Manage Smarter 173 — Krister Ungerböck: Talk SHIFT to Better Leadership

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Krister Ungerböck is a successful tech CEO who has been featured in national publications such as NPR, Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur for his practical, unconventional communication insights on compassionate leadership, emotional intelligence and employee engagement. 

His unique insights are informed by real-​world experience leading teams in three languages while growing a global company 3,000% (from $1M to $30M). It was in his lowest moment that Krister was asked the question that ultimately led him to the discovery of the universal communication tools called Talk SHIFT.

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Krister discuss Talk SHIFT:

  • Definition of Talk SHIFT.
  • How to increase employee engagement, leadership communication, and growth
  • Become a better boss using specific statements
  • Lead people to their solutions, not your solutions

Bonus Content — Talk SHIFT QUIZ HERE: https://​www​.talkshift​.com/​i​n​t​r​o​1​6​0​0​5​1​7​5​7​6​462

”The 22 TalkSHIFTs are tools to change the tone in your relationships, your team and you family. They help us communicate more openly and honestly, with compassionate communication that can end fear-​fueled silence.“

Krister Ungerböck

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Manage Smarter 173: Talk SHIFT to Better Leadership

How to Increase Employee Engagement


This Manage Smarter episode is brought to you by SalesFuel's TeamTrait. Your AI powered assistant sales coach. Improve your sales people with automated regular coaching in just two minutes a day with TeamTrait. For more information, visit teamtrait​.com

Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast with host C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire, develop and retain talent, improve results and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Manage Smarter podcast.

Audrey Strong: Our guest today, Lee said that he wants to help you become the version of yourself your dying to meet. And I love that concept.

C. Lee Smith: Absolutely. The thing that I'm most interested in hearing about today is awareness because self-​improvement starts with self-​awareness. So, that's a great topic for today's show.

Audrey Strong: Absolutely welcome to Manage Smarter everyone. I'm Audrey Strong. I'm the vice president of communications here at SalesFuel. 

C. Lee Smith: And I'm C. Lee Smith, the president and CEO of SalesFuel.

Audrey Strong: So, Krister Ungerbock is with us today, a successful tech CEO whose videos, if you watch them on his YouTube channel, literally made me cry and will make you cry as well. He's been featured in national publications, including national public radio, Forbes, entrepreneur for his practical unconventional communication insights on couple things; compassionate leadership, emotional intelligence and employee engagement. These unique insights are informed by real world experience leading teams in three languages while growing a global company, 3000% up to 30 million bucks, everyone. And this is the key I want to start with Krister, which is the lowest moment where you said you were asked the question at the Y that led you to the discovery of talk shifts and we'll get to what talk shifts are, but welcome Krister. Can you tell that story again about what happened at the YMCA?

Krister Ungerbock: Yeah. So, it's interesting, you said the question at the Y which is maybe the question that led me to my real why. Why I exist? Yeah, it was about four years ago, I was sitting at the Y and signing up for a gym membership and the woman asked me, who is your emergency contact? And I had no one because in the weeks before that I had walked out on my job as the CEO of the company that had helped build and love. And then two weeks later, my wife walked out on me and I was looking in the mirror at the YMCA and I saw the leader that I'd become, which is a leader with no followers. And I went on this journey to discover, I'd read business books starting at age 12, and I'd been to the right business schools. And I said, where did I go wrong? How did I miss this? I've read hundreds, maybe even over a thousand business books about leadership. And while it worked from a financial perspective, it didn't necessarily work from a personal perspective and probably the biggest thing I realized it took me a couple years, is that there's a big difference — we as entrepreneurs and we're CEOs, we're supposed to cast a big vision of change the world. Or as Steve jobs said, “Put a dent in the universe.” And there's a big difference between having of people following a vision or following us as leaders. And I discovered that if you really want to get outsized results then you want both, you want people who are following you because of who you are and how you lead them. And then you also want people who are following a vision and that's where you get the 10 X results that while we grew 3000%, I suspect it would've been closer to 30000% if I had had the magic of both of those ingredients.

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. I want to go back for a second. I'm very curious about this. Like what was causing you the most stress right before that seminal moment, when you realized that you had no emergency contact and it changed your life. So, what was really bothering you at the time?

Krister Ungerbock: What was bothering me? Well, my wife wanted to end our marriage was certainly a big aspect. And at the same time I'd been a CEO of this company or with this company, a family owned business for 20 years. And the business partners who I walked out on were my family. So, this was my father and my three brothers. And so, yeah, I really felt that I had no one.

C. Lee Smith: And so what led you to walk out?

Krister Ungerbock: So, it's interesting. We often think CEOs have all the autonomy, but I felt that I was leading this business with one or both hands tied behind my back. I certainly had authority to make the tactical decisions, but if you've got a $30 million business and we were growing at a clip of 10 to 25% per year for 20 years in a row. If you're going to grow a 30 million business, 20 to 30%, you need to make some big bets, million, 2 million bets on new products, acquisitions, whatever it may be. And those kind of decisions, I could see no way because of the fundamentally broken relationship that I have with my father, who is our controlling shareholder. I could see no way that those decisions would be happening. And this was after hiring coaches and I mean, spending thousands of dollars and countless hours with people to help mediate and bring us to a way of work together.

Audrey Strong: So, you say that there's a disconnect between what you're feeling in your heart and the way that you express that through words. And there's a quiz and we followed instructions from your book Krister, and we both took the quiz. Then it tells you whether it's your frustration relationships come from the way you are speaking to other people, or the way they're speaking to you. And I cop to the fact that I have a problem with my words and clearly emotional intelligence needs a boost. And Lee, what was your result from?

C. Lee Smith: I'm going to treat this like my golf score, which is, I'm not going to tell anybody what…

Audrey Strong: We'll put the quiz in the show notes, but Krister, talk a little bit about that.

Krister Ungerbock: So, well, the quiz, we've got now over 150,000 data points on quiz and there were two surprising things. After we had about a hundred thousand data points, we did the analysis and we started to say, which questions are most highly correlated with people also saying that they have a frustrating relationship in their lives. And the interesting thing is the question is about your words. It's not about the other person's words. And so one, we found 88% of people who respond to the quiz have a frustrating relationship in their life. And it's gone up about 15 to 20% since pre-​COVID. Understandably so. But the interesting thing is we usually think that the problem is the other person's words, but the four questions that we discovered that were most closely core related with whether people have frustrating relationships, we're very specific about the words that you use. And so it gives us hope that maybe shifting our frustrating relationships, whether it's at work or at home is more about just changing our words. Maybe it's more in our control than we think.

C. Lee Smith: Let's talk about a couple of those questions that I think that might be among the four. Make requests, not give directions.

Krister Ungerbock: Surprisingly, no. I wrote the questions and I was surprised by which were the four that actually were, and I won't say which the four were because…

C. Lee Smith: We don't want to spoil the assessment. 

Krister Ungerbock: Yeah. It's important that people don't kind of think of, okay here's the one that I want to respond possibly to. So, even I was surprised by the ones that were the four that were most closely correlated with people also responding that they had. Now, interestingly, some of those questions are almost directly line up with some of the divorce research. So, and that was a big part of the talk shift. So as I said, I was CEO of a family business. So, my family were my business partners. And then of course my wife walked out. So, during that tough period, after the Y, a lot of the stuff that I was reading was about emotional intelligence. It was about relationships, marital relationships. And what struck me is that, so there's a man named Dr. Gottman who's considered the kind of world's foremost researcher on marriage and divorce. And he's able to predict divorce with 94% accuracy based upon watching like a 20 or 30 minute video of a couple. And he looks for four specific communication patterns and what struck me is that those four communication patterns were present in every failed business relationship that I'd had in my entire career. So, I started saying, wow, maybe there's something to be learned about being a better leader from the marriage and divorce research. And so a lot of the talk shifts is actually taking things out of the kind of relationship research world and applying them to how to be a better leader. I had an interesting conversation through the journey, I ended up at workshops with a lot of like marriage counselors and therapists. There weren't many business people wearing sport coats there other than myself. And I asked her, what do unhappy wives say on your couch over and over and over again? And she told me the words and I couldn't help, but think like, you know what, those are the exact same words that unhappy and employees say about their boss. It's like, he doesn't listen to me. He doesn't take my ideas. All he cares about is the results or the work. I mean, you could take these things off of the therapy couch in a marital counseling session, and you could put them in the office. And so I believe that's the kind of true innovation with talk shifts. My intention was to meet, especially men like myself, men, don't like to go to marriage counseling, men don’t like to talk about their relationships generally. But if we can give them tools that are actually, many of them pulled right out of the relationship world, give them tools that will help them in their careers to be better leaders and be more successful and then say, oh, by the way, you can just practice these at home with your kids and your spouse. Then we're actually giving men or leaders in general, the tools that they need to be better as parents and better as spouses before their relationship is let's say too late to be recovered.

Audrey Strong: You have some very specific examples that you give when you speak about how to speak. And I wonder, and like you said, with COVID and frustration levels for some of us being higher just in general over how we're all feeling. Given the current circumstances, can you give some of those concrete examples of you said, when you're speaking about a feeling, don't speak about something external, you have to actually give it a name.

Krister Ungerbock: Yeah. So, the shortcut is whenever you speak about feelings, is it only requires three words. And the first two words are, I feel. And then the third word is an emotion. I had read tons of books about emotional intelligence, 2.0, 1.0, 3.0, I don't know how many versions of emotional intelligence there are, but I read them all. And what I always thought that as I was talking about my feelings. I would say, I feel that, or I feel like and those are not feelings. They're thoughts. So if I say, I feel the next word and what I found is someone who wasn't very emotionally intelligent wasn't in touch with my emotions.  I had a hard time actually even just pinpointing what I was feeling, unless it was anger. I was really good about that. I was like yeah, I'm angry. But there's a whole another thing about anger that we can kind of touch on a moment. But so the easy way to do it is just start with the five or six core emotions. I feel mad, sad, glad, happy, surprised, ashamed, embarrassed is a little bit softer or more common way to say ashamed or guilty. And so, and then just pick one of those. There are no other options and just pick whichever one is closest, and then you go down the tree, like, so let's say I'm mad. Well, then there's different forms of mad there's rage on the really strong form. And then there's frustration on the really soft form. So, do the same. And then basically, just till you pinpoint the emotion and you start doing that. And I started doing that and I started to get in better touch with my emotions. And do you want me to talk about the anger piece while I go through this?

C. Lee Smith: Absolutely. I was really curious about that because, I mean, you asked a question about anger, not being a primary emotion and a lot of the psychologists that I've read anger is a primary emotion. And I got the impression from the quiz that you think that it may not be.

Krister Ungerbock: Well, I think there's different psychologists who say it's a core emotion, but not a primary emotion. There's a subtle nuance there. 

C. Lee Smith: Okay. What's a distinction there?

Krister Ungerbock: So, the distinction is that whenever you feel anger recognize that anger is caused by another core emotion. So, in business leadership I'm convinced, especially my own personal experience, the most common emotion leaders experience and in business is anger or frustration would be its kind of milder cousin. But whenever we feel angry, we ask ourselves the question what's behind my anger, fear, sadness, guilt, embarrassment, sometime its fear of embarrassment. I'll take a really trivial example. I was on the road yesterday and somebody was like coming into my lane. I don't know if he was drunk at like 11 o'clock in the morning or what, but initially I was angry, but I said, well, what's behind by anger? Well, it's fear. So, behind anger is always another deeper emotion. And when we start to see that it changes how we react to other people who cause us to be angry. So, let's say in business setting, somebody turns in a proposal and it's got spelling errors. It's to a really big client. I'm angry. Well, why am I angry? I'm afraid we're going to lose the business. And then I'm afraid I'm going to lose my bonus. Maybe I'm just afraid of being embarrassed if my boss sees that work product. And so now I can have a different conversation with the person, rather than saying, I'm angry. I can say, hey, I'm afraid about something.

Audrey Strong: And how do direct reports usually react when that shift occurs?

Krister Ungerbock: So, neither of those conversations are fun. But if I tell a direct report that I'm angry, the research shows that it puts them in a state of fear usually unless they don't — let's say most direct reports would be in a state of fear. And when we're in a state of fear, the part of our brain that's responsible for creative thought gets shut down. So, I say I'm angry to you, and then you shut down. So, I'm actually putting you in a mental physiologically, in a mental state where you're actually less able to solve the problem that made me angry in the first place.

C. Lee Smith: Lizard brain. 

Krister Ungerbock: Yeah. So, but if I say I'm afraid and I'm afraid if we lose that big deal, then we're not going to make our bonuses or we're going to have to do layoffs or whatever it is. Now use your judgment, whether it's healthy to tell people whether it's going to be layoffs. But talking about the fear, assuming the other person actually likes me and is not enjoying the fact that I, as the boss am in a state of fear which that's a whole seriously broken relationship issue. But assuming they like me, like, I don't want you to be in the state of fear. How can I help you? What can I do differently? So, we shift. Again, we use anger as a way to connect rather than disconnect. We connect on the deeper emotions. 

C. Lee Smith: So, share with leaders then who fear that showing their fear will make them appear weak.

Krister Ungerbock: Well so, I think a lot of it comes to mindset. So, I'm going to use fear. Let me use another example that even we more likely think we feel weak. I caught my son, my 10 year old son crying like a couple months back. It was like the end of the Iron man movie. And the Iron man died. And like he was crying and his sister who's 12 was like looking. And so he was like hiding his tears. Because he was embarrassed. He didn't want to feel weak crying in front of a girl or a woman. And I took him by later and I said, “Hey buddy, you know, it's okay to cry.” And he goes about boys, don't cry. And I said, “Boys don't cry, but men do.” And I taught him how cry like a man. Like if you cry or if you're afraid and you look away and people see I'm afraid and I'm embarrassed to be afraid, then you will look weak. But if you've ever had the experience of actually tearing up and not looking away and looking directly in the eyes of someone and just saying, “I know that I'm crying, I know that there are tears rolling down my face.” I think, it's very difficult for someone to say, you know what? That person looks weak because that's about one of the strongest things I've ever had to do. Anybody who thinks that that's weak probably has not tried it I suspect.

Audrey Strong: You say that one of the methods that you can use to become the version of yourself that you'd like to meet is to do something inspiring. There are a million different choices for that, but can you give some examples of maybe some of the low hanging fruit that we can all try and do? I'd like to do something I think it'd be great.

Krister Ungerbock: Well, I think that doing something inspiring can be — I chose to do an ultra-​marathon because I knew that was something physically I'd never run more than a 5k in my life. But I think that inspiring ourselves is more than anything is about facing our fears. So, whether it's a fear of showing emotion or a fear of telling someone we're afraid. I think that a lot of inspiring ourselves is often enough just making the little choices. So, maybe somebody says, I'm really uncomfortable talking about my fear with an employee. Like let's just try it once. And it probably won't go exceptionally well the first time, but nothing that you've never done before goes exceptionally well the first time. 

C. Lee Smith: You ever notice that so many things on people's bucket list are all things that, fears that they want to overcome. Jumping out of airplanes or…

Audrey Strong: Hang gliding. 

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. Stuff like that.

Krister Ungerbock: Well I think all of these things come down to the first step. So, if jumping out of an airplane is the thing, so you don't need to necessarily cross the thing of actually jumping out of the airplane right now. You just need to call and do a Google search to find out company where you can go jump out on an airplane. And then the next step is just to call them up and say, what times are you available? The next step is put your credit card. So, if you're just always looking at that one immediate next step, which well, it's not an intended metaphor. It actually is fairly similar to running an ultra-​marathon. It's just what is that next step?

C. Lee Smith: Or eating an elephant? That's the popular one. 

Krister Ungerbock: Yes, yes. And the person who inspired me to do an ultra-​marathon was a friend of mine who has multiple sclerosis who ran 104 mile ultra-​marathon in 29 hours and 47 minutes or something like that. And what surprised me or what was really interesting is, I saw him at like mile 50 and everybody who saw him said, there's no way we're going to  see him at the next checkpoint, which was 15 miles away. He had been going for 16, probably 14 or 15 hours already straight. And he looked like he might actually call us in 15 minutes, say I'm out of the race. And we saw him, I don't know, two hours later, three hours later, whatever the next cutoff was which was about 15 miles later. And he was running like he was sprinting. I mean, it was wow. So, and then 15 miles later again, he was kind of down, but so I happened to do my first let's say practice for — it was a long hike was actually the day after that. And we were hiking up and down four mountains. I was with another person, a CEO who I was coaching at the time. And it was really interesting. I saw his mental and emotional state go up and down. At the top of the mountains, he was in a great state going up the mountain, not so much. And he loved like running down the mountains.

C. Lee Smith: That's me on a bike, I’m on my a hundred mile bike rides. That's exactly what I feel like.

Krister Ungerbock: Interesting, I was the opposite. I hated going down just because the different muscles that I had…

Audrey Strong: Quads. 

Krister Ungerbock: Yeah. So, I didn't have the actual quad strength to go down quickly, but I enjoyed going up. So, it was just whenever we think that — I remember that shortly for that moment at the YMCA, I remember when kind of my marriage broke, I was laying in bed. Like my heart was pounding for literally four hours. I had one of those heart rate watches on and it was just raw fear for four hours. It was as if I was kind of doing a mild jog while laying in bed was my heart rate. And I remember just laying there saying the best thing about the worst day of your life is this statistically speaking tomorrow probably be better.

Audrey Strong: That's true. Well, I think the tips and the things that you've taught us today are very informative and talkshift​.com is the website. And if you'd like to take the quiz, everybody it's talkshift​.com/​q​uiz and Krister, are you doing any speaking or presentations that you'd like people to reach out about remotely during this time?

Krister Ungerbock: Yeah, I do. I do remote webinars and for clients all the time. 

Audrey Strong: Well, we appreciate your time today. We all learned a lot and I for one, I'm going to get the book and read it further. Emotional intelligence, I think always room for improvement in that. I'll never know enough about it. 

C. Lee Smith: You can never read enough books or hear enough speakers on that topic because it's new, it's fresh, it's changing and it's so vitally important and with everything going on today.

Krister Ungerbock: Yeah. And you're little listeners. If they take the quiz, they will — the book launches on October 6th, but if they were to take the quiz before October 6th, they can get access to some free, exclusive access to the ebook before it launches.

Audrey Strong: That's great. Thanks again, Krister. Appreciate your time today. 

Krister Ungerbock: Thank you very much. 

Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show on how to talk SHIFT and how to increase employee engagement, please rate and recommend on iTunes, overcast, or wherever you get your podcast. You can also get more great information at salesfuel​.com.

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