led business schools before have emphasized that business education needs to be integrated with liberal arts.
BB: Let’s stop right here. Okay.
LPW: So in my previous places at Michigan and Cornell, and even at Simmons and then at Penn, we’ve worked with the Aspen Institute to say Liberal Arts has to be part of this double helix, because that’s the only way you’re going to tell and get people, business leaders, to think about what’s happening in their environment, agriculture and water and all those types of things. If they can think from a very broad perspective. The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal… Yes, you have to read it, but you have to read other things and acquire knowledge. You have to listen to people, and this goes back to your question of diversity, you can’t have all bankers in your network, you need different people in your network who are going to see the world differently and experience it.
BB: Oh yeah, I was talking to a young woman. She’s like, I really want to go to business school, I’m interested in it, but I have a double major in Russian poetry and sociological study of Black Power movements. I’m like, “Right, I’ll give you a job when you get out. You know how to think. You know…”
EJ: Absolutely echo everything that Lynn was saying. You used a phrase that I think it’s important to just highlight, and that is, is it important for leaders to have experts on their team? And Yes, but the risk, especially in times of crisis, is that the leader will abdicate his or her decision-making to an expert. Think about the number of times you would go to your general counsel when something bad happens and say, “This is what the general counsel said, so we’re going to follow his or her advice,” and in reality, that is input into a set of decisions that you leader who should have the broad perspective, not just the legal perspective, so I think that’s the risk of having experts and it takes a real leader to again, gather input and information from a variety of sources, and not be so dependent or heaven forbid, abdicate his or her decision making to someone because they are a qualified expert.
LPW: And so that’s why in the book, we spend a lot of time talking about the team and the power of collective wisdom. Right.
BB: Yeah, I mean, no one’s going to do this by themselves.
BB: No, I mean, so phase one, Early Warning and Signal Detection, kind of feeding from that is Preparation and Prevention. So once you’ve detected the signs, the next phase is about enacting proactive measures that can ideally prevent the crisis or at least help you brace for its impact. This is a great place where you start introducing Adam Silver and the bubble, then we go to Phase three, damage containment. So, here’s what you write about this, the goal at this stage is to limit financial reputational or even existential threats to your organization, stakeholder ecosystem. Boy, this is a big-time suck during a crisis.
EJ: It is, but it’s actually if you think about the responsibility of a leader, the tendency is to spend all of your time on that, which means something bad has already happened, so you’ve not necessarily done the signal detection or the preparation and prevention. Something has happened, and you can be seen as the hero if you turn that threat around, so the tendency is for leaders to spend all of their efforts here and not recognize the other stages, the other phases that also require attention.
BB: Right, yeah, because the big one is four.
BB: You can contain the damage, but four and five, Recovery…
LPW: And Learning.
BB: Yeah, totally going back to where Lynn… What you started with saying.
BB: How many times have I been in a company working with the leaders? Where there has been no codifying of the learning and embedding it in the culture. They’re just so, “Woo, we survived.”
EJ: So then we can start neglect again. [chuckle]
LPW: Right. Which is human nature, right? Because after the crisis, you’re tired. We survived the crisis.
BB: I’m so tired. Yes.
LPW: Right. [chuckle] You know the subtitle of our first book was “Surviving to Thriving.” And so you survived it, but how do you thrive? And thrive means you have to pay attention to the recovery, you have to do the after-action review, and it’s the learning and the reflection, are so important.
BB: God, I love a good post-mortem. I really do.
LPW: I do, so do I.
BB: It’s a terrible word for it, but I’m married to a pediatrician, but… [laughter] So I want to leave with the story because I’m so curious about… I kept thinking about it. In November of 2019, on top of a huge personal crisis, my mom got really sick. I was wrapping up some work with a Texas company that’s one of my favorite companies I’ve ever worked with, and they had some folks on the ground in Wuhan. And I overheard some side conversations because there was going to be extreme supply chain pressure on them if this materialized, to the point where it would be life and death for a lot of people, and so they couldn’t take the chance it wouldn’t materialize. So I remember calling my team together and saying, “Look, we’ve talked about podcasting for a long time, but I’ve never been willing to stop doing other things to make time for it. I think we need to do it now.”
BB: And in late February, early March of 2020, we lost 70% of our revenue in four days because we were at a place with our book cycle where all the revenue was really about me speaking and being on the road and doing events and a tour. And so it was like one of those things where… And I want to get your feedback on this because when I say, I came within an inch of not making this choice that I think saved our company and 30 jobs, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I feel like people need to hear it. I almost didn’t do it because I didn’t want it to be true.
LPW: Right. If I do it, I will make the pandemic true. Right.
BB: Yeah. That cannot be normal. Is that a Brené thing?
EJ: I think that’s a human thing, actually. Definitely a human thing.
LPW: But you did it.
BB: You know why? Because I thought of my employees and their kids that are on our insurance, and I wasn’t willing to take that bet. But I really thought, “If I prepare for this, I’m going to manifest it.” Like my therapist says, “Wow, that sounds like a little bit of “Let go and let Brené” instead of “Let go and let God” which is what I’m trying to live by. But do we ever do that in the midst of a crisis like “If I prepare for it, then I’m inviting disaster?”
EJ: I think that’s a very common mantra that people have in their head, but it also may be an excuse. And I don’t know what is true in your case, but it could mean, “If I don’t prepare, it won’t manifest, so here’s my easy out for not doing the hard work of preparation.”
LPW: And it’s the hard work, right? It was hard work to go from what you were doing to speaking circuit to podcast.
BB: Yeah, because I had this stuff down. I know how to do that, I’m good at it. And then I ended up not only podcasting, but they can’t send producers, so I’m doing it from my son’s closet on top of his dirty clothes, and I’m figuring out the technology myself. And so I’m just going to tell y’all that being human gets in the way of being prepared sometimes.
LPW: Oh, we know. Trust me.
LPW: Trust me, right?
EJ: But that’s the point of this book.
LPW: Right. [chuckle]
BB: But you know what, it’s not a smack down. It’s a walking with this book. There is not a single finger wag. It was like, “Hey, this is what makes us human and makes us wonderful and also what gets in the way and what as leaders we need to look out for.”
LPW: And we were really intentional about not wanting it to be a smackdown, to bring the humanity into crisis leadership, and this is how we can do it better because we’re always… That’s what life is about, becoming our best self even in crisis.
BB: And you could tell you were reading something that was written by two people who have done it and learned from it and done it really well and also learned from some rough patches.
EJ: For sure.
BB: Okay, this is all for episode one. It’s already packed. I’m already past 30 stickies. So if you’re listening, we’re going to be back with Dr. Erika James and Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten, talking about The Prepared Leader: Emerge From Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before. And I have to say that I have lived this work and this is real. This is not theoretical; this is about what it means to be human and look for grace and offer grace and make very tough decisions. So, I’m so excited you’re with us. Thank you.
EJ: Thank you.
LPW: Thank you.
BB: All right, What a great part one of this conversation. Barrett, what’d you think?
BG: Oh, my God. I loved it. I took so many pages of notes.
BB: I had to move away from stickies because they were so fat sticking out the side of the book, so I had to get like these new tabs.
BG: They’re really cool tabs.
BB: Do you like them? They’re good tabs, right? You can find the book The Prepared Leader: Emerge From Any Crisis More Resilient Than Before wherever you like to buy books. We’ll link to it on the episode page on brenebrown.com. We’ll also give you links to both of their Twitter and LinkedIn and websites to where they work and what they do. Don’t forget that every episode of Dare to Lead along with Unlocking Us has resources, downloads, and transcripts. It’s all on brenebrown.com where you can also sign up for our newsletter. I’m excited to be back. I’m super grateful that you’re here. Part two of the series will be here next week on Dare to Lead. Y’all stay awkward, brave, and kind.
BB: The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and Kevin McAlpine, and the music is by The Suffers.
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