Joseph Badarocco: Lead Quietly, Reflect Regularly #35

Warwick Fairfax

September 15, 2020

There never seems to be enough time to finish all your work — let alone think about it, especially when crucibles hit. Harvard Business School professor Joseph Badarocco says that’s because we view reflection all wrong. It doesn’t need to be a mountaintop experience, he writes in his new book, Step Back: How to Bring the Art of Reflection into Your Busy Life. It can be a mosaic pursuit, one you find time for in the margins of your life — while driving, exercising, doing household chores.  He also discusses an earlier book, Leading Quietly, spotlighting the benefits of not always aiming to be the hero in your leadership.

Highlights

  • The limitations of heroic leadership (5:24)
  • Warwick’s failed takeover bid may have been avoided had he eschewed heroic leadership (6:16)
  • Why quiet leadership is better than heroic leadership in the long run (9:13)
  • The value of quiet leadership (9:36)
  • What quiet leadership looks like in the real world (14:35)
  • The challenges of quiet leadership (15:04)
  • The importance of reflection (22:30)
  • What mosaic reflection looks like (24:34)
  • How to do reflection better (28:52)
  • Techniques of mosaic reflection to try (29:41)
  • The benefits of “downshifting” (34:26)
  • What Marcus Aurelius can teach us about reflecting (35:47)
  • The reflection benefits of wisdom literature (39:15)
  • The advantages of creating a “life checklist” (40:14)
  • Why reflection is important in crucible experiences (41:34)
  • Top takeaways from the episode (46:54)

Transcript

Gary S:
Welcome everyone to this episode of Beyond The Crucible. I’m Gary Schneeberger, the co host of the show and the communications director for Crucible Leadership. You have clicked play on. We hope you’ve clicked subscribe to, a podcast that deals in what we call crucible experiences. Those are those moments in life that can sometimes be failures, can sometimes be setbacks. Can be tragedies, traumas that happen to you. Things that you have a hand in maybe bringing about yourself. What they have in common though is that they are painful and they can knock the wind out of your sails.

Gary S:
They can change the trajectory of your life. The reason why we talk about them on Beyond The Crucible is sort of hinted at, well actually spelled out pretty clearly in the title of the podcast. We talk about crucible experiences to help you move beyond those crucible experience. To learn the lessons of them, and to apply those lessons to your life going forward as we like to say in crucible leadership so that you can pursue and grab hold of a life of significance.

Gary S:
With me as always, and actually I’m with him is more appropriate to say because he’s the host of the show and he’s the architect of Crucible Leadership. He is the man who created it all. That is Warwick Fairfax. Warwick, we’ve got an excellent episode. Once again, I’m going to be the dumbest person on this call.

Warwick F:
Not at all. I’m actually looking forward to it. It’s going to be great.

Gary S:
The reason I say that listener is that both the and our guest are graduates of the Harvard Business School. Our guest today is Dr. Joseph Badaracco. Joseph Badaracco is the John Shad professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School. He has taught courses on business, ethics, strategy and management in the school’s MBA and executive programs. Badaracco is a graduate of St. Louis University, Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Business School, where he earned an MBA and a DBA.

Gary S:
He has written several books on leadership, decision making and responsibility. These include Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right. Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guide To Doing The Right Thing. Questions of Character, The Good Struggle and Managing In The Gray. His latest book, right here if you’re watching us on YouTube is Step Back. That was published this month. The subtitle to Step Back is How To Bring The Art Of Reflection Into Your Busy Life.

Gary S:
These books, very interestingly, have been translated into 10 languages which gives you an idea of the wisdom that’s out there and how far spread that wisdom is going. Warwick I know you’re excited about a couple of the books that Joe has written.

Warwick F:
Absolutely. Well, Joe, thank you so much for being here.

Joe B:
Sure. Glad to be here.

Warwick F:
Obviously we have Harvard Business School in common. I was there late 80s. I didn’t realize until I looked at your bio, we also have Oxford in common because I did my undergrad there. I wasn’t a Rhodes scholar. I was… Most Australians when they go they’re graduate students but I guess my dad and few other relatives went there so I went as an undergrad. That was fun too. But yeah, so I love the strands in your book. We’re going to focus particularly on Step Back, the art of reflection which I love to get into because I’m a very hyper reflective person.

Warwick F:
I might be your target market because reflecting is like breathing. I actually had… It’s good to reflect, we actually have to do stuff to which I know you agree with. But Leading Quietly, I also found… Which I want to spend a little bit of time before we get to the main event, Step Back, because I also found that fascinating. But before we get to Leading Quietly then Step Back, tell us just briefly about Joe Badaracco and… Not all the details but what led you to the path that you’re in about leadership? Particular philosophy of leadership. It’s not the big heroes, but it’s incremental. Is there a story behind the themes that are in your books?

Joe B:
Well, first, all of the books do focus on issues of ethics, moral philosophy, very broadly defined and in very practical terms. I’m not a theoretical minded philosopher. As you know Warwick, Harvard Business School aims to train people who were going to take responsibility and do things and get them right. I’ve been at the school for 35 years. I liked the practical focus when I went there as an MBA. I’ve enjoyed that both in the teaching I’ve done and in my writing.

Joe B:
The other thing I guess I’d emphasize is that I tended to look for plausible, but somewhat unusual perspectives on issues that are of importance to a lot of people. Leadership as an example, I think the conventional view that most people have of leadership is heroic leadership. It’s often based on political social leaders. But when you think about what happens in most organizations, most businesses, you rarely find people who are versions of Dr. King, Gandhi, Churchill pick your favorite heroic leader.

Joe B:
The unorthodox perspective I wanted to look at was to see whether there were other kinds of leadership that you might discern if you put the heroic model to the side. I think that’s something I’ve done in a variety and most of the things I’ve written. Now my wife might say, I’ve actually written the same book over and over again. But I have tried to take an unorthodox view and a pragmatic view of questions.

Warwick F:
That’s why I found… That’s a particular obviously theme of Leading Quietly, I found that fascinating because I grew up on the other side. I grew up, as the listeners know, very wealthy background in Australia. 150 year old family media business that had the equivalent of York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, very well respected, thought leaders. But my dad who probably… He wasn’t the greatest businessman, he was a good journalist. He actually loved philosophy and history and religion in a broad sense.

Warwick F:
I have some smattering of understanding, but not nearly the level that you or my dad, but he actually had a heroic view of leadership. I was brought up on the other side of great leaders often back then, because of the times they lived in, great men doing great things, whether it’s Churchill, Roosevelt, or he particularly loved English heroes. Wellington, and Nelson, all of that. I think probably as you dig into them, in Leading Quietly you use the example of Lincoln where he actually did some pragmatic things we don’t often think about. We just tend to think of the Big Hero.

Warwick F:
That was the view of leadership I had. Unfortunately I wished I’d read your book or I wished had been published because that obviously was published in early 2000s. I did my $2.25 billion takeover in 87. 13 years too early or something. It was the classic heroic. I’m not saying you should do this, but it was a classic case study of what not to do and why your books and your philosophy makes so much sense. I helped prove your case not that you need more proof.

Warwick F:
I had this idea of this heroic leader trying to bring back the company to the ideals of the founder. He was a person of great faith and great temperament. Have it be fair. Run well. Did this massive billion dollar takeover and it failed spectacularly as listeners know, too much debt. It caused a lot of family friction. There’s a lot of… You say in one of the articles that was written about the time of the book, We Don’t Need Another Hero. Harvard Business Review article.

Warwick F:
I love this phrase. In a sense, it feels so apropos to me. It talks about quiet leadership being practical, effective and sustainable. This is the line in the article that you wrote. It says, “Quiet leaders prefer to pick their battles and fight them carefully, rather than go down in a blaze of glory for a single dramatic effort.” Well, that was me. I went down in a blaze of glory in a single dramatic effort. If ever there was a case study of why your books matter and why don’t do the opposite, it’s me. When I’m reading your book, I’m like, yeah, this makes sense I’m afraid. He is right. I’m a case study.

Joe B:
Sorry to hear that.

Warwick F:
I’m case study which proves your point in so many ways. There you go. Talk a bit about… Obviously, I do get it but talk about why quiet leadership is really a more sustainable and better approach even for dramatic leadership over the long run. Why is that a better approach than my kind of guns all blazing single heroic effort.

Joe B:
Sure, I’ll answer your question just a brief preface. There’s a lot to be learned from heroic leaders and children should learn about them. You learn about virtues like courage and self sacrifice and commitment to larger goals and ideals. I wasn’t for a moment trying to dismiss or demean that approach to leadership, just to say that, and this is where I’ll answer your question directly. For most people, the world is a complicated, an uncertain place, and they don’t have a lot of power.

Joe B:
A lot of people around them have a lot of power and some are using it well, some are using it badly. Some are using it in crazy ways. It’s in that world where you want to try to make a positive difference without taking too much money out of the bank, because you’ve got other responsibilities to yourself, to your family, you want to make a difference. It’s in that world where moving incrementally, being cautious, planning, compromising occasionally are really valuable characterological traits and ways of behaving.

Joe B:
Ever since I wrote this book, I thought that someone, not me, but somebody else should write a book that looked at heroic leaders working in their quiet moments. One example would be Dr. Martin Luther King. Now he’s renowned for many things, one of which is his I Have a Dream speech. But he might not have given the speech when he did at the end of the march in Washington. He might not even be known for that speech if he hadn’t spent a couple of weeks in endless meetings with various civil rights groups who had very different images about how to organize the march, who should do what, who should say what.

Joe B:
That was a lot of behind the scenes, practical, nitty gritty effort on his part. I think you could write a book like that about a lot of the great leaders we focus on their inspiring moments. But those are usually just moments out of long campaigns of serious daily thoughtful, pragmatic effort.

Warwick F:
I think what you’re saying is so true because as I read the snippet that you wrote about Lincoln, I’m thinking about the arc of his life. Most successful leaders, the dramatic moment is set out by a lot of incremental moments like the Emancipation Proclamation, I think was in 1863. Lincoln spent about a year trying to figure out okay, what’s the right time? It has to be when the North is actually doing well, which in the early part of the war itwasn’t.

Warwick F:
Timing was critical because ultimately, you want to succeed and fewer things in American history more important than the abolition of slavery. You can’t get it wrong. People don’t focus enough on the small incremental acts and building alliances and trying to find the right time and they don’t think that the lead up to the dramatic effort I think is your point. It would be a good book, I think, heroic leadership… I mean, it’s heroic in terms of taking on these challenges, but how they get there is often in small, incremental steps. Is that a summary?

Joe B:
Exactly. There’s one quote in the book. I’m not sure where I got it, but it refers to Navy pilots, so they land jet planes on what apparently look like postage stamps if you’re up in the air in one of these planes and you got to land it on this little patch of metal. The saying is that there are no old bold pilots.

Warwick F:
Right.

Joe B:
It takes a lot of practice and care and attention to detail to pull off that feat, again and again and again. I think that saying says a lot for people who want to make a difference but are realists about how the world works.

Warwick F:
Right. I mean, you’ve talked about nudging and one quote you have, “quiet leadership is a long hard race from an obscure pathways. Not a thrilling spring before a cheering crowd.” I mean, it’s talk about modesty and humility. One of the things I love is just the everyday cases you talk about. There’s many examples. You have a woman who becomes a hospital leader. There’s a guy that becomes a bank manager who’s boss is really on his back to make cuts quickly and he uses every trick in the book.

Warwick F:
Gee, I got to go to HR and legal. Because he needs to buy time to figure out what’s happening. Well that’s very practical. Often we’re told, in the real world of leadership, if you’re in middle management to do things you don’t think makes any degree of sense. But saying outright no is typically not a viable path. So you just try to find ways around it. I mean, that’s… Those case studies were extremely helpful in helping the reader understand. This is what it looks like in the real world of quiet leadership.

Joe B:
All the individuals in the book and I think the individuals out in the real world are all trying to do something that they believe is important, valuable, even critical and it’s for other people. It’s not for themselves. It is a kind of morally responsible leadership. But then, once they’ve decided roughly on what they want to accomplish, how they go about it is often what I described as quiet. The one thing I’d add to, the very good summary you gave is that a challenge of quiet leadership is…

Joe B:
The old saying is virtue is its own reward. Sometimes, you may feel you got where you wanted to go, you blocked something that shouldn’t have been blocked. Maybe you get a little credit for it, maybe you don’t. There are people in organizations who are good at calling attention to themselves and their accomplishments. Sometimes your accomplishments are smaller than the amount of attention they managed to garner for themselves. If you’re operating quietly behind the scenes, you have to really be convinced that what you’re doing is worthwhile. As the little passage you read said, there’s nobody applauding, often there’s nobody watching so you’ve got to believe in it because it can be a tough sort of lonely road.

Warwick F:
Yeah, I mean, rarely will these leaders you talk about which mostly does go down to the history books. But they know… Talk about virtue being its own reward. Well, you have to believe that here. I mean, I love… We’ll switch gears in a minute because I do want to get to Step I love the fact that you talk about character, about restraint, modesty, tenacity. It just feels like at the core of these quiet leaders, is a sort of a modesty of, I don’t know everything. I want to learn from the people around me, below me, above me. I want to gather the facts. I want to try to move carefully, diligently.I mean, it seems like investing political capital wisely, this sense of modesty and restraint seems to be at the core of these quiet leaders. This sort of sense of modest character.Yes and I’d add two practical aspects to that. If you’re in an organization, let’s say you’re younger at whatever point. You want to learn to do better. It’s easy to focus attention on the stars and every organization has them. But I’d also recommend spending some time looking for people who fit the quiet leadership model. You really might have to look carefully because they don’t stand out. But these are people who, after they’ve been in part of an organization for a while things are better, they move to another part, things are better.Observe them and try to see what they do and how they do it. Back. But I love the fact that you talk about character, about restraint, modesty, tenacity. It just feels like at the core of these quiet leaders, is a sort of a modesty of, I don’t know everything. I want to learn from the people around me, below me, above me. I want to gather the facts. I want to try to move carefully, diligently.

Warwick F:
I mean, it seems like investing political capital wisely, this sense of modesty and restraint seems to be at the core of these quiet leaders. This sort of sense of modest character.

Joe B:
Yes and I’d add two practical aspects to that. If you’re in an organization, let’s say you’re younger at whatever point. You want to learn to do better. It’s easy to focus attention on the stars and every organization has them. But I’d also recommend spending some time looking for people who fit the quiet leadership model. You really might have to look carefully because they don’t stand out. But these are people who, after they’ve been in part of an organization for a while things are better, they move to another part, things are better.

Joe B:
Observe them and try to see what they do and how they do it. Similarly, if you’re promoting hiring, giving bonuses, if you got stars, they’ve made their quota all the rest, okay, give them their rewards, but make sure you’re not overlooking people who in quiet ways, persistent ways are really dedicated to making the organization a better place and give them their reward. Often give them a pat on the back too, because as I said a moment ago, this can be a somewhat lonely path.

Warwick F:
Absolutely, I think last thought here before we shift is, I think of Jim Collins book, Good to Great, which obviously I know you’re very well aware of. I can see some commonalities with that thinking in here, because he talks about level five leaders being driven, but yet humble. When they’re asked, “What’s the key to success?” Well, it’s not really me it’s my team. I just sit here, I don’t really do a whole lot.” I mean, I don’t think they just try to pretend to be humble, they are. I find it very comforting when the data seem to show that quiet leaders are the ones in the long run that produce the greatest returns.

Warwick F:
I mean, I’m sure when that came out after your book, you felt like gosh this… I want to say validate, it kind of does but there’s some cross thinking if you will that’s aligned with what you propose.

Joe B:
Yes. For sure. In fact, I think one thing that Jim Collins used to do was he had a list of 10 or 15 CEOs or former CEOs who had produced spectacular returns over a long period of time. He put up the list and he asked people in an executive program, could anybody identify these people? They had trouble.

Warwick F:
These are CEOs typically of large companies.

Joe B:
Exactly but they were not the high visibility sort of mediagenic types.

Warwick F:
Exactly.

Gary S:
We’re about to pivot to Step Back. There’s one more point. I think there’s some connective tissue between Leading Quietly and Step Back in that article that Warwick referred to a little while ago from 2001 that he wished he could have gone back in time like in Back to the Future and read before the takeover. You said something, Joe, in that article that I really think fits into the crucible leadership context and what we’re going to talk about next.

Gary S:
This is a line from that 2001 article, We Don’t Need Another Hero. “Since many big problems can only be resolved by a long series of small efforts. Quiet leadership, despite its seemingly slow pace often turns out to be the quickest way to make the corporation and the world a better place.” What I love about that in a crucible leadership context is two things, one, it says many big problems can only be resolved. The idea of a crucible is a big problem in someone’s life. It is a heart stopping moment.

Gary S:
To come back from your crucible, there is going to be a series of small decisions, small learnings, small applications you have to do. Then the back end of that quote about making the corporation and the world a better place. Everything that Crucible Leadership’s about, everything Warwick is about, is guiding people toward leading a life of significance. That’s defined by Crucible Leadership as a life on purpose that that makes the world a better place. I just think it’s fascinating that that idea of leading quietly can be such a critical part. Needs to be such a critical part about how we learn from our crucibles and bounce back. Is that fair Warwick?

Warwick F:
Yeah, I mean, one of the things we talked about in Crucible Leadership, it’s leading at all levels. From a large CEO of a for profit or executive director of a nonprofit, or a community leader that maybe want to reclaim their park and make it safe for local neighborhood kids. It’s leading at all levels. There’s most leaders you’ve never heard of but it’s the character and combined with the drive of a vision that’s larger than themselves. It’s focused on others that’s really the leaders we love to focus on.

Warwick F:
Let me shift gears here because your most recent book, I also found really fascinating this whole concept of Step Back and reflection. As listeners probably would know, I’m a very reflective person by nature. I’d almost say hyper reflective. I mean, I do actually get things done, but I find reflecting just my natural mode. I’m always thinking. I’m probably not exactly the target market because I have no trouble finding time to reflect. I just do it like breathing. If I’m in the shower, if I’m walking, if I’m going upstairs. I mean, I’m always reflecting on something.

Warwick F:
But most people are not like me. It’s probably fortunate. Talk about this book, I find it fascinating because your average business organizational leader is going a million miles an hour as you point out technology just gets ever more complex and quicker every day. Few people have time to go to a monastery for a month or someplace. Mountain top in Tibet. I mean, that’s just not something that people do or even want to do. Talk about why you wrote Step Back and the whole art of reflection. What prompted you to write this book?

Joe B:
Well, I can’t point to a particular catalyst. However, probably like you and like a lot of my colleagues, and a lot of people listening, we advise other people to reflect if somebody is talking to us about a difficult issue. We feel we should reflect and typically feel we should be doing more of it than we do. But no one who gives us advice to reflect typically says what reflection is, how to do it, how to find time to do it.

Joe B:
I simply wanted to see what reflection meant for people who really were busy and couldn’t, as you said go up to the mountain for a month or something like that. The first part of the research was simply exploratory. I started interviewing people who were on the HBS campus, in most cases for our executive programs. Come to my office for an hour. The interesting thing is that they would, in many cases, come in and sort of apologize.

Joe B:
They’d say, “Look, I’m sorry, I just don’t think I’m the right person because I don’t really do much reflecting.” We would talk a little bit and I would say, “Well, what do you think reflection is and are there any times you do a little bit of it?” We kept the conversation going for a while. Then what I did with the early interviews was I arranged to meet them again for another interview about two weeks later. In the middle, I sent them an email and I said, “Did you do anything the last hour or so that looked like reflecting?”

Joe B:
What they found was that while they didn’t go off for an hour every morning and reflect on a biblical passage and then write in a journal, they were reflecting at lots of different brief points over the course of a day or a week. In some ways, Warwick, a little bit like your description of yourself. Taking a walk, in the elevator, taking a shower.

Joe B:
I continued the interviews, I felt I was finding something interesting. I ultimately, after interviewing about 100 people said, it’s time to write something down. What the book does is contrast what I call mosaic reflection with classic reflection. Classic reflection is you got a lot of time, it’s deliberate. You find a place that’s tranquil, you talk about the big issues, you think about the big issues in life. Mosaic is you do it when you can, you do it fairly often. It’s brief and the book is essentially advice on how to do mosaic reflection well.

Joe B:
How to find time to do it by looking, for example, at how these very busy people found time to do it. Then using the time well. I base that on readings of classics about reflection. The classics really define what reflection is. The interviews with these busy people showed me a lot of different ways to find time to do it. That’s how the thing ultimately came together. To answer your original question Warwick, when I started out, if the first 10 people said, “I have no idea what it is and I never do it.” That would have been the end of the project. There was this interesting thread and I kept pulling on it and found more and more.

Warwick F:
Yeah, that’s true. Even for me who is about a reflective a person as exists, I think a lot of things I’m poor at, rightly are wrong and it’s why I have to reflect, but when I think about it, I think your concept of mosaic reflection, not only is it more effective, or more efficient, I think it’s also more effective. Because I’ll often… I’ll be thinking about something. What I typically do is I’ll reflect like you talk about in the book, I’ll talk about it to relevant people.

Warwick F:
If it’s on my team, hey, we’re thinking about this new direction? I’m not sure. What are your thoughts? I’m both an external processor and an internal. I have to have both. What I find is, I talk to people, gather information. I mean, it’s right out of your book without even… Hadn’t realized it until I read your book. Then I process, then I reflect. Gathering the information, allows me to reflect better and then I move and I act, and new evidence and new data and new experiences happen, then I reflect again. If I was on a mountain reflecting for a month, I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it feels less effective then ask, act, investigate, examine, reflect. It just feels a more effective way to get deeper. It sounds counterintuitive. Does that makes sense?

Joe B:
It makes a lot of sense, not just to me, but to a number of the people I interviewed who said that they are making these decisions, lots of little ones, occasional big ones. They know people are observing them, drawing inferences from what they do, what they don’t do. They need to stop frequently, if only briefly and try to calibrate and see if they can get that right. These brief moments of stepping back are of valid and cumulatively quite important form of reflection.

Joe B:
There’s also by the way, I interviewed a few people who said they tried to go to the mountain approach. Just sitting for half an hour, meditate just drove them crazy. They couldn’t do it.

Warwick F:
It’s funny you say that because even me, I had no desire to go to a mountaintop or a monastery and sit there reflect forever. I’m very reflective, but it’s like, it drives me nuts. Maybe I’m not patient enough but some people do do that. Good for them but I don’t know how you do it.

Joe B:
I think people in my experience, and in the interviews, they’re just different. One of the pieces of advice right at the beginning is if you want to do a better job of reflection, over a couple days or a week, observe yourself and just notice the times when without making an effort. You sort of step back, you pause, you think things over a little bit. For some people it’s driving in the car. Exercise, taking a shower, conversation with the right person. In the book, had their own mosaic pattern of when and how they reflected and they were different. You really have to observe yourself and see what works for you.

Warwick F:
Talk about some of the methods because you have particular methods in here like piggyback reflection, having the right conversation, downshift, metal meandering. Talk about this practically so that the listeners understand. Talk about some of the techniques. Some might fit but some may not. What are some of the techniques that you suggest?

Joe B:
Well, there was a vast variety, but there were some patterns. As I mentioned a moment ago, a surprising number of people reflected while they were driving. This was slow traffic, bumper to bumper, but they had ways of dictating thoughts. Some of them assign themselves questions before they got in the car, turn the radio off. One guy kept a notepad. This wasn’t just seeing what comes to your mind while you’re driving. This was somewhat systematic.

Joe B:
For some people while they exercised. In a couple cases, they would say I’ve got something I want to think through. I’ll just sort of run for 10 minutes, clear my mind, and then I’ll try to come back to it, see what occurs to me. See if I can make any progress. A surprising number of people, if you view reflection as a solitary activity, and that really is the classic model, said there’s somebody in my life or somebody at work and when I’m with this person, there’s just a different climate in the room of some mutual understanding, trust, and I can talk aloud, make some progress.

Joe B:
Those were some of the mainstream approaches. People also in many different instances would write but that conjures up writing in a journal every morning or every evening. It’s not the case. Some people took notes on a computer file. Some people every couple of weeks if they came across a good quotation would write that in the book. Others did keep journals. One woman who is an engineer by training, she said, when I’ve got a hard problem I actually get out a spreadsheet. I just sort of organize my thoughts on spreadsheet.

Joe B:
One guy had a big sizable whiteboard in his office, difficult problem, he would just doodle. He tried to draw pictures. You’ve got to sort of figure out what works for you. One CEO of a big company, everybody listening would recognize it said that when he had a hard problem and just wasn’t getting anywhere, he would close the door to his office and put on some of his favorite broad way show tunes. He mentioned a couple of them. He said he listens to them. This was just blasting his head to clear out every thing that was in there for a while, to see if he’d come back to it fresh.

Joe B:
There was just an amazing range of… Some people was time in a hot tub every couple days, but they found their own pattern. Then you got to spend the time well. That’s the other thing I emphasize in the book. But first, you got to find the time that works for you.

Warwick F:
I mean, that’s true. I mean, I probably have done most of those things being a reflective person. For me, sometimes I’ll come… We might be going… This happened just yesterday, potentially going in a slightly different direction and what we do at Crucible Leadership. We’re having a meeting and something was troubling me that I couldn’t really identify it at the time, but I knew okay I need to get in touch with this rather than just say yes and plow ahead.

Warwick F:
Anytime you feel troubled or disconcerted to me that’s a yellow light that says you need to reflect in some fashion, pick your favorite tool, but don’t ignore that slightly troubled spirit. I chatted to a couple folks on my team and one of the things… Not only do I reflect internally, but by talking to somebody else, sometimes if it’s about something with my kids or family, I’ll talk to my wife and I’ll say, “Hey, I feel troubled, angry, fearful. I have no idea why. Help me figure it out.”

Warwick F:
We’ll dialogue and by dialogue, she knows me and so she… How about this? How about that, and by the time we’re done, 90% of the time I’ve figured it out. Once I know what it is then I can figure out what to do about it. But certainly for me, conversations, with the relevant people, I find very, very helpful to figure out okay, why am I troubled? Does that make sense?

Joe B:
It makes an immense amount of sense. I didn’t focus on the way our brains work in the book. I read a few things in passing. But our unconscious minds do an immense amount of information processing. It’s not just like applying algorithms to data. There’s all sorts of stuff going on involving feelings, thoughts, images and all the rest. Sometimes there is something trying to get out. One of the three classic approaches to reflection used to be called contemplation.

Joe B:
That’s the old word for it. I called it downshifting. But it basically says take a break from your to do list from just checking off task after task and see what’s either coming up inside you or maybe something going on around you that you’re not really paying attention to. See what’s there. If you find something, stay with it a little bit. But you’ve got to slow down. The book starts with a quotation I really like. It was from a guy who founded and continues to run a very successful private equity firm.

Joe B:
He says that he tells the presidents, typically young presidents typically at the small companies he’s invested in. He’ll be on the board and he’ll meet with them from time to time. But he tells them early on that, “Look, if I ever come into your office and I find you with your feet up on the desk looking out the window, I’m going to double your salary.”

Warwick F:
That’s great.

Joe B:
What he said is he doesn’t want them putting out fire after fire after fire, which is the entrepreneur’s life. He wants them just to take… Just take a little break. Feet up, look out the window. Let your mind slow down a little bit. See what comes up.

Warwick F:
One of the things I really love and hear, as you talk about some of the classic philosophers and thinkers and you talk quite a lot about Marcus Aurelius, who was a Roman Emperor. I think I looked it up somewhere like 160 to 180 AD. What I find interesting and listeners may not have heard of Marcus Aurelius, but I’m sure as you know, many will have seen the movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe.

Joe B:
That’s right.

Warwick F:
Which Marcus Aurelius I think is played by Richard Harris is featured, at least in the movie he made a… Well at least his son became Emperor and not a particularly good one. At least in the movie. He was not his choice but… You write a lot about, even those who may have heard of him and his book Meditations. As you pointed out, he was an active commander, if you will, in this 13 year war against the German tribes which I don’t think at the end of the day succeeded.

Warwick F:
It was a pretty tough one. It was one of the few ones that the Roman Empire didn’t quite conquer. He was in there in the thick of battle every day and yet he was just very contemplative and talking about living completely conscious and lucid life and give meaning to your entire life. Later on you have a longer quote. I found that example of Marcus Aurelius fascinating because you don’t tend to think of moral philosophers, if you will, being people of action, which he was.

Joe B:
Absolutely and I recommend to everyone listening to get a copy of Meditations. It’s provided wisdom and guidance for countless people everywhere in all positions, including some very important leaders. As you indicated, Warwick, he was running the Roman Emperor Empire. He was in northern Italy or what subsequently became Germany. There was plotting against him back in Rome. He was fighting a war. He managed to snatch a little bit of time, every few evenings and write just a few lines, which miraculously have been preserved.

Joe B:
This is an example of mosaic reflection, every few nights, just a few lines, not systematic. He was trying to put down what he thought mattered or what was really on his mind at the time. Coincidentally, there was a plague, an epidemic raging during this time. Aurelius may have even died of it. Historians disagree about that. But that’s another way in which there’s this uncanning relevance of what he wrote reflecting if you’re really busy today.

Warwick F:
There’s another aspect of contemplation I think about and this will apply differently to different folks. But faith to me is important. There are times which I’ve done a journal, and not recently, but you write about this in the book about some people of faith do almost what they feel like God telling them. Others may think of it more broadly, and I’ve certainly had that experience.

Warwick F:
But I do my daily devotional thing. I’m not always consciously thinking about something that I… Some problem I’m grappling with, but as I said to myself, and what you could call more broadly wisdom literature, even though my purpose isn’t to accomplish a particular reflective objective. Somehow, I’ll just feel like this still small voice you could call it from God, from the universe, from your inner self, however your frame of reference is, but that’s happened on numerous occasions.

Warwick F:
Applying it more broadly, whatever your way of getting centered in, maybe it’s reflecting some other faith tradition, yoga. Whatever you feel like really centers you, that is so valuable. Because you’re not doing it for a purpose other than it calms you down and it centers you. Does that make sense? I find out of left field is like, I wasn’t even thinking about this. I wasn’t reflecting about it. Where did that thought come from? I mean, it’s just wild.

Joe B:
Well it makes complete sense. It’s consistent with a lot of what I heard in the interviews. What’s important though, for people who are really busy, and a lot of people are even busier now as we deal with this pandemic and homeschooling or whatever is going to happen next month. Is making the time and finding the time, even the short fragments of time. One woman I interviewed had a really good approach to this. She created like most of us do, a to do list every day.

Joe B:
But part of her to do list was a little bit of time for reflection in a way that she thought was valuable. The end of the day or the middle of the afternoon when she was checking things off her list, that was something she wanted to check off. My reaction to that was, well that’s interesting, that’s sort of moving beyond the to do list to a to live list. Being systematic, people are busy, easily there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of pressures. But to try to make sure every day if possible, you do something that broadens you a little bit or centers you a little bit like you were describing.

Gary S:
To pick up on that point. It’s a good time because we have… I believe I can see… I can hear the captain turning on the fasten seatbelt sign. We’re going to have to land the plane here in a little bit. But the very end of your book Joe, the very end of your book gets to the point of why all of this is so important. For listeners, here at Crucible Leadership, it’s why it’s so important. Why reflection is so important for you as you’re going through your crucible experience. This is the last three sentences in, Step Back.

Gary S:
“Without reflecting, we drift our shape and direct… I mean, others shape and direct us. With reflection, we can understand and even bend the trajectories of our lives.” One of the things that fascinates me about that is I never hear the word trajectory in my day to day existence. I just don’t. I’m not sure I did it on this episode which is funny, but in almost every episode of this podcast, I talk about crucibles as changing the trajectory of your lives. Here you’re saying, with reflection, we can understand and even bend the trajectories of our lives. It seems to me that in moments of hardship and pain and failure, reflection can be even more valuable. Is that true? Is that fair?

Joe B:
I’m sure it’s true. Only in a handful of the interviews did I hear people really talking explicitly about crucible moments. I think in many cases, they were referring to them, but they weren’t really comfortable being explicit about them. But those are points when reflection is absolutely critical. The only caution I would give is, you’ve got to make sure that you’re reflecting and not ruminating. By ruminating, I mean, going around in the same issues, not really making any progress. You have to have a sense that you’re making some progress. Not every day, not every time, but seeing things more clearly, getting a sense of things you want to do differently.

Joe B:
If not, then I think you need to find some ways to break that cycle of rumination because that isn’t reflection. And if anything, it can be a diversion from the kind of reflecting you need to do.

Warwick F:
I think you make a very good point Joe. I mean, one of the things is when you’re in the middle of the pit, maybe you’ve either lost a business, health crisis, lost a loved one, been fired, there’s all sorts of different crucibles, you’re often not emotionally centered. You’re not necessarily as rational as you would like to be when you’re your best self because unfortunately we’re all human. You don’t want to make major life decisions when emotionally you’re not at your best.

Warwick F:
By all means, reflect but just take time. Try to get yourself centered and then other time because as you advocate reflection it’s not like a one and done thing. Don’t make major decisions when you’re in the midst of a pit. That’s important. One of the things I love about that quote, about reflection can alter the trajectory of your life is that I think of a book. Was actually a faith based book called Mission Drift.

Warwick F:
It’s really referring to the drift of Ivy League colleges from the original founding mission. Forgetting the premise of the book for a moment because some will think that’s good or bad. Looking at it more broadly, no organization should drift. No individual should drift from its purpose by accident. If you want to drift fine, but make sure you’re doing it consciously, not unconsciously. That, to me is where reflection is important.

Warwick F:
Yesterday, I just had this sense of, okay, this direction sounds logical, the shift, but there was a yellow light saying this could be mission drift. If we’re going to drift, let me make sure that I’m not just being stubborn, which I certainly can be. I’m not open to new ideas which I can also be that person, but that’s why reflection is important because you might find over the course of 10 years as CEO somewhere, that you’ve shifted into a direction that had nothing to do with where you wanted to go. You just made a bunch of small decisions. That I feel is one area where reflection is absolutely critical. You want to make sure you stay on task and on vision because so often, you don’t if have those reflections as you walk every day. Does that makes sense?

Joe B:
It makes sense. It also I think, brings us back full circle to quiet leadership. Because that is a long road. It’s a lot of small steps. You’re buffeted by pressures, you got to make adjustments along the way. You do need to step back occasionally if you’re trying to get things done in a quiet way and make sure you’re still focused on the right objective. That you don’t need to modify the objective. That you’re going… You’re on a path you want to be. If it’s a long path with a lot of uncertainty, this, by the way, was why the private equity guy tells the presidents of the companies he wants to see them, occasionally with their feet up on the desk looking out the window because their businesses can drift in wrong direction, and they may need to pivot and you do things differently. That’s absolutely critical.

Warwick F:
Yeah.

Gary S:
I have been in the communications business long enough to know that when one of the people you’re talking to says and now we’ve come full circle, this is probably a good time to land the plane. Listener, we’re going to wrap up this episode of Beyond The Crucible, and I’m going to do what I do at the end of every episode, and that is to pull what I think are three good takeaways from the conversation between Dr. Badaracco and Warwick.

Gary S:
One would be from the book Leading Quietly but also leading into Step Back and that is don’t fall in love with action and adrenaline. It’s the quiet moments that provide the fuel to great insight and understanding that can lead and fuel great leadership, especially in the crisis of a crucible experience. Quiet reflective leadership is character driven leadership. That’s take away one I think.

Gary S:
Take away two is that when it comes to the question we’ve raised here in this discussion that Joe uses in the book, aim for good enough. Find what works for you. Embrace mosaic reflection. Find the time when you can do it and then do it often. Maybe you can’t get away on a mountaintop retreat but you can put your feet up on your desk and ponder the issues raised by your crucible experience and raised by your general experience in business.

Gary S:
Then the third point, I think, Both Warwick and Joe hit on this and their conversation back and forth is that reflection is an exercise in continual refinement. Reflect to gather information, assimilate that information, and then reflect on that information that you’ve assimilated. It’s almost like a sculpture when you think about it. The more you refine the clay, the more your vision takes place and the thing that you’re trying to bring to life comes into focus.

Gary S:
We hope listener that you’ve enjoyed and that you’ve gleaned some helpful tips from our conversation with Dr. Joseph Badaracco today. We thank you for tuning in. Warwick and I would ask you to do a favor for us. If you see on the podcast where you can click subscribe, please do. You can also leave a review for us on the app where you listen. Again those things help the podcast reach more people and that’s what Warwick’s heart is to reach the widest audience of people. Cast the biggest net to reach the widest audience of people to help them along the path to a life of significance.

Gary S:
Until we’re together next time, thank you listener for spending your time with us today. We hope that we’ve given you some stuff here in our conversation that you can reflect on as you go through your own journey in navigating your crucible experience. Remember, in that crucible experience in that crucible moment, it is painful, it can change the trajectory of your life and it can feel like it’s the end of your story in some sense.

Gary S:
Here’s the good news. Warwick’s proof of it. Guests we’ve had on the show have been proof of it. You’re going to be proof of it. A crucible experience is not the end of your story. It can in fact be the beginning of a new chapter in your story that can lead to the most rewarding book of your life because that story, that book, that journey leads to something extremely special and that is a life of significance.

Leave a Comment