Positive Leadership

Living with urgency (with Bozoma Saint John)

September 20, 2022 Jean-Philippe Courtois Season 4 Episode 2
Positive Leadership
Living with urgency (with Bozoma Saint John)
Show Notes Transcript

Join JP and former Netflix CMO, author and entrepreneur Bozoma Saint John for a powerful conversation. 

In this episode, Boz shares with us the life experiences that shaped her, but also importantly, the lessons she learned, so that we can also learn from them and grow. 

She also shared many other wonderful stories, like walking into Spike Lee’s office as a 23 year old and fighting to get Beyonce on stage at the Superbowl. 

This is really an episode you won’t want to miss. Listen now and don’t forget to subscribe.

BOZ: My urgency and the vibrancy with which I'm living my life forces me to constantly evaluate whether or not I am enjoying the thing that I'm in. And if I'm not, I have very little patience to remain. 


JP: One of the things that really hampers our effectiveness in life is a lack of urgency. Urgency is living and working like the clock is ticking to zero. Urgency is remembering that there’s a lot on the line. That your happiness counts. 


BOZ: Happiness is not a throw-away word, you know? I don't mean the like sugar high type of happiness that dissipates after a few hours and you’re like, oh, what’s next, you know? But the things that like really make you happy. Make you open your eyes in the morning and say, oh, well thank God for another day.


JP: I'm Jean-Philippe Courtois, JP, this is Positive Leadership. The podcast that helps you grow as an individual, a leader, and ultimately as a global citizen. Today, I have a phenomenal guest. In fact, I'm blown away by her accomplishments. She’s the former head of music and entertainment at Pepsi, the former marketing director for Apple Music, and the former chief marketing officer at Netflix. Her name is Bozoma Saint John. Bozoma, or Boz, as she prefers to be called, has occupied her space as a leader in a really pioneering way. Her climb up the corporate ladder has involved numerous struggles for [PH 00:01:35] worlds worthy of her contribution. But Bozoma is a leader who drives urgently towards her goals and she does it whilst cultivating courage and confidence in those around her. She just finished writing her memoir, “The Urgent Life: My Story of Love, Loss, and Survival.” And we’re super excited to speak to her to find out how to live your life more urgently and how to carve your own path. 


So Boz, thank you so much for joining me today on the Positive Leadership podcast and all of the listeners. It’s a pleasure, it’s a delight. I’d like to go back to the beginning of your journey. You were born in Connecticut in the late 70s and you spent your early childhood moving from place to place, between Ghana, the US, and Kenya.


BOZ: Yes. 


JP: Before finally settling in Colorado when you were I think 12. So how did that experience of being the perpetual “new kid in the block” or “new kid in school” shape you as a person to start with? 


BOZ: Ah, well, you know, it’s funny, it’s not until later on in my life when a great poet, some would just call him a hip-hop artist but I call him a poet, Jay-Z, has a line in a song that says, “Allow me to reintroduce myself.” That is the essence of my childhood. Every time I entered a new playground, literally and figuratively, I had to reintroduce myself. I had to get people to say my name correctly. I had to find allies and friends immediately. I had to know who the bullies were and stay clear of them, or make them my friends. I had to pick up cultural cues that would not make me a social pariah, perhaps sometimes very different from the place I was just in. Because that happens all the time, right? Innocently you say something or do something and everybody says, “Oh, she’s so uncool!” and then you’re stuck. You’re stuck at the table by yourself eating lunch alone. And so my childhood I think just set me up really well for an understanding of how to both acclimate to new environments without a ton of fear – I can’t say that I don't have fear – but helped me to get comfortable in my fear of new experiences, new people, and also gain the confidence that you can find friends anywhere. All you have to do is be open to it. All you have to do is ask the right questions. All you have to do is make sure that you’re interested in them as much as you want them to be interested in you.


JP: You know, it’s about really getting outside of your own zone of comfort many times since your very early days, and daring to connect, daring to ask, daring to engage, daring to meet, across Africa and the US, that’s quite fascinating. Because even the diversity and for the people, kids, families you met with, that must certainly have started to shape your personality and the way you’ve been starting to show up personally.


BOZ: Yeah, for sure. And you know what, as you’re mentioning that, I also think that maybe something I haven’t actually recognized until just this very moment, is that it gave me the chance to try out new things and fail sometimes at my reintroduction, you know? And then know that, okay, next time I'm not going to do that thing, which is very, very important and has happened in my career too. Where it’s like, okay, that didn't work out here, let me not do that again at the next place, you know?


JP: Continuing to build on that childhood, Boz, I’d like to ask obviously about your parents. All the parents, I remember my late dad, wanted me to be a doctor. I understand your parents as well, or an engineer? 


BOZ: Yes.


JP: But you decided differently. I understand you had some other ideas in mind. You loved culture and music. 


BOZ: Yeah. 


JP: I even found out that you start as a teacher of music, specialized on the lyrics of Tupac Shakur. 


BOZ: That’s correct. 


JP: Can you share with us in that moment when you decide to kind of take your own path, starting at the core of culture, music, personal expression of the people. 


BOZ: Yeah, well it’s actually a really nice segue because in my childhood I had to constantly learn about culture. And so by the time I was in college – and yes, following my parents’ hopes and dreams of becoming a doctor, carrying the full course load of pre-med – but I was also taking lots of classes in the arts – English, a lot of history, literature, and discovering so much richness in storytelling, especially the African American experience, that I really hadn’t been privy to before that. And, yes, of course, very much in love with Tupac Shakur, who died way too early. But I found him to be a poet, like I said. Jay-Z is a poet, Tupac is a poet, there are so many poets in music, the lyrics are incredible. And so I’d heard about the class at UC Berkeley. I was going to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where incidentally I was also born, and I petitioned my dean to make a class like that at Wesleyan, and they refused. They said, “We don't have the time for that. We don't even know what you’re talking about. This is not what we teach here. We are a very nice, you know, little Ivy…”


JP: Serious.


BOZ: Yes, “we’re serious about academics now. You can explore if you want to.” Because they encouraged discovery, but they were not about to add it to their own curriculum. So I took it upon myself to write the curriculum and then went back to the dean and petitioned again and said, “Well, now I have the curriculum, all I need is support. So let me teach it.” And to my complete awe and shock, they allowed me to teach the class. So yeah, I taught it for three semesters on top of my full course load and everything else, and it was brilliant, it was wonderful. I think again just thinking about what that experience probably taught me was that people can often say no to you, they can often deny you the thing you want to do because of their own limited experiences. But even if you haven’t done it before, the passion, the power that you have within yourself to create should be explored, and therefore you should always say yes to yourself. 


JP: Absolutely. Dare to ask, dare to do it. 


BOZ: Yes, that’s right, that’s right. 




JP: To succeed, you have to be willing to stand up for what you believe, even if it means going against conventional wisdom. So when Boz was told she could not study Tupac Shakur at college, she recognized her professors’ experience put blinkers on them to see what was possible. But she persevered and found a way to make the course happen. Listening to her professors would not have allowed her to think differently and to innovate as she did. It took some time, took some negotiating, but eventually her persistence paid off. You know, often the advice we receive comes from people, well-intended friends or family members, and in fact these are people you trust, and even love can make you [PH 00:09:17] doubt your why. But going against the grain builds grit and determination. Going against the grain exercises muscles you probably didn't know you have, and stretches you to learn key lessons through [PH 00:09:33] late experience, which is the best way to learn. 


You moved to New York, Boz, obviously, after you graduated from college, and you got a wonderful start marketing in a very special ad agency led by Spike Lee. And I know that you’ve been reflecting on that in terms of some of the very first big leadership lessons you had working with Spike Lee and his team, in the way he was making decisions, the way he was making [PH 00:10:01] big bets. So how did you kind of reflect on that after all that wonderful experience?


BOZ: Walking into Spike Lee’s office when I had no experiences, no job, no real opportunities anywhere, in New York City by myself at 23 years old, I didn't anticipate that the lessons I would learn there would serve me for the rest of my life, or that he would become a friend and a mentor for the rest of my life. But Spike is an extraordinary person, not just as an artist but as a philosopher, as a social activist, as a black person. He really helped me to understand this complete drive for doing exactly what you want to do regardless of your critics. He was shocking, you know? It was shocking to be in that kind of intimate space with him and watch him react to criticism. What a lesson. What an incredible opportunity to really be present when you see someone who has poured their heart and soul into their work, and then somebody else tears it down, and how do they react to that. It tells a lot about a human and about a person. And I won’t say that he’s super human. It wasn’t like he just brushed it off and said, “Ah, who cares? Screw that.” It wasn’t like that. He would be very considerate of the feedback, you know, take it in. But at a point where he understood that his art was right, that was the lesson that I learned from him. That he knew that regardless of what anybody said about it – they said it was the wrong thing, it was the wrong choices, creatively he missed – he knew that his art was right, and he stuck by that. And that is an incredible lesson that I learned, because I certainly have had my fair share of critics now, JP. I’ve had critics, okay? 


JP: Yes, yes.


BOZ: But I know I'm right. I know I'm right. Everything that I do, every way that I move… And that doesn’t mean that I'm arrogant not to learn from things that go wrong, but that my expression of self is right, all the time. 


JP: Yes, yes, I got you. One of the most important qualities leaders should develop is empathy and the ability to listen really deeply. So how did you learn to develop that critical capability, I think, that every leader, whatever level the person is doesn’t matter to me, can actually embrace, be an incredible listener, of talking much less and listening deeply not superficially. 


BOZ: Yes. 


JP: You learned that. 


BOZ: Yeah. You know, I think I learned as much from leaders and people I worked for who did it right as much as I learned from people who did it wrong. 


JP: Of course. 


BOZ: You know, you have some natural qualities I'm sure that people are born with, I think that I'm naturally born with, but I think it’s nurture and the experiences of being led that actually help you to shape who you are as a leader. That’s why I don't think it’s a singular journey. The inputs come from so many different places that there are the positives and the negatives that then form who you are. And so sometimes I looked at really bad leaders and I'm just like, “Oof, you must have had some really terrible people in your life. Some people taught you some bad…yeah, some people really steered you wrong,” you know? I think it’s almost like a group project. Great leaders are not just great leaders because they are, they’re great leaders because they were led very well. They were led very, very well. And so when I think about the experiences of empathy or of listening, hearing, both of those and all of those experiences are born out of my own personal experience that happened to me in my life where I didn't feel heard or I didn't feel seen, and therefore I want to make sure other people are heard and other people are seen. As much as it was from people who really did hear me and see me. I think the thing that always scares us as leaders is that we think we have to be textbook. As if the office or our teams can only see what is the professional or the corporate life. But how is that possible? We’re human beings with one experience. It’s like the personal – 


JP: It is not. 


BOZ: Yes, it comes into the profession. 


JP: Yes, I'm with you. 


BOZ: And so the empathy of understanding why someone behaves the way they do, or why they wouldn't show up in a meeting, or why they would be quiet, why they would be afraid to say the thing that’s on their mind, why they would be so dismissive of other people – that is not just about the work space, that’s also about the personal space. What else is going on in their lives that is causing them to behave this way?


JP: Exactly. 


BOZ: And so for me, the listening is as much about what a person says as much as it is thinking about what it is that might be also causing them to be the way that they are and then picking up those clues. Because people won’t often tell you that. You have to infer. So yes, I do think it’s very important as a leader to know your team so well that you can tell when someone walks in and their energy is off, something is different. And either excusing them, you know, without saying anything, right? Allowing them to be. Or, helping to find a way to encourage them. And as long as you are that in tune and care that much, you’ll be a much more effective leader. And a much more positive one in that case because people will see your care of them. 


JP: Yes, yes. It’s really well said, Boz. In my own experience as a leader as well, I learned the lesson a good and tough way sometimes, but what it takes in terms of creating a climate of safety –


BOZ: Yes.


JP: Of trust with the people one by one in your team to enable them, to get them to open up. 


BOZ: Yes. 


JP: And it starts I think by being yourself, of course, truly vulnerable, not artificially, so that others – whatever the level is again doesn’t matter – can truly feel safe by speaking up, by sharing more than just [PH 00:16:50] squirrels, but emotions, personal challenges they have in their lives, because we all have just one life as you said. So I'm with you and it’s very much aligned with the philosophy I have with positive leadership. So let’s continue with you a little bit, Boz. You left Spike’s agency at one point to manage big brands like PepsiCo beverage portfolio, and you were also head of music and entertainment marketing there. In 2013, you negotiated a very, very special deal between Pepsi and the NFL to run the famous Superbowl halftime show with Beyonce. And I know it was a huge cultural moment, not just for you, but I think for many, many, many people not just within the brands but outside. So was it for you like a massive personal professional win at the time in terms of realizing, wow, I can actually do that through that strong confidence and expression of the way I think about culture and the way that culture should be brought to the people in such a creative way for the Superbowl.


BOZ: I think sometimes in business you think that your singular experience doesn’t matter because you’re trying to speak to the masses. In American sport, there’s no bigger stage than the Superbowl halftime show, there just isn’t. It’s the biggest one, it has the most eyeballs, and like you said, it crosses the borders to some degree, and other people who may not have an interest in the sport itself care about the performance that’s happening at the halftime show. And in that moment in 2013, there had been in my opinion not a lot of artists on the stage that were connecting the audience in the time. In the time. You know, there were greats, legends, who had done amazing things, but years passed, sometimes decades passed, and they were incredible performers, but safe bets, because they would reach the widest audience. And at the time that we were negotiating the deal with the Superbowl and with the NFL, there were options that could have been safe, that could have been legendary acts who would have been fine. And, by the way, as a business person, who doesn’t want to recommend the thing that you know is going to win, the sure win? 


JP: Of course, it’s the safe way, safer position. 


BOZ: It’s a safe bet. Sometimes it’s like we as leaders, we think, you know what, if I can win at 80% let me just do the 80%. Because if I try to win at 100 and it goes to 20, ooof, this is a big risk, and so you don't want to take it. And I understand why most people do that. My life is not set up that way. I prefer to swing for the fences. I prefer to try to get to the 100, and if I get to 20 I will crawl into a cave and hide out for a little while until I lick my wounds and make sure that I'm okay, and then come back out. You know what I mean?


JP: Then you come back in. 


BOZ: I’ll come with sunglasses and maybe like a wig on and make sure nobody can see me, but I'm going to come back outside, you know? But that moment with Beyonce, it was such a fight. It was a real fight to get her on the stage, because she’s a black woman, there hadn’t been a black woman on the stage since Janet Jackson and her wardrobe malfunction with Justin Timberlake. And there was all kinds of what I felt were biases that were outside of the regular biases that we all know that go against people of color and women. And those biases extended to wardrobe and the performance and could she connect with a large audience that way and all kinds of things. Of course now, sitting here almost a decade later, everyone would say, “Oh, that’s ridiculous, why wouldn't you want Beyonce?”


JP: It’s obvious, of course. 


BOZ: But at the time it was a real conversation. And the reason why I bring it back to our singular experiences being important is that I knew it, I felt it, I love Beyonce. Loved and love still. You know? And I felt personally responsible to make sure that in my seat I uplifted people, performances, culture that is important to me. And look, it could have failed. It could have failed miserably. It could have been awful. But instead, I don't even think we hit 100. We hit like 150. That joint was in the stratosphere, gone, you know? 




JP: When I listen back to Boz telling that story there, what I love is how she wasn’t just speaking up to get Beyonce on that stage, which took tons of courage, but she was invading something bigger than herself. There was so much critique of Beyonce before that show, and yet what the audience saw that night was a woman’s creative vision, personal magnetism and physical ability coming together into a dazzling performance. And the theme of the show, if you remember, was a quote from Vince Lombardi, “Excellence must be pursued, it must be wooed with all of one’s might.” And that is not an egomaniacal quest for glory, but a feminist statement.


BOZ: And the thing is, the other lesson in that is that our experiences, even if unique and singular, can still connect. People can still empathize, people can still enjoy, people can still feel excitement, even if they are not close to the experiences you’re talking about, and that was the proof in Beyonce’s performance at the Superbowl.




JP: Over 110 million tuned in to watch Beyonce’s performance at the Superbowl, and it came at a time, in 2013, when Boz was at a pivotal moment in her life. A crucible moment, as Bill George would call it, when everything gets stripped away and you come face-to-face with yourself. 


BOZ: If I consider the time, 2013, as a crucible year, let’s put it that way, with many things that happened, and two big ones, one at the start and one at the end. The start was Beyonce and the Superbowl. At the end in December, on December 11, 2013, is when my husband passed away from cancer.


JP: Yes. 


BOZ: And that crucible moment absolutely changed my life. It changed everything about the way that I am, the way that I think, the way that I live. It changed everything. And in the end, when he was told that his cancer was going to be terminal and that he didn't have much longer, the list of things that we created to do together – I guess you could call it a bucket list of sorts – they weren’t the things that I think some people think, you know, like go jump out of a plane, travel to Malaysia and backpack, it wasn’t that. First of all, he wasn’t healthy enough to do that. But they were smaller but much more significant. They were the conversations that we had avoided. It was the small experience that you knew would be the last one, that savoring of life, really understanding that moments really do matter. We say it all the time, right? We should live life as if it’s your last… We say that kind of stuff all the time, and maybe if people think that’s morbid, I think it’s very inspiring. His death inspired me. It inspired me. I wish he hadn’t have died. With every cell in my being. It still brings me to tears even as I sit here. But his death won’t go un… He wouldn't have died for nothing, I guess is what I'm trying to say. He died, and I am going to take inspiration from it. I'm going to live a bigger life because of it. I'm going to live a more expressive life because of it. I'm going to live a more urgent life because of it. 


JP: Urgent life, yes. 


BOZ: Urgent life, you know? It is what I now am so grateful and thankful for. I do believe in an afterlife and I can’t wait till one day when I see him again I'm just like, well thank you so much for the gift of allowing me to live such a great life because you died, you know? Honestly, JP, as I sit here, I don't know – I mean, I guess we’ll never know – if I would have been as expansive in my career and in my life had I not have had this experience. 


JP: This experience, yes. I can feel it, and I can feel it in your voice. I can feel it in the way you talk about it. I must say myself, I had to go through one of those crucibles, losing my son a few years ago. The way you share your story with your husband resonates deeply with me obviously, Boz, because I definitely can see life very differently the day after, and that sense of urgency, that sense of contribution as well, to do more as well, not just for me but for others, and maybe in a modest way for the world whatever it means for me and others, is something I can relate to. So I’d like you maybe to elaborate a little bit more on that urgency, what it is when you wake up in the morning.


BOZ: Yes. 


JP: Or when you go to bed and you reflect on your day or not, saying, well, did I actually respect my urgency contract with myself, if I may use that expression.


BOZ: Yes, yes, yes. I have a very hard time now – I’ll start from now and then go a little bit backwards – I have a very hard time now with situations, people, relationships, experiences that are not satisfying to me. And actually it’s so funny because I think maybe some people would consider it a selfish way to live, to think about yourself. I don't think so. And it’s not at the cost of other people, that’s not what I'm saying, but it’s a self-awareness, is really what I mean, in that way where you are focused on what is making you happy. 


JP: I'm with you, I'm with you. Because I think you have the sense of scarcity of being joyful, and living some very unique moments with real people who matter, and people with whom you cannot just have a great relationship but you can actually achieve more together. At least that’s the way I can think about it.


BOZ: Yeah, yeah.


JP: And really connects with me. And to me it kind of also means maybe not waiting any more to realize your full potential. 


BOZ: Yes. 


JP: For each one of us. So helping you becoming what we call “the best version of yourself.” And usually when you can unlock your greatness is when you work on the harder things as well.


BOZ: Yes. 


JP: And I was having a discussion actually with one of my guests in the podcast, someone you may know or not, his name is Michael Bungay Stanier. He’s a best seller author of the best-selling book ever on coaching, it’s called The Coaching Habit. Wonderful, he’s been my coach myself, I’ve been using him across Microsoft to transform thousands of people. And I was discussing with Michael, actually, one of his last books, which is really all about, it’s called How to Begin, how can you actually really shape what he’s calling your worthy goals. Your worthy goals. So basically the projects that are really thrilling, deeply important, and daunting. So my question to you is more about you’re already I think on one of those worthy goals, because I think it’s super hard to write a book by the way, first of all. I give you that one saying, wow, that’s a huge one, and I look forward to read your book, Boz, when it’s published. But if you may share, what are the other big, big worthy goals that you’re thinking about? The big things that you have on your mind? 


BOZ: Gosh, well, there’s so much that goes into writing a book as you know. It’s not the type of thing that you go into I think even knowing what it’s going to do or how you’re going to react. There is so much that sometimes can be unearthed out of the experience of writing that if I knew what it would take, I don't know that I would have done it. It’s so difficult. And the idea of really going deep into your experience and sharing it, being vulnerable with it, is much scarier than I thought. It’s interesting, I was having this conversation with one of my mentors, Ariana Huffington. I had just turned in the final copy edited version of the book, and I called her in terror, you know? Because I was like oh my God, what have I done? Why did I do it? Why didn't you tell me not to do it? You know? Blaming everyone else. And she said, you know, she’s like, just consider that the truth is a privilege. And you can decide whether or not you think these strangers, these people who don't know you, who will pick up your words and interpret it for themselves, are they worthy of your truth? Whew! That knocked me on my butt. I sat down and I said, oh my God. I had never considered that, you know, that truth is a privilege. And for me, I think part of my now confidence in being able to share this very vulnerable expression is that I do think my truth is valuable, and I believe that expressing it is a gift to myself, and not so much about other people and what they need from me. But that the privilege of sharing my truth is one that I value very much and one that I am proud of. And so regardless of how people will react to it or how they’ll interpret it is actually not my burden. I hope that people see it in a way that will help them to live their own urgent lives. I really hope that that’s what happens. That people will read it and say, ah, but I can too. 


JP: I can do the same. 


BOZ: Yes, I can do it. That regardless of the things that have happened to me, that I can choose to live a life that is worthy of living, it’s worthy of the breath, it is worthy of the excitement, it is worthy of me.




JP: Living a life that’s worthy of you means putting yourself out there, and often when we do something new and challenging your heart rate speeds up, your palms grow sweaty and you think, why in the world did I ever think I could do this? That feeling is vulnerability. It makes you want to turn around and go home, where you can escape the potential judgment of others, your own fear of the unfamiliar. But by pushing through those doors you’re doing something far more healthy and transformative. One thing I really wanted to ask Boz about was the question of conformity. She spoke in the past about how various people at different stages of her life have tried to change her, to get her to tone down her clothes, her voice, her hair, whatever, basically trying to get her to take up less space, and that’s something she has absolutely refused to do.


BOZ: It is not an easy one, you know? Conformity is so easy, and it is what our natural human instinct is. And so we’re actually fighting our nature when we don't conform. 


JP: Absolutely.


BOZ: We’re tribal, we’ve always been as human beings. We come together in groups. Of course back in the day by proximity.


JP: Yes, communities. 


BOZ: Exactly. Now more so about interests or ways that maybe it’s work-related or it’s sports or it’s music or something else that makes you stick to tribes. And so conforming to those identities is natural. What I want us to consider when we think about non-conformity is not so much living in the uncomfortable or going against our nature. No, you don't need to do that. I actually want to get even deeper in your comfort. Get even more into your comfort zone as your individual self is actually what makes you un-conform. Because there is no way that you can love all those things about yourself, value all those things about yourself, and then conform to something that doesn’t fit. It’s impossible. 


JP: It is.


BOZ: So what you see is not a challenge. When people look at me and they say, “Ah, well she doesn’t conform, she’s a disrupter, she does things her way, she doesn’t care about the things…” No, no, no, no, no, it’s not that, it’s not that. Actually what you’re looking at is someone who is entirely comfortable with herself, very comfortable. There aren’t parts of me, even the stuff that is not great, that I don't love. Even that stuff I love. I'm like, oooh, you know what, I can be a little bit of an asshole but I like it anyway, you know? 


JP: Yeah. I love the way again you express that, Boz. In a way it reminds me actually of a podcast guest I had, he’s one of the godfathers of positive psychology, his name is Tim Caron. What he did with me during the podcast which was interesting was an exercise. He sent an email without copying me. He just asked me names of people I knew really well personally, family, deep friends, professionals, social life, seven, and he asked them to write down 10, 12 lines on the best stories of JP in his life, they’ve seen the best of me. And then he’s been reading that to me. But these were – which is at the core of Positive Leadership and positivity – gives you so much positive energy, gives you so much more confidence in your strengths, in your talents, in your passion. What you do the best and where you can bring the best to others and to the world. And so I’d like to finish with a question about your own way to generate positivity, not just within yourself but with positivity that is contagious with others. 


BOZ: Well, I think it’s very…actually, pretty simple. It’s like a baby, you know? If you’ve ever interacted with let’s say a six-month old, old enough to recognize what you’re doing with your face. If you smile at a baby, I think they smile back at you. If you make a mean face, they get a little scared and they get a little worried, their face changes, you know? If you cry, they get confused, you know? They’re looking at you like, “What is wrong?” They can’t articulate those things, but the facial expression, the way that you express yourself, has great impact. I think we think that that changes over time. It doesn’t. It continues. And so when I am very excited about something, or I'm happy about something, or I'm frustrated about something or I'm angry about something, everyone can feel it. I don't play the poker face, I don't do that, I think it’s a disservice. It’s a disservice to our teams, it’s a disservice to our relationships, to pretend as if everything is okay when the sky is falling. 


JP: When it’s not okay. 


BOZ: Yeah. Or to play it safe and quiet when you’re super enthused – by the way, even about your own ideas. Maybe your ideas are terrible, but having enthusiasm about it allows for other people to also show up with enthusiasm. So it is like smiling and enjoying the experience you’re having which allows other people to give it back to you. And so I don't know that it’s necessarily just about me exuding my excitement versus that I am trying to elicit a reaction from people which is compatible with how I'm feeling. And if it is not compatible then that changes. I am as much a receptor as I am an exhibitor. And so if I walk in and you’re downtrodden and you feel depressed or you feel angry, I'm also going to take that. And so that’s why I am very consciously empathetic about what is happening in the environment so that I can help to change the environment and make us all better in that way.




JP: Being empathetic to those around you, looking for clues to their emotional state in their body language and facial expressions, and not turning away if you see someone on your team is not doing so well, but actively trying to lead them up is a real marker of a positive leader. And if you want other people to be more enthusiastic, you need to model it. Show your joy, show your excitement, show your feelings. Be like Bozoma. Forget about playing the poker face. 


So with that, Boz, I wanted to deeply, deeply thank you, it’s been really a delight to have this conversation with you. Thank you so much. 


BOZ: Thank you. Thank you so much, JP, this has been truly a pleasure and I'm very, very appreciative of the mission and also the conversation, so thank you. 




JP: You’ve been listening to the Positive Leadership podcast with me, Jean-Philippe Courtois. If you’ve got a leadership question you’d like me to look into, get in touch on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please leave us a rating or comment. It really helps the way we form the show. And don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcast. Goodbye.