The following is a conversation between Carol Kauffman, co-author of Real-Time Leadership: Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes Are High, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.

Denver: Carol Kauffman is an international leader in the field of coaching with more than 40,000 hours of practice. She was shortlisted by Thinkers50 as one of the top 8 coaches around the globe for her thought leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and contribution to coaching best practices. She founded the Institute of Coaching at Harvard and is now the co-author of a wonderful new book titled, Real-Time Leadership: Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes Are High

Welcome to The Business of Giving, Carol. 

Carol Kauffman, Co-Author of Real-Time Leadership: Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes Are High

Carol: Thank you. I’m very happy to be here. 

Denver: You know, I love the subtitle of your book, Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes Are High, because something often happens to us when the stakes are high, and those winning moves can become quite elusive. What does happen to us? 

Carol: When we’re under high stake situations? So many things are happening to us at the same time, and one of the ways I think about it, with the people that I work with, and you included, would be we’re all really capable people, and we’re capable leaders, but the kind of roller coaster, this high stakes roller coaster when you’re sort of shot up and down, and up and sideways, and what I’ve been thinking about is that it’s not like a roller coaster– sort of like being in a fighter jet and those G-Forces acting on us. These are the kind of high stakes that crush an ordinary person. 

So, what happens to us in those moments? It’s also much harder to think; it’s very hard to see beyond the moment, and it’s extremely hard to make any kind of space to decide anything. But the other thing is, when we’re under something that feels survival-like, we default to our reflexes, and we become exaggerated versions of ourselves. 

Denver: So, we don’t even think as to whether that response would serve us well, we just default to it because it’s what we’ve always done, even if it’s not appropriate for the moment.

Well, you discuss the importance of creating that space between stimulus and response, and I think that’s really at the heart of this book. Unravel that concept, and tell how by doing that, we can really transform our decision making. 

Carol: I would love to, so– backing up a moment. 

The book, on one hand, it’s very evidence-based. Many, many different psychological theories, neuropsychology, business strategy strategy, et cetera, and that’s the evidence-base behind the book. But the spiritual-base of the book really comes from that quote from Viktor Frankl that you just mentioned, and I think most of your listeners know that he was in a concentration camp for three years and came out a better person. 

But he also observed the others to see who came out more or less better, who was crushed, and who colluded. And he wrote then, Man’s Search for Meaning, but then he came out with that one quote about, “between the stimulus and response, there’s a space,” and that’s where we find our freedom and our freedom to choose, and that is the core and the essence of real-time leadership, is learning how to make that space. 

But then when you’re in that space, I mean, mindfulness will help you make that space, but then it’s like, “Okay, what can I do? What are the frameworks that are going to help me in that space?” 

And what we think about is, the book is like a manual. It goes very deep into everything, but it’s basically: How do you even make one second of space? Because our minds are fast and would pivot in those seconds. 

Denver: How do you make that space? How can I practice making that space? Because that’s like a knee-jerk reaction so often. How do I stop, take a moment? I mean, I can think about it, but when the stimulus hits, I’m not thinking anymore, I’m just reacting. How do you do it? 

Carol: Well, what you just hinted at with that is, first of all: How do you have it available to you under this instant high stakes? And that is “back up.” 

Practice it when things aren’t so hot because, as many people say, “It’s in the reps.” So, when you’re in a lower-stake situation, for everybody listening, here’s what you could do today to practice. In any encounter that you’re about to have, ask yourself what we call the Three Split-Second Questions, and this has to do with, in our model, it’s M-O-V-E, MOVE. You’ll probably ask me about that later.

But the M is to be “mindfully alert” to the three dimensions of leadership, which are: “What do I need to achieve?” Is it my numbers? What are my goals? What do I need to achieve? But then, “Who do I need to be?” What values do I need to pull on? What’s my purpose? Who do I want to be? And then, “How do I need to relate?” How do I need to relate in the way this person needs me to relate?

So first, familiarize yourself with those concepts, and then pick one of those questions, like, just which one kind of sings to you.

You go into a meeting… there’s your team… somebody’s screwed up. You can go, “Wait, what do I really need to do right now? Is it to kind of really pull out this person needing to be accountable? Is it aligning the team? Is it creating a caring environment? What do I really need to do?”

 And then, “Who do I need to be right now? As I’m with this person, who do I want to be? Do I want to be tough? Do I want to be kind?” Either answer is correct as long as it’s the choice and like it’s just, “Who do I want to be right now?” 

And then “How do I need to relate?” And that’s where we go with the Platinum Rule rather than the Golden Rule, which is, “Don’t treat others as you want, but treat others as they would want.”

So, that would be the first thing. The one that’s really powerful to me, and I don’t know if you know this, but Marshall Goldsmith kind of went wild over one question, he calls it “The Carol Kauffman Question.” 

Denver: Quite an honor. 

Carol: Yeah, and he says it all the time, and it’s, “Who do I want to be right now?” 

So, he had this group of about 50 CEOs that we met every week in bunches of eight people or so, and I said that at one of those meetings. I then forgot about it, and Marshall’s the one who said, “Wait, Carol, there’s a positive powerful question I was just going to go ahead and said it and forgot about it,” and he said one of the CEOs of a major Fortune 100 company, this is back in COVID, and I challenged her like before every meeting, ask yourself one question. Hers was, “Who do I want to be right now?” So, it’s her 16th meeting of the day in COVID; she’s dying, she just wants to go home, she doesn’t want to do this, and as she’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe,” and then she goes, “Wait, who do I want to be right now?” That’s the second of space. And that second of space, it hit her, where she said, “Wait a minute. The least important meeting of my day is the most important meeting of theirs.”

Denver: Oh yeah, that’s right. 

Carol: And then a different her showed up. 

Denver: Yeah. 

Carol: So, that’s a way to use this, and it’s a half a second of space. 

Denver: That’s a very sweet story, and I think it has two different really benefits that I look at. The question is great, but even the act of asking any question is building in the pause there, and we don’t even do that. So, just the idea of having some question will slow you down a little bit which is, in and of itself, so valuable. 

Well, let’s go back to this MOVE framework. It’s a fascinating framework, and let’s work through each of the letters, the M-O-V-E, and pick up a little bit on “mindfully alert”… that’s the M. Tell us a little bit more about that. 

Carol: That’s really double clicking on the What Are the Three Dimensions of Leadership. Let me give you sort of a lighthearted kind of example.

One of the things that happened after we wrote the book and it was out of our clutches, is that we also realized we wrote a parenting manual, but we didn’t figure that out until it was gone.

So, there you are, any of you, you’re home, you’re walking into your child’s room, there’s a squalid mess of stuff on the desk, and in this case, it was my son, Michael, goes, “Hey, mom, I’m done with my homework. Can I watch TV now?”

Okay, right then, “What do I really need to do? Who do I need to be? How do I need to relate?”

What’s your reflex? It’s to get this homework assignment done. Well, what else? It’s like, “Wait, what do I really need to do?” Like just, we’ve got the reflex: Get the homework done, because you see it’s a squalid mess. Alright, that’s fine, but is it helping your child access discipline? Is it helping them have a love of learning so you’re not going to squish it? 

And then “Who do I want to be?” Have I invested in my own development enough so that when I’m tired and I’ve got something like this, I am able to say… in my case the big thing I say to myself is, “Okay, downshift, Carol. Downshift. Give yourself a second.”

And then, “How does he need me to relate?” Does he need me to kind of go now, “Michael, you know you’ve got to do your homework.” It could be the right answer. It could be, let’s think back now, what do you think is inquiring? Or, “Michael, let me help you”… like nurturing, or can I not be triggered at all? 

And I’m now at the same time giving the preview of the options generator. In this case, what was really surprising to me is when I stopped just for that first part of like,”Wait, what do I really need? What really needs to happen here?” I was able to pause, and the thought then came to me. Just a little second and then thoughts can shoot in.

I just stopped and said, “Michael, I just want you to look at your work and ask yourself a question: Are you proud of your work? If you’re proud of the work, go watch TV,” and I left the room.

So, that was very different from my reflex of like, “Come on, let’s just get the homework done.”

So, that’s sort of being mindfully alert. Mindful, in terms of you’re noticing and you’re not pre-judging. Alert, like an athlete, tennis player, basketball player, where you’re really scanning– What’s going out there? How am I talking to myself?  How do I need to behave?

Denver: Well, you have a wonderful sense of self-awareness. I think, when it comes to downshifting, I think that was a little bit of what you had to do when you started with the Institute of Coaching, that you were a full-court press and say, “Whoa, maybe we just got to take it down a notch,” because that’s really hard for others to keep up at that pace. 

Carol: So true, it’s like you were there. 

Denver: Well, let’s talk a little bit about “options” and you sort of touched on that, but there are four ways of approaching these challenges. Walk us through those. 

Carol: One thing that’s interesting is, I’ve shared this with a lot of people, but I was talking with a CEO of a biotech day before yesterday, and so she heard a little bit, because you hinted this right now, she goes, “Oh yeah, it could be about a micro behavior; it could be a mindset, but this is actually an approach to strategy, isn’t it?” And I’m like, “Yes, all of this can scale to an entire organization,” and it’s sort of easier to talk about individual work.

But, options, remember you asked me a really interesting question earlier which is, “What do we do under stress?” And it’s like we become exaggerated versions of us, and we follow our reflexes. So, what are the reflexes? 

The main four reflexes are Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Befriend, and Tend-and-Befriend is sort of a newer one of the reflexes, but you know it if you see a toddler in the road and a bus is coming. You’re not thinking; you just grab the kid. 

Denver: Right, right.

Carol: But now, how do we translate these out of this gun-to-your-head situation to everyday life? So, I go back to the tennis image again. I don’t play tennis, by the way. But like any tennis moron, when you’re watching them play, you think it has to do with what they’re doing with their arms as opposed to, “No, it’s their legs, their stance.” So, they see something coming at them, and they immediately do a stance for a forehand or a stance for a backhand or a stance for running up to the net. 

And those are for us: What are our stances that we take and can we be as agile as a tennis player? And we translate these into… something happens. Again, it can be in the business realm. It could be, you just got tough feedback. Who do you want to be, and how do I need to relate? So, it goes to all of those.

Do I then want to lean in and engage, roll up my sleeves, get really involved? I can lean in— and the book, by the way, has like 20 examples of how to lean in, when to lean in, when not to lean in, blah, blah, blah— but you can lean in like a rugby player or a ballet dancer. You can lean in with edge or with sort of joy. So, do I want to lean in and engage? 

Do I want to lean back? And be asking questions, looking at data, getting up on the balcony, thinking about the overview. 

Or, do I want to lean with… which is nurturance, caring, the relationship, or for scaling it– culture?

And then the last one, which is the hardest, which is to not lean at all, which is… something is thrown at you. Do you have the capacity to not respond? Be comfortable with the silence? Somebody lobbed a public criticism at you– Are you able to just not get activated? But have that freedom, space, and the freedom to make a choice?

Denver: Yeah, very simple, very accessible, and there are things that you can actually do and think about. It makes you very self-aware and conscious of your behavior, as opposed to just responding. 

I love what you said about the stance because sometimes we only look at the tip of the iceberg, and that is the hand and the racket. And so much of it, in all sports, is happening in the lower body, but we never look at that, but that’s where the power comes from, and that’s where the positioning comes from. 

The third letter is V, and that’s to “validate our vantage point.” And boy, we all come to this with cognitive biases, which can distort our reality. How do we validate our vantage point? 

Carol: Now, think about it either for yourself or for someone who reports to you. They say something, “So-and-so has done blah, blah, blah,” or “I think X in the market.” Here’s sort of a little checklist of how to evaluate the vantage point because we tend to often over-index on certain things.

So, the first question is, “How clear am I?” So, we think of glasses. Am I wearing rose-colored glasses, and I’m just seeing the opportunities? Am I wearing charcoal glasses, so I’m just seeing the pitfalls? Or am I wearing transition glasses that will change depending on the situation I’m in? Am I nearsighted? Okay, I’m good with tactical, good with today. Or am I farsighted? Good with strategy, et cetera, but can’t see well up close, or the reverse. So, you can think about sort of glasses, “clarity.” 

Then the next image is for resolution, you can think of a TV set. The TV set can be high def, or it can be grainy. We all have what’s called an “attention budget.” You can only spend so much. So, you want to be careful about not doing too much high def when you don’t need to. That can result, for example, in micromanaging. And then you don’t want to be, say, too impressionistic and arm waving when you need to be clearer and more resolute. So, the idea is, how do you know that? 

By the way, one of the answers is “hubris”, which is not thinking, automatically that you’re right, but checking it out with people, but it’s also: don’t automatically think you’re wrong. So, people go in either direction.

Then the last two are “breadth” and “depth.” And the breadth is: How wide do you need to look? So, I worked with one guy– brilliant, scary as hell, and he has something where it’s the highest price per foot of any company of its size in the world. 

Denver: Wow. 

Carol: His breadth is amazing, and I’ve actually been with him when he has done one of these things. He’ll look behind him at the entire ocean, behind him, of competitors, and if one little tip of a sail goes above the horizon; his first competitor is in sight, he changes the business model of his entire company, like drastically. It’s amazing. So, breadth, but then a lot of times, we need to be narrow.

Then, for altitude, there, Elizabeth Kanter Ross has written about zoom in, zoom out. Do you need to be a hawk or hummingbird? So, those are always where you can think about: If I am a 10/10 on these choices, I’m going to have a really clear vantage point, which of course gives me, pardon the pun, the “ad-vantage” in the market.

Denver: Well, you really have to be balanced, it sounds like, because no one of those vantage points is the correct vantage point at that moment, and you have to be able to keep that balance because I do think that a lot of leaders struggle with the today and the long term and are always balancing it.

 I’m in the world of philanthropy, so they’re saying, we have place-based solutions that we have to put in place because people are suffering at the moment, but if we don’t create systems change, we’re never really going to get to that problem, and it is always the tension that you’re trying to balance them and get the proper balance to the best of your ability.

Carol: That is exactly right, and it’s like: How do you navigate your way through these opposing forces? Leadership, it really is like that fighter pilot on the roller coaster; it’s like all these forces are acting on you. So, yeah, I think that’s exactly right.

Denver: And finally, the E, which is “effectively engage others.” Speak to that. 

Carol: E is: How do you really engage with others and affect change? And here, the part that we focus on first is, it’s where the others come together. Like, you’ve scanned, you’ve had a sense of what do I need to do, who do I need to be, how do I need to relate. In this situation, do we lean in, lean back, lean with, don’t lean; what’s our vantage point? And then start thinking about what signals do I need to send out as a leader to communicate? Because so often, we have to make sure that the signal we send is the signal that’s heard. And very often, there’s a disconnect there.

So, that’s one thing. But then to really engage, and we’re not in a hierarchical world… we are at times, but then how do we ping back? How do we hear what others need? And then how do we become aware of what our constraints are? 

So, on one hand, you want, as your leadership signals, the big vision, but that can be overwhelming to people, and so then you also need those milestones and some of the basics of good management; and then: How to be scaling yourself? 

One way to be scaling yourself is to do what only you can do, and that may be not necessarily working with each member of your team, but it may be what you can do is know if you have the right team or not, and then, whatever. Or, What is that vision, and how can you help your organization if you’ve got a board battle? Things like that, so it’s how to see what you need to do and be able to do it and rally the troops. 

Denver: And I think one challenge that a lot of leaders have with that is what you refer to as The Subject Matter Expert Trap. Because, again, when a fundraiser becomes the CEO,  about 75% of their time is spent on fundraising because that’s what they’ve done, because they’re comfortable with it, and I see this in almost every organization. From where they came really dictates the trajectory of the organization because they’re comfortable.

And there is something, that as you refer to The Subject Matter Expert Trap. Dig a little bit deeper in that for us, if you would. 

Carol: Sure, and I think you’re exactly right of: why do we stay in the subject matter expert mode, and it’s because we are comfortable and like, “Wake up and smell the coffee.” Leadership, excuse my– it’s a little swear, sort of, but leadership sucks. It’s really, really hard. You can’t do what you want to do. You’ve got all these constraints on you. One of my poor guys, like somebody heard a stray comment; it became wildfire, and the stock price went down, then it went back up. So, there’s that.

But we can’t stay in our comfort zone, and if you are really being a subject matter expert, it means you’re leading ideas, not people. 

What we really have to do is develop a different identity. I think of it also as “entity identity.” I have to think beyond what I’m comfortable with and what I know, and lead through people, rather than lead through facts, but as you said, it’s very tempting because it’s so comfortable. 

“That is who I am. I am not Carol. I am not an individual identity. I am an entity identity. What she hears isn’t going to just represent me, it’s going to represent the institute. And if I blow her off, it’s the institute blowing her off. And Carol may not have a huge amount of power, but my entity identity has a huge impact.” 

Denver: Yeah, and I’m good at it, so people who I’m trying to impress, who will report for me will say, “Boy, he’s really good at that,” when I’m not good at anything else. And that’s a really interesting concept, what you were just talking about, because we all have our individual identity. And how do you make that transition to… I think you just called it an “entity identity”? That is really profound. How do you do that? How to get your mind around that to transition? It’s critical, but it’s hard. 

Carol: I don’t know if this answers this question, but I can share with you the moment that happened to me.

Denver: Yeah, that would be perfect. 

Carol: So, every year, the Institute of Coaching, we have an annual conference as part of the Harvard Medical School Conference, I think it’s called Coaching and Leadership in Healthcare each year, and I remember after I stepped down the stage, and I’m really tired and I am swarmed, so I can see the light being the open door at the end…. I just want to get to my room, and everybody wants to talk to me, and I am exhausted. 

And there’s one woman I remember; she comes up to me and it’s someone who’s very unattractive and bossy and whatever, and “Carol… just wants her out of my way.” And then it hit me. “I’m not Carol. I’m the Institute of Coaching embodied in a person.” That is who I am. I am not Carol. I am not an individual identity. I am an entity identity. What she hears isn’t going to just represent me, it’s going to represent the institute. And if I blow her off, it’s the institute blowing her off. And Carol may not have a huge amount of power, but my entity identity has a huge impact. So, if I diss somebody, it can ruin their month. Is it Carol? No, it’s Carol as the entity. But if I make time for this person I don’t want to make time for, it’s the institute entity doing that which makes that person feel important and special.

And at that point, the image that came to me is that I’m kind of a conduit for the organization. And what I found was unexpected. I found that I was much less tired, that it wasn’t like I was pulling up the Carol energy bucket, but I was being the messenger for the institute, and it was just much easier. That was the one moment. 

“Basically, the moral of the story is when someone thanks you, it is your job to accept that compliment with grace and make the other person feel good and smart for giving you that compliment. That’s your job, and that’s your only job. And if it just so happens that that makes you feel uncomfortable, get over it…”

Denver: That’s a great story. It’s a higher bar that you’ve set. You’ve also set higher expectations for yourself, and there’s a sense of duty. And sometimes, when we’re just doing things for ourselves, we don’t feel like them. But when we feel duty-bound to the institution, you sometimes say, “Well, I got to rise for the occasion. Too many other people are impacted by my sloth, if you will, or my fatigue, and I’m just not going to let that happen.”

You know what, something that leaders have a hard time doing is accepting recognition and doing so in a graceful way. Tell us about that, and what can they do to get over that? 

Carol: How did you know that that’s one of my favorite topics? I just talked to somebody about it yesterday, so I’ll do a story again. 

Basically, the moral of the story is when someone thanks you, it is your job to accept that compliment with grace and make the other person feel good and smart for giving you that compliment. That’s your job, and that’s your only job. And if it just so happens that that makes you feel uncomfortable, get over it, because it’s your job. And I learned this one again, one time, I went to a talk and it was really inspiring for me, and I went to the author later and said, “Wow, that was really great,” and he’s like, “Oh, it’s nothing.” Get the hand movement, “Oh, it was nothing.” It felt just like a slap in the face. 

Denver: Yeah. 

Carol: And so what happens is if you don’t feel comfortable, that’s fine. Just don’t show it, because it’s a rejection. It’s a rejection of the other person. 

Denver: “Yeah, yeah, you were wrong. I mean, I spent two seconds on that speech, you know what I mean? I didn’t put any effort in. I just kind of winged it, you know? But I’m glad you liked it.” It’s sort of so dismissive. 

Carol: That’s what it is. It’s dismissive. “My opinion doesn’t matter to you? Thanks!” 

Denver: You know, we talked so much about leadership and trying to get the team motivated and aligned and all the rest of it. One thing we don’t talk about that you have is the importance of peer relationships. Talk about that. 

Carol: Oh my goodness. So, remember, I did a six-year gig with Unilever with the Authentic Leadership Institute in Harvard Business School, and we went through like 300 leaders over six years in clumps.

And when we began, I didn’t really get it. Everyone’s saying the peer relationships will make you or break you, and the closer you get to the top of the tree, the more your peer relationships will make you or break you. 

First of all, why? One is that your peers are likely to then become your boss or your reports, that’s one.

But the other one is what predicts success is not necessarily your relationships up or down, it’s your relationships sideways. Why is that? Why do your peers predict your derailing more than anything else? It’s because we kind of have rules. If I’m talking to my line manager, I kind of know how I’m supposed to behave. I may do it, I may not, but I know, and then I could name it. Down with the people that I report to, there’s kind of a template:  I know what I should do. I can do it or I could not, but I know. Peers? All bets are off, and then I can get competitive, I can be disdainful, I can be insecure because you’re better than me. 

Basically, those relationships. You see the other thing about that is: who’s your team? So basically, if you are in the executive committee, the people that report to you are not your first team. Your peers are your first team, and the other piece of enterprise: there’s entity identity and then there’s enterprise leadership. And what you need to do is get above and out of your silo and connect to the band of brothers and sisters that are working together. And they’re looking at you, and they’re going to be talking about you. And if not enough of them are happy with you, don’t plan on being the CEO. 

Denver: Well, they’re probably in some ways the most authentic relationships you have in the organization because you’re not going up, you’re not going down, I think of a metaphor for that, I think about people who know me. Nobody knows me. My high school friends, they really know who I am, and everything else may be a little bit of an act, but when they remember when you were 16 years old, they are the ones who really know you, and peers are maybe the closest to that within an organization.

Carol: Yeah. And they’re a great source of support. 

Denver: Absolutely, and I would have to say learning, if I reflect back, and you’ve got me thinking a little bit about my career, I probably got about 80% of my learning from my peers. I didn’t get it from my mentors. I didn’t get it from the people who reported to me. I mean, some of it I did on my own and some of it was formal, but most of it was from my peers. They are really a great source of learning and information and feedback. 

Carol: What’s one thing you learned from some of your peers? 

Denver: What’s one thing that I learned from some of my peers? 

Carol: Anything spring to mind?

Denver: I think we’ve talked a little bit about it, some. I think that I was pretty driven, and I had a lot of certainty in terms of what I was doing, and I think that they got me to get a much more tenuous sense of my own reality, that the fact that the way I was looking at things was maybe just one way of looking at things and not a multitude of ways of looking… there are others. And I’ve gotten a tremendous appreciation from that; so I sort of have firm convictions, but now they are very lightly held, and I can change much more quickly with new information that comes in, and understand.

You talked about we have an attention budget. While there are a million things in front of me right now, I only can look at a hundred of them, and you may be looking at a hundred different ones. So, we have this different sense of reality. I don’t think I appreciated that; I kind of thought my reality was reality. Now I am 180 degrees from that. 

So, have you learned something from your peers? 

Carol: Yeah, but I wanted to point out, that might be obvious, but that’s a wonderful example of vantage point and transcending your vantage point, that we need many, many, many eyes to see together, to see correctly. 

Denver: We could use more of that in this country too. 

Carol: Yes, we won’t even get started there. 

“When we’ve got an extremely complicated situation, an extremely complicated leader, and very high stakes, they will call both of us in because I will see things David doesn’t. David will see things I don’t, and then together, there’s really not much that’s going to pass by both of us.”

Denver: We won’t even get started on that one. 

Talk a little bit about the two-on-one coaching method. 

Carol: The two-on-one coaching. So, we actually haven’t mentioned David Noble, my co-author. I kid that he’s my Higher Power. He is one of my best friends. 

One of the things that’s interesting about the book is on one hand, it’s a leadership book, but it’s also kind of a business book and a strategy book.

Denver: Absolutely. 

Carol: And that’s because David, well still is, but was a managing partner of two different strategy firms. He worked for Morgan Stanley; he worked for the Royal Bank of Canada; he started the world’s first internet bank, digital bank. 

We come at things from very, very different perspectives, but we often wind up in the same place, which is actually sometimes a little weird for people. But what happens is, as he describes it, when he was the head of a strategy firm, and he was going to go into some Fortune 100 CEO, he did not arrive alone. He had a posse of partners coming with him because the stakes were so high. 

Well, in this case, when we’ve got an extremely complicated situation, an extremely complicated leader, and very high stakes, they will call both of us in because I will see things David doesn’t. David will see things I don’t, and then together, there’s really not much that’s going to pass by both of us.

But then also, my style is much more high warmth, high humor, high confrontation. David’s approach is much more sort of calm and dignified. He’s like calm with a gun to his head. It’s just amazing, and if he’s stressed, you will not know it. 

So, together, our different personalities and content areas and experience come together, so someone gets a remarkable product, as it were, from us. 

Denver: That’s great, and I know you probably help stimulate each other– that is, it’s not even his ideas, but he says something that gets you to come up with a third idea that you would’ve never come up if you didn’t have your partner there kind of just talking about something completely different.

Carol: What we describe is, and I try and teach my clients this actually… what happens is David will say something, and I’ll say the opposite, and I’ll go, “No, David, it’s this.” He goes, “No, Carol, it’s this.” I’m like, “No, you see, it’s this,” and then we go, “Oh, it’s this,” and sort of the pushing against it.

And I noticed that once, with a CEO I was working with…, well, so small, I shouldn’t even say big company, and I was saying something and I’m like, “Wait a minute! Do you disagree with me?” And I had to pull it out. I go, “If you’re disagreeing with me, this means that, first of all, I’m not on target with what I’m saying, but together, we can figure out what the truth is.”

And I’m like, “Man, I got to say this to like a CEO of a 300-trillion-dollar company. But we get afraid of conflict as opposed to: Why don’t we just really work on caring for each other and then the capacity to have some healthy conflict and divergent opinions. 

Denver: Yeah, we like that intellectual conflict, but we are so worried that it’s going to spill over to social conflict that we avoid it at all costs because we just don’t want that. But to your point, and the way you spoke, described you and David, is that you don’t go with either of what you said. You come up with a third way, which is better than the original and sometimes, that is really something. 

Carol: Actually, I think it’s a third, a third, a third. I’d say a third of the time I’ll talk, and I’ll go, “Nope, David, you’re right.” And then a third of the time, maybe he’ll go, “Okay, Carol. Yeah, you’re right.” And then a third of the time, we’ll kind of squabble until we come up with something else.

“Being true to yourself means you have to really know yourself. So, work on knowing yourself, who you really are, not your socialized self of who people have told you to be, but your authentic self, self-authored, where you can really kind of explore your world.”

Denver: Finally, Carol, what wisdom would you impart on aspiring leaders looking to refine their real-time leadership? 

Carol: A bunch of cliches come to mind, but they’re all true. So, the first one is to really be true to yourself. But being true to yourself means you have to really know yourself. So, work on knowing yourself, who you really are, not your socialized self of who people have told you to be, but your authentic self, self-authored, where you can really kind of explore your world, but then just like you talked in your life, don’t believe that you’re always right. 

And the big enemy is ego, and I want to say one thing about that. You think that ego means a chest thumper, but if we say, zero right here is ego-free, plus 10 might be the chest thumper… you’re always right. You’re thinking this, whatever, but the minus 10 is, “Oh, I shouldn’t say anything, I shouldn’t bother anybody,” et cetera. That’s just as ego-driven, it’s just the other way. So, you’ve got to be ego-free, so you can access flow states and be honest with yourself. 

Denver: Well, with the rapid changes and unexpected challenges, the new norm, there is no better book for the moment than Real-Time Leadership: Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes Are High. So pick up a copy today! 

Thanks so much for being here today, Carol. It was a real delight to have you on the show. 

Carol: Thank you. It was really fun to be here. I enjoyed it. 

Denver: Likewise.

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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