Culture by Design is Now ---- The Leader Factor

Leadership is an Invitation

Have you ever thought about leadership as an invitation? If your goal is to improve and make a positive impact, then leadership will be an inevitable part of your journey. The job to be done, then, is to recognize and accept the invitations that come your way. These could be invitations to grow, help others, or even sometimes, to fail. Tim and Junior make one thing clear, choosing leadership over comfort and contentment is the ultimate call to adventure.

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Episode Show Notes

Have you ever thought about leadership as an invitation? If your goal is to improve and make a positive impact, then leadership will be an inevitable part of your journey. The job to be done, then, is to recognize and accept the invitations that come your way. These could be invitations to grow, help others, or even sometimes, to fail. Tim and Junior make one thing clear, choosing leadership over comfort and contentment is the ultimate call to adventure.

  • Leadership is about healthy influence and is not dependent on positional power.
  • Leadership is an invitation that is inevitable if one's aim is to become better and make a positive impact.
  • Declining leadership invitations can lead to missed opportunities for growth and influence.
  • Subject matter expertise and leadership are not mutually exclusive; both can be developed and leveraged together.
  • Imposter syndrome should not prevent one from accepting leadership invitations.
  • Accepting leadership invitations helps avoid stagnation and apathy. Rejecting leadership invitations can lead to long-term consequences and a cycle of apathy and helplessness.
  • Literature teaches us about the human condition and the importance of striving for something greater than food, drink, and contentment.
  • The law of least effort and human biases can influence our decision-making and lead to inertia and mediocrity.
  • Accepting leadership invitations requires a balance between self-interest and altruism.
  • Successful failures, where we learn and grow from failed outcomes, are an important part of accepting leadership invitations.
  • Choosing leadership over comfort and contentment is the ultimate call to adventure.


(00:00) Introduction
(00:44) Defining Leadership
(04:11 )Leadership as an Invitation
(05:11) Leadership as the Inevitable End
(06:26) Personal Examples of Leadership Invitations
(11:42) Consequences of Declining Leadership Invitations
(14:22) The Temptation to Decline Leadership Invitations
(20:15) Imposter Syndrome and Leadership
(22:42) Avoiding Stagnation and Apathy
(24:18) The Consequences of Rejecting Leadership Invitations
(28:03) The Law of Least Effort and Human Biases
(30:46) The Negative Implications of Contentment
(36:06) Accepting Leadership Invitations: Recognize, Say Yes, and Try
(41:01) Successful Failures: Learning and Growing from Failed Outcomes
(47:31) Choosing Leadership Over Comfort and Contentment

Episode Transcript


0:00:02.4 Jillian: Welcome back, Culture by Design listeners. It's Jillian, one of the producers of the podcast. Have you ever thought about leadership as an invitation, if your goal in life is to become better and make a positive impact, then leadership will be an inevitable part of your journey, the job to be done then is to recognize and accept the invitations that come your way, these could be invitations to grow, help others, or even sometimes to fail. Tim and Junior make one thing clear, choosing leadership over comfort and contentment is the ultimate call to adventure. As always, transcripts show notes and important links mentioned in the episode can be found at Thanks for listening and enjoyed today's episode on leadership as an invitation.

0:00:52.8 Junior: Welcome back, everyone to culture by design. I'm Junior here with my co-host, Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing why leadership is an invitation. Tim, how you doing?

0:01:02.9 Tim: Fantastic. Fantastic.

0:01:04.7 Junior: Me too.

0:01:05.3 Tim: It's gonna be a good episode.

0:01:06.3 Junior: I'm excited for this one, here's what we think, the invitation to leadership is inevitable, it will come, you have no choice in whether or not it shows up, your only choice will be to say no or to say yes, and our hope today is to explain why you should say yes. And why you have to say yes, if what you want is satisfaction, fulfillment, progress, both personally and professionally. We wanna frame leadership in a way that's motivational and encouraging yet realistic, and so we want you to take away some practical things to go and do coming out of the conversation that we're gonna have today, and that's an invitation to you, it's an invitation to us. So let's get into the set up.

0:01:49.2 Tim: We're gonna try to twist your arm a little bit, right, Junior.

0:01:51.8 Junior: A little bit.

0:01:52.5 Tim: Persuade you.

0:01:53.8 Junior: Yeah, what do we mean when we say leadership? We mean healthy influence, constructive influence, interacting with other people with an aim to build a competitive organization and to build them the people. I love definitions. I looked at Webster's definition, and one of them for leadership was to guide on a way, especially by going in advance. I thought that that was particularly interesting, another one was to serve as a channel for. There were a bunch of variations of leadership definitions that I thought were pretty interesting, so Tim, what's your take? How would you define leadership or anything that we should call out or notice as we approach the topic?

0:02:35.9 Tim: I think those are good. A couple of things come to mind, Junior. I think it's about taking action, I think that has to be a part of any definition, you have to take action, you have to initiate action, and then the other thing. I think you have to take accountability. So I think you take action and you take accountability to make things better, so in a broad sense, I think those are some elements that have to be included in a broad definition of leadership, take action, take accountability, and then make things better, make something happen. Create positive impact. That's what comes to mind for me.

0:03:17.9 Junior: And you'll notice that in the definitions that we accept the definitions that we put forward, they don't have to do with positional power, and so we mean leadership relative to the three domains, lead self, lead team and lead the business. It's not about a title, right?

0:03:34.8 Tim: It's not about title. In fact, as you say that the way we would describe leadership, it's divorced from title or position or authority, we're talking about a set of values and behaviors that a person applies to the three domains of leadership to lead yourself, lead the team and lead an organization. So as I've said before, title, position and authority, no more make you a leader than a black turtle neck makes you the CEO of a tech company. I gotta bring that back. Those are artifacts.

0:04:09.2 Junior: Maybe I'll wear a turtle neck next episode.

0:04:11.5 Tim: So that's what we think.

0:04:13.0 Junior: So how do you become a leader? What's the pattern? That's what we're going to talk about today. Leadership as an invitation. And one of the things I was thinking about in preparation for the episode is thinking about the leaders that I know, and I would encourage each of you think about the leaders you know, how do they become leaders, what happened from the time that they weren't a leader? To the time that they were a leader, as I thought about it, most didn't start out day one, as far as I know, and say, I want to be a leader. That's my aspiration. And so what came to mind was that leadership for most people is not something that you pursue, rather it's this inevitable, this pending this ongoing invitation that you either accept or decline, so it will come towards you, you don't go seek it. Now, there's a distinction there that I think is worth talking through, it's something that will knock on your door that you will either have to keep out or let in. I was thinking about different tracks, thinking about fighter pilots, leadership is not like becoming a fighter pilot in that it's not a unique role, available to only a few that requires a very specific path that you must seek out and go down, leadership instead is available to everyone.

0:05:29.3 Junior: All you have to do is say yes. Now, that's easier said than done. All you have to do say, yes, there's a lot in there. They're will unpack today. But another thing that dawned on me is that leadership is the inevitable end, if your aim is to become better.

0:05:43.2 Tim: Yeah, I would say for you to become better, and also if you have an ambition or motivation to make others better or to make things better, so as you say Junior, I think leadership is not a direct ambition. It's actually a by-product. You're becoming a leader is a by-product of your motivation to make yourself better, to make others better, to make conditions better, to make the world better. That's your ambition. And so it's an indirect consequence of that motivation.

0:06:15.5 Junior: Absolutely true. I'm glad you added that. So there's really no path to exceptional performance or healthy influence that doesn't involve leadership, you can't have that, and the invitation won't come just one time, I think about my experience, I think about others experience. And will come over and over and over again. Forever, it's an invitation that will almost never go away. So Tim I'm interested to know, have there been times or can you give me an example or two of times where leadership has knocked on your door, times where you've experienced an invitation yourself?

0:06:55.9 Tim: I think we get hundreds and thousands of invitations, to be honest, I really do, and I don't think there's anyone that's exempt from that pattern, I think they just come. There's a constant flow stream of leadership invitations. Well, I was thinking about this, and I just thought of a couple of examples from... Well, the first one is from childhood. I think I was 10 years old. I'm in fifth grade and my teacher Miss Euler, she got up one day and she said, "There's an opportunity to participate in the March of Dimes." I had never heard of that, but it's a non-profit that helps babies and mothers. And she said, "You can sign up, and then what you do is you go around and you get people to pledge money for every mile that you walk. That's the March, the March of Dimes." And so I just said to myself without talking to anyone, I'd like to do that, I just had a conversation with myself. And so I signed up and I went around, I took my piece of paper in a roster template they give you, and I went around and got people to sign up to pledge like a nickel or a dime or a quarter per mile.

0:08:13.5 Tim: And so when you do the March of Dimes, you walk 20 miles. If you can make it.

0:08:19.2 Junior: 20 miles?

0:08:20.0 Tim: 20 miles.

0:08:21.2 Junior: You did 20 miles at 10 years old?

0:08:22.9 Tim: 20 miles. So I still remember signing up, and I got a lot of people to sign up for me, and then I went and walked the 20 miles, and I still remember my mom dropped me off, and I still remember going into a convenience store like halfway through because I was really tired and thirsty, getting something to drink and getting a snack, but I was all by myself, no one was walking with me, I was just walking, but there were other people, alright. There was a big group of people doing it, but I wasn't with anyone I was just on my own. When I walked at 20 miles and I collected all of the money, and I gave it to Mrs. Euler and said, "This is what I did and I just did it because I thought that would be a good thing." It's kind of interesting.

0:09:11.8 Junior: I give you more than 25 cents if you were 10 and showed up to my door walk 20 miles holy smokes.

0:09:18.0 Tim: Oh yeah, well, beforehand, I had to go knock on people's doors and get them to pledge alright money per mile. But it was a great experience for me, and it goes back to the definition that I gave. Take action, take accountability to make something better. Now, that was one example where there was this opportunity, but I had to accept it or decline it. So that's an example. Another example, it comes to mind is, when I was in junior high, I took a cooking class, used to call it home economics class, and you go in there and cook and these little kitchen stalls, and I remember the teacher came to me one day and she said, "Tim, we have a very disabled student, but she'd like to participate and I would like her to work with you and your team." I still remember that, and I said, "Yeah." And I felt honored, I felt that she had placed her trust in me to do that, to try to create a good experience for a disadvantaged student, and we did, and we had a great experience. So in this case, the leadership opportunity, it was a request, it was not just an opportunity but someone came and said, "Hey, would you do this" Again, you have a choice, there's always a choice.

0:10:39.6 Tim: Sometimes you can go seek out something, but sometimes the opportunities come to you, sometimes they're trusted upon you, but you still have a choice, so there are a couple of examples there for you Junior.

0:10:52.1 Junior: Wow. That's amazing. I'm still thinking about the 20 miles at 10 years old. That's amazing. What do you think that was that spark at 10 when you're presented with this opportunity to do that. Where do you think that came from?

0:11:07.0 Tim: Yeah, as we said before, Junior, there's no motivation that says, Oh, I want to become a leader. No, no, that's not the way you think about it. The motivation is, Oh, I could participate in this, I could be a part of this and do something good, and you're motivated to make a contribution to have an impact, and then the invitation comes as a by-product of that process as you develop capability, as you educate your desires, as you refine your intent, you're becoming more capable, you're becoming a different person, but it all goes back to your choice, but the invitations come by the hundreds and thousands in life, I think.

0:11:50.8 Junior: Did your parents give you invitations when you were little, because this just doesn't come out of nowhere, and I wanna press on this for a second, 10 years old. This is interesting to me. I come from somewhere, just people around you that would sign up and do stuff or volunteer. Was that part of life?

0:12:07.2 Tim: That was a new thing where we were in San Jose, California, just walking around for 20 miles. I don't know, it was all new to me, but I think maybe it was Mrs. Euler, my fifth grade teacher, who inspired me. She was a great woman. She was an incredible teacher. I think maybe she gets some credit because she framed it and presented it as an exciting invitation and opportunity.

0:12:35.7 Junior: Very cool. Well, maybe we can be a Mrs. Euler to somebody today.

0:12:39.1 Tim: Yeah exactly.

0:12:39.4 Junior: We extend our invitation. So here's where it gets a little bit complicated. These invitations will come, but you don't have to say yes, you can also say no, and the invitation to become a leader, although it may not appear as exactly that explicit, is an invitation to difficulty. There are some disincentives. There's an opportunity to walk 20 miles. That's not a pleasant thing. It's tempting to decline the invitation and stay where you are, where you are might seem stable, safe, good enough. But if you decline, there are also consequences that you don't get to choose, so there are consequences for saying yes, there are consequences for saying no. And there is no neutral. Right?

0:13:29.0 Tim: I think so. And as I said, Junior, many of these invitations, they seem almost more than invitations because they knock on your door. Imitation is knocking on your door. They straight up ask you to get involved and do something, other invitations are simply out there, they don't make demands, they don't knock on your door, they don't even request anything, there are simply needs and opportunities that reveal themselves, and you happen to notice that's very different than an opportunity or an invitation that knocks on your door, you're going to get all kinds.

0:14:04.5 Junior: Yeah, so if you don't answer the call to leadership, if you don't answer knock on your door, you also don't answer the ones that are just out there, what will happen? What will happen if you don't answer, it's not nothing. You can't say that nothing will happen, something will happen, it could be stalled career growth that could happen, limited skill development, negative perception. I was thinking about this one just in terms of team, if you can't say yes to even formal invitations, people will stop asking.

0:14:38.3 Tim: That's a big deal Junior people stop asking.

0:14:42.1 Junior: That's dangerous.

0:14:44.1 Tim: You don't make yourself available, so even if you're capable and you don't make yourself available, then people stop asking, they just cancel you how they take you off the list.

0:14:56.1 Junior: And there may be an opportunity that would be really good for you, right, or really good for other people or the organization, but you may not be on the list, if you've declined enough times, there will be missed opportunities to influence and a whole bunch of other things.

0:15:14.5 Tim: Yeah, a missed opportunity, a mis-chance to influence is also for you personally, a mis-chance to learn and grow and develop, and so if you keep declining, there's a general degradation in your capability, ability, motivation, all of those things are not static. This is not equilibrium. So it comes down to the way you choose to allocate your scarce resources whenever you accept a leadership opportunity, you're trading some time and some energy and some attention to do that or not. That's what we're talking about.

0:15:52.0 Junior: There are two response patterns that I've seen that are nos, we could call them nos to the leadership invitation, and one of those patterns is that people will say, "Well, I'm just gonna stay in my lane and be a subject matter expert." Ever heard that?

0:16:09.0 Tim: Yeah.

0:16:09.2 Junior: I'm just gonna stay here. I'm gonna lean into what I know, I'm gonna stay in my lane, I'm gonna keep to myself, and I'm just gonna dive a little deeper, but also, have you ever met an expert who seemed to have disproportionately little influence. I've met a lot of these people.

0:16:26.3 Tim: Yeah.

0:16:27.0 Junior: They never learned how to interact effectively with other people. So what happens if you say no to a leadership invitation in an effort to just be a subject matter expert, ironically or perhaps not, you're not going to have influence at the end of the day, and your expertise will only have a radius of influence so wide.

0:16:49.2 Tim: Yeah.

0:16:50.0 Junior: The expertise can only influence if you have influence.

0:16:54.6 Tim: That's a good point. So even if you're the world's greatest expert in your domain, you have to be able to deliver that expertise by interacting with others effectively, it's kind of your blast radius is first.

0:17:10.7 Junior: Exactly, no, I love that idea. And here's another question, or subject matter expertise and leadership mutually exclusive. In other words, if you abdicate your role as a leader, does that make you a better expert? No. And vice versa, if all of a sudden you say, Well, I would like to be a leader, does that mean that you need to have less expertise. No, do both. If you were a subject matter expert, would you not be better if you had leadership capacity? Yes, you would. So let's go after that.

0:17:48.6 Tim: Yeah, I think you have to say yes, junior, because if you're interacting with others through that interaction, through that collaboration, through the input and the feedback that you get from others, you're benefiting from that, you're being enriched from that, you're considering different opinions, options, points of view, attitudes that's going to have an impact on you, and that's going to accelerate your own knowledge and skills.

0:18:16.5 Junior: Yeah, well, here's another source of declined leadership invitations, impostor syndrome. This one I've heard many times before. Well, that's not me, I'm not there yet. I would feel like an impostor if I said yes to this opportunity, and the point that I would make her is that anything you can do now you couldn't do at some point, so when you accept a challenge or a new opportunity, the thing that makes it a challenge or an opportunity is the distance between where you are today and where you need to be in order to accomplish the thing. So it's necessary. Leadership invitations will ask more of you than you are necessarily otherwise, they wouldn't be meaningful. Otherwise, it would just be another thing. So before you walked 20 miles, you hadn't walked 20 miles, and after you walk 20 miles, you had done that, you couldn't before, then you could. And you stacked more evidence that, Hey, I can do things that are outside of my comfort zone, and as you start stacking those chips from 10 years old and maybe earlier, you start to believe that, okay, this next thing that's slightly out of reach, I could probably do it, because I've done it 1007 other times. Right?

0:19:28.2 Tim: That's right.

0:19:29.3 Junior: So I think that this one's important.

0:19:30.7 Tim: Yeah. There's always going, well, there should be stretch in a leadership opportunity. You should look at it and say, mm-hmm, I don't know that I'm equal to that. There's gonna be a gap in capability, maybe a knowledge or skill or whatever the requirements are.

0:19:45.7 Junior: Or time gap.

0:19:46.6 Tim: That's normal.

0:19:47.9 Junior: It's not just skill. It could be some resource. It could be time. It could be energy, right? Where, yeah we know we're skilled enough to do it, but we would rather sit here. And you can't say yes to everything, right?

0:20:00.0 Tim: No.

0:20:00.1 Junior: But there are many things that we can, that we don't. If you always shied away from challenge, if you always ponded off on imposter syndrome, you never would've learned to walk. Everything that you've ever learned how to do, you couldn't do at some point. And to me, that's really fascinating. At some point, many of us say, well, that's enough, and that's good. We've learned enough, we've had enough opportunity. We'll just kind of call it, and we'll coast from here, and we'll move into a cycle of apathy, which we're gonna talk more about. But to me, that's really interesting. So those two patterns, subject matter, expert, imposter syndrome, not excuses. So let's talk about some of what we avoid when we do answer the call positively. When we say, yes, we wanna become a little bit more, we wanna become better. We wanna become better leaders. What do you avoid?

0:20:47.0 Junior: Two things that come to mind, stagnation and apathy. Now, these are kind of the first order, maybe even second order consequences that we avoid, but these can devolve into some long-term, unintended consequences that are pernicious. They're really dangerous, they're very negative, and they can have really bad outcomes. So if you answer the call to become a leader, you avoid stagnation and apathy. These are first, maybe second order consequences that can often devolve into things that are more pernicious, even more negative. And really damaging. And a lot of it has to do, I think, with compounding. What do you think?

0:21:24.6 Tim: Yeah, it does Junior. It goes back to the compounding principle. If you say yes to leadership invitations, those efforts compound over time and you become a different person. And almost imperceptibly, you increase in character and competence. But on the other hand, if you say no repeatedly to leadership invitations, you stagnate and often become apathetic. So when you say no, today, you don't see the long-term consequences. You simply don't want to trade effort or inconvenience for comfort and contentment. You don't wanna make that trade. You're thinking short term, and you're just saying, no, I don't wanna do that right now. You're not thinking about the long-term implications. I want to give an example, Junior. This is one of my favorite examples. So John Steinbeck, a great author. We love John Steinbeck, grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men. But he wrote a book called Cannery Row. And Cannery Row is set in Monterey Bay, where they used to have the big sardine canneries, decades ago. And it's set there, and it's about this group of people. And it is a pathetic story.

0:22:38.7 Junior: I was gonna say, depressing [chuckle]

0:22:39.7 Tim: It's depressing. By the time you finish the book, you're sad, you're depressed, and you're thinking, man, life's gotta be better than this. And there's the most devastating line in the entire book, in my opinion, is when he talks about this main cast of characters, this group of men, that they're not doing much. And he says, they have no higher ambition than food, drink, and contentment.

0:23:09.8 Junior: Ow.

0:23:14.9 Tim: It's devastating. That line summarizes the book. And I have to say that literature teaches us so much about the human condition. And this is what I've learned in reading great literature and understanding leadership. Often, the piece of literature will teach us what is good, what is true, what is beautiful, what the Greeks called the three transcendentals. And that's the highest ambition for a piece of literature to teach us what is good, what is true, what is beautiful. But if you can't do that and you don't know how to do that, then there's a secondary purpose that's also worthwhile. And that is to show us the wretchedness of the human condition. And that's exactly what Steinbeck does in Cannery Row, because this little group, this little cast of characters, they just can't get it going. And inertia rules their life. And so they have no higher ambition than food drink and contentment. I'll never forget reading that and just being blown away by that.

0:24:21.2 Junior: That's interesting to me because you say blown away, you just look at this sentence and all it is food drink contentment. To me, contentment implies stasis. It doesn't imply something that's terribly negative. It seems flat.

0:24:42.4 Tim: Yeah.

0:24:42.9 Junior: So if that's true, then why does it catch your attention so much? What is it that's negative about contentment? Is it actively negative? Is it just absent something?

0:24:48.3 Tim: Yes. Because to say no higher ambition than food drink and contentment is another way of saying failure. You failed. Like, that's it. That's all you wanted out of life? That was your chief impulse. That was the great vaulted ambition of your life? Are you kidding me? I can't even begin to describe how I felt when I read that line. Now let me bring in another corollary principle. Daniel Kahneman social psychologist won the Nobel Prize in economics for discovering what? A whole series of human biases, right? And here's what he said. He said, a general law of least effort applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will generally gravitate to the least demanding course of action. Does that sound like these folks in Cannery Row wrote? Yeah.

0:25:51.9 Junior: You bet.

0:25:53.2 Tim: He goes on, in the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness, he says, is built deep into our nature. Wow. I hope we're paying attention to what he's saying here, because he's giving the social psychological explanation for what those people, what those characters in Cannery Row were doing and why they were doing it.

0:26:28.7 Junior: They're letting the nature take over.

0:26:30.4 Tim: Yeah.

0:26:32.3 Junior: The chief impulse was contentment. We're gonna get there through the least demanding course of action?

0:26:38.2 Tim: Yeah.

0:26:39.2 Junior: If you allow that to govern your behavior for too long, there's a problem. That's why we're talking about this. The contentment piece that to some degree implies stasis is actually negative because there is no such thing as stasis. There's really no plateau, right?

0:26:57.6 Tim: Yeah, that's right. There's regression, Junior. It's regression.

0:27:00.5 Junior: That's the principle that I think is so important to pull out here, which is that, you don't say no to a leadership invitation and stay in the same place. It's not just an opportunity to go higher that you're neglecting or passing up. It's an active movement of regression. When you say no, you do not stay in the same place. You move backwards. You devolve. You regress.

0:27:26.1 Tim: So I think Junior, the reason that line by Steinbeck hit me so hard, is that, it was a thunderbolt. Because what he's saying is you're exercising gross negligence for your own life. That's it. You need to go find something within yourself to be able to direct effort outside of yourself. That's what you need to do. And that's what Steinbeck was saying to me, and I was listening, so that really got my attention. Let me ask a related question that I think we need to think about, and I guess it's a trick question in accepting leadership invitations which come continuously in life. Should we be motivated by self-interest or altruism? Trick question. The answer is yes. Yes to both. It's not wrong to have self-interest. But it's the way that you value others in that equation that matters. It's the way that you regard your brothers and sisters that matters.

0:28:24.5 Tim: If you see them as a means, you'll likely exploit them. That's wrong. On the other hand, though, we sometimes get extreme with our conceptions of servant leadership in the idea, that we should never entertain any thought of benefit or reward for ourselves. That we operate with some kind of pure and unadulterated altruism. This is also irresponsible. We're not here to be martyrs. We're here to be contributors. So let's get a balanced, informed, intelligent view of what leadership is all about and the way that we should be responding to these leadership invitations, as they present themselves in our lives. That's what I think.

0:29:10.4 Junior: Well, I agree with you. The reason I agree, let's say that you answer that question a certain way. You said that leadership invitations, your acceptance of them should be motivated exclusively by self-interest. Okay? You take that path, where does it end? Not in a healthy place. It's pathological. And then you also take the other, what if the acceptance of leadership invitations was motivated exclusively by altruism? Where does that end, pathology [laughter] And so that's not mysterious. If you take those paths for long enough, you can see that it's problematic. And so responsibly, balancing the motivation is something we all have to be concerned with.

0:29:52.5 Tim: Yeah.

0:29:53.9 Junior: So let's take it another level. If stagnation and apathy are first, maybe second order consequences of declining an invitation, where do we end if we do that long enough? I'm gonna use a more emotional word, which is misery. This is a word that you've used. What's misery? That's an emotional word. It's distress. It's agony, it's anguish. It's gloom. It's pretty dark. There's not a lot of light going on in misery.

0:30:24.4 Tim: It's regret.

0:30:25.1 Junior: It's regret. Certainly regret. Mediocrity, right? That one's a little less emotional. But what does that mean? Average, usual. But it is worse than that. It is pejorative. If you're not average, you're not great. If you're usual, you're not exceptional. And I think that our aspiration should be to be those things. So mediocrity, misery are the default ending to rejected leadership invitations. You do that long enough. I think that's where you went.

0:30:50.9 Tim: Well, I love the way that you frame that out Junior. They may not be first order consequences. In fact, they probably won't be.

0:30:57.6 Junior: Yeah, they probably won't be. They almost inevitably won't be.

0:31:00.7 Tim: Yeah. Because for a long time you may be just loving the food and the drink and the contentment, and you're looking around and you're saying, eh, life's pretty good. What is there to worry about? [laughter] There's food drinking contentment. I'm in good shape. Yeah. Keep going. Keep going and see what happens. How about second order consequences? How about third order consequences? So I like the way that you've laid out the cause and effect chain here.

0:31:28.7 Junior: Well, where have we been so far? Well, we've talked about the fact that leadership is an invitation. Those invitations will come. We've talked about the fact that you can decline those invitations. And what we think will happen if you do, and now we're gonna talk about why we think you should accept the invitation. So, why? Why should you accept the invitation to leadership? It's acceptance of the invitation to use your gifts, your talents, your resources in pursuit of something worthwhile. The world is better because you did something and your life is better because you did something. So you have this external, this positive externality. And I don't even know that it's an externality. It's our main aim. But you're trying to make the environment better. And by so doing, you make yourself better. And those two things are mutually reinforcing. As you become better, you have more influence.

0:32:16.5 Junior: You can influence the environment. You have bigger opportunities, which will in turn stretch you and make you better, and so on and so forth. And one of the things that I think is particularly interesting about leadership invitations, is that many of them are in the service of others. Now, we're balancing self-interest and altruism. But most of these opportunities pass a certain level, especially when your contribution is indirect, is in the service of others. It's healthy influence. And why is anything but leadership not the solution? Because it's about self. So anything that's just about you for long enough won't end well. I'm convinced of that. What do you think?

0:32:52.7 Tim: I think you're right. It leads to an egocentric, selfish, closed, insulated, ethnocentric view of the world and view of yourself. I think you become insulated and isolated. And I think you become small. That's what I think.

0:33:12.0 Junior: There's something to this idea of sacrifice. The fact that leadership is sacrificial. I'm giving up something for me today. The food, the drink, the contentment may be, in order to get something better later and often to get something for someone else is important. The fact that leadership is sacrificial is important. So here's the sequence. We use plain terms. Here's what we think you should do. Recognize the invitation. Say yes, and try. Those are the three steps. They're not very sophisticated. Recognize the invitation. Say yes. And try. So that recognize the invitation piece. I think it's important because those invitations will come in different forms. Could be a moral dilemma, could be a direct request for help. Could be an opportunity that only you can see. That's going to require some initiative. They will come in all shapes and sizes all the time. And if you look back over the last seven days, you probably have a dozen examples of leadership invitations.

0:34:12.0 Junior: And they could take those forms. They could be something different, but something that is going to require some initiative, some action, something more of you, a little bit of a sacrifice and pursuit of achievement or influence. So recognize those. And then say yes. Be explicit to yourself about the fact that you've identified the opportunity. And you're gonna say yes. You can literally do that. Okay, self here is a leadership invitation. I'm gonna recognize it for what it is. I'm gonna say yes. And then the final one, try. Try. That's all. Go do your best. There's something about just willingness that's important here, right?

0:34:53.6 Tim: Oh man. So important. And Junior, I appreciate you pointing out the sacrificial nature of leadership. That's a big part of it. At first, accepting leadership invitations is all about being willing. I think that's the most important thing. Willing to do what? Willing to put forth effort, willing to exert yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, whatever it is. It's about a willingness to offer some exertion. Here's what's interesting. Those who are willing eventually become able, you may not be willing and able at the start. You may only be willing, but if you keep at it, you will become both willing and able over time. I love that. That's what happens. That's the inevitable end if you continue on with that pattern.

0:35:44.3 Tim: And then I wanna say one other thing that's related, and that is, let's talk about successful failures. When it comes to accepting leadership invitations, you may accept an invitation, you may make an effort and yet fail. In other words, you didn't get the results you wanted. But here's the important part. Despite a failed outcome, there is often success. You learned, you grew, you developed, along the way. You gained a personal victory, you learned better how to lead yourself. So you may have not achieved the stated outcomes, the ambition that you had, what you wanted to accomplish, you didn't get there. But it's still successful. It's a successful failure. Does that resonate with you, Junior? Can you think of a successful failure that you've had?

0:36:37.9 Junior: Yeah, just one.

0:36:39.2 Tim: Just one?

0:36:39.6 Junior: It takes me about four seconds to come up with three dozen. So many. I think on the product side of things, some may know I'm involved with some of the product at Leader Factor, and we've done some stupid things.

0:36:52.9 Tim: Have we?

0:36:55.2 Junior: Oh, you know. Some may call stupid.

0:36:55.3 Tim: We make mistakes.

0:36:56.4 Junior: We make mistakes. That's certainly true. There have been, small little features that we thought would be really well received right by customers or they'd be excited about. And some of 'em were just completely neutral. Some of 'em were actively negative. Like, ah, that just makes it worse. Okay. Well, we were pretty confident or persona expectations. We expect this group to behave a certain way or team. There are so many. There's one that I remember that was especially poignant, partly because it was painful, but I think it was successful after the fact. I used to lead an engineering team that managed a bunch of remote campuses across four different continents. And there was a big call that was going to happen. There was a software release that we were pushing to all of these campuses and someone had to lead the call. And it was a multilingual call.

0:37:44.2 Junior: And so we had a bunch of English speakers, a bunch of Spanish speakers, and someone said, can someone lead this call? And I raised my hand before my brain could register that I raised my hand. And they're like, oh, that's great. Before I had a chance to say, actually forget that I raised my hand. And what followed was pretty interesting because it was a really technical call with a bunch of people on the line, international call. So the service isn't awesome, it's kind of choppy. You're a little bit in and out, and you're trying to coordinate this big software push. And I just did not keep a handle on the call. And it kind of devolved and did not get the alignment that we needed. I didn't go in with an agenda the way that I should have. I didn't go in with requirements the way that I should have.

0:38:42.4 Junior: I did not properly prepare for the language barrier between the stakeholders on the call. So I'm playing middleman in this call. I'm sweating bullets in this call, just like, what did I get myself into? This was stupid. And we get off the call and it wasn't an absolute disaster, but it was for me in that it absolutely felt like a swing and a miss. It felt like three swings and three misses. Like I just struck out. And I get a walk back in shame. And yet I learned so much about what had to happen on the next call. Okay. That one didn't go well. Why? Well, you didn't have the agenda. You underestimated this, this, and this. You could have prepared doing this, this, and this. And so the next time that opportunity came, I raised my hand again. But this time went in with different preparation.

0:39:37.0 Junior: And so to your point, the first time I was willing, not able. The second time I was willing and able, but I would not have been able to become able if I didn't volunteer the first time.

0:39:52.4 Tim: Yeah. Say yes.

0:39:52.8 Junior: And so there's this element of willingness in saying yes and being willing to fail and make mistakes and then do it again. That's really important. So, have I had successful failures? Yeah. That's my life. Like you fail your way and learn. To get to where you are. And you'll continue doing that forever. So I think that if you ask me this question in 10, 20 years, I'll have the same answer with a bunch more examples right?

0:40:23.4 Tim: Right. But what initiated the whole thing is that you said yes.

0:40:28.3 Junior: Yeah, yeah.

0:40:28.7 Tim: You had to say yes, you had to go for it.

0:40:29.4 Junior: Yeah. Just like you signed up for the March of Dimes. And there have been times, and this is important to call out, at least for me, where I've said no, where I've rejected the leadership invitation. And I said, what? Nope, we're content enough for now you got enough going on, or for whatever reason, you might be scared of the outcome. There have been times where that leadership invitation has been right in front of my face and I did not raise my hand. And I think that there are things times that we all can point to where we shied away from that. We will all have examples.

0:41:05.1 Tim: Yeah, we do.

0:41:06.3 Junior: No one says yes every single time.

0:41:08.5 Tim: Oh we do.

0:41:10.2 Junior: And so that's important to acknowledge we're all human. But what's your ratio? Like? Where do you tend, do you tend towards saying yes and stretching and going to that next level? Or do you tend to shy away? Because if it's over 50% yes, then we're gonna have some movement. Right? We'll start making some progress. If it's not, we might end up in a place that we don't want to be.

0:41:34.0 Tim: That's right.

0:41:34.0 Junior: Sorry for the monologue, but that's the answer to your question. Yes. I've had examples.

0:41:39.6 Tim: That's a great example. Thank you.

0:41:43.5 Junior: Yeah. Well everyone, thanks for listening. I'm taking a bit away from this conversation. There's definitely food for thought. Leadership is an invitation. It's inevitable. It will come to everyone listening. And the way you respond to that invitation will dictate the trajectory of your life and career. If you say no enough times, you'll move into a cycle of apathy, helplessness, and eventual, in my opinion, professional obsolescence. You say yes enough times and you'll have an adventure in which you'll gain skills, confidence, opportunity, and the ability to influence others to achieve meaningful things. So Tim, as we wrap up, what's on your mind? Any final thoughts?

0:42:19.4 Tim: Choose leadership over food, drink, and contentment. It's the ultimate call to adventure.

0:42:29.7 Junior: Love that. It's a new bumper sticker for you. I think it's a good one. Well, thank you everyone for your time, your attention. We appreciate your listenership very much. Thank you for all that you do. We're here to support you. If you like today's episode, please leave us a like a review and share with a friend. We will see you next episode. Bye-Bye.

0:42:54.5 Junior: Hey, culture by Design listeners, this is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode And if you've found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about Leader Factor and what we do, then please visit us Lastly, if you'd like to give any feedback to the Culture by Design podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior, then reach out to us at or find and tag us on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design, not by default.

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Episode Transcript

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