Building A Culture of Compassion and Accountability at Adobe: With Jeff Jacobs [Podcast]Share via
Your brand is a lagging indicator of the quality of your culture. Culture is the sum of all the interactions between your people. Thriving work cultures rely on leaders and teams who blend compassion and accountability in every interaction. Adobe is doing some amazing things in this space. One of the key people leading this effort is Jeff Jacobs.
Jeff Jacobs is the Senior Director, Organizational Effectiveness at Adobe. I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know Jeff through our involvement in the Changing Work Collective, and Compassion 2.0, organizations, both dedicated to bringing more compassion to the workplace. He’s one of the most knowledgeable, caring, intentional, and conscientious people I know, and the work he’s doing at Adobe is remarkable. So I invited him to be on my podcast and I’m delighted to share our conversation so you can benefit from his wisdom and expertise.
Watch a video of my top three takeaways. Listen to the audio, or read the transcript.
What’s In This Episode
- Highlights from the Compassion + Product Conference
- Jeff’s journey to working in organizational effectiveness and team performance
- Scope of Jeff’s role as Senior Director, Organizational Effectiveness
- What are the features of high-performing teams?
- What are the top drivers of psychological safety?
- Why is vulnerability a key to effective leadership, and why is it so difficult for many leaders?
- How is compassionate accountability lived out at Adobe?
- What is the role of conflict in team and organizational effectiveness?
- How do systems and processes support high-performing teams?
- How is impact measured?
- An overview of Jeff’s upcoming book, Still Coming of Age.
Compassionate Accountability at Adobe Highlights
Listen To The Audio
Read The Transcript
Are you a leader who cares deeply about a positive and trusting work culture, but also wants to keep a laser focus on performance? Do you ever feel pulled between the two? Good news, you don’t have to choose. My podcast is dedicated to the belief that compassion and accountability are met to work together.
Never before in our history has the need for Compassionate Accountability® been greater. Everything from our personal well-being to our collective survival depends on it. So, I share wisdom, stories and best practices from experts who are in the trenches making Compassionate Accountability a reality.
I’m Nate Regier, our host for On Compassion with Dr. Nate. I’m also the founder and CEO of Next Element Consulting, and author of four books about compassion at work, including my new book, Compassionate Accountability: How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results. I’m a husband, dad, competitive barbecuer, woodworker, and avid outdoors person.
Thank you for joining me, and I hope you’ll implement the tips and tools in this show. If you benefit from my podcast, please subscribe, rate, and review to help us reach more listeners. Also, be sure to visit my website at next-element.com and go to the podcast page to access the notes and links for each show.
I’m part of a community called Changing Work, a community of professionals committed to building more conscious and compassionate workplaces and lives. I was introduced to Changing Work by a former guest on the show and a friend of mine, Scott Schute, the former head of Mindfulness and Compassion programs at LinkedIn. And I’m so grateful for this community and the many incredible people I’ve met along the way. One of them is Jeff Jacobs.
Jeff has a 30-plus year career in human resources spanning numerous global leadership roles. He is currently the Senior Director of Organizational Effectiveness at Adobe. And in that capacity he serves as executive coach and internal consultant to senior leadership teams across the company, addressing topics like team effectiveness, change management and leadership development.
Jeff has certifications in Applied Compassion and Mindfulness from the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, the Inner MBA certification from Sounds True, Wisdom 2.0, and LinkedIn Learning. And he also has a certification in Mindfulness and Compassion from the Institute of Organizational Science and Mindfulness.
Jeff is also active in his community. He is on the boards of the nonprofits Project HIRED and Community Solutions. He participates in retreat music in prison ministry, and is working on his first book, Still Coming of Age, in which he shares personal stories, making the case for a lifetime commitment to learning and self-compassion.
Wow. Jeff, welcome to On Compassion.
Hey, thank you so much, Nate. I’m excited to be with you.
I’m so glad to be here with you too. Before we dive in on your work and your perspectives on Compassionate Accountability and leadership and work culture, I’ve got to let our listeners know that we spent the last week together in person at this amazing compassion-themed conference in San Francisco where we learned about what’s on the cutting edge of creating products that promote more compassion in the world. And I just love to ask you, we haven’t debriefed yet, we were just talking about how we all got home safely, and I’m curious, how was this experience for you?
Well, we weren’t just there together, but you were one of the speakers at that event, so I want to give credit where credit is due because you did a wonderful job at that session.
Compassion 2.0, I think of it in two ways. There’s the benefit of the content that we learned from, but equally, if not more important is the community, the network of individuals, because that was really powerful. I think all of us can relate to the fact that when we’re on a call or in a room filled with quality individuals that are really trying to make a difference, you can feel the energy and that was really the experience.
Now, the content itself was wonderful as well. It was focused on compassionate product design, and how do we influence products for the better. And there were certainly some standout speakers. I definitely enjoyed what you had to share about Compassionate Accountability. I loved the discussion about how can we improve video games, and how can we improve other kinds of products that we use, and really all in the spirit of compassion. So I really enjoyed the experience.
Yeah, me too. It was great. I’m still absorbing and debriefing all of that. I appreciated getting to know you too and just experiencing your authenticity and your genuineness and how you bring yourself to your life and to your work.
I’m curious, what was your background and journey? How did you come to be in this role at Adobe?
Well, you started off by saying 30-plus years. So if I had anything in my bio I’d love to change, I’d love to change that number.
I stumbled into a career in human resources. It was something that appealed to me. I remember way back in college, people would say, “Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?” The dumbest interview question out there. I always associated human resources as something you got into later in life. But my answer, I still remember, is whatever the product or service that a company is promoting, I’m interested in making a difference in the life of people. And that really has been the focus.
Now, within human resources I’ve kind of run the gamut. I’ve worked in talent acquisition. I’ve worked in employee relations, labor relations, performance management, even developing brands for companies. My heart was really in learning and development. And along the way, very unpredictably, it surprised me that I had a skill around executive coaching and team dynamics. I kind of avoided that. That was actually a fear spot for me. But in the last 10 years, that’s where I’ve gravitated, and I’ve really found a love for the work.
Well, Adobe is a huge organization, obviously, and you’re a Senior Director of Organizational Effectiveness. Will you share a little bit about what’s kind of unique about your position? Why does this exist within an organization like that?
Well, there are three of us that do this work for an organization of 30,000 employees. So yes, it is incredibly unique. We have some folks that dabble in this work in our global regions and whatnot, but three of us do this full-time.
What makes this role special is that we have very talented HR business partners, or at Adobe, we call them employee experience business partners, and they provide strategic counsel to their leaders, but sometimes they need help. Sometimes they need a partnership. Our focus is if you think about executive coaching from a team dynamic; so we focus on how are the executive teams doing? So we’re brought in by the HR business partner or by the senior leader, and then we do an intake. 100% of what we do are tailored engagements or interventions, and they focus on the areas you mentioned; change management, leadership development, team effectiveness.
And through the assessment process, we get into things like trust, and psychological safety, and communication, and productive conflict. Sometimes it’s a prioritization and strategic planning where they need an outside person to help them identify the key priorities in their organization. We create these interventions. Sometimes it’s what I refer to as a one-and-done, but more often it’s one in a series that are part of their organizational effectiveness strategy.
It’s tough work to quantify the value of, but definitely we are in high demand. I support about two to 300 executives at Adobe, so there’s never a lack of work.
That’s a really interesting kind of hybrid model that you use because in a way you almost serve as a consultant to the organization where your engagements are customized, they’re all different kinds. There’s no kind of standard, oh, let’s send this leader to Jeff for executive coaching because he’s struggling, kind of a thing, but it’s within your organization.
Gosh, I can imagine bringing all your experience and then all of what you’ve been doing, you’ve learned a ton about what goes into the health of a team. At a high level, what have you learned about what makes a team healthy?
There are many situations in which I will start a discussion with the question, what are the qualities of a high-performing team? And even if individuals have not been part of a high-performing team, they can think of teams that have been terrible and learn from those experiences as well.
Here’s what doesn’t work.
Here’s what doesn’t work, exactly.
What I hear from people invariably is it starts with trust and safety, or in the corporate lingo, psychological safety. And when I drill into what does that mean? So I ask a lot of questions. We throw around words frequently, and we nod because we think we’re aligned, but then I drill into those words. What does trust and safety mean? Well, it means that my coworkers have my back. Okay, what does that mean? Well, what it means is that they will stand up for me, that they are supportive of my work.
And ultimately a lot of it comes down to communication. Are we candid with one another? Are we giving each other feedback? And then if I drill into that, we start getting into what they’re describing is compassion. You and I have talked about this. If you think about the Latin root of the word compassion, it means to struggle with, to suffer with, if you will. And it’s going through something together collectively as opposed to us working in our silos and struggling on that front.
And if I drill even further beyond compassion, I get into issues of inclusivity. So can I bring my whole self to work? Can I feel safe in this environment? There have been studies around diversity and inclusion that show that diverse teams will outperform homogenous teams every time. The challenge is, because they are diverse and people come from different styles and communications and backgrounds, those teams have a little bit more of a difficulty or a challenge in coming together and forming because of their different styles. The key is can you embrace that diversity as opposed to viewing it as a threat and that discomfort getting in the way?
So those teams that can identify that opportunity, and if I can work with them to help them identify that and work through that, then we have higher performing teams at the other end.
Wow, there’s a lot there. I want to unpack psychological safety. I want to unpack diversity. I’m going to just jump straight ahead because something that you said really resonates with some things that we’ve discovered in our work is that leveraging diversity is not just about accepting differences and valuing differences; there is inherent conflict in diversity.
Yeah. There is obviously inherent opportunity because diverse teams, when they function well, outperform non-diverse teams. But I’m hearing somewhere between the lines that high-functioning diverse teams are able to deal with and manage the conflict that is kind of in the churn, in the grist, in the storming and forming. Will you speak a little bit to where conflict comes in for high-performing teams?
For me the question is am I moving away from conflict or am I leaning into conflict?
Now, I remind people frequently of this little walnut-sized part of our brain, the amygdala, that has us try to avoid conflict. And some of us have heard of the phrase the amygdala hijack. When we experience situations, feedback that doesn’t fit with my self-image, or situations where I’m not sure how to engage, or times where I’m put on the spot and I don’t know what to say, the amygdala is back from our cave people origins where we go out and move from foraging to trying to get food, and we’d hear that twig snap and wonder if it was a saber-toothed tiger ready to eat us.
Well these days, the modern-day equivalent of that is a discomfort in a staff meeting or a testy email that we might receive. And our brain has not evolved any further than that. Our brain is not about communication or success or relationships; it’s about survival. So when we face these struggles, our natural reaction is our brain will try to protect us by moving us out of these situations. So we have to learn to override that mechanism, sit in the discomfort, and work through those challenges.
And there’s a number of ways of doing that and exploring that, but I’ll pause there for a moment and say, that’s really the distinction is am I running from those situations or am I learning from them and moving through them?
Yeah, and that requires, like you’re saying, we have to work against our natural human instincts of survival. People often ask us, “Hey, so we’re going to work with you, and then we’re going to get rid of all the struggles, right?” It’s like, “No.” Because the purpose of life is not to get rid of the struggle; the purpose is to lean into the struggle and create something amazing, because the struggle itself can be transformative.
I want to go back to vulnerability and psychological safety. You mentioned psychological safety as one of the drivers of high-performing teams. It’s a feature of a high-performing team. I’m actually in the middle of Amy Edmondson’s new book, the Right Kind of Wrong, and she talks about how she discovered this. Will you share a little bit about what is psychological safety, and how does it contribute to high-functioning teams?
Yeah, I mean, we could spend so much time on this topic, Nate. It’s really something.
I would say that psychological safety is the foundation which enables me to lean into the discomfort. So it is foundational to my ability to give and receive feedback. It’s foundational to my ability to innovate. We want innovative companies, but that means we have to risk not being successful.
I’ll use feedback as an example. Everybody recognizes that they should want feedback, but we really lean away from it. In fact, I wrote an article a few years ago after running performance management globally at a couple of companies, and my premise of the article was that feedback doesn’t work. Now there’s an add-on to that, and that is feedback does not work for most people. There’s a minority of people for which feedback works, and those are the folks that are courageous enough to lean into that discomfort. They work at it.
So when we talk about psychological safety, it means I am more apt to reach out to you to offer you support. Our best friends are the ones that we will say, “You know what? You got broccoli in your teeth,” as a simple example. But at many companies, we have nice cultures. Which means that we tend to avoid giving challenging feedback even if we believe it’s in the best interest of the individual because we don’t want to damage the relationship, and we prize damaging the relationship above the value of helping out someone and risking that relationship.
One other point I will add, and then I’ll stop. There’s a wonderful book that I devote a lot of attention to called Radical Candor by Kim Scott. One of the things that I attribute to Kim’s research is the fact that conventional wisdom tells us that most people are concerned about giving or receiving negative feedback. What’s going to happen with that? And yet the research shows that people’s biggest concern is that they won’t be told the truth, that someone will make a judgment about me, but they won’t give me that feedback and enable me to learn, develop, and grow, and transcend that judgment to become something else.
I frequently am in rooms where people will say that they don’t get enough feedback, that they want the candor, but those same people are hesitant in giving it.
Yeah, you’re kind of describing some of the barriers to why don’t we have higher-performing teams? And one of them is just how we deal with conflict. We just don’t have a good relationship with it. We struggle. Another one is this feedback, how that works and how we do it.
That’s one of the things that we’ve discovered in our research on Compassionate Accountability is when push comes to shove, it seems like people will choose either preserve the relationship at the expense of candor or honesty or boundaries or performance. Or the other way around, where we just will automatically do brutal candor, or just bring the hammer down and don’t worry about the relationship because hey, we got to get stuff done here.
Do you see that dynamic or that dilemma where people feel like maybe they have to choose one over the other, and it causes problems?
Absolutely. What I find fascinating is that some folks hear a little bit about the phrase radical candor, and then in a staff meeting they may say, “Well, in the spirit of radical candor,” and they go on and pull the hammer down. And they forget the radical candor is about essentially you can be as candid with an individual as they perceive you to care about them. So how do we demonstrate that caring? How do we value individuals? And if we go back to your earlier question on psychological safety, a lot of it has to do with I feel safe to the measure that I feel valued within this organization. I see that all the time. It’s that balance at play.
But then I also remind people, we talk frequently about culture, and culture to me has built one relationship at a time. If you and I are working together, and I can approach you and I can say, “Hey, Nate, we’re on the same team here and here’s what I’m working on, and I would love your ongoing feedback. You’ve got a blank check. And whenever we’re in a staff meeting together or working together, I would love you to let me know what works, what doesn’t, and I’m going to check in with you in those situations.” Well, you and I have contracted around that, and 9 times out of 10 you’re going to say, “Hey, that sounds great. Would you do the same for me?”
And even if we don’t know each other, now all of a sudden we’ve got a bond. And if I follow through after those meetings and I say, “Hey, Nate, how’d that go?” then all of a sudden the whole dynamic has changed, and our relationship is based on that type of candor, that type of mutual support.
Wow. So it’s not just being honest. It’s honest within the context of, I know I’m valued, I know I can trust you, and we have an agreement that that’s okay to do.
It’s kind of interesting. I always chafe when somebody says, “Can I give you some feedback?” I’m like, “A, what’s your motivation? And B, do we have a contract around this? And C, where is this coming from? I don’t know if I feel safe.” And so it’s kind of an interesting thing. So thank you for clarifying that around the context for radical candor.
Well, and to jump in here real quickly. I think one of the keys of feedback is, is it developmental or is it evaluative?
So if I’m working with a group of people, and we take a break and someone pulls me aside and says, “Hey, Jeff, I think you could be more effective with X, Y, and Z.” “Great, thank you very much.” That’s in the moment. It’s real time, it’s developmental, it’s supportive. But if that same individual provides that feedback to my boss and in a check-in or a performance evaluation a month later my boss brings it up to me, now all of a sudden it’s punitive and evaluative, and it doesn’t feel developmental and supportive.
Right. Or those leaders they comment on what you did wrong, and then that’s where it ends. Like you’re somehow supposed to figure out what to do. Man, that’s great. Some really powerful tips already, just really specific things.
So candor is not quite the same as vulnerability. I know that you have talked about how important vulnerability is to leadership, and we see a lot of research on it. Where does that play into creating cultures or high-performing teams?
I was a business partner for several years for a chief financial officer of a good size organization, and the company developed, something called a leadership success profile, and it was five leadership categories. I was discussing with him the fact that we really need to embrace this, and how do we model it within the organization.
He was such a wonderful model. He was receptive to coaching, but I think I learned more from him than I ever provided coaching to him, because what he decided to do and in all hands with 500 of his employees is he went through the five qualities, the five capabilities of that leadership success profile and evaluated himself in front of all of them and said, “This is what I’m doing well. This is what I’m working on. And because I’m not good at this, I surround myself with people who were better at it than I am.” I had a CEO who took his performance review from the board of directors and he shared it, absent the confidential information, but he shared it with his whole organization.
So those are examples of vulnerability. And yet there was a study in the middle of COVID that showed 68% of CEOs were concerned that if they modeled more vulnerability or empathy, that they would lose credibility with their employees. So that’s-
68%. So that’s what we’re up against.
Now, I’ve worked for great companies and Adobe is certainly more enlightened, and I don’t think that number would be anywhere near that here, but it just goes to show that we do have those concerns about is vulnerability a weakness. And if we go back 20, 30, 40 years, it absolutely would be perceived that way. Where today, I think it is one of the most profound leadership strengths that exists.
So we have a real interesting dilemma for a leader and a paradox here. We know that vulnerability actually increases credibility, it increases connection, it increases psychological safety. Your example of the CEO that showed everyone his performance review, it also increases accountability because they’re putting it out there as if to say, look, I’m going to let you know what I’m working on, so there’s no, I’m not hiding what I need to work on. And yet 68% believe it’s a weakness.
How is it that leaders come to be in a position where there’s such a disconnect, and why do they believe it?
I ask myself that question all the time, Nate. In my experience, it’s largely because outcomes are rewarded. What I achieve is frequently rewarded at a greater level than how I achieve it. There are cultures where you can achieve things at cost. We’ve heard the expression, “You leave a trail of bodies behind you,” in terms, and some cultures embrace that.
Now, I am talking from a place of privilege. If I was in a company whose culture did not align with my values, I have the ability to leave. I have the ability to go somewhere else. And not everybody has that option. A lot of people, for economic reasons or for geographic reasons, they need to stick it out, and they don’t have that benefit. So vulnerability, you have to assess the receptivity of the culture within where you are working before you can let your guard down and be vulnerable within an organization.
So that’s a caveat that I like to put out there. It’s not the right way to go all the time, but again, from my place of privilege, that is the way to go.
Right. Right. And everyone has their own lived experiences about what happens, and what has happened, and what they’ve seen happen when people are vulnerable.
Wow, we’ve covered a lot. You’ve talked about some of the scope of what you do, and you do a lot of customized work, almost like customized work with teams to go in there, assess and help them. And some common themes you see is how important psychological safety is, how important vulnerability is, how important candor is, and yet these are difficult things. There are cultural reasons, cultural barriers, individual barriers, that come in. You’ve even talked about some examples of what leaders have done to be able to role model and start changing where that culture is. They have to start with their own behavior.
I’d like to take a really quick detour into culture as impacted by systems and processes. I know you talk about how infrastructure imports effectiveness. What are some of the systems and processes that can support high-performing cultures? You got any examples at Adobe?
Yeah, absolutely. I would say the first thing whenever we are starting down a path is to define success.
One of the things we start with is what’s the vision and mission of your team, your organization, and then what are the goals that go along with that? And how do I operationalize that vision and mission? What does it mean to me in practice? And I think that alignment between manager and employee, between employee and coworkers, the alignment of what we are trying to achieve is the first and foundational. We tend to skip through that process. Or the goal-setting process is a once-a-year wordsmithing exercise that has no bearing on how I spend my time. But really, if we leverage that as an alignment exercise with clear metrics and measures about what success looks like, milestones along the way, what the journey should look like, course correction, et cetera. So that’s the goal piece.
Then I would say you have to codify the values and how you are identifying how you get the work done. In both these cases, Adobe has done a nice job because we do have a goal-setting process. We have mandated quarterly check-ins where we have somewhere upwards of 94% of employees report successful check-in meetings with their managers around alignment and how they’re doing, which just boggles my mind. We have some great thought leadership in that area and have really done a nice job. Now, those quarterly meetings, my mantra here is there should be no surprises because you’re having meetings all along the way, one-on-ones, that are partially devoted to feedback and course correction, so those quarterly check-ins should be a formality.
But then we have the how side of it as well. We just revised our values after about a decade or so, and now we’re looking at how do we operationalize those values? What does it look like through an engineering organization to model our values? What does it look like for marketing or for sales and things of that nature? So we have explicit calls to action on that front.
Then when we talk about what’s important, we talk about how do you craft an environment. We have employee networks, affinity groups that focus on reinforcing our value. Right after this call, Adobe is acknowledging Global Wellness Day for Mental Health. And we have a well-known speaker coming in, who I have the great honor of interviewing for the company. So pausing and having those milestones and saying, “Yes, your mental health is important.” And how do we reinforce that. And how do our rewards come into play? How do we hold people accountable, and what are the processes for that?
I’ve just given you a couple of examples there, but hopefully that addresses your question.
Thank you. That’s wonderful. And it illustrates what you said about trying to counter this belief that the end justifies the means, and that the means matter. And the means are also how we go about doing what we do is as important to our culture.
And the irony that I find there is you could argue that the ends justify the means. And I would say in that regard, what you are saying is that the short-term ends justify the means. But if you have good means, you’re benefiting in the long-term and the short-term.
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about other ends, meaning the impact. What would be an example of how you measure the impact of what you do?
I mentioned that that’s a real challenge. If you go back to historical ways of tracking global talent development or learning and development, a lot of it is butts in seats, who attends, and usage and things like that. But that’s an old-fashioned metric. And then you could have smile sheets at the end of each session. Was this a good use of time and such?
I am a cautious fan of net promoter scores, which has to do with the degree to which you would recommend me or this experience to another individual. And then a lot of the assessment for me is the qualitative assessment from those very people that I’m working with. It’s the business leader. It’s the business partner. It’s something such as, do you invite me back? Did you find enough value where we’re going to continue working together? And when I see referrals come in to other individuals.
So it’s a simplistic answer, but a lot of the measuring of the value has to do with how busy I am. When my schedule starts opening up it means that I must not be providing enough value. If I stay busy, then clearly there’s value to be had.
And I’m cautious about the fact that sometimes people may just go through the motion for a team building activity, and we need a two-hour activity to fit into this offsite slot. That’s not the kind of thing that we’re talking about here.
Yeah. What’s the difference between people liking you and wanting you back, and people actually benefiting from your work in a way that helps the organization?
That’s an excellent question. I’d put it this way. We have an Adobe annual employee survey, and we have strong results. It doesn’t mean we don’t have areas to improve on, but we have strong results. I frequently say sometimes engagement can be too high. If you have engagement that’s up into the 90s, then you’re wondering, are you challenging people sufficiently? And in my work, sometimes I need to challenge individuals to the degree there may be discomfort involved.
Just last week, I was involved in an offsite with a very public group of individuals. I facilitated the first portion. A colleague of mine was facilitating the second. And one of our vice presidents was monopolizing the time in the room. I slipped a note to that VP to bring attention to the fact that that’s what they were doing. And it was a risk on my part because I didn’t know this person well enough. We hadn’t established a relationship.
So I said, “Hey, I hope I’m not crossing a line here, but I think if you held back a little bit more, you would see participation from the people in your organization, and you’d learn some things from that.” And we saw an immediate change in him for receiving that.
And then I followed up with him, and he said, “Hey, Jeff. Hey, anytime. I love it. Thank you. That’s a wonderful thing.”
He could have just as easily been upset with me, depending on his ego. So I try to assess those situations.
So I keep challenging folks and I want to push them out of their comfort zone because I think that’s where the learning takes place.
Yeah. One of my favorite lines, when I would ask my dad, “What do you do?” And he said, “Well, here’s what I do. I comfort the afflicted and I afflict the comfortable.” I thought, what a wonderful… And now that I even say that out loud, I’m like, no wonder I wrote a book on Compassionate Accountability.
Sounds like your dad wrote a book on Compassionate Accountability.
Yeah, I just put it down on paper.
I want to switch gears real quick. We just have a few minutes left. You’ve done a lot of personal work too, and I know this is not just something that’s in your professional life. This is who you are. It’s your journey. It’s your life journey. You’re working on a book.
Will you say just a little bit about what this is for, for you? What’s it about?
Yeah. This has been marinating in me for a long time. The book was really a form of therapy, if you will. In short, I have had some dramatic things take place in these past few years, some hard lessons, if you will. And this thought came to mind for me that I can be defensive in the face of these hard lessons. I can push them away. I can avoid the discomfort. But based on the situation, I was forced to pause and look in the mirror and say, “Okay, why am I behaving this way? Why did this occur? Why this negative feedback?” And I started learning tremendously.
I realized, wow, these are real milestones that are taking place. How ironic that they’re occurring in my 50s. The phrase, “coming of age,” came to mind to me, and I started thinking about coming of age and doing some research. For most of us, we think about coming of age in our teens and our 20s, and then all of a sudden we’re supposed to be credible adults, which is probably why 68% of CEOs have to deal with vulnerability. Because in our teens and our 20s, that’s when we’re supposed to learn. That’s when we’re open to it, when we get feedback, when we’re dying for feedback, feedback to college students… I started doing some work as an assistant lecturer at Haas School of Business, and the receptivity of the MBA students is just amazing.
I thought about the irony that, wow, it feels like I’m having more meaningful coming of age moments in my 50s than I am in my 20s. And I started looking back through my life at key moments and mistakes I had made, and the fact that I hadn’t learned from them because I was getting defensive or rationalizing. And I got this idea of the book, which I called Still Coming of Age. There’s more information available at stillcomingofage.com. And I just started writing lessons from my life, stories from my life. There are things from my teens, my 20s, my work life, my family life. I have a mental health diagnosis that is addressed within the book as well.
So that’s kind of the concept. And it started as therapy for myself, but then as I started sharing it with more people, people were saying, “Wow, I relate to that. I benefit from that. I can’t wait to read that.” And so that’s the summary of the book. I’m talking to agents, I’m talking to other authors, you were kind enough to share your experience with your writing experience. This is all new to me as a first-time writer, and I’m learning all about it.
Well, we’ll put that link in the show notes, and thank you for sharing just that journey.
Another great testament to the power of vulnerability to connect people, that when you just share your own struggles, you realize that you’re not alone, and they realize they’re not alone. It sounds like you’re putting your mindfulness and self-compassion work to practice in your own life, to make yourself ready and willing and able and curious and self-forgiving enough to be able to learn those lessons and share them.
I’m at a stage in my life where I feel as though the risk is somewhat minimal. If it comes back to bite me, if people will say, “Oh, wow, now that I know this about you, I’m not going to listen to your coaching,” or, “You’re not as credible,” but what I found is in my sessions, in my engagements, I frequently divulge a lot of vulnerable information about myself. And what I’m finding in exchange is my participants are returning the favor and doing the same. They’re not clamming up thinking, “Oh, I can’t learn from this person.” They’re sharing their own struggles.
So I’m finding that by modeling that just as a facilitator, not even as the leader of the group, it makes a huge difference.
Well, it makes you relatable.
One of my colleagues, Jamie, she talks about the difference between a coping role model and an expert role model. And that expert role models, we actually don’t learn that much from because we can’t relate. Coping role models we can relate to because they’re the ones that learn from failure and pick themselves up, and they’re like us. Thanks for being a coping role model in all areas of your life and for sharing that.
I appreciate that, Nate. It reminds me, one of the chapters of my book is about an old math teacher who passed away, and I got in touch with his family, so I could use his name because I wanted to give him credit for this. I was a terrible math student. His name was David Logothetti from Santa Clara University. There have been posthumous recognitions of his work to keep his name alive.
He used to say that he was a good math teacher because he was a bad math student. So he could unpack the concepts in ways that an expert may not be able to relate, because it comes so naturally. That’s kind of how I think about myself, is that I personally find life incredibly challenging. And as such, I’ve learned, I’ve acquired this ability to unpack it in ways that I think is more relatable to people, just like Professor Logothetti.
Hey, that’s a note. That’s a call-out to all the teachers and professors and coaches out there that would like to be more effective and get better results is be like that, more like that.
So Jeff, how can people get a hold of you if they want to learn more about you, your work, your book?
Yeah. I put together a simple website for the book. It’s early in the process, but someone said, “Hey, you should get the URL for that title.” So I did, and I put up a simple site. It’s stillcomingofage.com, and you can click on the envelope icon there and be added to the mailing list. You can also catch me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to entertain questions or discussions, but please no sales calls through those vehicles.
Well, we’ll put all of that in the show notes. Jeff, thank you again so much for who you are, for sharing your life journey with your clients and with our listeners, and thanks so much again for being here with me.
Oh, it’s a pleasure, Nate. It’s an honor. Thank you for your interest.
Here are my top three takeaways from an inspiring conversation with Jeff Jacobs, Senior Director of Organizational Effectiveness at Adobe.
Number 1: Diverse teams will outperform homogenous teams every time. Jeff shared research backed up by his experience at Adobe to support this. But diversity naturally creates challenge coming together and forming teams because of different styles and perspectives. So, “The key,” said Jeff, is, “can you embrace a diversity and discomfort rather than letting it get in the way?” I call this leveraging diversity.
Number 2: Psychological safety requires healthy conflict. Conflict is inherent in dynamic work environments. Feedback that doesn’t fit with my self-image, being put on the spot, an idea that is challenged, or a testy email, it’s natural for our amygdala to interpret these conflicts as primal threats to our safety. So our brain goes into survival, self-protection mode, and moves us away from the situation. So we have to learn how to override this system, sit in the discomfort, and lean into the conflict.
I want to insert a plug for my book, Conflict Without Casualties, which provides specific guidance for how to lean into conflict in a way that builds psychological safety.
And finally, my third key takeaway is you can be as candid with an individual as they perceive you to care about them. What does this mean? Jeff is a fan of the book, Radical Candor by Kim Scott. He explained though that many people misinterpret this phrase to mean brutal honesty. What Jeff has learned is that there are three conditions for high-quality feedback to work.
First, a contract between two people that feedback is welcome and invited. Second, the feedback must be developmental and performance-based, not evaluative. And third, regular check-ins to make sure the process is working as intended. Together, these conditions support compassion and accountability equally.
Hey everybody, I hope you enjoyed this episode of On Compassion with Dr. Nate.
If you haven’t already, I invite you to buy a copy of my new book, Compassionate Accountability: How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results. Buy multiple copies and unlock some great bonuses like a free keynote presentation. When you buy the book, you’ll get access to a host of resources to bring more compassion to your workplace. Find out more at compassionateaccountabilitybook.com. If you’ve already read the book, I’d really appreciate an Amazon review. Thanks.