Vulnerability & Loyalty In The Purpose Driven Company: An Interview With Dov Baron

By David Mizne

When your company’s mission is to bring out the best in people at work via core values like Grant Trust & Be Transparent and Dare to Dream, you tend to form relationships with people who are also trying to transform the world of business to be more human-centric.

 That’s why I was led inextricably to Dov Baron, recognized as one of the top 100 leadership speakers to hire, and a brilliant corporate cultural strategist. He is the founder of Full Monty Leadership, and provides essential soft leadership skills to good leaders who are committed to becoming great while growing their people and the bottom line.

I recently interviewed Dov to understand how he counsels executives to transform their cultures, create more diverse workplaces, and to develop teams that are fiercely loyal to the organizations where they work.

DM: How did you first get involved with leadership development and organizational dynamics?

DB: I started 32 years ago as an entrepreneur in Australia. I had a client named Steve who owned a national menswear company there. He would come in and we would have these deeply philosophical conversations, because my background is in philosophy, the psychology of excellence, quantum physics, and metaphysics.  One day he invited me to come in and speak to his executive team.

My response was, what are you talking about? I don’t know anything about public speaking.  He insisted and said I can speak about anything I wanted to, but he had one condition. He pointed at me and said, you gotta look like that.

This was in 1984 when I was in my twenties, and always displaying my body builder physique in ripped jeans and a tight T-shirt. I had long hair in curly locks that fell past my chest, stubble on my face, and enormous hoop earrings. He wanted me to come by, wait until the meeting started, pop my head in, and wait to be announced.

The day of the meeting, I arrived and entered the boardroom. All of the executives were looking at me sideways as if to say, You’re in the wrong room, get out! Steve announced me and everyone did a double-take.

So I’m standing up there at my very first corporate speaking gig and I don’t remember what I spoke about, but I remember the opening crystal clear. It was the eighties and there was a lot of talk about racism against the Aborigines in Australia. So I led-off by asking, How many of you are racist?

Nobody put their hand up.

I continued, How many of you are prejudiced based on looks?

Nobody put their hands up. I leaned in and said, you’re a bunch of f**king liars.

I look over at Steve who’s wearing a big smile and then turned back to the execs. Every single one of you judged me on the way that I looked. You assessed whether I was your customer,  whether I would have anything valuable to say, or whether I have the money to buy from you. But I am your customer, that’s how Steve and I met. You guys make my suits. But if I walk in looking like this you’ve already written me off, that’s your mistake and that’s how you’re destroying your business.

That’s how it started, and why I speak about authenticity so much. Today, part of the work we do with corporations is called Breaching the Bias. We don’t know our own biases, we call them the truth. So we strip that away to expose what’s underneath and help people discover the value that’s there.

DM: There’s a lot of  talk about diversity in Silicon Valley, where all the studies are showing that diverse workforces are more successful. What is the resistance and how do we shift?

DB: I explain to leaders who have been at it for awhile, that what they did worked. How do I know? Because they’re at the top. The problem is that it no longer works. They now have enough leverage and height to get away with advancing their way of thinking in the ten years they’ve got left. So meanwhile they disregard everybody who’s talking about transparency and diversity, because in their world that didn’t work. But now they’re poisoning the culture. If it was up to me I would get rid of them and temporarily replace them with somebody in their mid to late twenties. That way the other leaders would get a fresh look at what the rest of the world sees.

We cling in order not to sink, but unfortunately what we cling to also prevents us from flying. They’re clinging because of the thought that, oh my god the world is changing!

Well, I respond. You could fly if you would only let go.

Don’t miss the second part of my interview with Dov. Read it here! 

DM: I call this the problem of half measures. If someone builds a couple of nice restaurants in a troubled part of town, they’ll fail. You can’t revitalize an entire neighborhood unless you have buy-in from more businesses, local government…etc… Likewise, how do a handful of people transform an entire culture especially at a large company?

DB: You can’t do it bottom-up it has to be top down. Otherwise it’s a waste of resources and you’ll never build loyalty. And the only way for it to start at the top is for the people at the top to see measurable results.

Back when I started working I was asked, what do you want to do when you leave school?  That was a 20-40 year question. That is now a 4 year question. Millennials are changing careers – not jobs, careers –  every 4 years. You’re spending 1.5 to 2X their average annual salary training and developing your people.  If they’re leaving you every 1.2 to 2 years, which is the average for millennials, you can’t even hit your ROI.

If you can’t keep your people, you’re losing money in your business. No matter how much revenue is coming on, it’s leaving just as fast. And that’s just your first line of costs. Secondly, managers have to train the new guy so they are not as productive. The cost is vast. When the top guys get that at a money level, they start paying attention to it. Ok, what do we have to do? That’s how you change the culture.

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DM: You have this phrase Fierce Loyalty. How do you distinguish that from plain ol’ loyalty, and how do you create it? How do you mitigate the impacts of the millennial shift?

DB: Loyalty is something that my generation had simply based on good pay and upward mobility.  I’m loyal because I’ve gotten a 7% raise every year for the last 20 years. I’m going to get a gold watch when I leave or a golden handshake. It was loyalty to the lifestyle that the company provided.

 Fierce loyalty is evangelical. When I’m fiercely loyal, I’ve become your HR department. I’m going to bring in people to work here because it’s so amazing. Why is what’s more important. What creates that loyalty is having a purpose driven organization with purpose driven leaders. Simon Sinek shares that it starts with Why, but some people just don’t get it.

I have conversations with people in business who say, oh I loved that TED Talk! I read the book.

I ask, so tell me what your WHY is.

No, that’s not your WHY. That’s your BS glorified mission statement that you’ve now transferred into calling your WHY.

How do I know? Because if I go out there and ask your executive team, nobody remembers it or cares about it. If you talk to executives at companies I work with, everybody knows the WHY but they won’t say it word for word. They translate it into the emotional language for them and that’s what it has to be. The company WHY has to dynamically relate to Bob the CFO’s WHY. That way when Bob goes and works with his team or goes out into the world, he’s coming from that emotional place.

This is what business has forgotten. People are not rationally or logically driven, we are emotionally driven. If you want someone to be fiercely loyal, if you want to set them on fire, you have to speak to their heart, soul, and mind. That doesn’t happen without emotion. Now you have fierce loyalty and you set up a culture that is intrapreneurial, supporting the entrepreneurial spirit of the company.

Google, LinkedIn and Zappos have done a phenomenal job with it but it’s still not enough in the workforce for people to see the value. Ten hours a week set aside just to innovate? That’s a waste of money. Innovation is important, but most people in Silicon Valley will say it’s a tweak. Ask what facilitates innovation and you’ll seldom get the answer: emotional safety. They think it’s higher pay or a ping pong table.

Why emotional safety? If you are set up with an intrapreneurial mindset in an environment where you’re allowed to fail and not ridiculed for it, then it’s safe enough for you to make mistakes while attempting to innovate.  Because what happens very o ften is the thing that you’re trying to innovate on doesn’t get the intended result but you create an innovation that’s in another realm. Like the Post-it Note that was invented by a guy who was trying to create an adhesive that was stronger than Super Glue. 

DM: I am fortunate to work in a culture that embraces vulnerability, but in other cultures it is seen as a weakness. How do we convince people of its importance and that it is actually a strength?

DB: I wrote about this a lot in Fiercely Loyal, when I talk about The Hawke Effect. During the 1980s in Australia, there was a man called Bob Hawke. He was a beer drinkin’, Aussie man’s man, an unshakable tough guy. He became the Labor Party leader and then the prime minister. He was constantly dropping the ball.

As the election was coming up, Andrew Peacock was Hawke’s opposition and constantly criticizing him. It was clear that Peacock was going to win. Then an exposé came out right before the election, disclosing that Hawke’s two daughters were drug addicts. One was living in crack-houses in Sydney, and Hawke was constantly going out into the streets there looking for her. When this surfaced it was pretty shameful, and Peacock used it to his advantage. He basically said,  Hawke can’t even run his own family let alone the country.

The following night Hawke was interviewed on 60 Minutes and this tough guy looked into the camera and basically said, I have let Australia down. I believe in my country and love my country, but I gotta be honest with you, I love my family more. He admitted that his daughter was an addict and started to get choked-up. And then he apologized to the camera as a tear rolled out of his eye. Six weeks later he won the election beyond the shadow of a doubt.

60 Minutes conducted street interviews asking people why they voted for Hawke and their answer was, because he’s one of us. He’s a person. He’s human. We all have times when we have to put family first.

Hawke’s vulnerability shifted an entire country who were ready to throw him away. They supported him even though he wasn’t fully in, because of his vulnerability. If a country can be moved by that, then your company, your culture and your customer can be moved by that.

On the other side of that, people will use vulnerability to manipulate. That’s faux-nerability. It’s fake. Pay attention and you can spot it. And Millennials have a fantastic BS meter.

One other caveat is that vulnerability is not indiscriminate emotional vomit. Please be discerning and understand the distinction. Be emotionally intelligent, read the situation, and read the individual. Real vulnerability has to have safety, and safety has to have reciprocity.

Image Credits: treeday77Barney Moss

David is Content Manager at 15Five, a lightweight weekly check-in that delivers a full suite of integrated tools – including continuous employee feedback, objective tracking (OKRs), pulse surveys, and peer recognition. Follow him on Twitter @davidmizne.

How do you create emotional safety at your company? How has innovation improved as a result? Leave a comment below. 

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