Episode 59 – Transformational Leadership: Hugh Ballou

Norah Jones taps SynerVision's Hugh Ballou

“I go to the conductor analogy. I wave that baton. That stick is called the baton. It doesn’t make sound. What happens is when people actually do things. So I’ve got this piece of paper with dots, we call it music. So the leader integrates. So we have a piece of paper for strategy. It’s words on paper. That’s all. Then nothing happens until we, as a leader, integrate that strategy into performance.”

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Whether we are parents, teachers, managers, or organization heads, it’s important to know what leadership implies and how to go about the “job of leading.”

Perhaps we think that leadership (in the home, community, or workplace) is telling people what to do. If so, then what words do we use? Are we sure that those who hear us understand the connotations that we assume they do? How about something as simple – and profound – as the pronouns we choose? What impact on performance, motivation, and attitude comes from calling out someone’s behavior with “you did such-and-such,” or noting “I do it this way,” compared to “Let’s look at this experience together and see what we learn”?

In my educational and coaching workshops, I provide specific examples of motivational and success-centered language in the work contexts of my participants. I present and we practice a three-step approach that leads to cooperation, encouragement, and personal improvement: affirm, engage, invite.

Language, well used, is the leader’s tool to overcome personal hesitancy, clarify desired outcomes and paths, and integrate individuals and teams into the mission and processes of the organization or institution. Language, well-used, creates powerful systems, develops all members of a team as high-performance contributors, and builds human communities of purpose that we want to live, work, and play in.

It’s knowing how leadership builds these communities of excellence in which people of all ages thrive that so attracted me to the work of Hugh Ballou and led me to invite him to be my guest. Check out his company and work, and enjoy the podcast.


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Episode 59 – Transformational Leadership: Hugh Ballou

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Transcript

Norah Jones:

Well, I am enjoying the opportunity to introduce to you today Hugh Ballou as my guest. Hi, Hugh.

Hugh Ballou:

Hi, there.

Norah Jones:

Well, Hugh, I would like you to start please this conversation today by identifying those areas of business, nonprofit, consulting and the many other hats that you wear so that we can anchor our talk today about language in the business space by what you do.

Hugh Ballou:

I help leaders quantify what’s in their imagination. If we’re not, we ought to be entrepreneurs at heart, we ought to be social benefit leaders, we ought to be concerned about providing value to all of humanity. And the more value we bring, the more it’s going to generate revenue. So there’s a win-win for everybody. But I spent 40 years as a music conductor in churches, small, medium and mega churches.

Hugh Ballou:

And 10% of my job was music, 90% was the infrastructure and systems that allowed me to do music. I also was a merchant. I had a small camera store, took it from 12,000 a year to a million and a half in 10 years by providing value. So we define what people need and we provide that. So what’s unique is how we need to define what’s unique about what we do and be very good at letting people know why they need what we provide because each of us is unique.

Norah Jones:

How are you unique, Hugh? What’s your uniqueness, your superpower as I often call it in these conversations?

Hugh Ballou:

My superpower is being able to create a space for people to raise the bar on their own performance. And there’s a misconception with people that are not a musical conductor. And I think, Norah, you’ve actually seen me in action, but we’re perceived to be a dictator, the conductor is. Well, I got to tell, you got a bunch of professionals on stage and you have a little white stick. You can’t make anybody do anything.

Hugh Ballou:

And as leaders think they can make people do things are misinformed and really it backfires on them. So creating a space and then nurturing the skills that are present for people to understand how they can raise the bar on their own performance. So part of it is mentoring, part of it is setting an example and the other part is so critical, define the end result you want to see that they can be part of providing.

Norah Jones:

So you talked about creating a space, Hugh, what spaces are you creating in the work that you do?

Hugh Ballou:

Well, people come together. Think of a board. We have for-profit boards, there are non-profit boards, there’s staff, there’s divisions and companies. There’s a lot of places people gather together and we want to stay at a group think where we do one thing. And the leader says, do this and people mindlessly obey. A good leader, A, number one, never tells anybody what to do. As every time we do that, we’re weakening their ability to step up with their skills. And certainly we don’t want to tell them how to do it.

Hugh Ballou:

And like I said earlier, we want to be very good at defining the end result. So let’s picture an orchestra for a minute. All of the players come together and I’m a champion for transformational leadership, which is about the vision. It’s not about me, it’s about the vision that we produce together. My company is SynerVision. It’s the synergy of a common vision. We call it ensemble and music. We call it ensemble and drama. And so we’re creating this ensemble with our staff, with our teams within our companies.

Hugh Ballou:

And so they all come together as independent instrumentalist, but the conductor brings them into this group called an orchestra. And then as we shape the performance, we create this ensemble, is where we perform better together than we do independently. So we don’t give up our independent skills, we enhance our independent skills by listening and participating with others. And so what happens in the workplace is people silo.

Hugh Ballou:

This is my job. I’m only going to do this. Rather than thinking about we are independent, but thinking about the interdependence of our performance together and realize it’s a collaborative culture these days and not an autocratic culture. So creating the space to say, here’s your area to perform. Whether it’s a physical space or an operational space, it’s creating the opportunity for people to raise the bar and then guiding that process.

Norah Jones:

It strikes me that there are a couple of aspects there in which you have to, Hugh, train folks in ways that they may not be familiar. For example, they may not consider themselves as part of an ensemble. How do you go about helping them to have the language, in this case of an ensemble to begin the collaborative aspect you’re talking about? Let’s start with that of my major two questions that I have.

Hugh Ballou:

Well, if people are invited to be a part of it, that’s where we get buy-in. And we’re very used to, if we’ve learned leadership wrong and we’ve learned systems wrong and we’ve inherited broken systems, the top down, I’m the autocratic leader, this is what I want, this is what I want it, this is how I want it. And we’ve got a lot of examples of that. And that’s the bully boss leadership model. But the model that takes a little more time in finesse is the transformational leadership model.

Hugh Ballou:

The leader is very skilled at defining the vision and then letting the team with their guidance create the pathway. Nothing happens without your approval. You have full veto power. The skillset of being so clear about the process is you don’t need to use the veto power because you’ve built it in and you’ve created this relationship, which is the foundation of leadership. You’ve created this relationship where people cherish the project together and realize they’re part of the success.

Hugh Ballou:

So having a system where you invite people into conversation within parameters. It’s not, What do you think? We’re doing this project. Here’s the goals. Here’s some ways to do it. What’s your reflection on this pathway? What’s your reflection on that pathway? You’re teaching people to think as entrepreneurs within the culture. You’re teaching them that their opinion matters. So it’s a relationship that we cultivate over time and people on your teams have been part of something where they’ve been misinformed and seen it function poorly.

Hugh Ballou:

And they’d rather not be on a low performing team. So you start with saying, “This is a high performing team. What does each of you contribute to keeping this, making it and keeping it and raising the bar as the highest performing team possible?” And when you allow people to write that down and share it, you start with the words I promise. So what is your promise to your colleagues to make sure that we’re not wasting time and we’re certainly productive? And actually if we’re productive, it’s could be less effort and we could have time left over.

Hugh Ballou:

People think being more productive means working harder when they’re in fact already working hard. How do we do it smarter through creating a system and the synergy? We’re used to the compromise in our country. And it’s a lose-lose. If we divide this collaboration we call consensus, it’s a win-win and we get the wisdom from everybody. So it’s the culture of participatory leadership and we don’t give up any authority as the leader. We actually expand that authority and we work through the people that we inspire.

Norah Jones:

Can you give an example of that in process with a real group, named or unnamed with whom you’ve worked so that folks can see that in action a little bit verbally here today?

Hugh Ballou:

Well, I been doing this for 33 years. So my brain is trying to reference what would be a good example, but the common factors to all of them is here’s our organization that says, “We need to hire four people.” And I said, “Let me look at your strategy.” “Well, we don’t have one.” Well, how would they know what to do? And so we go back and we look at the strategy. So we build a strategy, which fundamentally is strategic buy and we incineration called a solution map, but the fundamentals are where do you want to be and how you’re going to get there?

Hugh Ballou:

So it’s a roadmap to success, it’s an organic document and everybody knows where to participate. So we created that strategy. And then we went and looked at the position descriptions for those four people. And they said, “Well, what we’ve just learned from the strategy is we need to edit those position descriptions and modify them. We’ve got wrong people in the wrong seats doing the wrong things.” And so there’s a clarity of process. Where do we want to be? And then how are we going to get there? What are the competencies that we need in order to get there?

Hugh Ballou:

So we want to onboard people with certain competencies and sometimes we invite people to shift seats on the bus. Well, you’re not driving this leg. You’re going to be in the back watching for traffic or something. So we might invite people to a different place so they can more fully utilize that skillset. So it’s a whole process of how do we rethink? In March, we did the strategy, in January and March. We started to December actually. So by March, they began searching for four people. June 1st, they hired four people and we did the assimilation piece.

Hugh Ballou:

And so we had the strategy, which includes your guiding principles, your core values and your principles. What’s the culture like? And that was part of the hiring process. And even people that are professional. HR didn’t know all the things about creating the culture, they knew about compliance. So they were learners along with the rest of us. We’re always learning. So we created the process, created the assimilation, put the boots on the ground, did a training and then actually did organizational wide discussion about true leadership and how each person can participate in the whole.

Hugh Ballou:

And so that’s an end-to-end one year process, but it takes enough time to learn the systems, put in the tools in place to master those. You digest them and then to put them in place and then tweak them and then to make them permanent. So it takes a period of time to do all that. We don’t read a book and then go to work. Now there’s lots of getting it in your skin, getting in the culture, getting it in the process and then tweaking it that it’s not book learning, it’s actual what you’ve created that’s unique for your organization. So that’s an example.

Norah Jones:

How do you make sure in the midst of your work that people are understanding what you mean by core value? Do you ever find that folks are mistaken or using incorrect vocabulary if you will or visions that are not as effective in reaching consensus about what it is that you are asking them to do?

Hugh Ballou:

Core values, let’s take that one. I find very few leaders that have actually written them down. And there’s a lot of assumptions. Well, of course. So if we ask 10 people on their team to write core values, we get 11 opinions. So the old saying, “I’m schizophrenic, so am I.” So there’s many different ways of perceiving things, but core values are static. They’re words. Integrity, honesty, fairness, inclusion. It’s important to anchor those in a group setting.

Hugh Ballou:

We all have perceptions of what this company values, but do we have the same perceptions and we have the same definitions of those words? So we end up with a list of words. And generally, there’s some normally accepted words. When you say, “What about integrity?” “Oh, yes.” You’d be really out if you said, “No, we don’t care about integrity.” But there’s some anchor words. Then we feel really good and we build out the rest of our strategy with those in mind, but we feel great about that. And then we write them down and we put them away.

Hugh Ballou:

The next step would be to write guiding principles. We treat each person, each customer with the utmost integrity that we want to be known for, the integrity, whether people are watching this or not doing the right thing. We want to use words that aren’t that word. So you create guiding principles, which is the application of that integrity in a statement of sentence of how you make decisions as a team. That’s the beginning of defining the culture.

Norah Jones:

Do you find in the experiences that you’ve had over these decades that there are members of the institution, members of the business, members of the organization that resist being part of this experience? And if so, how do you help them to see what you’re doing, redefine their participation?

Hugh Ballou:

It’s no different in a work situation and in a volunteer situation like a church or a nonprofit or a synagogue in that people show up in business for a paycheck. They perform at a higher level because of their personal commitment and their personal fulfillment in what they do. I don’t think anybody shows up in the workplace to do a bad job. I think it’s contrary to our human nature. We want to see things happen. What we don’t like is how it’s run.

Hugh Ballou:

People very rarely leave a business because of the business. They leave it because of the leader. And so if, if I, the leader am not aware of how I impact people, how I influence people and how I impact them either positively or negatively, then I’m missing the boat. We call those blind spots. That’s why people like you and me have jobs, have work, Norah, because we are independent observers and all of us need it. If you look at the top business leaders, actors, whatever, you look at the top people in their field, they have a coach and partly it’s to help us realize those things we don’t see about ourselves.

Hugh Ballou:

And so it starts with us impacting people by who we are. So creating that whole work process and then being aware of how we’re influencing leader. And I go back to the conductor analogy. I wave that baton. That stick is called the baton. It doesn’t make sound. What happens is when people actually do things. So I’ve got this piece of paper with dots, we call it music. So the leader integrates. So we have a piece of paper for strategy. It’s words on paper. That’s all.

Hugh Ballou:

Then nothing happens until we, as a leader, integrate that strategy into performance. And that’s the big gap that most people miss. How do we take the ideas and the concepts and transform those into results? In SynerVision, the nonprofit, we say, transforming leaders, transforming organizations, transforming lives. And in business, we have to transform ourselves, we have to transform the teams so the performance is higher. And then we transform the results that our customers get from our products or services or events.

Norah Jones:

Hugh, thank you. And when you look at leaders with whom you’ve worked, heads of businesses, organizations, what would you say are the areas of largest confusion or biggest resistance or are least understanding among the leaders that you work with?

Hugh Ballou:

I think it’s how we show up. Oh, I’m just going to tell them and they got to understand. Well, have you done a check on the words you’re using? And I’m a fan of using the right words for the right usage. Now I’m going to say we have our own language, we have our own nuances of words, but there’s some generally accepted words and how we choose the words. Like for instance, as a leader, we have to do course correction. I stop the orchestra state trumpet, that’s too loud, take it down, one dynamic level.

Hugh Ballou:

Now I didn’t insult them. I identified the issue, I gave a directive and I said, “Let’s do it again.” Now I’m the person that can see it because I’m in front. I can hear the balance. The leader sees the big picture. We not only know what’s supposed to happen, but we’re supposed to know where we’re going and what the results need to be. And so if we don’t address situations when they happen in an appropriate form, then everybody’s going to say, “Well, who are they? They’re not a good leader.” And it diminishes ourselves.

Hugh Ballou:

So if we err on the side of, well, I don’t want to speak up. It might hurt Johnny’s feelings. Well, that’s a pleaser personality. That is a downward spiral. We want to have a principle that would speak directly and honestly to an issue and provide helpful information of how we can work together to make it better. And so one word you want to stay away from is Johnny, you, now he’s already defensive, you did this.

Hugh Ballou:

So instead of saying, Johnny, you did this and you messed up saying, “Johnny, we agreed on these principles, looked at these results and we defined the outcomes. Now it didn’t happen as planned. How do we work together to make it better?” Because like it or not, buck stops with a leader. You’re part of it. So we can encourage them to step up or we can tell them to shape up and do this. And when we’re not there, we have no idea what they’re doing.

Norah Jones:

When you speak about the helping of the folks to understand these various issues, do you find any differences among, let’s say groups, be it profit versus nonprofit, areas of geography of the United States? You also work internationally. What differences across cultures and communities might you find as you’re doing your work?

Hugh Ballou:

There are differences in customs. If you’re in Asia and you’re assigned a female escort to take you around, you don’t open the door for her and let her go first. That’s an insult. And so we have to learn. And then I went to Mexico and I did a little knock rhythm that we do here. And the person there grabbed my hand said, “Don’t do that. That’s an insult to their mother.” And I thought, oh, that’s a reframing.

Hugh Ballou:

So we have to learn some of the nuances of the culture, but the principles, the values are consistent. People working together want to do excellent work and provide excellent results. Here’s an example. I was asked by a group in Germany that had a for-profit and a nonprofit. They worked together. The for-profit was the tour part of it. The nonprofit was hosting world choir games, which is basically Olympics for choirs to compete.

Hugh Ballou:

And so we just saw the Olympics happen I guess, there’s 11,000 or so athletes. This had 20,000 singers, so big deal. And so in Cincinnati, it happened because I was part of putting that link together and making it happen. But 100 countries represented by 450 choirs, it was mammoth, are competing against each other in 28 categories. No, there were 30. In America, we had barbershop suite analyze indigenous music to our culture.

Hugh Ballou:

So during 10 days, there’s all those 30 competitions, 600 events, 1,300 hours of singers. People do not come to the table learning how to sing the same way or even the same customs. But the commonality was excellence in the performance and faithfulness to the originals score. Are we faithful to what we’ve said we’re going to do? And can we work together to deliver that? And do we start in end in tune? Some of the fundamental practices of how we do things, but I find there’s far more things that we have in common than there are differences. And the difference when you get down to, it really don’t matter as much.

Norah Jones:

That’s reassuring. You have established SynerVision. What does SynerVision do? And how does it bring this knowledge and approach that you have and to whom does it bring it?

Hugh Ballou:

There are many forms. SynerVision is my trademark brand. It’s the synergy of the common vision. SynerVision International works with business leaders creating the really serious systems to build the teams and to be productive because we’re judged on the amount of what’s left over. If we bring in a lot of money and there’s not much left over, then we really haven’t done a good job of running our business. So we lose a lot of money in the middle.

Hugh Ballou:

Gallup survey say that 70% of the American workforce is either actively disengaged, disengaged or actively disengaged. That equates to $500 billion in lost profits. So necessarily, we want to increase revenue all the time. We want to keep more of that for the bottom line for our investors, for ourselves, for quality of life, but we get that for providing value, but we also need to tweak our systems. And we really don’t know where it’s leaking. That’s why you and I are valuable to company leaders because we help them turn that in a more profit because we’re so close to it, we can’t see it.

Hugh Ballou:

SynerVision Leadership Foundation delivers the same quality to nonprofits and leaders in clergy. SynerVision publishing its magazine and books and online learning. So the SynerVision is the theme of how do we come together? So business leaders, smaller corporations, five to 100 million that have… They’re versatile enough that you can work with them and they say, “Okay, here’s how we can improve our skills to improve our bottom line.” So that’s the core group I think we’re talking to.

Hugh Ballou:

It’s entrepreneurs who are even starting up. It’s so key to understand how to start up so you can build a strong foundation so that then you can grow it further. And by the way, transformational leadership is not you being the bottleneck, having to be in the room, you’re in the room, whether you’re there or not. You’ve created systems and it’s infinitely scalable. The autocratic model is limited to how many times you can talk to people and make decisions, but transformational leadership is transparent and it’s a culture of leadership, high performing leaders.

Norah Jones:

What movement do you see, Hugh in the world in general with people understanding transformational leadership, understanding the idea of consensus when there is a lot of push to a top down work and competition?

Hugh Ballou:

There are a lot of bad examples. Napoleon Hill worked with Paul Harris in the 40s, I believe, to start Rotary because Napoleon Hill had interviewed all these 500 top leaders, Carnegie, Woolworth, Wannamaker, Emerson Ford, Edison Ford. And he knew the good things they did. So he got this theory of success, but I’m sure he also saw the things that weren’t so good and how they abused people. So the Rotary was to establish ethics and strong business principles that were valuable.

Hugh Ballou:

And so that was a place in the sand. So we have inherited things wrong. We have a culture of thinking I’m the boss and we’ve got this myth in our mind that we have to have all the right answers. And that’s wrong. And I work with a lot of power leaders and one said, “I got a team meeting I’m going to now. And I got to set them straight because I know what’s right and I always have the right answer.”

Hugh Ballou:

And I said, “Wrong.” And he said, “What you mean? It’s my business.” I said, “What if you’re not there to be right? Your job is to make sure that everybody on the team is always right. And they have the ability to make the decisions.” So a lot of what I teach, people think about autocratic leadership, that’s the model they have in their brain, they misunderstand leadership. And that’s rampant. We misunderstand what leadership is. And we misunderstand that everybody on our teams or leaders at different levels in different tracks.

Hugh Ballou:

So the fundamental pieces, we don’t understand it. Many people have never heard of transformational leadership. And it was created in the 1980s by two writers, Burns and Bass. James Alexander Burns wrote Transforming Leadership in an effort to have our politicians think in a different way. What a gift that would’ve been. So it’s the culture of the whole performing at a high level. So we can play golf and we still know it’s going to be happening when we’re not there. Now we got to be there sometimes and we have to build those relationships.

Hugh Ballou:

So it’s a fundamental concept of leadership very much like an orchestra. It’s not a democratic organization, they don’t get to vote, but by golly, they can make you look bad. There’s a principle in the military that if your platoon doesn’t respect you, they’re likely to shoot you in the back when you’re in combat. There’s a lot of business leaders to get shot in the back every day and they don’t even know it. And they wonder why the bottom line is really poor. Well, we as leaders set up problems and we’re not aware of where we set them up or if we respond, are we fixing them or are we making them better? We don’t know that.

Norah Jones:

Powerful image provided right there. Now so many of the folks on my podcast have talked around at some point about vulnerability and about embracing vulnerability or addressing vulnerability or just the very nature of vulnerability in the lives that they’re living or that they’re bringing in leading, teaching, encouraging others. Vulnerability for a leader that is going to be right. How do you, Hugh, help them to redefine that level of their being right so that that vulnerability can come in and help to do that transformation you’re talking about?

Hugh Ballou:

Here’s another example of a leader, he, it’s important that it’s a he, said, “Okay, I’m going to my team and there’s some things I don’t do very well.” So I have coaching sessions. And as you knows, listening is 90% of coaching. And that silence there is a clarifier. So he says, “I got to go into this team and there’s some things that I don’t do very well. What do I tell them?”

Hugh Ballou:

Silence, silence, silence. I said, “Well, why don’t you just define where that is?” And he said, “I don’t want to tell them that I have weaknesses.” Silent, silent, silent. And I said, these are questions, “And you think they don’t already know?” So I was interviewing Cal Turner who went to his senior team at Dollar General and he said to his team, “My dad founded this company. I’m the new president and CEO. And I got this job because of my genes not my skills. I’m the family member. You have the skills and we’re going to go public. And I want you to use skills to go public. And I’ll go visit the stores and make sure our vision is on track.”

Hugh Ballou:

They all stepped up, they went public and then they sold it later for $7.2 billion. That was pretty successful for everybody. And they had to share. And he said, “Hugh, leadership is about defining your gaps and finding good people to fill those gaps.” So we’re really clear on the results, but we also allow people and we don’t micromanage. There’s a big difference between mentoring and micromanaging. There’s a difference in mentoring and coaching. Coaching is asking questions, equipping, mentoring is subject matter expertise.

Hugh Ballou:

So knowing the role we’re playing when we’re playing it and being very clear on what we expect other people to do, which is we rarely ever define performance expectations. We say, it’s your job marketing. We want more business. Well, what if you said, I want these specific deliverables over this specific time period. And then that person tells you how they’re going to do it. Now you’ve got a process that you can mentor them with and there’s accountability system and there’s targets.

Hugh Ballou:

Now they may not always make them, but they’re going to learn. And by and large with your help, they’re going to make it. So misunderstanding leadership, then misdirecting the culture. I don’t find that it’s very common that leaders are self aware, that they understand leadership, the power of transformational leadership and the power of delegation. And we must be transparent. Cal Turner said to me, “If I had pretended that I knew it all, they would’ve said, “Hmm, I’m going to show him that he doesn’t know it.””

Hugh Ballou:

And that happens every day. We come in and we bluff and we tell people we know it instead of being transparent. And another friend works as a supervisor, a mechanic, one of the major airlines and he got a new boss. And the boss came in, said, “I’m running this organization. Hey Phil, come in.” And he said, “I’m going to tell you how things are going to happen.” And he opened up the manual and the guy put up his hand and says, “I wrote that manual.”

Hugh Ballou:

So the guy who just came out of an MBA degree had no idea what went on below or what the expertise was. So us respecting, but also saying, I’ve got these gifts, I’ve got the vision, you’ve got the skills. I was in my 40s before I learned to be vulnerable on a podium. That was the pivot point for me to make music. You don’t whine and tell people what your flaws are, but you’re vulnerable. Then you’re able to make things happen.

Norah Jones:

Riff on that some more. You don’t whine, but you are vulnerable help to unpack that process and the way that we talk to ourselves about that process some more, please.

Hugh Ballou:

Well, part of transformational leadership is authenticity. I had to follow Les Brown on stage. Les gets audiences just hopping and they’re excited. And so I’m like, “Oh man, I’m in trouble.” And so I’m getting dressed and I’m getting ready to go out there. And I look in the mirror and I point to myself and said, “You’re going to go out there and you’re going to be Hugh Ballou.” And that was the best I ever did. Forget what Les did. He’s the best speaker I know. He gets crowds just from the mouth are so excited. I had a different thing.

Hugh Ballou:

So I showed up authentic. We want to pretend that we know things. We want to pretend that we’re somebody else. We play a role. Well, what if we just be ourselves and say, okay, here’s my gifts. I’m going to buy a t-shirt that says nobody’s perfect. On the back it says, but parts of me are excellent. So what do you do better than anything else? That’s what you focus on. Other things you delegate, which is not a weakness of leadership, it’s a strength of leadership.

Hugh Ballou:

And guess what? That person is so happy to do that and so happy that you’ve trusted them. You’re now multiplying, depending on… This is a hard thing. People don’t know how to delegate. This is a hard thing to do, but as we delegate, we’re actually multiplying the work that we do through other people. And they’re bought into it and they’re proud of it. So it’s how we create the culture. And it’s not weakness, it’s strength of leadership.

Norah Jones:

In fact it’s literally, etymologically speaking, it’s a de-tying, an untying, letting people have some freedom.

Hugh Ballou:

As a matter of fact, my big program, my long program about how to run your enterprise is called Unbound Leader.

Norah Jones:

There you go.

Hugh Ballou:

Because we bind ourselves up with these assumptions and we limit our effectiveness with these little scripts that we tell ourselves. And we are sometimes our biggest enemy to our own productivity and our own leadership.

Norah Jones:

Hugh, the role of questioning, questioning ourselves interiorly, being questioned by a coach, bringing questions out to our teams, what have you discovered and shared over your years about the role of using questions?

Hugh Ballou:

Using the right language. You can change one word and get an entirely different response. And I was a serious student of facilitation and you’ve seen me do that too. And everybody participates, everybody writes. We use storyboards so it’s very visible, but we capture concepts. So I can say, “We’re going to brainstorm on this question.” And I can change one word and get entirely different answers. So as leaders, just being mindful of what we ask for, which means you don’t just shoot by the hip all the time.

Hugh Ballou:

Think about the framing of the question. Think about the situation around the question. Because you’ve just had a big deal, emotional thing happen in a team, you don’t switch all of a sudden to a different topic that doesn’t take in the fact that people are traumatized or stressed. We’re dealing in a highly anxious culture right now. And if we show up as anxious, it spreads.

Hugh Ballou:

And so the choice of language is, according to the research, 7% of a message, 55% is in our expression and the rest of it is delivery. We can use the same words and we can get different results. But if we use the wrong words, we might not get the intended results. So being very intentional about what we’re asking and maybe setting the context of we’re making a decision in your part of it or why do we need this information? That really puts the relevance to what we’re doing.

Norah Jones:

What experience can you share where people were having to become aware of the fact that the questions they were asking were not really relevant to what they were trying to accomplish? How do you in your work, Hugh help people in businesses and organizations from if I can put it this way and maybe it’s inappropriate that I do? Wasting their time, is there any such thing as wasting one’s time?

Hugh Ballou:

Yeah, you mean the leader or the team wasting whose time?

Norah Jones:

The leader wasting their own and especially their teams time, I guess, was what I was thinking.

Hugh Ballou:

Well, here’s situation. I’ve done training for groups of professionals. One was 100 conductors, coral conductors at that. Accountants, auditors, movers, bankers, a speed medical practice managers, people that have a very unique skillset and a very unique enterprise, but the universal thing is how we show up and how we make things happen. Let’s take the conductors. We’re talking about choral conductors, typically, you have 2 1/2 jobs.

Hugh Ballou:

So you might have a community chorus, you might teach in a college and you might have a church choir job. And so you’re doing the same work in different contexts. And everybody complains about the systems they’re in the college. Well, if they just knew this or we get together in meetings and I don’t know how to run meetings. Well, I said, “Wait a minute, let’s apply the knowledge you have and let’s transpose it. You know how to run rehearsal. You certainly know how to run a meeting. Everybody sings, everybody participates. You’re very clear on the outcomes. You invite participation. You energize people so they feel better.”

Hugh Ballou:

So it’s us thinking about quit diminishing your ability. You’ve got some ability. You’re going to learn new ones that you’ve got some fundamental skills that can be transferred. And all of these specialty groups, people say, “I’ve got subject matter knowledge.” We need to get systems knowledge in addition. Remember the 10/90 Rule, 10% of my job is music, 90% makes it possible. Well, we have to learn how to run systems because our product and service is 10% of our enterprise, 10%. 90% is the team that delivers it and the systems that deliver it.

Hugh Ballou:

All of those things make it possible for you to deliver your unique value proposition to the right customer and wow them, which then generates revenue for your enterprise. So it’s honing in on what is the essential thing that I need to know as a leader and what is the essential thing that my team needs to know to be able to let the client potential customer know what’s the essential thing they need to know to understand why they need what we have?

Hugh Ballou:

And so it’s a series of essential items that we need to define most of which is in language, which is so hard because we’re so close to it. So having an external advisor is so key because we can’t see it. When I do strategy from our organization, I have other people help me because I’m too close to it. And I do this for a living. This is what I do and I can’t do it for myself.

Norah Jones:

Excellent advice ongoing. What differences, changes have happened because of the pandemic globally if any in your work and in the approaches and in the understandings?

Hugh Ballou:

Well, if we’re awake, we realize we’re never going back to what was before, which is fine because we were fat and sassy and waste a lot of time and money and just were sloppy about it. Now we’ve had to get serious and now we realize, hmm, we’re not bound by brick and mortar, by the block we work in, we are open to the world. And what churches and schools have determined is there’s no more snow days because we can deliver what we do universally. And people are not sitting in the same continent even.

Hugh Ballou:

And so it’s impacted us and our abilities certainly to influence more people in more places. So the organizations that were outwardly focused, how can we serve other people? How can we get people together in a new framework? They’re doing really well. The ones that are waiting for that normal to come back and crying, poor mouth, “Hey, we’re blaming everybody else for a failure.” Well, get off your duff. Ray Buchanan who founded Rise Against Hunger wrote a book, Get Off Your Buts, B-U-T, do something.

Hugh Ballou:

And so if we apply knowledge, leaders are problem solvers. Here’s a problem and that’s why people need us. We solve their problems. So we can solve our own problems. That’s a skillset we have. So here’s a problem, how do we solve it? How do we deliver in a new context? And maybe it might be better. And I had the shift to doing strategic planning instead of sitting in a room for eight hours and working through my process, I divided into two hour settings because it’s harder on Zoom to sit in one place.

Hugh Ballou:

And over weeks, some people actually had time to think about the concepts and digest them and come back to the next questions better prepared. So I found that it’s very effective in a new setting, but I had to adapt my thinking to be able to adapt my process. And actually I can do more work because I don’t have to go places. I can do it right here.

Norah Jones:

Adaptation. That’s the name of the game for sure. Hugh, as you look out virtually that is on the listening audience today, what’s one more thing that you want to make sure that they know that we didn’t touch on or that was prompted by our conversation? What’s that one thing you want to make sure you say before we end today?

Hugh Ballou:

Leaders are readers. And Norah and I certainly have resources to help stimulate creative thinking. And some of the anchor books and the movements that have helped leaders like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is not about money. The 13th attribute of wealth is money. There’s a bunch of things above that like good health, good relationships. There’s lots of ways that we actually have an abundance of resources. Be grateful for what you have and those will multiply.

Hugh Ballou:

And then pull together a team of advisors who will be straight with you and realize that you have abundance. And then as you define your process even tighter, they will help you with your language, help you with your positioning, help you by encouraging you because not every day is the best day. So understand the value we present and the passion we have for that and that carries you through. Don’t give up. Constantly read and don’t put the book away you’ve already read, highlight it.

Hugh Ballou:

And then when you go back years later and read it again, use a different color and you’ll find that you’ve highlighted different parts of that book because you’re ready to learn the next thing. So hang around. People who are successful. If you want to be broke, hang around broke people. No, I don’t recommend that. And if you’re the best person on your team, hmm, get a new team. You want to hang out with the best people you can. And that’s not intimidating, that’s helping us grow as leaders because we’re in the deep side of the pool and we got to swim.

Hugh Ballou:

So those are the don’t give up. Three Feet from Gold is a movie that Greg Reid did and it’s the old story of the guy that sold the mine because he never reached the mother lode. And the person that bought it dug three feet, hit the mother lode because that other person gave up. Thomas Edison said 90% of the people give up just before they would’ve succeeded. So stick with it.

Norah Jones:

Hugh Ballou, thank you so much for all of your insights shared today and the half of it’s about language. Appreciate your being here today.

Hugh Ballou:

Thank you for the invitation. You’re a great interview and this was really a lot of fun.

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