Mellody Hobson’s mother used to tell her she could do anything if she put her mind to it. She taught her that everybody is capable of extraordinary things.
In the latest episode of Positive Leadership podcast, JP speaks to the inspiring American businesswoman, Co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments, and chair at Starbucks, about why and how “confident humility” has shaped who she is today.
MELLODY HOBSON: I think a lot of people walk through the world with blind spots. They have people around them who enable them to have those blind spots exist in a way that is detrimental to them. I do not want to be one of those people because I've been with so many people where I've seen that and I'm like, Why won't anyone tell them, you know, this is like keeping them from being their best self.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Mellody Hobson is a definition of a doer. Co-CEO and president of money management firm Ariel Investments, Chair of the Board at Starbucks Corporation and a director at JP Morgan Chase. From her tough Chicago childhood to success as an investment guru, she’s shattered stereotypes of every kind. She's faced serious obstacles in her climb up the corporate ladder, but she refuses to be a victim. I really, really enjoyed speaking to her. And you are going to love hearing this conversation. Mellody shares her honest thoughts about how to own your role as a leader by taking radical accountability for what's happening around you. How to use your differences to stand out and to create opportunity for others. And she's got some great practical advice on how to handle difficult feedback. So make sure you stay with me to the end. If you have not already done so, head over to my LinkedIn page to subscribe to my newsletter, Positive Leadership and You, for more great tips to help you grow as an individual, a leader, and ultimately as a global citizen. A very warm welcome to you, to the podcast, Mellody.
MELLODY HOBSON: Thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be with you.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Same here. Mellody So Mellody, you grew up in a large family in Chicago, the youngest of six children to a hard working single mom was trying to make ends meet in a hostile climate of racism and discrimination. You've described your mom, I think, as ruthlessly realistic, but someone who never gave up hope, ever. I think you were the last kid, many years behind your siblings. So did you get most of the attention, or on the contrary, did you have to figure out everything by yourself? And what was the effect your mother's outlook had on you growing up?
MELLODY HOBSON: It's so funny. I've told that story many times about how I grew up with these five siblings that were so much older than me, and no one has actually asked me that question about the attention. And it's a really interesting and thoughtful question, because when you're the last, and as far behind as I was, what ends up happening is you're kind of on your own. I think that it actually ended up being this great gift. I didn't get a lot of attention. I know that that sounds crazy because I think people think the baby gets all the attention. My siblings were adults when I was born, so you can imagine that they weren't that interested. They had their own lives. They were doing their own thing. My mother had already had five children. And so at this point it was been there, done that. I have a joke that I only have one baby picture and I'm nine months old in that picture. I'm not a baby, you know, a newborn. There isn't a baby picture. So the attention issue wasn't, you know, what you would normally think of as the last child and the last child being very spoiled. But what it did do for me, and this is something that I very much appreciate. Didn't understand at the time, but certainly do now. It made me incredibly independent because one of the things that my mom did was anything I wanted to do, she would tell me, You have to figure it out. You have to make it happen for yourself. I'm really busy. I've got all this stuff going on. But she didn't say it in a way of I don't care about you, because she was very clear about her love and devotion to me, but she just put it on me to make it work out. And to this day, I think that was one of the greatest gifts that I was ever given.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So basically, she empowered you since you were a baby to figure out the next steps of your life all the time. And you learn so much, I'm sure by doing, trying, making mistakes and then going back to your mom from time to time to check out.
MELLODY HOBSON: And she was just always just very pragmatic. She wasn't a coddler. But at the same time, I know it sounds crazy because it's two distinctly different personality traits. She was still very warm.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: And so I think as you grew up and of course, education was very important to you and you were actually an outstanding student, you were offered places at both Princeton and Harvard. And I think obviously you picked Princeton and then you decided to join the financial services industry. So what did you make that choice, both in a way of Princeton versus Harvard? Because that's not trivial. And then how did you pick that community of financial investors as a place to go, as a place to learn, as a place to make sense of your life?
MELLODY HOBSON: Again, both great questions. So the first one, let's do Princeton versus Harvard. So I'm this, you know, really devoted student. And I tell people part of the reason that I was so focused as a student is that I had a lot of chaos in my life. We would get evicted, our phone would get disconnected, our lights would be turned off. Sometimes we'd live in an abandoned building. And so as a result of that, the one thing I could control was school. So I became obsessive about controlling that and getting good grades. The thing also so now I'm coming down to college and I didn't have a family, we didn't travel, we didn't take road trips. We just weren't those people. And so when it was time to pick a school, I said to my mother, I have to see them. So we saved up whatever money we could. We flew to the East Coast and we took a train up and down the East Coast to go and visit schools. This was a big deal for us to do, and I always thought I would go to Yale until I visited Yale, and I just didn't think it was for me. It's an unbelievably great school, but I just didn't see myself there, which was a bit dramatic and traumatic for me because I for some reason envisioned this. We went to Princeton and that's where I felt I'm supposed to be here, which was counterintuitive because it was in a suburb, not a city. I was from Chicago. And, you know, it seemed like I would go to a big city like Columbia in New York or Harvard in Boston. We got to Columbia. My mom said… Columbia at that time was sort of in a rough neighborhood. And that has all changed in the last couple decades. She was like, we're not getting out of the car with the cab and then we went to Harvard. And I have to say, Harvard was amazing, beautiful. Everything I thought of for college. And my mother really started pushing Harvard. And she kept saying, you could go anywhere in the world and say Harvard and it's like saying Coca Cola. She's like, You could be in an African village and everyone knows what Coca Cola is. And she said, But Princeton is like Sprite.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Oh, not even Pepsi.
MELLODY HOBSON: No, she said sprite. She said, Sprite is like an American drink. Yes. So she said, you know, it's different. So but ultimately, I really give her a lot of credit because, again, she was very much, this is your choice. And so I made the decision to go to Princeton. And I that was a decision that was great. And there were a lot of people who influenced that decision. And Bill Bradley and an alum named Richard Misner. And there were a lot of people and I thought the idea that they would focus on me so intently to have me go to a school said a lot about how passionate they were about this school, which meant it must be really special. Then getting to financial services. I told you about how I grew up. Well, one of the things about the way I grew up, I was desperate to understand money. I wanted to understand how it worked. It wasn't about how much I would have. I wanted to live a comfortable, secure life. And I thought the only way that I could do that, because I didn't learn about money in my family and in fact, my mom, for all of her great strengths as a person, she was terrible at money. Terrible. So financial services. I tell people my calling and my purpose in life was born out of my circumstance.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It is no accident that Mellody is in the financial services industry. The chaotic experiences in her childhood with the evictions, the phone and lights getting disconnected, were down to poor financial literacy. Financial literacy is so important. Just as important as reading and writing and more important in some ways, because without understanding the financial decision that you're making, you can be left suffering from financial insecurity. Mellody was determined she didn't want that for her life, so she joined Chicago based Ariel Investments straight from Princeton, founded eight years earlier in 1983 by John Rogers, Ariel was a breakthrough on Wall Street, the very first black owned mutual fund in the country. Mellody quickly rose up through the ranks, and she's been working at Ariel ever since. John Rogers was the CEO of Ariel Investments when you joined, and I think he's been your mentor for many, many years. He made you president at the age of 31. Now he's your peer, if I'm not mistaken, as a co-CEO like yourself. But he's also the Godfather of your daughter. It's very personal as well. So tell us more about his very unique personal relationship and partnership you built with John. What did you learn the most from him and vice versa, what do you think he learned the most from you in return?
MELLODY HOBSON: Wow, there's a lot there. So I met John when I was 17 years old before I went to Princeton. And then ultimately I went to Princeton and he was a trustee of the university and he would come and visit the school every quarter for the trustee meetings. I'm a student. And so sometimes he would stop and say, Why don't I grab, you know, a coffee with you, etcetera. I get to know him and cultivate this relationship with him that, quite frankly, I worked really hard to cultivate. I tell lots and lots of stories about being a summer intern and sitting with him at McDonald's while he'd read the paper and reading the paper in the exact same order as him to try to learn and a whole host of things that I did. I think what happened was I was a really willing student, really willing. And I was also someone, he told me on my first day of working at Ariel that he said, you're going to be in rooms with people who have big titles and make a lot of money, but it doesn't mean they have better ideas. I want to hear your ideas. To me, that is the definition of inclusion. That is including someone in the conversation and telling them you want to hear from them. He invited me to speak my truth and I say my truth because truth, that's with a small T not with a capital T, because I was just learning and growing at that point. It was a pivotal, monumental relationship. Other than my actual mother and my husband, John Rogers is probably the most consequential person in my life. And he did have a big effect on shaping me as a person, how I viewed the world of investing, how I viewed being a leader, what kind of company we wanted to have at Ariel, and then this idea that great people share power, they don't hoard it. He shared power with me. He was always happy for my success, and then I was happy for his. He never felt that somehow my having the opportunity to be big made him small or vice versa. And it's interesting you ask about how the relationship has evolved because John gave a speech recently and someone said to him he was asking about having mentored me, and he said, Well, the interesting thing about Mellody is I mentored her in the beginning and now she mentors me. And I think that the roles did reverse in terms of, I started to push him on certain things as I got my sea legs and got very comfortable and had my own vision of what I wanted. And we went through a role of mentor/mentee to co-leaders, which is extremely hard to do because it's very hard for a mentor to see you as a peer. But that did actually happen, which shows what kind of person John is. So lastly, I'll finish this by saying in a way that hopefully doesn't sound inappropriate, but I say, you know, John and I, we’re like a married couple where it gets better over time. You know, we've been together for so long, but my admiration and respect and love for him only goes up. And I think that allows us to be more successful together in business. I think that's why our company works as well as it does and is able to grow and succeed. And we've defied all of the odds about co-leaders. You know, very few companies have co-CEOs, but in our world it really works.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: It's amazing. It's actually amazing because indeed, as you rightly said, Mellody, I know only of a few companies that have tried co-CEOs and usually it doesn't last long actually. There’s always some people emotional issues happening at one point about big egos taking over the others. So I think it's been a wonderful opportunity for both of you. What do you think he is learning the most from you recently, as a reverse mentoring process?
MELLODY HOBSON: He actually talked about that very recently somewhere, and he talked about the fact that with me he feels that I had more of a vision around diversifying the business, diversifying our products. That we could be in more than one city. He always thought we needed to be in Chicago in one place, working alongside each other. And he said that he really did see my vision work in a way that he hadn't anticipated. I think John and I are complementary in that we're both very courageous leaders in our own way, but we offset each other, where he's sometimes more gentle and I'm more tough when it's needed. And vice versa. And I think the other thing that we have actually made each other better is I think that he knows… Because we have a genuine love and respect for each other. I remember once we had a really big disagreement about something like really big, and it was probably one of our biggest disagreements and I was fighting hard for my point of view and he was fighting hard for his. And he said, Wait a minute, let's stop. And he said, Listen, this is what I know about you. I know that you love this company. I know that you would do anything for it. I know that you want what's best for it. And I also know that we just happen to have different visions on this one thing. And it doesn't mean that yours is bad and mine is good. They're just different. And since, you know I want the best for the company and you know that, you know, I would do anything for the company, etcetera. This is no longer emotional. It's just about how we get to the best solution. And I thought those were just very smart, wise moments that really did shape how we even manage our differences, because we're rooted in the fact that we want what's best for the company and best for each other. I'd end by saying something that I just think is very rare that he did become chosen family. And I think even though we are not related and I had someone very recently say, especially in minority businesses, you often have families that run the companies. But at Ariel, we're not related, and yet we are chosen family in a lot of ways. And that is, again, highly, highly unusual. But we do see each other in that way and in our, you know, most difficult moments of our lives. I think we've been great sources of comfort and support. And in moments where we needed to have straight talk and someone really pushed us, we've done that with each other from a perspective of love.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: That joint leadership that Mellody and John have had for so many years is truly inspirational. Under the right circumstances, it is remarkable how much co-CEOs can do. They can bring diverse competencies and perspectives to the job. They can be in two places at once, literally. But in order to succeed, they both need to be seriously committed to the idea of a partnership. To have a relationship based on honesty, respect and trust. I'd like to go back to, I think, one of the passions you have since, and we understand why now, the early days, financial literacy. In 2009, you set about creating and hosting your first TV show, What You Need to Know About Money, which led to regular appearances on the financial segment of Good Morning America. With your TV work, you were teaching people about money management, which is so important, obviously, for a lot of people, particularly those who never got any of that education. So I'd love to understand your lens, the point of view, I mean, where it came from is very clear. I mean, in terms of your family context and why you had to take care of and understand that that money muscle and master it. But tell us more about how do we need and what do we need to address that problem.
MELLODY HOBSON: I'll start off with the fact that one of the things I felt as a child when we were, you know, at our most vulnerable and financially insecure was literally physically ill. I had so much angst and worry and anxiety about where would we live, what would happen to us. I knew more than any child should know about bills being late and how much our phone was and rent and all of those things and it created a cloud. You know, this heavy cloud sort of lingered over my life during those years. So then I go and work at Ariel and I didn't make a lot of money in the beginning. I made $35,000 a year. It seemed like a million because it was the first time I could like know that I could pay my rent and my bills and all of those things. And I saw the sky open up. I saw the clouds part, and I said, This is a different way to live. There's so much more comfort and security that I feel now that I never felt before, and I wanted that for other people. So then I said, How do we get there? Because here's the problem that we have in our society. We don't learn about money in school in America or basically anywhere else. And in America, I give the example that you could take woodshop or auto, literally a class on cars or, you know, whittling. And I always ask people who whittles in their spare time? No one. But not take a class on investing. And the reason that that is profound and really important is because that class on investing ultimately has profound implications for the rest of your own life. Your ability to pass on money, wealth, any kind of security to your family after you're on this planet and how you live while you're here, especially in those later years. And so we started a school because at Ariel, we say, don't admire the problem, do something about it. And our school is over 25 years old. We have a saving investment curriculum and we give every first grade class 20,000 real dollars to invest. And the money follows them through their grade school career with the kids taking over increasing responsibility for managing it. People say to us, What do you teach a first grader about money? We start with something as simple as barter. Do you want a cupcake or a Pokemon card? And then the child really has to put a value on one or the other, and you're helping them to see how to value things as time goes on and it gets more sophisticated over time where they learn, you know, small cap, mid cap, they learn the indices, all sorts of things. But it is a conversation that can be had, can be learned. And here's the great thing. Our kids ultimately get homework that they take home that their parents end up sitting and learning from. And so it has a ripple effect, a domino effect in terms of a community.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: And the kids teaching their parents actually financial literacy over time.
MELLODY HOBSON: But there's not enough of this. You know, the one offs, an anecdote We need systematic change globally. We need it in France. We need it in America, we need it in Spain, the UK, et cetera. Because these concepts, the reason that we've had the financial crisis, the setbacks that we've had in society et cetera. A lot of it has to do with our lack of knowledge.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So true. Mellody Another moment I think of truth was one of your key TED Talks. You had many TED Talks, but one of them, I think, was watched by over 5 million people. And when you were making it almost a decade ago, some friends warned you not to talk about race, arguing that it would make you a militant black woman and hurt your career. But of course, you ignore those friends and you said we need to learn how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable race discussion. You wanted to be unapologetically black and unapologetically a woman. And you used this TED talk as a platform to call for people to be colour brave and not colour blind. Can you explain what you mean by those terms and give some concrete examples of what does it look like actually in terms of behaviours, attitudes that you’d like to see happening more often in society?
MELLODY HOBSON: So I think this this applies to race, but it also applies to other issues like religion as an example, sexual orientation, as an example, this idea of opening up your life to others and the reason I talked about colourblind versus colour brave in America, I was often confronted by people who would tell me that they didn't see colour. They'd say, I'm colourblind. I don't even see it. And so I started to really push back because I said in not seeing colour, you're not seeing that it's missing in your life. You're not noticing that you're in this homogeneous room with all white men or all white, you know, people, and you have no concept about the rest of the society around us. Shonda Rhimes, the great entertainment genius that she is, who's done all the shows like Bridgerton and Grey's Anatomy, etcetera, she once explained to me that she doesn't use the term diversity. She uses the term normal. I think this applies to many places around the world where she talks about when you're in major metropolitan cities, think London, think New York, think Chicago, think you know Paris. When you're walking around the street, there are people of all walks of life, all race, all religion, all sexual orientation. You get into these towers and as you go up the towers, the higher you go, they get whiter and more male. Now, maybe that's not true of India or China, but the idea that the orientation, the type of person starts to become more homogeneous. And so I said, what if instead of being colourblind, especially in the context of my experience in America, we could be colour brave. Invite people into our lives who don't look like us, who don't act like us, who don't think like us, and who don't come from where we come from. Where we actually seek these people out in our lives and in so doing, expand our perspectives on what is possible and ultimately open up our own thinking and ultimately make us more tolerant. I think if that were to happen, we wouldn't have wars. We wouldn't have so many of the things that we have, the kind of situations that pit people against each other that shut people out, that ostracize them in certain environments because we would have more of an understanding of who they are, what they believe and why they believe what they believe. And you can be someone who doesn't believe what I believe but I can still engage with you and have a conversations with you and learn from you. And that's the goal of this whole perspective, and that's the idea of being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Generally, we surround ourselves with people, ideas, situations that make us comfortable, but that's not where we grow.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yeah, I think it's so strong in terms of a construct, but it's also, as you know very well, so hard to, in a way, push, motivate people from all walks of life as well to seek that diversity of opinions of people in their lives day to day. So what are the three steps that CEOs and chairmans and board directors, shareholders should take to change this?
MELLODY HOBSON: We have to put elbow grease behind the lip service. You know, there's a lot of lip service around this of stating intentions, but as Yoda says, do or do not, there is no try. This is the one area where leaders are often trying to get credit for just an effort as opposed to results. And I think we have to hold ourselves accountable in terms of results, in terms of diversity in the C-suite amongst executive leadership team, in terms of diversity amongst suppliers. Are we fair and equitable in the ability of companies to do business with those businesses? I give a story about one of our friends was running a big city newspaper and they were doing a special edition for an anniversary of the city. I think it was the 100th anniversary and it was a majority minority city, meaning that the vast proportion of the city in this country was either black or Hispanic. And in that situation, he assigned one of his best reporters to do a special section for this 100th anniversary. And when the reporter came back, he said it was the only time he had ever stopped the presses at the company because once he got the special section as a courtesy thrown on his desk, when it was done, he opened it up and he leafed through it. And not one person in the special section that was highlighted was black or brown. And so he stopped the presses and he said he knew that the reporter was a great reporter. It was two reporters. In fact, he said there was nothing about them that was inherently biased. They were just writing based upon their own personal experience. And it led him to ask a very simple question. And I think all companies could ask themselves this question — is everyone in the room? So he said he realized that if he had had more people in the room when that special section was being put together, it would have come out very differently. More voices and more representation would have been there and it would not have been so one sided and therefore not really reflecting the society that they lived in. And so I asked CEOs to say when they're, you know, in there with their strategy teams or making decisions or whatever it is that they're doing, is everyone in the room?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Mellody doesn't just ask if everyone is in a room. She is proactive in making that happen. Recently, she's been spearheading a new private equity fund called Project Black, with the goal of getting more black and minority executives into the upper tiers and C suites by connecting them with customers and capital. In 2020, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, I think in response to Jamie Dimon, a CEO of JP Morgan, you came up with a very special plan called Project Black. Tell us more about where and how you shaped the plan, where this idea came about, the plan, and what are you going to do with that investment to change corporate America or global maybe, the corporate world, as well?
MELLODY HOBSON: Yeah. So during the civil unrest that was occurring in our country, the summer of the murder of George Floyd, the vicious murder, Jamie called me. I'm on the board of JP Morgan. And he said, you know, Mellody, a lot of people want to help black business. And he was toying with some ideas of bringing together black investment firms like mine. And he said, you know, Ariel could be a part of this. And he started naming firms. And I kept saying to him, Jamie, that firm’s out of business, they're gone. Nope, don't exist. And it made the point of where we were as a society. And I said, I think I have an idea. My idea was born of a perspective that there's an emphasis around the world that in order to spur and grow minority businesses or, you know, emerging markets, whatever you may what have you, that this access to capital becomes fundamental to the growth of the business. My co-CEO, John Rogers, always used to say to me access to capital is important, but access to customers is more important. And I gave the example as I sat there and thought to myself, If you have a fist full of receivables, JP Morgan will lend you money. So I said, How do we create a world in which we can bring capital and customers together to scale change in our society around black and brown businesses and therefore help narrow the wealth gap that exists in this country, in America, specifically. Because 95% of minority businesses, that's businesses run by black or Hispanic leaders, those businesses have less than $5 million in revenues. 95%. At the same time during the George Floyd summer of unrest, a lot of corporations were saying that they were literally trying to diversify their vendor list, both literally and figuratively, literally because of the supply chain disruptions, because of COVID and figuratively because they were not diverse in terms of the types of suppliers that were supplying them with their needs. So I said, what if we create an opportunity for these black and brown businesses to be scaled to be Tier one suppliers? Because the problem that we have is that if you have 95% of these businesses have less than $5 Million in revenues, they're not big enough to do business with the giants. So the idea would be that we would go and buy these businesses that may not be black or brown when we buy them, but my word, they become minoritized through our ownership. Businesses with between 100 million and $1 billion in revenue where we install at the C-suite level at least one black or brown leader who's CEO, CFO, COO, a majority minority board in the US, where we would also seek to share equity throughout the organization and when at all possible, where there's opportunity for growth of expansion of those businesses, to do so in disadvantaged minority communities. So again, to bring the opportunity to communities and again, from that perspective, help narrow the wealth gap in this country. We called it Project Black because I wrote this memo to Jamie, and in the spirit of investment banking, I gave it a pseudonym. But I thought that's a good enough name for the endeavor. And so the fund, which just closed, is called Project Black.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I think you just closed $1.4 billion, right?
MELLODY HOBSON: 1.45.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: 1.45. Let’s be precise. Sorry. And very sizable. I love the way you think about not just access to capital, but actually also to people leadership, changing the mindset and the types of leadership we have in companies and customers. At the end of the day, it's about selling, driving also that supply chain at a much higher scale. I know you've been impressing many people around you all along your life and inspiring many people, Mellody One example among many I’ve heard about you is Sheryl Sandberg, who said that you inspired her to write her best selling book Lean In, and that her life was altered by meeting with you, actually. So let me ask you the following question, because I know you like also the movie world, particularly a special one. What is Mellody Hobson’s super Jedi power? Because you have a super Jedi power, I'm sure. I know you have. What is it? And how if I can expand on that, how did you learn about your very special strengths and then how have you been able to build on your strengths, which, you know, many people don't necessarily do necessarily over time to build that incredible self confidence and the ability to drive that success and impact you have in your life? So let's start with the super Jedi power of Mellody.
MELLODY HOBSON: I think I have a couple of superpowers. I think one is that I'm a very, very strong communicator. I'm able to have an idea and to express it in a way that I think can inspire and move people. And I think in my communication skills, I can do it in a way that doesn't create a fighting words kind of environment. And so I think without capitulating in terms of my point of view. So I'm very strong in my point of view, but I'm also… The give and take is very exciting to me. And so that is something that I think some people have a strong point of view. And then the winning at all costs becomes the way that they want to engage with you. And they're actually they're waiting to speak just to tell you why you're wrong. I do think I stay open to perspectives. I'm looking for better ideas. I often tell people, my board, when we go to them for presentations, etcetera, I bring the idea to them and then I say, shred it, you know, like destroy this idea. Tell me why I'm wrong. I'm open to that kind of feedback. I think the other super power that I have is that I had a friend who said this to me that I'm nonthreatening and I'm not threatened. I'm very comfortable with all sorts of people. Even though my personality can be such that people will say that I'm intimidating. I don't feel that way. I feel like I try to connect with people at all levels, all walks of life because I am them. I see myself in the eyes of a regular person who's trying to make their way in the world, because that's what it is imprinted on me as that sort of ten year old girl and where my family was. When I look in the mirror, that’s who I see. I don't see any of the other stuff. You know, it's like there's that that joke that people who lose a lot of weight, they look in the mirror and they still think they're fat. You know, it's like, I still think I'm ten and that we're not going to make it. And so being that person just gives me a different level of empathy, I think, with other people, a willingness to share that I think makes me less insecure. I think sometimes the need to be dominant etcetera comes from a point of insecurity. I think this idea of how did I learn of my strengths and how did I build on them? I practiced. So you talked about my time on television. You know, I would just wake up to do Good Morning America, 4:00 in the morning. I'd wake up at 3 or 2 and I'd just practice and practice and practice. I'd get in the car where a driver would drive me to the studio and I'd run through my script with the driver, just anyone driving me in the car and said, What don't you understand that I'm saying? Because I wanted the driver in the car, the cab driver, whomever it is… And they would think I was crazy. I'm like, I'm doing this this segment on TV, on this topic, and I'm going to like read it back and forth. I'm going to pose the question, then answer it and tell me if you understand. If you don't understand what I'm saying, tell me. Like I did that so many times. I can't I mean, hundreds if not thousands of times of being on TV for 20 years. And then lastly, I think where does the confidence come? And this one is easy for me. My confidence comes from being studied. When I am studied in my subject matter, I am very confident. When I was on television there was someone who would watch all of the segments and they'd say whenever they thought I was unsure and now I'm trained to hear this in myself. He said, Your voice quivers just a little bit, like the average person can't hear it. But we're experts and we can hear your voice quiver. I learned to hear my voice quiver and then hearing my voice quiver. I knew when I wasn't at the top of my game and that I needed to know something and do more work on an issue. And that became like a really great tell for me, for myself of you need to get stronger on this subject. The stronger I got on subjects, the less quivering occurred, if that makes any sense.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Makes tons of sense. And I love the way you describe… You painted a picture Mellody about your strengths and the way you've been learning perpetually on your strengths, practicing. Actually you have to work super hard on your strengths all the time. You should never take that as a given, I think, exactly as you said, practicing with the taxi driver at 3 a.m. in the streets of Chicago, New York. And it's wonderful to see where you came from, is you propagate that through the connection you have with people, creating that empathy and creating that openness of embracing the other's point of view to bring them together fully, to move somewhere together, depending, of course, on the topic of discussion at the board level as much as in the cab car as well. So wonderful way… It actually resonates very much with me on Positive Leadership. It's the first circle where we talk about myself and the way I get to know myself. I become more self-aware, more self-confident, and I drive all my positive energy from physical to cognitive to social emotion I have and to kind of master that and to manage it properly so that whenever I connect with anyone, the taxi driver, a foreigner on the street as well as a CEO of that large company, I connect in a deep, authentic way and I'm propagating that inner positive energy within myself, if that makes sense for you.
MELLODY HOBSON: It does. I call it confident humility.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: Yeah, I love that.
MELLODY HOBSON: You know, those are the two words I put together on that. The other thing I should say, the one way that I think I've built on my strengths, I call it radical accountability. To really be intellectually honest with myself and hold myself accountable for what I don't do well. I think a lot of people make excuses.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I just want to pause there for a moment, because this idea of radical accountability is a game changer both at work and in life. It is a mindset that means taking ownership of and responsibility for your thoughts, your moods, your behaviours and your results. And Mellody really embodies that. The way she is so unrelenting in her efforts and so clear minded about her weaknesses is amazing. Never blaming other people when things don't turn out the way she wants. Not complaining about things or being defensive. Radical accountability is about taking control and owning your part in every interaction and refusing to assume a victim mentality. It is really empowering. Let me build on that fascinating discussion about, again, your mindset. I'd love to understand the way you've been learning along your life, Mellody in particular, the way you've learned through feedback, including what I'm calling tough love, right? We all have sometimes tough love moments with people we love the most, actually, or sometimes people we don't even love, actually. How have you learned through the loop of feedback from others? And how are you yourself giving feedback to other people? Because I'm sure they expect a lot from you as well. Or maybe not. But I know this is an art. So tell us about the art of getting the feedback, learning the feedback and providing a feedback to others.
MELLODY HOBSON: This is a big issue and it's one that I think is very important. And I think it's how you grow as an individual. Feedback has been very, very important to my development and one of the things… You’re not entitled to feedback in your life. My friend Dambisa Moyo said that to me once. You don't have a right to it. So when you get it, it's a gift. Instead of thinking, I'm entitled to feedback that someone's supposed to tell me, I have to invite that into my life and I invite that into my life all the time with my friends, with my family, etcetera. I give the story of Bill Bradley, the great Hall of Fame basketball player, and US senator who I met when I was 17 years old. I'm starting out my career. I stayed in touch with him. He's, you know, a big figure in the world, ran for president of the United States. And I'm in my early 20s and he said, you know, Mellody, you could suck the life out of a room. I'm in my 20s. I'm sitting having lunch with him, and I am telling myself as I'm sitting listening to him, don't cry. Because that is what I felt. I could feel the emotion welling up in me and the idea that the tears were going to come. And I'm like a ball hog. And he said, You could be a ball hog. He's like, You really could dominate at the expense of really, you know, shutting out other voices. That's your personality. And so I sat there and I was just really taken aback. And he says, you know, I'm it'll be interesting to see if you can realize yourself and to be a fully developed person. And I was like, Well, how can I be that? And he says, it's not that easy. We don't know. So I walked away from that and I was deeply reflective. I'm like, This person loves me. They're not saying this to hurt me. What can I do with this? So I actually developed strategies for taking all conversation as much as possible off of me when I was in certain situations and throwing them on the other people. And I did that always by asking questions. So something as simple as, you know, someone would send their assistant down to pick me up in the lobby to go up to their office in the elevator. How long have you worked here? Where do you live? You know, this, that and the other. I would know ten things about the person before I got upstairs. And again, you're making it about them, not making it about you and doing that over and over again. Because I found people love to talk about themselves. So in inviting all of those questions, I'm not a ball hog. And instead they feel that you really care and are interested in them. And that was something that just really helped me. The other thing about feedback is I can tell you the moments where it's been, you know, really, really critical in my life. I give one other story. I'll give it very quickly. My husband, and you know, I joke, I married Yoda's dad. I'm married to George Lucas. I was on the phone with him one day. I was at a dinner in Chicago. He was out west in California, and I was giving a speech. And there was a woman who walked up to me and she said, you know, I just want to let you know that in the middle of your speech, I'm going to have to get up and leave. I don't want you to think I'm being rude. And this was someone who had never been very nice to me at all and had always been rude to me. And so my response to her when she said this, she said, I'm going to get up. I don't want you to think I'm being rude. I said, Well, why would it be any different than you normally are?
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So, boom. Okay, touché.
MELLODY HOBSON: Okay. So I am so proud of myself. And I called George and I tell him this story. And he responds like in just a dead, you know, pan way. Not being harsh, but being true. He said, Oh, so you decided to be small, too? I will never forget that. That comment changed my life. It's actually hard for me because I really do want the feedback. But I've learned everyone doesn't want it. So it's like, really… And that's hard. When you're really trying to. You're giving it to them and you're, you know, you're not being harsh. It's just like, here are some facts you need to.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: But the art of learning that - you’re right - in terms of making getting the person to understand that you are here to help her grow as opposed to diminish her, to, you know, to attack her personally, but to have a deep consciousness of what the opportunity is for her, for him, that's such an art. That's so critical. So I love the gift you are making to our listeners to seek the feedback, because if you are not seeking the feedback, you'll never get it. And when you get a feedback which is too superficial, ask for depth into the feedback.
MELLODY HOBSON: Also don’t put conditions on feedback. So what happens, a lot of people, they say, Well, I don't like that person, so therefore they dismiss it. I don't respect them. They dismiss it. We actually have a saying at Ariel. You take feedback from whomever, wherever, whenever, you know, you don't decide because you like the person that the feedback matters to you or doesn't. You're asking yourself, no matter who it is, instead of dismissing it, what could be true about what this person is saying. Now, maybe there is no truth there, but you start from the position of there's some truth there.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: So much incredible learning and wisdom coming from Mellody. The ability to seek out and accept tough feedback is so critical. If you start to get feedback that is repetitive, see what it is that people are seeing in you that you need to work on. Don't be hurt. See it as a gift, as she says. Many of us get uncomfortable giving negative feedback and put it off, which is a mistake because it can be a really effective way of helping people grow. But you need to be clear in your intention. The feedback should increase, not drain the person's motivation or resources for change. And you need to be mindful about creating the right conditions in which the receiver can take the feedback, reflect on it and learn from it. My very last question. I mean, you and George Lucas are building an amazing museum of narrative art, which is all about storytelling across many kinds of arts and disciplines. My last question is more about what is the most important story you want to tell? Not to the world, but to your daughter, Everest.
MELLODY HOBSON: I have thought about this a lot. And so first I want her to be kind. I want to be her to be someone who cares about other people. That is really, really, really important to me. The second thing that I tell her is based upon what my mom used to tell me, but I've amended the way that I say it. My mother used to tell me that Mellody, you can be or do anything. I believed her. What I say to Everest now is Everest, you can be or do anything. But I want you to believe that is true of anyone and everyone. I want when you look out into the world, whoever you see, from a cab driver to a janitor to the lunch lady, to a CEO, to an anchor person on television, that you believe all of them can be or do anything as well. I think if we have that lens through which we view society, we'd be much more open to people and all of their possibilities.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: I love that signature Mellody and I enjoy so much your discussion today. Thank you so much. Again, thousands of thanks from Paris to you and wish you a wonderful day and a wonderful life and lives. Thank you so much, Mellody.
MELLODY HOBSON: Thank you.
JEAN-PHILIPPE COURTOIS: You've been listening to the Positive Leadership podcast with me, Jean-Philippe Courtois. If you've enjoyed today's episode, please leave us a comment or rating and share it with your friends. And if you've got suggestions for inspiring, purposeful leaders you think I should speak to, please let me know. Get in touch on LinkedIn or Twitter. I always love hearing from you. That's it. Goodbye.