Manage Smarter 32 — Cy Wakeman: Ditching Drama and Entitlement

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Cy Wakeman is a drama researcher, global thought-​leader, and New York Times best-​selling author who is recognized for cultivating a counter-​intuitive, reality-​based approach to leadership. Backed by 20 years of unparalleled experience, Wakeman’s philosophy offers a new lens through which employees and executives alike, can shift their attention inward, sharpen their focus on personal accountability, and uncover their natural state of innovation simply by ditching the drama.

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Cy discuss:

  • Cy's definition of office drama, and the effects on the workplace
  • Acceptable ways to react to drama that has been created
  • How to hire low drama employees
  • How you and your team can become self-aware
  • Is it ok to treat high performers differently than low performers?

Key Takeaways, including emphasis on office drama:

  • Bring your most evolved self to work daily
  • Drama is a productivity killer
  • Show empathy to other employees but then give them a call to greatness
  • Ditch the ego, stop judging and start helping

"Engagement without accountability creates entitlement." — Cy Wakeman

Join hosts Audrey Strong and C. Lee Smith every week as they dive into the aspects and concepts of good business management. From debunking sales myths to learning how to manage with and without measurements, you'll learn something new with every episode and will be able to implement positive change far beyond sales.

Connect with Cy Wakeman:

  • Twitter:  @CyWakeman
  • Facebook:  /​CyWakeman
  • Website: http://​www​.realitybasedleadership​.com
  • Email:  cy@​cywakeman.​com
  • Book:
  • Show:
  • YouTube:
  • LinkedIn: 

Connect with the hosts of Manage Smarter:

  • Twitter:@ManageSmartPod
  • LinkedIn:Audrey Strong
  • LinkedIn:C. Lee Smith 

Connect with SalesFuel:

  • Website:
  • Twitter: @SalesFuel
  • Facebook:

Manage Smarter 32 — Cy Wakeman- Ditching Office Drama and Entitlement


This episode of Manage Smarter is presented by Team Keeper, SalesFuel's data driven program for improving team culture, communication, and retention. Learn more about Team Keeper at teamkeeper​.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: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast. We're so glad that you're with us today. Boy, have we got a guest for you. I'm Audrey Strong director of communications for SalesFuel.

  1. Lee Smith: And I'm C. Lee Smith. I'm the president and CEO of SalesFuel. Audrey, you know, you and I talk a lot about this. The one thing that really drives me most at work is dealing with office drama.

Audrey Strong: Drives you nuts, you mean?

  1. Lee Smith: It drives me nuts. It just zaps my energy, because I have to work really hard at trying to avoid saying something really stupid that's going to make things worse.

Audrey Strong: That's why we have Cy Wakeman sitting at our table today. Hi, Cy, we're so glad you’re here. 

Cy Wakeman: Hi. It's so good to be with the two of you.

Audrey Strong: Yeah. Well, let me tell everybody a little bit about you, Cy. Boy, you are a powerhouse. And when I read the titles of your books, everybody's going to be like, "Oh, I know what we're talking about today." These are great titles. But first of all, if you don't know Cy, realitybasedleadership​.com is her website and the name of her company. She's a drama researcher. Maybe some of you didn't realize that's a thing, but it's a very important thing. International speaker on leadership and management, she is a New York Times bestselling author, that's something I aspire, and a global thought leader. Three books, get them on amazon​.com, and we're all fine, books are sold. Listen to these titles—No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results. I think that sounds great. Reality-​Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, and Turn Excuses Into Results. And The Reality-​Based Rules of the Workplace: Know What Boosts Your Value. Kills Your Chances and Will Make You Happier, which is getting back to Lee, what you were saying, you want to be happy.

  1. Lee Smith: Yeah, I want less office drama. Less drama equals more happy. So, welcome, Cy, glad you could make it.

Cy Wakeman: I'm glad to make it. I'm glad to make it. And you know, a lot of people don't realize that we spend two and a half hours a day in drama per person per headcount in the workplace, 816 hours a year per person.

  1. Lee Smith: That sounds low to me. 

Cy Wakeman: Isn't that crazy? So no wonder it drives you nuts because it's such a waste. It's such waste, and we've just accepted it as a cost of doing business. We're like, "Well, if you have people together, you're going to have drama." No, you're not — the new thing that everybody's saying is, oh, bring your whole self to work. And I'm screaming, do not bring your whole self to work. Bring your most evolved self to work, because you've got choices here and drama is not "I had a feeling and now I need to vent." A lot of people believe that drama is something that happens to them instead of a state of low accountability that they're in, which the byproduct of which is drama. There's no drama when people are acting in a high state of accountability.

  1. Lee Smith: I actually wanted to ask the question, set the table then for the audience, how are you defining drama?

Cy Wakeman: Drama is unproductive thought processes or disruptive behavior at work. That's not very recognizable, so let me give you venting, judging, gossiping, score-​keeping, tattling, resisting change, withholding buy-​in, lacking accountability, blaming others, complaining, any belief that says that my circumstances are the reasons I can't succeed. Because your circumstances aren't the reasons you can't succeed, they're the reality in which you must succeed. So any of those belief systems or those behaviors, we classify as drama, but office drama is just emotional waste in the workplace, like any other waste but it's waste. And how do you get rid of waste? With a good process. And how you get rid of emotional waste is with a good mental process.

  1. Lee Smith: And at the risk of offending people who drive German cars, you also classify that as BMWs. 

Cy Wakeman: Absolutely. And I drive a BMW.

Audrey Strong: Ironically.

Cy Wakeman: But I try not to drive one in life. The BMW, the acronym stands for bitching, moaning, and whining. How many times are we in the meeting and we're like, oh my goodness, yes, that's where we're going as a company, I'm all in. And then in the meeting, after the meeting, like four minutes later, we all jump in our BMWs. We drive around, park them together and have a little road rally about, "This is a great idea. But if they expect me to participate, they're going to have to give us more money and more staffing and more time and everybody's going to be treated the same." We come up with a list of terroristic demands on how reality has to change in order for me to give the gift of my work. 

Audrey Strong: Well people, what is it they say, you never negotiate with a terrorist, right? 

Cy Wakeman: Exactly. But most leaders negotiate with the terrorist because they both believe engagement has something to do with their circumstances. 

  1. Lee Smith: We have to get buy-in. 

Cy Wakeman: Yeah, we have to. You know what, buy-​in is a verb. It amazes me where people believe I can manufacture buy-​in. Buy-in's your choice. And guess what, folks, I can only work with the willing. I have a funny story about buy-​in. I have eight sons, so we're a blended family. I have four stepsons and four sons that I gave birth to. When they start to be about 13, we know they'll probably be grounded in the near future. And when you get grounded at my house, you don't slink off to your room and play video games. It's usually Friday or Saturday night, and you need to spend in time with your parents. What we like to do is play poker. So, when you're grounded on Friday night, we play poker with the grounded people. There are mandatory– 

Audrey Strong: I love this.

Cy Wakeman: Now, we found out that they haven’t had that much incentive to play poker with us. So, what you play poker with is next week's allowance. We call it double jeopardy, right? So, I'm teaching my kids to play poker in anticipation of being grounded. So, I'm teaching Charlie to play poker and it took a while. He's not a card shark by any means. Well, he finally got grounded and I sat him down. I go, "Okay, I dealt the cards." I go, "This time it's for real, it's not practice. Place your bets." And he just was astounded. He goes, "What do you mean place my bets? I would need to see your cards first." And I'm like, "Charlie, that's not a poker's play." You don't place your bets after you know you can win. You place your bets — you're not betting on me. You're betting on your skillset and your cards. And it dawned on me that that is really similar to how many employees are coming to work today. They're saying, "Before I place my bet, will you show me, will you glassdoor me — will you show me that company's perfect so that of course I can pull a play." I'm like, "No, I need you to buy-​in and let me be psychic. We won't have enough money and not everyone will do their fair share. Customers will be demanding and timelines will be short, and we'll have a lot of priorities and too much work given that reality. Now, will you buy-​in?" Because most people want to buy-​in given a perfect reality and that's not buy-​in. Buy-​in is a verb knowing that reality will be pretty shaky. That's buy-in. 

  1. Lee Smith: Sounds like marriage.

Audrey Strong: So, but it's a productivity killer. And the thing that I love about you, what did you call it, well, it's the office drama quotient and the freak out factor. 

Cy Wakeman: Yeah, the freak out factor. 

Audrey Strong: I love the freak out, F2. But what you say is, so somebody melts down or has a bad attitude or all the things that you listed, and when they come and say, "I'm really sorry. Are we okay?" And you said — it's okay to look at them and say, "You know what? No, we're not okay and that was not okay." And so that's the first step you should take?

Cy Wakeman: Yes. One of the first steps is a lot of people say, Cy, how can I hold people accountable? How can I limit the drama? How can I change them? And I say, you probably can't change others that directly, but you can stop enabling it. And so if somebody comes in and they have a meltdown and they come back to you and they're like, "Sorry about that. I just, you know, had to vent, but we're still okay." To say we are and that that was professional behavior and that is going to be approved of in the future is enabling. Just say, you know what? I care about you. I get that we all reach our limits at times. But now that you know your limit, where are you going to grow next to make sure that you can handle changes like this without all the emotional expensiveness? See, your value as a worker, as an employee, the value of your work, can you perform and deliver today? Are you fluent in the now? Do you consistently deliver what the organization asks you to? Not what you like to do, not where your strengths are, but can you deliver what the organization needs? Two, are you ready for what's next? Will you still be relevant in the future? Are you keeping up with the times? And three, what is your drama quotient? How emotionally expensive are you? How much do you cost in care and feeding in addition to your salary and wages? And folks, you could be a rock star performer, but if you're high drama, I'm here to tell you the way the formula works in today's world is your drama will drown out your performance 3:1, 3:1. So, being drama-​free is like being the new smart. It's the new quotient, so to speak. The DQ is better than EQ and the IQ, because it is what hits the bottom line. It's all about the DQ. 

  1. Lee Smith: So, when you're hiring, would you recommend to a manager then that they should rather want to have somebody who is eh average skill and ability and everything like that but low drama, or high skill, high performance, high drama, which of those two would you recommend that they choose?

Cy Wakeman: I would tell you, even in the jobs that require the most skill, I would go for low office drama every time. Here's why—we all should only strive to be average in our skill set. It's too much time to put in to be great in our skill set in a world that will change tomorrow. So, even on like YouTube, people aren't valuing highly produced work. They're valuing organic work done to the best of our ability. It's the drama portions that I have look for, because I can — if you're willing and you're a typical human being, we can teach you most skills. Sometimes there's natural ability. But even if you're a rock star national ability, I'm not going to say come with drama because you know what, there's people out there who are rock stars with no drama. People make it mutually exclusive. Do I get somebody who's technically great but high drama, I'm like, or get somebody technically great with no drama. They aren't mutually exclusive.

  1. Lee Smith: That's an easy decision, right? But how do we, as managers, that recognize then that sometimes when we're actually the ones feeding of the drama? Because I had an epiphany about two and a half years ago, and I can't say that actually it was epiphany that I had myself. It was an epiphany that somebody else had for me, but it's really difficult to come into realization that you know what, it's like, this drama that I hate so much, I'm actually feeding into it and actually part of the cause of it. So how can I as a manager then tell if I'm part of the problem, not part of the solution?

Cy Wakeman: Anytime you, as a leader, are out of neutral gear. If you are stressed about it, if you are working harder at the solution than they are, if you are home taking a shower thinking about it, ask yourself — are they home taking a shower thinking about it? 

Audrey Strong: Probably not. 

Cy Wakeman: Anytime out of neutral. And so many leaders invite me into the company and they're like, "We have an accountability issue here, and so can you work on them?" And I'm like, "Well, let's start with you." People said in my classes and they'll say — it'll be a class on personal accountability and they'll go, "You know what?" They'll come up to me at break. And they'll sit through a class on personal accountability and they'll go, "Oh, you know what? I really wish Ed were here. Ed's the one who needs this, to hear this." And it just is so ironic to see how the ego works. The ego hears it and says, "Not me. I'm amazing." And so when I ask leaders what are the sources of drama in their workplace, they always tell me when other people gossip, when other people BMW drive, when other people can't make a decision, when they won't let people go. And here's the truth folks—if you have office drama in your life and your leader, you hired it, you allow or enable it, which is back to your point.

  1. Lee Smith: Two for two.

Cy Wakeman: Two for two. Or you are it. And so many times, we, as leaders or owners of companies are high performers, and we're really early adopters. A lot of the times our own drama quotient that we put out is low, but the drama we enable is high, and it's out of our fear-​based behavior. If I give them feedback, they'll quit or I will want to be liked. I'm like, well, do you want to be liked or successful? Well, I want to be liked. Okay, then trade in your success. 

Audrey Strong: So, how do you force yourself into let's call it self-​awareness corner? How do you force yourself into that, and then get your team to recognize it in themselves as well? How does that actually happen? 

Cy Wakeman: Self-​reflection is the ultimate drama diffuser. It's self-​reflection. Here's why—your ego's binary. You can be in low self, which is venting, ego, seeing yourself as a victim, railing on everybody else and what they're not doing. And there you'll find no options that you can have impact, so of course you'll be disengaged. Or you can be in high self, which is where I move out of venting into self-​reflection. Self-​reflection is the first step of accountability. And I start to ponder, what's my part in this? What do I know for sure? If I were great, what would great look like? And then I answer that question and then go be great. And so the first step for leaders is to get themselves into self-​reflection by asking questions for self-​reflection. What do I know for sure, and editing my story, questioning everything I think, asking what could I do to help, and stop judging, start helping. 

So let me give you an example how you use this. I had somebody come up to me and say, "Hey, do you have a minute?" And I'm like, "Sure, what's up?" And they begin venting. They are so mad at IT, "IT can't manage the — we have a paper bag. They should be fired. They totally screwed up the conversion and all of our data is wrong and we can't get any reports. They're ruining our business." This person was venting to me, her name was Tammy. And she's like, "Karen should be fired. Karen is ridiculous. I don't know how she keeps her job in IT." Now, most leaders enable, they would collude with the person. And so that they say, "I know. We're really struggling. IT is making it tough for us. Just last week we had–" wrong. What leaders need to do is set the tone — empathy is I see you're struggling. I'm about to call you the greatness. I said, "Tammy, first of all, I love that you're in my office sharing your love and concern for our colleagues in IT." Message? We're not dishing IT. Second question is—I'm just wondering what you did to help.

  1. Lee Smith: So Cy, that's the open door policy, and I know you made mentioned of the open door policy and sometimes the HR department as two things that, I don't know, maybe aren't such a good ideas for dealing with drama. Why don't you expand on that a little bit? 

Cy Wakeman: Yeah. When I first came into leadership, I was a therapist before, and therapists believe in boundaries. We don't have open doors, because a lot of people don't know how to set their own boundaries. And so we have people that if you don't have an appointment, you're not going to see your therapist. So when I first got to leadership they're like 'keep an open door.' I'm like, that sounds disastrous but it's the best leadership advice so I kept my door open. My mind works like a researcher. So what I realized is the average "hey, do you have a minute meeting" lasted 45 minutes in length. "Hey, do you have a minute?" If they would've said, "Hey, do you have 45 minutes?" why, are we strategic planning for the year? Are we doing something valuable? But no, it was like–

  1. Lee Smith: No, we're driving BMWs.

Cy Wakeman: 'Hey, do you have a minute' lasted 45 minutes in length. I would go, "Sure." Typical conversation was BMW, tattling, venting, score-​keeping things that never happened. Typical conclusion after 45 minutes was, "But hey, don't do anything. I just wanted you to know." And I thought if I went to my CEO and said, "Here's how I lead." I spend 45 minute intervals with people to know return on investment. The open door being available isn't negative or a bad thing, but we've got to clean it up with the non-​negotiables. If you say, "Hey, do you have a minute?" I say, "Hey, do you have an S bar?" which is a template that you process your work so when you come to access my resources, it is well-​processed. Here's the situation. Here's the relevant background. Here's my fact-​checking and assessment. Here are my multiple recommendations to show my mental flexibility. See, when people bring you unprocessed work, you process it, then you go act on it, and then you wonder how you ended up with it. And so that open door, a non-​negotiable in our company is stop judging, start helping. 

So when you come to me judging about somebody else, I will ask you, what did you do to help? And Tammy's like, "I'm in here telling you." And I said, that's not that helpful. And in fact, I believe in it so much that on the back of your badge, there's a question that says, "How can I help?" And whenever you're judging a teammate and you're in ego, to get out of ego is you stop judging and start helping. What is going on? We have a data conversion gone south. What could I do next that would help? Go do that. So I said to Tammy, "Do you have your badge?" "Yeah." "Do you have your question?" "Yeah." I went and found Karen. I said, "Karen, Tammy was just in my office sharing her love and concern for our colleagues in IT, and she has a question for you. Go ahead, Tammy." And Tammy said to Karen, "How can I help?" And Karen had answers. Karen said, "You know, we do business requirement meetings and you

tell your team they're not mandatory, that's not that helpful." That's how we find out about all these extra systems.

As leaders, we have to clean up our own act and quit BMW driving and quit colluding. And we have to realize that what people are upset about is their story, not their reality, and that suffering's optional. And when people come judging, our job is to ask them instead to stop judging, start helping, and really have them do some self-​reflection of what they could do to impact the situation so that none of us are victims.

  1. Lee Smith: Before you do that, though, don't you have to go through a step of showing empathy and like, "I hear you. I hear what you're saying to me. Or I understand how you might be concerned about that"? Don't you have to do that first or can you avoid that step? 

Cy Wakeman: I think at the beginning, before you've really proved out your relationship, I always want to people showing empathy. Because I care about you, I'm just not going to enable you. And so empathy is I notice you're struggling. Somebody came up to me and they said, "These jobs are undoable." And I said, "Gosh, dang, you sound so frustrated you've really come to believe this job's undoable." And I showed the empathy by saying, "I heard you, you sound frustrated." But then my call to greatness was this, "You know, I bet the job seems undoable with your current skillset and your current approach and your current mindset, the job probably is undoable. What do you need to change in your skillset, your mindset, or your approach to be more able at this job?" And you see what I did? I had empathy but it called a greatness. Sympathy is collusion. "I know. I don't know how they expect us to do it either. This is all going to end poorly and everyone's unsafe, and there's nothing I can do about it."

Audrey Strong: I love that you're creating higher expectations. It's fewer calories for me to come in and be a BMW, and then you turn it around on me and you've probably had people look a little shell-​shock when you do that. And then you're actually wanting me to go off and do more. I thought I was just going to come in and get pat on the head, you know? I love that, because that's the accountability piece kicking in, right?

Cy Wakeman: It is. And we have over-​rotated on engagement. I want to let you vent and hear you, but engagement without accountability creates entitlement. And we've over-​rotated on hearing people on empathy and opinion surveys and engagement, but we've chickened out on the accountability piece. Now, if you're a high accountable, I want to create the cushiest place for you to work ever. One, I don't believe there's a talent or shortage of talent out there. I believe there's a shortage of great places for high accountables to work. And so I want my workplace to be the best and I will give you whatever you need. I went to the office the other day and they had a dog groomer in, and people are like, "Isn't that a little entitled?" I said, "Have you met my people? They're so high accountable. They have a dog groomer in so they leave work less." I'm like, the same act is not going to be managed with the same based on accountability. If you're high accountable, the sweet spot is me valuing you in any way I can. But if you're low accountable, I can't buy your love. I can't get you to step up. That's your stuff, your choice.

  1. Lee Smith: So do you have separate rules for high accountables versus low accountables?

Cy Wakeman: I do, and it drives people nuts. When people work for me within a couple of weeks, they accuse me of playing favorites. They're like, "Cy, you play favorites." I'm like, "Yes I do. Do you want to be one? Work from home."  "Yeah." Do you want to be one? Work from home. You come to me, you're a high accountable, "CY, I'd like to work from home." Sweetie, you can work from Tahiti, as far as I care. Let me buy you a ticket. A low accountable comes to me and says, "I like to work from home." I say, Well, in order to earn that benefit, you need to show me how fluently you can work from here." Working from home, see, a lot of people want benefits on the promise of results. I need you to show me results and the benefits will follow. People say all the time it's not fair that they get to do this and I don't. And I'm like you're absolutely right, it's not fair. It's not fair that you don't do what you need to do so that you have the same benefits that other people have. That's really unfair.

  1. Lee Smith: They want to get the credit card without actually establishing any credit with the bank. 

Cy Wakeman: I love that. That's a great way to say it. 

Audrey Strong: Well, realitybasedleadership​.com is the website. Cy, I know that people are going to have further questions for you. How do you like to be contacted through Twitter or your email or through the website portal itself? 

Cy Wakeman: Yeah, we are crazy on social media. So, connect with me on LinkedIn. Go to my YouTube channel \cywakeman and binge-​watch. We monitor everything for engagement. We want you engaging out there. I've got Facebook watch show. I've got a podcast called No Ego. But if you have a direct question for me, just email it to info@​cywakeman.​com, otherwise, I'll see you on Twitter and Instagram and all the others.

Audrey Strong: Yeah. She's got a great room of clips and videos and all the media you've done, and it was a fun smorgasbord this morning getting ready to talk to you. So hit the website, everybody.

Cy Wakeman: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I hope to be back. We've got a lot more to talk about.

  1. Lee Smith: Yeah. I really want to drill down more into this accountability thing, because it's an area where a lot of us tend to wrestle with, especially because we're so concerned about the culture. We want to be able to have the accountability without damaging that. And so I think that's a whole other conversation for another time and I hope we will have you back.

Cy Wakeman: I would love that. I would love that. And here's the answer, folks—the same behavior won't please a high accountable and a low accountable at the same time. So if you're worried about your culture and you have low accountables in your culture, you're going to tick them off. But you're always going to tick somebody off, tick off the right people.

Audrey Strong: There you go.

  1. Lee Smith: And we still want you back.

Audrey Strong: All right. So the quick ending really quick, and Cy, help us out by sharing this with all your stakeholders as well. If you're listening for the first time, please share this, tell a friend, tell your stakeholders, tell your network, help us out by recommending this. Please subscribe. We love subscriptions.

Cy Wakeman: And review.

Audrey Strong: Rate and review, please, and recommend on Overcast. All the back episodes are at ManageSmarter​.com. We are also on the C‑Suite Radio Network. I don't know if you knew that, Cy.

Cy Wakeman: I didn't, but that's an awesome network. 

Audrey Strong: Yeah. We welcome feedback. Anybody has a guest suggestion, you can fill out the guest portal on ManageSmarter​.com or send me your feedback and email at audreystrong — it's astrong@​salesfuel.​com. My name is Audrey, and thanks for listening, everybody. We'll see you next time.


Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show, 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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