Episode 293

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I have repeatedly said that many agency owners have earned an MBA in emotional leadership over the last year and a half. It’s been exhausting, frightening, paralyzing, motivating, inspiring, and, at times, you’re simply doing whatever it takes to survive. You’ve done so with grace, authority, enthusiasm, and vision, but I also know that you’re tired and anxious about what’s coming next. The question becomes, how can we best manage and communicate our emotions for the good of our agency, team, and personal well-being?

Author and executive coach Dr. Roger Hall uses his doctorate in psychology to help business owners manage their thinking and in turn, manage their team. His background and expertise has given him insights and tools that we can immediately begin to employ in our emotional leadership.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Dr. Hall and I talk about the emotional challenges many agency owners are currently facing. We explore tools for better monitoring, controlling, and expressing these emotions and techniques for building self-possession and resilience. We also look at 10 habits for leaders who are both happy and productive, and tips for fast-tracking improvements.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Emotional Leadership

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why emotional leadership mattered during the pandemic
  • Tools for thought monitoring, thought stopping, and thought replacement
  • Why it can be helpful to let yourself worry
  • How humans can literally smell fear
  • Techniques for becoming more self-possessed
  • How to become a better emotionally intelligent leader
  • 10 Habits of leaders who are both happy and productive
  • Tips for fast-tracking emotional improvements
“It’s one thing to gin up courage. It’s another to be self-possessed. It really starts with what you are telling yourself.” @Rogers2Cents Click To Tweet “Human beings are naturally anti-fragile. We become stronger through adversity. Not just resilient, but stronger.” @Rogers2Cents Click To Tweet “When human beings are afraid and don’t know what to do, they tend to look to the people around them, and if you model for them the ability to solve this problem, they will imitate that.” @Rogers2Cents Click To Tweet “The habits of happiness are few and simple. The habits of unhappiness are a pantheon.” @Rogers2Cents Click To Tweet “Happiness comes when human beings are solving challenging problems in their domain of expertise. So, happiness and productivity are inextricably linked.” @Rogers2Cents Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Dr. Roger Hall:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. I am super grateful that you’re here, as I tell you often, because I don’t want you to think I’d take it for granted. I know you’re crazy busy. So, I want to thank you for carving out the time to invest in and ingest this podcast, and to take the learnings and hopefully do something with them. As you know, I work really hard to find guests who are going to tell us new ideas, new strategies, but most of all, things that we can put into play right away.

I am not a big, let’s talk about the philosophy of something without it coming down to some sort of tangible action. Sometimes that’s a stop doing, sometimes that’s a do something different or do something new, or tweak something you’re already doing, whatever it may be, but I want you to have takeaways from all of these podcast episodes and be able to put them into play inside your agency. Super grateful you’re here. Thank you for joining us. Before I tell you about our guest, I want to remind you that we have put together a course called My Future Self.

That course is helping agency owners look out five years from today, and really think about where they want to be in those five years, and what does that life look like? And what does work look like? And who are they working with? And what is the agency doing? And what’s your role in the agency at that point? It’s a really great guided exercise that I know I did many years ago myself, a variation of it, and it completely changed the way I sort of made decisions after I went through the exercise.

Some of it was conscious, some of it was unconscious, but once I knew what I wanted, I worked much more clearly and diligently to get where I wanted to go. If you want to read more about that or check it out, just go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/myfutureself. Again, agencymanagementinstitute.com/myfutureself. All right, let me tell you a little bit about the topic we’re going to cover today and the guest who is going to take us down that path. I have said many times, I think a lot of you have sort of earned your proverbial MBA in leadership over the last year, year and a half. The pandemic has forced many agency owners to really navigate in waters that, not only had we not been in before, we didn’t even know those waters existed before.

This was really out of our comfort zone. It was for many of you exhausting, frightening. For some of you, it was paralyzing. For others, it was absolutely motivating. I am astonished at all you got done over the course of the last year and everything you did to keep the agency afloat, to actually grow the agency. Some of you doubled your agency in size in 2020, and for others, it was just about survival and getting through it and making sure that your team got through it. Whatever your individual circumstance was, whatever specific problems you were faced with as a result of, or tangential to the pandemic, you have been leading with great authority and enthusiasm and vision for the last year. But I also know you’re tired, and I know that some of you are anxious about what’s coming around the corner.

When is the proverbial next shoe going to drop? What we’re going to talk about today is this idea of a, how do we as leaders, how do we manage our own thinking, and both the conscious and unconscious thoughts that run through our brain all day, every day? How do we monitor and manage those? Two, how are we communicating, either on purpose or without intent? How are we communicating some of those emotions to our team, and what’s the result of that. Then also, we’re going to talk about the idea of why we’re freaking out and how we can try and manage on the days that we are anxious or scared or worried, how do we make sure that we’re not infecting our team with those emotions, that we’re not exuding that to the point that they go, “Oh, well, if she’s worried, then I should be worried too.”

How do we control that? Then last, we’re going to get into some habits of people who are both happy and productive. My guest, who’s going to take us down that journey is a gentleman named Roger Hall. Roger is entrepreneur coach. He wrote a book called Staying Happy, Being Productive. But Roger comes at all of this from a very interesting perspective. He is, by training and by schooling, a psychologist, and so he has a doctorate in psychology, which he then applies to the business owners that he works with. That’s what resulted in his book and other things. He’s going to be a fascinating person to talk to.

I’m really excited. I’ve got a long list of questions that I want to ask him. I want to jump right into the interview and make sure that we get as much of his time as we can, because I know he’s going to have some things to teach us and to tell us that we’re going to immediately begin to employ in how we stand up and lead. Let’s get right to the conversation. Roger, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Roger Hall:

Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You have a very interesting background. Will you give the listeners an idea of your background and also tell us a little bit about the new book?

Roger Hall:

Certainly. Yes. I am a psychologist and got my degree in 1991 from Ohio State, and spend my time doing executive coaching and leadership development. I’m part of the little slice of psychologists that do what’s called consulting psychology. It’s like sports psychology for business owners. You’ve probably heard that elite athletes have a sports psychologist to help them with their head game. Well, that’s my job with entrepreneurs and business owners and professionals.

Drew McLellan:

That’s really where your book is leading to as well, correct?

Roger Hall:

Yeah. The book, thank you for asking, is called Staying Happy, Being Productive: The Big 10 Things Successful People Do.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. We’re going to dig into what some of those habits are, but I also want to talk a little bit about, in your book and in your other content, you talk about helping business owners sort of manage their thinking, and before we hit the record, but you and I were sort of commiserating on the fact that right now, a lot of agency owners are freaking out and having a hard time not letting that show to the rest of the team. Talk to us a little bit about what you’re observing business owners are going through right now, and then we can talk about sort of how do we manage to that.

Roger Hall:

Yeah. If we look at what’s happened in the last year to 18 months, there’s incredible amount of uncertainty. In uncertainty, people are looking for safety and security, and it creates anxiety. What I have found is that people are absolutely freaking out, and so I’ve spent the last 12 months screwing people’s heads back on to help them to think more clearly. One of the things that I train people on is that we all have this stream of consciousness in our head. Few of us ever stick a ladle in to sample what’s in our stream of consciousness. If we did, we’d find that it’s full of trash. My job is to help people filter out their head trash.

I have this simple technique that I teach people to do, and it’s a three-step technique and everybody has the equipment. It’s a thought monitoring technique. The first piece of equipment you need is your phone. If you’re a person who has a dumb phone, that’ll work as well, as long as you can set alarms. What I tell people to do is set an alarm to go off on your phone every hour, 10 times a day. So, from 7:00 in the morning to 5:00 at night, or from 8:00 in the morning to 6:00 at night, whatever works for you.

Then when the alarm goes off, then you take out the second piece of equipment, which is a pad of paper and a pen and you write down what was on the top of your head when the alarm went off. Now, this is not a journal. This isn’t, and then I felt hurt when he said … No, if the alarm goes off and you’re thinking, I’d like a cheeseburger, I want you to write down, I’d like a cheeseburger. If you’re thinking, my boss is a jerk, I’d like you to write down, my boss is a jerk, or my customer’s driving me crazy, whatever that is. Then, at the end of that week, you’ll have seven days times 10 observations.

You’ll have 70 observations of what was happening in your stream of consciousness. There are two effects. The first effect is that you start to see a pattern of recurring thoughts. I have found, in the clients I’ve worked with, some have excessive stress. There’s always this underlying sense of urgency or anxiety. Some people have excessive anger that comes up as a theme. Some people, they have excessive guilt, like they ought to be doing something else. That’s the first thing. You start to see a theme, but the most important side effect of those 70 observations is you develop a thing called metacognition, the ability to think about your thinking.

After you’ve done this 70 times, you’re a lot better at it putting that ladle into your stream of consciousness and sampling what’s in there. That’s the first step is thought monitoring. The second step is thought stopping, which is actually the easiest part. Now that you’ve developed this metacognition, now that you’ve developed the ability to look at your thinking, you could say, hey, there’s one of those guilty thoughts, or, hey, there’s one of those angry thoughts, cut it out and stop it. The third step is maybe a little more difficult, and sometimes you need some help from a friend or a loved one or an advisor, which is thought replacement.

Which is how do I replace the destructive thought that I have in my head with a more productive, accurate thought. Now, this isn’t sort of thinking about rainbows and puppy dogs. It’s replacing an unproductive thought with a productive, accurate thought, and that’s the challenge. We can all think about pixie dust, but that doesn’t really solve the problem. It has to be true and it has to be productive. Once you do that, I found that people, they can last, so they’re thinking. When they start to develop those skills of thought monitoring and thought management, they tend to be happier people.

Drew McLellan:

Give me a concrete example. If one of the thoughts that is bouncing around in an agency owner’s head is, I’m worried that we’re going to find enough new clients for me to keep my staff, which is honestly, part of a normal cycle of agency life is, clients come and go, and you’re always one phone call away from having one of your clients walk out the door. That would be a very typical thought bouncing around in an agency owner’s head. If I identify that, if some variation of that theme, because that sounds to me like a fear-based thought.

Roger Hall:

It is.

Drew McLellan:

If that was bouncing around, and if I did this for seven days and it showed up on my pad of paper, you’re very high-tech by the way with the pad of paper and the pen, but …

Roger Hall:

Well, you know.

Drew McLellan:

So, I identify, boy, I’m thinking about that a lot. That’s clearly a worry, what would be something that I could replace that thought with, that would begin to sort of shoo that thought away?

Roger Hall:

It would be drilling down. Is it an accurate worry to think I could lose a client or I’ve got to make payroll? Those are accurate concerns.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Roger Hall:

The follow-up though, and so I don’t want you to think, oh, I shouldn’t think about those things because you do need to think about those things, but the second layer is, do I have what it takes to solve that problem? And what are the steps that I can take to solve that problem? Or where do I go to solve that problem? Very often, when we worry, because because fear tends to shut down the part of our brain that solves problems, we get into a worry loop. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that, where you fast forward to the worst possible disaster, which is all of my clients are going to fire me and I’m going to live in a van down by the river.

Rinse repeat a hundred times. What the thought replacement does is actually gets you to start thinking through a solution. What I very often prescribe people to do is to worry for 20 minutes straight. They have to set a timer and worry for 20 minutes straight. If you’ve ever worried for 20 minutes straight, you’ll find that you can’t do it without solving the problem.

Drew McLellan:

I was going to say, that sounds exhausting.

Roger Hall:

It is exhausting. The way worry typically works is like that mosquito in the tent that buzzes your ear all night and nobody gets any rest if they just shoo it away, which is what we do with worry. But if you actually become fully awake, turn on the lights and spend five minutes to kill the mosquito, then you can get a good night’s rest. Well, the same thing with prescribing worry. It’s like, okay, spend your time advance planning this. What we find is that people tend to, after about 20 minutes of hyped up worrying, shift into an advanced planning stage, and they actually start coming up with solutions. But they have to become fully aware that they’re worrying and not getting anything done.

Drew McLellan:

Huh. Fascinating. All right. One of the things that I think is the most dangerous or the greatest opportunity for how we as leaders think is that we, intentionally and unintentionally, for lack of a better word, infect our employees with what’s going on in our brain. How do we make sure we’re doing that in a way that’s productive and good, and how do we, when we do have a worry or we do have a concern, how do we manage that? So it doesn’t infuse itself through our entire organization.

Roger Hall:

Sure. That’s a great question. I’m going to get a little bit nerdy here, and so I’m going to talk a little bit about neurobiology.

Drew McLellan:

I was hoping you would.

Roger Hall:

You woke up this morning hoping that I would talk about that.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I try and work that into every interview I can. Yeah.

Roger Hall:

Human beings and primates have this set of structures in our brain called mirror neurons, and neurons are brain cells that communicate to one another, but mirror neurons are the neurons in our brain that help us recognize faces and imitate them and understand what they mean. This is stuff we all take for granted. But if you have a baby, when this baby is really, really little and you give it that surprised face, the baby will make the surprise face back. Well, where did the baby learn that? Well, the baby is designed, the brain is designed to do that.

What we know is that human beings key in on other people’s faces and read their facial expressions and then make up a story about what that facial expression means. I worked with a very wise leader once who said, when I walk in through the front door, it doesn’t matter if the distribution center is on fire. I never walk fast. He says, because if I walk fast through the front door, reception calls accounting, accounting calls marketing, marketing calls sales, sales calls operations, and by the time I’m up to my office, there are 250 people worried about the speed with which I’m walking.

What we know is that, as a leader, other people are affected by your facial expression. We very often don’t know how we come across. Sometimes we have a facial expression that makes us look angry. I know my thinking hard face is also easily misidentified as my furious face. Everyone around me, I tell them, if you’ve really asked me a good question, I’m thinking hard. I’m not angry. I’m just thinking. I give them a preview of coming attractions because I know they’re reading my facial expression. I know that very often it’s misinterpreted. So, I let people know.

That’s the first neuro thing. The second neuro thing is that emotions are contagious by olfaction. There are these two structures in the brain that are the starting point of fear. They’re called the amygdala. They’re very deep structures in the base of the brain. We know that if we do a thing called a functional magnetic resonance imaging of a person who’s afraid, we’ll see that these two structures are lit up. So, they did this experiment, and this is a really gross experiment, but it’s a true experiment and it’s been repeated. So, it’s not just one time.

They take a group of people and they have them work out and they’re exercising. Then they have them raise their arms and they take these pieces of fabric and swab their underarms. Then they take that same group of people and then they have them watch a scary movie, and right in the middle of the scariest part, they have them raise their arms and they swab their underarms. So far, this is this a gross experiment.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, this is not a job I want.

Roger Hall:

But it only gets grosser. Then they take a second group of people and they take them in to do, what’s called a functional magnetic resonance imaging. A lot of people have, have at MRIs. They slide you in the tube and you can see what’s happening in the structure of the soft tissues of your body. But functional means that they add a thing called positron emission tomography, which is they make you huff radioactive glucose, and your brain uses glucose to fuel certain parts of the brain. So, you could tell in real time what parts of the brain are really active. As they’re sliding these people in the tube, half of them, they say, “Hey, we’re going to put this piece of fabric over your nose and mouth to breathe through while you’re in the tube.” It’s the piece of fabric from-

Drew McLellan:

Eew.

Roger Hall:

I told you it’d be gross.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Roger Hall:

Sweat from exercise. So, they have this group of people who are breathing-

Drew McLellan:

Because an MRI is not bad enough that you now have to smell someone’s armpit’s fabric.

Roger Hall:

Yes, right. For as long as it takes.

Drew McLellan:

Oh my gosh.

Roger Hall:

They send them in, and the people who are breathing through exercise sweat, what happens to their amygdala? Nothing. It’s just normal. But if they’re breathing the fabric from fear-induced sweat, what happens to their amygdala?

Drew McLellan:

It lights up.

Roger Hall:

It lights up. In other words, if they smell fear on somebody else-

Drew McLellan:

You can literally smell fear.

Roger Hall:

Literally smell fear. So, we’re not that much different than dogs. You know what they say, dogs can smell fear. So can humans. A journal article just came out on this. I mean, this stuff has been going on for years, but there’s just a recent one this last month, that human beings aren’t aware of it, but we are contagious in our emotions by our smell. It doesn’t matter if you put on cologne and you shower. It still comes out and people are still aware of it. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to be self-possessed, to be able to monitor and manage their thinking and monitor and manage their emotions. Because like it or not, people are watching you and they’re smelling you.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. There’s our new insight for the day. Right.

Roger Hall:

It’s because I’m a giver. I’m here.

Drew McLellan:

You really are. Yeah. In other words, when we are with our team, not only are they watching our facial expression, and from the walking faster story, I’m assuming they’re watching our body language, but if we are physically in the same place with them, they can literally smell when we are distressed or fearful.

Roger Hall:

Correct. Correct. And it infects them with the same emotion. Human beings are contagious on our emotions.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and you think about the year that we’ve all just gone through, I’m taking an aside now, and I promise we won’t go too far down this rabbit hole, but the whole world has been afraid. So, we just keep compounding each other’s fear when we are in the vicinity of each other, because of the smell. If somebody’s super nervous, like they’re in a grocery store or you’re standing too close to them in line or whatever, we’re exaggerating that fear.

Roger Hall:

Yes. Airports, any crowded location. All this happened before the year started, but-

Drew McLellan:

But we weren’t so scared, right?

Roger Hall:

Well, it depends on where you were. If you’re in an airport, people are always freaking out. But yes, we are actually creating, kindling, and throwing a match on it every time we’re with a group of people, unless you start to tell yourself, hey, I can control my emotions. I’m not going to allow myself to be this freaked out. There are techni