Ep #8: Leading Through Service: A Conversation with Philip June

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One of my goals with this podcast is to inspire you to build your corporate career in a way that if you look back in 10 years and have no regrets.  Today’s episode shows you exactly how to do that and more.

Philip is the perfect example of what it looks like to be an exceptional leader while also being yourself.  He is the Senior Director of Engineering for the Southern California Design Center in Long Beach, CA for the Boeing Company and he exemplifies a servant leadership approach that has helped him not only advance his career but to inspire other leaders along the way.

The old way of leadership is gone and authentic leadership is not only paving the way but it’s becoming expected.

In today’s interview, you will learn exactly how taking servant based approach not only helps you get the best out of your team but also inspires you to do your best work.  Leading through service shows others the authentic you and gives you energy to do what you do every day.  It reminds you of what really matters and helps you see people as people even during challenging times.

It’s easy to say you should always connect your work to a higher purpose but Philip actively does that every single day.

Listen to find out how you can do that too.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Exactly what a servant leadership approach looks like in action
  • How you can role model this approach for others
  • How connecting to a deeper purpose also inspires you to do your best work
  • How to get your team to perform at a higher level than even they expected
  • How you can also adapt this 21st century form of leadership

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Transcript:

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Stacy: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer. I have a very special guest today and I’m really excited to introduce him. I met Philip a couple of years ago, actually, and I remember when I met him, he just has such a passion for the work that he does, and leadership in general. Just in the short time that I got to know him, I could tell that he really stands for something in his leadership role, and I wanted to bring him on my podcast today so that we could think a little bit more about as we’re moving up the ranks into higher level leadership positions, why do we do the work that we do? Why do we want to be in a leadership position and what is the impact that we’re truly able to make? So Philip is a senior leader and let me introduce him here and then we’ll just dive right in. He has worked all over the world in his short 13-year career. He describes his style as servant leadership – we’ll learn more about that in a minute – and believes that this style of leadership is the Swiss army knife of all leadership styles. He’s read a lot of leadership and motivational books but believes if good leaders do two things every day, they can be successful: care about people and don’t fake it. Yes. Care about people and don’t fake it. And if someone asks you for help, then give it to them. I love this already. Philip, are you there?

Philip: I am. Hey.

Stacy: Thank you.

Philip: It’s great to be here.

Stacy: Oh, my gosh. It’s so exciting. I really love it. I love the intro. It already sparks so many thoughts, so many questions. I’ve actually heard this term and I know that a lot of organizations are actually introducing the idea of servant leadership into their organization as a way, but I still think it’s something new to a lot of people. So can you just describe what does servant leadership mean and then we’ll get into the interview a little bit.

Philip: Well, servant leadership means, to me– and I try and sum it up in those sort of two pretty short statements. I normally end large meetings with those two statements, but caring about people and not faking it is something that really speaks to everyone. It’s sort of an adaptor to people that you come across in all walks of life, not only at work. It is a feeling that is communicated in a really non-verbal way, but helps lower people’s defences, helps ensure that they feel like they’re on a level playing field in terms of communication, and it really speaks to how you can really get the best out of people. I add the don’t fake it part in because oftentimes, we’ve all seen folks in different walks of life that they pretend to care about other people and maybe they’ve learned to pretend to care about other people, but it’s really got to come from a genuine place because the mask will slip at some point when you least expect it, and once that happens, you’ll be exposed. And so I think it also speaks to just being authentic in your care for people. And then the second piece around, really, when someone asked you for help, you give it to them, there’s no guarantee that you can always help, from a leadership position or any particular role, but one thing I try and do is if I can’t provide the type of help that individual’s requesting, then I walk with them a bit down the road to make sure that they’ve got somebody else they can plug into, or I put them in touch with somebody who I think can help them. And that really leaves them feeling supported and in a position where they can do their best work. And so serving leadership to me is really just connecting to my deeper purpose, the deeper purpose I feel for why I am even on this planet; it’s really to serve. It reflects my personal belief system and really gives me energy every morning to get up and do what I do every day.

Stacy: Yeah. You talked a little bit about how it helps the people, but what I can hear too is that not only does it help your team and it helps other people do better work because they want to think about that you actually care about them, but it helps you.

Philip: Absolutely. My experience has been if you take care of the people that you lead, then they’ll take care of you. They won’t let you drive in the ditches or make big mistakes, but they’ll also help you identify great opportunities for the whole team to succeed, and a rising tide lifts our boat. So if I’m focused on making sure that they’ve got everything they need – and this includes my family, by the way; they benefit from some of this ideology as well – so as long as I take care of them, they’ll take care of me. There’s great, open, and honest communication; there’s transparency. And when that happens, you can really get a team to perform at a higher level than even they expected. So that all shows up.

Stacy: Amazing. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and then you’ve also talked about it as an unspoken skill, right, so it’s something that it’s just caring about people. People feel heard. But then you said, “I end every meeting with this”, so tell us a little bit more about that because that seems like something that they actually hear from you.

Philip: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, at this point, I lead other leaders and so it’s an expectation that I have for them as well, that they have take on a bit of this ideology, if you will, this leadership philosophy, and that they extend this down to their leaders and those leaders extend it down.

Stacy: So you are literally telling them, this is what I’m actively doing.

Philip: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Stacy: Yeah. Because it makes it repeatable, right? So then this is my expectation, this is also my expectation for you.

Philip: I don’t want them to hold me accountable to what I’m saying that I’m about. So, again, it’s about authenticity, it’s about showing up as your full self and really believing it. I also believe that it helps gets you through tough times, to remember that you’re there to serve and that that’s part of the larger mission. Most of the time in leadership, things aren’t going great. I know people like to talk about the great heights that leaders can ascend to and how great the view is from the top, but a lot of leaders don’t talk about the fact that most of the time, you’re in a valley or you’re climbing that mountain. So it’s a lot of hard work, and so if you’re not in a position where you’re not attached to your purpose in an authentic way, I think it becomes very to show up to work every day and bring it.

Stacy: Right, exactly. And that’s also why we have these otherwise very talented, high achieving individuals who refuse to do that because they’re like, “Well, I’m not interested in climbing the corporate ladder and leaving everybody behind in my wake.” And that’s what they see other leaders doing. And so to have role models like you, to have people in this servant-leadership philosophy inspires them to rise up, like you said, like to things that they never even believed that they were capable of doing.

Philip: No, I believe that in this, I’d say in this new age, it’s the 21st-century form of leadership that’s really going to carry us for the next number of decades. The types of leadership that we may have had in the past, I just don’t think they work anymore. If you look at the speed of innovation that we need, the speed of trust, and transparency that’s required to really excel in a world that’s moving this fast, I think you’ve got to be able to close what I talk about a lot, which is the power distance index. I think you’ve really got to close that gap. And so to do that, you’ve got to be authentic. You’ve got to be thinking about what’s the broader purpose and mission. But you’ve got to be people-centric in how you show up every day.

Stacy: So speaking of that, so you rose the ranks fairly quickly. I mean, at least you started out as the engineering level, but then you went right into management pretty early on in your career. Is this the path that you always knew that you wanted to take?

Philip: I would say early on, no. I was always told that you had to make a choice between being a technical type person or being a manager, which is a term I don’t use often because–

Stacy: Nice, that’s telling. Yeah.

Philip: Yeah, I mean, I just that a lot of folks can manage. And being a leader is something much deeper and is a higher calling. But I would say my interest in being a people leader goes back to my childhood and my parents consistently really pushing me to take on leadership roles, even in literally, Youth Leadership classes that I took in junior high, in high school. I come from the era of the 4H clubs. So that was–

Stacy: Nice.

Philip: –fourth grade, making sure you’re showing up as a leader in elementary school. So I think it’s been sort of baked into my DNA over time. But really, it just came from– I had an opportunity to really represent my peers and the team that I was a part of and I wanted us to get better and have really a seat at the table. And so that’s what really gave me the– I’d say that was the first sort of experience I had connecting with a deeper purpose around leading people in a work environment.

Stacy: Right. And so then you were able to see, oh, okay, I can be this voice. They need me to be this voice for them so that I can help them rise up.

Philip: That’s exactly right.

Stacy: Oh, that’s great.

Philip: I really wanted to just make sure that our work environment was one in which we could do our best work.

Stacy: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about managers, people that you may even have on your team or people who think of themselves, especially when we go from a technical expertise. So this is a lot about the work that I do. I get a lot of clients that are really good at their job that kind of become managers based on their expertise, but then they’re trying to learn how to become leaders. So what is your recommendation and skills that these types of “managers” need to start learning so that they can truly become that leader?

Philip: I’d say the first thing, just from my own experience I learned was, as often as you’d like to believe you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re not as smart as everybody in the room. And so you get a much better result when you’re curious about things you don’t know. It really does not diminish you at all to ask questions and say, “Hey, I don’t know what that means. Can you help me understand.” Oftentimes what that communicates to the rest of the team is, one, you’re confident in yourself in your own abilities, such that you can ask a question and be upfront about what you don’t know. Two, it helps bring them into the decision-making process, it helps make them feel a part of the whole situation, a part of the team. And so I’d say the first thing is, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re not the smartest person in the room. Because the problem with that approach is that it doesn’t scale. So if you have ambitions to lead larger teams, eventually you’re going to get to a point where you’re leading a team in an area where you’ve never worked. And so you really need to rely on the experts in those areas. You need their input. And it’s really two-way dialogue. So just involving team being curious, I’d say the second thing I really learned was how to solve conflict because there will be conflict. I, for example, became a leader in a team I’ve been a part of before.

Stacy: Oh, sure.

Philip: And so becoming a leader, which I think happens fairly often, becoming a leader of your peers comes with a whole set of dynamics and I’ve been in a situation where I got into it with one of guys that I was leading early on. And I did it in front of the rest of the team. And so that was a great lesson that I learned in terms of how not to handle conflict, and how to make sure that I view everybody as being capable, resourceful, and whole, which actually comes in handy with me having a teenager in my house.

Stacy: Yeah–

Philip: I have to tell myself that he’s capable, resourceful, and whole [laughter]. But expecting the best out of people and recognizing that everyone wants to do a good job, that’s important. And I can go on and on. But I’d say those are the two biggest things and just taking a breath and understanding where you used to be an individual contributor and you could point to a tangible thing you did every day. Oftentimes, you can go weeks without feeling like as a new leader, feeling like you actually put any– scored any points or did something tangible and so you–

Stacy: You get told what you’re doing wrong a lot, right?

Philip: That’s true. And that’s why I think connecting to purpose is really important.
Stacy: Yeah. And so in terms of that support, so when the high here you move up, right? You have less and less of these little kudos that you get along the way, and these pats on the back. So do you have any advice about mentors that have really helped support you? Or any work that you’re doing yourself as a mentor to help bring up other people?
Philip: I spend, I would say, a quarter of my time at least– some weeks it’s more, some weeks it’s less, but on average about a quarter of my time mentoring early-career folks that either want to move into leadership or are sort of at the crossroads. It’s very important to me, being in a, I’d say, underrepresented group in leadership that I help them understand what it is and what it isn’t. The advice that I’ve gotten over the years has really helped me shape– not necessarily exactly what steps I should take, but my thought process around where I’d like to be. I often encourage early-career folks and even mid-career engineers to think about where they would like to end up and think about where their passions lie and then work backwards. And so this really helps–

Stacy: So you’re saying go 10 years out, right? So that, or what do you mean exactly?

Philip: Yeah. I mean, so I ask the question, “What position would you like to retire from?” And I ask this question only to put them in a space of projecting forward in a way that gets them sort of out of their current situation and out of where their headset is and their mindset is right at that moment.

Stacy: And it’s sort of like what you talked about, the management mentality doesn’t scale. And so you’re pointing out right now, “Oh, this is your work ahead of you,” right? “In order to become a leader, if that is in fact where you want to go, then these are the things that you can start doing now.”

Philip: That’s right. And so that’s why it’s important for us to work backwards from there and make it a bit more local. But I like to ask that question because it also gives me some indication about how big they’re thinking about themselves and how they feel about themselves. Because self-confidence is ultimately what sustains you when the kudos start to dry up and the back-slapping starts to slow down. It’s really about how do you feel about yourself and your capabilities, and again, it keeps coming back to purpose. How are you really being driven? Why are you getting out of bed in the morning and how do you want to show up? Not only for yourself but for others.

Stacy: And you talked about your family a little bit. I mean, you’re a family person. I recognized that when I met you and I could tell that your family means a lot to you. And you also work really, really hard. So how do you balance that for yourself, and what is it that makes you be available for both your family, but then fully be available at work?

Philip: That’s a great question. I’d say it’s taken me a number of years to get to a point where I felt like I had a really good, balanced cadence. And I actually want to strike that. Not balanced. Integrated.

Stacy: There you go. I like that word too.

Philip: It’s much better.

Stacy: It does make a difference.

Philip: Balanced, it’s a fallacy, right? It’s a belief that you can be at work 50% of the time, and at home 50% of the time. Life just doesn’t work that way. But it really starts with one– I made a commitment to myself early on that if I was going to aggressively pursue a career and executive positions, then I would also bring equal amounts, if not more energy to my family because I rejected the idea that it was a trade-off. I think it’s a false choice.

Stacy: Yes.

Philip: I do believe you can do both.

Stacy: Yes.

Philip: And so to that end, over the years I’ve really put together what some people think is a crazy cadence, or regiment, but I’m a really– I do things habitually. I’m a routine person. And so just to walk you through my day–

Stacy: Great.

Philip: –I usually wake up around 3:50 AM [laughter].

Stacy: Already my mind’s blown. Okay. You got me there [laughter].

Philip: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been doing it since high school, since middle school.

Stacy: Okay.

Philip: So it’s not so hard for me now. It’s a habit. So 3:50-4:00 AM rise, I usually take about 25 to 30 minutes of quiet time. For me that’s reading the Bible, but I think you can put it in any sort of meditative sort of exercise. But it’s just really a time to get centered, reconnect with the purpose, make sure that you are in a good space to start the day. So that usually runs till about 4:25-4:30. At that point, I exercise for about 40 to 45 minutes. Either I go for a run, or maybe some yoga, or a lot of bodyweight exercise, just to stay fit. Then it’s usually a quick shower, dressed, [just?] the wife and kids and then I’m in the car. I’m usually in the office between 6:00 AM, 6:10. And then I’ve gotten into the habit of starting my day with my agenda. And by that I mean most folks get into the office, and they launch right into following up on emails. Well, you set your agenda based on somebody else’s desires for your time. And so I don’t do that. I start with, “All right, what am I looking forward to in the day?” I go through my meetings, I look at areas where I want to push forward, or where I have questions about the subject matter. And then usually by 7:00 am, the meetings start, and I’m often running, and maybe I’ll get lunch, maybe I won’t. But I’m usually home by 4:00 PM.

Stacy: 4:00 PM. Yeah. So here’s the thing that I find so fascinating. And I’ve experienced this in my own life with meditation. It’s that when you want to get more space, more freedom, you actually add things into your life. So we think that we just have to subtract it and get more time miraculously. But you’ve just described this four-hour regimen before you even walk into the office. So you’ve actually added something to your morning, so that you can have more space throughout the day.

Philip: Well, and it pays back in– the return on investment over time is just– I mean, it’s hard to calculate. Because if you think about how much more productive I am in the morning, compared to others that may leave things for the afternoon, they have to wait a cycle for any questions to come back to them. And so I do just want to stipulate what I’m saying by, I have this cadence and this routine, because the bulk of my energy and my best stuff comes in the morning. So I know myself enough to know that I really bring great energy before lunch.

Stacy: And I would say a lot of people do as well. And so when we start our mornings by checking emails and reacting to little problems, we’re not able to tap into that side of ourselves, our brain that’s actually able to think strategically at that early part of the day anyway.

Philip: That’s right, I would say. I would tell you that my wife is not a morning person. Most of her energy comes later.

Stacy: So not everybody.

Philip: Yeah. And so I try to encourage her to set up most of her activities, or at least her labor-intensive activities when she’s got her best energy.

Stacy: So it’s about making choices. Knowing yourself and making strong choices about it.

Philip: That’s right. Absolutely. Now there’s another benefit – I’d say just one last thing too – to this routine. And I often do a similar but scaled back routine on Saturday and Sundays. It helps me to get work done on the fringes. And I say that because on Saturday, for instance, the families up and they want to do something by 8:00 AM. So if I’m up by 5:00 or 6:00 and I can knock out a few hours of work before they wake up, I’m not consumed by those things when it’s family time. I’m all family when that happens. I don’t log in when I get home from work. And I think that’s fair game. I think for far to long, society has suggested that if you don’t work 12 or 14 hour days for years on end, you won’t move up. Well, that’s not true.

Stacy: Yeah. And you’re a role model for your team to encourage them to do the same, which then ripples out to the people who work for them. And then that’s the hope is that you can actually– that’s the biggest amount of change that you can have in your organization.

Philip: I try and be the– I try and walk the talk and not just talk it.

Stacy: Yeah, yeah. So you talked, when I introduced you, about reading a lot of motivational books and talks and stuff. So I’m just super curious about what you’re reading, what you’re thinking about now, any sort of philosophical or leadership principles that you’re learning that we could take from you and go out to Amazon and buy that book or something?

Philip: Well, I’ve been looking for a kickback from these thoughts [laughter]. But what I’m reading right now is really very much like first-hand accounts from pretty significant figures either in history, from prior history, or contemporary really exceptional folks. Right now I’m reading a book by Samantha Power who was UN ambassador during the Obama administration. I recently finished a book by Colin Powell called It Worked for Me.

Stacy: So you’re talking about reading leadership books that aren’t leadership books. These are leaders, right?

Philip: That’s right. Because I’ve worked my way through a lot of leadership books; Good to Great, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, and all the Covey books and a lot of Peter Drucker. I mean I’ve been through lots of those, and they’re great books. It’s just at this point, I’m past the 10,000-hour mark on people leadership. And so I’m really trying to get into the PhD level class on leadership.

Stacy: Yes, yes. Absolutely. No. I love it. So is there that person in your life whether it’s a figure that you never met, but just somebody that just taught you what it means to be a leader?

Philip: Yeah. I mean, it might sound a little corny and cliched, but, really, my father has been throughout my life just a great role model of servant leadership. It’s probably not an abnormal story but I’ll tell it anyway. I mean, my father had rheumatoid arthritis from a pretty young age. And three children, wife, that he’s making enough for my mom to be at home to make sure we can get to all the baseball practices and everything which was a real privilege. But my father’s rheumatoid arthritis was at times, I know, very difficult for him to wake up and go into work. And he was also a people leader. So he had all those dynamics to deal with as well plus raising a family.

And so watching him day in and day out serve us as a family, serve at work, was active in church and in the community, and to do all of that through physical pain and to know that over time, that really wears you down. So he had to be really strong mentally and spiritually. He’s been and continues to be a great role model for me, and he really keeps me grounded even as I continue to move up to help me understand what’s truly important and that there’s no ego in this game. There can’t be. But I do believe that as soon as I– as soon as I let ego in and let it take over and I forget why I’m here on this planet, as soon as I forget that, then I do think my upward trajectory stops, and it should.

Stacy: Yeah. Wow. That gave me goosebumps. I thought about your teenager as well [laughter] like, “Oh, thinking about you,” and just it all comes around, and it’s really beautiful.

Philip: Absolutely. Let’s hope so.

Stacy: So [laughter] before we go, do you have any advice for people who– we talked a little bit about the skills to move from management into leadership. But just people sometimes feel like they get stuck. They get stuck by their particular situation or their boss, something that’s happening and they just can’t get ahead in their career. They see it. They know they could be a better leader. They want to serve, but they’re just not able to actually make that transition. What would be your biggest piece of advice for them?

Philip: I’d say take risks and go out on a limb because that’s where the fruit is. It’s been my experience that the universe tends to reward those that are bold. Make a plan. Don’t leave it to chance. And really put yourself out there and go after what you want, especially if you feel like that’s where your purpose lies. Trust that. I’d say have faith that you’ll find the right opportunity, but just persevere through anything that you face. And when you ultimately get that opportunity, give it everything you got every day.

Stacy: I love it. Wow. This interview has been so fantastic. It’s everything I dreamed of when I met you a few years ago [laughter]. And I just want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing this wisdom with us today. It’s very inspiring. Thank you.

Philip: This is great. Thanks for having me.

About Your Host

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Hi, I’m Stacy Mayer, a Leadership Coach for emerging executives who are ready to take their career to the next level or seeking more fulfillment in their current organizational roles.

I help corporate managers reposition themselves to advance their careers, build confidence in their ability to solve problems in real-time, and step into their higher leadership potential so they can make a bigger impact in their organizations.

And I can help you do that too!

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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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