Leading with a Screwdriver: Metaphors on Leadership


When everything changes in the corporate world, humans are still humans. In an insightful episode of Uncover the Human, Aaron Velky helps us practice finding balance and awareness - both in soccer and in the workplace. 

From slapping Band-Aids onto complex problems to finding solutions with limited tools, Aaron shares his metaphors, knowledge, and experiences with coaching leaders and businesses toward success. He reminds us that there's more to success than ROI, leaders don't need to have all the answers, and we need to inspire our teams toward something greater to stop the revolving door.

Just remember that when you're facing a problem in your organization, buying lunch is never the solution.

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

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Transcript

EPISODE 80

AC: Hey there, Cristina.

CA: Hi. We're back with a guest.

AC: We are back, back with a guest today. We have Aaron Velky on the podcast today, which was incredible conversation. He's just got such a great head around leadership and how he'd like to see it happen in his own journey. It was a pleasure to get to share it.

CA: Yeah, it really was. The metaphors, the stories, the way to look – of looking at it. Even the post-recording conversation we had, I wish we had recorded. I should have asked that question in the podcast. Yeah, the very simple concept of leadership development in person versus virtual. His answer was, well, you don't go to the amusement park on vacation to go to the amusement park. You go to watch your son's face when they're on the roller coaster. That says it all. It's leadership development in person. It's about what happens when the facilitator walks away from the room and people are connecting and learning from each other.

AC: Like leadership. What if you just create a situation in which they're going to have to do what they’ll have to do?

CA: Exactly.

AC: He has lots of great metaphors for how to think about leadership and his business, working in financial intelligence and getting that crossover of human behavior, emotional intelligence, financial literacy is it's a great tie over. It's exactly what we've approached from the leadership perspective. It's such a great reminder that no matter what you do, no matter what industry you're working in, human nature is at play. You might as well learn it.

CA: Yes. Yes. Yes. I love this constant go back to, but what about the human condition? We're still not thinking about the human condition. That's literally the only common denominator in every situation is the human condition. Everything else changes. The humans are still humans. You can’t change that no matter how much we try to make them into robots, or lines on a spreadsheet. They're going to disappoint every time.

AC: Yeah, and even machines don't operate the same overtime. Anyway, I don't know what the fun of life would be.

CA: Yeah. Different podcast topic. I do love the idea with leaders that you are a person when you are an employee, but when you're a leader, your employees are machines. When do you think that should just happen? Is that when you got the promoting?

CA: Yeah. You're still a person as a leader, because you're still allowed to have bad days and make mistakes, but your employees are not. They somehow were never human, are never human, will never be human.

AC: Everything is human. Everything is always human. Or maybe we're just incredibly biased.

CA: Except the employees.

AC: Anyway, this is a wonderful conversation with Aaron. Fantastic metaphors. Really glad we got to connect. I hope everybody gets a chance to check out both Aaron and his work. It’s a very inspiring vision.

CA: Yes, very inspiring.

AC: Enjoy.

CA: Check it out.

AC: Welcome to Uncover the Human, where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives.

CA: Whether that’s with our families, co-workers, or even ourselves.

AC: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

CA: This is Cristina Amigoni.

AC: And this is Alex Cullimore.

HOSTS: Let's dive in.

Authenticity means freedom.

Authenticity means going with your gut.

Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself. Not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you.

Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself.

It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.

Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be.

It's transparency, relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.

AC: Welcome back to this episode of Uncover the Human. Cristina and I are joined today by our guest, Aaron Velky. Welcome to the podcast, Aaron.

AV: We made it.

CA: We made it. A few minutes late, but we all have the same microphone, so I think that's pretty cool.

AV: No one knows that we relate. No one knows.

CA: I know. No one. It’s not live. We didn’t have 5,000 people waiting.

 AC: Exactly on time for – Whenever you clicked this, it’s on time.

AV: Yes. You're here, you're listening. It's going to be a great show.

AC: Aaron, give us a little background on you. Besides the fact that you have the same microphone that we do.

AV: Well, that is the entirety of my story is that moment. I selected it. I'm just kidding. I've worn a lot of hats and I'm in an interesting transitional stage of self-discovery, connecting to rediscovery from the work perspective. It's all up in the air in an exciting way. I've been the CEO of a company for about eight years called Money Club, where we've taken this idea that if you teach someone financial intelligence, which we would say is emotional intelligence and understanding how money works, you change a family, you change a person, you change your community and you change your business. That has been a really cool business trajectory, where we now go into businesses and help the employer tell their employees that they care and invest in them through financial education, which is really, really cool. Outside of that, though, I've dabbled for a long time in coaching entrepreneurs and creatives. I've published a book. I coached youth soccer for about 12 years. I've now been leaning really heavily into leadership. I've got this burning, both satisfaction and desire to change the workplace. I used to get really frustrated at the way leaders see their teams and interact with people that make their organization thrive. I'm really passionate about my future heading towards more leadership training, speaking, coaching, etc. I don't know what that looks like yet. That transition is, I find the passion in it. Money Club is in a space of redefinition, and I'm in this area and terrain of, well, how do I go make the dent that I believe I can make? I've got a couple hats. I run retreats. I believe in a lot of different change vehicles through business, and yet, still find myself at this junction of what does my future look like? How do I ask the bigger questions, the hard questions as I go?

AC: That was a good explanation and very much in-line with how we ended up doing this. We were frustrated with how leadership works, how leaders see their team, what can you do to make life better? What can you do to improve communities? I love the angle you've got going through basically, financial literacy and financial intelligence. Getting that combined with just human nature through a political angle.

AV: Most days. I say most days, because here's the truth, right? When you really want to change, when you look at a problem, there's the surface level that requires a very succinct explanation and a very traditional and tried and true approach at solving it. You can take almost any financial problem and surface level, slice it, and surface level solve it. That's happening all over the US. The same can be said for leadership. Surface level. We see that happening over and over and the same problem has existed for 50 years. Now you can move money in four and a half milliseconds with no fees, no costs. Transactions happen like this, and behavior is likely to be the culprit for financial decay for the average person more than, do you know how credit works? I think, the same could be said for leadership. It's easy to say, “Well, no, no. Leadership is giving you the orders, when leadership is often listening to why there's a challenge in the first place.” It's that logic that I think demands more out of the people that have something at stake and have people following behind them.

CA: I'd really like the surface level focus there, because yeah, definitely see it in organizations and leadership's all over the place. It's very much, everything is a band aid. It's like, how about you stop putting band aids on deep wounds and figure out why the wound exists to begin with? It seems to be missing because of this need for action and activity. It's like, show value, provide value. Somehow, at some point, value was equated with action and activity. I'm like, no, value is actually more equated with understanding, what's at the core, and focusing on that. Then takes time and listening and thinking, and trying, and empathy and a lot of other things that are not action oriented. It's not your spreadsheet, it's not your KPIs. It's none of these things that you want to touch and measure every single second.

AV: Yeah. Man, I find it fascinating. We get asked, and I've been asked in various capacities, what's the ROI? It's a tried and true question. What's the ROI? That question speaks to a wide misalignment with what people need. If you were asking the ROI on your people, you got a lot to learn. Don't get me wrong, I understand the root of the question. It just speaks to a problem. It speaks to this mentality that, well, if I pour into my people, it's got to be one-to-one. It's got to be two-to-one. It's got to be measurable. The measurables are on the far side of it. It's not linear.I find that that non-linear thinking is hard to broach in a lot of business circles. I'm reading all the stats lately without the numbers. Many, many people, I think it was 47% of people are considering a job change in 12 months that would be less pay. They don't want to leave for more money. They want to leave for less money. That is leadership in a nutshell, right? I don't want to be here. Get me out of this problem. We're in a new world.

CA: It’s leadership failure and a Dutch. Major leadership failure.

AC: Driving these people out.

CA: Exactly. Forget retention.

AC: Throw us the input.

CA: It’s like, stop the revolving door. It's on speed dial right now.

AC: Revolving door is the perfect image. I think, if you're talking about the way that you've approached this work, and everyone's view of the development of the field of behavioral economics, where basically, traditional economics had been much more, what's going to be the maximum gain, or maximum utility, or maximum profit from something and assuming that everybody would act in a way that would maximize that. You come up with all these models that are basically built for robots, not humans. Humans don't work that way. You got exactly what you just said. People are happy to leave a job in the next 12 months for less pay, which if you just go based on like, oh, they’re going for money angle. Clearly, not. Clearly, that's not what's actually driving this. There's core behavioral changes that are happening and people have different desires. If you're not on top of that, as a leader, yeah, you're going to watch that revolving door spin.

AV: Yeah. It only accelerates from there, right? It doesn't get better. You don't just have six people leave in your cultures without work going to improve. It's likely that people that are mindful of that culture are going to be the ones that lead the Exodus. It only spirals down, because those people cared enough to pay attention and probably try for a long period to correct it. I've long been a believer in behavioral economics. I remember reading Misbehaving from Richard Thaler and Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. All these books, I got really engaged by this concept of humans being human. The arc I’ve been on with financial education as a workplace benefit, and teaching kids about money through what that business used to be before the pandemic, that started a really interesting thread in my life. That thread being, what happens if you give people information without inspiration? Generally, it fails. Same with leadership, you can't change a leader and say like, “Hey, look. Culture is important. Because 47% of people aren't considering an exit.” You have to inspire something bigger than that. This whole, I don't know why it sets me on fire. I've been in organizations working down with the team and inspiring culture through that mechanism. Now what seems more maybe bigger is to work in an organization and lift up. Lift the leaders, uptake them and then the work down is easier. It's an interesting journey that I find myself on and period of change.

AC: We are glad that you said it. That's exactly our approach to this. We looked at it, we tried, we actually did have the same journey of trying to change a culture that we wanted to see improved from the inside for a while. We were like, all right, well, now it's time to take the show on the road, essentially, where you can't make that progress. That was our conclusion. This is a leadership thing. Lift the leaders up and help the rest of the organization go there. I'm curious how you came to that conclusion. What made you think it was leadership and how have you worked with that?

AV: Somebody called as been a blessing generator for a lot of my last career. We were joking, that team and I, we were joking about if life was an RPG, I just racked up a ton of experience points through this. The conversation when we primarily did youth programming was to go to principals, executive directors, etc., and say, hey, there is a world not far ahead of your students. Doesn't matter how old they are, where money is the centrifugal force that they are going to focus on. It's the thing that spins around everything else. It's going to stick them to the walls of this circle, their job, their family, their career, their opportunities, their happiness, it's all going to revolve around that force to stick to the outside wall. Well, we would almost get laughed out of the room. Look, it's not on the test, man. Who cares? I'm like, what benchmark are you paying attention to?

CA: One that gives them money.

AV: Yeah, exactly. Right. The school benches.

CA: Shockingly enough, that –

 AC: They’re on a cleave. They're stuck in their own centrifugal force.

CA: They’re stuck to the walls in their decision-making.

AV: Yeah. Then at that point, and who I was at the time, I didn't see the bigger picture. I just saw, they were getting stuck here. Well, fast forward, pandemic changes as we pivot, we evolve, we go more employee wellness. Learning the same problem. Why would I buy that for my team? Why would I pay for my team to learn something that doesn't directly impact their business skill? I'm like, well, would you some more stats? Because when the pandemic hit, production tanked, people freaked out. If they don't have a car, because of payment, or all kinds of challenges related to an issue that they can't afford, you're going to feel it. They're going to call out, or they're going to lie to you, or they're going to say they're online and they're not and they're going to be freaking out. I've been there. I've experienced all that. It was like, I think we'll just buy them lunch.

CA: Here's a Jimmy John sandwich. Please, don’t leave.

AC: When did a little John ever not fix the problem?

AV: It always does. They're just hangry. They're not financially unstable.

AC: That’s the violin for money close.

CA: Here's a new Snickers commercial. Buy them a box of Snickers.

AV: Just have a Snickers. It'll solve all of it.

AC: You’re not financially stable when you're hungry. Just have a Snickers. 

AV: They're the same problem. Really, it’s the same problem. You're just hungry. We're having these conversations and it just felt like, we were beating our head against the wall. There are organizations who are very fast to say, it's $200 an employee. It’s cheaper than a bonus, more effective than a training that might be, I don't know, like general education. More applicable, more relevant. I know that my people come to work for a paycheck. I know that. It seems obvious. It was not. Let me see if I can bolster their stability and their personal development. Many, many times, it was like, leadership was not clued in to the human condition, that was an average employee. Here's my hypothesis, right? As an entrepreneur, there are a couple rules I live by that are outside of the rules of everyone else. It's like, I'm unplugged from the matrix. I have unlimited earning potential. I can work the hours that I need to work. Oftentimes, many more than I would need to. However, I have the option to work on command. I can work from where I want. I can solve problems with capital. I can say, we need to hire someone. We need to buy this. We need to invest in this. My relationship with money is healthy. When there's an experience that shocks the organization, while I might be the most emotionally shocked, I'm probably the last financially shocked. I would have to get rid of all of the chess pieces before I lay down the king. That's not to pedestalize me. It's just the reality of the organization. If those are my rules, those are wildly different rules than what everyone else experiences. Completely different. I think there's a distance from, we'll use the chess analogy from like, okay, on the piece on the chessboard that everyone protects to I’m a piece on the chessboard. What an employee may be experiencing is not unlimited earning potential. It's not work whenever you want. It's deadlines and constraints. It's work where you are. It's pay off your rent. You may not be earning enough to save a $1,000 a month, or save $4,000 a month. That might not be your experience. If our worlds are that disjointed and I'm not aware of that, there's only going to be more divide as we slowly drift through a challenge. It seemed obvious, the more and more we had conversations and the more I've had conversations with leaders who were like, yeah, they're fine. I'm like, no, they're not. That's not the issue. Even if they're fine, your responsibility is to make sure they thrive. Because I'm telling you, they're going to go somewhere that they thrive. That's the whole fucking point. The more energized I am about what we do in Money Club, the more I see the larger problem. What we do as a sliver of culture, and value and change. I know that I'm capable of influencing in a higher level, from a broader perspective and to a wider audience, who's maybe not able to make the shift themselves. Again, they might have the information, not the inspiration, and it's going to take both.

AC: I like that delineation, inspiration information. Cristina and I were just talking about this last week as the approach to change management is slowly changing over time. There's more understanding that you can't just throw stats at people. You can't just say, hey. Of course, it never actually works, but we're finally now in the zeitgeist saying, “Hey, this doesn't work.”

CA: What? That doesn’t work?

AC: It’s like this is a new problem. It used to be spreadsheets and that it used to work perfectly, but now not anymore. It was on Adam Grant’s podcast, and he was even joking about it. He's like, “I've got this personally. I need to stop thinking this.” He's like, “I often keep going up to my team, or going into my research being like, look at the data and everybody's like, yep.” Does nothing. Changes nothing.

CA: That’s data.

AC: Yeah. I have the same limiting belief of like, hey, I tell people this is what's important. Look at the stats. Everyone was like, “Wow, yep. No change.” You don't have the story. You don't have the inspiration. You don’t have the connection to what actually matters.

AV: Yes, that's so overvalued. Incredibly overvalued. In my mind, a stat is driving, like in your Mario Kart game. A stat is the blue shell that just knocks out first place. Just heat-seeking a turtle shell that you win, right? You just automatically win. You're like, “Hey, here's a stat that says 14% of people love Jimmy John’s.” You’re like, “I’m definitely getting Jimmy John's.” That's the answer.

AC: We’re getting it every lunch.

CA: Too bad, half of my team is gluten-free.

AV: Yeah. No one cares. It's not your win all, like this is going to win your race, your game. It's not going to help your company. It's not going to radically get everyone excited. There's just a lot of missed opportunity.

AC: This is definitely something that comes back. We go back to repeatedly is what ends up making the difference, often at least is empathy. It's that leadership empathy of understanding, yeah, I might be in a different position on the chessboard, but I have to understand what's happening for everybody else. I totally get why stats feel like a great idea, especially as a leader. You're trying to determine all kinds of gray areas. You're trying to decide what's true of what people are telling you. You're constantly trying to figure out what might be real, so that you can try and move something forward. I get a 100% why everybody leans and says they want data-driven decisions and say, they want all of the data possible, and they want to be able to make all these smart moves. It won't connect it till you can connect. It won't deliver until you’ve been reached at.

AV: Yeah. I think as a leader, the larger question that often is missed is, was this data collected for the right reasons, with the right skew behind it? This always happens in my periphery, and it's never frontal. It just, I see it, where I'm like, wow, five years ago, that was totally false. Or three years ago, that was the answer. Now it's not the answer. What the heck? We disprove and reprove and unprove and prove data in a lot of ways. As a not scientist and a creative, I'm often looking for the through line between the data, to really be discerning about what does this suggest? Because in order to get hyper specific data about employees, you have to ask a rather pointed question. Otherwise, you'll get lost in all the data, right? You would not be able to make data. If you said, “Hey, what makes you feel better about your workplace?” You either have to give them a list of options, so you can rank them. Or you have to ask people in a certain way to get consistent results, because people are going to have such different answers, so that the data serves as a reminder, and maybe a nudge. Not a social science that's proven.

CA: Yeah, I completely agree. One of the things that I've seen is the trend of data analytics and data scientists and data analysts and big data and you get all the data that you want out there. Some of the pieces that I've been wondering in the last few years is like, what are you going to do with it? Yes, you can have access to all the data in the world. You can have your cloud system. You can have your dashboards. You can have all these things. It doesn't mean anything, if part of the project of getting to this data includes, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to actually read it in a way that makes sense and informs possible decisions, doesn't dictate decision. It's not a decision maker. It’s just part of the collection. It's part of the discerning. That seems to be now in articles in some of the other outlets is coming out that that's where all this big data stuff falls. Great, we've got Azure. Great, we've got AWS. Great, we've got Power BI. So what? I've got a cookie next to me. Your Power BI right now has the same function as my cookie. If you don't actually know what to do with it, and have some intelligent view of like, okay, this is part of the story.

AV: And won't solve your hangry problem.

CA: No. Also, the cookie. However, here you go. Now that you're no longer hangry, can we actually go back to talking about humans? Not the data?

AC: Every latest iteration is AI and machine learning. That's our next one. This will solve the data problem. That'll process all of this data for us. That's what's going wrong. It still doesn't work, because you're still not training it on what to look for. You don't even know what to look for half the time, which is the issue.

AV: Yeah. What do you all think about the way that AI is going to transform what someone has the capacity to do? I like to think that if we use AI appropriately, it frees up resources to do the more human elements, the creative elements, the connective tissues, what do you all see coming?

AC: I would love that to happen.

AV: That’s a great aspiration.

CA: I would love that universe. How do we get a portal to it? I think, eventually, hopefully, some companies will get there. Will get to using AI for that, too. There's a bunch of things that can be automated. There's a bunch of things that can be taken out of the busy stuff, so that people can focus on the human-to-human connections. If we're still stuck in this world, where value equals, what did you do today? Give me a list on a spreadsheet. We're never going to get there, because the human-human connections, what are you going to write down? We just talked about it a little bit at the beginning or before recording is like, oh, I just realized that all I do all day is talk to people. How is anybody that’s stuck on a KPI, on a value, on a spreadsheet, or on an ROI world going to think that that's valuable? Look at that, I'm like, “Oh, so now I have to measure how many people you talk to, and how long you talk to them for and what comes out of it.” Because there's always this obsession of measuring what? It's measuring arbitrary numbers, because we're not measuring anything, except for whatever our limiting beliefs are.

AC: To your point, Aaron, I get why the question is asked. I get why we're looking for that ROI, why we want to see that connection, because we'd love to be able to like, hey, if I have X number of conversations that results in this. I just needed to have X times five number of conversations to have five times the result, right? We want that correlation. I get the desire. We're talking about humans, though, and this becomes much messier. It'd be assuming that the salesperson that lands a million-dollar deal after six months only had one productive day on the day they signed that deal. There's so much building and getting into that, then there's a lot of deals that probably almost came through along the way. Are they really only productive that one day when it worked?

AV: Yeah. The athlete that has a breakout game, or their first game, and we've only seen that particular transaction, or the signing, or the draft day, not the practice field, months and months and months and months and months ahead.

AC: Yeah. Was every stepping through tires drill exactly correlated to the perfect play? Or was it just a series of growing the muscles, so that you could make that perfect play when the time came?

AV: I love sports as an analogy for a lot of this, right? The sports container usually has similar frameworks and plenty of metaphors for the workplace. You've got a leader, a coach. Typically, you've got specialization and among a team. You've got likely, an array of supporting cast. You've got trainers, doctors, parents, all the above. Interestingly, in the sports container, in the last five to seven years, we've seen a ridiculous amount of support going into culture, mindset, health and nutrition, not just weightlifting, and studying game film, the traditional pathways of this is what makes a good athlete. Sleep. Studies have started to enter the scene. All kinds of tracking and metrics on what people are digesting and consuming as far as information. Just a wild array of change. Still, in that arena, we often don't look at the coach. We look at the athlete. We still look at the player. We say, this is all on you, rather than the leader, the influence, the ecosystem that they're in. When you dig into elite sports teams that have regularly swept, you can often look at a consistent leader. Great example, Tom Brady, right? You move him from one organization to the other, everybody gets better. That's pretty fascinating statement. Most people stop at, well, he's just the best quarterback. He really doesn't score that much. He has to empower people. He literally has to throw the ball to another person. I wish that more leaders could adopt that similar mentality. Throw the ball. Get it out of your hands. Throw the ball to your team. I think about that a lot.

AC: That's a great one. This is interestingly enough, the data that people either don't see, or it's just too anecdotal. I read the Navy SEAL book that extreme leadership one, Extreme Ownership. They talk about how in Navy SEAL training, they have the competitions where they're all doing these intensive trainings, where they have to do something on a boat, or whatever. They have six different teams and there's one team that was just consistently outperforming, and one team that just consistently was last place in all of these race challenges. They eventually, about halfway through the day said, “Okay, the first place and last place leaders are switching. You have the other team.” The one that had consistently in place last, the very next race, came in second. Yeah, the first-place team still did pretty well. They still got the first place, but the performance totally changed. You throw in leaders, you watch the performance change based on how the leaders are doing it. It's hard to have that as data, because I think people maybe are worried to confront their own leadership, either misgivings, or it's just too abstract. Well, how do I become a better leader then? You're still looking for, okay, but what's the formula? What do I need to do? I need to have 17 one-on-ones exactly per year. That's the optimum amount. I'm still looking for that.

AV: Yeah. There's almost a permission that's lacking to do something in the way that feels best for your team, or to even ask, right? I learned a really tough lesson. My team and this might have been right before the pandemic. Maybe 2019. They sat me down and they were like, “Hey, dude. We're getting whiplash left and right. We get your visionary and we get you like to make decisions and you're seeing up from above.” That's all fine and well. We're going left, stopping and then going right, stopping. Then going left. Our necks are going to break from changing angles so much. What makes me proud of that moment is not that I was in no way being a good leader. What made me a good leader in that moment was shutting up. Just to listen and say, okay, what do we need to do different? How is this making you feel? What can I do to have a filter for the ideas? It became a really good conversation. That's what created a better person in me was the ability to listen to their challenge. When we just adopt, we tend to adopt one of two things. Either we say, “Wow, I like that. I'll do that. Or I don't like that, so I won't do that.” That's a pretty limited set of options. It's all based on duplication of experience, right? Either, I'll duplicate it, because I like it, or I'll do something different and I'll duplicate outside of my environment. Which gives you such limited permissions to do anything that matters. If you're listening and you’re a leader of a business, and you've only done one of those two things, or maybe both of those two things. You're trying to fix a car with a screwdriver. It's a very limited range of tools that you have to operate with in a very new paradigm. A very new work paradigm. In the last three years, we've had radical shifts in the way that work matters to people, in the way that people connect to each other, in the way that we build relationships. The emphasis on emotional health, mental health, emotional intelligence is still significantly undervalued, compared to the overvaluing of statistics. I like to be a part of a ripple that is changing that for large organizations that are like, it's not working. Something's not working. We're hemorrhaging people. We're not attracting good talent. We don't know what to do. Well, probably time to change. It's probably you.

CA: Yeah. It's probably you.

AC: Maybe that’s the other hard thing in a leadership. It is inevitably you at the end of not enabling enough, not figuring out the right, not guessing enough, not being able to experiment enough and that's hard to accept. I feel empathy for that. I also love your car screwdriver analogy. That you're trying to solve a complex problem with a very limited number of solutions that are available to you. Maybe that's a great data exercise as a leader is what am I missing? What specific experiments I can try? What tools might I be missing? Or am I even approaching this with the right – what if I left this toolbox behind and just looked at the problem, and just said, what needs to be done and figure out what I can do to make that happen?

AV: Man, I love the screwdriver. I don't go to Whole Foods with a screwdriver. What I find fascinating –

AC: That makes one of us then.

AV: Come on, man. What?

CA: You have a master screwdriver plying?

AV: It's a Swiss army knife, right? Right, Alice? At least tell me the Swiss Army knife.

AC: Oh, I don't go with any tools. I'm just kidding. Continue.

AV: This is an interesting bridge, right? If you think about a Swiss army knife, you've got a variety of tools and a really appropriate packaging that says, look, what do you need right now? What I've found fascinating by talking to a lot of people, a lot of leaders, a lot of business owners, entrepreneurs, CEOs in the last several months is that the tool doesn't always work when you want it to work, or in the container that works for someone else. Not every team needs us. Not every team needs money. Not every team needs Aaron to come in and rattle your cage and give you a bunch of truth that you probably don't want to hear.

CA: Everything does, but they may not want to hear it. That’s the lock.

AV: This is true.

AC: They may not be able to do it. Yes.

AV: Yeah. The team may need, I don't know, maybe they need to get outside. Maybe instead of everyone working remote, need to fly them in for a retreat. Maybe that's what your team needs. Maybe you work in an office all day and you don't need that. Maybe you need to work remote day. This is like a moving complex intelligence that is a community in most places. That's what people seem to want. If it is a community, then it always evolves. I wish I had an answer to just say like, hey, you don't need a screwdriver. You need a, I don’t know, scalpel. You need an air blower. You need a pair of scissors, whatever it is. I don't think there's going to be a way to do that, unless a leader is willing to take the pulse of the people that they serve. They even have to do that with a degree of unbiasness, which is incredibly difficult.

CA: Well, I think it comes back to what you'd said earlier, which is you're not the one that needs to come up with a solution. You're the one that needs to be asking. It's not up to you to figure out, oh, you don't need a screwdriver. Here's a Swiss Army knife. No, you don't need a screwdriver. What would you need?

AV: Nice.

CA: That's the shift. I don't know why there's this taboo, or something bias against asking, when we see it all the time, especially in change. It's not just leader to employees, or that relationship. It's also employee-to-employee and teams to teams. There's this assumption that you're supposed to know what the answer is. Then you go to the safe space and ask that safe space, or those people and like, “What should I do?” I'm like, “I'm not them. Ask them. I don't know what you should do. Ask them what they want.”

AV: What a lesson in humility.

AC: Also, what a way to connect to the fact that you can make a leadership job easier. You should be asking for the solution. If it was all up to you to have the solutions, then I guess, you'd better be reading every possible book and thinking every possible thought. It can only be as big as your imagination, your capability, which I'm not saying that people are limited. I think people can absolutely expand their ability to generate ideas, come up with creative solutions, and leaders should absolutely be on top of helping do that. Ultimately, you are there to have a team solve a problem. We're there to help them do that. They have a lot of answers. You don't have to have all the answers. If you did, how would the organization grow? It can never be bigger than you are then. It can never be bigger than your own thoughts. How can you grow as a leader, if all of your job is the surface level I give orders? You better have every single possible order available to you, and have the respect of people that will listen to you when you need to deliver that.

AV: Yeah. That's such a profound and simple observation, right? There's no way out of this puzzle with just you. I don't know. I think back to every time I thought I had the right answer. Now, I'm much quicker to say, look, even as a coach, I can help you understand the puzzle better, because of my own puzzles. I'm not here to give you the answer. I'm here to help you with the question. I think, coaching, both in sports and with entrepreneurs and business has helped me understand more, the answer really doesn't matter. It's really about the process of how you get answers. That is what creates a good leader. How do you teach that? Let's figure this out right here on this call. Let's brainwash people to think about leadership that way. Can you ask the better questions? Can you help the greatest answers?

AC: Actually, I love the sports metaphor. Let's consider, you’ve done coaching of kids sports, right? You've done some coaching for that. Consider, and this happens with business, but it's an easy metaphor, I think, to draw. You've got, let's say a soccer team and somebody misses that they could have made a pass, or misses the connection, or just they kicked it in and it gets intercepted and whatever. There's a mistake that's made. You could tell the person, go past next time, which is the leadership equivalent of being like, don't screw up. Next time, don't screw up. Or, you figure out, go back this up a little bit. What is the situation? What needs to happen? Obviously, the goal has stayed the same. In sports, it's literally scoring a goal. How do you help the person identify the situation they're in, so that they can better identify in the future when something similar comes up? Because there will be a similar situation, but it will ever be exactly the same. That moment has already passed. That passes is already gone. How do you help teach them to think globally? How do you help teach the awareness? How do you help raise the awareness that they can make that good decision when the time comes?

AV: Man, it's such a good correlation. There are two stories that stand out a lot. One of the biggest challenges I had during a pretty important age transition. It was right before high school for a lot of players. One of the consistent patterns was if it couldn't drive a ball across the field, right? They couldn't hit it 30, 35 yards. I kept dealing with it in games and practices. I'm like, what's going on? How come? I know they're capable of it. It would happen once in a while. I'm like, “Holy shit, how did you – What? Where did that come from?” What I backtracked into was, oh, you don't have good balance. Your balance is broken. Reverse engineering back to let's install some balance was an immediate fix to the problem. It took a long time. It however was the fix to the larger problem. Now you can drive a long ball. The other was watching players fail to see the field. Vision was lacking. It's really hard to train vision, right? Similar as it is with leaders and employees. How do you create anticipation? How do you create critical executive functioning, that's, “Oh, if I make this choice, the immediate result is this. However, the big-time result is this.” With players, what I started to do was I was holding up numbers, and walking around the field. After they took their first touch, they had to find me. They had to start doing this. It became habit really, really fast. To even pay attention to that took a ridiculous amount of practice resources for me, because I couldn't focus on the details that normally I would focus on. I had to just focus on these things. It was a long-term win with a very short downside. The downside was months, though. Months. The hardest part of those choices to really fixate on balance and vision was dealing with parents. It's the hardest part, which in this case is stakeholders, or stock holders. They're like, wait a minute, our quarter results are down. Our tournament results are down. I'm like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Are we playing for three months? Are we playing for three years? What's the goal here? Are we building a successful championship team? Are we building a career legacy?” I learned a lot about life in general in business, and people from this experience coaching soccer and coaching girls. I go back to those two things a lot. How do you build balance and awareness? I mean, shit, balance and awareness are two fundamental pieces of the workplace now anyway. Just connected that thread. Well, hey, guys.

AC: Resolve this.

CA: We solved it. Balanced in weird days.

AC: All right. I’ll see you guys later.

CA: Leadership, problem solved. All right, next world issue.

AV: When you think of balance and awareness, what comes to mind for you two?

CA: Well, I love the division piece and how you talked about the, don't think about just the effect of what you do now. Think of the ripple effect down the line. I find that is greatly missing a lot more than I thought it would be in a lot of situations. Maybe it is that stockholder pressure of quarterly results. Maybe it's a lot of the big shift from generalists, to deep experts, to the other extreme of like, it's all about what I do. It's not about what I do impacts 10 steps down the line. That's not what matters to me. That is, it's that awareness. It's that critical thinking that it's really – it's never just about you. No matter who you are in an organization, or in a family in a community. What you do never leaves – doesn't live in a vacuum. That awareness and balance is that, is like, how do I balance what I need to do with some understanding of the ripple effects down the line? Also, with the ambiguity of those ripple effects, because I'm also not involved in step nine. I'm involved in step one. Because it's humans, I don't have control over step nine. Then, I do have to have the awareness, but I also have to have the balance to not get micromanaged involved in all the steps, because that's not my step. I don't know that I have an answer, besides another question.

AV: It’s good leadership right there.

CA: I've been practicing.

AV: Alex, what about you?

AC: I think that, I don't know, there's so many great connections in the balance and awareness. First, I think awareness for me definitely goes back to that awareness of the field. Getting your full vision of the field. Even that is technically limited. You're not seeing the influences of like you were saying stockholder, stakeholders, the anybody else who's also involved. What are they thinking that they're – for child athletes, what are they thinking that their parents are seeing? What are they thinking their friends are seeing? What are they thinking that the fans are seeing? That plays a role into it. What is their awareness of their place in this and what they want? How are they allowed to have trust with the rest of the team to see that field? Seeing is, I love that vision concept of how can you look up and see the full scale of things and balance? What skills are there that will help you deliver the results? I like your exercise of having numbers that are holding numbers up at different parts of the field, that sacrifices your personal awareness of the immediate things while you're trying to develop a different skill. Also, it brings us back to the screwdriver metaphor. Did anybody tell you that holding numbers around a field is a great way to create vision, or were you try to get people to look up more, and you found a way to encourage the results that you thought would help? That's a good leadership.

AV: Screwdriver is back. What a theme. What a whole through line of all this conversation. Don't be a screwdriver. Leaders, don't be a screwdriver.

AC: Know when to use a screwdriver. It's not that that's not useful. Essentially, I love the idea that you're creating different tools. Right now, you're thinking about like, well, how do you create vision? How do I get them to look up more? Well, give them something to look at, right? That's a great leadership metaphor. It's not telling them, “Hey, go look up more. Hey, you're not looking up more. Hey.” Just get it into the bones. Get the practice going. You have to take that hit as a leader to say like, “Yeah, this is going to slow down the immediate things we were working on.” The idea is long-term success.

CA: That's a huge block. It's this, again, instant gratification need. It's like, even the people that don't use Twitter are still expecting the Twitter experience in change management and leadership. It's like, well we did that to date leadership training. Why are they not leading? Oh, my. I don’t know. Because I did the two-day golf training 10 years ago, and I still missed the ball. No, I'm nowhere close to playing and succeeding.

AV: Yeah, what's the ROI?

CA: Yeah. What's the ROI?

AV: We’re training. ROI.

CA: I usually try to – when the ROI question comes up, well, first of all, it's an indication that we were probably in the wrong room and should not be wasting too much of our time. Also, if there is a chance there, it's more about, what's the cost of not doing this? It’s not about what's the cost of doing it. What's the return of doing it? What’s the cost of not doing it?

AC: I love that. If it hasn't been working yet to this point, what's going to happen when you just keep trying the same thing?

AV: Right. Keep smashing your car into the wall. It’s fine.

AC: You have a screwdriver. It's fine.

AV: Yeah. Well, as a person that has definitely done that, there's a fear that I always crashed into, that was just right. Am I finding the right people? Do I have the right tool? I don't know. Over time, maybe that's comfort with not knowing. It's a familiarity with the uncertainty principle of it all. Or, it's a radical, I'm just going to do it anyway and see if it shakes out. Maybe it's all three combined. I've grappled with that and I really struggle with being in it. Because when you're in it, it's hard to see. Your head goes down, right? It's like, dribbling defender. I'm not looking at anything else. It’s just my feet. If there is any skill that I would implore a leader to really work on, it's being able to be in the moment and of the moment. Be able to look down and look up. It sounds really tough. It's a different level of awareness that is typically going to come from personal development, outside of your traditional life, build business skills. That is so important, like me, will hit that wall of head down rule, and the fear is going to hit, the unknowns are going to hit, the panic is going to set in. Or if things are going really well, this also happens. People are like, how am I going to sustain this? How am I going to keep this up? We just had a ball breaking quarter. Everything changed. Now, I got to do it again. I can't sleep at night knowing I got to do it again. It's the same experience, just on a different side of the coin.

AC: One metaphor where that reminds me of is learning how to drive. You take on leadership and take on a new role and take on something like that, there's so much both at stake and at your fingertips and to keep in mind. You got rules of the road, laws to follow. You've got a car that's more expensive than anything you've ever been and ever had in your possession as a teenager. This is now heavier. It's literally, there's life and death on the line and there's just – It's basic method of transportation. You're trying to remember how to even turn signals on. I think, it's something worth remembering because it is overwhelming at first to think about, I’ll try and pull your head up and be, and I love that you said it, in and of the moment. It's really hard to do both of those things. At the same time, 10 years later, you'll be cruising along and you don't even think about turning on turn signals. That part is fine. You're now keeping awareness entirely on the road and the trip and your destination and what detours you need to take. You can get your head up a lot easier after you start those personal things getting more into habits. That's the best thing you can do for yourself and your teams. Try and work those into habits you – Yes, absolutely, it's going to be exhausting the first time, to 10 times, to 27 times. Every time, suddenly you're looking up and that's just how you work. You don't even think about it.

AV: I remember learning to ride a motorcycle. One story. I was in Prague. Lauren and I, my partner, she grew up on motorcycles, like knew them really well. I did not. I have my license, but I hadn't ridden in seven years. Long story short, I crashed the bike. We're coming back from a trip –

CA: In Prague?

AV: Yeah. Crash the bike in Prague. The guy that they gave us the bike was not happy. I was not happy either. She was not one like –

CA: I have my vision on the field. Continue by the motorcycling Prague experience.

AV: Yeah. Thankfully, everybody was good. I was a little banged up. She was not on the bike at the time. The bike still ran. It just scraped up. Anyway, come back, I'm like, I'm going to buy a motorcycle, which to most people was like, “Why would you? You just crashed a bike man. Why would you buy a motorcycle?” I was committed. in learning to ride a motorcycle, everything was new again and there's so much connection with the bike. What's fascinating though, to connect to your story out, and not just to tell you about my crashing motorcycle, is that when I got in a car, driving a car was different. When I was learning to drive a motorcycle, riding in a car was different. It accentuated the colors of stop signs, it livened the need to adhere to certain regulations. Because in a motorcycle, you have no safety. Just you on a small little scooter. In relearning a motorcycle, I was relearning a car at the same time. It was really embarrassing in a lot of ways, to be brand-new. I’m stalling out at stop signs. Then I'm getting in a car, it's also new. Every function was different. Over that period of time, I also started to take classes in jujitsu and Portuguese, and I was taking a new series of classes every quarter to be a beginner again. One of the hardest parts of my journey has been beginning. Starting over where I'm not good, I look terrible. I don't know what I'm doing. I ask bad questions. I fail consecutively. That taught me and really reframed what it means to be bad at something, so that I could get good at it. I hope that the person I'm becoming regularly does that. Regularly re-begins and starts over, and has a really good relationship with being a beginner, because it's so natural for me to say, stay in my lane of expertise. Stay where on stage, I can speak about it. Stay to the arenas that I can talk about. Don't go to that area of leadership that I don't understand. Don't go into, are you certified Aaron? Do you have all your three little stamps? Don't go that place, because that's a unfamiliar terrain. I'm starting to be really intentional about opening that door up to be a beginner again. In the transition period that I'm going through, I think that's likely to be the linchpin between who I want to be, and the actions I take now. That's the common thread is you’re going to have to start over, man. You're going to have to do this like you’ve never done it. Maybe leaders would benefit from more beginning than they would from more do it the way you've always done it, or more comfort zone activity. I don't know how to break that pattern either.

CA: I was thinking the exact same thing. It’s like, what if the secret to good leadership is to always go back to the beginning? To always be in a situation where you're the beginner. If you can't do that, then find a way to get into that situation. Because that's one of the pieces that very easily gets forgotten is that as leaders, we learn to get to a certain expertise. We've tried things. We failed a bunch of times. We've learned through the failures, but then we forget what it's like to not be at the knowledge level that we are, in most situations. We lacked that empathy. We truly like that empathy of understanding. Hey, maybe it's easy for me to ask a bunch of questions and not have to give my expertise, but it wasn't that easy for me when I started this journey three years ago. I learned how to coach.

AV: Yeah, wow. That takes me back to who I was after college, who I was six years ago, who I was before I came into entrepreneurship, and remembering who I was and the fears I had and the person that I wanted to be, and how I would talk to that person. If I could talk to the me then, I will talk very differently than I might with someone I hired out of the blue. That's not really how I want to be. I want to talk to anyone on the team, or a part of the missions that I'm working on, like I would talk to the former me, because that kid didn't know. He didn't have a clue. I still got some work to do.

 CA: We all do.

AC: Sometimes it's exhausting to feel that way. Sometimes it’s a big relief to know there's always more work to do.

CA: Yeah. I personally get bored when I get to the point of knowing. I'm like, “Yeah, it's fine. It's fun. I'm done. What's the next challenge?”

AV: Yeah. Maybe this is just the treadmill of leadership, right? There's a lot of responsibility. Treadmill has a lackluster visual attached to it. Maybe it’s a – whatever the treadmill of rocket ships is.

CA: Hamster wheel. Over the bottom again. Oh, over the top again.

AC: It's like rocket ships to explore the universe. You got to build one. You get somewhere. You got to figure out how to build the next one that's going to get you somewhere else. Inevitably, you're never going to get to the full universe. If you want to keep going, it's going to take that work, that rework, and that exploration, and constant unknown.

AV: And constant unknown. Someone asked me, we were talking about how to build an enterprise that would let you quit your job. It was interesting to reframe the conversation from job being an endpoint, to job being a starting point. If you leave your job, that's the beginning of entrepreneurship, where you're now a leader of your own life, if not the lives of many other people. If you're going to go on a journey to the end of the universe and constantly explore, it's a lifestyle, man. It is not, you don't get to check out. You don't get the luxuries that come with the ignorance that can be not making that choice. As an entrepreneur, I have a degree of responsibility and a degree of decision making that I can't escape. I don't want to, to be clear. Nonetheless, it's still a conscious choice I have to make. Similarly with leadership, you don't get to just turn off your leader hat. You don't get to set it down and just be asinine and irresponsible, because you don't want to do it anymore. There's a Spider Man line in there. It's a power and it's a responsibility at the same time.

CA: Definitely is. Doesn’t stop people from putting their head down.

AV: Yeah, fair.

CA: It's true. There's a huge responsibility.

AV: Maybe we'll just change education. We’ll just change schools forever. Let's build a leadership.

CA: That's a small ask.

AC: Yeah, should be done by next Tuesday.

CA: Exactly. Give me a week. I'll be done with all the leaders and then we can go to the kids.

AC: Sure. Let's just fix education.

AV: No big deal. Come on, guys. Here we go. Leadership, do your thing. Do your magic.

CA: Yeah, exactly. Just grow the next set of leaders.

AC: Well, Aaron, thank you so much for jumping in and joining us on this. This is just a great and very enlightening conversation. I love all the metaphors. There's definitely a lot I have to think about on the opposite side of this. Thank you so much for joining us. We would love to ask just a couple more questions. We have just a couple more minutes.

AV: Fire away. Let's do it.

AC: First off, what is your definition of authenticity?

AV: You really lead with an easy one. I used to think that authenticity was saying what was unexpected. It just punched you and therefore, it was authentic. Now, I believe that authenticity is saying what hasn't been spoken, that very much needs to be said. That often comes with a degree of cost to the speaker.

CA: I really like that.

AC: That is an excellent answer. The second and much easier.

CA: Second question is much easier.

AC: Much easier question. That question being, where can people find you, your work and everything you do?

AV: Much, much easier. Couple of different places. On social platforms, it's just my name on almost all of them. Thank you, mom and dad for a unique name. That's TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, just my name Aaron. A-A-R-O-N. Velky. V-E-L-K-Y. Easy to find me there. If you're interested in what Money Club does, the URL is wearemoneyclub.com. If you're interested in what I do outside of the Money Club hat, whether that'd be retreats, or coaching, or speaking, just go to aaronvelky.com. Really easy. Very unilateral. Try to make it as simple as possible. Simplicity is not easy. It is however a goal of mine.

CA: Thank you so much. We fixed the leadership. We’ll fix the school system next.

AV: Yeah, this was amazing. I'm really grateful that you all have me and we got to talk through all this that you listened as much as you did. That means a lot. Let's hope that my crazy ideas and our crazy ideas make a lot of change. Happens sooner than we might imagine.

CA: Let’s hope. We're definitely stealing the lookup and look at the vision on the field piece. I have all sorts of ideas already from that.

AV: Yeah, take it.

AC: Also, in the moment and of the moment may yet make an appearance in our –

AV: Yeah. No need to attribute. Just call me and say like, “Hey, this is helpful.”

CA: Got it. We got one more person to maybe look up.

AV: Cool. Well, thank you guys. I'm very grateful.

CA: Thank you.

AC: Thank you for joining us.

CA: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo Podcast.

AC: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Laura, and our score creator, Rachel Sherwood.

CA: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts.

AC: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas, or questions. You can reach us at podcast@wearesiamo.com, or on our website, wearesiamo.com, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. WeAreSiamo is spelled W-E-A-R-E-S-I-A-M-O.

CA: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.


Aaron Velky Profile Photo

Aaron Velky

CEO at Money Club, Keynote Speaker

Aaron is a keynote speaker, CEO and coach. His career has been dedicated to building movements, companies and leaders. He’s coached and led workshops, retreats and leadership training for hundreds across the US, and continues to write, speak and create content for other emerging leaders and companies. Check out aaronvelky.com for his current work and movement-making, and WeAreMoneyClub.com for more on his economic empowerment company.