S5E19: The Spirit of Emotional Intelligence with Ruben Minor

“The beauty of good leadership has a wonderful platform to impact someone you may never know-how.“ Ruben Minor

Our guest today is Ruben Minor, who is the president of RAM Consulting Group, an organization that focuses on speaking, training, and coaching individuals and groups regarding leadership, team dynamics, relationship building, diversity, equity and inclusion, fundamental business philosophies, and business and personal branding. Reuben is a leader with a rich and resourceful network of professionals across the business spectrum, ranging from influential political figures to educational leaders and entrepreneurs. 

Ruben leverages his network to make more meaningful connections for clients and business partners, evolving into lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. Ruben served this country for 15 years in the US Navy as a Supply Corps officer is a John Maxwell certified professional speaker, trainer, and coach, and is intimately engaged in the community, serving as president of the Council for the village of Galena. Reuben enjoys spending time with family, history movies, and hiking, and as a side note, he is a professional speaker. 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to process information that has been received. The information goes through a filter system in your mind, which helps you dissect what’s being said and the intention behind it so that your response to what you are processing will be emotionally appropriate. Emotional intelligence, like sales, is either you naturally have it, and you’re good at it, or you don’t have it, and therefore becomes a difficult process for you to gain that. 

It takes a particularly savvy person to be sensitive and to know how to respond and not hurt someone. Psychological safety entails asking how one can create an environment where a person feels safe enough to say and express what is on their mind. Naturally, everybody wants to be heard, and when you can exercise psychological safety, that’s the foundation of building great relationships.

Corporations have learned a lot post-COVID, as employees have realized that they do not have to put up with toxic work environments. Unfriendly cultures have been in place for decades and are not expected to change overnight. It’s going to be a constant, intentional effort by those in leadership and making sure that they’re keeping in step with the culture in the corporate community. 

The beauty of good leadership has a wonderful platform to impact someone that you may never know how to. 

S5 E17: Strengths of Running a Collective Intelligence Workshop with Rod Collins

“In rapidly changing times, dexterity to speed is your key to adaptability.” Rod Collins

In today’s episode, we are joined by Rod Collins, a returning guest. Rod’s initial episode was released on February 14th, 2022. The topic of conversation was ‘The Benefits of Flat Organizational Structures.’ Today, our discussion focuses on the strengths of running a collective intelligence workshop when you’re trying to solve problems or coming up with new ideas. If you have not listened to the earlier recording, I highly suggest giving it a listen and then following up with this episode.

Rod is a leading expert on digital transformation in the future of business. He is the host of The Thinking Differently podcast on the C-suite Radio Network, where he explores how technological innovations continue to transform the rules of how successful businesses. Rod is a regular blog contributor on Substack and the author of Wiki Management, a revolutionary new model for a rapidly changing and collaborative world, highlighting the innovative tools and practices used by a new breed of business leaders to sustain extraordinary performance in a world reshaped by digital disruption. Rod is the former chief operating executive of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee program, one of the nation’s largest and most successful business alliances. Under his leadership, the business experienced the most significant five-year growth period in its 60-year history.

A collective intelligence workshop gets a microcosm of the business in the room. Everybody who would touch on the business’s project, process, and initiative must be in the meeting room. We come up with a way to develop good ideas where we put them into groups to discuss their ideas. At the end of the sessions, each table reports the vision they have settled on. As a decision-maker in a rapidly changing world, you want the best picture, which helps move things along.

After identifying the ideas, we open them up to agreements and disagreements because we want creative energy. The members are also allowed to present their grievances to uncover unknowns that always mess up projects. By having the whole system in the room, things get to be handled in real-time and rapidly, and it helps to drive unanimous consensus.

In rapidly changing times, dexterity to speed is your key to adaptability. My experience is that collective intelligence is more significant than one person providing answers, and frequently this is the power of a network. 

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S5E5: Nostradamus of the Accounting Profession w/ Jody Grunden

“The type of person that we had to look for to be a virtual CFO is completely different than the type of person that we looked for to be an accountant.” Jody Grunden

My guest today is Jody Grunden. Jody is the CEO and co-founder of Summit CPA Group, a fully distributed virtual CFO firm. He has authored two books, Digital Dollars, Cents, and Building the Virtual CFO Firm in the Cloud. He won multiple awards, including recognition of Tony’s Top Innovative Practitioner by cpa.com. 

In today’s episode, Jody will discuss what he’s done to position his organization in a way to compete in the accounting profession uniquely.

Our accounting company was set up to do things differently from other accounting firms. We did the flat fee, which allowed us to get rid of the hourly billing entirely and significantly cut administrative costs. We created a subscription-based billing where our clients got a bill and got the money zapped out of their account every week. We started working remotely in 2013, and the business has evolved with the idea of taking risks and doing things that no other firm has ever done.

The type of person we had to look for to be a virtual CFO is entirely different from what we looked for to be an accountant. Accountants think and act entirely differently where they are risk-averse and very to the books. The personalities for virtual CFOs include risk-taking, the ability to communicate well with people, high EQ, and helping people solve their problems. We developed a program internally to help that client or CFO and educate them on how to communicate their messages.

It took eight years to figure out how to price my products and know that people would pay for them. The key is pricing it right to pay your employees well, have happy employees, and ensure that the customers are satisfied. To have a solid base to give your customers, it takes a lot of trial and error and listening to feedback from clients.

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Have You Ever Fired an Employee on a Zoom Call? What About 900 Employees?  

Yes, 900 employees were fired on a Zoom call, according to the Inc.com article. Frankly, this is a horrible example of leadership.

The CEO of Better.com, Vishal Garg, had told 900 employees to join him in a Zoom meeting. Once everyone was there, Mr. Garg told them that they no longer had jobs at the company. Better.com is an online mortgage company, and the reason for the reduction of its workforce is that the company is going public. So Mr. Garg wanted to create a leaner, meaner, hungrier workforce. And after this firing of 900 employees, he told some of the remaining employees that he did those employees because some were stealing from the company by only working two hours a day.

Now, you can imagine that when the article went public, Mr. Garg received a lot of negative criticism. The CEO tried to apologize, kind of sort of, but several of his company’s executives resigned. His head of communications and head of marketing said, “this is crazy. This is nuts. I’m out of here.” Hopefully, the CEO’s actions are not a form of leadership. It is because he has the authority to fire them. The Board of Directors put the CEO “double-secret probation” and said that Mr. Garg was taking time off effective immediately and the CFO would be in charge of the day-to-day operations.

This was not the first time that Mr. Garg displayed terrible leadership. Last year, Forbes magazine received an email from Better.com employees that was sent by Mr. Garg that said, “You are too damn slow. You’re a bunch of dumb dolphins, and dumb dolphins get caught in nets and eaten by sharks. So stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Right now. You are embarrassing me.” In addition, Mr. Garg had “threatened to set a former business partner on fire, and engaged in hostile exchanges with investors, calling one “sewage” and demanding he divest from the company.”

It’s the company’s culture that you have to work on first and foremost. Better.com has hired an outside firm that’ll come in and do an assessment to find ways to help improve the culture. But the bigger picture is this is privately held right now. Trying to go public. The issue is the leader, the CEO. And you can try to improve the culture, but the only way to do that, in this case, is to fire the CEO and find somebody else to come in and revamp that culture. Because if you don’t fire the CEO, you could hire him an executive coach. You could…It doesn’t sound like he would ever listen. And I’m making an assumption, I know, but he has a history. And that’s just wasted a lot of time and money.

And it was interesting because today, I sat in a Zoom call with a group of people from the C-Suite Thought Leadership Council about leadership. What makes a leader? It came down to just the opposite of what this CEO is doing. A leader is there to inspire those who are employed at the company. How do you inspire hundreds to thousands of people? You can’t interact with all of them individually. However, you can inspire by the tone of your voice. In other words, you can inspire by your attitude.

If you’re in a toxic environment, if you question or make comments, and all you are is ridiculed, you’re going to keep your job and silence yourself or find another job. Intimidation is not a form of leadership. And for those of you who remember Theranos, the Elizabeth Holmes company, that was a sham. Her second in command, Sunny Balwani, had the same leadership style. Berating his employees. Shouting at them. I don’t know about you, but if that happens to me, what tells me two things 1) I need to find another job or walk out immediately and 2) a lot of times when you have that CEOs who have this anger, they’re hiding something, and maybe that’s what ultimately this is. There might be some internal shenanigans going on.

I will admit there is a side of me that wants to send Mr. Garg a copy of my book “Off Script: Mastering the Art of Business Improv. However, I’m not going to waste time, money, or energy because his ego is too overblown. He would write a berating type of review on Amazon, which I don’t care about, but why give him that space? Why give them that voice?

We’re in the people business first and foremost. Now, some of the 900 may have been, lack of a better term, deadweight. They may not be producing as they should be producing. Yes. Fire them with dignity and respect. If you want to be leaner, meaner, workforce, there are other ways. He could have contacted a recruiting company and said, “I need to obtain your services because I have to downsize my organization by 900 people. I’m going to need help getting the jobs for those I have to let go, and the company will pay for them to get that help.” At least have some empathy for those 900 people during the holiday season.

This story of letting people go during the holiday season is heard far too often. I might be naive, but I truly believe that this type of leadership needs to go away and be replaced with something of some type of leadership that has compassion. That looks at their people, those who are productive as an integral part of the organization, and show them respect. When you show respect to your employees, that sets you apart from many other leaders who look at their employees as just a number and something that is easily replaced.

Honestly, employees are not easily replaced. Leaders will even make that statement and still treat their employees like sh*t. The pandemic has proven that we can be working from home and be productive. So, why are some leaders demanding that their people come back to the office and stop working virtually? In my opinion, the leader’s overdeveloped ego is making that decision because, in their minds, they don’t trust their employees. The consequence of that decision is what has been deemed The Great Resignation. What happens when you listen to those in your organization and provide them flexibility? They might stay with your company and not start running out the front door in masses.

Times have changed, and I know this won’t be the last article written about poor leadership. I hope someday there won’t be any at all, and it just goes and goes back to being human. And going back to thinking about a fellow person, being tolerant, and being supportive.

Psychological Safety is a Must if You Want Your Organization to Succeed

Have you ever been in a meeting and your boss asks you a question about your ideas on a particular subject? After you share your thoughts, your boss has that look of disgust on their face and says, “we can’t do that because this is the way we have always done this,” or “we tried that in the past, and it didn’t work,” or everyone starts laughing and someone says, “their he/she goes again while rolling their eyes.” Negativity and dismissiveness hurt! When your boss responds this way, creativity stops and suppresses the rest of the group’s creative thoughts and ideas. No one wants to be humiliated like this in front of others. 

Then it gets even better – you are in a meeting with the accounting and finance team, and they are reviewing your financial results for the last quarter.  You are afraid to ask questions or make any comments because you don’t want to look stupid.  After all, you don’t have an accounting or finance degree, so what do you know?

What is the real issue in both of these scenarios? The corporate culture does not allow you to speak your mind and ask questions without feeling insecure or embarrassed. In my 30+ years in the corporate world, I had experienced too many times when I was ridiculed because I said something that was perceived as stupid, or I should have known the answer. Is this behavior motivating, inspiring, or productive? Of course not, and yet, we’ve all experienced it at one time or another. 

The good news is, you can create a culture where all ideas have validity, where ideas are accepted and discussed; and, where questions are asked without any judgment or the fear of embarrassment. Okay, quit shaking your head and thinking that will never happen, and saying, “there he goes again with his crazy ideas and comments.” As you continue to listen to this episode, do this – keep an open mind, and don’t pass judgment until you hear me out. Deal? DEAL! 

There is one critical element in creating this new corporate culture, and that element is psychological safety. In a Harvard Business Review article titled, “High Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety And Here’s How To Create It,” the article defines psychological safety as “the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without the fear of having it cut off.” I know someone out there thinks that I am making this up and using HBR as a cover, but I am not. Psychological safety is a real thing. Google the term to learn more.  

In a similar article by re:work titled “The Five Keys to a Successful Google Team,” the article starts off stating that “who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure the work, and view their contributions.” In other words, the way the team collaborates is more important than who is on the team.  In improv, the team is the sum of all of its parts not just the individual contributions.    

The article goes on to state that there are “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google, and the number one dynamic is psychological safety.” Psychological safety is defined as “can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed.” The remaining four dynamics are… well now – wait a second. I have a better idea.  Google the article and read it to learn about the other four!  

So, the question becomes, how do you increase psychological safety on your team? The HBR article states that “approach conflict as a collaborator, not an adversary when conflicts come up, avoid triggering a fight-or-flight reaction by asking how could we achieve a mutually desirable outcome and be curious to hear the other person’s point of view.” 

I am no ‘brain expert’, but what I do know is that when you are harassed by your boss, or one of your coworkers with an over-developed ego, or one of the “whatever” coworkers, your brain goes into the fight-or-flight mode. In other words, we act first and think later. That has never happened to you, right? Well, when this happens at work, it debilitates our strategic thinking and kills our self-esteem. Are we now a productive member of the team or a disgruntled employee? Once again, you know the answer. 

When I read both of these articles, my mind went straight to improvisation. For those who have been following my work, you are thinking “shocker.” (just a bit of sarcasm). There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with “the belief that punishment will not occur when you make a mistake.” In improv, we say, “there are no mistakes, only gifts, and happy accidents.” No one is perfectand even those who don’t suffer from a lack of certainty make mistakes. Leaders and teammates need to respect each other, trust one another, and support each other when taking risks. Remember, there are risks in everything we do. Don’t punish but praise the person for taking the risk. There is another saying in improv, “Bad ideas are bridges to good ideas. No ideas lead to nothing.” If everyone justifies everyone else’s actions, there are no mistakes.

Then there is the fear of being embarrassed and feeling insecure.  Once you put your ego out of the way, we stop judging others’ ideas – instead, we consider them brilliant and eagerly follow them! You see that great improvisers accept the ideas of the other teammates without judging them to be “good” or “bad,” always thinking, “This is now our idea.” When we do this unilaterally throughout our team and give people the freedom to speak their mind, magic will happen almost immediately. 

One of my all-time favorite improv quotes describes psychological safety by saying, “There are gems in every idea. Embrace and build. Treat every idea as though it has the potential to change the world, and at some point, one will.”

Creating a safe place for the team to share their ideas under the umbrella of psychological safety may be easier to achieve versus asking a question during a financial meeting when you don’t have the financial foundation necessary to articulate a question. To avoid being perceived as stupid, we are more inclined to nod our heads up and down and agree than ask a question.  

However, when you ask the financial question, you will more than likely receive an answer full of accounting and finance jargon, leaving you even more confused. So, what is the solution? Knowledge is the solution. Accounting and finance knowledge, to be exact.  I addressed this in S4E8; I discuss what is financial leadership. The answer is taking an accounting and finance fundamentals course powered by Color Accounting. 

In S4E8, I describe the Color Accounting process, the benefits, and provided three perinate examples.  I would highly suggest that you listen to that entire episode to learn more.  In the meantime, I have another case study to share with you, and it is entitled “We Could Save About $80K a Year.”

In early 2000’s, Mark Robilliard was facilitating a corporate workshop for team leaders and middle managers in a large multinational HQ in Sydney Australia. After becoming accounting literate using the Color Accounting System™, the final session in this particular workshop involved the participants having a quick review of their own work area and then discuss any thoughts on generating additional revenue or incurring less expenses. One of the participants (the Team Leader in the internal mail room) shyly raised their hand and nervously said “I think we could save about $80k per year if we changed how we do this process.” The CFO who just happened to be in the room almost fell off his chair and when he recovered his composure, he asked the team leader “How come you never brought this to us before?”. The answer was simple: “I just do my job – I didn’t know we should be thinking about the business too.”

What value would these type of business conversations have in any organization? Shouldn’t everyone be accounting literate and develop a ‘business owner’ type mindset?

Everyone in your organization should increase their accounting literacy because how much money would your organization save if they did their job AND thought about the business too. Novel idea, right? 

How effective are your senior managers, managers, sales team, and back-office teams around finance? Do they perform with psychological safety in your accounting and finance meetings? Do they speak their mind and ask questions without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

In conclusion, the HBR article states, “if you create a sense of psychological safety on your team starting now, you can expect to see higher engagement levels, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance.” So, what are you waiting for? 

If you would like to learn more about how improvisation leadership creates a culture that fully supports psychological safety within the organization and/or more about the Color Accounting process, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com