The Leadership Equation – How to Bring out The Best in Your Business, Yourself, And the World
In this episode, Ankush speaks with Mara Gleason Olsen about leadership. Some of what they discuss include:
– What do we mean by “bringing out the best”
– Leadership being very simple
– How to bring out the best in others
– A couple of case studies to demonstrate how simple leadership can be
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To contact Mara and find out more about her work, you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:00:03.01] Ankush: Welcome to the business series podcast. My name is Ankush Jain, and I’m a state of mind coach, working with businesses and individuals. On each episode of this series, I’ll be speaking to a coach or trainer on a different topic relevant to your career or personal development. Enjoy.
[00:00:24.27] Ankush: Welcome back to another episode of the Business Series Podcast, today I’m joined by Mara Gleeson Olsen, who is the co-founder of One Solution, a global non-profit dedicated to solving the world’s problems at its source. And today we’re going to be talking about the leadership equation, how to bring out the best in your business, yourself and the world. Welcome Mara.
[00:00:45.17] Mara: Hi, thanks for having me, it’s a pleasure to be here.
[00:00:49.27] Ankush: Yeah, I mean you have got a very big remit with your non-profit, solving the world’s problems, so hopefully this podcast should be nice and easy and a lot more focussed.
[00:00:59.23] Mara: Sounds good, keep it easy on the soft Friday morning, we’re heading into the weekend, don’t want to stress ourselves out.
[00:01:08.08] Ankush: Absolutely. So with this podcast I always just like to jump into the title, because it’s an intriguing title we’ve come up with, “The Leadership Equation.” So what do you mean by “bringing out the best,” because it’s quite, again it’s quite a broad topic, we’ve covered business yourself and the world, I’m assuming you mean that they’re all related?
[00:01:27.12] Mara: Yes, it would be an ambitious half hour we’re going to have otherwise. Yeah, I think it kind of occured to me, I spent the last 12 years of my career working heavily with, not solely, but heavily with leadership teams, and it was actually my work with leadership teams that inspired me to want to do the global change work that we do now, because I do see that it is all really one thing, and what occurred to me is that it was way simpler than it appeared, leadership and really leadership on a business level, but also just in our personal lives and how we are as humanity in the world, and what we’re creating in the world, and, the reason I say it was simpler, is that it started to look really basic to me, is that if you could bring out the best in other people, that was the most powerful thing you could do in an organization. But then it occurred to me that that’s kind of true for anything, if you’re running a county, or if you’re a participant in your community, or if you’re a religious leader, or if you’re running a Fortune-500 company, it’s all the same thing, it’s how can you, as a leader, really lead, to bring out the best in others, because if you can bring out the best in others, then you’ll be successful. You can’t do it alone, we as human beings collectively on this planet can’t do it alone. We are interconnected, we are working together and when I worked in business for 12 years, it looked really clear to me, okay, all you gotta do is know how to bring out the best in others, and it turns out in order to bring out the best in others, you just have to know how to bring out the best in yourself, and so that’s really what we focussed on and that’s kind of the source that I’m talking about, when we talk about one solution is our solving the world’s problems, it’s really what can any human being, individually or collectively group of human beings, understand about themselves, to bring out the best in themselves, because it makes total sense just between you and I Ankush that if I can bring out the best in myself, then I can see that much more clearly and effortlessly how to draw out the best in you, but if I’m suffering, if I’m stressed, I’m going to be all of those things that we see in those leaders that we don’t like that much and that we don’t admire, the ones that are stressed out, distracted, like a chicken with their head cut off, just have that kind of burdened by life, and when humans are burdened by life they can’t help, innocently, naturally, be looking after themselves more. You know, you can’t really bring out the best in others, when you’re just trying to get through the day yourself. So it looks really simple, and therefore really hopeful and therefore really inspiring to me when it occurred to me that it’s kind of a very basic equation to leadership, as it’s bringing out the best in others by bringing out the best in yourself, and so how, what can we illuminate for people about their own mind that allows them to consistently and unconditionally bring out more in the best of themselves.
[00:04:43.12] Ankush: You made some really big statements there, so a couple of big statements you said was, 1) leadership is really simple, and I guarantee you it doesn’t look that way to many many people, 2) you said well it’s really simple because we just need to bring out the best in others, and again that’s a very bold statements because I’m sure a lot of people don’t see that as the easiest thing to do, so, given those two bold statements and for anyone listening to this show, who’s thinking, that sounds great, but how do I do that, could you talk a little bit about what that might look like?
[00:05:16.02] Mara: Yeah, I mean I say it’s simple not in that it doesn’t have it’s fair share of challenges, but if you know what really underlies it, what’s really at the foundation of it, then that gives you a constant home base to come back to, that’s the simple part, it’s knowing where to look no matter what, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have all of the normal challenges that occur, but if you look, like if I just look at myself for example like, I have started and run two organizations now myself, and it’s not that I have all the answers, but I know that when I’m clear, when I have the ability to bring out the best in myself first and foremost, like if that’s the number one thing on my to do list, it’s my own clarity of mind, my own ability to bring out the best in myself, all the other business challenges just get sorted out from there, so if I’m clear for example, I know how to set someone up in our organization that might be struggling with something or not doing something, I know how to do that, pretty, I don’t want to say effortlessly, that’s too dramatic, but it’s not hard to see how to do it when I’m clear, and so it’s not to say you won’t have the things that you’ve got to deal with in business, like potentially a struggling employee or a project that you launched that just isn’t going well or, all the different things, budgets, blah, blah, blah, but, we all know, or I guess that’s what I’m trying to say in this interview, is if we all knew that your mind when it’s clear is unbelievably capable of dealing with that stuff, it really is, and it’s not as complicated as it looks, the problem is is when we forget that that best of ourselves, that clarity of mind ourselves is the key, that is the source of it all when we forget that, we start focussing too externally, we start looking at, oh well maybe I don’t have the right processes in place, or maybe I’m not hiring the right people, or maybe I’m not, and the truth is maybe you do need better processes, maybe you do need to hire differently, but, if you forget your own clarity of mind-peace the further and further external from yourself you go, the more and more challenging it is, the less trash in you have. So, the simplicity I’m referring to, the simplicity of leadership is not that it’s easy all the time, it’s knowing where to look for your leverage, and that is really your own mind, your own clarity of mind, and how you can have more of that unconditionally, I think that’s the piece that is often very illuminating for people that we work with, is we’re trying to show them how the mind works, all by itself, before your business, before your employees, if you can see how your mind works, and that you’re really just thinking dictates what’s going on each day, then the more people see that that is not negatively affected by other people, externals, numbers, things like that, then we can help people see how they can have more clarity of mind, more consistently, they can bring out the best in themselves, and then the rest of the equation falls into place from there, can’t really do the rest of the equation until you’ve seen your own clarity of mind-peace first.
[00:08:38.07] Ankush: How long does that take, is it something that, again it sounds very simple for people who maybe have not come across this before, so how long does it take for someone just to see the clarity of their own mind, is this something that is, takes a second, takes a day, is this a long training that people need to do?
[00:08:56.15] Mara: It’s shorter than people think, but it’s ultimately a mystery to me, because in my years of doing this work, I’ve seen in anywhere from 10 minutes to 4-5 days. But usually people see it quicker than you think, and the it that I’m referring to is just being able to point people in the direction of the fact that you’re not really dealing with all the things you think you’re dealing with on the outside, you’re dealing with your thinking, period. And so if we can kind of press the pause button on all the outside stuff and just show you the mechanics of the mind in what you’re really dealing with, then you’ll realize you have way more going for you, way more resources available to you just in looking at your own mind and nothing else, and I’ve seen people kind of have this aha moment of like, oh my god, that’s true, there was one guy in particular, it was crazy and Aaron – my former business partner – and I would joke, his name was Dan and I swear to god, it was like in the first ten minutes of us kind of presenting that this is what we were going to focus on, his whole face just kind of went, oh my god, and he just, we sort of had to pause and say, what’s happening with you…? “I just realized my whole life I’ve been trying to do things on the outside, and it doesn’t work that way,” it’s just like, we haven’t even started… but I dunno, he just sparked with something, some little thing and he got it, so that was a freakishly quick example, but then you know I find other people, it just takes a few days of being willing to look in a new direction, because I think most of humanity is busy looking external to ourselves all the time, we kind of forget that we have a mind and that actually our mind is the projector of life, we’re so used to being lost in the movie as the character going through it, that we sort of forget that we’re the director and and projector and the special effects team and all that stuff in our own minds, and I find that most people, given a few days to look in that direction can really see it and can really start to have some insights around how to change the way they’re operating in their life or their business, or the world just from looking in that direction.
[00:11:21.26] Ankush: One thing I ask all my guests, is do you have any case studies of, you mentioned this guy who got something very quickly, but do you have any other case studies of working with someone, perhaps in a leadership role, who you pointed to the dynamics of how their mind works, and therefore it had a really tangible impact on their leadership style and how they showed up with themselves, and how they showed up with their employees, and how they showed up in the world?
[00:11:46.23] Mara: Yes, yes, there’s one guy that comes to mind that I worked with, years ago, and then a woman also that comes to mind, I’d love to share both if I can but, this guy was sent to me, he worked for a tech company that does something extremely cool, my layperson version of it, is they’re trying to design a more fuel efficient rocket, that can go to outer space but with significantly less, when you look at what rockets are made of today, I mean they’re these massive beastly pieces of equipment, and the fuel that that requires and the machinery that it requires… so they were really looking at inventing something radically new and lightweight and small and fuel efficient, and blah, blah, blah. So, pretty cool stuff that requires some pretty smart people, and the boss of this guy I ended up working with reached out to me and basically said, in no uncertain terms, he is our worst employee, but he’s the team lead of this specific technology development that really truly he’s one of the only people in the world that has the expertise that we need, so, believe me if I could hire someone else I would, but there’s so few people on the planet that can do what he can do so I really need him, and yet, everyone on his team hates working for him and good people are starting to leave because of him, so I really feel trapped, stuck between a rock and a hard place with this guy, is there anything that you can do to help us with him, and funnily enough, I had a phone call with him before he came out to work with me, and he was fully aware that this was how they felt about him, that’s why I’m not even worried if he hears this interview, he’ll be like, yeah, that was me. There was no sugar coating about how management felt about him, but he was really, but I say this and I mean it, he was very innocently arrogant about it, he just saw that the way he was was right and the way the other people on the team were, were wrong, that he had more knowledge, more skills, more expertise, so his ideas were better, so he really didn’t want to listen to anybody, he really didn’t value their opinions or their contributions, so he had this very arrogant attitude which understandably is why good people were leaving, they just didn’t want to be around, they didn’t want to work with someone like that. And I was really surprised because when he came I had that phone conversation with him, and then he came to work with me in person in New York, I was so surprised when he walked through the door he was like my age, which at the time, I was in my late 20’s and so was he, and I thought, oh wow, when I talked to you on the phone, I just assumed you were like 60, very ageist, shame on me for saying this, but I haven’t met many people this young that sound as hardened and crotchety as you sounded on the phone. Long story short, we worked together one-on-one for four days, and for the first couple of days he really pushed back as you could imagine because he knows better, right? He knows everything, but ultimately at the same time, and I find this is true of all human beings is, we’re really pointing to something neutral, it’s not personal, we’re not doing personality tests and telling people how to tweak their personality in order to be a better this kind of leader or that kind of leader, we’re really just pointing people very neutrally to how are we all creating an experience of life from inside our minds and casting that outward onto the world? And is there more leverage and clarity and juice to squeeze, and understanding mutually how that works? So there were some key moments for him where he really saw, oh, I live in a world of my own thinking and that looks like reality to me, and therefore I assume that superior and right, but so did everyone. Like, everyone is living their own thought-created versions of reality, everyone has the experience of thinking they’re better and right, so, who is actually better and right? And he just always lived in, I’m better and right, I’m smarter, I’m this, I’m that… and it was really cool to see him, because obviously he’s an extremely bright guy, consider that there was some logic and truth to that, like, yeah, of course I feel my thinking as more right, but it’s just my thinking. And so he started to have this kind of openness sort of wash over him, and there was even, there was one really cool moment, I’ll share this because I thought it was so cool, he went on a lunch break during one of our sessions, and he had told me in one of his very flippant, very strong statements about the world, he’d said something about not liking police, in a very, again, sort of arrogant mean crotchety way, saying, I just don’t think they’re very intelligent people, and so they run things for this country very badly, some sort of very blanket statement like that, like they’re not smart, they don’t do a good job. And so during one of our breaks he went to lunch and while he was sitting having lunch in a deli, a group of police walked in, and he noticed because of our conversations about the mind that he started having thinking about them, like you would of a group of people you don’t like, like, ugh, here’s the police, look at them they’re so… and he just realised, I’m living in a movie of my own thinking right now, I’m inventing all of this stuff about them inside my head, they’re not doing anything, they’re just in cop uniforms in a deli, that’s all that’s happening right now, but I have this whole narrative in my head that’s telling me, they’re bad, they’re stupid, they’re this… and he saw it for what it was, he saw that it was thought not reality, and if he didn’t believe in it or put any more life into it, it just went away because that’s one of the things we talk about, is that thought that you don’t believe in and put stake in and put more energy into, naturally fades, it can’t survive without your focus, and so he came back from the lunch and he’s like, I had the most bizarre and beautiful experience at lunch, and he describes to me that when he caught himself doing this and he stopped, he suddenly found that when he wasn’t in that thinking, all that was left was this feeling of love, and that’s one of the other things we point to is that underneath the kind of fragmenting and separating and judging and analyzing that out thoughts do, we’re not in any of that, we’re just in the moment without our thinking slicing and dicing it, there’s often this amazing feeling, people throughout the ages have talked about this, of just kind of presence or peace of mind or love, and he had that feeling because that is the feeling that’s left over in all humans, when they’re not all open they’re thinking, right? While looking at these cops, it really touched him and it really did something for him, and that was, I don’t know, day two or day three, and then from there we just kind of were able to continue to explore this and to my absolute delight, when he got back to work, I tried desperately to follow up with his bosses, they were very busy companies, so they kept kind of putting me off, oh yeah, we’ll have a call about this, this, that… No joke, like almost a whole year went by and I heard nothing about how they felt about him, I’d done follow up with him but not his bosses, I knew he was doing really well, I knew he was doing much better, but it wasn’t until a year later I finally got an email from his bosses, that said, oh my gosh, we’re so sorry, we’ve been meaning to follow up with you to tell you that he is now our star employee, everybody loves working for him, it’s like, waw, okay well thanks for letting me know.
[00:19:58.20] Ankush: So the guy went from being the worst employee to the star employee in just a few days of seeing how his mind worked?
[00:20:07.18] Mara: And the CEO of that company said, okay I know we’re really bad because we always think we’re busy but me next, I need to come and learn this for myself, and so he did. And he was a Russian-born physicist who’d had a really hard life coming to the States as an immigrant and it was just amazing talking with him about this and he had this huge shift of thinking that New York City was such a harsh terrible place because he’d had a bad experience when he first came over as an immigrant, to really seeing the whole city of New York differently, it was really interesting, they were a fascinating group to work with.
[00:20:47.15] Ankush: You said you had another story of a woman, because that story’s actually great and it really kind of brings to life everything you said, so if we’ve got time I’d love to hear about the other story that you had.
[00:20:58.06] Mara: Yeah she came to mind only because it was so beautiful and it’s a different angle and that she really saw something that dramatically transformed how she was with her child, which I thought was very cool, and she was a great example of, I worked with her together with one of my colleagues years ago, when I was really just starting out, and I was, I think I was still an intern, so I think I was just sitting in observing her working with one of our colleagues named Keith, and she was sent out for three days, three days or three and a half days, something like that, and she was a very successful executive, I don’t even remember what kind of company it was but, for the first two days, she basically was like, why am I here? I do a really good job, talk to anyone in my company, they’ll tell you I do a really great job, and it was true, everyone in her company thought she was great, she was super hard working, and when we asked the CEO why he had sent her, he said, look I don’t have any complaints about her, she’s an absolute power house, but, I want her to be here for a long time, and I’m scared that the way she’s going about it, she’s destined to burnout. Because we know she’s a single mum, and I know she works long hours here, she’s the kind of person that we’ll give her any project and she’ll say yes and do it, I just don’t know if that’s sustainable, so I don’t have any issue with her other than that I want her to stay here for a long time. So if there’s anything that you can help her discover about herself, that will make her more resilient over the long haul, I think that would be great. So it was really hard to kind of get her even curious to look in the direction of how her mind worked and how learning about that could help her, because she was so great, you know? It was one of those, her greatness was in the way of her seeing anything new, but it was really cool because, and this is why I say it’s a bit of a mystery, I don’t know why Dan for example heard it in the first ten minutes and other people it takes longer, but, if you just keep pointing in the direction of the fact that there is this profound potential for human beings to see beyond the world they’ve already created, you know, like that there is more to life than what you think and what you’ve thought so far, if you just keep kind of casting your fishing rod in that direction, eventually something bites, because it’s true, not because of anything other than that it’s true. And so if people keep looking in that direction they’ll see something, and so, we spent a few days with her and then something happened to her which is that, she had a phone conversation with her son that night, and she was on a business trip out working with us in Washington State, so I forget where she was from, but her son was at home with a babysitter basically and so she was calling and checking on him at night, and he was 11 years old and she said, she came in the next morning, she looked very emotional, and she looked like she had been crying, and I wondered, like, uoh, is she okay, but it was a good cry, it was one of those, she’d really seen something powerful and she said, “I had a conversation with my son last night,” she was very teary and she said, “he was just telling me about his day, and homework and who he played with,” and she wasn’t saying anything startling or magnificent, and she just started crying and she said, “but I had the most amazing experience hearing him, like, really hearing him, and I could feel he’s growing up, like he’s not my little boy anymore, he’s turning into this little man, you know he’s 11, but, he’s funny, he has this sense of humor, but I can also feel like he has all these concerns and I don’t know how to say it other than I feel like I felt my son, in a way I haven’t since he was a baby,” and she said, “you know in those first months when you’re just with your baby, it’s like nothing else exists and you’re just really able to feel the person” and she said, “well I’ve been so busy with work and then when I come home from work, I’m in this mode, like, okay, I’ve got to get dinner ready, and then gotta do laundry, and then we’ve got to do homework, and I sit down with him and it’s from this space of like, we’ve gotta get this shit done, because then I’ve got to get back to my laptop and do this other work, and…” And she said, “I don’t remember the last time I actually just felt my son for who he is.” And she said, so, “I don’t know frankly what we’ve been talking about the last couple of days, but I know it has something to do with why I felt and heard my son in a way I haven’t,” and then she got really emotional and said, “I don’t want the next time to hear my son, to be when he’s 25.” So, she goes, can we start over, can you like go back to the beginning and now I really want to listen to what you’ve been saying, because I think I can really use it. And so what was beautiful is that I did follow up with her a couple of months later and she ended up sharing that her son has learning disabilities, and was in these special classes and one of the things that was always really challenging for her was sitting down and doing homework with him because of his learning disability, and because it was always kind of a struggle, but amazingly she said since she had been back from our retreat and learning about her mind that that presence and being with her son and just feeling him had stuck and she said, “it’s so crazy, I just get home from work and I just sit down with him right away and we do homework, and he’s actually really smart and he’s really good at it and I’m beginning to wonder how much my own distractedness played in his so-called learning disabilities.” She said this, and she said, “I’m beginning to think my son doesn’t have any learning disabilities at all.” And she said not only do we sit down and do homework and it’s way more fun and it’s way more rich and we’re just there and we’re doing it together, because I’m there, because I’m present.” She said, “then we have time to go outside and play together,” she said, “I never would go out and play,” now she says, “it’s hysterical, I’m terrible at it but I’ll throw a football with him, and he loves it.” And she said, “or if I have to go do laundry, I invite him to do it with me,” and it was totally transformative, it’s a brilliant example of bringing out the best in herself, brought out the best in somebody else, in such a dramatic way that she was saying, “I’m beginning to question that my son even has learning disabilities.” Which blew me away.
[00:28:14.01] Ankush: That’s such a powerful story, and it’s funny because it’s reminding me of the very first time I sat in when I was very early on in my career, and sat in on a colleague who did some work with someone I knew, and he was a very wealthy business owner, and he was so up in his mind, and he kept seeing all the problems, but with the staff and with the circumstances, and when he was asked in the start of the few days, like, why are you doing all this? Well to spend time with family and my kids, and what he hadn’t seen was, he could do that straight away, he didn’t need to wait, and it’s beautiful, I’m just reminded of that as you were talking, how, I’m sure so many people can relate to that story of, we’re thinking that we’re working so hard, and pushing and striving and stressing, in order to provide or do something for someone else, whereas we can actually have that relationship with the other person there and then, and you can replace the word son with, employee, or husband or anything. So yeah, very very powerful, thank you for sharing that.
[00:29:22.15] Mara: Yeah, no it gives me so much hope that that is really what humanity is really looking for and if these people that I’ve seen discover this relatively quickly are any indication, it’s not complicated, it’s not far away, it’s really possible that we could be living in more of that best of ourselves, bringing out the best in others, bringing out the best in the world.
[00:29:45.13] Ankush: If there’s one thing you wanted our listeners to takeaway from this episode, what would that be?
[00:29:49.07] Mara: I think the one thing that would dramatically change the world is if we realised that we’re creating the world from our minds, and that that is both beautiful, both misunderstood, very destructive, and so if we could all just look to understand that where human beings are a mind, a level of consciousness, a state of mind, a level of clarity, rippling out and creating in the world, then, all that we need to do is look after ourselves and look after our own clarity of mind, and if we did that we would solve so many of the problems that we have in our personal lives and our businesses, in the world, so yeah I just think there’s so much hope and leaving people with the idea of, look into your own mind instead of everything outside of yourself.
[00:30:45.25] Ankush: Beautiful. If people wanted to carry on this conversation with you, they wanted to maybe explore more about state of mind, how would they get hold of you and keep in this conversation?
[00:30:55.17] Mara: Yeah, so people can email me directly at: email@example.com, or you can follow along, we have our own podcast called, “One Solution Podcast,” we have a Youtube Channel, One Solution Global, and a Facebook Page, so all of those, again, One Solution Global, all of those have all kinds of resources, we put out videos and podcasts and things like that, so yeah, people can learn a lot just by going to those sites if they want, of if you want to have another conversation with me, feel free to email me directly.
[00:31:32.19] Ankush: Thank you so much it’s been a pleasure, and I’ll be back next time with someone else talking about another topic around business. Thanks for listening to the Business Series Podcast, if you want to hear more, you can click on the subscribe button below, you can share this with someone else who can benefit, or you can like it and encourage others to listen. Also, it would be great if you left a comment below, as I love hearing from listeners, and I want to keep creating great content for you.