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Summary:

Join Janice Fraser and Jason Fraser for a deep dive into transformative leadership in complex and dynamic environments. Drawing from their experience and insights shared in their book "Farther, Faster and Far Less Drama,” they explore the essence of effective leadership, focusing on four key leadership motions: Orient Honestly, Value Outcomes, Leverage the Brains, and Durable Decisions. Discover how to navigate leadership challenges in a hyperdynamic world, facilitate collaboration, and foster respect and trust within diverse teams. This session is a must-watch for anyone looking to enhance their leadership skills and drive positive change in their organization.

Transcript:

Janice Fraser (00:14):

Thank you so much. Thank you for having us. We're so excited to be here. This - speaking to a group like this is literally my favorite thing to do on the planet, so I'm a little excited. And I'm going to start today. That was back. That's too far ahead. Wait, I'm giving it away. Where do I point this? There we go. I'm going to start today with a picture of me as an adorable child. That's me in the green right there out in front. I was four years younger than my next sibling and they were all clustered up here four or five, six years older than me. And the reason that I start with this is because it was sort of my crystallizing moment. In any hero's journey, there's this moment where you are galvanized to action and mine happened very, very early in life because oh my god, those kids could fight with each other.

(01:08):

They would bicker over the dining room table every night. They were super duper smart, and they were a little bit crazy, literally crazy. My sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young adult and has lived probably the worst life an American can. And so that's a downer note. My brother had narcissistic personality disorder, and I started to say these things out loud about a year ago because I think we need to normalize just the fact that we all come from complicated situations. So, that's my complicated situation, and yet I've been able to have a great life. So, it's possible to say I have decided that traumatized by bickering, was the galvanizing moment that led me to want to solve for leadership challenges. Right. Alright, that's all the downer. Everything from here is exciting.

(02:04):

So for about 20 years I was an entrepreneur. I started six companies. I'm still not a billionaire, so that means that some of 'em didn't quite work. That's okay. I kept starting new things anyway. And one of the things that I started was this company, Luxor, stood for the Lean User Experience Residency. It was back in 2010, so a little while ago now. And we were just trying to figure out how to do entrepreneurship reliably well. And this theme of wanting to do a thing reliably well is part of my background. It's part of my mission in life. And it started even before that, when I was trying to figure out how do we do this web design stuff reliably well? Back in 2000, I started a company called Adaptive Path, and that was its mission. So Luxor's mission was like, how can we create startup products in a way where regular people can do it reliably well, every day, on purpose, forever.

(03:00):

Okay. Jason was my co-founder in that company. Jason is a product person. He continues to work in product - in software product, and together over a period of about 15, 20 years, we have been exploring "how do you do leadership reliably well, so that we can practice it easily, on purpose, forever, without drama?" And that's what led us to write this book. So Luxor was essentially a startup accelerator. We had 50 companies come to our studio one day a week for 10 weeks. 50 companies. You get to watch the patterns of what's working and what's not working. We drew some conclusions from that, and we ported those conclusions over to Pivotal. So we landed the company Luxer at Pivotal Software. Pivotal Software is no longer around, it's now called VMware. Pivotal Labs has been very influential in the lives of many of the people in this room.

(03:58):

So at Pivotal, we got there at a time when there were about four or five offices all in North America. And in two years, I was there for two years, in two years it grew to 22 offices around the world, on many continents. So what we had from Luxor to Pivotal was this idea of having a test bench where we could run lots of experiments. We developed a hypothesis about what worked. We took it to Pivotal, and we were able to see how it worked at scale. And so the methods that we brought to Pivotal became really an essential part of how Pivotal practices a lot of things, including software product management. Then Jason and I parted ways and I went to Bionic.

(04:38):

So Bionic is an innovation company, but they don't work in software. They work in physical things, in other contexts, in process innovation. And so what I wanted to know was "how do these methods and techniques work when you're dealing with a bottle of shampoo?" I've been working with Proctor & Gamble for eight years, "or with a plane?" I will talk about a space plane project in just a moment. We've now said, "how does this work reliably well?" "How does it scale?" And "How does it work across a wide range of contexts?" So from that, we were able to draw some conclusions. Oh yes, well, and this is how it goes. Right in the middle of all of that, there are tons and tons of externalities that create disruptions on us. At us. So we have to be responsive to an increasingly dynamic world. And now we have things like the Ukraine and Middle East, which of course affect so many people that either ourselves or who we are close to.

(05:38):

And so we have these methods that we've identified, and they're having to be applied now in this hyperdynamic set of circumstances and the dynamics seem to be increasing in frequency and severity. So from there, we wrote this book Farther, Faster, and Far Less Drama. You all got a copy of it. It has been a wonderful ride to do book tour. Every time I say book tour is over, I get invited to do things like this. And for one hot second, just one millimeter, I lived my dream and I got to appear right underneath one of my favorite books, Blue Ocean Strategy, and right next to Clayton Christensen. That's it. I have now reached the pinnacle of my career. I'm dead.

(06:24):

Literally, it was like one day. So like any good person this year, I'm experimenting with Chat GPT and other AI situations. And of course, in preparation for doing all of these talks about leadership, I asked Chat GPT, "what do you think leadership is? Who are the best leaders?" And literally, this is what it gave me. I didn't say business leaders. I didn't say billionaire leaders. I said leaders, and this is what it gave me. And then I said, "okay, well, if that's what you think great leadership is, then how do you define great leadership?" And it said good things like "guiding others," et cetera. But it really also said "taking charge, making a decision, having a clear vision." It was very...it's very much the way that those five billionaires might think, or at least how we think they think - who knows how billionaires think these days? My goodness.

(07:13):

So what I want to remember is that Chat GPT is the zeitgeist of what has been written and published in the public domain on the internet. So it is the zeitgeist of our history. But we know that with the hyperdynamic situations, we need something different because frankly, that kind of leadership led to these messes. So what is the new kind of leadership that's going to take us into a prosperous future that is worth living together?

(07:44):

All right, so there's the question. That is THE question. That is THE question of our time. How do you do leadership? I think today is all about doing, and I'm thrilled to be able to tell you four things that we think you can do. And to start that off, I've started to think about what are the verbs of leadership? And I think the verbs you've been hearing about this week, are the ones that will help to guide us out of this mess, facilitate, collaborate, frame the question, my goodness, frame the question, rather than I know everything - I know everything I need to know. That's closed mindset.

(08:23):

So, the model that we present in the book is the four leadership motions. And I'm just going to skimm the surface of a couple of useful ideas that you can take away. You don't even have to open the book if you don't want to. This will give you something to take away from the book. The first principle - first doing, is Orient Honestly. We're taught so many ways, so many ways to set goals, OKRs, OGSMs, SMART goals. We're almost taught from management birth how to set goals. But nobody tells us how to get clear on "where are we right now?" And if I'm trying to get my team to Albuquerque, and I'm in Denver, and I send them driving directions because for some reason Google Maps is broken, my driving directions will not help if I'm in Denver and half of my team is in Miami. In order to know how to achieve our goals, we have to know what our starting place is. So step one, Orient Honestly: "where am I now? What makes this moment complicated? Are we all in the same place? And what are the uncomfortable truths that I'm not allowing myself to see? Where are we now? What makes this moment complicated? Are we all in the same place? What uncomfortable truth am I not seeing?" If you take nothing else away from the book or my talk, this one thing can increase the velocity of your objectives.

(09:59):

The second: Value Outcomes. And this doesn't mean don't value your plans. This doesn't mean don't do planning. It just means value the outcome more than the plan. This plane is the stargazer. Any aerospace nerds in the room? Okay, maybe two. I have become an aerospace nerd because the Stargazer is a mach nine space plane...for realsies. I've been advising this company for three plus years. It's founder is a woman named Sassie Duggleby. Who doesn't want to have a mach nine space plane built by someone named Sassie Duggleby, right? It's amazing. So the amazing thing about this mach nine space plane is that it doesn't burn carbon. It's a hydrogen-based plane. So it is literally the most ambitious startup I have ever touched in my entire whatever, 30-year career. And her outcome for the first year was not make three versions of the rocket, iterate on the schedule, blah, blah, blah.

(11:02):

She didn't care about any of that. What she told her team is they had three outcomes on their plan - on the outcome oriented roadmap. One of them was "make fire." And what that did is it freed the planners to adjust the plans based on what they learned in this sort of...I mean, talk about a hyperdynamic environment. They don't know if this theoretical technology is going to work. So "make fire" became the rallying cry. So she valued the outcome more than the plans. And they made fire. This is a picture that they've published on the internet, so I'm not disclosing anything secret, but those are hypersonic rings from the rotating detonation engine. If you all were space nerds, this would be, or yeah, transportation nerds, this would be super cool. Thank you to the two people who are nodding along with me. I see you.

(11:51):

When you value plans more than outcomes, it is easy to mistake effort for achievement. So it's important to value the outcome so that you release the plans to be flexible as you learn. So that's part of "how do we do continuous deployment, continuous integration. How do we do that?" Well, one of the things we do is we organize around our outcomes.

(12:18):

Third one: Leverage the Brains. We've heard a lot about collaboration this week. Collaboration is really important. But how do you do that? How do you productively get people in a room to do a thing together? And it turns out there's a pattern that you have been living with your whole life and you didn't even know it. We want to name it so that you can do it on purpose.

(12:41):

Externalize, organize, focus. This gentleman over here [graphic recorder] has been externalizing, organizing, and focusing our thinking all week. So you do this, I do this, every week when I create a collaborative grocery list with my family. We put it in a shared place, maybe a chalkboard on the wall. Everybody adds to it. "Oh, we need olive oil. Oh, we're out of salt, right?" We add to it, then we organize it. If we actually go to the grocery store - in San Francisco, it seems like everybody gets their groceries delivered - but we organize it, produce first, then we go to dairy, then we are on the back wall with the meat, and then we go to the center aisles. And so we kind of rewrite the list in a way that helps us as we walk the store. Then, I fold up my 3x5 cards so that I can focus on the bits that matter at the right time. And here's what that looks like in business. Now maybe you're doing this kind of work using a Miro board or Fig Jam or some other online tool in a remote environment, but the idea is the same. Each person dumps - I call it a dump and sort. Each person dumps out their ideas, their thoughts about whatever that prompted question is. We organize it together using some meaningful framework, and then we focus on the bits that matter - that allows us to make decisions in small increments and to break down massive problems into small problems.

(14:09):

Which leads us to the fourth leadership motion. And that's about decision-making. And I believe that decision making is really where the drama comes in. Decision-making is a ubiquitous skill that most organizations do not excel at. So one of the ways that decision-making is dramatic, and dumb, and wasteful, is very, very, very slow decisions. From the time that we know that a decision is needed to the time that a decision is made is excruciatingly long. It drives me bananas. And it sounds like this: "Oh, we've been talking about this forever. Or do we all agree that this is the right choice?" And the idea is that best and right are too high of a standard. How do you even know if a decision is best or right? Similarly, "do we all agree?" is setting too high a standard. I once argued with seven founders, for six months, for 10 minutes every Tuesday about whether to buy a $300 printer.

(15:12):

That's 28 person hours. I added it up. It drove me nuts... over whether to buy a stupid $300 printer. I don't want that life. So, the other way that decisions go awry is that they're made too quickly and are therefore fragile. When a decision is fragile...have you ever had the meeting where you're all on the Zoom call, and you can just see on the face that so-and-so is making a call, but nobody really agrees with it...they're all going to go back to their desk and do whatever the F they want. That's what this looks like. That fosters chaos and it erodes trust. And even the most dire consequence is that it creates friction between us. So it damages our relationships. And in an all remote world, relationship is everything.

(16:05):

So what it sounds like is "they're just going to change their minds. No one's going to actually do that." So the alternative, that is actually this sort of middle ground, is to make decisions in a fast and strong way by asking a couple of questions. "Can we all live with it? You might disagree, but can you commit to it anyway?" Disagree and commit is a really important skill. And "does it move us toward the outcome?" These are middle ground. So how you prompt the decision, is a tiny change that you can make right now, today, tomorrow, to make progress faster with less drama. "Can we all live with it? Does it move us toward the outcome?"

(16:49):

Those are the Four Leadership Motions. Obviously we wrote a whole book about it, so that's just scraping off the surface. I want to close with this quote. This is our favorite quote from the book. It appears on page 11. "So we no longer believe in work-life balance. It's all just life. And we need to know that it is a life that we want to live filled with security, confidence, love and meaning." And that's what I wish for all of you. Security, confidence, love and meaning. And so thank you very much, and if Jason and Bryon would join us on stage, let's have a conversation.

Bryon Kroger (17:36):

And just to remind everyone, before we get into this conversation, these tools or meta tools - these Four Motions, I want you to apply them to every session that you go to today. Because every single tactical thing that you need to do, you need to back up and look at it through these Four Leadership Motions. So ,I want to start with Orient Honestly. It sounds a lot like mindfulness, which is something that we're all struggling with in this age. Is that something that's important in your view, for leadership?

Jason Fraser (18:06):

Mindfulness? Absolutely. I mean, if you take mindfulness at its core definition of being cognizant of what you're thinking and what you're feeling in any given moment, and being able to consciously manage that, I think that's essential for a leader. And that's orienting honestly on yourself. Understanding how you feel in a moment just helps you do everything better, achieve more. But if you abstract it a layer out, and you think about mindfulness at the team level...I like to think of this Blackjack a little bit. So when you're playing Blackjack, you have a little bit of context. You have the cards that are in your hand, you have the cards that are showing on the table, and you're going to make a decision about whether or not to draw another card.

(19:01):

And the only context that you're allowed in Blackjack is what you've got in your hand and what's on the table. But in real life, the other players at the table are actually on your team. And that means that it's not only a good idea to look at their cards, it's foolish not to. So if you can look at everybody else's cards, this is also leveraging the brains. So you've got all these other people around you who have more information, that will help you understand what the full table looks like, and you're all playing to win as a team. And I think that kind of maps to this mindfulness idea. It's like understanding the context that you're in and making decisions based on the reality.

Janice Fraser (19:52):

I would add that one of the skills there, the core skill, I've done a lot of mindfulness work, and one of the skills is taking a beat. Just take a beat, whether it's take a beat to know yourself better, take a beat to notice what is true around you. Just take a beat. We all, especially with the urgencies that the people in this room deal with, it's really easy to rush forward, thinking that you don't have time to take a beat. And, I would say, you don't have time to not do that. So just like...take a beat, if you have to go into the bathroom to have a little private time, 30 seconds of private time to organize your thoughts, to orient honestly about what's true, what's true about your situation, your people, yourself.

Jason Fraser (20:39):

One of the other speakers actually talked about this. If you're a pilot, and you're in crisis in the air, you're to synchronize your watch to the clock on your instrument panel as a means of grounding yourself. And just maybe grounding yourself is bad term of phrase.

(20:59):

Sorry. Yeah. Nice.

Bryon Kroger (21:02):

Yeah, it also reminds me of something from Paul Gaffney's talk, and one of the leadership principles relates to recognizing yourself. And that's why I brought up mindfulness. I think orienting honestly is easy to do to your team, everybody else we're there, but especially in hierarchical organizations, and a lot of military folks in the room and government in general, it can be almost disincentivized, or there's a clear boundary to orienting honestly around yourself. It's almost like you keep your cards close to your chest so nobody else can see them. It's incentivized in a way. So I think that's a really important way to start.

Janice Fraser (21:44):

Well, remember knowing yourself doesn't mean telling it to everybody else. You get to decide what to share, right?

Bryon Kroger (21:51):

Awesome. Well, speaking of hierarchies, how do you establish and maintain authority when your role is to facilitate the work of others? Isn't that it's kind of in conflict with command and control?

Jason Fraser (22:05):

I'm not sure that there is a conflict there. I think knowing the job that you have is essential. And any leader, their role is to get the best out of their team. And maybe to get the best out of your team on a battlefield, it's giving orders and telling people specifically "you go do that. You go do that..." Or even in an emergency situation, first responders are told, you point at someone and you say "you go call 911, you boil some water, you grab a towel..."

Janice Fraser (22:40):

Get the car, right?

Jason Fraser (22:42):

You give orders. And that's the way to get the best out of the team in that moment. But that's context dependent again. And when you're doing information work, you can still bear the responsibility for the outcome of that work. And you can say, the work that we have done as a team doesn't feel right. It doesn't meet my standard, it doesn't work somehow. Then you can re-engage the team to get that. But, I think that when you're trying to actually get that work done with the team, your job as a leader is to get the best out of your team. And the way to do that is to work with them in a facilitative manner.

Janice Fraser (23:26):

One of the features of living in a hyperdynamic time, particularly if you're in information work, but I think in a lot of contexts, is that you never have enough data to make a really accurate data-based decision. So we can make decisions based on the available data while knowing that it is insufficient data. That forces you from a knowing mindset into a growth mindset. And when you embrace growth mindset, the way to leverage the team might be, give me all your data so that I can make a decision, even though I don't know the right answer. So it's almost like the knowing mindset. The knowing style of command and control leadership, is just no longer possible in a lot of circumstances. And so leveraging the brains is kind of the best way to make moment-by-moment dynamic decisions.

Bryon Kroger (24:19):

I don't know if you recall this, but I'm thinking about feedback you gave me very early on in my journey. You busted out the radical candor two-by-two on me. It's the crisis - situation dependent, right? You said sometimes you have to give orders, and there were clear crises during my time at Kessel Run where I would go into that mode. But if anybody doesn't know the two-by-two, it's caring deeply and being radically transparent. If people don't know you care deeply, it's not radical candor, it's obnoxious aggression. The message isn't any different. It's just them knowing that you care personally. And you told me, "Bryon, you're not very good at letting people know how much you care..." This was good feedback. I took it and it was really important to me. And honestly, it's an easy trap to fall into. I've had it even with my own family. You go into crisis mode with four kids a lot too. And I got the same feedback from my wife. It's like, I need to know that you care about my feelings. Because when we go into those moments, that's the rock that makes it easy to take.

Janice Fraser (25:22):

Yeah. Well, let me give you a gift here. Give everybody a gift here. There's an acronym that will help you express your care deeply in those moments. I say especially with your wife, I had to learn this lesson too, with Jason. It's called GIVE: gentle, interested, validating, easy manner. And so in a single conversation, you can be advocating for your own position, and then remember that no, no, no, no, I need to remind this person how much I care about them. And you're like "oh, gentle, interested. I can ask questions." Validating. I can say, "I see how you might think that. I see how you could come to that conclusion." And then easy manner is where you go from [growling] to like, "oh, [exhale] right." And it's amazing how much that works. And I'll let Jason tell you whether it works in our relationship.

Jason Fraser (26:13):

It works. Definitely.

(26:16):

I want to footnote one more thing. Because we were talking about positional authority, I have seen, and I think you have seen as well, that positional authority can get in the way of effective collaboration. I have referred to this in the past as the colonel in the room problem. Sometimes you'll get a team in front of a colonel, we know the colonel. The colonel will just ask a question, "hey, have you thought about this?" And really it's just a curiosity, right? And what the team leaves the room with is "the colonel wants us to do this, we have to do this." And they've totally changed direction. And two weeks later, they end up back in front of the colonel, and the colonel's like, "wait, why are you doing that?" "You told us to do that. "So you have to be really, I'm just going to leave that there. You have to be really careful with your positional authority and cognizant of it. And one of the things we did at Kessel Run that I think was revolutionary was, we asked people to not come in uniform. We took away the visible aspects of rank to make it easier for people to collaborate as equals.

Bryon Kroger (27:26):

Yeah, I love it. I'm going to give you this mic [inaudible]

Jason Fraser (27:29):

Okay. I mean, I think this is still working.

Bryon Kroger (27:33):

So I like the colonel in the room problem. We have Jez coming on stage next. He talks about the HIPPO effect, which I know you all are very aware of and kind of continuous delivery, being an antidote to that. But what I love about the Four Motions is they work at every level. And when it comes to continuous delivery, it seems like a key to Orienting Honestly. I always tell my team that prod is the arbiter of truth. Nobody's opinions, nobody's resumes, just prod. So do you have other examples of how these Four Leadership Motions are kind of fractal like that?

Jason Fraser (28:09):

Yeah. I mean, I think this is still working, right? Is it? Okay, I'm just going to stick with that.

(28:18):

So the lowest level that I think about, I come from a product management background, and so a big part of my job has been writing user stories to give to engineers so that they can know what to build. And a user story, at its basic level - this is just a description of a feature that you want built or something like that - and at its lowest level, it contains context. So there is an orientation aspect to it. It's like, "where are we in the software product? Are we on this page? Are we on the login page?" It describes where you are, it describes the outcome that you want to achieve. And then we take that to a team of engineers and we do an iteration planning meeting, and we talk through that user story.

(29:09):

So we leverage the brains of the team to understand "what will it really mean from an engineering perspective to deliver this? Is there an easier thing that we could do to achieve the outcome?" Stuff like that. So we're leveraging the brains there, and we always make those user stories as small as we can so that it's easy to commit to doing them. It's easy to complete them, and that's the durable decisions part of it. So we've hit all four of the leadership motions just at the user story level, but we also use that same pattern, kind of at every level of the work that we do, all the way from the smallest increment of software delivery, to planning the vision for the company.

Bryon Kroger (29:53):

I love that. I love that. Alright, this one, this is a personal one too, because more feedback that I got from you kind of related to this, but the federal environment is notoriously siloed. Do you have any advice for getting really diverse stakeholders, that span large levels of the organization, to play nicely together?

Janice Fraser (30:18):

So I go to my dear friend, this woman named Hannah Jones. She was the Chief Sustainability Officer at Nike. And if I understand her career correctly, she was brought in at a time when Nike was having a problem with the labor practices of the people who were making the shoes in China. So this was enslaved people making shoes. Nike got in trouble, Hannah came in, right? That's the context. Huge meta human rights problem. And she had to find a way to change how the supply chain functioned. And so we interviewed her for the book, and she told us this story that you have to let other people be the hero of their own journey. And so we talked about how do you get someone who had been doing practices this way? Can that same person potentially find value in doing things a different way?

(31:18):

And so her way of succeeding...she now is the CEO of something called the Earth Shot Prize, which is like the Nobel Prize for saving the planet from climate change. She's no small. It's no small thing. And so what she helped me to see is that the foundation of every resolved argument is respect. And so in getting people to play together, nicely, they have to be willing to choose and opt in to respecting each other. Fundamental to leveraging the brains is you have something of value. And if I combine that with my something of value, we are going to be in a better place than we were before. And it's amazing how trust and respect go together. It starts with respect, and then you build trust by accomplishing small things together. So that, in order to get this person, this person, and this person to play nicely together, we have to set up situations where respect and trust are inevitable. Which is why we focus so much on facilitation. Because we create structures where equal participation, equal weight, all of that kind of just comes accidentally. Because you're all writing one thought on a post-it note, I can't posture, and pitch, and disrespect you by writing a sentence on a post-it note, right? So we use facilitation and other techniques as a way to set the stage for respect, which then in turn sets the stage for trust, which then allows us to build relationship.

Bryon Kroger (32:57):

I love that. Well, that's a great note to end on. I really appreciate both of you. Love your book. Thank you so much. There'll be book signing later in the hallway.