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Episode 45: Guiding Clients Through Major Changes in Uncertain Times—with Mark M. Brown

Deb Zahn: Welcome you to Episode 45 of the Craft of Consulting podcast. My guest today is Mark Brown, and I have to tell you I was extremely inspired after we spoke. In fact, I was so inspired that I talked about many of the things we discussed when I was with my next client. They were also tremendously inspired by it. He is a coach, a consultant, an author, and the founder of Expeditionary Leaders Journey. He works with organizations and companies—he’s done it inside; he's done it outside—to help them through significant change in their cultures and how they operate in really uncertain times. He's going to talk about how he does that What I particularly liked is that he draws from his experience with Outward Bound in order to help leaders learn how to do things in a different way and execute strategies that are often so far beyond what they imagined they could do or what they would do. It was just so inspiring to hear that.

He has a book out, Outward Bound Lessons to Live a Life of Leadership. I've read it. It's wonderful. I'm going to have a link in the show notes so you can also get it. But he has so much to share that was immediately relevant to me working with my clients. I think you're going to love it. Let's get started.

I want to welcome my guest today, Mark Brown. Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark Brown: Thank you, great to be here.

Deb Zahn: Let's start off. Tell my listeners what type of work you do.

Mark Brown: Well, I'm a certified coach. I've been a coach and a consultant for a lot of my life, and I had maybe a little bit of a sidetrack from that. I spent 8 years on helping lead cultural change inside an organization. That all has stemmed back from my earlier career, which was leading wilderness trips for an organization called Outward Bound.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And I know that a lot of what you do—and, in fact, you have a really great book, which I had the pleasure of reading, where you take lessons from Outward Bound and use those as a guide for new ways of leading and organizing, which is a lot of what I want to talk about today. For those that don't know what Outward Bound is, can you describe it to my listeners?

Mark Brown: I will try to do my best to do a down-and-dirty description. Essentially, Outward Bound is the oldest and first of the experience-based education programs that uses the wilderness as a place to learn primarily. It was founded in Great Britain during World War II. The creator of Outward Bound, a man named Kurt Hahn, was the German-born educator who created his philosophy a little over a hundred years ago when he became concerned with all the changes and pressures that were happening to German society as it shifted from an agrarian to an industrialized society.

He created a program that was meant to be an almost moral education—integrity, character, things like that. And when Hitler rose to power, Hahn challenged him openly. He was thrown in prison, but some influential friends got him out of prison. He immigrated to Great Britain and founded another school at Gordonstoun. He was the educator for a lot of the Royal Family and a lot of the aristocratic class of Britain. But when World War II broke out, he was asked to try to help create a program to bring more self-confidence and belief into the young merchant marines who were going out into the North Sea. Their ships were being sunk, and they were perishing before they could be rescued.

Outward Bound, in essence, was a creation to try to give young people an intense enough experience that they would have the confidence to survive through any adversity. It has spread all over the world. It came to the United States in the early 1960s, and it has morphed into all kinds of educational philosophies, including working with organizational change and education reform in schools. Currently, it takes returning veterans from our wars out to help them heal and reconnect. So the philosophy is strong and it's growing into lots of different areas since its founding.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. That's a great, very powerful description. Why do you think the lessons of Outward Bound are applicable, particularly in the world in which organizations and companies and people have to find their way today?

Mark Brown: I think there are a couple of things that really, for me, highlight how important this type of leadership is and the fundamental or foundations underneath it. First off, I would tell you that we have entered into a stage of unprecedented change and that change is...I'll stay agnostic on that, whether it's good or bad. It's easy to interpret either way, but when change happens this quickly, it creates a lot of uncomfortableness in people. The rules that we thought we knew are upended and particularly inside organizations, all organizations are under tremendous stress and strain right now. I spent 8 years inside the auto industry. That's where I was brought in to help lead a culture change. And I can tell you, for a hundred years, the auto industry really didn't change at all, and how it operated stayed the same. All of sudden, through the advances in technology, every rule that really anyone ever understood was completely thrown out the window. So I was working for a 90-plus-year-old family-owned business. And there's a good question about whether companies like that will survive another decade just because of how quickly the game is changing. It's not just the auto industry; it's happening in every industry.

Mark Brown: That uncertainty, that confusion, it's very difficult to lead in situations like that. That's what Outward Bound is about. It teaches leaders how to lead through uncertainty, which is why I think the philosophy is so right and so important right now. The second piece that I think is critically important is that we've unleashed an unprecedented change on our world's environment, our climate, and we have no idea what we've unleashed, and we're not going to know for decades. But I think the thing is we can't go back. The genie's out of the bottle. So we have to learn how to adapt quickly to whether it's a coastal city. Like one of the people I interviewed in my book lives in Miami, Florida, and Miami's going underwater regularly now at high tide. So that community has to learn to adapt in that situation. That's their new normal, so something like Expeditionary Leadership, which is the coin I use to describe the tools you can learn from an organization like Outward Bound, I think that style leadership is needed now just to help guide us through this uncertain future that's happening.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. That's a great way to frame it. I'm in healthcare in the United States, and things are happening that were unthinkable 10, 20, 30 years ago, so I think you're right. I think it's permeating a lot of industries. I'm having a hard time thinking of one that it doesn't.

Mark Brown: Well, I think it's true in governments, true in nonprofits, in communities. I think a lot of the conflict we're facing in our country—this…it can feel really bad what's going on if you spend your time looking at the news—yet I think a lot of it is so much change, so fast, it just throws people into a tizzy and they don't know what to do. That's why I think a lot of the stories you see in the media don't look so good when you look at what's going on, but I have a lot of optimism, and I feel like the people I interviewed for my book, they're inspiring leaders who are making positive change in the world. That's really what I believe can come about from harnessing this kind of leadership. We need each other and we're in it together. So it's really two of the promises of Outward Bound—that if we approach it that way, we can solve anything.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. I was really inspired by...I had heard of Outward Bound before, but I wasn't terribly familiar with it. So when I saw that the motto was “To Serve, to Strive, and Not to Yield,” I was very taken by that. It's also how you organize your book, which I thought was a perfect way to do it. I thought we could dig in to each one of those because there are very particular things that—whether you're in an internal consultant or an external consultant or coach—that you would think about doing, depending on each one of those segments of the model. Let's start with To Serve. How do you work with leaders and organizations to embrace that or embrace that in a new way? How does that look?

Mark Brown: I think it starts…Again, from my training as a coach and through the 20 years that I spent with Outward Bound, it was amazing to me how, when I got involved with the coaching industry, how much they seemed to click together. Like, being an Outward Bound leader and being a coach. They're so similar in how you approach things. If I go to work with an organization, it starts with that conversation about—whether it's a business owner, a founder, a CEO, whatever role that person's in, a leader—what is their reason for doing what they do, and what do they believe their reason for the organization is? I think there's a lot of research that came out in the last 20 or 30 years that talks about that intense importance of some sense of purpose. Last summer, that Business Roundtable made an announcement that businesses need to serve a higher purpose than just profit for their shareholders. Like, duh.

All of a sudden, business is now understanding, “Look, we have a responsibility to our communities, our worlds, to do more than just make money.” And that does not mean that I'm saying for a minute that making money is a bad thing or that we should not be focused on profit. It's not that at all. But in my work, I would use an analogy like, “Say you're an elite athlete and you train, and you go to high altitudes to train, so that you have more red blood cells to carry oxygen around. Well, money inside a company is like those red blood cells, but I don't know any athlete who trains,” so that they can say, "Look how many red blood cells I have."

Deb Zahn: That's great.

Mark Brown: They train to do something else. So money really’s the lifeblood of the organization and yet, it allows the organization to do such great things if it sets its intention. It starts with that leadership. So can that leadership articulate “This is why we exist”? Part of the theory I have used is a thing called self-determination theory. And again, it talks about purpose as one of the most significant things that harnesses human potential. Unless we understand what is this big “why” for us, this purpose that we're going about, we will not get the best out of people.

 That's really the beginning of that To Serve standpoint, which is, as a leader, “Do I serve that greater good? Do I understand that I have huge influence over the people who report to me, to the community I live in, to the industry… and do I understand that responsibility? Can I set my ego aside for the betterment of other people?”

One of the most unique things, perhaps, about an Outward Bound experience as a leader, if you've done your job well, at the end of that experience the group does not need you at all anymore. They are able to be self-sustaining. And that's how I approach teaching this service ethic to leaders I work with, which is, “If you want to make a great organization, make it so it can function without you. Think about how do you teach in such a way? How do you coach in such a way?” If you're a consultant, again, I think it's a perfect example. As a consultant, if they're dependent on you as a consultant, I would argue that you failed.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Mark Brown: Your job is to empower these folks, to help them so that they can go on in a world without you, and that service ethic is the beginning of that. Do you serve a higher purpose? Do you serve the teams that you work for? Do you serve the communities that you live in? We really advocate for that whole wholistic approach. It's got to be not just your employees but also that community and the greater good. I'm a huge fan of the conscious capitalism movement and the book, Conscious Capitalism, and I talk about this heroic journey of business—that business can make the world a better place, but if we don't set that intention, it won't.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Mark Brown: If we allow selfishness to be a part of it, it will be a part of it.

Deb Zahn: That's right. It's interesting. As I'm listening to you, I'm struck because I've done a lot of strategic planning and have always been—not in every case, but in a lot of cases—sort of disheartened by this stale way that a lot of consultants, or even organizations, go about strategic planning. I work with a lot of nonprofits, so it's, “We're going to set our vision and then we're going to do our mission statement,” which is really different from what you're describing. Some of what I've seen is, “We'll wordsmith it, we'll do it so that we like it. Maybe we'll put it on a poster.” And for a lot of folks, they never look at it again even though it was meaningful that moment. This is really different because this is really a living, breathing type of leadership and service that goes beyond a poster that you can put up.

Mark Brown: Right. When I was brought that into the company I worked for in New England—so I was hired...essentially, they created a position at a leadership level for me that they called Director of Corporate Potential. I was brought in really with just the directive to help them become a different kind of company. The fourth-generation ownership had taken over, and I probably spent the first quarter I was there really just listening and talking with people, getting to know the company. What was amazing about the company was that they had 20 to 30 people who had spent almost their entire careers there, so managers at 20 to 40 years of service to the company.

When we launched—again, I call it a Leadership Expedition—when we launched this first expedition, it was the first time ever that this company had ever pulled all these people together, and we spent a day. The company was closed, dealerships were all closed, and we spent a day doing some team-building activities, some problem-solving activities, relationship building, lots of conversations. So starting to teach them experientially a new model of how to operate together. At the end of that day we sat together, and we were actually in one of our buildings that was being remodeled. So we had this huge white wall, totally blank, and we probably spent two hours just in deep conversation, in journaling, talking about, “OK, why have you been here for 25 years? What does this mean to you as a human being?” We ended up with the wall covered with sticky notes, and then we began this process of distilling all of these sayings and phrases and things.

This process took probably another 4 or 5 months of, once to twice a month, that entire leadership team going offsite and going into deep dialogue about these things they heard their managers talking about. From that, an organic mission finally came out and, when it came out, it literally became the North Star of the company.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Mark Brown: Again, this wasn't Mark Brown, external consultant coming in, doing a balanced scorecard strategic planning process, although I used that framework to help. But it was really an organic blooming of, “This is who we are, this is our purpose as a company going forward.” It literally, it felt like a click-in-place when it happened. I'll also tell you the interesting thing was—again, so this is the car business—and it was a service-oriented mission that came out. We had 3 or 4 of the highest-paid finance managers that resigned within 2 weeks of that mission coming out because it was really clear they were there for a different reason.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Mark Brown: That's OK. Right? It's perfectly fine. Doesn't make them bad people or anything, but the company made a stake in the ground and now said, “This is who we're going to be going forward.” It also was a big gulp for the company because within 2 or 3 months, we realized, “Geeze, a lot of our systems and processes don't line up with this.”

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Mark Brown: “What are we going to do?” This led to changing the sales process, compensation. Like an entire series of changes that took another 2 plus years to implement came from this clarified, deep purpose. But it also started attracting the right kind of people. The typical hire after that were people who came out of service-center industries, retired nurses and teachers and...All of a sudden, you have a former police chief selling cars on the sales floor or a hairdresser. It really changed the makeup of the company. It became women-friendly; it was a remarkable thing to watch, but it all came from that start of declaring a purpose and having it be real—not a made-up thing, but a real thing. That takes time.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, and it has to be meaningful and true and purposeful, because otherwise, you can't get through the next part, which is the To Strive part…

Mark Brown: Right. That's right.

Deb Zahn: ...which I think you started to get into. Once you get to a place of, “Here's why we truly exist and here's who we exist to serve and how,” how do you help organizations be willing to embrace the Strive part—that in order to be successful, you have to do things differently? What do you have to push them through to be able to do that?

Mark Brown: That is, I actually think it's the most remarkable part of this process. So if you think of...I think of typically, inside an organization, you think of, say, a department sets its goals and they're trying to achieve their goals. Right?

Deb Zahn: Right.

Mark Brown: Their goal is to hit some financial benchmark or reduce waste or whatever it might be. They set that goal, and everything is about that goal. All the focus is about that goal. Projects get laid out about that goal, and there may or may not be a lot of attention about, “Well, what happens when...?” And it always happens, right? Any time you set sail for something, you get a side wind, something happens.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Mark Brown: It always happens. Maybe if you're working formal project management, you've made your contingency plans and maybe you've done all that if it's a real formal structure. But I would just tell you, in this model, in the Expeditionary Leadership model, this is a big part of the process. So whether you're external as a consultant or you're a leader inside, you have to learn to wait and watch for those moments. This is the deepest learning that can happen. The adversity is the whole reason for being there. It's the reason for leaving...Outer Bound is a nautical term. It's the reason to leave the harbor. Right?

Deb Zahn: Right, right.

Mark Brown: A ship in the harbor will never sink. But also, “Well, you built the ship to sail, so why leave it in the harbor?”

Deb Zahn: Yeah, yeah.

Mark Brown: Until you get out on the ocean, you're not going to know what adversity faces you. And this is exactly what happens inside an organization, which is you lay out your project and your planning and you set out to accomplish your goals and then, life happens or the market changes or whatever it may be. This is where the striving becomes, “Do we have something in place to allow people…did we build a safe enough work community where people feel safe and supported and they can make mistakes and learn and grow, or when they face that challenge, do they pull together or fall apart? Do we point fingers, or do we recognize, wow, what an amazing learning? Do we have the ability to change direction if we realize our initial intention, our initial goal isn't actually accomplishable or something different comes up?” I think these are all the things we can learn from. And in an Expeditionary Leadership model, our focus is around that. Really, that striving piece becomes the knowing. You know it's going to happen. You want it to happen.

Deb Zahn: That's right. So gaining comfort with uncertainty, which harkens back to one of my favorite books by Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty. It’s uncertainty and doubt and being willing to strive through those things, which is tough because the easy thing to do is—when you start to enact a plan and, oh, you're out on the expedition and the bridge is out—to just say, "Well, we should head back and go back to the way we're comfortable with." How do you get them willing to problem solve and stay on the path of this adventure as a company or an organization?

Mark Brown: This is where I believe if you look at the learning, being a learning organization as a model, if you can recognize that, “So if I can be humble enough as a leader to not be the guy with the answers, and to know that, well, what is my job here? My job as a manager is to create an environment where all of my workers feel supported, loved and cared for, and empowered, so that they can solve the problems.” Some of the greatest stories I heard when working on the book were people leading who really had no idea what the answer was. They trusted their teams enough. And I know if I support my team enough, I will come into those answers. When I was in my last organization, I had zero experience in that industry. After 2 years in, due to some things that happened within the family that owned the company, it was a really tragic loss of one of their members. I was asked to assume a whole bunch more leadership responsibility in addition to my organizational change work.

I found myself running the entire sales operation of the company and I didn't come up through those ranks. But to me, it was a perfect place to model what I talked about, which was, “OK, I trust my team. My job isn't to tell them how to solve this problem, but it's to really create the environment where they can solve the problem.” It's a different approach as a leader, I think, because it's essentially, leaders have to be vulnerable to have to be able to say, "I don't know the answers. Let's find them together." It's like when you're an Outward Bound guide, you are often responding to people with, "I'm not sure, what do you think?" You spend a lot of time probing to get those answers out of others and not being the one solving the problems yourself. I can imagine, too, that from a consultant standpoint, that can be a bit of a stretch. Right?

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Mark Brown: As consultants, aren't we trained to be the experts coming in? But imagine if your consultancy was really around unleashing the human potential of people and that you structured it in such a way that you helped a group learn how to find its own answers. It's a very powerful model, and it's the hard part in the muckiness of it because when you're in that adversity, it can be easy to bail.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Brown: Particularly organizations. There can be pressures for profitability. A lot of things can make you feel like you're going to bail because just like...There's a book I remember reading years and years ago, The Wisdom of Teams. It goes back quite a ways, but I remember a graph in there that talked about when you really try to create team, a real team, there's this dip where in the beginning, everything falls apart before it comes together.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Mark Brown: Most organizations abandon at that point because they're not willing to do the hard work to really, truly to become a team. I think this is similar in that we're talking about in the middle of adversity is the time when some ways you find out what you're made of and you find out what the real values are of the company around you. It's the richest place to be, that discomfort.

Deb Zahn: That's great. As a leader, that gets us nicely into the Not to Yield part of the motto. What do you help leaders understand that they need to do when things get tough and tricky and they’re experiencing that dip, to encourage not yielding and to help folks not yield?

Mark Brown: Such a great question, and I think when we look at not yielding, so much of it can be shaped around “What are we yielding to?” Really, in the beginning of any type of a Leadership Expedition, I think there's a lot of work that organizations need to do around understanding their core values and things that matter to them. Where I was working before, integrity became one of the real strong mantras of who we believed we were as a company. If we were to use integrity as an example, then as a leader to take you in the midst of adversity when you are facing different challenges, you now have a choice: “Well, I could bend my integrity for the sake of hitting a financial goal, or I can stand in my integrity and face the consequences.”

One of the people I interviewed in the book that really stood out to me was the former US Senator, Mark Udall, who was a Senator of Colorado. But he talked a lot about his mountaineering experience and really learning how to stand in that truth. He told me a story about serving in Congress in the early 2000s when the country was deciding whether or not to go to war after 9-11, and he believed strongly that we should not do that. He stood in that truth and he said, "I knew there's a chance that maybe I would lose my seat in Congress, but I also knew that for me," and he wasn't making a judgment on anyone else, he said, "for me, I believed from what I knew and saw that it was the right thing to do and I needed to stand in that truth." It's very difficult to stand in that truth when everything around you may be pushing you in a certain direction.

I think that's one of those things about not yielding. As a leader, to be able to recognize no, to tell a team, "No, we're not going to take this easy way out," or to tell your boss, "I know these results didn't come in the way we had planned; however, these are the things I see happening and they're positive things. Therefore, we need to stand in that truth even though we haven't quite gotten as far as we want yet." Or to even stand up to leadership and say, "We need to change direction because this isn't working." All of those are, I think, examples that a lot of the leaders I interviewed in the book talked about—those moments of having to stand firmly in some truth and say, "This is not what we said we were going to do." To be that person and it's a lot of responsibility.

Also, in that wilderness context, I watched individuals change the whole direction of a group because they were willing to stand in that space. And I think it's challenging when you're around your peers, in particular, to be that person and say, "Well, I'm not going to agree with that," and to do it in a way that empowers people, doesn't cause the group to fall apart.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And I think it's an important lesson for consultants, too. Because consultants, at least I've experienced with myself, are also leaders. So you need to decide, I think early on, if you're going to stand in your truth. That's very, very different than being a know-it-all or not listening to people. It’s a whole different feel and flavor based on integrity. But if you see your clients do something unethical or start to go in a direction that even inadvertently is going to cause harm and defy what their values are, being able to say something and allowing yourself to be able to do that simply so you can wake up every morning and know who you are and feel comfortable.

Mark Brown: That's right. To be comfortable knowing that, in fact—and I think as an Expeditionary Leader, I've always felt like it's the responsibility that we accept as leaders to be able and willing to do that—there's a little bit of philosophy with Outward Bound and that servant leadership model, which is not about to serve a greater good. To me, again, I think these different principles to service and not to yield are very intertwined. But if you are in service of a greater good as a consultant and you see something that violates that, it's like, it's your responsibility not to yield to that place, I believe, and to stand in that truth. It's OK, because you're not...and I don't feel like it's a judgmental thing to be able to say, "I don't believe this is a right thing to do." As a trained coach, I can tell you some of my clients that have hired me who are C-level executives, that's what they wanted me to do. And I would make that agreement in the beginning, like, "I'm not your yes-man, and I will tell you the hard truth when no one else is. I serve at your pleasure, you can dismiss me at any time, but until the minute you tell me you're no longer paying me, I will tell you the truth." They'll tell you when you're a jerk when no one else will because they maybe aren't comfortable with that.

I think it's a powerful thing for a consultant to be able to stand in that truth, and I think it's important for an organization that can see their blind spots then. They can make sure that they don't get in the path. How many stories, if you look at...historically, I know and when I went back to grad school, studied some of these business failures, you look at things like Enron. You're like, "You know, there were a lot of people there that could have stopped that and yet, they didn't, and it led to such a disaster." I think, “OK, in an Expeditionary Leadership model, that's our responsibility.”

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Mark Brown: As individuals, that's our responsibility.

Deb Zahn: Right. My husband and I always use the expression, “The O-ring.” One of the shuttle disasters that killed all of the crew, and it was something called an O-ring that did it. There were numerous failures in the process that meant that no one caught it, or nobody said anything. So whenever we see those pivotal things, we always refer to it as, “I think that's the O-ring in this situation and we need to say something.”

Mark Brown: Yep. I think the beautiful thing of the lessons I learned from Outward Bound that I laid out in the book and what I use in the Expeditionary Leadership model is that to lay a framework inside an organization where that's the norm and not the exception. To create a culture of that type of deeper honesty and that is the challenge of a leader. Right? Again, it's what we have to bring to the table to be…If we want a compassionate organization, we have to be compassionate and if we want truth, we have to be truthful. It's the model you want.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Mark Brown: That's the difference between—you talked earlier about coming in and putting the mission and values up on the wall, then never using them again. Versus turning something into a living document, which means that—from the top down—leadership has to model that behavior, and if they don't, the organization won't change. It won't become that thing until the stuff gets into the bones of the people that are there.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Gets into the DNA. I love that.

Mark Brown: Yep.

Deb Zahn: I do very much agree that one of our jobs as consultants is to make ourselves irrelevant at a certain point. And I talk a lot about getting repeat clients, and I worked with some clients for 7 plus years, but then I have to tell people, "But not on the same thing. It's some new challenge arises, and they need just a little bit of help right now with something, or there's a new opportunity and they need a little help." I don't bake myself into an organization such that they're dependent on me. I think that does them a tremendous disservice and I don't particularly find it interesting. How do you help who you work with, and this is another term you used in the book, build their muscles so that they can be on their own adventure, making decisions on an ongoing basis, since this isn't a one and done exercise?

Mark Brown: Right. I think you have to look at who the client is or what the focus is. So I think if it's working with an organization, I know from the beginning my intention is to empower them enough so that they won't need me anymore. It's a framework that really begins with understanding, first and foremost, what are the skills of the leader or leaders. So it's really an honest assessment of strengths and areas of growth and then it's...I look at Expeditionary Leadership as a lifelong journey, and I use the language of what I call a Leadership Expedition. A Leader Expedition, you could put it almost like a project, right?

Deb Zahn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark Brown: It would be like a Scrum Sprint if this were software development. So it's going to have a beginning and an end, we're going to have a framework around it, and within that framework, we're going to focus on, first off, I want the leaders define, “How will you grow over the first 3 months or 6 months? What are the specific things you’re working on? Let's target those based on your self-assessment—or if it's a 360, whatever it may be—we’re going to target your growth and development so that you're a better leader and we're going to assess that along the way. Then, we're going to look at, “How are you going to positively impact your team so what are they going to be stretch and grow? What will they be able to do 3, 6, 9 months from now that they aren't able to do right now, and where will the organization be?” That's within the organization framework itself.

Then, I also believe it's important to look at that organization's impact in the community, but that's the bigger picture. In these Leadership Expeditions, I'm always looking at those 3 things. At the end of it, you should be a more expansive leader. You should be able to say, "I can do these things now that I couldn't do before." Your team right around you should be able to say, "We can do these things that we couldn't do before." And the organization should have that expansiveness, too. Those are the things that I work toward laying out with people. So we talk about how to do this, so that what I'm doing, you can do, too.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Mark Brown: There's almost a third eye on the top of your head saying, "Not only do I want you to watch this, but I want you to watch what I'm doing."

Deb Zahn: That's right, so they can lead their own expeditions.

Mark Brown: That's right. So in the beginning it's teaching as an Outward Bound leader. In the beginning, you're teaching people because most people who come on Outward Bound first are coming for personal growth and development. They're not coming for leadership skills or outdoor skills. They don't know how to maybe put up a tent or paddle a canoe or a backpack; they've never done those things before. That's typical for people who do it, so you have to teach people how to do everything. How to cook your food, how to pack your pack, how to tie a knot, how to put up a tent or a tarp, how to hold a canoe paddle, how to carry a canoe, like all that. So it's heavy, heavy, intensive teaching. I think in a model like this, you're doing the same thing.

Everybody talks about coaching now inside organizations. It's a language we all use. Unfortunately, most people have no idea what coaching truly is or what it means. So I have to teach managers how to coach and when to coach. Because if you're having a corrective conversation with somebody because they've had poor performance over and over again, that's not necessarily an appropriate time to coach. It's a time to maybe lay out some clear expectation. But I often hear people say, "Well, I'm going to have a coaching conversation with the person." Well actually, you're going to correct them because you don't think they're doing well. The reality is coaching is probably one of the most powerful human development tools that's been created and it's not an easy thing to do.

Deb Zahn: It's not.

Mark Brown: It requires some very, very different skills, so I'll go in to try to teach that. So at the end of the day, people can understand, “Well, if you're really going to coach, let's get into some real skill development and we have to develop a skill, or you can't use that tool.”

Deb Zahn: Yeah, and I would say for consultants…as I've found myself in many situations where a leader has asked me to coach and I say no because I have so much respect for what it is and what goes behind it to do it extremely well. I've mentored people, that's a different thing. I would say to any consultants out there, if you don't have the skills, the knowledge, the expertise for coaching, don't try it. Get them somebody who knows how to do it.

Mark Brown: That's right. I think part of this, too, is to help particular consultants to understand—I would say consulting is in the rapid disruption and change like every other industry. Right?

Deb Zahn: Yep.

Mark Brown: Artificial intelligence and learning is pushing us into whole new worlds. So a lot of the things that human beings have done for a long time, machines are starting to do and are going to be doing and are going to do them way better than we ever did. I talk about the car business a lot just because I was enmeshed in it for 8 years. What I'd tell you is for anyone who grew up watching the Jetsons or something, those cartoons, the thing is, everything you knew about driving cars is going to be gone.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Mark Brown: I say that with absolute 100 percent certainty, it will be gone just like in 1886, when Bertha Benz drove her husband's car across the German countryside. People sat there with their mouths hanging open because they rode horses and buggies and nobody who built buggies and horses and harnesses and saddles believed in 1886 that their industry was going to disappear. Yet, within 30 years it was gone.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Mark Brown: This is going to happen. So the thing is, it's not a question of if it will happen, it's a question of who's going to win in this change and what's it going to look like? All of this kind of machine learning that's going on now, it's really, it's exploded and I got that message from a conference when I heard one of the senior engineers from an IBM Watson project talking about how in the next 5 years, there will be more change in human history than in the last 100. That floored me.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Mark Brown: It also made me realize, look, we don't know in any industry what it's going to look like. And the one thing that's not going to change is, as human beings, we have to know how to work together to do anything. So that's never going to go away. That's the human factor, and I feel like unleashing that human potential inside organizations—we’ll always need people to do that. For anybody who's consulting, if you're not in the equation of how to bring the people into the equation, you may be at risk.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Mark Brown: If you're just a problem solver—but if you learn these human performance skills and you can bring that in as an additive—I think you'll always have work because we always have to learn how to play nice in the sandbox.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. As if it doesn't matter.

Mark Brown: It just doesn't seem to ever go away.

Deb Zahn: That's right. It doesn't matter how fancy that sandbox is…

Mark Brown: That's right.

Deb Zahn: still has humans inside of it. That's wonderful.

Mark Brown: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: Well, this has just been great. I want to ask you one last question because, again, I think it's important to a life of a consultant to also have whatever version of balance is meaningful to them in their life. How do you bring more balance to your life?

Mark Brown: Well, I went through a big change here deciding with the book to step out of the work I was doing and really get back to first being an author for the first time and then, also, really focusing more and more on this Expeditionary Leadership process and how to bring it to the world. I found, I think sometimes we think that balance means that, “Oh, I will balance my personal life and my work life.”

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Mark Brown: We put them in these silos where I have spent my lifetime in organizations breaking down, so I was right. What I have found is I'm committed to now a daily walk. So on that walk, what I'm constantly amazed at is some of the best creative sparks of my work come from that walk. I think if I looked at it as an either/or, I have to go for my walk because that's about balancing my life with my exercise. Then it becomes this thing like, “Oh, I don't have time because I have all this work to do.”

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Mark Brown: Yet, what I am saying for myself is actually, “This walk is hugely positive, creative time for me and at the same time, it's helping me with my body and that helps me in that balance aspect.” When I was still with the company in New England, our offices were right on the Merrimack River, and I would sometimes take direct reports out in a canoe for a meeting.

Deb Zahn: Wow.

Mark Brown: It was a beautiful thing because not only did we get exercise, get outside into incredible weather, but a very different conversation would happen in that canoe than happened sitting in my office as a director of the company. I found the more I can...if balance means changing the environment to where I can get out in the natural environment, the better it feeds my soul, physically it helps me, and I think it allows me to feel like my work is not overwhelming. I think if I sit at a computer too long or if I'm inside an office too long, that's where I struggle. So I committed to a daily practice of being out, away from the office space, and I don't feel like it takes me from work. I think that's probably the best way I could say…

Deb Zahn: That's great.

Mark Brown: ...I'm balancing my life right now.

Deb Zahn: That's great, and I love the trick of—and I've heard other folks talk about this—of even doing meetings where four people go out for a walk instead of sitting at a desk, and it changes the whole nature of it and can inspire the creation of something that you wouldn't if you were just looking at your phone while you're sitting at a meeting, trying to pay attention.

Mark Brown: If we study some of the companies that are really leading this new human age—if you will, this time of the, I think the term I heard coined that I mentioned in the introduction of my book is the Anthropocene, which is the time of humans. It's like, if we are now in the time of humans where it's really the human creativity that is the epic of history we're in, then we should learn from these cutting-edge companies that are doing this. Like, there's a company that really has mastered this kind of non-structured structure, if you will. Or if you look at Google and all the products they've created on this unstructured time where people are allowed to create what they want. It should be a lesson to all of us that if we haven't buried yet the old-school management theory stuff, we really should because it doesn't serve any organization at all.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Mark Brown: If an organization wants to stay—wants to not only survive, but thrive in this new ethic—we have to think about, “How do I connect with the human beings around me and create an atmosphere where that can happen?”

Deb Zahn: That's beautiful. What a wonderful way to end the podcast. Well, Mark, thank you so much for sharing all of this. I think there are so many incredible gems in there for my listeners, so thank you so much.

Mark Brown: My pleasure.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do three things. If you enjoyed this episode or any of my other podcasts, hit subscribe. I've got a lot of other great guests and content coming up, and I don't want you to miss anything. The other two things I'm asking you to do—one is, if you have any comments, suggestions, or other feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those in the comments section. And then the last thing is, if you've gotten something out of this, please share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure they also have access to all this great content and the other great content that's coming. As always, you can get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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