EP 71 Why Developing Leadership Skills are Important

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Why Developing Leadership Skills are Important

You’ve got to change the balance. And what I mean by this is, they’re looking at the status quo– let’s talk a situation where people have to evacuate, right? And there’s a fire coming, or, “Hey, there’s lava. Like, real lava down the street, and you need to leave. Can you see the lava?” And it’s like, “It’s really slow, I’ll just hang out here,” right? What you have to do is you have to change that pain equation for them, I think. Then again, this isn’t leading through fear, this is helping them understand what the other side of the coin is.


[TODD DEVOE] Hi, and welcome to EM Weekly, this is your host, Todd DeVoe speaking. This week, we talked to Mike Figliuolo about leadership. And Mike has been around the leadership industry for a long time, including his time on West Point, which we get into a little bit, and he has written a few books on the subject as well, plus all the teaching that he’s doing on Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learn.

The reason why we talk about leadership here is, as EM’s, we need to be strong leaders, and not only in the industry and in our field, but also, we need to be strong leaders in the community. I just finished this book called, “The Leading Brain,” and it’s by Friederike Fabritius. We will be talking to her later on, in the next couple of weeks, about her book, and I’m excited about that as well. The reason I bring this up right now is Mike, in this conversation that we had, and in his teachings, really brings home the research, that neurological research about leadership, about what it really means to lead, that’s in The Leading Brain, that book. I just want you to kind of think about that as you listen to Mike talk about what leadership is, because the principles are sound.

This week in Ask Todd, Geoffrey, from Cartridge, Tennessee, asked about the disaster recovery process and when it starts. Well, Geoffrey, if you’re not thinking about recovery right now for your jurisdiction, you are way behind the eight-ball. You need to be thinking about recovery in blue sky times, that is, today. The plan here that you’re going to put together is when you get your stakeholders and figure out what that recovery is going to feel like, where things may go. You know, things like that. And I really want to borrow this from General Eisenhower, and I said this before, but I think in this case here, it really makes sense. It’s not the plan that counts, it’s the planning process that matters. That’s what it’s about here, it’s about going into the process, looking at what areas are vulnerable. So you do a hazard mitigation portion of it, you’re looking at your response plans, and then you need to look at your recovery plans, and it’s all on that cycle that we talk about all the time in emergency management, it never ends. So again, Geoffrey, think about recovery during blue sky times, and when you really need it, you’ll be there.

If you want to see some sample plans, go to forums.emweekly.com, and click on the planning section, and there are a few plans that people put in that area. So, looking forward to seeing you over there, Geoffrey, I do appreciate the question. Now, let’s talk to Mike.

Hi, and welcome to EM Weekly, this is your host, Todd DeVoe speaking. And today, I have Mike Figliuolo with us. And he has done a lot of courses, about 25 of them, on the LinkedIn Learn or Lynda.com, which I’ve actually used both of them. They’re basically the same thing, and it’s a really– if you guys have never used Lynda or LinkedIn Learn, I really recommend, there are a lot of good courses on there. But we’re here to talk to Mike about leadership. So Mike, welcome to EM Weekly.

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Great, thanks very much for having me.

[TODD DEVOE] So, Mike, how did you get involved in the concepts of leadership and the stuff that you’re doing with your teaching?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Yeah, so it goes way back to, I guess, my college days. I went to Westpoint, and if you want to talk about learning leadership anywhere, that’s a pretty darn good place to start. And after the academy, I was tank platoon leader for a few years, also taught ROTC at Duke University for a little while. So that was really the people leadership piece. Then, after the army, I went into consulting with McKinsey and Company, and that really helped me learn how to lead the thinking, how to lead clients, how to make recommendations.

And then ever since my consulting days, I really applied that stuff in a couple of corporate roles, and eventually, I said, you know what? I really enjoy teaching this stuff, and it’s kind of cool when you see people’s light bulbs go off over their heads, and I’ve always been entrepreneurial, so it sort of all came together and I launched my firm back in 2004. And I have been doing it full-time since 2008.

[TODD DEVOE] So this show, it really talks to the emergency manager. And Craig Fugate, who was the FEMA administrator under the Obama administration, he talks about the idea of the emergency manager as being the football coach. And you know, during the practice and everything that we’re doing, we’re putting everybody into their places, but on gameday, you kind of step back, you kind of maybe throw in some plays, but the players are on the field. And so, realistically, an emergency manager, no matter what level they’re at, has to pick up those leadership roles. And so, we have people that are coming into this field. How can they hone their leadership skills, and even talking about people– you would know this from the military, they had the same thing, of leading up the chain of command and down the chain of command. How can somebody get involved with that?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Yeah, I think one of the first things is committing to learning. I like to say that I learn something new every day. I don’t care what it is, sometimes it’s really deep and insightful stuff, sometimes it’s as stupid as, “Gee, how does the water tower up the street from me works?” And I go look it up. But if you want to grow as a leader, you’ve got to make that commitment to learning, and also understand that the learning opportunities are around you everywhere. You can learn just as much from that senior executive as you can from that brand-new kid who just joined your unit. You’ve just got to be looking for it, right?

You can learn when you go to the movies. When I go see movies, I don’t know if you ever hit my blog, but you can always see when I’ve seen a big blockbuster because there’s a post on it the next week, and it’s about the leadership lessons from that movie, right? Like, from the Avengers, or Black Panther, or whatever. So, I think the folks who really want to be good leaders are always going to be absorbing everything around them. They’re going to pick up different situations, where people react differently to them, and just file it away. And eventually, it just becomes seamless, right? There’s this database of situations you’ve been in, and resolutions to those situations that eventually, they just start clicking, and you don’t know how the combinations were made. It’s just, I pulled this one resolution because I saw this situation happening and it worked.

So I think that’s one of the biggest things that differentiates really great leaders, is they’re always taking in new techniques. In terms of leading up the chain of command and managing up, I think for me, that’s mostly about communications and expectations. The expectations piece needs to be set in both directions, so the leader above needs to say, “Here’s the information I need, here’s the frequency I need it. For this kind of stuff, update me every week for this kind of stuff, managed by exception.” So they’ve got to set these expectations.

And then the individual doing the leading up has to calibrate those expectations, right? Because sometimes, the boss will ask us, “I want an update every hour.” It’s like, really? Every hour? How about once a day, maybe? So you’ve got to calibrate the expectations, but then you’ve got to live up to them in terms of the communication you do. I’d also advise folks not to wait for that expectation to get sat for, you know? Just sit there and say, “I’ll update the boss when he or she tells me they need something.” Go to them proactively and say, “I’ve got these ten things I’m working on, I think you really need to know about nine of them. Three of them you should know about every day, three of them, you should know once a week, and three of them, I should update you by exception, are you ok with that?”

Because if you proactively articulate what that communication plan is going to be, one, you’ll be more satisfied with it because it won’t be something stupid like, “I want an update every hour.” But two, you’re setting a commitment that is going to be easier for you to meet since it’s one that makes sense, relative to how frequently you need to be communicated.

[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, I tell my students, we talk about dealing with elected officials, that you want to make sure that elected official doesn’t look foolish when they go to the press briefing, and that’s your job when you deal with that, is to make sure you don’t look foolish when they go in front of the press.

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Yeah, surprises are never good, right?

[TODD DEVOE] Right. So, in the course I took that you did, one of them, you talked about maxims. Can you talk a little bit about developing your maxims and what exactly that is?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Yes, so, that’s part of a course on developing your personal leadership philosophy. A lot of times, I’ll hear folks who have a leadership philosophy, and it’s all these buzzwords like, “I’m going to synergistically leverage the human capital assets,” it’s like, dude, whatever. Leadership philosophy should articulate who you are, what you stand for, what you believe, and do so in a manner that’s real, that people get to know you, that they understand the experiences and beliefs that make you tick.

The reason for articulating is it helps you build trust with the members of your team, they understand how you’re going to think about a given situation and how you’re going to react in it. Therefore, you become more productible, therefore, it’s easier for them to trust you because they know how you’re going to react and respond to situations. What a maxim is, is a principle or rule of conduct. And for me, the way I built that method is, I have people think about four aspects of leadership. Leading yourself, where are you going, what do you stand for, what are your ethics. Leading the thinking, how are you going to make decisions, how are you going to innovate, how are you going to push the thinking, set a vision for the organization. Leading your people, duh. But how are you going to interact with them as individuals? And then leading a balanced life, because if you’re burned out, you’re worthless.

So what I encourage people to do is, examine all four of those areas of leadership, all four of those aspects of leadership, and articulate maxims. And a maxim is a trigger for you that reminds you of a behavior that you want to live up to. So, for example, one of my maxims is– let’s go with the one about managing up. One of my maxims is kick up, kiss down. And that means nothing, probably, to anybody who is listening to this.

But I had a conversation with a senior executive at one point, and I witnessed him screaming with somebody on the phone. And he was the most chill guy you’d ever met, and after he got off the phone, he slams it down, and I said, “Who are you talking to?” And he tells me the executive’s name, and this guy was like, four levels above him. I’m like, “Oh my god, what are you doing?” He said, “Kick up, kiss down. That’s my job.” I said, “I don’t understand.” He’s like, “He just made a dumb decision, he needs to know how dumb it is because it’s going to affect you and your team, and it needs to be fixed, and my job as your leader is to kick up when they screw up, and protect you folks, and then kiss down when you folks to a great job, I need to let you know.”

So in that moment, I said, “That’s the kind of leader I want to be, I’m going to adopt that as my principal rule of conduct for how I’m going to manage up.” And I’ll always remember that situation, I’ll always remember what it was. What that maxim reminds me to do is, when I have that moment where one of my boss people is doing something stupid and my bias says, “Well, I’m not really going to say anything, I’m going to kind of let this one slide,” that maxim says, “Hang on a minute. Dude, kick up. You need to kick up right now, this is the opportunity to do that.” So what your maxims because is that collection of triggers, that collection of memories that exemplify the way you lead and serve as essentially a leadership conscience for you, that you can pull out during those difficult situations to guide your behavior.

[TODD DEVOE] So, I have (unintelligible 00:12:39.15) people listening to this podcast, and I have my students, college students that are learning to be leaders, and obviously, I have those that are already established in the industry. And I like to talk to my college students a lot, and I tell them to start leading today. And what I mean by that is that just because you’re a college student coming in, there are things that you learn that you can do to start leading. How can we encourage those kids to really pick up that leadership mentality before they move into even their first job?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] I guess I go back to my Westpoint experience, and I’m not encouraging you to haze your students like I was hazed, but you get thrown into those situations, and I think what’s important is they have to understand the impact of leadership. If they can see that they can have a positive impact on somebody’s life, either in terms of helping them grow, helping them get through a challenge, helping them be safer, helping save their lives, if they can see the value in that leadership and their ability to contribute to it, I think that’s one element of it.

So you’ve got to show them, here is why leadership is valuable. I think the second piece is to really de-mystify it. They look, and they go, “My leaders are all like these 40-year-old men and women, and they’ve all done all these great things.” It’s like, yeah, but you can also lead in your group homework assignment. And here is how you can lead, and if you have somebody who is having trouble, or if you have somebody else who is great in it, how can you facilitate that conversation to help them to better? By breaking it down into those smaller micro (unintelligible 00:14:15.23). Leadership is the same, it’s just a question of scale. So helping them understand the benefits of them stepping into that leadership role, your team will be more successful, you’ll get the work done more quickly, as well as, you can apply it in a really small situation. That’s an hour-long team meeting, you can be a leader in that situation, it doesn’t have to be storming the beaches of Normandy kind of scale for you to be considered a leader.

I think if you can do those two things, that then takes down the mystery behind it, and the intimidation factor of it. And then I think the third you’ve got to do is when they screw up, because they will, there needs to be the conversation, the after-action review, “Hey, you tried this, that was great, that was one technique. Here is a different technique, here is how you can do it different the next time.” And you’ve got to fly (unintelligible 00:15:04.26) before. If you scream at them after that screw-up, they’re never going to try it again. They’re like, “Yeah, I’ll wait until I’m 40, and then I can go do that stuff.”

[TODD DEVOE] Right. Like you, I learned a lot of my leadership style and ideals from the military. I was enlisted, but still, there’s skills that you learn, and especially– I was a (unintelligible 00:15:25.28) officer when I got out, and especially being able to lead guys that are below you, and same thing, protecting them, I think that’s really important. One of the things that I learned is always to give the guys below you the ability to lead certain things, whatever that small thing would be.

And I encourage my emergency managers that are out there, that have teams, to be able to give projects to the new kids coming up because they are replacing us, right? At the end of the day. (unintelligible 00:15:54.25) they’re going to be able to fill our shoes and that’s important. So, kind of that scale, leading a dynamic organization with lots of moving parts, and especially one that gets put into a crisis situation such as say, in California, one of the large-scale fires that we’re managing from up here. How do you see leadership moving from your day-to-day up to the crisis?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] So are you talking about the different practices, or getting people to grow into those roles?

[TODD DEVOE] I think both, actually.

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] So, the day-to-day stuff is an easy place to get lazy and not do it well. Everybody is going to lead well in a crisis because we respond, the adrenaline kicks in, we see the stakes, we get focused, and we understand the importance. And it’s, I argue, easier to lead in a crisis situation– it’s easier to lead in the field than it is to lead in (unintelligible 00:16:57.04), right? And I think, back to my platoon leader days, my soldiers were awesome in the field. I loved taking those guys to the field because they were focused, they were on it, they were doing the right things, they understood the mission and how they contributed.

When I got them back to (unintelligible 00:17:12.24), oh my gosh, what a nightmare, right? I mean, just doing stupid stuff in the motor pool, getting drunk, and you’re just like, why are you guys so good out there and you’re so bad here? And then I take this (unintelligible 00:17:27.02) and it’s like, I kind of own that, because I’m their platoon leader, and I’m maybe looking at (unintelligible 00:17:34.00) as not that critical of a place to lead. And yeah, whatever, we have formation, ok, so you’re a little bit late, the stakes aren’t as high as when you are in the field and you’re running missions.

So I’d argue those day-to-day times are harder to lead because the stakes aren’t as high, the stress isn’t as high, and we tend to diminish the value of those. The rub with that is the habits that you establish in (unintelligible 00:17:59.21), you know, back in the barracks or during the day-to-day are the ones that are going to rub off when you’re out in the field. If you’re not paying that attention to detail when you’re in (unintelligible 00:18:09.04) and you’re letting somebody get away with (unintelligible 00:18:11.12) boot laces, or not shining their boots, when it comes to the field, that little bit of slack can show up in, they aren’t cleaning the machine gun as effectively as they should have, and they just sort of mailed it in.

I think back to my Westpoint experience, and you walk out in the hallway, and you’d have a uniform inspection and it’d be like, “Hey, your name tag isn’t straight, and you have a little thread coming off of your pocket.” And you’d be like, “Seriously?” And they’d be like, “Yeah, seriously. Fix it, now.” And it was that really rigorous attention to detail that you learned, and also those leaders who were correcting you and leading you to learn. Because when you go out on a tank, and you’re (unintelligible 00:18:52.23) a tank, and you put in– you’re off by 0.01 on the digits you put in, guess what? There’s a huge difference in where that round is going to land. So it’s an interesting challenge, the crisis stuff isn’t what’s hard, right? When you really step back and think about it, the stuff that’s hard is the stuff that seems like it doesn’t matter. Arguably, that matters more than anything else.

[TODD DEVOE] Could you share the story of the 7-Up?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Yeah! So, when I was a platoon leader, I had a guy in my platoon who was a problem child, he would show up late, he would show up drunk, he would show up late and drunk.

[TODD DEVOE] Could you share the story of the 7-Up?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Yeah! So, when I was a platoon leader, I had a guy in my platoon who was a problem child, he would show up late, he would show up drunk, he would show up late and drunk. You know, you just had to micro-manage him all the time. We were out in the field one time, and we were playing cards, we were at the (unintelligible 00:21:21.18) range, and it was kind of hot.

And I gave my driver five bucks and I said, “Hey, go down to a snack tent, get some sodas for the guys,” and I have him a list of what sodas to get and who to get them for. So my driver came back, and he starts handing out the sodas, and he gives problem child the 7-Up. And problem child looks at him and he says, “You know I drink 7-Up?” And he said, “No, Tenant Figliuolo said to get it for you.” And problem child looks at me and says, “Sir, you know I drink 7-Up?” I said, “Yeah, I know a lot of things about you.” His only reaction was: huh. That’s it. It was just like, huh.

And the next day, it was weird, it was like invasion of the body snatchers. He showed up, he was on time, he looked good, he did his job all day, met the standards, and at the end of the work day, I pulled him aside, I was like, “Hey problem child”– I didn’t call him problem child, but I was like, “Hey problem child, good job today.” He said, “Thanks, sir.” I said, “We both understand that this is not normal, right?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” I said, “What is going on with you? Why am I seeing this change?” He said, “Well, remember when we were playing card yesterday and you got me that 7-Up?” And I was like, “Yeah, I guess.” He said, “Well, when you did that, you kind of showed that you cared about me as a person and it’s been a long time that anybody’s really shown that they care about me as an individual, so I figured that if you care about me, I should probably care about the work I do for you.”

And that’s one of my maxims, right? Is he drinks 7-Up. Or just the image of a bottle of 7-Up. And it’s that reminder to know your people because it has these far-reaching implications for how they feel when they’re under your care. And I’m not talking paternalistically here, right? But I have a responsibility for these soldiers, and they know that. And it’s a big difference when somebody actually cares about who you are versus saying, “Oh, that’s my driver, that’s my loader, that’s my gunner,” and they feel replaceable in that situation.

[TODD DEVOE] So, (unintelligible 00:23:16.24) that story into the concepts of volunteer management, and I think it’s important to understand the people that are volunteering for you because they’re doing stuff for free. What little things can you give people who are managing volunteers, those little tips that you can give them to be performing– because obviously, you’re not dealing with (unintelligible 00:23:36.19). You know, they don’t care about that. What can we do, as emergency managers, to really encourage and lift the spirit of our volunteers?

EM Weekly Episode 71[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] I think if you don’t understand why your team member is volunteering, that’s a huge miss. You need– there is something there, this person is willingly giving their time, energy, and effort that could be spent with families, friends, could be spent earning more money, they’re putting themselves in danger a lot of times, right? Voluntarily. And if you don’t understand why they’re doing that, what the thought process is behind it, that’s a huge miss. And I’ve not led folks in emergency services, I’ve not led volunteers, but I would venture to guess, if you sat down with your team members, you will find, “Oh, I had a friend or a family member who was killed in an accident or lost their home in a fire.” You know, they’ve been touched in some way by an emergency in the past.

It could be, “My grandfather was a volunteer fireman, and I always looked up to him. My mom was a volunteer at the local hospital and I remember growing up watching her save people’s lives.” You know, if you don’t understand the motivation for why they’re there, it’s going to be really hard to unlock that motivation. You may even do things that are counterproductive, right? I mean, imagine you’re in there, in the bay of the truck, and you start saying, “Oh yeah, these volunteer nurses, they have it so easy.” And it’s like, “Great, my mom, thanks.” Right? And you’re going to de-motivate them, right?

So I think that’s first and foremost, to just sit down and have that conversation. And you can do it individually, one-on-one, take them out for lunch, take them out for coffee or whatever, and just say, “Why do you do this? Why are you here?” You know, “I’m trying to set a good example for my kids.” Ok. Got it. It may be religiously-based, “I believe in service to my community.” Ok, got it. Understand that motivation, first and foremost.

I think that second thing with volunteers is we will, I think, very easily slip into the mindset of, “Oh, they work here.” And along with that word “work” comes a notion of compensation. So, they do something really good, and we just say, “Well yeah, that’s what we pay them to do.” Dude, you’re not paying them! You’re not paying them. And you need to acknowledge and say, “Hey, that was a great job the other day. I know the bay was dirty, and the equipment was dirty, and I really appreciate you spending that extra hour out there with the hose, and the mop, and just cleaning that stuff up. And I know that sucked, and the other guy should have done a better job keeping up the equipment, but I recognize you did that.” And that makes a big difference.

Those little moments when you see the person, and I don’t mean just like, observe them. I mean really see them as a person and see them giving more. Those are the touchpoints that are going to be like that 7-Up moment, where that person goes, “Holy cow, they see me and my work matters, and somebody appreciates it.” I think it’s more imperative with an all-volunteer force than it is– you should do that if you’re paying people too, don’t get me wrong. But it really becomes imperative when their pay is in another form.

[TODD DEVOE] One of the things as emergency managers, we go out to the public, and we talk to them about being prepared for disasters. You know, the public speaking-type things. And a lot of times, the public– sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. And one of the challenges I have is how do you lead people that don’t want to be led?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Yeah, fear. No, I’m kidding. Although fear can be a tactic. I think again it goes back to, you’ve got to change the balance. And what I mean by this is, they’re looking at the status quo– let’s talk a situation where people have to evacuate, right? And there’s a fire coming, or, “Hey, there’s lava. Like, real lava down the street, and you need to leave. Can you see the lava?” And it’s like, “It’s really slow, I’ll just hang out here,” right? What you have to do is you have to change that pain equation for them, I think. Then again, this isn’t leading through fear, this is helping them understand what the other side of the coin is.

So the example I’ll use is, when I was a corporate guy, I had our IT guy, who was responsible for managing our phone vendors. And our phone vendors were terrible, and they were giving terrible service at all of our branches, and it was like, messing up our operations. And I used to go to the IT guy, and I’d be like, “Hey, you need to get on these phone vendors. They’re screwing up, it’s causing impacts, I’m not happy, go fix it.” And he would say, “Ok, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” He’ll come back to me a couple of days later and it’s like, “Yeah, I talked to them, and this, and that,” and he gave me all these excuses.

And it went on for a few weeks, and finally, I was just so mad about it, I said, “Ok, here is how this is going to go. You are going to come to my office every hour and report to me about every single branch and every single status of those branches and the phone systems, and I want you to transcribe all of your conversations that you have with these phone vendors because I want a record of it.” And I started holding him to it. If he didn’t show up at my office, there was a phone call. And there were a couple of times that I went down to his place. I was like, you need to update me now.

And what I was doing it was, I was changing the pain equation. Because initially, it was more painful for him to get the vendors to do their job then it was to blow off Mike, right? So, there was so much more pain over here with the vendors, it’s like, well, blow off Mike, there’s no consequences. All I did was make it a lot more painful to deal with me, and he said, “Well, it’s more painful to deal with Mike than to go kick the vendor in the butt, so I’m going to go kick the vendor in the butt.”

So when you can then take that with the public, where people don’t want to be led, it can’t be that pointed, obviously, you don’t have that type of positional authority to be able to demand those things. But, “I don’t want to move, I don’t want to evacuate, I’m worried about my house, I’m worried about my goods, and my computer, and stuff like that.” We’ve got to point out to them, find those compelling ways to show them, “Hey look, if you don’t evacuate, here is what happens.” And maybe it’s showing them news stories of people who were getting air lifted out, or who were having their houses burned down and they were in them, or they’re losing their pets and their animals because they didn’t evacuate kind of stuff, right?

And it’s not a pretty picture that you’re going to show them, right? And there is a little bit of fear that goes into it. But you have to show them the cause, you have to show them the consequences, at least to get them to open their eyes in that moment and say, “Woah, this is like, really serious. Lava does eat cars. Maybe I should listen to this person.”

[TODD DEVOE] A little bit of change in the pace here. Are leaders born or are they made?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] That’s a false question.


[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Because I believe it’s some of both. I think anybody can lead. I think anybody has the innate ability in them. It’s a question that goes back to the first conversation we had about what differentiates a leader as somebody wanting to lead and wanting to learn. And then if they do want to learn, then they can absolutely be given the tools to be a more effective and more efficient leader along the way. But if somebody demonstrates that willingness to lead, and that willingness to learn, they can lead.

I don’t believe that there are some of us who are just, “I don’t have that gene, it’s not one of my chromosomes, and therefore–” No, people will follow you, you just have to want it. Now, there are people who don’t want that responsibility, they don’t want to do that work, and that’s fine. But you know, I don’t think it’s a universal– I think it’s a false dichotomy to say, are they born or bred? The answer is both, and it’s– I’d encourage a bit of a nuance to look at it in terms of the desire to lead. And if you have the desire, can you learn? Absolutely.

[TODD DEVOE] Alright, I’m going to ask one more of those questions. What is the difference between a leader and a manager? This is a bit (unintelligible 00:32:18.23).

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] You manage things and you lead people. And that is Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. And it was just a wonderful quote on her part. Management is about budgets, it’s about tasks, it’s about inventory, equipment, it’s about projects, and processes. It’s about all the inanimate stuff. And don’t get me wrong, it all has to be done, everything needs to be ticked, and tied, and measured, and counted. But that’s management. Leadership is inspiring people to do things. Figuring out what that (unintelligible 00:32:53.04) is, “Hey, my mom was a volunteer nurse, and I watched her save people’s lives, and I want to save people’s lives like my mom,” and then understanding that, finding that motivation, and then figuring out ways to unlock it.

And you know, maybe it’s, Joe doesn’t like cleaning his equipment afterwards, but you know his mom was a volunteer nurse and he really looks up to her. And maybe just have a conversation with Joe and say, “You know, Joe, cleaning equipment kind of does suck and I know you hate it. I wonder how your mom dealt with those issues when she was like, in the ER and OR staff, I’d be interested to hear. Would you mind talking to your mom about how they handled that type of stuff?” And Joe is like, “Oh yeah, sure! I’m sure she never dealt with that.” And then he goes home, and mom tells him like, “Hey idiot, that’s a big part of your job, here is why you need to do it, here is why this is important.” And Joe comes back the next day and he’s like, “I want to go clean the equipment!” Right?

But you’ve got to understand your people, and that’s what leadership is about, is understanding where’s that little “On” button, the “On” switch, that gets them to go, “Oh, this is important, and I see why, and I’m passionate about it.” So for me, that’s the difference between management and leadership. And they obviously both play together, and if you want to be a good leader, you’ve got to be a great manager. But just because you’re a great manager, it doesn’t mean you can be a great leader, right?

[TODD DEVOE] Right. So, kind of back a little bit, to the 7-Up story. How do you lead that employee who– it’s an employee now, not a volunteer. How do you lead that employee who you know has potential for being great, but just isn’t putting that effort?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] I think you’ve got to get to the root of why am I not getting the effort I expect. If we know this individual can be great, something changed. Something changed somewhere, and why am I not getting their best efforts? I think a lot of times we assume, “Well, this is why I’m not getting the best effort.” You got to stop, and you got to ask. You got to sit down with them and say, “Hey, you used to perform at a level of 99, and now I’m seeing you perform at a level of 60. Let’s acknowledge, do you understand you’re performing at a 60?” And then they say, “No, I think I’m doing great.” Then say, “Ok, then we got to get some feedback and let them know you’re a 60.”

When they acknowledge, “Yeah, I’m at a 60,” the next question is critical. Why? What happened that you were performing there, and now you’re performing here? And when you understand that why, then you can actually take differential action. The why may be, well, you changed my job description and now I’m working on a programming language that I don’t know, and I keep screwing it up. I knew this one programming language, and that’s why I was doing it at 100, now I’m doing a task I don’t know. It’s like, “Oh, ok, I can train for that.” It may be, “I just had a family member pass away.” It’s like, “Oh dude, let me take some work off your plate, I understand,” and demonstrate the empathy, and give them time to recover from that and figure out how to change their work responsibility so they can get back. It may be, “Yeah, Bill down the hall is taking credit for all my work, so why should I care?” It’s like, ok, there’s an issue and now I have some interpersonal conflict I’ve got to resolve.

You’ve got to understand that why. I think too many times, we just assume that, “Well, let’s ride them a little bit harder and they’ll pick up the pace.” And if you don’t understand the why, you’re not goign to get there. For me, I had a point, when I was consulting, I was doing great work, and it showed up in my review, I was rated as distinctive, which is the top rating. And I went on another project, and after a couple of months on the project, my work, I was mailing it in. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t care, not really a big deal, it doesn’t matter to me.”

And everybody was like, what is going on with this guy? What was going on was, they gave me a new manager, and my new manager would denigrate everybody’s work on the team, and he’d say things like, “If your slides don’t make it into the main presentation, then you’re not doing worthwhile work.” And he’d said that right after we (unintelligible 00:37:04.21) where one of the 20 slides I did wasn’t in the main presentation, and it’s just like he’s beating me up and telling me I’m worthless. It’s like, fine, if I’m worthless, then I’m going to give you worthless work. When the engagement ended, I got the rating I should have gotten, right? And I own a big part of that performance, I could have behaved differently and reacted differently; I didn’t. Some of it was on him, some was on me.

But afterward, when I got my new manager, she and I sat down, and she said, “Ok, what’s up with you? Because I’ve seen you perform before, and right now, I’m not seeing the same Mike. What’s going on?” And I told her. And she’s like, “Ok, what are we going to do differently?” She said, “Will you commit to giving me the level of work that you did?” “Yes, I will.” She said, “What do I need to give you?” I was like, “Well, I would like some acknowledgement, I’d like some visibility, I’d like a workstream that’s meaningful, that I’m not going to be shoved in the closet doing Excel kind of stuff.” And she said, “Ok, I can do that. I’ll keep up my end, you keep up your end.” And my performance was back where it was. But she asked that important question of why.

So again, I just come back to, get rounded on the facts of, do we see that you’ve gone from 100 to a 60? And once that individual understands the performance gap, understand the why and lead accordingly.

[TODD DEVOE] So, as a leader, you’re responsible for your team’s performance. Is that an accurate statement?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Oh yeah, absolutely.

[TODD DEVOE] So that being said, are you being judged on your leadership skills if your team is not performing?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] I think so, absolutely.

[TODD DEVOE] So how do you, as a new leader, or say, someone who has been a leader but is now struggling, how do you increase your performance as a leader?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] I think obviously, you’ve got to have your own ship in order and make sure that the work you’re doing, whatever it may be, whether it’s the budget, the products to be used, work scheduling, whatever else, make sure you’re doing that right. And then from there is, why is my team underperforming? Is it a collective effort? Is it that we don’t have the resources to do the work we’re being asked to do? Is it that we don’t have clarity on what the mission is? Or is it, no, there’s clarity, we’ve got the resources, we’re just screwing it up. And if we’re screwing it up, it’s that why question.

Well, Mike is mailing it in, and Mike’s work stream is the most important one, and without his work, all the rest of us, all our work suffers. So it’s Mike’s fault. And understand that, or understand, “Well, yeah, we all want to do great work, but we’ve never been trained on translating emergency medical guides into Russian, so can we get a little help here?” You know, and they may not have the skills. So it’s got to come back to that why. I think it’s too easy to just keep pushing the accelerator and thinking you’re going to get different results, and telling your people, “We’re not doing well enough, we’re not doing well enough, work harder, work harder.” And if you don’t get to that root cause of what’s driving it, you’re never going to fix it.

[TODD DEVOE] What resources do you give new leaders?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] So it’s a bit of a loaded question/fox in the henhouse kind of comment, because you know I do this stuff.


[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] I think two of the resources that I encourage folks to get a hold of, one, is One Piece of Paper, my first book, and that’s how to articulate your personal leadership philosophy. The second one is my second book, Lead Inside the Box. And it goes to a lot of what you’re bringing up, which is diagnosing performance issues, and when changing how you’re interacting with that individual to get them to change that performance. Those are two great resources, I’m not pushing product here, I make like, 42 cents a copy, right? I wouldn’t have written the books if I didn’t believe the methods in them and their ability to help new leaders.

The Lynda.com courses as well, I put a lot of video content out there around leading effectively, setting team and employee goals, creating your leadership philosophy, so those are there as a resource too. I do like sending folks to our blog. We’ve got well over 1,000 articles on there, and the blog is free. We’ve got well over 1,000 articles on there, I’ve written a bunch, but I’ve had some amazing guest authors on there who provide perspectives on every leadership topic, and a ton of management topics, and it’s all pretty accessible, you get on there and search, and you can say, “I have a low performer.” Just type in “low performer” and you’re going to get like, 10 articles. So those are some really good resources as well.

[TODD DEVOE] And just for everybody, if you’re driving and you don’t have a pencil or whatever, we’re going to go ahead and put the links to Mike’s books and also the blog as well down in the show notes. So everything that we’re talking about, you can find it pretty quick. So Mike, we are coming close to the end of the conversation here, and I know you’re talking about your book. But what other books or book would you recommend to somebody who is new into this space?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] So, one that’s a pretty easy read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s called “The Obstacle is the Way.” I think it’s by Ryan Holiday, I believe. Don’t quote me on that name. But “The Obstacle is the Way” is the name of the book. And what it is, is a study of stoicism. So what he does is he goes back and looks at the history of stoicism and looks at it through the lens of Marcus Aurelius, and then he pulls up a bunch of other people, you know, famous leaders who have been stoics over the years.

So that’s sort of the first half of the book, it’s just an interesting look back on that approach to leadership and that approach to life. And then the second half of the book is about putting those beliefs into practice every day and saying, “I’ve run into an obstacle, how am I going to approach it?” And just looking at it through a stoic’s eye and helping people understand how to get around those obstacles and how to find solutions based on the obstacles that are being presented.

I think maybe the reason that book resonated so much with me is, if you want a stoic experience, go do four years at Westpoint, right? You know, so as I’m reading, I’m like, “A lot of this makes so much sense!” But it’s a fun read, it’s pretty quick, it’s like, 180 pages, and it’s a small format. It just resonates for a lot of folks that I recommend it to as well.

[TODD DEVOE] So before I let you go, is there anything that you’d like to say specifically to the emergency manager out there on leadership?

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Well, I think first, I’d be remiss by not saying thank you. You folks are volunteers, you’re doing the most dangerous stuff out there, you’re saving lives. You know, my daughter needed one of those folks recently, she totaled her car, and thank goodness, those folks were around. So thank you, first and foremost. Second, I’ll just leave folks with that why question. I think we brought it up in three or four different scenarios as we talked today. Stop and ask why. Just pause for that one moment and say, “Why am I seeing this behavior? Because once you understand the why behind it, it gets a heck of a lot easier to solve, and it gets much clearer, the leadership intervention that you should be putting in place when you understand that why, and you’re going to be a lot more effective when you do it.

[TODD DEVOE] Thank you so much for your time, Mike, and I’m looking forward to talk with you again.

[MIKE FIGLIUOLO] Yeah, absolutely, thanks for having me on.

Related Shows

EM Student: EP 08 Finding Your Leadership Style

EP 14 Engaging Senior Leadership In Emergency Management

EP 37 Transforming Leadership with L. David Marquet

EP 68 Behind the Scenes of the National Training Center


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