Liz Wiseman Transcript

Clint Betts

Liz, thank you so much for coming on and talking to our community. You are someone I deeply respect, deeply admire. I think you're the only person that I invite every year to come speak at our summit because your summits and your speeches at Slopes Summit are so incredible. I always try to sit in the front row when you're talking.

When I think of Liz Wiseman, I think of leadership, someone who really understands leadership, someone who studied leadership, someone who really cares about this topic. Why do you care about it?

Liz Wiseman

Well, it's sort of a trite saying, but I really do think leadership matters. And I've spent the last decade and a half looking at how different people's work experience can be if they're working for a leader who might be smart and capable, but ends up holding them back, suppressing them. And people describe this experience as frustrating, demoralizing, soul-sucking, exhausting.

And then they describe leaders, who they're at their best around and work is no longer soul-sucking. It's no longer tiring. It's maybe a little bit tiring, but totally exhilarating. And I think leaders are one of the pivot points for whether people's work experience is a burnout kind of experience or if it ends up being more of a buildup kind of experience.

And I think I'm focused on leadership because I want people to find joy in work. I find work joyful, and have had moments where I've hated it, but I think that what I want is for work to suck a whole lot less for people.

Clint Betts

And as you think of really good leaders, I know there's different styles and different ways to lead and all that type of stuff, but what makes a great leader? What is a great leader to have? What's an attribute or two that a leader has to have?

Liz Wiseman

Well, I think there is a different way to look at what a great leader is. For many, many years, we've looked at the “great man” model of leadership. And the problem wasn't that it was a man, not a woman, it's that it focused on the qualities of the leader: you had to be charismatic, you had to be visionary, and that if you had this package of capabilities, then you were this great leader.

And I think a different way, and maybe a better way to look at leadership is to look at the effect leaders have on other people. I had a boss at Oracle, so I spent 17 years at Oracle and spent a lot of years as an executive there. And my boss said something to me once, he said, "You know, our employees are the customers of our leadership." And I think it's a lot more helpful to look at leadership through the eyes of the customer like, who is the recipient of that leadership and be more concerned about are people great around that person or is the leader great him or herself?

I think a great leader is someone who brings out greatness in others. There are people who may show up big, maybe they are charismatic and visionary, bold and compelling, and all of those things that we traditionally see as great leadership. Yeah, they can be those things, but do they know how to temper that? Do they know how to play big? But do they also know how to pull back and play small, creating room for other people to play big?

And I think this is the appropriate way to look at leadership right now because we are dealing with problems that are just too big for any one person to solve. There is no one visionary enough that can see where the tech industry is really headed. There is no one visionary enough that they can describe where this is all going. I think this is one where we need many eyes on a situation to piece together what the future's going to look like.

Clint Betts

If you are a customer of poor leadership, what should you do? What do you do? And I'm sure that there are people watching or listening right now. It's like, "Hey, I'm a customer of poor leadership right now," or "I have been in the past and what do I do?" Because I know we talk a lot about what a leader does to improve their leadership, but what do you do when you're a customer of poor leadership?

Liz Wiseman

Yeah. Well, okay, that's a fun question and I don't know that anyone's ever asked me that question this way. So I think this is particularly interesting. Let's talk about what maybe we don't want to. We probably don't want to just quiet quit that situation. What I think most people do is they resign themselves to, "Well, my boss is going to do all the thinking. I'll just show up and attend the meeting and take notes and do what they ask me to do."

So giving up is not a good solution because you will end up languishing, you will end up atrophying around that leader. And when you finally get the courage to leave, you're going to find that you are leaving in a weakened condition and in some way, you become the damaged goods that aren't capable of stepping up and playing as big as you want to.

So just sitting that out, it's probably not a great strategy. You could just quit and go work elsewhere. But the problem with that is, if you quit and go work elsewhere. They quit bosses and then they go look for jobs elsewhere. But what they would really need to do is go shop for a new boss. There are too many people looking for jobs rather than looking for what's the culture I want to be part of and who do I want to work for, and who would I be willing to work for?

I think there's way too much emphasis on manager screening employees and not enough emphasis on employees screening the kind of managers they would want to work with. So quiet quitting is not a great strategy. Quitting is not a great strategy. Fighting it is not a great strategy either.

I think we've all experienced this. If you've got a know-it-all boss, what happens when you try to argue with a know-it-all? They tend to argue more vehemently. What happens if you try to keep a controlling, micromanaging boss out of your work? They get suspicious. And so they kind of reach in further.

And when we fight it and try to push people, we end up becoming more of the diminishing leader and we end up creating more of a diminisher above us. They doubled down on what they were doing. But here's what does work: you have to decide, "You know what? I can't control the kind of leadership I receive at this moment, but I can control the kind of leader that I am going to be, not just for my team." It's not like, "Okay, my boss above me sucks, so I'll create this little microcosm. This little thing, I want this little protected sanctuary here."

I can't necessarily control who my leader is, but I can control the leader that I want to be and I'm going to be the leader that the people on my team need, and I'm also going to be the leader that my boss needs. And I've seen so many situations where someone decided to be the multiplier up to their boss. And it did not change them. It did not turn them into an amazing boss.

But what it does is it changes the dynamic so that you now are more trusted. And instead of pushing them away, pull them in, give them a role, help focus their energy. And when we do that, it changes the dynamic and it gives you more space to be able to do your best work. And I think over time it does change that person, but I think in some ways be an advocate for the kind of leadership that you would like to see and be an example of that.

Clint Betts

We had Reed Hastings at an event and in the fireside chat he said, "If you can't lead yourself, you're not going to be able to lead others." And part of what I heard in your answer there is like, "Hey, you also have to lead yourself 'cause we're all leaders in some capacity."

So if you're a customer of bad leadership, how are you leading yourself in order to overcome it? Is that kind of another way to put it there?

Liz Wiseman

Well, I think so. Here's the thing, I think, I've learned through so much my research, and it's one of those things like if you had a chance to take out a billboard or to stand on top of the tallest building in town and shout loudly. Here's the thing I would shout out is, that we have so much more power than we think we have. And it is so easy when we've got a bad boss to get ourselves in this victim mentality of I am like the victim of my boss's bad leadership. And actually, really to remind ourselves, "No, actually, my boss is not in charge of my work. I'm in charge of my work."

Let me go around this way, Clint. The research I did for this book, Impact Players. I interviewed 170 managers and asked them, "What is it that people do that makes your job hard that they hate, that you as a manager hate when people do this? Versus what is it that people on your team do that makes your job easy and delightful, makes you just grateful to be a boss and a leader?"

And the things that they said that people do that they appreciate are things like finding problems and fixing them. Do things before I ask them to do it, follow up without being asked, chase after problems. And when I looked at all of this, it just became so clear to me, Clint, managers don't like managing people. They don't want to have to tell people what to do. They don't want to be like, "Okay, see you over there. I need you to do that and here's how I want it."

We've created in our mind this, I don't know, a stereotype of this uber bossy boss. And I think people fall into that role, but that's not the role people want to be in. And when we show up and we lead ourselves, we look around, we understand what's important, we figure out not just how to do our job, but to do the job that's needed when we go after problems, even though no one asked us to do it, when we step up and take the lead when there's this leaderless situation, rather than wait for the boss to tell us we're in charge.

When we take the initiative and we take ownership, and we just decide to be in charge of our own work, our bosses love it. Now, that's not to say every boss loves that. So there are probably some who... I don't know. We could get into what maybe went wrong in their career that caused them to feel this need to be so controlling and micromanaging, but most of the time it's appreciated.

So, yeah, I think we have to lead ourselves in many ways. And if we understand what our boss is trying to accomplish, fundamentally really, really understand what's important, what's important to the organization, what's important to them, we can take a lot more control of our work and we can be a lot more in charge of our work experience. Absolutely.

Clint Betts

If you think about this idea, which I love, these customers of leadership, and you pull it out outside of just a company and to begin this conversation, you were talking about, hey, look at society right now and our lack of leadership, or I don't want to put words in your mouth, but you said something around that phrase.

And as you look back at now, let's go macro level and maybe just like the United States for example, there's a lot of unhappy customers right now. I mean, we're not political obviously, but it seems like the challenge and the reason why that's true is trust. The customers have lost trust in what the leaders are providing or even saying, how do you rebuild trust once it's lost?

Liz Wiseman

Oh, I think we are having a massive crisis of leadership, a crisis of faith in institutions. And at this point, who would be the best choice for the next president of the United States? I think the answer to that question is no one, none of the above.

I was actually thinking the other day like, "What would it be like if we just didn't have a president?" And I don't know, Clint, if you saw this piece, it was in the New York Times. It was written by my friend and colleague, Adam Grant, who made this case for we would do a lot better out in our public leadership if instead of electing leaders, we just chose them at random.

And it's actually not a satirical piece. He's making the case that when people get elected, it kind of goes to their head. Somehow when people are chosen at random, much like a jury, people behave in much more responsible ways because they don't see themselves as superior, this sort of victor.

So we're having this massive crisis in leadership. And I don't know what the answer is at a national level, what needs to happen there? Who is the right person for that job? I'm not sure it's a job that anyone can be successful at right now, but when it comes to rebuilding trust, I think we often think of this backward.

We think about, "Okay, what do I need to do to get people to trust me?" Because that's a classic version of trust, which is like, here's what makes somebody trustworthy. And what I find is that the best leaders earn that trust by trusting other people. And one of the things that is at the core of this concept of multiplier leaders. Yes, we trust them, we tend to do our best work for them, but their focus is on other people.

And essentially the way they're operating is they are giving other people their trust. It's like saying, "I'm going to put you in charge of this because I trust that you're going to do a good job." It reminds me of when someone who worked for John Chambers said that Chambers used to say to him, "You know, I think you're going to surprise me on the upside," which is communicating trust.

Chambers also said to the same man, "You know what? When it comes to this part of the business, you get 51% of the vote and 100% of the accountability." So this is a leader who's not saying, "Trust me, I know where we're going." It's saying, "I trust you."

Clint, when I started my management career, I was really young, didn't know what I was doing. I organized a management training class. We brought in an outside trainer to teach this class, and I will never forget this class because what this trainer said is, your job as a leader is to have a vision of a better place and to take your team there.

And then for effect, he jumps up on the table — which, I've organized this class, and I have to say, by the way, this is like 50 yards from Larry Ellison's office. This is up on the 11th floor of the 500 Oracle Parkway building where Larry's executive suite is. And I'm now running this program and I got some outside consultant, he's up on the table. And he jumps up on the table and he reaches out his hand like this, and he kind of is bending over, extending his hand. He said, "Your job as a leader is to extend the hand of greatness to your team and say, "I know a better place. Come with me and I'll take you there.'"

And I was just not upset by the fact that he was up on this table and that Larry was going to walk by and wonder what we were doing. I was upset because I thought, "This is absurd. Is that really what good leadership is like?" It's like, "I know the way, trust me and I'll take you there."

And I think what the best leaders need to do is to say, "You know what? Come with me. I trust that together we can figure this out. I trust you." And when we feel trust extended to us, we tend to show up at our best.

And so, boy, our national problems and maybe what we might say is a national leadership crisis, it's complex. But I wonder what would happen if we trusted average people, average citizens a little bit more than the messaging has been.

Clint Betts

Yeah, wouldn't that be interesting?

Liz Wiseman

Wouldn't it be interesting to be trusted?

Clint Betts

Speaking of Larry, I had Mark Sunday, somebody you may know, who was the CIO of Oracle for a very long time, and I asked him about Larry's leadership style and the way he would bring himself to meetings. And actually, a lot of his answers were around trust, similar to what was his leadership style to you? How did you experience Larry?

Liz Wiseman

Oh, goodness. I have this up and down experience with Larry because he was this amazing leader, but he never wanted to talk about leadership, which was one of the things that frustrated me. I think I'm glad you pointed out trust because one of my colleagues at Oracle, Dennis Moore, who was one of the product marketing execs there, when we were talking about diminishing leaders, we acknowledged that, okay, Larry's got some diminishing traits. That's a lot of what makes a press. But what Dennis said to me, he said, "If Larry trusted you, there was no greater multiplier."

And that was my experience. I felt trusted by him and I was given a big responsibility at a young age and people didn't step in and do that job for me. I think this says a lot about trust and it gives you some insight into Larry. There was this really tense meeting that I had with Larry. We had been working together, trying to transform the education function. I ran the education which had historically been internal, but now its employee training as well as customer education for revenue business.

And we are really disrupting that whole model. We're moving everything online, we're doing this way before that is sort of in vogue and it's all at Larry's behest that we are completely rethinking this. And I am on board for this. We are having a great time. And then we get to a meeting where Larry says to me, looks right across the table at me and says, "You know, Liz," I think I had about 350 people on my team at the time. And he said, "I want you to pick your top 100 people on your team, and I want you to get rid of everyone else and rebuild the organization around your top 100 people."

And I'm like, "Okay." I was having fun with Larry. It was like all fun and games until Larry wanted me to fire 250 people virtually overnight. And I think Larry's lost his mind, he's being dramatic, he's being heartless. He doesn't understand that we're doing mission-critical work and that there's going to be a revenue hit. And so I'm going into all the ways that Larry's absolutely wrong about this.

And I'm not alone. The other executives, the head of sales, the head of product, we're all around this conference table and I'm also probably the youngest person in the room, the only woman in the room. And they're looking at me like, "Liz, don't take this bait." And so I kind of go into a little bit of a slow panic and I start to think all the ways that Larry is wrong about this.

And I go talk to all the executives, all the business unit heads, looking at what this would do to their revenue numbers, their business, and what it would do. And I lay out this case, full analytics on why I think this is a bad move, and I go back with a plan B, which is to reduce the organization by a much smaller amount.

And I lay this plan out. And I'll never forget what Larry said, he's like, "Liz, you've done a really good analysis on this, and you're right. What I asked you to do is probably unreasonable. And what you've come back with is a much more reasonable plan. And if this is what you want to do, I support you."

And, of course, the other executives on the table, they're like, "Whoa, Liz is the boss." I'm seeing this very much as this victory. I have been victorious against a really strong-willed, smart leader. And I'm feeling great about it, but I remember seeing this look of disappointment in his eyes. He was supportive.

And so we're all high-fiving after the meeting, we do this reduction in force, it's much, much smaller, and we go to rebuild and then suddenly we have to do a little bit more trimming on headcount. And then we have all the same work and more because now we're disrupting and changing, and we don't have enough heads to do it.

And people start leaving the organization voluntarily and work starts to feel miserable. And I'm realizing over the months that ensue, as I'm watching people leave, I'm having to ask people to leave. I'm reshuffling chairs that I'm presiding over this slow bloodletting in the organization.

And I realized Larry was absolutely right about this, and I was absolutely wrong. I had been incredibly shortsighted. I had been sort of defending the status quo, protecting my team, my organization, and some of it I think under the guise of protecting the business. But Larry had been thinking big, he'd been thinking for the future, and I'm protecting the past.

And I mean, I realized like, "Oh no, Larry was right." But he also said, "You know what?" He knew I was wrong. I absolutely am convinced he knew that that was not the right thing to do, but he gave me the space to do it. And I learned a really valuable, really expensive, really painful lesson because Larry trusted me to go do my job. Even if I was doing it poorly. It seemed like I was doing a good job, but I was so shortsighted.

Clint Betts

That is actually incredible. And what Larry's bringing to that table at the time is probably experience. This is most likely what you need to do. And then you come back. But he trusts you as a leader, he is like, "All right, well, I'll trust you 'cause maybe I'm wrong."

Liz Wiseman

Yeah. Because what he understands is if you really want to change the game, it's not done with incremental thinking. It's not getting 10% better, 20% better. If you want to get 2X, 5X, 10X better, you're better to strip down everything. I guess in the Elon Musk parlance this would be first principles thinking, it's like strip all of those unnecessary functions and strip things back to basics and rebuild around people who want to disrupt and want to innovate. And then add resources from there. And I think he understood that, and I didn't.

Clint Betts

What do you think —

Liz Wiseman

Yeah, this is not necessarily a super proud moment, but I think it says a lot about Larry.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. That's an incredible story. What do you think about Elon, actually? The most famous leader of our time, the most famous CEO of our time, the richest person in the world running various incredible big companies, and tweeting a lot. It's really interesting.

Liz Wiseman

Or X-ing a lot. I don't know if that's —

Clint Betts

X-ing a lot. Yeah, I don't know what it's called.

Liz Wiseman

Is it even called tweeting anymore?

Clint Betts

That's a good question.

Liz Wiseman

I have really mixed emotions. In some ways, Elon Musk is the epitome of the smart but diminishing leader. And if you talk to people who work for him, and I've worked with many of the people who have worked for him, they've been clients as they've left and gone to other companies.

I know some of them quite well, and I know what they would say off record is it was a pretty miserable experience working for Elon Musk. But he's absolutely brilliant and he's right about a lot of things. And it is very similar to a Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs mode. Here I'm probably someone who, if you see me coming around a hallway, you're like, "Oh, that's Liz. Liz, Multipliers."

This is someone who's trying to rid the world of diminishing leaders. And in many ways Elon Musk looks like that, but I think he's someone who's... There is a place for people who are singularly brilliant and emphatic, and they play this role and it's valuable. I bought a Tesla 10 years ago, and so I'm like a really early Tesla customer who saw the promise in this and wanted something.

And I love, love, love this car for a decade. And I think what he was able to build is absolutely amazing. We've got a Tesla Powerwall, sold on what's possible. Here's the thing the problem becomes when people try to replicate that as a leadership style. See, there's leaders of people and organizations and then there are thought leaders. And Elon Musk is a great example of a brilliant thought leader, who's not necessarily a brilliant organizational leader. And I think we make a mistake when we try to put them in that box.

I'll share another little story about Larry. The problem at Oracle, it was not Larry, it was the Larry lookalikes. And I would get a lot of people who... And I think it was because of my role, in charge of leadership development and people development. I can't tell you how many times I had to sit down with people and go, "You know what?"

Because they were doing the Larry thing, showing up, big, gun slinging, putting people in their place, being argumentative, visionary. And I'm like, "Okay, let me let you in on a secret here. Larry is amazing. We are so glad we have Larry Ellison in this company." But the thing is, we only need one of him. We don't need a whole army of people like this. And I think Elon Musk is someone that we need to appreciate for the trajectory he creates, the possibilities he explores, but I'm not sure his strength is as an organizational leader.

And typically, people like this need people around them who are great people leaders and organizational leaders and help smooth that. Not buffer people from it, but help people interpret the signal from the noise because these do tend to be kind of noisy leaders.

Clint Betts

Do you remember when the Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs biography came out and everybody read it, particularly those in tech or business, they're reading it and there's all these infamous stories of Steve Jobs's temper or berating people in meetings and all this type of stuff. People started wearing turtlenecks. Elizabeth Holmes did when she was running —

Liz Wiseman

You have a very famous example of someone who's now in jail. Someone who's trying to be Steve.

Clint Betts

They're trying to do this, mimicking this playacting of Steve Jobs and, man, was that pretty detrimental, actually. The funny thing is, we're on the verge of a Walter Isaacson biography of Elon Musk. And I wonder if that same phenomenon is about to happen, where people start to like, "Hey, because of these stories that we're hearing and it's incredible."

And the Steve Jobs stories were incredible, and that guy was incredible, and maybe even a good organizational leader. That's what's interesting about him. I'm not sure because he did something so remarkable in turning Apple around when he came back, and it was all pretty much organizationally. That was really interesting. What do you think about that phenomenon, the Steve Jobs one and what we might be about to experience now that Walter has a biography of Elon?

Liz Wiseman

Well, Clint, I'm glad you brought this up, and I'm really disturbed that you brought this up 'cause now I'm going to be fixated on what's going to happen with the Walter Isaacson bio. I had not seen that coming. Again, I think we need to understand the savant phenomenon, that there are savant, and they do amazing things in this world. It's a wonderful strategy to adopt and to replicate.

If you are a savant, that way of leading can work for you, but you have to really be that smart, that bold, and I think the bulk of the population isn't. So it's not authentic. In some ways, what Walter Isaacson will describe is a very authentic leader, who knows who he is, cannot move off of this, and he's doing his thing, but it's something that I think is dangerous to replicate. And his story is not over.

And Steve's story, we like to talk about how Steve came back from wandering in the wilderness and how it was somehow his day to transform Apple. But the Steve that came back to Apple was a very different Steve that went into it. It's interesting when I talk to people who worked closely with Steve, not people who read the book or were deep in the organization, but people who worked closely, they said, "Oh no, Steve Jobs was one of the great multipliers of our time. I did my best work around him."

And they would describe a very different Steve in that V2 part of his career than his V1. And I was just at a conference two days ago, where one of the directors at Pixar was talking about the movie UP. And so many of Pixar's movies are based on these very counterintuitive, strange twists and plots that turned out to be delightful.

And he said, "We had an amazing boss while we were doing Up. Steve Jobs believed in what we were doing, and he left us alone. He saw the promise in this idea that this older man's wife is going to die and he's now going to be a widower and him rediscovering joy in life. And it was so risky, but Steve believed in it." And he said, "And Steve left us alone. He stayed interested in the project, but he never made script changes. He never changed our visuals. He let us do our things."

And so that's Steve Jobs, not just V1, V3, that's kind of that V3 version of him when he now is an investor leader with Pixar. And I think if you talk to Ed Catmull, founder/CEO of Pixar, he'll tell you the same story. And so we've seen this leader evolve. And I don't know that he was ever a great organizational leader, but he evolved to the point where he understood Tim Cook.

And I remember the first time I went to meet with Tim Cook, and honestly, I went with my emotional body armor on. I was going to have this one-on-one. I had been doing some coaching work at Apple, and I was coaching a couple of executives who worked for Tim. And I went in there thinking, "This guy's probably a jerk."

He's the number two, and he's probably kind of a Steve lookalike. And what I saw was someone who was so different, so understated, so thoughtful, but piercing in his intelligence and curious and warm. And, Clint, we've had Tim out at the Silicon Slopes Summit, and you've been able to experience that, and that's who Steve entrusted Apple to. And that's who he partnered with to do all this amazing work.

Clint Betts

So basically, what we're learning in this conversation is you can't fake authenticity. Authenticity is super critical for leaders. And what's interesting about that is, I say that, and then you look at, again, on a macro level, maybe even a political world, I think you probably can fake authenticity in the political world, when we're talking about leading nations and things like that. Could that be true? Is that possible?

Liz Wiseman

Oh, I don't think people can fake it for too long. I think people reveal themselves to us, and I love the way you frame that as you can't fake it. And that's one of the things I really admire about Tim Cook is he did not. I'd been working closely with Tim's team when Tim was taking over for Steve and after Steve's death and stepping into that CEO role.

And I was really worried about Tim. Because people who've worked with Tim, love Tim, and I was one of those people. I'm just an outside coach and a consultant, but here's someone I love, and I want to see him successful. I'm like, "Oh God, how's he going to do this?" There's so much pressure for him to step into Steve's shoes and to be Steve, and he's not.

And I think Tim has done an amazing job, stepping into the parts of his role that are probably a stretch for him, being a bit of a showman for launches and doing what he needs to do, but staying true to who he is. And I don't know, maybe there's certain innovations that will never happen because Steve isn't there to grab someone by the throat and intimidate them into doing something brilliant.

But look what Tim has continued to build and create just being himself. So I don't know. I don't know that you could fake it that long, and I think you can maybe fake it till you make it, there's that very common saying. Fake it till you make it isn't about being inauthentic. It's knowing what you're trying to become like, "Okay, I'm trying to be maybe a little bit more assertive."

So I'm going to conjure up a little false confidence because it's something I really can do and want to do. You're just squaring your shoulders as you grow into something that is authentically desired and authentically possible for you. I think that's very different from pretending to be something that you're not. I think people are smart and see through all of it. I don't think it's ever a great leadership strategy. And all of our political leaders across the spectrum, I think we know who they are and what they're doing.

Clint Betts

That's a good point. That's a good point. Even when it's inauthentic, we know it. We just see it. That's interesting.

Liz Wiseman

Right. Oh, and if we get into the politics of this, I think we know who these people are and who our choices are, but we are trying to make them into something that they're not. We're trying to get them to do a job for us. And so I think a lot of this problem is of our own construction.

Clint Betts

What are you working on these days?

Liz Wiseman

Well, I've spent the last couple of years working on this idea of impact and what the most impactful people do inside of organizations. And I really entered into this work because I'd spent a decade plus trying to help leaders create environments where people could be at their best.

And it probably came most into focus when I'm out teaching a workshop, I think it was at Salesforce, and an engineering manager's like, "Yeah, I want to be a multiplier. That sounds great, but you can't multiply zero." And I'm like, "What?" I'm assuming he's like, "I got a bunch of dummies working for me." And then he says, "Yeah, I've got to show up with the right kinds of mindset and practices as a leader, but so do the people who work for me."

And so that really got me looking at what an outstanding contribution looks like, not just what it is that great leaders do. The kind of people who are doing amazing work, what are they doing irrespective of their leaders? How are they showing up? And the people who play big and really make a difference, the true difference makers in the work world, what do they do differently than everyone else?

And I've been working on this for the last couple years, and I'm just now at the point where I'm starting to turn my attention to the next big research project. So I'm about to —

Clint Betts

That's exciting.

Liz Wiseman

It is. It is exciting.

Clint Betts

That's very cool. Well, Liz, I can't thank you enough for joining us. Again, you're one of my heroes. I love reading your books. I love watching you speak. I love having you as a guest on the show. We end every show now the same way with this question, and that is, we believe the chances that are given are just as important as the chances we take. And I wonder who stands out when you hear that that gave you a chance in your career or in your life?

Liz Wiseman

This question you ask is really what we found with these impact players is, it's not just about waiting to be given a chance. It's the chances that you take. I had so many leaders who gave me a chance, but can I tell you the smallest moment that I think addresses this question, and it's this moment of redemption and grace.

And I am brand new at Oracle. I've come out of the state of Utah where I got my bachelor's and my master's degree. I'm coming back home to Silicon Valley. I'm taking a job at a tech company. My background is in business, but I'm joining this tech company. I think it's important to understand the tech because I've taken a job in tech, and so I'm trying to learn it. And I'm in this new hire training program.

It's a three-week program. And one of the culminating exercises of this program is you have to use Oracle's products, the database and PL/SQL and the apps, and all the toolkit to build an app and then to demo it as maybe in a sales situation. So I build my app. I work hard on it. I'm not a natural technologist, but I build it. We're running on some Unix as our operating system.

And we now drive from this bootcamp, and we go up to Oracle headquarters where the newbies to the organization are going to present our hard work to the judges. And one of the judges is a young, maybe 30s sales engineering manager. His name is Bob McCormick, and he's going to be our judge. Our little group of maybe seven or eight people show up into this conference room.

And we each go through to present our demo. And several people go, and then it's my turn and I pull up my application. It was probably called demo five or something like V, five or whatever. I go to present it, and it's messed up. It's not working right. Something's not going well and I am panicking, and I am crashing and burning because I worked really hard to get this working prototype of this app, and it's just a pain.

And so you can imagine the room is really uncomfortable because I am failing at this. And I will never forget Bob who gave me a second chance at this. He said, "Liz, you know what? I think you might be in somebody else's UNIX account." The person before me hadn't logged out of their UNIX account, so I was pulling up a file from their account. That was one of their early versions of this. And he says, "I think you've done that."

He could have eviscerated me at this moment. It was to teach me this lesson of, "Well, always log out of the account, always testing before you present." And he said, "Why don't you back out of that UNIX account? Why don't you go into your account and why don't you start your demo over?"

And, Clint, I'm getting a little teary just telling you this story because I was blown away by this. Because he could have tortured me, could have made me look like a fool, but he just gave me this chance and kind of a fresh start to do something and to have success. And I've never forgotten that.

I think it's these small acts of giving people chances, giving people chances to redeem themselves, to recover from mistakes that have been powerful. And I've had a bunch of people who've given me chances to fix it and make it right and do a good job, but that was one early in my career. It set a tone for me.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. Liz, thank you so much.

Liz Wiseman

That's Bob McCormick. Yeah.

Clint Betts

Bob McCormick. Wow. He's still around, likely, right?

Liz Wiseman

Still around. He's probably retired to some extent, but, yeah, I've never forgotten that little moment of grace and a little moment of teaching and kindness.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. Liz, thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it, as always.

Liz Wiseman

Oh, it's my pleasure.

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