Leaders bring great impact to the workplace when its employees or staff generate positivity with what they bring to work every day. Today, Jesse Cole interviews Max Yoder, the Founder and CEO of Lessonly and the author of Do Better Work. His book highlight what’s working, handling difficult conversation and agreements, and how we can bring brightness to the room. Max talks about leading his company and creating moments that matter for his employees. Join Jesse and Max as they share insights on setting ideal company standards and creating self-awareness.
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Max Yoder On Creating Awareness And Teamwork Towards Success
Our guest is the Founder and CEO of Lessonly and the author of Do Better Work. He inspired me and our entire staff at Customer Service Revolution and he’s back on Business Done Differently to inspire you. Max Yoder, welcome to the show.
Jesse, thanks for having me.
In our meeting in Customer Service, we were all taking notes. We brought it back to our team and we loved your great presentation. I want to take the readers back to a little bit of your story. I know it was a failed business until the success that is Lessonly. Maybe you reversed engineer. What is Lessonly now? Let’s go backwards on how you got there.
Lessonly is a training and enablement software specifically for sales and customer service teams. A lot of training software is built for human resources teams. That’s not who we are. We’re primarily built for the sales and customer service teams because they have this high rate of change. There’s a new product and new promotion they have to honor. There’s new pricing. All of these things are constantly influx for the sales rep and the customer service agent. They require continuous training to stay on the same page because the customer is going to ask questions about that new promotion or that new pricing.
The rep or agent wants to have that information because there’s this area that has so much pressure of change on them and there are these big continuous training needs. What we do is we don’t teach people what works. We help them practice what works. If you were a sales rep, I’d share something with you that is a best practice and then I’ll let you try to do that on your own. That’s where you build the muscle. There’s not a lot of growth in knowing something. The growth comes in and applying what you know. We have a practice component to our software that allows people to practice.
You mentioned that you’re up to about 150 employees. What type of companies are you working with?
All kinds. If you had a big sales team or a big customer service team, and when I say big, it starts about twenty people, that’s where the breakdown happens. You’ve got twenty people doing a similar job and you keep them on the same page. All the way up to 30,000 people in any given customer support or sales team. There’s a big range, but if your team is twenty people or more, we should be talking.
You’re teaching how to do better work and you wrote the book, Do Better Work. You started with a failed company many years ago that brought you to where you are to learn this. Can you share that journey a little bit because you had to learn how to do better work before you could teach it?
Anything you’ve read about in the book would have been impossible to share before Lessonly. The business before Lessonly is called Quipol. Years ago, I wanted to create a survey and polling software simply because I was working for a business that created content marketing software. I started to realize that everybody wants insight, engagement and reach from their audience. A poll or a survey is a good way to get all of those insight into what they care about. An engagement in this fact that they’re engaging with your survey or poll and then reach when the people can share what they’ve told you and can share their feedback with their friends, you might bring more of their friends in. It wasn’t a great business.
There wasn’t a big business need for more surveying and polling software. I built this software and I thought it would work perfectly. I watched the world and within minutes, I realized that my hubris had gotten in the way. I thought I knew what the software should do. I perfected it in a vacuum and it never recovered after that. Quipol didn’t ever go anywhere. I worked hard on it for about a year and nine months after that, trying to make it work, but it didn’t. It ended up being an incredible blessing for me because what it taught me was all the things not to do. I got to start with that information with Lessonly and build Lessonly more methodically and more meticulously. Slowly but surely over time instead of all at once and that agile surely helped me in time.
One of the things you’ve learned there was share before you’re ready. I can’t tell you how much I love that. We host podcasts and I’ll often talk about the promotions that we’re going to do to get feedback. I’ll get on stage and share an idea to get feedback because you don’t know until you get the response. That’s such a fascinating principle that you put in your book. Tell me how that happened with Lessonly. You’re going back to the days when you had this company that didn’t work out then you started Lessonly. Take us back how it started and how you started sharing before you’re ready.
The idea of sharing before you’re ready was something that we were doing without realizing we were doing it and when we got together for three years into the business and want to formalize our values. About three years in the business, we were about seventeen people. We were getting to a scale where everybody couldn’t fit around at a table anymore consistently. It became important to formalize values. For me, the value should be things that you’re not going to do naturally, that pushed you to do unnatural things, but those unnatural things have positive results.
I don’t need to tell you to eat, sleep and breathe for our company values because you’re already going to do those things, but you might not share before you’re ready because you might be a perfectionist like a lot of us are. We’re all perfectionists depending on what we care about. Perfectionism has an ugly side to it and I’d argue that it’s mostly out of balance. Sharing before you’re ready was this behavior that one of my teammates, Cory Kime, recognized. We were doing it at Lessonly and he was like, “When we’re at our best, we’re not going into a whole working on projects.” Coming out three weeks later and saying, “Ta-da,” which would be the opposite of sharing for you. That’d be a perfectionist.
I say, “Jesse, here’s your project.” He goes, “Max, trust me with this project.” “You go run off and you try to impress me by coming back three weeks later with this wholly thought out thing. Check base as you go. You might weigh-off where I hoped it would be.” The goal of sharing before you’re ready is when somebody gives me or you a project or an initiative, we go and talk to the people who ultimately depend on the success of that project and we intermittently check in. First, maybe we do 60 to 90 minutes in a first draft. If I’m maybe creating a presentation, I might outline my first draft which is bullet points and keeping it simple. I’d go in front of you and say, “Jesse, you’re also going to have to use the presentation. What do you like about this outline? What is it missing? What would you change?”
Instead of saying, “What do you think of this idea?” say, “What’s wrong with this idea?” You present it and you go into it in a vulnerable way, which is one of your values. In the chapters in the book, are those the values of Lessonly?
Yes. There are eight chapters in the book and five of them are company values. Something like, “Be vulnerable,” is the through-line of a bunch of our values. It’s foundational. You can’t share before you’re ready if you’re not vulnerable. I’d come to people and say, “What do you like? What do you not like? What am I missing?” What you try to do is get a sense for, “Am I creating the ultimate deliverable that people want? Am I creating what I thought they wanted?” The more you stay in the back of your mind and you don’t get to see feedback, the more likely it is that you are diverging from what people need because you have a single perspective.
That’s one of the values. You’re building it in three years and you’re like, “We’re starting to grow. We’ve got seventeen people on board. We need to get those values in place.” Share some of the stories that happened when you started to build some of those values because everyone is going through that point. They’re either growing or they’re not growing, but they’re trying to figure out how do they build this employee experience. What were some things that stood out for you in the beginning years?
It gets me to sit around a table and say, “Let’s highlight what’s working in the company.” We didn’t realize we were doing that, which is a good way to look at all of ourselves. When are we at our best? We can feel that, so we share behaviors that happened right at our best. One of them that came up was we have difficult conversations, which was this idea of, “We’re going to look our troubles in the eye. We’re going to communicate through them and we’re going to do compassionately.”
The thing about that value was it was very aspirational and every value should be aspirational. When companies put up their values, they should be challenging to the company in such a way that you will not do them consistently. That’s why they’re on the wall because we’re going to air from the values. Having difficult conversations is an easy one to not do because I don’t think we live in a society where we’re well informed or well educated on how to communicate when there is conflict, whether it’s a systemic or interpersonal conflict. What we tend to is we model the behavior that we see from our caregivers.
However, they engaged in conflict and ideally it was super healthy. If it wasn’t super healthy, if it was an argument, avoidance and repression, those are not healthy things, but we learn from them. Whatever our caregivers do is what we’re going to do. Having difficult conversations with that idea of, “We need to talk about the things that are difficult.” At that time, we didn’t know how to have difficult conversations, which is what made it aspirational. It was like, “We want to get good at this.” Through the years, we saw a lot of feedback and somebody from the Nonviolent Communication. It’s an excellent book by Marshall Rosenberg that became the fundamental method that we used to have difficult conversations. It was a multi-year evolution of this value where we finally got to hear what it means to have a difficult conversation.
You spend the most amount of time in your book on the NVC and you’ve spent numerous pages going into it. It sounds like it played a huge role in your company. Take us back to an example where you had to have a difficult conversation with someone, not necessarily letting them go, but maybe helping them get to another area. Can you share that experience and how you put this NVC, Nonviolent Communication into it?
If I have communicated with you and we have an agreement in place about how to do something a certain way and we’ve agreed that it is the way that it should be done, in your job description, we’re not together. You’ve been hired and we’ve made sure that we’ve articulated the job description where we have measures so that you know when you’re doing well and I know what I’m doing well, which is a super important thing. It should not be my gut that says, “This isn’t working out.”
Sometimes the gut starts the investigation, but we should have measures that clarify why my gut is feeling the way that it is. If we have those measures, I would speak to one of the measures and say, “We made an agreement that if I asked five people on this team, these two questions would be answered in the affirmative 80% of the time.” I’ve asked five people these two questions and they’ve been answered in the negative 80% of the time. We had an agreement and ground to stand on. My observation is that our agreement is out of line.
I asked the question and I didn’t get the answers that we agreed that would identify success. “I’m nervous about this because I value consistency and I value your support. My request is we get to the bottom of what’s going on here and figure it out or step forward. Does that make sense?” What I did there was I talked about an observation of my feelings about it. The need underlying that feeling is the value of consistency in sport and the specific requests that I have. That’s what nonviolent communication is.
It’s funny because all of these are built-in because you went into agreements and that’s one of the chapters of the book, Get More Agreements: Expect Less and Agree More. I, as the CEO and owner of the team, we have expectations constantly of what we want. We want the best of people, but what you’re saying is, to get agreements first. The agreements of what the measurements are, what the requirements are, what are you looking for. That’s the starting point and that can lead to everything.
You won’t get every agreement on day one and even on day 100. As you’re living, you’ll see new opportunities for new agreements. Jesse, you’re going to be operating now and you might see something that you want to be different. Going forward, you get an agreement on that thing, but you cannot hold that person attracted or accountable to something. You can’t or shouldn’t do things retroactively hostage for something that they didn’t know that they needed to do.You don’t get to see feedback if you only have a single perspective and stay in the vacuum of your mind. Click To Tweet
We can say, “I might’ve seen you at five different times in the past to do it a different way than I hoped, but now we’re getting an agreement.” I won’t even bring up those five times. I’ll just say, “Going forward, when this situation occurs, could we do it this different way?” You can say, “Totally,” or with a slight adjustment. We have an agreement in the ground to stand on. If you keep going back to the old way after you’ve agreed to do it in a different way, you got 2 or 3 times, at that point, I can go, “We made this agreement the last three times and you haven’t done it. I’m frustrated because I value consistency and support.” It’s the same stuff. Getting that agreement strap what’s compassionate in my opinion.
You’re clear on what your expectations are, what you’re going for and what you’re looking for. Everything comes down to clarity. I want to go to your office. Tell me what typical days look like. Highlight what’s working. Many leaders focus on what’s not working, “I caught you doing this.” Tell me the recognition, celebration culture and even from onboarding. I want to know what’s inside your office. It seems like it’s a place that understands what matters most. How are you making your people understand? Go into a little bit of that.
This is a value because it’s super important and personal to me. I’m a big words of affirmation guy. In some cases, my integrity is too much wrapped up in what other people think. There’s a balance here. We can’t be only doing what other people think. It’s positive. We have to understand for ourselves what we value. I didn’t always know that, but we think about how that was working on a team. The big idea is if you are grateful for something, let people know because by letting them know, we understand what to do more of. That’s ultimately what we want.
We want a blueprint for what works, not a blueprint for what doesn’t. When we talk about what our problems are, we’re talking about the things that don’t work, whereas if we talk about what we want more of, we’re talking about the things that do work. We’ve instituted a bunch of different ways to do this. I personally will do it verbally. I’ll sit down with somebody and I’ll say, “Jesse, yesterday when you saw that one of your direct reports looked like they might be frustrated and you asked them how they were doing, I appreciate that. I need managers who check in with their teammates and who are sensing their teammates. It means a lot to people to be able to know how you are doing and you care so much about your teammates that you did that. It means a lot to me.”
I’m telling you what good behavior looks like there, what I praise, and you’re much more likely to do that again. We institute that verbally, but we also institute it with cards like, “You are awesome” cards. We made these cards in the early days. Our engineering director, Aaron, was like, “I love praise, but I want to write it down. I don’t necessarily want to do a face-to-face. I’d like to write a note and leave it on somebody’s desk so that when they get in in the morning, they can read what I thought.” Aaron was saying, “Help me give praise the way I like to give praise because not everybody’s like you, Max.” We’re verbalizing it as a ticket.
We’ve now gone through thousands upon thousands of, “You are awesome” cards. I know that because I used to order them and I couldn’t believe how many times. We instituted those and we gave those out internally. We also do shout outs at team meetings. A big idea there is the more we share what works, the more people will do what works. What they see are natural ways, but each person has their own way of expressing gratitude. My job is to remind people to do it and they will take that and make it their own. However they want to express gratitude is how they’ll do it.
How do you create you-wouldn’t-believe moments for our customers, fans when they walk into the stadium, and also our staff? We think big. We do a lot of special trips and take some people into different things. What are those things that are memorable? Even someone’s first day, Max, when they first come in. What are those things that you do that they may go home and say, “This is cool. I’m proud to be a part of this company?”
What I hear from people who start on their first day is that they feel welcomed. That’s people who see a new person making time to come over and introduce themselves, which is incredibly intimidating. If you don’t have a culture where people are acknowledging that you’re new and you might feel a little unsafe in your new environment, they make it safer by just coming over to get to know you. That’s special. We give a mic to every new employee on their first day. They started on a Monday and they get to introduce themselves with a team meeting, which is always fun.
What kind of introductions do they do?
They tell us about themselves, what role they’re working in, and they give us a fun fact. You’ll learn a lot about somebody’s biggest hobbies in that experience.
Max, you can tell these positive things that happen in offices. This inspires me so much because you’ve got your values and it’s aspirational. It’s the things that are happening in the offices that create great experiences for people. I love that you put in the highlight of, “What’s working? What’s going well?” list. Tell me how that was instituted. Is that just by you or by everybody? It’s important to continue to highlight the great things. The, “What’s going well?” list is something that almost every company should say, “It happened this quarter. This is what happened. What’s going well? Look at this and this,” to keep showing the progress and the momentum.
It’s one of my favorite concepts. Everybody owns their own version of what’s going well and they do that by modeling the behavior of asking the question of, “What’s going well? How do we do more of it?” My job is to ask people, “What’s going well and how do we do more of it?” The more I ask that question, the more other people will ask that question. I’m setting a tone and a standard to say, “This is what matters.” As people see that that matters to me, they turn around and do it themselves. That’s not just me. That happens all the time. Anybody’s behavior is contagious. My job is to be contagious about the things that I care deeply about by doing them and not just talking about them. In doing so, I create the highest likelihood that those behaviors are replicated.
You also do the, “Nice things people said” list.
That’s my personal thing. I can be a little too concerned with external affirmation. I’ve realized that I’ve taken Brené Brown’s idea of a square squad. I have a square squad of a small group of people. They are my feedback layer, people who I know that care, trust and love me. The whole world is my critic, but these people who I know will tell me the truth and who knows me well. They can be my critic that helps me a lot. The, “Nice things people said” list is when somebody sends me something that I think is nice. I put it in Google Docs. I go back to it and it helps me remember positive moments in my life. That can be inspiring and motivating, especially when I’m not feeling good.
Tell me a little bit about the square squad concept. If someone wants to start this right now, how do you do it?
Take a 1×1 inch piece of paper. Brené Brown recommends a 1×1 inch piece of paper because it constraints you. Put the names of people who you trust, respect and will tell you the truth. If you’re behaving in a way that they think is destructive or not constructive, they’ll say so. You can only put many names in the squares squad, so that keeps the top list tight. It forces you to clarify, “Who are the people that if I’m concerned, maybe I’m off base or out of touch in some way? If I want some feedback, who can I go to?” The people on your square squad should be that list.
Once in a while, if you’re feeling down, upset, worried or concerned about something, you will reach out to them.
If I’m having a crisis of confidence and there’s a fork in the road and I’m concerned that I don’t know which way to go, I’ll call them. If I’ve gotten feedback from a teammate that I have a blind spot, I’ll call one of the names in my square squad and ask if they’d ever noticed that blind spot. One person’s perspective isn’t all that clarity inducing. If you get people who have known you for a while, they can bring you a lot more. Somebody at work maybe sees me on a bad day and gives me some feedback on that bad day. I want to go find out if that’s something that is a trend or if that was just a bad day. My square squad can help me do that.
We think about a lot of people as leaders, entrepreneurs and owners. In business, we’re thinking about our people, but we need to also think about ourselves. Having a, “Nice thing people said” list, I have a drawer that keeps every letter I’ve ever been sent and come back to it once in a while. It’s important that the square squad is huge. Max, I’ll share something that we did one time. Our Fans First director came up with it. We did the Love Language test for everyone on our staff. The five love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service and gifts.
We all did it and it was fascinating because everyone was high in words of affirmation. We all have between 23 and 28-year-olds on our staff. Our president came up with eleven on words of affirmation, but zero on physical touch. He said, “Tell me you love me, but don’t you ever touch me.” It was funny. We started getting an idea of everyone. For certain people, I would get gifts for them, but gifts were low on the scale. They want words of information or an act of service.
If you want to go over love to your people, you need to know what their language and what matters most to them. We have all our leadership and we have a list of everyone. “Jonathan did something great. He’s as high on words of affirmation as possible. Let’s send them a note. Let’s read it in front of the group. Let’s do something that’ll hit home with him.” It was game-changing for our organization, but it goes to the same thing of knowing what matters to most people, celebrating what’s going well, knowing what’s important to people and highlighting what’s working.
I love that you do that and I’m interested in giving it a shot myself. I’ll try it with the executive team.
People love finding out things about themselves too. Maybe they haven’t done it and it’s something they’ll share. If you start, “I know this was important to you,” it goes a long way. It’s fascinating. It all goes in the same picture. We’re trying to make a better team and do better work. Before we have some fun with some rapid-fire questions, bring brightness to the room, Max. You’re speaking to a guy in a yellow tuxedo that this is right up my alley. Showing up is important, but how you show up matters more. Tell us how that comes into play in your offices with your staff. How do you celebrate that?
It’s not obvious that our energy is contagious. It takes a long time to realize that there is such a thing as emotional contagiousness where your emotions transcend you and it can be a contributor or a negative impact on other people. How you enter a space and the spirit with which you bring yourself to a project or to a meeting, it matters. It doesn’t matter if you are in charge, it matters because you’re in the room. I go through a few different examples that make it clear. This doesn’t have anything to do with who’s in charge. It has everything to do with the fact that you’re in the same space as somebody, whether it’s physical space or even an online space.
The big idea is you’re not always going to have good days and I totally understand that. I’m not asking you to be somebody you’re not. If you enter a room and say, “I’m excited to work on this project with you all,” no matter how you say it, as long as it’s genuine, it helps. It encourages everybody else to think, “I’m excited about this too.” If I wasn’t excited, I’ll get myself to a spot where I’m looking at the stuff that is a positive atmosphere like working with these people.
The idea is you don’t need to be disingenuous with your energy if you’re not having a good day. You can’t bring brightness to the room in a genuine way and letting people know that it’s totally fine like, “I’m a little off today. Don’t read into it. It doesn’t have any to do with this project.” People appreciate that too, but on the days when you can muster up the energy to go, “We have the next hour scheduled to get it. Let’s make it a great hour,” that makes a big impact on people.It is always important to highlight the good things in the company to your staff. Click To Tweet
You said something to me at Customer Service Revolution that hit me. You said, “Other people’s feelings aren’t my responsibility.” You explained how you wouldn’t let them bother you. I thought that was interesting because you said, “If someone’s off, that’s okay. It’s no big deal.” I’m similar to you in the sense that we care what people think. We want to make sure that at our company’s having a great experience always. How did you at transition to get to that point where it’s like, “I’m not going to be concerned or worried about how people feel, even though they’re under my umbrella where I feel like a leader?”
There’s a balance between it. When I say, “Other people’s feelings are not my responsibility,” I should say, “Not necessarily my responsibility.” I can’t control how other people feel. All I control are my own intentions, feelings and actions. If I think that I am responsible for everybody else’s feelings all the time, I will drive myself crazy. It’s this idea of emotional slavery. If there’s somebody on the team that is not in a good spot, that being de facto my responsibility, it isn’t true. There’s something that’s happening in their life that is challenging to them. I can be supportive in that situation, which is how I always want to show up like, “If you’re not feeling your best self today, I can listen and I can hear you out.” Whatever the work is that needs to be done, it’s in you. It’s not in me. I can’t change you. If I think that I can, I’m going to be a slave to other people’s emotions my whole life.
People tend to go on a scale of, “This is not my wisdom, this is.” Marshall Rosenberg’s wisdom of people tend to go from emotional slavery where they think they’re responsible for everybody else’s feelings and then they go over to obnoxiousness at some point when they get fed up with that whole lifestyle of, “I’m responsible for everyone’s feelings.” They transition over to obnoxiousness where they say, “I’m not responsible for anybody’s feelings. I don’t even want to hear from people about their feelings. Forget everybody’s feelings.”
He argues the third spot is a balance, which is saying, “I can be compassionate, but I do not need to carry other people’s feelings.” That’s the biggest thing, which is not to carry the weight of the world and the way that everybody else’s feelings to make sure that you’re doing your own inner work. You’re doing the hard work of doing your own inner psychological work of creating a whole self within yourself. That is the most important thing you can do for everybody around you. I need to do my inner work. You need to do your inner work and everybody else needs to do their inner work. The good news is if we all do our inner work, then a lot of these challenges that arise won’t arise anymore because we will all be in a much more compassionate and healthier state.
Everything is aspirational. Everything provides hope, Max. That’s why your book and connecting with you and hearing you, I walked out feeling better. I felt like I was ready to take on the world. The ability for you to simplify it is what excites my team. I think about the. “Be vulnerable, share before you’re ready. Highlight what’s working, difficult conversation and agreements,” bring brightness to the room about all of those. I’d love to know a story of someone on your team that embodied one of these that may become part of the folklore of your company. You’re growing like crazy and you’re making a huge impact. I believe that every company has core beliefs, but not all companies have stories that back up those core beliefs. I love to know something that inspires you that you saw someone in your team living up to this and making an impact.
I’ll talk about my business partner, Conner Burt. He looked for opportunities in a chapter where I mentioned Conner Burt specifically. I also dedicated the book to him and my wife because he’s my best friend. Jess is my best friend in a different way. It’s a beautiful thing to have both. Looking for opportunity is a behavior that says, “Challenges are inevitable, but the way you respond to them is a choice.” In every chapter in the book, somebody could look at it and say, “That’s obvious.” I don’t care what’s obvious. I care if you’re doing them or not. I don’t think our concern is with needing new knowledge in order to behave in ways that are healthier and more compassionate is that we’re not applying the knowledge you already have.
This book wasn’t like, “I’ve just broken some new ground in this research.” It’s like, “Here’s all the old stuff that we know works that we don’t do. Let’s simplify it in such a way that it makes it easier to do.” That reminds you that you can do any one of these things and simply by doing them, you’re making the world better. Looking for opportunities is one of those things that people go, “It’s obvious.” I know that when bad things happen or when seemingly bad things happen, I have a choice to how I respond. Conner Burt embodies that behavior of not sitting in that threat mindset when one of your plans implodes. You want to get in the headspace of looking for opportunity, you’ve had plans for the future that didn’t pan out. At that moment when they don’t pan out, it doesn’t feel great.
If you’re like me, you will tell yourself of the threat story of, “This is bad.” The more threat stories you tell yourself, the more you have a threat mindset. Conner embodies this idea of looking for opportunity or having an opportunity mindset. When something doesn’t go to our plan, he has a way of going, “What are we going to do?” By simply bringing the attitude of, “We’re going to figure out what to do next and we’re going to make this okay, if not better than it was before,” it’s encouraging.
As somebody who goes into the headspace that I go into naturally which is, “This is bad,” to have somebody like Conner go, “It’s only bad if you make it bad. Control what you can control and you can control your reactions. You can control how you take on challenges. You cannot control that challenges will happen.” A lot of us spend our lives wanting to architect lives where we try to control for every variable, but it’s all out of our hands. We can only control how we behave and what our intentions are. We can’t control the environment and we can’t control other people.
Conner does a nice job of zeroing in on what he can control, which is his own reaction to any situation. That does not mean that we don’t have moments that go, “Bummer.” The idea here isn’t to never acknowledge a negative thought because that in and of itself is unhealthy. The idea of thinking that you have to turn everything into this bright and shiny thing is a balance. If you have a negative thought, you have to investigate where that comes from or you have to process emotionally.
I write about that in the book but in notes that I sent to the subscriber’s a lot about looking at your negative thoughts in the eye and investigating them. I’m not suggesting that you have to be bright and shiny all day long. You’re human. Ups and downs are a part of it. I am saying that it doesn’t serve you or me well when our plan implodes to act like we can get the plan back by sitting there and stewing about it. It’s not coming back. What are we going to do about it?
It’s all mindset shift.
It’s not an easy mindset shift. The more Conner model that, the more I saw the value. I leaned on him heavily when we had tough times at work because I knew I could count on that, but he also taught me how to build that behavior by modeling himself.
Max, if someone’s reading and they were like, “I want a quick win,” what’s an exercise I can do to start doing better work? A quick win that I can go back and put into play for myself or at my company, what would you suggest?
Tell a colleague something that you appreciate about them that they might not know and tell them why you appreciate it. Not just, “Thanks for doing that,” but, “Here’s why I’m grateful you did it.” The, “Here’s why,” is where everything starts to click. If you just say, “Thanks for doing that,” you leave it open to a interpretation as to why you’re grateful. Tell people why you’re grateful. A quick win in general with life, pick up the phone, call somebody who you love and tell them you love them, you’re proud of them and you’re glad they’re alive. That’s it. Not because you need something, but because you want to. Somebody said that to me and it means a lot. I do it to other people because we often transact with people, even if they’re relationships. We call when we need something. Call when you don’t need something and you’ll brighten somebody’s day.
That right there may be one of the most powerful things, call when you don’t need something because now everybody calls when they need something. You’ve built a great culture and a great mindset. I’m going to flip the script here. You are now the host of Business Done Differently and you can ask me one question.
When you think about what you want out of life, do you think that business success will bring it to you?
No. That took me more than ten years to learn. A lot of people, especially founders, owners and CEOs, their identity is linked toward the success of their business. That helped me grow the business, get to where we are, but now it’s the little moments. It’s the impact. It’s connecting with people. It’s seeing my wife cry over the special moments that we have with our son. It’s seeing even letters that I get from people about, “When you spent the time to talk to me and what you shared, that made an impact on my life.” Even for me, it always comes down to impact. That’s not always through business. It’s through taking the time to tell people you care about them.
Max, I don’t know if you know this, but back in 2016, I started the thank you experiment. I chose a word for the year. John Gordon’s book, One Word, instead of doing New Year’s resolution, I chose a word and my word was ‘care’. I said, “If I’m going to care every day, I need something to hold myself accountable. I’m going to write a thank you letter every single day.” I bought 365, she bought 500 custom yellow thank you cards. I started writing to my friends, family, authors, coaches, old teachers and anybody that I thought made an impact in my life. I had a list of about 50 to 70 people.
I kept doing it. I kept looking every day for someone that made an impact on my life and someone that changed my life. I continued after that year and I’ve done it for four straight years. It’s into the thousands now and those little things have made a big impact in my life I’ve shared it with other people. When someone else writes back, that’s what matters. It has nothing to do with business. It’s those little things. Hopefully, that’ll be something that people remember.
I’ve received one of your thank you cards.
You know all about it because you made an impact. You know what it’s all about. That’s a good deep question. I’m sure from a lot of leaders, you may get similar answers.
I hope so. I hope that anybody who thinks that the problem can be solved externally, whatever the problem is that plagues you, there’s no external solution for it. It’s inside. We have to be encouraged to look inward at the stuff that isn’t so pretty that we wouldn’t want to put it in our social media accounts, but it’s real. That’s where the growth and inner peace come from. If there’s ever a chance at it, that’s where you’re going to find it.
You have a whole chapter on ask clarifying questions, but if you want better answers in business or in life, you’ve got to ask better questions. What are some of the best questions you’re asking?
When people explain something to me, I am making a point to say, “What did that mean to you? What did you think about that?” With sarcasm and a sarcastic culture, there’s this implication that you’re going to get what I’m saying. I shouldn’t need to explain it if you’re fast enough. People will come into my office and want to talk about something. They’ll tell me a story and it seems like they’re frustrated about it, but I don’t know why. I dig into like, “What did you think about that? How did that affect you? What are your thoughts on that now?” Instead of assuming, “That sounds like a bad experience. How can I help?”
It unpacks the situation for me more. It helps me understand where the individual might be feeling the most pain and where that pain might be coming from. Usually, our internal dynamics, “If there’s pain at work through a behavior from somebody else, the pain didn’t start at work.” Somebody poked on a wound that predates work and we got to investigate that, “How did it feel? Why do you think you felt that way?”By doing inner work, the challenges that arise will not arise anymore because you will be in a healthier state. Click To Tweet
It creates self-awareness too, and it brings more of a connection that you care. That’s something that a lot of times we’ll say, “How was your weekend? How are you doing?” They keep asking those questions to show that you care and get to the root of the issue. That’s awesome and that’s a whole chapter you spend an ask clarifying questions. What’s the most important tool you have in your business toolbox?
I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone answer that and that’s brilliant. Why is that important to you?
You can’t isolate any of them. It’s a balance between sleeping, eating and moving. If I take sleep, it’s gas in my tank but I also need to eat and move. It’s that nice triad and I can do all of these things. It requires no consumption of external objects. I can do these things on my own. I’m keeping that trifecta strong of eating, sleeping and moving. That’s a ticket. I’m smarter and kinder.
It has nothing to do with work tools and has something to do with your personal tools. People often forget that. Favorite part of your morning routine?
My favorite part of my morning routine is playing the piano.
Favorite way to unwind at the end of the day?
The healthiest way I unwind is meditation. It’s my weakness. The way that I think is healthiest when I take time to meditate at the end of the day.
What about a book that stands out for you?
Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. I wish we taught it in grade school on up.
A favorite restaurant?
I like Mexican food all the time anywhere. No particular restaurant, just cuisine. If you come to Lessonly, we’re right next door to Festiva and it’s a beautiful spot.
What’s the best service experience you’ve had?
Southwest. People talk about Southwest a lot for good reason. There is some energy in the Southwest flight attendants. I fly other airlines and I don’t always get it and see it. Everybody’s allowed to have a bad day, but there’s this consistent energy in Southwest that sticks with me.
You mentioned about one business or brand that you’re a big fan of and it’s Jimmy Miller of OutboundEngine. What makes Jimmy Miller and OutboundEngine unique?
I like that Jimmy is curious. He is constantly trying to dig deeper into the human condition and then simplify as needed so that we can relate to all the homework that he does. I appreciate that a lot.
What is OutboundEngine?
OutboundEngine is a customer of Lessonly. Jimmy, in particular is somebody who I love. He’s investigating conversations and what makes a great conversation. He’s reading all these different studies about what makes a great interaction and I’m like, “I want more people in the world who are curious like Jimmy is.”
I love how you answered that too. You answered a person, one of your clients or customers. You look inward on the people that you’re helping, but they’re also helping you in your fam. What’s one thing you’ve done to stand out in business and in life?
Listening to my heart and my soul. My body knows more than my mind does sometimes.
Some of the best advice you’ve received?
Any relationship will stay on the test of time where both parties feel they’re getting the better end of the deal. If you want to invest to get a relationship, do both parties feel like they’re getting the better end of the deal? If so, that’s a relationship that will sustain. If one party feels they’re losing and the other party feels they’re winning, that’s not great and that’s a marriage advice. Both of you in companion should say, “I’m getting the better end of the deal here.” If they’re both saying that, it’s going to be a sustainable thing.
I feel like I’m the one saying it constantly with my wife, Emily. I bet you feel like you’re the one saying it always with Jess.
You bet and it’s super healthy because I know myself deeply and I’m grateful to have her as a great balance to me.
How do you want to be remembered?
As a compassionate person. Truly compassionate people are all we need in the world. That’s different than the insincere kindness that is mistaken for compassion. I want to be a self-compassionate and compassionate person to others. That’s the model that we need.
Max, you were living it. You are a true practitioner. That’s what I love so much about your book. You are doing it. You’re living your values, offering advice and making an impact. You made an impact on me and my team and I know you’re making an impact every day. I want to thank you so much for being on the show. The book is Do Better Work, but where else can people learn from you?
Thank you so much, Jesse. This was a real treat. You bring a positive energy every time we engage and I’m energized by it. If you want to learn more about the book, go to DoBetterWork.com. If you want to learn more about Lessonly, go to Lessonly.com and you can find links to me there if you want them.
Max, thank you for your wisdom and for sharing so much and making an impact.
Jesse, keep up the good work.
About Max Yoder
Every day, I am grateful that I got cut from the basketball team two years in a row.
In 2019, I published a book called Do Better Work, which explores eight ways anyone can be a better teammate. It is an Amazon #1 bestseller in the Business Teams and Workplace Behavior categories.