People are the secret sauce of any successful organization, says Peter Lynch, Head of People & Culture at Cardinal Group Companies. As a well known TEDx speaker and performance coach, Peter was invited to help build out the culture at Cardinal Group Companies and put his values into practice – to live the future of work. Building trust among all team members and leading by example are imperative steps that cannot be skipped or hurried through when creating a high performing culture, he believes. But when done, your organization, with its highly engaged and empowered team members and powerful leaders, will win in the marketplace any day of the week.
Here are my three big takeaways from the conversation:
There is no more effective way to get buy-in for your company values than by leading by example.
Don’t run from your weakness, instead leverage it to show how strong you can be.
As leaders, it’s important to really get to know and give a damn about all your people in order to connect fully with them.
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[00:00:00] When you have an organization that’s empowered that is being trained and up-skilled, when you have powerful and strong leaders, when you give a damn about people, when you have engaged team members, when these things are taking place, you will win in the marketplace every day of the week.
Aaron: [00:00:28] Hi, I’m Aaron Levy. And I have this crazy vision of a workplace where your manager doesn’t suck; where instead of being the reason you quit, your job is actually the reason you stay with your managers, your coach, helping you to reach your full potential at work. I founded Raise The Bar, wrote Open, Honest, and Direct, and started this podcast to help companies transform form the workplace by creating an environment where both the company and employee succeeds.
[00:00:52] In this podcast, I get to interview leaders who build high-performing teams and learn from them on what it takes to unlock their team’s potential.
[00:00:59] Today I’m lucky to have Peter Lynch, the Head of People & Culture at Cardinal Group companies. He’s also a noted Fortune 500 executive, a TEDx speaker and a performance coach. In this episode, Peter talks about the first two steps to take when leading a new team and he highlights the importance of owning your weaknesses and your failures, as it leads to be a more powerful and impactful leader.
[00:01:21] I know you’ll enjoy this episode as much as I did. There’s tons of gold nuggets. Cheers.
Aaron: [00:01:26] Well, Peter, it’s awesome to have you on here. We’ve talked a lot of things, people certainly over the last several months. And so I’m excited to hear you and hear your story here on the podcast. Thanks for coming.
Peter: [00:01:38] Well, thanks so much, Aaron, you know? Yeah. Our last conversation, it was so awesome to kind of be in the flow with somebody. So I’m super excited to chat with you.
[00:01:46] Aaron: I think one of the things that’s really interested me is similar to Raise The Bar is you had your own business, and you still do, but you kind of took a step away from that studio and have dove in fully into Cardinal group to take on the role of VP of people and culture.
[00:02:05] And from what I know, it’s, fast-growing and a large company with thousands of employees. and you joined on just under a year ago. What inspired you to take that leap?
[00:02:17] Peter: Yeah, it was pretty a pretty amazing process, you know, not one that I was anticipating I would take for sure. And so I had been, you know, running my company for a couple of years and I’d been working with Cardinal.
[00:02:29] So I spoke at two of their leadership summits. I had coached their executive team around storytelling and I’d spent quite a bit of time with them and I just started to fall in love with this company. You know, I, most of what my time was I was consulting with companies on the future of work and I was speaking [00:02:48] on the future of work. And all of a sudden I was confronted with this company and these leaders that were living all of the things I was talking about, and I was just fascinated with it.
And so, you [00:03:00] know, when Alex O’Brien, the CEO and one of the co-founders, came to me and said, “Listen, Peter, We’re wanting to build out this people and culture team and bring in a high level leader.” And I said, well, let me help you find that person. And later that same night, Alex sent me a text and he said, would you consider the role? We want you. And my first gut reaction was no, you know, I had my own company, I was speaking on stages.
[00:03:25] but I was intrigued enough for us to have another conversation. And, you know, we worked out a deal that worked well for everybody to bring me in. And I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been, you know, to not only, still continue to speak on stages about the future of work, but I get to live the future of work too.
[00:03:43] So I’m not just talking about theory from the stage. I’m talking about what we’re actually doing and the results that we’re seeing.
[00:03:51] Aaron: Yeah. You’re not standing on the outside, you know, talking to people on the inside. You’re on the inside, in the weeds doing the work.
[00:03:58] Peter: Yeah.
[00:03:58] Aaron: So yeah, one of the things I find most often is when you are that, you know, first high level people leader in an organization there’s so much to do. Like when you first dove in, where did you start and how did you know what steps to take?
[00:04:14] Peter: Yeah, I mean, to me, obviously you have to do analysis. You have to understand, you know, what things potentially are broken and you should start working on, but to me, there are two key things at a foundation level that you have to start with.
[00:04:27] You have to have a team that is built around trust. So you have to have a team that trusts and believes in you as their leader. So that to me is number one. I have to get the whole team aligned to the fact that I am the leader that they would want to follow and work alongside. And then number two is we have to dig in and understand “what is our why?”
[00:04:52] You know, why are we doing this? Because work, especially in, you know, people and culture and HR – that work can be really hard work. And so you have to have a compelling why that keeps you going. And you know, to me, my why has always been that I love people. And so, as we were talking about it as a team, one of the ideas that really rose to the surface as our why that I really liked was we give a damn about people.
[00:05:20] We actually care about people. And so because of that, we want to take a different approach to human resources. And our approach is that we don’t want to be an organization that is seen as the “no” organization or a punitive organization, but we want to be an organization of restoration and that’s where we start.
[00:05:41] Everything we do is about restoration. Now, are there situations where we have to protect the organization and individuals? Absolutely. But our goal is restoration so that we can help rebuild people. If they’re broken, we can help up-skill people to get new skills because we give a damn about people. So it really starts with those two things.
[00:06:01] You have to get a team that believes in, trusts in you, and you have to have a deep and a meaningful why.
[00:06:07] Aaron: There’s so much meat here that I want to explore. I guess I’ll start with, how do you go about building trust as the new guy?
[00:06:15] Peter: Man, that’s the million dollar question and I think it’s one of those things that it’s kind of a one size fits one.
[00:06:21] It’s a little different everywhere I’ve been, so there’s not like this straight up algorithm. but again, I think at its core, it starts by caring about people. So that’s where it all starts. But then you have to understand what are the motivations, what are the fears? What are the hopes of the people on your team, their scars from the past?
[00:06:43] Are there things that they want that they’re not getting, do they, do they have certain fears about you coming in? So it really takes investment in people. It takes time with them. You have to get to know them. And you have to really connect with them. A CEO that I worked for long ago, once said it’s impossible to hate the person that you’re sitting across the table from.
[00:07:06] And so to me, it’s really important that I get to know my team members really closely. And I don’t want to just know about them from a work perspective. I want to know the whole person. And so, you know, it seems a little weird, but with a lot of my meetings, we’ll do a lot of conversations about people’s lives.
[00:07:24] Tell me about where you came from. Tell me about your friends, your family. Your hobbies. So it just takes a lot of investment, to get the return of trust.
[00:07:35] Aaron: Yeah. And it sounds like that’s not an equation that you had in your head where it’s like, okay, invest X number of times, ask X number of questions, and they’re going to trust me.
[00:07:42] And it goes back to your why, which is I love people and we give a damn about people, right? So you actually have to give a damn what that person across the table is going to respond and say, yeah, And not just, you know, go through the motions.
[00:07:53] Peter: That’s right. And the crazy thing about it, Aaron, is, you know, this is a longer path to getting people to [00:08:00] do kind of what you need or want them to do, but long-term, it’s the much more effective path, from a leadership standpoint. It’s probably quicker and easier to be authoritative and to be firm and really get people to move that way.
[00:08:15] But if long term, if you want a greater output than the sum of the parts you have to build that trust. It’s like the old quote from the movie, Braveheart; he said, I would rather have one soldier fighting for something they believe in than a hundred paid soldiers. It’s this idea of buy-in.
[00:08:32] And to me, buy-in is impossible without trust. So you first have to get trust and trust is only built through genuine care for people.
[00:08:41] Aaron: And what I’m hearing in between the lines here is this idea of almost like decentralized power in the workplace, right? Decentralized power on your team, where it’s not, I’m the person that tells you what to do that might work for a little bit of time, but that’s not as sustainable as learning about the other people.
[00:08:57] It’s letting them own things and choose things and take things. And it’s coming through in the language that you use, even just learning about your people.
[00:09:05] Peter: Yeah. When you instill that ownership mentality in people, they’re not doing something for you, they’re doing something for themselves.
[00:09:12] They will take it to a whole different level than they would have prior and yeah, so that’s why I’ve always invested so heavily in my teams and the people in my teams. And that’s why I think this whole concept of the future of work is based in the power of people. You know, I love to say that the next killer app is people and I believe the future of winning the marketplace.
[00:09:38] It’s through the workplace. So, whereas in the past, it’s always been all these measures about customer satisfaction and net promoter with customers and customer effort scores. I believe the new metric that will determine which companies win and lose as a metric inside the company. It’s a people metric.
When you have an organization that’s empowered, that is [00:10:00] being trained and up-skilled; when you have powerful and strong leaders, when you give a damn about people, when you have engaged team members, when these things are taking place, you will win in the marketplace every day of the week.
[00:10:13] Aaron: If you’re doing that, you know, nine companies out of 10 aren’t. And so whether they’re in your industry or not, you’re going to become a much more attractive employer for attracting talent, but then it’s also going to be the person that, and the company that keeps their people because you are giving a damn.
[00:10:31] Peter: That’s right. And it’s going to separate you in the marketplace of talent. You know, it’s become a competitive marketplace. And, the best of the best now are requiring a new level of competency in the companies they go after. You know, there was a great stat Gartner came out with, and they said 47% of millennials won’t even consider you if you don’t show that you have purpose as a company outside of the product that you sell. So you’ve cut your talent pool in half, simply [00:11:00] by being a company only focused on the product you deliver and not the people and the purpose behind that.
[00:11:06] Aaron: So the curiosity that I have is at the top level between you and Alex, it sounds like the other executives, right?
[00:11:13] You give a damn about your people and the people team gives a damn about their people and wants to be an organization restoration. That sounds really nice. Yeah. But, take me down four layers of a business. You have over 1500 employees, how do you make sure that these ideas are seen and heard and lived by the manager, who you have never met?
[00:11:35] Peter: Yep. The best leadership teacher I’ve ever encountered is example. We have to set real examples. We can’t become an organization that says all the right things but doesn’t do the right things.
[00:11:48] I would actually have us be an organization that does the right things, way more than we say the right things. I want us to be an organization of example. And to me, when you become an organization of example, where leaders aren’t just saying, Hey, we’re an organization that’s innovative. We’re not just saying that it’s not the word that’s written on the wall [00:12:09] but it’s how we live. And so if we, as leaders are embracing and excited about the lessons in failure and we empower our team members to be okay failing, that’s how you become an innovative company, not by putting it in a masthead or a charter or writing the words on the wall, but by living the principles that feed innovation [00:12:33] which is team members taking risks.
So to me, there is nothing that travels up and down the culture chain faster than example. And so, you know, we have this idea that we roll out that says before we lead as leaders, we first want to listen to our team members. And we want to constantly be learning so that we can lead.
[00:12:55] So listening, to me, is a huge thing. One of the things that we’ve done at Cardinal is we’ve implemented a listening tool in Qualtrics. It was one of the big things on my strategy list, because I knew if we weren’t able to listen across our organization, especially as big as Cardinal is growing, then we would never be able to lead the right way.
[00:13:14] So to me, if an organization is looking for what’s, what’s like the first thing I should be figuring out how to do if I want to drive culture all the way through the organization, it’s how do I listen? How do I hear what my team members are saying? How do I understand what we can be doing to make a difference so that we can then lead them? So we have to listen in order to do that.
[00:13:35] Aaron: And that sounds like it ties closely into your two first initiatives, which was very building trust. which, you know, you can’t build trust if you’re not listening to other people.
[00:13:44] Peter: That’s right. Trust in absence of understanding what people want is impossible.
[00:13:50] Aaron: So how do you balance and manage the time when you have these strategic initiatives that, you know, you need to implement and you can [00:14:00] see from a high level as a consultant of the business, on the outside and now leading within the business and then the day-to-day of having one-on-ones and connecting with your people and talking with them and making sure there’s time for people who need help? Like, how do you balance those two things?
[00:14:15] Peter: Yeah. In full disclosure, I’ll be honest here. This is one of my weaknesses, you know, whenever we do three sixties or those types of assessments, or, you know, I’m getting mentoring and coaching, a weakness of mine is that I tend to want to do a lot of things myself.
[00:14:31] You know, I’m a fast mover, a hard charger. I believe I have high belief. and so I like to do a lot of things myself. And so I constantly have to reevaluate and challenge myself to empower those around me, because when I’m trying to be the driver of everything, not a lot gets done. And that’s problematic.
[00:14:51] Plus the team members around me don’t feel like they have a stake in the game. So to me, it’s really about how do you empower those around you [00:15:00] to help lead and help create growth, and that you create this, action for bias, this leaning in to moving that they don’t need me to help tell them, but they, they are empowered to do that themselves.
[00:15:15] And they know if they fail in the effort that they’re not going to be looked down on. We will go back to that failure as a great lesson for us. So I think empowerment is probably the biggest tool there.
[00:15:27] Aaron: What are signs that you see, as you’re growing with a team, that you see you’re empowering them, right? How are you knowing that you’re doing it right?
[00:15:36] Peter: When I’m meeting with other leaders and I hear them mention people from my team and say, Hey, so-and-so did this. And I’m like, I had no clue they did that now. And you know, we all we’re human, right? So we have weaknesses. And sometimes one of our weaknesses is that if I don’t know what’s going on, are things out of control?
[00:15:56] And so typically when leaders hear that, a lot of times what they could do is they could go back to their team and say, why didn’t I know about this? That’s a human instinct, but we have to fight those kinds of instincts because there is great strength and a team feeling like they didn’t have to tell you because they knew that you trusted them. So you don’t want to kill the amazing thing that you just created because of an insecurity that we, and most of us carry. So to me, that’s the challenge of leadership. It’s a lot of times to understand that our greatest strength actually is probably embedded in one of our greatest weaknesses.
[00:16:33] And so the question becomes, how do we take that weakness and turn it into this amazing strength; and Aaron, the story I always love to tell to illustrate this is infomercials. You know, infomercials are hilarious and they’re pretty good at selling things. And there’s one in particular that I always loved and it’s Flex Seal tape.
[00:16:52} So what happened in this infomercial is the guy takes a boat and he cuts it in half. He cuts it in half, and then he uses the Flex Seal tape to put the boat back together. And in the commercial, he is riding across the lake with a motor screaming across the lake, in this boat that he’s put back together with the tape. And I remember when I first watched it and I thought, why did he do that? You know, it’s part of the theatrical, but then, then I had this moment of clarity where I recognized that the tapestry of weakness [00:17:27] is the best place to show strength.
The reason they cut the boat in half is to show the power of the tape; in absence of a tapestry of weakness the strength probably would have been lost. And so many times as leaders, we actually try to hide the weakness and in doing so we’re actually losing the best tapestry by which to show strength.
[00:17:56] And so, you know, one of the things really challenged my team and my leaders to do is instead of running from our weakness, let’s leverage that to become the tapestry, to show how strong we can be. I really think that when you create that tapestry of weakness and humility, that it allows people in you build trust and you can actually showcase great strength against that.
[00:18:20] Aaron: Huh… as you were sharing the story, it didn’t come together until the highlighting of the weakness. And so that’s something that it is hard to do. It’s hard to show that you’ve made a mistake or to show that you’re not as great. And an example we ask of leaders all the time in our training is, raise your hand if you think great leaders have all the answers and inevitably no one raises their hand.
That’s not that great leaders don’t have all the answers, but then it’s, you know, we each think we need to have the answer for the other person on the other end of the line or the other person on the other end of the zoom is that we need to have it right, because we’re technically their your boss.
[00:18:55] Peter: So just a few weeks ago, I had a meeting with one of my teams and they had given some feedback and I had a visceral reaction and I didn’t respond in the best way. And I probably, you know, made them feel a little belittled for bringing that to me. And I’m sitting there after the meeting and immediately I recognize – I didn’t recognize it in the moment, but I recognized that immediately after.
[00:19:18] And so I sent an email to the leader of that team, and then I sent an email to the whole team and I said, Hey everyone, I just want to let you know I’m really sorry. I totally failed in that meeting. You know, one of the worst meetings I’ve ever been a part of. I said, I want you to know how much I appreciate what you did, but more importantly, I want you to know how, sorry I am, that I failed you as a leader.
And that’s not easy for us to do as leaders, but I think it’s so important because now I think now my team knows more that even if there’s another moment like that, that they can still be confident because they know humility isn’t just something
[00:20:00] that we talk about. It’s an example that is set by all of us.
And so it’s easier for all of us to show humility towards each other. And that to me is, again, the idea that I believe great strength is shown best against the tapestry of weakness. So we don’t always have to be the one that feels has the answer or, you know, it operates in the best way all the time that it’s okay for us to have moments of failure.
[00:20:24] Aaron: And that that is leading by example, that is standing true to your word and building trust that they know that even you aren’t always at your best and when you’re not, you might not notice it in the moment, but I love that you said I didn’t notice in the moment, I actually sat back and realized afterwards that I wasn’t, that I wasn’t at my best, that that I had let them down the way I wanted to show up.
[00:20:46] We expect to solve these problems or to never make these mistakes in the moment, because we say we want to be these good people leaders who give a damn about our people, but then we do something that doesn’t give a damn. And then we say, and we judge ourselves. And instead of judging yourself, what you did was you just owned it and you lived into it.
[00:21:01] And that, as you said, showed a longer example that will live on much further than I care about you, team.
[00:21:08] Peter: That’s right.
[00:21:09] Aaron: There’s so many gold nuggets in here. I’m just really grateful for your time, your insights, and for being here and leading with your why.
[00:21:15] Peter: Thank you.
[00:21:17] Aaron: Want to hear more great stories like this one? Subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you enjoyed this episode, leave us a review. As always, you can drop us a note at open, honest and direct.com