Finding Joy and Optimism in Leadership with Brett Elmgren

S03 | E03 Finding Joy and Optimism in Leadership with Brett Elmgren

Let’s face it, leadership is hard.

Leadership roles typically come with a heightened sense of fear of failure and lowered senses of optimism and empowerment. And while most leadership development courses and strategies do a great job at increasing effective leadership skills, they don’t really teach what you need to feel happy and hopeful about your role as a people leader.

Today, Brett Elmgren is here to encourage you to seek the support you need to find joy and optimism in your work again. In our conversation, Brett identifies several common challenges leaders face that conflict with a sense of joy in their roles, and some strategies they can use to regain a sense of empowerment and optimism in their careers.

Listen in to learn how you can actually enjoy your work again while simultaneously creating a remarkable work culture for those you lead.

Listen on your favourite podcast player

About Brett Elmgren:

Brett Elmgren is the President and Founder of Axom Leadership Inc. His work focuses on supporting leaders to find personal empowerment to drive transformational change. Brett is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources with nearly two decades of professional HR experience working for large publicly traded organizations.

Most recently Brett Elmgren held the position of Director of Talent Development for Nutrien, and was responsible for leading the global leadership development strategy for over 25,000 employees. He played a senior HR leadership role in bringing together the merger between PotashCorp and Agrium resulting in the creation of Nutrien. Brett holds a Master’s Degree in Leadership from Royal Roads University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

To learn more, you can visit his website and connect with him on LinkedIn and Instagram.


Mentioned In This Episode:



Lindsay Recknell 0:07
Welcome to Mental Health in Minutes, where we open the door to conversations about workplace mental health, and help leaders and HR professionals create safe and innovative organizations where our employees and our companies thrive. I’m your host Lindsay Recknell, a psychological health and safety advisor, a workplace mental health consultant, speaker, facilitator and an expert in hope.

Lindsay Recknell 0:28
Each episode of this show has three objectives, to discuss the future of mental health in the workplace. To identify the best, most successful strategies for opening the door to mental health conversations at work, and to share the top ways we can engage our leadership in the workplace mental health conversation, and have them endorse and pay for a positive culture shift within our organizations.

Lindsay Recknell 0:49
If you’re listening to this podcast, you know that our people need us more than ever, but most of our organizations have a long way to go until supporting employee wellness is embedded in the culture of our workplaces. This episode is a resource you can use to start and continue workplace mental health conversations, and my guests will share their experiences and what’s worked for them.

Lindsay Recknell 1:08
Today’s guest is Brett Elmgren, president and founder of Axom leadership, Inc. His work focuses on supporting leaders to find personal empowerment to drive transformational change. Brett is a Chartered Professional in human resources with nearly two decades of professional HR experience working for large publicly traded organizations. And most recently, he held the position of Director of Talent Development for nutrient and was responsible for leading the global leadership development strategy for over 25,000 employees. Brett played a senior HR leadership role in bringing together the merger between potash Corp and Agrium resulting in the creation of nutrients. Brett holds a master’s degree in leadership from Royal Roads University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

Lindsay Recknell 1:53
excited to get going. So let’s dig in. Hello, Brett, welcome to the show.

Brett Elmgren 2:00
Thanks, Lindsay. It’s great to be here.

Brett Elmgren 2:01
I’m super excited to have you here. I feel like we have been I’ve been anticipating this conversation for quite some time. Let’s start off by you sharing with the listeners who you are and what you do.

Brett Elmgren 2:12
Yeah, that’s a embarrassing way to start. But you’re right. I’m thrilled to be here. We’ve been talking about this for too long. And so my name is Brett Elmgren. And I’m the president and founder of a company that’s a mighty powerful company, one person right now, which is Axom leadership, Inc. and I’ve just started out that venture after spending, I guess, last 15 years working internally, leading learning and development teams and HR teams within some of the larger organizations here in Canada.

Brett Elmgren 2:38
And I guess what I do is at the heart of it, I would probably summarize is helping both individuals and organizations find a place of empowerment to drive positive and meaningful change. And that’s a very jargony way of saying really helping and supporting people to kind of be the best version of themselves. And I think there’s ways organizations can really facilitate that process to create much more psychologically safe work cultures. And I think that led us to work together in our last lives, and now gets the opportunity for us to connect on this podcast, which is an absolute thrill.

Brett Elmgren 3:07
So that’s the long winded way of saying just happy to be here.

Lindsay Recknell 3:12
I love it. Well, and you did use language that I speak about a lot. I mean, psychological safety, supporting teams, empowerment, all really was jargony than you think it really is what we want to do to support our people at work. And I know that one of the things that you focus on specifically is also near and dear to my heart, which is finding joy and hope and optimism in the work for leaders. Can you tell us a little bit about what that means and why this is a passion of yours are something near and dear to your heart?

Brett Elmgren 3:44
Yeah, and I’d say it stumbled upon it. It wasn’t something that I ever kind of sought out to pursue with my career. But I guess we’re over the last five years, probably to pinpoint a timeline on it. A lot of my work is focused on leadership development. And if we kind of narrowed it further, it’s really been on I’d say executive development and really preparing, you know, typical language around like high potential talent for progression into executive leadership positions.

Brett Elmgren 4:12
And so that’s taking shape in terms of running programs to develop the leadership capabilities that ultimately are needed to lead an organization and then individual coaching of existing executive leaders and working sometimes within their teams. And performance is, you know, mandatory, obviously, at that level. And so I’ve spent a lot of time working with assessment solutions and trying to and I’m a nerd with validity and like, okay, things have to be valid. And so I really have spent a lot of time looking at what the criteria is for effective leadership and optimism is highly correlated with high performance and probably don’t need to get into that that’s probably self explanatory.

Brett Elmgren 4:52
And the way I define that is really focusing on what’s possible as opposed to what’s not. And so you can see how that would connect the innovation coming out Have more creative solutions increased employee engagement, motivation, collaboration, all those things come when you just have optimism at the core of kind of how you lead. And so I’ve actually used a lot of assessment solutions in my coaching work and my development work with executive leaders or prospective executive leaders. And we’ve specifically looked at their optimism levels. And with shocking results, I’ve learned that, in my experience, after doing kind of a couple 100 of these things, the more senior on the traditional hierarchy somebody goes, the lower their optimism score has tended to be.

Brett Elmgren 5:34
And I would say over 90% of the leaders that I’ve coached and worked with on have really surprisingly low optimism results. And that’s shocking and scary, and not good. And so that kind of led me down a path of exploring why that is, and ultimately how we bring that optimism and joy back, you know, from the highest level purpose. So just, people should love their work, we spend so much time doing it. And it’s so important. And I just believe that. So that’s the most important thing.

Brett Elmgren 5:59
But then also, if we love our work, and we have a high sense of optimism, it translates into just doing amazing things and creating remarkable work cultures for other people. So that’s kind of how I fell into this exploration was really by being surprised by data that’s come out over the last five years with the leaders I’ve worked with on having really low optimism scores, which is interesting stuff. Yeah.

Lindsay Recknell 6:19
Well, it’s super fascinating, because in intuitively, you would think that if you’re in an executive position, doing cool things, and having, you know, power and decision making opportunities and things like this, do you would feel optimistic about your role? Why do you think that’s not the case?

Brett Elmgren 6:40
Yeah, that’s, that’s what I spend a lot of time thinking about. And why wouldn’t you but more often than that, but you’re exactly right. It’s like, yeah, you work so hard to achieve, you know, whatever it is that your driver is to get to that kind of top of the mountain on the corporate hierarchy, only to find that that actually results in lower joy. That’s not really a winning combination. I mean, ultimately, I hope that we’re seeking happiness in our work first and foremost. And so something’s wrong with that picture.

Brett Elmgren 7:09
And so I’ve been asking myself that question a lot over the last few years, and I’ve asked a lot of my clients as well. The closest metaphor I can kind of draw from that I thought was summarized really well. And maybe some of your listeners have seen this TED talk. And his work I love was Shawn Achor, that Happiness Advantage. And he’s got that TED talk on kind of the science of happiness and happy secrets to better work. And his story is that he went to Harvard and kind of almost accidentally ended up getting into Harvard and Ivy League universities, as he references has the lowest, or sorry, that one of the highest rates of student depression of any colleges in the United States, then you saying like you couldn’t believe that. And he was going through psychology?

Brett Elmgren 7:50
And you know, he’s been taught the positive psychology program at Harvard. And how could that be right? This is like the apex of education, everybody’s fighting to get in has the highest standards, and then you go there, and then you have the highest rate of student oppression. And I think the answer is the same to the experience that I’ve had, which is, you’re used to being great, right? I mean, these people excelled their entire lifetime, they were always top of their class. And suddenly, for the first time in your life, you’re just average, right?

Brett Elmgren 8:17
And that doesn’t feel good. And you haven’t developed resiliency, and maybe your failure muscles in the same way that you would have if you had a whole bunch of bumps along the way. And I see that same experience in our organizations just we don’t often talk about it, where you look, you didn’t get put on the high potential list, because you suck at your job you got put on it, because you were awesome, right, and you get promoted, because you’re awesome, and you are awesome.

Brett Elmgren 8:40
But then all of a sudden, you’re in a situation where the standards are higher than they’ve ever been, you have way more information to access and way too little time to try to go and siphon through it to find the right information. You’ve got to make bigger decisions faster than you ever have before. And the biggest thing is they have greater impact and risk associated with them. So when you get them wrong, not if you get them wrong, but when you get them wrong, it’s really crushing. And if you haven’t got things wrong, up until that point, especially not in that magnitude, it just leads you down a cycle that I’d like to talk about a rumination which ultimately over time, I would say manifests itself in a extreme decrease in optimism and a huge lack of joy in your work.

Brett Elmgren 9:27
And so that’s my best explanation. You’re probably not going to find that in the book anywhere. But from my experience in talking to leaders. That’s, that’s my working theory or hypothesis, I guess, on the why behind that problem. But what do you think? I mean, you know, you’ve talked to a lot of leaders, you talked about resiliency quite often. Does that track? Does that make sense?

Lindsay Recknell 9:48
Oh, my God. It is like putting language to what we intuitively experienced. And I think I mean, I think it’s true for of leaders in organizations I but I also think it’s Through in maybe entrepreneurship, or people who leave organizations to start something that they are passionate about, and really good about, and then they go, Holy crap, there’s all these things that I didn’t know what I was going to experience. And I’m maybe not so good at those things, either. I wonder if the feeling that comes along with kind of elevating us to this next level.

Lindsay Recknell 10:27
We don’t want to talk about it out loud, because we have, we are someone that people look up to, they have us on this proverbial pedestal as this, you know, shining leader climbing the corporate ladder successful all the way. And now we get there, realize it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Or we might need to develop skills in other areas that, you know, like you said, your failure muscle is not something that we’ve had to really work on before, or anybody told us that this is something we shouldn’t develop by the time we get to this level.

Lindsay Recknell 10:59
And we don’t want to tell anyone, because that’s embarrassing. And we don’t want to fall from grace, so to speak. All of this intuitively makes sense when you explain it that way.

Brett Elmgren 11:11
Yeah, and there’s a couple things, one that popped in that I’ve never thought of before. But the heightened sense of this for entrepreneurs out there. And as a new one myself, I do feel that in a more deep way in the sense of, there’s always the ability to blame external circumstance. And actually, I do a lot of coaching on not doing that. And that’s kind of going back to that word of personal empowerment. But nevertheless, if you work within an organization, I could see a scenario that’s actually more therapeutic for people in the situation where it’s just like, ah, you know what that was out of my control, because of all these organizational factors.

Brett Elmgren 11:47
When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s all you like, your company is probably synonymous with your identity as part of who you are. So you look to your left and your right, and there’s no one left to blame, right. And so, you know, if you’re already pre wired to ruminate based on failures, and you haven’t developed that resiliency, and now you’re in a situation of entrepreneurship, where, literally, it’s all on you, that could be quite crippling. And hey, this is a podcast about hope. So we’re going to get there in terms of like, how do we work through this, and I’ve seen some amazing results, with leaders overcoming this.

Brett Elmgren 12:20
So it’s not a bad news story. It’s just an insight. But that was kind of the first thing that I hadn’t thought of before in terms of the difference within an organization to being an entrepreneur as it relates to this experience. And then the second one, I think you’re you’re banging on like it is an element of, you know, it’s at the core, I guess of the work that’s being done on vulnerability, which you know, we probably spoken at length about this in the past, but we perceive vulnerability be a demonstration of weakness, when other people see a demonstrated, they perceive it to be a demonstration of strength, which is, you know, Brene Brown, the godmother of vulnerabilities work in action there.

Brett Elmgren 13:01
And yet, that doesn’t seem to be as logical as that can be. It doesn’t often show up that way in our actions. And I do see that it actually. And that’s, that’s, that would be a critical insight from the leaders that have overcome those to those that have completely derailed and never recovered, which is maybe a harsh way of putting it, but it’s true. I think that’s the critical choice. If we’re making this polarized, you can be polarized, or you can take one path or the other one path is exactly what you just talked about. I experienced this failure, I’ve got all of this internal shame. I’m ruminating like crazy, I’ve got no joy in my work.

Brett Elmgren 13:34
Well, what do I do? Well, one path is to armor up and not let anybody see it. And just pretend like everything is fine, which is a guaranteed way to decrease your optimism further over time till you derail and can’t recover. For the other option, which is incredibly optimistic and positive is to let that be seen. Because guess what, you’re a human being and every single person that works for you, is also experiencing that same thing. And to role model, the ability to show that hey, me, too, which I think is the most important two words for anybody and struggled to hear creates at the heart of psychological safety and environment whereby which it’s safe to fail, which by definition, is a culture of psychological safety.

Brett Elmgren 14:16
So you’re bang on that is the crossroads, if you will, that leaders face. And if you pick the first half, it’s game over, if you pick the second one, as uncomfortable as that likely will be. And there are ways through that. It’s amazing how much that can actually bring a much greater sense of community joy and optimism through that demonstration of vulnerability.

Lindsay Recknell 14:37
I really, really, really want to talk about path B and how we get up path B. But first, can we talk about your definition of psychological safety from all the work and research that you’ve done? We talk a lot of us like joy and optimism and this ability to fail and a culture of failure and all those kinds of things really contribute to psychological safety. Tell us your thoughts about

Brett Elmgren 15:00
Sure, well, I’ve got it tattooed on my back. And it’s not my definition. Just to be clear, I am nowhere near as smart as the deep experts who’ve studied this stuff. And I come at that terminology from more of the psychological safety lens, as opposed to the psychological health and safety lens, although I assume there’s a deep connection there. But it’s really Amy Edmondson, his definition, who I think predominantly coined the term when studying high performance teams, which is an environment that’s safe for interpersonal risk taking.

Brett Elmgren 15:31
So I’ll say that again, that’s, that’s for definition, which is the one that I subscribe to, which is the environment that is safe for interpersonal risk taking and what that looks like, in behavior. You know, if you just look just envision for a minute, a group of people sitting in a meeting, it’s where there’s this underlying foundation of respect and trust within each other, that we’re not going to leave anything off the table. And so we’re going to face all the hard issues head on, we’re going to speak candidly and openly and freely from a position of respect, but we’re going to make sure we tell the truth.

Brett Elmgren 16:02
And then we’re going to respect equally the viewpoints of that group. And then we are going to leave there with full commitment. And I love how Brene Brown talks about this in her own organization. Not that I’m stealing all of these other people’s work here. But her culture as she described, it is a culture of no meeting after the meeting. And I just love that because I think that in a sentence describe psychological safety and action, right? Where we’ve all been there where, okay, we talk about something hard, and some people speak up. Some people don’t, some people are offended.

Brett Elmgren 16:31
So there’s a lot of unsaid things. And then you leave. And of course, there’s these little toxic huddles of people that are having the meeting after the meeting to discuss I can’t believe that person said that, and I can’t believe that was the outcome. And they did it again. In a psychologically safe world. None of that happens, right? You leave that meeting, and everything has been said, but done in a respectful manner. And you’ve gotten to a position of line commitment, even if there’s disagreement, and so that’s my boy, if that was tattooed on my back, that would have been an expensive tattoo.

Brett Elmgren 16:58
But anyway, that’s, that’s how I look at it. Does that? Does that make sense?

Lindsay Recknell 17:04
That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Because that feels utopian. Right?

Brett Elmgren 17:09
Yeah, totally.

Lindsay Recknell 17:12
And maybe a bit overwhelming. So. Okay, so if we’re helping leaders to get along to pappy, what you talked about, which is that vulnerable path, which is that creative psychological safety path, that opportunity to demonstrate failure and recovery from failure with collaboration and trust, and all those great things? How do we get to this utopian place by encouraging leaders to find more joy, optimism and fulfillment in their careers?

Brett Elmgren 17:42
Yeah, I, I don’t know. This is great for a podcast. I have no good luck with that, everybody.

Lindsay Recknell 17:50
I mean, I could because I mean, this is hard stuff. And if you would have been a liar, you know, so that’s why we have these conversations is so that we get to, you know, like, you know, brainstorm these things, because there isn’t one answer. But if we can give some suggestions. Yeah, idea.

Brett Elmgren 18:13
Yeah. And I’ll just share, I guess, the experiences that I’ve had. And it’s like, that’s super complicated, right. So like, and I do worry, I’m gonna get on a little soapbox. I guess this whole thing is a soapbox. But it’s just, I don’t want to, like, I get pretty crabby when we start talking about hacks towards psychological safety are quick hacks to emotional intelligence and things like that. Like, it’s easy, because, like, I’m the firm belief. And I don’t think this is overly controversial, but our historical experiences shape how we show up in the world and what our worldview is. And each one of us has a remarkably unique story of what those experiences are.

Brett Elmgren 18:57
So two, so I guess my high level answer is this is an individual path forward and exploring why you’re feeling that loss of joy and optimism, or why that’s showing up in your behavior in a certain way, is going to be a very unique thing to each leader and each individual, but facilitating a process by which people can discover that. And identifying that is actually helpful, is a really helpful thing, which is why I’m such a proponent of executive coaching, because that’s an opportunity for people to do that in a real meaningful way.

Brett Elmgren 19:28
But ultimately, it really comes down to for me, then I don’t know how much we want to go down this road. But I actually think there are proactive things that we can do. And that’s what’s not talked about enough. And then there are certainly reactive things we can do, which are much more common, but still really critical. And so if I separated into those two camps, like the reactive is okay, you’re experiencing this, and hey, guess what, every leader who’s ever lead people in the history of time has experienced this because you’re going to get things wrong.

Brett Elmgren 19:55
It’s hard work, just like parenting is just like, whatever. It’s just like living it’s gonna screw things. that part of life? And so what are the things we can do to recover from that and come out stronger is the reactive thing. And then the proactive though a lot of people don’t talk about that is how do we actually avoid getting into the cycle in the first place, not avoid making mistakes, you’re gonna make mistakes, but avoid any level of unhealthy rumination that results in decreased joy.

Brett Elmgren 20:21
And that I would love to talk about because that’s an area I haven’t heard a lot of people really focus on. But I can start with kind of the reactive piece. If that’s helpful. Where do you want to go? You choose your own adventure?

Lindsay Recknell 20:33
Let’s start with reactive because I imagine that people listening to this have identified themselves in this place. And so what if they’re in already? Let’s talk about how to get them moving and get them going. And then, and then talk about the proactive things so that we can prevent the slide back into rumination and negativity and joyless living. Secondly,

Brett Elmgren 20:55
yeah, totally like, I mean, a couple things, I suppose. And I might sound hypocritical, because these will feel like hacks. But they’re much deeper than that. Like, I think first off, people need the awareness, when you’re in that cycle, a lot of time, you don’t even realize it. And so for me, that’s where the assessments really help, because it’s a pretty in your face, product that actually people can see something tangible. And most of the time, there’s actually almost every time there’s a blind spot there, where a leader looks at that and says, whoa, I don’t agree with that.

Brett Elmgren 21:25
And then we talk about what optimism really is. And it’s not to me about walking around where everything is sunshine and rainbows and wonderful, and you’re just always putting on this display of positivity. Because if you are doing that, that’s probably disingenuous to our conversation earlier. And it’s maybe armored up as you know, a distraction from what’s actually going on. Because life’s hard. And leadership’s hard. And you know, it’s not going to always be sunshine and rainbows. So we need to have something to kind of hit us in the face a little bit in a supportive way to let us know that actually, you know what, maybe we’re not as optimistic as we think.

Brett Elngren 22:02
And sometimes that’s a redefinition. So that’s, it’s not that What is it? It really is about what I talked about earlier, the belief that things are possible. And also learning from failure and coming through stronger and more hopeful, it really is about hope. I truly do believe that. And so when you frame it like that, and then I generally ask these leaders, like, do you beat yourself up pretty bad when you make a mistake? And every single one Oh, my God, yes. I’ve just crippled by it. Well, why is that and then we start getting into, and that’s where it gets kind of deep into people’s personal lives. But the, the, if there was one tip, I would say that helps people through that.

Brett Elmgren 22:40
So step one, redefining what optimism is actually about step two, having some awareness for somebody to realize that okay, now with that new definition, actually might not be showing up that way. And that’s dangerous, you got to handle that with care, because that could also lead them to going into that little rumination cycle. And then the third part, I think, is okay, so how do we turn this into a positive and two ways, I’d say that are most effective at doing that my experience, one is having them reflect on their own resiliency, and a time when they’ve gone through something hard in their life and come through stronger, when in the moment, they actually didn’t feel like it was a good thing. And they probably have an example of that. And I think that is unquestionably the best way to develop resiliency is just surviving hard things know that you come out stronger.

Brett Elmgren 23:26
So that’s one but you know, that’s not super comfortable for people to do. And so if it’s a little bit more surface level relationship, I would say the other one is okay, I say to leaders, if you do this, and actually I want to talk about the cycle really quickly, because this is kind of how it works. Okay, let’s say I just got promoted. And I got my first big task. Here you go, Brett, you know, you’ve been waiting for this your whole life. Here’s the big, big job. And here’s the big thing. And it totally screw it up. And then I go home, and I’m, I’m thinking about it. I’m absolutely overthinking about it. I’m ruminating on it. How could I have done this and make going into shame spiral? What does that do? Now I’m distracted, I’m not mindful, I’m fatigued. I’m probably losing sleep. I’m not focused on other things. What does that result in another mistake.

Brett Elmgren 24:08
So now as for the next thing up as well. And then now I’ve got two of them. And I’m starting to develop a track record of poor performance when my entire life up to that point was the opposite. And you lose confidence in yourself, which then results in another mistake, and you see the cycle just starts to spin. And so how do you break out of it? Okay, first step, take out a pad of paper and a notebook. And I’m holding one up right now. And it helps to actually physically write this down and write one question, what did I learn from this mistake? And that’s a simple question, everybody. Really, that’s the punchline. But like literally writing that out? What did I learn from this experience or mistake or however you want to frame it? And writing that out and forcing five minutes of kind of narrative into a journal around that?

Brett Elmgren 24:52
It reframes that situation is developmental. And the thing I always remind leaders of is you are actually a better Now as a result of that mistake, because you have that experience, you’ve taken the time to actually gain the insight from it. And now you are smarter and better and more capable. Because that happened. If that hadn’t happened, you still were going to be waiting for this experience to happen some other day. And so you are better as a result. And it just reframed that failure as learning. And then we start getting into mindfulness practices around when the rumination still pops up how to just go back to your notebook, and reread that again, and come back to that as the only thing productive out of that rumination is what did I learn from it.

Brett Elmgren 25:33
So anyway, that was a long winded way of saying, redefine optimism, have some awareness, and then obviously, reflect on times where you have been resilient. And then journal journal, what learn from it. So I feel like those are kind of the best reactive practices, but your thoughts and experiences, because you’ve probably both experienced this and seen other people work through it, as well.

Lindsay Recknell 25:56
So I really love the reframing the experience, because all the work that I do in hope is all about looking towards that, looking towards that better future by taking action over the things we can control. And so when you write down the situation, and what happened, that is a control thing, you can control what happens next, based on what you learned from that scenario, right. And it also contributes to your agency, which is our internal motivation for doing the things because when you write it down, you know, fears are louder in the dark.

Lindsay Recknell 26:28
And when you write them down and bring them into the light, you will probably have written things that you hadn’t thought of consciously, it was probably subconscious. But when you just do that stream of consciousness writing, you probably will learn things that you didn’t realize were actually going on in there. And that can positively contribute to that sense of agency and that sense of what can you do next? What do you have control over next create that future better than today. So I really like that. I really like that a lot.

Lindsay Recknell 26:57
And the redefining, for that self awareness piece. We can only be better leaders when we continue to become more self aware of leaders. Tasha, Tasha, Eric, speaking of thought leaders in this space, Sachi, Tasha, Dr. Tasha writes about self awareness, and she says that 90% of us will put up our hand when we are asked if we are self aware. And some, I don’t know, 40% of us will put up our head, when we say do we think other people are self aware, there’s a gap.

Lindsay Recknell 27:36
So when we continue to do exercises like this, these post mortems, these lessons learned, maybe we can start to close that gap and actually increase our self awareness, closer to what our perceived self awareness levels are.

Brett Elmgren 27:49
Yeah, it’s that same assessment actually assesses a dimension of self awareness and gives a score out of 100, which is fascinating. And I also questioned how that could be accurate. But nevertheless, I once had a client who scored 1%. Okay, so a one out of 100 on self awareness. And I’m like, This is gonna be a fascinating coaching conversation in the debrief. And so we get into it.

Brett Elmgren 28:12
And sure enough, before I even could say, hi, he’s like, five minutes into just he prepared his defense, and he’s just going on and on about how this is BS. This is not. And then literally, after five minutes, I’m just sitting there listening to him. And he just finally like, loses breath. And then he pauses, he goes, I just realized something. It’s like, why? Because this is probably why the score is so low. Well, now we can have a conversation.

Brett Elmgren 28:40
You’re exactly right, we often, you know, think we are in a better position than we are. And sometimes it’s the opposite as well. But at the heart of development, self awareness, I could not agree more

Lindsay Recknell 28:52
can be like, Okay, so that’s what we can do after the mistakes have happened. And we are feeling joy joyless, and, you know, like, we don’t want to get out of bed because we suck at our jobs. Awesome. Now, let’s pretend we did all the things we just talked about, and life feels good. And we are still making mistakes, but they are not as catastrophic to our mental health. What are we doing that is helping us along that path? What proactive things can we do to keep that positive train rolling?

Brett Elmgren 29:21
Yeah, I think it’s probably gonna make this. I am convinced at this stage. And this might evolve over time. But this is probably the most underrated or under talked about leadership skill that is needed to succeed in a way that actually brings happiness and joy to your work. So there’s a build up and what is it and it’s gonna be an underwhelming answer, but I’ll frame it as a question. And you’re gonna actually have to answer this question.

Brett Elmgren 29:47
So let’s see here. What’s the one and there’s more than one? But if you can think of one leadership skill that unquestionably every single people leader has to have that you’re never trained on what comes to mind. Oh, I put you on the spot, one leadership skill or one leadership thing that leaders have to do people leaders that they’re never trained on.

Lindsay Recknell 30:16
I want to say like that connection to that other person like asking, asking. I mean, now we talk about asking how are you? And listening to the answer? Well, that’s not something that’s pretty new, that come to mind. But tell me what your answer was?

Brett Elmgren 30:38
No, like, here’s better. Let’s go. No, yeah. Like how to establish authentic connection? Yeah. Is an amazing answer. So that’s good. Mine could not have been further from that. It’s developing the ability to make good decisions. Yeah. And so and that’s an underwhelming answer. But how does that have anything to do with optimism and joy in your work? And so let me this requires some explanation. And I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anybody else talk about it this way. So it might be totally BS here.

Brett Elmgren 31:11
But this is the thing, everybody has to make decisions. People leaders have to make decisions every day. And as you elevate kind of, again, into big broad roles, you have to make bigger decisions with greater impact, that obviously have higher risk of getting wrong with more catastrophic, catastrophic outcomes. And so you got to make decisions. And I have never yet seen a leadership development program that has that kind of as a primary competency within it.

Brett Elmgren 31:37
And there is some good development out there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just not common. I guess I shouldn’t say it’s never done. But why does that have to focus on it? What does it have to do with the proactive strategy around well being? I’d summarize it this way, the about, I would say, in a couple 100 of these assessments and coaching clients that have worked with this on, I’d put it over 90% score low on optimism, of the ones that are in kind of that 10% or less, they all share a common trait. And that common trait is the ability to separate their outcomes from their decisions. And that’s at the heart of this proactively is CIO.

Brett Elmgren 32:11
And I’ve seen this where I saw a CEO, make a massive, massive mistake that cost 10s of millions of dollars within an organization and you get into the you know, debrief, and I was facilitating this conversation with this leader. And I’m like, Oh, God, this is gonna just be super contentious. And I’m just curious, like, is she going to blame people? Is there going to be a fight? Is there going to be an argument and walked in? She walked in? And just like, well, we screwed that one up, didn’t we? All right, what did we learn from it. And then away we went. And I remember talking to her about her leadership style, when she actually ended up moving on from the organization on her own terms, by the way. And she just said, like, look like, I’m going to make mistakes, I know that my life is completely unproductive, the better thing is to not evaluate the outcome, but to evaluate the decision, and it is possible to have made a great decision and still had a bad outcome.

Brett Elmgren 33:07
And so that shift instead of focusing on the results, or the outcome, but rather what was the process or the decision that ultimately led to the outcome, because that’s actually what’s in your control. Think of how many business strategies two years ago, were incredible strategies that were developed based off of great data and great logic and all the best thinking. And then a global pandemic comes in and completely, you know, disrupts everything. And now we’re focusing on all of these outcomes, where it’s like, oh, my god, I can’t believe we just open that restaurant, or I can’t believe we just decided to expand this business. Right.

Brett Elmgren 33:42
But well, it was still a good decision based off of the information that you had at the time. But you had an unforeseen circumstance, are you of course. And so that ability to develop decision making skills, so that ultimately, when you pull the trigger on whatever the thing is that you’re deciding to do you feel it’s as bulletproof as it can be without delaying further. And then honestly, the outcome is almost just it’ll be whatever it is, right? But we end up making our decisions just from gut feel, or with no process whatsoever, or for biases that impact us that are actually good. And then we struggle with the outcomes, and rightfully so, because we didn’t make a good decision.

Brett Elmgren 34:23
So that focus upfront on developing our decision quality, if you will, is so critical to proactively getting us in a position where one of two things happened. We either got it right, amazing. Now we’re not ruminating or celebrating, or we got it wrong. But you know what, we’re not actually impacted by it the same way because we still know that we did the work, and it just didn’t go our way this time. That makes sense.

Lindsay Recknell 34:44
Oh, my gosh, so much sense. And yes, like your answer is exactly the answer. Because even at the beginning of this episode, we were talking about how you’re really really great in your job you cleanse the corporate ladder, you’re making decisions because you know what to do, because you’ve been doing it for so long. And then you get elevated to this spot where data is coming too fast, you’re having to make really important decisions without a whole bunch of context or experience because you’re at this new place.

Lindsay Recknell 35:18
So of course, the decision is where the decision point is where we, where we is one of the levers that we can pull to, to be better in our roles as leaders and free framing that decision to focus on. Okay, did we? Did we get the right data? Did we have the right metrics? Did we talk to the right people? Not the Okay, but what happened? All of that stuff within our control goes back to hope theory, just like we just talked about, right? Controlling, focusing on what you can control and let the rest take care of itself. You can control making good decisions. B cannot control the outcome. Brilliant. Love it. Amazing. Yeah, there we go. So good.

Lindsay Recknell 36:04
Well, to find out more with our friend, Brett, on how you can empower your people to make better decisions, y’all gotta tune in to some other podcast episode that he had I do, or his YouTube channel or his, you know, social media, because we have run out of time, Brett, can you even believe it?

Brett Elmgren 36:22
I definitely can believe it, because I’m definitely not short winded.

Lindsay Recknell 36:28
This has been absolutely incredible. I love where I live, where our conversation went. It’s not it’s not anything that we’ve talked about on the show before. But it connects so so well to creating psychologically safe workplaces and supporting leaders to do the same in their organizations. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to achieve through this show.

Lindsay Recknell 36:45
And so thank you so, so much for being here and sharing your brilliance and your insights. And I know, we will link to all of the things that you talked about, we will link to you, so that anybody who wants to have more of these conversations, and to do some of these assessments that you talked about, will absolutely make sure that they can get a hold of you. Really briefly, if they want to get ahold of you. How do they do that?

Brett Elmgren 37:09
Yeah, the Batphone. Just, no, it’s um, yeah, so you can go to Or follow me on LinkedIn, or Instagram at axomleadership or Brett.Elmgren, you’ll find me there. And just thank you to you and all of your listeners, we are very much aligned and at the heart of what we do is supporting people to have more hope and joy in their lives. And obviously, that is a byproduct of their work. And so I’m just thrilled that this time with you, and thank you so much for the gifts that you bring to the world and supporting people’s well being. So thank you.

Lindsay Recknell 37:43
Well, it has been a pleasure. Thank you so much. Take care, and we’ll talk again soon.

Lindsay Recknell 37:47
Thank you for listening to another episode of mental health in minutes. Brett and I are so well aligned in so many of our values and beliefs, especially when it comes to hope and optimism. And I loved his perspective on optimism levels IT leaders fascinating to me that optimism levels typically decrease the higher we move up the career ladder. And I’m thankful that Brett is doing the work to help leaders reverse those trends so they can lead more optimistically, thus inspiring others.

Lindsay Recknell 38:13
I also really liked Brett’s insights around decision making and how this is a skill gap and leadership development training. You know where to go now to close that gap with your leaders. Brett and I both believe in the power of our leaders to create psychologically safe workplaces and we know you do too, or you wouldn’t be listening to this.

Lindsay Recknell 38:30
If you loved this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving review on your favorite podcast player. You can find this everywhere, like mental health in minutes, as well as on the web at The thing we do best at mental health and minutes is open the door to conversations about mental health at work. And episodes like this give us real things we can try to truly make a difference.

Lindsay Recknell 38:50
I know you’re making a difference at your workplace or you’d really like to be or you wouldn’t be listening to podcast episodes like these ones. I’d love to help you accelerate your impact at work, help you really move the needle and mental health maturity at your workplace and get people to a place where they’re feeling less stressed, more fulfilled and able to integrate work and life in a way that works for them. And for your organization.

Lindsay Recknell 39:12
Being a people leader is especially hard right now, you might feel like you’re managing both up the corporate ladder and down. And if the thought of figuring out how to best support your people and yourself feels overwhelming and impossibly hard. Let’s talk let me help you by doing the heavy lifting with resources and materials along with training and facilitation. And you can get back to doing what you do best engaging with and supporting your people. I’ve many ways to support you from full service hands on the guidance and support from afar with hands off. So let’s chat about what works best for you and your people.

Lindsay Recknell 39:45
As always, I’m here if you need me

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