Log Out

Transcript: J.J. White

July 10, 2019

MAUREEN DINGUS: Welcome to Leading Forward, the Virginia Society of CPAs' podcast on innovation, leadership and the CPA profession. I'm your host, Maureen Dingus, and I invite thought leaders for short, casual conversations on topics of interest to our CPAs. So today, we are on a little field trip. We are at J.J. White's place. He is the host of the Great People Show. I get that right? 

J.J. WHITE: You did! Great job. 

MAUREEN: And the chief engagement officer of Dale Carnegie of Virginia. So he invited us out here to his digs to play around and do a podcast. So thank you.

J.J.: Welcome to the Great People Studio. 

MAUREEN: Yeah, it's awesome. It's a quite an upgrade for us, huh, Chip? Yeah, yeah. So before we jump into the meat of what we want to talk about, I'd like to to hear a little bit about your leadership journey, and how it really influenced what you're doing today with Dale Carnegie.

J.J.: So I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia. And I can't say I had many positive leadership influences. So I ended up leading myself through a lot of things in life. And when you're in your teens and early 20s, you end up making a lot of mistakes, if you don't have someone keeping you out of the dishes, per se. So most of my leadership journey has been trial by fire, getting burned a lot. And it wasn't until my first real job out of college, they put me through the Dale Carnegie course, I was around 23-24 years old, and had the opportunity to take my first leadership program, which was the Dale Carnegie program. And it wasn't until then that I realized, "Boy, I've been doing it wrong the whole time." 

And that started, I guess you can say, my 180 turn towards understanding people, understanding myself, really, more than anything and one of the sayings that I use a lot, you can catch a lot more bees with honey than you can vinegar. And I think up to that point, my leadership style was to use as much vinegar as I could. And it's like, "Wow, that doesn't work." So I have turned the rest of my life into a journey of better understanding it. Another one of my favorite sayings is "When you're green, you're growing and when you're ripe, you're rotting," and so I just try to keep myself green as much as I possibly can.

MAUREEN: So it sounds like someone really gave you the the gift of training and Dale Carnegie and you really — it sounds like you're embodying it now it really became, it's what you do.

J.J.: The deeper you dive in, the more you realize you don't know. And it makes you want to — at least it makes me want to — continue to work harder and harder and harder every day to understand me better. And what can I do a little differently to be better for the people around me?

MAUREEN: So maybe we'll touch on this a little later, before we wrap up, but the VSCPA is working with you and Dale Carnegie to offer some training opportunities for our members and really cool way of looking at it with different tracks for different phases of your career. So thank you for for working with us and our members on that. And hopefully we can touch on that just a bit at the end.

J.J.: I have to believe there's another 23-year-old out there that's trying to figure it out, too. So you have to pay it forward.

MAUREEN: Yeah, 43-year-old, 53-year-old... 

J.J.: Yeah, that's true, too. 

MAUREEN: So when we chatted before, before we got to this point to see what we would talk about, you and I were noodling with this idea and concept of the social contract. So you threw that out there. And it just was so intriguing to me, you had been at a, I guess, a panel discussion with some CEOs. And really, that maybe the lack of discussion about culture that was happening really struck you and this idea of the the social contract came to mind. So could you just tell us a little bit? What does that even mean? Where did you — why is it important?

J.J.: Yeah, I actually heard those words for the first time a few weeks ago. I wasn't in someone's home, it was a panel discussion for the University of Richmond MBA program. And one of the MBA students brought up the fact that they are a young leader in an older organization, it's led by mainly older people, and how there's this uprising going on of people that want a new social contract with the organization. And it made me realize that every organization, from the time that you hire your first employee till your thousandth employee, there is an unwritten, mostly unspoken social contract between the employer and the employee. And when I just first heard the words, I knew exactly what that was, I didn't even need to research that. 

Whereas like a social contract, that makes sense, it's, it's been part of that employee engagement part of business for four years, where if you want your employees to give their discretionary effort, they have to get something in return of that. And some people want money, very few actually want a whole lot more money. I think we all want a little more money, but very few does it hinge on money. Most of the time, it's "Treat me well. And I will treat you well back." And there's that contract between, sometimes just two people, but usually it's between your employees and the rest of the organization. 

And we're living in a world now where unemployment is at its lowest in decades. So all of a sudden, now the employees have a little bit more power, per se, probably some of the same issues that spawned unions at the turn of the century, it's wanting to have more control over working conditions. Before, it was physical working conditions. Now it's mental working conditions. And we're in this together, right? It's that contract that says if we do this together, we'll be more successful than if you just tell me what to do. And I follow your your orders per se.

MAUREEN: Yeah. I mean, when you have a contract, there are two sides. Right? So it's a great point that we're in this together. And the uprising is what's interesting. How, what's driving that? I mean, you mentioned the unemployment, but what....

J.J.: Births. So you look at any birth curve from the 60s. So the reason we have had so many baby boomers enter the workforce in the 80s, is because there were so many births in the 60s. And then I'm a Gen Xer. So that birth curve started to plummet. There's not nearly as many of me in the workforce. And then it rises again, higher than it was for the boomers, for the millennials. So I think it was 12 to 18 months ago, the millennials actually became the largest member of the workforce. So our numbers, you know, it's like there's new sheriffs in town. And now those Mmllennials are starting to become leaders and decision makers more and more and more. 

MAUREEN: Right, right, Right. So back to math. When your kids say, "Why do I have to do this? Because someday...

J.J.: Yeah, we're Mom and Dad.

MAUREEN: Yeah, well, besides that, right? So is there a struggle? I mean, what's it starting to look like? People — how do they get past the struggle? I guess what you're saying — there is starting to be this conflict of how do we create this new social contract?

J.J. Get ahead of it? You can either — it's like anything in life, you can either let things happen to you, or you can let things happen for you. And if you're finding that if you're a leader in your organization, and your employees are wanting different things, and you believe you could give them or should give them, they probably see things that you don't see for yourself. And it's important to be able to get ahead of any curve in your organization, whether you're nonprofit, whether you're a for-profit corporation, if you're a public accounting firm, business, is about getting ahead of all these forces, either that are happening for you or to you. And we tend to only pay attention to the ones that are happening for us, right? Oh, there's this new opportunity in the marketplace, we need to capture it. And then you look at what the employees are requiring, in order to be contributors in the organization. And it's amazing to me how many people are saying, well, we're not going to do that. That's not who we are. That's not how we do things around here. It's like you should be thinking about who you have now, but also who you want to attract in listening to them. Back to your original question, I think most people just push back change to the status quo, and the status quo is not going to make it very far anymore.

MAUREEN: So going back to what you talked about, as you learning as a 23-year-old and kind of going through the change, we've certainly have leaders out here or business owners who are feeling some discomfort from from all of this, and they may need some changing. They might understand that this is necessary. They want to evolve, but maybe they need to do some soul searching. What might they do to even help themselves get comfortable with this?

J.J.: First thing that comes to mind whenever you say that is I think of the person that is probably 50 years or older. And it's instant human reaction to say, "Well, I'm only going to be in this for another 10 to 15 years. I'll just ride it out. I won't change because I don't need to. It'll be something that I'm not going to be able to deal with right now." And then what about if you're under 50 years old? Like I'm getting ready to turn 45? I'm not 45 yet, I'm getting ready to turn. I'm holding on to this whole under-45 thing. But I realized I've got a whole lot of runway in front of me. So I have to make a decision. Do I want to be adaptable? Do I want to change? Or do I want to continue to fight back against what's happening in in my business? 

You know, our market is is changing. And I can keep holding on to to all the old dogmas of the past. But I'm probably going to die with those dogmas if I'm not careful. So I think a big part of it is a lot of people don't have an understanding of their vision and their goals and realize, "Hey, if I don't make some changes, I'm not going to be able to achieve these goals." And I don't know if you're going there with this question or not. But I also think if somebody's an elder in an organization — I don't care what age you are, if you're 40, or 50, or 60, or 70, I think you have a responsibility to really get to know these younger people that are coming into the organization. If you just hired someone from college, I would be all over that. I would be taking them to lunch. Those would be the first people I would ask, "What do you think we should think about changing around here?" And the reason that doesn't happen, I think, is people have big egos and pride. And it's like, "You haven't earned the right to share that kind of information with me." It's like, I don't I think those kind of barriers have been brought down. 

MAUREEN: Right, right nobody asked me when I was your age.

J.J.: I had to work here 20 years before someone asked me that question, right? 

MAUREEN: And, so what?

J.J.: Can you even make it 20 years without asking that question?

MAUREEN: Yeah, no kidding. No kidding. You sparked something that made me think your organization is been around for a long time. 

J.J.: 106 and a half years. 

MAUREEN: So, you know, even you, as an entrepreneur, are not immune to trying to create a new feature.

J.J.: And you mentioned this at the top of the show, the Virginia Society of CPAs has engaged Dale Carnegie as a partner and learning. Every bit of that right now is live, online training. And that's nothing we had 10 years ago. Sure, you could back the day jump on a WebEx, but that was kind of boring and webinar-ish and stuff like that. It's like you have to adapt to how people want to engage in what you do. Whether it's virtual, whether it's in person. I don't, Look, it's kind of joking. But some of these industries that really don't get affected that much groceries, one of them right grocery, makes it through a recession. I guarantee in 10 years, most grocery stores will just be warehouses, right. People aren't going to go grocery shopping. If you are in grocery, are you ready for that? CPA firms. What is the CPA firm doing to understand blockchain? And cryptocurrency? It's coming. It's just a matter of when, right?

MAUREEN: Yeah, yeah. So what are some of the skills that Dale Carnegie and those tracks that we're offering our CPAs, what are some of the key ones that you think people need to know about?

J.J.: It's the ones that you probably hear day in and day out as what are the great greatest people challenges you have in your organization? Communication, communication, communication, communication. The other one is people skills, being able to connect with people, being able to gain their cooperation, being able to influence change and influence behaviors. And we're not talking about making other people do what you want them to do, but it's about just understanding what they want. Zig Ziglar said, "Find out what other people want and give it to them." And as leaders, sometimes it's just difficult to figure out how to even understand what they want, because we want to lead based on what we want, not what they want. 

Unknown Speaker  13:34  
So just really, it reminds me of a Vince Lombardi quote that says "Special plays and trick defenses don't win football games. It's the fundamentals, the blocking and tackling, that win football games." And what we do  in all of our training is just continue to focus in on the blocking and tackling over and over. And if you know anything about football and the old Green Bay Packers, you know they only ran one play the whole game. And they just got exceptionally amazing, almost perfect, at that one play to the point where the competitors knew what play they were going to run, but they could never defend against it. Yeah, that's that's, that's what potential we have inside of us is to get so good at those fundamentals that you don't have to stay up at night worrying about handling the situation or how am I going to deal with this or how to deal with that. It just becomes a part of who you are.

MAUREEN: You said communication, communication, communication. why can't we communicate? 

J.J.: That's actually the easiest question to answer. Now —

MAUREEN: You knew I was gonna throw you some softballs. 

J.J.: Well, whether you believe everything in the Bible or nothing in the Bible, go back to the original how this whole thing started in in the Garden of Eden — the original question. As people, we've always been trying to figure out is "What in the world were you thinking? Why did you do that?" Right? That's, that's gets back to the beginning of time for human beings. And we haven't figured that one out yet. It's because we're thinking about ourselves. The reason communication breaks down so much, almost all the time, is we are really only thinking about our point of view, what we want, how do I get that? And unfortunately, it's our nature. It's how we are designed is to protect and think about ourselves, a core skill, habit, attitude, whatever you want to call, it's actually all the above, is to think less about ourselves, and more about the other people we're communicating to, because if you really, really thought about it from their perspective, and understood what they wanted, that makes communication a lot easier.

MAUREEN: So when I go home after and I want to work on my communication skills today, what's one thing I could do?

J.J.: So I'll tell you a quick story. There was a gentleman that took the Dale Carnegie course, this was probably 16 years ago. And he was in his 60s, he worked at a company in Roanoke called ITT Night Vision. He was an engineer. And he'd been married like 30 years, may have been longer than that. And he came back in one of our sessions. And he was just so happy because "I finally figured it out." We're like, "What did you figure out?" He goes, "Every day after work, I always go on a walk with my wife. And I finally realized when she's telling me about her day, all she wants me to do is listen. And when I tell her about my day, all I want her to do is help me fix it. But when she's telling me about her day, I'm just trying to fix it. And when I'm telling her about my day, all she's doing is just listening. All I gotta do is just let her talk and just be a listener." 

And it gets back to that "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" thing. It is a gender thing. But generally speaking, everybody's a little different. And if we just understood what people want from us and tried hard just to give them that. I don't know if you've ever read the book by Marshall Goldsmith, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There." 

MAUREEN: Absolutely. 

J.J.: One of the, one of the 21 things is adding too much value. And in our relationships, I think we go so far as to try to add value to other people's lives. And they're not interested in that. So they sometimes can say, "Just leave me alone. I was just trying to tell you, I was just — I just want you to listen."

MAUREEN: Yeah, my husband has said "Stop coaching me."

J.J.: Hey, try to be a coach! I mean, it happens in my household all the time. I hear "Hey, quit being Dale Carnegie to me!" Okay, I'm sorry.

MAUREEN: But it's so good. It's so important. Just not today. J.J., this is — this is great. I really appreciate what you've — what you've put out there for us. I have two more questions I want to ask for you. What if you were talking to some business leaders out there today, what are — what should they be thinking about in the next year or so?

J.J.: Well, there's a lot of lot of forces coming in — artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, ultra real — you've got so many things that technology is playing a part, more and more now. But the one thing that we are ever going to be able to get rid of, at least not in our lifetimes, is the human side of business. And the human side of life, really, is to realize that the people that are part of your organization is what's separating you right now. They, your competitors can have your, your technology, they can have your — they can have everything you have. But what they don't have is your people. That's the one thing that separates you from everybody else. 

So do everything in your power to take care, not just from a business and operational perspective, but from a mental health perspective is to give people the best environment — you didn't hire somebody, because they have every single thing it takes to do that job well. You hired them because they had some of those things. It's our responsibility as employers is to always be coaching. You may have heard in sales, ABC, always be closing. But in my perspective, in, in leadership, it's always be coaching. But people don't necessarily want always to be coaching. Well, that's the problem when we just turn it on. Right? I've been here for three years, and you've never coached me one time. And now all of a sudden you want to do? You have to slowly convert that culture, if it's not already a part of your your culture.

Unknown Speaker  18:58  
MAUREEN: So what is always be coaching look like? What is coaching?

Unknown Speaker  19:00  
J.J.: It's feedback. So when we do employee engagement surveys, the number one gap we find in every organization is people feel like they don't get enough feedback. If they screw up, they feel like they get good feedback, because people are quickly able to point out what they did wrong. But that feedback mechanism doesn't always have to be you're doing this wrong, you need to do this better, or you're not doing this enough, you need to do this more. A lot of people think coaching is trying to take something that's bad or average and making it better. That feedback mechanism comes all the time — this is going very well because of this. This isn't going as well, because of this or even one of the better coaching questions is "How do you think this is going?" And they say, "This isn't going very well." Well, tell me why. And then they give you the answer you'd give them. One of our definitions of coaching at Carnegie is to never tell anybody anything that they can tell you through asking good questions. And just keeping that communication going between the leader and the staff. Even if you don't need to communicate, there's always a need to communicate. 

MAUREEN: So getting out of your head, of what you think, asking questions and listening. Right? So easy.

J.J.: Simple, but not easy, right? 

MAUREEN: Simple. Yep. Yep, yep. Simple. Alright, so my last question is what do you do for fun, J.J.?

J.J.: So the radio show is kind of fun. Even though it's avocational for me, it's it's a passion project. Certainly getting on the audio and doing that radio thing is an absolute blast. All the rest of my free time is spent with kids — my kids. I also do a lot of nonprofit work in the community. That's also a lot of fun. And when I get — when it gets down at, okay, your next follow up question is, "Okay, J.J., what do you do for fun all by yourself?" And that is get on a hike in the middle of the woods and just keep walking. That's what I do for fun. Just to get away from it all.

MAUREEN: You leave behind the the technology.

J.J.: I get more done on that walk than I do any day in the office. 

MAUREEN: That's awesome. Yeah. Good, good. Good. So where can people hear your radio show?

J.J. So we do have a website, GreatPeopleShow.com, but if you want to go directly to the audio right now, go to this website, GoPod.me/GreatPeopleShow. That's GoPod.me/GreatPeopleShow, and that's a great little website where you can listen to it on Spotify and Apple and Google and any other place that you could possibly listen to a podcast is, is on that website. And then of course, our Dale Carnegie website is VA — for Virginia — DaleCarnegie.com.

MAUREEN: Alright, well please everyone go check out J.J.'s — check out what J.J. has, what he's given. I know you'll enjoy it. So J.J., thank you so much for your time today, for inviting us.

J.J. Yeah, thanks for coming into the Great People Studio.

MAUREEN: Yeah, the field trip was a hit. It was so fun to come out Goochland and do this with you. 

J.J.: Anytime.

MAUREEN: So anytime? We will be back, then.

J.J.: Cool.

MAUREEN: Alright, so thank you everyone, for listening to Leading Forward and be sure to subscribe, and we will catch you next time. 

J.J.: See ya!