Episode 94

May 17, 2023

Josh Davis on inner mastery and effective leadership

Josh Davis, Chief Scientist and Senior faculty member at Mentora Institute, discusses how leaders can successfully manage stress, focus on prioritization, and build relationships.

Steve Peacher: Hi everybody, it's Steve Peacher, President of SLC Management. Thanks for joining for this episode of “Three in Five.” We've got a really interesting podcast today, and I'm joined by Josh Davis, who is the chief scientist and senior faculty member of the Mentora Institute. And at SLC we've been working with Mentora in terms of leadership development for our for many of our people so that they get a better sense of how to be an effective leader, build resilience, have a growth mindset, you know, have empathy. How do they develop the skills that make them even more effective in the workplace. And so we've had a great experience, and we thought it would be great to have Josh join us for a “Three in Five” podcast. So, Josh, thanks for taking a few minutes.

Josh Davis: Great to be here.

Steve Peacher: The first question I want to talk about is stress, which probably always been around, but especially during the pandemic. Now we’re on the back end. But I I’m not sure that stress level across the workplace has gone down. And it's an area that you're expert in, we've talked a lot about. So, when you think about stress, what does that do to the body? How does that impact our ability to work, ability of our brain to function? And since that's generally those aren't positive impacts, what do we do to manage all that so that we can be more effective in the work?

Josh Davis: Yeah, yeah. So there's been, and it's been interesting to see this that you know there were all these stressors during the pandemic that everyone who's been through is aware of. And now that the pandemic is winding down in many ways there's a lot of people who are feeling anxiety about loss of control over, you know, where they're gonna be working, or should they be working in a certain context. It's just it brought up so many kinds of questions. And there's all this openness now about like well, what does it mean to be productive? And the complexity of work has changed, and there's AI now, and the economy is doing crazy thing. So, the stressors are really at a very high level. And you do see that that well being measures which part of that is typically has to do with levels of stress as well that you know they're at an all time low, as far as I understand. So if you're listening and you're feeling like you're stressed out a lot, it's not just you. It's not because you're doing something wrong. But what is important is to recognize, you know it's like I got some really good advice once from a very wise psychotherapist actually, who said any emotion is fine to have it’s what you do with it. All right. So the stress is there, we're going to have the stress. And then the question is, what do we do with that, and the reason that it's so important is because we are more likely, I think the biggest issue is that when you are stressed, you're more likely to be in auto automatic mode, autopilot. If you've read about Daniel Kahneman's work system one and two, you're more likely to be on that automatic system. And what that means is it's a little bit less deep thinking, a little bit less ability to step back and be deliberate. And so I mean, there's all the health consequences people talk about, about stressors, you know, and how it can make your health suffer, and indirectly can affect your work. But I’m talking about clarity of thought, I'm talking about the ability to be intentional. I'm talking about the way it make, you know, the emotions that could be associated with the stress, like the anxiety or something like that can get triggered and can be harder to regulate and that makes it, again, getting in the way of our clarity of thought. So sometimes a little bit of stress is good. Some people I don't know how many of you know this, originally, when the term was introduced, you stress and distress, where the two terms introduced by, I think, was Hans Selye many, many years ago, and so the idea was it wasn't a bad thing. It was just there's good stress. Use stress and distress bad stress, and the idea is that we need it. There's many ways that our body, our brains, function that rely on it for certain mechanisms to get triggered. So, actually a little bit is important for you to be able to focus and have clarity of thought. The problem is when it's too much. And so part of this I just want to want to point it out because it's worth thinking about not just like, okay how much can I push myself through. But what's the quality of the work that I want to do. And for some people, you know, that is a, they're like, well, they might not really believe it and it and they're going to need to experience it to believe it. But if we're able to kind of look at that and say, wait a second, I want to get myself, not to get rid of my stress, I want to get to an optimal level of stress. Whenever you're not thinking clearly, use that as a clue. Do I actually need to ramp up the stress a little, or do I need to ramp it down. If that becomes where you put your attention you can start to find some ways. Like if you really take that seriously, as not just a thing to do to be nice to yourself or for your health, but a thing to do so that you are going to be the best decision maker that you can be so that you're not going to waste time, so that you're going to be able to really listen to people and help them in the ways that they need. This is an example, so at the Mentora Institute our central theme is that inner mastery is what leads to outer impact. I think that's a big area where we can really contribute in this whole space of leadership development. You know, we try to, as I've just been sharing, bring in the science and think about applications. We try to study the great leaders and so forth. It all boils down to this idea of inner mastery. And this is one example of it. How do you really start to recognize, am I at my best right now? Because my best is so many multiples of my worst, right? It's worth it to find a way to get there. There are many things that reduce stress and it's worth it to start to practice them. I mean, some of them are just a few seconds of breathing. Some of them have to do with getting 10 min of exercise even, during the day, you know, or they have to do with honoring your sleep, you know, or being able to say no to certain things. The productivity that you can get out of yourself is really tremendous when you're at your best, and I think everybody knows that, they've seen the difference between their best and their worst.

Steve Peacher: That notion of inner mastery, I think it's a great phrase, and just the phrase even if you don't know all the detail that you guys talk about behind it, I think it the evokes images that people can relate to in terms of wow, when I'm really, when I'm really my best you know, it may be fleeting, but I've got this notion of inner mastery. So I think it's an interesting phrase. One of the contributors to stress, I think for everybody is that is the demands on our time and how, we're not getting any more of it, but everybody seems to have more to do more things coming at us. So I guess that comes down to prioritization. But how can people ensure they're focusing on the right things given a limited amount of time and do it in a way that doesn't put them in stress overload?

Josh Davis: Most people when they look at their list will correctly say everything has to get done. It's all important. I'm not arguing that – it is all important. People who are able to prioritize are able to sit with the discomfort of knowing that they're not going to do it all and they're gonna let some people down in certain ways, and they're gonna mitigate that and they're going to allow themselves to be fully present for certain things. And only once you get to that stage are you really able to be in a position to think about, okay, what is the most important stuff? What are the three things? That's what I often encourage people. What are the three things I’m actually going to focus on today if I had to pick three, what about, you might get to other things. But how am I going to evaluate this day ultimately in terms of was this really what the company needed long term? Is this really what's going to advance my career? Is this really what's most important to me and why I work? And it's possible to get to that point. I've done this with many people. Now I have a book on the topic of you know, how to how to do less work is how I like to describe the book. It's called “Two Awesome Hours,” and it's very much, this was something we got to share with a number of the leaders in this program, but it's very much about this idea of how do you do that? And one thing to recognize, reducing stress increases how well you're able to do this particular thing, in fact, that I’m so there's a link as well as stress. But when you start a task, any task, this podcast even, we become kind of, and gonna come back to this phrase autopilot that I used in the last question. We're on autopilot, not completely. We're thinking a lot, but we're not thinking about everything on our agenda. We're not deciding what should I be putting time into. We're not rethinking our purpose, right? We’re, there's a lot of stuff that we're not consciously thinking about. We might even have emotions that are in the background that we're not really aware of, right. So much stuff happening. We're kind of on, we're in podcast mode. When you're writing an email you're in email mode. Now, when you're in a meeting, you're in meeting mode and what happens is you start any task you start to just kind of whatever is coming in you become very reactive to it. You could be thoughtful and very good about being reactive to that, but it's all contained within that space. There's only really a few times in the day when we find ourselves with the mental capacity to be to step back and not just be reactive, to be able to think big picture and we need to learn to capture these, to recognize these moments and capture them. There are what I like to call decision points when we're much more conscious and they might feel bad it might you might feel like you want to rush through it because you feel unproductive, right? But that's the time to actually sit and say, okay, wait a second. I haven't started the task yet choosing the wrong task is how time gets wasted. That's how time gets wasted. It's about choosing the right task, and so if you step back, you've got your list. You've thought about it. And you've said, okay I have to choose three. What are the three today that are really going to happen. When you do step back you're going to be able to remember those and then you're going to be able to thoughtfully take action against them. It's a regular process, but it's a process that can be enhanced by practicing these kinds of things when you, you know building in these moments right, making sure you carve out time before an important meeting, carve out time in the morning, carve about time at night to do this and capture these moments when they do occur. That's really what I want to encourage people to think about as kind of some of the key differences between people who successfully do less work but produce what they need to produce, and the people who are just working all the time.

Steve Peacher: That resonates with me because I do find that there are times where you know your primed to do one thing, and then there are times where you know you're not really in the mode to do that. So maybe you should do something else and recognizing when you're in the state to tackle certain things, but not. And then and channel what you do when so that you are kind of tackling the right task based on where you are personally at that moment and being smart about that, it does make a huge difference. Let me ask you about another thing, I guess, related to time and that is the impact of limited time on the ability to take the time to do the things to build trust and relationships in an organization. I mean, I think that my experience after 35 some odd years of working is that the most effective organizations are built on a foundation of trust between the people in that organization. And that has to be built over time, and it takes time. But as you are just describing, we're in a world where we feel like we don't have enough time and this is the kind of thing that you would categorize as important, but not necessarily urgent. And so how do we work with the time we have to make sure we're doing the things to build trust to find kind of win-win solutions, develop the relationships that form the foundation of strong organizations.

Josh Davis: I think it's more important than ever now because of this pressure to move so quickly and without having the luxury to kind of build these relationships over time, as much as we need. It's more important than ever to be very thoughtful about first of all, not eroding trust unnecessarily, right, which we're even more likely to do when we’re rushed and to recognize what factors can help move things much more quickly. So, there's an exercise that we love to do when we're just bringing people together for the first time. We, instead of having them introduce themselves in a typical way, we have them answer a deep question like, what was it like growing up in your family? And it's the kind of thing that, you know, in 90 seconds they give an answer almost to a person afterwards people are just like, yeah, you know what, I've just learned this about this person. If they came to me, and they were on my team, and something wasn't right, or we were having an argument, I'd be more likely to really listen to them, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to put myself in their shoes. It's just there are certain ways of humanizing another person that shift the brain. It puts us into what psychologists call in group instead of out group mentality and we can't help but see people differently. We start to dismiss things that are as a one off as just an aberration. But if they're out group, we see it as an example of why we should never speak with them, right? So there's this little, this humanizing factor. It also because we know something about someone, suddenly we are already putting ourselves in their shoes and we also have the content on which to start to get perspectives. Jamil Zaki a Stanford professor who's a renowned neuroscientist on empathy, he talks about how we really need to start thinking about perspective getting not perspective taking. That's when you really connect and understand. And when people feel that you care and that you're listening, that's something that psychologists call procedural justice. They feel heard. They feel like the process was fair. They've been heard and listened to. Somebody cared, right. They were being treated in a fair way in a fair process, and then they are much more likely, wherever the conversation goes, whatever is needed, to want to work together. This just how, these are the things that matter to people, right. And so, if you're aware of some of those particulars, there are just some questions we can start to ask people. You can, you know, it doesn't have to be in the moment. But you have a meeting, you say, hey we did this interesting exercise. I wonder if we could start by just getting together and asking each other these questions, or you can find a way to ask somebody a little bit about you know something that really matters to them like, what's the you know what are some values that are really important to you, or you know, why do you particularly love doing X kind of work, and you learn a lot about them as a human. Then you can try to get perspective. So these are, these are some of the things that we can do. Now, not eroding the trust you know here it's important to recognize, especially in a leadership position, how much attention people are paying on every move you're making. And you can think of celebrities this way, right. One false move and everybody labels them a certain way forever. It's not quite as extreme with a leader in an organization, right, as it is with a celebrity. But there is, it's in that direction. People in a lower position of power scrutinize every move, every word from people in a higher position of power. And so, if you're able to recognize the cost far outweighs the benefits of just moving quickly and demanding something, you know, if there's resistance, there's resistance for a reason. Ask a question, find out, invite the person to contribute. Get clear on how you see the facts and do they even agree with you? So there's, if you're feeling like you have to push against something and force it or use your power to kind of, or authority, to control something you probably are eroding trust and that's going to take a lot more work to get back than it takes to lose. So, there's a few things we can be aware of on both sides that I think can really help us move a lot faster when we need to in terms of building trust.

Steve Peacher: I want to ask, you know, a personal question. That's how I do these. Before I do I want to put a plug in for your book, which is called “Two Awesome Hours,” correct? Maybe they're more than one, but that's I know one about, you know, which goes into how you make the most of your time and get the most important things done so. So that's the plug, people should read it, you'll be better for it. So, moving away from this topic, I know that you have done improv in the past, which to most people would be incredibly intimidating. So, I want to ask you two questions about that and to do that you probably need a great degree of inner mastery, I think, for people who only get up on stage but two questions. Does it make you nervous still or not? And then, secondly did you ever get up there you're in the middle of an improv session, and your mind just went blank. And you're kind of looking out thinking I got nothing there.

Josh Davis: Yeah, yeah. Easy question to answer. No, it doesn't make me nervous. And yes, my mind has gone blank. You know the magic of improv and the reason why it no longer makes me nervous is there's an insight that took me longer to get than most of the people in my classes. I got held back and had to repeat some of these classes I was taking if I wanted to then join the group and be able to do performances. And but I finally got it, and the message was it doesn't matter what your idea is. You might have a great idea. That was actually my problem I had a lot of great ideas. They would make people laugh. It would derail the whole scene because I wasn't reacting to what was happening in front of me. I wasn't present with the people in front of me, if they made a suggestion your job as an improviser is to pick up on the suggestion and do whatever comes to mind. The scene will unfold if you do that and I, now that I know that's my job, what's there to be nervous about? Let's have some fun. And also my if my mind goes blank, that's part of what's happening in the moment. Right?

Steve Peacher: You’re up there with others and you're relying on each other, right? And you're feeding off each other, and you kind of, I guess if you what you're saying is if you give into that then it makes it all easier.

Josh Davis: That becomes the scene. Somebody picks up on that and does something with it. Yeah, yeah, it's an amazing thing when you let yourself really go there.

Steve Peacher: Well, Josh, this has been great. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk about this. It's relevant, I think, to anybody whether they’re in the workforce or not. Certainly those in the workforce, we've really enjoyed working with you at SLC. And I think this was a great podcast, and thanks everybody for listening to this episode of “Three in Five.”

Josh Davis: Thank you so much for having me.


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