Bankable Leadership

Dr. Tasha Eurich: Bringing Out the Best in Others

By Dr. Josephine Gross

Dr. Tasha Eurich is an organizational psychologist, speaker,
New York Times bestselling author of Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results and the Power to Deliver Both. Her life’s work is to help organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams.

According to Dr. Eurich (or Dr. T, as her clients call her), leadership is a learnable skill and a matter of balancing seemingly opposing forces: how do we recognize people and show our gratitude while at the same time driving responsibility and improvement? How do we focus on relationships while driving productivity and results?

The answer lies in Bankable Leadership, says Dr. Eurich, and her book offers fresh tips and proven strategies to cultivate this ability within yourself and your team. Dr. Eurich pairs her scientific grounding in human behavior with a practical approach to solving leadership challenges within companies and organizations.

With a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Colorado State University and B.A. in Theater and Psychology from Middlebury College, she’s a Huffington Post contributor and serves on the faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership. She also happens to come from a long line of entrepreneurs who through their example taught her the foundation for her work.—J.G.

What led you to the work you do today?
My journey towards devoting my life to helping leaders be better was an interesting one. I was a psychology major in college and thought I was going to be a counseling or clinical psychologist. I had a couple of experiences where I realized, “Oh my gosh, I have so much empathy that I would just destroy myself if I went into this field.”

Then I discovered something called industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology, which applies the science of human behavior to help businesses and individuals succeed. In my first I-O class, I had a moment where the heavens parted and I knew  this is what I was put on this earth to do.

I think that’s a good example of why following your hunches can be really important. I didn’t even know that I-O existed until I realized I wasn’t on the right path and looked for something else.

I spent the first five years of my career in academia, and while I was getting my Ph.D. in I-O at Colorado State University, I got to teach in the management department and I also did quite a bit of consulting. I was always less interested in the academic side and more interested in applying my knowledge to help businesses be better. I spent the next five years in private industry, working within companies to help their leaders be better—executive coaching, training programs, professional development—and for the last two and a half years, I’ve had my own consulting and training business doing the same thing for clients in all industries.

How did you come up with this concept of bankable leadership?
One of the things you need to know about me is that I am a leadership geek. Coming from academia, I believe in the science of leadership—there’s tons of empirical data that tells us what good leaders do. So, instead of reinventing the wheel when there are already 100,000 books on leadership, I wanted to take a back-to-basics, let’s-make-it-simpler approach. The concept for Bankable Leadership came out of a study that was done at the Ohio State University in 1945, so we’ve known this for nearly seventy years. The researchers found that the most effective leaders are able to do two things that seem somewhat contradictory: being considerate and compassionate to their employees and setting and achieving difficult performance goals. That was where Bankable Leadership was born. Everyone feels a tension between people and results, whether you’re in a corporate setting or a network marketing business, where your leadership skills are even more important.

What makes you say leadership is even more important in our business?
Because you can’t say, “Do this or I’ll fire you.” Granted, that’s a terrible leadership style, although it’s what a lot of managers use. The best leaders influence their team to want to do things. I define leadership as “a series of learnable behaviors that help people and organizations achieve their greatest potential.”

In network marketing, you’re essentially supervising people who could quit anytime and leave you in a tough spot. So the importance for you to coach and mentor them while at the same time asking them to produce results is heightened.

Dr. Eurich signs her bestselling book
after keynoting for CH2M HILL in New Orleans.

Most of us haven’t been prepared to become a “Bankable Leader,” neither in school nor in other work environments. How do we cultivate that kind of leadership in ourselves and others?
You’re absolutely right. Typically, I see two types of “leadership gone wrong.” At one extreme, you have the leader who focuses on people and morale above all else. I call this the “cool parent” leader, who is so interested in keeping everyone happy and being liked that nobody gets anything done. At the other extreme, and equally ineffective, is the leader who focuses on results above all and forgets the people side. I call this the “trail of dead bodies” leader. They see their employees as tools that produce results and no more. They make their people work ridiculous hours. They don’t take the time to appreciate or recognize them. They burn them out. This leadership style isn’t sustainable.

We all have seen some form of the two extremes, so “people” and “results” feel like even more of a trade-off. In my book, I argue that not only is it possible to do both, it’s exactly what the best leaders do. This starts with self awareness and involves adding skills and behaviors that might not be totally comfortable at first—but in sum total help you round out your leadership style.

Can you say a bit more about how to build those leadership skills?
There are three steps anyone can take to become a better leader. The first is to know where you stand. For example, when you go on a diet, the first thing you do is step on the scale to face reality. In my experience, most leaders don’t understand the impact they’re having on others. I might go into a company and ask a leader what their leadership style is and they’ll say, “I’m tough, but I’m fair.” Then I talk to their employees and find out the leader is pressuring people with deadlines, micromanaging them within an inch of their lives, and regularly yelling and screaming at them. Knowing where you stand is therefore critical. So, get feedback from people you trust or try a formal assessment (I offer a free one on my website, to know where you stand.

The second step is to work on one new behavior at a time. In the corporate world, we have this concept I call “delusional development,” which is essentially creating a laundry list of developmental goals—let’s say listening, coaching, feedback, and goal-setting—and then being disappointed when you don’t improve. When you have too many goals, you can’t get anything done. So choosing only one behavior at a time is critical because also you have your job to do (or your business to build). Let’s face reality here—you can’t spend all your time professionally developing because you have to pay your mortgage and take care of your volunteer army!

The third step is relentless, deliberate practice. There’s a lot of research indicating that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything, a concept popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. This also applies to leadership. The smartest leaders show up every day and understand that leaders improve incrementally. Showing up every day committed to practicing your craft is how absolutely anyone can learn to be a more effective leader.

You mentioned self-awareness. Leadership starts with yourself. If you don’t lead a balanced life, no one is going to want to join your team. Does your book go into self-leadership, the personal development side of leadership? How do we balance the internal paradox of driving results, driving improvement, while keeping ourselves happy and balanced?
Absolutely. Here’s the advice I would give to home-based entrepreneurs: because you’re in charge of your time in a way you might not be in a corporate environment, you have to set boundaries to build the kind of life you want to have. As we hear in airplane safety demonstrations, “Don’t put on someone else’s oxygen mask until you’ve secured your own.” If you’re working out of your home, you could work all day and all night and no one would stop you. It’s very different from driving to work and then leaving work-—at least you have that physical separation. One of the things we know from people who work more than fifty hours per week is that their brains actually function more poorly. There’s a large body of research telling us that we become stupider, less healthy, less happy, and even less successful. Setting personal boundaries may not entirely get you there, but I think that’s the absolute foundation, especially for entrepreneurs.

The brain needs rest and sometimes less is more, yet how do we resolve the tension between striving after goals and creating wealth on the one hand, and living a balanced, happy life?
One thing to remember is that the amount of hours you put into your job or business is not necessarily related to how successful you will be. People who are able to achieve that balance work smarter, not harder. Having those clear boundaries allows you to work more efficiently and solve problems better. You’re going to do things more simply, which usually leads to better results, but then you’re also going to give yourself lots of space to have a life outside of your business.

Any practical tips you can give for working fewer hours while increasing productivity?
I am a supreme, type-A workaholic. When I started my business, I would complain to my friends that my new boss was the most demanding boss I’d ever had. I was literally working twelve to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. There’s a danger in loving what you do when you’re an entrepreneur—you can throw yourself into your work and not even notice because you love it. It feels energizing for a while, but in the long term, it’s a mistake. Anyone can work eighty hours a week, but not for long.

My first tip is to physically separate a part of your house as your home office. If you’re working in your living room and you’re spending time with your family in that same room, pretty soon those two things are going to merge together and you’re going to be doing both at the same time all the time, and you’ll never get anything done.

Second, create “stop rules.” For me, that means I try not to work on Saturdays and finish up email correspondence each night by 8 pm. I’ll tell you, I’m not 100 percent perfect, but that stop rule allows me to say, “I made the decision that this was the best thing for me in the long run, so even though I still have five more emails to get to, I’m going to pry myself away from my computer.”

You talk about being thankful while driving improvement. That’s a big one in network marketing, where people thrive on recognition. As leaders we want to recognize our team even for small achievements, yet we also want to raise the bar. How do those go together?
Bankable leaders are strategic about the way they use gratitude and appreciation. I like to illustrate this with a story. A leader I worked with wanted to recognize her team for working really hard on a project. One Friday morning, she brought in bagels and her team was psyched. They devoured the bagels, everything was good, the mood was lighter. The next Friday she thought, “The bagels were such a hit, I’m going to bring more.” So she did. Everybody was happy, and all was well. The next Friday, she didn’t bring bagels. About thirty minutes into the workday, one of her best employees came in and demanded, “Where are our bagels?” True story. It’s an example of a well-intentioned leader who inadvertently created a team of entitled whiners.

Gratitude cannot be a blanket strategy. It’s important to effusively recognize good performance and good effort, but there are two ways leaders can do this so they don’t sell themselves—or their teams—short.

The first is to differentiate recognition. People do what they’re rewarded for, so if you’re unintentionally rewarding mediocre performance, everyone will become mediocre. They’ll say, “Wow, I can still get rewarded if I put in half the effort? Cool!” It’s not their fault; it’s how we’re hard-wired as humans. Instead, come up with a desirable but scarce reward. A good example is when Apple releases new products. They never seem to make enough, so people line up around the block for them. Could you do that in your team? Is there some coveted recognition you could save for the top performer? Or the top ten percent of your performers?

The second recommendation is, if you’re going to recognize your whole team (as in buying everyone bagels), make it unpredictable. As soon as people start to see a pattern, the reward becomes an expectation rather than a perk. The bagel leader would have been more successful if she’d only brought the bagels once, and then maybe coffee that next Wednesday, and doughnuts the following Monday. Doing something twice is usually enough to create a pattern, and when employees see patterns, they develop expectations.

Over the past couple of decades research has shown that happy people perform better. How do we keep people happy yet striving for more?
Ultimately, it goes back to that tension. For example, someone might feel great driving results but uncomfortable with all the “touchy-feely stuff” (By the way, the word touchy-feely was invented by results-focused leaders). But the research is clear: engaged employees create happier customers and drive revenue. One study conducted with Sears found that if store leaders could increase employee engagement by about 5 points, customer satisfaction went up 1.3 percent. And from that, their revenue increased by 0.5 percent. So there’s a direct link between keeping your employees happy and business results. You can’t choose one—-you have to do both.

When we look at a leader’s focus on happiness versus results, helping people versus driving responsibility, do you see a gender pattern? Do women do one better or more often than men?
Yes, I definitely do. Psychology is the study of averages, so I’m speaking about groups here, not specific individuals. Male managers tend to focus more on results than people, and they’re often less comfortable with the people side of the equation. I was doing a Bankable Leadership workshop for Oil and Gas executives (a male dominated industry), and was talking about the value of happy employees. One of the leaders raised his hand and said, “I can’t do that. People are going to think I’m a sissy.”

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to demonstrate (and be expected to demonstrate) people-focused behaviors. Research says that, as a whole, women are more empathetic leaders. They’re also better at conflict management and influence. But the problem is that society expects them to conform to that stereotype—as soon as they start to take on those more results-driven behaviors, they get penalized.

There was a Supreme Court case in the nineties between named Ann Hopkins and Price Waterhouse Coopers. Hopkins was denied partnership for two years in a row because she was acting “too masculine.” Coworkers described her as “aggressive” and “foul-mouthed,” and one of her supervisors said she should “take a course in charm school.” They told her she needed to “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely.” Luckily, she won her case for sex-discrimination.

Research confirms that on average, women who have a “masculine” style of leadership are viewed especially negatively. This can be a problem, when women leaders stand up for themselves or hold people to results. I had a boss once who told me, with no amount of embarrassment, “I really hate it when women act like men.” So, women have a reason to be concerned. My main message for any leader-—male or female—is that you have to integrate both: you have to shine at those people-related skills while at the same time honing results-focused skills. Women shouldn’t move out of their natural zone just to act like a man. They should apply the best of both worlds.

With more women entering the workforce over the past couple of decades, do you see a change in leadership? Related to this question is the fact that in network marketing we have over 80 percent women, yet the majority of leaders (professional trainers and top earners) still tend to be men.
I’m not aware of research on those changing demographics, but what I do see are companies appointing female CEOs at a much faster rate. One of the things we know about companies that embrace women leaders is that they tend to have values that are more democratic and collaborative. I don’t quite know what’s at the root of this change, and I wonder if it’s something Millennials are bringing to the table. This is an area I also do a lot of work in, and some studies have found that Millennials (also known as Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000) are more collaborative in general. If I piece that together, they could be influencing the culture of their organizations and creating an environment that’s healthier for women to rise up in. Time will tell.

Dr. Eurich and The Eurich Group cyclists after riding 150 miles
to raise money for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National MS Society.

Since the economic crisis started in 2008, we are seeing a global rise of entrepreneurship. Lots of people who thought they would be employees for life are now looking at starting their own businesses, whether network marketing or something else, or turning their passion into profit. All these people need to learn entrepreneurship skills, and leadership is one of them. There’s a lot of overlap there, isn’t it?
Absolutely. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My grandfather started a plumbing company in Michigan after the war. My mother started the first school in the country that trained and certified nannies. The skills I picked up from observing both of them is that ability to relentlessly focus on the results of the business while also valuing their people. When you start your business and it’s just you, it’s easy to throw yourself into the results part—and your numbers will look great. Then when you start making hires, all of a sudden you have all these people you have to build up. This can be a gap for a lot of entrepreneurs—they can get things up and running, but as soon as they’re in a position where they have to manage others, they’re in trouble. Their business has evolved and it’s now about creating a culture and empowering others versus doing everything yourself. We spend so little time on our professional development, all things considered, and if you’re not actively growing those skills, you’re hurting your long-term profitability, happiness, and success.

What you’re saying is leadership is something everybody, no matter where you stand in society or professionally, should learn, and everybody can learn.
Think about it. Receptionists are leaders; they’re the face of the company. Teachers are leaders; they’re shaping young minds. Anybody in a work environment needs to get things done through other people. Unless you’re sitting in front of a computer all day looking at spreadsheets and never talking to anyone, you must develop leadership skills. Leaders bring out the best in others, and that’s ultimately going to help you be successful, no matter what your role or business is.

Bringing out the best in people, starting with yourself..
Exactly, because you have to set the standard. Too many leaders say, “Do as I say, not as I do,” and nobody believes them. The only way to lead is to lead by example.

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