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“We enable greatness in people and organizations everywhere” With Todd Davis and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

I’ve found that for me, being a great boss means your team member’s success is more important to you than your own success. I often tell the story of when one of my daughters was struggling in high school with self-esteem. I had recently completed my first marathon and was training for a second. I […]

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I’ve found that for me, being a great boss means your team member’s success is more important to you than your own success. I often tell the story of when one of my daughters was struggling in high school with self-esteem. I had recently completed my first marathon and was training for a second. I invited her to run the next marathon with me, thinking that would help her feel accomplished and great about herself. While my intent was good and I did want her to run a marathon, my actual focus was on me and my running time. So even though I would get up with her in the morning to run, because she was slow, I would run out ahead or even run circles (literal circles) around here, thinking that was a way I could keep my own speed going while motivating her. Can you imagine just how UNmotivating that would be? Well, she dropped out and I ran the marathon alone. I tried it again the next year with her but with the same outcome. Finally, the third time, I got my head on straight and became a leader. The training this third time was all about her. No matter how slow she was, I stayed right by her side. She hung in there week after week of the training, until we actually ran the marathon together. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. A great boss has already run THEIR marathon. A great boss now helps others run the marathon and does anything and everything to help them succeed.


Asa part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd Davis.

Todd Davis is FranklinCovey’s Chief People Officer and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Buld Effective Relationships at Work and Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. Todd has more than 30 years of experience in human resources, talent development, executive recruiting, sales and marketing. He has been with FranklinCovey for more than two decades and is currently responsible for global talent development of employees in more than 40 offices reaching 160 countries.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

When I was younger, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, however I knew I had a big imagination. This imagination has been a big asset in the various jobs I’ve had throughout the years — most of which have been training and development roles where I help write, develop and deliver work sessions to improve people’s habits and behaviors both at home and at work. Another skill I knew I had from an early age was that of problem solving between people and I gravitated to roles where this was involved. My imagination, mediation and ability to empathize with others has been invaluable in my ability to help others. My current role as FranklinCovey’s Chief People Officer taps into all of these skills and I have enjoyed being able to teach these skills to others.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

FranklinCovey’s mission statement is “we enable greatness in people and organizations everywhere.” With that mission statement are two grand assertions: 1. Greatness resides within everyone and 2. With the right tools, processes, and paradigms, that greatness can be realized. In my 25 years with FranklinCovey, what I’ve found that differentiates us is that we not only truly believe in people and that they are capable, but we know how to help them improve and have a track record for doing that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I don’t know if it’s THE most interesting story, but it’s one that I think about often. I was a teller for a large bank while going to school early in my career. A position became open at the bank’s corporate offices for a “Funds Management Specialist.” While I wasn’t completely even sure that what meant, I saw the salary attached to that job and as a poor, young married guy, I decided to apply. I’m not sure what I even would have put on the application but whatever it was, it must have been impressive because I got the job! A few weeks later I was buying and selling federal funds for the bank. I honestly had no idea what I was doing, but thankfully made a good friend in the department who took me under his wing and gave me a crash course in what I needed to know. I remember during one of his coaching sessions he even muttered “how did you get this job?” While it’s never comfortable being in over your head, it was a good lesson for me to learn that even when things seem impossible or a little scary, taking things one step at a time can eventually get you to where you need to go.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my most awkward (and funny now, but not then) experiences was around a time in my life when I had experienced a kidney stone for the first time, something I would not wish on my worst enemy. The kidney stone passed and I determined to kill myself before ever going through that again. I was in a full-time recruiting role and one day while conducting face to face interviews, I suddenly felt the beginning pains of another kidney stone. I couldn’t believe it. I thought that I could probably finish the interview I was conducting and then would excuse myself and get someone to drive me to the hospital. Well the person I was interviewing was pretty long-winded and with every question he would ask, I was feeling more and more pain. I remember when he asked one of the questions I made a reactive groaning sound, trying to mask the pain that was going on inside me. I finally realized I wasn’t going to make it through the interview and so I stood up to tell him I would be right back. As I started to walk out of the office, the pain was so intense, I fell to my knees and then crawled out! I can only imagine what this candidate was thinking. I asked my colleague sitting outside of my office to please go in and finish the interview. I then found another co-worker to drive me to the hospital. I’m not sure what lesson I learned from that except that to never try and fake calmness when you are experiencing a kidney stone!

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Don’t forget that what the leader values gets valued. If as the leader, you are burning the candle at both ends, many of your team members will do the same. Alternatively, if you model living a balanced life — working hard but then taking time to recharge — your team members will follow suit. And you will get better results because of it. Be aware of each team member. Check in with them frequently and find out how they are really doing. Know them as a whole person and not just an employee.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Stephen R. Covey said that “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly, they come to see it in themselves.” I believe that is the principle behind great leadership. I often will ask those I’m coaching “do you want to BE a great leader or do you want your team LEAD by a great leader?” They sound very similar and they are. If I go to work each day thinking “I want to be a great leader”, I’m probably going to do a lot of valuable things that day. But if I go to work each day thinking “I want to make sure my team is LEAD by a great leader”, then my mind is on, “What does Aaron need to really knock the project he’s working on out of the park?” or “How can I help Sarah really reach her full potential?” or “What’s the best way to give Jon feedback I can see on a particular blind spot he has?” The focus is on the team and each team member, not on me as the leader. That’s true leadership.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

For both my body and my mind, exercise is key. A run or bike ride in the morning starts the day off right, clears my mind, and gives me time to just think about the important conversation or meeting I will be having that day. And for me, it’s critical that I actually talk through what I plan on saying, versus just thinking about it. I’m sure there have been many times when someone in a car beside mine is wondering who I’m talking to. As I say the words out loud (and hear the words I’m saying), I actually am able to shape or fine tune the conversation so that I communicate exactly what I hope to.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

I’ve managed others for the past 30+ years. When I was placed in my first leadership role, I was so focused on making sure everyone liked me, that giving feedback was quite difficult. I never wanted to offend or hurt others. It wasn’t until a few years into my first leadership role that I learned one of the most damaging things you can do is to NOT share feedback that would actually help the person improve. On numerous occasions after sharing feedback I will hear “no one has ever shared that with me before.” How can someone improve if they aren’t even aware of what they are doing that’s holding them back?

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Your role as a leader is to get results with and through others. Your role as a leader is to develop others. There is no way to effectively help develop others if you don’t share with them where they are exceeding and where you see them struggling. If the person knows and trusts that you sincerely care about them and their progress, they will hear the feedback you have for them and take it to heart.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

It’s important to remember that people have a hard time hearing or digesting anything you’re saying if they are feeling defensive. So I first focus on doing everything I can to reduce or eliminate their defensiveness. It’s human nature to feel defensive when someone is giving you “redirecting” feedback (feedback on something you need to change). So I make sure to begin by sharing my intent. I will always say something like “Tom, while this might be a difficult discussion, I want you to know that my only intent is to help you be wildly successful in your role on our team.” When someone knows you have their best interest at heart, they will be in a better place to really hear what you are going to say. I also understand that receiving feedback on an area one needs to improve can be embarrassing. So to try and reduce that feeling, I will make sure they know that I’ve benefitted from feedback given to me in the past. I will say something like “I remember when my boss shared with me a blind spot of mine, I felt a little angry and wasn’t sure I agreed with her, but as I made efforts to change based on that feedback, it really did help me improve.” Letting them know we all have opportunities for growth can help lower any embarrassment or defensiveness. This approach and this language is effective whether or not the employee is local or remote.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

I’ve actually found there can be great benefit to sharing difficult information in an email. You have the time and opportunity to get the wording just right — something that can be difficult in a live conversation. But realizing that things can be misinterpreted, I find it helpful to write the email, step away from it, and then re-read it, maybe even the next morning, before sending. And just as I do when in person, I will share in the email that my only intent is to help the person be successful. Another benefit of email is that it gives the receiver time to review and digest the information. While we hear that live, face to face is always best, and I agree with that in most situations, there are some times when sending an email ahead of time, prior to the live face to face, can actually prepare the person better for what might be a difficult conversation.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

A general rule of thumb is to give the feedback as soon as possible. However, in many cases the person might already be aware of where they have mis stepped, and giving the feedback too soon in those situations is only pouring salt in an already raw wound. On the other hand, I’ve seen too many leaders wait and wait, sometimes hoping the situation will improve on its own, before they give feedback. Too often the person receiving the feedback is resentful that their leader waited so long. The could have started improving much sooner had they known.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

I’ve found that for me, being a great boss means your team member’s success is more important to you than your own success. I often tell the story of when one of my daughters was struggling in high school with self-esteem. I had recently completed my first marathon and was training for a second. I invited her to run the next marathon with me, thinking that would help her feel accomplished and great about herself. While my intent was good and I did want her to run a marathon, my actual focus was on me and my running time. So even though I would get up with her in the morning to run, because she was slow, I would run out ahead or even run circles (literal circles) around here, thinking that was a way I could keep my own speed going while motivating her. Can you imagine just how UNmotivating that would be? Well, she dropped out and I ran the marathon alone. I tried it again the next year with her but with the same outcome. Finally, the third time, I got my head on straight and became a leader. The training this third time was all about her. No matter how slow she was, I stayed right by her side. She hung in there week after week of the training, until we actually ran the marathon together. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. A great boss has already run THEIR marathon. A great boss now helps others run the marathon and does anything and everything to help them succeed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would ask that everyone perform one act of kindness for another individual each day. In a very short period of time, there would be nothing but a world full of people serving each other.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes I try to live by is “What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other.”

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow FranklinCovey on socials:

https://www.facebook.com/FranklinCovey/

linkedin.com/company/franklincovey

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

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