07 Jul July 7, 2020 – Rethinking Success Doug Holladay and Power of Promise Ken Mosesian
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If I was not afraid to fail, what would I do?
J. Douglas Holladay is the Founder and CEO of PathNorth, one of the several not-for-profit efforts which help business owners and CEOs to define success more broadly. Co-founder of several equity companies, Mr. Holladay was formerly a senior officer with the international investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, headquartered in New York, where he served as founding President of One-to-One Mentoring Partnership. Prior to joining Goldman Sachs, Doug held senior positions in both the White House and Department of State. Mr. Holladay is a co-founder of Park Avenue Equity Partners, a private equity fund which makes equity investments in middle market operating companies. He is also a co-founder and general partner in Elgin Capital Partners LP, a private equity partnership focused on domestic energy development. Additionally, he holds the Heinz Christian Prechter Executive in Residence position at Georgetown University teaching MBA students. In his latest book, Rethinking Success: Eight Essential Practices for Finding Meaning in Work and Life, Doug offers eight proven practices that re-imagine our success placing meaning, authenticity and connection with peers at its heart.
Brand is emotional and experiential. What emotions do you want
to evoke in your customers?
Ken Mosesian is the CEO of Mosesian Strategies, an education and training company committed to building leadership teams in the not-for-profit and for-profit worlds. Ken is passionately committed to connecting businesses to the promise of their brand, and helping them keep their promise by delivering extraordinary experiences to their customers. In an “anything but traditional” career path, Ken earned his private pilot’s license, studied piano and pipe organ, worked as a Mental Health Counselor and as an Emergency Medical Technician, and served as an Executive Director of a national non-profit organization. Every one of these experiences contributed richly to who Ken is today. With this extensive experience, he can help any type of business train and develop their teams, setting their CEOs free from daily operations, allowing them to confidently focus on the future. His first book, The Power of Promise: How to Win and Keep Customers by Telling the Truth About Your Brand, is focused on something that Ken sees as critical not only to our personal and professional lives, but to our future well-being as a society: your word is your bond.
Highlights from Doug’s Interview
So the book’s name is Rethinking Success. I call it Rethinking Success because I feel like there are unintended consequences with the way we’ve been defining success in our celebrity world. People don’t love things for the intrinsic value of the things themselves. For example, my youngest son is a really good golfer, played division one in college. I meet these parents all the time saying, my son’s a good golfer, how does he get a scholarship and play at that level? It’s almost like, if somebody enjoys something, if you play the guitar, you’ve got to be Jimi Hendrix. If you play golf, you’ve got to be Tiger Woods. My view is, can’t we just define success differently that we love intrinsic things? So for example, I asked my class, how many of you love something growing up that really meant a lot to you? It might be writing poetry, painting, playing the piano with a rock band. Everyone raises their hand, they have something. I said how many of you are still doing it? Zero! Why? Because in our culture, unless you’re the best piano player and have a chance to play Carnegie Hall, you should hide and be ashamed. So that’s one element of success.
The other element particularly is related to business people and people who either have public positioning, great wealth, the notoriety of some sort. The unintended consequences of success are to isolate and disconnect you. An Inc study a few years ago, they pulled 3000 CEOs. Of the 3,000, half of them self-reported that they’re painfully lonely and disconnected. Of that half, 67% said they were making bad business decisions because they had no one in their life they trusted. The former Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, has named loneliness as the major health crisis of our time, not smoking, not obesity. So what I’m saying is the way we define success has imprisoned us because it’s the wrong metrics. It’s not defining success the way Aristotle did, of thriving and well-being.
One great point that can arise here is, how are these people lonely when they have millions of followers? Well, everybody knows that we are in a culture where we’re the most connected we’ve ever been on one level. But in terms of on a soulish level, we’re not. UCLA has a loneliness index, half of all Americans self-report that they’re lonely. That’s crazy, that’s a crisis! There was a woman in Avon, England, she’s an elderly woman, she was about 90. So the police were tracking this guy that was a scam artist. They went to her door and said, she ended up being billed to have about $36,000 by this guy. They said, why did you keep giving him money when he would call you? She said this, I knew he was doing something wrong, but if I didn’t talk to him, I wouldn’t have anybody in my life to ever talk to. So that police officer started something called Chat Benches. You can look it up, there’s about 10 of them in 10 cities where they have them, where there’s literally a bench. If you just want to talk to somebody, you go to the park and sit there, somebody will sit next to you and talk to you.
But there’s a lot of research and a lot of thinking. Robert Putnam at Harvard wrote a book called Bowling Alone. He uses bowling and poor attendance now at PTA meetings as reflective of the disconnection in our society. Bowling is to be a communal sport, but bowling leagues are non-existent for the most part now. People don’t show up at PTA meetings. This whole social fabric is fraying these mediating structures. Alexis de Tocqueville, when he came to the US to find out what was the greatness of America, he found that it was these little connections that people had in small groups and churches and other kinds of forums like that. So today, we’re tremendously connected on a certain level, but even the way we’re connected is sad. We’re teaching young people to project a persona that’s not even them. We’re telling them at 10 years old, you’re not good enough, so you need an app that helps you enhance your looks. Already we’re saying, I’m not good enough, so I have to project a persona. So I think this is sad, we need to go back and rediscover real, true, committed relationships and the wonder and beauty of that.
Growing up, I had extended family and friends and communities were pretty stable. You lived in a community and it was a rarity that somebody was divorced. People would live in these houses for decades and decades. Now I have one sister, she’s in San Francisco. We used to have a family together all the time, it’s a different thing now. So I think the family has been eroded, friendships too. We are just working harder than ever, yet more affluent than ever. So you just don’t have time to invest in them. The data suggest that 30 to 45 is the most dangerous time when we start shedding relationships. By the time you’re 45, if you’re lucky, you have one or two. So it’s a problem. It seems so superficial, but I think we don’t celebrate friendships. If you look back in the writings of Cicero and Hawthorne and on and on, this was a subject that is really rich, there was so much writing about it forever. The value of friendship, Aristotle, Socrates, all of them talked about the importance of having these friends that are there for you. Going back to the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiastes in Chapter 4 says, “Two are better than one for they have a good reward for their toil. For one falls, the other will lift him up. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” That was 3000 years ago that was penned.
Now, taking a risk is another important part of every success formula. So there was a palliative nurse who talked to people at the end of their lives. When she was asked in an interview, what did people regret the most in their life as they were nearing the end? She said, most people said I wish I would have taken more risk and would’ve tried things. Every stage in your life, it’s going to look different, but you’ve to be risking in little or big ways. The risk is going to look different for a 27-year old and an 85-year old. But the 85-year old needs to keep pushing themselves because that’s what keeps him alive. For example, if you’re playing a sport, have you ever thought about playing a sport not to get hurt? You’re going to get hurt. You’re saying, I don’t want anybody bumping into me, but you’re going to get hurt. So what we need to do is find, and it might be in little ways where we do this. I have a friend who is a former Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton, he’s on the board of PathNorth. We were walking to lunch one day and we saw a homeless guy, I gave him a little money. He said, “Doug, if you want to change the experience and change your life, ask him his name and where he’s from. If you really want to enhance it, find out his story.” I have this in my book about, it was a risk for me. I was in Portland, I saw a guy. Every year I’d go to Portland in the summer for a week, I’d see this guy in front of a Rite Aid. Finally, at one time, I said “Sir, I’ve seen you out here for a long time, I just wonder how did you get here. Tell me your story.” So he tells me this story. He said, “I was seasonal labor and I would do fruit. I’d go up the West Coast and Northwest, and then I hurt my back. I have no health insurance and I can’t work anymore. I hate that I have to do this, but I have no options.”
So those of us who are prone to judge, all of a sudden, when you hear a story like this, you kind of get somebody. This is why the story is so important. Risk is a part of that. Part of the risk for me is I’m getting comfortable with people’s messy stories. Everybody has a story, and it’s really interesting when we dare to venture into that because then you start to see why they have the risk profile. I had a guy, it’s a very famous family, I will not mention who it is. But one of this guy’s son was a world-famous athlete. I knew the family really well, a bunch of us would travel in different countries together. Well, I loved the kids, I loved this kid who was the top of his game in every regard in college, and then went onto professional sports. But his father and I were oil and water, he was just so rigid and judgmental. One day we were in a country. He and I stayed clear from each other because I’m a bit of a free spirit and he’s kind of in the box. I walked into this restaurant for breakfast early in the morning, there’s nobody in there but him. I said, “Oh, my god. He and I have to sit together.” So I sat down and I said, “Bill, I’ve never known your story. Can you tell me that?” He tells me this story, I grew up in a small town in the Midwest and I found out a dirty secret in my family, but not till I was 39. I always knew something was wrong, but I found out my father in this same small town of a thousand had another wife and other children. I said wow. He said, I always knew something was wrong. I said, Bill, how did that affect you? How have you lived in light of that? He said, “All I’ve ever wanted to know are the black and white, the rules of the road. I don’t like any ambiguity, I don’t like any greys.” So I went from judgment to huge compassion. Now I understand why he isn’t a risk-taker, why he doesn’t do the same. So I think you can’t talk about risks without somebody’s story because some of us are more inclined toward pushing the envelope. But having said that, I truly believe all of us need to define risk for ourselves. But if you aren’t risking, you aren’t growing. You’ve got to keep finding new avenues of pushing yourself.
So risk-taking has a different definition at each stage of life for everybody. Maybe they’re embarrassed to go to the dentist because they had a bad experience when they were a kid. They’ve got to say, this is a risk worth taking, I’ve got to get out of my comfort zone. So I think all these things are interrelated. I feel like we almost need a practice where every day, we still ourselves, we quiet ourselves, and we reflect on our own life. We look at it and say, where do I need to grow, where do I need to push myself, where do I need to get out of my comfort zone a little bit? So I think it does look different for a lot of us, what might seem like a huge risk to me, for you it’s like I have that for lunch every day, it’s nothing. For example, I’ve never had sushi, but part of that is there must be something in my story that I don’t like the texture of sushi. I think about it a lot, somebody will say let’s go sushi, I’m like, I’ll probably be starving. But there are these things and I’m saying, I gotta face this kind of craziness. I don’t want my fears to dictate my life, that’s the thing. That’s the thing for most of us, we listen to our fears instead of listening to possibilities.
I’d say an integrated life is where everything fits. I’d say it this way, if you drew one circle on a board on the left, and it said, these are the ‘should’ things. I’ve been told my whole life, I should have financial security, I should marry a sensible woman, I should get rid of student debt. I should, should, you have all those things and they can be really burdensome. I should be a success and work for a stable company because that’s what my father did for 40 years. Then you have another circle, you draw a circle and say, these are the ‘must’ things. What is the must thing? These are the things you know intrinsically in your heart are the things that make you come alive. I want to learn to play the piano, I want to start my own business. So the must starts with having the courage to actually write them down. The question I would pose would be, if I wasn’t afraid to fail, what would I do? So you have those two circles. An integrated life to me is where those two circles overlap, in that overlap is you start getting paid for what you love. So my two oldest boys are TED fellows, they are in LA, they do music and technology. They have always loved music. They’ve been in bands, they’ve done all that stuff. They actually are making a living doing music for films and all kinds of crazy installations and things. But they found a way to do that.
Here’s a great story. So one of the great composers of our time is a guy named Philip Glass. He was celebrated at Kennedy Awards Honors about three years ago. So the art critic in the New York Times had a problem with her dishwasher, and she called a plumber to come over and said I need a new dishwasher. He brings the dishwasher. So she’s quizzically looking at this guy and said, has anybody ever told you you have a striking resemblance to the famous composer Philip Glass? Because she’s an art critic, she knew these things. He says, “Well, I am Philip Glass, but I’m Philip Glass, the plumber.” She was just stunned, she said, “Wait a minute! You’re a rock star, you’re one of the biggest composers of our time.” He said, but I’m also a plumber and I love doing this, I love the sense of completing things. So you look at that, you look at other authors that have written. John Grisham used to write, he was a small-town lawyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, I don’t think it was till his 50s that he became famous. He used to write in the morning, wake up and write books, but he’d also go practice law. So I don’t think you necessarily have to be paid to pursue your passion. An integrated life to me is you start feeling everything fits. Physical fitness affects well-being, well-being affects your ability to take a risk. Your kid is struggling with drugs, you can’t compartmentalize that and say, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to go to work. All of these things will affect everything else, it’s a very fragile collage. But life is best lived, like when Mondavi said, “Find a job you love, it’s an expression of who you are, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s the ideal. Now, a lot of us won’t do that. A lot of us will say, I’m a pretty good guitar player, but I’m going to be a postman as a means to an end. I’m going to deliver mail, but I’m going to still play guitar and still love that. You don’t have to be famous. That’s why I started this conversation with the myth that we’ve got to be famous or rich.
Let me tell you one data point on that. There’s a magazine called Student Magazine or something like that, it’s been around since the late 50s. In the 60s, they used to ask kids, they ask them every year why are you going to go to college? 85% in the late 60s or 70s would say, to define my purpose. Remember, we used to go to college to explore ideas and what matters. When they asked in the last few years, to become rich was number two and to be famous was number one. That is crazy, what a ridiculous goal! That’s the thing. I think that shows like American Idol has said if you’re going to sing, you got to be on that level. It’s great that one out of a billion is discovered on American Idol, but ain’t that okay to love singing?
“Rethinking Success: Eight Essential Practices for Finding Meaning in Work and Life”, you can get it on Amazon. It’s really interesting because I think the ingredients to the stew of thriving are knowable. If you want to have a life of meaning, these are knowable things if you do them. The trouble is we’re being told almost everything is exactly the opposite of what’s going to make you a fulfilled person. For example, when people say to me, how do you become happy? I say that’s a ridiculous question! Happiness is all circumstantial. Happiness is, I got a raise, I got a date, my kids are all in college and they’re thriving; whatever it is. I’m unhappy because I just was diagnosed with cancer, I have this or that. Meaning is something very different than that. Meaning is an intrinsic thing, it’s a part of your soulishness.
Viktor Frankl, who wrote one of my favorite books, Man’s Search for Meaning, he was a psychotherapist who was incarcerated in the Nazi death camps. He observed, the people who thrived in the middle of hell were not physically robust, but those who had meaning. So if you doubt me on the difference between happiness and meaning, I’d say that if you ask somebody, does raising kids make you really happy? Well, I have three boys, I’d say yes and no. Sometimes I hate it. Is it the most meaningful thing you’ve ever done? Oh, absolutely. So there is a difference. I think we’re in love with the wrong thing, we’re in love with happiness when we should be in love with meaning. So we’re telling our kids to chase happiness. Happiness is elusive, it will come and go. So we’re setting them up for total disappointment in life. Meaning you can have when you don’t make the little league team, you can find out a lot about yourself. If your success metric is getting to know yourself better and becoming a better version of you, then the things that extensively look like failures are real ingredients because I still have meaning.
Highlights from Ken’s Interview
I think as the title of the book indicates, my belief is that your brand is your promise. It’s what you can be counted on to deliver. There are a lot of folks out there that really make that connection on a visceral level, that who they say they are is a promise that they’re making. You either keep your promise you don’t. If you keep your promise, you’re telling the truth. If you don’t, you’re lying. To give you an example, I think a company that’s doing extraordinarily well at that is Apple. I think they just live out their brand in everything that they do, in the service that I receive from them, the customer support that I receive, the look and feel of the store, how it’s connected to the service within, how it’s connected to the product, how it’s connected to the advertising, and how it’s connected to my experience of using the product after the point of purchase. Their audience is happy and committed, because, from their perspective, they’re delivering exactly what they said they would deliver.
I think it’s challenging because it actually takes time, energy, effort, and resources to be able to deliver on it. You actually have to think about the words that you’re saying, you have to think about who you say you are. Oftentimes, in the course of conversations with business leaders, when we start really talking about, do you know who you say you are? Well, who you say you are shows up in virtually everything that you do. It shows up in how someone is greeted, if you have a brick and mortar store. It shows up in how someone is greeted on the phone. The experience they have on your website or your app, it shows up with every single touchpoint. Very seldom have I seen people take the time to go through and dissect every customer touchpoint, and then ask that question: Are we delivering the promise that we’re making? I think that’s one of the big reasons why it’s so difficult, this is an extensive process to be able to do it well and to do it right.
But most brands never actually find the time to define what their promise is. I think it’s always difficult to find the time to invest in something like this, particularly when things are going well. If you’re getting good feedback, it’s even more challenging. But I’ll tell you, it really is worth the investment. It’s worth the time to just stop, and take stock of what’s happening. It doesn’t have to take days on end. You can ask people to take a look at this on their own and then gather the responses, and come together for maybe an hour over Zoom, or whatever means of communication you’re using, and just discuss the results. I would say start the conversation, don’t make it be something that’s a stumbling block because you think it has to take up an extraordinary amount of time just to get in the conversation. “What do you guys think? When we were out there in the world, what do you think our promise is? How do you think people perceive that promise?” It can be that simple, a single question to start. Because what we say we’re promising and how it lands may not necessarily be the same thing. It’s like with any kind of communication, I may think I’m being exclusively clear. But if it doesn’t land in the ear of the listener the way I intended it, then that communication wasn’t clear. Likewise, with my promise, I may think I’m being clear about what I’m promising to deliver. But if the consumer thinks that there’s something else that I’m delivering, then there’s a disconnect. That’s the beginning of a potential downward spiral, when these things don’t come together. That’s why I encourage people to really think about it and actually, to start talking to some customers. The best way to know if things are landing the way that you hope that they will, is simply to ask the question.
So the first step is to understand, which is to really just understand the whole concept of brand and customer experience, brand being the promise and what you can be counted on for, customer experience being the test of the brand promise. Every time a customer touches your brand, they are testing you. They are asking, are they telling the truth or not, even if they don’t know that they’re asking it. Because as I’ve outlined this in some depth, we’re given towards fear and survival. So our default setting is good for me or bad for me, safe or dangerous, telling the truth or lying. That’s just where we begin, particularly with things that we don’t know or people that we don’t know. So the first step is really just to understand and grasp that concept of brand as promise and customer experience as the test of whether or not you’re telling the truth, and that you’re building up goodwill every time that the answer is “Yes, they’re telling the truth, and it’s good for me”, and that you are chipping away at the relationship every time the answer comes back, “No, they’re not.”
Then, the next step is to declare. So declaring is really about taking this understanding now, examining your own brand, and declaring who you are, declaring what your promise is. This is where the rubber meets the road, in a lot of ways. This is where people understand that at the heart of every great customer experience is trust. If people trust you, if they perceive you to have integrity, to say, “Man, you’re so far ahead of the game”, just at that point. I think the other thing is to really understand that brand is emotional and it’s experiential. So what emotions do you want to evoke in your customers, how do you want to make them feel, are questions that I encourage people to look at and to ask? All of this comes back to integrity, your core values, what you can be counted on for.
Then, there’s responsibility. So if I have good news and I have bad news, they are the same thing, because you are 100% responsible. Because if you’re 100% responsible, then that means that you actually have agency, you have access to power. If something goes wrong, you’re responsible. But if it went wrong, that means you also have the power to change it so it goes right. That’s what I really wanted to emphasize with that, that if you take on something from the place of 100% responsibility, and in fact, if you can instill that in your employees, and you’ve got this team walking around saying, I’m 100% responsible, it doesn’t mean they have to do everything at your shop or at your business, it just means they have an attitude of responsibility, then they know that they are as equally responsible for what goes wrong. But because they have power, because they may have made a mistake and learned from it, they now have the power to make it right, and they can take responsibility for that as well. I think that’s exciting and I think that’s incredibly empowering, because it puts you firmly in the driver’s seat, and you’re no longer just floating around at the whim of chance.
So to go back to the list, step number three is to map. It is actually taking a look at the experience that your customer is going to have your client’s going to have, from beginning to end. It doesn’t have to be perfect. This is something that you can whiteboard, it’s something I like if you’re able to be in a room with big whiteboards all around and literally map something out. But it’s about filling in the details. The entry point to your company, and then how that person charts their way through it. Looking at those touchpoints and asking questions like, where can we create truly a wow moment for someone? How can we enhance these experiences? Particularly, for organizations that have multiple departments, if there are places where a client is handed off from sales to production to customer experience, then how are we handling all of those transitions to make sure the experience is seamless? Ultimately, asking through all of it, are we evoking the emotions that we want to evoke by the experience that we’re providing? That map to me is the most powerful way that you can do it. I think it’s a good access point for people if they could start with something like a vision board because there’s familiarity around that. It is that cousin once removed, then it is the neighbor next door. What I love to emphasize about this is that, if you can do this well, and you really can chart this out and you can continually take the temperature of your customers as they’re moving through, and see if you’re delivering on what you say, you turn these people into brand advocates for you. As I’m sure you all know, there is nothing better than a satisfied customer out there, preaching your company to other people.
Moving on, step number four is to train. You just got to have your whole team on the same page, knowing that what they’re going to do. You’re a team, you rise and you fall together. So one of the biggest things that I emphasize here is not just knowing the steps when someone comes in; this is how we handle something, this is how things move through if there’s a breakdown, this is how we handle the customer experience. Yes to all that, all the checklist stuff has to be there. But how do we set each other up for success as a team? How do we take away this notion of being siloed, again, particularly if you have multiple departments? How do we make sure that we’re communicating one with another, so that everything that we’re doing as a team is going to not only set each other up for success, but set the company as a whole up for success, and set our client up to have the best experience they possibly can?
Then lastly, step number five is to deliver. That’s where the rubber meets the road again, this is actually where you put it into play and you see how well you’re able to do. In areas like this, I think the most important thing to all of it is communication. Be in communication with each other, talk about what’s going on. I love the notion of, if you discover something, declare it, share it with your team. Don’t keep insight to yourself, whether it’s good or bad. Get it out there, share it, let people know what’s happening, so you can make course corrections immediately and together as a team. So again, you’re doing everything you possibly can to make sure that that brand promise is living in the lives of your customers.
To find out more online, you can go to Mosesian.com. On the front page, there’s a little bonus, you can just drop your email and you can get free audio of the book, as well as these five steps. I’ve done five, five-minute video segments on each of the steps, and it’s available literally for just putting in your email, which I would truly appreciate. If you want to buy the book, The Power of Promise, it’s available on Audible. It’s available in paperback and it’s available for Kindle download, all on Amazon.com