Lead Like a Human with Adam Weber

Reading Time: 20 Minutes

In this episode with Adam Weber, we discuss what it means to be authentic and vulnerable as a leader.

Takeaways We Learned from Adam…

Embrace Candid Feedback for Growth

True leadership involves giving candid feedback consistently. It’s kinder to be clear with people about where they can improve, fostering growth and development. Authenticity in communication builds trust.

Prioritize Consistency in Feedback

Consistency is key in providing feedback. The one-on-one rhythm is a safe container for constructive feedback. Make sure employees can always name their primary growth area, reinforcing a culture of continuous improvement.

Affirm Positive Behaviors

Affirming positive behaviors is crucial. Recognize and acknowledge strengths, emphasizing the value of their contributions. Affirmation creates a positive atmosphere, making critical feedback more well-received.

Personalize Feedback Delivery

Tailor the delivery of feedback to individual preferences. People receive feedback differently, so in addition to one-on-ones, use varied approaches like thematic feedback sessions. This approach removes emotion, fostering a collaborative environment.

Shift Focus to Culture over Compensation

The modern workforce values culture over traditional perks. Leaders must recognize the shift from stability-focused values to those centered on authenticity, growth, and a meaningful organizational purpose. Aligning with these values builds a thriving culture.

Empower Employees with Flexibility

Flexibility is a universal desire. Even in industries requiring physical presence, finding ways to offer autonomy in scheduling or other aspects empowers employees. It’s not just about remote work; it’s about giving individuals control over their work environment.

Reinvigorate the Workforce with Purpose

Combat collective apathy with a renewed focus on purpose. Provide opportunities for skill development, set ambitious and meaningful goals, and rally teams around significant objectives. Inspiring work makes a difference in motivation and engagement.

Manage Apathy through Clear Expectations

Combat apathy by setting clear expectations. Consistent feedback and role clarity are foundational. Define roles by outcomes, not just hours. Giving employees a clear understanding of their job and expectations helps them find purpose within the organization.

Authentic Leadership Requires Personal Growth

Becoming an authentic leader starts with doing the hard work of becoming an authentic person. It involves daily centeredness practices, self-reflection, and rooting oneself in something bigger than the challenges of leadership.

Create a Psychologically Safe Environment

Authentic leadership is not just about being genuine; it’s about creating a psychologically safe environment where employees can thrive, innovate, and be honest about their experiences. This environment fosters deep loyalty and trust.

Combat the Impact of Role Power

As a leader, role power can lead to a lack of truth-telling. The more successful you become, the less often you hear the truth about your impact. Overcome this by seeking outside voices, grounding yourself, and maintaining disciplines for self-awareness.

Prioritize a Morning Routine for Centeredness

Establish a morning routine that includes practices like journaling, reading timeless truths, and considering something bigger than the day’s challenges. This routine fosters centeredness and resilience in the face of leadership stress.

Personal Hobbies Contribute to Authenticity

Having a personal hobby outside of work, such as raising chickens, can be surprisingly impactful. It provides a reminder of something to care for beyond work and contributes to a more balanced and authentic life.

Three Key People Strategy Buckets

A robust people strategy focuses on three main outcomes: increasing employee engagement, driving performance, and minimizing regrettable turnover. These elements contribute to the overall health and success of an organization.

Engagement Drivers in Manufacturing

In manufacturing, common engagement drivers involve issues with frontline managers lacking management skills. Psychological safety, feedback, and role clarity are crucial drivers. Creating an environment that values feedback boosts innovation and efficiency.

Tangible Business Outcomes Through Engagement

Engagement drives tangible business outcomes. In manufacturing, a culture that accepts feedback fosters innovation, efficiency, and motivation. Acknowledging the voice of those closest to the problem leads to a vibrant and alive workplace.

About Adam Weber

Adam Weber is the host of the popular HR Superstars Podcast and SVP of Community for 15Five, a performance management software company, where he supports and leads over 6000 HR professionals to become more strategic leaders. As a thought leader on people solutions, he shows leaders how to get the best out of their staff and he’s seen how, when employees bring their full selves to work, they unleash their true potential and do great things―both for themselves and for the organizations that employ them.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your host and executive business coach Allison Dunn, our topic today is lead like a human. What does true vulnerability look like? Our guest today is Adam Weber. He is the host of a popular HR superstar podcast. He’s also the SVP of community for 15Five, which is a performance management software company, where he supports and leaves over 6000 human resource professionals to become strategic leaders. Adam, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Adam: Thanks, Alli. It’s great to be here.

Allison: My pleasure. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners?


I would say number one leadership tipis giving candid feedback about how I really feel and how I feel like people are showing up. And then doing that consistently, is probably my number one.

So many times early, I think when I when I became a leader in my own fear to be liked, and to be viewed as like the nice guy, I withheld, and then I ended up causing more harm and more hurt. And now that I feel like it’s actually kinder to be clear with people and did tell them where those gaps are. So that’d be that’s my first one. That’s my blink reaction is to start there. But gosh, there’s probably like 10, more I could say after that, too. So clear is kind

Allison: And giving that feedback in a clear way is the nicest way to do it until you’re frustrated, right? Is there a rule of thumb that you use for how often you give feedback? Or is it just instantaneous, if you can like as quickly as possible?

Adam: Well, one thing for me, I also believe that like the workforce today really values growth and development, like the average worker does.

It’s really the duty of a great leader to give feedback consistently.

And so when I go into a one on one, one of my rules of thumb is like, Can my employee, the person that’s reporting to me name, what I believe their number one growth area is at all times. And so it might be every week, I’m giving a new piece of feedback, it might be, we’ve identified a big theme, that is not something you can just check off in a week, it’s like a full year, like there was a, I had an employee once who we were trying to help him grow in his strategic thinking, a tactical, amazing doer. But a lot of times those bigger picture challenges, I would have to surface up to him.

And I said, you know, I think for you, there’s, there’s a higher order inside it, like you have it in you. It’s just and so we, you know, that wasn’t something we checked off in a week, but we talked about it every week. And it was something that to watch, like, unfold and kind of cultivate. So in general, I would say the one on the rhythm of the one on one is a safe container for feedback. I think consistency is key. And when it is inconsistent, it can feel a little jarring. It can feel a little kind of like it can create like psychological unsafety. And so yeah, one on one would be one. And then I also think making sure that you do affirm positive behaviors to makes the critical feedback received a little bit well, much better as well.

Allison: I know what you mean by that. But could you give me an example of what that looks like?

Adam: Have positive feedback of Yeah, well, affirming? Like, yeah, yeah, affirming? Yeah, it would, it would be something like so if there’s a if there’s a trader behavior that I see the person displaying, like, hey, one thing I’ve noticed right now is that like, your effort is exceptional. That even in I would even say that your output is really good. But where maybe we’re having a gap is the focus is and so I’m these things are these things I feel really solid about but we need to kind of harness it and kind of direct it in this manner, would be kind of like an example of like, here’s, here’s some positives, here’s, you know, this is that’s that while an employee always has room to grow, they are also simultaneously even the ones that don’t work out. They are producing work that is quality. And I think it’s okay, by the way to honor the quality of someone’s work, even if it’s an employee that down the road doesn’t work out as well. Yeah.

Allison: My biggest takeaway that I just got from the tip you just gave is to ensure that who I’m meeting with on a one to one on my team, that they understand what their area of improvement or their area of growth is, at any given moment, like knowing what they’re working towards, and making sure that is clearly expressed or spoken because I can give feedback, and I guess encouragement, but you have to understand what you’re now trying to do with that feedback.

Adam: Yeah, and I would even if I could build on that just a little Is that because we actually did we did the study, we surveyed 1000 managers and employees and looked at the relationship and the amount of managers that think they give feedback versus the amount of employees that think they receive feedback is like disproportionately off. And so one of the things like that example, I just shared, really appreciate and respect the hard work you’re doing. Even the out the output, but let’s like focus in on this one priority area versus kind of spinning.

You know, like that example, I would say that in the one on one, I would also make sure I deliver it in a different way different people receive feedback, different ways. So I would say that in the one on one, and then afterwards be like, so good catching up today. Hey, just as a quick reminder, this is the one topic we’re both decide, like we’re choosing to work on for you right now. Right. And so, and I’ll even I actually theme them, so I’ll pick like a word or a phrase that represents the feedback so that we can kind of come back to it, it takes the emotion out of it, too. It’s a little bit more like, Hey, we’re in this together. Here’s, here’s the big bucket, we’re working on focused velocity, whatever that phrase is right, that we’re, we’re then going to be able to come back to and have conversations about.

Allison: I love that. I love the language. And I think listeners appreciate like hearing what that sounds like at the beginning in the middle of the end, like how to guide that. So fantastic. Thank you for that. Surveying, one of the questions I have for you is that you did some survey of employees regarding the ranking of culture, and that it far outweighs the importance of compensation and benefits. So how can organizations unlock that, if they often are focused on compensations and benefits?

Adam: Yeah, well, I think what it really is, if you really get it the essence of lead, like a human, which is the book that I wrote, and why this topic exists, is that there’s been a shift over the last 20 to 30 years of, of the workforce and what the workforce values it is rooted in, you know, originally was rooted in Millennials entering the workforce and valuing something different. And then it started to infiltrate all generations, which is also happening, by the way real time with Gen Z, who is just about, you know, past 10% of the workforce value flexibility. Well, now look how everyone is starting to really value flexibility. So they’re not the only generation incorrect. It’s not about that generation, it’s that that generation has an idea that it’s create sparks and inspiration that trickles through everybody. Yeah, but what but what really happened with this kind of transition from the Industrial Revolution was that we built with the value, we built cultures around the values of the workforce stability, compensation, benefits, like I’m going to work here for the rest of my life. People don’t do that anymore. And the values of the workforce shifted leadership authenticity, do I trust the people that I work for?

They value can I grow here? The thing we just talked about? Like, is this a place where I have movement and growth? And third, like, does this company exist for a reason that matters in the world? Like, do do, I believe in that, and so those which those really get at kind of the essence of culture, and so I think for leaders, if you live in that old era, this manifests I call it frustrated, Frank, this kind of like, why are they not happy with like, Oh, why do they care so much about the life and work life balance? And why can’t they just be happy, I’m doing all these things. And they’re just, there’s this, there’s, I mean, I’ve literally met I met this Frank guy, and his face was getting redder as he was explaining it, and where is really this new way is to go, like, this is what employees want. And what winning high performance cultures do is that they create environments of authentic leaders, and a place where individuals can grow and they make the reason of the business matter to the employees.

Allison: I completely agree. I am super curious, like we just talked about, like, you know, the shift that Gen Z has provided in our current work place, culture and how we do work, and your access to 6000 other HR professionals, what are some of the key things that we as organizations really need to be focusing on and looking at as we start our plans for 2024? And so like, if I’m an executive like what am I thinking should I know about what my people really want from me?

Adam: I think your people want flexibility right now more than they’re even expressing to you. I think that the No matter your industry, by the way, and I think that is like that I think a lot of people feel stuck right now with flexibility like this conversation of like return to office or like forcing people. The reality is as soon as the job market is solid people are gone, like they’re not going to they’re going to work in environments where they have flexibility. If you work in manufacturing, and an environment where you go, Well, what can we do they have to physically be here. Still, the theme to me is flexibility. That might mean that there’s some environment that you get to choose your own schedule, you get to have a one. There’s so many ways that I think you with your peers, you know, with peers in your industry, how just rather than try to solution for you, I would ask this question, in what ways can we empower our employees to both know what to work on, so they know what to focus on, but also give them the flexibility and autonomy to do that work? I think that would be one.

I also think just in general, if I mean, if I’m speaking super, super generically about the entire workforce right now, there’s a collective apathy in the workforce right now, that is born out of a whole bunch of long tenured employees that would have quit in a previous time. But right now, with trepidation of the economy, in the job market, they’re kind of holding on. And that just sort of pass in time. And so if it were me, I would think about ways to reinvigorate them, whether that’s growth and learning opportunities for them skill development, create job crafting, maybe it’s like doing a better job of remote, like, setting ambitious goals that are fun, that rally teams together to do something significant and important, like, people want to do work that’s meaningful. And I think, too often we just try to like, we just kind of take some of the fun and the ambition out of that work. And so I think that that might be another thing as well.

Allison: I concur that from like a, from at least clientele like you, I definitely see organizations that have a tremendous amount of apathy going on. Weapons, if you can’t reinvigorate them, I mean, I guess like, at some point, like, maybe you could give them skills to work on or a bigger purpose, but like weapons, if you really can’t bring them along? What do you do that?

Adam: Well, I mean, what I, I’m, I I’m fine with managing people out personally, like, I think that there’s like a collective need to kind of start to manage some people out of organizations right now. But the problem is that too many organizations weren’t doing the very first thing I said at the start of the podcast, which is giving consistent and steady and fair feedback. And, and so like, start there, so that you can set clear expectations. So that might be the foundation consistent feedback, really think through each role, and less about the hours and more about the outcomes that you’re trying to achieve. And then start holding people to those. I do think, wrapped around both of those two things. Because that does, there’s a way to do that, that hopefully will create inspiration inside of people like if you because there’s because the positive of that there’s autonomy, when you do that for someone like you’re giving, like you’re giving them role clarity.

So many people, the average worker, genuinely has no idea what is actually expected of them. They don’t know what their actual job is. And they and they also don’t know where they stand inside the organization. And so it’s a great gift to give an employee to go, Hey, here’s what your actual job is here. Here’s what’s expected of you. This is what success looks like. And here’s where you stand in relation to that success. It sounds so basic, but I have talked to I spent the I mean, I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years. Yeah, a lot of times I like it. It’s shocking how few organizations just check those three boxes, you know, so it makes a world of difference for employees when they live inside of that. And it also is very clarifying for them when they’re not a fit as well. When you hold them to those expectations. You go actually this isn’t this isn’t working for me. Great. Okay, now we’re actually making we have real life inside of our culture and our team.

Allison: Your book titled lead like a human talk to me about I mean, obviously, there’s a element that, you know, shouldn’t leading with true vulnerability and being authentic. How do we more humanize our leadership?

Adam: Yeah, it’s, it’s, this is it’s my favorite topic, obviously.

I shared earlier one of the core values of the workforce is working for leaders that are authentic.

And what’s funny about traveling the country and doing talks on authentic leadership is see He asked me, I go, how do I become an authentic leader? And I’m like, Okay, well, here’s the heart.

Here’s the hard truth is that there’s no magic answer to becoming an authentic leader, you actually have to just do the hard work of becoming an authentic person.

And what that looks like what that and there’s a chapter in the book that I talk about this, but it’s like, centeredness practices, where you think about like, being a leader is super stressful, it’s a hard job, it exposes these weird childhood traumas that you didn’t know were going to get manifested. And it exposes itself on someone that shouldn’t have and you’re just, it’s a very humbling experience.

And so doing the work to get to know yourself, to root yourself every single day and something bigger than yourself to have a hobby outside of work to consider practices like meditation, gratitude, exercise, and to have voices that tell you the truth about who you are, and how you show up like that.

The heart, one of the hardest challenges of being a leader is that the more successful you become, the more often people lie to you. And the less often you hear the truth about how you’re impacting other people, because of role power is a very real thing. And so, the concept of, of this authentic leadership is really like that you’re committing your life to doing the work of becoming an authentic person. When you do this, when you get out, have outside voices tell you about how you’re showing up, you root yourself in something bigger, and you put disciplines in place, the gift that you give to your employees into your company, is not just that you’re an authentic leader, it’s that you create a psychologically safe environment where people can thrive, where people can fail, and be honest about it. Where people where people are willing to try things and innovate. And, and that is really the foundation of healthy, vibrant cultures where people feel like they really, and then also, it builds such deep loyalty, like, I want to work for that person, that person, they care about me, they’re consistent, I trust their reactions, they’re fair. But all that say, It’s hard work. Like it’s, it’s the work of your life, you know, it’s hard work to do.

Allison: A lot of our clients not only run businesses and lead, you know, massive teams, but also we put a huge focus on how we lead ourselves. And I think only in then, like you’re saying is where you find your authenticity through all of that. So thank you for reinforcing a consistent message that I’m always talking about. I love that.

Adam:  We’re on the side. Okay, that’s good. Yeah. Have you seen the lying thing? Yeah, that was I know, I always feel like a little spicy when I say it. But like this, like, rope, what’s interesting for CEOs is like, people don’t always feel safe telling them the truth. And then they get this like, and that’s why you see some of these people with these huge egos, because they’re like, everybody else is just scared of getting fired. So nobody’s telling you what they really feel.

Allison: Right? That is so very true. Is there a particular growth path that you would suggest that people go I mean, you mentioned some, obviously, some very key things. But if someone is going to make a focus and realize that maybe I’m not authentically leading on a daily basis, and that people aren’t really telling me the truth, and I don’t have a circle, like where do Where does someone start first to on that pathway?

Adam: Do you have show notes for this?

Allison: I will have show notes.

Adam: Okay, well, okay, in the show notes, I’m just going to pretend like they’re there in the show notes I just did a talk on and I do this every year on centeredness and gratitude that really talks through like practically what I do, instead of trying to be exhaustive, I just tell people what I do, which and yeah, empowered, because it’s, yeah, that’s like this is it’s worked for me. And it’s been really transformative.

And by the way, I didn’t come by this work because it was like I was some guru. I came by it because I got thrust into leadership.

And then I had this super embarrassing outburst. Like where I was overstressed was a first time founder. I wanted to create success in the world. I stomped out literally stomped out of a room on my team. And unfortunately, we had concrete floors. So it’s like echoing off the walls is very dramatic. And a kind of just had a moment like, I’m running a sprint, but this is a marathon. And like, this isn’t working for me.

And so, you know, I think I think the first step, you know, is reminding yourself of the right person like place for work in your life and the right place for like, it is important it is but it’s one aspect of a much bigger life that you I’m so I would say, a morning routine like journaling, like I tried to write and document my emotions. And I couple that myself with reading poetry. That is something timelessly true. I think everybody comes from different religious backgrounds. And so whatever that may be for you, it’s like, but what is bigger than this moment, because later today, there’s going to be a problem that arises, that you might deceive yourself into thinking it’s the most important thing in the world. And it’s not. And so walks in nature can do that for people too. It’s what reminds you of the bigger kind of thing that’s happening, and what routes you in that. So I would say that I also think another thing is like, what I’ve seen with a lot of leaders is when you don’t prioritize your own physical health. And for me, in my busiest stage, it was like, no matter what I’m giving myself 30 minutes, 30 minutes a day that I take care of myself. And then and this is going to be you’re gonna be like, Wow, I didn’t see this one coming. I think having a hobby. And right after that, stomping out of the room scenario, which happened some 12 years ago. I was like, I don’t have any hobbies, like, this just became my whole life, there wasn’t anything bigger. And I went and got chicken, I started raising chickens in my backyard, it was super simple, didn’t take that much time. And it was the act of caring for these chickens that I started to it was it actually had quite a profound impact on me, because it was like just just a reminder against something, something to something to care for. That was different than the company that I was trying to care for as well.

Allison: Seed sage advice. Thank you, Adam. I appreciate it raised, go raise chickens. Everybody’s like, Oh, I didn’t see that.

Allison: I already have too many pets. I can’t imagine raising chickens too. But it gives me a purpose other than you know what I mean? Like, I have to go home to them. They rely on me, for sure. So let’s talk about people’s strategy. So what parts of your people strategy are nice to have and which ones actually boost? business outcomes?

Adam: Hmm, well, the things that boost business outcomes, I think, clarity on where you’re going as a business, like an activated vision, drives meaningful business outcomes. I think   clarity on how to operate inside of the business. And then I think, you know, at, like, I think all the work when you’re building a people strategy, though, is like, but what are we how do we prove that it matters? And I’m in to me, that comes down to three big buckets. One is, am I increasing employee engagement? Like, do my people show up?

Are the strategies I’m putting in place, creating intrinsic motivation?

Companies that are vibrant and alive, have people that go, I want to be a part of this, I want to do this. The other is performance, like is the output actually increasing? Are the strategies that we put in place? Do they drive performance and output on the team? And then regrettable turnover would be the other. So I turn over I’ve already said before, I’m okay with turnover with some form of turnover over I think it’s healthy. And right now real time, we’re actually in this, we have a collective apathy of turnover. And so we need some turnover. We don’t want regrettable turnover, though. Right? Fit people in right roles need to thrive inside of those roles. And so a good people strategy, I think, looks at those three buckets, and thinks about how to kind of make the most of each of those buckets.

Allison: Thank you, for even just the description of the buckets, that’s helpful to kind of look at an organization or a team from that perspective. You talk about engagement drivers. In your book, can you talk us through the key engagement drivers that people should be thinking about for making decisions and making improvements going beyond this year?

Adam: Simply put engagement that because that gets into that first bucket of like creating a culture of highly engaged employees, right, and highly engaged employees are the backbone of high performance teams. And it’s, there’s, there’s we measure 17 different drivers of engagement. And so and I’m not going to I’m not going to you know, get too scientific with the podcast listeners here. But let me say this is that simply put, where dysfunction happens in cultures is when teams of people all have common issues, like it’s that is what breaks the culture. And so my hunch is that if the listener Well, tell me tell me a common industry you work at and I’ll give you an I’ll play out an example for you In manufacturing, okay, great. All right, common manufacturing issue a couple of engagement drivers. Usually in manufacturing, there’d be like a frontline, a top performing line worker who gets promoted into management for the very first time. And they don’t have any, just they don’t have any discernible management skills. And so they start wreaking havoc on the team, for a couple of reasons. And these would get into engagement drivers.

One is psychological safety, they maybe feel like they have to perform the role. And they, they don’t really create safety because they’re managing every single person exactly like how they were, instead of managing people as individuals. And the second, which is another engagement, drivers feedback. They’ve never given they’ve never been trained on how to give proper feedback. And so they’re, they’re not giving adequate feedback. So then the employees now have issues with role clarity that I just shared about, they don’t actually know what’s expected of them. They don’t know where they stand, they’re not getting feedback. And so that’s kind of an example of like, what just a common example that happens on manufacturing. And by the way, you take that full circle in the manufacturing environment. So I’m getting all jazzed I love manufacture. I love manufacturing industry, because the work, when you create engagement, manufacturing, it’s so tangible, because you create, you create a doohickey.

And if you create 100 doohickeys a day, and then you solve this issue, and you create 120 of them, like you make millions more dollars. So it’s like so practical and tangible. And when you have in manufacturing environments that stifle innovation, that stifle efficiency, people, what they do is they have this, they’ll see something broken on the manufacturing line. And they go the first time they bring it up, that manager was overstressed they weren’t leading in that calm, centered place, and the person and they got defensive. And they snapped back at the person, which happens a lot, by the way in manufacturing. And that person, here’s what happens that person they just go noted. Don’t bring up my ideas. When I see broken things, or unsafe things, put my blinders on until the day I quit. That is the experience of a lot of people in manufacturing, vibrant, alive cultures, accept feedback, take feedback, consider that the people who are doing the work are often the closest to the problem. So we value their voice, and we want to receive that voice. And then when we have that flywheel in motion, we’re driving innovation, we’re getting new ideas, we’re increasing efficiency, motivation, that sort of thing.

Allison: So we are at the end of our time together, but I do want to just quickly check in. You have 15 Five podcast, which is what you’re the host of what audience is that for?

Adam: Yeah, I lead the HR superstars podcast, and it’s really a podcast that’s all about strategic HR. So this kind of all the things I’ve been talking about today, right? So how do you build high performance teams? How do you build company cultures, activated managers? And so we’ll have people like Daniel Coyle, from the culture code. We had Holly Mae, who’s the Chief People Officer of Walgreens. And we really look at kind of the leading edge of innovation inside of culture activation. Okay,

Allison: Fantastic. Well, I hope listeners would check that out and find value in that and check out your book, which is also will in be in the show notes that you can find on this episode. Adam, thank you so much for your time today. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you.

Adam: Thanks, Alli. Thanks so much for having me.

Allison: You bet. Thank you.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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