Sara: Kevin Eikenberry, welcome to the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast. I'm so excited to have you here!
Kevin: Sara, I'm glad to be here. I don't know that I qualify as a grown-up, but I'm glad to be here.
Sara: But you're growing, so that's all that counts.
Kevin: That I believe I'm doing. So I get one out of two.
Sara: There you go. So, you know, I've shared with our listeners kind of your official bio resume, who you are. But I think there is an element of who you are that I think is just fun and it's how I happen to know you. So why don't you tell our listeners where you are right now?
Kevin: I'm in our office at Remarkable House. We call it Remarkable House in Indianapolis, right next door to your mom and dad.
Kevin: The short version of the story: we bought this house as an office house, did not do anything with zoning. It's not like we've got people coming in--and certainly not now--we don't have people coming in and out every day and the realtor said, well, "what do you," I said, "I'm going to be a good--I'm going to do my best to be a good neighbor and I won't have a problem," and we're, I don't know, 14 years in and I have loved being neighbors, office neighbors, with your mom and dad.
Sara: Yes, I remember one time, I guess...Gosh, I didn't know it was 14 years, a number of years ago, I was home and Mom and I were walking around the neighborhood and I saw your little stone out front that says "Remarkable House" and I'm like, I didn't know it was an office and I was like, "Why did, why did your neighbors, like, declare themselves as the people with the remarkable house?" And then my dad told me about you and finally last summer, I was able to arrange a visit to come over and hear your story and get some advice from you. So honestly, Kevin, a lot of the credit for this podcast even comes from our conversation we had where you kind of sparked this energy in me to get out and figure out ways to continue to have influence and expand our reach even when COVID made our normal ways possible. So for that, I give you a lot of credit and so it's fun to finally have you as a guest on our podcast.
Kevin: Well, when you reached out and asked if I would do it, I was thinking "I'm excited." I mean, I'm fortunate and blessed to do a lot of these, but I've been looking forward to doing this, so, glad to be with you.
Sara: Awesome. Awesome. Well, let's just jump right in. You, like us, work in the leadership space but what I found is that everybody has a different definition of leadership. They have a different way that they conceptualize it and make sense of it. So for you, when you think about leadership, when you teach leadership, what does leadership mean to you?
Kevin: Well, first of all, it is not a noun, it's a verb, and we're only doing it if people are following. Like, if you think you're leading, but no one's following, Sara, you're just taking a walk. That's the first thing I would say but what I would say beyond that is that leadership is all about moving towards desirable outcomes, future results, something different or better than what you have today with and through other people. So it's always about outcomes and others.
Sara: Mm, that's great. Now, your brand specifically, as we've mentioned, your office is called the "Remarkable House", your kind of main brand is Remarkable Leadership. So what is "remarkable" leadership?
Kevin: Well, a number of years ago, well, the book, "Remarkable Leadership", came out in 2007 the same year that we moved to this, our office to this location, as it turns out. And when I was trying to determine what I wanted to call that book and really the work that we were doing before the book, I wanted a brand and I wanted something that would be understandable, but I wanted something that would, that perhaps we could put a mark around, I mean, not necessarily a trademark, but, you know, a brand. And so one day, I was at a conference in Montreal, Quebec, and I was laying in bed thinking about what my day held in front of me. I said, "I've got to come up with this word. What's the word? What's the word?" And I came up with the word "remarkable" and I rolled it around in my head for three or four days and shared it with some close colleagues at that conference and the word "remarkable" means something worth remarking on, something worth noting, something worth--and not noting from the perspective of, "Ooh, ooh, look at me," but to me, at the end of the day, leadership, you know, outcomes and others, we've already said that but leadership is about helping make things better in the world. Like, nothing great happens in the world, nothing better happens in the world without somebody leading it and so the word "remarkable" is in part a brand, right? But it's in part about this idea that leaders that are noticeably doing something to reach better outcomes through others.
Sara: Mm. I love that. Just the simple-- a leadership worth remarking about. So let me ask you then on that note, like, when you think about a leader that you've either worked with or admired from a distance or any sort of interaction, who is a leader that you look at and say, "That is a remarkable leader," and what makes them so special?
Kevin: So, I've been asked that question a lot of times and I actually love the way you asked it, so I'm going to give you two people, because I do think that we can think of people and we can learn from people and we can have mentors at a distance and even mentors through history. So if you said "who is the most remarkable leader," you know, I would certainly say Jesus but if we went past that, I would probably say Abraham Lincoln for a whole bunch of reasons: leading from a place of principle, leading in a situation that was highly difficult, not necessarily having had the perfect growing up or past or had sort of everything fallen into place for him throughout his life and career. So I would certainly think of Lincoln. So I've given you two and now I'm going to give you a third one. How about that?
Sara: Bring it.
Kevin: And that is my dad, right? So my dad, who passed away...Same here, we bought this house--everything is about the Remarkable House, today! Earlier in that year, in 2007, my father was just 20 years older than I and so, and he grew up on a farm, started a farm. We had a variety of ag businesses and I, in many ways, grew up with my dad was always involved in things from a very young age, not just on equipment or doing stuff, but also involved in meetings that he had with bankers, meetings that he had with other with other business people and so there was tremendous lessons in learning that I gained from all that. I learned a lot from my dad and he was like every other human flawed in significant ways. I mean, he was by no means perfect, right? And yet there were so many things about him that have had a mark on who I am, not only as a person, but as a leader.
Sara: I love it. Those are three great examples. So thank you for sharing that.
Kevin: You're very welcome.
Sara: One last question before we dive into the topic of today. Maybe it's true for you, I know it's true for me, that a lot of the lessons I have learned about leadership come from mistakes that I have made or things I've had to learn the hard way. So I'm wondering if there's any principles about leadership and how to lead well that you had to learn the hard way that maybe you can save our listeners from having to make the same mistakes.
Kevin: So, Sara, we only have 20-some minutes left. I would say that I'm blessed in the work that I do, that I have been able to learn from lots of other people as well. So I certainly have my own scars but I've been fortunate and I think all of us can think about how we can learn from others as well, both what works and what doesn't and so learning from the leadership mistakes of others is valuable, which is why I love the questions. I knew you were going to ask me this question and I thought a lot about it today and I think the mistake that I've made is too often I've lived in the echo chamber of my own head.
Sara: Tell me more about that.
Kevin: So, you know, leadership can be a lonely place, especially if you're also the owner, right? And so as a leader, there are certain things that we, while I'm all for us being transparent and I'm all for us being authentic, but there is the professional, there's the personal, and then there's the private. We don't need to share everything with everyone and while I think my team would probably say that, "Kevin is very open and shares," and I think I do, I have long lived often in stages, lived in the echo chamber of my mind, which means I haven't had, or reached out to mentors, confidence coaches. I think that we need to have coaches in our lives. They can be but they don't have to be someone we pay, although it certainly could be. But we need people that we can get thoughts out of our head. I tell people all the time that thoughts are fuzzy and words bring clarity and the longer that we just roll it around in our head, thinking about something is great but when we talk about it, it helps us tremendously. I have the advantage of writing about stuff all the time on a blog and in newsletters and everything else and in books and so, you know, I've learned a tremendous amount from taking my mistakes and everything else and getting it into words. But too often, I haven't found, sought out, or really used the people that would help me clarify my thinking, reduce my anxiety and, in many cases, help me better understand, because as long as we roll things around in that echo chamber, we're not likely going anywhere with it. It becomes this, like, a cyclical thing. We need to have someone else speak into that or at a minimum, we need someone else to listen. So when we talk about it, we clarify it for ourselves.
Sara: I think that's so great and that's something that on a recent podcast that Keith and I kind of went through some of the best practices of leadership that we've heard from the people we've had on our podcast. That is a consistent theme of people saying you just can't do this alone, right? Even when you are supposed to be the expert, you are the head of the company, even you recognize, "I need other people to speak into this and be on this journey with me," so I love that.
Kevin: I wrote a blog post a long time ago, Sara, something about John Wayne and that he didn't serve us very well and I got some comments like, "What's wrong with John Wayne?" There's nothing wrong with John Wayne but the point is, it's that, you know, "I'm going to handle it, I'm going to take care of it." The singular hero figure and I only use John Wayne as an example, but the point is that's not the right answer. It doesn't serve--It does not serve outcomes and it doesn't serve others and it certainly doesn't serve the third “O”, which is ourselves.
Sara: Yeah, that's really good. So let's talk about why I wanted you on our podcast beyond just the fun--
Kevin: Because you couldn't find anybody else and you know I was your parents' neighbor. You--I know why you really did it, 'cause you wanted Mom and Dad to actually listen to this podcast and now they might.
Sara: They might. We'll see, we'll see. I knew if you said "no", my dad could come knock on your door every day until you said "yes". But in truth, in truth, it's because you have, some of your recent books have been about something that proved more timely than you could have ever imagined and it is about long distance leadership, long distance teammate, remote work. So I have this book that you gave me, The Long Distance Leader, that I didn't realize you wrote, in 2018.
Kevin: Yeah, it came out--
Sara: It came out in 2018, way before we ever knew COVID and the pandemic and quarantine and everything was going to happen and so you were ahead of the curve.
Kevin: And then last year, I had just finished this one, "The Long Distance--"
Sara: Yeah. There you go, Long Distance Teammate, so we'll make sure to link everybody to your resources. But, you know, you're--I'm curious as we go through these questions, how much is going to be different from when you wrote this book three or four years ago, whenever you actually wrote it to today? But when you think about what it takes to lead remotely, what is different? What's the different dynamic traits, anything, like what's different about leading remotely than leading in the more traditional co-located office space?
Kevin: Well, it's almost all nuance, right? So here's the thing and in that book, we talk about rules. In fact, the subtitle of the book is "Rules for Remarkable--" There's the word: "remote leadership" and the first rule is leadership first, location second. So, you know, if you're following Keith and Sara and you're here watching or listening to this podcast, you're trying to be or you're a student of leadership. So you're already doing a bunch of stuff right, as a leader. So what's changed is not leadership, what's changed is context, which means what's changed is that the things that are different are super important, right? But it's not--we still have to coach, we still have to communicate, we still have to do a hundred things that it means to lead, but some of them we now have to do differently. So the first thing I would say is it's much more about nuance than like, "Where do I need to start over?" And I actually think that's an important side-note and you can say about it, whatever you take there if you want. The side note is this, that when we as leaders try to create or lead or influence change in our organizations, we spend all of our time or most of our time focused on what's changing. People have to know what's changing, but not everything is changing, and if we will spend more time letting people know what's not changing first or in conjunction with it, it will make it easier for people to say "yes" to what's changing because it doesn't feel like they're on shifting sand, right? It gives us an assurance that we can get there because it's not all different and now everyone's been doing this for a year and they know it's not all different, but it's different in important ways and for us as leaders, if you forced me in a short segment like we're doing here to say, "What's the thing you've got to do different?" You've got to be more intentional about everything and you've probably got to be more proactive as well. We'll just take one quick example in the hallway, co-located, walking down the hall, you can see if someone had consternation on their face as they looked at their laptop and you probably would stop and check-in. You could see, you could say "good morning", you could make connection. Now, we were living in a world of transactions when before we had much better chance of creating interactions and so we have to be more intentional to create interactions which means, here's what happens, right? "Hey, Sara, I know you're busy. I just need a second of your time. Here's my question. Thanks. Appreciate it." That's a transaction. But well, and there was some of that when we were down the hall over the cubicle wall, right? But far more often that transaction became an interaction and we talked about something else beyond the work and the weather, or even if it was just the weather, it was something else that helped to maintain or grow our relationship and trust and those things are, you know, are harder to do now unless we're really careful.
Sara: Yeah, I mean, it seems so true both, you know, thinking about the years that I spent working in an office where I was in the cubicle farm and the people that sat at the desks next to me, it was, "Hey, how was your weekend?" And you just really got to build those relationships. And now I work from home most days and I feel like I'm missing out on the lives of my coworkers and it's more of a chore to check-in and see how a project is going. So the intentionality What's your advice to people about how to create that intentionality in ways that they didn't have in place before?
Kevin: Well, first of all, we probably need to be communicating--intentionally, communicating more frequently, because some of it just happened automatically or accidentally or incidentally before. So number one is figure out what kind of communication, excuse me, communication rhythm you want with your team members. Talk with them about creating that rhythm. That's the first thing. But the other thing I would say is, what I have, is what I call my "Rule of Four" and my "Rule of Four" is every day I want to have interactions with at least four members of our team. Now, there are 13 of us total, they don't all work for me directly, but I'm talking about 4 out of 13 or I guess 4 out of 12, not counting me. So I'm saying that every day I want to interact with a third of them. That doesn't necessarily mean on a webcam, although it might it doesn't necessarily mean on the phone, although it might. It might mean the way in which we interact in our case Slack messaging and instant message, right? It means that I don't just ask someone for the data or for some advice. We go a little further, right? There's a little bit of laughter, even if it's in a Slack message or whatever. So I'm trying to say to myself, "If I don't do that four times a day, I haven't been successful today." I don't make it every day, but I guarantee you I make it far more often because I've set a goal for myself and I've set a standard for myself about it than I ever would otherwise, because otherwise what happens? The urgent wins, see? Sara: Yeah. Kevin: This is important, but the urgent will otherwise win.
Sara: Always, yeah. So what it sounds like is going back to your definition of leadership. Definition of leadership was outcomes and others, right? It has to have both of those and it seems like what you're saying is the default, when we all get separated and are working remotely, is we default to the outcomes. "I'm calling you because I need something because we have to accomplish a task," so is it that other, the leading others, is that a relational dimension? Is it networking? Like, what's the--?
Kevin: It's a relational dimension. It's a trust dimension. It's a collaboration dimension. So here's what happens when we work remotely. What happens, generally speaking, everything else being equal is the longer we're working remotely, the more we're looking at the same four walls instead of the walls in the office where there's a whole bunch of other visual cues and clues along with the folks, is that we become more insular, we become shorter term in view, and we see our work--our job as our work. But our job is not our work. Our job is our work plus the team's work, which can be defined in lots of different ways depending on what it is. Think about a smaller box with a bigger box that shares two sides. The team, your whole job is the bigger box, not the smaller box and that includes interacting. That includes collaborating. That includes sharing. That includes building trust. That includes interaction as well as connection. It includes all of those things and when we are thinking about the bigger box, when we have our team members thinking about that, then they're far more likely to choose to be engaged because I'm more interested in being engaged in that than in my task list.
Sara: So it sounds like another element of leadership is not just the leader being intentional about connecting with the employees, but the leader being intentional about facilitating connections among the team.
Kevin: So here's the thing. First of all, if you're not doing it, ain't no chance they're going to because they're watching you, right? Like, people say to me, well, I'll ask, "Well, who's--think about a great leader." "Well, they're a role model." I said, "Every leader is a role model. Every one. They're all watching you every day, what you do, what you don't do when you say it, how you say it, when you don't say it, everything they're watching, you're already a role model. The only question is, are you modeling the--are you 'role-ing' the things you want them to model?". The only question. And so if you understand and value this connection, relationship-building piece, then it's far more likely that they will. Now, there are other things that we can do to facilitate that and to encourage it and all of that, but if we're not doing it ourselves, exhorting them to ain't going to help. It's not.
Sara: Yeah. I heard a conversation you and your co-author, Wayne, had on your podcast talking about the intentionality of the word choice in your title of your new book, Team Mate. Do you want to talk about that real quick, just to kind of expand that point a little more?
Kevin: Right. So it says two boxes, right? Bigger box. So here's what's happened in the last year, ask people what they do, so, "Well, I work from home." "...Oh, OK." Well, that doesn't say anything, right? That's different than saying, "I'm a remote teammate. I'm a part of a remote team." That's something different. It's saying something about how you view your work, not where you do your work and so to me, there's a big difference between working from home and being an effective teammate, and teammate to us means something more than being a member of the team. I can be picked for the team, I can be selected to be a member of the team but when I'm a teammate with you, Sara, that changes my expectations of you and my expectations of myself. There's a level of care. There's a level of interest. There's a level of support. There's the need for encouragement and those are the things that are the choices that we make when we choose to be engaged. So stay engaged. Subtitle: "Stay engaged and connected while working anywhere", right?
Kevin: That's the big idea of the book.
Sara: So be intentional, that was one of your big advices -- is "advices" a word? -- pieces, pieces of advice for your leaders. What else would you say to people who are, and I guess is there a difference if the leader is being remote and the whole team is a remote or like if the leader is leading a few people who are remote? Is there any difference in the makeup of that?
Kevin: Now we're talking about where the world is headed, which is hybrid, right? Some here, some not here, some here some days, others here some other days, seldom are we all here, you know, and the varieties of that. If we think about it this way, before we had most everybody in the office. think about a rainbow, right? That's red, right, and what we moved to was the other end of the rainbow, which is violet. Everyone's at home and don't pay no attention to the colors, I'm just using the metaphor, right? And where we're going to be is somewhere in between. ROYGBIV, right? We're going to be somewhere in orange, yellow, green, blue. We're going to be somewhere in the middle and exactly what it looks like is all of that is going to change all of this again. The simplest thing I will say about it is this, that if you've got one team member that's remote, you have a remote team. But there's far more to this when we go to this hybrid than there was even when we were at either end of the spectrum, right? And our hope is that we can help people create something that's better than either of the other two. Long-term.
Kevin: And that tends to be the focus of our work right now,
Sara: So let me ask you this. It's a theme I've heard from a few people is kind of the hope that this last year has been really hard, a lot of changes we weren't prepared for, we've suffered. But maybe on the other side, we'll have learned something that will make things better going forward. So your response about kind of this middle of the rainbow being better, what do you think is going to come out of this last year that you hope will last, that you hope will be a leadership quality or behavior or practice that continues because it makes people better leaders? Leading to better outcomes?
Kevin: We have been leading during an age of empathy and so for the first time for many leaders, their eyes were opened to the fact that, "Oh, empathy really matters here." And not every leader has done that. And not every lesson we learn in a situation do we hold on to, right? And not every hybrid team is going to be better than either end, right. For the sake--for lots of the same reasons. That's our vision of what we can create is something better than either end of the spectrum. My vision is that leaders will remember the value of, the importance of, the criticality of empathy for our team members. I think for many, they figured that out and have done a better job with it, and it's my hope that we don't forget the lesson.
Sara: So I personally love the concept of empathy. It's a part of a lot of the work that I teach, but I get resistance from a number of people who say, "Ugh, that is--that's too personal. It's too touchy-feely. It's not my job to know about somebody's family. That's their private world." How do you convince somebody the value of empathy if their natural reaction is the more, you know, "it's not personal, it's business" approach?
Kevin: I just had--I use this phrase. I think I used this phrase a few minutes ago, I had a gentleman on my podcast, the Remarkable Leadership podcast the other day. His name is Minter Dial and I can't remember, I'm not--I'm looking right now. I don't know if I see his book, to tell you the name of the book. But here was the thing he mentioned to me that I absolutely loved, that we have a professional life and lens, we have a personal life and lens, and we have a private life and lens and I think people that have that resistance are lumping personal and private together. As a leader, we don't need to share everything about our innermost thoughts, workings, etc. but we need to be in that personal realm and it's the same with our team members. And I want to give him all the credit, because he gave me a handle to talk about what I've been talking about for years and there's the difference. There's a difference between being able to connect with someone personally and knowing everything about their private lives. Like, we all know someone who's like an oversharer, right? You don't have to be that or ask them to be that but a big part of trust is a sense of emotional closeness. That trust is not only, you know, is not only trusting what people say and trusting what people do, but it's also having this sense of emotional closeness and the more of that that we build with people, the more trust will grow and the more resilient our trust will be with them and at the end of the day, people follow us because they know, like, and trust us. And so at that level, I don't know how you can leave that out.
Sara: I love that.
Kevin: I don't know how you can leave it out if you really want to lead at the highest levels, and that's not about us, it's about reaching those outcomes that we started out with.
Sara: That's so good, I think I'm going to keep this little soundbite in any time somebody pushes back on it rather than trying to say it, I'm just going to be like, "Listen to how Kevin explains it," because I think that makes a lot of sense. And I just think--
Kevin: I know what, I think I know what the clip you're going to use in social media is.
Sara: Maybe. I just think about the early days of, you know, for me, it was I didn't work from home that much until March of 2020 and how many Zoom calls I was on and I could hear my husband being on where all of a sudden everybody's bringing their dogs on to the camera and it's like stuff you would never do before. Let me be all buttoned up and let me be, you know, in this very quiet professional space and then all of a sudden my big golden-doodle's jumping up in my lap and I'm like, "Well...here's my dog."
Kevin: And everybody does what? "Oh, what's their name?!" Sara: And they--right, it made such--"Well, let me get my dog!" And it was this human connection that all of a sudden, I'm not just Dr. Sara who's on a coaching call, I'm Dr. Sara who has a dog that she loves and acts funny with, you know? It just, it did kind of change that and I love that you called out the empathy.
Kevin: So, Tom Peters, in what he says is going to be his last book, we'll see. It's just come out, it's called Extreme Humanism and he would be clapping for this part of this conversation.
Sara: Oh, cool. I'll have to look him up.
Kevin: Not extreme--I think, yeah, Extreme Humanism, I think is what it's called. It's brand new, just come out. I got my copy just the other day. I've read enough of it to know that you ought to have a copy, everyone ought to have a copy of it.
Sara: All right, all right. I'll add it to my reading list. I know you're a big reader. I was going to ask you what you're reading, so.
Kevin: Oh, what am I reading? All sorts of stuff. I'm always reading what I'm going to have people on as guests but I'm also reading, I'm reading Tom's new book right now and I'm reading--I'm going to be reading this here shortly because I'm going to have this guy on my podcast, the book is called Be Where Your Feet Are. So it's about being present, which I think is going to be really, really great. But I'm also reading a book right now, and I cannot tell you the author, because I don't have it in front of me. But the book is called Work and it's about the history of work and I think I need to understand--I need to understand that better for all of what we're trying to do to help people think about the future of work. Because as I've already said, Sara, we've got to know what's going to happen and how we can make the best of what's to come.
Sara: Yeah. So good. Well, listen, we need to wrap up for the sake of time but let me ask you, what do you have going on in your life right now that you are excited about?
Kevin: Well, a lot. A lot. But I'll pick on just a couple--I'll focus on a couple of things that really relate to what we've been talking about. We're about ready--I can't really say that yet, it's a little too soon for that, but we're spending a lot of time talking about the future of work and how to navigate hybrid organizations and how to figure out where we want to be on that rainbow as an organization, I believe that we are living in a moment that matters and the decisions that organizations make now and how they make them in the next few months are going to be critical to their long-term success. I told my financial advisor, "If I can figure out big companies that have solid competitors that have decided to bring everybody back, I'm not going to invest in them," because they're not--they're going to be underperformers because they're going to lose talent. I mean, this is one example of all that. So we're trying to think bigger about all of that and so I know I'll be writing about that on my blog. At www.blog.kevineikenberry.com and I know that I'll be writing a lot about that in our brand new LinkedIn newsletter, so if you--called Remarkable Results--so if you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, I'd love for you to do that. Tell me where you found me and we'd love to connect with you if that's an area that you're thinking about, we're spending a lot of time there and I just released a brand new course with LinkedIn learning about creating your hybrid organization. So--
Sara: Oh, awesome.
Kevin: I write about all that stuff and www.longdistanceteammate.com, www.longdistanceleaderbook.com
Sara: Yeah, I mean, we always ask people how do our listeners find you and you are a person who is all over the Internet, all over social media, so there's so many great places they can connect with you, get on your newsletters, listen to your podcast, read your books, your courses, all that different stuff. So we will definitely, on our webpage, www.growinggrownups.com, if you go to the Kevin's podcast page, we will have all those links for you. Is LinkedIn your preferred place that you want people to connect with you?
Kevin: It's a great place to connect with us. I mean, obviously, you can go to the websites and you can connect via email -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- and all those sorts of things. But we're just finding in part because I've done a number of LinkedIn courses now, that's becoming more and more a hub for me and even with all the--as wonderful as email can be, with all the vulgarities of email deliverability, you know, those messages always get through, so. It's becoming a place that I spend more time.
Sara: All righty, we will get people over to your LinkedIn page. Any other words of wisdom you want to share with us before we wrap up today?
Kevin: Everybody keep listening to Sara and Keith and find people that speak truth that is accessible to you for you to become a more effective leader because it's only, it's only with leadership that we can make the world a better place.
Sara: Oh, beautiful, well said and, well, thank you for your time, Kevin, and for your wisdom, and as you always sign off in your emails: you, my friend, are remarkable.
Kevin: Thanks, Sara.