Hello and welcome to episode 181 of the modern manager. I'm your host Mamie canfor. Stewart. A warm welcome to Jamie s current and K, Glenn L and James T to the modern manager community, and a warm welcome to all the new listeners and longtime listeners of this show. I hope you will consider how becoming a member can help you further develop your management skills. Memberships start at $5 per month. And if you're really up for some support, join us at the level that includes our twice per month group coaching and q&a calls. This is where we hop on a zoom together and we tackle the questions and challenges that you're facing. You get to hear from me, but also from other community members. So everyone gets to share their advice and we all get to learn together, learn more and join at the modern manager.com/join. Now today's guest is Dr. Tom Tonkin. Tom is an award winning researcher, author and CEO and founder of the conservatory group with 25 years of experience in corporate America under his belt. Tom's organization provides high touch services to business executives that want to improve themselves, their teams and their environment. Tom is also involved at an executive level and two organizations with DNI at the forefront Sammy and Diversity Equity inclusion, Tom and I talk about variations and how our brains work and the different styles, and how that impacts how we collaborate with our team members how our brains like to learn and a whole lot more. Now, here's the conversation.
You're listening to the modern manager, a podcast dedicated to helping you be a rockstar boss with a thriving team. Whether you're looking to upgrade your meetings, cultivate your team or grow as a leader. This podcast is for you. Now, here's your host, Mamie canfor. Stewart.
It is a pleasure to have you today. Tom, I'm looking forward to our conversation, because we're going to get into some really exciting stuff around brains and how how we work and how we are wired differently. So I'm just excited to talk with
you. Maybe it's a pleasure. It's been it's we rescheduled this a few times. So I was looking forward to this call for quite some time.
All right, well, let's just jump right in here and talk about ways where the way that we're wired or kind of our natural tendency is don't always align so well. And just how different styles or a seemingly different styles can cause challenges for us. Yeah,
so the part of my work, I work with salespeople I work with executives, and they're always trying to achieve something that's the word it's like, how do I, you know, what, what process are we going to do? And what model are we going to do it just think of your day on a daily basis, the stuff that's coming through email, and a lot of people get caught up on the what the model, the thing I'm going to go do. And what I do is I spend a lot of time on the self directed aspects of people's day. And let me be very clear from a neuroscience perspective. So we all know that we have two parts of the brain. Again, this is the the meta parts, right? The the cognitive, where all the knowledge goes into, and the affective, where all the emotional stuff goes to. And they get said constantly all the time, there's a third part that's of lesser known part. And this might be a good time for people to jot down things and get ready to Google something. But there's a part of the brain called the cognitive brain. And what to count it to brain does in layman's term, it is the accelerator of knowing what to do and then doing it. And there are four different characteristics of their brain. There's a desire, there's an initiative of persistence, and a resourcefulness that all live in the Conant brain. And the idea for you to be able to execute, what you know, is by increasing each of those behaviors, the desire, the resourcefulness, the initiative and the persistence. I'm a behaviorist by trade. And the good news is all four of those things can get improved through training or through a self awareness is a really important part. My advice has always been to do assessments in these areas, because assessments are objective, they don't care about your feelings. And it gives you an insight to your brain that potentially you may not have to actually be able to execute, you know, being an individual contributor being a manager. So what I'm
hearing is sounds similar, I think, to executive functioning skills, or is that the cognitive brain or is that something different? That's,
well, it's, it's, you're in the zip code, but they're there. It's apples and oranges. So the executive function, which is now let's talk about the brain itself, is the prefrontal cortex. So the cortex in general and the prefrontal is where the judgment and the your ability to discern good and bad, that kind of stuff. Because the cortex in general is where all the knowledge resides kind of in the front of your brain. And then there's the effective part, which is kind of in the middle of your brain. Specifically, it's the limbic system, things that are in the Limbus. Six, what I find interesting is that, when we try to teach managers or we try to teach individual contributors, different skills, we tend to make a big mistake. And so here's a punch line for everybody to listen to. So we have things called hard skills. And we have things called soft skills. Those are overused terms, but they're good categories right now for discussion, hard skills are those things that you do with things. And soft skills are things you do with people, right? Those are big categories. Now, here's, here's the interesting part, the things that you do with things lend themselves to the prefrontal cortex, the things you do with people lend themselves to the limbic system, different part of the brain, here is a huge disconnect, what we do when we try to teach people, soft skills, things we do with people, we use hard skill methods. So maybe this is true in your brain you are these things are in different parts of your brain, and they have different pathways to your brain. So it's like going, you know, from New York, right? Where you are, you know, using a boat to get to New Jersey, right? I mean, it's maybe you get a little piece, but you know, eventually you have to get into a car. It's the same kind of way, because what we're trying to do is we're trying to take pathways to our limbic system that are wired for our prefrontal cortex. And that's why soft skills are sometimes so difficult to train, because we're actually using the wrong method.
Wow, this sounds like very intense. Can you give us an example of a soft skill that we're that, you know, it's a pretty common one, and then the way that we typically approach it compared to the way that we should be approaching it? Yeah,
let's let's do that. So as a executive coach, and trainer, my phone does not ring from somebody that says, Tom, I'm really having a hard time teaching people how to program that that never shows up. What shows up, and I'm sure it shows up in your phone is people that need, you know, leadership training, talk, you know, difficult conversations, rapport building, right? These are all the soft skills, right? Those are the kinds of phone calls that I get. And what happens is, when we do hard skills training, it's potentially it's online, it's a it's a video, it's a book course that I might take online thing would I do with the thing, because if that is true, if I'm learning something to do with something, that thing is also going to give me the feedback, it's going to tell me what to do is right or wrong. And it's, it works great, right? That this is not a problem. So then what people do is go well, if it works great there, it probably works great with soft skills. And so I'm going to learn rapport building online, right? I'm going to read a book, I'm going to do all of the same kind of models. And then I'm going to sit in front of somebody and try to build rapport and try to remember what page 27 said, and, and next thing, you know, how come this isn't working? You know, it worked for learning how to, you know, develop programs, how come it's not working for me to build rapport? Well, because those models that you use to learn how to code are not the same vehicles, to open up your limbic system and get some of those soft skills in your brain.
I'm imagining now as managers, right, the conversations that we're having with our team members and their professional development and saying, Okay, you need to get better at time management, or you need to get better at speaking up in meetings and sharing, you're sharing your thoughts, and then trying to help them figure out how do I learn those things? It sounds like we should not be saying, well go read a book or find online class. So what should we be saying in those cases?
Well, again, following the same logic that I laid out, if hard skills are things with things, then it's the thing that's going to show you how to do it's the thing that's going to give you feedback. If soft skills are things I do with people, then it's the people that are going to give you the feedback, it's the people that are going to tell you whether right or wrong. So things like role plays are really good. Now there's a there's a specific part of role plays two ingredients that have to be part of the roleplay for this thing to actually work. One, there should be no psychological safety. And two, you should be able to change the context. Because what happens is when we do role plays of say, a difficult conversation, but I know maybe that you and I are roleplay and you're going to feed me a line and I'm going to feed you a line and then you're going to say the right thing and then I'm going to say the right thing. We're still we're still in the prefrontal cortex world, we're just going exchanging knowledge. But if I am not sure exactly what you're going to say, or how I'm going to say it, or maybe I'm doing this in front of people, where there is no psychological safety that our people are going to walk away with, you know, an impression of me, or maybe you change the context. Yeah, maybe you thought you're going to have a difficult conversation. But guess what, we're not going to have a difficult conversation would have some other kind of conversation. That takes me off guard. Now I've got to start thinking about how do I mitigate that and manage that? And how do I feel about it? I guess what you're learning, you are learning, right then and there. And if you do that, over and over and over, you're going to learn that soft skill. And people shy away from that, because guess what, it's, it's scary. It's nerve racking, because of what I just laid out. So let me pause and get your reaction on that.
Now, it makes so much sense, I think we don't use practice. Enough, right, like we talked about practice more kids, and how important it was to practice your instrument, practice your sport. And it sounds like the best way that our brains are wired to get better at soft skills is through practice. And as managers, we can create space to do that we can do that role playing, we can create those context, we can help find the right resources, who can if we can't, the who can then be supportive and provide opportunities to engage in those ways. So it makes a lot of sense. And I want to I want to shift gears a little bit before we get to the very, very end, because I'm wondering about the clash of styles that can come up between people who have different sets of skills or different approaches. So can you talk a little bit about that element of how how managers need to interact with their team members?
Yeah, that's actually that's a great point. So in my research, around self directedness, and by the way, we go back to those four elements and, and hard skills and soft skills, you know, put it all on the big pot stirred around, you end up having right now, there are like four types, everything from people that are not directed, right, people that need guidance, and, and, and hand holding all the way to highly self directed, autonomous people. And there's a couple levels in between. And we can assess that, and be able to give scores and that kind of thing. So you kind of understand what it is. And it's got, by the way, this is all learned. So matter of fact, I can get on my soapbox and talk about how for the last 16 years of your life, meaning from kindergarten to maybe the fourth year of college, you have been wired to be directed, you go to school people tell you what to do. They tell you what you have to do to get an A, you know, we are actually wiring our students how to be dependent learners. And then we expect them to be self starters on their first year. We like self starters, we like you know, those that are outgoing. And it's like, well, for the last 16 years, all I've been doing is being dependent learner. So the problem comes, you know, so we get people into that space, let's say they are now mature, and now they're across the different spectrums. Here's the other problem is that managers, and this specifically, I'm talking about line managers, line managers have certain styles as well. Meaning they can be everything from what I call an authoritarian or somebody that is more specific about giving instruction, all the way to a manager that is more like a resource or an advisor to their employees. And there's four levels there as well. And so the challenges is that, let's say you had 12 employees, and let's say you're a manager, and let's say that each one of these four levels of self direction, or even, that's not necessarily the case. But for math purposes, let's go there. Three people are highly dependent three people are very self directed. And then you've got the the other six somewhere in between you as a manager, though, you're only one type, you lend yourself to one of those four manager types. And so therefore, you're going to totally click with one of those, you know, or a group of three people. If you're going to align, you're going to like them, you're going to feel good about it. And then the other nine, you're going to have varied relationships. And then of course, all the way to the fringe. Those are the ones that you're probably going to say things like, well, they don't get it. They're not collaborative, you're going to start trying to paint a picture on why it is that you're not able to relate with them and get them to do something. And so there's the problem. It's not that the folks on your team are lazy or obstinate or whatever. term you're going to come up is the fact that you have a mismatch of relationship between how you manage and how they learn or how they direct themselves at work.
So I want to reflect backs, I think what I'm hearing is that PR managers who really like to have control and really like to be directive, they are a good match for team members who really like to be directed, correct. And managers who are really independent, self directed individuals, they prefer working with people who are also really independent and self directed. And of course, everything in between. And some of this seems like it is built into us or kind of taught into us, yeah, over time, based on our life experiences in school and work environments, etc. And some of it is how we're wired and how our brains naturally function and what makes us feel solid and good in the work that we do.
The exactly. I mean, I want to make sure that everything that I've said up until now can be changed unlearned and taught and taught differently. The problem is, are you aware of those things as an individual that, that you can increase your desire? Your self directedness? In general, right? Can you increase yours in sort resourcefulness? Is that a problem? Right? Do you even know that? That's a problem, right? It's right, it's it's so abstract at some point. And what I'm trying to do, and that's part of my work, is to not make it as abstract to make it tangible and accessible to others. So they can change it and they can feel good about themselves. I will say that our educational system in this country, as well as other countries, make us dependent learners. And that basically, there's a whole historical thing I can dump on you that all started in the early 1900s. Because we decided it basically the bottom line is we decided that the assembly line was good enough for widgets, it's good enough to teach. And that's really where all that came from. How do I get all 13 year olds in one class? How do I teach them all the same thing. And then after they're 14, I move them to the next class and I teach them all the same thing, it becomes this assembly line of learning in which creates, but inherently a dependent learner and then they get jettisoned out to the real world, where the real world expecting you to be more self direct.
Wow, we got a lot of stuff to change in the world. Yeah, we do. Alright, so last question here on this topic, when it comes to helping our team members who have a different style from us? Well, first, I should say, is there a style for managers that is preferential? So if I am now reflecting and going, Oh, wow, I think I'm more of the, like a lot of control want to be in the weeds by team members want to give direction? And do I need to be thinking, Hmm, maybe I need to move myself along to a more self directed spot on the spectrum? And then secondly, what do I do with my team members for whom I have a style that is not so in sync with their style? Like, should I be helping my team members who themselves are asking for a lot of guidance or kind of waiting for a lot of input and help them become more self directed.
So I come from the school of strength base development. So the idea is, know your strengths, right? There's a there's an aspect of awareness of where you fit who you are, right. And again, there's lots of assessments out there that you can take to figure out where you are, and then be the best of that that you can be. And then mitigate your weaknesses, right, try to, you know, find help. Try to get your peers to give you some pointers, become transparent with those outside of your direct sort of coverage, if you will, for example, if you're someone that likes direct people in the dependent people gravitate to you go to those self directed people say, How is it that I can help, like, tell you tell me because that's actually an easy one, because self directed people will tell you exactly what they need. And then just comply and be and try to get help. And by the way, reciprocity here works really well. Your peers have a different style than you do. And then I'm talking about managers, so you can help your peers and your style, they can help you in their style. My view of it is, it is a waste of time and energy to try to be something that you're not, it is a tremendous amount of goodness, to be the best of who you are. So that's why I'm saying I'm a strength based guy, as far as how is it that I would self develop?
I am really glad that you said that. Because if people are often asking me like, do I need to change over my whole system? I have to like totally do this other things other way and I'm like, No, if it's working for you, you don't have to totally change To like, take what's working, and be your best self, and then figure out how to adjust along the edges so that you can work more effectively with other people. Right? It's not that you have to become a different person. So I think this is a great place for us to start to wrap up. So Tom, can you tell us about a great manager that you worked for? And what made this person so fantastic?
His name is Jeff young. I don't know if Jeff Young will be listening. But Jeff, I obviously was, well, I was I was in my mid 30s. I didn't know anything that I just told you in the last half hour. Right? I did. I wasn't that aware of all this, right. And all I know is he got me and he got me for a couple reasons. And he really challenged me to become a better version of myself. And does he know that that's what I needed? I don't know. But he did. And I am a absolutely better person and a more aware person, a highly developed person because of Jeff.
Sounds amazing. Yeah. And where can people learn more about you and keep up with your work?
So my claim to fame is that if you type in my name, and Google Tom space, Tonkin might the whole front page, it will be me of different places I've spoken. It's not because I'm some sort of super famous person, as I probably have an unusual name. And I know how Google algorithms work. So I've been able to use that to my advantage. LinkedIn, obviously. But the one thing that I want to leave your listeners with is I have I'm a Voxer. User, I use Voxer. I don't know if you're familiar with that tool. But it's kind of like a asynchronous recorded voicemail, walkie talkie. And it's free. And if you go to Voxer, and type in Dr. Tom talk and Dr. Tom Tonkin, all one word, and you send me a message, I will reply, because I'm trying to reduce the barriers of conversation with people. And that's one way that I found to be really, really helpful. Sometimes people just have a question and they just want to know, I'm just I'm speaking to myself directed brother and out there. Got a question hit me up on boxer and I'll give you the answer immediately.
Oh, as such a gracious offer. And also, I want to just say, for people like my daughter for whom writing is still challenging. Being able to ask a question verbally to a guest is just a real gift to not have to send them an email and type it out and explain it all perfectly in three sentences. So thank you again, for being a guest today and for sharing all your wisdom with us.
It's been my pleasure, Mimi, I hope to do it again. Take care.
Tom is providing special resources on self direction and self directed learning to members of the modern manager community. To get these resources and other member resources like episode guides, additional podcast content, and so much more. Go to it the modern manager.com/join And be sure to check out the various membership levels so that you get access to the right resources to support your professional growth. All the links are in the show notes and they can be delivered to your inbox when you subscribe to my newsletter. Find that at the modern manager.com. Thanks again for listening. Until next time.
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