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Guest

180

Dopamine only comes when you're learning - dopamine only comes when you're beating expectations that surprise and delight.

In this episode

Have you ever had a star employee whose performance suddenly dropped and you didn’t understand why?

Everyone experiences the S curve of job satisfaction. The 3 points in the “S” are always a launch point, sweet spot, and mastery. When employees reach mastery, they get bored and less motivated because they’re not getting the same amount of dopamine from performing the job as before. 

A former award-winning Wall Street stock analyst, Whitney Johnson applies her understanding of momentum and growth in stocks to people. In her words, “you have to be willing to disrupt yourself”. 

Whitney Johnson is the CEO of Disruption Advisors, a leadership development company, helping you grow your people to grow your business. A Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon bestselling author, she was named by Thinkers50 as one of the ten leading business thinkers in the world. She is a keynote speaker and a popular lecturer for Harvard Business Publishing’s Corporate Learning. In 2017, she was selected from more than 17,000 candidates for the initial cohort of Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches, and was named the #1 Talent Coach.

In episode #180, Whitney explains how learning is the oxygen of human growth, how to deal with bored employees, the value of getting a coach, and why we need to disrupt ourselves.

Tune in to hear all about Whitney’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!


Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


03:40

Micromanagement on Wall Street

09:30

Team member growth (the S curve framework)

18:00

What happens when your employees get to mastery

25:00

The innovator’s dilemma

30:16

 Disrupting ourselves leads to growth

36:00

 Surprise and delight


Resources mentioned in this episode:


Transcript

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  02:50

Whitney, welcome to the show.

Whitney Johnson  02:56

Thank you Aydin I’m delighted to be here.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  03:22

Yes, super excited to do this. You’ve had a pretty extensive leadership career working at companies like brand velocity group, Rose Park advisors, Harvard Business, School executive education. And today you’re the world’s authority on Smart Growth leadership. We’re gonna dive into your your book on the topic, personal disruption, disruption advisors. But let’s start in the very beginning. So when did you first start to manage or lead a team? What were some of those early mistakes that you used to make back then I made so many mistakes.

Whitney Johnson  04:12

The first time I managed I had become equity research analyst and I’m working on Wall Street and was running a team of about four people that were reporting directly into me and one of my big mistakes I remember is that I was so concerned about putting out a great finished product like we were publishing our research, and we were going to make a stock call. So the model needed to be perfect. The research seemed to be perfect. And I was so concerned that it wouldn’t be perfect that we wouldn’t make the right stock call that I would keep my people there all hours of the night, and not making it possible for them to go home and actually have a life and micromanaging and so I think about that, actually, I can still remember there was a woman working for me her name was Rachel. She was so good but after like nine months she left and I’m pretty confident that she left in part because she

Whitney Johnson  05:00

She couldn’t have a life and I was micromanaging.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  05:02

My question is, is Wall Street different? And the reason I asked this is because I know the culture is different. So I think people work crazy hours, and especially when you’re new, and you’re an entrant into the field, when I think about investment banking, or those sorts of fields, you know, so is it anything that you did? Or is it just a culture? And maybe some people want to do that? And others don’t? How do you think about that? That’s a

Whitney Johnson  05:26

fair point. And I don’t know what investment banking is like now, because I haven’t been in it for 25 years. But I will tell you that early in my career, when I became an investment banking analyst, I basically worked all the time. Every day, Saturday, Sunday, I’d go to church, I’d go back to work. And I wore it as a badge of honor. And there was something about it, that was very exhilarating, and actually very focused, because the only thing I was worried about was work. And so there was something to that. But once you got into equity research, it was a little bit different than the culture of banking. People still worked really hard, but they didn’t work to the same degree. And I think it wasn’t just about how many hours we were working, but I think it was also how I was working. I think I was micromanaging and, and overthinking things. So it was the hours but also the style of managing. But yes, I think Wall Street is a little bit different. And people do sign up to just work. Lots and lots of hours. And there’s something there’s there’s an adrenaline rush in it if most people are honest.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  06:29

Yeah. So let’s talk about the micromanaging thing. So how did you figure out that you were doing that and what allowed you to change the way that you were approaching it?

Whitney Johnson  06:37

I don’t think that I was aware of it at the time. To be honest, I think that this is 2025 years ago, I did at one point have a coach, but it was because I wasn’t working very well with some of my peers across the organization. And this was back in the day when you got to coach because you needed to remediate something, not because today you get a coach, like you’re a high performer, you’re a superstar, we’re gonna give you a coach because we want you to be even better. Well, back then it was like, You’re not doing a good job, we’re gonna get you a coach. But it wasn’t around management, it was more around working with my peers. So I think that this ability to manage people better and to not micromanage is something that has been an ongoing journey. And frankly, I think that my growth around this has really accelerated as over the last 10 years, I’ve done a lot of coaching. I mean, I coach CEOs now. And as I have coached people and observed behavior, I mean, I’m continually learning myself. And that’s helped me up my game, in terms of running my company at disruption advisors.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  07:44

Yeah, that’s awesome. And a good way to explain it. One thing that you mentioned in passing, and I’d love to get your opinion on, you said, the coaching, now we offer it to people who are really good when people had problems, we offer them the coaching, again, limited resources, and only some people could have the coaching, how would you play it? Or what would you advise? It’s funny,

Whitney Johnson  08:04

sometimes people will ask me, like, if you could go back and tell your 20 year old self, what you would do differently? I say, and I know I’m talking my own book, but every single time, get a coach, now, at the beginning of your career, because there’s so much that you don’t know how to navigate all those soft skills are what make the difference between you actually being able to be successful and not their skills that you don’t learn in school? So to answer your question, I would work on coaching the people hiring outside coach for the high performers that you want to retain, that’s where I would put my money first, it

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  08:38

makes sense. And I love the way that you phrase it, which is the people that I want to retain, you want to retain, obviously everybody or most people that obviously check the boxes that you’re looking for, but with limited resources, like you definitely have hired people on the retention list. Yeah,

Whitney Johnson  08:54

in any given organization, you’re gonna have some people that you’re like, they are so good, they surprise and delight continually, there’s a great match between the work that needs to get done and what they are good at. And so those are people that start to be those linchpin players that if you lost them, you would be in a world of hurt. And so who are those people? And how do you make sure that, and I know we’ll talk about this in a minute, but one of the greatest predictors of longevity in an organization is do I feel like I’m growing? Well, when you have a coach, you’re gonna grow faster. So yeah, you want to put your resources there. super

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  09:28

interesting. And by the way, I just love the phrase that you use, which is people who surprise and delight consistently, because as you said it and I started thinking about people on my team. Yeah, that is true about them. They do surprise and delight, and they do it on a consistent basis. I also want to emphasize the word surprise because it feels amazing to be able to see people do things that kind of surpass expectations and you weren’t expecting it and you get that kind of surprise. And yeah, I think that’s awesome. So let’s talk about the growth within organizations, so we’re talking about a players, we want to retain them. Let’s talk about that. How should people think about growth of their team members? Yeah.

Whitney Johnson  10:09

So this really goes to the heart of the work that we do. First of all, some underlying or fundamental assumptions that I’m making, when I think about this is that growth is our default setting for every human being, we are wired to grow. And so in any given situation, people on your team, no matter who they are, they are there because they believe at some level, they’re going to be able to grow, because they’re working for you. That’s an underlying fundamental assumption that I have. And so one of the things that we have done is we have created a framework, it’s called the S curve, that allows you to say, Okay, well, what does growth look like? What is growth feel like? And it’s very simple visual that you can explain to a 10 year old, which basically says, Whenever you start something new, you’re at a launch point of that curve. And you’re going to have all those feelings of being overwhelmed and discouraged and frustrated and impatient and like an impostor. And the reason being is because growth is happening, but it’s not yet apparent. And so the experience that you have is that it feels slow, you feel uncomfortable. And you think, Well, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I want to do this. But if you stick with it, then the feeling you’re going to have is you’re going to tip into the sweet spot, and Malcolm Gladwell popularized. And this is a place of tremendous exhilaration, you can be in flow gross, not only fast, it feels fast. And when you’re having conversations with your friends, people don’t usually talk about the sweet spot because you’d like how’s work works great. And then you move on, they talk about the launch point of I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. They don’t. And then they also talk about that mastery place where they’ve gotten very good at their job. But they’re not learning at the same rate that they once were, they’re feeling a little bit bored, and their brain needs dopamine. And dopamine only comes when you’re learning dopamine only comes when you’re beating expectations that surprise and delight. And so the question then is alright, so what do you do now when you’re at that top of that curve, because on the one hand, you like being the master of all you survey, but on the other hand, you need to keep growing, you need to keep learning. And so you need to keep climbing, you need to jump to a new curve. And so when you understand that very simple framework, it allows for a real two way conversation between you are a manager, and the person who’s working for you to say, where are you in your growth? Are you at the launch point? Which projects? Are you working on that you’re on the launch point? Because if I know, you’re the launch point that I know, you’re probably feeling a little bit frustrated, okay, let’s get you some support? Or do you feel like you’re in the sweet spot? Great. Well, that might mean, if you’re in the sweet spot, I’m giving you a lot to do because you are competent. And you’re surprising and delighting me every day. And so I have to worry about overloading them, making sure that I’m not overloading them. And if they say to you, I’m in mastery, I feel like I’ve kind of figured this out, I’ve done what I needed to do in this role, I’ve got the leadership skills at cetera, they personally are not feeling surprised and delighted. So now I know they could become a flight risk. Now, if I don’t want to keep them great, because they’re going to leave. But if I want to keep them, I know that I’ve got to find a way for them to continue to be challenged. But you can then take this very simple artifact, this very simple framework, and use this to have a conversation about the growth of your people. And if they’re growing, you’ll retain them. So

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  13:27

people sometimes struggle, what should I talk about in my one on ones, and this is what a great topic and also the right language to be able to talk about it in that kind of a framework. And putting labels on things makes things just so much easier to talk about. And so that’s the part that people love the most. Is it everybody that loves the sweet spot? The most would you say are some people like happy to be in the mastery point and just giving advice to people? And that’s

Whitney Johnson  13:55

a great question, Aydin. And what I would say is that I think we all love the sweet spot. And we’d like to be able to be there as much as possible because we feel capable, we feel competent, we feel autonomy there. If you look at self determination theory, I would argue that we’re deeply ambivalent about a place of mastery. Because on the one hand, we do like feeling like we’re really good at what we’re doing. But because we are wired to grow, there’s this mechanism inside of our brain. I mean, if you think about mountain climbers, any altitude above 26,000 feet is known as the death zone. So they’re so high up, their brain and body will start to die if they stay there too long. Well, it’s the same with individuals like learning is the oxygen of human growth. So if you get to the top of a curve, and you’ve done everything that you set out to do, then if they stay there too long their brain and embody will literally start to die, but then you can have that conversation and, and I’ll give you a specific example that might be helpful. We have a tool it’s called the S curve, Insight tool that you can administer and Have people say, Okay, where am I in my growth? Am I feeling like they’re still upside or not? Well, with this one company called Chatbooks, the Chief Marketing Officer at the time, took the assessment and discovered that she was in mastery. When she discovered that she was in mastery. She said, Oh, now I understand. It’s not that I don’t like chapbooks. It’s not that I don’t like my manager, it’s that my brain needs more dopamine. And I’m not getting it here. And there’s not another place for me to move here. So I need to go to another organization. But because it now was about needing to learn, it wasn’t personal, the manager didn’t feel betrayed, they were able to have this very amicable conversation. And she was able to train her successor, and then move on. And so it gives you this way to have a conversation that feels personalized, but doesn’t feel personal.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  15:52

Yeah. So I have so many questions on this. So one tactical one is what if someone thinks they’re in mastery on your team, but you don’t think that they are?

Whitney Johnson  16:00

Oh, and that happens a lot doesn’t it? Can

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  16:04

happen a few times here and there? It

Whitney Johnson  16:07

happens a lot? Well, I think this is where this can come in very handy. So you can do the Tesla version, if you want the fancy Tesla version and administer the assessment, say, here’s where it’s coming back. And let’s look at all the data. And here’s what I think and what my perspective is. But if you wanted to much, much more simply, you can just get out a piece of paper and you can draw that s and say, Okay, tell me about your three different projects, your major projects that you’re working on, where are you on the curve? And then your brain as a manager, you’ll be thinking, Hmm, I wouldn’t have put them there. And then you start to get curious. Okay, so you say that with the rollout of X, Y, or Z product, you’re in mastery, tell me more? Why are you in mastery, tell me from a domain expertise, why you’re in mastery. And also tell me from a leadership perspective in terms of bringing people along and doing everything that we scoped for you to get done in this role. Tell me why you think you’re a master and and they’ll talk to you. And then you can start to say, well, let me sort of talk to you about what I’m saying. And so it allows you to give something for them to look at something for you to get very curious for them to talk through it. And most of the time, you’ll be able to get them to this place of actually, I think you’re still in the sweet spot. Or maybe you’re in launch. But here’s what I want you to know. And this is important. I think you’re still in sweet spot. But once you get to mastery, and we both agree that you’re in mastery, I will help you jump to a new curve. And that’s my promise to you.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  17:41

I love that. And in particular, you didn’t start by saying no, you’re not. You’re more like in the struggling phase. And you started by asking you a bunch of questions and getting curious. And that makes a lot of sense. Because sometimes when they think about mastery, maybe they’re just thinking about another aspect of the project that you weren’t even thinking about, maybe you’re thinking about something completely different. And a great way to do that. You said that sometimes people are in mastery, and you know, maybe you don’t want to retain them, and maybe you want them to leave. What do you do in a situation like that, in general, let’s say that someone truly has gotten to mastery, they’ve kind of lost a little bit of motivation and kind of becoming a parent. And in such a situation and say that there isn’t something that you can move them into what do you do in such a circumstance?

Whitney Johnson  18:29

Well, again, this is where that coaching behavior comes in. Because one of the things that will happen, and I’m sure you and every manager listening to this podcast, you’ve seen this happen, where you have someone who’s been a very strong performer, they’ve gotten to mastery, they’re starting to dial it in because they’re not feeling challenged in the way that they once were. And it becomes very much a challenge for you as a manager to not say to yourself, oh, they’re not good. Are they really not good? Or are they just bored? And so that’s again, where you’re going to have that conversation where you say, I think you’re hitting mastery. It looks like you’re starting to dial it in a little bit. What do you want to do? What do you think makes sense for you to do? Do you want to stay in this role? I’d love for you to stay in this role, because you’ve been really good, but I need you to look at some things that will allow you to navigate some new launch points so that you continue to feel challenged and can thrive. Because here’s what I can tell you if you stay in this role without being challenged. Because your brain needs dopamine, your plateau is going to become a precipice, and your underperformance is going to lead you to a point where you are sabotaging yourself. And I may end up having to let you go six months, nine months a year and we don’t want that to happen. So what are we going to do to push you back into the sweet spot? You can go now if you want I don’t want you to go. Let’s try to figure out a way to get you back in the sweet spot by navigating some launch points. It’s amazing

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  19:59

how just Having the framework and being able to talk about it in that way makes such a big difference. I think these are circumstances that we all encounter. And I feel like now, I personally more armed to be able to handle situations like that. Hey, everyone, just a quick pause on today’s episode to tell you about a new feature that I am so excited about. We’ve been working on this one for quite a while and excited to announce it to the world. We’re calling it meeting guidelines. So there’s all these things that people already know they should do when they organize a meeting. So for example, you should make sure that you shouldn’t invite too many people or if you’re booking a recurring meeting, you probably want to put an end date on that meeting. Or if you’re going to invite someone to a meeting, you should probably you know, if they have more than 20 hours of meetings that week, maybe be a little bit more considerate, and ask Should I really invite that person to the meeting. So there’s a bunch of these sorts of things that you might even know about. But what happens somehow in larger organizations is that people forget all of these things. And so that’s why we built this feature called meeting guidelines. It’s super easy to use, it’s a Google Chrome extension. So if you install it, what will happen is it will integrate with your Google Calendar. And that way, whenever anyone within your company is about to book a meeting, these meeting guidelines will show up and make sure that people know and take a second look at that meeting that they’re about to book and make sure that it adheres to these guidelines. So if you want to book or within your company, have a no meeting day, or if you want to make sure that every meeting has an agenda in advance before it’s booked. So all the different sorts of guidelines that you may want. And they’re all obviously highly configurable, because every company is going to be slightly different. But this is the first time that there is a way that you can get an entire organization to change their meeting behavior. It’s something that we’ve been working on for a very long time, super proud to announce it to the world. It’s called meeting guidelines. If you’re interested in checking it out, we’d love for you to do that and give us feedback, you can get to it by going to Fellow.app/guidelines. Again, that’s Fellow.app/guidelines. Check it out. And let me know what you think. And so what do you do if you’re your own boss, right? There’s a lot of founders in the audience listening in and this can happen to CEOs can happen to founders, you coach a lot of CEOs, right? business is doing well keeps growing the same amount every year. Maybe you’re starting to dial it back, like you said, so how do you advise people like that? I

Whitney Johnson  22:42

think it’s less likely with a CEO and a founder simply because you started a business because it’s hobby work for you. So you’re always finding something to engage yourself. But I think to your question, if you find yourself saying, you know, I’m having a lot of fun, and I really liked doing this, and I don’t know what else I would do, because it does become very much a part of your identity on there something that you want to start considering, which is if you stay there too long, you will underperform. But perhaps more importantly, think one of the reasons you’re in business is because you wanted to develop people, you wanted to create jobs, you wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives. And you’re staying on top of that curve means that there are other people around you that they’re going to bump up against the ceiling, they can’t grow. And I’ll give you a specific example. There was a CEO founder who had a person on his team, who was starting to top out and so the CEO said, alright, you know what, I’m going to become the chairman, I’m going to make you the President, I’ll be the CEO, you’re going to be the president. But what happened is that the CEO founder kept doing the job that he was doing before, which meant that that new president didn’t have any headroom didn’t have any headroom to grow. So what I would counsel a founder is, you’ve got to find ways navigate new launch points continue to grow, continue to love what you’re doing. But if you’re really at that point where you’re in mastering, you just don’t know what else to do, because you don’t know what to do with your identity. That’s where you need to do some internal work, figure out what you’re going to do next. And also recognize that if you do stay there, the people around you aren’t going to be able to grow.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  24:27

In addition to that, I’m going to just repeat what you said in the beginning of the conversation, which is, if you are in that state, get a coach, right? Like this is exactly the time that a coach can really help you think through those sorts of options and come up with the solution. But yeah, you want life to be fun. So you should be in the sweet spot as much as possible. And it’s possible you can keep doing that. Yeah, and

Whitney Johnson  24:48

I think that’s an important point is that sometimes we need coaches when we’re starting something new, like your new enroll, we’ve got a brand new CEO, let’s get him a coach. But to your point, sometimes people need a coach as much as If not more when they’re about to vacate a role and go on to do something else, because that identity shift is so cataclysmic at some level, and they need a little bit of help and support to go to do that next thing. I

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  25:13

agree. And so I knew that this is also related to the topic of disruption. And you have this phrase where you talked about disrupting yourself and when to no to disrupt yourself. I’d love to have you explain what you mean by that and how people should think about it.

Whitney Johnson  25:30

The term disruption, people might be familiar with the innovators dilemma, Clayton Christensen, I worked with him for the better part of a decade. And, and when I first came across this idea, it was around products and services and companies and countries where something kind of a silly little thing could upend an industry like Netflix to do Blockbuster and wireless to to to wireline. But as we were doing that work, I had this insight, this aha, that it’s actually not companies that disrupt it’s people who do. And so when you disrupt yourself, though, the big differences is that you’re the upstart, and you’re the incumbent, so your Netflix and your blockbuster, you are wireless, and you’re wireline, because you are disrupting you. So that’s pretty hard to do, because you’re stepping back from who you are today, in order to slingshot into who you can be. But that price of that new self is the old stuff. And so disruption is a mechanism by which you make progress. It’s a mechanism by which you grow along that S curve. But it requires giving up your behavior of today for a different behavior for tomorrow so that you can make progress. So

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  26:39

how do you do that? What are the steps? And obviously everybody should get your book disrupt yourself, but to high level? Is this easy to do? Can you just destroy the old identity? Of

Whitney Johnson  26:50

course, it’s not easy to do Aydin, it’s not easy at all. So there’s big D disruptions, right, there’s the I’m going to change jobs, or I’m going to change careers, I’m going to move to a new city and sometimes disruption. And we saw this with COVID is like, we don’t choose to disrupt ourselves. We are disrupted. There, those big kinds, but there’s also the little D disruptions of you decide, oh, you know what, I just had a conversation with my partner, and I was kind of rude. So I’m going to go and ask to do a redo. And I’m going to go and apologize. And I’m going to be a different person, I’m going to treat them differently. Those are little D disruptions. Now, in terms of, is there a framework for doing this? Why yes, there is. So if you think about the S curve, which is okay, it’s a map to help you understand what growth looks and feels like we have in our framework in our assessment, these seven tools is accelerants of personal disruption that allow you to grow. So there are things like taking the right kinds of risks, playing to your strengths, embracing constraints, stepping back to grow, leveraging failure, and being discovery driven. So there are all these tools that you can use that allow you to make progress. And we don’t have time to go into them today. And that’s it and an overview, and we go into detail on it on episode 80 of our disrupt yourself podcast, but also in the book.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  28:08

Yeah, awesome. So make sure to include both the episode and the book in the show notes so people can dive right in. And is it the time in which you think you should disrupt yourself as if when you’re at the plateau part of the curve is typically when you just start thinking about it,

Whitney Johnson  28:25

I would say that you want to be thinking, again, there’s a little D disruption, and that’s going to be happening every day of your life. But the big D disruption, I think you’re alluding to, which is taking on a new project or a new role, or a new job or moving to a new city, you want to be anticipating that when you’re in this sweet spot, but then acting on it once you get to mastery. So for example, if you’re a manager, when you’ve got someone in the sweet spot of that curve in their role, and you’re like, they are doing an amazing job, you want to be having the conversation with him of okay, at some point, you’re gonna get into mastery. And at some point, it’s going to be time for you to do something new. I want you to be thinking about what that is, what that looks like, who’s going to take your spot, what kind of sponsorship you need for me, so that they can continue to grow. Because again, if they’re growing, then that means that there’s space for other people on your team to grow. And because we’re all running businesses, if your people are growing by definition, your organization is going to be growing. So the short answer to your question is, you want to be thinking about this when they’re in the sweet spot, if they’re already bored, if they’re already not motivated, they’re already looking for a new job. And if once they’ve started to look for a new job, they can’t unsee themselves in a new role. It’s hard to walk that back.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  29:44

Yeah, that makes sense. And so you have all the different strategies and obviously we’re not going to get into them. One of the things that I remember seeing a lot of and I’m sure you did as well, especially during the pandemic and I know that you know moments of chaos a little bit It can also lead to growth if it allows you to reconsider things he just saw. Yeah, there’s a lot of people, they were switching jobs. Some people were switching cities, EPI, like switching cities happened a lot. Are those effective ways as well? Sometimes I feel like you get used to your surroundings, and then everything seems routine and you have tunnel vision. And and it’s kind of hard to, like give yourself a destructive view of what’s going on. Are those strategies that are effective? Should people consider them? Absolutely,

Whitney Johnson  30:31

I’ll give you two things that I think are fascinating. The first is that a few years ago, I noticed that I was over indexing on my podcast guests, of people who were either first or second generation immigrants. I’m like, why is that thought? I know why. Because when you move to a new country, when you speak a new language, that is flexing your personal disruption muscle, you’re putting yourself in a completely new environment and figuring out how to navigate it. Then I noticed during COVID, COVID, disrupted us. And so one of the things that happened, and we talked a lot about the great resignation, but I saw it very differently. And I termed it the great aspiration, which is what was happening well, when COVID disrupted us, we started to re disaggregate our lives pluralize back together, we had to flex the muscle of disrupting ourselves, we realized that we were actually better at it than we thought we were. And so when the world came back and said, people said, I want you to go back to do exactly what you were doing before you’re like, No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. Because I’ve seen a different possibility for myself, for my family, etc. So being able to disrupt ourselves is a muscle that we can build and big disruptions, like the pandemic helped us strengthen that muscle, which I think was very terrible. But there were some gifts and that was one of them.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  31:51

I agree with you that moments of disruption, like that can lead to growth, and it’s all in the eye of the beholder and and what framing you put on things. And yeah, I think that’s a very good way to do it. So one topic that I want to make sure we talk about, as we come closer to the end of the interview here is just building an ATM. I mean, this is partially, arguably one of the most important things managers leaders can do is build that a team and help them just become high performance one, so I’d just love to get your thoughts. You have an entire book on the topic. Everybody should read the book. But what are some quick Cliff Notes, things that people should think about when when building that a team, we’ve

Whitney Johnson  32:30

started to address this topic of if we understand that everyone’s wired for growth, and one of the ways you’re going to build an A team is to say to yourself, Okay, I know where everybody on my team is in their growth. So I know if someone’s at the launch point, I know if someone’s in the sweet spot, I know if they’re in mastery, and therefore I know what they need, depending on where they are. So if they’re on the launch point, they’re probably going to need a little bit more support, maybe more training, if they’re on the sweet spot, I know, oh, I probably need to make sure that I’m properly load balancing, because I’m giving them a lot because they’re surprising Delight me. And I know if I’ve got someone in mastery, they also while they have the institutional memory, they’re going to start to get bored. And so I need to find a challenge for them. So when you start to understand this framework, it allows you at any given time to make sure your people are in growth. And again, if your people are growing, your company’s growing, but then you can come up on a level and say, if we use the standard bell curve distribution, and we know that depending on where you are in your growth, the launch point sweet spot in mastery, they have different needs, but they also have different strengths. And so you can optimize that team by saying I want about 60% of my people in the sweet spot. Because they know enough, but not too much. It’s hard, but not too hard. Easy, but not too easy. I probably want about 20% of my people in the launch point, because on the one hand, yes, I’m going to need to train them. But on the other hand, they have a perspective and insight because they are coming at this with fresh eyes, they’re going to see things like why do we do it like this, those questions will lead to innovation. And then I want about 20% of my people in mastery, because I know that they’re going to need to do something new. But I also know that these are the people who can really be the anchors for the team and making it possible to bring other people along that curve. And so building a team is understanding everybody wants to grow, being able to support them, whatever phase of growth they’re in, and then understanding that you can optimize your team for growth for the organization by having 60% in the sweet spot 20 At the launch 20 and mastery and that’s how you’re going to build an A team, because everybody is in a place of growth.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  34:42

I love the framework. And so for people who are visually thinking about this, this is quite literally a spreadsheet, right? Everybody listed. You’re labeling these things, maybe revisiting them quarterly. This is how meticulous you have to get if you want to get that right. And

Whitney Johnson  34:58

that’s why we built this tool. is that it allows you to figure out okay, so where’s Aydin? In his growth on these three major projects? Which of the accelerants like is he really good at taking a risk? Is he playing to his strengths? Is he using to help him accelerate? And does he feel like the ecosystem is making it possible for him to grow, let’s see where he is today. And then let’s give him support, and then see where he is in six months. And again, if you’re growing, then you’re going to be able to have the company grow. But you can do that on an individual, but then also look at it from a team perspective as well. Yeah,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  35:30

I love it. And of course, we’re gonna link to this, check out the show notes, everyone for access to the tool, and definitely take the assessment. So when you were just coming to the end of our discussion here, and so we’ve talked about a lot of different things today, I love the phrase, again, I’m just gonna reiterate, I love the phrase surprise and delight, I love the concept of the S curve, using that for all your one on ones assessing all of your people. And just like this notion that when you’re on the rise, you’re constantly learning and you’re in this sweet spot. That’s where you get more dopamine. And so if you’re getting bored, it could be that you’re at mastery. And these are like really great questions that you should ask. And of course, getting a coach is always useful, but also useful during this time. So the final question that we like to end on is for older managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft. Are there any final tips or tricks or parting words of wisdom that you would leave them with?

Whitney Johnson  36:27

A couple of things? Number one is surprise and delight, I’m going to pick up on what you said number two, if it’s scary, and it’s lonely, you’re on the right path, it means you’re doing something new. Number three, is I would get out and the very next meeting that you have with someone on your team, I would get out a piece of paper and draw an S on that piece of paper and say, let me tell you what I just learned. There’s this thing called the S curve. There’s the launch point sweetspot mastery, here’s how it’s going to feel you’re going to feel uncomfortable, then you’re going to feel exhilarated, then you’re gonna feel a little bit bored. Where are you on this curve? Let’s have a conversation. That would be my tip for having a conversation and developing people as a manager. And then the final thing I would say is that learning is the oxygen of human growth. So give people an opportunity to learn.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  37:12

That’s great advice and a great place to end it. Whitney, thanks so much for doing this.

Whitney Johnson  37:16

Thank you Aydin for having me.

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