Today, I spoke to Tom Rath, who is Gallup’s Global Practice Leader and has written three bestselling business books in the last decade, including How Full Is Your Bucket and Strengths Finder 2.0. In this very extensive interview, Tom explains how to be an effective leader, shares some insightful research results he’s analyzed over the past years, explains how and why you need to get a job right now, and how to develop better personal relationships. I even asked him how he’s build a #1 New York Times bestselling book team and marketing plan!
What are the three keys to being a more effective leader?
- The first and most important thing we found at Gallup over the years is that a leader really knows his or her own strengths. Just like a carpenter needs to know the tools at his disposal. Knowing who you are and how you can become more of who you are would be the first one. We found that the best leaders are not well rounded. So they’re not trying to be a little bit good at everything. They focus at being great a few things.
- The second thing is that the best leaders are good at surrounding themselves with the right people that compliment their strengths. Instead of finding people who look just like themselves or clones, that can lead to a negative group think in some cases, they’re real smart to find people that are better than they are in certain areas.
- The third thing is that leaders not only have to help followers to have stability in what’s going on in the moment but to also hold out a lot of hope for the future. So, the third challenge for leaders is to balance those two and to help people know that things are stable right now and even if times are tough right now, we’ll get through it together and that there will be a better future tomorrow.
How can people position themselves so they are in a job they love?
Only 24% of people say that they like what they do each day (upcoming Gallup Poll). At the real foundational level, people need to step back and look at the things were they experience that natural satisfaction and enjoyment. We worked with one psychologist that wrote a book about flow, which is an optimal state which is if you’re doing something that you’re so wrapped up in that you lose track of time. What are the moments when we experience that and how can you experience more time during the day doing those things?
We have a test called Strength Finder that people can take that is takes about a half hour that is a diagnostic about what specific talents you have. A lot of people say that if they go through that, it helps them to be more effective, without having to make a career change. Sometimes it’s just about small adjustments to what you’re doing.
Out of all the Gallup studies you conducted, what is the most fascinating piece of research that caught your eye?
When I look back at all the books I’ve been involved with over the years, I’d say one of the best studies, was a study on the importance of day-to-day interactions people have and how that impacts long-term outcomes. If you’re having a conversation at work or you and your spouse have a talk in the evening. How do those little exchanges predict long term outcomes?
It was a way that the theory was tested that impressed me more than any other experiment I’ve followed. He brought in 700 newlywed couples into his lab and watched them interact for 15 minutes and based on those little interactions if they had 5 positives for every 1 negative in those remarks they made to each other, he predicted they would stay together and if they were below that line, he predicted they would divorce. Then 10 years later he followed up with those couples to see how accurate his predictions were and they were accurate 94% of the time. Even though that wasn’t an original piece from Gallup, it got us interested in how you can measure those ratios in the workplace.
What is the difference between someone who is good at forming business/personal relationships and someone who isn’t?
One big key is being a little more extroverted and putting yourself out there and through all the psychological literature I’ve read, extroverts can have an advantage. Well that’s probably true, we’ve been polling a thousand people nightly in the U.S. and one of the questions we’ve been asking is “how much social time you’ve had in the past day”? And we asked people to give us a general estimate of how many hours they’ve spent socializing between work, and home and text messages and email and talking on the cell phone and we found that the people that were really thriving in their lives in general get about 6 hours a day of social time. Both introverts and extroverts alike, with every hour of social time, you had a huge return in terms of your overall well-being and how you’ve been doing. A lot of it is about making sure you’re putting the time in on a day to day basis. People just have to put the time and hard work and effort into not just forming relationships, but sustaining and continuing and growing the best existing relationships.
Do you believe in personal branding? How have you developed your brand over time?
I do think it’s really helpful, when people think about their careers, to be conscious about their own brand and to be aware of it, if nothing else. I’ve seen people on both side of the equation get blindsided because they weren’t thinking about their brand in a situation. Personally, I think it’s important as long as it doesn’t get to the point where you don’t put your brand or image ahead of your team or organization. I have the chance at Gallup to work with the best scientists and thinkers in the world, in my opinion. I think that our collective brand as a small work team in a company and as a company in general, I would always prioritize that above my brand.
If you look at the last two books I’ve worked on, it’s been a great opportunity, where I’ve brought in consultants and researchers at Gallup and have coauthored books with them. It helps you to collaborate even more and to get more people involved in my thinking. If my focus was on an individual brand in isolation, I wouldn’t be able to learn as much if I was focused on an individual brand.
What goes into a #1 NY Times Bestselling marketing plan?
I’m just finishing up a book on well-being and I’m writing it with Gallup’s chief scientist. I was looking at the last five or six books I’ve worked on and what’s interesting to me is that we have the exact same core team of people who are working day to day to edit those books, get the layout right and the packaging and everything else. There is almost no change to the team. We still have the same two editors that teach me how to be a better writer. A real good personal friend of mine helped us build all the infrastructure it takes to build a publishing company and he’s always thinking about what covers work best and what lines get people’s attention and we have another guy who is our publisher. He’s been involved in hit business books than anyone else out there. Starting with Now Discover Your Strengths. He is someone who knows a lot about what makes a hit.
We have a big base of people that read Gallups Management Journal and have read previous books and we’ll do marketing through email for books. There’s not a big marketing budget. One of the things I’ve learned over the years in talking to one of my editors is that in order to get an “evergreen book,” one that sells month in and month out, which is always the goal is that it really takes word-of-mouth. You can pump out all the marketing in the world and get a big hit in the first month, but the real test comes six months down the line.
What are your top pieces of advice for someone who has recently been laid off from their job?
The first one is to stay active and keep doing that you enjoy doing on a day to day basis even if you’re not getting paid for it. If someone comes to my office looking for a job and they tell me that they have been volunteering or working on a big entrepreneurial project on their own, during the time they weren’t formally employed on their resume versus someone who has had no activity, you look at those candidates very differently.
It might be an opportunity to really evaluate where you want your life and career to be 10 or 20 years down the road. Are you starting into an area where you can have long term growth and satisfaction? It’s very easy to put yourself in a short frame of reference, where you need to get aj ob by tomorrow to make ends meet, but to keep some focus on making sure that you don’t just fall into a career or industry that you’re doing purely out of financial necessity right now that can drag you into the ground emotionally when jobs are more available. Money certainly matter. You need money to get by and by you financial freedom. Once you reach a basic level of income, money is not what differentiates a real life that is thriving than one that is struggling. It’s about the quality of relationships and the first thing that really matters is that you enjoy what you’re doing on a day to day basis.
“One’s career may be more important than physical health.”
Another study looked at major life events found out that being laid off didn’t have a long-term impact on someone. If you’re unemployed greater than a year, it can take such a hit on life satisfaction that it’s even greater than some of the most tragic events in life. You got to make sure you’re doing something on a daily basis.
Tom Rath, Gallup’s Global Practice Leader, has written three bestselling business books in the last decade. His first book, How Full Is Your Bucket?, was a #1 New York Times and #1 BusinessWeek bestseller. Rath’s 2007 book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, is a long-running #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller and was listed by USA Today as the top-selling business book of 2008. Rath’s latest book, Strengths Based Leadership, immediately became a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. In total, Rath’s books have made more than 100 appearances on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Rath has been with Gallup for 14 years and currently leads Gallup’s workplace research and leadership consulting worldwide. Rath serves on the board of VHL.org, an organization dedicated to cancer research and patient support. He earned degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania.