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  • Toby Sinclair

Clubhouse Notes: Kat Cole and James Clear on Leadership

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Clubhouse Notes - James Clear and Kat Cole

Date: Friday 26th February 2021


@KatColeATL - Ex COO & President @FOCUSBrands

Kat has led organizations of thousands, Barrett leads a team of 60, James leads millions via his newsletter. What principles of personal and organizational leadership apply across settings?

Notes have been curated for readability so responses should not be treated as verbatim.


What tips do you have for leading yourself?

James Clear:

I want to start with a topic called Crucibles.

One of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is an individual's ability to find meaning in negative events, and to learn from, even the most trying circumstances.

Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas

The crucible is a trial and a test. A point of deep self-reflection that forces you to question who you are and what matters to you. It requires you to examine their values and question your assumptions.

What tools or habits or practices that you continue to use today to build a continuous sense of self-awareness?

James Clear:

Knowing yourself and having self-awareness can improve your strategy which naturally can improve your results.

I have a couple of different exercises:

  • Weekly review every Friday

  • Review key metrics in the business so you know revenue expenses email subscribers. A

  • An annual review, at the end of each year.

  • Basic items that are counted all year long, like how many articles I've written or how many workouts I've done things like that.

  • Are my habits aligning with my principles?

Kat Cole:

Creating and public, for me at least, having some form of immediate feedback is crucial for being aware of what you're thinking. I could just sit in a room and write on my own and never post on Twitter. And you think you're pretty brilliant, but you're not getting any feedback. You need a blend. You don't want to just be reactionary to what everybody else is saying because then you're not thinking for yourself. You need to have some form of a feedback loop and sharing work publicly is a good way to do that.

The other practice is what I call the Hot Shot rule: Imagine that an awesomely talented new person is taking over your role. Then, put yourself in their shoes, and challenges yourself to see the job through fresh eyes. I've talked about it for 10 years, it's allowed me to change my life and my businesses. I ask myself, what's one thing and the first thing I could do differently to make an impact. When I see it through new eyes, I become much more clear and connected to what is probably obvious for other people, and then I take action on that thing within 24 hours.

How do you set goals at the corporate level and then getting buy into those all the way down to the employee level?

Kat Cole:

We use a compass, not a roadmap. I know the true north, this is the vision of the company. We are here now. This is where we're going. And there's going to be so many unexpected things that happen in between here and there that it is.

Also, understand what the incentive systems are. In fast-growing companies, the game changes a lot in hyper-growth. All of a sudden there's an opportunity for new innovation, a new channel a new country but the dynamic of those things are different. If the incentives are so fixed or so counter to the dynamics created by the new thing. The new thing will not be followed. At least not wholeheartedly because the company or the individuals are disincentivized to do it. When I say incentives I mean the very literal ones, you know compensation, awards, recognition in the company. Involve those who do the work as a radical part of the process. Then make sure incentives aligned, and it's all in the direction of the truth.

So I'd love to hear to what extent accountability and feedback and played a role in leading effective teams for you. And how that plays into psychological safety?

Kat Cole:

It is the actions, not the words of leaders in an organisation over time that create psychological safety. You can't undo or erase people's experiences with a new statement or proclamation.

There's a really great book that most people have not heard that it was, you know, legend and management training and restaurants called fast feedback.

  • F is for frequency to tune into someone's frequency

  • A is for accurate, make sure it's based on the truth that you can evidence.

  • S is for specific

  • T is timely within tight proximity of the event but not so tight that you communicate it in an inappropriate and unhelpful environment.

You should build the muscle of giving feedback, and receiving feedback, not just in a monthly one on one, or an annual review but on a regular basis.

When there is a behaviour that wants that feedback or situation that does so I think getting good at giving and receiving feedback, and Kim Scotts books are amazing as well to help with that radical candour is a lifelong skill that only becomes more important, as you learn

When leading in public, how do you curate ideas that are useful to the broadest possible audience but also specific?

James Clear:

My general strategy is just read a lot write a lot revise a lot. I'm not smart enough to come up with good ideas of my own so I have to read a lot. I'm only writing about building upon taking notes about the best stuff that I read. I try to make everybody else's best material my starting material. I just revise it again and again, again, almost to the point where it feels kind of unreasonable. For example, I spend 20 minutes on a tweet. I only post the best stuff. And so it ends up looking really polished, but actually, it's mostly just being persistent and patient with it. Share general principles and then let the reader do the application part of their mind.

I wonder if you have any habits or practices that have allowed you to develop this kind of stable of stories that you use to illustrate principles.

James Clear:

Part of it is living a really full life with lots of mistakes. That creates plenty of subject matter. And celebrate mistakes. The other piece is putting yourself in a position to be challenged and questioned.

Audience Question:

Do you think people are born leaders?

Kat Cole:

Leadership is a learning journey, and therefore leadership can be learned. Which means it can be experienced and taught. Certainly, that's nurture experiences and learning over time. Certainly, there are traits that some people are born with that might make certain pieces of leadership, a bit easier for some than others.

Audience Question:

How do I actually measure the success of a habit?

James Clear:

In general, ask does the habit continue to serve you? If you feel like it's serving the purpose that you're hoping it will achieve, I would say it's successful in that sense.

Habits exist to serve you, not the other way around. And as soon as it starts feeling like you exist to serve the habits that you've committed to is when I would start questioning why I set that intention, to begin with, and whether it's still continuing to serve.

Audience Question:

How do we take feedback to improve our sense of self-awareness?

James Clear:

You can define habits in two broad buckets.

  • Habits of action: so doing one pushup writing one sentence meditating.

  • Habits of thought: Self-awareness about your worldview. How you see yourself relative to the experiences and the people that you come across. Self-awareness like other habits comes through practice.

You can improve self-awareness by having repeated sources of feedback so that you can learn from each one and kind of iterate on that and gradually adjust your worldview. When you receive feedback it doesn't mean I don't accept it. I don't trust feedback from a random person on social media. Then there's a group of people who are not in your inner circle but you trust enough to listen to their feedback. Finally, there is your inner circle, people who know me and I trust. These are people I listen to most.

Audience Question:

What is your definition of success?

Success is rarely the result of one thing but failure can be.

Getting getting a good night's sleep does not guarantee that you're going to have a successful day tomorrow.

But if you get a terrible night's sleep that can be enough to wreck the next day.

So I don't know that you can pin success on a single thing as much as it is like the major factors in your life working in harmony, whether that's on a daily basis or on a larger time scale.

You can only answer the question of, are you successful in the context of what you're optimising for.


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