It Didn’t Happen To You, It Happened For You: James Kelley #90

Warwick Fairfax

November 2, 2021

How could viewing your crucible not as something that happened to you, but something that happened for you, change the way you chart a course for moving beyond it? This week you’ll hear from James Kelley, author of THE CRUCIBLE’S GIFT, who discusses with Warwick how setbacks and failures can be a catalyst to increase self-awareness, live with greater integrity and develop deeper compassion – for others, yes, but also for ourselves.

To learn more about James Kelley, visit https://www.qchange.com/

Highlights

  • How a crucible can be a gift … and how THE CRUCIBLE’S GIDFT came to be (3:12)
  • James’ crucible that led him to study crucibles (6:26)
  • The standoff with his dad that built his resolve (8:39)
  • How his crucibles have served him well in life (11:18)
  • James’ challenges in his early 20s after his dad died (13:04)
  • His strategy in writing his book (22:37)
  • The importance of having a growth mindset (26:17)
  • James’ definition of a crucible (29:12)
  • Other keys to being an authentic leader (44:45)
  • The biggest lesson James wants people to get out of his book (52:27)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

James K:

Be open to the possibility of what if there’s a different narrative you could tell yourself. What if there’s a different question you could be asking yourself? What if the crucible that has held you back is untethered and is actually that opportunity?

Gary S:

What if indeed? How could viewing your crucible, not as something that happened to you, but something that happened for you change the way you chart a course from leaving beyond? Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show.

Gary S:

This week, you’ll hear from James Kelley, author of The Crucible’s Gift, who discusses with Warwick how setbacks and failures can be a catalyst to increase self-awareness, live with greater integrity, and develop deeper compassion for others, yes, but also critically for ourselves.

Warwick F:

Well, James, it’s wonderful to be with you and thanks so much for being on the podcast. We got in touch, I don’t know if it was a few weeks ago. It wasn’t that long. And it’s just amazing. I love the title of your book, The Crucible’s Gift, and mine is Crucible Leadership. It’s okay. Yours was first like 2018 or something. And so it’s like, “Hey, what’s going on here?” And you actually spent some time in Western Australia, which we’ll get to in a moment, but obviously my book is sort of anchored in my story and my crucible on the 150 year old family media business, but I love the title-

Gary S:

In Australia.

Warwick F:

Yes, indeed.

Gary S:

The 150 year old family media business in Australia-

Warwick F:

Absolutely. And so, I love the title of your book, The Crucible’s Gift, and we’ll get to that in a moment because I’ve been thinking about that. Just recently we had a harnessing resilience series on our podcast and the word gift has come up. And so, I’ve really been… Because Gary asked me, I don’t know, a few weeks, few months ago, “Do you see what you went through as a gift?” And I was like, “Ah, not really,” but I’ve been changing my mind just recently. Talk about continuous learning, but before we get into the themes of your book, tell us a bit about the origin story, the backstory of The Crucible’s Gift and how you came to write it, a bit about you growing up. You probably had a few crucibles, but the love of this book came out of somewhere, right? The desire to write this. Talk about sort of the origin story.

James K:

I just want to first start by saying thank you to both of you guys for having me on today. And secondly, since my book came first with the word crucibles, I am requesting royalty fees on your book as you sell them, just to be clear.

Warwick F:

There you go. That’s so good.

James K:

The origin story of the book is never the book itself, it’s the path leading to it, right. And hence your book. And so I found for myself that I’d always wanted to be better at leading, right, but I had a bunch of baggage and I was really curious about how individuals or leaders that I interviewed, how they perceived their baggage and what they did with it and how did they unpack it and how did they refold it back in the luggage and keep moving forward? And so for me, it was really an interesting exercise of accepting what was, what is, and the possibilities of what could be.

James K:

And so, I went on this journey. I had a podcast for three years and that’s where all of these interviews came from. It was a podcast. And it was always about not what you do, but really who you are in your journey. And that’s where I think it comes from. At the end of the day, just to say it succinctly, the origin of the book was me trying to unpack why I felt like I was failing as a leader and how can I embrace my own crucibles as a springboard to the future?

Warwick F:

And where did that come from? That sense of, “Gosh. I’m failing as a leader.” So, talk a bit about maybe some of the crucibles you had or what led you to that kind of viewpoint of yourself, if you will.

James K:

I mean, clearly, it’s lack of self-esteem. We can start with that part. Yeah, I just think I didn’t have the best modeling as a child, right. And so that’s your framework of a house is that as your parents. And so, the framework wasn’t great. I often tongue in cheek say I grew up in an Irish-Catholic household with a touch of violence, all the guilt, and no Catholicism, right. And it wasn’t overtly violent. It wasn’t the worst house ever, but it was cold. My mom’s Scottish-Canadian, which just in itself of an old-school Catholic is innately a bit cold. My dad, he was a product of a World War II vet who was at Pearl Harbor. So, there’s just a series of things that I think culminate together that left me not feeling great about myself over time. And then self-talk, obviously, is a huge part of that negative self-talk.

Warwick F:

That is interesting since you had that experience. And so, what were some of the other beats of your crucible stories that had moved on from that kind of family?

James K:

Yeah. The other thing that came up later in life is that I had a learning disability. So, I think when all you know is you’re bad at something or you’re not good at something, or you can’t succeed at something, those seeds are planted quite young. And reflecting on my parents… And I always say this to my mom. My dad passed away when I was 20. We can talk about that. That definitely was a crucible. They did the best that they could with what they knew. So, I don’t hold any resentment towards them, but I’m still a product of that environment. I mean, there’s a really vivid story.

James K:

My dad, by all accounts, was a good human being with… But he’s flawed, he’s human. And I vividly remember this. The orange shag carpet with the wood paneling walls at our house growing up, very ’70s chic, which would probably be really in style now anyways, but I remember my older brother who was 16 at the time. My mom was married previously and my dad married and adopted these two kids, which was great. Part of the adoption was that their biological father wanted nothing to do with them and my dad agreed… And the guy was wealthy, but my dad was willing to take that on because my mom and he loved the kids. So, my oldest brother, John, just has a series of problems. Still does at 53 years old. A lot of problems, but I remember him and my dad were getting into it, yelling, and I vividly remember my dad pushing my brother down. My dad was a very intimidating individual. He grew up in the farms in Colorado, baling hay the old way with the hooks. So, he had Popeye forearms like just this big strong man.

James K:

My brother, John, is in puberty. At 16, he could bench press 225 like 15, 20 times; squat 500 pounds. Really big, but 5’8″, right. So big and strong. And I remember them getting in a fight and my dad pushed him into a chair. His fist was cocked back. My other brother who was 14 or 15, who is 6’2″, 200 pounds, was holding him back. I’m in the corner cowering down. My mom is screaming. And so, those events didn’t happen every week, but boy, they happened enough to make you afraid of male authority, to make you afraid of standing up, but I will say in that moment, the ability to say to yourself, “Boy, this is chaos. Boy, this is really, really unhealthy.” I got that at 9, 10. There’s some other stuff that happened in there as well, but the other story I remember vividly, and this kind of speaks to my resilience, I think, as a human being.

James K:

At 13, and I don’t remember the whole instance of what happened leading up to it. I’m sure I did something by the way. I was 13, but I remember my dad backed me into the sink and he poked my chest two or three times and I said “If you ever effing touched me…” And we never swore in the house.

Warwick F:

Sure, sure.

James K:

The kids never swore, but I said, “If you effing touch me again, I’m leaving.” And he slapped me and I walked out the door, and I hear my mom screaming, “Craig, go get him.” And I run up the street and I run around the corner and he gets into his car and he’s like, “Get in the car,” and I’m yelling, “Are you going to hit me again?” And what was fascinating is that shame that I put on my dad because the neighbors heard it. He never touched me again except for one other time when I was 18, but I totally deserved it. And I knew I deserved it when he hit me. Slapped me, I guess is probably a better way to say it because I said something derogatory to my mom, and I deserved it when I said it. But I mean, it was interesting that in that moment I had the strength to stand up to a man that was hugely scary to me as a child. So, that was another crucible moment of saying, “Okay, I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Warwick F:

You had some challenging circumstances in your family, brother, dad, but… We say and I’m sure you say, I know you say, when you’re faced with a crucible, you have a choice. And I love the fact that one of the people on there said something about… I forget who it was. Choice to wallow or not. I mean, I swear I used that word wallow all the time. It’s the weirdest thing.

Gary S:

Every week.

Warwick F:

Yeah. And hide under the covers and let the next 30, 40, 50 years go by until it’s all over or to say, “Gosh, this is awful, but I’m going to go in different direction.” You chose a different path. You mentioned just getting through school, college, PhD. It wasn’t easy. There are some people that it’s like studying is just easy. 4.0s, it’s like breathing. I mean, I’m blessed. I did undergrad degree at Oxford and Harvard Business School and all. Well, I had to study.

Warwick F:

I remember there was this English guy that… Drinking age is 18 in the UK. So, drinking himself silly most of the day and he would get perfect grades and he never studied, but he was just a genius. Well, that wasn’t me. Seeming it wasn’t you. I find that all fascinating that your path to writing this book, your path to getting a PhD, none of it was easy, but yet how did that serve you that life wasn’t easy, even in your chosen path of academia in a sense?

James K:

Yeah. There’s something deep inside me and it’s probably as unhealthy as it is. The PhD is a great example. I wanted to prove people wrong who thought that I wasn’t smart, and I thought by getting three additional letters behind my name would prove those people wrong. Lo and behold, they didn’t prove a damn thing. They didn’t really care. And so, I gave weight to a bunch of people that really didn’t matter. And you’re laughing because I feel like maybe you can relate to that a little bit.

Warwick F:

Right. I mean, I have an Oxford degree and a Harvard MBA, but did that help me when the company went under? No, I thought I was a moron. It actually made it worse. How could a Harvard MBA make such massively stupid decisions?

James K:

Yeah.

Warwick F:

And we’re talking… I graduated in, I don’t know, May/June ’87. I launched the takeover in late August ’87. Wasn’t like, “Oh, it’s 20 years. Just probably forgotten his classes.” Well, no. We’re talking a couple months. I mean, golly. So, yes. No, I can relate it. Didn’t make me feel any… It made me feel worse actually having the credentials.

James K:

Yeah. Well, I can imagine that situation. I’ve met enough Harvard MBAs where there’s sometimes… I won’t say generally speaking. I’m going to say generally speaking, not always, there’s a bit of arrogance from it, right. And guys from Harvard, I know it. And then to walk out and basically make a big mistake, it has to hurt your ego a bit.

Warwick F:

It does. It gives you a bit of humility. And you spent some time in Western Australia. Did you get your PhD there or was that… I forget-

James K:

University of Western Australia.

Warwick F:

Right. And that was a remarkable experience.

Gary S:

There’s something you told me, James, when we talked beforehand and I thought was really fascinating. There was a couple things. You were talking about what you went through as a young man in your teens and your 20s. And you mentioned just now about your resilience, but as Warwick said, we just finished a series on resilience. And one of the things that two of our guests said who have researched resilience scientifically is that it’s not just about digging down deep inside yourself. True resilience is also, yes, you find some power, some strength within, but you also reach without. You reach for the resources around you. You told me something about in your 20s. I want to find the exact quote where you said that guys in their 20s, empathy isn’t part of their skillset. So, as you were trying to find your resilience, it was hard for you, wasn’t it? To find it kind of in your peer group because us guys in our 20s aren’t always prepared to provide that kind of support to our friends.

James K:

Yeah. My dad died when I was 20. I was in university. He died relatively quick within six months. He had a congestive heart failure. He didn’t make the cut to get a heart transplant, then he did, and then he passed away. So, it was quite sudden. My parents had moved from… I grew up in Portland. They moved to Chicago and I went to college. My dad had just taken a job, a transfer with this company down at Atlanta. So, he dies that summer. I go back to school and not many men in their 20s has dealt with their parent dying.

Gary S:

Right.

James K:

So, there was just this gap of empathy and understanding and connecting. I was a captain of the water polo team. I lived with five guys, six guys, and it just was this void of understanding, and unfortunately or fortunately, I kind of always think things happen for a reason. I really delved into drinking for about three to five years as a way to cope. One of my perceived skills… I say a skill for evil, if you will, I was really good at the college wooing, if you will. And so, I would find my self worth in getting girls to like me and then we would hook up or whatever, but my worth was tied up into getting that chase because I didn’t feel valued or wanted. And that’s where my value came from. And unfortunately I hurt a lot of people in that phase in my life.

James K:

And so, that lack of empathy and connection and understanding was really hard. Fast forward a few years and my mom’s calling me saying, “I want to commit suicide.” And I’m like, “I can’t deal with this. I’m barely keeping it together myself.” And my response to my mom probably wasn’t the nicest, but I was like, “Hey, you’re going to do it, do it or go get help, but I can’t help you right now.” I was like, “I’m not someone who’s in a position to take care of his mom in her mid-50s. I’m trying to sort my own self out in my early 20s.”

James K:

And so, the drinking really culminated in… I don’t even know the year, but I was 24 or 25 when I got a DUI driving home. I remember the story really vividly. I was out on the other side of town. My mom lived in Vancouver, Washington at this time. She had moved back from Atlanta back to where we grew up. And so, she was in Vancouver and I was in downtown Portland driving back and I had gone out after work, and I was coming home and I was really close to my house, probably a quarter mile. And in my head I was Mario Andretti or in today’s parlance, you probably could say like… Oh my gosh. The Formula 1 driver that wins everything.

Warwick F:

Lewis Hamilton.

James K:

Yes, Lewis Hamilton. I’m trying to modernize the story a little bit. At the time, I thought I was Mario Andretti and there was this little S-turn by my house and I was going probably 70 in a 35. And the police officer whips around. I see him. And I thought in my head, “If I can get home before he gets to me and I get in the house, he’ll never know I was there.”

Gary S:

Sanctuary.

James K:

Yeah. That’s what I was thinking. I was like, “I can make it.” And so, I get there… This is such a funny story. So, I get there, the lights come on, my mom is in a very residential. Leave it to beaver neighborhood. Lights come on, I’m in the car. My mom had just started dating this guy, and he comes out in his t-shirt and tighty-whities “What’s going on here?” And I was like, “Oh my goodness.” So, I ended up going to jail for the night, get out. And the police officer was super nice. He was like, “I’m really sorry to do this.” I’m like, “Nope, I broke the law. It’s my fault.” I was really accountable to the moment.

James K:

So, the consequences to this; I am leading to the consequence of this is that I had to go to an outpatient program for two years. And so, the first six months was four nights a week, three hours a night, super intensive. Then it was six months, once a week for three hours, and then it was a therapist for the next year. And I think at the time… Kind of going to your point, Gary. I think at the time I really had a choice on how I was going to approach that. I think most 24 year olds would have been real bitter and resentful. I chose to say this is an opportunity. And this is that to and for statement, right. It happened for me, it happened to me. And I really said this was a for-me moment and really dove into that as an opportunity to really start to peel back the layers of the onions of myself and try to understand, what am I trying to do? And why am I acting this way? And what’s wrong with me? And all of those things that you kind of have in your early 20s that still kind of follow you in your 40s. And now if you’re in your 50s, sometimes that follows you as you go.

James K:

Gary, to answer your question in this long-winded way, I figured out at some point in my life, for whatever reason, that you have to look inside you, but you also have to accept things for what they are and what they are not. And there’s a nice serenity prayer, right. You have the wisdom to know the difference is what I always hold on to of what you can and can’t control. And so, there’s things when I can control it and it’s wrong, I’m accountable. When I can’t, I have to let it go. And I think that’s kind of where I sit with a lot of my life and choices and outcomes is if it’s bad, it happened for me. If it is good, it’s happened for me.

James K:

But I think when you move from “I’m a victim” to a victor, there’s a huge change in shift mentally in your mind that happens. And I think quite often… And I’m guessing, Warwick, this was you for quite a while is you were a victim of your own circumstances and whatever. And so, it happened to me. And I just think psychologically that’s really tough to manage over a long period of time.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Wow. I mean, thanks for sharing that. I mean, I started thinking if this book, Crucible’s Gift, was a movie and they talk about the flashback, the origin, you’ve obviously had a number of crucibles, would that be like… If you had to do two minute origin flashback, would that be the scene going on these back roads near, I think, Vancouver, Washington and the DUI, would that be… If you had to pick one crucible story that said, “Okay, this is where I made a choice. I’m not going to cry and complain about this. I’m going to move in a positive direction.”

James K:

That is such a hard question for me because I could go back to… My earliest crucible was being exposed to pornography at nine years old, 10 years old. That has a direct long-term impact.

Warwick F:

Yeah.

James K:

Right. I think that if I was to say the moment of where I realized I had probably more control of how I responded was with my dad at 13. I think that that was a point of saying, “Oh, my strength made a difference in his response.” Okay. On some deep level, but yeah. But I mean Warwick, you would probably agree that yes, your big crucible was that event, but then you got married. That’s a different type of… That’s a healthy crucible, right? And then you have kids. That’s a healthy crucible, but they’re all chaotic and you feel out of control, but they’re all in good.

Warwick F:

Yeah, yeah. No. I mean, it’s so well said. And I want to turn here to your book, but just by way of illustration. Yes, you could say the biggest crucible for me was launching the takeover in 1987, but as listeners would know there was an earlier crucible in 11 years before in 1976, where some other family members threw my dad off as chairman of the family company. They had enough shares that they could get together and throw him off. I was 15 at the time. I mean, I loved my dad and I was just devastated. I mean, how could they do this to him? And we talk about it. They feel like there should be a shift, but don’t just throw him off. And then it’s like, “Well, since he’s off.” At that moment, I was in my parents’ eyes, the heir apparent. It was crushing for me emotionally, loving my dad, but then it was like, “Uh-oh, it’s now me.” Not yet, but it will be. The reality of what I was headed to in my future crucible, though I didn’t quite know what would happen, came then. So, yes. It was a foreshadowing of later crucibles.

Warwick F:

So, one of the things I’m fascinated by… I mean, everything you’ve done, I’m fascinated by, but you chose an interesting path to writing this book, The Crucible’s Gift. You decide, “Well, let me interview a bunch of people,” which… That people do do that when they write books, but you did it through a podcast Executive After Hours. And I loved the term you used because from what I understand, it’s like, “Well, I don’t want to just know who they are 9:00 to 5:00, but who are they really at home with their family? I mean, who is the real man or woman leader?

Warwick F:

And then I sense you had an idea for the book, but the exact nature of it changed partway through. So, talk a bit about just what made you decide to write this book at all and use this interesting mode of a podcast as a research method? How did this whole thing start? This passion for crucibles?

James K:

So, it did shift. I think I was going to try to write a traditional leadership book of some sort. That was my interest, but what I realized is as I was interviewing these leaders and the tagline of the podcast was, “I care about who you are, not what you do because who you are defines what you do.” And as I was doing the podcast, I was more interested and curious at dissecting their problems than their job. I didn’t really care about like, “Oh, what makes you a great leader?” That wasn’t interesting to me because I think as you’ve noted, a person’s story is way more interesting than being a CEO or being a bank clerk, whatever their choice of living is, which is totally fine. The exciting part is always their story. Like, “How did you get there?”

James K:

And my favorite part of the podcast was always listening to the story and then get to the end and do a wrap up of saying, “So, I saw when you were 12, this happened, and it seems like you’re reflecting that at 37. Is this the case of what I’m hearing and seeing?” They’d be like, “Yes, I never thought of that.” And that to me was kind of like my juice. I was like, “Yes, I’m listening well. I’m connecting the dots and they’re getting someplace new and different.” Not to take a page out of Dax Shepard, but I really felt like an Armchair Expert in psychology while I was doing this. And so for me, it was really fun. And so, the notion of writing about people’s crucibles spun the idea of, “What made them be better at whatever they were doing? How do those crucibles help?” And that’s where kind of that framework of the model came up was diving into literature, reading a bunch of books and kind of layering that with stories that kind of supported what I found.

Warwick F:

Did you almost feel like maybe forensic accountant isn’t the right word, but maybe Sherlock Holmes, but somehow you were trying to understand, okay, these folks are great leaders in the holistic sense of the word. Not just the numbers, but as human beings, how they treat people. Self-aware, compassion. All things you have in your model. Where did that come from? And you start digging in their background and their story. And it felt like you had story after story where you found… Maybe it was an example or maybe it was reaction to what happened and said, “Look, I’m not going to do that.” There was one case. I forget. Maybe a set of twins and one went and the other went the other. I mean, you had-

James K:

Yeah, yeah. Bridgette Mayer and her sisters.

Warwick F:

You hear that a lot in families, right. My brother and sister went one way, but I chose to go a different. I can’t tell you how many times. I’m sure we both heard that, but that’s fascinating. I mean, that must’ve been fascinating just as you dug into the sort of Sherlock Holmes. But where do all this come from?

James K:

Yeah, I love that framing though because that’s what I felt like. And I also think you touched on something else that was really interesting. I wasn’t defining leaders by numbers and by size of paycheck. I was defining them by human beings, right. So, really that framework I came up with, though it’s couched in the terms of authentic leader, it’s really about just being an authentic human. And for me, they blur together. The model was developed in a sense that every good leadership book should have a model. That’s kind of what I was being told, but it made sense to me and really the core of that whole entire book is the growth mindset. That really is everything. Without it, you’re stagnant. Without it, you don’t embrace. You don’t use it happened for me. You say it happened to me. Without a growth mindset and open to the possibilities of what could be, if you think about something differently and ask different questions.

James K:

And I found that those leaders that made the book, that made the cut, were really asking the questions of why did this happen? What is the learning? How can I use this? And so as I wrote the book, I had a clear sense of lens of what I think a good human being would look like based on… And it’s super subjective. You can add 25 other features of this thing by all means, but from my perspective, that was kind of the path or spiral to authenticity, if you will.

Warwick F:

Yeah, I love that concept. I know you talk later… I think it’s in chapter six. Learning about Carol Dweck and the whole growth mindset, which I think is partly what you’re talking about. You say growth mindset is when a person basically continues to want to learn and design mastery likes feedback and a fixed mindset, performance, and they certainly don’t like feedback. I mean, there is this choice that people make to learn from what they went through. I mean, one of the things we talk about is… For me, I had to go… Why did I end up this way? And I had to learn, “Gosh, I’m not a Rupert Murdoch take-no-prisoners chief executive. I’m a reflective advisor.” So it was a terrible fit. I wasn’t living my own vision. I wasn’t even living my dad’s vision. I was living a vision five generations, 150 years before John Fairfax was an entrepreneur. Those entrepreneurial genes kind of faded over the generations. It became extinct really. We were more like philosophy professors, not entrepreneurs. It died.

Warwick F:

I mean, there was so many lessons. It’s just I was living somebody else’s vision. I wasn’t living in light of my design, but I could have said, “Oh woe is me,” but I basically brought a lot of trouble on myself like, “Okay, this is awful.” But eventually, “Now what I’m going to do?” I was 30 years old. I mean, what am I going to do now? So, yeah. You have to make a choice.

Warwick F:

So, let’s just start with crucible because I love your definition there, and I think the guy wrote the foreword. He puts it this way. “James Kelley defines a crucible as a significant moment, positive or negative impact, which forces a leader to become introspective, assess their strengths and weaknesses, leading them to become more self-aware.” So, I feel like one of the core theses or thesis, if you will, about a crucible is, there’s an opportunity to become self-aware. So, talk about that because that feels like that is one of the core premises of your book, which I completely agree with.

James K:

Yeah. But this dovetails on really what I said before. To be self-aware, you’ve got to be open-minded. You’ve got to have a growth mindset. So, that’s why… Not that the audience can see it, but there’s three rings in my model. The middle ring is the crucible and the next ring out is really half and half of growth mindset versus self-awareness. And there are different types of self-awareness. There’s a self-awareness of, “That’s not my fault,” which isn’t really self-awareness. It’s other awareness. And then there’s self-awareness of “What is the learning that can happen in this?”

James K:

If I was to put my philosophy hat on, if you will, as I still have the entrepreneurial genes, but I’d love to be more of a philosopher, that the reality is of self-awareness is that it’s the scariest thing because you might find something you don’t like, but you also can quickly find something that you love. And I think it’s knowing the difference is really important and embracing both. If your aim is perfection, you’re going to be miserable your whole life because nothing’s perfect. If your aim is just to be a better version of you, accepting what you’re not great at, but work on being better at it, that’s a much better way to live. It’s much more tolerant and way kinder to yourself. When I talk about compassion in the book, I talk about self-compassion. it’s probably one of the most important things. And I struggled at it. I am my own worst critic. I’m hardest on myself.

Gary S:

So is Warwick. That’s why he’s laughing. So is Warwick.

James K:

Yeah.

Gary S:

He is own worst critic.

Warwick F:

Amen.

James K:

Yeah. I mean, it’s unhealthy, but it is what it is. And so, I think the goal in life is to be more self-compassionate as you get older, but it’s not easy.

Gary S:

And Warwick, before we leave the subject of how crucible is defined in James’s book, I looked up how crucible is defined by you in your book, Crucible Leadership: Embrace Your Trials to Lead a Life of Significance, which came out on October 19th. And here’s how it’s described in your book and listen. Some of the same words is fascinating. This is what you wrote, Warwick. “Moments that bring us to a critical crossroads in our lives and provide invaluable opportunities to reflect, reassess, and redefine our purpose and vision in life and leadership.” That’s your definition of a crucible and it’s… I mean, you guys are both onto something that is not just your opinion, but it’s based on lived reality that so many people have been through.

Warwick F:

No, it’s so true.

James K:

And just to add to that. One of the things… And Warwick, you’re probably the poster child for this, by the way. One of the things that I think is most fascinating is that not everyone embraced their crucible in the moment. It might be 10 years, it might be 20 years.

Warwick F:

Right.

James K:

And so, it’s never in the moment. In the moment, it’s terror, it’s freak, it’s scary, it’s this, it’s that, but as time and distance goes from that, it’s the ability to look back and ask that question that’s really important and pertinent. And that’s the thing I think that you’ve done over time that I’ve done over time. And that’s what I found in the book. The person who wrote the forward, Joe Burton, he was a high flying executive by 40 years old, but he was broken. He was broken as a man, broken as a body. He was broken. And he had to go back and look through his childhood to figure out why he was how he was and uncover that crucible to redirect his life, but it took him 10, 15, 20 years to get to that point.

Warwick F:

Oh, it’s so true. I mean, for a lot of the ’90s, I wasn’t so much blaming other people. I mean, yes, there was instability in the family for decades and I could point to all that, but for me it was just like, “How could I’ve been so dumb? How could I’ve been so dumb? And how could I think that doing a $2 billion takeover that the rest of my other family members would want to stay in a privatized company run by a 26 year old?” I mean, come on. Harvard MBA. I mean, Harvard MBA. I mean, how could I’ve been so dumb? So, that was a lot of it.

James K:

Was that ego?

Warwick F:

No, for me, it was more youthful naivety and idealism. It was feeling like the company is not being run along the ideals of the founder who was a person of great faith. I was too. So, not so much Jesus lives on the front pages, but more just in terms of how people are treated in the company and the quality of the newspaper, but it was just the sense of, as my parents’ belief too. The vision has strayed from the founder. I wanted to see the company be well managed or better managed. So, it was more youthful, naivety, idealism with a bit of a crusader mentality. It wasn’t about money or power or… It’s like, “Yeah, I’ll still work in the marketing planning department whilst you guys keep your titles.”

Warwick F:

It was all very naive, but it was idealistic. The intentions, I think, were good, but it was a lot of bad things can happen with good intentions, but yeah. I mean, to your point about bouncing back just the self-awareness, I know for me and from my faith perspective, sort of anchored in my Christian faith, it’s had to go from “I screwed up God’s plan” because I felt like, “Oh, God had this plan to restore the company to the ideals of the founder.” Poor theology. If he wanted it to happen, it would have despite my mistakes and stupidity, but really the core of me reclaiming my self-esteem and self-awareness is God loves me and I believe every human on the planet unconditionally. Not because of what we do, just because we’re human. As humans, we have innate worth and beyond Christianity, I think most major religions, philosophies believe in the worth of a human being.

Gary S:

I want to jump in just for a second because Warwick says this all the time, James, and I never get this opportunity to have someone who understands this stuff as well as Warwick does. And you’ve interviewed all of these people. You’ve written this book about how people process their crucibles, how they move past them, move beyond them. And one of the things Warwick says that I’m always a little sad to hear him say, not that he’s being authentic and he’s acknowledging mistakes, but he often says I was stupid. And that always strikes me as perhaps not the emotional wisest place to be. It’s great to be authentic and Warwick is one of the most authentic people I know, but that’s self degradation, if you will. I don’t know. In your experience and who you’ve talked to for our listeners, not just for Warwick, but for our listeners, is that helpful or are there better ways to go about that perhaps?

James K:

No, I think you should be harder on yourself, Warwick. I think you should be harder on yourself. I feel like that’s a loaded question, Gary. Of course, it’s not helpful, but it goes back to that idea of acceptance, right? You said something, Gary, that was really interesting. And I know you weren’t trying to be flippant with the words like they move on from crucibles, whatever. To me, you don’t move on, you accept them. And I know it’s a small difference in language, but it really matters in this because you can never leave them behind. That’s a scar on your back, right.

Warwick F:

Absolutely.

James K:

And Gary, you have your scars and you shared a little bit of your story with me when we did a pre-interview. We all have scars and it’s the ownership of them. That’s the brilliance. That’s the best part because that ownership is the experience that allows you to be a better version of yourself.

Warwick F:

Absolutely.

James K:

And so, I never want to minimize my crucibles. I mean, geez, I’ve lived on four continents and I’ve dragged my kids to two different continents in the last five years. Their crucibles are equally their scars on their back. Good or bad as it might be. And so, I think they’re essential. I think, again, the point I keep going back to and I think is so relevant, and it drives the self-awareness is the ability to accept them for the goodness in them, not the badness in them. You hear of stories of women and men who’ve been abused or raped or whatever, and those that say, “Hey, you know what? That was a blessing because of X. I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t great. I would never want it on anybody else, but it made me a better version of myself because of Y.”

James K:

And those people, I love so much because they have every right to hate and detest and be negative, but they choose not to. And for me… You can see that gets me really fired up. For me, it’s so important for our world to stop hanging on to what’s wrong, right? We just hang on to all the crap and all the disagreements and all, and it’s just not helpful for anybody. And I’m going to step down off my soap box and we can…

Warwick F:

No, no, no. No, I think what you said is just so profound. I want listeners to reflect on this because one of the things you talk about is just this growth in gratitude. And part of that obviously is acceptance. And then seeing some blessings that have come through that. I mean, we’ve interviewed maybe 70 plus guests of every kind of background, gender, race, from a Navy SEAL that was paralyzed in a training accident, to victims of abuse, business failure, every kind of crucible you can imagine. And the journey back is always the same and very much in line with what you write is acceptance, but somehow finding meaning in it, finding purpose. I mean, we had a woman on a few weeks ago and we have a few Australians. Funnily enough, I don’t know why we have so many Australians on the podcast.

Gary S:

Yeah. There’s been five Australians and one person from Wisconsin where I’m from.

Warwick F:

Yeah.

James K:

Yeah.

Warwick F:

Yeah. I don’t know why that happens, but anyway, she was paralyzed and was diagnosed as a quadriplegic at age 13 in a diving accident in an above ground pool. Parents kept saying… Her name is Stacey Copas. “Stacey, stop doing that. Stop doing that.” You know what kids when they’re 13, they’re not going to listen to listen to their parents. Well, this had lifelong consequences. So, obviously, she went through years of, “Oh my gosh. What did I do?” And had some substance issues, which she talks about, which understandable, but she now says that what she went through was a gift.

Warwick F:

And you’ve obviously heard this before, but this is stunning. How could a diagnosis of a quadriplegic be a gift? But so many of them, they see blessings in what they went through. It’s only recently that I’m thinking maybe what I went through was a blessing or a gift because, I don’t know, a few weeks, few months ago, I said it can be useful, but a gift, but…

Gary S:

That’s exactly what you said because I put it in a press release and you’re like, “I don’t think it was a gift.”

Warwick F:

Yeah. So, finally, I’m trying to grow and learn myself, but for me really the turning point just by way of analogy was 2008. And again, listeners would have heard this, but 2008 at my church, the pastor… It was like a 2000 plus evangelical church. The pastor was giving a message on the life of David. Saul was trying to kill him because he was doing a good job. This day and age if your boss doesn’t like what you’re doing because you’re showing them up, they typically don’t kill you, but they did back then.

James K:

I’m glad we’ve modernized our employment situations.

Warwick F:

It’s like, “Oh, I’m fired? I can take being fired. Just don’t kill me.” But anyways, he’s feeling bad about himself. So, he wanted a sermon illustration of a righteous person falsely persecuted. Well that’s not me. I made a lot of my own mistakes, but the point of the story is I shared my story in about seven to 10 minutes of growing up in Australia in a big family media business, and nobody had ever heard of, but obviously Australia’s a long way away. But weeks and months after, people came up to me and said, “Warwick, what you shared was so helpful.” Well, how many former media moguls are out there in the audience? None? It’s one thing to say you’re a cancer survivor or abusive survivor or-

James K:

There is one. I mean, there is one in the audience.

Warwick F:

Yeah. Me.

James K:

Yeah.

Warwick F:

Sadly some crucibles so many people have gone through. Point of the whole story is if by sharing my story and writing my book, which was unbelievably painful, it took years to write because imagine writing about in exhaustive detail about your worst experiences, which you’ve done some of. So, you get it, but if my pain can help others, now that motivated me. I talk about. There’s some healing in being able to use your pain to help others. Yeah, all that’s to say is, as you can see a blessing and a gift in what you’ve been through, that was part of my journey back. I mean, I’m assuming that’s your experience with the people that you’ve interviewed and just the benefit of seeing what you’ve been through is having…

James K:

Can I comment on something you said that was really interesting?

Warwick F:

Yeah.

James K:

This epic failure… Let’s be clear. It was an epic failure.

Warwick F:

Sure.

James K:

Right. Crucible. You’re talking 10… How many years later before… 2008 from that.

Warwick F:

Yeah.

James K:

Was it 20 years, 10 years-

Warwick F:

Well, it was 1990 that the company went under. So, I don’t know whatever that is. 18 years later on.

James K:

So, almost 20 years, right.

Warwick F:

Yeah, yeah.

James K:

So, what that says to me though is that you never had acceptance, right?

Warwick F:

Maybe.

James K:

If it’s still painful for you to talk about it eight, 20 years later and write about it, then there’s that level of acceptance of it is what it is and to move on, right? So, for me, as we kind of open the show, my acceptance of my failures happened pretty quick. I may blame myself for them, but I accept it like it is what it is. And so, for me, that’s a great sign that if you’re now shifting from… Kind of it happened to me too. It’s a gift that happened for me. It’s unpacking and unraveling that package and pulling out those gifts and showing them, which is what it sounds like you were starting to do now.

Warwick F:

Yeah.

James K:

That’s my point about… Time doesn’t care about your crucible. It’s you have to make the decision of how you’re going to open that gift or not.

Warwick F:

And I feel like acceptance doesn’t for most people… Certainly, for me, it didn’t happen overnight. It was a growth process. Step by step. I mean, there was a time in the ’90s when I got invitation to Oxford reunions and Harvard Business School reunions. I wouldn’t go. I was too embarrassed. I’d feel like I’d be like a leper. Unclean, leave the town. And I eventually went to one and it was okay because there are other Harvard MBAs have actually had business failures. Who knew? But maybe not quite so epic, but…

James K:

Yeah.

Warwick F:

Yeah. So, I’m just trying to… I mean, there’s so much in this. Obviously we talked a bit about crucibles, self-awareness. You talk about the public versus the private self, which I get. The public persona, but round out some of these other things you have because you’ve got integrity, compassion, relatableness, great word, learning, which you’ve talked about. What are some of the other parts of the model that really are the keys to being an authentic leader?

James K:

Yeah. So, to unpack that a little bit, the compassion to me is really important. And initially the book started with empathy as the main core idea, but I kind of said, compassion means you want to remove that person’s pain. You want to really try to figure how you can help them. And in doing compassion, that’s a level of selflessness. And in selflessness, there’s actually joy and giving is joy. And so, I kind of wanted to make that leap to say, “If you really want to be a better version of yourself, give yourself to someone else in a way that’s helpful for them.”

James K:

When we speak about relatableness and integrity, I think integrity goes without saying, but I’m really narrow on integrity and this is probably a reflection on my life. The biggest thing I saw and I see in business and I see in interactions is, follow through with the request you made or the promise you have. Too often people give themselves outs. “Yeah, I’ll email you later.” And then they don’t. And it’s those little tiny micro things that actually have a huge weight on how people perceive you. I hate the phrase, “Hey, let’s meet up for a drink.” “Hey, let’s go get coffee,” but you don’t really mean it. You’re not going to really do it. Then why say it? And then it becomes this parlance of it’s totally acceptable that you’re never going to see that person again, but you’re going to say these things because it’s the polite thing to say. And I think there’s just other ways to go about not falsifying the intent, if you will.

James K:

So, for me, integrity is really the micro things that are the most important. I think macro, yes we can agree. Killing is bad. Yes. I think that’s pretty clear. So, there’s the macro levels of integrity, but the relatableness one for me is really the most important one. As a PhD in consumer psychology, a lot of this was based on research that was backed up by interviews. And what I found was the value in relationships far out exceed anything else, and I use a phrase in the book called micro-moments of meaning. And for me, it’s such a critical piece of who I am, and I’m not always great at it, but the premise of micro-moments of meaning is that when you engage in a conversation one-on-one, two on one, when you leave that conversation leaving the other people smiling or laughing, there’s a neurological impact that happens on their brain. And the research suggests that when you leave a conversation with two people and they’re smiling or laughing, they’re more likely to replicate that with the next person they talk to.

James K:

And so, it becomes this spider web of positivity that you can embed in someone by creating that micro-moment of meaning. It may not mean a lot for you, but it could mean a lot for them. And that kind of goes back to the compassion side of being of service of others. That’s my Jesuit background. Being of service of others. And so, the relatableness is about creating those micro-moments of meaning that have a long-term impact because that’s also the last way they remember you, right? So, that smile, that’s their last memory. That’s their most immediate interaction with you. So, that means that that’s how they’re going to frame you in their mind as the funny, nice, kind, happy person. And so, that’s really important as a way to leave somebody in a moment.

Gary S:

I am going to try to interject a micro-moment of meaning here by saying… And hopefully it will leave you with a smile on your face, James, when I’m done talking, but the captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign. It is time to begin preparing the cabin for landing, but before I do that, I would be remiss if I did not give you a chance, James, to let listeners know how they can find out more about you, the services you offer and particularly where they can find your book because, obviously, you and Warwick traffic in some of the same stuff, and there’s great wisdom in both. So, how can they find out more about you?

James K:

Yeah. So, the book is on Amazon. It’s got the digital… The audio book is great. I hired three actors to come in and act out the different scenes and the different stories in the book. So, that makes the book really fun and engaging because it’s not just a voice. So, I really encourage the audio book out of all of them as you do it, but the book is on Amazon.

James K:

In terms of me, you can always reach out to me at jkelley, K-E-L-L-E-Y, @qchange.com. It’s the letter “Q” and then “change.com”. As for what I do and what we do as a company, we’re really in the business of impacting people at the point of choice. And so, what does that mean? Our product or solution helps leaders be better at their job by giving them behavioral prompts, soft skill prompts immediately before a meeting. But then after the meeting, we’re asking them, “Did you do this?” We ask those around them. “Did you see this?” And we allow them to grow in the flow of work, not intrusively, just twice a day. But what’s great about it from an individual level is that you can get that repetitive behavior prompting that you need to be better at being a better version of yourself.

James K:

In our solution, we have a whole authentic leadership area. So, if someone is trying to be an authentic leader, they have those options to work on. Beyond DEI and communication and strategy. So, that’s what we do. We’re at Microsoft Teams, and that’s our main platform that we sell our product in. So, yeah. It’s awesome. And we’ve had a ton of great feedback around it. And I wouldn’t tell you if we had that feedback anyway, so don’t worry about it.

Warwick F:

Oh, good. Well, thank you so much, James. I mean, I was just thinking as you were talking about integrity, compassion, relatableness that I often think to me with great leaders there’s something that fuels them, not just because it’s a good way to be successful in the holistic sense of the word, but it comes from a value. It could be a faith perspective or maybe an example from childhood, but I know for me one of my highest values is treating everybody with dignity and respect. And so, I am not perfect. I have my bad days like we all do, and I can be cranky and obstinate, but I really try to know what’s happening. And so, if that’s what you’re talking about with relatableness. “Gee, I’m sorry. How was the weekend? Oh, your kid was sick? Oh, wow. Really? That’s awful.” The next day. “How is your daughter? Is she better now? How was that sore throat? It was strep. Oh, really?”

Warwick F:

I mean, you ask. You follow up, not because you try to be successful, because it’s the right thing to do out of your set of values. If it’s out of your intrinsic values, you’re not going to forget because you will do it because you want to do it. With integrity, I love your definition. Do plus say equals trust. Again, that comes out of values that if you say you’re going to do something, then do it because it’s the right thing to do. If you say you’re going to call somebody, well then… I mean, it comes out of and being compassionate again. I love that sense. Empathy is fine, but compassionate is like empathy and action, if you will.

Warwick F:

So, all these things relate to us. I don’t know if it’s a worldview, but just a desire. A certain set of values. And maybe even… I guess my sort of last question as we sort of try and sum all this up, which is a challenge because there’s so much here. With Crucible’s Gift, what’s the biggest lesson that you would want people to have as they read this book and reflect on it? What’s the biggest lesson you would offer people in Crucible’s Gift?

Gary S:

It’s good you’re making him think. That’s good Warwick.

James K:

Yeah. Sorry. Is this silence awkward for everyone?

Warwick F:

Not at all.

Gary S:

No. The plane is just circling the runway. We’re good.

James K:

Everyone’s seatbelts are buckled. Yeah. I think the biggest lesson I want someone to get is be open. Be open to the possibility of what if there’s a different narrative you could tell yourself. What if there’s a different question you could be asking yourself? What if the crucible that has held you back is untethered and is actually that opportunity? So, just what if?

Gary S:

And that was the sound of the plane touching down. There you go. Please gather up your belongings and we’ll see you the next time. Listeners, thank you for spending time with us on this episode of Beyond the Crucible. I have some homework for you. Rather than takeaways from the episode, I have some homework for you. I love this idea that James talked about, about micro-moments of meaning. So, the homework from those of us at Beyond the Crucible is go out today and find at least three opportunities that you can leave someone with a micro-moment of meaning. Flip back to the podcast, back up, hear James describe it, so you know exactly what you’re looking to do, but let’s do some of that to each other. I think we can really turn around a lot of people’s days if we do that and it connects to and… Talk about dating ourselves. The old shampoo commercials and they told two friends and so on and so on and so on. If everybody passes that along, it could make a great impact.

Gary S:

So, until the next time we are together, please do remember this. As we’ve discussed here, your crucible experiences are painful and they’re not easily overcome in most cases. You’ve heard us talk about it in every episode of the show. And you’ve heard James and Warwick talk about it today, but they can be overcome. The key is your perspective on what the crucible means to you. Did it happen to you or did something happen for you? Can you learn the lessons of it, apply those lessons and move forward? Because when you do, it’s not the end of your story. It’s not the worst chapter of your story. It’s a new chapter that can become the best chapter of your story because where it leads in the end as you follow the road on that journey is to a life of significance.

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