Drama In Organizations: Wasting the Opportunity of Conflict with Cy Wakeman – Special 50th Episode [Podcast]

Posted on March 13, 2024 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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This is my 50th episode of The Compassionate Accountability Podcast! And I’ve got a very special guest to help celebrate this milestone.

Cy Wakeman is a drama researcher, NY Times Bestselling Author, and recipient of the #1 Global Leadership Guru award for three years running. I’ve been following Cy’s work for a long time and recently heard her speak at a conference. It was amazing! We talked afterward and found a ton of synergy in our thinking around leadership, Compassionate Accountability®, and work culture. 

I’m delighted she agreed to come on my podcast. 

What’s In This Episode

  • How Cy accidentally discovered her concept of drama.
  • Cy’s definition of drama.
  • How traditional leadership training works against accountability.
  • Cy’s view on engagement and entitlement.
  • Drama and psychological safety.
  • The benefits of viewing conflict as energy.
  • Compassion, accountability, and enabling.
  • Loving people up and calling people up.
  • What are the modern leadership competencies?
  • The principles of Reality-Based leadership
  • Three reasons why there is drama in your organization.

Listen To The Audio

Read The Transcript

Nate Regier: Hello, I’m Nate Regier, founder and CEO of Next Element, a global consulting and training firm helping organizations transform their cultures with Compassionate Accountability®. Thanks for joining me on the Compassionate Accountability Podcast, where we get to meet amazing people who are bringing more compassion to the world.

I hope you’ll find something useful in this episode, and if you like what you hear, please subscribe, rate and review to help us reach more listeners. And be sure to visit our website at next-element.com where you can learn more about our work and check out all of our previous episodes.

Hey folks, this is my 50th episode and I’ve got a very special guest to help celebrate this milestone. She is someone I’ve been wanting to meet and talk with for a long time. She’s a little gritty. She tells it like it is and has a huge heart and she’s on a mission to root out drama in organizations. Cy Wakeman is a drama researcher, New York Times bestselling author and recipient of the Global Gurus number one global leadership guru award for three years running.

Cy is the founder of Reality Based Leadership, which is a transformative movement and framework for leading teams to succeed in spite of the challenging circumstances they face. She works with organizations globally to ditch the drama, hardwire accountability into their teams and turn excuses into results. She’s helped clients such as Google, Meta, NASA, Pfizer, Johns Hopkins, Stanford Medicine and Bank of America, just to name a few.

I’ve been following Cy’s work for a long time and recently got to hear her speak at a conference. It was amazing. We talked afterwards and found a ton of synergy in our thinking around leadership, accountability, and culture. I’m so delighted that she agreed to come on my podcast. Cy, welcome to the show.

Cy Wakeman: Thank you, Nate, and congratulations. 50 episodes is a huge milestone. So, I love that I get to be part of that.

Nate Regier: Yes, and I have learned so much from my guests and I’ve learned so much from you already and looking forward to learning more and sharing it with our audience today. You know, you are a drama researcher. I don’t know a lot of drama researchers out there. 

Cy Wakeman: I don’t either, I don’t either.

Nate Regier: I research drama, you research drama. So what’s your story? How did you get into researching drama?

Cy Wakeman: Well, I wish I had some story about how I came up with a Eureka idea and then pursued. So many people kind of revised their history. Mine was a completely accidental discovery just in time for me to finish my master’s program. So, in my master’s program, we had a project that was due, kind of a thesis project. And I just really wanted to be done. I was working full time. I had a new baby. I just was wanting to be done. So what I pitched to my faculty was that I would see if the complaints that physicians had about electric medical records and the fact that they took more time than the old way was true. Because our physicians were paid on productivity, I worked in healthcare, and we wanted them to update from transcribing in a tape recorder to a medical record system.

And I had a great baseline of how many minutes they spent talking to a tape recorder, because we paid by the minute for the transcription. And so I thought, this will be really easy. I’ll have people use the new system. I’ll put observers in the room to document how much time they spend on the system and how much time they spent with patients. And we would compare. I’d write it up. I’d be graduated. And so I gave my observers just two columns. And I said, just document time spent with patient, the focus and time spent on the keyboard. And within one to two hours of the first day of the observing, they reached out to me and they said, Cy, you need a third column. And I said, you know, just absolutely not. We are not changing the construct. We’ve got it through the research board. Like, just get me graduated. And they said, you really are missing a big deal that we know you care about. 

Because I talked back then about accountability and no bitching, moaning, and whining, and focus on how we can, not why we can’t. And I said, well, what would that column be? And they said, how much time the physician spent complaining about the patient and the keyboard. So not just time they spent with the patient or the keyboard, but the time they spent complaining. And it averaged out to be about two hours and 20 minutes a day per physician, regardless of their kind of performance ranking. And then I loved it, changed my whole thesis, got enamored with it. And I thought maybe physicians are just big whiners and this can’t be true with nurses or finance or food service. But I just kept expanding this obsession I had that we could actually quantify drama. 

And lo and behold, it was a measurement of the human condition, not that some of us are more evolved than others. And so for me, it became a big opportunity, not just a productivity loss, but time spent feeling miserable needlessly. And that was a big deal. 

So then I went on to say, so what do we teach leaders? And does that help? Does it diffuse drama? Or does it fuel drama? And to my surprise, I found out that at the time, in the 90s, many of the conventional wisdoms, leaders who are being taught traditional leadership methods, actually fueled drama, actually fed the drama, rather than diffuse the drama.

And that fit with me as a therapist, because I thought a lot of leadership techniques we taught people were really codependent and really transferred ownership of results and many things in terms of accountability to the leader and didn’t share it between all members of the team. So long answer, totally accidental.

Nate Regier: Wow. You know, I’ve been reading Amy Edmondson’s book on the right kind of wrong. And she, her accidental discovery of psychological safety kind of happened during her research. Um, so you brought up two things that I, that I’d really like to clarify for myself and also for our listeners. You’ve talked about drama as a thing, as a construct, and you’ve talked about bad habits that we’ve been taught that we’re teaching leaders. Will you define drama? Well, how do you define drama? And then what are some of the ways that, that traditionally maybe we actually bake that into our leadership training.

Cy Wakeman: Sure, sure. So a great question on how to define drama, because if you’re going to measure something, you have to get very clear on the definition. And not only what it is, but how you can observe it, what it looks like in the workplace. So what we define drama as, we wanted it to be pretty scientific, it is energy that goes away from results and wellbeing. So even back in the 90s, we incorporated well-being and results as a dualistic goal that we wanted in the workplace. And so energy that takes away from that. And so we defined it as waste. As energy that is siphoned off of what the goals are for those of us involved in work. And that definition of waste was really important because if drama is emotional waste, we already had a body of knowledge about what to do with waste in the workplace. Lean, Six Sigma. And we knew that if there were waste in a process, rework, or unhelpful, you know, energy that didn’t go towards a result, that the best thing to do would be improve the process. So if we could define emotional waste, then what the solution would lend itself to would be using a better mental process. And as a counselor, that’s what I happened to be trained in.

Nate Regier:  Mm-hmm.

Cy Wakeman:  And what I did mostly in my early leadership days is really teach people how their mind worked so they quit getting played by their mind and how the world worked so they quit arguing with how the world worked. And I was just teaching people better mental processes using a more evolved and sophisticated way through the world. So that was our definition. And then we really looked at what are the key sources of drama? What’s it look like? Ego was number one. Taking a feeling and intellectualizing it into a grievance or a complaint. So venting, tattling, scorekeeping, ruminating in their thinking. And so that was kind of ego. Lack of accountability, your body of work, was another one. And those two together made up 55% of all drama. 

There was drama around buy-in and people withholding it and thinking or forgetting that buy-in is a verb. It’s something I bring to the workplace. A lot of people, their buy-in’s conditional or they’re wanting people to buy them in. Engagement is a field that got way off track and we focused on engagement, we over-rotated on engagement, but engagement without accountability creates entitlement. And then the way we taught change probably was my biggest surprise because in change management, we talk a lot about this big grief process people need to go through.

Nate Regier:  Right.

Cy Wakeman: And we borrowed from psychological work like Kubler-Ross’s work, even if it was like a software change. And so in research, we wouldn’t allow that. She studied people who were faced with their own death. And then you can’t generalize that to people who are asked to use an updated software at work as a tool. And so that led to my next body of work, which is really challenging conventional wisdom in just seeing if it’s true. Like, as a leader, I was told keep an open door and be approachable. And that was a portal for drama. People came in and they hardly ever came in to tattle on themselves. Like I am under skilled in communicating with my colleagues and I would like help. Said no one ever. They came in and said, yeah, my colleagues won’t listen to me.

Nate Regier: Right.

Cy Wakeman: And because of my background as a counselor, I would be like, well, what’s your part in that? And where do you need to grow next to be able to more effectively communicate? But if I didn’t do that, most leaders were taught just to let people get things off their chest. And you mentioned psychological safety, that increases psychological safety, and actually it doesn’t, because when you collude with one person, it doesn’t make them feel safer. They believe you’ll collude with other people about them, just like you colluded with them about other people. And so, yeah, so much there to unpack. That’s some of the things that we started on.

Nate Regier: Well that and I want to thank you and I want to get to some of where you’re at now with some of your thinking, your strategies, your philosophy on this, but I want to go back to your definition of drama. I love this. I think that’s one of the things that I aligned with so much is we have talked about how conflict is just energy, that the unpreferred reality you call it. It’s just energy and as humans we have choices on how we want to spend that energy and we can waste it in drama or we can use it productively for other things. And, you know, we all have different strategies to do that. So I really, I really appreciate that. And so. You’ve named a lot of different things that are kind of in the popular literature, in the leadership. Will you talk a little bit about what is this notion of reality-based leadership? I mean, it seems like, well, duh, of course, but you have some interesting turns of phrases and perspectives on this.

Cy Wakeman: I really do, and I love that you have this, you’ve brought energy into the conflict world because it depersonalizes it and it puts you in a place of agency with it. And we even think that modern leaders no longer manage people. Systems and automation and processes should manage the work of people. We believe that modern leadership is managing the energy of people away from like, why we can’t or why we shouldn’t have to, to what if we could, how could we? That really, that managing of energy takes us out of waste and into innovation. And so I think, you know, that’s an important piece of that. And you had just asked me a great question. It slipped my mind. What were you wanting me to talk more about?

Nate Regier:  I want you to talk a little bit more about reality-based leadership. What is it? But before we get there, I want to make another connection to my listeners. So those folks that listen to me, they know Compassionate Accountability is our thing and there’s these two words that just shouldn’t seem to go together. But I heard you say two phrases that I think couldn’t be more in line with this, which is you love up and you call up when people are in drama as the alternative. And it feels like love up is the compassion part. Call up is the accountability part.

Cy Wakeman: Yes.

Nate Regier: Will you say a little bit more about this? And if that relates to kind of reality-based leadership, kind of basic principles, feel free to go there.

Cy Wakeman: It does and I’m so glad that you called out that connection. That was probably what bonded us so quickly, is that too many times when people talk about accountability, it gets weaponized. And it’s like, whose butt is on the line? And after the fact, who’s in trouble with this? And a lot of people ask me, how do I hold somebody accountable? And it’s such a power, a search for power. And you don’t need power to get results.

Nate Regier: Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: A lot of results come from like love and kindness and compassion and invitation and in joint work. And so, you know, a lot of accountability isn’t about how you hold people accountable, it’s looking at your own behavior and how you enable it. And a lot of enabling happens, and we call it compassion or we call it love. And it’s really dirty love, it’s really dirty compassion. And so I talk a lot about you know, early in my career, I talked a lot about calling people up to greatness, calling them up to their own potential. Seeing in them greatness and letting them know that you see that potential and not being willing to participate in them not living up to their own greatness. And what I found over COVID is a lot of people weaponized my own work on accountability and called it greatness. They’re like, figure it out. And, you know, Cy said stay in joy or leave in peace. Don’t let the door kind of hit you in the behind. 

And I’m like, we forgot a big part of Cy’s work. And I love that you introduce me with a big heart because some people who hear the one minute YouTube video are like, that woman is like, I would hate working for her. And my staff would tell you they actually kind of love working for me. But what had gotten edited out at times because people in power that are wanting to get things done without relationship, often want to boycott, they want to misuse accountability. And so for me, I said, we gotta back up. The first thing we do is love people up. And you have no ground on which to call somebody up to greatness if you can’t, if they aren’t convinced that you really love them. And I’m, you know, love at work is kind of a weird word. And I’m like, we need to have it make a comeback. 

Nate Regier: Mm-hmm.

Cy Wakeman: I mean love is not about you being love worthy. Love is about how I as a leader walk through the world. And if I’ve done my inner work and forged my own wisdom and I’ve evolved myself, then I can be very loving towards people even when and all the while, we’re having some conversations that feel hard. And so I talk a lot about loving people up. And when I was a counselor, I worked a lot with stepparents . . . .

Nate Regier: Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: And stepparents would come in, and a lot of times, in a traditional relationship, if, let’s say, that there was a male married a female, and the female had been trying to kind of, single parent, which is, you know, difficult, a lot of the males would come in and say, what your kids need is an authority figure kind of thing. And they would start in with all these rules. And I would have to say, back off. Rules without relationship equal rebellion.

Nate Regier: Right.

Cy Wakeman: You don’t have ground to stand on to be able to discipline or have rules for kids that are not your kids. And so I would say spend the first year establishing a relationship. And a lot of parents would say, those kids respect their coaches more than they respect me, their stepparent. And I’m like, those coaches have spent four years with that team, establishing a relationship and then sprinkling in some of those call-ups. And so…

Nate Regier: Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: I think it’s so important with us as leaders, if you can’t really see the good in your people as human beings, not that you’re going to excuse their behavior, but if you can’t love them up, you are in no position to lead. If you’re triggered by them, if you are quick to judge them, if you are quick to story about you’ve got good people and bad people, or that the next generation just doesn’t want to work like you worked. Like if that’s your storyline and then you aren’t loving people up, you can never call people up. And this is a really important piece for me.

Nate Regier: I love that distinction. And now that you, since you brought up pandemic, I know you saw some things and we’ve all observed things during the pandemic. One of the things we noticed, and this has been, you know, this is true about humans, but it really became obvious during the pandemic is that somehow we think that when push comes to shove or when something’s on the line or the stakes are high, that we have to choose either relationships or results. And you hear people saying things like, well,

I don’t mean to be a jerk, but blah, blah, blah.  Or this is tough love. Or you hear all these things people say where they’re making excuses for going to one pole or the other. And I think what we’re both saying is no, when you love up and you call up, these are simultaneous. These are not one at the expense of the other, or you don’t have to choose. That’s really a false dichotomy. I think that is kind of at the root of drama.

Cy Wakeman: It really is, and that goes back to mental processes because when we’re in cognitive dissonance, which we are anytime we meet a place we’re underskilled, ok? So if I’m under skilled in managing the energy of conflict, I get into do you want me to be nice or honest? You know, I don’t wanna, I’m about to be a jerk, I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I’m about to be a jerk.

Nate Regier: Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: And the way a lot of people resolve cognitive distances, they get into these false dichotomies. I only have one choice. And so a good mental process we encourage people to use is the word and. How can I have a conversation that both of us are going to find a little energetic and be very kind about it and careful and soft? And, you know, that’s a good mental process is to realize multiple things are true. I believe a big part of accountability is having accountability for the truth. And the truth of a situation isn’t what I want to boil it down to. It’s that multiple things are true at the same time.

Nate Regier: Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: And that there’s room for all of that. And so as you know, we’re thinking about the future of leadership, there’s new competencies. One, it needs to go from leaders to influencers, and we’re all influencers, so it’s not a position. But two, there’s a whole new skill set of competencies we need, holding space for multiple things to be true at the same time, growing the shared pool of meaning, not telling but making invitation to a better world and a better workplace. Like, one of my favorite new leadership competencies is the ability to end any conversation that’s exhausting and begin a new one that’s energizing. And so…

Nate Regier: Hmm. Not just walk away and say, I’m done with this, I’m not having this conversation. You said, and start a new one. Yes.

Cy Wakeman: And start a new one. And that’s important. And that comes from a new competency of a leader is to get out of studying leadership, which is the past, and start to evolve yourself through studying poetry and literature and culture and anthropology and like blow your own mind on a regular basis so that you get far, far away from what you know and get into the lands of what you don’t know. And that’s where, you know, we want to change the world and allow ourselves to be changed by the world as much as we want to change the world. And leadership has really erred on the side of, I want to have impact make a difference and change the world. And it’s tone deaf. And it’s like, what have you done to be changed by the world? Where has your clock gotten cleaned ego-wise in the last month? Like a bad day for the ego is a great day for a leader.

Nate Regier: Yeah. I love that. I love that. And you just keep coming back to reality. And how do we get back in touch with it? I love something I wrote something down that you said when I heard you speak is that, people come to us to change reality when they really need us to call them to greatness so they can skillfully walk through reality. And I remember, I’m also a recovering therapist, not in recovery because it was traumatic, but recovery because every day I’m learning and changing. But I remember saying that my patients didn’t come to me because they want to change, they come because they want the pain to go away. And I’m hearing you kind of say this. I love this idea of they want to be called the greatness so that they can skillfully walk through reality. It’s a beautiful thing

Cy Wakeman: Yeah. I just talked to a therapist that, she’s an icon of mine. She just spent the weekend with me and she said, you know, therapy is over the day somebody gets sick of being one down in the world, gets sick of being like, I’m with no agency. I’m like, that’s so true. I think it’s such an important piece of it, because what people tend to come to you with is complaints about reality. We all want the same things. We want success and happiness, however you define success. It may not be capitalistic success. It could be, I want to be a good parent for my gerbil.

Nate Regier: Right?

Cy Wakeman: But people, every client I had, I’d say, what do you want and what are you looking for? And in some way, they fell into, they wanted more success in their life and more happiness. And I’m like, awesome, what have you been trying? What are the strategies you’ve been using to get that? And here’s the next commonality. They’re like, well, I would have that if only I had a different spouse or my in-laws were different or had a different boss. So basically, if everyone else changed their reality or were different, you believe you would have success or happiness.

Nate Regier: If only.

Cy Wakeman:  And I’m like, how’s that working for you? And when people come the human condition is please change my reality. Please slow change down. Please get us more staff. And you may need to make some organizational changes that make that more useful but the first thing I’m going to do is grow you so that you’re more skilled in walking through your current reality because that’s the portable freedom I can give you and the way we do that is if you’re involved in that unpreferred reality, first we neutralize it by calling it just an unpreferred reality. It is not being done to you, there’s no plot, there’s no villain, there’s no victim, there’s no drought. It’s just, I’m in a reality that’s not my favorite. I have not yet cracked this code.

And then as a leader, I’ve got to resist doing what you want me to do, which is first, you want to argue with said reality. This shouldn’t be happening. This is unfair. This isn’t how work should be. My colleagues should be different. That’s an argument you’ll lose, but only 100% of the time. And then I got to stay out of this wishing for a different future. Like oh, I hope like, you know, over time this will get better or my new teammates will be more respectful.

As a leader, I help you find the space of agency, which is accountability, between an unpreferred reality and a different future. Because there is a space that if I invite you in, that’s your space of greatness. Your choices, your next moves, your behaviors, are the only thing that could connect an unpreferred reality to a different future. And that’s really the kind space of accountability. Like, where do you need to grow next to be able to move through the world more skillfully and more freely.

And reality-based leadership, to give you kind of a definition, and my colleague Alex Dorr is coming out next year with the best book. He’s taken my work and really just crystal clarified it. So, I might not have had a definition before Alex’s book, so I want to give him full credit. But we really do three things in reality-based leadership. The first thing, and we use tools to do this so that you’re not in here with your ego and your mind. We put it out on paper with mental processes. So, the first thing we focus on is clearing up your thinking because most of what you’re believing isn’t true and it’s never been questioned and it’s fact plus story. So we really focus on questioning your thinking and most problems that feel so big to you, if you clear your thinking up, you’ll dissolve a majority of the problem before you ever have to resolve it. So, it’s kind of like in junior high when you had a math problem and it was one of those story problems and it was like a train leaves station A going 30 miles an hour at 1 o’clock and a train leaves station B at 2 o’clock going 60 miles an hour. . . . 

Nate Regier: Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: And the question is, when will they meet? That’s the formula. But they throw in stuff. There’s a woman in a red hat. She has two kids. There’s a cat running loose on the train. And when I work with kids to tutor them, I’m like, OK, let’s pull out the equation. What is important in this whole paragraph? And they’ll get distracted. They’ll be like the lady with the red hat. I’m like, completely irrelevant. Like, we’re building an algebraic equation. We just need X and Y and C, like that’s all we need. And that’s what we do with our tools. We clear up people’s thinking. 

Most people try and solve a problem that’s so full of drama that they feel like the victim and they already feel beat before they begin. So, we clean it up. The second thing we do before we get to innovation, because people are naturally creative and innovative once the drama’s gone, when they’re in that part of the brain. The second thing we do is all about agency and accountability. We help people identify what has your part been to date in this mess? What is your part in the fix? Like where, where is your point of impact coming into that space?

Nate Regier: Right.

Cy Wakeman: And only then do we have tools then that say, okay, given this reality, what are some ways that we could be great? How could we? And we focus the energy away from why we can’t to how we could. And that’s really reality-based thinking is getting you clear in your thinking, finding your agency, and then leading teams and individuals through innovation.

Nate Regier: Oh, I love. . .You’re, you’re so, you’re so precise, so clear. Um, I can’t even imagine how good Alex’s book is going to be taking it to the next level. 

Cy Wakeman: It’s going to be great, I just read it, it’s great.

Nate Regier: And also I think another thing, what I respect about your work and maybe what we have in common, because we’re researchers and practitioners, we care about definitions, we care about operationalizing, we care about processes that take it out of the ego and give us something that we can do. Um, and . . . .

Cy Wakeman: And language, and language. And we have the benefit, because we learned that in our counseling backgrounds. I had a gentleman come into me, and you start mapping it out on paper. And what’s unclear, once you put it on paper, they’re like, wait a minute. And it was such a wild story. He came in because his wife had shared that she wasn’t going to be his wife if he didn’t end an extramarital affair that he was having. Super clear goal of counseling, like make a decision.

Nate Regier: Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: And every time I would ask him questions he would just go around the bend and how unfair it was and nobody understood them and I said, tell me about your family relationships. Tell me about your mom. He’s like center of my world. So, I took out a piece of paper and I drew mom as center of the world and I showed it in front of him. Like I’m holding up a piece of paper and I said, so this was your mom, Sunshine. He goes, well, I mean, I would put her more off in the corner.  And I’m like, really? OK, I’ll move her off. Who is the sun of your world? He goes, well, my grandmother really raised me. I’m like, amazing. Your mom, she’s getting a PhD. Came in on my life a lot. I said, well, tell me about your mom. Beautiful, brilliant PhD student. Would come and get me in the summers. We’d go to Disneyland. And I’m like, well, tell me about your grandma. Vanilla, fabulous woman, always there for me.

And so I drew his mom and his grandmother. And I’m like, tell me about your wife. He’s like, vanilla, always there for me. And because I had this on paper. I go, well, tell me about the woman you’re having an affair with. And he’s like, PhD student. And you’ve seen these, remarkable. The projection inside his head, he could not see this recreation. But the minute we put two words on paper outside of his ego, he was like, I am recreating something here, and I need to make a choice. 

Nate Regier: Yeah. Well, you have. Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: And it was amazing, and we’ve learned that as therapists, but leaders haven’t learned that. And that’s what I think you and I love teaching. That plus language. Language is so important to me. My team gets so upset because when we have copywriters that try and write for us, they’re like, accountability is good, and everybody wants accountability. And you can’t talk around this stuff. You have to get precise with language.

Nate Regier: Yeah. Well, you are really gifted at holding a mirror up and doing it in a way that does not . . . .You separate the person from the behavior, which is so critical. And a lot of your tools do such a good job at that. Um, but I want to shift. Yeah. Oh man. Well, I want to maybe, maybe kind of wrap this up. There’s so much more we could do, but I want to wrap it up with something that you said.

Cy Wakeman: I know, I’m sorry, I’ve taken a lot of our time.

Nate Regier: No. You said something and I was like, okay, is she going to just drop the mic and walk off the stage right now? Because I would. And here’s what you said. And it is, I have it written down in a prominent place. And I think I even put it in a blog post like the next week. And here’s what you said. You said you have drama in your organization because you hired it, you enabled it or you are it. You don’t, you’re not messing around. Um, you mean that.

Cy Wakeman: I mean that. So many people come to me and they’re like, but Cy, let me tell you about my drama as if it is a story about what is happening to them, as if they are like the innocent victims here and they just walked into this party. And I like to get very, very clear. People are like, you don’t understand. I didn’t hire this person. I inherited it. And I said, well, let’s talk then about how you enable it.

Well, no one ever gave them feedback. No, let’s talk about the feedback you’re giving them. Well, no one’s really, they haven’t been trained sufficiently. Well, let’s talk about the training you’re arranging for them. So, we really can’t get out of this if we’re in a relationship, we are in that relationship by our own agency and the truth will set you free. How am I enabling this if I inherited it? How did I hire this? A lot of times we want the position filled and we ignore every red flag that’s presented to us or we don’t use a probationary period to back out of it. Or my number one thing is, a lot of people it doesn’t dawn on them that they are it.  That the techniques they’re using are that. Ad for me once I realized that I was the source of all my problems, it set me free. I had a family member and I’m like why did they treat me like this and one day somebody said, what if you ask the question why do you stay for that?

Nate Regier: Yeah.

Cy Wakeman: I’m like, that changes everything, right?

Nate Regier: Yeah. I haven’t always been as diplomatic as you at saying that. Early in my career, at one time I was with a group of leaders and there was a group of managers all around table who were joking about how this one employee who was just a loser couldn’t do anything, all this drama and how they had just deferred him to the next department.

And then they deferred him and then they deferred him and they deferred him. And they told this story. And then the CEO looks at me and says, okay, so, so he should be fired now. Right? And I said, no, I think all y’all should be fired unless you, the CEO knew it was going on and then you should be fired. And they fired me on the spot, kicked me out of the room. 

Cy Wakeman: Wow, and the truth telling is hard in this business Nate and I love that you did that. We learn to do it more diplomatically.

But organizations have some responsibility when they aren’t giving people good feedback and good development and just passing it along. And I see that too often because even in training and development that you and I do, a lot of people are like, well, don’t work with the executive team. We’re good. Work with all of our mid-managers who have the hardest jobs in the organization, let’s be frank. And it’s like, don’t fix us, fix them. And we can start anywhere and one.person can change the way they work with the people around them. You don’t need top-down training. You can be happy and free in even the most toxic environment if you learn boundaries and reality-based leadership. But it is interesting how people empower . . . find ways to limit their own self-reflection. And they actually think they’re in power because they’ve done a great job, but power incubates us from self-reflection. And that’s something to remember, the higher up you get, the more you need to really get people in your life that will pound on you to self-reflect.

Nate Regier: That’s fantastic. I love that. Couldn’t agree more. So, I met you doing an incredible keynote for a big conference. I’m curious, what are ways in which you work with organizations? How do you help?

Cy Wakeman: Well, we have a great team. So how we help, I do a lot of keynotes. I have incredible colleagues that I’ve hand-picked, and they have run with the philosophy and joined in our research, who do both keynotes and we do full-blown training. And we’ll do, we do this great learning sessions, group coaching sessions, application toolkit sessions. We also have a lot of books out there. We have a lot on social media. We’ve got a reality-based leadership podcast.

We’ve got @Cywakeman or @Alexmdorr, our reality-based relationship is all over social media. But we work with learning and development and keynotes and, similar to your organization, we just try and help however we can and spread the word.

Nate Regier: Great stuff, great work. And I just love this whole concept of reality-based leadership. And I could just all day listen to you because you just have little ways of saying things that are just so fun to listen to and so powerful. What is, is there anything percolating for you right now? Anything kind of on the horizon or on the simmering that you want to talk about?

Cy Wakeman: Sure. So I mentioned Alex’s book. I’m in the process of, which is really rare for a researcher and training and development author, but I’m in the process of transitioning my organization to my team so I can enjoy life. And in the process of doing that, I talked about Alex’s great book. But we also are doing a lot of writing and thinking about modern leadership competencies that are going back almost to a lot of the things we were trained in as a therapist, like how to facilitate but not interfere with, how to invite people to greatness. So we’re doing a lot of thinking and writing about that. And the last thing I would say is so much training and development is about conventional incremental change. And we’re really into evolution and evolutionary experiences which are very different than what we’ve allowed in the workplace up to and including, I’m fascinated with psychedelic assisted therapy and many of the really cutting edge things that are happening and what that might mean for a team and the way they work together. So that’s way out there, but who knows?

Nate Regier: Wow, that is so great. I love it. Keep learning, keep growing, keep innovating. So, if people want to learn more about you and what you do and want to kind of join the energy you’re putting out in the world, where should I direct them? Where would you have them go?

Cy Wakeman: Realitybasedleadership.com is our website. I also have many books out there. I’ve got four books, Reality Based Leadership is part of most of their titles. And then social media, just we try and put out a lot. So go to our website, go to our podcast. We’ve got four seasons, I think, of the No Ego podcast and a couple seasons of Reality Based Leadership. So yeah, go check us out and spread the word. Spread the word.

Nate Regier:  That’s great.

Cy, thank you so much for being here. Thanks for the difference you’re making in the world and all for the, all the positive, wonderful energy you’re putting out there.

Cy Wakeman: Thanks, Nate. Right back at you. I’m so glad we connected.

Nate Regier: Thanks for joining me. I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Compassionate Accountability podcast. What struck you? What can you take away and use today? I’d love to hear from you. And if you haven’t already, pick up a copy of my new book, Compassionate Accountability:How Leaders Build Connection and Get Results. If you’ve already read the book, I’d appreciate your review on Amazon.

Contact us today to learn more about how Next Element helps companies transform their cultures with Compassionate Accountability. And remember, embracing both compassion and accountability is the secret to great leadership and the roadmap for thriving cultures and strong brands.


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