Season 3, Ep. 3: Preventing Failure With Multiplicative Systems

In today’s modern world, we hear lots of talk about focusing on strengths—and for good reason. But what if our weaknesses are so big they actually cancel out our strengths? In those cases, the weaknesses can severely limit our leadership effectiveness—they can’t be ignored.

The head of engineering at Daimler Trucks North America, Dr. Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei, explains how a single point of failure can cause an entire system to come crashing down—and how to recognize and avoid that by better understanding multiplicative systems.

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(We use an audio transcription service so please disregard any errors below.)

Daniel Harkavy (00:02):

The concept of mathematical zero evolved separately in ancient cultures, like the Babylonians, the Mayans and ancient Hindu India. Sometimes it came from a need to assign a symbol to the concept of nothingness and, in others, it grew from an accounting need. If you came to the market with say five sheep and you sold them all, you’d need a way to mark it down and to record it. Since the invention of zero, humans have built increasingly complex mathematical scientific and engineering models. One thing remains constant, when anything is multiplied by zero, the result is always nothing. This is known as a single point of failure in a multiplicative system. In leadership, we tend to focus on building up strengths and with very good reason, championed by folks like Marcus Buckingham, Gallup and others, research over the past decades has proven that strengths-based leadership can make a huge difference. At its heart, that concept is all about enhancing the good someone brings to the table so that it becomes great and benefits the rest of the team, as opposed to investing time and resources to move something from say a weakness into a level of mediocrity or slightly above average. But what if you have a single point of failure in your leadership? If that weakness is like a zero, it can keep you from being an effective leader.

Daniel Harkavy (01:45):

I’m Daniel Harkavy. And this is The Building Champions Podcast. For the past 25 plus years, I and my team here at Building Champions have been helping top business leaders to improve the way they live and lead. Our goal for this podcast is to share stories and insights that will help you to become a better leader. This episode, we’ll explore the concept of multiplicative systems and how recognizing the zeros in our leadership can help us become more effective leaders.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (02:20):

A single point of failure is a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working for sure. If you want to have a reliable system or a higher availability of the system, you should definitely avoid that. And if you’re talking about a crucial machines, like for example, a truck or talking about computer networks, things like that, you better make sure that not one single event, one failure that has a higher probability of happening stops the whole system from working correctly.

Daniel Harkavy (02:56):

That’s Rainer.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (03:00):

My name is Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei. I’m the head of engineering of Daimler Trucks North America, as you can hear, I’m not a native American I’m German. Came over to the US about half year ago, happy to be here, leading a great team and working on the development of future.

Daniel Harkavy (03:17):

What Rainer was talking about is a single point of failure from his engineering perspective. You can also think about a car. You can check every part, the tires, the brakes, gas, but if the engine is shot, none of the other things matter, the car won’t go. This concept can apply to your leadership effectiveness as well. You can focus on leveraging your strengths, but if you have a zero in the system, you’re going to have a hard time being an effective leader. So how can we apply this process? Well, in engineering, it starts with a system analysis.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (03:54):

So first of all, it starts by putting together your system concept and then go through the analysis of each single component and each event that can happen for a component and the system. Then you analyze what’s the probability of something happening. And then by taking all of this into account, by combining the probability of something happening and the severance that results, if it happens, you identify, which are the crucial components that have the highest value that you finally compute out of this. And you specifically focus on those components.

Daniel Harkavy (04:42):

Depending where you look and who you listen to. There seems to be an endless list of competencies, skills and behaviors that people need to develop to become an effective leader. But as Rainer suggests, we need to identify the crucial points that are most important and most likely to fail. We’ve done that here at Building Champions, by reducing the list to two. We believe that your leadership effectiveness is defined by just two things—the decisions you make and the influence you have. Both are needed. And the absence of either can serve as a zero, a single point of failure in your leadership effectiveness. So how do we reduce that risk of failure? In engineering, one way to do that is to build redundancy into the system.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (05:37):

What you do is you identify those single points of failure, and you add redundancy to that. For example, if you fly the plane by a joystick and you have a computer that is doing that, computers always have a probability of failing. We all know that. So what they do, they put another computer in there that can perform the same function and both of them run in parallel. And if one breaks, the other one can take over. And if you even take it further and say, I want to have maximum availability, you even put in three systems. So two systems that work in parallel and the third system that is there to observe the other two and always decide which one is right, and then give the command to that system.

Daniel Harkavy (06:25):

Exceptional leaders look at decision-making in the same way. Relying on one person, the leader creates a single point of failure. Involving a team of empowered people who bring their experience, their knowledge and insight to the process creates a more reliable system that yields better decisions and results.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (06:46):

If you have a team of empowered individuals, you put redundancy in the system. We have seen in industry great leaders that took all decision power only to themselves. This is extremely fast, but it has a high risk of failing because here we go back again to that single point of failure in that one person. If this person takes the wrong decision, everything will crash. And nobody will tell that one person that he might be wrong.

Daniel Harkavy (07:21):

This ability to empower others and bring them into the process starts with an attitude of humility and curiosity. Great leaders understand they don’t have to come up with every answer and make every decision. I often call this person, the superhero leader, that guy or gal who believes that it’s really his or her job to solve every problem and to come up with every solution. But great leaders know that it’s not about the answers they have, but more importantly, the questions they ask. This ability to stay humble and curious is almost like a superpower in today’s environment.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (08:01):

This is why I came back and I’m always telling my people like, I’m not that super brain. Yeah. I’m not smarter than everybody around me. And I want to make use of all the brain power that is there and all the bright people that I’m happy to work with. And that’s around me. And I can only do that if I don’t follow the principle of thinking, I know better than anybody else. I try in many cases to step back and say, hey, I want your judgements on it. I want your take on it. Yeah. Give me your ideas. Give me your thoughts. And then finally together come to a better conclusion and that leading to a better decision.

Daniel Harkavy (08:47):

In addition to building redundancy into your system, another way to protect against a potential single point of failure is to reinforce it so much that the likelihood of it ever failing or breaking is minuscule.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (09:02):

So I have to design it that it never breaks, like, talking about vehicles. If you have a steering column, a shaft from your steering wheel down to the wheels, they are designed and specified in a way that they are not able to break. They are over specified. They are way more robust than you actually would need it just to make sure that during the life of a vehicle, they will never break.

Daniel Harkavy (09:32):

Well, we can’t, over-engineer our influence to a point that will never experience a breakdown, keeping it as a priority and focus area is one way to strengthen it to reduce the likelihood of failure. Too many leaders work on developing and relying on their technical competency or knowledge and overlook the influence part of leadership.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (09:55):

Actually, what I have seen once in a while and consistently is if you look at the leadership and the performance and the success of leaders in organizations, you’re pretty often observed people where you say, this is a great leader. He’s done a great job. Yeah. He had so many strengths. And he’s using them and he’s delivering great results, but finally, he’s not successful. He’s not successful in getting his thoughts really approved, getting the support that he needs, getting a top management behind it, an idea, or a topic he or she is not able to communicate in a proper manner. So even though that person has everything it takes to be successful, that one characteristic, that one weakness, for example, the lack of being able to communicate in an appropriate manner, prevents that person from being successful in his leadership.

Daniel Harkavy (10:58):

That ability to effectively communicate your ideas and vision, to rally people around a common idea or mission, to connect people and help them to come together to achieve something extraordinary—that’s what leadership influence is all about. As my friend, John Maxwell said so well, leadership is influence. Yet too many leaders don’t invest in that side of the leadership effectiveness equation. And as a result, it becomes a zero for them. If you are unable to effectively influence other people, to be a leader who people want to follow, then you won’t be able to maximize your leadership effectiveness. So far, we focused on two common failure points we’ve seen when working with leaders and their effectiveness, their decision-making and their influence. But there is a third element that serves as a foundation. And if not strengthened or reinforced, will take out even the most competent, seasoned and successful leader. And that’s your self-leadership after all, self-leadership always precedes team leadership. In other words, you can’t expect to lead other people effectively if you’re not leading yourself well, yet too many leaders focus their efforts and their energy into others. And as a result, their physical, their social and emotional wellbeing begins to suffer. And it becomes a point of failure for their overall leadership.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (12:32):

Very often you are in the situation that you cannot do and fulfill everything, all the needs that are around you. And you have to find areas where you’re doing compromises or cut back. And the simplest area to cut back is always with myself. Because if I do that with myself with only me, I don’t have to consult anybody else. Yeah. And nobody else is directly negatively influenced. Yeah. So I can like, keep everybody happy around me. And for sure you can do that once in a while and you should do. But if you always cut back only on that side where it’s about you, you are not able to keep up your, your strengths and your inner health.

Daniel Harkavy (13:19):

This is a problem we see all too often with leaders. They put so much time and energy into managing the business side of their leadership, that they neglect their own personal health, mental well-being, and relationships. And if you don’t manage these components well, it comes with a real cost.

Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei (13:37):

You have to consider yourself also as a resource, your body is a resource that is not endless, and you have to take good care of that resource because if you take too much out of it, it will simply fail. And it’s very sad to observe that if you have people in leadership position that are not happy out of their personal life, for example, on the long run, they are not good leaders. They are not able to deliver good performance. It’s always has to be a good balance between all aspects of life. Yeah. Because if you’re not okay with yourself, if you’re not okay with your situation, if you’re not okay with your life and how things work out, everything else will not count anymore. And you finally will not be successful, not successful in your business life and not successful in your private life with your family and things like that. So wisely invest your resources—easily said, hard done.

Daniel Harkavy (14:43):

And as someone who has walked beside and coach leaders for more than 30 years now, that story is when I hear all too often. While it’s a shame to see leaders experience setbacks or failure in their leadership effectiveness, it’s absolutely heart-wrenching to see it in their self-leadership, their personal lives and those relationships that ultimately mean more than any business accomplishment. While we need to continue to invest in and develop our strengths, having a better understanding of the zeros in our leadership, those single points of failure can help us avert disaster. So just like an engineer, you need to take a step back and examine your leadership system, assess those potential risks. Where are you likely to experience a failure that will cause the whole system to crash and whatever that area is, maybe your decision-making or influence or your self-leadership, either redesign or strengthen the system around them so you can best position yourself to survive when failure happens—because it will, that’s just part of leadership. But by reinforcing those potential points of failure, you can find long term success and significance in those areas of your life and leadership that mean the most to you.

Daniel Harkavy (16:16):

Coming up, Todd Mosetter, our Vice President of Content Development will sit down with one of our Building Champions executive coaches to discuss some practical steps you can take to assess systems and mitigate the risk of potential zeros within them.

Todd Mosetter (16:34):

Hi, my name is Todd Mosetter. I’m an executive coach and vice-president here at Building Champions. And for the second half of the episode, I am so excited to be joined by Greg Harkavy. Greg has been a coach for longer than I can count on both hands, has been an executive member here at Building Champions for years, and brings a lot of expertise in the area that we’re going to talk into. So Greg glad that you’re here with us today.

So I want to start off this part of the episode with clearing something up in case anyone has questions. We believe in focusing on strengths. I don’t want someone walking away from this episode thinking that we don’t believe in the concept that a person should focus on their strengths.

I know you coach to that. I know we coach to that. So I just want to clear that up right out of the gate. What we want to focus on today is sometimes there are weaknesses that are so big that they can’t be ignored. They can’t be overlooked. In fact, they are a zero. And when those pop-up, you can’t just turn the other way, you need to focus on them. So knowing that you’re a guy that loves strengths, but recognizes the power of a zero, what are your kind of first thoughts when you heard about this episode?

Greg Harkavy (17:50):

I like that it challenges what I’d consider that the mainstream idea of strengths-based right. I do believe in it, but coaching for 20 years, I also know where limitations keep people from maximizing their strengths. So it’s not either or it’s and—and the part that we maybe don’t like to deal with is those limiters or those zeros. I think it’s more nuanced. I think getting honest feedback from whatever what I like to call your ecosystem that you operate in is harder. So making sure that you, you have a good safe environment to get that feedback is one of the trickier parts that we have to step into with our clients.

Todd Mosetter (18:35):

So I think that’s a great place to start Greg. So when we think about recognizing zeros, I mean, even recognizing strengths, a lot of that’s based on feedback, and you mentioned that you need to be getting good quality feedback from your ecosystem. When you work with clients, what are some of the good ways that you have seen clients, or you’ve coached them on to make sure they’re getting the right types of feedback from the right types of people?

Greg Harkavy (18:59):

Yeah. I think it starts off with creating such trust and safety with those that they’re seeking feedback from. So the person that we’re coaching has to model true vulnerability and people have to feel safe enough to go in and speak into those areas, because we all do have limiters, right? But most times people might think about their job security, their relationship. When, when we coach people, we get to play a unique role. In fact, even in the beginning of our coaching relationship, we go through commitments and we talk about the fact that we’re committed to being a hundred percent honest and upfront in all areas that we tackle. It’s just something we start straight out of the gate with. That’s a differentiator, because most relationships people have won’t risk the relationship or their own personal safety to be that person. So the first place that you want to start getting that feedback is from a place where people feel welcomed to speak into it. So they have to see that you, as, as the leader, whoever you are seeking that feedback is really open to the honest truth. You know, can people handle the feedback? Doesn’t have to become the biggest thing, but I think that’s where it starts.

Todd Mosetter (20:16):

So I find it interesting that you used, and I might get the phrase slightly wrong, but you need to be authentically vulnerable. Right? Real and vulnerable—which begs the question that for some people they’re being faux vulnerable, right. Fake. Um, why do you think, or where have you seen, maybe that’s a better question. Leaders struggle with being maybe more posturing on the vulnerable, right? I’ll share a little bit, so it looks like I’m being vulnerable. Right? I think of the analogy of, I’ve got an apple with a big bruise on it and sure I’ll show you just a little bit of like, I’m okay letting you know that there’s a bruise. I just don’t want you to see how big the bruise actually is. Why do you think as leaders we’re okay sharing a little bit, but there seems to be a line that a lot of leaders are unwilling to cross.

Greg Harkavy (21:04):

I think many of us are afraid that if you really fully understood who we are, you wouldn’t like us. You wouldn’t respect us. So if our true selves get revealed completely, I think we’re afraid that people will find out it’s like, oh, you’re broken. Maybe you’re not worthy of respect. You’re not trustworthy to follow. I think those vulnerabilities exist in most people. So it’s kind of that faux vulnerability that you’re talking about is maybe a core fear that we’re not good enough. But when you start to really, and this is where I do like the strengths-based side of it. When you start to actually look at your strengths and, and feel comfortable, it’s like—I’m comfortable in my own skin, which means I can also allow you to see my warts, if you will, as well. And if those warts are distracting, then let’s deal with it. But it’s scary. I mean, it’s just, I don’t know how else to say it. If we’re all being honest, it’s kind of scary to do that, but sometimes it’s necessary. We have to deal with those things.

Todd Mosetter (22:09):

Yeah. I think scary is a good word because the more authentic we are, like you said, the more risk we run of taking an identity hit. If I feel like you don’t like the person I’m pretending to be, that’s easier for me to accept then I actually opened the window and showed you who I really am and that’s the person you don’t like. That’s a lot harder, I think, for us to wrestle with.

Greg Harkavy (22:34):

Yeah. Yeah. So even like, I don’t know how everybody else’s tape plays, but I know there are times when I’m playing it safe and I can use that. If things don’t go well say, well, I didn’t give it everything I had. And I know if I’m operating from that place, there’s no way I’m stepping fully into my strengths. So it’s become a zero. As soon as that tapes being played, until I say, wait a minute, that’s not reality. And that’s not going to help me. I need to deal with both being comfortable in my strengths and the zeros or whatever it may be. I don’t know that it has to be a zero. That’s why I like it as an and rather than either, or. You know, it just, may be more disproportionate energy in our strengths allows us to address some of those, those limiters.

Todd Mosetter (23:20):

Yeah. I think that’s a, that’s a great point, Greg. So when we think about one of the root principles, I think of strength-based leadership is, well, why take a weakness that I’m bad at? And if I put a lot of effort, I can get adequate at it. You know, just good enough. Why not just spend more time on the strengths, right? We’re already good there. If we leverage them, they’ll be even better. And I do agree with you that it’s an and—but to, to bring episode to life, we do want to kind of turn the lens a little bit on that second half. So it’s not just a limiter. It is something that you can’t just ignore. You can’t just manage around. If you don’t address this, you will not be an effective leader. And for us, one of the principles we start with is your leadership effectiveness will be determined by just two things: the decisions you make and the influence you have. So if you don’t have the ability to even function adequately at both of those, you’re not going to be effective. Where have you seen those two issues decision-making and influence really play out in a limiting way, as you said, a negative for a leader?

Greg Harkavy (24:26):

Yeah. Let’s start with the influence side, because I think oftentimes when we’re, we’re looking at leadership, you have positional authority for decision-making. It doesn’t mean your decision-making is effective, but influence is a key area of both. If you’re casting a vision, will people buy in or will they not buy in? So are you holding the bag, if you will, of the vision that you have? And you start to see maybe your teammates aren’t engaging at the same level, the vested-ness in those things you have to start looking at. Okay. What kind of influence do have? Have you taken time to actually connect with people, to allow them to weigh in, to buy in there? There’s a process there that I think as, as a zero and this might not be super common, but I’ll hear conversations like I don’t understand why people don’t get it like I do. Right? Well, that’s probably a zero in the influence side. It’s probably something that there’s a disconnect. Whether it’s interpersonal skillsets, communication, understanding capabilities, having the right people in the right seats in the bus. If a leader does not have those things figured out, the influence piece is going to be almost impossible. And I would argue that those are zeros because great plans go nowhere unless you’re able to influence people not to go with your will, but to really have them see it agree, align, and then take action. And all of those things are, are huge responsibilities of leadership, but any area of those nuances could be a zero. And therefore you don’t achieve results that you’re really hoping to get.

Todd Mosetter (26:13):

John Maxwell said it so well, right? Leadership is influence right. At its heart, to your point, you can have structural authority. I’m the boss. You have to follow me. But in the end, that really is a stick way of leadership, right? You’re using fear. You’re using power, using authority to motivate someone when you can use relational authority, which is all influence. That’s the carrot side, right? People are choosing to follow you. They want to follow you. They’re giving their best. They’re engaging without that influence part. You can get results over the short term, but to your point, you’re not going to get extraordinary results over the long-term.

Greg Harkavy (26:48):

Correct. You know, when, when we look at decisions and influences as those key two things in the 360, we look at relationship versus task, right? And there needs to be balance in both. And that really connects with this is making an influence people that are strong on the influence side, the relational side of things. Sometimes we’ll have results and strategy and accountability be a struggle, right? So on the flip side where I see zeros on that side of the scale, it’s fascinating to me that there’s often a fear of decision-making. Recently in a coaching session this week, I was having this conversation with a leader and I asked them, I said, if I were to get feedback from your organization, what would they say about the speed at which you make decisions? Then they said slow and cautious. I usually make good decisions, but slow and cautious. I was like, huh. Okay. So what’s that about? It’s like, I never want to be wrong. And that becomes a zero. All the research that we see today that making fast decisions for a leader is actually more important than always making the right decision. You still need to utilize everything that we lay out in The 7 Perspectives of Effective Leaders in what decision-making processes look like. But I think what’s a zero for people is the fear of being wrong.

Todd Mosetter (28:17):

Yeah, Greg, you know, it’s funny when we say that, you know, it’s, we could go off in so many different directions. I think one of the challenges that folks have with decision-making is something that we’ve referred to as fielding outcomes, right? We tend to evaluate the quality of our decision based on the outcome. So if, if it worked out okay, whether the decision must’ve been good and if it didn’t work out, then the decision must have been bad. And to your point, I think leaders, especially if they want to make this, move it from a zero to a more positive is to focus, not on whether the decision was right or wrong, whether it worked or whether it didn’t, did we follow the right process to make the decision? Did we talk to the right people? Did we get the right information? And did we do it fast enough?

Todd Mosetter (29:03):

If you have the right structure to make decisions, eventually you’re going to make more good decisions than bad decisions. But too often, we want to just stop and say, Oh, well that, that strategy didn’t work. So it must have been a bad decision. No, we put way too much weight on the outcome. And I don’t see leaders, especially those that I work with as well, stepping back and saying, what is the process that we use to make good decisions, either as a leader, as a team. And if you can put more focus on that side of the equation, eventually the good decisions are going to come.

Greg Harkavy (29:37):

Yeah. You know, that the perspective of the outsider, I think is important too. As coaches and for myself as a coach, I know when I’m working with a client, having them press in on the difficult decisions that they know, they ought to make it, it’s hard left to their own, weighing that stuff out and not getting the right perspectives. Even the perspective of the outsider it’s usually pointing towards where is your process in decision-making? Where are you getting the right feedback loops? But, Jim Rohn had a quote years ago and who knows if he copied it from someone else, but he said the least productive time in a person’s life is between knowing that you need to make a decision and actually making the decision. Oftentimes I think we already know what the decision is. We’re just tentative to pull it, or we don’t have that process that you’re talking about. And I do think that that, that can become the zero for leaders. All of your strengths without effective, decision-making compromise your contribution.

Todd Mosetter (30:42):

Yeah. I think the one thing I would add to that, Greg, and you touched on this, but I think it’s worth revisiting—where I’ve seen leaders take their decision-making and turn it maybe into more of a liability than a strength is when you said I don’t want to be wrong. And when leaders start tying right or wrong into their identity, into making decisions, leadership requires experimentation and it requires failure. Sometimes the best lessons we learn in life are from things that we do wrong and things that don’t go the way we expect them to. If you wait until you know whether a decision is right or wrong, you probably waited too long because at that point you have all of the facts and all of the information. You’re not really making a decision at that point. You know, you’re following through on a clear line of logic where the outcome is known. Well, the definition of a decision is I’m choosing between two different things. And when we tie into this need of, I’m not going to make a decision until I know that I’m right, you are probably hampering your ability to make effective decisions.

Greg Harkavy (31:48):

So here’s a key point that I want to make sure we don’t miss in this—fear of failure in decision-making is a key. And we’re talking about the individual right now. It has unintended consequences to everybody around you. When you, as a leader model the fear of failure or the decision-making, what you get is behaviors of others that are afraid to make a decision. They don’t want to be wrong. And I’ve seen leaders say, hey, it’s okay to make a mistake. It’s okay to make a decision and we’ll learn from it. But then what they see in the behavior of the leader is they don’t allow themselves that same grace of the experiment. So they’ll preach it. But they’re going to look at you as the ultimate decision-maker and see how might anguish on making a decision or beating yourself up for, for, as you were saying earlier, right or wrong. Like if I made the wrong decision, focusing on the outcome that has reverberations from every other decision-maker you have in the organization, and chances are, you need people on your team that are going to be making decisions that have really the permission to fail and learn and grow from it. But it stops the moment that you don’t model it yourself.

Todd Mosetter (33:11):

Our beliefs always come before behaviors, right? We say that at Building Champions all the time. And I think this is one where when you ask leaders, how they feel about failure, I think it’s been conditioned in, you know, leadership 101 classes to say things like, you know, beneficial, learning, opportunity, because it’s easy to say that when someone asks the question, but to your point when the rubber actually meets the road and you’ve got to make a decision that you know might fail and to your point, empowering your people to do it. And then you being willing to do it yourself, your palms get a little more sweaty. And that’s when the distinction between whether I actually believe failure is good. Or is it something I just say that I think is good because I know I’m supposed to really comes to light.

Greg Harkavy (33:56):

It’s an element of faith. If you think about it, any decision that you’re not sure of the outcome, but you trust the process, you then have to make the decision and hope, okay, I hope this works or whatever it is, but we have to take those faith leaps more often than we realize—saying, I’m going to trust this process, or I’m going to trust what I deeply believe. And it still requires that leap of faith. Okay, here we go. We’ve made the decision. Now let’s move forward. And I think when, when you see that, I mean it’s throughout human history that those that, that were willing to take a leap of faith are usually the ones that were rewarded greatly. It’s still true today.

Todd Mosetter (34:38):

It’s a great point, Greg. Leadership, life all requires a bit of faith to it because if we knew how the story ended, it wouldn’t be any fun. We started off talking about needing feedback in order to identify the zeros. You know, one thing I want to touch on before we finish, I think, is both individuals and organizations, I think sometimes enables zeros themselves. And I think it’s worth calling that out and talking about that. So if I’m a leader, I tend to, to move up the ranks from being an individual performer, I’m really good at something, right. That’s typically the way it works. And as a result, I get promoted up and I get more responsibility. I start leading people and I have to make this shift from realizing the work isn’t just about what I do. It’s now about what we do. But the challenge is one of the reasons I got in the position to get the promotion is I made really good decisions on my own and for some people I didn’t need a ton of influence in the roles I had. So I have found success doing it one way where decision-making and influence may not have been a bigger zero earlier in my career, or depending on the level of the organization I am. But as I climb up and take higher and higher levels of responsibility, the impact of those zeros, the magnitude, if you will, goes up exponentially. Earlier in my career, it’s great that I have a lot of influence and I make great decisions, but again, my, I can control my performance and my outcomes so much more that I can probably mitigate that. But I start leading teams of 10, 20, 50, a 100, a 1000, 10,000, your ability to make good decisions and influence gets heightened. But leaders don’t always make that shift because they’ve created systems and they have feedback loops saying, well, it’s okay, Todd, doesn’t have to be great with people. He’s good at his job. Right? Or John is really well-liked. People love working for him. Yeah. He doesn’t always make the best decisions or get the best outcomes. But man, people love working with him. The organization and the individual, I think, tend to not want to focus on it. But at some point in your career, if you want to be effective, you have to.

Greg Harkavy (36:52):

Yeah. It’s, I think not debatable in that, but things that we’ve heard before, like the Peter principle, we get promoted beyond the part of the issue is as individual contributors, if we’re really successful as individual contributors, we typically are tapped for that next level. Whatever that rung up the ladder is to impact the organization. But people are not equipped and trained for that next level that most organizations do not have an intentional development plan for leaders. That’s where we do step in. And we see the opportunity when, when we see partners that are like-minded, they see it as a corporate responsibility to develop their leaders. Oftentimes that means that you are addressing the whole person, both their strengths and the zeros and developmentally that starts to go in, in a way that people see it, they develop it, they’re equipped and trained towards it. But I think oftentimes you do see that. Yeah. I just got here cause I was a really good individual performer. Nobody’s equipped me. So in a coaching relationship, this is a safe space. You know, this is not a promotion for what we do, but what’s unique about having a coach in your corner is you get to show up who you are, say, things that I call premature thoughts, or they’re preformed thoughts. You don’t have to have it all figured out, but you have the safe place to get some wise counsel and you can actually be more vulnerable than in most work environments. That’s gotta be put into the workplace. If that can be instituted in an organization and not reliant upon an outside perspective, that’s where I think some of those zeros become something that, hey, let’s, let’s acknowledge them in a way that isn’t so shameful because there are going to be things that cancel out our strengths. Let’s talk about them. There’s stories of organizations that they would have a, like a fail Friday that somebody would celebrate just a horrific failure. And they would say what they learned about it. Like creating a culture like that, to understand, hey, we all have potential zeros. How do we eliminate them in a way that doesn’t create shame? We don’t celebrate them that now we’re for lack of a better word worshiping the zero, but it’s like, let’s get it out of the way so we can move more into our strengths.

Todd Mosetter (39:16):

Greg, I think that’s a great, a great ending thought, right? In general, if you can be self-aware enough and have the right feedback loops to know what your strengths are and lean into those, leverage them. They give you energy. You’ve been gifted that way. They add value. Find ways to do more of those. When you have weaknesses, it’s not always the best idea to try and invest a lot of time and energy to make a weakness suddenly a mediocre skill. Find ways, whether it be a delegation, training, new people outsourcing. Don’t do those if they’re not good, but we don’t want to miss that third piece. That’s the and that you started with—for some of us, we have a zero and simply saying, well, I’m just not good at that I’ll, I’ll leverage my strengths more. To use our quick framework, if you’re really good at decisions and getting results, you just can’t say, well, I won’t worry about the influence piece.

I’ll just double down on results or vice versa. I’m really good at molding the people and engaging people. But man, are we a slow organization that never moves the ball forward. I’ll ignore that because it’s a weakness. Let me double down on my influence. There are some areas that you just have to address, because if you don’t, much like math, two times, two times, two times two, you can keep doing it and get a big number, but you throw a zero in there. So I think our heart of this episode, and you’ve done such a great job, Greg, is don’t ignore your strengths, leverage them. Don’t focus on your weaknesses. But when you have a zero, you need to be aware of that.

Greg Harkavy (40:46):

Yeah. It’s been fun talking about this because it’s maybe the conversation people don’t want to have, but we have to. So whatever you need to do, whoever’s listening to this—to get that feedback and do look at your strengths to bring you confidence to know that if you have a zero, zeros are not a death knell on your effectiveness, but you have to address them to move forward.

Todd Mosetter (41:12):

That’s a great point, Greg. They’re not a death knell if you improve them. They are, if you leave them where they are.

Greg Harkavy (41:18):

Exactly. But they’re curable.

Todd Mosetter (41:21):

With the right feedback or the right focus, they definitely are. That’s the good news is we’re all curable.

Greg Harkavy (41:26):


Daniel Harkavy (41:31):

Thanks so much to Rainer for sharing his insights on system design and leadership. As a reminder, you can listen to other episodes and access relevant tools by visiting buildingchampions.com forward slash podcast. And we’d love it if you could share the podcast and leave us a rating and a review in your Apple podcasts app, doing so helps people to find us. And it helps us to learn what we’re doing well and how we can continue to grow and provide our listeners with content that will truly transform their lives and their leadership.

In This Episode

Dr. Rainer Mueller-Finkeldei
Sr. VP of Engineering & Technology, Daimler Trucks North America