February 28, 2022 | 11 Mins Read

What Makes a Great Leader Great?

February 28, 2022 | 11 Mins Read

What Makes a Great Leader Great?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

It takes only a glimpse at news headlines to be prompted to reflect on the impact leadership has on our world, our lives, and our future. You see incredible leaders doing deeds that will have a ripple effect for generations – along with the stark contrast of leaders abusing power. And whether you consider the world stage, tech, banking, or any other industry, you can find examples of how the power leaders hold can be channeled in such different ways. 

This makes me think about what it is that makes a great leader great – what is it about their character or their personality or their experiences or their drive that enables those positive examples that we’d all like to see more of? Before you read further, let me just provide the disclaimer that I don’t have all of the answers. But it is a topic I’ve been thinking quite a bit about, and I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you all. 

In my role, I have the opportunity to speak with many leaders and it does give you a real flavor for the differences that exist – as well as an evolution that has taken place. It’s clear that over the last few years, many leaders have begun to adopt more progressive viewpoints that are a departure from the older, lead from the top, results at all costs style of leadership. Modern leaders tend to recognize the importance of company culture and value the contribution of employees at all ranks, and they tend to be less concerned with being the smartest or best or strongest in the room and more concerned with curating an ecosystem of talent that can innovate and drive results. 

If you missed my recent two-part podcast interview with James Mylett, SVP, U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, I’d urge you to go back and have a listen. Much of what I’m going to share below are thoughts formed from that conversation – and while I do believe James is a great leader, I don’t mean to put him in the hot seat of being the one to aspire to, but rather to use some of the points he made during our conversation to reflect on some of the traits I think are helping today’s strongest leaders excel. 

Acceptance of the Journey of Continuous Development

James, who is Brooklyn born, went straight to work after high school. He tells how his very first boss instilled in him the criticality of continuous development and self-growth and made it a condition of his employment for James to get his Associates Degree. A bit further along in his journey, James had another leader who reinforced this mindset. “While at Carrier, I had a leader who said, ‘Your parents grew up in an era where if they showed up for work every day, worked really hard, were loyal to the company, they could count on lifelong employment. That deal doesn’t exist anymore. Nobody talks about it out loud, but if you are working for a great organization, you can count on lifelong employability if you take advantage of the learning opportunities that they put in front of you.”

This mindset stuck with James, and he has always made it a priority to learn, evolve his thinking and practices, and develop new skills. I think this trait is very important and one that great leaders share – they don’t achieve a level of success or “rank” and allow themselves to feel they’ve crossed some sort of finish line; rather, they recognize the need to continually evolve and improve. 


This is the hardest trait on this list for me to describe somehow in words, because in my personal experience someone just is or isn’t. James is certainly authentic, and this has been clear to me since I met him over a decade ago – and my impression has been corroborated by every direct report of James’ I’ve ever spoken to, who all speak his praises. 

Perhaps this comes down to some concoction of humbleness, no pretense, kindness, self-confidence but never cockiness, honesty, and a little vulnerability? That’s the best I can do to describe what authenticity feels like to me, and I’m certain it is a lacking description. But I do believe great leaders are authentic, and that their authenticity is part of what inspires teams and individuals to want to follow them and learn from them. 

From James’ perspective, two important aspects are the leader’s agenda and the environment in which they are operating. “I think agenda makes a difference. My agenda is to help teams win and to help people who want to get better, get better,” he says. “But the key is, are you a part of an organization that is willing to create an environment to where you can be authentic? As we all talk about the war for talent, as people get experiences with organizations that allow them to be the best version of themselves there, and to be their genuine selves there, the tolerance level for any environment that doesn’t goes way down.”

The Ability to Balance the Now and the Next

James and I talked a number of times during our interview about the leaders’ need to balance the present and a view of the future – to keep an eye on the mid and long term in every decision and action. This challenge is one that many of the leaders I speak with lament – how do you think ahead or drive innovation when you are constantly struggling to keep up with the daily demands? 

“I always try to do is stay focused on the long game. When trying to make big change in an organization, it never happens in a big step. It’s small incremental steps over a long period of time that make the biggest lasting sustainable change,” says James. “Larry Levin wrote a book called Top Teaming. And in it he talks about how leaders have to find the right balance between the now, the new, and the next. And this has always been the case, but what has changed is speed. When you think about cars, it took 62 years for cars to get to 50 million users. It took credit cards 28 years to get to 50 million, debit cards 12 years, PayPal five years, and then Pokemon GO got to 50 million users in 19 days. Think about that! Think about all that change and just how fast it’s moving today. It’s dramatically different. And so, we have to adjust our leadership style. We have to adjust the environments that we’re creating, otherwise we’re not going to attract and retain the talent that’s going to be needed to win in these new markets.”

Cultivation of Resilience

Certainly, over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the importance of resilience amplified more than it has been in most of our lifetimes. In my mind, resilience is a mix of patience and perspective. But when we think about the role of resilience in leadership, it is both personal as well as the acceptance of your role in nurturing resilience among your teams. This can be a tall task, particularly in a landscape where burnout is at an all-time high. 

“In today’s environment, it’s hard to survive if you don’t have resilience,” says James. “As a leader, you have to remember that you’re the person that you used to look up to. And what is it about that person when you looked up that drew you to them and if you had to inject some improvement in that, what would it have been? Because that’s your opportunity today. So, personally, we have to check ourselves and make sure that we’re filling our own buckets up to where our resilience levels are high. Because our organization’s going to get our cue from us.”

According to James, a big part of this is mindset and also setting boundaries for yourself to step away and rest and recharge so that you don’t burn out. “When I think about leadership attributes, mindset is one of the biggest things that’s going to make a difference on whether or not you win or lose,” he says. “There’s a movie called Facing the Giants. If you go to You Tube, type of Facing the Giants and Death Crawl. It’s all about a coach seeing something in a player that he didn’t recognize in himself. And it goes back to this notion about the influence that you have as a leader. If you don’t think we’re going to win, they won’t think we’re going to win. And so, what comes out of our mouth is so critical in terms of setting the tone for the organization.”

Integrity and Accountability

You may assume that every great leader has high integrity (although we have to be careful with assumptions), but the point James made that I loved is that a leader’s responsibility when it comes to integrity isn’t only a personal. In addition to personal integrity, great leaders also take on the role of ensuring their teams are accountable for integrity as well. 

“We know failure shouldn’t be fatal, but the area where it has a potential to be fatal is an integrity. And it comes in a lot of different flavors, but at the core of it, it’s how you carry yourself. Are you authentic? Are you trustworthy? Are you someone that people can count on? Are you transparent?” says James. “When I think about integrity as an organization, the antidote for that malice is the culture that you build. And the purposeful intent on culture. One of our pillars at Schneider Electric is to embrace different. And that we call out bias where we see it. So, you think about that, you’re on a job site and you see something, what do you do? Do you step up, do you speak up or do you just look the other way and keep going? Our core value says you’re calling it out. And, so, it’s that type of culture build that creates the antibodies against the wrong behavior on the integrity front.”

Embracing Curiosity

I’m a big believer in the power of curiosity – I think inquisitiveness and a hunger to learn and understand combats so much closed mindedness. I also think great leaders who have a strong sense of curiosity are not only more likely to look for the non-obvious answers or ideas, but also to accept the reality that they aren’t the only intelligent and valuable person in the picture – because their curiosity helps them see the intelligence and value of the teams around them.

“There was an article that was written on my father that referred to him as a searcher and I think that I inherited that trait,” says James. “When I bump into situations, I have tendency to want to unpack them. Today’s environment is probably the richest environment for somebody that’s wired like me, because there are so many opportunities for transformation. And so, what I try to do as a leader is immerse myself in situations that allow that opportunity for me to get engaged.”

James points to his adoption of the Oz Principle as a leadership evolution born of his curiosity that has also helped him see the value in promoting more curiosity among his teams by introducing them to new experiences. “One of the models I subscribe to is Oz Principle, which basically says that your beliefs are driven from the experiences that you have. So, this curiosity mode gets me in a position where I’m getting different experiences today than before and learning as I go,” he says.

Prioritizing Problem Analysis

James brought up an excellent point about the need to focus more on the root cause analysis of problems than to jump to problem solving. This is a point that I truly feel so many could benefit from really pondering, because many of the struggles I see companies facing today are a result of racing to a soliton before truly understanding the problem (or opportunity). 

“I want to make sure that our team is focused on root cause analysis for problem solving,” James says. “When you think about a problem, everybody wants to go to ideation, to solve. We don’t spend enough time defining what the problem is and then doing the root cause analysis. Every organization I’ve worked with, brilliant people get in a room and God help us if there’s a whiteboard, the next thing you know you’ve got all these great ideas up there and then there’s a program that gets deployed. My preference is to start at the problem and work backwards from that and put a solution in place that’s supported with data. That’ll really move the needle because you know that that’s the root cause for the problem.”

Why the default to problem solving over root cause analysis? It’s more work, and many aren’t patient enough to do that extra work or perhaps their ego dissuades them from considering that they may need to better understand the problem to be solved. “It takes hard work to really dig in and to get the root cause. And it takes courage to face into the data when it doesn’t support what you thought the root cause was, and that happens a lot. You don’t want to get paralyzed by the data, but it has to have role in the conversation,” says James.

Treating People Well

Again, you may be thinking – um, duh, Sarah. But sadly, we see far too many examples of leaders who want to lead by demand and use their power as force rather than recognize how power can actually be amplified when you share it with your teams. Treating people well means having empathy, it means considering – not catering to – their feelings and needs, and recognizing their efforts and contributions.

“Part of what’s changing is people buy in for their reasons, not ours. So, what is our workforce’s reasons for buying in and does the culture that you’re purposefully building match up to what they’re wanting to buy into? And so, we talk about having an organization that’s focused, that’s purposeful, that’s driven, that’s going to achieve great things while is also being benevolent and kind, and gracious. That’s a great combination to have, and it’s a value proposition that absolutely resonates with the emerging workforce,” says James. “I think for us, it’s important that when we put our front line out in front of the customers that they’re in the right state of mind, and they feel genuinely appreciated in what they’re doing. And they understand how, what they’re doing is helping us. I get a report at the end of every month on our net satisfaction scores for the whole organization and I see everybody that got a nine and a 10 and I recognize each of them. If nothing else, just to let them know that I see what they’re doing, and I appreciate it. Back when I was a frontline technician if I was getting a note from the president of the division or senior vice president, it made a difference. I think we underestimate that sometimes when we get to these positions, just the impact that we have on lifting people up.”

February 23, 2022 | 25 Mins Read

Meeting the Demands of Modern Leadership with James Mylett, Part 2

February 23, 2022 | 25 Mins Read

Meeting the Demands of Modern Leadership with James Mylett, Part 2


In part two of this two-part deep dive on leadership with James Mylett, SVP, U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, Sarah and James talk about additional leadership characteristics that prove impactful today and James shares his words of wisdoms for tenured leaders looking for fresh inspiration as well as new leaders just starting out.

This is part two in a two-part episode with James Mylett, Senior Vice President for U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric. If you missed part one, you can listen here

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now, I think another reason that you are well respected as a leader is you're very vocal about appreciating your team, but not just your team of leaders the entire team to the frontline, and their role, and their impact on your customers and the business. And to your point the difference they are making every day. I know we were both at the service council conference in the fall of last year. And you made a statement there that make sure we're appreciating these people and vocalizing that. And I know you invest a lot of your time in spending time with the frontline workforce and understanding what their reality looks like day to day. Let's talk about the benefit of doing that a bit.

James Mylett: I think the customer's experience is going to be framed up by the interaction they have with our frontline employee. So when you think about whether it's the person that's helping with the coordination of the work, the follow-up on the billing, the actual work being done on site, the salesperson going out there. Those moments of truth is what frames up the experience, just like when you go to Starbucks. If you've got an employee that's friendly and engaged and all that, but you have a different experience than the alternative. So I think for us, it's important that when we put our front line out in front of the customers that they're in the right state of mind, and they feel genuinely appreciated in what they're doing. And they understand how, what they're doing is helping us.

James Mylett: I was in New York City a couple weeks back and had a chance to meet with the head of security for one of the most iconic buildings in the U.S. let alone in the city. And I was expecting to talk about technology, facial recognition, all this stuff. No, all he wanted to talk about was Geo and how Geo would fix things on a Sunday before anybody even knew they had a problem. He got an alert about it. He was in, he did it remotely. He came in and he just appreciated so much this frontline employees, personal commitment to making a difference for them.

James Mylett: In order for us to sustain that, we have to have a personal commitment to helping to clear a path for people like Geo to get their job done in a way that's meaningful for them so. I haven't forgotten what it was like so it's been a long time. But I've got a long list of stories I could tell that just you shake your head at some of the situations that frontline employees get put in some days. So I haven't forgotten that. I think the comment I made at the conferences we were leaving was relative to the airline industry and we're all flying back, don't forget what those folks are going through as they're trying to help us get home safely. And the interactions that some people are creating for them that makes their lives miserable. It doesn't take them to be kind to somebody so.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Okay. We have quite a bit more to get through here so, all right. So willingness to take risks.

James Mylett: Yeah. Don't bet the franchise, that's one lesson I learned from a CEO I worked for. And in one of the recent one that came up to me is try to go through two-way doors. So go take a risk, but don't take a risk in a way that's a one-way door where there's no way back. And I'm not a fan of burning the bridge behind me so that there's no path, but the path forward because the impact to the organization is huge. But part of what I've tried to do here in this role is to create more space for my people to take risks. We have a core value called data disrupt that talks a lot about this specific topic. So I'm trying to create experiences with my team to where they know that because of the experience, they know that they have an opportunity to go take those risks.

James Mylett: An example I point to is one of our leaders decided that we wanted to open up a bigger operation in the city of Nashville. And so, I looked at all the potential cities we could be going to and I'm like, "Why Nashville? It doesn't make any sense. We should go someplace else." So I wasn't a supporter at first. I gave them a homework assignment to go get me the data, trust in God everybody else brings me data. So I had them bring me the data and they proved the case out. I still wasn't bought in. And frankly I wasn't bought in, but I gave them the runway to go do it and they crushed it.

James Mylett: They doubled the business, they doubled it again and they were on this unbelievable trajectory of taking market share out there. And had I not been willing to take that move to create space for them, we never would've got the benefit. So I think it's for a leader it's getting more comfortable being uncomfortable and trusting people more and not building out an organization of helicopter parents to where people don't feel like there's an army that's hovering over them all the time to check on what they're doing so.

Sarah Nicastro: Which, I'm mean really is another element of more modern leadership philosophy. You don't have to have your hands in everything. You said you weren't really sold, but you let them do it anyway because they had conviction and you believed in them. I think we talked the first characteristic we talked about as we resilient. And I think to some degree, if you want to build resilience in a team, letting them know it's okay to fail helps them be resilient. If they have this fear of failure, and obviously these folks can fail. But I'm just saying your willingness to let people take chances lets them know that they can make missteps and course correct. And that fuels that sense of resilience instead of having this fear-based culture where then people don't want to try anything new, or if they try and it doesn't go well, they just want to quit. Because they don't understand that that's all part of the game.

James Mylett: Yeah. It's a storytelling happens after the failure that drives the belief system. What happened to that team that didn't do what we expected them to do? How did we as leaders capture that? Did we treat it as a learning opportunity to get better or was it punitive? Whatever we do is going to drive the belief system for the organization, and that's going to determine how people act after the fact so, yeah. Trust comes in two flavors, character and competency. If you're on my team, it's because I trust your character. The competency thing, it just depends on the assignment.

James Mylett: And we're going to continue to evolve skillsets, all of us continue overall our skillset so the competency continues to go up. But yeah, I do. I trust my team. Early in the year, we were struggling with what our sales forecast was going to be. And my sales leader was putting up a number that I was struggling. I wasn't sure we were going to get there. And I was like, "You sure you want to put that number out?" And she said, "I wouldn't be against this team." And it’s just a comment that stuck with me that I haven't forgotten, and I agree with her. I wouldn't bet against this team.

Sarah Nicastro: And how often do you have a leader are saying, you're saying are you sure? And she's saying yeah, no, we should go with this. Usually it's the other way around, they're trying to hedge bets or present a different case, so I think that's great. James, do you have a hard stop?

Sarah Nicastro: The next characteristic, and you mentioned this in your comments trust in God, but everyone else bring me the data, so analytical. But there's a balance here because you just said in that example, you're analytical and you wanted the data. But then when you aren't reconciled with that, you're still willing to bring these other characteristics into play. So trust in your team and the willingness to take risks. What role does being analytical play in all of this though?

James Mylett: I want to make sure that our team is focused on root cause analysis for problem solving. And so, like most organizations when you think about a problem, everybody wants to go to ideation, let's go solve and we spend not enough time defining what the problem is and then doing the root cause analysis and we've got brilliant people. Every organization I work with is popular, brilliant people and you get in a room and God help us if there's a whiteboard, next thing you know you've got all these great ideas up there and then there's a program that gets deployed. And so, my bias is to start at the problem or start with the customer and work backwards from that and put a solution in place that's supported with data. That'll really move the needle because you know that that's the root cause for the problem.

James Mylett: What I've experienced along the way is you get these group things, and next thing you know there's a hammer that gets developed and then leadership takes the organization on a scavenger hunt for nails. Here's a hammer, go find a nail. And our interactions with customers change because it's no longer about helping them solve problems, it's about hey, I've got this hammer and I need nails, do you have one? And it's not a healthy environment. It's tough for, no argument about that. It's a lot of fun doing ideation, the brainstorming, all that.

James Mylett: It takes hard work to really dig in and to get the root cause. And it takes courage to face into the data when it doesn't support what you thought the root cause was, and that happens a lot. And it happens to me a lot when you get into the data. Because I've got my mind made up that we should be moving in this direction but time out, let's go do the data. And the data comes back and it doesn't support. You know what? As the leader, what I wanted us to do, what do you do at that point? Do you rationalize the way the data or do you trust your team? And follow what the data is saying. So that's my bias. The challenge is you don't want to micromanage the data. You don't want to get paralyzed by the data, but it has to have role in the conversation.

Sarah Nicastro: And I mean, in the example you gave about Nashville, it doesn't have to be the be-all and end-all. It's part of the consideration. It's an important piece of the puzzle, but sometimes you might choose to take a risk against the data or sometimes you might choose to wait that differently in your decision than other times. I do like the point though, that you're not just talking about data for data sake, you're talking about this idea of root cause analysis and understanding what you really need to be investing time and energy in. And I think that's the best use and maybe underused fit for data in terms of we're not just talking about measuring output or measuring internal KPIs. We're talking about understanding the root cause of issues and opportunities and using that to guide a path forward.

James Mylett: Yeah. What's the problem you solve is probably one of the best questions you could have in your arsenal tech ask, is people to bring ideas forward. It's a simple question. What's the problem we're trying to solve? It comes back.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Simple question that doesn't get asked enough. So the next characteristic is empathy.

James Mylett: Yep. I believe there's a difference between empathy and sympathy, and it's a line that is a leader you have to be able to walk effectively. As we're dealing with it like we talked about the vaccine issue, as we were navigating through that internally, the government had issued this mandate that, if you want to continue to do business you had to be in compliance. And when you run the math on that, it's a very simple decision. When you look at the amount of business that any organization might be doing with the government against the loss, for some companies it could be crippling. Put them out of business. So from a math standpoint, it gets to be simple on that front. Look at the people impact of it, not as simple.

James Mylett: And for a lot of organization, when you look at the population of people that have been vaccinated, depending on the state you're in whether it's 30% on vaccinated or 40% on vaccinated, apply that to the population of the team you might be leading, that's a big number that you put at risk. So you get into this, but at the end of the day for big companies that are doing a lot of work with the government, the map made sense to go forward with decisions to comply with the mandate.

James Mylett: It doesn't change the fact that there are individuals that have been part of the family that have made a personal decision that we should respect and empathize with and keep that at the forefront of the way that you handle that situation as people decide to exit an organization. And not everybody gets that. You can get in a room, looking at spreadsheets and convince yourself that this is just very simple. Boom, it's done, move. But I think if you lose sight of the impact that the individual might not change your decision because you've got a business to run. But the way that you do that it will communicate to the organization who we are as a company.

James Mylett: I think when you put anything under stress, the characteristics of it come out and you get in these situations, characteristics of organizations rise to the top and become very, very visible. It's a moment of truth and we're fortunate enough to have a very clearly articulated set of core values. And it becomes a touchstone for us, as we start thinking about how to handle any situation, consistent with core values. So when we come out this thing, we're better for it, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

James Mylett: It tests the team, it made the team better. And we didn't lose ourselves along the way, both as an organization and individually as leaders. I've had conversations with leaders that have gotten to that point where I'm listening to what they're talking about and that's not the person that I know, it's not who they're. And it's a reflection point where they've lost themselves and they have to force them.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. All right. A couple more are ambitiousness. So you said there should be a healthy distance between where we are and where we aspire to be.

James Mylett: Yeah. So I'm fan of the Valvano speech, where I was, where I am and where I'm going that's what dynamic. We use the ocean planning process here which is its pretty elaborate process. It's got this thing called an X matrix and a bowler. But the simple version of it is what we do is we do gap closure analysis. So we look at what best in class performance is on any metric. And we look at where we are, where we were and how do I just get 30% better than where I am? I'm not going to get to there, but can I get 30% better than where I am? And if I did, what would that be worth? On any particular metric, whether it's recognition, safety performance, employee turnover, customer set.

James Mylett: How do I get 30% better to whatever the best in class is in the metric layout? What we try to do is set those aspirational targets to where we know we're stretching ourselves enough. And we use a simple color coding, where if I'm on the target that I said at screen, if I'm worse than I was last year, it's red. And if I'm better than I was last year, even if I'm not to the target it's yellow. And a successful scorecard doesn't have any red in it, it has a healthy mixture of yellow and green. That's a hard calibration for teams that they look at that and they want everything green. And the thing we've learned especially this past year is if everything's green, we haven't been aspirational enough.

James Mylett: If you get a dose of yellow and green, we got better at everything. So here's where I was, here's where I am, everything has moved forward, that's a successful year because we continue to evolve the organization in the right direction. But it is, it makes for fun conversations. My belief and my experience has been that most of the leaders that I've worked with are exponentially better than what they give themselves credit for. Most of the teams that I've been involved with are exponentially better than what they give themselves credit for. And when you take the time to reflect back on what you've already done as a team, or as an individual, it's surprising when you think of inventory, progress.

Sarah Nicastro: I think too, there's people for whom this drive, this aspirational drive is just more natural than others. Doesn't mean people that aren't as hungry for it, can't make that progress and be aspirational. But I think it's just, it's more innate in some folks. But I do think there's this element of connection between some of the leadership traits we're talking about today and aspiration because in a more traditional leadership model, again, it celebrates the intelligence, the capabilities, the results of the people at the very top without a lot of credit to those on the teams and on the front line.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think the more that we evolve into this more modern management mentality where we're celebrating the contributions of the team, and we're considering the role of the frontline and we're being more empathetic, I think it creates more ambition. Because to your point, people are connected to that purpose, they're connected to the individual role they play in a big picture of a company that within the culture cares about everyone. And I think that causes people to be more aspirational instead of just more complacent, or more disconnected or disassociated, those values are something you can use to connect people. Like you said earlier, get the buy-in and that creates more aspiration within the team.

James Mylett: Yeah. It's cultural. When I think about culture for me I go back to the Oz Principle stuff and it's all about creating experiences that shift the belief system that get people to act in a different way tomorrow than they're acting today, that delivers the result that we're looking for. It's very simple model. So as the leader, what are the experiences that I'm creating and are they consistent with the belief system that the organization will need to hold in order for us to move in the direction we want to move? On any topic, whether it's diversity and inclusion, customer satisfaction, retention, hyper growth, all those key things that we talk about the model applies for all those. I think being purposeful about the experiences makes a big difference for us.

James Mylett: I get a report out every month, the end of every month on our net satisfaction scores for the whole organization. And my exec assistant goes through and teases out all the nines and tens that we've got, and we've got a recognition portal here that we use. And once a month I see everybody that got a nine and a 10 and I recognize everybody on the team. If nothing else, just to let them know that I see what they're doing, and I appreciate it. And again, back when I was a frontline technician if I was getting a note from the president of the division or senior vice president, it made a difference. And so, if even it's not me if it's just a title, it makes a difference to people. I think we underestimate that sometimes when we get to these positions, just the impact that we have on lifting people up.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Last question on the traits and then just a couple things to wrap up. So authenticity is the last trait that I have on the list. And what is it that you think makes a leader authentic? You know that feeling you get when you're engaging with someone where they either are, or they aren't. And I think it's something people get a sense for so quickly, and that doesn't mean it can't change, but it's just something that you get a very initial impression from someone when you engage with them that they're either very authentic or, eh. What do you think that is?

James Mylett: I think agenda makes a difference. My agenda is to help teams win and to help people who want to get better, get better. That's simple as that. I think the light went on for me back in 2004 I was in New Orleans leading a bit business and got challenged by the mayor to get involved in the community, so I went and signed up with the school district there to do some stuff. And I got invited to do a leadership conference at Frederick Douglass High School in the inner-city. And one of the things they wanted me to do was to bring my quote that represented who I was. And so, the reflex was be true to yourself. What I didn't know was who that was attributed to so I looked it up in crazy moment, Frederick Douglas so.

Sarah Nicastro: What are the chances?

James Mylett: Serendipity moment for me. And the more I kind of reflected on that, I think that's been my guidepost along the way, and probably even more so since that light went on for me, and I think that sets the stage for the authenticity piece of it. I think the imposter syndrome piece that I talked about earlier. And as I work with some of the resource group, they talk about code switching and that whole piece. I think there's some of those things that you have to navigate through on that path. But I think at its core, it's being comfortable enough with the eye, with who you are, to where you can bring the best version of yourself into any situation.

James Mylett: The key is, are you a part of an organization that is willing to create an environment to where you can do that? And I think as we all talk about the war for talent, as people get experiences with organizations or see game film on organizations that are doing that, that allow them to be their best version of themselves there, and to be their genuine self there, the tolerance level for the environment that they might be in that's not that goes way down. And it's just like I always say that none of us realized how miserable yellow cab ride was until Uber came along, we just kind of went along, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Dealt with it.

James Mylett: Then all of a sudden it changed. Well, I think is organizations evolve. And we're more purposeful about creating these environments and people see it, tolerance level changes. I think progressive organizations, it's going to be a competitive advantage.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. All right. So we've talked through these trades, you talked a little bit about you personally have evolved your belief and your methodologies, and the way you lead. Are there any practices, resources that you would give in terms of how you do that? How do you continue personally to evolve and grow and educate yourself and change as a person and a leader versus just sitting still?

James Mylett: I do a lot of mentoring. That's probably the thing that's top of mind. And I tell the folks I work with that I get more out of it than I think they do. Because I get insight into what's driving them, what's motivating them, what's demotivating them. What is it that we're doing that's making a difference that's resonating? Where are we missing the mark? Where do we think we're moving the needle and we're really not? What's important? And all of those things, that whole inventory that I just rattled off, what I'm experiencing today is different than what I would've experienced 20 years ago or 10 years. I think as a leader, getting that insight, going close to where the front line is puts you in a better position to make decisions about where you go forward. 

Sarah Nicastro: No, I think I shouldn't be surprised by that answer because it's just very representative of you as a person, meaning you're not just picking up a book and all of a sudden it's changing you. Not that I'm saying you haven't read good books, I'm sure you have. But the real change, the real perspective for you is coming from that engagement and those conversations and being hands on and being personally invested. And I think that's actually really cool.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Two final questions. One is, so what advice would you give a peer who has committed to improving and evolving their own leadership style?

James Mylett: I think for me take taking inventory of where you've been and where you want to get to is a good starting point. When we talk about leadership style, it's having clarity around what you want that to be, and what you want it to represent. Excuse me. Otherwise, it's difficult to understand whether or not you're making progress. I think when we talk about collaboration for example, it's something that's top of mind for all of us as we think about expanding out into the industry and creating new relationships. What are the specific skillsets that I can be developing to be more effective on that front would be part of it.

Sarah Nicastro: Last question is what advice would you give a brand new leader who's just starting out? So looking back on your own journey, what words of wisdom would you share?

James Mylett: I think if I had it to do over again, so let me come at it from that perspective. When I look at the investments I made in my personal development to become the best technician I could be, it's nonstop. I was reading all the time, I was getting on the right assignments, all that stuff. And that opened the door for me to move into sales and then into management. My early stages of management, I didn't make that same investment in me. And I didn't recognize that there was a whole new set of skills that I needed to go develop.

James Mylett: There were attributes that I had built out in the prior roles that put me in a position where I was ready for the first leadership role, but there was a whole different set of skill sets that needed to be built out for this new role that early on I didn't recognize that. So the advice I would give people is to recognize that you've just promoted yourself into a new position, a new journey for yourself personally. Get the inventory of the skillsets that are going to be required in order for you to excel at this new position, and then go put yourself on a learning path to get those acquired built out.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think that's good advice. It echoes the point you made earlier when we were talking about having hard conversations and the culture of wanting to hold each other accountable, and things like that. And you said, "We have to understand as a company, have we invested in the skills for our leaders to do this?" And so, it's a very two-pronged thing. I think it's great when someone has the personal recognition and takes the initiative to continue their own journey of self-improvement.

Sarah Nicastro: But on the other end companies have a responsibility to invest in the skills of their leaders as well. And I think sometimes what happens is companies promote to a certain level and then that just stops. And there's a statistic I read not too, too long ago. I think it's like 70% of companies don't invest in leadership training and development because it's just assumed that by the time someone gets to a point of being a leader, they know it all or something. I don't know. But the idea that that being proactive as an organization as well of the continual learning is equally important so I think that - 

James Mylett:... individual contributor positions. There's so many certifications that people have to have to work on certain systems and all that type of stuff. But then we promote people to a manager and we don't think that there needs to be same level of certification, so we just assume. And so, for an individual, one of the things to recognize is your talent is part of what got you to the position you're in. Your success going forward is going to be on whether or not you build out the talent to become these overarching skillsets that you have, but the talent will only take you so far. The place where I see leaders derail most frequently is when they get to a position where they're managing other managers because, and let's take sales for example.

James Mylett: Let's say I'm a top sales person, hit my quota, blow it out of the water every year. Next thing you know, somebody tasks me on a shoulder, you should be a sales manager. Great, got a big title, just got promoted. And I don't invest in being a good sales manager. What I'm doing is I'm helping everybody on my team close deals because I'm unbelievable at it. Next thing you know, the performance of the team goes through the roof because the closer is in there helping to bring in these jobs.

James Mylett: I get tapped on the shoulder again. You're a great manager, now let's have you manage all the sales managers. I'm done because I never built the skill sets that I'm going to need to manage other managers as I go forward. And it's the highest point of derailing in careers is that manager of manager layer and root on that is we don't spend enough time building out the skill sets along the way. And so again, another piece of advice going back, if I could do it over again, is at each one of those turns in my own personal leadership pipeline is calling a timeout, really doing the inventory of okay, now I'm managing other managers. Now I'm managing an enterprise. What am I going to need to go here?

James Mylett: I was managing a region 25 branches at one point and it was a couple 100 million. I did the market analysis and if we got the 10% market share, we would've been a billion dollar business. So I called my coach to come and spend some time with me and he wanted to know what's the topic? I said, "Well, I got a $300 million business, I want to take it to a billion? I think I can get there. I have no idea how to manage a billion dollar business." I don't know what that looks like. And I don't want to be the person who builds something that they can't run. Because I didn't grow as fast as the business grew. At that point, the lights had gone on for me to where I was at least I had to confidence level to where I could take it from X to Y by when, but I had the awareness that, that when job is different than the X job. And so, I need to get the work on building out version 8.0 of me.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I love that. I think just in summary, there's a couple points that I just I want to touch back on. And the first is, you said early on, the pace of change today is incredibly rapid. And so, if leaders aren't evolving you're just, you're making yourself irrelevant. It's really not an option at this point. You need to be investing in yourself and expanding horizons and looking for different sources of inspiration and educating yourself. And like you said, mentoring has been a great source of understanding what's needed today, or do you have your own mentors or a coach or whatever those tools are, just the understanding that it's necessary.

Sarah Nicastro: I think the second thing is keeping the eye on not just the short term but the long term. All too often, I think leaders that have that recognition have great intentions, but then they're so overcome by the day to day demands of the business that they're not strict enough about taking the time to invest in themselves, to make themselves better in the longer term. I think you also mentioned that long term view being important. I think that applies not only to the business, but to the individual in this sense of, you have to figure out a way to create the time, and effort, and space to work on yourself. So that to your point, when you take the business from here to here, you're ready to continue making an impact.

James Mylett: Larry Levin wrote a book called Top Teaming. And in it he talks about how leaders have to find the right balance between the now the new and the next. And they always have working on that. But the thing that's changed is change speed. To be sure just a couple of quick stats with you so. When you think about cars, it took 62 years for cars to get to 50 million users. It took credit cards 28 years to get to 50 million, debit cards 12 years, PayPal five years, and then Pokemon GO got to 50 million users in 19 days.

Sarah Nicastro: Wow.

James Mylett: Think about that change. And when you're working with team members who grew up in a world of Pokemon GO that went in 50 million in 19 days, it's a very different perspective about how fast things should move than folks that grew up when we were talking about whether or not ATMs were safe or debit card or virtual bank. Think about all that change in just how fast it's moving today. It's dramatically different. And so, we have to adjust our leadership style. We have to adjust the environments that we're creating, otherwise we're not going to attract and retain the talent that's going to be needed to win in these new markets.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. I love it. James, thank you so much. You've been very generous with your time. I appreciate it. I'm so happy to have you on and have you share some of your story with us, so thank you very much for being here.

James Mylett: I appreciate the invite. Always a pleasure.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. You can learn more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening. 

Most Recent

February 21, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

If You’re Striving for Digital Transformation Perfection, You’re Doing it Wrong

February 21, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

If You’re Striving for Digital Transformation Perfection, You’re Doing it Wrong


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I read a Harvard Business Review article last week written by Harmit Singh, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Levi Strauss & Co., sharing four lessons from the company’s digital transformation. It’s an excellent article, ripe with self-awareness and nuggets of hard-earned wisdom any business leader can benefit from. What stood out to me, though, was the point Singh made around perfection – to not let “perfection be the enemy of good.” 

For the retailer, the focus on perfection is innate and Singh shares that overcoming the instinct to apply that same principle to the company’s digital transformation was one of its biggest challenges. We’ve talked before about how digital “transformation” is really more of a journey, and if you liken the digital journey to any journey of self-improvement the way in which striving for perfection can be detrimental becomes clear. IDC expects global spending on digital transformation to reach $6.8 trillion by next year, and for those investments to make their intended impact, companies are well-served to recognize the need to release visions of perfection. 

In his article, Singh shares how the 168-year legacy of Levi means that the company was going into this journey with a lot of deeply rooted beliefs, practices, processes, and habits. This is the case for so many organizations who start out thinking that the digital journey means layering on more modern, sophisticated technology only to find that it is far more a journey of reshaping not only the company’s identity but its culture, mindsets, structure, and processes. This, my friends, is why we began using the term digital transformation over ten years ago and are still discussing it today – it is far more complex in practice than any headline can properly convey. 

Singh shares his top four lessons learned, which again are well worth reading. What I want to share, though, are my thoughts on the five areas where visions of perfection prohibit attainable progress with digital transformation.

#1:  Legacy Lingers

Any company who has embarked on their digital journey can tell you that the hardest parts have far more to do with people than they do with technology. And so much of that is related to legacy thinking, beliefs, feelings, and patterns. And it’s important to recognize that is okay – it is to be expected. We can’t charge ahead into a new way of work and simply expect to snap our fingers and erase the legacy that has made the company what it is; nor should we want to. Rather, we need to acknowledge up front that overcoming legacy thinking and behaviors that don’t fit into the digital journey will be a challenge and we need to plan accordingly. Focus on progress rather than perfection. Be respectful of the ways in which change can be hard for your teams and put ample effort into change management to help their transition into the new company ethos be smoother. 

#2: Agility Muscles Must be Built

Singh talks about how the concept of becoming more agile was particularly challenging for Levi, as it is for many others. But it is absolutely imperative as the pace of change is never going back to a former speed. Technology today simply doesn’t fit into anything but an iterative process, and companies who are unfamiliar with the approach can really struggle to make progress because of this fact. And I’m not only talking about agile as a methodology, but also as a mindset. Before we can flex our agile muscles, though, we must build them over some time. A big part of this that Singh discusses in his article is normalizing failure. The agile mindset – and process – is one of continual improvement, in which trial and error is normal. This is often at odds, though, with the legacy culture of the company – and leadership needs to understand the importance of empowering employees to work differently without fear. 

#3: Look Ahead, Not Beside

Yes, it is important to pay attention to what your competition is doing when it comes to all aspects of differentiation, including digital. However, your digital journey can veer far off course by measuring your progress against someone else’s journey rather than your own improvement. Singh talks about how it can be difficult not to panic when you feel “behind” the competition – but this sort of sideways attention only detracts from the forward progress you must make to keep pace. There will be a time to study competitors but being distracted by their journeys when it comes to what is a very company-specific transformation is a waste of effort and energy. 

#4: Data Mastery Takes Effort

One of the key objectives of digital transformation is to create and leverage far more data than you’ve ever had before. This is powerful, but it can also be overwhelming – and sometimes company let this overwhelm paralyze them from making forward progress. You don’t have to perfect data use from the start, in fact I’d argue it is impossible – you will always be finding new ways to use data to glean insights that help the business and your customers. But you should know, from the start, that becoming adept at converting data to intelligence takes an investment and must be a part of your digital transformation strategy. Singh shares that, “To realize the full potential of the data, employees must embrace new tools and develop data savviness. We don’t expect that to happen overnight, given employees are comfortable using systems that have worked for them for years. We realize with training and a clear picture of how the systems simplify and supercharge their work flows we’re creating an innovative and responsive culture around data savviness.”

#5: Stay Open to the Journey

Part of a more agile mindset is realizing that while you may start your digital transformation journey with an “end goal” in mind, the reality is that the end goal is always evolving. For people, like me, who really relish the satisfaction of crossing a project off the list, this can be a tough pill to swallow. However, the companies who have the most successful digital transformation stories have recognized that being too fixed on your initial vision of success can prohibit you from seeing and incorporating valuable learnings along the way. As Singh says, “Success doesn’t always look like what you initially thought. I’ve seen this throughout my life both professionally and personally, and this is especially true in business. The place we end up is different from what we set out to be, and often, the journey becomes even more valuable than the actual outcome.”

Most Recent

February 16, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

How Shannon Tymosko is Taking the Skilled Trades by Storm

February 16, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

How Shannon Tymosko is Taking the Skilled Trades by Storm


Sarah sits down with the guest start of our 150th episode, Shannon Tymosko, for a discussion around why and how Shannon decided to pivot at age 29 into a career in the skilled trades as an electrician. Shannon shares her story, discusses what makes the trades appealing but what prohibits greater diversity, and points to what must change to increase interest in trade careers.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. I'm super excited to be celebrating our 150th episode today by welcoming a special guest, Shannon Tymosko. We're going to talk today about how Shannon has taken the skilled trades by storm, as she made a big pivot in her career at age 29. So Shannon, welcome to Future of Field Service podcast.

Shannon Tymosko: Thank you so much for having me. I'm very blessed to always share my story and hope to inspire or change a few minds.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, I'm so glad you're here. I was inspired by your story myself, and I'm excited to share it with our audience.

Shannon Tymosko: Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, your official title is Apprentice Electrician, right?

Shannon Tymosko: Yep. That's my official work title. Yep.

Sarah Nicastro: And what is your chapter?

Shannon Tymosko: IBEW Local 105 Hamilton.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. And you are also, as we were just chatting about before we started, you've become quite an advocate for the skilled trades and have done a ton of interviews and public speaking and are doing a lot to really educate and advocate for the opportunities that exist for others, which is really cool.

Shannon Tymosko: I try my best. Originally I went to school for child and youth work and then I found those passion for the skilled trades and somehow I've been able to take those two passions, overlap them and create this advocate position. I don't know if it's a real ... is it a position? But it's just nice to be able to inspire some people and hopefully people can live through my experiences and I can help them start their own journey.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Well, we talk quite a bit on this podcast about how the organizations in the various industries that we reach are looking for ways to attract different people to the industry. And so I think that the advocate position is important because that's what starts to spread awareness of what some of the opportunities are. It starts to break down the maybe some of the misperceptions that exist, those sorts of things. So I think it's a really important role.

Shannon Tymosko: 100%. If you can see it, you can be it. That's what I keep saying. Right? How often do we see celebrities more than we see anything else as children? We see Disney princesses, but do we see skilled trades workers? Do we see ladies as skilled trades workers? And so how do we believe we can do something that unless we even know it exists?

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. All right. So let's start with 2017, you are 29 and all of a sudden you decided ... well, maybe not all of a sudden, but you decided you were ready for a change. So tell us a little bit about your journey up to that point. So what were you doing before this big change?

Shannon Tymosko: Well, I'm 33 years of age. So this is not my first, second. I think it's more my fourth career at this point. I did do the typical go to school route. And originally I picked accounting first. I didn't like accounting. I spent a year exploring something, and then I transferred to child youth work, which I found to love. And this is where I found my passion for people, my passion for mental health, change, growth, development, these kinds of things. And then I did work in the field for a while as a child youth worker, I worked at a shelter for homeless youth, one of my favorite jobs. It's just not one of those jobs that I like to say allow you to thrive. You just survive. Especially being a single person on a single income in the GTA, or greater Toronto area, I should say.

Shannon Tymosko: And so I was really struggling, slowly going into debt. And so I had to maintain my college job, not one that I picked. It was just default. I worked at a financial institution. I worked there throughout my entire 20s, nine years. And by the end of it, I only worked ... I only made $20 an hour, about a $40,000 salary. It gets super hard to survive.

Shannon Tymosko: And so I'm almost 30 years of age. I realize I have still 30 years of employment in front of me, which is ... and I realized you spend more time at work than you do at home. It's so important to find something that you love. And so I started this new journey. I started looking at ... you just start online, you Google jobs, you Google jobs that maybe fit your job skill that you already have.

Shannon Tymosko: And nothing was standing out. Until my friend, Matthew, he purchased a home. He bought this house. Neither of us have any trade experience, we're both really green is what they call us, know nothing. And the second day he has the keys to this house he wanted to rip out his kitchen, and I thought he was nuts, but we did. We started with the kitchen and moved to two bathrooms, basement, and I realized in that experience, because I tried something new, I really enjoyed this. And I think that's the biggest learning experience I got there is don't be afraid to try new things.

Shannon Tymosko: And even myself with that lesson, fast forward a couple years, and I always talk about, people, try things. Don't be afraid. And so this, the same friend, Matthew, we love to canoe. So we always go down the river in a canoe. For a year, he bought this new kayak. He tried to convince me to be kayak. And I thought I wouldn't like it, because I love the canoe. Why would I possibly want something different?

Shannon Tymosko: Finally, I get into the kayak and now I love the kayak more than I love the canoe. And again, so even myself, somebody who knows, by trying something, it can lead to so much. We often limit ourselves because of beliefs about ourselves. And so get out and explore the world and try things, because you never know, it could lead you to a passion you never knew about.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So my husband and I, we just had our kitchen remodeled last year. And when we were meeting with the contractor, my husband who is in marketing for his profession was like, "Well, I want to do all the electrical." I'm like, "What?" But he wanted to do it. He was really interested in trying to do it. And it was also a way for us to save some money, and so he did it all himself. I mean, he's very detail oriented. So I mean, he did a lot of research. He did a lot of homework. He actually met with a couple electricians to go over his plans so that he didn't mess something up or burn the house down. And you know, it was a big experience for him because he actually started thinking, "Maybe I would enjoy doing something different."

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, he hasn't yet, but it is something where, when you go through that experience doing something that isn't your daily norm and that seed gets planted of, oh, this is really fun. I really like remodeling this house. You took that and ran with it. And you're living proof that anyone could. You're also living proof for organizations that someone can pivot, someone can have aptitudes, interests, the right personality fit to make a change and be successful in a completely different field. So you're doing these home renovations and you're really liking it. And that is what ignited your interest in becoming an electrician. So what happened next?

Shannon Tymosko: So I applied to some free apprenticeship programs. Having that child youth work skill set, I knew there was programs I'm sure out there. So I researched them programs for women to get into the skilled trades and I applied, very grateful to get in. And so it started my journey to actually getting something on my resume so I can hopefully get an actual job. And so this program was very nice to help set women up for success.

Shannon Tymosko: And so then, yeah, in that program I met a couple of gentlemen that were actually IBEW head office positions. So they did the training, they were the president, and they facilitated some of our training for this program, working at heights, lockout- tagout. And so I was grateful because I got the opportunity for them to see my face, to make that impression because I think it's so important. People are looking for good talent. I think we'll talk about it in a little bit, but I think we need to look for more than just talent. I think we need to look for those other characteristics.

Shannon Tymosko: So when I finished this program and I reached out to them, I was very grateful that they saw my drive, my heart, my eagerness, my want to learn and they were willing to take me on. So the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers here in Hamilton, it is a North American wide union, but Hamilton here took me on and so I started my electrical journey. And yeah, I was very blessed to be put on a construction site that was for a hotel. So you can imagine that it was a large hotel. So it went for quite some time, sometimes your projects aren't so long. So I got almost two years out of this project, and started my base of my electrical skills.

Sarah Nicastro: So what do you love most about being an electrician?

Shannon Tymosko: Oh, I don't know if I can say love most because I love so many things about my job. The financial freedom. I talk a lot about the thriving and not just surviving. The financial freedom, and I think when we're little, I don't know about you, but we see more Disney princesses getting married. So I'm thinking in my head I'm going to be married, certainly before I'm 33. Part of that marriage comes another income. And so these are things that you maybe think about. You don't think about, they just, it's just there. Right? And so now I'm 33, I'm still living on a single income and so this financial freedom that I get with working as an electrical apprentice, I make more as an electrical apprentice than I did in any of my previous jobs.

Shannon Tymosko: And I have the benefits, I have pension and on a much deeper level than just a physical or a financial benefit. What I really love about the skilled trades is I think you kind of talked about it, touched on it a little bit with your husbands taking on the electrical project at home. I talk a lot about mental health and how confidence, how is confidence built? Confidence is built by competence. It's by trying something, failing a few times and then being successful. So what did you talk about? You said there was maybe some self-doubt, what did he do? Researched. He figured it out. Maybe there was some trial and error, but I bet he felt great when he turned that light switch on and everything went on, and that is a little bit of confidence.

Shannon Tymosko: And every day I go to work and I look at something, I might doubt myself a little, they're doubting me a little and I'm successful, that feeling that I built that, I built that, I contributed to me, to society, to my physical and mental health is so rewarding. And so this is one of the most rewarding things I can get, along with this independence at home to try new things. So your husband tried the electrical, might not be what he's doing on a daily basis. For me, I've taken on car repairs. I started with oil changes. I've moved on to breaks, spark plugs, saving myself money and also building myself new skills. And so there's just too many things for me to pick one. Why love the skilled trades and electrical and how much it can benefit someone.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So on the flip side, what would you say is the hardest part of the new career?

Shannon Tymosko: It's funny. I think it's that, again, we've touched on that self-doubt. It's every day you need to remind yourself, you can do this. Remember how far you've come already. And so I often sit here, even two years in this journey and I sit here a little bit in awe that you're in construction. You walk on a construction site every day and one of perhaps 100 people. And I have to remind my myself when I'm having those moments of self-doubt, because the job is ... if you're a hard worker and you're eager, the job is not necessarily hard. There might be hard moments of lifting things, but the job itself is not hard. Most people are very capable if you teach them. And so it's that self-doubt, which every day you have to fight a little.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now, do you think you have more self-doubt than a male Apprentice Electrician, because you know that all eyes are on you?

Shannon Tymosko: I don't know if it's ... I think women are a little bit maybe ... sometimes I am. I'm just going to say I'm in my head more than most of the men. I like to say, I don't like to put us into ... but I'm definitely in my head. And then there is that pressure of you're a woman. Some of them don't think you belong there. They don't say it to you, but I know. And so there most certainly is this pressure to perform.

Shannon Tymosko: I say this as well. It's not only to perform for myself to know that I'm doing a good days work, but with so few women in the skilled trades, I am a representation of every woman on another construction site who's going to follow me, because men are judging me and they're judging women as a whole at the same time. And that is a different ... that's not the same pressure for my fellow male apprenticeship.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. So I want to read something that I read from an article you were interviewed for, and this is about being a woman in the industry. And so it says, "Actions often speak louder than words. And being a woman in the skilled trades today means I am still a minority, underestimated and a trailblazer for other women to follow. It means I must be strong, self-aware and realistic that I'm still in a man's world. I must be patient and not push change, but be an ambassador and advocate for change. I must be persistent, work hard and show the young women of tomorrow that they too can do whatever they desire."

Sarah Nicastro: "If you see it, then it's easier to believe you can be it. Although my experience is limited to only a short few years, I can say it can be lonely at times being the only woman on a construction site. It's also rewarding knowing you helped build that and had the courage to walk back into work every day where so many other others wouldn't." And so, I mean, first of all, this speaks volumes of your character and fortitude, because it does take a lot of courage. Everyone, you're probably right in saying every human being has some variation of their own self-doubt, but the pressure you're under is magnified because of the fact that there's these longstanding perceptions and these societal norms and this, that, and the other thing.

Shannon Tymosko: And the pressure is not just for ... I think the pressure's for any minority. Oh yeah. Let's be honest, in construction it's not very diverse. So whether you're the woman or you're the person who looks different in any way, there's a different pressure for that person.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I think, like you said in this statement, some isolation. Which is hard if ... I mean, you said it's the brotherhood, right. Is IBEW. So that in a name even is ... and so if there's this brotherhood and you're the odd man or woman out, because you're different in some way, it adds an extra layer of challenge of coming to work every day and doing what you need to do and feeling fulfilled. So I commend you.

Sarah Nicastro: What I wanted to ask is, if you think big picks those feelings that you have knowing that you're the minority, knowing that you're in a man's world, feeling that sense of isolation sometimes, how do we move past that? So for a variety of skilled trades that understand they need to hire with more diversity, women and all different types, that's going to be a big challenge. Because some people wouldn't want to take on what you take on every time you walk into a job site. So what do you think in your opinion, from a culture perspective, what are some of the things that need to change so that it isn't quite so daunting for a woman or for any minority to be a part of the brotherhood?

Shannon Tymosko: I think it's just going to take time. I think it's just going to take more women or more equality, everybody, a little bit of diversity. And it's interesting, because over my experience, I've met some incredible women and they've taught me some incredible things. And one of them said to me, she said, "Shannon, I've been in industry with predominantly men my entire life. And whenever they have a meeting, whether I'm in that meeting or not, they call me in," and for whatever reason, just because she changes the energy of the room. And yet you think about that. And I had this, at work one day there was a moment that clarified and validated this. I was working I was up on a ladder installing a light. There's hallways, you can't quite see what's in front of you.

Shannon Tymosko: And I heard someone comment, the supervisor that was on site, he was mad. He was yellow. And I was just grateful I wasn't on the other end. But he turned the corner, saw me, he didn't stop. He was still saying what he needed to say, but his volume dropped in half. What's different than me? And so I think just with more of us, it changes the energy. And how do you do that is the next question. How do you get more women interested into the skill trades? And I think we all know the answer, because we say it all the time. Education is power. Education is free. Education gives people the ability to make choices.

Shannon Tymosko: And so the problem I think with the skilled trades is we don't educate soon enough. And so if the option isn't presented to you before you're maybe 8, 10 years of age, do you ever consider it? Because there's so much, I don't want to say brainwashing, conditioning. There's so much conditioning. We see us as women, we see princesses. The boys see trucks and construction workers. Well, where's our equal balance of women construction workers to say that you can do that too?

Shannon Tymosko: Maybe it needs to be a princess construction worker who goes around the castle and fixes things. I don't know, but we need to start reaching young people at a younger level so that they ... and that goes for men too, to get them interested in the skilled trades so that they know that this is an option. Because people ask me often ask me, why did I pick electrical? And I feel my answer speaks volumes, because I was undereducated. I picked electrical because that's what I saw.

Shannon Tymosko: Growing up, I saw plumbing, electrical, roofers, carpenters. This is very basic. But if I had some education, I would've probably picked in hindsight, something that was a little bit less flooded, something elevator maintenance, a lot of electrical base in that, but it's not as flooded of a trade, and that's because of education. And so young and old, doesn't matter how old, we need to start introducing the idea to younger people so that it can be something they consider.

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, meanwhile, those elevator companies are within our audience, and they're looking for people to take those jobs. I mean, if you ever decide you want to go down that path, you probably still have plenty of opportunity, but you're right. There's gender norms that are still being reinforced, and that is prohibiting, like you said, we see more and actresses than female skilled trade workers. We see becoming a movie star as a more realistic career path than becoming an electrician, as a female. And so they just aren't roles that are shown in the same light. And I think part of that is this perception of ... like my parents didn't go to college, so it was always pushed to me that I had to, because that was the gold standard.

Sarah Nicastro: I don't necessarily think that's the case any anymore. And we need to do a better job of sharing more paths and more choices, and not just even in the education system, defaulting to everyone, there is no right or singular ... it's not a conveyor belt, right? Let's just move them all along and they'll go off and do these five, do want to be a doctor? Whatever. Because there are too many individuals for it to be that standardized in terms of the options.

Shannon Tymosko: And don't get me wrong, actress is a very glamorous position. Would you not to get pretty and dressed up in a dress on a regular basis? Absolutely. But let's be honest, is it a realistic one for most people? And the funny thing is, you know what? I've had my best chance. I've never been asked to be in a magazine in my life until I became a skilled trade worker.

Sarah Nicastro: And now you're famous. I mean, who knew that was the path?

Shannon Tymosko: There's so many different avenues you can go down. And I think one of the biggest things we need to tackle is misperception as well. I think let's take a look and compare my child youth work job with my electrical job. And a lot of people don't go the skilled trades route because of things it's too dirty.

Shannon Tymosko: As a child youth worker, I wiped bums, not my own kids bums, stranger's bums. Noisy? Sure. But I get earplugs as electrical worker. As a child youth worker, I do not get to say, "Child, please stop screaming," as I put in my ear plugs. And then the not strong enough thing. I was lifting kids out of wheelchairs to place them in whichever position they might be. Why can't I do that as a skilled trades worker? And so if it's perception, if you've ever thought maybe I could be a caretaker and take care of somebody, it's quite the possibility that you have the same skillset to be a skilled trade worker.

Sarah Nicastro: I guess. And to your point, the earning potential is far higher. I mean, yeah. It's a really good point. And you mentioned-

Shannon Tymosko: On a plus side, I don't have to get dressed up every day, every work. I know that the glamorous thing sounds nice, but now I don't have to do that at all. And so I get an extra 30 minutes of sleep every day.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. That's a plus. Okay. I wanted to share this point that you made, and you were talking about your nephew. And you were saying that even though you have made this career transition and you are working in construction as an electrician, he still defaults to asking the men around him, "Can you fix this?" Or so just going back to this idea that, for us to really make a change, I think in increasing diversity in the trades and in any traditionally male dominated career we really have to think about the representation at a very, very young age.

Shannon Tymosko: And we might just have to flood the network ... not flood the network, but they're flooded with other things of boys in construction positions. One is not enough, even in a real situation. One is not enough. It needs to be maybe flooded and there needs to be an excess amount of women representation in the skilled trades for people to start to get that change.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I've done a series on the platform before called Women in Field Service. And we would feature women in different roles across the industries that we cover. And one time I was talking to someone, and they gave me what they felt was constructive criticism, that how do you expect things to be equal if you keep pointing it out as women in?

Sarah Nicastro: And I thought a lot about it because I always try to be cognizant of what messages I'm sending and, or reinforcing. And I try to always be willing to learn. But where I landed is I would love to get to a point where it doesn't have to be pointed out, but we're not there yet. And to your point, we won't get there by being quiet about it. I think we have to keep talking about it and talking about the importance of it until it no longer needs that label because the work has been done so that it isn't just women in field service, it's just person and field service, but we're a long ways away from that being the norm.

Shannon Tymosko: It's interesting you say that, because as a person who's active on social media, I often get lots of comments, and sometimes some of the words ... I think the word that people have used is, why is this such a novelty, women being in the skilled trades? And I want to go to my phone right now and Google the definition of novelty, because I don't remember it 100%, but I think it landed on until it's a norm, until it's a norm and you see it on a regular basis, it is a novelty. And so we have to again, make it so normal that people don't look into the crowd and see the difference.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, no, I think it's really important. And I think the work you're doing in telling your story and sharing your story is really helpful, especially because you pivoted, and hopefully people will come up and girls will choose this as their career from the get go and share their story as well.

Sarah Nicastro: So what else do you think ... is there any other tricks to helping the next generation see the potential that exists in the skilled trades? So we talked a lot about representation and how important that is. Is there anything else we need to be thinking out in terms of planning more seeds among kids, regardless of boy, girl, any gender and background, but just understanding that this is a viable career path and something that they could consider?

Shannon Tymosko: 100%. I talked on it earlier about actually trying something. We can put the representation there all we want, but unless we present the opportunity to try, they'll never know if they like it. So we need to, I think definitely reintroduce if your school has removed those programs of skilled trades, things like basic skills, like budgeting, these kinds of things are so important and they're not taught at the basic level. So if there was a class where you ... not say forced, you're forced to take math. So yes, if you were forced to take a construction class where you learned the basics for home care, I don't see anything wrong with that.

Shannon Tymosko: And I talked about it earlier today, how do we make change? And I don't know about you, but over my lifetime the common presence that I got as a girl were things pajamas, lotion, perfume. Thank you. And it slowly collects because it slowly collects and then it expires, what do boys get? Boys get hammers and maybe they'll get fun little tool sets. They probably don't think they're all that interesting at 10, but they turn 17. And they're like, "Oh man, I just got a car. And that tool set I got when I was 10," and they can revisit their present.

Shannon Tymosko: My lotion has far expired at this point. So get some tools into the hands of young people. If you have a project at home, drag your kids out to experience it, like you're changing your tires over. In Canada, we're doing the summer winter thing on a regular basis [crosstalk 00:32:20] home, get your kids involved, get their hands on the tool. You don't know if they'll it until they've tried it, and it's so important to give them that opportunity to try.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a really good point. Okay. So let's think as if you are giving advice to ... doesn't need to be construction, any company that is in an industry that has traditionally been seen as male dominated, or has traditionally been male dominated that is looking to attract a younger, more diverse pool of candidates. What are some of the things that they need to be thinking about in terms of having a message that would resonate with someone you at 29 before you made this transition?

Shannon Tymosko: It's interesting, because I feel I'm a little biased on this because I've just recently gone through some of the hiring process. I normally leave it out of my journey because it just adds to it, but I did a little bit of machining in the midst of all of this. So I've applied for two different trades positions over the years. And the thing, the struggle I came across most was there's just not many entry level first year positions or even second year because people want the third, fourth, fifth year. And I totally get that.

Shannon Tymosko: I worked business. As a small business, you don't want to train someone to know what a pen is if they don't know yet. And that's the thing about the skilled trades, is you're learning new things day, you're learning ... there's so much material and everything's got three names plus a nickname. It's very overwhelming for that new hire, and new employers don't want to take them on.

Shannon Tymosko: So for me I'm like, is there a demand and skilled trades for ... and workers? Because I get so many people messaging me saying, "How do I get a job?" Employers, they have to understand it's going to cost money to take on the next generation and what you're going to lose if you don't do it, employers, and this is what you need to listen to is I'm not so concerned everybody about the lack of workers. I'm concerned about the potential loss of knowledge that you're about to lose.

Shannon Tymosko: Electrical goes from ... and I don't even know it. I'm so inexperienced, but I know there's knob and tube, there's aluminum, and then there's the new smart devices and all these different things. How much has technology changed in the last 50 years alone that those senior guys are going to take with them and you haven't passed down that knowledge to your new hires? Because I get it, it costs money, but that's the part of the apprenticeship process. They don't go to university and college, you pay the minimum wage, but you have to train them. There's a cost associated with that. And employers need to start taking that on.

Shannon Tymosko: To me, it's a little bit of both sides. There's people interested. I'm interested, there are people interested. I promise you. You just need to be open to new people.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, no, I think that's a really good point. And we've talked about that a bit, that the organizations who have historically hired on experience as the primary characteristic, it's becoming harder and harder to find yet there are really good candidates that have interests, aptitudes, abilities that could be developed into experience pretty quickly if we just shift the way we look at hiring and what type of training and development programs exist.

Sarah Nicastro: That being said, I think one of the things that stood out to me about your story is you have this hunger to learn, right? You're really big on not just showing up and doing your best, but being open to the learning process. And so do you think that's something that is innate or do you think that's something that someone can nurture and develop?

Sarah Nicastro: Because I think if we think about a future where, let's say more of those entry level programs exist where whether you're fresh out of school or whether you've been in a certain career and you want to make a change the way you did, you don't have any experience, but you have some skills or abilities or interests that you think would be applicable. If you go into those programs though, I mean, you have to have this strong willingness to learn. And to in a lot of ways, be humble and to show up every day and be ready to take it all in and try different things and learn as you go and fall down and get back up. Do you feel like everyone has that or could develop that or do you think it's just something that is innate in certain people?

Shannon Tymosko: It's very interesting. That's the age old question of nature versus nurture. And it's like, as a child and youth worker, it's one of the questions that are presented to us on a regular basis. Is this something that they're born with or did it in some way, this was created? And I've had the recent opportunity to watch my cousin raise two children. And she's a teacher, she's a fabulous mother. The first one comes out, genius reading books. So I'm thinking the next one, he's going to be the exact same. Well, didn't you nature just take over? This one's a runner. Doesn't want to talk yet. Nope. He just wants ... he is such an explorer climbing on tables. And so she's done the exact same thing. And so it's a little bit of both.

Shannon Tymosko: I think we could definitely mold and train and guide people in the right direction, but maybe we need to think about when we're little, we have such a hunger for learning. We're out exploring the world. We want to know what the bugs are, because it's all so new to us. When do we lose this hunger for learning? Maybe they're not presenting interesting enough topics in high school or elementary school to keep that flame alive. And so it's again, I think you are definitely born with a certain amount of things you can not control. I talk a lot. I try to control that for years. Can't. But I definitely think you can guide, mold and encourage and mentor someone in the right direction with the right intentions.

Sarah Nicastro: For sure. Okay. So another thing that I really liked about you when I was researching your profile is you speak out openly about mental health, which is something that I not only respect, but also try and do myself. So two questions related to this. The first is, how has your pivot into the skilled trades either helped or hindered your mental health?

Shannon Tymosko: Great question. One of the things, again, I touched on it earlier, but I didn't dive into it that one of the things I love about the skilled trades is how it's given me physical and mental health, that's very quickly brushed over, but there's so much more to that. As a person, myself who struggles, whether it's some depression, a little bit of probably anxiety at times, I've gone through my fair share of professionals. That's what's pushed me to be a child youth worker. So I wanted to understand more about myself.

Shannon Tymosko: And so I've gone to a doctor, my doctor, if you have a good doctor, the doctor, before he prescribes you on some medication should ask you if you exercise. And my answer up to that point was no, because I sit behind a desk for 40 hours. And so what am I doing for my mental health? If just a little bit of exercise can change the way I feel. And so being in construction, you don't get to sit. It's not a sitting job, and I'm not one to go to the gym ever. You have to pay me to work out.

Shannon Tymosko: And so this job I'm being paid to take care of my own mental health in a way. And the physical aspect, just that part, it keeps you younger. It keeps you active, keeps you moving. Especially most of us have been trapped at home during COVID. So to have that ability to go out and do something, there's some days you don't want to, trust me. Sure. But then by the end of the day, you're grateful that ... it's like when you go to the gym and you're happy that you made it there. I know some people can relate to that.

Sarah Nicastro: That's what you hear anyway.

Shannon Tymosko: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: The other part of this though that I'm curious about, is mental health a conversation you've normalized at all at work, since you've gotten into the skilled trades?

Shannon Tymosko: It's not something that's talked ever, I think as a whole. It's not you're ever going to be like, "This week's safety talk is on mental health and respect," and that it's not really something that regularly comes up in a group setting, but it's shocking as a woman in the skilled trades, I think men they just feel their defenses come down a little bit. So I'm the first one to get to see your new baby picture, and this is ... that's a moment that they're being vulnerable. They're being a little bit more sensitive than they would before.

Shannon Tymosko: And so in individual one on one settings I think I've been able to create some conversations about it. They start to open up a little bit. If I talk a little bit about my mental health, sometimes they might share a little bit about themselves and it just gives me that little bit of a bond. And again, that word, normalizes it, I guess. And I think it's too much to take it on as as a whole, but if you can get to ... you can change the mindset, encourage someone that it's okay to be themself. You might be able to shift the energy.

Shannon Tymosko: And with more women just entering the skilled trades, that's going to shift naturally because once the numbers are in our favor and there's a two on one, one day and there's two females and one male, you have no choice but to deal with our conversations of choice. And so it will just hopefully make change a little bit easier with more women.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, well, it's great that you're on the front lines doing the hard work for all of us.

Shannon Tymosko: So kind of you.

Sarah Nicastro: Is there anything else, Shannon, that we haven't talked about that you think is an important part of your story or your message for others, looking at the skilled trades or in the skilled trades?

Shannon Tymosko: Just thank you for listening. I think the fact, if you're here, that means you're open to change. It means you're open to listening, and that's the first step is just starting that conversation and being open to it. So if you're listening today, thank you very much. And hopefully there's something that maybe resonated with you or something that just encourage you. Some of my most blessed things are when I get messages from women themselves, or sometimes parents, but their kids came home from a presentation that day. And they're like, "I don't know what you said to my daughter that day, but she can't stop talking about it." And those are the ones that just bless my heart.

Sarah Nicastro: That's awesome.

Shannon Tymosko: Thank you for anybody who's, yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Did I read that you have a kids' book?

Shannon Tymosko: As I've talked about, trying to reach out you younger generation, it's motivated me to make a kids' book. So I've got what they call the manuscript done.

Sarah Nicastro: You're working on one.

Shannon Tymosko: I'm working on it.

Sarah Nicastro: I love that.

Shannon Tymosko: To again, try to read that younger generation, and I think there's so much potential there. And so how can I make change? Hopefully with a little book.

Sarah Nicastro: That's awesome. Well, we'll definitely stay tuned for that. I think it's a wonderful idea. And the speaking that you're doing, not only here and in different articles, but certainly going to schools and sharing your experience, I mean, you're doing really important work in making the progress that you want to see made. And I'm sure there's days where it feels that progress is significant. And there's probably other days where you're like, "Is it ever going to be equal or is it just always going to be me feeling isolated?"

Sarah Nicastro: But you're doing the work every day to change that, and I think it's awesome. And I also think your story is a really helpful one for organizations that are trying to break the mold on who they hire, how they hire, to really hear someone's firsthand perspective and be able to think about what made you want to change? What was important to you? What do you like about what you're doing? What are some of the challenges? I mean, that's how they can start to think differently and make progress in their organizations as well.

Shannon Tymosko: Awesome. Well thank you for having me, and I really hope that I can be that influence and make some change. And sometimes it means you have to stir and create a little dirty laundry. You need to create conversations, but with that conversation, hopefully also comes some really great, amazing things for everybody.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Well, I appreciate you spending some time with me today, Shannon.

Shannon Tymosko: Thank you so much for having me, Sarah. I really appreciate being here with you and your guests.

Sarah Nicastro: Thanks. You can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @thefutureofFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at IFS.com. As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

February 14, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

Future of Field Service Launches Its First Live Tour – Globally!

February 14, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

Future of Field Service Launches Its First Live Tour – Globally!


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I couldn’t be more thrilled to share that this Spring, Future of Field Service is hosting its first-ever collection of in-person events. That’s right, yours truly will be going “Around the World in 80 Days” to bring the objective, peer-driven, tactical content you’ve grown to expect from our content to a city near you. After a long stretch of sessions held through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and webinars it brings me great joy to finally be able to bring this next evolution of Future of Field Service to life.

Those of you that follow along regularly know that I am passionate about building a sense of community – of creating a space where we expand our collective knowledge and share our stories. Anyone who isn’t a “regular” here, don’t be fooled by our name – Future of Field Service content reaches far beyond the field. Our aim is to provide leaders across industries, and spanning geographies, a home for both information and inspiration on how to differentiate their businesses through service and lead through change. We prioritize conversations over clickbait, always. By keeping our content focused on sharing the voice of the industry, we provide a place you can come to learn how your peers are tackling today’s trends, challenges, and opportunities.

Nothing Like Face-to-Face Communication

And while we’re confident that we accomplish this mission well through our written content and weekly podcasts, we fully recognize that there’s no experience that can replace the value of sharing a day with a room full of people who are showing up to learn, engage, and connect. In-person events have been a vision of mine since Future of Field Service launched – that vision was simply delayed a bit in being realized. But this Spring, I will be visiting five wonderful cities across the globe to bring to you an opportunity to step away from the daily chaos, to connect with like-minded individuals, to hear the real-world perspectives of local leaders on a variety of timely topics, and – last, but not least – to have some fun!

Here is a list of the cities and dates of our very first Future of Field Service Global Roadshow:

  • April 7th, Paris
  • May 5th, London
  • May 19th, Frankfurt
  • May 24th, Stockholm
  • June 14th, Austin TX

We will be sharing a detailed agenda for each location soon, but you can expect a high-quality lineup of speakers who “walk the talk” discussing a variety of topics including digital transformation and technology trends; service strategy, evolution, and revenue growth; customer experience and satisfaction; recruiting, hiring, and retention; employee enablement and engagement; leadership styles and tips; and change management and company culture.

Each event will be a day of content and discussion, followed by a little fun and networking to conclude. You have my word that you won’t experience a day of yawn-inducing PowerPoints and there will be NO sales pitches! The events will be educational, conversational, and hopefully inspirational.

Detailed agendas for each location will be coming soon, but you can register now to join us at the city closest you! I look forward to seeing many of your faces on my trip around the world this Spring.

Most Recent

February 8, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

Meeting the Demands of Modern Leadership with James Mylett, Part 1

February 8, 2022 | 30 Mins Read

Meeting the Demands of Modern Leadership with James Mylett, Part 1


In part one of this two-part deep dive on leadership with James Mylett, SVP, U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, Sarah and James discuss his career trajectory and begin discussing some of the traits that modern leadership demands – and how some of these have required a willingness to expand and evolve both thinking and actions.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we are going to be talking about meeting the demands of modern leadership. I think we can all agree that the way we work, the circumstances in which we're working, all of the demands are far different on leaders today than they were five, 10 years ago. And there's a lot of evolution that needs to take place to continue to be effective. Very excited to welcome to today's podcast, James Mylett who is the Senior Vice President for U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric. James, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.

James Mylett: Thanks. Appreciate the invite. It's great to see you again.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. James and I first met when I interviewed him for a cover story when I was with Field Technologies. How many years ago do you think that was?

James Mylett: It was probably 2003. No, maybe it was 2010. It was a long time-

Sarah Nicastro: 2010. It's a long time ago, a long time ago. And I have stayed in touch with James over the years and watched his evolution as a leader. And James, I don't want to put you on the spot or make you uncomfortable, but you're somebody that I have a lot of respect for. And when I have talked with people that with you and for you, they have resoundingly positive things to say. That tells me you're doing something right. And so, I'm excited to talk with you today about your perspective on leadership and what it takes, and how it's evolved, and how you as a leader keep pace with what your team needs. So before we dig into that, tell our listeners a bit more about yourself, your current role, anything you want to share about your leadership journey.

James Mylett: Sure. I think the path is a little bit untraditional, maybe the right way to set it up. But I went straight into the workforce out of high school. I grew up in New York. I was born in Brooklyn. I was surrounded by a family of police officers, growing up my dad was a cop. I've got six brothers, no sisters, five of the brothers went onto the job as it's called. But I think that environment, if I listen to what my dad said that that profession was a service profession. And when he went through the academy, there was actually a sign in the academy that reminded the NYPD, that it at your service. And I think as I reflect back on his life, it was very much about service, and I think he instilled that in all of his sons. And so, it's been an industry that I've gravitated towards, and I get a lot of joy from being a part of it.

James Mylett: As I mentioned, I went straight to work out of high school, moved to Texas when I was set 17, graduated early. And went to work for an organization called MD Anderson Cancer Center, it's one of the premier cancer hospitals globally. And was fortunate to get hired by a guy named Andy, who was at the end of his career. But Andy made me promise to go and enroll in an associate's degree program as a condition of employment. So he put me on this journey of continuous development, and I actually had a chance to track his son down about two years ago. Because Andy was one of these leaders who was very tough. And I had to imagine he was the same way at home, and I'm not sure his son ever saw that side of Andy and I was able to share that with him, so was a special conversation we had.

James Mylett: But fast forward, I was a chiller technician for a number of years. I got into sales from there, went into leadership and I was working for Carrier in Dallas. And similar interaction or inflection point for me there was guy named Pat Goodfellow that came down from corporate and he announced this new employee development program. And he said something to me I've never forgotten. He said that, and this is in the 90s. He said that "Your parents grew up in an era where if they showed up for work every day, worked really hard, were loyal to the company, they could count on lifelong employment." And he said, "That deal doesn't exist anymore. Nobody talks about it out loud, but if you are working for a great organization, you can count on lifelong employability if you take advantage of the learning opportunities that they put in front of you." And he was putting a learning opportunity in front of us for tuition reimbursement and other benefits.

James Mylett: So literally, that night I went and I tracked down an online bachelor's degree program, got signed up and went on a path. Years later, I finished my MBA and I woke up one day and I was leading a 1.5 billion organization with about 4,000 service technicians. So it's funny, I talked to leaders today about this notion of imposter syndrome. And I've had a couple of those inflection points for myself over the years where you wake up say, how did this happen? But today I'm privileged to lead buildings business at Schneider Electric. It's a very vibrant, energetic, purpose driven culture here. And it's helping me continue to build out a better version of myself.

Sarah Nicastro: That's awesome. I don't think you just woke up one day and found yourself doing that, there's a lot of steps to getting there. And I know this isn't the topic of our discussion today, but one of the things that's interesting about what you're saying is the testament for the whole discussion that's happening right now about the opportunity that exists in the trades. So you sort of started out right out of high school and you didn't necessarily start with the degree, those came over time with some of the opportunities that were presented to you. But I think we've had a lot of discussion recently on this podcast about the talent gap, and the great resignation, and the need to evolve how we recruit and hire.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think for both individuals and companies thinking about what are those trajectories? What do they look like? When you take someone that has started as a technician and now is in the position you're in and just consider how that relates to the type of career paths, and education opportunities and sources to look for talent. It's really cool that you've had such a satisfying journey and it continues. And I think that's why I'm excited to have you here today talking about leadership is in the time I've known you, you've never been someone to just achieve a certain level of success, kick your feet up and consider it done. You embrace the fact that situations change people, change needs, change and you as a leader have to continue to adapt.

Sarah Nicastro: Again, I've mentioned the fact that we had Karin Hamel on the podcast late last year, she's on your team. We've had other folks that I've had conversations with and there's a difference, there's an authenticity in how they speak of you. It isn't just a kind of passing. "Oh yeah, yeah. James is great." It's a very genuine, very genuine emotion. And so, you and I connected and I said, so listen, if people feel this way about you and you're doing something right. What do you think it is that defines good leadership in today's modern era?

Sarah Nicastro: And so, we talked about some of those things. And today we're going to go through some of the traits that you identified that you think not only what makes you a good leader, but also what other leaders should be thinking of about. How are they honing these skills, how are they showing up for their teams in these ways? That sort of thing. The first is resilience. So let's talk about resilience a bit.

James Mylett: Yeah. In today's environment, it's hard to survive if you don't have that. And it's not just us and we've been working from home for a long time, all of us. And one of the things one of my leaders reminded me as somebody's kid came into the view or a dog jumps in its, we have to remember that we've invaded their space. They didn't just invade ours. And so, there's a resiliency at home that a lot of our families are dealing with as well as we adjust to this we're in. But I think our organizations get their cue from the leadership.

James Mylett: I can remember, I was working for a CEO at one point and we were going through a major change and he pulled me into his office. It's like going to the principal's office, what did I do is what's going through my head. And he made a comment to me. He said "We got 150,000 people in the organization and it's probably five people that I can think of that the organization takes their cue from, you're one of them. So where's your head at?" And he was checking because he recognized that if I wasn't on board, he would have a harder time getting the organization on board.

James Mylett: I had to remind one of our field technicians a few weeks back that, and this is somebody that's further along in their career, that you're now the person that you used to look up to. And so, think about that. You're the person that you used to look up to. And what is it about that person when you looked up that drew you to them and if you had to inject some improvement in that, what would it have been? Because that's your opportunity today.

James Mylett: So as we start thinking about the 2.0 or the 4.0 or the 8.0 version of ourselves, what's that journey look like and how do we individually get continuously better? I think in this environment, if we show up tomorrow defeated because, and fill in the blank, on any of the challenges that pop up in this usual, unusual that we all deal with every day, whether it's supply chain issues or people get... Our school district just closed down because they can't get teachers and they can't get substitutes.

James Mylett: And one of my leaders tell me that it feels like he's living in a real-world version of Jumanji, where every time you get through the tunnel that light that you saw at the end wasn't the end, it was the entrance to the next tunnel. So personally we have to check ourselves and make sure that we're filling our own buckets up to where our resilience levels are high. Because our organization's going to get our cue from us.

James Mylett: When I think about attributes, leadership attributes, mindset is one of the biggest things that's going to make a difference on whether or not you win or lose. And if you enter the battle with mindset that you're going to lose you're right. And if you enter it with a mindset you're going to win, you're a lot more likely to accomplish that. And so, as we've navigated through the pandemic, this has been top of mind for all of us. So simple things.

James Mylett: We had a leader at the beginning of the pandemic that works directly for me that as we were trying to figure out what we're going to do he said, "Hey, time out. Why don't we just get everybody to take the next five days and every day call a customer. And don't talk to them about business, just check in on them and see how they're doing personally." Okay. And so, it just helped us get focused on one, the right things, reaching out customers first, put the business stuff aside for a little bit, reinforced the human interaction that has just been isolated from all of us, and then give us a sense of purpose so that we could move forward as a team. So I think those little things make a difference. And Justin Lavoy was the leader and the organization took their cue from him that there's the path forward, and that's important. Make sense?

Sarah Nicastro: It does. And I think it's a really good point to... I like the point you made about reminding that field technician that he is in a position that he used to look up to. So looking for the opportunity to show people the part they can play in that resilience. I did want to ask, obviously everyone has hard days. And so, when you are having a hard day, but you know that you need to come in with the mindset of bringing that resilience, personal resilience to be able to bring that to work. Is there anything you do or any tips or tricks you have for bringing yourself back into a positive space to be able to do what needs to get done?

James Mylett: Yeah. I'm better today at stepping away for a little, even if it's for an hour, just to exhale from situations. And I've got an Apple watch and it could check your blood pressure and tell when you need to breathe. And I was actually on a conference call a couple of months back and I was getting agitated about a situation and my watch went off and said, you need to breathe, take a breath. But I think that's important to decompress there. When I think about areas where I need to improve still the work life balance thing has always been a challenge for me, because I genuinely love what I do. And I love in the game and helping teams win and all that. So I stay on a lot more than I should.

James Mylett: But what I've learned to do is to not cascade that down to my team. For example, Saturday mornings, I get up early, watch some of the Premier League soccer games, Manchester United is my team. And I'll catch up on email as I'm doing that. But what I realize is whether it's because of my title or whatever else when I send an email out, everybody has to drop what they're doing in response. I've gotten in a habit now of just going to offline and then early Monday morning I'll turn it back on. I'm not perfect at it. I'll still drop one out every Sunday, every once in a while but things like that help.

James Mylett: But no, I think just having the willingness to step away and take a moment makes difference. The other thing I always try to do is stay focused on the long game. So when trying to make big change in an organization, it never happens in a big step. Very, very rarely happens in a big step. It's small incremental steps over a long period of time that make the biggest lasting sustainable change. So the five wax at the tree every day analogy, eventually it's going to fall down over time. So I try to stay focused on that as well.

James Mylett: The piece that keeps me energized, it's the little reflection points that happened three years after that... I was in a meeting with a lady that worked for me and we got through with, it was a big meeting, another organization. And we all split up and she came back into my office and she said, "I don't know how you put up with this stuff." It was one of those conversations because it was one of those meetings. And so, we had a brief conversation around it. Then the mail came and I got this letter from a technician that used to work for me that had gone back to school. And this is like five years later. Then it was an invitation to his graduation in El Paso. And I walked across the building to Kathleen and showed her this and said, "This is why." It's the little staff like this that keep your eye on the long game. And it gives you the resilience to step through those tough days so.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think there's two things I just thought of when you shared that story. One is patience is a big part of resilience and then two is perspective. So if your view is too short term, it's a lot easier to get frustrated than burnout. If you can look at the long game, it helps you understanding that you can't win them all but you win enough that it adds up to a lot of progress so.

James Mylett: That's something that I don't think that individuals give themselves enough credit for. And I think as a coach it's part of our role, it's just to point out. Call time out, just help people understand how far we've come on a particular objective. So yeah, we didn't get all the way to here but look at where we started. And my bend is towards aspirational targets. These folks that we were in this room, I'm in here the month after I started and the role that I'm in and we're meeting with the team about our digitally enabled services and where we were at that point in time. And we got the data up on the screen and it was a shock for everybody how low it was at that point in time, it was low single digits.

James Mylett: And this was having service agreements that are truly digital first. That's the interaction customer, all that so. We talked about where should we be? And the team said, "Well, two years from now, we should be twice where we are. That's a big step from where we are." And I said, "Yeah, I think we'll hit that." Me I'm not that smart, I'd probably set a crazy target like 50, and we all know we'll never get to 50 we'll probably only get the 40. And so, sure enough the team got there. And this last year we finished up right at 50, and it's a good calibration point for the team as they step back and look at what they got accomplished compared to what they thought was possible.

James Mylett: When they accomplish something and have a plan and passion around it. There's a movie called Facing the Giants that there's a clip in it called, if you can go out to You Tube type of Facing the Giants and Death Crawl. And it's this clip where this coach is trying to get this football player to this crab walk or whatever you call it, where you're on your toes and your fingertips and you're trying to go up the field. And he says, he wants to do it with one of the other players on his back. And he says, "Well, I can go to the 50 without him. I can probably go to the 30 with him." And the coach says, "I don't want you thinking about where you're going." And he put a blindfold on him. Said, "I don't want you limiting yourself by what you see."

James Mylett: And he's given him the aggressive coaching all the way. And he winds up in the end zone because he didn't have the limitations of what he thought he was capable of doing. The coach saw something in him that he didn't recognize in himself. And it goes back to this notion about the influence that you have. And that was his comment to the player when he got to the end zone, is that you don't realize the influence you have on all those other players. And if you don't think we're going to win, they won't think we're going to win. And so, what comes out of our mouth is so critical in terms of setting the tone for the organization.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Okay. All right. The next trait is integrity. One of the things you said to me when we spoke about this is that, the video has to match the audio. So integrity is really how you build trust with your team. So talk to me a little bit about integrity. 

James Mylett: Yeah. As we talk with leaders about development, we tend to reflect back on our successes but you get growth out of failures as well. And failure, shouldn't be fatal, the area where it has a potential to be fatal is an integrity. So it's one of these third rails said, if you get it wrong, there's no good news in that at all. And it comes in a lot of different flavors, but at the core of it, it's how you carry yourself. Are you authentic? Are you trustworthy? Are you someone that people can count on? Are you transparent? Which that's actually a word here at Schneider that's at the forefront, we think about our core values it's right up front.

James Mylett: I love the fact that we put up on the table, because it sets the tone, even in interactions that there's a transparency to the conversations that have. But one of the leaders on my team, when I stepped into this role, we were talking about this topic and he made the comment that your intent comes into the room before you do. And it's a good calibration point on that front. I've had to clean up some really out there situations where you just sit back and what were people thinking? You try to get inside the head of somebody that made that decision, that was just clearly off the rails.

James Mylett: I interviewed a guy for a job years ago that was with a big school district. He was wanting to come to work for the company with at the time, and his team that was underneath him at the school district. There was two characters on the team that did something that was blatantly illegal. It was no question about it, but it happened on his watch. And so, the question that one of the panel interviews asked is how you reconcile that because this guy had the TV crews following them around to interview him. 

James Mylett: And he talked about the relationship that he had with these two individuals and how, when one of them had gotten sick, he used to go to their house and drop off food to make sure they were okay. And which speaks to the quality of this person we were looking to hire. But he said, "The thing that's been the toughest thing for me to choke down is that no matter how tall the firewalls are that you put up, it's difficult to overcome the malice that might be in an individual's heart."

James Mylett: And so, I think when I think about integrity as an organization, the antibodies for that malice is the culture that you build. And the purposeful intent on culture. We have one of our pillars is embrace different in inside of that in the language. It has a comment in there that we call out bias where we see it. So you think about that, you're on a job site and you see something, what do you do? Do you step up, do you speak up or do you just look the other way and keep going. Our core value says you're calling it out. And so it's that type of culture build that creates the antibodies against the wrong behavior on the integrity front.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It can be so, so hard to call those things out too. If you always think about it as something, conceptually it all makes sense. Call it out when you see it. But I found myself in a position just a week or two ago, I was in a large meeting where someone said something that just didn't sit right. And then it's, I don't know. It puts a lot of pressure sometimes on an individual to be the one to speak up if to your point, the culture doesn't promote doing that. Because how will they respond or then, I don't know. It's, yeah. It's-

James Mylett: Now back to the intent comment that I made. I think for me, there's typically smaller things that lead up to the big thing happening. And it's our inability to address the smaller things that creates an environment that allows the big things to happen, typically is the case. And if we're willing to step in and address the small things then we can prevent some of that. And as a leader, the feedback I give my team is that when you're in that situation, so let's say I'm in the situation, I'm a leader and there's somebody else. It's a peer of mine that makes a comment. And I know that I should give them feedback, but I'm not going to give them feedback because it's really uncomfortable for me to do that. So now it's no longer about what's best for that person, it's about me and my feeling here and my level of uncomfortableness.

James Mylett: When you step into these leadership positions it's no longer about you, it's about everybody on the team. The comment I share with people is when you make that decision as a leader, it's really one of the most selfish decisions you could make as a leader because you're doing it for your own reasons, not for what's best for the person or for the team, and it's tough. I've had some really difficult conversations with that when I walk away from them, I just ex. It's like this big exhale that I'm so glad I got through that. But typically not always, but typically when you deliver it the right way and your intent is genuine, the reception is pretty positive and appreciative.

Sarah Nicastro: I think it's also when you talk about intent, if there's a lot of these things that come up particularly when you talk about diversity, equity and inclusion. So there's a lot of things that come up that they're often referred to as microaggressions, where the person that may say or do something that you feel you need to point out doesn't have malicious intent, but just is not aware of how that statement could be perceived or that sort of thing. And so, it's one of those things where certainly someone who has ill intent, that's easier to address in the sense of it's more glaring, it's... Some of those other things I think is where it gets tough, but you're right. You have not think about it in terms of your own personal comfort zone, but think about it in terms of the intended outcome and the benefit of helping someone who isn't intending that impact to see what they're saying or doing.

James Mylett: There's a skillset build there too though. So I think there's a change management model I subscribe to that one of the pieces in it is skill sets, but there's a failure point each one of the pillars. So if the skill sets aren't there, the anxiety level goes up. What we're talking about is a situation where I see it, my anxiety level goes through the roof. And typically it's because I don't have the skills to have that conversation effectively or I don't have the confidence to do it. So we make a lot of investment in those specific skill sets to have those difficult conversations. So things like softening statements, "Hey Sarah, would you mind if I gave you some feedback." Some skillsets on how to deliver feedback in a way that is more likely to be captured and acted on makes a big difference in terms of how you approach it, but yeah.

James Mylett: I was in a meeting probably six months ago and somebody had one of these YETI coolers and it had something on it that just was in the context of everything else that's going on, it didn't read right. Five years ago, it wouldn't even have made a difference. But today it's, people's the visibility, the perspective is different. So there was another leader in the room that this individual worked for and I was waiting to see how it played out, and it didn't.

James Mylett: And so, I had a conversation, coaching session with the leader afterwards about, I just replayed the game film. And it was a aha moment for the leader and to that person's credit, they immediately went and had the conversation and it just wasn't, there was a blind spot is probably the best way to put it. That blind spot was made visible. Everything took care of itself. And that's the power of the feedback, but it's the skill sets are important. And I think we underestimate that, especially at the frontline that our frontline leaders have been equipped to have those conversations and way. And if we can't point to the investments we've made in their development, then we shouldn't assume that the skillsets are there.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a really good point. Okay. The next trait is curiosity and open-mindedness.

James Mylett: So which one first? I think that the curious piece of it, I... There was an article that was written on my father that referred to him as a searcher. And I think that got some of that genealogy inside of me that I... If I have any career regrets at all, it's just this family pull to be on the job, so it was something I didn't pursue. But those genes around problem solving and detective work and all that, which is just part of who I am. So when I bump into situations, I have tendency to want to unpack them. I'm very data driven, so I get into analytics and root cause analysis and all that.

James Mylett: But today's environment is probably the richest environment for somebody that's wired like me, so it's because it's so rich with opportunities for transformation. And the speed of transformation is so different today than it's ever been and stop. And so, what I try to do as a leader is immerse my myself in situations that allow that opportunity for me to get engaged. So right before we got on this call, I was on a call with a small team. We have an agile project that we're working through to help our customers sort through how to gauge what the health is of their building. So are there's simplistic things that we can do to help our customers address the whole healthy building situation.

James Mylett: I asked some questions in the last session that they followed up on, and I'm learning as I'm going through this of what can be done so that helps. I think the other thing for me is just surrounding myself with people who are going to be bent on going on those explorations. So I've got a young leader on my team that is leading our efforts into federal space and he's opening up new doors for us to go explore into, but I think it's important. I had a conversation with this person, I won't name them. But it was one of the original people who wrote the checks to fund Google years ago. So I was consulting work for him.

James Mylett: And we were talking about change and one of the people in the room was talking about the buildings industry and he made the comment that, there's a lot of gray hair in that industry, which meant it's going to be the difficult to drive change. And this person's reflex comment was "It's not the gray hair that concerns me, it's gray brains." And I asked him, "What do you mean by that?" It's old antiquated ways of thinking that aren't relevant today. They were relevant 10 years ago, 15 years ago, but they're not relevant today. And, and when I think about the pace of change here and how quickly things move, if you're not willing to take the steps to stay relevant, you can quickly go past your expiration date, even with some of the things that...

James Mylett: I used to subscribe to leadership models that I wouldn't dream of applying today, I just... And the people that I work around and colleagues in the industry that disagree with me on this topic. There's things in the Jack Welch playbook that were just part of who I was as a leader that I don't do those anymore. There's pieces of it that I still subscribe to. But top grading is an example for me personally, that's not what I'm about. I think there's a seat at the table for everybody, if they have the right attributes and the right fit factors for the organization. You put a post up on LinkedIn yesterday with your t-shirt said "Doing my best."

James Mylett: And I think there's a quote. It says something to the effect of "Comparison is the thief of all joy." And so, that's new learning for me. I was going through a book called Chop Wood Carry Water. Somebody recommended to me. And I picked up on that in the book. And it just really resonated because so much of these old models were all about these comparisons, and it's for me, when I think about continuous improvement it's the 2.0, 3.0, 4. version of me, my team, my organization, compared to where we were. And when I think about comparisons, I think I'm better served to compare us to where we were and where we're going, where we aspire to get to, and compare us to our ability to meet our customer's expectations than I am against the market so.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I really like that James, because I think that your works that, the title of this podcast is about modern leadership. And so, I think that it's just a really important point to know that you have to be open to recognizing that beliefs you held year ago or five years ago, or 10 years ago, you're allowed to change your mind. You're allowed to consume new information and change your opinions, and adopt different models, and think differently. In fact, not only are you allowed to, but I think it makes you better.

Sarah Nicastro: I think that I interview a lot of people on this podcast and there's the companies that are struggling it's because the people at the top are very set in more of well, this is how we've always done it, this is worked for so long, this is what we know, this is who we are. Very rigid mentality. And it's not really conducive to innovation, and innovation is key to success in the landscape that we're in. So I think that that willingness to evolve, not just with your team or as a team, or to meet customer needs or as a business, but as an individual to reflect on and reconcile when your beliefs change or when your perspective on what works or what doesn't changes. I think that makes you better. I think that's a really good thing.

James Mylett: One of the models I subscribe to is from the partners and leadership is Oz Principle. And it basically says that your beliefs, like when we talk about beliefs. Your beliefs are really driven from the experiences that you have. So this curiosity mode gets me in a position where I'm getting different experiences today than, or before. Even on, so we'll go back to the diversity front. When George Floyd was killed, there was this moment I think for our country where all of a sudden it was more painful for us to stay the same than it was for us to start changing. And that's another belief I have is until the pain is staying the same gets greater than the pain of changing people have a tendency not to change. That moment in time created this pain point for us.

James Mylett: My reflex was to reach out to this resource group that we have here, that I was the executive sponsor of and check in and see how people were doing. And I learned so much in... I don't get surprised that often. I got surprised at how little I knew in, especially in this area because it's something I've been passionate about for a long time. And have prided myself in being engaged and active and all the rest of it. But what happened in the aftermath of his killing things came up on the table that weren't on the table before. And so, when you get that direct experience of being on the camera with somebody and hearing the emotion in their voice as they talk about the experiences that they're having, in a modern day suburb, affluent neighborhood that just floors you.

James Mylett: And so, my belief system evolved because of that. And you [inaudible 00:37:42] argue about whether or not it should have evolved earlier and all that, but it evolved at that point in time. I think had I not been willing to reflex into that conversation, I wouldn't have gotten that in the moment experience and I wouldn't have moved this fast as I did. So I think that's... If I've got coaching for people, you have to continuously find a way to put yourself out there and get close... I mean there's Six Sigma stuff that says, if you want to solve the problem you got get within 12 feet of where it's happening, this gamble walk type stuff. But I think that applies to the leadership too. You got to be willing to put yourself out there where you can see at the front line, what's really going on.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That post you mentioned on LinkedIn with my t-shirt, "Doing my best." I got that as a reminder to myself because there's a lot of the things you said earlier on, resonate. I am super passionate about what I do, but that makes it really hard to have good balance. And I have young kids and there's just... So sometimes I have to remind myself, like I'm doing my best and that's going to look different every day, whatever. Someone commented and said, "Tell that to the KPIs." And I laughed because it was funny, but at the same time there's a balance there too. Like we were not machines, we're human beings.

Sarah Nicastro: I think the more that as leaders and company culture wise, we can just understand that recognizing that our best looks different every day. And recognizing that we can't compare our best to someone else's best, we're comparing our best to our best yesterday and our best of the day before that ultimately will improve the KPIs. I firmly believe that if we can just treat people as humans and I think that is really a root of those leadership philosophies.

Sarah Nicastro: Everything used to be very, very productivity driven, results at all costs, individualistic and that has evolved a lot and I think it's for the best. It's changing the thinking of people though that no one's saying, I'm doing my best every day so today I don't care about the KPIs. It's you can do both. You can get results and do so. Not at the expense of people, but in giving them the freedom to bring their talent to the team and to work the way that they need to work so, yeah.

James Mylett: I think so I'll make another comment that there will be a lot of people who disagree with this. But I think you can be unbelievably driven as an organization while also being kind. I don't think they're mutually exclusive. I think there's this approach that we take to where you're hard on the role piece of it, but you're soft on the individual piece of it. And the whole vaccine thing that's going on and the mandates from the government, and how those things are shifted is as we've navigated through that.

James Mylett: The thing we were all clear about as a leadership team is that in our core values, it talks about embracing different viewpoints. And there's a lot of different viewpoints on this topic, but it's viewpoints from people who are all part of our family. We're going to make business decisions that are the right thing to do to move the business forward. But as we do that, there's no reason why we can't be gracious and kind, and such and such as we navigate through that. And it's a moving target and what the expectations are. So the flexibility has been key as well, but yeah. I think that's changed.

James Mylett: And Sarah, I think part of what's changing it is people buy in for their reasons, not ours. So as we think about attracting the workforce, who? When we say workforce, what part of the workforce we looking to attract? And what are their reasons for buying in and does the culture that you're purposefully building match up to what they're wanting to buy into? And so, we talk about having an organization that's focused, that's purposeful, that's driven, that's going to achieve great things while is also being benevolent and kind, and gracious. That's a great combination to have, and it's a value proposition that absolutely resonates with the emerging workforce.

James Mylett: And we talk about sense of purpose. I love the fact that we are as an organization are so focused on sustainability, and helping customers solve those problems. Because there's a higher purpose to that in terms of the planet. We can do, make a dent in carbon emissions through the work that we do. So for our people, when they look to come to work here, they see a path of having meaningful purpose in the work that they do.

James Mylett: I think part of my job is to connect the dots and remind them how, what they just did had that impact. Your willingness to get out there and work in the hospitals and this kind of an environment. Think about the impact that that's having in terms of helping the doctors to save lives, by making sure that the environment is clean, it's safe, it's filtrated, all those things. And when you're in the middle of it, you lose sight of that.

Stay tuned for part two of this discussion!

Most Recent

February 7, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

As Service Becomes More Sophisticated, How Will You Differentiate?

February 7, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

As Service Becomes More Sophisticated, How Will You Differentiate?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Based largely on customer demands, service is becoming supremely sophisticated. As the bar raises, it is increasingly harder for organizations to differentiate. Your two-hour window is no longer sufficient, because your competitor has reduced the window to 30 minutes. Trying to sell predictive service? The competition has shifted to using predictive service to guarantee outcomes

While not long ago it was only the leading edge who were successful in bringing modern service to bear, today we see plentiful examples of companies really embracing the service evolution. More and more companies are wise to the powers of market demand and advanced technology, and they are up to the task.

So, if you stood out because you were an early adopter of guaranteeing outcomes, what happens when all of your competitors jump on the bandwagon? We live in an era of rapid change and, as we’ve discussed previously, we the need to balance artful execution with forward thinking. The key to differentiation moving forward lies in staying a step ahead and fighting complacency at all costs. 

Now it’s impossible to predict the future, and you don’t need to – I believe you can win by mastering a few core concepts. Note that I said mastering, because this is the crux of where companies fail – they fight tooth and nail to innovate in a certain area or around a particular initiative, but they don’t operationalize innovation so that it becomes more seamless. Doing so allows for far more agility and being agile is what will enable you to keep your edge in service. 

If we think about the concepts that companies should master to create an environment where innovation is not a breathless sprint to the “finish line,” but rather a comfortable, steady-paced marathon, a few things come to mind:

Company cohesion. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really love the term “service transformation,” because for companies that have really recognized the power of service it is an aspect of business transformation. Yes, I’m probably splitting hairs – but my point is that to maintain relevance, the traditional siloes in a company need to be broken down. There must be an overarching alignment on company identity, vision, and mission – and there must be a culture of collaboration toward those. 

Whether we’re looking success around service growth or digital transformation, companies who have a very siloed structure are the ones that struggle. There is too much to be considered in the customer journey for a fragmented approach to work, and our digital world has outgrown fit-for-purpose, disparate systems. Connectedness, of systems and teams, is critical.

Customer intimacy. The best source of inspiration for your service evolution is your customer relationships. First, ask yourself an honest question: Are they indeed relationships, or transactions? They must be relationships. This doesn’t mean that your customers will always be able to verbalize what they need or how they need it – or what’s coming next. But knowing your customers and building trust and openness is how you will understand their needs enough to identify, evolve, and articulate your value proposition – now and into the future. 

How do you engage with your customers – how regularly and in what forms? What do you learn from those interactions, is that knowledge captured and shared, and is the business taking action on what you’re learning?

Digital skillfulness. Yes, being digitally competent is core for the introduction of more sophisticated service models. But those who will lead aren’t simply competent, they are skillful. And to be clear, this does in no way mean they are using every single “latest and greatest” advancement. What it does mean is that they understand the value of information, they realize the benefit of simplifying complexity, and they make decisions around technology investments with their impact on key objectives in mind.

These companies know that part of the service evolution is providing insights and knowledge as a part of the value proposition. They are seeking the most appropriate areas to layer in automation and intelligence in a way that allows anticipation of needs and a seamless customer experience but removes effort or cost from delivering it. The concept of a strong foundation upon which layers can be added and changed is understood and acted upon, and there is a common understanding that a continual improvement strategy is necessary. 

Talent development. Many organizations today are so hyper-focused on the short-term stressors of the skills shortage that they’ve yet to see the big picture of talent development. Those who want to set themselves up for success are recognizing that the employee experience is critically important and needs more attention. They are understanding that as service evolves, the frontline workforce needs to as well – this can mean reskilling or upskilling, or even introducing new roles. 

The companies who will have a competitive advantage are those who are focusing on how to farm talent – meaning, they are accepting the fact that continuing to seek experienced workers is unsustainable and they must shift focus to taking more responsibility for developing their own talent. Companies must make more investment in democratizing knowledge, skill building, and recognition of employee contribution. The organizations who are most successful at innovating value the creativity and contributions of all within the company, not a few at the top – and they ensure the voices of the frontline are heard, considered, and valued. 

Personalization. Our world is more connected than ever but somehow more disconnected at the same time – and what’s often lacking is the human element. In many cases, companies who stand out are those who find the perfect ways to add a personal touch. They acknowledge that no matter how technologically sophisticated their service becomes, relationships are at the core. People can’t compensate for a company’s inability to evolve to meet customer expectations, but they can absolutely be a – if not the – point of true differentiation for those that do. 

Moreover, customers want to buy from a brand, a company, a person they feel is genuine and that they like. Too narrow a focus on your value proposition itself without marrying that to the story you tell, the passion you have, will miss the boat. As we focus on innovation and look for new ways to meet customers’ needs, let us never forget the impact and value of personal touch. 

Most Recent

February 2, 2022 | 25 Mins Read

Some Days the Dragon Wins: Perseverance in Challenging Times

February 2, 2022 | 25 Mins Read

Some Days the Dragon Wins: Perseverance in Challenging Times


Sarah welcomes Max James, an Air Force Academy graduate, pilot shot down twice in Vietnam, who became a Fortune 500 entrepreneur and original founder and CEO of billion-dollar American Kiosk Management. Max shares some lessons learned about resilience that he’s recently shared in his book “The Harder I Fall, The Higher I Bounce.”

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we are going to be talking about perseverance in challenging times, and I'm excited to have with us today Max James. Max is an Air Force Academy graduate pilot. He was shot down twice in Vietnam and has quite a journey he's going to share with us. He later became the founder and CEO of American Kiosk Management, a multi-billion dollar global presence in North America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and has had quite the journey. He recently published a book called The Harder I Fall, The Higher I Bounce. So, Max, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. Thanks for being here.

Max James: Thank you very much.

Sarah Nicastro: So that was a brief introduction. Before we get into some of the content we have planned today, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself.

Max James: Okay. Well, it's a long journey, one full of a lot of luck, both bad and good, I might add. But, yeah, my dad was a sharecropper back in West Tennessee, and I grew up following two gray mules in the fields. Finally, my dad said, "I don't think you like the farm, why don't you get a job in town," which I did. Then I was the administrative assistant to a congressman when I was 17 years old in Washington. From there, I went to the Air Force Academy for four years, graduating in 1964, so that gives away my age, I suppose, and went to the pilot training. My class was either lucky or unlucky depending on your perception. But we graduated, went to pilot training, and went to war. I flew with the best mission you could possibly have in any war of any type, and that was to Air Rescue. Our job was to rescue fighter pilots when they were shot down in North Vietnam or Laos.

Max James: Came back and was a combat instructor pilot, left the Air Force, and went to Stanford, picked up an MBA, left there and went to work for the world's richest man, which was... For an old Southern boy, that was tall cotton, working and traveling the world with him, principally in real estate but also in movies investments. From there, I got that entrepreneurial itch, and I left the Bay Area, San Francisco, Bay Area, moved up to Sacramento to be hopefully a bigger fish in a smaller pond, and it worked out well. I then ran a couple of companies that I started up, resigned from those, sold them, and became one of the executive vice presidents of Days Inns of America when we were the sixth largest lodging chain in the world. My responsibility was to build, own, and operate hotels in California and Nevada.

Max James: That's I did for years, and the entrepreneurial bug got me again, and I left on a series of wildly failing and wildly successful entrepreneur ventures, ending up principally, as Fortune called me, the king of kiosk, opening about 1200 locations in those areas, those countries that you mentioned. We built that company up to a billion, 800 million in about 14 years. So I ended up selling the company with another that I was a distributor of, to Nestle, and Jack Canfield convinced me that since I'd been telling these wild stories all my life and people saying, "You ought to write a book, you ought to write a book"... So I did, and it took me a little longer than I thought it would take me, but it was enjoyable to look back down memory row and try to share the principles in each of the stories that either led to failure or led to success.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Max James: That's it.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That's great. That's a really good synopsis of what I'm sure has been quite a wild ride. So good. Thank you. All right. So having had a chance to look through the book, there's a couple of themes that stand out to me in your content that I want to discuss on today's podcast that I think will be relevant to our audience. So that first is around perseverance, right? That has been a top of mind term, certainly, for the past two years, right, and something that I think our audience, both from a personal perspective as leaders and then from an organizational perspective, are thinking about what it takes and how to persevere. So can you share some of your thoughts on perseverance, both personally and then from the business perspective, so as an individual and as a business?

Max James: Yeah, sure. As an individual, I think the mother of perseverance is survival. You just have to have grit. You've got to get up. When you get knocked down five times, get up six, I think, is the old expression. So it was survival in many cases. Failures often were very painful. It's not fun to have a business fail that you're involved in or running or own. So it's getting over that painful emotion, a set of emotions, really, and the result. I've never had to file bankruptcy, but I've come close a few times. I've relied on friends sometimes to bail me out, certainly. I've relied on contacts, business contacts, mentors to help me get through. In fact, an accountant, a classmate of mine from Stanford once, we went into talk to a bankruptcy attorney because I thought it was time for me to file bankruptcy. The accountant said, "No, no, I don't think so, Max. I don't think that's going to be necessary, but I'll take it to the attorney." So the attorney went through it, and he said, "Okay, here's what I'm going to need. I need $5,000 deposit up front." I reply with, "If I had $5,000, I wouldn't be here."

Max James: So, we did not file bankruptcy, but here's the story my accountant told me that I've never forgotten. He said, "Max, just get out on your hands and knees, picture yourself, and put a peanut on the floor in front of you and just push that peanut across the floor, trying to get to the other side, and every once in a while, just turn around and look behind you and see the success that you've made and then go down and push that peanut some more." Sure enough, I got bruised knees and a bloody nose from pushing across the carpet, but it worked, and so that stuck with me forever. Perseverance on a personal level, you just have to keep trying. You have to have a long-term goal, I think, Sarah, one that you want to strive for, and you're going to have ups and downs, but the long-term goal is important. But getting there requires short-term goals, day to day, moment to moment, pushing the peanut across the floor.

Max James: So perseverance for me on a personal level is survival. On a business level, it's those short-term goals to get through day by day by day by day and then the long-term goal, knowing where it is exactly that you want to go. You have to have a plan B and a plan C. You have to be adaptable to the circumstances that you deal with on a day to day, year to year basis. There was never been a major battle won in war that went as planned, not a single one, and that comes from military history classes. So the battle's going to change, and you have to be ready. Sometimes, it's plan B, and I don't subscribe to the saying that says, "There is no plan B if this doesn't work." I don't believe that. I think you have to be adaptable.

Sarah Nicastro: Always have a contingency plan, right?

Max James: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: But don't move on to it too soon, right? I mean, I guess that's the balance, right? You need to always have that, but you can't give up quickly or easily. I think that's the name of the game. So, in your book, you talk about a cartoon that says, "Some days, the dragon wins," okay?

Max James: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So tell me what that means to you and how that relates to perseverance.

Max James: Yeah. I wish I had a copy of it. I could show you right now. But it shows the knight, and the helmet is all beat up and the chest plates and the armor on his arms, and the big long sphere that he uses to joust with is broken, but he's on his feet, and he's walking away, and the horse that he rode on is still upright, and the cartoon says, "Someday, the dragon wins." Okay, that's true. There are going to be tons of days, whether it's a contract or a sale or a distributorship or whatever, that's not going to work. It's going to fail, and it hurts like the devil when you lose those, particularly if you've been working on it for a long time.

Max James: A plan B or adaptability says, "So now what do we do?" Well, we've talked about this before, and here's the way. We're going to need to try again for the same goal, or we're going to have to shift our goal a little bit and move from this product line to that product line and use the same business principles that we've always used. But, some days, the dragon wins, and you just have to get up. As the old saying goes, you get bucked off the horse, like I did many times when I was a kid, my dad would insist that I get back up on that horse.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I like that saying because I think that it applies to a lot of different areas of business, of life, right?

Max James: Sure.

Sarah Nicastro: I think that, in the challenging times we've had over the past two years, sometimes... The dragon can be different things, I guess, is the point, right? The dragon can be your mood or your mental health. The dragon can be, like you said, a big deal you're losing. The dragon can be an initiative that you're trying to get off the ground that fails. It can be a lot of different things, but you have to remember that the dragon will win some days. They're not going to win every day, right? I guess that's what you have to use as the motivation to get up and try again the next day.

Max James: So you take your hits, lick your wounds, live to fight another day, and some days you just have to pay the piper.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So the next area I want to talk about, Max, is leadership. You say in your book that being a good leader of others begins with being able to lead yourself through hard times. So tell us a little bit more what you mean by that, and maybe share an example if you can.

Max James: Sure, you bet. Here would be a good example, and then we'll spin off with that. I was a pilot flying rescue helicopters, and I had trained hard. I had studied hard. I had practiced flying that helicopter under stressful situations. So I was preparing to lead the crew that I had on that chopper. The pilot gets shot down in Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the crew and you and the helicopter are going in to see if you can rescue and bring that guy home to his family and to a full life hopefully. When it comes time to make the decision to fly into the ground fire, whether it be SAMs, MiGs, or other ground fire, you've got a crew, and you're going to make the decision as to whether to risk not only the plane but a crew of four to save one.

Max James: So here is a situation where you learn to lead yourself. It's going to be my decision. I can't just always take a vote of the board or take a vote. Sometimes, you just have to charge forward. There's a block saying that speaks to an overly abundant ego, and it says, "I may be wrong, but I doubt it." Sometimes, you just have to rely on yourself, and if you haven't been in stressful situations where you had to make a decision, where you had to lead, then you're never going to be able to lead others. You've got to be able. So I say you have to have the skill, you have to hone the skill, you have to practice the skill, you have to implement the skill when the time comes.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It's interesting when you think about how this translates to leadership today, right? The name of your book is The Harder I Fall, The Higher I Bounce. Right? So you're talking about you can't achieve success without failure, and so what you're talking about here, being a good leader starts with leading yourself, I think one of the areas that maybe is evolving or has evolved is leaders being comfortable with leading by example, even when that means failing, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Because if you think about if you can achieve success without failure and you need to normalize that and eliminate that fear of failing, which will ultimately prohibit creativity, innovation, all of those things, I think one of the best ways for a leader to really institute that belief in their team is to be willing to be vulnerable enough to show themselves failing, which means setting the ego aside, the leader ego aside, and being okay with knowing that, yes, you have to listen to yourself, you have to follow your gut, you have to rely on your intuition and your leadership abilities, but when that doesn't go well, that's okay, too, right? I mean, that's something that you and your team both can learn from and use as an opportunity to normalize the fact that failure is a part of success. Does that make sense?

Max James: Sure. It absolutely does. A friend of mine years and years ago wrote a book called The Joy of Failure, and his whole point was that you learn so much from failing that you should take the positive from failure. Losing when you have a large team, even a company, behind you will certainly show your vulnerability. It's how you respond to that failure with your team. We often talk about servant leadership, where your job is to support the team and to draw on the team.

Max James: So if you're practicing that as a leader in a philanthropic effort or a large business or a small business as an entrepreneur, if your team knows that you're supporting them and you fail, you fail as a team, and they will get it. They will understand what happened and what the principles were that didn't work or that did work. So, yeah, I would agree with that. Absolutely. The fear of failure is overwrought. There's too much emphasis on absolutely just being afraid to fail. It's going to hurt. It may cost you a lot. It may change your entire career or your life, but life will go on. Business will go on, and you will bounce back if you have the right attitude.

Sarah Nicastro: What I'm thinking about in real time as you say that is the correlation then between eliminating that mentality of failure as bad and how that correlates to perseverance, right? If you think about it in terms of the team and the message is failure's not an option, okay, then when it inevitably happens, the emotion tied to that can be so strong that then the willingness to get up and bounce back the next day is hindered, right? So, in a way, I think that the more you normalize failure and create the understanding within your team, organization, business, what have you, that it is a part of success, a path to success, the better sense of perseverance your employees will have because they're not tied to that emotion of failure being such a negative thing, which for some people...

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, yes, some people have the fortitude where they can fail and get up the next day and try again no matter what, but others, that sense of failure being bad could contribute to less individual perseverance because it makes them not want to try again. Do you know what I mean? So the more you normalize this idea of failure not being a bad thing, the greater your ability to increase the sense of perseverance and triumph in your team because they don't perceive it as such a big negative thing, if that makes sense.

Max James: Yeah. A leader should always let his people know that he will be there to pick them up, that if they fail in an assignment, in a project that they were given, that the leader will be there to support and to pick them up in the event that this particular effort wasn't successful. One of the things we always told our people is there will be other opportunities in your life and some of them won't be here. It may not be here because you don't like it. It may not be here because you don't have the skills to accomplish all of the things that we need. But if you ever find another opportunity that is better for you than this one, we will cheer you on. We will support you. We will do all we can to help you with that.

Max James: So I'm going to give you one other example. I had a foundation for kids that are terminally ill and chronically ill, and we talked about this failure business, and they have fallen, right? They're very ill, not their fault that they have fallen, but they're very ill, and several of them, a large percentage, weren't going to make it, and they were aware of it. But here's what we told them. I took a tennis ball, and I dropped the tennis ball, and it only comes back about, what, halfway? But if you throw the tennis ball down, it bounces much higher. These kids that were five to 16, 17 years old, they got that illustration, that they had fallen hard but they could bounce back higher if they were like that tennis ball and were resilient and willing to bounce. So I think that's true of failure. You don't have to fear failure. Be willing to accept failure, learn from it, and go onto the next project or business or entrepreneurial effort.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you think that that perception of failure is... What do you think the state of that is in business today? Do you think the perception of failure is different than it was earlier in your career? Do you think it's evolved?

Max James: I think there's far less fear today than was my experience early on in my career. Getting fired, to me, was back then a very frightening thing. I'm not talking about the time in the military. I'm talking about the time when I got out of Stanford and started businesses. In fact, listen, I've been fired three times, okay, three times, not always my fault, okay? The business changed, the tax changed, the company got purchased for another. But the point is I never feared it. You just gird your loins and say, "I got to get through this, and here are the things I'm going to do." Opportunity knocks. No, opportunity rarely knocks at your door. You have to go out and find opportunity. When you find it, you got to grab it by the neck and shake it and beat it up until opportunity is yours, okay? So you always have to be prepared. Opportunity doesn't knock. You may have to go find it.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Okay. So-

Max James: But the fear today... There's so many opportunities and it's so much easier to find them because we have this thing called the Internet and social media and the ability to stay in contact with past friends and business associates, the ability to find good mentors to help you through these things. No, I think that the fear of failure should be far less today. Fall hard, bounce high. The next book may be fail fast, fall forward. I kind of like that. Fail fast, fall forward.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I like it. Okay. So one of the things that I found interesting about you, and I'm not sure why, it's probably something to reflect on, is you say that meditation is one of your, if not the, top business tools. So how did you discover that? How do you practice it, and what value do you feel it brings to you in your business life?

Max James: Very good. How I found it, for me, I was at a seminar, and the gentleman that was teaching the seminar said, "Before we got started, I want to show you something and have you experience it." So it was transcendental meditation, and we hummed for a while, and he explained in his mind what the benefits were. So I went ahead with the seminar, and afterwards, at home, I would do as he had suggested, take up to maybe 10, 15, 20 minutes sometime and just try not to think. Here's what happened to me. I'd sit in a chair most of the time, I don't do it laying down, and I would take a notebook, and I would lay it down beside the chair. When I finished the meditation, all of these thoughts had come into my subconscious and risen into the conscious mind, and I would write them down. I used to, for fun, entertain people in the Air Force at the officers' club, and I'd do the same thing. I'd wake up in the mornings and immediately write down all the cute little ideas for the next show at the officers' club.

Max James: So I discovered that, one, it reduced stress enormously just to stop worrying for 15 or 20 minutes or trying to figure everything out. Just take a real break, not a break where you sit and say, "Okay, I'm going to think about this for a while." No, no, no. Stop and don't think. That's what helped me, and it helped me through many personal situations in life so far, and it certainly helped me in business. So I continue to do it. By the way, I must have, I don't know, 30, 40 books on meditation. So it's something that I've felt strongly enough about. I've taught it in my companies. I've tried to get my friends to do it from time to time, and I still do it. To relieve stress is the principle reason.

Max James: I could give you examples, and there's a good example in the book where I had missed an airplane and it was an important meeting and I got there and it was a mess and I had a headache so bad I couldn't stand it. They took me back to the hotel before we had dinner, and I did meditation for about 15 to 20 minutes. The headache went away, and we had a successful dinner meeting. So I believe in it, yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: So I have a few questions, okay?

Max James: Okay.

Sarah Nicastro: So at the conference when this was first introduced you, what was your initial reaction?

Max James: "Oh, you got to be kidding. What is this? This is a bunch of... I'm not going to do this." But I had previously known the speaker, and I knew how bright he was. I knew his background. I knew his education, and it was transcendental... TM back then was popular. You could buy the book. So I thought, "Well, if it's good enough for him, I'm going to try it," and I liked it.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And do you typically practice in the morning, or do you wait until you just feel that you need that stress relief? What is your routine around it?

Max James: Yeah. I would say both of those. For me, practicing it in the morning after I'm dressed and have had breakfast or whatever and just sit down before I really hit it. Then, secondly, if I'm feeling distress of whatever, the breathing is just... It's just so good. It's like taking a hot shower, okay? It's just a total relief. Then when I stop meditation, I feel like I have more energy. So it works for me.

Sarah Nicastro: No, I think it's really cool. Like I said, it was unexpected, something unexpected I read, and it's something I know I need to try. So I need to make a commitment to do that. I do-

Max James: I hope you will.

Sarah Nicastro: I do believe in it and think it will help. I have some of my own practices that I certainly benefit from. Mine is I work out every morning, right? So that's my time to get in the zone or whatever. But it is still different from that sense of quiet and peace and breathing and all of that. I don't know that we've talked about meditation specifically on this podcast before, but we certainly have talked about, for someone who is responsible for being creative, innovating, those sorts of things, the idea of figuring out what works for you in terms of creating white space. I think, like you said, at the end of that 15 or 20 minutes, you have all of these fresh thoughts and ideas, and it's because you literally took a break. It's not because you were thinking about it harder, right, or running faster on the hamster wheel.

Max James: That's right.

Sarah Nicastro: It's because you stepped off of it. I suppose that doesn't need to look the same for everyone, but I do think that that practice of preserving time to have that white space is incredibly important for people who are responsible for a lot of creative ideas, problem-solving, innovation, transformation. I find myself I come up with my best ideas when I walk away. So it could be in the shower. It can be on a walk. It's when I finally allow myself to take a breather that whatever the solution is or... That's when it comes to you. It's not when you're trying so hard to force it out, right?

Max James: No. In simple terms, it's blocking all the junk that goes into your head all the time. A lot of times, people have trouble sleeping. Why? Because they can't turn it off. Well, it's the same thing during the day in stress and whatnot. There are a lot of people who say they meditate while they're in an activity like tennis. Some of the pros meditate. Well, what they're really doing is they're learning to focus, to focus on one thing and getting the other stuff out of the way. "Oh, what's the score?" It doesn't matter what the score is. Just do the best you can right now. So I find it terribly beneficial and have for a long time.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Interesting.

Max James: Try it. You'll like it.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I will. All right. So the last thing I wanted to talk about, Max, is... And I think I saw this on your LinkedIn. So I'm going to read some text here, and then we'll talk about it, okay? You had a post and it says, "When your business doesn't appear to be accomplishing your goals, it's tempting to feel you need outside help in finding the magical solution. More often than not, however, what you really need to do first is go back and examine whether or not you have missed or ignored the basic business fundamentals. As Harvey Mackay says, maybe you just need to go back and walk the manufacturing floor, i.e., look really hard for the flaws, the flies in the ointment. Strong fundamentals and foundations lead to healthy businesses that can bounce high and withstand difficult circumstances." So the reason this stood out to me-

Max James: Oh, that's a mouthful, isn't it? Wow.

Sarah Nicastro: The reason this stood out to me is because a lot of the conversations we have on this podcast relate to some element of evolving a business, digital transformation, leveraging technology in a new or different way, introducing a new value proposition, et cetera, et cetera, right, so a lot of things to do with evolution, innovation, change. I think that this point that you're making here is where a lot of companies fail, and I don't mean failure in the good way. I mean, failure in the debilitating way, right? Because they try to race ahead when, in reality, there are some underlying foundational things that need to be addressed to set the stage for whatever success they're trying to achieve. So tell us a little bit more, your thoughts around this idea of before you look for some magic bullet, go back through and look for those flies in the ointment. Are there certain things that, in your experience, you feel like are common, or what would you want listeners to think about when they hear me read that quote?

Max James: The first thing that comes to my mind is have I been diligent in choosing the people that work for me or with me? There's a thing in the book, and I highlight it everywhere. Hire for character, train for skill. Did I really look hard at this person's background or their personality, their honesty, moral interpretative... Did I really look for that? That's, I think, one of the things Harvey says about get out of your office and go out to the field and see what you have. I oftentimes was amazed and angry with myself that we had allowed people with poor character to join the organization in a meaningful position. So that would be the first.

Max James: The second one is have you really expressed, first to yourself and then to the people that you are associated with, what your goal is? Do I really know what it is that I'm hoping we're going to accomplish? Are we just trying to make a bunch of money? Are we trying to provide good jobs for people? Are we donating enough money to our favorite charities? Does everybody agree with that? Back to the basics of being a good leader. There are a million books written on leadership, and there are thousands of books written about character, starting with the bestselling book of all time. It's the Bible, okay? So where in there are you?

Max James: Dr. Robert Schuller, who was a spiritual mentor of mine before he passed and still is, by the way, I read something that he has written every single day, Schuller said, "Are you suffering a brownout or a blackout? Are you sure it's a blackout? Are you sure there's not something you're doing wrong that you can fix and really this is just a brown out, not a blackout?" So get out of your office, go out there, and really look hard at whether or not you are using the tools that you know are true, that you have practiced, and that you have skill levels in to build this. Look inside first before you go shouting fire in the theater. Are you sure? So I think that's the point I was trying to make there, is that you may be really screwing things up yourself and everybody else is trying to fix it or throwing up their hands because you don't understand the real problem. So make sure that you are doing what you know, you absolutely know, are the right things to do for leadership and for progress.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. We had a podcast late last year with... Slowing Down to Speed Up, I think, was the title of it, and it was with-

Max James: Great point.

Sarah Nicastro: ... Eduardo Bonefont from BD. That was a little bit more specific to the idea of innovation via technology, right? But what he found was while the natural tendency today is to race to, "Okay, what's next, what do we add, what do we change, what's the next layer of innovation," he found that when he spent time... Exactly what you're saying. When he spent time with the frontline workforce, when it came to technology specifically, they had a lot of issues with some of the foundational systems that were in place, and so this mentality of, "Well, let's add to that and let's build, build, build," they would've been doing that on a faulty foundation, which was causing a lot of frustration among their workforce.

Sarah Nicastro: So they decided to take a pause year, pause meaning they obviously were conducting business but pause from technology investment, and take the budget that they would've invested in whatever was next or new on their roadmap, to put that into fixing these foundational issues and improving the engagement and satisfaction of their frontline workforce. It's something that, retelling it, sounds simple, sounds smart, right, but it works against the grain of a lot of business mentality, which is race, race, race, what's next, what's next? So it was such a good story to share, and it makes me think of this point that you made with your LinkedIn post and this idea of the failure often isn't in some massive misstep so much as a lot of little cracks that are adding up to frustration or misalignment or a lot of other things. So I think it's a really good point.

Max James: There are two cliches that come to mind. One is, if you remember all the old Aesop's Tales, the tortoise won the race over the hare, and so there are times when speed isn't going to... Secondly, perfection is the enemy of excellence. You can be beating up on your people to do this, that, and the other thing when the profits are pretty good, things are going well, the future looks bright. So put the whip down and feed them some ice cream.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Max James: Yeah. We sometimes let our own personal idiosyncrasies get in the way of an organization's idiosyncrasies.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. All right, Max. Any final thoughts, words of wisdom, advice that you would like to share?

Max James: A couple. The old Air Force motto is, "Fly, fight, win." It doesn't say fly and win. It says you have to fight. So whether you're an entrepreneur or whether you're an intrapreneur inside a large company, you're going to have to double up your fist and fight for what you want. Prepare as well as you can that what you are fighting for is worth it and the way you are fighting is with character and integrity. So hire for character, train for skills, bet on bright, but cut your losses early and move on. Don't be afraid of failing. If you've done your best, that is success, and failure's never final. This was good, Sarah. I have enjoyed it very much. Thank you for inviting me.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Thank you, Max. Let folks know where they can find the book.

Max James: Amazon, The Harder I Fall, The Higher I Bounce, or put in my name and it'll come up. I told many people I'm prouder of the endorsements which you'll find on the page than I actually am of the book, and so you'll find the former Air Force Chief of Staff, the Vice Chairman of General Motors. Some people that I have high respect for have been overly flattering. So go to Amazon, The Harder I Fall, The Higher I Bounce.

Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. Thank you, Max. I appreciate it.

Max James: Thank you, ma'am. Thank you.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter, @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thanks for listening.

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