Shifting the L&D Mindset of the Past, Present and Future

A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships

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Editor’s Note

In Part I of our interview with Stephen Shedletzky, Head of Brand Experience and Igniter with Simon Sinek’s team, he shared insight for L&D teams in terms of innovation, inspiration and how to be a good leader.

In Part II, Stephen shares how you can help your organization break free from how things have been done, how growing your people effects the bottom-line and how to foster collaboration among future generations.


Q: How can L&D professionals shift the mindset of those who are only focused on numbers and the way things have been done?

A: It takes visionary leadership. At Simon Sinek, Inc., we don’t love the term CEO. In every other C-suite role (CLO, CFO, CMO, CIO, CTO, etc.) you know exactly what they do. What exactly does the CEO do? What does it mean to be an executive? It doesn’t mean anything.

What we believe in is a CVO–a chief vision officer. Their responsibility is to articulate vision, what we call a "just cause"–a specific vision of the future that is so compelling that others are willing to sacrifice to see that ideal advance.

We don’t all need to be Steve Jobsian visionaries–that’s not possible. We don’t all need to be visionaries, though all great leaders must find a vision they believe in and are devoted to.

If we were all visionaries nothing would get done. We also need operators–people who can manage and think finite, who are inspired by that infinite vision.

Particularly in the Western world there is a fascination and bias for result, for outputs. I’m a big believer, however, in the inputs. After all, that’s how you get the outputs.

Great leaders know that the most successful and long-term sustainable way to grow the numbers is to grow your people. The numbers never save us in hard times. People do.

Of course, we may often encounter leaders who just don’t get it. Those who view growing the numbers as the goal. What to do then?

  1. Let them know what they signed up for in choosing to be a leader, when they accepted the role and the responsibility–i.e. Leadership is not about being responsible for the results. Leadership is about being responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. Then, teach them how to be leaders.

    Expose them to training and development and coaching. Too often we promote people into leadership roles without teaching them the practice. We would never go to a heart surgeon who has had no training for the job. Why should we expect less with our leaders? Teach them!

  2. Ignore finite-minded leaders. They will either succumb to positive peer pressure or they will self-select out, which is healthy and it actually increases engagement in the people around them.

If you look at how to create change within a company, there’s the Kotter Model where you look at finding change agents and seeing what you can give to them so they can be ambassadors of change. We also heavily prescribe to the Law of Diffusion of Innovation when it comes to adopting change.

In layman’s terms, every population has its partners, tourists and prisoners:

  • Partners - people who are advocates. Regardless of their title, they lean in, they get it, they’re the first to show up and the last to leave. They believe in the change, they want to adopt it and they have skin in the game to help.

  • Tourists - they’re the cynical majority. While they may believe in the change they simply don’t know how to activate it. They say, “Wow, that’s a great idea. Someone should think about doing something about that. Not me! But someone. Oh and by the way, that will never work.”

    They ask permission to use the washroom and when anything fails they take no responsibility and blame the tour guide. They don’t know how to step into the change.

    We need to show them, and equip our partners with the skills, both technical and human, to bring more tourists into “partner land.”

    The greatest way to create change is to find your partners and then give them the tools to make the change happen and bring others along for the ride.

  • Prisoners - people who often have their arms folded, they’re leaning back sitting in training and thinking they’re never going to get this time back in their life; and they’re right. It’s those people who you actually ignore because the funny thing is, the more attention you give them, you’re actually rewarding their negative behavior, instead of spending time on the agents of change.

Here’s an example: We worked with a regional VP of a medical device company–he was a younger leader brought in specifically from the president. The president said they needed to shift the way they operated into more collaborative teams. He wasn’t sure how to do it, but told him to try some stuff to see how it went, using the VP’s area as an incubator to see if they could transform the company.

It was a very sales-focused company. As is common in companies, the current state of the culture was one where sales people, particularly high revenue-generating sales people, were rewarded and treated differently. A culture existed that put the sales people on a pedestal. Everyone else was inadvertently, or directly, treated as second-class citizens.

This, of course, didn’t mean the top performers were team players. While they generated the most sales, they often didn’t care about how it was done–they just cared about the output. It’s like your kid’s soccer team beating the other team by kicking them in the shins.

So, in his first year on the job, this new VP hosted a leadership offsite where, due to organizational politics, he had to invite his top performers. The offsite focused on creating a team where all employees were equal contributors no matter if they were in sales, administration, in accounts payable, etc.

His typical top performers said “Leave me alone, I don’t care about your kumbaya stuff, let me run my portfolio and make you money.” So he said ok.

The next offsite, the VP had greater agency to invite who he wanted so he only invited people who he saw were collaborative team players, regardless of their role.

So the top sales people who said “leave me alone,” he listened to them. And when they didn’t receive an invite to the leadership offsite, he got calls from them asking why they didn’t get an invite. They were irate.

"I’m a top performer. Why aren’t I invited?" And he said, “Oh we’re just talking about team collaborative stuff again, you told me you wanted me to leave you alone. If you want to participate next time, show me that you’re a team player.”

He made it very clear what it took to succeed at that company and that people could choose to opt in–it wasn’t just about your own performance, it was about how the rising tide lifts all ships. So that’s the power of creating a vision and then choosing and rewarding behaviors that match that vision.

Create an environment where people can be a team player or they’re out. Include an incentive system where they have to mentor/teach people, and the irony is that it will be fulfilling for them. It’s a risk and it takes courage but it will create more long term, better results and a more resilient team.


Q: Even if you aren’t “focused” on numbers, do you think it’s valuable to still have the learning we create tied into the success of the business?

A: Of course! That’s strategy.

Sometimes you have people go through leadership development work for communication skills or effective feedback/confrontation skills (some people call them soft skills and I don’t think it does them justice, so I refer to them as human skills).

Things like confidence, that’s human, and we need that in order to lead ourselves and others. I’m all for it so long as it’s meant to grow the human being, then it’ll grow the bottom line as well.

No matter what, it is human beings that help us innovate, cooperate and achieve great things.


Q: And what about fostering collaboration among generations. 75% of the workforce will be millennials by 2025. What advice do you have for companies trying to work together with the changing workforce?

A: It's true that millennials are digital natives, meaning they came of age in a world where technology and instant gratification were ubiquitous. No matter what though, humans are still humans. There is more that we have in common than not across generations.

While advancements in technology are impressive and are useful for a few things–like access to information, the speed of a transaction and forming connections– what technology will never be able to do is help us feel fulfilled and love. There isn’t an app for that.

While apps can help us find opportunities for jobs or get dates, fulfillment and love are based upon building relationships and that will always happen at its best in person.

We were told 10 years ago that live conferences would be dead or that brick/mortar retail would be dead. Turns out, relationships still matter.

It’s funny because there’s one conference that happens every year in Las Vegas called Blogoworld, or something, where the world’s bloggers go to Las Vegas for an in-person conference. And if there’s one conference that could happen online, it’d be that one. So I say yes to AI, yes to technology–it’s going to keep advancing, but human beings are still human beings.

When thinking of a company that emulates this, I think of Student Maid in Gainesville, Florida. It’s led by millennials and they only hire millennials or Gen Z.

They have rules where if you’re running late to a meeting, you can’t text, you have to call. For all those people who claim millennials can’t get off their phones and only text and don’t know how to build relationships, they’re wrong. It’s more about the environment we create. If we teach and reward people to show their humanity, they rise to the occasion.

We need boundaries when it comes to technology because it is addictive. We know this because of the dopamine released with every ping and buzz.

Parents, as leaders, need to create boundaries. We lock the liquor cabinet at home when you have a 16-year-old. Why? Because we can’t trust them. I think we need to be doing the same thing with technology.

Simon had this rant on millennials because people asked about the millennial problem (I didn’t know there was a problem?). People describe us as unleadable, but they’re wrong.

Millennials offer a lot of great things–we can think innovatively and can be great problem solvers with and without technology. We’re a lot more accepting as a generation (in general) of all races/genders/sexual orientations.

Millennials, on a whole, have been exposed to parenting styles that are more seagull parenting. My wife and I were on Facebook the other day and asked for babysitter recommendations and a parent reached out to us regarding hiring their son.

It was weird, but parents are playing more of an active role, which can actually sometimes smother their children not allowing them to fend for themselves and grow.

It’s this role of pervasive technology. Technology is good for ordering food, but not good for things like fulfilment and love. Though we can make connections, we can’t build a meaningful relationship using technology, and yet too many Millennials rely on technology for a bit too much.

And it’s our responsibility as people who know more and have experienced more to show them–maybe go on a few dates, or maybe stay at this company for more than six months before you decide that you’re not having an impact. Maybe you need more clarity on the impact you want to make instead of just saying you want to make an impact.

This is on top of the environments where we demand loyalty but don’t give a good enough reason to generate it. There are far too many companies who treat people as numbers, as pawns on a chessboard which is unethical, who use people as human capital rather than having a heart count.

If we don’t feel cared for we’re a lot less likely to extend care to others. If leaders continue to use mass layoffs to balance the books while, at the same time, taking bigger bonuses for themselves, how do you expect anyone to be loyal?


Stephen Shedletzky joined Simon Sinek’s team in 2012, initially answering fan e-mail, and working his way to Head of Brand Experience and Igniter. His WHY? To engage with people in meaningful ways so that we connect with depth and live in a more fulfilled world.