It’s a total understatement to say that we’ve been living in uncertain times the last few years, right?
How have you been dealing with that uncertainty?
For me, I look for corporate badasses who are bringing new and exciting ideas to the table.
Leaders who are revealing new ways to navigate difficult challenges, solve complex problems, and bring a whole new level of innovation to the work we are doing in our organizations and the world.
And leaders who can do all of the above while staying authentic to themselves and driving equity and inclusion at their organizations? Those are my favorites.
So whenever I find a leader like this, the first thing I do is invite them onto this podcast.
And that’s exactly what happened when I was introduced to the work of Everett Harper.
Everett is an incredible CEO and the author of the new book, Move to the Edge, Declare It Center.
And in this episode of Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer, we dive into insights and strategies that will help you make powerful decisions, confidently solve big problems, and build relationships with other incredible leaders – all while bringing your true self to the leadership table.
Want to receive the recognition you deserve, step into a higher leadership position, get paid for your ideas instead of the hours you put in at work, and enjoy more time, freedom, energy, and joy? Then you need to get your hands on a copy of Promotions Made Easy. Get your copy here.
What You'll Learn:
- What high performance means for Everett
- Why you need to plan for opportunities to come to you
- The exact questions Everett asks to solicit meaningful feedback
- How to get perfectly aligned on expectations when raising your hand for a new project or taking on a new role
- Everett’s practices and processes for creatively solving complex problems
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Read Everett’s book, Move to the Edge, Declare it Center: Practices and Processes for Creatively Solving Complex Problems
- Learn more about Truss in Inc’s report, Meet the Companies Winning in a Time of Change--And Achieving Spectacular Growth
- Visit Truss.Works and EverettHarper.com
- Read Daniel Pink’s, The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward Hardcover
- Connect with Everett on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn
- Connect with me on LinkedIn
- Join the Summer of Magic by registering for Executive Ahead of Time
- Get your copy of my book, Promotions Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Executive Suite
- Go to StacyMayer.com/Strategies to join my email list and receive my email series, Seven Promotion Strategies that Your Boss Won’t Tell You
Stacy Mayer: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Career. I'm your host, Stacy Mayer, and super excited, as always, to be here with you again this week. Today, I have a special guest who I only just met about 10 minutes ago. And he is absolutely amazing. As you know, I live in Berkeley, California. He is right across the street from me in Oakland. I've been following him on Instagram ever since his publicist reached out to me. And the work that he's doing in Oakland is really phenomenal. And then he's also just an incredible CEO in his own right. And I'm super excited to have him on today's episode to talk to us about his journey, what has gotten him to his levels of success, and then obviously his mission and what he hopes to change for other leaders in the future. Thank you, Everett. Thank you so much for being here.
Everett Harper: Thank you. I'm looking forward to this. The virtual local podcast.
Stacy Mayer: You know, I've seen these podcasts where people record in their living room and they sit on their couches and stuff in person. And I used to always want to do that but no, not anymore. I was telling Everett I was out with my kids this morning. We were at the beach and then I came home to record this podcast. I'm kind of digging it. I don't mind this life.
Everett Harper: Nice. Well done.
Stacy Mayer: Let me do a more formal introduction of Everett and then we'll just dive right in. In times of uncertainty, it can be incredibly challenging for organizations and teams to solve complex problems and find innovative solutions. In the new book Move to the Edge, Declare it Center, author Everett Harper, an entrepreneur strategist, the CEO and co-founder of Truss, shares effective methods for decision making in situations where there may be a lack of complete information, ways to sustain teams during uncertain and stressful periods. Kind of like every day right now. And effective techniques for managing personal anxiety. A crucial leadership skill. Everett, thank you again so much for being here today.
Everett Harper: Thank you. I appreciate it. And thanks for the introduction.
Stacy Mayer: Let's just start with what are some of your secrets to success?
Everett Harper: So I think in some ways it's not a secret, but it might be the way of putting it together. So for me, high performance is hard work and recovery. Everybody says hard work, but it's actually the recovery that actually matters as well. I was a national championship athlete. I won a national championship with Duke for soccer and you can work really hard, but if you keep going, your body will break down. And a lot of that exercise physiology actually affects the same way people at work. You can't work at a high performing level 90 hours a week, every single week. Your performance goes down. So how to do recovery in a way that bolsters high performance is one of the secrets. And if anybody is doubting that, the last two years of our pandemic, where everybody has been real tired and burnt out, should just remind folks that is definitely the case. There's a couple other things. One is I'm comfortable being uncomfortable. That is one of the chapters of the book, because if you're trying to make change, especially if you're trying to be a leader, you're going to get into uncomfortable situations daily. The good news is you can actually practice for that ahead of time. And so that is one thing that I've been able to build up. Making connections before others. I like being a disparate person. I have interest in art and food and leadership and so forth. And so a lot of those have helped me understand how to do things differently. And then last is luck. Lot of people want to just say, I'm this and that and the other thing. Sometimes being at the right place at the right time, I can't plan it, but that makes a big difference. And so I'd say those are a couple of my secrets.
Stacy Mayer: I love that idea of luck. I'm in the middle of what I'm calling the Summer of Magic 2022 inside of my Executive Ahead of Time program. And there is this element where I basically made the decision in June when I was on vacation, and I got a couple of emails from women saying they were also on vacation and getting promoted. They were literally getting emails saying that they were getting promoted. Something was happening and I was thinking, there is something about this. And so I decided to just set the intention to see how quickly I could get ten women promoted just like that. I was like, let's do it. And so it was a combination of intention setting and then also allowing it to happen. I'd love to hear your take on luck and what that means to you, because I find that whole concept fascinating where it's like things happen. But then we also have to be able to put ourselves out there to be available for those quote unquote things to happen.
Everett Harper: So sidestepping to be a little bit of a social psychology nerd for a second. There is a frame that we particularly in the United States over attribute success to our own agency. And that's a cultural thing. And the reality is that it's some of that. But also we happen to be born in the United States. We happen to have gone to college. So there's luck of the zip code. And there is a lot of luck that goes into where people go to school, where people meet partners or people meet business colleagues, etc. So that's part of it. But the other part of luck, I think, is you hit it on the head. I can set an intention or purpose. I do a purpose playbook every year and we could talk about that later. But it helps me make decisions with intention. And one of them last year was go to the highest room, which means where are the people gathering either informally or formally? Where people are making really interesting decisions or having really interesting conversations. Now, that's an intention I can find where those rooms might be. The luck might be that I happen to meet a person who is really interested in the work that Truss does or has heard of me for some other reason. But it's like, oh, I've been meaning to talk to you. That has happened many times. But because I'm looking at the higher room, similar to where you're talking about getting promoted. Having an aspiration plus availability and then letting the circumstances and then paying attention to the energy in a room and people that I guess probably is where luck comes from.
Stacy Mayer: Amazing. I love that so much. Aspiration plus ability plus circumstances. So good. I love that.
Everett Harper: There is a way and I certainly have had this in my career and I'm sure a lot of your listeners have as well where you thought that person looked really interesting, but didn't have enough confidence to go out and talk to them. And the fact is they're a person just like the rest of us, and they're all worried and wondering, will anybody talk to me or I put this thing out, does anybody care? Even if someone says, I hated your book for this reason, it's actually really interesting because it might be something that says I left out that piece of research. I wish I'd put that in there so this person knows where this comes from. We all have those types of things, and so we're all sitting at corners of the room wondering who's going to talk to who first, rather than going across and saying, let's have a conversation.
Stacy Mayer: I love that so much. I think the reason that we're sitting around wondering who's going to talk to who first is because we haven't purposefully thought about it and planned for it. You talked about this idea of before connections, really planning for those opportunities to come up for you. So that when somebody does present themselves, then you're like, I want to talk to you about this thing. Versus that thought process that has to come in. Should I talk to them? I don't know. Is now the right time? Every time is the right time. We just have to be prepared.
Everett Harper: And preparation is really key. I'll give you one concrete example that might put this into really sharp perspective. Conferences. When we went to conferences pre-pandemic and are going back again, there's all these people. There's great speakers, there's other people from the industry, etc. that can get really overwhelming. Who do I talk to when, how, and you're looking around and so forth. So what I started to do is say, okay, at any given conference, I'm going to pick three people that I must talk to. And then the second thing I did was say, when are they going to be most available? Particular if it's a speaker. Let me get there really early. Breakfast. So people are just waking up; they're not being inundated. And occasionally the speakers come early. So I will see someone's card and I'll say, I wanted to meet you. I see you are speaking. Real easy. Real life. They're more likely to have availability early. If I can do that one or two times, I'm already done by lunchtime because I've met people. Even just an introduction to warm up and then they appreciate that I approached them not when there's 70 people in line to sign their book, but early when they're relaxed and thinking about things. And after the fact, if it's at like a happy hour, everybody's already talking and so it's really busy. If I can get three people and say I must talk to them, even if it's to say hi, I will often be done by lunch. And the rest of the conference is gravy.
Stacy Mayer: I just thought, let's say you created that intention and you planned for that, and then you get there early and nothing happens. You don't say hi to three people. You just had coffee. You sat by yourself and read your book or whatever and nothing happened. You already win. That is not a losing scenario. That's what we're doing by default. So you can only win by creating these scenarios for yourself. It can only go well.
Everett Harper: I forgot one piece. If I get there early, I introduce myself to not somebody on my list, but to a stranger. You get that first one out of the way. The second one is a lot easier. I think it's the preparation, setting attention and then taking that first small action. That first small action then leads to confidence, which leads to the second one and the third one. And again, by lunch, you're done.
Stacy Mayer: Amazing. So as I'm listening to you talk, you're a very eloquent speaker. I know that you do your speaking gigs. You obviously have written this book and you have these thought points that you've put together as a leader. This is what I've done to create my success, these five points and all these things. Did you always think about your leadership that way since the time of playing for Duke, or is that something that you have learned to cultivate? That way you can make these connections, you can show up as that Executive Leader all of the time or mostly all of the time and actually have something to add to the conversation. So how did your leadership journey unfold?
Everett Harper: It's funny that you say that I have these three points or five points. Most time I don't. I do for these kinds of events. And writing a book is actually really helpful because what do I think? Why do I encapsulate this? Would anybody understand? So in some ways, it's the writing of the book and putting it into words that forces the sort of recognition of no,that isn't it. Or that's something I didn't even think of. Okay, cool. And then I will often test it out. I'll ask other people. So in terms of that self awareness, it's evolved. There are certain things when I was early in my career that I never want to do again. And not in terms of the job, but skills. I don't want to be a spreadsheet jockey. I'm good at spreadsheets, but that's not what I want for my career. So I have to take that and learn, how do I use that in other ways? Particularly in terms of being the leader, there's a lot of things that go into making that transition and then seeing oneself as a leader. So I think the short answer is it's evolved.
Stacy Mayer: I love it too, because one of the things that I thought about as you were talking is you test it. That's what you said. You were like, I didn't sit in a vacuum and come up with five bullets. Does this resonate with people? And I think as a leader, when we're having a conversation about our leadership style or talking to people at a conference or making these connections, when we start to practice what do I stand for? What are my secrets of success? What have I accomplished in my life? It really only comes out in conversation. It doesn't come out through the void of sitting in your room and planning it and getting it perfect. And so it's being willing to try that out in real time, see if somebody reacts to it and how they resonate with it. Another thing I love is when it starts to be repeatable. So when people start referring to you as that type of leader, then you know, oh, that was it.
Everett Harper: Right, exactly. I don't have anything to add to that. I think you summarized it really well.
Stacy Mayer: You talked for a bit; I call it a corporate athlete, this idea of recovery. That was one topic that you touched on because in the opening, we could literally talk about all five of the things you do in their own right. I'm really interested in that because I think one of the challenges for people as they continue to raise their hand for higher level positions is this idea that it's like I'm already overwhelmed. I'm already working so hard. I'm already in the weeds. How do I raise my hand for something more? Because I feel like I'm always on this breaking point. And I think that we can be at that breaking point at many different stages in our career. And so what are some of these recovery practices that we can put into place to be incredibly intentional so as we raise our hand for more, as we take on more responsibility, we're able to let go of the things like the spreadsheet jockey or whatever is not serving us.
Everett Harper: I think I see that question in two pieces. One is, what do people need to do personally or my thoughts about what I do personally. And then there's the preparation for everybody else because they have a role. If you're going to raise your hand for a new role, presumably they have an expectation of what you deliver, but you have an expectation of what you should deliver, and I'll get to that in a second. So the things that I do personally to sort of prepare are one, I have a meditation practice I've had for 25 years, and that doesn't mean you have to have 25 years to do this. I started at some point and I was terrible at it for many, many years. And until I realized that it's not about being terrible, it's about sitting, breathing, figuring out presence, understanding awareness, dropping in. And even in a moment, like right now, you can drop in. And that creates so much openness and awareness. That's the first thing. The second is I do have people I go to for advice. That feedback, quick feedback, is so important not only within my peers, which I continue to do, but also externally. How are they seeing me? Are the things that I'm doing being seen in the way that I intend? As you said, there's no way to know that until you ask. And usually people are thrilled to say. And even better, having those close friends that are there to say, hey, you know what? That didn't land so good. And here's why it didn't land so well. And that's really important because I may have the best of intentions, but if it didn't land, I've got to figure out something new.
Stacy Mayer: I have a sense that you're really good at this, so I'm going to put you on the spot. One of the challenges that a lot of people do when they ask for feedback is they literally just say, how did I do? My sense is that is not what you're talking about here. So please, let's go into this, because I think it'll be so, so useful when we're getting feedback for these types of situations.
Everett Harper: Okay. I think I'll go with the book, for example. But it could be any written piece of information, particularly for something new. The first thing I'll ask is, what resonated and why? Does it connect or do you even care? Because if they don't care, it doesn't matter what the rest of it is, right? You're gone. The second is what wasn't clear?What needed more explanation? What could I clarify? Or what's missing? And so what that does is that it creates an opening for people to say, I didn't get that. Or, what does software development mean anyway? That was a huge thing in the book. Realizing they don't understand the basics and it's my job to tell them. It's not on them. It's on me. And then I think the third, it was I would go in a second iteration. So that was the first thing because sometimes you get feedback too early and then you get overwhelmed and you shut down. So the first thing is, did it resonate? Is there anything I can add? Then the next step or the next stage, and I wouldn't use the same person. I'd have a different person if it's a little bit more complete and say, what would you use this for? How would you recommend this? Would you recommend this to somebody else? And why? Because that gets into is this useful? It's one thing to say, I enjoyed it, but if I can't apply it or if I don't see where it applies to my situation, then it's not as useful. Feedback that I think is meaningful is about the impact on others. And if they can articulate that, then I have so much more information than if I said, did I do good? So I said, yes, you did good. I would never use you again. I wouldn't talk to you again. I would never recommend this book. But for you, sure. Whatever.
Stacy Mayer: Those are brilliant questions. And obviously we have the show notes to this episode, so print them out. Those are just really great questions to ask when you're asking for feedback. I love that so much. There were two pieces to this recovery process. The first, you talk about meditation and we kind of went on this feedback chat. So there was a second part to what you were talking about. Something about framing other people's expectations. Let's touch on that for a minute.
Everett Harper: The person who said here's an opportunity has an expectation of what that opportunity is. I, if I raise my hand, also have an expectation. But there's no guarantee those are the same expectations. And the reason I raise this, there was an Executive Coach I can't remember. I wish I could quote it. But basically this person said he's hired a lot of people and they said a lot of what happens between managers and people who work for them is the person does something and does it to the best of their ability. But the manager says, that's not what I asked for. And what often happens is that the manager wasn't clear, didn't make clear what their expectations were or what they expected or what the definition of done was. So everybody's operating. If you don't have that conversation, the person who did the thing says, I put a lot of effort into that. They're not pleased. What do I do now? So they redo it. You can see the cycle going poorly. It's actually the manager's responsibility to make sure, did you understand what my expectations were? Can you repeat it back? Here's an example. And then check. Do we align on what the expectations are? So that thinking was behind the question, which is, if I'm raising my hand for something, I have an expectation of what it is. The next conversation is, here's what I think it is, or what do you expect from that opportunity? Here's what I expect from that opportunity. And this is the key part. What do I drop in order to do the new role? Because you started with saying you're really stressed out. You've got a lot going on. If you're taking on a new role, that means you don't do a new role and the old thing. It means, are we clear that we're dropping a whole bunch of the other thing so I can learn how to do this new role?
Stacy Mayer: My brain is exploding. So I just thought about this unbelievably brilliant moment from a leader who actually promoted one of my clients and she was given a role. She said, I want you to work for me. It was a completely different org. It was a totally different group, same company, but a completely different org. And that leader told her from the beginning, I do not want you to be the expert. You are not the expert. And she kept iterating that. And so not only was my client able to relax into the role, she was able to ask questions. She was empowered to go out and find the answers versus doing everything herself. Maybe a leader actually brought us in because of our brilliant leadership. They genuinely didn't want us to have all the answers. They don't want us to be in the weeds, but yet we're so used to that attitude and doing everything ourselves. And one thing I will always empower the women to do is to actually ask, why do you want me in this role? Why are you suggesting that I apply for this? Why are you bringing me on? And genuinely they will point to their leadership. They won't always say, because you're the smartest person and you know all the answers. That gives you the freedom to be able to show up and do the work. Over and over again, I'll hear from executives. They say, I want them to be less in the weeds.
Everett Harper: I think that is probably the most important challenge with going into transition between an individual contributor role, into a leadership role, is that you have to be able to zoom in and zoom out. You have to be able to manage other people's attention.
Stacy Mayer: So speaking of leadership, tell us about the work you're doing at Truss. Tell us about software. What is it that you're doing?
Everett Harper: So we founded it in 2012. So we're a decade old, which is amazing to me still. And fresh off the presses, we were just voted to be part of the INC 5000 fastest growing companies in the United States for the third year running. That literally happened this morning.
Stacy Mayer: Congratulations.
Everett Harper: It's credit to the people on the team, the Trussels, as we call our employees the Trussels, who have worked really, really hard and do really great creative work. And to our clients who trusted us to solve some of their more complex problems. So what do we do? We solve really hard problems for public agencies and for commercial clients. Often Fortune 500 clients that revolve around software. And software, whether you call it software's eating the world or software is a superpower, so much of our world runs on some form of software. And often that software is not very good and is not very centered toward the human experience. Anybody at a DMV will be able to attest to that. It's sort of a typical situation. We are often called in to help design new systems. We got our start with helping to fix healthcare.gov. A highly complex problem, very, very high stress and high responsibility. And we're able to do that and lots of unknowns. As my co-founder Mark says, we run to the trash fire, not away from it. And that went well. And so they asked us back. And then we've been building up clients such as the Department of Labor when all those unemployment checks went to different places that weren't intended. They realized that it was a software problem. They had a legacy mainframe that needed to be modernized. So we're part of a group of companies that are trying to help them do that. We're working with the Department of Defense TRANSCOM. Now, if people have been in the military, you know that you're moving, you move all the time, particularly if you're a career military. It was rated as the second most stressful thing after combat by servicemen and women. It was often five visits at different buildings and getting paperwork and having duplicate things. And often, unfortunately, the Department of Defense did an audit where 10% of their stuff in a sample was either late or broken or didn't arrive. So if you can imagine your young family, your spouse is going off to another country. Or you're a single dad, you're basically a single dad at home with two young kids. And then you have to go through the stress of moving. That's really hard. So they asked us to develop a small prototype. We did that. They said, can you scale that prototype? We did. Can you develop this for our entire system? And we said we sure could. So essentially, we're developing a software that enables 415,000 people to move every year in a way that simplifies the experience for the servicemen and women. It's less stressful. And so instead of all those visits, we have a film of one of the folks in the military. He did it in eight minutes on a mobile phone. That's the kind of impact we really want to have.
Stacy Mayer: Yes. I love this so much. And you talk in your book about solving complex problems. I think this is a great transition to talk about your book and how you take the work that you're doing at Truss and really describe in here some ways that we can use practices and processes for creatively solving complex problems?
Everett Harper: That's right. It's a mouthful. Let me give a quick summary for folks. Often those can create a lot of stress and anxiety. So that's a personal part, like learning how to be uncomfortable with not knowing the answer. Why is that important? Our most complex problems and our most urgent problems today are complex, which means there are unknowns. Does anybody have a right answer to climate change? Does anybody have a right answer to wildfires? Does anybody have the right answer to racial injustice? Those things have multivariate interactions. But if we use methods that are about solving the right answer, where there's only one answer, we're going to run into unintended consequences. That's basically, by the way, why healthcare.gov failed. There was an assumption that there is one right answer and they left out an unknown. And unfortunately, that's what screwed up the system among many things. But that was one that brought it to attention. So we've developed ways to do that. It's basically saying there are tools and practices that you can use to go through and iterate on figuring out, taking an unknown problem and breaking it down into its components. Iteration, pre-mortems, techniques of discovery and research.
Everett Harper: So that gets you halfway there. Then you come up with a solution, but you then have to put it into a system. Move to the Edge is about discovering unknowns, moving to the edge of your understanding and awareness and declaring it center means, how do you systematize that? How do you create an infrastructure that you can make into a system which can be scaled, which can be shared, and which can sustain your work? The thing I like to say is heroism is not sustainable. And anybody who's gone through the last two years should really feel that. If you're trying to grit your teeth through working at home for a couple of months, well, it's now two and a half years and people are burnt out by gritting their teeth. They've burnt out a long time ago. But if you build a system around how do we work from multiple places, then you can start to build something which is sustainable and scalable across the platform.
Stacy Mayer: Actually you were talking about meditation and I built a system in 2020 to kind of survive this pandemic. It was this is what we're going to do. And really, it wasn't just grit. This is my system. This is how I'm going to get through this. And then I noticed that in 2021, that system kind of went away and you're sort of half in, half out. And then in 2022, I have just literally doubled down on meditation. That's my system. I have to sit every single day. And that's bringing me back to what I need to be doing and how I can make each day stronger and solve the complex problems of my life, of my business, everything. You talked about, and maybe this was just a throwaway, but I'm curious about pre-mortems. And I think this sort of speaks to this idea of setting expectations that we talked about. As a leader a lot of times I will coach my clients to have pre- mortems, to set up expectations, to get input from their team as to what success looks like for them, not just for you. I'm curious, is that part of this process of solving complex problems? Could you talk more about how you do that?
Everett Harper: Absolutely. I'm glad you picked up on that. I'll describe what pre- mortems are in a second, but it's a tool that people can use when you don't know the answer or when you have two great choices. Which one do you take? And it's hard to kind of figure that out. And so pre- mortems is a way to get through that. Here's the way we set up and we do this with our clients as well. Here's the setup. You've been working on a project for three months. You've got everything together. You've done all your research. You've got all the right people. You've built the thing. And it's about two weeks before launch. You go around the room, you go to your team. It is nine months in the future. This project's launched. It's gotten out in the world. You've gotten all the feedback and it is a complete and utter disaster. It is a complete failure. And then you say, what happened? What went wrong? And I'll usually start by saying, look, it's always going to be something. The leader wasn't paying attention. He was distracted or whatever. It usually gets people to laugh and kind of relax a little bit that this isn't a test. And then they'll say, we didn't do this thing to this stakeholder. Or we didn't inform this person or this group of people really reacted badly to the way we set up this interface. Or no one used it because no one knew about it. So we botched the marketing campaign. You get all the reasons and then it's usually quite fun. Like you try and do the obnoxious one, do the ridiculous one, whatever, get all this on the table. And then you say, okay. What can we do to mitigate that now? What steps can we take now to make sure that doesn't come up. I've never seen a situation where this hasn't happened. There's some discovery that we say, oh, we forgot to tell this stakeholder. Or, we haven't put enough money into this process to make sure that we continue to try and get people to use this after we launch it. Whatever it happens to be. And this works for software, it works for public policy, it works for a bunch of different places. Ironically, Daniel Pink just wrote a book called The Power of Regret, and one of the things he talks about is you can learn from regrets. And this technique, it's a counterfactual, is basically saying let's put a regret in the future and then backwards so we can learn from a regret that hasn't happened. I want to write him about this because I'm not sure if he's connected this dot, but it's learning from a regret in the future. You can also do this personally since you've asked sort of the personal - professional thing. I was trying to make a choice between grad schools. Michigan and Stanford. I had great choices. I didn't know what to do. And so this woman said to me, you've got to write a letter to yourself. Okay, what does that mean? And so we walked across Stanford's campus and she told me this story. You got to pick one. Stanford or Michigan. And then write what is your life in a year from now? Write it in vivid, colorful detail.
Everett Harper: Where are you living? Who are you hanging out with? Do you have a pet? What's your commute like? What's your office like? What are you studying? How are you feeling about what you're studying? Are you nervous? Are you thrilled? How do you spend your free time? Paint a vivid, colorful picture. The first thing that is going to happen is as you're writing it, you're going to be like, oh, this is totally wrong. Can't do it. Don't want it. Great. Go to the other solution. The other challenge. Let's say you keep writing and you kind of get psyched. All right. Make the choice. Write yourself a letter. Close it up. Put it in an envelope and say do not open until that year period. When your period closes, open up the letter and then read it to yourself and see how close you are. I did that. I picked Stanford; read the letter. I got most of it right. Except I wasn't sure and I wasn't as committed about being a professor. I loved what I was studying. It was being a professor that was off, so it didn't convince me it was the right letter to make between Stanford and Michigan. But it also helped me make a decision I don't need to do a PhD program. Let me do the MBA instead. It's a really powerful tool and it would have been impossible to make a good decision by planning out every single thing. It's sort of using your imagination to project into the future and then testing it because I don't know.
Stacy Mayer: I love that. And I was just thinking as you were talking, I was like, oh, come on. You played soccer for Duke and you even considered Michigan? But, you know. That's just me. I went to Michigan, so I get it.
Everett Harper: Oh, okay. That's funny because, so this is for grad school. But Michigan, while Bo Schembechler was the coach, he said that he would not have a varsity soccer program at the university. So I know a lot of my teammates, including one very close friend who grew up in Ann Arbor, he would have loved to have played for Michigan, but they didn't have a varsity soccer team.
Stacy Mayer: Oh, my goodness. So a question I always like to ask my guests is why do they personally feel motivated to have that seat or voice in particular at the table? I'd love to hear from you.
Everett Harper: Well, it always gives me an opportunity to quote Hamilton. I want to be in the room where it happens. What that means for me is, particularly if I'm trying to do something different in the world; make a change. A lot of what we focus on in our company is doing things with really positive public impact. That's why we would work on medicine. Public medicine and other things. I have a background in doing community development finance. And so we helped put together the CDFI bill, which got millions of low and moderate income home buyers access to the secondary market, which enabled them to actually securitize their homes. It created opportunity for millions of people to buy homes they wouldn't have been able to before. When you're trying to make something happen that's different, my experience, and of many others is that you're going to come across people who disagree with you and maybe who even don't like you being at the table. But that's a requirement if you're trying to change the rules because if the rule was different, I wouldn't need to be at the table. If the change wasn't necessary to happen, I wouldn't need to be at the table. And at least for me, there are roles for public discourse and public protests and so forth. But ultimately, someone's got to write a check. Someone's got to write a bill. Someone's got to change a practice. And so I want to be at the table with that person, because if they're open to making a change, how can I influence that change so it benefits a greater number of people?
Stacy Mayer: Yes, I love the work you're doing. All I can hear is this brilliant combination of public and private sectors. And it's just absolutely awe aspiring. I'm so excited to have met you. And so what has your leadership enabled you to do? I talked at the beginning of this call about maybe some other things that you're working on in your life outside of your day job in Oakland with students. Anything like that that comes to mind that you've been enabled to do because of your leadership?
Everett Harper: It's certainly not just my leadership, it's a variety of people and so forth. I think one of the things I would talk about is, so I'm a dad, I have a teenage daughter. And early in starting the company, I also had an opportunity to help create a public charter Mandarin Immersion School. Public, so it's open to everybody. It's a lottery system and it's Mandarin immersion. They speak 95% Mandarin in kindergarten. And to create it in Oakland. So having black and brown kids speaking fluent Mandarin in Oakland available to everybody was something I never could have dreamed of. But we had the opportunity to be a founding family, so we were one of the founding families and put a lot of work into making that happen. It is now well established. Every year it is one of the top schools in California in English and math. It means there's high quality all the way around. And to shout out my daughter a little bit, she took the AP class in Mandarin or Test in Mandarin and got a four. So she has college credits already and she was only a ninth grader at the time. I couldn't even spell AP until I was a senior, right? It was just a really wonderful thing to be able to create an institution that benefits the public. It's really important for me. So that's one thing. Second, I love cheffing. It's one of the things that I enjoy. Cooking a lot and inventing, and it's a combination of creativity and meditation. There is something about cooking, chopping vegetables and stirring things and so forth, which if I drop in, it's very meditative. There's a reason why the Thich Nhat Hanh quote, wash the dishes to wash the dishes was so impactful for me because it meant that meditation could be something that's done every day in everyday circumstances if you're mindful about your activity. So I enjoy that, both for creativity and the relaxation part of it. I'm really excited about that kind of a thing. And then I'd say the other part, it's not necessarily for Oakland, but I'm on the board of care.org which is an organization that does worldwide global disaster relief and economic anti poverty work. It has been in existence since the end of World War Two. They're the originators of the care package that was flown over to Germany and dropped off in great numbers. And being able to advocate for and support the work particularly focused on women and girls around the world to elevate their status, which tends to elevate the status and elevate the experience of the entire community has been incredibly important to me over the last five years. So we are in Poland and in Ukraine, for example, helping with that humanitarian crisis because it's not just the war. It's the impact on food supply. And a million people have moved from Ukraine to the rest of Europe. How do you accommodate that great movement? So that's been important for me to actually also play a role in.
Stacy Mayer: Wow. So how can people find you on the Internet? Learn more about you?
Everett Harper: I have a website, EverettHarper.com. My company Truss. Truss.works. You can find out a lot more about what we do. We also are hiring. And I'll say a little quick thing. We have a highly diverse organization so half our leadership team and management team are women. We have 35% people of color across the range, 25% LGBTQI. And so yesterday we had an affinity group meeting with some of our folks, black folks at Truss and it was me and eight women, all of whom are experts in design, delivery, engineering. And I was thinking I couldn't have had this many people in a room for all of our companies back in 1996 when I first got here. And so being able to see folks at my own company is just a dream come true. And anybody who comes to the site can see that. So we want some more of that. Please join us. And then finally on Twitter, Everett Harper. IG Everett Harper. I have them all the same so there isn't anything else to remember.
Stacy Mayer: And obviously your book, which we'll link to in the show notes as well.
Everett Harper: Thanks. And it's available from all places as well as audio book and as an e-book. So any form you want it, you can get it. And please, if you read it, let me know how it went. Leave a review, write me directly and say I disagree or I agree because that's exciting. And it creates new conversations, which I really value.
Stacy Mayer: One more thing before we go. So an up and coming leader looking to get ahead in their career. What is one final piece of advice that you would have for them as they continue to grow?
Everett Harper: Two pieces of advice. One. Train for discomfort. Put yourself in situations that you're uncomfortable. Not like crazy uncomfortable. But be aware and intentionally choose things and then learn from how did I react to that discomfort? Because if you're a leader, you're going to be uncomfortable and the world needs leaders who can deal with that and think clearly and bring others along. I think the second is work on your purpose. There's a whole section of the book called The Purpose Playbook, but it helps really articulate what one is about and helps make decision making a lot easier. Because if you have, again, two great choices, but one elevates your purpose and accelerates your purpose. And the other is really enjoyable, but it doesn't accelerate that purpose. You know which one to do.
Stacy Mayer: Everett, this conversation today has been super inspiring. So grateful to have you here.
Everett Harper: It's been fun. It's good to go back and forth. I can see you improvising halfway through. So, like, okay, let's roll. Let's do it.
Stacy Mayer: Thanks again.
Everett Harper: All right. Thank you.
About Your Host
Hi! I'm Stacy Mayer, a Certified Executive Coach and Promotion Strategist on a mission to bring more diversity to the leadership table by getting 1000 underrepresented corporate managers promoted into senior executive positions each year worldwide.
I help undervalued executives scale to the C-Suite using repositioning strategies that build your confidence and visibility, so you can earn the recognition and support you need from key stakeholders while embodying your unique leadership style.
My podcast “Women Changing Leadership with Stacy Mayer” tackles topics like executive communication, getting more respect in the workplace from challenging bosses and team members, and avoiding the common mistakes that sabotage career advancement.
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