allowed podcast transcript header with caneel joyce

Episode #32: You Were Born to Be a Leader - How to Harness Your Organization's Full Potential through Empowerment, Reciprocity and HR with TrueCar CPO John Foster

Caneel Joyce:

Welcome to the show, fearless leaders. I am your host, Caneel Joyce. Today, we are discussing the importance of empowerment and reciprocity as individuals. We also are going to discuss how important these factors are as leaders in any organizational development role. And this may be something like CEO, chief people officer, head of HR. It could also be entry level person who's going to be a leader and help develop those around them. We've talked about that before. You can be an agent of change. It has nothing to do with your title.

 

Now, there are two vantage points here today that are really fun to explore. And one of them is individuals. Individuals as team members and as leaders. The other one, is the organization. And in this case, we're going to think about the team of HR and all of those OD roles that we fit ourselves into when we are taking a position of serving the collective, the organization. Before we begin, I want to remind you that we happen to be in that little window where I am accepting new members in my online group coaching program. It is called Forward Fearless.

 

This is a full self-leadership development program aimed at transforming your experience of being you and helping you to access all of that power, possibility, and opportunity that you know is there for the taking. And you are so close, but you need that extra bit of community and challenge, and accountability, and insight into what may have been keeping you stuck. This is essentially the Allowed classroom, and it's a place where you can connect with other leaders and really go deep. So, this is quite a transformative experience. It's a deep personal coaching experience.

 

It's a small group. You get to know each other very well. And you will really get to see what it's like to apply the principles and practices that we talked about on Allowed in your own leadership and in your own life. You can go check that out. If you're all curious about it, just go check it out. Go to caneel.com/forwardfearless. If you don't know how to spell my name, you can go to allowedpodcast.com. I'm making it as easy as possible for you to find it, allowedpodcast.com.

 

Now, today's guest, John Foster, who will be with us on the show shortly, has also generously offered us a super helpful resource that he is going to give us all for free, which is really a roadmap for your personal development. It is called, Be True, the number one growth mindset for your best self. It's such a helpful tool. There are a handful of important factors in your life that all need to be in sync for you to reach that feeling of full empowerment, and it is possible. And there are tools, and it is not as hard and as mysterious, and far out there as you may think. So, this workbook, Be True, from John Foster, is going to help engage you on the journey to becoming your best self. It is available for free to you, our listeners, right now at allowedpodcast.com.

 

Now, let's get started. As you have gathered, if you've listened to any of the other episodes of Allowed, there is no one-size-fits-all solve for leadership and organizational development. Absolutely, no silver bullet. That's why we are allowed to be us. But I hope that this conversation between John and I will serve as a conversation starter for you that can help you as leaders begin to realign the HR and OD roles in your companies with the personal development of your team.

 

This is a huge topic, actually. And it can be a bit scary to navigate it without a guide. And that is why I invited our incredible guest on today to the show. John Foster is chief people officer at TrueCar. And he has served many of the world's most innovative companies, both internally as a leader and also externally as a consultant. He's also a coach. Now, he has broad experience designing, building and managing internal operations for talent-driven companies.

 

And this includes all aspects of HR. Our talent management, communications, and this is super cool, innovation. In his essence, John is a business designer. And he helps people and organizations perform at their best through that lens of design thinking, which we've mentioned before on the show, that human-centered, I want to understand what it's like to be your way of seeing the world. It's so cool, you guys. This intersection that he plays in is just so incredibly interesting. I'm so excited, John, to welcome you on to the show. I think the last time that I saw you in person was at our conscious leaders' dinner in Santa Monica.

John Foster:

Yeah, it was a great night. It was really fun.

Caneel Joyce:

And it was so cool that you were there. And that led, of course, to you referring a couple of your employees from TrueCar into our program.

John Foster:

Yeah.

Caneel Joyce:

Gosh, I don't know how we found out about each other. But what we did find out is that we share a common past employer.

John Foster:

And a very interesting one at that, yeah.

Caneel Joyce:

A very interesting one, which I'm not at liberty to discuss, I would say.

John Foster:

Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I can see people pawing through LinkedIn right now trying to figure this out, but I don't think you can from mine.

Caneel Joyce:

It's a mystery.

John Foster:

I think we're safe. It's a secret.

Caneel Joyce:

It's a secret. It's always been a secret. So, yeah. This is so cool that just we've been connected, and we have a lot of things in common. So, we were big on organizational culture. We really see the value of the human being, especially the whole human being. We believe in conscious leadership and leading from above the line and/or just knowing where you are. And then, also, we have a design thinking background, right?

John Foster:

Yeah.

Caneel Joyce:

And so, we both approach this from this humancentric innovation creativity-based approach of, if we can get into empathy, we can create solutions that we never would have created from our own mindset.

John Foster:

Yeah, I would add to that. Just the idea of fear and how, if you can feel safe, you can take more risks. So, that's central to good creativity and really good innovation. So, there's a very big overlap there in what design and conscious leadership are about. One of the reasons I initially started following Allowed even beyond the idea that I already knew who you were, and I think what you say is great, was just the way you created that space. And I think I even posted comments at the very beginning that that's a brilliant way to conceive of this work.

 

Because it's almost like you have to have the courage to create space, and it takes a lot of effort and a lot of vision. But then, you have to get out of the way. So, it's this contradiction where you're putting boundaries and edges on things so others can come in. But once you create that space, you then have to get out of the way. And it's this push and pull, and I call it facilitation. You're trying to make it easy for people to grow. But making it easy sometimes requires a prompt or a push. So, it's not always about being nice. It's about creating space. So, I like Allowed a lot.

Caneel Joyce:

Do you know the origin of the word, facilitate?

John Foster:

I was just going to say, I think that facile is easy, right?

Caneel Joyce:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Foster:

So, I don't know where it came from, but that's how I understand the word.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, facilis. I'm probably saying it with an Italian accent, but it's a Latin word. And it does mean, to make it easy, to create ease. Which is like, wow, what a language that has a word that means, to create ease. Oh, I just love that so much.

John Foster:

Yeah, it's a nice thing to be able to chase after because it's like a contradiction if you're working really hard to make it easy. It's like watching someone who's a great athlete or a great musician. They can do their things so well. It looks easy, but you have to work hard to get there.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. So, in your experience, you've also coached in your role and also not in your role. And independently, you've really got this very broad lens on the hard parts about what it really takes to endure the sometimes challenging experience of creating space for others and for failure.

John Foster:

Yeah. I came from the world of adventure learning in my earlier career. Experiential learning and adventure-based activities are these metaphoric or generalized playgrounds where you can go and be yourself. We used to call it, we'd come here today and show up as yourself and you'll learn something.

Caneel Joyce:

Is this like rock climbing outdoor stuff?

John Foster:

We did ropes courses, white water rafting, crazy stunts you do in the wilderness like they do on the show, Survivor. I think I missed the big-time because I was getting paid $100 a day to do these things. And then, they have it on TV, and Mark Burnett's a billionaire. But the idea was, you would have these problems to solve that are fun and they're big, and they're challenging. But then, you cast yourself being yourself.

 

And so, great facilitation in that environment was being able to set up a really great problem. And then, not direct people through it but let them struggle. And a couple of my early training work, I created two tools for facilitators. One was the idea that, at the beginning of an activity, you are in charge of everything because you're the only one that knows what's going on. And they know nothing.

 

And you want to see that on a chart switch so that you go to nothing and they go to everything. The other thing is this idea of a save versus strand continuum. So, you can either save somebody with a helpful tip or something, or you can strand them and let them figure it out. You don't know when you're going to do that until you can check in on the situation.

Caneel Joyce:

Yes. There are so many micro-judgment calls in between those two. And it takes a two-minute, right? And then also, it's constraint-based.

John Foster:

For sure.

Caneel Joyce:

It's so funny, John, that you're talking about this, because... Roy and I bought a Samsung robot vacuum. The robot vacuums, they map out your space. But the only way they can do it is by bumping into walls.

John Foster:

Right.

Caneel Joyce:

So, we got this robot vacuum. And just today, I was coaching my kids through that... because they kept stopping the vacuum. They wanted to pick it up-

John Foster:

They were saving it, yeah.

Caneel Joyce:

They were saving it. They were heroing the vacuum. We talked about heroing. We did a deep dive on heroing behavior, which is below the line leadership behavior. And then, that is exactly what was happening. So, my daughter has a bleeding heart and just totally open, like enneagram type two. And so, she would go and she'd pick up the vacuum. And she'd bring it to the spot where she thought it would be more comfortable. My son is all anxious. He's like a type six right now. And he would save it from going up the stairs. And I'm like, "You guys, we have to give it space to learn."

John Foster:

And imagine if you're doing that with a real human instead of a robot. It's even probably harder, right?

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, because there are real consequences, right? I can imagine it.

John Foster:

Right. It really shows up in parenting too.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. So, the capacity to hold space like that for others to grow, I mean, the idea that you've been able to install that into multiple organizations, that's a phenomenal overwhelming achievement.

John Foster:

Well, I think you give me a little too much credit for actually installing it. I experienced that a couple times in places like IDEO, IDEO is a place that has built that from the ground up, and has created cultural terms and symbols to create space. They have their brainstorming rules up on the wall in every room. And you're taught as a new IDEO person how to behave in a way that's not going to crush other people's ideas with language and process.

 

They have things like the baby bird. If you said somebody to IDEO, "What's the baby bird?" They'd say, "That's a fledgling idea." And so, you want to hold it in your hands very carefully. But you don't want to crush it. So, there's lots of ways to symbolize that creating space. I think when you're a leader in a normal company, because IDEO is far from normal, they're just really good at this.

Caneel Joyce:

And IDEO is, for those listeners who don't know, it's an internationally famous, iconic, really class building, initially product design company that now has gone into every form of design, service design, organizational design, industrial design. It's really a top, top notch in the world of human-centered design thinking. Yeah, go on.

John Foster:

Yeah. And they're often recognized for just being one of the most innovative companies in the world. So, the reason they're able to do that is they can take different perspectives and build them together to create a higher outcome than you could have gotten with the individual point of view. And that's really hard to do. Because most people, if you're below the line, you're going to fight about it. If you're above the line, you're going to say, "Yes." And you're going to create.

 

And so, you need a culture to constantly do that. And I think they figured out how to do that pretty well. You said something earlier about constraints. Time is a very difficult constraint because most of us don't have unlimited time. And sometimes, too much time lets you just behave without any urgency. But not enough time can make you over really aggressive because you start to panic, "Oh, no, we're not going to get this done." So, I guess those are some of the things I would think about when you're saying, "Do this," inside of a company. There's also people that are afraid. So, they're at work, and they're trying to prove themselves and trying to get that person. So, when you talk about empowerment, they might have the freedom to do something, but they're not ready because they're afraid. So, it takes work like this to help them grow.

Caneel Joyce:

What does empowerment mean to you?

John Foster:

Well, I think power, just in its own senses, is the ability to get something done or the capacity to do something. But I think empower means you also have the opportunity. So, someone might have the capacity but not the freedom, or someone might also have the freedom but not the capacity. So, it's both.

Caneel Joyce:

The capacity is their ability?

John Foster:

I'd say it's their ability. It's their wholeness that's got to be they have to have the courage and some of the intangibles too, not just the skills. Some highly skilled people don't get things done because they're not operating at full power.

Caneel Joyce:

Wow. So, this word capacity, that's a word that it literally means, how much can your container hold?

John Foster:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Caneel Joyce:

So, I'm seeing the relationship you're drawing, which is now to encourage.

John Foster:

Human performance is a lot more complicated than skill and knowledge. There's so much more to it, and it's all around the stuff that's on your show.

Caneel Joyce:

As a manager, as a parent, as a team member, do I have the ability to impact other's capacity?

John Foster:

You can impact it. I'm a firm believer in choice. And so, certainly as a teacher, you can teach people certain things. But at some point, they have to choose to do it. And that's the point where they become truly empowered, because they're choosing.

Caneel Joyce:

What might predispose somebody to be ready to choose it, to choose the path of empowerment, to choose the path of growing their capacity?

John Foster:

I think everybody has the potential to do it. I think it's a natural human thing. And when we talk about maturity, I think that's part of it. So, I guess, a piece of it would be emotional intelligence, can I control my emotions? Do I understand them? Do I have the social skills to interact productively? That's part of it. I can be super smart but not great with my social skills. And therefore, derail or blow up, or whatever those things are. I think some of its vision, I have to have the desire and the inspiration, and the passion to see something that's unfinished, and what it could be. So, those are elements. And so, vision, emotional intelligence. And then, there's courage.

 

We used to call it courage and creativity, I guess. And one of the companies where I did this adventure work, we had a model that was very similar to the conscious leadership model. And frankly, it wasn't as elegant and easy. But it was based in the same psychology. We call it, playing to win versus playing not to lose. So, in playing to win, you're being creative and you're above the line. In playing not to lose, you're being defensive and you're below the lines. This is for the same stuff. It's just way easier to position yourself with that binary above or below. It's very hard to say, am I playing to win or playing not to lose?

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. Well, there's a huge body of research on this. That's so interesting. I hadn't connected those dots before. What I'm mapping this onto is being prevention-focused versus being promotion-focused. And my understanding is, me as an individual, I might be predisposed to wanting to prevent things from happening, or I might be predisposed to wanting to help make things happen, promote things. But mostly, this is actually a state of mind that is highly sensitive to the environment.

 

So, the environment will cue you about if you are to be promotion- or prevention-focused. And listeners, this is the coolest experiment. So, try this out right now. If you have access to a table or steering wheel, even your thighs, you can do this. So, take your hands and press down on the table, really, really hard. Okay. Now, press up on the table from underneath. And see how that feels different in your body? John, are you doing it?

John Foster:

Yeah. If I press up hard, I'm going to knock my computer off, so I can't really do it.

Caneel Joyce:

But even the motion, can you feel it?

John Foster:

Yeah, yeah.

Caneel Joyce:

What's the difference? What do you feel?

John Foster:

Well, pushing down is all closed and tight. And pushing up is opening and light.

Caneel Joyce:

Yes. Some of the best top-notch, best research universities in the world, the research they've done on this mindset, the state of mind actually, is they used this as a manipulation to change like, are you in the promotion experiment group? Are you in the prevention experiment group? Pushing away cues that prevention focus. And if you think about it in the wild, this would be pushing something away from you. And it's like, I don't want that. And it keeps us in a whole body and mental, and emotional state versus the simple switch of flipping my hands and pulling up, I mean, I literally feel like a surge of love when I do that.

John Foster:

Well, this is why we like the adventure stuff because it's somatic, and it's your full body. And people discovered feelings and experiences they never did when they were sitting in their classrooms and sitting in their offices. So, in your panic that you're going to fall and die, and your brain saying, "This is stupid." But we can teach you that you're wearing a harness and you're safe, and we can prove it. Then, you have a real choice.

 

And you could say, "I'm going to step out into the open here, jump off this thing into the air, 30 feet above the ground." And we found it really actually had to be 60 before people would really be afraid. So, you want to get to a place now. I'm not talking about bungee jumping. Bungee jumping is actually way more dangerous because you don't know what's going to happen. We knew what was going to happen. There's a lot of science and engineering that goes into these safety systems. And they were redundant. We proved it. We had safety inspections, but you can literally see the difference between choosing to make the choice and not choosing, because it is rationally very clear that this is safe. And so, those kinds of things really help you separate out your body and your emotions, and your brain. And that's really helpful.

Caneel Joyce:

Okay, I'm trying to wrap my head around it. So, you're saying that if I'm 60-feet above the earth and I've gotten on a harness, and you've proven to me that I'm safe because I'm in a carabiner and I'm attached, and I'm going live, if I jump. Gay Hendricks was on the show a couple weeks ago and I talked to him about my weird fear of heights. So, he shares with me. So, you guys on the show, you know this about me. So, you can imagine me being up there and trying to jump. And I can even smell the different smell of sweat that I get when I'm doing something like that.

John Foster:

Yeah, their legs start shaking. They sweat. They chitter and chatter, and scream.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. And it's exhilarating. But you're saying that if I do that, and I'm able to jump, what I've just done is I've chosen to go with my rational brain?

John Foster:

Well, I don't know if I would say it quite like that. You've separated your rational brain from your emotion and your fear. But what you've really done is separate out inside your brain and instinctual fear that's not rational from a choice. And that's the back of your brain and the front of your brain, I don't know you want to go into all that, but It is appropriate for your body to be afraid that you're going to die.

Caneel Joyce:

Limbic versus prefrontal cortex.

John Foster:

It's very appropriate because that's true. It's also appropriate to be able to solve the problem and say, "They've shown me rationally that this is safe." And there is still some risk, but the risk is really tiny. So, how much risk am I willing to take? So, it's about choosing. And by the way, we call it, challenge by choice. It wasn't jump, it was choose. And if someone chose not to go, that was just as good as if they chose to go. And this is the subject of Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air.

 

You have people at the top of Everest choosing after years of training to turn around at the last minute because it's not smart. And everything about them says, "We should keep going." And it's incredibly difficult to overcome that because you've got all these other biases and stuff. So, that's why I like that book. But when you're trying to do something after a major investment, you've got sunk costs. So, there's all sorts of different things we could go with this. But it's an interesting spot just like I like... the reason I thought of that was mostly because of the very simple exercise of the table. You activated your body to help you understand your emotions and your thinking. I think that's great because they belong together as a system.

Caneel Joyce:

They do. This goes back to the piece that feels a little like it's missing from me, and I'm very excited about it, which is, okay. So now, I'm up there. And I've just made the choice. I've chosen to not be on the platform anymore and to be in the air. And somehow, this is going to transform me as a leader.

John Foster:

Rarely of what I discovered. It was really fun. They might get through this discussion and go, "Okay, I get it." And then, nothing would happen. And then, the experience through education where we call that, transfer of learning. You can transfer a simple skill. So now, I know how to tie a knot. Great. What's that going to do for me? I can do a generalized skill and say, "Okay, I recognize my fear. I could use that elsewhere." Or you can have a metaphoric transfer, which is this is going to be from now on, the way I think about difficult choices.

 

I'm going to think about it as that moment where I have to decide, what's the risk? Am I going to jump or not? So, metaphor transfer is probably the most powerful when it comes to difficult choices. But I still found, even knowing all that, it was better for me to change my career and start working with people live in the moment at work than in some ropes course in Utah or something. Because the change of going from that offsite place, we could easily just say, "Oh, that was just there." But when you're at work and you're facing that same type of situation, it's all the same. I don't feel like I can act because I feel risk. I'm all sweaty. My feet are nervous.

 

Whatever it might be, we often get the same intense physical reaction at work, but some people do. But the basic actions are the same. And I decided for me, it was a lot more challenging to try to create that space at work in the office with real-time than it was to do it in these ropes course settings. So, that's how I ended up in HR. And then, if you take the design thinking piece, it takes iterations. And we call it the psychological term is, close approximations of new behavior, and you have to iterate. So, the spiral is such a really interesting symbol. It takes you something like 20 or 30 tries to be able to do it with fluency.

Caneel Joyce:

Close approximations of new behavior. So, I want to do a better handstand in yoga. So, I need to do 20 mediocre handstands where I can't actually balance to get to that one where I can?

John Foster:

Hopefully, they're incrementally better each time, and you're using a model to compare yourself and you're getting feedback. Because if you try to do it by yourself with a video or a picture you saw a while ago, it's really hard to know if that mediocre handstand was actually any different.

Caneel Joyce:

Oh, interesting.

John Foster:

And even better if you're scientific about it, you'd want to measure, how was it different? I think we're just barely scratching the surface with assessment and feedback at work. It's really, really rudimentary right now. But if somebody had decent hypotheses or ideas about how they wanted to be better, and they shared it with all their friends and said, "Hey." So, here's an example I did once." I'm drinking far too much soda. I used to drink soda two or three times a day. In college, I drank pure coke. Somehow, I graduated to diet coke. And I was just still drinking two or three when I was at Hulu. I was like, "This has got to stop. It's free." All I got to do is walk by and drink it.

 

At IDEO, we have the same problem with M&Ms. So, we've got these bowls of M&Ms and everybody ate them. And they're like, "I'm eating a lot of M&Ms." So, we decided we'd put out... we did an experiment there where we put out the M&Ms. So, if we just took them away, everybody would be mad. So, instead, we're going to put out a bowl of fruit. Well, then, we found out people couldn't eat the fruit because it wasn't cut. So, it's still easier to eat the M&Ms. So, we cut the fruit up or we used grapes. And people still picked the M&Ms sometimes. Then, what we did is we put out a sign next to the fruit and grapes that had a handful of M&Ms and a handful of fruit, and showed how many calories were in each one. People started taking the fruit all the time.

Caneel Joyce:

Boom.

John Foster:

So, that was a relatively sophisticated way to change behavior, because there were steps and there were measurements, and it was iterative. Eventually, we put the chocolate in the cupboard. And eventually, we never bought any more chocolate because nobody ate it.

Caneel Joyce:

Wow.

John Foster:

But if we would have started with just putting it in the cupboard, we would have had a lot of resistance. So, imagine applying that to something like diet coke, I couldn't do it myself. So, I had a really great colleague. He was always bringing me diet cokes to our meetings because I always go meeting to meeting, to meeting. And then, she's like, "Oh, I know, you'd want this ASAP." Thank you. And at some point, I had to say, "I don't want to drink diet cokes anymore. Could you help me?" And so, she stopped bringing me diet cokes, which was really helpful. But I had to share that with my friends and colleagues so that they could say if I had a diet coke, "Hey, John, what's up? You still want that or not?" I had to choose it, but they could help me. So, that's the stuff I like to do at work.

Caneel Joyce:

Oh, okay. I love this. I love this so much. So, tying this back to empowerment, I'm guessing this is an example of empowerment?

John Foster:

Well, sure. I mean, in all cases that we've been talking about at some point, you want to allow the person to choose, because that's when they have power. And the problem I have with work in general is we have this massive, I call it the dominant mindset, from the manufacturing and industrial world, where people are actually designed into the system as objects.

 

They're not human. And when you're working for Henry Ford, you are on the manufacturing line. Today, that's being done by machines because they didn't know how to make machines back then. But they wanted you to check your brain at the gate and do what you're supposed to do and never disrupt. So, you became told. That would be the opposite. We could have a dark podcast called Told, instead of Allowed.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, I love it.

John Foster:

And so, most people would go to work and say, "I was tasked with this today." And you're like, "You were tasked, okay." What caused you to be tasked? So, that's where empowerment starts to... to me, that's the edges where you can start to go open that up a little bit. And use some language that's about you wanting to do this and that you chose it. Or that even if you don't want to do it, you still chose it because it's the right thing right now.

 

And build agreements with people around you. Don't be told. And so, that's how empowerment works. So, if it's a job that I'm doing, I interviewed for the job because I wanted to work there. And then, I get there and my boss tells me what to do, and I do it. And I become an employee. So, I like to build things in the culture that are more intentional about that process. We don't want to call people employees because there's a connotation that that's from the industrial model. It's all kinds of cues like you said in the culture that would make me give away my power and feel like I don't have a choice. So, if we can remove some of those, and we also then have to teach everybody to become powerful.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah.

John Foster:

Which is where we get to the fear stuff.

Caneel Joyce:

All right, let's get into it. I would love to get into it through perhaps the side door, the back door, the bottom door of your basement, John. And I want to understand fear. This seems to be so central in your career. To be an adventure requires some interesting grappling of the psyche with fear.

John Foster:

For sure. So, that just gave me chills, sorry.

Caneel Joyce:

Me too. Let's talk about fear. As being a person who is in the world, creating or opening the door, signaling the possibility, I'm not sure how to put it, of others discovering that they had more capacity, more courage than they thought, what's been your relationship with fear?

John Foster:

Wow. It's something I've thought a lot about. So, I can answer that somewhat quickly on a couple of friends, but know that that's not how easy it is to be able to talk about this. So, a couple of things come to mind. One is just the high-level way I understand fear. I've been educated a bit in this process. And we used to have this thing we called, the fatal fears. And I understand fear as something that leads you to believe you're going to die. So, that's what creates the depth I think of some of the ways people behave, is that at some point, they actually think they're going to die.

 

The quick read on it is, "I feel like I'm going to be left out or omitted. And then, I'll be alone. And I won't be able to care for myself, and I'm going to die." So, it's pretty far away. But the front-end of it is something like, "I need to be right or I need to be accepted." So, for me, it's about being accepted. And I can play family psychologist. I think people are formed relatively early in life. My education was in family systems. So, I believe that's part of it. I was the younger of two children. And in my family, I always felt like I was behind. So, I think there's got to be something there. I don't have a conscious memory of saying, "Oh, gosh, I'm going to be left out."

 

But I did feel, growing up, like I was not going to be included. And so, I think a lot of what drives me as an adult is to overcome that and to get to a place where I'm not acting out of fear, but I'm acting out of love. And what that requires me to do is actually become independent and step forward in a way that I'm only now just starting to realize the full power of that. So, if I'm at work and I'm trying to create space, I have a couple friends who know me really well. They know that sometimes I like to play on the periphery instead of being in the center.

 

Because then, I can be smart and have good ideas but not actually put my own courage in and take any risks. And if it doesn't work, I can just separate. At my current job, I learned that if I'm going to be effective, I'm going to have to step up and actually be the change. And you've heard that a million times. But I think I understand it more now that if I don't use myself as an example or as an anchor, it's hard for me to create space for someone else. And it's my responsibility to do that. Though I use my desire to be a good human to overcome the fear of being wrong or left out, and it's a constant battle. I mean, every day, I'm afraid.

Caneel Joyce:

When you're afraid, does that feel different from the fears that you've been referencing earlier in the show? The kinds of fears that might stop you from taking the lead? Because it does actually sound like you're taking into a different leap just given your own psychology.

John Foster:

I think the physical manifestation is very similar. You have a clenched stomach. You feel it in the pit in your stomach, and you feel tense. So, your muscles still react. I think where I go in my head, and I use lots of different techniques like breathing which helps with your core. I have this website I made called, Everyday Presence, which is a bunch of really simple breathing exercises. I'd find myself in the middle of a daily task like folding laundry, presenting it, I have to do this. I'm busy. I'm too good for that. Whatever is in your head about why you shouldn't be doing it.

 

I actually really like physical labor. I love cleaning. I love doing the dishes. And at some point, I was like, "Well, if I love doing the dishes, why am I sitting here annoyed that I'm doing the dishes?" So, how can I turn that into a powerful opportunity to make myself stronger? So, breathing was the way to do that. And it doesn't require meditation. It just requires consciousness of your breathing while you're doing this task. And I find that's really helpful.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, I didn't actually know about your website before, but it's awesome. I checked it out. It's so much fun and it's beautiful. And we'll definitely link to that in the show notes for the listeners who are interested. I think it's packed with very, very valuable actionable things that you can just apply right now, no matter where you are. It's great. Thank you for making that. I want to continue to press on this and go deeper in. Because so many people rely on their chief people officer or their VP of HR as the one who's the guardian of their human experience at work.

 

And not just that, but also the lifeline to their benefits, the wellbeing of their families, the policies that govern the way that they work, the way that they will be evaluated, the way that they may or may not be promoted or exited. And also, the selection of the people who are going to be their teammates, not to mention, the conditions in which they work. That's a lot of expectation to roll up through the ranks to you, I can imagine, not a position I've ever had.

John Foster:

Well, I think when you start with a word like guardian, you're headed below the line with the hero thing. I think there's a lot of HR people out there. And this is no criticism, I'm just saying it's really common. And it's easy to do to become the advocate or the guardian against the man. And I think that's not a real productive way to run a business. And it might have been necessary, and it is necessary, I'm sure, in some cases. So, it's not that it's wrong necessarily, but the way I think of it, is that my job is to create sustainable high performance.

 

And so, the only way to do that is to actually flip it the other way and think about, what are all the things that would be necessary to create sustainable high performance? So, I empathize with humans. I understand them and try to put into place conditions that allow that to happen. So, we're back to that container. I think HR is just where the construction of that container that the business needs to achieve its goals. And so, that's eminently applicable to any business that requires creative human output.

Caneel Joyce:

I think it is a really different way to think about the role. Then, I feel most people think about it. Most "employees" think about it.

John Foster:

Yeah, for sure.

Caneel Joyce:

And I'm not a person with a big corporate background. So, I've never had a big HR organization around me. But I have lots of close friends who have. And things I hear often, it is about this there's a paternalistic relationship with HR of they're going to take care of me. And they're the ones who are supposed to be taking care of me. And yet, I know a lot of people who are in HR, and I realized that from that orientation, there's a lot of tension in what their role is. And can you speak to that a little bit? Is that what you should see in HR?

John Foster:

Well, I think you're heading on the idea of reciprocity now. The reason I came across that term and adopted it was because it's different than dependency and paternalism. And I think organizational structures are hierarchical, and that's not necessarily wrong. But when you're in a hierarchy, you don't have to be paternalistic. You could be treating each other as adults who are making choices and building agreements. So, it's not about shifting to some of these radical concepts like Holacracy or something more organic as a structure. It's about behaviors that are more adult and they're more built on respect and interdependence, and a lot less about you take care of me.

 

Now, that said, there's also a great model around leadership changing depending on the situation that's super famous. And I can't think of the name, but it's situational leadership. The idea there is that someone who is younger or less experienced might require more structure. So, you give them the structure. This is part of the facilitation. It makes it easier for them. But someone who's more mature and more capable, it shouldn't have that structure. That's going to be crushing them or closing them off, so you take away structure.

 

And HR often isn't that nuanced. It's sometimes it's one-size-fits-all policy. And that doesn't work for everyone. So then, you're dealing with statistics and bell curves, which means the middle gets what they need. And the two extremes get nothing. So, we can go on a huge tangent here. This is a really big topic. But fundamentally, it's a different way of thinking about two adults being together. It's equals that are interdependent, not one with more authority taking care of the other one who has to be submissive.

Caneel Joyce:

It's a big change. So, if I were working in an organization and I've got an HR business partner that I'm working with who's there representing my team, representing, and might even fall into that paternalistic mindset, working with my team, partnering with my team, what are some ways that I might better engage with them to really create a stronger partnership that empowers me and empowers them?

John Foster:

This is back to capacity. Again, you have to have a little bit of a vision about what you want. And so, the dance here is, if I'm the business partner and someone comes to me asking for help, you want to start asking questions. So, it's tricky. One of your other podcasts, you're talking about who's below the line and who's causing me to do what. So, it's an interesting dance. If I come to a business partner below the line saying, "I need you to fix this for me." You hope you're going to run into a business partner that says, "Can I ask some questions?" Versus say, "Okay, I'll be with you. I'll fix it." So, I'm not sure who starts that problem, honestly.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, yeah.

John Foster:

If I come to the business partner and I'm above the line, I might encounter a below the line business partner. And that might be frustrating because I'm trying to get advice and they give me control, or they say, "No." They pull a policy move and say, "I'm sorry, that's above your paygrade." That would be annoying. So, how I would work around, that would be very different. So, it really depends on who's on which side there.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. What are some of the most empowering ways that we can invest in our employees?

John Foster:

I think coaching is a really useful thing. That's why we're working together. I have people that are senior that are struggling with their ability to make choices. And it usually comes into maybe they're not quite as aware of where they need to be. So, they need help learning how to locate themselves. I think that's a really helpful thing for employees. There should be a systematic way for people when they come into an organization to get help locating themselves.

 

That would be awesome. And I can say that in the context of your podcast. Try to explain that to a CFO and a bunch of marketing people. It's a lot harder. So, we have to wrap that in programming and lead them there. I think you have to provide visuals. So, I like the idea of maps and navigation. So, instead of telling someone what to do, I can give them a map and say, "Where would you like to be?" So, probably, if I could boil it down, we want to give employees enough one-on-one time and ask them a lot of questions. And then, they're going to probably grow. Those would be some of the levers.

Caneel Joyce:

It sounds so simple. And it points back to, instead of filling my one-on-one meeting with my employee with a bunch of advice and tactical status updates, and project planning, and putting out fires, instead of filling it up with all that content, my job actually as a manager is creating a container full of context.

John Foster:

Yeah, and questions.

Caneel Joyce:

Questions. In which questions are, it's shining a light on more empty space, more unknown, and sitting there and waiting for an answer, when five minutes ago in your last meeting, your manager thought that the sky was falling. That requires a lot of courage.

John Foster:

That can be hard.

Caneel Joyce:

The thing is it's just very, very cyclical and it makes sense that this is work that is so important to do from the inside where you can really hold that whole system and see all the layers and how they're interdependent.

John Foster:

Yeah. I've been able to walk around and see, it helps a lot. I think that's the other thing I think that you have to learn in the world of HR is, you can't do it all. We used to say another one of those clichés is, "I have to do it myself," but I don't. You have to do it alone. You choose to do the work, but you want to be on a team of people because there's no way you can ever do this all by yourself.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah. Well, John, that was so awesome. It's been such a treat to have you here today. And it's been wonderful as well just knowing you to the degree that I do and really being a huge admirer of your work for years to get to work with some of your team in Forward Fearless, and just to get to have a little bit of a connection there with them.

John Foster:

Yeah, it's very nice.

Caneel Joyce:

Is there anything that you'd share as advice? Sometimes, managers reach out about, is that a good choice for them? One thing I really admire about you is you create the space for them to make a choice. And maybe could you speak to that briefly?

John Foster:

Yeah. Well, we started with a framework. And I took 40 people who are more senior people to company through a two-day program that included an introduction to the conscious leadership model. And we did a very high-level introduction to it, so they could be aware of it. And then, I followed that up with some targeted invitations to people who I thought might benefit by exploring further who showed interest in the course. And so, to be able to pair what you do individually or allow them to join, I like that it's done in a group. So, it's not one-on-one coaching. I think it's very difficult to get somewhere. And you're learning with a peer group. I think that's super powerful. So, your format actually works out really well for me.

 

And I think it's also really hard for... so, we toyed with the idea of having you build a peer group of our managers or leaders together in leading that. It very quickly became a boundary issue. Because some of the things that you do in your program, like if you're really going to dig into fear, you're going to share things you maybe didn't want your colleagues to know about at that moment. So, it's a safer place to do it in one of our people with a mix of your people. That setting works really well because they can go deeper and not feel exposed. And I've had a couple of them. In particular, one person who's told me several times, "Oh, my God, this is really stretching me. I'm glad no one else knows." Because it's hard to do. It's hard to break that boundary at work and be that vulnerable and open in one setting, and then go to another setting and feel like you're naked. So, that's a really nice format for me.

Caneel Joyce:

Yeah, yeah. I think it works really well. And then, of course, the next step is bringing it home. So, it's really-

John Foster:

Yeah. And then, bringing them back and having somebody like me help them apply it, and it solves that problem that we had before, because there are real choices happening at work where I know they've been to your course, and I can use the content as part of my facilitation to help them make a tough choice when they're at work. And it's really helpful.

Caneel Joyce:

It's great. And it's great having your partnership there to help facilitate that. Oh, John, what a treat to see you.

John Foster:

You too.

Caneel Joyce:

You have a lot of resources to share. And listeners, John has generously offered to share with you a booklet that he's created that's filled with incredibly useful thoughts, exercises, tools, frameworks. And I think you're going to find it extremely valuable. John, the name of this is?

John Foster:

It's called, Be True. And it's helping yourself align with who you want to be. And so, if you're going to make choices, it's nice to know somewhere that you'd like to be so you can choose to go there.

Caneel Joyce:

And so, often, what keeps us stuck is we don't know where we'd like to be. We just don't know. So, it's a brilliant piece of content. That is really powerful if you apply it. All work, you get what you give, what you put into it. So, I really encourage you to go to caneel.com/podcast. Do it now. I will facilitate this being easy for you by encouraging you to open up your browser and do it now. You can also go to Allowed Podcast. That might be easier, yeah, allowedpodcast.com.

 

And please download it. Make an appointment with yourself. Print it out right now. Open it up in the back. Whatever you need to do to cure yourself, because knowing where you're going to John's point about vision, and actually connecting this back to one of our very earliest episodes on the change formula, which links up nicely, I'll link to that as well. Without vision, there is no change. Thank you so much, John, for being on the show today.

John Foster:

What a pleasure. Thanks, Caneel.

Caneel Joyce:

And listeners, thank you for being here. I'd like to challenge you to keep these overarching themes in mind. As we've listened to a long conversation, it's good to summarize and synthesize, and say, "What do I really want to take away?" Now, you probably have your own particular flavor of takeaways here. And I just want to share with you some as an offering. This is what I'm taking away. One, great leaders are made through empowerment. And great teams are run through reciprocity. Great companies reach and exceed both organizational and team development goals. Oh, that's so important. And in HR and organizational development roles, it is necessary to balance empowerment, reciprocity and overarching company goals. There is a tension and we live in it, and that is allowed. Bringing in leadership coaches and enrolling your team in coaching programs can help leaders to keep the pace of personal growth and best self-development of employees.

 

And to incorporate the corporate bottom line objectives and key results so that the investment that you are making in growth actually acts as fuel for that engine of the organization that you have thoughtfully designed, cared for and held. So, thank you so much, listeners, for being here. I would love to hear what your big takeaways were from this episode. So, please follow me on social. I am at caneel.is on Instagram. You can also find me on Facebook. I am Caneel on Twitter. Pretty easy if you just type in C-A-N-E-E-L. You'll generally find me anywhere on the internet.

 

So, remember, you can go to our website to sign up for Forward Fearless, my online group coaching program that John talked about here on the show. He's a big believer in the program and he's been a big supporter actually as this program has gone on. And he's begun to see these awesome moving results. So, we won't be enrolling again until much later in the year, if not, 2021. So, this really is your shot to get in, and I want you to. And I believe that you are going to overwhelmingly multiply the value of the investment of your time and money in this. So, it's actually the most affordable way that I know to get top top-notch transformative coaching.

 

And doing it in a group setting is truly the most valuable way as John has described here in today's episode. Be sure to sign up before it gets filled up. We do cap enrollment. And I really would like to meet each and every one of you to have a conversation to see, is this the right time for you? Is this the right program for you? And I'm happy to do that. I'm happy to hop on a call. If you're curious about it, please go to caneel.com to sign up. You can also find us at allowedpodcast.com. I will see you guys next week. Have a wonderful week. Take great care of yourselves. Take great care of each other.