This week we welcome Sean Daly on the show to talk about Servant Leadership. Sean has a very interesting background starting his career in the sports industry, moving into academics, and leadership positions, while learning what makes the most successful leaders. A successful leader is one who puts others before the self, inspires them to also serve others, and builds a culture of psychological safety. If we all are thinking about helping each other get better, everybody wins. This is Servant Leadership. Episode Notes and Bio can be found at uncoverthehuman.wearesiamo.com
Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.
YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human
[00:00:00] AC: Welcome to Uncover the Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives.
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[00:00:54] AC: Hello and welcome back to another episode of Uncover the Human. We are joined today with our guest, Sean Daly, who is here to talk to us a little bit about servant leadership. Welcome to the podcast, Sean.
[00:01:04] CA: Welcome.
[00:01:05] SD: Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
[00:01:07] AC: So a little bit about you first. Can you give us a little bit of your background? You've got a fascinating kind of storyline.
[00:01:13] SD: Yeah. Leadership has been a hands-on journey for me. I started as a coach, well, an athlete and then a coach, and for many years I worked my way up to the volleyball coaching ranks coaching everybody from a 13-year-old through a division one NCAA athlete. Once I moved out of there and I moved into college athletics administration and managed multiple teams and their budgets and their travel and all the personalities that go with managing coaches and their needs and desires. And then –
[00:01:48] CA: Sounds fascinating.
[00:01:49] SD: It was always an adventure because every coach feels like they are on the top of the pyramid and their world is the most important world.
[00:01:59] CA: Lots of pyramids.
[00:02:00] SD: Lots of pyramids. And I will say this, I don't blame them for that. It's something that as a coach you live in a such a silo that it becomes your reality and the only thing that you look at is you look at other people's realities infringing on your reality, right? And then that becomes, “I can't do my job because of X,” and it's always another person. So along the way I learned a lot about having to manage the conflicting personalities. And everybody's got the same. They're all going on the same path in the same direction, but they're all doing it differently and they'll have their own style of doing it. And so getting consensus has always been a challenge, because in athletics, in sport, there's definitely a pecking order of who is more important than us.
I mean, when I was coaching at division one, I won't say which university it was, but let's just say it was a final four men's basketball type university and it was I remember the head coach of the men's basketball team just coming to my office one day and I looked up and I was like, “This is you, and you're in my office. You have summoned me to your office. I’m volleyball and you're men's basketball like. You make millions and I make 25 grand.”
[00:03:22] CA: And I have candy on my desk.
[00:03:25] SD: Yeah. Yeah. But he was the kindest man and he said, “Look, I know that I can just say we're going to this, but I’d like to talk to you about switching practice time and la la la la. Could help me out?” And he was the kindest guy. And it dawned on me that just because you make a ton of money and you have granted power or perceived power, you don't necessarily have to use it, do you?
[00:03:48] CA: What concept.
[00:03:50] SD: Right. What concept can actually meet people in their space and talk to them as their equals to you? That was a significant turning point in my kind of understanding of how people at high-levels of executive power wield said power.
After coaching an athletic administration I moved into faculty, and again same situation, but different context. I’m managing a program. I have two or three part-time faculty underneath me that I have to make sure I manage their expectations and keep them moving forward in terms of their own development as well as just their overall happiness, because I really want them to be there.
But in our department of the college there are seven full-time faculty. Each one of them in their own program, or a couple of them with shared programs. And so now again we're going back to the situation where we've got this competing ideas and competing goals and agendas and things like that and we have to figure out how to create some cohesion amongst all of this. And I like to say like in hospitality, when I am a hospitality professional, I see 20,000 people right at an event. But when one person needs my help, they only see one of me, and I need to understand that, and that's an important part. And that was a big leadership lesson for me as well, is that when I – As a college, we have 500 students, but those 500 students – We see 500 students. They see one faculty. And so making sure that we all understood this idea that students, like individual customers that deserve a hospitality experience even though they're in hospitality college, but even if they weren't, they deserve a hospitality experience. And so getting us all on the same page in terms of how we interact with that experience, what role we play in that experience, how we can support each other in that experience really made a difference in terms of understanding for me how to lead. And it made us successful, very successful. We had a high very high retention rate, and that's retention is measured by students that return sophomore year. We were in the 90% plus percentile, which is great. And our graduation rate was higher than the average. So our students enjoyed their experience and they stuck around which speaks to who we are and what we do. And then since –I think that's really the entire trip of Sean Daly.
[00:06:26] CA: Trip around the world of Sean.
[00:06:28] SD: Yeah. A journey up to this point…
[00:06:34] AC: It’s interesting you bring up – You brought up a pyramid right off the bat, like the idea that some of sports as a pyramid. Also very much at least stereotypically understood that a lot of higher education tends to be kind of this pyramid structure like tenured professors and adjunct professors, etc., within the professorship as well as the kind of faculty. And I think a pyramid is a great way of putting it because that is kind of the way the population goes. To your point, you've got one faculty member with like 500 students. And so the population is this pyramid. But the way it's experienced is exactly the opposite. You've got people experiencing one faculty member at a time, one thing at a time, if every student is experiencing that.
And it's interesting you bring up the term retention as well because that's another big one that comes up all the time in the corporate world. We want more retention. We want more engagement. And one thing that I couldn't help but think about was you thinking about that from the eyes of the students is one theme that we've seen over and over again, which is using empathy, using empathy to increase leadership, increase engagement, increase general retention.
[00:07:35] SD: Yeah. I don't have the data to throw at you right at this moment, but I’ve done enough research and I’ve been in the ditches long enough, in the trenches long enough to know that there is a direct relationship between how the relationship between– We call it didactic relationship. An individual between two people, right? So in the corporate world we would look at you know leader-employee and as a one-on-one relationship. And, again, you could have you a staff of 20, but that employee sees one of you. And so we have to keep that in the back of our head that that relationship, how I navigate a relationship with an employee directly impacts how they feel about coming to work every day and that directly impacts whether or not they stick around.
And yes, sometimes there are –If you look at the retention literature, it's all over the place. There're not five magic beans if you will of how to retain an employee, because there are other variables. My significant other gets a job in another city. I have to quit. Things like that. Or I just need more money. I love my job, but you just don't pay me enough. So I have to go where I can make more money. Those kind of variables aren't necessarily controllable, right? But there are plenty that are.
[00:08:55] CA: Oh yes. I would say the majority are. Yes, you always have the outliers, but the majority are definitely controllable. And when you were talking about the separation of the coaches, they all think they're all on top of a pyramid. So you end up with many pyramids. I find that it's so much the same in the corporate world. Every department head is, well, product comes first. Well, no. Marketing comes first. Well, no. Sales come first. Well, no. Ops come first. Well, you can't do anything without customer success. So we're all first and it's about me and it's about my needs and you're all ruining my needs.
[00:09:31] SD: Yeah. Yeah, that's a real issue because as a culture we've really developed a great sense of me, right? And whether that's been supported and grown through individual likes on my social media like. I get a lot of likes. So that means I’m important. I mean, my son's going through that with his Instagram and he doesn't understand that there are bots, robots and people, things like that. But yeah, we've really done a really great job of growing me. Again, there's a mountain of research that I’ll show that me doesn't work especially in a corporate environment.
I mean, unless you're a CPA who works at home by themselves or a lawyer or somebody who can do that all by yourself, me doesn't work. And so I guess the question becomes how do we break apart me? And from a servant leadership standpoint, one of the major tenets of servant leaders is to put the needs of others before yourself and that of the company. And so as a servant leader I can't be me, right?
[00:10:38] CA: It's not about me.
[00:10:39] SD: It's like I can't. I cannot exhibit behaviors that support that I am more important than you. It's just not. It breaks down trust and then trust breaks down. Once trust breaks down, all the other cards fall. Selfishness and me is rampant. I mean, the question then becomes, “Well, how do you break it apart? How do you fix it?”
We've talked a lot about organizational culture and meaning and values in the past and these are some of the things that you talked about in some of your previous podcasts, and I think that those are really great starting points because even though we'd like to think of the inverted pyramid, which is the servant leadership org chart, right? The operations people are so much more important than the C-suite, and at the end of the day it's still C-suite that trickles down culture and values. Until we create strong, non-me focused measurements of evaluation and actually walk what we're talking, then I don't think it will change, because inherently outside of work we are me. So why wouldn't we do it in work especially when me versus Joe and then Susie over here and we're trying to battle out for who's going to get a raise or a promotion or something like that or just keep my job? Do you remember? Who’s what? Lee Lacocca who said every year we just fired the bottom 10 percent. That's our strategy to get people to work hard. And it worked. It worked. It really did work. They worked really, really hard, but every year they just sliced off the bottom ten percent just so everybody was eating just like doggy dog world just to survive. Those people must have been so stressed out. Clearly, they were more concerned with survival and paycheck versus personal and intellectual growth, which by the way makes you a better employee.
[00:12:33] CA: Yes, or team growth, or company growth, or whatever they're doing. It's like, “Oh, instead of focusing on my job and what I have to do and do it as best as I can, I have to focus on not getting chopped off and not losing.” That's energy expanded somewhere else that you're just losing. I mean, there's no long-term success in that approach.
[00:12:54] SD: Right. And then that kind of brings in this piece of psychological safety. And psychological safety is kind of a chunk of organizational constructs that allow people to feel like they're not going to get chopped off. And guess what? When they feel like they're not going to get chopped off, they are more likely to be more creative network, right? They are definitely going to be better team members at work. They ask questions. And when and when we ask questions, the bad stuff gets filtered out and the good stuff gets pushed to the top and the company gets better. But if we can't challenge ideas and notions and perceived understanding of things, then we're not going to be a better company.
Again, if you're a servant leader and you're focused on creating an environment where as a leader it can't be about me. I have to put your needs above mine. But we also know that another tenant of servant leadership is that I should be inspiring and getting people that I need to also exhibit servant behaviors to their team or to each other. So it's either trickles down again or it continues amongst their colleagues. As a tenant of servant leadership, it's my job to inspire others to also serve others, and that kind of culture is really is psychological safety. And if we all are thinking about helping each other get better – Have you guys heard that old term the rising tide that floats all boats? It's a really interesting notion, but this is what we're talking about. Everybody wins. And guess what? The company wins too because we're more productive. We spend less time on hiring and firing. We don't get sued by our employees and we're probably producing a better product. So we're making more money. It’s a win-win, everybody.
[00:14:52] AC: That's the part that sometimes feels like it's missing, it's just that last attachment. It’s like, yes, it's good to support your people because it supports you, and you can say that and people don't seem to either have the metrics to say like, “Okay. How does this support us though?” Or they don't believe it and then it becomes a cycle. But it's funny you brought up psychological safety, because that tends to be something that like we know it's beneficial. We've watched it happen and be beneficial, but we rarely have good examples for like what creates psychological safety. But I love the chopping block metaphor because that's such an easy immediate. Like if you want to talk about psychological safety, maybe the looming idea that you might get laid off at any point is a good place to start. Remove that and you can have a little more psychological safety.
And then the one last thing that just brought – I thought of when you were talking about like supporting other people and they support other people. It feels very true internally, because there's so many times in life where you spend time – You're working on something that's important to you and you either get focused on that and you lose the ability to take care of other people, or you don't feel supported so you shut down and focus more exclusively on yourself. And I thought that was a good point you brought up just of how it trickles down. If you're supporting other people and they feel supported, they're not going to be as defensive and they then turn that around and then everybody gets a little less defensive. You can kind of enter that cycle both directions. You can lower the walls all around or you can start raising them for everybody.
[00:16:16] SD: Yeah. And if you can visualize what this relationship back and forth looks like, it's cyclical. Sorry. What's the word I’m looking for? It's back and forth. The idea that I create psychologically safe environment, inclusive environment, and I not just tell you, “Hey, I got you.” “I’m going to help you be great at your job,” but I actually get my hands dirty and I’m proving through my behavior, not just my words. I’m proving through my behavior, which the research is very clear on this. Behavior is what people realize not what you say, right? So you've got to really, really – And it's actually better off they don't say anything and they just behave and they can interpret as they see fit. A poster on the wall that inclusivity is important and then you walk around telling everybody how great they are and how inclusive they are. People see through that stuff.
[00:17:12] CA: But then you exclude them from meetings and they can't talk to each other and they can't ask questions and they’re siloed and they can only go through you to work. Like, yeah, sure. How is that inclusive?
[00:17:24] SD: Right. Everybody is super important, until I’m talking. Then everybody is just not. That's so very true. But what's interesting is that we also know that the influence of leader to employee and the benefits of that relationship actually go back the other way too. So as this employee becomes more happier, or more engaged and more productive and creative, they actually go back and they serve the leader. They become servant to the leader and not “serve the leader” but become servant behavior to leader. And then the leader actually gets those wonderful feelings that the employee gets to from the employee. So it's very cool that it goes back and forth and it creates this never-ending cycle of just helping, helping behaviors and so the leader feels safe too. Because, again, we talk a lot about this in one direction, leader to employee, but the fact is the employee, the antecedents. Okay. So part of my research is how do we predict this behavior. And so the antecedents of that behavior are actually part of why a leader chooses to lead a certain way.
And so if that employee, that feeling of psychological safety and inclusivity and just overall engagement and happiness, and it swings way back to the antecedent column and then it becomes something that feeds into or supports the behaviors that that person chose to use and reinforces that they should use it again. And it's so very exciting to see that back and forth. But as we want to develop leaders, we spend too much time telling a leader what they need to do to the other person and we don't spend enough time telling the leader – I’m not the telling leader but exploring with the leader. Why one leadership behavior is better than another and what's going on behind them in terms of the flow of behavior to their antecedents why those factors, how they can manipulate or work with those factors so that they feel comfortable being a servant leader. Because if they don't feel comfortable, no matter how many times you teach them, nobody how many books, podcasts, anything that you give them, they're not going to choose it if they don't feel safe.
[00:19:50] CA: So true.
[00:19:50] SD: Not going happen. That's big part of my research is predicting servant leadership, and not necessarily like I can interview you and tell you if you're going to be a servant leader. I mean, that's part of it, but it's more about how do I build it. And so I can tell you this, if a leader doesn't feel safe to do what they need to do in order to connect with people and work with them, they won't choose the best – Lots of leadership models, they're all good, but they won't choose servant leadership. I can tell you that. They're going to do something more like transactional where they are. It's kind of like a cause and effect. I give you the carrot or I give you the stick model.
[00:20:29] CA: Works so well.
[00:20:30] SD: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:20:32] CA: It’s phenomenal.
[00:20:33] SD: Contingent reward is another one, or transformational, whether they're like the super charismatic. I give lots of speeches and everybody believes what I say.
[00:20:42] CA: Sure they do.
[00:20:43] SD: And then I leave and then and then I expect everything to be perfect. Yeah, at the other day I love the cycle that goes back and forth because the – Have the employee. How the employee, and there's 10 of them or 100 of them or a thousand of them, how all their feelings reinforce that CEO or CFO or whatever their behavior. It's really awesome. Sorry that was a bit of a tangent.
[00:21:06] CA: No. Not at all.
[00:21:07] SD: A rabbit hole I should say. I love it.
[00:21:10] AC: No. That's exactly honestly what we specifically kind of want to do on this podcast is get to the human portions of this and that idea of social reciprocity where you've helped me, I feel more safe, I’m helping you. That is such an innate characteristic of humans. We're so good at registering when people are feeling that need internally to be like, “I have been given a favor. I should return this,” or whatever it is. Feeling that safety, encouraging that safety. It's such a valuable portion of the fact that we are a social species and one that we don't really harness I think nearly enough.
[00:21:41] SD: Yeah, I love that you use reciprocity in there. Robert Cialdini, famous psychiatrist, he looks at all these, how we influence people's behaviors and there's all these different methods that you can use to influence people and kind of get them to do what you want them to do. But reciprocities is number one. And he says we have ingrained in our genetic code almost because of just thousands and thousands of years of this behavior that if I do for you and you don't do something in kind back for me, then I am kind of considered a social mooch if you will, like someone who just takes and doesn't give, and we feel guilty about that instantly almost, instantly.
So it's like something as simple as uh I open the door for you and you're a total stranger. You don't expect me to run back and you open the door for me. That's not going to happen. But you might look over your shoulder and say, “Is there somebody else coming?” And if there's not, then you don't have to feel guilty about it, but there is and you like shut the door really quick. Right? I mean, people will literally look at you and be like, “Who is this person? That's not nice.” Because, you're right, we as a society or as a social being, there are rules to how we operate, and reciprocity is a big one.
[00:23:05] AC: It's also a big one if you think about what you were talking about earlier with like you can't just throw inclusivity as a value on the wall. Say that that's important to you and then live it out, because then that's where the reciprocity then starts to get broken, the social contract is broken. I’ve heard you say this is important, but I’ve watched you not support it. So then you don't trust what's on the wall. You don't trust there. Then like you start to enter the cycle the other direction of like, “Okay. Well, I’m going to start stepping away now because it seems like we're not on the same ground.”
[00:23:35] SD: Yeah. Look, that is the hardest part about leadership is, again, we go back to the – You're managing a team of 20. Well, you have 20 sets of eyes on you at all times. You really do. This is something I learned years ago as a coach was as a coach I’m like well, “This is how you succeed. You do this, this and this.” And then I walk out of the gym and I eat McDonald's or I’m having a beer or something like that, and these are college students. So they're not slouches, and they stare at you and they're like, “So, why do I have to not have any alcohol?” And I’m like, “Well, because I’m not playing. You are.” And that doesn't matter to them. They need to be led by people who are exemplifying these behaviors. And it's not to say that as a coach because you do have some granted power over them. Player, don't play. Be on the team. Don't be on team. Things like that. Scholarship, non-scholarship. We have the power over our athletes.
[00:24:29] CA: Black mail, non-black mail.
[00:24:31] SD: Yeah. There really is. Although I will say this just as I did. I worked with a guy one time who said, “When I recruit athletes,” and I worked under him, so I had to recruit people. He said, “When we recruit athletes, you make sure that you recruit somebody who's going to be here for four years.” And I was like, “Why? If they don't work out, we would just go recruit a different athlete and give them the scholarship instead. That's just how it works.” He says, “Because we sit in family rooms with parents. We connect with these kids and it's our responsibility to make sure that they come to college and they're successful. College, not on the volleyball court all the time.” Volleyball court's important. Don't get me wrong. It is important.
So we give four-year scholarships. Even though the NCAA scholarship is typically a one-year scholarship, it's just renewable and it just always gets renewed, but a lot of schools don't renew them if you don't kind of meet the standard. And he's like, “No. If they have troubles outside of the gym, then we help them. We're here to help them grow up, and play volleyball, and things like that.” And I was like, “Whoa! This is a bigger job than I thought.”
But this idea of being able to walk the walk publicly. You have these eyes on you. And in the workplace is no different. I’ve seen it, and I mean I’ve seen it in my own work. So and so complaining about so and so. Oh, this person gets paid more than me and their title is more than me and they leave every day at three o'clock. I swear they're just going to play golf. I’m like, “What do you mean? Maybe they've got to go get their kids from school. How do you know?” But the fact is there's judgment, instant judgment when somebody is higher in the ranks than you are but works less or you perceived that they don't work as hard as you. You don't know if they're at home until two o'clock in the morning working. You don't know. But this is your perception. And then that perception, because it doesn't get communicated – Let's go through the whole thing on communication. Because it doesn't get communicated, it gets bottled up and then it becomes gossip. That leader then loses their credibility and their ability to actually lead and influence other people.
And so as a leader it's unfortunate that when you become that person, the standard is up. It raises. And you have to understand that if you're going to tell somebody, “Hey, we got to get this done. We’re going to have to work through the weekend.” You better be there this weekend with coffee and donuts, because your team is working, and so you better show up and not be like, “Sorry. We had a ski thing planned. I couldn't do it.” Like, No. No. No. No. No. No. You can't do that. And a servant leader wouldn't do that. A servant leader actually wouldn't say, “You are working this weekend.” A servant leader say, “Hey, guys. We're all going to have to be here this weekend. Let's roll up our sleeves and get it done,” and that's what makes servant leadership so powerful.
[00:27:22] CA: Yeah. In the workplace pre-pandemic, with pandemic things changed a little bit. Pre-pandemic, some of the examples that have always come up as realities, unfortunate realities were the office presence, is you all have to come here five days a week from eight to five. But I’m going to show up once a month whenever I feel like it. That doesn't quite work. Or we have a no vacation rule during these times of the year because we're heads down, but I’m gonna go away and be non-reachable right before that. And the whole like I get paid more or I work until 2 a.m. every night so I have the right to do that. That doesn't work either.
[00:28:04] SD: No. No. There's a theory out there called leader member exchange theory, LMX for short. And it's an interesting theory around leader employee. Sometimes the literature uses follower. Typically I think these days we're using the word employee, but it's not always an employee. So sometimes we use the word follower. But in the corporate sense leader employee relationship and how the leader chooses who is in the inner circle so to speak. And so if a leader says, “I am working till 2 a.m. every night and there's five employees who are like, “I do. I do too. I work till 2 a.m. every night. You email me at 1 a.m., you'll get a response.” And they're constantly on the hook because this leader has this perception of being a gatekeeper of the inner circle of resources, whether it's promotion, or extra days off, whatever resource you value. It could be money. It could be whatever. Everybody values different types of resources. But that person – So we peacock a little bit and we make sure that we're in the group. We're in that inner circle so we get those extra benefits, but the fact is there are people who don't, who are strictly eight to five people because they have families or eight to four people, they have families, they might have second jobs. There may be going to night school. There're all these other variables that go into their life outside of work. And the problem with most leadership is that we don't see people. We see subjects. I don't know the word.
[00:29:38] CA: Resources.
[00:29:39] SD: Yeah. We see resources. We see human resources. And resources produce little widgets and they do their thing and then they clock in, clock out and I approve their PTO or whatever it may be, right? But instead we have to see each person as this eclectic mosaic of variables of life. And the workplace is only one piece of the puzzle, and it's a very small piece of the puzzle. It's important, but it's a small piece. And as a servant leader, you will spend time to get to know each one of them and know what their life looks like, because how we break through – How the LMX theory, how this works is the reason we have this theory is where we use it to educate leaders that they're doing this, because it's not a good thing. It's just because we can measure it doesn't mean it's a good thing. So it's not a behavior we're looking for.
So when we use LMX and we identify it, we then go back and we can help the leader identify why they do those things, because it's usually like an unconscious bias. And so we have to kind of dig into that. And then we can break that. And then those people who clock in, clock out and just go home every day who don't do the teen happy hours and all that kind of stuff, they can reap the rewards of their hard work as well, and as they should because they're good at what they do, not because they hang out with the leader.
[00:31:02] CA: Because they respond at 2 a.m. when you email them.
[00:31:04] SD: Yeah. Yeah. So the big thing here is we're trying to avoid leadership styles or behaviors that see their employees simply as a means to an end and not as this organic kind of constantly changing dynamic environment of people. And so I would just say, yeah, a big takeaway for a server leader is if you are going to put their needs above others, that goes back to that first tenant that I said, then you must know what those needs are. And those things are going to be different for everybody. And so don't like get caught up in some weird assumption that everybody’s needs is money or title. Like my job loves to give people titles, and I always said to my boss, “Look, I’ve got a family, and we're a single income family. So I don't need a title. I need a raise.” I don't need special parking spots. I don't need a newsletter high-five. I don't need any of shout out in a meeting. I don't want any of that. I don't need any public acknowledgement. I need you to give me five grand and let me take my family on vacation. That's what I need.
[00:32:19] AC: That’s a great example, because not only is money an easy one to default to. If you don't bother to value people's needs, it's easy to do money, or just to assume something like a high-five in the newsletter is kudos enough and we're done now. But I think there's also the power of not assuming that someone else's needs, A, are the same between people or B, are similar to what your needs are and being able to accept that too, because I know a lot of people who get very blocked. I’m like, “Well, this is important to me. Why is this not important to you?”
[00:32:46] SD: But isn't that human nature that we would assume that our lens on the world is everybody else's lens as well or should be? We have that issue whether it's societal issues. I mean, obviously we have whether we like it or not there are race issues in our country, socioeconomic issues in our country, political issues in our country. And one of them probably I am not an expert in poli-sci or social sciences. I do understand human behavior at a pretty deep level, and I think that that's probably a pretty big block in moving us as a society forward, is getting people to break out of their own lens and see other people's lenses, or see the world through their lens.
[00:33:33] CA: Well, and the only way to understand that is to, well, ask. Don't assume. Ask. What matters to you, Sean? Or what matters to you, Alex? Which will most likely be different than what matters to me, and it changes over time too. You have a family. Things change when you don't have a family. Your 10-year, it's different from your first year in the job. While doing minion, for lack of a better word at the moment, work, when I was 21 or 25 the first time in consulting was something that I appreciated because I was learning. I may not quite appreciate that as much when I’m 25 years in to be an expert.
[00:34:17] SD: Yeah. I’m thinking about like age and maturity, and naivete versus ignorance and mentorship. That popped in my head in what you're saying, and the importance of a great mentor, or your ability, your willingness to be mentored. I mean, I know my 25 to 30, that age gap, I was 10-foot-tall and bulletproof and I knew everything. I had a wonderful, wonderful mentor who I just would not let mentor me. And he kept trying and trying and trying, and he was a servant leader at its best. He spent more time hanging out with his people helping them getting to know them. Giving them the inside scoop or how to navigate the politics of the organization, all those pieces. He would go to bat for people behind closed doors, all that kind of good stuff. And then I just was so young and so arrogant that I wouldn't let him shape me. And because of that it took me, I don't know, that was a long time ago. It took me an extra 20 years to figure out. 15 years. My learning curve was stunted.
[00:35:35] AC: So what started to turn that for you? What started to change that mentality?
[00:35:38] SD: I think obviously maturity plays a major role. I think servant leadership is a difficult leadership style because it requires you to put self in the back pocket. And young people have survived most of their life just trying to do what they need to do to get something right. To be a starting athlete on the high school varsity team, or to get into the college of your choice, or to get the best internship, or whatever the checkpoint is along your life cycle. And then you get out there in the real-world and at about 25 or so you realize you got 40 years of sitting in this and doing this and all the strategies you used up to this point were wrong for now, right?
I mean, the strategies for getting the girl or the boy or the partner versus getting a promotion are completely different. Along the way we failed in how – Or as adults failed to help young people learn how to navigate the nuances and the expectations and all the different variables that go into the real world, and that's why I like my kind of new fun research area is emotional social and cultural intelligence. I think that that is huge. You talk about the pyramid of leadership and maybe the top of the pyramid is the chosen behavior, but how did we get there? I like to think of things as flow models. So it's antecedent behavior and outcomes. So for me, the antecedent piece, a major part of antecedent – Now, we know in leadership major part of antecedence is like personality, but there's one that's really strong in the literature, and that's motivation to serve, a willingness to actually serve other people. And that is actually a tricky one, because I can survey you and you're like, “Oh, I’m a four out of five. I’m a motivation servant.” And other people survey about you like a 360 type of situation and you come out like a two. Because they don't see you as willing to serve. Or maybe you're a five. Maybe you don't give yourself enough credit. I don't know. But then the next kind of analytical question is, “Well, why? Why did you choose to serve? What built this I desire to serve others in your kind of profile? And how can I go find that and then recreate it in like 10 other people?
[00:38:16] CA: Secret formula.
[00:38:17] SD: We know it's social though. We do know it's social. We know that your kind of influence groups, whether it's – We know that server leaders are religious a lot of times, because religion does speak a lot about servants, serving others. So there's a lot of spirituality and religion in there. There's really familial and community. You probably had someone that you looked up to as a young person who had those behaviors so you decided to have those behaviors. And then go back to this cycle, right? And so you decide, “Well, my coach had those behaviors. So I’m going try those behaviors,” and then they were reinforced through others saying, “Hey, I like those behaviors in you.” And so you're like, “Okay. I’m going to do this.” And then that's your new track.
Personally, I came from like almost the opposite environment. Like I came from eat or be eaten entrepreneurial household, and I wasn't like that. I mean, I studied environmental science and I wanted to save the world, and my family used to call me a communist. And I just remember sitting at the dinner table and I would say, “Guys, let's talk about green economics. I don't think green is economical. I think it's cheaper to balloon.” And my dad would look at me and he goes, “It's all about saving money. You're a communist.” And I’m like, “Geez! Let's talk about psychological safety.” It was like, “Okay. Maybe it's maybe it's not the way.”
So it took me a long time, because when I got into the real world I was like I put up my dukes and I was like, “Okay. I know exactly what it means to be tough and get out there and do.” And then I realized that the reciprocation coming back to me was negative, not positive. People weren't like high-fiving me for my toughness and true leadership abilities —
[00:40:05] CA: Yay, Sean! Yell at me one more time.
[00:40:09] SD: Yeah. I love it when you yell at me. I love it when you put me down.
[00:40:13] AC: I’ll take more.
[00:40:14] CA: Let’s do it in front of the client next time just so we’re on the same page.
[00:40:18] SD: Well, I mean, I’m good at what I do. Isn’t that what matter? They’re like, “No.” Actually, not all the time. We’re going to give this other person the job because they are not as good as you, but we’re like hanging out with them more. And I was like, “Oh man! Oh man!” And then I went to graduate school and in graduate school I worked for two coaches. The first coach was a like nationally recognized. He was on the USA volleyball kind of career track for coaching the national team. Like very important, and he had a huge ego, because he didn't play college volleyball or high school volleyball. He played soccer and kind of fell into volleyball by accident, but just like dove into it as an athletic coach and just managed his team. Didn't teach his team, and just recruited the best athletes and things like that, and he won a lot. I mean, he's won six national titles. So he's very successful in what he does. But when people leave, they don't ever want to talk to him again. They're like, “Thank you for my national championship. I feel really good about my experience, but I don't ever want to play volleyball again or talk to you again.”
[00:41:25] CA: And don’t cross the street when I drive down.
[00:41:27] SD: Yeah. Yeah. Just like that. I mean, at coaches, in the middle of a team meeting he would just put us down to make himself look better. But these classic examples that you're like, “Does this actually happen?” Yes, it does.
[00:41:41] CA: Oh, it does. It does. I’ve been in those rooms.
[00:41:44] SD: But then the next year, the next season, I worked for a different coach for the women's team and he was, again, nationally recognized, top 10 winningest coaches of all time, that kind of thing. But he was a physical education teacher coach. And so he was more into how do I connect with you? How do I get you to be better? This is a college team. He had tryouts, open trials for anybody who wanted to come and he said, “I will never cut a player who wants to play.” And so we had like a JV team and things like that who just because he's like, “If you don't want to play anymore, then you can just go, but you're not varsity material. But the point is there's a place for you here if you want this in your life.”
And I was like, “Hmm.” And I remember him, I was in his office one day, and this this is my tip, this is my turning point, my fork in the road, where I’m like come off this national championship coach. I’m analytical I’m tough. I know how to do everything and I’m like, “Ah! And I can't get – I have issues with my team and things like that and I’m like, “I need to be able to do this, da-da-da-da.” And he looks at me from across his desk and he says, “Sean, just worry about what you can control.” And I was like, “I could control everything.
[00:43:07] CA: Of course you can.
[00:43:09] SD: And he's like, “No. No, you can't.” And there're only so many lumps up ahead you can take before you realize that and I was like, “Oh,” and I started to look at him differently. And I started to look at how he worked. And all his athletes come back every year for a reunion thing where they do alumni night and they have like a big tournament. And he's got people in their 50s coming back still to like hang out and stuff like that. And so you start to look at the macro picture of the culture that he has created and the reciprocity of the servitude back and forth and you start to realize that there's more to this coaching thing than trophies. It's not about the product that you get at the end. It's about the process and the journey. And if you get there and you win something, that's just like so incredible, but that's not why we do it or how we do it, and that was my fundamental tip. Yeah, I have lost some “coolness” as a coach because I don't want to coach the Olympic team. It's not my thing. I don't need to influence Olympians. I need to help the average at best athlete who just wants it in their life and wants to be better. Okay. Let's do this. If you're willing to work hard, I got you. That's all I need. Attitude and effort, the only two things you can control, and we'll have some fun. So that's kind of like how I got there anyway.
[00:44:36] SD: That's a really interesting point, just controlling what you can control, because that's what leaders I think put up against so often is trying to control people, and you really can't. I mean, you could try. You can guide behavior. You can create lots of punishments. You can get people to more secretively do the things you don't want them to do, but you can't control them. Not successfully. Not long term.
[00:44:57] SD: No. No. The industry in sport, hospitality and events, we say you can't control people. You can only manage them. And those are very different words that you have to understand. And you can think of that as a departmental level, or I’m running an event with 20,000 people. The fact is you have to set up kind of systems to manage their behavior. Like we do things that concerts like turn the lights on, right? Because when we turn the lights on, that's an indicator it’s time to go home. And people it automatically changes something in people's head from crazy concert people to, “Okay. It's time to go home,” and they change. We also do things like put little barricades up to make sure that they walk where we want them to walk instead of just let them go wherever.
[00:45:45] CA: Stampede.
[00:45:45] SD: Yeah, stampede, right? We do these things. Like we do things like on the way out of a rock concert, it could be Metallica crazy, “Ah! Everything's great.” And it's like elevator music on the way out because we're trying to get people to go down a notch, but you can't control whether or not they do. You can only manage an environment and hopefully it's a psycho-social environment that's build that they all respond to appropriately. So as a leader it's incredibly important for me to understand how to – It's almost like Geppetto with Pinocchio, the strings on the hands. You have to figure out how do I manipulate the environmental variables so that I get the behavior that I’m looking for instead of just asking for it. And that's something that I learned along the way that’s really, really important, but also incredibly difficult, because all the people are different, right? And if you're a consultant and you go to another group of people, you've got to learn them all over again. But if you're lucky enough to have one group of people that you work with for a long period of time, you really get to know how to massage the situation. But it takes time and kind of goes back to that reciprocity and that getting to know them and asking questions.
W when a student comes into my program the very first thing I do is I schedule a meeting with them in my office. They always like, “They were scared to like go.” There’s 18 year old. Oh my God! There's Dr. Daly. And I’m like, “No.” I sit on the same side of the desk from them or go to lunch together or we do something because I want them to know that I’m not Dr. Daly. I’m Sean. And that actually starts the process of making us equals so that I can mentor them instead of me telling them I’m higher, they're lower, and they need to meet my expectation.
I learned that in England when I was living in England. My professors in England were all by their first names and I was like, “Why are you not doctor so-and-so and doctor so-and-so?” They're like, “Because when I call myself doctor, I put myself above you and you're less likely to feel psychologically safe and challenge my ideas.” And I would be sitting in the classroom and the students would be like, “Professor, you're an idiot.” Oh my Gosh! You're going to get in so much trouble for that. The professor will be like, “Awesome! Awesome! Tell me why.” I’m just like, “Wow! Did that just happen?” Again, that was a turning point for me in terms of like understanding like if I ever have the chance to lead people, I don't want them to be executive Sean Daly. I just want to be Sean. Just Sean, approachable Sean.
And so I do that with my students very first day. Come, let's have lunch. Let's hang out. And then the only question I ask them is tell me your life story. How did you get here? You're sitting in front of me. Tell me how you got here. And they go off in all these different directions. And as a qualitative researcher I try not to lead them on anything. I just kind of throw it out there and see what happens. And there's some things I want to pull on and we can’t, but I just kind of let it go and you'd be surprised how they walk away, smiles, feeling connected and excited about like this relationship. And now I have a ton of ammunition in my – or tools I should say. Ammunition is a bad word.
[00:48:55] CA: Yeah, tools.
[00:48:56] SD: Tools in my tool belt to help them get down the path that they need to go, because I can see the hiccups that are going to happen, the pitfalls that happen before they do. And I know based on who they are and their life story what's going to happen for them. Or at least I can predict a little bit of it. And then I can better serve them. And that's another piece of how I got to where I am.
[00:49:20] CA: Wonderful stories.
[00:49:22] SD: I had no idea I had so many stories.
[00:49:24] CA: Yeah, wonderful stories. Actually, one of the things that I appreciated the most about where I went to college, which is Colorado College, if anybody wants to talk to me about that, but it was that first name basis. All my professors were first name bases. Not only, but I went to most of my professors homes, because at some point during the block, because Colorado College works on block, but during the time of the class we would have a breakfast, a lunch or a dinner at their home. Meet their family. See their living room. Understand their humanness.
[00:49:58] SD: Yeah, that's one of the things I love about Colorado College is that block idea.
[00:50:02] CA: yes. That's awesome.
[00:50:03] SD: That block curriculum. It's tough as a teacher I would think because you're together all day for like nine days or something like that is it?
[00:50:10] CA: Oh, it's like three and a half weeks, three weeks.
[00:50:12] SD: Three and a half weeks. Okay. Sorry. I mean, it's a lot of education. But the depth that you get versus the see my students for an hour and 15 minutes twice a week. And so I have to make a ton of effort outside of the classroom to connect with them because how we say – Back, how I said like in a hospitality environment I see 20,000, they see one. Well, in a classroom they see 40, or I see 40, they see one, but they look around they also see 40. So they're not they're not as likely to approach. So you kind of have to seek them out in their own world and understand that the classroom is just one hour of their entire day and they've got lots of other things going on. So I kind of have to find like the cracks to get them.
And colleagues, I do have colleagues that take kids to their home for thanksgiving because campus is closed and they have nowhere to go, and things like that. I never did bring students to my house for a meal, but I should have. Now I’m regretting it.
[00:51:17] AC: Well, I really appreciate you sharing all these tips on this. I think one of the best takeaways and one of the most core kind of concepts we've discussed kind of in different ways throughout this is really getting that outreach if you can make that effort to go understand somebody on their level. Understand what that means and spend your time coaching yourself to be able to use and, again, not as ammunition, but as tools. Use this information to help guide people. It's a great way of thinking about it like rather than thinking about this top-down control model or just managing and telling people what to do, but how do you best help people to succeed. It's a great way of looking at it.
[00:51:56] SD: Yeah, thank you. It's all about the relationship. You can't get water from a rock, that old school saying. You can't get water from a rock. You can't. And if the more distance you are from people, the more stone they become. Yeah, you really need to spend the time. And that's unfortunate because, again, go back to this idea that the leader and then they've got the people that they are managing. Unfortunately behind the leader from an organizational standpoint there is somebody leading that person and the question really becomes, “How is your organization designed so that people are encouraged to serve and encouraged to build relationships?” Versus are encouraged to use that as a tactic to just get things done. The authenticity around servant leadership is a really big deal, and the research is clear about it. Authenticity is a behavior that people pick up on and that is an indicator of a true servant leader. You can't fake it —
[00:53:04] CA: It's kind of funny actually because one of the questions we ask our guests is what's your definition of authenticity?
[00:53:10] SD: Oh really?
[00:53:11] AC: That's kind of our wrap-up question usually. So you want to take a stab at that one? Because you've walked right into the trap this time.
[00:53:17] CA: I know.
[00:53:20] SD: Oh gosh!
[00:53:21] CA: This is almost like it was scripted.
[00:53:24] SD: Well, if I had to define authenticity, it's the intentional ability to be who you are and be who you are in an environment that could challenge that. It's because it's like it's easy for me to say just be who you are, but that's good, but it's when it's tested that becomes important. Somebody has to step into the room and say, “You actually can't behave that way,” and you have to stand your ground. It’s like, “No. This is who I am.” And if you ask me to be somebody different, then I just can't do that, because if I’m not authentic, then I can't build trust. And so, yeah, it's an intentional, like almost – Yeah, it's an intentional act of behaviors that that resists challenge, challenging, people that challenge it. If I have to define it.
I mean, sure I have a book right next to me of leadership. I can pull the definition.
[00:54:23] CA: No. No. No. We want your –
[00:54:24] SD: That’s not fair.
[00:54:26] CA: Be authentic with your definition of authenticity?
[00:54:28] SD: How do you define authenticity?
[00:54:34] CA: Yeah, that’s beautiful. That gave me chills and made my heart grow like the Grinch, a few more sizes. That image of somebody standing up and saying, “No. This is who I am.”
[00:54:44] SD: Yeah. So hard though, isn't it?
[00:54:46] CA: So hard.
[00:54:47] SD: Hard. And look, I’m sitting here in this podcast telling you that this is the way it should be. However, there are plenty of times in my life that I’m sure that I have changed who I am to fit a mold, right?
[00:54:58] CA: How did that work out?
[00:55:01] SD: Well, I mean it works socially. It probably works out wonderfully. But internally, like I can't sleep at night. And so we're as an individual person, what's our personal growth look like? Is it I can fit in? And so that's success? Or is it that I can look at myself in the mirror every day and say, “I like what I see.” And I choose the latter of the two. I’d rather be able to say to my kids like this is it, and this is who I am and this is what – And have them decide who they are and not just have to replicate me because I modeled “success”. Lots of friends and I make a lot of money and blah-blah-blah and I’m miserable.
[00:55:47] CA: Driving a BMW and you have three Ferraris.
[00:55:53] SD: Yes. Yeah.
[00:55:54] CA: As an assistant coach in volleyball.
[00:55:56] SD: Yeah. Definitely not getting a Ferrari coaching volleyball, but –
[00:56:03] AC: And so we've been gathering lots of people's input on what they think authenticity is, and I love the idea of adding the word intentional to the growing definition I have in my head of just what authenticity can mean. But intentional is such a powerful word for choosing and specifically deliberately choosing to do and be yourself. It’s such a great addition.
[00:56:24] CA: And I’m going to give credit to my wife, Laura, on that. She's all about being intentional, and intentional in your thoughts, intentional in your behaviors, because as I’m trying to role model for two little boys, being intentional in my thoughts turns into intentional behaviors. Helps them see consistency and helps them become better people and leaders of their own. And so there's that reciprocity again. And then they are awesome kids and I’m like, “Awesome! I’m going to be more intentional.”
[00:56:53] CA: I raised them. That's me. Father of the year.
[00:56:58] SD: Yeah.
[00:57:00] AC: Get my Ferrari and zip away.
[00:57:01] SD: Yeah, yeah. Right. Yeah.
[00:57:05] CA: Bye kids. See you in a few years.
[00:57:08] SD: Yeah. No. But it's all her. She's the one who's mentored me through that. It doesn't come natural for me. Fitting into the crowd comes natural for me, because that my lens growing up. You got to do what you got to do. So she's been very inspiring for me. Thank you. Thanks, Laura.
[00:57:26] CA: Thank you, Laura.
[00:57:27] AC: It's also a great reminder that it's not just something that you're either born with or not. It's something you can learn and train yes. It's a practice.
[00:57:33] SD: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. We're born blank slates. Yeah, that's a big part of it. Yeah.
[00:57:41] CA: Well, thank you, Sean.
[00:57:41] AC: Thank you so much, Sean, for joining.
[00:57:44] SD: You're very welcome. I’ve had a lot of fun talking about the stuff. When you talk to people about it, it just re-energizes the stuff. And so I appreciate the opportunity to come in and be pontificate and be a nerd for a while. I’m going to go back out and go read some more, because I’m excited now.
[00:58:01] CA: Always welcome to, especially servant leadership. That’s definitely the type of leadership we subscribe by.
[00:58:09] SD: Good.
[00:58:11] AC: Thanks so much, Sean, and thank you everybody for listening. I hope you got a lot out of this. This is a great conversation with servant leader, Sean Daly.
[00:58:17] CA: Yes. Thank you.
[00:58:19] SD: Thank you.
[00:58:22] CA: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo podcast.
[00:58:25] AC: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Lara; and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood.
[00:58:30] CA: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts.
[00:58:38] AC: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at podcast wearesiamo.com, or at our website, wearesiamo.com, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. We Are Siamo is spelled W-E A-R-E S-I-A-M-O.
[00:58:57] CA: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.
Corporate Learning & Leadership Development Expert
Sean Daly is an energetic and passionate sport management professional with a passion for research, analysis, training and consulting. As the program lead for the Sports, Entertainment & Event Management program at Johnson & Wales University’s Denver Campus, Professor Daly manages the experiential and strategic decision-making for the major while working the university administration on developing and analyzing curriculum and learning outcomes data.
Sean has served as the program lead for the S/E/E Management for over ten years. During his tenure at the helm, he has developed and executed more than 20,000 hours of experiential education and on-site job training for his students, created partnerships with local, national, and international events, and helped to develop new undergraduate and graduate programs. Moreover, he has played a pivotal role in fundraising for the program amounting to more than $30,000 for student professional development.
An expert in servant leadership and leadership development Professor Daly is a graduate of the IAVM’s Venue Management School and the Graduate Institute and has been Level III trained by USA Volleyball’s Coach Accreditation Program. He has published articles on areas concerning leadership and employee behavior in both academic journals and the IAVM’s professional magazine, Venue Manager. Prior to joining academia, he has held positions in collegiate athletics and non-profit sport events.
Sean received his B.Sc. from Keene State College (New Hampshire), an M.Ed. from Springfield College (Massachusetts), and a Ph.D. in Sport Administration from the University of Northern Colorado.