I’m here today with Dr. Daphne Scott who talks about her new book, Waking Up a Leader: Five Relationships of Success. There are a ton of books out there about leadership and mindfulness and productivity. As you’ll hear in this conversation though, even with all of that information floating around, Dr. Scott has managed to interweave all of these concepts together in a really compelling way that feels very fresh. Best of all, Dr. Scott talks about all of this simply and in a way that really resonates.
As you’ll hear in this interview, I spent a lot of our conversation saying, “Yes! That!” Not only that, but she’s funny, as you would expect from someone who is not only a business leader, but also one with an improv training.
Dr. Daphne Scott: I mean, my professional life originally was as a physical therapist, but I was always interested, oddly enough, in humor and comedy. I took improvisation classes, which by the way, I would recommend to anyone who just wants to be a better listener. I mean, there’s nothing like an improv class to support you in becoming a better listener. There’s a lot to unpack there, but I did that my 30s and started on that path. I just started doing some presenting and then got very interested, as the truth is, I was a horrible manager.
I just struggled with leading and managing people. I got my first leadership position as many people do. You’re just really good at the initial job you are hired for, you get the promotion, and you’re really excited, and then you realize, “Oh my gosh. I’m responsible for these people in some way,” you know? Like, “It’s not just me anymore.”
I just struggled. I was like, “Why don’t these people just do what I tell them to do?” You know? “How hard can it be?” I’m like, “Well, people don’t work that way.” Okay, so I thought, “Either I’m going to get really a lot better at this, or I’m going to just hate my professional life.” I chose the first one and started really trying to understand more about what it was to lead people and understand people, which led me really quite frankly into this.
There were two things that happened simultaneously. One, I was very stressed out and that led me down this path of, what we would call now mindfulness. I wasn’t called that then, by the way. It was in the self-help realm, you know, the personal development realm. Then at the same time, this led me to really understand more about the real tactical parts of leading and managing people and psychology. It just all sort of blended together and before I knew it, I was giving talks and presentations and talking with groups and that sort of thing, and here we are today.
Nikki Van Noy: I can see how you’re pulling from all of these different various elements and combining them into this really unique point of view.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah.
Nikki Van Noy: I can make a jump about how mindfulness would make you a better leader, but I’ve never heard anyone specifically talk about these two things together. We talk about them separately all the time, so talk to me about how mindfulness fed your ability to lead?
Dr. Daphne Scott: It’s such a great question. On one level, when we talk about mindfulness, we’re talking about how we’re working with ourselves, working with our emotions, working with our reactions to things which, you know, you make a better decision when you’re calm than you will when you’re stressed out or running around like a lunatic, spilling your coffee, and trying to do five things at once, right? And like the worst thing is for me to spill my coffee, obviously.
There’s that way of doing things, which isn’t very effective, however, it can really be something that we can all relate to in our lives–trying to do five things at once. There’s that idea. This is interesting because the second part of this, I learned this in my own life and then when I was working with other leaders too. I can meditate every day, I can be very mindful about things and yet I find that I struggle.
My list doesn’t work well, you know? My calendar’s kind of a mess. I’m trying to organize myself and there are just really tactical skills that I found that leaders need to have on board that are really helpful. I’ll give you an example. This is where the two start to come together. Most people don’t realize that organizing, looking ahead at your calendar to plan your week, is actually part of my mindfulness practice.
Nikki Van Noy: Talk to me about that.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah, it’s like, how can I be present for what’s coming or what’s going to be showing up in my world if I don’t know what’s coming? You’re going to find yourself in a reactionary mode a majority of the time if you’re not aware. For example, on Sunday, I haven’t looked at what’s happening on Monday. Or what I’ve agreed to, I guess I would say, if it’s on my calendar, that means I’ve agreed to it. I don’t know what’s going to be on there or if I don’t know what is on there, then it’s going to feel like I’m reacting to things all the time.
You realize, “Oh I forgot I have a doctor’s appointment at 1:00.” Or, “Oh my gosh, I forgot that I had to take the kids, and pick the kids up at four,” you know? It’s things like that and then we always feel like we’re on our heels.
Nikki Van Noy: Sorry, I may or may not be guilty of that, I’m sort of cringing over here. Thinking, that makes sense.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Right, exactly. You know, when I talk to leaders and work with leaders, it’s both. This comes from my improv world for sure. It’s both. I want the mindfulness practices and I think that’s very important. I think meditation is very important. All the mindfulness practices and ways that we cultivate things during the day are very important, and it’s also really helpful to have some skills, to understand how to do things in a way that makes you more effective. It’s both. I talk about both.
Nikki Van Noy: I’m curious about this. Five years ago, it seems to me, if you would have suggested mindfulness as an element of leadership, you would have gotten written off as the quack. Obviously.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Totally.
Nikki Van Noy: We’re beginning to shift though. I’m curious how people tend to react to that now when you bring it up. Is it a sell or does it make sense to people?
Dr. Daphne Scott: You know, it still can be a little bit of a sell on some level. First of all, I just want to honor the Eastern traditions and really, all the contemplative spiritual practices incorporate some level, you can call it meditation or whatever you want to call it, but they all have some version of that embedded in them. I want to honor those practices in histories, especially from the East. A lot of these practices came from the Eastern traditions.
I think what’s really helped is where the West and the East have been very collaborative friends in a sense is that the West really brought the science. I don’t get too science-y in my book. I know all the science, you know. Scientist, originally in my career–but when they looked at functional MRI’s and they looked at what really happens with literally, structural changes in the brain. I mean, anything new that we learn is going to change the structure of your brain. That’s just part of the deal.
They looked at what meditation practices in particular really were doing to actually change structures of the brain and how these centers were reacting. For example, one center of the brain would react more reliably under stress and becomes less reactive. They were seeing this, and they don’t know all the reasons why for this, but when they look at meditation, that starts to happen. These changes are happening in the brain. I think the Western science part of this has been very helpful to people.
It doesn’t seem as woo-woo. You can see that It actually is doing something and the more we’ve understood about neural plasticity, the more we’ve understood about how physiology works. When I get stressed, my breathing is shallower. It’s sort of common sense that says, “Well, maybe I should take a deep breath three or four times. That will calm me down.” But literally, what’s happening in your physiology is shifting too.
It isn’t just a mind thing, it’s also a body thing. I think that’s really helped. I think that’s where this is becoming less and less of a sell in many ways. I like to say, for people who want it all, you don’t want just a great bottom line. You want a great bottom line and to feel good about the work you’re doing and have people around you who are relatively joyful, as much as possible.
Nikki Van Noy: Totally, I mean, that’s the dream, yeah.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Right, yeah. I don’t think anybody wakes up Monday morning and says, “I can’t wait to get to the office and have the worst time possible with my colleagues,” you know? I mean, no one’s saying that. At least not the people that I talk to, they’re not saying that.
I think that helps. I think that’s been something that’s made this feel much less ‘woo-woo’. I like to use that word ‘woo-woo’, and then people seeing, “This is another way that I can probably become a little less stressed in my life. A little calmer and a little bit more effective.”
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, I mean, it makes so much sense even in terms of little things. I know I’ve definitely had the experience of looking through my inbox and forgetting to breathe for a little bit. It’s a real thing and that’s not a great place to be responding to emails from, certainly.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Definitely not.
Nikki Van Noy: In your book, Waking Up a Leader, you talk about this sort of merging of internal and external when it comes to becoming a better leader. We’ve already touched on that, but let’s get really explicit for listeners about what you mean by this.
Dr. Daphne Scott: I’m going to talk about it just ever so slightly differently than I do in the book, just because I think it helps round out some of this a little bit. What I mean is, the book is really about how we relate to everything. A lot of times, we feel like stuff is doing something to us, you know? The person who kind of gives us that response on email, we think, “They’re doing this, they’re making me miserable,” that sort of thing.
Or time is a big one–time. The first of the five relationships in the book, time is the first one. We act like a 1:00 in the afternoon is doing something to us. Hours in the day, right? The first part of working with ourselves is to recognize we’re choosing how we relate to these things. That’s the first part.
Nikki Van Noy: I like that.
Dr. Daphne Scott: It’s great. I mean, it’s super–I think it’s the root of everything, our mind is all we have. You know, our consciousness is the thing that I have, to a point, a certain level of influence over. So, I can’t control you, right? You’re doing what you’re going to do and why waste a lot of time on that. Therefore, you’re not doing anything to me, it’s how I relate to this.
That’s the first part, it’s very empowering. It’s very, “Okay, I get that.” That being said, there is a point and I think this is where some of these practices can become a little wonky for people, because that sends the message that, “Okay, well, it’s all up for grabs then. Any problem that I’m having is just how I’m relating to it.” It means that nothing in the environment needs to change, nothing in the external needs to change. It’s just all my problem now.
That is not, of course, entirely true either. This is like the essay and I like to point to this when I talk about resilience because a lot of times people will take the idea of resilience and they think that it means that they should be able to tolerate everything, or rather, that they should tolerate anything.
That’s not what we’re talking about, so it’s both. When I work with leaders, what I tell them is, “Look, there are absolutely the parts of your mind, let’s talk about how you relate to time, that relationship needs to shift for sure if you keep feeling not effective. Just notice, almost every person I know would say they have this experience of ‘not having enough time.’”
How can we get all these people to agree on that? We couldn’t get people to agree on anything, right? But yet we’ll all agree on that. There’s clearly something happening in our consciousness and in the collective and at the same time, it really helps to understand how to use your time effectively. You know, how to have the best access to your energy as an example. That it really isn’t about time, it’s how you manage your energy.
Managing your energy means, “I am going to make sure I get a good night’s sleep, whatever that is for me,” you know? “I am going to make sure that I move around during the day instead of just staying strapped to my computer for eight hours,” which they’ve shown isn’t really helpful. It’s both.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, you know, all this stuff sounds so simple. I think we all know this, but it really is, it feels like the big crisis of our time because of technology. As a creative, I remember not that long ago, like 10 years ago, where I just had time to be bored and my creativity was so much different than it is today. Even though I know that, it’s like being a rat with this button to just press over and over again. It’s really hard.
Dr. Daphne Scott: It can be. It really can. I mean, this is where we come back to the internal parts of things. If you think about those moments when we distract ourselves or those moments when we let our attention get taken away, you’re not choosing where you’re putting it, you’re allowing it to be taken away. I think that’s where the internal part of this really lives, because once you start understanding that you have the ability to direct your attention wherever you want it to go, when you want it to go there, to be able to do that, you have to be able to pay attention.
I have to even be able to know when it’s being taken away and I think that’s where meditation practices become really the root of even understanding what we’re doing with our attention and how we’re placing our attention on things, and then how we’re relating to the things that show up in our world.
Yeah, it’s a lot. I mean, it’s interesting though, we can blame our modern times but there’s a quote, I’m not going to say it exactly, but Pascal said this, and he said this the 16th century. He said, “Man’s greatest challenge or man’s biggest problem is that no man can sit in the room alone by himself for 10 seconds.”
There were no cellphones then, there were no computers, there were no television then, and yet you know, same problem. Same thing.
Nikki Van Noy: Well, it comes back to what you were saying before which is that we need to have something doing something to us. For me, my phone is the bastard. It’s easy for me to outsource everything on that.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Exactly. It’s easier to have someone to blame, right? Isn’t it? I mean, that’s really the whole thing, it’s easier for me not to take responsibility, it’s easier for me just to blame everything else, absolutely. Yeah, that’s funny.
Nikki Van Noy: It’s this phone I paid a thousand dollars for that’s walked into my life and tortured me.
Dr. Daphne Scott: That’s really good.
Nikki Van Noy: The subtitle of this book is Five Relationships of Success, that’s what you’re talking about, but time is number one. Let’s break down what those other four are.
Dr. Daphne Scott: The five relationships are time, money, the self or identity, friendships, and the unknown. The essence of all those is first and foremost, how we relate to those, so how we relate to the idea of time. How do we relate to the idea of money, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we tend to always want more and not to lose any?
Nikki Van Noy: No, that’s not me.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah, exactly, you’re like, “No”. And then the chapter where we get into how we relate to the self or the identity is probably where the deep practices of mindfulness really take root in the book. It’s intentional that one is right in the middle of the other two, kind of bookending the other two around them.
How we really relate to this idea of a self is a very deep part of the book and is really getting into the root of how we see reality, which is, if you’ve also noticed, we spend an awful lot of time trying to keep things permanent. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this either.
Nikki Van Noy: You’re talking to everybody else in this conversation, not me.
Dr. Daphne Scott: For you that are listening to this podcast, not Nikki or myself.
We spend an awful lot of time wanting to keep things permanent, believing that we are permanent. That is a very deep part of the book in seeing how we relate to this idea of a self, including the idea of our bodies, that’s in that chapter. Then how we relate to friends and just in general relationships, they are the stuff of life, right? They’re the greatest, the things it can bring us the greatest joy and also the greatest heartbreak in our life and so I talk about friendship and why that is so important.
I start off that chapter actually talking about suicide, which I think is very interesting, but it sounds horrible. I look back on it and I am like, “This is a weird way to start with friendships,” but I’ve got to start there because I don’t know, it’s my book.
So, I did talk about friendships and why we need them and in particular for leaders and people in business, this can become a very hollowed sort of existence.
You are trying to go out to get the next deal, or a majority of your time is spent with your team and there is not a deep root there. You know, it is just sort of the surface sort of existence.
The last chapter then is on the unknown and naturally, that is one of the big ones because once you recognize that we can’t control everything and life is impermanent by nature, and that is the deepest truth of the whole thing, you recognize that we are always in the experience of the unknown. Our brain is wanting so much to control, so much to predict what is going to happen so that we can feel safe. How we relate to this experience of really being in the unknown is a really critical factor in our success as well. In a nutshell, those are the five relationships.
Nikki Van Noy: Wow, it makes sense to me. I mean my brain is sort of exploding here but I love that you are talking about leadership in this context. Well, I mean it makes sense because you are a chief culture officer for Confluent Health, but I feel like one of the great things about workplaces today, and it is not everywhere, but I am guessing your company is one of those places where we are starting to turn our attention toward the whole self.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah. Yeah exactly.
Nikki Van Noy: In this context it all makes sense, but I feel like even 10 years ago there was your personal self and professional self and we all pretended like one didn’t have that much to do with the other, which is ridiculous really, but I mean that was the culture we were existing in.
Dr. Daphne Scott: I think what’s starting to happen too over time is we’ve hit this and we are hitting it, I think we are still right in the middle of it, but especially in the west, and in the United States probably more so, we are hitting this point where in many instances businesses are figuring out that we can make money.
I say this to some of the leaders that I work with and it is sort of reductionist in a way but I say, “Look, any jerk on the planet at this point can make some money. You really don’t have to be a rocket scientist at this point to do that.” And they get a little agitated by that. The point that I am really making is that, if that is your big benchmark, if that is your only benchmark for success in this day and age, I think people are really turned off by that. It is very hard to really have access to your full wellbeing as an individual and in an organization, if your biggest metric is, “Did we make money or not?”
People want more than that, they want to know, “Yes, the business can make money–that is important.” If you’re not making money, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. So, you need to have some cash. At the same time, people want to have a sense of wellbeing. You know, work is a beautiful way that we can find meaning and purpose in our life. It allows us to feel like we are making a contribution, which is a huge thing for being human on the planet.
We want to have a sense of belonging. We want to have a sense that we can get better at things over time, and so work becomes a means by which we can do that. When organizations can foster all of that, it is that triple win for people within the organization. It is a big deal. It is what allows organizations to thrive and become sustainable and reproduce-able over time.
Nikki Van Noy: I am asking you to generalize here for sure but I am curious when you talk about these concepts, how do people generally react to them? Is there some hesitancy because it is different than what they have been taught as leaders or is it like a relief to people and then something clicks all of a sudden?
Dr. Daphne Scott: Well, first of all, let me comment about the generations that are in businesses now. I mean we have four generations working together and so you have the baby boomer generation where this is very foreign–this idea of wellbeing is foreign. You stayed with one company for 50 years, you got your pension and you got out. You came, you worked, you did your job, you went home, to your point. I am generalizing obviously. It is not that way across the board.
Then you have my generation, which is Gen X and we’re just mad, we’re just cynical. I mean we watched our baby boomer parents, right? We watched them lose their jobs and lose their pensions.
Then you have the generation after them, the millennials, and you’ve got even the generation coming up now behind them. So, I think some of that plays a part in how people perceive a lot of these different ideas.
I also think that people get in a mindset of ‘either/or’ pretty easily. You know, either we make money, or we have a nice culture. I say you actually can do both. They’re not antithetical to each other. I always honor the skeptics. I think healthy skepticism is a good thing. I always honor the skeptics in the room and what I really say to people is if you haven’t done it this way, then you don’t know. If you haven’t tried these things don’t poo-poo it without trying.
If you give it a full effort and things don’t work out, you are well within your right to say, “I really gave this a full effort, none of this worked. My life became a disaster.” You are well within your right to do that, but if you haven’t, then you have to be willing to give things a try and to see what your own true experience is first. Then, by all means, criticize away. I just try to encourage people that way. So yeah, I think there is always some healthy skepticism about what this looks like.
And by the way, for every organization that I worked with, for every team that I work with, there can be nuances that have to be addressed. There can be differences and the way in which people can go about it can look very different and I think that is very important too. The context matters greatly.
Nikki Van Noy: It also strikes me that for something like this to work, there has to be elasticity because it would be a disaster if you had a very strict program with something like this. I can’t see that fitting into every company very well.
Dr. Daphne Scott: No, not at all. It would be really in the opposite direction of being aware of what is happening. “We are just going to do this the way we have always done it,” which again comes back to just trying to systematize things to a level, that doesn’t have some elasticity built into it is really that helpful.
Nikki Van Noy: So talk to me about some of the transformations you have seen as people have started to concentrate on these five relationships, whether it is individuals you have worked with or entire cultures of companies–whatever the case might be.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah, oh my gosh. You know individually I’d say more than a handful, where people start to experience themselves as more relaxed, they can really see what is starting to happen. Really the number one thing that people come back to me and say as individuals is, “I just feel more easy about things. I feel relaxed about things. I feel more peace within myself even when things aren’t going the way that I’d prefer that they would. Even when things aren’t going the way that I would have wanted them to go or I wish that they were going, I am not feeling as stressed about those things.” And I think that is the big compliment that people give me or the feedback that people give me where these practices have been incredibly helpful for them.
That says everything to me. I was just speaking at a conference several weeks ago and a woman came up to me and she said, “That talk,” you know it was a 20 minute talk and she said, “You know, a few things that you said around impermanence, being able to be with our feelings really just struck me.” She said, “I just am seeing where I am trying to control something in my life and skip over it and this is really what is creating all my stress.”
Yeah, I mean people say things like that and I don’t ask a lot of questions or anything because I am standing there in front of a group of a hundred people, but you know she gets very teary-eyed and I can just feel that she is letting go at some level. She is seeing what is happening for her and she’ll take whatever action she needs to take. So, on the individual level that is not an uncommon experience.
For teams and organizations, that is where the rubber really hits the road. That is when I hear that people have been able to go to their boss and talk to their boss about things that are happening for them–where people would have been fearing retribution. Or worst, futility, where nothing is going to change. And where changes happen. And they happen in a way that they didn’t anticipate. Then where teams function, where teams can really talk to each other and connect with one another and they get their work done in a more meaningful way.
That has happened tons and tons of times. Where things have been normally swept under the carpet, where they’re not now, and they can really address things and handle things that allow them to be more effective in the workplace. I think that is a big deal.
Nikki Van Noy: That is huge. That is like the corporate version of mending a marriage and preventing a divorce basically. Huge.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah huge. I think this is the other part. That is the other side of this, I am so glad you said that about divorcing. There are going to be times where it is not a good fit for people. Where, “Oh I thought this is what this was going to be like, and it turns out it’s not.” I think one of the other things, when people are really awake, is that they can leave an organization without blame or criticism.
They can leave because they know it is the right move for them, but they are not judging and criticizing the people that they’re used to work with. They don’t leave from a place of just blaming. They leave from a place of, “Wow, I really looked at this and what is happening for me and I actually meant to be over here, not here.”
That is a whole other level of taking responsibility for yourself in a way and not holding other people accountable for your preferences, for your desires, and I think that is a big deal too.
Nikki Van Noy: Absolutely and it strikes me too that this is so important for people who are working within cultures that can’t withstand something like this, to be reminded that it is not the only way. I know I have been in bad work situations where I lose all sense of perspective and it feels like this is forever or this is my only option, which is simply not true.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Right, exactly. It simply is not true, and they are probably not trying to do something to you.
Nikki Van Noy: Right just like time. I am learning I don’t have all of these enemies who I thought were out to get me in this conversation.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Exactly. There is one other thing I wanted to comment on that you said that was good where you said, I don’t remember the exact words but I’ll put my words on top of the essence of what you were talking about, but it was like, “some of this is common sense,” you know? And you are exactly right, in the spirit of what I was talking about, getting good sleep, and I actually make this point one part of the book. Those are not earth-shattering practices.
When we can see though how we are relating to things, we start to understand. For example, if I believe I don’t have enough time, how much sleep am I going to allow myself to get? I thought that was very good when you said that because I actually make that point in the book too. I say, “Please forgive these non-earth shattering practices that I am about to say to you,” but when you understand the relationship that we are creating with all of these five relationships, you start to understand how we create this self-fulfilling prophecy in a way.
Nikki Van Noy: What I really enjoy about everything that you have talked about and the reason that I keep laughing is because it’s like, “Oh yeah, it is so simple and straightforward that I can identify it as, ‘Oh yeah that’s me,’” and it sounds silly when you put it that way. I keep coming back to this, but it is ridiculous to think time is out to get me, but it really does feel like that sometimes. Becoming aware of that is valuable and I feel like we can try and make all of this stuff so tricky, which then results in more overwhelm. It is completely counterproductive, so I love hearing this all put together in such a straightforward way. It is really powerful, all joking aside.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah thanks. You know I think that is my approach too, is to do my best. Two things. You know, making it straight forward in a sense, and what I hope for people really is that they give themselves the opportunity with the practices and that they really find out from their own experience. I think that is the only way to truly know.
I think that is part of what happens–we get told a lot of things, we learn a lot of concepts. We learn more constructs, we are given more descriptions of things, but we don’t really give ourselves the opportunity to see, “Well, how is this working?”
You can already see, “Yeah I actually do see how I create this relationship with this thing called time. I really can see the things that I tell myself and they literally are just thoughts in my head but man, I start believing in them and then I start experiencing all of the stress.”
Once you actually start having the experience of that for yourself, you’re like, “Oh, now I am seeing how it works. You know it is not Daphne the author telling me anything,” and ideas are good. I mean they help, but I really hope for people that is what they start to experience. They have that experience for themselves. You need to have some practice.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, damn practice, but you are right. Those thoughts are like the rubber band on your wrist so that when you catch yourself doing it, you’d be like, “Ah! Stop that! You are doing it again.”
Dr. Daphne Scott: Exactly, there it is again and how much attention do I want to give to it? Oh, none? Great. Go on my way. Yeah, I love that damn practice. If only I would just do what I tell it to do.
Nikki Van Noy: Seriously, the book I want to read is how to make that happen. Things just do themselves for you. That would be lovely.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah, it would be helpful.
Nikki Van Noy: Okay, so let’s talk about where listeners can find you. You’ve got a lot of things going on here.
Dr. Daphne Scott: Yeah, I do. Well, my website is www.daphne-scott.com. They can actually get the book on Amazon. If people want to get the book, they can find it there, Waking Up A Leader: Five Relationships of Success. I am also on Twitter @daphnescott and I have a Facebook page, Dr. Daphne Scott Leadership Life, and if they are interested, I have two courses that are available.
My Waking Up a Leader, it is a 10-week online leadership development course which really is the crux of bringing some very specific modules together. I think they are the core skills of any great leader that needs to have on board. They can find that at www.wakingupaleader.com and there is also a mindfulness course on there as well. So, feel free to check out any of those resources. And I have a podcast. If you really want to listen to my voice every week because you just love the sound of my voice you can find my podcast, The Super Fantastic Leadership Show and I talk about all kinds of concepts related to leadership and life.