Sue Elliott is CEO and Founder at Easier Way, Inc. Through her work with leaders, writing and media appearances, Sue has empowered and uplifted millions of people. She has been immersed in the personal-transformation field for 25-plus years, and for more than a decade, she has been offering a unique blend of transformational coaching, conscious-business mentoring, and energy healing. Sue is currently co-founding a very different kind of college—focused on life skills, self-awareness, and collaboration—to help people thrive in a future filled with rapid change.
John Ryskowski is Chief of Organizational Transformation at Easier Way, Inc. As a change catalyst, John has 30 years of experience helping organizations get un-stuck from their current state, facilitating transformation in measurable, meaningful ways. John is a Certified Scrum Master, a CMMI High Maturity Lead Appraiser for services and development, and a Problem Solving Leadership graduate.
I sought out Sue Elliott and John Ryskowski for this interview because I know and have worked with both of them. Sue has a rare gift for spotting people’s dysfunctional patterns and dissolving them quickly and easily, and she’s an exceptional listener. John has a gift for connecting with people—and for discovering what’s really going on within organizations. Together, they bring a fascinating blend of personal and organizational transformation expertise to the conversation.
How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Sue Elliott: This is a question that’s near and dear to my heart, because the vast majority of workplaces suck the life out of people. We don’t always think of it this way, but organizations are actually entities.Organizations have their own collective consciousness, which is created, in part, by the business’s culture and core values.
And unfortunately, most workplaces today are incredibly draining: People drag themselves home at the end of the day, exhausted and often demoralized.
I believe now is the time to raise the consciousness of organizations so that they uplift and energize people. Then people will want to get out of bed and go to work in the morning. They’ll be able to contribute more. And instead of being completely depleted and drained at the end of the day, they’ll be excited about the contribution they made, and they’ll go home and have energy to interact with their families and friends.
This kind of organizational transformation is, to a great degree, a process of personal transformation. In other words, it’s about how we’re showing up at work. And it definitely starts at the top: Is the CEO somebody who is closed off and unavailable, or somebody who’s open and receptive?
When something goes wrong, do we approach it with an attitude of interrogation, as in: We must get to the bottom of this!Or are we coming at it with curiosity, asking, What’s really happening here? I wonder what caused that…When I say it like that, it’s pretty easy to feel which approach is going to get people to open up and share what’s going on, and which approach is going to trigger people into being defensive and protective and closed off, right?
It’s going to take some work to transform organizations—and the leaders, teams and individuals within those organizations—but it’s completely do-able. And it’s worth doing.A big part of the process is creating a space where it’s safe for people to be authentic, and where people become aware of and actually use what I call their “superpowers.”
I believe we each have certain gifts, skills, talents and abilities that are innate. Using them feels as natural as breathing to us, so we may not even recognize that we’re doing anything special. In fact, we probably think everybody can do these things. But when we’re using our superpowers (we might call it being “in the zone” or “in a flow state”), that’s when magic happens.
Can you imagine an organization where all the people are using their superpowers? We’d be able to get so much more work done—better—by the same exact people!
To create this kind of workplace, people need to feel safe. They need to feel that it’s OK to be authentic. And they need to be in the right seat on the bus, so they can actually use their superpowers every day.
John Ryskowski: I believe it’s really important to “give people the time of day.” We recognized this a long time ago with the Hawthorne effect. During this study, they did all these experiments to try and figure out what made people more productive. They gave workers more lighting, and production went up. They played music, and production went up. They put workers in a special room, and production went up. And after many gyrations, they discovered that the only reason production went up was because the workers were being treated like they were special. Management was giving them the time of day.
This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Here’s an example from when I was doing CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) appraisals: I was leading a team of 13 people. We had a lot of work to do in a very short period of time, and it was intense. I had one person on the team; we’ll call her J. And midway into the work, we had another person come onto the team; we’ll call her H. And suddenly, there was this territorial tension in the room. And I thought, in today’s world, how on Earth am I going to handle this one?
Well, all I did was meet with each of them for about 20 minutes in a side room, and I just thanked them. I recognized each of their unique situations. For instance, with one of them, I said, “I know you’re dealing with some health issues that are not small, and I’m happy that you can still be a part of this, and I think I speak for everyone else, too.”
And that tension in the room? It went away! I didn’t need some brilliant strategy. I didn’t have to say some magical things. I just gave each of them the time of day. I gave them some special moments. We bonded a little more, and that was it.It’s so powerful when we give people the time of day, and it’s so rare that it happens!
What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Sue: One powerful way is to listen. When we allow somebody to talk about something that matters to them, we’re getting their full attention, which can lead directly to getting their best performance. So as a leader, it’s important to go in, ask a powerful, open-ended question, and then listen.
Bill: How do you define listening? How do you really listen?
Sue: That’s a great question. People are starting to use the phrase deep listening. I like active listening. I believe that active listening requires us to be fully present. We have to let go of preconceived notions of how things should be, and we have to stop thinking about what we want to say next, or what we want the other person to understand.
We have to get out of our heads and, instead, fully focus on what the other person is saying. And not just the words coming out of their mouth: Does their body language go with what they’re saying? Are they getting more tense? Are they getting more relaxed? What’s happening in the energy of that person, and how can we understand it better?
Asking very simple questions can help, like: I just noticed a shift in you. What happened there? Or: This is really interesting, and I don’t know as much about it as I would like. Tell me more.Simply be present and show interest.
When it comes right down to it, nobody can know every single thing going on in a business. So, as a leader, pretty much everybody in the company is going to have some information that would be really valuable for you to know. It pays to spend a little time connecting with people, asking a question or two, and getting people to open up.
This not only helps get people’s best performance, but also better understand what’s best for the business as a whole.
John: To get people’s full attention and best performance, you have to recognize their dilemmas and somehow be able to show that you are concerned and taking action. You can invest literally 90 seconds in a meeting, and you can shift the perspective and kind of light up or ignite people.
But just remember: After that, they’ll be watching, so the follow-up needs to happen, and it needs to be righteous and it needs to be heartfelt. If you don’t follow up, you’re just “full of it.” You don’t get many tries, right? So you’ve got to take advantage of each one. Even if it doesn’t work, people will forgive you for that, but you’ve got to at least give it a shot.
Leaders that are good at this spend a lot of time not doing things: They spend a lot of time not reacting or not overreacting. They’re very careful about where they inject themselves, and how. And when you see somebody very carefully doing it, it’s like artwork. It’s quite beautiful to see.
Note: This is a preview of the full interview. The complete interview was selected by Apress for publication and continues in The Future of the Workplace.