Podcast Transcript

Buzz Knight 00:00:01

 I’m Buzz Knight. I’m the host of Taking a Walk and I welcome you to a virtual edition. I’m in Massachusetts at the Concord River Elliot Preserve, which is in Carlisle, Massachusetts. My guest is in the San Francisco, California area. If you’re a regular listener of Taking a Walk, welcome. Your support is so appreciated. Your encouragement, your willingness to share and share your comments are so motivating. And please share and subscribe and download or read or review Taking a Walk. And if you’re a new listener, whether it be here in the US or part of our global audience, we welcome you as well. Taking a Walk is about the love of conversation with interesting people, people who have ordinary stories and people who have extraordinary stories. And one of the topics I often talk about with guests on Taking a Walk is really leadership. And today’s guest is an expert in that area. She’s the author of best selling books including Open Leadership and the Disruption Mindset. She has been named one of the most creative people in business by Fast Company. She’s an expert in digital transformation and disruptive growth strategies and she currently is the chief research officer for PA Consulting. Glad to be taking a walk, even though it’s virtual, prefer in person, but glad to be taking a walk with Charlene Li. Hello Charlene.


Charlene Li 00:01:41

Hey Buzz, how are you doing today?


Buzz Knight 00:01:42

I’m doing great, thanks for taking the time. You are in the San Francisco area, right?


Charlene Li 00:01:48

That’s correct. Right in the middle of San Francisco.


Buzz Knight 00:01:51

Which is one of the great walking cities. Do you like taking a walk in San Francisco?


Charlene Li 00:01:56

I love it. In a deep fog, in the sunny days, it’s all great.


Buzz Knight 00:02:01

And does it get you out of a time maybe where you’re log jammed on a particular project just to go clear the air?


Charlene Li 00:02:11

Yes. I find that huffing my way up a really steep hill is a great way to get me distracted from the things that I can’t do and it just gives me a different perspective. Different perspective when I get to the top of that hill.


Buzz Knight 00:02:26

That’s awesome. So how’s it going? First of all, you made a little shift in the job during these last couple of years. How is it going with the PA Consulting Group?


Charlene Li 00:02:37

Well, I’m just there for three months now, so it just began a few months ago. So far it’s been great. Again, I’m still in my honeymoon with the company but I feel like what the company is trying to accomplish with its purpose is very much aligned with what I’m trying to do, which is the whole reason why I joined. I gave up doing my whole independent research work to join a very large international consulting firm based in London. Over 4000 people. And it is very different to be working for a larger organization.


Buzz Knight 00:03:13

But you’re enjoying it?


Charlene Li 00:03:14

I love it. It’s absolutely great to have colleagues who are everyday pushing me to be bigger and bolder and to ask and think on a larger scale. And most importantly, I just feel like we’re aligned on what we’re trying to do and we’re alive by this purpose.


Buzz Knight 00:03:32

That’s awesome. Well, you know, I’ve come out of the media business and particularly the radio business and how can media companies and radio companies be bolder at a time when they may need to be shifting their thinking?


Charlene Li 00:03:48

Well, I think again, the biggest problem with media companies is what kind of business are they in? Are they in the radio business? Are they in the TV business? Are they in the newspaper business versus because if you think about it only as the channel, even though all of these mediums are also digital today, if that’s the core of what you do, then you’re missing the larger relationship. Are you dealing with these people? What do they depend on you for? What kind of relationship do you want to have with them? What kind of relationship do they have with you? And when you can at the core, understand what needs you are fulfilling for them and then discover new ways of potentially meeting those needs, that shifts the perspective where it’s no longer just listeners or readers. These are people who need information to be doing something. So what is that something? If you can help them get to that goal better, faster, you’ll be accomplishing and feeling a lot better too.


Buzz Knight 00:04:51

So we know it’s been difficult these last couple of years for all companies, media companies included, to stay ahead of obviously the health issues of a pandemic and everything. How have you seen this handcuffed companies? And how have you seen companies break free from being handcuffed by what’s been going on?


Charlene Li 00:05:14

Well, you can see yourself as being handcuffed when a disruption comes your way and you think of it as a setback versus an opportunity. And what you saw with the pandemic and also with what’s going on right now is the economy, inflation, potential recession that we may be in or not. You can look at it as something to hide from or you can see it as an opportunity to be grasped where no one else can see one. And the people who are successful at growing and distracting themselves see challenges as opportunities to grow, opportunities to learn not to fail, but to learn from things falling short of success and do better the next time. And they dust themselves up and get up and go again. And so it’s really hard for businesses and leaders where you feel like you have to see that every single turn. You have to be right 100% of the time. And that is so debilitating because you can never, ever fail. And the people who are able to be bold, to experiment and innovate are the ones who have a really healthy relationship.


Buzz Knight 00:06:27

Well, I love how you think from the inside of the organization as well. You always have and you still are when you’re thinking about these uncomfortable discussions that have to occur within organizations so they can be in the transformative mode. Talk about these uncomfortable discussions.


Charlene Li 00:06:51

Well if you’re not capable of having these uncomfortable discussions, then you just let them go by the wayside and you don’t deal with that. And you just hope, cross your fingers and hope that it doesn’t come back and bite you. That’s not a great way to go through life. There’s a great saying from the chairman of Nokia, Risto Siilasmaa i He had a saying that no news is good news. I’m sorry. Bad news is good news because if we know what’s going wrong, we can actually do something about it. No news is bad news because you never know what’s really happening. And good news is no news. That okay, it’s great. That’s actually not news. This is what we expected things to happen. So when you look forward, when you look for and anticipate and relish, you really want the bad news of what’s going wrong, then we can make sure we’re going on a better path going forward. That’s a very different mindset and this is what disruptors do. This is what leaders do when they’re trying to create change. And if you’re not creating change and you’re not a leader, you’re managing the status quo. But leaders create change.


Buzz Knight 00:08:02

Well, but leaders also in your mind need to have a mindfulness when they think of their organization. Talk about mindfulness and leadership, which I know is very important for you.


Charlene Li 00:08:15

Yes, The idea of mindfulness as a leader in particular is that you’re keeping in mind you’re mindful of what’s going on around you. So it’s not that you just go on a track and you close off everything else, the possibilities and blinders on. You’re actually aware of all the circumstances around you because you can be fully, fully present. That’s what mindfulness allows you to be, to be fully present and aware of all your different options. And then your wisdom and experience as a leader allows you to focus, pick where you will put your focus, where you are center our attention on. And leadership requires you to make less than optimal choices and decisions constantly. That’s what leadership is about. You will never have the perfect circumstances. You never have the 100% of information that you need to make a decision. So being as mindful where of the place where you are so you can make the best decisions possible, knowing that they’re not going to be perfect and you’re doing your best and that when things fall short, you will pick up the pieces and keep moving. And that discomfort is the thing that leaders do so well, that they’re comfortable with being uncomfortable and this is they expect it, they get used to it. They actually thrive with it. Gives them a little bit of a thrill when they encounter it again because they know in the end that they have confidence. And confidence isn’t that you will be right, be successful, but knowing that you will be okay no matter what.


Buzz Knight 00:09:55

Do you think most leaders today across multiple industries have enough sense of urgency when it comes to the tasks at hand?


Charlene Li 00:10:07

I don’t think so, because oftentimes they’re not really talking to their customers, their stakeholders, as much as they should. So customers, their employees, the supply chain partners, as well as the shareholders. So not talking to them enough to really understand what their needs and wants are, to understand what’s going on with them, what’s urgent, what’s not. And because of that, because they don’t have that constant conversation with people, it’s easy to get focused on just the way they used to the world, and not truly aware of everything that’s actually going on. And so I think that mindfulness requires this active pursuit of what the truth is, what the reality is out there. So many leaders will say, my biggest challenge is really understanding what’s really going on because I don’t know what the truth is. It’s being filtered to so many places, what’s really going on, which is why I get my mindfulness. It’s so important to be able to dig through all that fog and be able to see what actually is happening.


Buzz Knight 00:11:17

And you talk about it in terms of setting impossible deadlines, which I think is a really great way to look at that.


Charlene Li 00:11:24

Yeah, again, I was just talking to someone on the phone. They’re like, oh, I’ll get back to you in a couple of weeks. And like, why do you need a couple of weeks? Why not talk about this at the end of this week, tomorrow, maybe later this afternoon? Why do you need a couple of weeks to figure this out? And so if you take your time for like, oh, that would take two months to do, well, what if you only had two days? What would you do 1st, second and third? And it’s not that you say you’re going to do it in two days, but it’s a great thought exercise to say, if I were to try to get done what would normally take two months in two days, what would I do? And what that does is it gives you a prioritized list, like, what’s the most important thing we absolutely have to get right? We’re going to shortcut and everything, then slowly add things on just enough to get you to the point where quality is going to be high enough, where you can be excellent. Not perfect, but excellent. And then that’s your timeline. And I guarantee it’s going to be less than what we originally thought was going to be.


Buzz Knight 00:12:26

How do you think the workforce, a few years into obviously a pandemic, is existing today and will they ever return to a normal state of mind?


Charlene Li 00:12:40

Did we have a normal before? That’s why I always like to ask what was normal? What was acceptable? I would say that the normal before, where we couldn’t really talk about what was going on in our lives, that we had to check our personal lives at the door and not talk about that we were literally in each other’s bedrooms. We saw all the messy sides of things. We were seen as full, rich, imperfect humans that we truly are. And we didn’t have to go through this facade of always looking perfect all the time. That’s what Covid got rid of. Why would we go back to that? And I think what Covid has done is really focused on what’s really important in our lives and relationships that matter and the type of relationships we want to have at work. I do believe that the great resignation happened because we realized there is a different way to work. And people who are trying to go back to the, quote, normal were seeing rebellion left and right because people were like, I don’t accept that normal. I don’t want that. I want to work at a place where I am seen. I’m understood as a human. I am treated and respected that way. When my employer wants to have a relationship with me, rather than try to engage me as if I was a monkey with a banana in front of me, I would think of that term employee engagement as I’m in an experiment. Like you’re going to try to engage me by putting different treats in front of me to see if I get engaged. Now think about me as a human person with a purpose and passion. There’s alignment between what I want to accomplish and what you want to accomplish, and treat me with that respect. Have integrity in the relationship and tell me really what’s going on, and I will do the same for you. Why is that so hard? But yet we don’t have these relationships. When the time is winding down for our time to be working together, we sneak off to have lunch with a friend instead of telling our employer, what I’m doing is no longer satisfactory. I’m not learning and growing anymore. We put our heads down and don’t ask about these things. We could be so different.


Buzz Knight 00:15:03

Charlene in closing it in one word, how can a leader foster optimism in their organization?


Charlene Li 00:15:13

Foster optimism requires that you focus on the relationship. I just keep coming back to this one word relationship. If you think about you as a leader having a relationship with people, what does that relationship have to look like in order to have optimism be in it? You have to have optimism about who that person is, that they are there to contribute their best, and you are there to make them their best, to help them reach their full potential. I think about the purpose of my company, PA Consulting. It is to use ingenuity to take part as the power of ingenuity to build a positive human feature. And my personal purpose is to create transformation, to catalyze transformation, to maximize human potential. At the center of all of that is this tremendous optimism that we as leaders can actually build a better future for ourselves or organizations, for the people we work with. If you fundamentally believe that you will craft relationships that will foster that optimism.


Buzz Knight 00:16:21

Charlene, I can’t thank you enough for all you do, all you give us on a regular basis for you taking a walk virtually here. I’d love to do it in person sometime in your travels, but thank you for your generosity and your inspiration.


Charlene Li 00:16:40

Thank you. Buzz. Always great to talk with you.


Buzz Knight 00:16:42

Thank you. Taking a Walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast.


About The Author

Buzz Knight

Buzz Knight is an established media executive with a long history of content creation and multi-platform distribution.

After a successful career as a Radio Executive, he formed Buzz Knight Media which focuses on strategic guidance and the development of new original content.