279: Bridging the Leadership Gap, With Rose Fass

September 13, 2023

Read Transcript

Dr. Pelè: 

Hello happy people, welcome to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Hello everyone, this is Dr Pelè with the Profitable Happiness Podcast, and today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Rose Fass, who is the founder and chairman of Fass Forward. She's the author of the book The Leadership Conversation, and let me tell you something I'm so excited to learn today. It's a simple idea that when leaders are trying to influence other people, it's actually not about influencing as much as it is about listening to the people. So, Rose, it is a pleasure to meet you. How are you doing today?

Rose Fass: 

Actually, quite well, the sun is shining, your face looks like you're shining and you've got me smiling, so I think it's a good day. It's a good day, awesome, awesome.

Dr. Pelè: 

All right. Well, Rose, you know we talked a little bit about some of the topics that you're going to share with us today, but I think the one topic I want to start with really is what is the central challenge, what is the problem that is really to be solved in these companies? Yeah, and it's the leadership gap.

Rose Fass: 

We have a significant leadership gap. We have it on the public stage with our government officials. We have it in corporations. We have it in businesses across the world. There's a leadership gap. People there's no shortage of people managing work. There's no shortage of people spending a lot of time on masks and getting things done, talking nonstop and telling people your point of view, but there's a big shortage in really leading others and providing for others, a way in which they can raise the bar level up and become the people they need to be. So, if I have to say, the one single thing that has completely changed my life is the opportunity to focus, with C-level executives all the way through the frontline management, on the leadership gap.

Dr. Pelè: 

You know, it's interesting when you share that focus, the idea of a leadership gap, because so many people have titles like director, vice president, executive, vice president, and yet there's a leadership gap. Is this sort of an insidious problem that organizations aren't fully aware of?

Rose Fass: 

And I don't know that. They're not aware of it. I know some wonderful leaders that are aware of it. They don't know how to close that gap. You've said it perfectly A title doesn't make you a leader. You know what I always loved In Game of Thrones? The little boy king that was so persnickety and awful. And the grandfather comes up and the little boy goes I'm the king. And he says if you have to tell people you're the king, you're not the king. So I think it's very interesting when people bring up the fact that I'm in charge of, or I'm the EVP of, or I'm this. If you've ever had to identify that way, you've already lost. Nobody wants large and in charge.

Dr. Pelè: 

That is so powerful. You know, when we first started talking, you shared with me a little story about a musician that you went to see a few years ago, and I was just so taken by your passion around describing the blues and the experience that you had. I wonder can you take us back to who you are and what brought you, through your life experiences, to this idea of the leadership conversation?

Rose Fass: 

Well, if we talk about music and I'll spend a minute on this my father played the harmonica and one of the relatives I think that dad was telling me about one of his cousins and Bill Haley. In the comments he sort of wrote a couple of those songs, one o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock, rock was piano player. I had a cousin, jackie, who used to play the sax late at night and you could just sit and listen to the tenor sax. So music for me has always been a way to reach the heart there's something about it. I've had a lot of time in business and I always say most of my friends are in the arts because I have the opportunity to change the channel and I love entertaining people in my home. I love playing music and listening to it, and particularly live music and the opportunity to understand that there's so much of messaging that goes on in music today, even our rap artists. They're telling it like it is. They're having those leadership conversations. They're having it music and they're sharing what we need to be thinking about. I think it's important to listen.

Dr. Pelè: 

I do.

Rose Fass: 

And I think just reading business books is never going to get you there. There's a lot to be done with that, but it's the stories on Gates of Fire, a wonderful book about the Trojan Wars and the incredible way in which these people operated. You can learn a lot from this stuff. You can learn a lot from people's lives, and so for me, growing up in a relatively modest family, my parents were first generation Americans from Italian immigrants and my father was conversant in all the romance languages and he was also a warrior. He was a World War II Marine in the Aviator Division and mortality rate was very high. The fact that he came home by the grace of God, I'm here, and my brothers as well. And he had one principle that he brought us up with the up at 0600 and ready for company 0600. And so the thought was that you know, you were dressed, you were prepared to be there for people. He taught me to listen and I said to him how'd you learn all these languages? Well, he knew Italian, so it was easy to kind of. But he said if you're speaking Spanish or you're listening to someone speak Portuguese or even French, he goes in these neighborhoods just being heard, understood, know that you're gotten. That's the most important thing you can give somebody. And I grew up with that. I grew up with an understanding that it mattered. It mattered that people get listened to, that you remember their stories and that you could play that back. So for me, I think throughout my life and my career, I started out an entrepreneur. I've always been a person that listens to other people. I love stories. My husband always says I eavesdrop in restaurants, I listen to the table and he goes well, do you want to go over there and sit with those people at the time? I'm fascinated. I'm fascinated. So I think you learn a lot from listening and I do think you also learn what it is that really makes people tick and, as a leader, you need to understand that. You need to be able to read that room as well as you read a spreadsheet.

Dr. Pelè: 

You know it's interesting that you have sort of focused in on listening, because of course, there are lots of people who've written about active listening and different strategies for listening. But I think that, you know, when I remember certain leaders that I've worked with, I know there's this anxiousness to want to speak and to influence and to tell people what to do, and it's like, wow, you could actually do these things even more powerfully by doing it the other way around, by listening. That seems to be what I'm hearing from your approach. Is that correct?

Rose Fass: 

Yeah, you know, it's very interesting. One of the emotional intelligence books, the first one that I read. It was so formulaic and I thought, wow, we're talking about emotion and we've got a formula for it. We're active listening. There's a formula, exactly. I'm proud to say that I've written two books. One is the chocolate conversation, my older book, and the newest one to be released is the leadership conversation. Both of these books you can see them on the shelf there's stories. There's stories. They're not just formulas. You know, we have tools in them and we call ourselves the Howe Company and you do learn Howe.

Dr. Pelè: 

But there's stories.

Rose Fass: 

they're wonderful stories and those stories communicate in a way that allow people to feel like they're having an experience. So we've got chapters like Go there, you know that famous thing Don't Go there when people tell me that I'm like packed and ready to roll, because it means that this isn't discussable. Something's wrong. Don't say it. And in business, we have to be able to find ways to have a conflicted conversation. I have a chapter called Addicted to Relevance. Why is it important for you to be relevant? You're very relevant. You know. You were kind enough to tell me your age before we got started and it made me feel a little better. I'm 74 years old. I like to think of myself as still pretty relevant. Can I help people grow? Can I help them scale their leadership and management practice? Can I help them be more productive? These are things that so the addicted to relevance Stephen Jobs, was addicted to relevance. I speak about that. I speak about the fact that we never knew we needed a thousand songs in our packet. Now we can't live without it. So there are many things that I talk about in this book that help people to understand that there are ways in which the conversation can literally transform your company.

Dr. Pelè: 

You talk about. In fact, the subtitle of your book is Make Bold Change One Conversation At A Time, you know. I think that I would love to know the how of that. You mentioned that you're the how company. I like that tagline, by the way. I'd like to know the how of that. A lot of people, when writing books, they have the challenge and I've done it myself, so I understand this challenge. They have the challenge that they've got to package and simplify what they're sharing in a way that people can sort of follow. Do you have some nuggets you can drop that? Give us some steps on how to use leadership conversations to build culture, to create influence and so on. How would you do this?

Rose Fass: 

So first I'd like to say that the that particular phrase came from someone that I worked with for many years. It's a very famous CEO, bill McNermitt, and I want to put a head off to him. He endorsed my first book and he said Rose has been the person that knows how to make bold change one conversation at a time. And Bill McNermitt is CEO of ServiceNow. He's always on NBC and Kramer and all those places, and he was one of those guys that could do that. So I wanted just an early friend, colleague and mentor and I put it out there. I developed this framework that talked about the technical, social and political spheres. In the technical sphere, dr Pili, it's what I know. What I know In the social sphere, it's who I know. And in the political sphere it's who knows me. And in business you have to build that frame across all three spheres. Most people come in, they come out of Harvard, they're brilliant, they go into business and they operate purely in that technical sphere sharing their knowledge, their know-how, their experience, all of that. People who operate in the social sphere multiply a little bit of that by putting things in a context, by connecting with others, by finding ways in which they can express the particular idea or ways in which they want things done, whether they're talking to a full auditorium or they're having one-on-one conversation in an office or on Zoom remotely. It's connecting the content to the person and then bringing the person to the content. You can't do it by just hammering out the content in the technical sphere, the political sphere, which people go oh, I hate that Everybody's too political today. In fact they're not political, in fact they're horrible at it, because posturing is not the same as positioning. And true, true political standing is when a person can position themselves in a real way. And a CEO who has the capacity to position what they're saying, or any leader in a way that people can relate to it, they understand why are you taking that position? What's the context we're living in? What business problems are we solving? Whatever On the public stage, you saw Zelinsky do it perfectly when he was asked if he wanted an escape route and he said hey, don't give me a ride, give me ammunition so I can protect my country because I'm the leader and I'm going first. You know that's not posturing.

Dr. Pelè: 

That's not posturing.

Rose Fass: 

And we see a lot of posturing today. So the how of this is to always look at your conversations and saying am I covering all three? Am I a credible expert in the technical sphere? Am I a valued colleague? In the social sphere, do people see me as a team player? Not only am I credible, but I'm also approachable. And in the political sphere, am I an opinion shaper? Do people want to hear what I have to say? So those are the hows and I go through this quite extensively in the book and it's a simple framework. You have a lot of techies. I know you're a software specialist, but I have a lot of techies in IT. Now that write it all down, because it's a little formula for them.

Dr. Pelè: 

Well, you know, as I listen to it, it is very easy to follow it. You know, I mean you've got your three buckets your technical, your social and your political and you could spend some good time just working on those things, just mastering that. You do talk, in your body of knowledge really, though, about the idea that leaders need to shift from what they can do to influence others, meaning I got to get my technical and my social and my political right what they can do to what they can do to listen. Can we talk about some strategies around the listening side, because that, I think, is probably harder for people to even get their minds around.

Rose Fass: 

You and I had a pre-conversation before we got on this call and you acknowledged the fact that I love music and it immediately connected me to you. I acknowledged the fact that you were in software because you told me something about that. When you acknowledge that someone has shared something with you, I always say to my husband can you build off of what I just said? Because what we see today is not conversation, we see dueling monologues, and a dialogue requires the acknowledgement of what the other person has shared. So I believe if we acknowledge more than advocate, we can get people gathered around us. And it's such a simple tool. It's like, I think to myself. People get worried when they're on a panel or they're going to be making a presentation and I always say well, why are you worried? I just want to make sure I know what to say. I said don't worry about what you're going to say, ask questions. There you go, listen.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yes.

Rose Fass: 

And when you listen, feed back what you've heard.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah.

Rose Fass: 

Sound smarter than everybody in the room.

Dr. Pelè: 

Because you're relevant. Yes, yes, I have to say I'm taking notes and I just really love. No, I'm serious. Let me tell you some of my notes. You have some powerful sayings which I hope you've copywritten. First of all, check this one out, because posturing is not the same as positioning. That's deep. Here's another one Acknowledge more than you advocate, also deep. I'm going to keep writing them down. So let's just get maybe a little bit into the maybe the negative side of this. Why is it that it's hard for people to get their heads around some of these topics you've shared? I mean, is there a mindset challenge with that leader person where she wakes up in the morning and has her priorities about the business and what's got to happen and therefore, what are you talking about? Emotions, what are you talking about listening. I have no time for this. Now give me your perspective on why some of this stuff is hard to implement in organizations.

Rose Fass: 

I think it begins with fear Not being enough. We all bio out of the wounds of our moms with our brilliance and our muddy shoes, and, if we can understand that, nobody there are no perfect people in the world other than the one that came down for a little while and tried to demonstrate, through the masters, our way of life, the lack of a spiritual connection. And I'm not speaking about religion. I'm speaking about knowing that there are power greater than yourself. But there is a plan that this universe has a reason for you to be here, and we're not here to be a big piece of stuff. We're here to plug into a world and be with one another and make the progress we need to make to become the people we need to be. So when you have out of bed in the morning and you're not thinking about being a big piece of stuff or what's this one going to think about me? Or do I have the approval or validation? I guess, as you get older, you start to realize that it's the things that people remember that you've actually contributed to their lives that matter. It's not all the stuff that you hired, accumulated, that knowledge. You have all of this. You know, when my mom passed, my younger brother brought me to his garage and he had her belongings all in these little boxes and I saw the little red coat sticking out and I remember the tears just dripping down because my mother, that little bit of stuff that was left after a whole life of my mother living in beautiful homes and serving wonderful dinners, what I remembered most was she could do more over a cup of tea, listening and caring and being there for people than all that mattered, because that's what she took with her to heaven, not all this stuff that she had accumulated. And so I felt that peace when my mother passed on her 95th year, four days short of her 96th birthday, on Mother's Day in 2020, because she passed with peace. She knew she was there. She raised a family. She was there for her friends, for her family. She wasn't educated, didn't go to college, was there and every time you came home from school, that cup of tea was there and that listening ear and it was there for everyone. I learned a lot from that. I learned a lot from that, so I think that's the thing that we have to remember when we're hopping out of bed and have our little laundry list and our priorities and all the rest of it. When you leave this earth, you're not taking any of that with you. What you're taking with you is your progress mm-hmm and what? you've done for others mm-hmm.

Dr. Pelè: 

You know I have to say you're lucky I didn't get all teary-eyed in that little story you're sharing there. Thank you very much, because I was like, oh, she's taking me there. But I'll tell you I have I have a strong connection to, with the idea that we have to be present here because this life is so short. Yeah, this, this life is so short. You know, you talk about the idea that leadership happens in the conversations. Okay, you know, if you ask anyone PhD school, all the way down to the person on the street what is leadership, they'll tell you everything from hey, it's leadership is influence. Or if nobody's following you and you're taking a walk, then you're just taking a walk, you're not a leader, something like that. You know, everybody's got a definition for leadership, but you say leadership is in the conversations. If we could switch topics a little bit to the idea of culture and how a culture is built in an organization and how employees what they actually want from their day-to-day experiences, how can leadership conversations sort of connect with that and make that happen? You know, a lot of people say, well, culture, it's this thing I can't see, you know, and yet it's the thing that drives out our performance, our success, it's everything. How do we take this idea and really make it happen organization-wide?

Rose Fass: 

yeah. So I had a very dear friend that I met along the way. She's an anthropologist, joseph played the harp, her family was symphony musicians. But she said to me she was an anthropologist PhD. And she said to me Dr Susan Anderson, so wonderful, living in Austin. Hmm, rose, culture is the way we do things around here. So you try to do a bunch of stuff, but at the end of the day, she traveled with the Peace Corps, she watched tribes, she did everything. Culture is the way we do things around here. I have a young man that I hired a lot of years ago, 15 years ago, and he came to me and said you know, I'm a mechanic. I'm not educated, I, but I'm really great with technology. And we gave him a shot. I had a founding partner, gavin McMahon, and he and I met with him. He was British and so was Gavin, and we gave him a shot and I just officiated his wedding, hmm, and he said to me it would be my honor if you would be able to do this. And I said to him no, it's mine and it's my first, because I built a culture and we built a culture and fast-forward, where we listen. So if I pick up the phone and I call someone who's you know, an individual contributor, and I say are you interruptible? Just a simple thing, because I'm not the big piece of stuff. Picking up the phone, calling you and now you talk to it and tell me what I need. Are you interruptible? Giving every person the respect and dignity they deserve to be in your company because they are giving of themselves to help you grow your business? That's a very important thing to remember. So when every human being is treated with that level of dignity and respect, they're gonna come back. I don't have people leaving my company. I don't. I have them hanging around and they don't make the most amount of money, but we give time off. We allow people to live their lives. We have good work, family balance. When we need them, they're there. We do a week reboot in August in addition to vacation, so half the company goes off the first two weeks and the other half the company goes off the last two weeks and you're responsible to get coverage. We built a culture where people feel like they're valued and that they're treated fairly and they've got the opportunity to bring their ideas forth and we're gonna work with them on. I did this to be honest with you, dr Paley, because I lived in a corporate world where that wasn't happening where people were shut down, hiding in their cubes, didn't know. You know what are they gonna do now? It was survival, and it was surviving rather than thriving. And I saw the day that I started this business. Because I was a big corporate executive, I did it all, but when we started this company I said, no, we're gonna have a culture where people feel like they met and every contribution matters. It doesn't you know? And that whole thought that, as leaders, what can we do? Every conversation that you have, either leadership is happening in that conversation or not yeah because when you're dismissive Arrogant, you tell someone, can I say this? and you say no, no, you can't we're done with this now and I've actually heard this kind of stuff that that that just absolutely unacceptable. You know you have to give people the opportunity to show up.

Dr. Pelè: 

Mmm-hmm, Mmm. You know I have to say I promise y'all is gonna write some more stuff down. I just wrote one that I just I just love. Um. So you say that I love this and I hope this is this. Is this has to be in your book, right? Are you interruptible? Is it in your book?

Rose Fass: 

I don't know. I do believe that I Allude to it, but it is something that I talk about in the book as a concept is a concept read others. I Always do that and I learned that from dr Susan Anderson. She would always pick up the phone and say are you interruptible? Yeah, I thought, lovely way to do this, it's so good. Yeah, or pick up a phone. Even when I call a friend and I say I'm bad time because I don't want to just sell them to stop eating their dinner, to talk to me.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, yeah, good time, bad time.

Rose Fass: 

It's just that whole. And being approachable, dr Bailey, you know If you walk around with this sort of very formal, you know no one's gonna want to Approach you. You got that. Keep off the grass, and so what if you're the smartest person in the room? Yeah, you know, yeah that in a you know less than whatever you're paying, you'll get on the subway and get downtown. That's not gonna help you. It is. It is your vulnerability, your approachability, likeability, and At the same time, you can carry yourself with dignity and you earn your way by what you bring to the party.

Dr. Pelè: 

Mmm, yeah, what a, what a powerful Little takeaway that people can practice like right now, right after listening to this. And I'll just say this I've been in corporations where there's a culture where people might say got a minute. Or there's another culture where people might say are you free? And the interesting is the thing is that none of neither of those carries the sort of implied respect and dignity, as are you interruptible.

Rose Fass: 

You know, it's almost like a.

Dr. Pelè: 

I'm vulnerable. I care about you. It's. It's a whole different level. Anyway, let's let me ask you a question about Fast forward. I've been waiting to ask you this because I love the name. I I hear what it sounds like, but I know it's spelled f as s forward for your organization. Tell us about your company. What does fast forward mean? How'd you get the name?

Rose Fass: 

Yeah, so when we were starting the company. As I said, gavin McMahon and I worked together at Gartner with Bill McDermott and I suggested that he joined me and and he said I can you do this? I said I think so. So I went to estate water and this wonderful man who was head of research and development of Shahan Nazar he had worked with me before and we were proposing to do some work with him in an acquisition and he said Okay, so should I send Gartner? And I said, well, actually, no, we've started our own company. And he's like you mean you, you're not there anymore. No, no, he started off, what's the name of your company? I said it's a surprise. Yeah, so I was driving out to East Hampton to visit some friends and I went to bed that night and I had a dream that I was walking through a forest kind of thing, and this gentleman was walking ahead of me, or this apparition was walking ahead of me and clearing the way, and I finally caught up with him and he said come on, fast forward. And I got up in the morning and I wrote the name in a lipstick pencil.

Dr. Pelè: 

Mmm I.

Rose Fass: 

Had tried some other fast names fast lane, fast track none of which they were all taken. So I thought last forward. That's interesting, because we need to move forward, we need to be aware of our presence, where we are, in the presence, what the past just taught us so we can move forward. And Sure enough, the name wasn't taken at the ST was. But then I thought what a wonderful play on my name your last name exactly and and that's how it ended up being fast forward consulting group, and I got it in a dream.

Dr. Pelè: 

Oh, that is that another powerful story. Thank you for sharing that. So, rose, what are you excited about next? What's happening now? How can people get your book? Tell us all about what you're excited about now and how people can read you.

Rose Fass: 

Yeah. So now I'm at that stage in life where I'm avoiding the founders dilemma and I've announced two CEOs One, gavin, who had been with me since the beginning. The other, david Frost, who I've known since he was a young man, who's a powerful human being with gorgeous Laura and beautiful light, and they are co CEOs and I've taken on a chairman role. They are now Running the day-to-day and I'm involved in a kind of an oversight, along with my oldest and dearest friend and best colleague in the world, sally Zeta, who's a vice chair, who started at Xerox 45 years ago, and the book is now becoming a platform for me to go and spend time With leaders and C-level executives. In particular, I coach a number of C-level executives To kind of take the wisdom of the last 45 years that I've been in business and share what I can to help them become the leaders they can be, and I'm still learning, participating on these podcasts. I work with a number of clients and I very much enjoy our Clients, but this is a time in my life when I am now in my wisdom years and I'm hoping that I get to enjoy those and and help the two gentlemen that are taking on my position To be the kind of leaders that listen, that care, they give people the benefit of the doubt, that don't jump up the ladder difference you know all the things that I've learned in my life and just bring out the very best in our company and that's what we're hoping for. And we've got Wonderful young women now that are coming up the the the scale. I've got one woman who's come back. Pam Jennings, a Yale graduate, 20 years in business, was with us 20 years ago. She's now joined us. So lots of good things happening, lots of good things. And the leadership conversation and the chocolate conversation are fun reads. Gonna bore you their fun reads. You can actually take that with you at night.

Dr. Pelè: 

And what's the best way for people to contact you online? Would it be LinkedIn, which I'm gonna have on the show.

Rose Fass: 

It is a perfect way to contact me and I will always respond and Just love having you as part of my extended Family and I want to keep talking to you and let us continue the conversation. You know we need to keep having these conversations.

Dr. Pelè: 

Absolutely, rose. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, sharing your, your core strategy of how the conversation is actually that key to leadership. And thank you for being on the profitable happiness. Thank you.

Rose Fass: 

Thank you so much. It's my great pleasure.

Dr. Pelè: 

Thanks for tuning in to the profitable happiness podcast. For more episodes, visit dr Pillay. Calm and remember Get happy first and success will follow.