In this episode with Paul Epstein, we discuss his new book and how to make better decisions faster.
Takeaways We Learned from Paul…
The Power of Listening
Listening is the secret sauce of great leadership. It’s the single word that consistently comes up when people think of the greatest leaders in their lives. When we listen with intentionality and purpose, we unlock the roadmap to success.
Mastering Deliberate Listening
Being a great listener requires deliberate intention. Life is chaotic and filled with distractions, but we can hit the reset button on our listening skills. Just like erasing a whiteboard, we can refocus our attention and truly connect with others.
The Importance of Presence
Being fully present in a conversation is a superpower. When you’re genuinely engaged, you create a space where meaningful communication can happen. Practice being present in every interaction, and watch your relationships and influence grow.
The Head, Heart, Hands Equation
Making better decisions faster involves aligning your head (mindset) and heart (authenticity) before taking action (hands). It’s not just about logic or emotion; it’s about the harmony of both. Green lights happen when both head and heart are on board.
The Danger of Yellow Lights
Yellow lights occur when either your head or heart is not fully on board with a decision. This can be more dangerous than a red light because it’s easy to linger in uncertainty. Recognize when you’re in the ‘messy middle’ and take action to resolve the conflict
Navigating Yellow Lights with an In-Heart
f your heart is in, stay in the fight. These are opportunities for growth and transformation. Seek support, challenge self-limiting beliefs, and work on aligning your head with your heart. You’ll turn yellow lights into green.
Vulnerability and Connection
Don’t hesitate to open up and have those tough conversations. Vulnerability leads to connection and growth. Whether you’re a new dad struggling with expectations or a leader dealing with a challenging team member, sharing your truth can lead to positive change.
Understanding and Managing Decision Fatigue
Making decisions can be exhausting, and decision fatigue can lead to indecision or poor choices. Recognize that we make thousands of decisions daily, but most of them are on autopilot. Focus your mental energy on the most critical decisions that truly matter.
The Power of Core Values
Your core values are the compass that guides your decisions and actions. Identifying and living by your core values can lead to greater confidence. Regularly journaling about how you’re living your values through actions can reinforce your commitment to them.
Decision Quality Shapes Your Life
The quality of your decisions often determines the quality of your life. Reflect on your past decisions and their impact on your current situation. Having a go-to decision-making process can help you avoid indecision, fatigue, and poor choices.
Instead of aiming for work-life balance, focus on work-life harmony and integration. Recognize that your personal and professional life can blend together, and prioritize what’s most important to you in both areas.
Impact as a Driving Force
Consider the impact you have on others and the world around you. For some, like Paul, making a positive impact is a core value. Evaluate your actions and decisions based on whether they contribute to leaving people and places better than you found them.
About Paul Epstein
Paul Epstein has spent nearly 15 years as a professional sports executive for multiple NFL and NBA teams, a global sports agency, and the NFL league office, where he has broken every premium revenue metric in Super Bowl history, opened a billion-dollar stadium, and founded the San Francisco 49ers Talent Academy, where he became known as the “Why Coach”.
As an award-winning keynote speaker named one of SUCCESS Magazine’s top thought leaders that get results, Paul’s impact continues off stage providing leadership development and culture transformation programs for companies and teams including Amazon, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, NASA, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Cowboys—and his work has been featured on ESPN, NBC, Fox Business, and in USA Today. He is also the best-selling author of “The Power of Playing Offense” and is slated to launch his second book in 2023, “Better Decisions Faster”.
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 better decisions faster and powering your path to success. Our guest is Paul Epstein. He is a bestselling author of The Power of Playing Offense, and his newest book to be released shortly is Better Decisions Faster. He has spent nearly 15 years as a professional sports executive for multiple NFL and NBA teams, a global sports agency and the NFL league office and founded the San Francisco 40. Niners talent Academy. Super cool. Paul, thank you so much for joining us here today.
Paul: Oh, fired up ally. Let’s do this.
Allison: I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners today?
Paul: Number one leadership tip is I ask all over the globe, whether keynotes or workshops, what a great leaders do, I have people think about the greatest leader they’ve ever had in any walk of life personal or professional. So you can think of a parent, a coach, a mentor, or somebody in business. And there is a single response that finishes in the top five, let’s say I ascribe out 50 responses, there is a 90% chance that this one single word will come up in the first five responses. And that word is listening. And it’s because it is so powerful, and yet so rarely practiced.
We think we do it. But most of us don’t. And we know how special it feels when somebody is on the edge of their seat listening to us. But life goes so fast. And it’s so chaotic. It’s so complex. And we’re facing all of this overwhelm and stress and anxiety and expectations, and all this pressure.
And so at our best moments, we are great listeners. But life pulls us in the other direction. And so my number one piece here is if we can master the deliberate intention of listening with greater purpose.
Because we know what it’s like to be on the other side of that conversation. If we can step into every day in every conversation with that intentionality, then that’s a roadmap to success.
Allison: I’ve always said that I think listening is one of my superpowers. Very, I try to be so present in a conversation to not even wonder what my next question is going to be for you. Right? Like I’m listening to what you’re saying? Do you have a go to tip when you can help someone identify when they really aren’t listening? And like how to trigger themselves? Like I’m, I have my own triggers. But I’m curious if you have anything that you share?
Paul: Absolutely. And I call this the whiteboard effect. So we all assume that a lot of the thoughts. So let’s say right now, Ali, I’m having a conversation with you. And it’s human, if for whatever reason, even though you’re technically hosting an interview now, but if this was just a normal, we’re at Starbucks, having a coffee and a chat in more of that environment. And even though I’m talking, you’re human, and your mind might wander, it might, and that’s fine. So if that happens, if you find that, oh, my gosh, I am not really doing a good job at listening right now. Cool, no blame, no shame, no guilt, like a whiteboard that has a bunch of words written on it.
And let’s say that’s a transcription of what the other person is saying, but you haven’t really been listening, you haven’t captured it, then instead of beating yourself up for the past, grab that eraser, erase the whiteboard, and start over. So in other words, I think a lot of us, we blame ourselves for the lack of listening in the rearview mirror, even if it was five seconds ago. But if we just hit the reset button, and really lean in, and really say let me start over and intentionally and deliberately hit the reset button, erase that whiteboard. And that’s how you can regain the power of empathetic listening and being present.
Allison: That’s a great example. And like almost a visual of allowing myself to have the white space now to like, then take in anything what you’re totally.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. Because look, it’s all human, right? Oh, kids were a little crazy this morning, or whatever it is. And so here I am at 9am having a coffee meeting. But at eight o’clock, my world was chaos and the family was chaos and or, Hey, I had to lead a team member go yesterday, or whatever the case is.
I think about things. And I’m human, so I can’t change that. But I can call a timeout. I can pause and I can hit the reset button. and erase that whiteboard.
Allison: Okay, love it. That’s a fantastic tip. Thank you very much. I am hoping that we can dive in some of the principles and concepts and equations that you have in your book that is coming out. So the first one is, can you just kind of give an outline of what the head heart hand equation is? And how it helps leaders make better decisions?
Paul: Absolutely. So in my upcoming book of Better Decisions Faster, and really this is how do we step into the most critical forks in the road of business and life with unshakable confidence? Now, we could come back to confidence, because I have a separate formula for that is tried true and proven. But the way that we make better decisions faster that how to end the application, I call it the head, heart hands equation. So the equation is head plus heart equals hands to define each and this is going to be like a 62nd masterclass. So I, I always say simple is not easy, but I’m going to keep this as simple and tight as possible.
Think of your head as your mindset. Think of your heart as your authenticity. So that is your truth. And then think of your hands as action. So the equation head plus heart equals hands.
So when deciding whether to use your hands whether to take action or not. There’s two checkpoints head and heart, head, do I think it’s a good idea, heart? Do I feel it’s a good idea. And then when checking in with both of those, if they’re both on board, than just like a very familiar signal, a traffic light, it’s a green light, head plus heart is a green light to take action. When you have no head, no heart, they’re both not on board, that’s a red light. And then when one of the two is on board, that’s a yellow.
So I wrote the book, to attract and seize and build more green lights into our life. I also wrote it to create more awareness so that we could stop running reds, because subconsciously, we’ve been running them for months and years, and we ended up burned out or stuck or loss or fatigue, or I’m not happy, I’m not fulfilled. That’s not a byproduct of making one bad decision. That’s been decisions, that unconsciously there’s been no head, no heart, and we still move forward. And those are red lights. So we stopped running reds. And then lastly, I wrote the playbook to navigate the messy middle of yellow. So more green, stop running red. And here is the playbook for how to navigate the messy middle of yellow. And if we can utilize this head, heart hands equation for all the critical decisions in our life, then that is a business a career or relationship health plan. Those are the things that we want to build, we just have never had a go to process or system for how to filter our decisions in a way where it’s not all in on logic. It’s not all in on emotion. Its head and heart, not head or heart. And that’s the beauty of the equation.
Allison: Yeah, I can, I can identify in myself and even in my clients when they’re clearly headed head and heart makes sense. Right? Like I can see it, I can feel it. I hear it in what they’re talking about. Let’s talk about the messy middle.
Paul: Let’s do it. Which by the way, I believe 80% of business and life are yellow. So I absolutely want to talk about that.
Allison: Okay, so I understand one or the other is not a green light, right? But Correct. Okay. If one is not a green light, is it not a red light?
Paul: Hmm. Okay, let’s break down the two types of yellow lights. One type is when the head is on board and the heart is not. And then obviously the vice versa. Heart is in and heart is out or head is out. Okay. So the one that I believe we deal with a lot more often is when our head is on board, but our heart is not. So a couple examples. We’re talking to a lot of leaders right now. I used to lead massive sales teams opening billion dollar stadiums in the NFL and beyond. And we all know that sometimes you have a high performer and a high producer. But they’re a little toxic. In the team. Especially in the sales world. A lot of your alpha producers aren’t always the nicest ones in the sandbox. And so if that’s the case, your head is on board, because you want to keep their production. You want to sell all the widgets, but your heart knows that they’re not a keeper. So your head says keep them your heart says they’re not a keeper. And that yellow light can be more deadly than a red because at least a red light, snap.
You’re out. It’s done. If I break up with the person that my head is in, but my heart is out, we’re done. I’m not losing another day in my life because of this relationship. But when that person hangs out in your business locker room for three, four or five years because you wanted to sell more widgets, think about the door have no effect it has on your culture. Think about those cultural effects, creating retention problems, engagement problems, recruiting problems, all these things that are the organizational health, it’s because we hung out in long term yellows, and those yellows where only the head is on board. Those are silent killers.
And the last piece I’ll share on that yellow is that if you think about which changes more often head or heart, the science shows, the heart doesn’t change, your heart is not going to change day to day, week to week, month to month, it knows what it knows it knows the truth, it knows the authentic lens that you should have. But we don’t always act on that authenticity. And so the point being, if your heart’s not going to change, that’s why this long term yellow is more deadly than a red, it’s never going to not be a yellow.
Never. But on the flip side, let’s say your heart is in. But the head has enjoined for the party, that I would ballpark 90% of the time, there are some exceptions. And the exceptions are mainly around family and around people you love that sometimes there isn’t a happy ending to that story. So we could just put that aside and say, there’s a very small percentage of yellow lights where the heart is in, but it still might never get to green. But it’s a small percentage, the majority, my recommendation, I know you do a lot of coaching.
My recommendation for when your heart is in is stay in the fight. You stay in the fight. Maybe you have to overcome some self limiting beliefs. Maybe you have to hire a coach, maybe there’s a therapist, maybe there’s a conversation with a spouse, maybe they’re whatever it is, you stay in the fight because it’s so hard to find things where your heart is in. You shouldn’t ruin that. You shouldn’t walk away from that signal. And from that cue, and it might not be a direct action the next day, but if we can work through getting our head on board, then that is a yellow light where your heart is in that one day will be green if you put in the work.
Allison: Great breakout on both of those on I don’t know if you’ve got gotten this question as you’re starting to like launch and roll out the book. I personally just recently finished Matthew McConaughey. Hayes greenlights. Yeah, it’s a good one. And it was fantastic. Does this model have? Were you influenced by that at all? Or is this just like everyday life? Like I’m at a red light? I’m thinking about it. I mean, what brought up the ideas?
Paul: Yeah, I love it. And for one, I love Matthew’s book. And it totally is disconnected. And I think where he’s talking about is obviously like, a lot of life feels like a red light. And it’s a stop. So I think the stop go element. Makes sense. But I really wrote this book to solve that messy middle of yellow, right, because greens and reds are solely about awareness. Once you’re aware of this head, heart hands equation, you’re going to want more green. And because of awareness, you’re going to stop running reds, you don’t need to read the book for that you can listen to this interview and identify a green or red light, where I really wanted to unpack the insights was more of the yellow. And here was the inspiration behind it. And it’s very personal. Before I ever called it the head heart hands equation, I went through the darkest yellow light in my life. And it stems from me wanting to wear a hat that I didn’t feel I was ready for. And that hat was that of being a dad, because my dad is my hero. And I lost my hero at 19 years old. And I’m an only child. So my mom instantly goes from parent to partner. And we have to figure things out from the time that I’m 19 years old, you go from a boy to a man really quick.
So finally decades later, I become a dad myself. And I was told how magical it was and how will change your life and you feel greater purpose. And it was like a Hallmark card and there’s roses and rainbows and unicorns and mermaids and ponies and all these things. And six months into me being a dad. I felt like the exact opposite of a hero. I didn’t feel ready. I felt like it was I missed my whole life. I just I it was impacting my relationship with my partner and my best friend. And I just wanted to regain all of the things that we once had. And I felt like they were permanently gone. And this yellow light to me taught me My heart was all in. I love the little guy. I wanted to be the hero, but my head, I had to work through a lot of pollution in there. I just wasn’t ready for this new role in this new hat in life.
And so eventually, I ended up having the conversation with my wife. I was scared as heck to do it. Because I’m like, Oh my gosh, is she going to judge me? Is she going to judge us like what you’re going to think? But no, she did the opposite. And she said I’ve been waiting to have this conversation for months and haven’t been yourself. And we’re going to get through this. So the total Awesome, awesome, awesome response that you want. Then she says, All of you talk to your buddies. And I’m like, no, no, I don’t want to talk to them. They told me this was a Hallmark card. So I felt shame in it. And finally, she’s like, Yeah, just do it. Go do it. And I’m going to clean up the language a lot for this podcast, she told me something way more direct. So I ended up talking to my buddies. And I’m like, Dude, I’m really struggling. Like, I’m like in this permanent fog. And I explained, like, I think there’s like a yellow light in my heart is in but my head is all screwed up. And they’re like, oh, yeah, dude, I was messed up for a year. I always struggle with the first two years and like you told me it was a Hallmark card. Like, yeah, I didn’t want to rain on your parade.
So a that shared, there’s a couple things. I think there’s a lack of vulnerability, especially in dudes out there. Okay. Like, that’s just one thing that I’m going to call out, especially as young dads. But that’s when I started to realize, oh, my gosh, I had these conversations. And this yellow over the days and weeks to come, started to kind of flicker green. And eventually, I saw this new chapter with like, this tremendous amount of joy and purpose and happiness and all of this stuff. But if it wasn’t for those conversations, I’m not sure I ever get to that green light place. And so I thought, how can I share this with others, because I think there’s a really big thing if my head would have been on board for being a dad, when my heart was out, there’s no happy ending to this story.
And so when I started to understand what a yellow light is, and when I started to understand the difference between head on board versus hard on board through such a personal example like that, that’s when I would feel selfish if I kept this to myself. And so then I just, you know, really kind of went back to the drawing board as a thought leader, I thought to myself, Okay, head and heart. Well, eventually, I took the action with my hands of having the courageous conversation. What if I could coach this? What if I could train this? And that’s what eventually became the head, heart hands equation. And then within six months, I’m writing a book about it.
Allison: I love it. I deeply appreciate you sharing your personal story. And like, how relevant that that is for both men and women. Right? It’s not just a male thing.
Paul: No, no, it’s a tough chapter for us all for sure. For sure. And yeah, I just call out, you know, you only really understand what you go through. Sometimes I wish we understood more of what our partner goes through. But I also do know that everybody that I’ve shared this with, you know, my wife had a support group, and they’re texting each other, and they’re getting through those tough days. And where my friends told me, it was a Hallmark card. I think it mismanaged expectations, you know, like, because then eventually you’re like, Dude, where’s the card? And am I a bad person? Like, am I I’m supposed to be seeing roses and unicorns, so anywho. That’s why I call it out. But trust me, I realize it is a it is a struggle on both sides. But it’s a beautiful struggle, and it’s a yellow light that can easily be a green if we do the right things.
Allison: Yeah, absolutely. Your book being based around decision making, you know, one of the things that I often see is basically just the fatigue of it. All right. And then that in itself leads to in decisions or bad decisions. So what guidance for anyone who’s currently in a space where they feel like they need to make a decision? And they’re not, which is a decision? But it’s because they’re fatigued or, or whatnot?
Paul: Yeah, well, here’s what the research says.
It’s kind of scary, by the way, but the average US adult, makes 35,000 decisions in a day. 35,000.
Think about that. Now, it’s a whole lot. And please do not use the head, heart hands equation for 35,000 things or you will run out of time. So here’s where the research comes in, though. The majority are on autopilot, I would say 99%. Turn left into the driveway, do I look this person in the eye? Should I brush my teeth like these quick, simple now they’re on autopilot. You don’t need mental capacity, you just kind of go with the autopilot to save the energy that you need for when you need it most. And that’s where I think these critical decisions part of when I work with a lot of CEOs, and they’ll say yep, decision fatigue decision overwhelm, I or my team struggle with paralysis, which leads to the worst decision of them all, which is indecision. Part of it is if we were to audit our past, think about the biggest decisions you’ve ever made. Career what ladder am I going to climb? What industry? Am I going to be in college? What major? Who do I date? Who do I marry? Is this the right person like health? Am I in this plan or not in this plan?
And so you think about these strategic decisions, these life decisions and if you were to audit your past asked and you ask yourself, is the quality of those decisions? Pretty much the quality of my life? And most people when they’re honest, say, yeah, for better or worse, the quality of decisions is the quality of life. And so here’s the rub. Out of all those 35,000 decisions. Let’s see, there’s a handful a day, let’s go just lowest common denominator, there’s five critical decisions you make in a day. But we don’t have a process. We don’t have a system when I ask people. So how do you make these big decisions? And they look at me with a blank stare, or they talk to me something about risk reward or logic and emotion, but like, but they’re not consistent about it. And they’ll own that. They’ll say, Yeah, I don’t have a go to playbook. And so I decided to write that playbook. I literally saw a gaping hole. And problem to say, if this thing called decisions is going to dictate the quality of our business and the quality of our life. And we can have a go to processing system that doesn’t rely on whether I’m heavier on logic or emotion, it’s a yes, and, and even more important than me making my own decisions.
And that way, I don’t, I’m not overwhelmed in fatigue, because I think the overwhelming fatigue is the time and the energy that we invest in decisions. But the beauty of the equation is, within seconds, all get you to a green, yellow, or red. Now the yellow, there’s more work to do. But at least you know, it’s yellow. And you could put words around it, you could have a language around it, you could have a conversation like, hey, when we have 20 posts on the board, and we decide which strategy to employ, what product to push out. You could say that’s a yellow light. That’s a productive conversation. That’s a hard pass, that’s a red. Oh, that’s a hell yes, that’s a green. And so not only is it an equation for you listening, it’s portable, you can share this with every member of your team. And now you’re moving with more speed and efficiency. And over time, you’re making better decisions faster with more quality. And that’s where I think we can solve for the problem of paralysis, and overwhelm and fatigue. Because what used to take you months, or maybe you never even made the call. Now within seconds, you can land on a green, yellow or red. And you can have that conversation and take the appropriate action
Allison: That you have an acronym which is in the D most valuable decisions. What are the most valuable decisions that separates successful people from the rest of us are the failures that we make?
Paul: Absolutely, I think the most valuable, I call this a portfolio approach. And it really depends on I think all of us because you hear the words about work life balance, and then the new the 2.0 of that is like because I think that’s a fallacy. By the way, I’m just a big poopoo on that. I’m more of a work life harmony work life integration guy, which is it all blends together at the end of the day, right? And so, if that’s the case, tell me what’s most important to you. And that’s where your meds like your most valuable decisions. So for some people, it’s in their health. For other people. It’s with their relationships, not just with a partner, but I mean relationships at work relationship with Boss relationship with self, it’s a relationship game, other people maybe they’re earlier in their career. So what ladder they’re gonna climb could be that MVD, how do I want to spend the rest of my life pretty friggin important? Right? So you think about just his portfolio.
But here’s what I believe is the biggest decision of them all. And this is where my life changed, I would still be in sports, if it wasn’t for finding myself at a life changing retreat when I was the head of revenue for the San Francisco 40 Niners. I, for the first time in my career, had the opportunity to call a timeout and figure out who I was on the inside. It was a team president of the Niners all of his reports. I walked away from that two day experience, knowing my why my values, and then I got obsessed with how do I apply them on Monday morning? How do I connect my decisions and actions with my purpose, my why my values. And that’s where this formula that I alluded to earlier about confidence came from, because we all know we’ve all been in those companies. And this applies to individuals as well. You get off on floor as you walk out of the elevator, and in their fancy shiny lobby, you see these five words called core values. And then usually within seconds or minutes, you could tell if they’re real. Every company has words. Some of them are hollow words on a wall, and then other companies live and breathe. They make decisions and take actions through the lens and filter of those words because they’re value centered.
The same applies for people. You identify your core values, but then the magic question is, Are you acting on them? And so what I say is confidence equals values times action. That’s the formula confidence equals values times action, and the multiplication is.
Here’s how consistently you do it. So show me a person that’s consistently acting on their values, I will show you a confident person, because they know who they are. And they take swings of the bat every single day in service of that value. And so when I’m coaching people, I’ll introduce them to a journaling exercise. And I’ll say once a week, takes two minutes. So time is not an excuse being busy is not an excuse, journal, this, I will live my value of blank by blank. The first blank is the core value. The second blank is an action.
Let’s say you choose joy. I’ll live my value of joy by cooking my favorite meal. Now let’s raise the stakes. Let’s say you chose courage as a value, I will live my value of courage by having that challenging conversation that I’ve been putting off. So you’re not having that conversation, because Paul said, you’re having that conversation because courage is a core value. And if you could do it habits form, usually in a three to four week time period. So if you could do this for four weeks, two minutes a week, so I’m asking for like a 10 minute time commitment over a month. This is what I do in all of my coaching relationships, whether it’s an Olympian, an NFL athlete, or a CEO, everybody in between, I say, we need a weekly commitment, where you will take an action based on a single core value. And when you can go through that journaling exercise and you execute it 100% of the time. That’s how you build Unshakable Confidence.
Allison: I love that equation. What’s core value? Are you working on yourself?
Paul: I have my strongest core value is impact and impact is because of my late father, where I define it as making a difference and leaving people in places better than I found. So let’s say I get off a keynote stage. And people say, how’d you do today, Paul? Literally, the question I asked myself is, did I make my dad proud? Because where he was a continuation school teacher and his former students would come up to me and say, your dad gave me a reason to believe in tomorrow, your dad was the first person that ever believed in me, like, that’s where I learned what impact really is about. And so for me, that’s my measurement of success.
I no longer measured on external things. So I will tell you, my lifelong answer will forever be impact because of my dad. The word I’m choosing for this year is momentum, momentum. And so every single day, I journal, three non negotiable critical activities that I do before 7am. And they are all in the spirit of momentum. And I won’t do anything that drives momentum if there’s no impact on the back end. So for me, now that I’ve been years into the process, I’m starting to connect words and connect themes, but it has to bubble up into impact. I just won’t do it.
Allison: Okay. Thank you for sharing those I and also someone who believes in picking a theme word for the year and then figuring out how to live it out. Sometimes it shows up in the most magical ways, honestly, and sometimes it’s it’s a, it’s a lesson learned. So good stuff. Paul. We’re at the end of our episode, I just want to make sure that listeners I’m going to include links to Paul’s podcast, he is offering up a confidence survey for listeners to also follow in any of his social media channels. So I encourage you to connect with them and to pick out the newest book that is coming out. When will it be released?
Paul: September 26th
Allison: All right, so just around the corner. It will be pre this episode, so make sure you come back to grab that link to the Amazon book. Okay. Paul, thank you so much for your time today. I’ve really appreciated your energy and insights.
Paul: Thank you so much, Ali. It was an awesome conversation. Thank you.