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Thinkers50 in collaboration with Deloitte presents:

The Provocateurs:

podcast series

REFLECTIONS EPISODE

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

What did we learn from our provocateurs in 2023? Who provoked us to think again and act differently? Which stories remain with us?

The Provocateurs podcast series gives you direct access to the ideas, experiences, and insights of remarkable leaders from around the world. In 2023, in collaboration with Deloitte, Thinkers50 hosted an inspiring mix of guests in thought-provoking conversations.

The topics that were discussed and debated ranged from The Inside Track on Growth with Tiffani Bova to Radical Candor with Kim Scott. Along the way we unpicked branding and the metaverse with Martin Lindstrom, learned how to play our cards right with Annie Duke, and normalised anxiety with Morra Aarons-Mele. Chip Bergh told us his story of rescuing Levi’s, Shelley Zalis gave us the state of play on equality in the workplace, Jim Stengel dived into activating purpose, and we marched to a different drum with Sunny Bonnell and Rare Breeds.

In this episode, Stuart Crainer, Des Dearlove, Steve Goldbach, and Geoff Tuff share some of their key take-aways from Provocateurs 2023 and introduce new co-host for 2024, Kulleni Gebreyes.

#TheProvocateurs

This podcast is part of an ongoing series of interviews with executives. The executives’ participation in this podcast are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own. This podcast should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.

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Hosts:

Stuart Crainer

Stuart Crainer

Co-founder, Thinkers50

Des Dearlove

Co-founder, Thinkers50

Kulleni Gebreyes

Deloitte US Consulting Life Sciences and Healthcare Industry Leader and US Chief Health Equity Officer

Steve Goldbach

Sustainability, Climate & Equity Leader, Deloitte

Geoff Tuff

Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Inspired by the book Provoke: How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human FlawsWiley, 2021.

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REFLECTIONS EPISODE

Podcast Transcript

Stuart

Hello and welcome to the Provocateurs podcast.

I’m Stuart Crainer, co-founder of Thinkers50.

This is the first episode of 2024, and one in which we reflect on the episodes we recorded last year. What did we learn? Which stories remain with us? Which of the amazing people we featured provoked us to think again and act differently in our own lives?

Joining me, we have three of the co-hosts from last year, Steve Goldbach and Geoff Tuff from Deloitte, and my Thinkers50 partner, Des Dearlove. Stacy Janiak is not here today, but was involved in some great episodes over the last two years. She’s now spending time with her day job as Deloitte Global Deputy CEO [Ed.: title corrected from the audio].

So joining us this year, we have a brilliant new co-host, Kulleni Gebreyes. Kulleni is the US Consulting Life Sciences and Healthcare Industry Leader and US Chief Health Equity Officer at Deloitte. She holds an MD from Harvard Medical School and an MBA from Johns Hopkins. But that is only part of her remarkable story. Kulleni, it is great to have you joining Provocateurs for the new series. Welcome. So perhaps we should start with your story and the question, how did you get here?

Kulleni

Stuart, I’m so excited to join you all and having listened to the previous podcasts, truly energized to be part of these conversations. So how did I get here? You know, I often describe myself as an idealist with a broken heart, which means I’m a true romantic, but I’ve learned through life that you’ve got to have strategic planning for financials to have a happily ever after, right? So I bring an idealist heart with a pragmatic mind. So my story is really what shaped who I am, which is; I’m born and raised in Ethiopia by parents who are always able to see what was possible in what seemed like impossible situations. So I grew up in a time of civil war, drought, famine. Many of you may remember Ethiopia in the 1980s; we were on the news worldwide. And that shaped who I am from day one, which meant that I understood I grew up in fortunate circumstances because we were able to immigrate to initially Europe and then the United States, where we got a chance to go to some great schools, meet great people, learn new things. And through that, I dedicated my life initially to public health, where I worked around the world with community building, infrastructure development, practiced as a clinician for over a decade in the D.C. and Baltimore area, and also once again in Asia and Africa and Central America. And then moved over to the business side when I realized that, you know what, you can have a good heart and be well-intentioned, but you’ve got to think about how does the business world and the corporate world make the world run and how do we make decisions? So I’m here today because, frankly, I have a curious mind. I’m curious about people who are making changes in the world. And I’m curious how we can understand what makes the world different and what will impact how we think in our mental models. And I look forward to sharing more of my story as we go on, over the episode.

Geoff

Stuart, let’s make sure that you don’t ask Steve and me to repeat our resumes next to Kulleni’s. Let’s just leave that. Let’s just leave that out there.

Stuart

Well, I know you’re idealistic with a broken heart as well, Geoff.

Geoff

Always.

Stuart

So, thank you, Kulleni. It’s an amazing story and we look forward to some great conversations this year.

So let’s try and make sense of our episodes from last year, which featured Tiffani Bova, Jim Stengel, Shelley Zalis, Martin Lindstrom, Annie Duke, Morra Aarons-Mele, Kim Scott, Sunny Bonnell, and Chip Bergh.

Steve, perhaps you could kick things off. What is your standout memory from those conversations?

Steve

It’s interesting, Stuart. I went back and started to listen to all the episodes.

In light of, we’re taping this during the World Economic Forum going on at Davos, and clearly all the talk there is about artificial intelligence, the ESG, geopolitics being back on the center stage. And I was struck by the consistent theme throughout our podcast was that the power of the human is still at the center of what drives successful mitigation of disruption or disruption because even as we digitize our world, even as the world goes to artificial intelligence, some human being somewhere needs to make a choice that delights a customer. And so for me, I went back to the very first episode, Stuart, that we did together with Tiffani Bova and her quote unquote light bulb moment. For some of you may not remember, Tiffani learned from being in the carnival business. So we can say this comes from Carnie’s. Okay. And where one of the folks she was working with just simply pointed up and there was one light bulb that was not lit up amongst hundreds of light bulbs. And what she was calling attention to was the fact that someone’s going to notice that instead of the amazing show we’re putting on. And so the importance of delighting customers. We saw that run through the thread of what Jim Stengel talked about, which was the importance of having a higher purpose to motivate employees. We saw that with Chip Bergh as Levi’s shifted from its focus on selling through stores to controlling its relationship with customers by becoming a retailer. And that was one of the if-to-whens that Chip saw as a disruptor. And then the last one I’ll say is that, you know, is Annie Duke, where she had the insight that the hardest thing about a human being to quit is your own identity. And I actually think that as we enter this world where we’re increasingly polarized, just understanding that all of us are coming to this world – and Kim Scott highlights this, too – with biases that sort of, to some extent shape who we are and how we view the world is a really important thing. But for me, it was the power of the human at the center, even in a world where technology is disrupting.

Stuart

The power of the human. Thanks, Steve. Now to you, Geoff. We always keep you and Steve apart, even though it was your book, Provoke, which gave us the initial impetus for this series. What have you learned from last year’s episodes?

Geoff

So you’d think that Steve and I would talk once in a while together since we are writing partners, but he and I actually did not talk in advance of this recording, but actually are coming out, perhaps not surprisingly, in a very similar place. So I also had noted down essentially the human, and the notion of humanity, at the center for every single one of our guests. And by the way, though I didn’t go back and listen to our previous reflections episode, I think the same point was very much true for the first year of recording this podcast. And I think we can probably now conclude that one of the aspects of being an effective provocateur is having a very great sense of not only humanity broadly, but who one is, who you are as a human.
I would say, as I look back at the pod, at the guests that we had, the podcasts that I was a host for, there were a few different themes that came out. The first was that every single one of the people that we spoke with, and I recorded the ones with Chip, with Sunny, with Morra, and with Martin, they had a really deep understanding of who they were, or at least they were able to convey a deep understanding of who they were and what it means to be authentic.

Every single one of them talked about bringing in their real selves, not some sort of facade, not some sort of cultured kind of facade of success, but bringing their real selves to the challenge that each of the different things, each of them faced in their businesses.

So an example of that is Chip, when he came into Levi’s, having never worked in fashion apparel before, he was very clear that he was bringing his business knowledge, but he had the humility to say that he didn’t understand the business. He wasn’t going to assume that he could apply all of the lessons that he learned after decades at Procter & Gamble to solving a different type of problem. And so what he did, much to Steve’s point, is he went out and listened to people. He listened to customers, he listened to people around Levi’s, he understood what they thought was working, what wasn’t working. And what he was doing as he was doing that, beyond just becoming smarter, was building his own self, building his own self as a person, not only in connecting with people around Levi’s, but building his own belief system around what it would take to actually fix the business. And so that humility that he brought as a person helped him in that situation.
There were other aspects of humanity that came out as well. So Morra Aarons-Mele was very clear. In fact, most of the episode was about the challenges of addressing anxiety head on and simply saying, “You know what? One of the aspects of being human is that we are anxious. It’s kind of embedded in who we are. And unless we can be honest with that and understand that we’re not unique if we feel anxiety, we are actually more human if we feel anxiety, but if we can understand it, if we can name it, and if we can address it head on, that is going to help us.”

And that then parlays into other points around personal honesty, having a really clear North Star objective for what they wanted to achieve in their various different roles. For Chip, it was to make Levi’s a direct to consumer retailer. For Martin, it was to look for extreme ideas that would have meaningful impact in what he was trying to do with his business. And, you know, ultimately I think that bringing themselves, bringing their humanity to the table, is what helped every single one of our guests, not only to succeed in their individual roles, but to be seen as provocateurs.

So I’ll leave it at that for now, Stuart, and maybe we can come back and pick up on that in the conversation.

Steve

I mean, I wonder just if I might interject for a sec. I wonder and I’d be curious what you all think about this. I do think we’re going through a phase change of how people view leadership, right? And I do think if you went back 10 years, leaders would have been viewed as needing to have the answers, needing to have clarity. And I actually think the theme that runs through a lot of what we’re hearing, in particular the focus on mental health is actually; leaders are increasingly viewed as “If I don’t have the answers, that’s okay.” And actually asking good questions and curiosity are increasingly important to leadership. I’m curious if you see the same, if you all are seeing the same tendency.

Des

You kind of took the words out of my mouth there, Steve, because my watch was, from the episodes last year, were curiosity in particular and human connection. In fact, when we asked Jim Stengel what was the essence of leadership, that’s what he said. He said curiosity and humanity, and I think you’re right, I think what we want is more curious leaders. Geoff referred to Chip Bergh as well, and the first thing he did, he said, was when he took the job at Levi’s, was to go on a listening tour. He posed, I think it was six or seven questions to the top 60 people in the organisation. And then he did interview after interview where he just talked to people. And he said, you know, the thing was just really to listen. And I think that’s kind of the superpower that perhaps we’ve underestimated in the past. I mean, you know, I think probably always good leaders have listened. But I think now it’s much more valued and we don’t necessarily expect, in fact, it’s a bit scary if leaders pretend they’ve got all the answers, I think. You know we should be kind of co-creating answers with leaders not expecting them just to hand them down from on high. The other thing that stayed with me is some of the stories. We heard some great formative stories, particularly people talking about, you know, the things that had kind of kick-started them as entrepreneurs or, you know, falling in love with brands, I think. We had Jim Stengel’s story about when he was a kid and he was renting out, do you remember this one? Renting out neckties outside the school because they had to wear ties, but he’d got all his granddad’s old ties. You know, there’s some of these big, fat kind of, you know, lairy ties and he was renting them out to the other kids until he got busted. But even at age nine, he’d started this business. Martin Lindstrom’s Lego story. You know, he was a Lego fanatic and he built himself a bed out of Lego.

Geoff

A bed, yeah, I remember that. And he came away with dimples all over his back from sleeping on it.

 

Des

And then, do you remember, he had a Legoland in his garden that he created, and people came from miles around to see this Legoland, including the lawyers from Lego, who abruptly told him that he really couldn’t be doing that. He couldn’t be having a theme park in his garden.

Geoff

Age 11, by the way, age 11.

Des

Age 11, that’s right. And then they, you know, very smart on their part, they actually brought him into the advisory board at age 11 to help them, you know, see their own brand through the eyes of their customer. So some really good stories that stuck with me. 

Geoff

So that triggers an idea, and that is that one of the reasons I think we heard so many stories, so many good stories, so many well-packaged stories, and I’m not trying to make them sound made up or overly packaged, but part of what has allowed all of our provocateurs to convey humanity and to be human is because they do show up with stories. And each of them have probably told the same stories multiple different times. It gives the audience, in that case, us as the host, in other cases, employees in a new company they’re coming to, but it gives the audience a real sense of the person behind the title, behind the facade, behind how they appear, and probably creates a connection that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Kulleni

And Geoff, as you say that, and Steve, you started your question with Gen AI being top of mind. When I think about how people think about Gen AI, it has content and it has intelligence, right? But what it doesn’t have is humanity. And the theme I heard in all of your responses is what strikes me when I talk to business leaders who are now better able to articulate, especially in life sciences and healthcare, who say, you can have the facts, right?

And even when you look at the data around when new technology and drug discoveries for curative therapies come out, all those things are great, but without the caring and the heart and the human component, you actually can’t heal, right? And so if you think about an organization as a living thing that actually needs nurturing, and the workforce needs nurturing, I think for me leadership is really, and how we distinguish ourselves from AI, is how do we bring the heart and the mind together in everything that we do and how we make decisions.

Geoff

It’s really well said.

Stuart

I think there was a kind of positivity and optimism and energy behind the people we talked to, which, in these kind of challenging times, is really amazing. And the kind of, going back to Des’s point, really, the diversity of experience always strikes me. Kim Scott, who I thought was really good, and her experience, she managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo and a diamond cutting factory in Moscow and wrote three novels, just along the way. And I think that, and Tiffany Bova with EK Fernandez Carnivals in Hawaii. I think that early experience and the diversity of the experience gives the people we’ve spoken to a kind of resilience as well.

And even when the, what’s the name, Shelley Zalis, who we talked to, who’s behind the Female Quotient, which is a really brilliant initiative. And she reported that the World Economic Forum did some research and they said it would take 132 years to close the gender gap. And Shelley said, “No. Seven years. That’s what I’m working to.” And I just think that kind of can-do attitude, even though it’s kind of a cliche, is still really powerful and persuasive. So it’s that kind of feeling of optimism and positivity, it’s very infectious.

Kulleni, I saw something where you were talking about, you were asked whether you were a glass full or a glass empty sort of person? What did you say?

Kulleni

You know, yes, Stuart, I did. So, you know, younger, because as I mentioned, we grew up in a bit of adversity. Our parents always taught us to think of the world as being half full, right, so that there was always something there. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really thought to say, you know what, I’m just grateful I have a glass and I’m grateful I have water. It doesn’t matter how much water is in there or not, but the fact that I’m alive with a glass that has water is enough to be grateful for. And I think that changes your mindset of whether your happiness or your sense of accomplishment is based on a comparison to some random benchmark, or is it just kind of enough as it is? And are you enough as you are?

Stuart

Steve, I know you really liked the conversation with Annie Duke.

Steve

Yeah. I mean, if you go to, if you go, Stuart, to unique backgrounds. I mean, winning, you know, being the most successful female poker player in history prior to becoming a leading management thinker and having that be the product of, you know, an early in life health challenge that necessitated a switch. Annie, for me, was the definition of resilience. And I just, I love her ideas. In particular, I already talked about the hardest thing to quit being your identity, which I found, which, even though Annie introduces it as sort of like that’s the thing she stands on the shoulder of, I just think that that’s so true. Like if you think about combining that with the way Kim Scott talks about bias, that’s such an important and profound lesson for all of us to learn as we think about how we move through the world. That we have a set of biases and continuing to try to, if I use Annie’s terms, quit those biases or at least understand that we have them and allow other people to challenge them. It could be an incredibly important leadership lesson. And then the other one, which she talked about, was working on the hard things first. So making sure that you’re not building up the sunk cost fallacy by doing busy work until you really tackle the challenging aspect of your program, whether it’s the monkeys on pedestals example or the others that she shared. So, yeah, that one for me is a big one, Stuart.

Stuart

Yeah. She was talking about the art of quitting, wasn’t she? Which was really interesting, I thought.

Steve

Yeah.

Geoff

So that then triggers another thought in this, and that is that you could listen to the first 15 minutes of this reflections episode and conclude that all you need to do to be an effective provocateur is show up as a person, which probably is a really important thing to do. But actually, every single one of our guests has a central pillar of belief, or maybe it’s two or three different central pillars of belief that guides the decisions that they may be making.

For Annie, it may have been that you can’t quit yourself, you can’t quit your natural self.

As I think of, again, back to some of the guests that we had, Martin Lindstrom was all about the data, all about the power of data, big and small, informed by purposeful experiments based on a hypothesis to go and get something done.

Sonny Bunnell, on the other hand, was all about the power of the brand to guide the company and the importance of focusing on the brand and building the brand.

For Chip, it was listening.

For Morra, it was all about addressing the reality of what it means to be a human head on.

And so my guess is we could click through every single one of our guests, not only over the course of the last year, over the course of the last two years we’ve been doing this, and find that central belief pillar that they used, that they brought their humanity with. Because that pillar actually allows you to take action and it gives you some guidance for where to dig in on various different issues. I’d love to hear if that resonates, or? Steve, as always, you’re welcome to challenge me. That’s when this gets fun.

Stuart

How many pillars are ideal? I guess is the question. You can have too many pillars.

Geoff

Yeah, well, so my guess is one or two. Like, you know, you can’t… After you get beyond one or two, you’re probably into management theory and you’re going to, you know, overthink certain situations. But in order to remain human, there’s got to be just a couple of central things that guide a lot of your actions and then you show up as a person behind it.

Des

No, it’s interesting. I think, well, I mean, when these things… [Coughs] Talking of glasses of water, I’ve got a frog in my throat.

Steve

How full is it, Des?

[All laugh]

Des

It’s about a third full.

Stuart

Empty now!

Des

About a third full!

Though the intersection of some of these things. You’re talking about Martin’s interest in data.

It was interesting to hear Jim Stengel talk about the possibility of creating metrics for purpose. You know, purpose, which we think of as being sort of a soft thing, but he was talking about, you know, the opportunity now to create metrics and to start measuring people’s sense of purpose. That’s quite interesting, I think. That’s not the sort of thing we’ve tried to measure in the past in terms of management.

Kulleni

You know, and Steve, you’ve mentioned identity a few times. And as I think about the pillars, Geoff, I feel like how you identify yourself is a really important pillar because it sets the frame of who you are within the context of the world, whether it’s the small world, meaning your family unit, your workplace, your friends, or the world at large. And I’m curious for you all, when you think about identity, because I always wonder what matters most: Is it your family history and where you come from? Is it your demographic characteristic? Is it what you do? Is it how others see you? Because I think, depending on that center of gravity of what defines your identity that allows you to change and pivot in a way that feels comfortable because at the core, you’re still the same person doing different things, right? So if I think of a poker player, who becomes a behavioral or organizational development scientist, the fundamentals are actually the same. So is it the identity or the role that’s changing? And when I think of all the stories that you all have shared, I hear a theme of: It’s the core characteristics of that person allowing them to do net new things as opposed to vastly different identities. But I don’t know if they expressed how they see it, if it was a mutation of identity or just the manifestation of who they are changing.

Stuart

I think the episode with Morra Aarons-Mele, we talked about, and she’s the author of The Anxious Achiever, and as Geoff said, she talks about anxiety as a manageable and motivational factor, something intrinsic to leadership. And it seems to me that people are always the, kind of the pillars of belief, or the central core characteristics that Kulleni was talking about, are evolving and people are refining them and questioning them all the time.

And that perhaps creates anxiety around it.

Des

Interestingly, Amy Chang, who we spoke to, who’s coming up in a future episode, she was talking about, just to do a little tease, she was talking about unlearning. The importance of unlearning things that you’ve done in the past, and when to stop doing things that you’ve done. There’s echoes of Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. That sense of being able to self-reflect and pause, if I may say so. Apparently, there’s been quite a good article written in the Harvard Business Review about pausing. Do you know anything about that, Steve?

Steve

I’ve heard. We did, Geoff and I just did a piece on that. We’ve effectively created a name for ourselves as folks who are always wanting to have executives do something. And we challenged ourselves to say, actually, in some cases, you know, taking an active pause may be a better strategic move than plowing ahead. But we wanted to see whether those, what those specific use cases were, Des. The, you know, the thing that I think Kulleni’s question has really caused me to think, and I think that there are two things at play around identity. I think our guests, and I’m just going through the list in my mind, whether it’s Chip or Shelly, who I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with more after the podcast, and she’s amazing. They’ve gone through multiple leadership roles and journeys where they’ve had to play, they’ve had to assume very different external identities. And it’s impossible to know, but I wonder if the way they’re able to do that, is being very in touch with a grounded, internal identity and what grounds them. And I think Morra’s episode, I think, speaks to that. And so I think we are all on our own personal journeys, learning about what makes us happy, what makes us satisfied. I personally have found that has shifted for me over the last decade. But I think the challenges of leadership today require a leader to be in touch with what makes them tick internally so that they can show up differently because it’s going to require different faces to motivate human beings elsewhere. And what would work with one audience may not work with another audience. So, if you’re not in touch with yourselves, you don’t know yourself, you may not be able to shift in that moment. I don’t know. What do you guys all think?

Geoff

So you came very close to saying the phrase that was running through my mind, both when Kulleni was talking and when you said that Steve, so, because you know, the word identity, let’s just be clear, the word identity carries a lot of meaning, and maybe baggage for some, but it carries a lot of meaning in today’s society. What I heard from Kulleni, in the way that she was talking about it, is a very, very clear sense of self. And if you have a clear sense of self and if you can show up as a human, yes, in some situations, you’re going to have to shift your communication style and shift the nature of what you’re doing if your audience changes. But as long as you can stay true to that sense of self, which is another way of conceiving of identity, then you will show up as a human. And when, Kulleni, you started that comment, I started thinking to myself, “Geez, how would I describe my identity? How would I describe my sense of self?” And I immediately went to not what I look like or how I show up as a person, but what I value most. And when I’m forced to make a hard decision, what I fall back on is what I really, really care about. And I’m not going to lead us into a conversation about exploring everyone’s sense of self, but that to me is at least the way I think about that.

Stuart

So do you get promoted for having a sense of self? Is that how you get on in big organisations?

Geoff

I think you get promoted by being, this sounds very treacly as it comes through my brain and out my mouth, but by being a human. And yes, there are some people who can fight their way to the top in organizations and figure out which levers to pull. But I do genuinely believe that if you do have that sense of self, if you can show up as yourself, obviously you need to have the hard skills as well, but if you think about gaining the experiences that you value to build that sense of self, to build you as a person, I think that’s much more important for ultimate promotion than is the checking the boxes to be able to get to the next level.

Des

Interestingly, to Sunny Bonnell who wrote the book Rare Breed – A guide to success for the defiant, dangerous, and different. It’s all about, kind of, outsiders and rebels. But one of her points was that people often get fired for the same thing they got hired for. In the sense that you bring someone in who’s a bit different And then because they’re a bit different, they don’t fit. So then they get flushed away again. And she was talking about the importance of having the sort of the rebellious types in your organisation and recognising them and accepting that they’re gonna cause a certain amount of disruption, but actually organisations need a little bit of disruption if they’re gonna evolve.

Steve

Yeah, one thing I do wanna just jump in and say, cause I think it’s important to acknowledge it; a number of us come from a place of privilege where it’s a lot easier for us to bring our internal sense of self because our external, like the way the world might view us, if we’re in a diverse population, I mean, a number of us, you know, on this are white men and we therefore can show up in a way that has historically advantaged us. If you have had historical disadvantages in your organization, it’s a lot harder to show up with whatever your internal identity is, because oftentimes you feel like you’re viewed as whatever your external identity is. And as we strive towards a more equitable world, I think one of the goals ought to be like everyone can bring whatever their authentic self is and not, and that doesn’t, we just should acknowledge that doesn’t always happen with, in the way it should in the world today.

Des

Yeah.

Steve

Well, I think that was awkwardly said at best.

[All laugh]

Geoff

I mean, coming from a middle-aged white dude, yeah, it might be a little bit awkward, but I think it’s actually, it is very well said, Steve. And I can’t, I’m not, I don’t have this thought fully formulated, but it does go all the way back to our very first episode with Valerie Rainford, and you think about the story that she had. She did have difficulty thinking about bringing her authentic self, but she also had the courage and the commitment to push through that and to show up with it and to not change who she was in order to gain the success she had at the Fed and at JP Morgan, et cetera. And so the part of this that I feel like I’m in difficult territory here is, I’m not sure what the lesson there is because we can’t simply say “Be more courageous,” but I hope one of the lessons- 

Steve

She had allies. Like, she had allies and she was strong, but it was not easy, right?

Des

Well, I mean, one of the lessons for all of us is to be good allies, to try to be good allies, and to be more self-aware and aware of the biases that do operate. And I mean, and be honest about it and try to do what we can as middle-aged white men to be helpful rather than be the problem.

Kulleni

Yeah, and it’s interesting. I was at the JP Healthcare Conference just a week ago. And as we were talking about allyship, but we also talked about the difference between those who will come to you after the meeting and express support as an ally, but kind of in a one-on-one, versus the change agent and the true provocateur who will speak up during the meeting in front of everyone, right? And so I think there’s a shift in mind of what it means to be a true ally that we need to think about. You know, but what’s interesting, Steve, Des, and Geoff, is that as we talk about this courage that’s required, and I’m an ecology and evolutionary biology major, right? I love human behavior. One of the things that we’re actually all innately good at, that we don’t always realize, is knowing when somebody is being real or not. And that doesn’t matter of race, age, ethnicity, nationality. What that means is, for those like Valerie who show up in an authentic way, is you actually end up getting more allies because of your courage. It’s kind of a circular loop because people see you as you are, they believe you, and there’s more real connection. So it’s interesting, where does that begin? In terms of, where do you get the courage, or where do you get enough sponsorship or allyship to be your true self? Because that’s the only way, regardless of how we look differently or what language or what part of the country we live in, that we can have true relationship and true connection.

Geoff

So, Kulleni, I think you just made the most important point of this conversation, which is that it is actually biologically in us to understand when people are not being themselves. And you could imagine a virtuous cycle, as I think you just described it, emerging here that if you have the confidence to show up with yourself and you’re going to draw others in as allies they’re going to support you, give you more room to show up as yourself and it can only go well. And perhaps the reverse is true as well. That if you try to hide, if you try to hide your true self and if you try to dupe others, you’re going to end up in a vicious cycle down to, maybe not down to the bottom, but you’re not going to be nearly as successful, you’re certainly not going to be a provocateur.

Des

Well, there’s Kim Scott’s point about her two by two and, you know, with feedback and being radically, you know, radical candor. But, you know, if you end up in the wrong box, you’re in the place of ruinous sympathy. You know, when you’re not being honest, you’re being phony because you don’t really want to talk about the real issues. And that can be as bad as, you know, the sort of the more toxic, aggressive quadrant of her two by two. You know, we… Interesting, I saw Adam Grant was writing about this, about getting rid of the compliment sandwich, where you give some good news and then you squeeze the real feedback in the middle and then you give some more good news, which really doesn’t work. But I think we need to step away from being phony with each other. I think that’s something that’s become ingrained in organisations and hopefully we’re beginning to challenge that too.

Stuart

So have we changed our own behavior as a result of the conversations we’ve had in these podcasts? Because the idea is that they provoke us to think again and hopefully change and improve our behavior.

Steve

I will tell you one thing I’ve tried to adopt in my personal, well both my personal life and in my leadership positions.

Geoff

I’m going to keep you honest here, Steve, because you and I work a lot together. I’ll give you some feedback after this as to whether or not this is actually working.

[All laugh]

Steve

Look, I would say I have tried to just give direct feedback in an honest and caring way. And I’ve actually taken with my new team to… Take, like, literally take a phrase from Kim Scott. And I’ve told them that candor is kind. Right? Like actually, “I want to have a great relationship with you. And the only way that we’re going to do that is if I tell you the truth.” And for some, it’s been more challenging to hear sometimes, but I try to meet people where they’re at and try to do it. It doesn’t always work. I’m not that good at it yet, but I think that I’ve committed to practicing it so that what I’m not doing is building up a bunch of baggage in a relationship where then I have to spew out later on it’s like, “Look i’ve got like 14 things that have that have been bugging me.” I’m just gonna say, like, “Hey, you know, can we do this a little differently? And here’s why,” and share my logic. So that’s what I’ve tried to. And Kim, I will say I’m lucky that I got the chance to spend some time with Kim and learn from her, and I’ve really tried to implement what she’s done and taught me.

Stuart

And Geoff, you’re a totally different person now I hear.

Geoff

You know, after interacting with Steve, absolutely. But it’s been years of doing that. No, so I will take a moment to say that one of Steve’s superpowers is that he does show up as a human being in almost every single interaction. And I’ve seen him step into the new role that he’s got right now. And whether it’s talking about direct feedback or just actually having a conversation as a real, normal person, he does that really well. I won’t then reveal the other things that perhaps Steve can improve that I’m sure we’ll have a feedback conversation on later.

My answer to your question, Stuart, is I don’t know that my behavior has changed dramatically, but I definitely have learned something from every single one of our guests and it has given me the confidence to continue to show up as I am and to question things. I think every single one of the provocateurs that we’ve had on the podcast over time has questioned something on their journey. It hasn’t turned me into a skeptic or a deep skeptic of everything I hear, but it has led me to be more curious about what I see going on around me and whether it’s fit for what we’re trying to achieve. I’d say that’s something that isn’t necessarily new, but it’s gotten sharpened and I’ve gotten confidence from these very successful people we’ve had on to continue to push in that way.

Des

And I’d have to say what I learned, what I’ve taken away is I don’t put my jeans in the washing machine anymore. What Chip Bergh told us is his jeans have never been in, his Levi’s have never been in a washing machine. He did point out that he does clean them from time to time. He just doesn’t put them in a washing machine. I think he puts them in the shower or something. And that was a sustainability point, wasn’t it? The point he was making is that the amount of water that gets wasted making denim, making jeans, is not nearly as much as the amount of water that people waste by washing them, over washing their jeans. They don’t need to wash them as often as they do, unless you’re doing a manual job where the jeans are actually getting dirty. So I took that to heart, if that’s helpful.

Kulleni

And I will say I still wash my jeans. Hopefully that’s not too much of a knock on the environment. But I will say as I listened to the episodes, the thing that struck me is, you know, even as they told these stories about change and the pivots, it was rare that they dwelled on something as a failure, right? It was, I transitioned from this to this. I learned this from that experience. So for me, the compilation in some ways validates my choices in life because you’re not looking back thinking that chapter was a mistake. You completed that chapter in order to be ready for the next one. And you are also in a learning and curious mode in the new roles that you take. Right? So I think that mindset allows you to explore and be courageous, not because you don’t think you’re going to fail at something, but even if you do, you’re going to get something out of it, and it just opens new doors.

Geoff

That’s a great point. They’ve seen failure as learning, or at least challenges as learning, as opposed to real failure.

Stuart

Over the last year, Steve, you’ve taken on a new role with an emphasis and focus on sustainability. Have these conversations helped you figure out your stance in the new role and what you’ve got to do?

Steve

For sure. And one of the things I take to heart is that while this podcast hasn’t necessarily been sustainability or equity focused, which is the scope of the work that I’m now responsible for. All of the leaders we’ve had are, I think, striving for a view of business leadership as not just serving shareholders, but serving all stakeholders in business, whether it’s the environment or the people of this planet and making sure that we have an equitable future. And for me, the learning I take away is sustainability is all about the ability to continue on doing what you’re doing without exploiting some resource that you’ve got for your advantage. And I think what we’re learning, or at least what I’m learning from all these leaders is there is a real pragmatic way to succeed both in business and in doing, quote unquote, good things for the planet and its people that are not at all in conflict. In fact, I would argue, the more that I see businesses uniquely focused on making money, particularly in the short term – the more that those businesses are ripe for disruption, are not curious about delighting customers, don’t attract great employees – I think that those are the businesses that are going to ultimately be challenged as the world goes through a major transition to become more sustainable, whether it’s in how we think about the planet or the planet’s population. So for me, I take a lot out of this podcast into that role because I think we have to challenge the orthodoxy that somehow that’s a side thing to leadership. And I think that actually we will be more successful at all of it by integrating it.

Stuart

This is a good opportunity, building on that, Steve, to think about what next? What does the future hold? This is our first episode of 2024. What’s your prediction for the coming year?

Steve

Yeah, maybe I’ll build on what I said and then I’ll let others go. So I’m going to kind of reframe your question slightly, Stuart, as opposed to making this a prediction, make it a hope. And my hope is that business leaders broadly see that taking a multi-stakeholder view is not at conflict with serving the standard view of serving shareholders well. In fact, it’s a compliment. And the organizations that do that are more likely to delight customers, to delight their people, to have positive influence around the world and be a provocateur and shape their surroundings. And so my hope is that more adopt that multi-stakeholder view into their strategy, how they operate their businesses, because I think that that holds great promise.

Stuart

Kulleni, what’s your hope?

Kulleni

My hope for this year is, as we talked about, we started the episode discussing wellbeing and resilience and the ability to really stay connected to purpose. So I think, you know, 2024 gives us a huge opportunity to not just understand, Steve, all the things that you just said around the sustainability and the stakeholder mentality, as opposed to just the shareholder mentality. But for the workforce that we have and for the workforce that we are, our investment in self-care, well-being actually builds resilience for the business and our families and our communities. And that there’s a way that businesses can really support that. So we talked about the gender gap in wages. There’s also a health gap based on gender, race, income, etc. So really that businesses can expand for a healthier workforce, which is going to lead to actually a healthier business.

Stuart

Geoff, peace, love, and understanding. What’s your hope?

Geoff

Well, that’s it. You just said it, Stuart. Well, so I’m not sure I can build out much more on what Steve and Kulleni have talked about here, but if I had to express it as a hope, it is that the world, its leaders actually apply what we’ve talked about on this podcast. And I’m not suggesting that we have a worldwide listenership here. I hope it’s at least decent enough that it affects some sort of change. But the reality is, and this is at the heart of a lot of what we’ve talked about for the last two years, we are living in a world of accelerating change and deepening uncertainty. That is a reality, whether you’re talking about technological uncertainty, geopolitical uncertainty, technological acceleration, whatever the case may be. And in those conditions, we can’t sit back and expect the world to work to our favor or to work to the rules that we’ve set before. Every single one of the provocateurs that we’ve had on this podcast, and I think the general learning that certainly I’ve taken away from it, is active engagement is the only way to succeed. And only if we can actually go try to, whether it’s achieving the things that we individually want to do or achieving the things that our companies want to do, actively engaging in a way that doesn’t presume that the old rules are going to stay for the future is the only way that we will succeed both individually and as organizations. And I’d say that probably is the idea that I’d love to see anyone listening to this and anyone beyond it start to apply as we go through 2024, because all of those conditions will only deepen as we go through the year and beyond.

Stuart

And we should say that Dambisa Moyo, who appeared in our second episode, I think a couple of years ago, has been elevated to the House of Lords in the UK. And that just shows the influence of the podcast. So she’s spreading the lessons in the UK, at least.

Geoff

I’m sure she gives credit to the Provocateurs podcast. 

Stuart

We made all the difference. Her career was lagging until we got involved. [All laugh] 

Des

So to some of the points that have been made earlier, just trying to link it back to some of the people we had on last year and looking forward. I think it was Jim Stangle that talked about when you look at the world through the purpose lens, when an organisation looks through the purpose lens, it’s a much wider lens. You’re not just looking at the money, you’re not just looking at, you know, creating shareholder value. It’s a better lens for an organisation to look at the world through. I think that’s true. You know, it’s the old thing of if you do the right things for the right reasons and you’re successful that the profits and the shareholder value will flow from that and beginning to understand that.
Another thing Sunny Bonnell said; the four most important words in language are, “I have an idea.” And my hope for this coming year is that anybody… That we are able, our organisations and our leaders get better at listening to people who say, “I have an idea.” And that people come forward and say, “I have an idea.” Whoever they are, wherever they are in the organisation, whatever their identity, what they look like, what they sound like. That would be my hope. That we get better. We sharpen up the listening superpower that leaders have.

Stuart

Thank you. We’re out of time.

Geoff

We don’t get to hear your hopes, Stuart?

Stuart

My prediction, I prefer a prediction. My prediction is that we will begin to see AI as an opportunity rather than a threat and that our entire outlook on technology will change over the next couple of years. So it will be seen in more positive light and we’ll begin to unearth the power of AI in the management and the professional spheres. And peace, love, and understanding, obviously.

Geoff

That’s a given!

Stuart

So that was a great wrap-up of our 2023 episodes with some extra insights and extra spice.

We look forward to some fantastically provocative conversations in 2024 with Kulleni on board. Thank you, Steve. Thank you, Kulleni. Thank you, Geoff. Thank you, Des. And thank you, everyone, for joining us.

This podcast is part of an ongoing series of interviews with executives. The executives’ participation in this podcast are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own. This podcast should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.

This podcast is part of an ongoing series of interviews with executives. The executives’ participation in this podcast are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own. This podcast should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.

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