Imagine working in a toxic workplace where you’ve recently laid off a third of your employees and the company is on the verge of bankruptcy. Then a few weeks later, that toxic leader pulls the rest of the leadership team into a conference room for a “all hands on deck” meeting, where he starts the meeting by stating that he loves this team and he cares about all of them. Sounds strange? Well, according to Jeff Ma and Frank Danna, co-authors of Love as a Business Strategy, they thought someone had swapped bodies with their CEO. But, it turns out that this CEO, and fellow co-author of the eventual book, found the motivation to change his behavior and transform himself, and the team, so that they led with love in how they worked with each other, and with their clients. It ultimately saved their business, and their relationships with each other.
Jeff Ma stresses that they are still on the journey into this transformation and that it doesn’t get easier, it actually gets harder. There has to be tough conversations where co-workers commit to the accountability that they have for one another. Honesty is stressed over harmony. And as Ma puts it, “it sucks sometimes to be honest.” Otherwise you end up with what Frank Danna calls “unforgiveness.” That situation where, because the issue is never addressed, it festers and causes a rift, and that unforgiveness grows and grows. So stressing honesty over harmony prevents this air of unforgiveness and leads to a better work environment.
We discuss the six-pillars defined in the book:
  • Inclusion
  • Empathy
  • Vulnerability
  • Trust
  • Empowerment
  • Forgiveness
Even in the law firm environment, Love as a Business Strategy has a place and can improve the overall performance and culture in the workplace.

Listen on mobile platforms:  Apple Podcasts LogoApple Podcasts |  Spotify LogoSpotify
Links Mention:
Contact Us
Twitter: @gebauerm or @glambert
Voicemail: 713-487-7270

Marlene Gebauer 0:19
Welcome to The Geek in Review, the podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene Gebauer,

Greg Lambert 0:26
And I’m Greg Lambert. Well, this week, we’ve got a couple of fantastic guests who I think dovetail very nicely with the theme that we have here on innovation and creativity. And that is the love that we have for what we do for the innovation and creativity in the legal industry. In fact, they both co wrote the book Love as a Business Strategy, and discusses why creating a culture of love is so important to an organization. So we’d like to welcome Jeff Ma and Frank Danna, co authors of Love as a Business Strategy and the founders of culture plus, Jeff and Frank, welcome to The Geek in Review. Hello, thanks for having us.

Jeff Ma 1:07
Really great to be here.

Frank Danna 1:08
Thank you.

Jeff Ma 1:08
So I met Jeff at a local Houston podcasters event about a month ago. And unlike anyone at this gig, Jeff had a book he co authored and you know, not just any book, this book is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller entitled Love as a Business Strategy, resilience, belonging and success. Jeff, can you give us a bit of background about how the book came to be?

Jeff Ma 1:29
Yeah, first of all, I happened to have a box of books in my trunk. That day, I went to the podcast event, everyone else had all this podcast swag. They had like stickers and all this other stuff. And I’m like, Man, I gotta make those. What do I have? And I opened my trunk. And it’s I’m just gonna get these books. I’m just gonna start.

Marlene Gebauer 1:47
Everyone’s loved the books. Everyone was like rushing in for the books. You know,

Greg Lambert 1:51
I can see Jeff running back to to his car and pop in the trunk and

Frank Danna 1:56
sprint, sprint.

Jeff Ma 1:57
I did. I made multiple trips. Yes. That’s the book. The book itself, though, was a labor of love, no pun intended. People ask us often, like, what’s it like riding with for authors? And it’s as fun as it sounds. Do tell. But But yeah, it took it took us almost a year to write. But mostly in our nights and in our weekends and our, our extra spare time. It was during the pandemic. So it was a lot of yeah, very beginning of the pandemic. Yeah, so it was a lot of late night calls and collaboration. But it came about because we always had a story to tell, I think we always joked, if you will about having a book. It’s something that talks about what we work so hard on every day. And everything we do in our business and culture plus is founded in our practices in our application in our lives, essentially. So we’d never claim to be these, you know, research scientists or professionals in that sense. We claim to be people who have lived a very unique story in life and learned a lot from it. We just like to share that. And so the book was a natural way to get that in front of people and share that story and spread that message.

Marlene Gebauer 3:13
Frank, how about you?

Frank Danna 3:15
It was a very interesting prospect when we got to our editors, and we’re like, Hey, we’re planning on writing this book, we have four authors, like Jeff mentioned, and they basically told us no, like, don’t write a book before authors. And we’re like, why not? Well, it was a problem. This is not enough. Do you need a dozen? You need a baker’s dozen? Like, how many do you need. And they were very adamant about the fact that even with two authors, it’s very hard to get a book off the ground, because there has to be alignment within the you know, the individuals writing it, there needs to be this connection and this kind of motivation to go forward. And to make sure that the actual book is cohesive, yeah, the voice has to sound it has to sound cohesive, right. And they were like, we just don’t know if that’s gonna be possible for you guys. And the good thing is that we were all aligned philosophically. And so once we had gotten past that massive hurdle of being philosophically connected and aligned to what we wanted to say, the book became, how do we add different facets from different people’s perspectives to really give this the meat it needed. And so we had the structure, because we had the stories we wanted to tell. And then we were able to dig into those stories a little bit more and go forward from this common vision of writing a book that is really centered on everything we’re passionate about as a team of people. So it ultimately wasn’t as hard as it sounds. But at the same time, it was a very unique experience.

Greg Lambert 4:37
I know that doing a four member collaboration is not easy in almost anything, especially when you’re essentially I guess I would say peers, but you still need I think probably someone to kind of spearhead things and move things along. Frank who Who do you think that one person was? They kind of kept everyone moving?

Frank Danna 4:58
Well, I will say we did have a project manager that was helping us. So the us being able to do this by ourselves would have been impossible. But we did have a project manager who was like, you’re supposed to be working on this chapter today, you know. So it was very helpful. And that actually was extremely beneficial to us. So no one.

Marlene Gebauer 5:19
So I was reading the book and I was kind of open mouth reading it, it was it was like really brutal in some places. And you know, enough, if I’m really being totally honest, it was, it was kind of cringy and very compelling. So, you know, I’m thinking about the layoff story that leads to the love is a business strategy transformation, the refrigerator note, the screaming meeting story and the office wandering first day story, many of us have had something, you know, at least similar happened to us during our career. And, you know, while we might share these stories with friends, and without naming names, you know, you guys are very transparent, you know, you name the actual people in the scenarios, and I just felt that was incredibly brave of those people to allow that. I mean, how did they get to a spot where they were comfortable with it? And do you consider that a critical part of the publication?

Jeff Ma 6:14
Well, well, first of all, cringy and compelling is the new tagline, I’m gonna cringe and compelling. From now on, when I introduce his book, that’s the best, that’s the best compliment I’ve gotten. But when it comes to, to answer your question, it comes to people in the book, most of the stories in the book in the book is 95% stories just centered around the four of us. So usually, it’s something we did wrong or experienced, something that we had to learn the hard way, things like that. The people who are mentioned otherwise, that are involved in the story, or either, you know, directly asked or talked about or discussed with other people, we didn’t even mention names, or we got we kept it kind of vague. So for the most part, I think all the kind of really cringy stuff centers around the four of us. But yes, there was some courage and people allowing that. And I think it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t a tough conversation. Because if you work closely with us, if you work within the elements of the story, it’s an entirely true book. It’s it doesn’t hold anything back. And it’s kind of a way, it kind of is voiced in the way that we kind of live our lives out regularly. So no one’s ever asked me that actually find that very interesting. And I think it’s a good sign to me that it’s weird to others. Because, yeah, cringy cringy is kind of what we’re going for.

Frank Danna 7:34
I think, like, when we first started writing the book, none of us are really fans of business books. Because most of the time, what you get is this, like perfect, kind of aspirational story around like, here’s all the things I’ve done correctly, and how bad you are at what you that is not what we wanted to write, what we wanted to write was, here’s all the ways we’ve screwed up and made mistakes, hopefully you see yourselves in our stories, right? And that coming from a very, like personal place, is the reason why we did it. Because we wanted people to see themselves in it and go, Oh, my gosh, I’ve felt that I’ve received that email, I’m, I’ve been left off of meeting invites, and then yelled at because of it. Like, those are real things that happen to real people all the time. And it was our objective, to make this book as real as possible to break through some of that fluff that you typically get. And really get to the real meat and potatoes of what it really looks like to be a part of a business or a company and for us. Unfortunately, it was a toxic work environment that we had to overcome as a result of realizing just how bad things were.

Greg Lambert 8:35
Yeah. Well, Marlene, we should write a cringy and brutal book as well.

Marlene Gebauer 8:40
So that’s what I was saying. I mean, as I’m reading these examples, it’s like yep, yup. Like all of that stuff was very, very relatable because it’s happened to me, or it’s happened to someone I know. And that’s why I thought it was just so so compelling.

Greg Lambert 8:57
Well, I wanted to ask Jeff, a question before we got any further into the book itself. And that was, when I was reading your your bio, there was something that stood out to me, that sounded interesting and a lot of fun. And that was you had experience working in the gaming industry. And in your bio, you talk about how you take your experiences with actually being a gamer, and apply that to your life, both in business and in family. So I want to know, how do you take the I guess the experience that you do with gaming and apply that into say, the business world?

Jeff Ma 9:36
Yeah. Wow, love this question. I never get to talk about games anymore. I worked in gaming for just under a decade, I think and doing various things. It started as a thing of passion, obviously, grew up, big fan of games, video games, board games, all those things, and I wanted to work through that but it’s interesting because when it comes to game as my personal belief is that, you know, we all are gamers, all of us, we just play different games in life. I think we all are strategically working through something, we’re trying to move pieces around a board. We’re trying to get to a destination. And I think games highlight that at a very tangible level and put it in a space that we can tangibly see or feel and touch. But all of us are trying to win, right. And I think when you can really appreciate games for what they’re worth, and I have a six year old son, who loves games, just like I always did, and I love it, I encourage it. Because I think when you’re able to figure out how to win, I think you you learn a lot about yourself along the way. And you learn a lot about others around you and how other people play that game. And so I’m really passionate about that, you know, I don’t work in the industry anymore. But I always find that there’s so many parallels to how we engage with the world for fun with how we also should engage with the world for work or for lesser, less fun things. If you

Greg Lambert 11:02
just curious what’s your six year olds favorite game right now?

Jeff Ma 11:05
He likes Zelda Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch, which I like to brag about, because it’s a pretty tough game to play for a six year old.

Greg Lambert 11:13
I remember playing Zelda when the 80s

Jeff Ma 11:17
Yeah, yeah, I tried to give him an older Zelda wasn’t

Frank Danna 11:21
every generation I can I can ask you something. Jeff is a gaming consultant now. So like, first of all,

Greg Lambert 11:26
what does that mean? Back up.

Frank Danna 11:29
Here’s what I mean by that. So anytime we have an event for our team or company, he works with whoever is setting up the event to create the most unique and creative and engaging games like personal engaging, like things we can do together. And for families. So anytime he has a family function, he’s the person who comes up with the the beach games, or the snow games, or whatever it is to make sure that people are having the best time. So for instance, my daughter is 11. We’re going to Colorado this Christmas, she’s going to be calling Jeff to ask him to give him all the variables and ask him what types of games and how scoring should be done for our what she’s calling a reindeer games. So that’s a little bit of how Jeff is integrating his gaming kind of mind, into our family relationships. And everything else he has a game for it already is called Snow tails, everyone.

Marlene Gebauer 12:19
He just showed it to us. He just

Frank Danna 12:21
showed it to us. So there you go.

Greg Lambert 12:23
Cool. Very cool.

Marlene Gebauer 12:25
First of all, first, I think I’m gonna need to be calling Jeff about game ideas. And secondly, I mean, I’d love what you talk about with the whole idea of, you know, people playing games, and people should play more games, because I think it teaches you, you know, how to interact with people how to win and lose gracefully. And I think all of those lessons can be applied very well in the workplace. Yeah,

Greg Lambert 12:51
I’ll give everyone some advice, though. Don’t don’t play air hockey with Marlene. Don’t play. super competitive.

Frank Danna 13:00
Okay, nice.

Greg Lambert 13:04
Oh, well, we’ll get back to the book and talk about one of the things I wanted to bring up before I guess we get into the book is, you talk about love as a business strategy. And you talk a lot about the culture around that and building the culture. And I saw a really interesting quote this week than and I think a lot of people, especially those of us in law firms, I think we’re late to this when when you hear the word culture, sometimes you you know, the the hair on the back of your neck stands up, because for us, a lot of times culture, it is the worst behavior that the management will allow, allow. And that’s the culture for the law firm. But when you talk about love as a business strategy, and Frank, I’ll throw this at you, you know, what are some of those core components of that being a business strategy? And how do you say we should apply those?

Frank Danna 14:05
Well, there’s a reason why we titled The book Love as a Business Strategy, because we wanted it to be a little bit interesting for folks to say like, why is the word love here next to the word business strategy, because we’re not talking about a hallmark rom com where your hot best friend is your soulmate. We’re also not talking about Little House on the Prairie where like, everything is perfect, but there’s no running water. You know what I’m saying? Like, when we talk about love as a business strategy, what we’re actually talking about is putting people at the center of work by creating a workplace that puts humanity first. So these are the tangible actions that are required out of all of us inside of workplaces for people to feel cared for. So a few of the ways we define love as a business strategy is simply doing things out of the care for other people, embracing challenging conversations, building processes, tools and policies that aligns people with profit and growing with others out of accountability and trust. And that’s, that’s really, you know, at the end of the day, that’s what it means to create an environment where love is at the center is when you care for the other, the people around you, you’re creating an environment where people feel like they belong. And when you feel like you belong, you do your best work, you show up when you feel like people care about you and for you. And what we’re trying to prove out is the value of people and the value of profit can be maintained equally, instead of profit being the core focus and people being left behind.

Jeff Ma 15:28
I’ll share this give me on the podcast. When when I when I met Marlene at the podcast meet up. And she said she’s she does a podcast, she says, Oh, Mike, what’s it about? She’s like, well, it’s for it’s for lawyers, and I go, Well, Sign me up. Because no lie in doing this book and trying to bring him into the workplace. I have two kinds of goals, I guess targets if you will, and that’s finance, and lawyers. And it’s not because they’re any, in my opinion, any more challenging or difficult. It’s because they’re the ones that are these are the two kinds of industries that have notoriously been perceived as the antithesis of what we talk about. And I firmly believe that does not need to be the case, as long as you’re human. As long as you’re humans in, you know, doing any type of work. I think we’re all on the same page. I think we’re all at the start, same same place. I want to break the notion that the context of your work, can you make it impossible. And I take that as a challenge to overcome, because I think we all want to be good people. At the end of the day, I think we all want to treat each other in ways that have care. And you know, it doesn’t have to be like Frank said, falling in love with each other and becoming best friends and family members. It’s actually more about just how we care for others.

Greg Lambert 16:56
I think one of the things that as I was reading through the book, you mentioned a lot a lot through the book about resiliency. And I think that’s one of the things that you hear time and time again, when it comes to the legal industry is that, you know, these are super smart people. These are super dedicated people, but they are not very resilient people, they don’t bounce back quickly. And so that’s one of the things that I think that is a big challenge, when a consultant comes into a legal industry that may not be familiar with that to understand. One is, you’re going to always get, well can we take take this three day program and just put it into one day? And then when you get it down to one day, they’re gonna say, well, can’t we really just get this down to two hours? And then, you know, by the time it’s done, they’re negotiating it down? It’s like, what can’t we just do it in an hour and be done? And so those are the those are the two things that I find with the with the legal industry and trying to kind of take a look at themselves and find ways of understanding what are some of the issues that people that are within the industry have as far as growth and actually enjoying not just the work that they do but enjoying the people that they work with, as well?

Marlene Gebauer 18:18
Well, I’ll add on to that, you know, I don’t think that there’s sort of, you’re dealing very high stakes, at, you know, very high pressure, certain types of personalities are drawn to to the law. And when we’re talking when we’re talking, you know, particularly big law. So you have these personality traits that are not necessarily I mean, they’re great for what they do, but not necessarily strong in terms of, you know, interpersonal, in terms of introspection. And so I think that’s a lot of, of where the challenges come up, because, you know, between the personality traits, and then the high pressure stakes, it makes it a real real challenge to to address.

Jeff Ma 19:05
Agreed, and we work a lot in actually the medical field, which also contains many of the same traits. And so I’m not unfamiliar with that type of personality, if you will, or those types of people. But I think we often write people off, I guess, I think what I’ve seen is that we have a mindset around, you know, if you’re a lawyer, you’ve already been given this personality, this type of ego, this type of everything, all the boxes are checked. And while many of it can be true, or many, many of it, a lot of it has been taught. A lot of it has been caught if you will more than taught as this individual has been going through their journey. I don’t think we give people enough credit for their ability to have a growth mindset, unlearn some things and change because I’ve seen it I believe in the power of it. It may sound a little hokey, but I think we don’t give Do people enough credit when we just say that’s who they are. And that’s just, you know, period. And I think if we were all able to kind of do that a little bit more, whether you’re that person or just someone who works with that person, or someone who’s just talking about lawyers in general, there’s a lot of power in that a lot of power in the world being able to start saying, we all have the power to change, we all have the ability to change.

Marlene Gebauer 20:22
Frank, what was the transformation of your company? Like, you know, what are some of the key takeaways? You know, we’ve been talking about all of these things, and how challenging it is. So, you know, how was it like for you all,

Frank Danna 20:35
you know, we had the massive layoffs that we talked about in the book, in a very inhumane way, we laid off about a third of our staff. And that came by way of this kind of toxic behavior that was allowed, at the senior most level, the CEO, one of the co authors, Muhammad Anwar. And a few weeks after he goes through this massive layoff where we have to kind of let all these people go, and the entire team is completely kind of disheveled and distraught. The company is close to bankruptcy, he calls us into a room. And we think we’re our jobs are almost over, we think we’re just done. Right. And he, he actually opens up by saying that he loves us, and that he cares about us. And I remember like sitting in the room literally thinking like, what happened to Muhammad? What is going on? Like Jeff was like,

Jeff Ma 21:26

Frank Danna 21:27
Did someone like swap his body with someone else. And it turns out that I’m not going to give you all the details. But he went to this incredible football game, because you have U of H here in Houston, his alma mater, and the coach of the team spoke after this incredible game, come back this incredible fourth quarter comeback about the love that the team had for each other and the support that they had. And Muhammad was so inspired by that, that he was like, Do I really love my team, it turns out, he didn’t, at all. And it was clear because of how he was treating people and how the leadership was treating everyone else. And what ended up happening as a result of that was a lot of people thought, this is a flavor of the month, he’s just going to start acting in slightly different ways. But he’s still that he’s still the same guy with the same bad behavior, and he’s not really going to change. And then weeks, and then months, and then years go by and steadily throughout this entire kind of transition, we start seeing someone emerge that was very different than where he started. And it started with little things like he’d walk around and share his lunch with people. And it was very strange, because he’d be like, do you have food today? Well, here, let me give you some of my food, like he would he would be the one cleaning up the floor. After we’d have team gatherings and there was cake or stuff on the ground, he would be practicing this in secret, and slowly transforming himself and the way he behaved. And then over time, we started experiencing that in the way that we actually handle our clients and the way that we handle ourselves and the way that we deliver projects. And it continued to improve our organization. And so this one moment where he walked into the room and said, Hey, I love you all, really created a catalyst event, where there were there were folks who believed it, and started to actually see him kind of walk it out. And others who said, I don’t want to have anything to do with a company that says love. And we were able to overcome all the odds as a result of our behaviors changing. And ultimately, our business outcomes change as a result.

Marlene Gebauer 23:27
But I like that you say practicing like you know you practice it. So this is not just something that, you know, it just happens overnight. This is something that you practice and you continually practice every day. You know, it’s every day that you do that. So I like I like that phrasing.

Jeff Ma 23:45
I think it’s important as well, because a lot of people always frame questions for us, like, hey, what’s it like now that you’ve transformed? Or what was it like, and I think it’s important to start with, we’re still, we’re still on our journey. And it actually doesn’t get easier, it actually gets harder, because getting uncomfortable needs to be the norm as you get as you move through these types of things. And so, whereas Frank and I could have just been co workers and just really good work buddies, joking about the same things, movies and pop culture. Now, we have to have tough conversations to if we if we really want to keep on the right track and commit to the accountability that we have for each other. We have to step outside and say, Hey, Frank, what you said or did there was upsetting and upset me in these ways, things that, you know, you might be like, Why would you do that at work, but that’s how Frank and I stay closed. Right? That’s how Frank and I can work. With love. It’s actually harder. It’s actually not easier. So that’s something to kind of demystify for people in terms of what love at the workplace looks like. It’s it sucks sometimes to be honest.

Frank Danna 24:58
Yeah. And you know what? The unspoken things that ends up happening in every work environment is unforgiveness, you start, you go through this situation, and there’s something you want to tell a colleague, because they wronged you, or they did something behind your back. Maybe you think that they intended to hurt you in some capacity, and you never talked about it cuz you’re not close enough, because you have that relationship, you don’t have that, you know, alignment with them. You haven’t practiced it and worked on it. And so now there’s just this rift, and that unforgiveness continues to grow and grow and grow. And then over months or years, this is the person you cannot stand. This is the person you never want to be in a room with. And guess what happens? work suffers, the product you’re trying to deliver to your clients, whatever it is, it suffers when people haven’t forgiven each other when people don’t talk about those critical things. So the way we behave, does have an impact on business outcomes, it does have an impact on how our clients are experiencing us and how we’re experiencing ourselves. So it’s harder, but it’s valuable.

Greg Lambert 25:52
I think, a lot of times, you know, the mind wants to fill in the blanks of an incomplete story. And so, you know, it’s kind of is kind of like, if you’re like me, sometimes you’re in the shower, and you’re thinking, Oh, here’s what I should have said, and then I build up this whole story of everything that is going on. But whether it’s you know, reality or not, my brain has filled in those gaps. So we have a saying here that, you know, all problems are communication problems. And I think that it really kind of relays into that if you’re not communicating, then you’ve got a problem.

Jeff Ma 26:31
I would add to that, I think all problems are communication problems, for sure. But all communication problems or relationship problems, because you can be the best communicator in the world, though without a relationship, it can still come off the wrong way. You can be as clear as you think you are with all the intent, you know, coming into the situation that you want. But it doesn’t stop us from, like you said, filling in any blanks we want. Sometimes there could be no blanks, we can make our own blanks, because we want to hear something. And I think it comes down to a genuine relationship. It doesn’t mean again, best friends or you know, like close to that type relationship. But knowing people beyond the context of just what they present to you is what a relationship is, is a little bit of closeness, right? I think the director of Finding Nemo Andrew Stanton has famously said, there’s no one you can love once you know their story. And I find that to be incredibly true because we there’s a million reasons why we can not get along. But if you hear about where people come from, what type of you know, family, they’ve had the type of hurt, they’ve had the type of love, they’ve had the type of, we all have those stories, we all live real human lives, we live incredible human lives. And we forget that because we work together Now all you are is a spreadsheet, a document a signature on a dotted line, because you need something from me. But we all go home to families, we all go home to friends and loss and suffering and these types of things. And that that stuff is not welcome at our workplace too often. But why? Because without it, we’re not being ourselves. Without it, we’re not able to bring who we’re meant to be, to do something great that we can do. And so it’s just, it’s just something that some some people have trouble wrapping their heads around and getting along with, but every time it’s proven true that when you can do that, when you can allow that part to enter this forbidden workplace space, good things come, people come together, we as humans were designed to connect that way we’re designed to integrate with each other that way, you know, as a society as, as a social structure. It’s a powerful thing.

Marlene Gebauer 28:47
Yeah, I mean, I think we think it’s easier to kind of gloss over rather than have the tough conversations. And as you said, I mean, it sucks. But there’s also a degree of trust that comes out of that, you know, it might be uncomfortable, but you trust that person, you trust that person to tell you the truth. And as in a relationship, whether it’s a work relationship or anything else. That’s absolutely critical.

Jeff Ma 29:08
Yeah, we call that feeling you just mentioned harmony. And we have a saying that we stick by we say it almost every day, right, Frank, honesty, over harmony, we’ll use that. In our day to day I’ll be like Frank, can I have an honesty over harmony moment with you and he’ll be like, hit me with it. Because harmony is so easy. We can have a meeting and someone like you mentioned earlier, Greg, culture is defined by the most tolerated behavior of the worst, you know, individual. It’s absolutely true, but that the thing is that is allowed to be because of harmony. Because people go Hey, why are the leaders firing them? But why isn’t anybody even talking about it? For the most part is all just rumors and gossip and Og here, what did you hear what so and so did the other day, but like if you have an environment where people can be honest, instead of harmonious then in that meeting where that person did that thing, we’d be talking Think about it, like, what, what was going on there. And we can all be honest about and then move on. And we no longer have to just tolerate an individual. But we can actually have a culture and conversations where we can actually have open understandings about why things are happening and what’s going on. And you’ll find that the conversation shifts vary drastically.

Greg Lambert 30:20
I wanted to talk a little bit about the podcast set that you do with the love as a business strategy podcast. First of all, I love the idea of always having the title of your podcast episodes is start with love as a dnn insert what you’re talking about, Marlene, I wish we would have thought of something like that it makes titling the episodes a lot easier.

Marlene Gebauer 30:47

Jeff Ma 30:49
It’s actually a lot harder.

Greg Lambert 30:52
It feels easier when you when you’re looking from the outside. So I think one of the themes that you kind of express on all of these, it feels like an extension of the material that you’re putting out in the book is that you’re finding a way of bringing humanity back into the workplace. And I think we’ve, we’ve touched on that a lot, so far. But how do you take that and keep that theme going? In a weekly podcast

Jeff Ma 31:22
is actually one of the easiest things to do. To be honest, I think the podcast was one of the most natural things for us to do beyond the book Beyond the work we do. Because when your topic is humanity, you can just as long as you’re talking to humans, it’s actually pretty on theme. And like I mentioned before, we’re full of stories, we’re full of experiences. And really, the purpose of the podcast and love as a business strategy podcast is to connect all those things, but it doesn’t we don’t we don’t view that it has to be done in in this very overly prescriptive way. Right, I don’t need to teach you a profoundly specific lesson each time you tune in. I think each episode is meant to connect the human side, whether it’s someone who’s gone through something tough, or someone who’s worked through jobs that have created those problems, or someone who started a business who’s working on this themselves, or someone, any of these things are always the medically aligned with what we’re trying to do. And so humanity is always front and center when you talk to humans. And that’s the only goal of that podcast.

Marlene Gebauer 32:27
So I listened to one of the recent episodes love as a leadership strategy, which was very, very good. And there were a few nuggets in there. leadership with the head, heart and hands. Leadership Development is personal development. And old school leadership focuses on intent. New School Leadership focuses on outcome. Can you each explain what each of these means and how to do it?

Jeff Ma 32:53
Yeah, well, let me let me grab, I’ll grab one of them. Frank, I’ll give you intent. Okay. But I think I’ll touch on leadership development. And I think this is important. Leadership is a theme that we will hit over and over all the time, whether it’s in the podcast or in our conversations, because leaders have an outsized influence, they’re going to be the ones who can really make or break cultures, the easiest, and a leaders behavior is the fastest way to transform an entire team department or even company like in our case, the higher up, you can hire up the leader, the more influence they have, right. But when it comes to leadership development, I think there’s a common misconception, right? It’s like this idea that we can just work on their skills, these tactics and methodologies and like things where it’s like, here’s the rulebook of do’s and don’ts. And to me, that’s not leadership development, because real leadership development is personal development. When we say that, what we mean is we’re talking about mindsets and attitudes, and behaviors, right? And kind of how you even motivate yourself how you even like, what is your purpose in being a leader? What is your goal and driving that forward into real actionable personal change? And that’s very different from you know, the classic kind of leadership training and materials, stuff like that, because if you only do those things, you’re only doing them, you know, from a place of memorization or from a place of obligation. To me, that’s management, right? So management is the job. True leaders are defined when people follow. And I think for people to follow, they have to follow a person, they have to follow somebody they look up to they follow someone that they want to follow, and that develop that takes personal development. And so I feel very strongly about that, and to anybody who’s in a formal leadership or management role, and also anybody who’s just a contributor, and whether you want to be a leader or not, I think it’s important understand that because we all have an influence, whether we realize it or not, whether it’s just the person who sits next to us or an entire department of people, we all have an influence. And the sooner we kind of recognize that and recognize that our own personal development, our own personal growth, has this direct, influential impact on those people around us. The more empowered we are, the more enabled we are to actually be our best whether it’s for work or just for our own personal life. So very, very important, I think,

Frank Danna 35:25
yeah, when we talk about intent, we need to talk about Chick fil A for a second. So let’s just say that you’re headed to Chick fil A, because it’s a Monday and it’s open, you know, you’ve been upset that it was a Sunday and that you couldn’t get your food. So your number one would no pickles, and you rear end somebody because you’re trying to get to Chick fil A right? You did not intend to hit them on the freeway. Okay, that was not your intent. But yet, the impact is real. Okay. And when we talk about old school leadership, only focusing on intent, what we’re saying is there wasn’t deeper relationship building to understand the impact of actions. So what you have is leaders going from intent to intent, from Fender bender, to fender bender, never really dealing with the ramifications that come after you ended up hurting someone’s feelings, or you ended up completely, you know, taking a conversation in a completely different direction, sidelining someone removing the ability for someone else to speak, misbehaving in some way. All of those things you may not have intended to do those. But the impact is real. And so if you’re thinking about it, from the perspective of a fender bender moment, old school leadership was, Oh, I didn’t intend to hit you. Sorry about that. But New School Leadership isn’t just thinking about the intent of the situation. It’s thinking about how was that impact perceived? What do I need to do now to make it right and to create opportunities where if I do mess up in some capacity as a leader, I’m able to understand that it’s not just about the intent of me not trying to hurt someone’s feelings, but the reality of how other people are experiencing me as well. And so it just, it’s pushing things further down into the realm of understanding how you’re being experienced and having that self awareness. That is really what new school leadership looks like. And now I want Chick fil A

Greg Lambert 37:19
damn Frank. You must have you must have saw my fender bender this weekend so I

Frank Danna 37:26
Did you really? Greg, are you okay?

Greg Lambert 37:33
I was laughing because we were actually having a get together over over a Marlene house and, and I not not paying as much attention as I should have. Accidentally rear ended it this poor 18 year old kid down in, in Sugar Land. And so that yeah, I went to the whole thing. And I was like, Look, that was my fault. You know, because I didn’t want this kid being scared. So he was just going through and say, hey, look, you know, we got insurance, this will take care of this actually ended up talking to his dad on the phone to get everything. The kid was the kid was fine. It was a very, very low speed. little tap. But unfortunately, you know, cars don’t take any kind of, hits very well, nowadays. Yeah, so I was I was cringing the whole time. Just living this.

Frank Danna 38:25
It’s real, it’s real stuff. But that’s that’s the idea is you did not intend to hit him. But you still had to deal with the impact. Exactly. And for so long leaders have just, you know, the best of intent, but never dealing with the impact. And I think that’s it, we gloss over the impact and just focus on moving on to the next thing.

Jeff Ma 38:44
Well, more importantly, in the position of power, like a leader, the intent becomes the defense, right?

Frank Danna 38:50
It wasn’t my intention?

Jeff Ma 38:51
It’s like, where it’s like, everybody’s heard everybody knows the logos awake of dead bodies behind them. And they’re like, Well, I was trying to be successful. I was trying to win us the project that case, whatever it was, and so that’s like, Well, my intentions were good. And I think that doesn’t cut it anymore.

Greg Lambert 39:09
Yeah, the the apology death spiral of the use used to do this on on YouTube, where someone, an influencer would do something wrong. And then the apology became so much worse than whatever, whatever it was that they did in the first place. And

Frank Danna 39:29
That got them cancelled. Not the not the thing, but the way that the the Yeah, but that’s

Marlene Gebauer 39:34
The way they responded to it and how they did that. Yes. This is a tough question. There’s a lot of volatility in the world today, lately, and it’s it’s caused a lot of significant rifts among people. So COVID and that impact the dobs decision and its repercussions, you know, voting rights, school shootings and gun control, recession concerns there just really a heightened sense of injustice, and a feeling of helplessness and anger. And you know, like it or not, this comes to work with your employees, using love as a business strategy. How do you deal with this?

Jeff Ma 40:17
I’ll start here. And I’ll hand it off to Frank, I think now more than ever, people are starting to look at their lives in a holistic way, right? We want to be ourselves as often as possible today, more than ever, right? Not just at home. But when we leave the home, whether it’s in our driveway, the supermarket, but then also in the workplace. And one of the reasons our tagline is bring humanity back to the workplace, we use the word back, because it’s implying that it’s been lost. Obviously, that’s not true for every single workplace. But before addressing like the actual, you know, issues going on the world and the trauma that’s happening for people, if you just look at the workplace, it’s been decades of building up one way to run an office, run a workplace and to behave where we’ve suddenly become the norm without realizing it, to not be able to bring those things, to have to check those things at the door. Even before these things have been happening out in society in the world, even if I was just having my own personal problems. If I was just having something happening in my life, I wasn’t safe to bring that into the workplace, because it just get it’s not it’s not needed, no one wants to hear it. Just stick to your job, get the work done. That’s just added, you know, issues for it. No one, you know, save the issues for somebody else. Right. And I think it’s so important to answer your question with kind of that look at the workplace and what it could look like, you know, aside from the issues and things that people are feeling inside, from all the disagreements and trauma and all these things, what about a workplace that you can just wake up, be one person and just carry that feeling through your entire day to be able to exist in that way. And that requires some amount of love. And that’s where we come from, like, the thing that question is important, because it’s exactly what we’re trying to fix, not the issues you’re talking about. But the ability for us to feel safe with those issues, and to be okay, because some of these issues that are happening in the world are hurting us, and they’re painful, and they’re difficult. And they’re very much a part of who we are, they’re very much a part of what drives us in our passions. And to have to check that at the door is leaving a very important part of us out of the workplace. And so you having these zombies, these half, you know, half present zombies walked roaming the halls of these workplaces, because we’re not allowed to be those things. And it’s just that’s the norm. Frank, you’re gonna have to ask, sorry, I’ve got one little weird direction with that,

Frank Danna 42:59
you know, what I will say is, I mean, I obviously I agree with your sentiment, in that you need to create a work with leaders should be creating a work environment where people can bring their full selves. And that full self also includes how you’re experiencing the entire world. But there’s also a story that we tell in the book around everyday vulnerability, where Mohammed is really struggling with a legal battle, a legal issue, outside of work, someone’s, you know, wanting to sue him, essentially. And he’s, he’s in a really bad headspace, just a really bad headspace. It has nothing to do with our team of people that are working inside of our company. It has everything to do with this external thing. And I remember him reaching out to me and Chris and Jeff, and saying, Guys, I need some time this morning, to just have a have a kind of mental break from what’s happening right here. So that I don’t bring this attitude. I don’t bring this frustration, I don’t bring this misbehavior to our team that doesn’t deserve it. So I just need the morning. Because if I show up with my camera off, and my microphone off, people are gonna think I’m mad at them. They’re going to ask how soon am I going to be fired? Right? Like that’s the perception is if the CEO comes to the conversation is in and is not focused and engaged, then someone in the room did something wrong. And in that moment, it really showed me the value of being vulnerable with one another. The importance of being vulnerable, because what we were able to experience as someone who said, I’m dealing with something that is really impacting my ability to do my work, and to really engage with people. When we give people that space, when there are traumatic situations happening in the world, we’re showing them care. And when you are shown care by people around you, especially the people that we spend most of our waking hours working with and engaging with and even our own family. You are creating an environment where people feel like they want to do their part to make the work. Good. done. And so the value of creating an environment where vulnerability is allowed, actually gives people a chance to have conversations to have discussions to heal, what’s frustrating them or to give them the space that they need to engage in a way that will be healthy and beneficial for their own mental health?

Greg Lambert 45:19
So I want to talk a little bit about culture plus, which you both are co founding members of, can you tell us a little bit more about the methodology that you have and how culture Plus offers companies a competitive advantage and with what you’re doing?

Frank Danna 45:36
Yeah. So with culture plus, we exist to strengthen culture. What we try to create is opportunities to scale, measure and sustain culture through behavior change. And we do this so that people and companies can perform at their best. So we offer three kind of distinct kind of areas of expertise. The first is our live events, where we host these experiences that we call Seneca leaders and Seneca events. And that’s based around the Stoic philosopher Seneca, the younger, they’re not stoicism training. But we were inspired by the name and inspired by his philosophy around life. So any Seneca fans out there, stoicism fans out there, you’ll you’ll see a little bit of connection there. We also offer digital tools to help teams be able to support and sustain ongoing culture change and transformation and culture advising. And this all stems from something we call our framework, our secret sauce. And we originally started as a technology company, 18 years in the making. And as we started to go through this transformation, we began to recognize some fundamental things that actually aided us in our ability to change and then grow into an organization that could thrive, regardless of what’s happening in the world via pandemics or anything else that’s going on. But as a result of this, and getting a chance to tell our story to leaders globally, it began, it began to be a little bit more challenging to explain to people that we’re a technology company, and we’re a culture company. And so we ended up kind of splitting the two. And so the technology company is called soft way. And the new kind of culture team is called culture plus, setting all of that up, we’ve got a framework that we’ve developed that we utilize in the book, we actually, it’s very early on in the book itself, like the actual diagram of our framework, and we tried to make it as simple as possible for people to follow. But the foundation of that framework really starts with behaviors, and how behaviors ladder up to business outcomes. And, Jeff, I don’t know if you want to dive a little bit into how each of those components builds on the next.

Jeff Ma 47:43
Well, I think the most important, I mean, we could we could be here all day, honestly talking about this framework, it’s great, I love it, and I won’t shut up about it, give them a high level, I think what’s important is just to just quickly just define kind of the the meat of it, which is the six pillars, we have, we have six pillars that we define, and we go into, they have their own little mini chapters in the book, but it’s inclusion, empathy, vulnerability, trust, empowerment, and forgiveness, these six things, there’s a lot to them, obviously. But at a high level, we see these as these foundational pieces of behaviors that need to be in a culture in order for it to thrive. And we see them as the best analogy is like, like a, like a pistons in an engine, or a six cylinder engine, where they’re firing all in unison, working together to build your culture up, if any one of these six is failing, or missing, or not working the entire engine struggles or suffers or fails. We’ve seen that to be true. And this is something that we’ve kind of developed over time and built out. And that’s the foundation of everything we do at culture plus, which is looking at these six elements within your workplace. What does inclusion look like for you, you focus on I’m not gonna I’m not talking about DEI, those types of initiatives there. I’m talking about true inclusion of mindsets and the inclusion of different people’s way of thinking and working all these different elements of inclusion. We look at that. What about forgiveness? You’ll never hear that word. In most other conversations. What does forgiveness look like in your organization, this is the type of depth we try to go to with our customers so that we can actually get to the bottom of behaviors, not just kind of serving is everybody happy and then kind of changing your tag lines to include love. And then handout desserts, by the way afterwards have new values.

Frank Danna 49:35
We’re going to put them up on the wall and we’re not going to live by them. We’re just going to make a cool new value and it’s going to be courage.

Jeff Ma 49:41
Yeah, our goal is to step into an organization and when we leave our mark or if as we work with them people start seeing a difference so it’s not oh look now we have new swag that has you know, different designs, but it’s more of you know what my leader the other day my boss actually He kind of stopped and asked me how I’m doing, my boss actually spent a moment to like appreciate what I do, like these types of moments are in little pockets as what we kind of strive to create, in a very real way.

Frank Danna 50:16
Quick story, we were working with a client out of Pittsburgh, and he said that he’s taken his first two week vacation ever. And he was always nervous about taking a two week vacation, because he’s never really trusted his team to be able to handle the work that he’s been doing. After going through one of our events, and learning about these pillars, and trying to put them in practice with his team, he was honest, over harmonious with his team. And he said, I would like to take this two week vacation, and I want to trust you. And I’m just being honest, I’ve never been able to really hand off my work in a way that would would make me feel comfortable about disconnecting entirely. And the team rallied around him and supported him and took the different elements of his work, so that he was able to fully detach himself. And when he came back, everything was where it should have been going through kind of an experience with us and understanding the value of trusting other people giving them the benefit of the doubt. And then being able to fully realize that on the other side, what it created for him is a high performance team. Right? When they started working together in this capacity, that team became more high performing. And as a result of that, as a leader, that is trusting the team and the team trusting the leader, they’re gonna get better work done and more work done, they’re going to increase their efficiency and their innovation, right. And everybody feels like they have a sense of belonging. So if you start working towards that culture of love, what we’ve experienced and what other clients have experienced now is that they start to actually have better performing people and teams that create those outcomes that they’re ultimately looking for,

Jeff Ma 51:54
you’ll be shocked at how much better the work is of a team that’s just trying to give someone they like a vacation, versus a team who’s just trying to keep their jobs. Like you would think that the team who’s afraid of being fired will work harder. That’s not true. And it’s never true. No, it’s the team that wants to, you know, look out for each other and actually support each other that gives you that that amazing competitive advantage. And that’s that’s what it’s all about.

Marlene Gebauer 52:19
Well, I love that message. And but we’re gonna end on this note. So we always ask our guests a crystal ball question about, you know, what you see, you know, and I’ll say, you know, what you see for for business innovation, what you see for changes in business culture, what you see about leadership change, you know, in the next three to five years, I’ll pose it to both of you, and in terms of what you think the future will hold. And, you know, Jeff, I’ll start with you.

Jeff Ma 52:53
I’ll be honest, I’m a realist. And so as passionate as I am about everything I’ve been saying, I don’t know how much you change in three to five years, I view this as a something I’d like to see happen. What I’d like to see happen is something I hope to see in my lifetime, and for my kids, future and things like that. I think a lot needs to change to get to where I’d like and even then we’re not done. And so the three to five years question to me is a little bit of a trap. If I look into that crystal ball, I hope we’re all making progress. I hope we’re having conversations, I hope there’s a courtroom somewhere that practices love, I hope there’s a you know, a bank teller somewhere who gets something out of these these words, you know, one person at a time, one heart at a time, one team at a time, one business at a time. And I’m happy with that, because I think that’s the type of revolution we’re looking at. And it’s the type that will take a lot of unlearning and love the word unlearning. And I think we have to take a look at what we think we know, look at what we accept, as true and as correct. And take a good hard look at what other ways we can do things. And I think we’ll be amazed at what we’re capable of. And in three to five years. If a few people keep doing that, you know, that’s all I can ask for. I hope it’s more and more people. But I don’t expect the world to be transformed three to five years if I’m honest. But I definitely see progress. I’m hopeful that

Frank Danna 54:19
so I’m an optimist, to the exact opposite of what Jeff said, every company in the world is better. I actually am kind of similarly aligned with Jeff on this one. You know, what we see is that good change and real change, especially around behavior takes time. But what I will say is in the next three to five years Gen Z are walking in, they’re starting to increase in regards to how many folks are there. My daughter is in Gen Z. She’s at the very edge. She’s almost 11. She’s 11 Like, you know, now, and she’s in Gen Z technically all the way up to like age 25 or 26. So three to five years from now those folks are going to be in the middle management zone and they’re are demanding a difference in the work environment. They are demanding better culture. They’re demanding better experiences for themselves, work life integration, all of these things. So I feel like there will be a unique approach to the way that business is handled as a result of this new generation that is looking at things very differently from a very different perspective than generations that have come before. Is it a workplace revolution, I think we’ve already started that workplace revolution of the hybrid and work from home environments. I think we’re three to five years, we’re gonna start finding our footing in regards to what’s working now. And hopefully, in three to five years, we’ll also not have as big of a turnover, and the great resignation will slow down to where people actually want to commit longer term to the workplaces that they have.

Greg Lambert 55:48
Jeff MA and Frank Danna, I want to thank you both for coming on and talking about your your book that you co authored. Love as a business strategy. Again, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Frank, how if someone was looking for the book, where can they find it? And then where can we reach out to both of you if you have any follow ups,

Frank Danna 56:10 It’s one of the longest URLs you’ll ever hear someone say out loud. And if you type it correctly, there’s a lot of S’s and things. But is the the website for the book. If you end up reading the book, first of all, thank you. Second of all, we do have resources available there for some of the chapters that are built out that you can download for free that are part of it. If you’d like to learn more about culture, plus, it’s To learn more about our team and our other opportunities and services that we do offer alongside of the book and the resources there. And then LinkedIn, you can search for both of us. You’ll most likely find Frank Danna and Jeff ma will come up pretty quickly, hopefully, especially if we’re connected you’ll so that we can, we can stay connected and engaged with folks on LinkedIn, we’d be more than happy to connect with you there as well. We’d love it. If you do get a chance to read the book to share your honest thoughts and opinions emotional outbursts all have it.

Marlene Gebauer 57:07
And Jeff for the podcast that’s basically on all podcast platforms, right?

Jeff Ma 57:11
Correct Love as a Business Strategy, you can find it everywhere podcasts are served.

Greg Lambert 57:15
All right. Well, Jeff and Frank, thank you again for coming on.

Jeff Ma 57:19
Thanks, Greg. Thanks, Marlene.

Frank Danna 57:21
Thank you.

Marlene Gebauer 57:22
And of course, listeners. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to listen to The Geek in Review podcast. If you enjoy the show, share it with a colleague. We’d love to hear from you. So reach out to us on social media. I can be found at @gebauerm on Twitter,

Greg Lambert 57:34
And I can be reached @glambert on Twitter.

Marlene Gebauer 57:38
Or you can leave us a voicemail on The Geek in Review Hotline at 713-487-7270 and as always, the music you hear is from Jerry David DeCicca Thank you, Jerry.

Greg Lambert 57:49
Thanks, Jerry. Alright Marlene, I’ll talk to you later.

Marlene Gebauer 57:51
All right, bye bye.