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Transcript: Rookie Mistakes New Leaders Make (EP103)


Brendan: Welcome to The Culture of Leadership. We have conversations that help you develop and become a more confident leader.

Are you a new leader or aspiring to become one? If so, you won’t want to miss this episode. Today, I’m speaking with Nina Sunday, the founder of Brainpower Training, podcast host in manage self lead others, and a certified speaking professional. Nina’s an experienced leader and has made a fair share of rookie mistakes. 

In this conversation, we’ll explore the common missteps new leaders make and how to avoid them. From not understanding the big picture of your job to avoiding performance coaching, Nina shares her personal insights and offers valuable tips on how to grow a thriving culture, develop your people, and ultimately drive results.

If you want to become a more confident leader and build a high-performing team, stay tuned. This is The Culture of Leadership podcast. I’m Brendan Rogers. Sit back and enjoy my conversation with Nina.

What inspired you to pursue leadership?

Nina: If I look back before I started my business, I was working at ABC television in other roles. I was only ever hired to do the job I was hired to do. No one ever was inspired to build my capability or to set up some thoughts around career progression within the organization. When one door shut in terms of me actually finding a pathway to be promoted within a large organization, I got discouraged. Actually, I had lots of ideas for self-employment, so that's what I did.

It was the right thing for me, of course. But because in the past, it was the blind leading the blind when it comes to leadership, people were just, this is your job, and this is what you do. I didn't have any boss that I could look back and say, they built my capability, they helped me see a future, they helped me see my own progress. I was left to my own devices with that. But of course, we're talking about 30 years ago when leadership wasn't the topic of conversation that it is today.

What inspired me? I was just like all the other leaders when I started growing my team, hiring salespeople and event coordinators, and the business got into seven figures at one point. I was focused on results. What I didn't realize is that I also needed to be focused on culture.

In fact, ultimately, it was culture that was the thorn in our side or shooting us in the foot. People would be enthusiastic at the start, then they would plateau. There would be a downward spiral, and they'd either leave or I'd want them to leave because they were so negative. I thought culture was really just about socializing and making sure we had a few little events outside.

When I went under the surface and started doing my own reading, and also my own observations and reflection, I realized just one mistake at a time I started correcting them. Of course, as I corrected my mistakes, got better at leading a team, and got more motivated team members as a result, I started realizing that ultimately, if you focus on culture, the results look after themselves.

Brendan: That's a great point. Was there something in particular that you did in your own journey that helped you like an action that you took to start to help that self-development in the leadership space?

Nina: I started looking at my own story. I identified that I had my first scar in the working world. I was still at university. I had done a speed reading course, and I was employed by them to both do the promotional presentations and to also do the training. I was working behind the scenes, and I was employed. They sent me to go to this little small town to do the one hour presentation that they advertised on radio and television.

Suddenly, we were swamped with people because it was a little town, and there was not much else on it. It wasn't the big city of Brisbane, where I had been living. I was really proud of the fact that at the last minute, myself and the assistant pulled out some chairs, we got everybody settled, I did the presentation, and I got the enrollment.

I walked into the office the next day. The boss had a sour look on his face and said, sit down. You lost me money. I'm going, I've just had the most incredible thing where I had to rise to the occasion, speak to all the people, and I've never done that before. We did the event, nothing bad happened. I think I just looked at him quizzically and he repeated it. You lost me money.

What he was pointing out was, and that's what he said, you should have put a full house sign on the door the minute all the seats were full, and there were no more seats. You can't have standing room only. You lost me money.

Anyway, I was swamped by his negativity and his lack of appreciation. I'm 19 years old, for Pete's sake. I'm not a full-time seasoned sales professional that would happen to know that that's the standard operating procedure. It was all in his head, I'm expected to be a mind reader. Anyway, I walked out of there. A week later, I went, you know what? If that's business, I want nothing of it. I did not accept any more bookings from that company ever again.

I only realized recently that in the early days of being a manager, I really avoided performance coaching. When somebody did behavior that was habitual that annoyed me or that was interrupting other people, I would just touch myself and say nothing because I now realize. I put two and two together. I think I thought that if I pulled people up and said, this behavior is not good enough, they would just quit and leave on the spot. I didn't want that to happen.

Really, when it boiled down, I didn't know exactly what to say. Suddenly, I think I must have read a book or at least read an article. Suddenly, I started reading things like, here's what to say when you want to coach poor performance. I went, oh, I might try that, and it works. That's my long-winded answer to your question, Brendan.

Brendan: It's a good answer. Great example. Thankfully for you and the clients that you've worked with and created so much value with over the time, that you had a level of resilience and you stuck with it. You've obviously been a strong, independent woman for some time now, I have to say.

Nina: Thank you, and I have.

Brendan: Fantastic. Nina, let's dive in because you've got some street cred. You've just shared some about these rookie mistakes that new leaders may make. We're going to unpack these five from your perspective today and your experiences. What's the first one that you believe is a rookie mistake that new leaders make?

Nina: I believe it's not understanding the big picture view of your job, which is to build the capability of your people. I was in a small business. Even if you're in a large organization that serves a huge bureaucracy or government, it's your job as a manager to develop the career, credibility, and professionalism of the people who are in your team. If you've just focused on results and strategy, culture is there anyway. So, if you’re not focusing on culture, it will create its own either positive culture or negative culture.

I think in the past when I was the manager, I had to prove that I had all the answers. I had to prove that I was making sure we had financial goals, achievement goals, and that people were matching up to it. But your team may only be with you temporarily. Any employer, any manager has a duty to develop the people under them so that when they do go for another job, whether it be a promotion within the organization or another company, you've been developing them, so that they will be in the marketplace, someone that an employer wants to hire.

You do have that duty of care to someone's career progression, to actually develop them, give them training, or give them that sense of progress, and actually help them identify, here's where you were when you started. Here's what you're doing now. Can you see how well you are progressing in your role? It's not for you to then say, and then you can use this to apply for another job. Of course, you want to keep them with you as long as you can.

I've had discussions with other business owners as well. They've said things to me like, yes, I used to find that people only stayed with me because we were a small business with no proper management hierarchy. There was really nowhere for people to progress to. They would only stay about one or two years. But when I started pointing out how they were progressing with their own skill set within the role, they tended to stay longer.

You've got this responsibility to help people identify how they are personally progressing, as well as giving them a big picture view of the contribution, their role, and also the organization is making—for want of a better term—contributing to a better world. These days, we're talking about creating meaning, purpose, and highlighting progress as a way to help build the capability of the people that you're working with and that report to you.

Brendan: What do you see on the ground when the leader continues to live with this mistake of not building capability? What does the organization, the team, even the leader look like in action when they're living this mistake, they're not building capability?

Nina: In order to answer this question, there's one little extra bit I want to add. I found out that—this was about 20 years ago—I got a government grant to do a business plan, and we had the business planner come in. He did what we call a 360 degree feedback. For the first time, people could, one-on-one, tell him what they—he had questions—thought about working for Brainpower Training. He came back and said, people haven't told you this, but this is what they've told me.

What I realized is that I was not doing one-on-ones with people. They didn't have the channel of communication to say, Nina, I'm not happy with this. The only time we had team discussions was as a team, as a group. No one's going to bring up what is their gripe, if they have one, in front of the team. You could say, they could ask for a meeting. But it's not really about them having to ask for a meeting. If that's not part of the culture. 

If you're not making one-on-ones, part of the regular process of working with your team members, it's very difficult for them to ask for that because otherwise, it might turn into that horror of horror, performance appraisal, annual performance appraisal where managers save up all the things they don't like, and then swamp people with it at the end of the year or end of six months. We're talking about regular one-on-ones about once every month, and it only has to be for about 20 minutes.

What I'm learning now is the key question—are there any roadblocks for you to get your job done? How can I help you? It's really about you helping them. If your team members feel like you've got their back, that you will help them clear the path to them achieving their goals, that creates loyalty. It creates that connection, rapport, and people are less likely to do what we call triangles, which is talk behind your back negatively about you. That is a killer. We don't want any triangles. We don't want any politics.

Brendan: You're absolutely right. Is not having one-on-ones the rookie mistake number two?

Nina: Sometimes things just pop into my head. It's not that I read about it. But I think about, what would I want people to do for me? Or what did people not do for me that I wished they had?

I remember I had this really good source of talent in a business. Students in their gap year between grade 12 and university were very happy to work four days a week. They're not expensive, and yet they'll go on to be doctors and lawyers. Seriously, they have. Doctor, lawyer, policy maker, advisor to Parliament. You're getting the cream for about 12 months while they're still fairly Junior.

I remember on one occasion, I just had a one-on-one meeting with one, we had the flip chart up, and we said, let's identify all the tasks that you do. I had it in two columns and said, which are the ones that you like doing? Which are the ones that you think, I do it, but they're not really my preference? I was a little surprised at the answer. How can I know what people prefer or not prefer?

It was so easy for me to say, we've got Katrina, we've got Mary. I have a feeling that I could ask them to volunteer and see if they would like to do that task. That's exactly what happened. We did a little bit of a job rotation because that's the other thing, if you can rotate roles so that people get a broad experience.

With time management, one of the questions is to delegate. Can you delegate this task? Who could you delegate to? One of the tasks I used to hoard for myself was doing the financial confirmation for any booking that we had that was of any caliber. I asked that question, could you delegate this? I suppose, yes. Who could you delegate to?

Sitting diagonally opposite me in the open plan office was a woman that was just doing telephone follow-ups. I went, she used to work for Qantas. Why don't I see if she wants to do the financial confirmations? She said, yes, I did a lot of admin in my other role. Not only that, we had a thing called four eyes control, which is two sets of eyes.

She would prepare it, I would check it. My time was so saved, it was unbelievable. We've done four eyes control ever since. I've delegated that task ever since because if you make a mistake, you've got to live with it. It can cost you hundreds of dollars. But honestly, my time is more valuable than sitting there doing financial confirmations.

Brendan: It sounds like that you're actually making time to do those one-on-ones. You said it could just be 20 minutes, but there's this real opportunity to focus on the individual and to really make a connection, get to know them a little bit more in this skill set so you can actually get the best out of them, which links back to the first one around building capability.

Nina: One of the things I always do with my people is get them to do some psychometric assessment, and there are a lot of free ones on the net. I really love the DISC profile. It isn't to label people or to box them in. It's just to get an understanding that it's a cluster of behaviors that has a pattern that gives you some insight into not only how people operate, but it'll tell you how they will execute a task if you give it to them.

For example, I do like DISC. I've used Myers-Briggs, I've used Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, team management systems. There's a whole stack of them. Any new one comes along, I give it a go. There's the five factor one that academics particularly like, OCEAN.

I remember once, in DISC, we have D, I, S, C. C is for conscientiousness or compliance. I gave a report to a high C to do. I thought it would take a day. I kept saying, how's that going? Oh, no, not done yet, not done yet.

Because I'm not a micromanager, and that's the mistake of some managers, I didn't say, show me what you're doing. I was pretty busy with whatever I was doing. I just assumed she's an efficient, capable person. I'm sure she's working it out. It took four days, and I got a thesis that would have probably passed any master's degree.

All I wanted to know was this particular initiative, where we put videos and books into bookstores around Australia and didn't make a profit, it wasn't worthwhile. I probably should have given that task to someone that was a high D, direct or dominance, that looks for the shortcuts and goes, what's the bottom line, was it profitable? You know what it was? I didn't probably give her direct enough direction.

You can be a laissez faire manager where you say, just do it. Or you can be a very directive manager where you micromanage, which actually can annoy most people. I was probably more on the laissez faire. This is the goal, you get to it any way you like, but sometimes it's good to check how they're doing it. But also, if I'd have been thinking about the psychometric result that she was a very high C, that probably she was going to give me more detail than I needed. Maybe I needed to step in earlier. No one's perfect, and we're learning all the time.

Brendan: We absolutely are as well. The thing that pops in my head because I know you've mentioned one-on-ones monthly, but even the potential to have those weekly. I know leaders are very busy and things like that. But if you're only talking 15–20 minutes, that could potentially save a hell of a lot of time down the track.

Nina: I look back to the early days, even before we had our first website. One of the sales people came up and said, oh, the local Chamber of Commerce has a webpage. You could get on the Internet. At the time—we're talking about the year 2000—it was still early days of the Internet. It wasn't necessary to have a web presence, although really, it probably was.

Instead of inviting that person to have a conversation, or inviting that person to bring it to the team and let's talk about it, I went, oh, no, we're not going to do that right now. I closed down innovation too quickly and just off the side. I wouldn't even be leading from the front when I did it, I'd be leading from the side.

By that, I mean if you're going to make a decision, if someone's going to come to you with a suggested innovation that has legs, there is nothing wrong with that suggestion. Maybe getting on the net was a good thing. Maybe it wasn't to actually be involved with that particular pathway. Maybe someone else could come up with a different pathway. It's about inviting people to share their ideas and using that one idea to springboard to an even better idea.

I have this saying, always look for the second right answer. Just because one suggestion isn't perfect that you want to take action with, just stop, take a moment, take a breath to actually consider that idea, and to show that individual that you value them making a contribution.

The other frame that you want to give people that work in your business or in your organization is they're not there just to do the job you've hired them to do. They're there to also share their thoughts on how they can continuously improve the role they're doing.

Constant reinvention is important. This whole principle of Kaizen, which comes out of the Toyota way, which is the Japanese principle of change is good, you'll have a positive workplace culture with energy and vitality if you're encouraging innovation and suggestions for improvement.

What I've learned is to not close down ideas because I think in the early days, I thought I'm the manager, and I have to be the source of all knowledge. I have to be the one that solves the problems. I don't think it was ego so much as I have to prove I've got the credibility to be in this role, to have people that I've hired, that I'm leading.

I now have developed so much self-assurance that I don't need to prove it. I can help the people that work with me to shine. I'm happy to step back and really give them credit because we all progress if everybody is shining and feeling like they're progressing.

Brendan: My own experience has been very similar. When you've been given the opportunity to lead people and to serve people, that is almost an expectation that came with it—granted maybe decades ago, but probably still around today to some extent—that you prove yourself. How do you prove yourself? The best way is that you're taking on more technical competence, you're covering things, and you can do everything. I hear what you're saying.

What I love in the examples you've shared is, again, going back to our first two rookie mistakes, this not building capability and one-on-ones, all these things you're talking about, if you're focused on building capability, and if you're taking the time for one-on-ones and having the right conversations around that, all these things start to play out, don't they?

Nina: Absolutely. My research has uncovered some interesting research by the Google company called Project Oxygen, where their people lab identified the eight good behaviors of a manager. That informed me. I think I came across that in 2015. That informs how I work with my people.

Interestingly, out of the eight good behaviors, number eight in order of priority is having the technical competence to guide people on the technical aspects of the team. Really high up there on the list is the ability to help with career progression, the ability to understand a little bit more about what's going on in people's lives.

There was a lovely book that I read. This is about 20 years ago now by a Brisbane dentist, Dr. Paddi Lund, called the Happiness-centered Business. There was one little suggestion in that book that I took on board and stayed with us ever since. It was the idea of having a group morning tea.

I decided to bring that in because before that, people would just go up and get their own coffee or tea, take it back to their desk, and that was it. People would just do the, here's the kitchenette, get it, go back. We decided that about three days a week, at about 11:00, not on the dot because it depends what we're all doing. But about 11:00, we'd go and get our tea, coffee, beverage or whatever, or Coca-Cola, and just sit down together for 15 minutes.

Honestly, that's where I found out the little things that were happening in people's lives, the family that have parents that are ill, the family that have children who are having to go through exams at school, or they're having a holiday, so the good things and the challenges. I found that that part of culture not only was taken care of, I started enjoying my team more than ever. In fact, they became my friends at work. I really value the fact that we created this morning tea culture that really made a difference.

Having said that, obviously, as the manager, I have to make sure it doesn't become half an hour. What I would do is I would just, mostly, often say, we'd have meetings. But often I'd say, I'd pick the right moment, but it'd be about 15 minutes. I'd say, mini meeting, and we just spent five minutes talking about something to do with the business. Of course, that was the cue for everybody to go back to their place.

When I was 12 and worked at my mother's office, which was the old BOC Gases, we used to actually walk down to the canteen. They had free tea and coffee and walked all the way back. I'm sure it took half an hour. In the old days, there was the camaraderie of morning tea. But somehow people now just work at their desk over lunch, don't have tea and coffee together, and often we solve problems.

One phrase is around the water cooler. We don't really have water coolers so much anymore. But this informal conversation that you can have with colleagues over a tea or maybe just eating your lunch together can really have productivity benefits. That's one thing that I took on board, and I'm really glad I did.

Brendan: I guess there weren't too many smartphones around that time ago as well to take our time, but let's not go into that.

Nina: There is something I want to say about that, Brendan, because I noticed that with the uni students that might be working part time, which I really favor that particular source of talent, and uni students all can work part time, one new one, we had morning tea. He was sitting at a morning tea, we're all chatting, looking at his phone. But then I had a one-on-one with him and said, I just want you to understand the purpose of morning tea. You can check your phone anytime you like throughout the day, but morning tea is an opportunity for all the team members to chat together. I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind please, checking your phone at other times and being involved in the conversation.

From then on, he was part of the conversation. In fact, in my book, Workplace Wisdom, I've called it phubbing, which is phone snubbing. When people or other people are having conversation, they sit glued to their phone. There's a time for conversation, and there's another time for checking your phone. Those are two different times.

Brendan: Phubbing, I love it. Also a fantastic example from you as a leader in just taking him aside, having a respectful conversation, and setting an expectation. He's able to meet that expectation without too many dramas at all. It sounds fun.

Nina: Yes, because I didn't make him lose face by saying it in front of everybody. Oh, get off your phone. That would only create resentment. I've learned for people not to lose face. If you have any feedback, do it one-on-one, and then they understand.

Brendan: Great example. Nina, let's get into our third rookie mistake because we've spoken (1) building capability, (2) not having one-on-ones. What's number three on your list?

Nina: It's actually getting good at identifying the best language to use. This is when you want to pull up poor behavior. I used to be a bit of an avoidant manager. One example was, there was a team member. She had been there three years. We had separate little offices. There was an open plan plus my little office.

I would come out of my office, and she would spring back into her chair because she had been talking to the person next to her, which means she was interrupting herself and the other person. But it wasn't that it happened once, it was habitual. It was happening all the time.

We're talking about nearly two decades ago. I didn't know how to bring it up because I went, oh, it's such a pity. I can't tell people not to talk at work, but what I can do is really have a conversation and just say, I'm not sure if you're aware, but I noticed that sometimes when I come out of the office, you seem to react in a way that looks a little bit guilty to me. Do you feel a little bit guilty? I could have had that conversation like that.

I didn't have to come down like a ton of bricks and be accusatory and blaming. I could have just said, this is something I just noticed. It's called social sensitivity, Brendan. I've noticed this behavior. I'm just wondering about it because if you're feeling guilty, why would you be feeling guilty? In that way, it's not me accusing. It's me coming in seeking to understand. It's asking questions to understand.

The other good thing it's doing is using poor behavior. Perhaps it was a mistake on that person's part to react in a way that looked like she was guilty.

I read this book that I'm going to recommend, by Eli Goldratt. He's now passed on, but he is an absolute organizational management genius. He started life as a physicist. He wrote The Goal. I really recommend this to everybody. His theory of constraints was taught in all the MBA management schools around the world. I read his little book called The Choice. It said, any disharmony will reduce your profitability.

The grand plan was, I restructured the roles in the office and informed this person that that role that they were employed for doesn't exist anymore. In fact, I moved them out of the business. I didn't have to lose a good person. I could have handled it differently. Yes, occasionally, you have to ask people to leave. Yes, you do. Yes, you do have to restructure.

Really, when I look at the core, I could have handled it differently. People do leave of their own volition. They do find other jobs. Let that be the way that they leave the business, rather than you having to say, there is no role for you anymore. I look back. I wasn't perfect, but hopefully my reflection has enabled me to find better ways to move forward in the future.

Brendan: Nina, are you saying that, again, many moons ago, you decided to take a high level of dealing with it, I moved them out the organization, as opposed to raising what may be a little irritation?

Nina: It had been going on for months, but I hadn't found a voice. I had to find my own voice. I didn't then, but I have subsequently.

Over time, I read, I maybe go to workshops, I listen now to podcasts. You reflect back. A good manager will reflect on their behavior, the reactions of the people that they're working with, and come to some conclusions and some resolutions that from now on, I won't do that, I'll try this. Just try new things, new ways of interacting with people.

I must admit, that particular restructure meant that I brought in the role of interns. That actually was a really good thing for my business, so it wasn't a complete mistake. It is good to constantly evolve. Perhaps the reason for us restructuring the business didn't have to be that reason, but it was. Honestly, in the big scheme of things, it enabled us to move forward with what I call interns and uni students that come in for maybe 13 days or 30 days.

I'm actually now working with the university locally, and they have a 13-day or 100-hour internship. I'm now one of the recognized mentors. That has evolved after the last 10 years. I know we had one intern when I launched my very first book on how to study a memory. I actually didn't guide her at all, we just did a big meeting at the start.

We said, we want all these social media posts, we want all this, we want all that. I still got a photo of all the Post-It notes that we did. She just came in and really just did her own thing until the end of the internship and end of the promotional period. That person then went on through a series of career steps to become the Social Media Manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

I've seen some wonderful progression by bringing into the business, one day a week, interns for whatever is the duration. Sometimes they're paid, and sometimes they're unpaid. But you do have a responsibility for them to grow them in terms of their career, but also to give them the ability to have a creative project where they can progress their own skills. I don't really meddle. I liaise, but I don't micromanage.

Brendan: Again, linking back to the mistakes that new leaders or not even new leaders can make, what I think I'm hearing is that there can be little things that people do, which can be a bit of an annoyance and not aligned with what's the behavioral expectation of the organization that having the courage to just have the conversation when it is small so that things don't get out of hand. Am I right in saying that?

Nina: Yes. What springs to mind, Brendan, is one of the shifts in my own awareness that happened when I realized that I was not leading from the front, I was leading from the side. The trigger for that was 15 years ago, on cable TV was a program called Shalom in the Home with Rabbi Shmuley. It's so long ago. I don't know if people remember it.

What it was was this particular rabbi would park his caravan at the invitation of the family that was requesting his intervention. He'd park his caravan next in the driveway of their house, install closed circuit TV, and watch in real time the interactions of the family, the parents, and the children, with each other.

This one particular example, the woman was fishing for something in the fridge. While she still got her arm inside this huge fridge looking for something, turned her head to her teenage son and said, I noticed you haven't emptied the dishwasher, can you hurry up and do that for us, please? It was just this irritated instruction. Of course, he was irritated.

As Rabbi Shmuley pointed out, if you have an instruction to give your son, and you're fishing in the fridge, close the fridge door. Invite him to sit down, have a conversation with him, find out if there is any roadblock to him not emptying the dishwasher. In a calm and courteous way, remind him that that's the role, that's the job that he's agreed to do, and it needs to be done in a timely way.

Once it's empty, then we can start putting in the fresh, new dishes that need to be done. Just giving him the reason behind why it needs to be done promptly. He said, what you were doing is you were leading from the side, you were not leading from the front. That, to me, was like, whoa. That was a big lesson for me.

I'd come out into the open plan from my little office that had glass doors, just how it was set up. I'd be standing by the kettle, and I'd be giving instructions at the kettle. I'm going, Nina, what are you doing? I look back and I go, oh, that's terrible. Now I know it's terrible. At least I don't have to do it anymore.

Brendan: I do chuckle at this, Nina, because I'm thinking about my own actions. Do you ever find yourself maybe being more correct around leading from the front in your work environment and with your clients as opposed to your personal environment? Because I know I do. I think I lead from the side too much in my personal environment.

Nina: If you're talking about your spouse.

Brendan: And children, although I have adult children.

Nina: I live alone these days, and I've only got a cat. I haven't got the opportunity to try it out. I didn't have much luck with my spouse, in terms of leading from the front or the side.

Brendan: All right. I'm asking the wrong question to the wrong person. Classic. Nina, now's a good time to go into our fourth rookie mistake. What's the fourth one in your experience?

Nina: These are all the trigger moments that came to me. I remember seeing a pattern of behavior. This was often with salespeople, where they come on board. Of course, you interview them, so they promised you the world. With full time salespeople, you pay big bucks, and there's commission involved. They'll promise the world.

Also I've even paid recruitment companies to place a salesperson. The recruitment company comes with big promises. You're paying a good wage and all that. They're all very enthusiastic in the beginning. There's a little bit of fear here.

This is the avoidant manager streak that I'm fixing. In order to not come across as micromanaging, disapproving, or accusatory, I would let people just do their job. But what I would discover is in the beginning, they would treat me with respect, and it's like I was hiring them so I was their boss. It would start to plateau, and the dynamic would start to shift, probably because I wasn't leading from the front or doing one-on-ones.

The dynamic would start to shift. They would start to be the tail wagging the dog. They would start to tell me how things should happen, but not in a way that was respectful or courteous, and then the relationship would go downhill. Eventually they would leave, but it wouldn't be amicable. It would be because it's just not good here anymore. Not necessarily me asking them to leave, they would just leave.

I read Charles Handy's The Empty Raincoat. He talked about the sigmoid curve, which was in any progress cycle, if you think of a plant that comes up as bud, it creates the flower, and then the flower dies, if you think of all people working in a role, let's say it's a three-year cycle, in the first year they're excited, in the second year they're doing the job, but in the third year, unless you start a second curve, it will be a downward spiral until the finish. That's when I started to see the pattern. I was not creating the second curve.

How do you create a second curve? It's like creating a new campaign. Let's say it's the salesperson. Instead of doing the same old, same old, you find a way for them to do something new that requires them to maybe start or learn afresh that is actually enhancing their capability. It becomes this positive cycle then, as opposed to people just getting bored.

In our biggest iteration, we had 10 full-time staff. That's a medium-sized business. I know if you're a large business with 50 or 5000 people, there are more pathways to promoting and rotating people through roles. But even in a small business, surely there's a way you can think about how can I make this job feel new again for this person, which is also building their capability, but also, you're not taking their skills for granted. I think also making sure you praise them. I probably could learn to praise people more frequently.

Brendan: I think we can all take that on board, praising people. Once again, I just want to clarify, though. If my understanding is correct, you mentioned the building capability back to one, but it's almost like it's a level of progression within their role.

New challenges setting a new challenge for them to really get their teeth into, which can help with their career progression. Career progression doesn't mean that you need to move on to your next role or your career. But within that role, you're growing and developing. That's another form of progression. Is that fair to say?

Nina: Absolutely. When bookstores were still all over the country, we came up with a campaign to put the books that I had published and also some training videos. We created a campaign to put all these DVDs in all the bookstores, which was quite successful and also tied in with bookmarks that had a discount to get people to our public programs in speed reading. It was a whole campaign, but I didn't take the full-time salesperson who was doing our B2B sales off that and get that person to do that new campaign. I hired a brand new person.

Thinking back now, I would have thought, the person has a choice. I didn't give them a choice. I just went, oh, well, we have to find a new person because I want someone to do the B2B. I could have thought more with more innovation and go, in order to retain this person in the business, why don't I offer them a whole new campaign that will serve the business, and then I'll just recruit someone to replace them. In fact, they feel like they've made a promotion and a progression.

I look back now, and I was blinkered in terms of, oh, we've got a new campaign, so we have to get a new person. No. Who in the business might see that as a plus, as a sense of progression, and then you're keeping them for longer?

My support people, my executive assistants, my first one lasted seven years, and my second lasted 17 years. I do have longevity with some people and some roles with recruiting. I've worked out a few things with recruiting. But I figure, for every three that I recruit, two out of three are absolutely correct, and the third one, I could have done better. That's also another ability to improve the way you do things in the hiring and the recruiting side of things.

Brendan: Wasn't it Meat Loaf that said two out of three ain't bad?

Nina: Yeah, I figured two out of three ain't bad.

Brendan: I think there are a lot of leaders around that would take two out of three. I think I've met a few over the time that probably none from three.

Nina: Yes, hiring the right people. That's actually why I like interns because actually, if they're not the right person, and it's a project-based event, they're hired for a certain number of days. Here's the thing. If you get a first or second year uni student, and they're doing a four-year program, you can actually, after the 30 days are up, invite them to stay on for longer. In fact, I did that.

I moved an intern from one day a week to three days. She became my three-day a week assistant. That was very, very happy, until she graduated and got her corporate role. Now she's off and running.

I really find that there's a really good talent source in the gap year students and the interns. I think a lot of businesses don't even think about that. They think they have to get another full-time equivalent person. Whereas interns, they would rather not have to work at a burger joint if they can. It's something that is a bit, as a knowledge worker, a real plus for them.

Brendan: Once again, it's a great example. It's just an example where leaders and people in business who are hiring people need to think a little bit differently, particularly now in the day to day challenges of work, low unemployment, and those sorts of things. People are far more choosy about the work that they do that's linked to their passion or they're going to feel like they can grow and develop from it. They're just not prepared to take on anything that falls in their lap.

Nina: That's right. In fact, young people today have these portfolio careers. Some of them don't even want a full-time corporate role even when they graduate because they've got these side projects, side hustles, that actually give them that sense of creativity and progress that perhaps, working for an employer may not. I have come across some employers that say, if they won't do full-time, I'm not interested. I'm going, yeah, but you might be losing the cream. Sometimes the cream are the creatives, and they actually need a day a week for their own projects.

Brendan: That's a great point. Like you said before, you've mentioned a number through the conversation already. I'm going to challenge you to think about the fifth. What's the fifth rookie mistake?

Nina: I thought I've mentioned a few. They're not really in any real chronological order. Not building your own capability, thinking that you know enough, you don't need to read, you don't need to go to workshops, you have learned on the job, and you know all there is to know. I think that overconfidence has a name. It's called the Dunning Kruger effect.

The Dunning Kruger effect says, sometimes the people with the least knowledge have the most confidence. That is an error because they're overconfident. Of course, overconfidence does mean people can bluster their way through a role and through an organization. But to really have the attributes of an effective team, I'll actually go back to the Google company again.

People lab was very active. They had another project called Project Aristotle, where they came up with what were the attributes of an effective team. They very much looked at meeting behavior. This is something that I took on board when I came across this research. Psychological safety and conversational equality were the two attributes of an effective team.

With conversational equality, what that means is it’s the manager’s role is to ensure that everybody expresses their opinion. Of course, you can give them the right to pass because you don't want people to feel forced to give an opinion, but sometimes people sit there quietly. The introverts will often let the fast talkers dominate.

If you invite those that are quiet, you as the manager can observe and say, I noticed Jack said this and Tom said that, but Jill, you look like you're thinking deeply there. Have you got a thought that you want to add? Sometimes that's all people need to invite them to share their opinion.

Sometimes I'm in groups. I'm in an exalted company, and I'm a little bit on the backfoot in terms of, oh, do I really want to offer up my opinion here, I'm in a very exalted company. But the minute somebody says, Nina, what do you think? Out, it all comes. I've been sitting there because I'm half introvert. You wouldn't guess, but I am half introvert.

It all comes out that if I'm invited to, if I feel that I don't feel quite so confident in this particular group, once I'm invited, whatever I've been thinking about will come out. That's quite important for an effective team because if a team is about to make a decision that may have some unintended consequences, that an introvert not expressing won't be revealed to the team, it can lead to a huge error.

One perfect example of that has got the name of Dieselgate. It's the VW company. Back in 2015, they fitted the diesel engines of all their vehicles in the United States and Europe with a software device that would fool the government emission assessments. When it was found out, the VW company was fined billions of euros and dollars. Maybe someone went to jail, and they had to get rid of 7000 staff. It was the biggest manufacturer of vehicles around the world. They are coming back now with a design for an electric car. They'll be launching it on the market. They'll come back, but it really was a setback.

What the new CEO, Matthias Muller, said, it was really a combination of project managers and engineers not saying what they needed to say, and groupthink got them all involved down a track that really was the wrong track. That's why conversational equality is really important. That's why I make sure everybody has a say.

I remember once, we did a brainstorm. It took two hours. I've learned now to put limits because I did the Brian Tracy thing of putting the numbers 1–20 on the flip chart and say, I want 20 ideas of ways we could improve. To come up with 20, it took two hours, and I went, I'm only going to do 10 next time.

What's really good for constant reinvention and constant innovation is to every now and again, I suppose this is another… it's not so much a rookie mistake because I used to do this very much in the beginning. Anyway, but what I do is to harvest the good ideas of my team, to do a little brainstorm and say, how might we improve? And then whatever is the process. It might be, how might we improve the way we thank customers for doing a booking? It can be anything.

It may not be that there's a problem to solve. It might be, how can we just do better what we're already doing well? I don't see that as a rookie mistake because that's something I've always done from the start.

Brendan: Again, just to link it back for our listeners too for those that may not connect, when you're having those conversations, when you're putting up those challenging questions out there, things come out through those conversations that actually enables the ability to build capability, which is where you started from. 

Hey, I know this. Can you help me do this? Or actually, we've got someone who's got a bit of a flavor for this, but we're not quite sure how we build those [....] She starts to create those conversations into how we make this happen once we've come up with the ideas.

Nina: Absolutely, Brendan. These are ideas that big organizations can take on board. But also if you're a solopreneur, one way to grow is to actually bring people on board one at a time and to apply all the good lessons of how to manage people. As you develop the capability of your people, you're developing your own capability as a leader. That's the important thing.

I was invited to be a chapter president for my association, Professional Speakers. I already had practice leading people, so I was actually able to become a good president  for my association for the year that I was doing it. It has side benefits through any role that you have to do.

You asked before about, does it apply to your own life? If you volunteer in any capacity with any group of people, certainly your leadership skills are going to come out there, and that's a good thing. I like it when there's a group event, even a birthday, where somebody actually takes the floor, says a few words, and gives us an all big picture, appreciation of the moment.

If people don't step up to the plate to say, I'd like to say a few words, and I'd like to invite a few people to say a few words, it doesn't happen, but isn't it warming to the heart when that does happen? That's something that can play out in your own life, just in your own social events when we're all together for a particular event, whether it be someone's graduation, someone's birthday, or someone achieving some milestone.

Brendan: I like it, Nina. Is there a mistake? Is there one of the mistakes that you've mentioned today where you think would have the biggest impact if a new leader focused on not making that mistake?

Nina: What's coming to mind is I worked with a large organization, where we did a bit of a brainstorm as part of the productivity training on how they could improve the way they do things. I got them all to take photos of the flip charts. Then someone came up to me and said, Nina, we feel a bit hopeless doing this because we know nothing's going to change, because we've got a leader of the division who wields disapproval like a sword. I call that a workplace bully.

But here's the thing. It's important that when people do make mistakes, that they're not blamed, they're not criticized, they're not bullied, they're not belittled, that they actually use mistakes as a learning opportunity.

In fact, the very first book by Michael Gerber called the E-Myth, before he published that really thick sequel called the E-Myth Revisited that was way too thick, the little original one, if you can get it in a secondhand store, the lesson I got from that, and that was when I was a solopreneur, was always have checklists procedures and if someone makes a mistake, it's not because they didn't do a good job. It's because your procedure, your checklist, or your standard operating procedure, was at fault.

What you have to do is find the root cause, put in a check and balance, and make sure it doesn't happen again, because you don't want roles where people are relying on their memory to do the job. Because if they leave with short notice, not because they're upset, just suddenly they're going overseas or whatever, you might only have two weeks notice. You've been relying on this person to just do a good job. If it's not written down as a procedure, that's corporate memory that leaves with them.

I've worked with organizations where that has been my observation. They didn't find out what the good person's processes were. Suddenly, someone who was not as capable was trying to pick up the role, and it was really quite beyond them. So always have procedures.

I often say to people, we've been doing this for a while, I just want to have a quick check. Is what you're doing now the same as that procedure that we gave you when you arrived? Oh, no, I found a better way to do it. Could you now make this procedure a living, breathing document, and just take a moment to actually update it because I want to always keep this system and checklist valid and current?

If you just let people go off and do their own thing, the corporate memory will go with them when they leave the role. Having systems, blaming the system if people have an error, and using mistakes to learn from them.

Brendan: Yeah, spot on. Nina, I want to ask my last question. What's helped you to become a more confident leader?

Nina: During the job, having people give me thank you cards when they leave. I sometimes find out that I helped people in ways that I had no idea that I did, and I saved them all. I've got a little box where I save any thank you card for when someone leaves a role. I go, isn't that fabulous? I'll always give them a little thank you card as well if they're moving on to some other role.

I really rely on the feedback that people give me. In one-on-ones, that's the opportunity to ask, how are you finding my interaction with you? Just finding the right words to say, am I communicating with you and the way that you'd like me to communicate? If there was a better way for me to communicate with you or to work with you, what would it be? That's asking a speculative hypothetical question in a way that is safe and invites a response that actually does trigger people to go a little bit deep.

If there was one way that we could improve the way you do your role, what would it be? That speculative hypothetical question. It can be quite powerful. Think about the art of asking good questions that get to the root cause of things, but without making people lose face, feel belittled, or criticized.

The art of asking good questions. Instead of just coming in full bore and saying, this happened and this can't happen again, go in and say, this happened. Can anyone give me some clues as to why and how it happened? Just really be a Colombo. Oh, by the way, but asking good questions. 

Brendan: A couple of phrases come to mind with asking good questions. The phrase that comes to mind is that famous seek to understand, but then also the asking for feedback as a leader getting good at asking for feedback. I actually think that's the game changer because there are so few leaders out there, managers, whatever you want to call them, are asking for feedback and being deliberate about asking for feedback. Thank you for sharing that. That's a fantastic reminder.

Nina: I am reminded of one other point, Brendan. I believe that US President Reagan was very, very good at this. He was very good at assigning credit to other people. When people say, oh, you're a great president at doing this, he'll say, it wasn't me, it was my secretary of state or whatever.

If you are big enough, generous enough a person to say, it wasn't me, it was my executive assistant, it wasn't me, it was my business development executive, if you can really give credit to the other people, you're creating loyal people that probably will thank you because it's like, oh, I'm being acknowledged. Sometimes, that's all people want. They just want to be acknowledged.

These are conversations I have with some of my clients. I'll say, oh, do you ever get customer compliments? And what do you do with it? It goes into a log. I'll say, do you actually, at the next meeting, make publicly acknowledge the person and tell them what the actual customer compliment was? Oh, no, we never thought to do that.

Honestly, giving people compliments in front of the other members of the team is probably such a big thing to cultivate people staying in their role. I think one of the reasons my executive assistants each stayed so long is because I believe I got better at acknowledging and complimenting people for the things they did working for me. My business is a little bit downsized these days, but I still can use these lessons I learned from a medium-sized business, certainly in the smaller entity that it is now, and when I’m working with clients as well.

Brendan: Exactly. What you shared today is so practical, and people are reflecting on these things. I know I can put my hand up and say, hey, I've made all of those mistakes that you've mentioned today. But I like to think that I'm learning every day. Hopefully, I'm improving and getting better in all those areas.

Now it's my time to give you some praise, Nina. Thank you for being such a fantastic guest on our Culture of Leadership podcast. You're such a nice person to talk to. You bring an energy to the conversation. I'm so glad our paths crossed a little while back.

It's been a while since we've been able to get you on the podcast, but I've been looking forward to our conversation today. You shared probably a hell of a lot more as you said than five rookie mistakes. I'm going to have to unpack this.

I wanted to change the title postproduction. Anyway, I appreciate you. I appreciate the time and effort in your preparation for today and as I said, for being a fantastic guest on the podcast.

Nina: Oh, Brendan. And likewise. Back atcha. Your prep for me as a guest was the best I've ever experienced. It shows in terms of your ability to question. You're a great interviewer. Thank you so much.

Brendan: My pleasure.

As a rookie leader, I know I made more than my fair share of mistakes. We all make them. And as the saying goes, we learn from our mistakes. Listening to this episode won’t stop you from making mistakes. It’s an important part of your leadership journey. My hope is that this conversation will empower new and aspiring leaders to avoid common mistakes, ultimately maintaining their confidence and unlocking their full potential as confident leaders.

These are my three key takeaways from my conversation with Nina.

My first key takeaway: confident leaders build capability. They understand the importance of building and nurturing the capabilities of their team members. They invest in training, provide opportunities for growth, and encourage their team to take on new challenges. By building capability, they create a strong foundation for their team to succeed and grow together. 

My second key takeaway: confident leaders explore innovation. They understand innovation is crucial to staying ahead in today’s fast-paced world. They encourage their team to contribute, explore new ideas, and take calculated risks. They create an environment that encourages creativity and experimentation, and they’re willing to try new things themselves. By exploring innovation, they keep their team and organization ahead of the curve.

My third key takeaway: confident leaders own their self-development. They take responsibility for their own self-development. They seek feedback, reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses, and actively work to improve themselves. They understand that their own growth and development is critical to the success of their team and organization. By owning their self-development, they lead by example and inspire their team to do the same. 

In summary, my three key takeaways were: confident leaders build capability, confident leaders explore innovation, and confident leaders own their self-development. What was your key takeaway from the episode? You can let me know at thecultureofleadership.com or on YouTube.

Thanks for joining me, and remember: the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation.