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Unlabeled Leadership

Ranked 17 on Feedspot's Top 90 Leadership Podcasts for 2021, Unlabeled Leadership is a volunteer-led service that shares stories about leadership. Rather than using labels that mystify and obscure the meaning of leadership, Gary DePaul and guests share personal leadership stories.

Diego Ugalde Explains that Mistakes Are the Pathway to Growth

A comment from Diego:

I really appreciated Gary DePaul’s approach to his Unlabled Leadership podcast. He is a great conversationalist and is super wired in with his preparation, editing, and production of something he obviously loves to do. Fantastic experience!. In this podcast, we talk about Alan Watts’ tale of “The Chinese Farmer.” An amazing perspective in how to deal with life’s ups and downs and how to apply it to being and and leadership.

Next, we discuss what means to actually get to know your people and value of being with them on a deeper level. As with all things, this applies to self, corporate, athletic, and family life.

In Part 3, we discuss the value and potential mistakes. There is no doubt that my whole life, I have been taught to avoid mistakes at all costs. Funny thing, mistakes came anyway but when they did, there was an element of shame. There is a different perspective to consider; one that is real and happens to enliven the spirit as opposed to confining it. Ultimately, coming to realization that “I don’t have to worry about getting it right because I can’t go wrong.” This is a very difficult concept for Type A or elite achievers to understand or even try to grasp. The challenge has been extended to you. Maybe there is another way to excel in life while remaining in a place of peace.

I hope you find this podcast provocative. Big Hugs!

Podcast Auto-Transcription

Participant #1:

Gary DePaul with Unleaved Leadership. Welcome to episode 128. Diego Ugalde explains that mistakes are the pathway to growth. Here's a shout out to listeners in Zurich, Switzerland, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Sterling, New Jersey. With that, let's get started. As a Navy Seal, Diego served three compact tours in Iraq. He participated in more than 250 highly classified combat and advanced special operations missions. Now retired, Diego is the CEO of the Trident Approach. His team of current and former Navy Seals teach the best of what they learn from their time in the teams. I think you're going to be impressed with the stories that you're about to hear. Part one, using a different lens. In my book, Nine Practices of 21st Century Leadership, I talk about seven principles. One of those is called give up control. Now with this principle, there are some underlying beliefs. These are control, erodes, relationships. Leading well is about empowering others. By making yourself dispensable, you make yourself indispensable. And the fourth one, command and control, which I sometimes call C Square, is a shared responsibility. There's a type of control I don't talk about, but Diego does. And that is the control of situations or more specifically, the control of how you interpret situations. Here's Diego to explain one of the most profound stories that I've ever heard that has shaped how I sort of receive life, whether it be leadership or just within myself. There's a story from Alan Watts, just an amazing human that lived not long ago but just had a definitely different in a very deep way of seeing life, especially compared to how we have been taught how to see and receive life. And so the story is called the Chinese farmer. There's a farmer, he's out in the fields and one day his horse ran away. And the villagers come by and they say, oh, that's too bad, isn't it? And he said, well, maybe. And the next day, miraculously, the horse returns. But it also comes along with three other horses that he never had before. And the villagers come by and they said, well, that's really good, isn't it? He said, well, maybe. And the next day, his son is on top of one of the new horses trying to break it in. The horse kicks him off, falls on the ground, and he breaks his leg. And the villagers come by and they say, well, that's too bad, isn't it? And he says, well, maybe. And then the next day the government was coming by and was looking for men to recruit for the upcoming battle. And they couldn't take his son because his leg was broken. And the villagers came by and they said, well, that's terrific, isn't it? He says, well, maybe what I love about that story is when I can step back and look at life's experiences or what I might perceive to be good or bad fortune, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's always going to be that way. If I'm having a bad moment in the day doesn't mean the rest of my day is going to be bad. It doesn't necessarily mean that good things are on the way. But receiving life in that way, it turns from an expectation of what's coming to curiosity and then living in life for me from a place of curiosity rather than expectation has not only given me such a huge, tremendous sense of peace, but it also has allowed me to think really clearly when what apparently really terrible things are happening right in that moment, which has been really helpful. For example, about a year and a half ago, I woke up in the morning and I looked out my window and I happened to notice that the entire back of my car was smashed in, and somebody had run into it over the night and drove away. There were two things that I noticed immediately. One was, oh, my car is smashed. The next thing that I noticed, which was equally as interesting, was that I was completely unmoved. I wasn't angry, I wasn't vengeful. And another thing that I noticed about that feeling was that I wasn't ashamed. And I would think about, well, where does the shame come from? I'm a retired Navy Seal. And then my whole existence of my life as I was a Seal was this whole expectation that I needed to be a certain way in order to live up to the Seal reputation. And what happened that night is somebody while I was asleep had somehow sort of transgressed against me and my family while I was asleep. So what kind of Navy Seal could I be if I couldn't even protect my family because I was being lazy and being asleep? I noticed all of this stuff was going through my head that I noticed that I didn't feel any of that. And so what I did was I just made some coffee, and I thought about the story from Allen Watts, and I just thought, Today is going to be different. It's not going to be the same. And I'm really kind of curious to see how this day unfolds and still really being really happy about the fact that I was not reacting in these ways that I thought that I might have, especially in the past. So it turns out that it was going to take over a month to fix my car. And the only car that they had available at the car rental place was a Jeep Wrangler. So I spent the next month driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down and watching California sunsets every day. It was one of the first times where I really saw the value and not only hearing that story for what it was, but really aligning with it, not only with my thoughts, but with my genuine reaction. It was an amazing feeling that really helped catapult me in the way of really understanding how I deal with those things. It was just like a reference point for me, if you could say, and how this, I think can relate in business terms is we hold these leadership events, and last week we were in San Francisco out on the beach doing this training event with this young startup company. And they had about 20 people there. And they realized that two of their people were not there at all. They just decided not to show up. The CEO was very upset even saying bad words while they were on the phone. And like, where are you guys that we are supposed to be here? This is not optional. And all this, when she got off the phone, I was trying to be with her in there because she was very upset. She kind of felt like her reputation was riding on this event that she was having her company go through with us. And so I was there with her in the space, and I was like, this is a good thing that this happened. And she's like, how could this be good? That means that they don't trust me and all this. And I was like, well, it doesn't necessarily have to mean that they don't trust you, but what it is is an opportunity for you to see firsthand that not everyone is where you think they are, which is a very difficult place to be in leadership. In our culture, you don't say anything unless you want to cause a ruckus. For the most part, those things aren't necessarily rewarded. And so what happens is most of the dialogue that we get, especially in leadership, is really surface level don't want to push the boundaries too far. But there was no denying the situation for what it was. There were these two individuals that didn't necessarily feel like they were part of the team for her, something that was very bad of them, basically disobeying orders and not showing up when they were supposed to have the potential, if she was willing to see it in this way of being something tremendously good, which is having a deep and honest insight as to the mindset of her team, which then allows her to approach a problem that she was never really even looking at. So it was really good in my mind and in the way that I thought that these two individuals decided not to show up, they ended up showing up. And it turned out to be an amazing experience for everyone. It was just another reminder about this amazing story by Alan Watts, how it can really be true. Just because something happens in a way doesn't mean that it's terrible. The leadership, if a mistake is made at work or within your organization or even at home in the family, see if you can be curious. I wonder what this is going to lead to, because there are so many tremendous things that are just right there that sometimes we can't see if we're hung up on being angry or having this attachment to expectation that we weren't necessarily ready for. That's a powerful insight. What you just shared with how to respond and react when something happens. And a lot of times we'll see as human beings that we are we see a behavior or observe a behavior or lack of behavior and then we interpret it. We tell ourselves a story for why this happened. So two people didn't show up. Ceo is upset. This is something about how they feel about the event or whatever. But it could easily have been that the two people were in a car accident together and at the hospital. We attribute a story to specific observed behaviors and then we react not to the behaviors but to the story we tell ourselves. Yeah, I love the Watch story. I'm glad you selected that one, because I have not heard anyone mentioned Alan Watson a long time. He's an amazing writer. Just to your point is that immediately something may seem to be very positive or it could be something that is very negative. But six months from now, a year from now, that could be the event could have a completely different meaning to the person. Absolutely. You don't have to find out all these external stories how that could be true. It is true for everyone. You just have to look at some of your own most profound what you thought at the time were huge setbacks or heartbreaks or whatever it was and just follow the trail of what it ended up leading to. And you can see for yourself this is not something that isn't only in other people's experience that you don't have to have a certain level of understanding of the universe or spiritual connection. This is just true for everyone. You just have to look at it with a different lens and then all of a sudden it becomes really clear. Part two, do you know your own polls? Another of the seven principles is develop leadership practices continuously with that principle. It's an underlying belief that goes something like this. To become fluent in leadership practice, leadership regularly and monitor your effectiveness. That last part, monitor your effectiveness implies a lot of selfknowledge. Diego shares a story that gets at this selfknowledge aspect of leadership here's. Diego. So right when COVID really started to break, I remember scrolling through LinkedIn and somebody I have a personal relationship with wrote a little comment that they didn't like the fact that their team wasn't showing up because everyone had to work remotely and there was all this uncertainty and things. But the biggest reason why he said that he didn't like it was because it prevented him from just walking through his space and getting the pulse of his people. Then all of a sudden this power that he had knowing his team simply by walking through the workspace had not disappeared because of this remote working. I thought to myself, how interesting that anyone could think that they actually genuinely know their people just by walking through a space. People are so complex that there really is no way, especially on our current level of consciousness, to really get to know people in that way. And I think that maybe in leadership we understand that there are so many things that we've got to get done. All these checks in the boxes that we have to do to make sure that we're doing everything we're supposed to be doing in leadership and connecting with our people is one of those checks that needs to be done. I got to tell you, there's hardly anybody that I know that genuinely, honestly knows who they are to their core of their being. And so how is it then, that you feel like you might know who your team is, especially just having the opportunity to walk through the workspace? These things are way more important than checking the box of, okay, I walk through the workspace like that part of it is done. Another way of saying this is being from the veteran community, it's pretty well known that anywhere from 20 to 25 of the people in my community take their lives every day for all kinds of various reasons. It's a very big problem. And what I can say is that when I hear that another one of us has been lost by far and away, the most common comment that is made in those threads is, I was just with that guy. What happened? We were just drinking beers together last night, and he just said that he's never been better in his life. How could this be? And the reason for that is it's hard to know others when you don't know yourself. Most of us don't even really know ourselves. So taking the time to really dig and knowing yourself as a leader can have such a huge influence on how you show up, not only to yourself, but to everyone around you at work. When you do that and you understand yourself on that level, you start to begin to understand other people on their level. Now there's no real way for you to really deeply understand people. In fact, I just had another company where they have the CEO and the CTO. They're both founders, and they're both the ones who heart and passion sold into this thing. And one of them said, I know this person like I've never known before because I spent 25 minutes with their mother and it changed everything. So now I know this person. And I thought, My dad doesn't even know who I am. When I look at the kid that I was when I was six in riding my bicycle and with the teenager that I was when I was 13, riding my skateboard and who I was when I was 20 and 30, all of those things there were elements of me that were the same, but for sure, there were core pieces of my culture, my principles, my values, and things that changed along the way. My dad's understanding of me is all tied into his bias of how I was, especially with my dad at my worst, making mistakes. He's the one that held me accountable for all the mistakes that I made. So that kind of became who I was to him. And he doesn't know really who I am. And in fact, I would say that there are many times in my life where I like, oh, I'm making new discoveries about who I am all the time. When you get to understand yourself in this way, in a deep way, and you start to see and understand people who are in your organization on deeper levels, that's when it really matters. That's what that checkmark is actually all about, is really getting those deep relationships and deep connectivity with the people that are working for your organization. And for many, many reasons that are not just limited to it's good to care about people. Everyone who's in your organization has some level of genius within them somewhere. And it's not always aligned with what their roles and responsibilities are within the organization. For example, we had another event out on the beach, and we had this organization working together in unison to complete this task. But they were all disaggregated. They did not know how to work together as a team. And all of a sudden, there was this guy. He had been with the company for three days, and he showed up, and he saw what was going on around him, but he happened to have served four years in the Air Force, and he saw kind of what was going on. And all of a sudden he starts yelling and like, all right, everybody, we're going to get together. Everybody's going to go on my account, and we're going to start to do this. And all of a sudden, all of these people CEO, all this stuff started to get in line and listen to what he had to say, and all of a sudden, they started to work together as a team. And what I loved so much about that was no one even knew who this guy was because it's coded. So they've been kind of working remotely. He had only been with the organization for a couple of days, but he had a moment in that time to show them, I am way more than you realize that I am. I'm more than just an engineer. I'm more than just somebody who can help design and put these things together. There's a depth to me that you haven't seen. The takeaway of that whole thing is if you have the ability, I would highly suggest that getting yourself, your team, really even your real family together in places that are not usual to you or to them, because what happens there is people start to rely on their strengths. And when those things come out and when they're not necessarily common in how they go about doing work every day, you get to learn deeper parts of who these people are that are actually making up your organization, being able to tap into those things that aren't so obvious when you really start to leverage who your team really is. That's amazing when you start to think about it, because how many times do we confine our own workforce because we think that this is who they are or all what their capabilities are and nothing more than that. I recently read an article and I can't give you the reference off at the top of my head, but if I can find it, I'll put it in the show notes. I read the article that said that people are not the greatest asset of a company. You hear that lie? What the author said was, no, it's not people. It's the relationships among people that are the greatest asset. And it's a totally different way of thinking about the workforce, the people around you, the people you interact with. If there is no relationship or the relationship is surface and there's no real depth or no real trust to it, people aren't going to let you in to their places where they need the most security. It's just not going to happen. The only way that people are going to show them realness of themselves is that they know that they're safe to do it. Yes. If you don't have a relationship with them, good luck. Or they can show them their real selves. And it may be manifesting in a way that it's really just a cry for help. I need help in this moment, but it's not the best of them. So yes, absolutely. Relationships. This whole thing of tapping into the talent and the genius of your workforce, I mean, that's there but you'll never see it if there are no relationships. Genuine relationships are massively important all the way around. And that can be a really hard pill to swallow for people who don't feel as though they are people or that they have like these interpersonal skills or whatever. That can be a scary thing. Helping them walk through those places and then being present with them as they learn their chops, dealing with other people and then also with themselves can be a really powerful thing because I think that there's so much of our workforce, hey, I'm just not a people person. It's just not something that I do. It can be really helpful not only for the organization, but the growth of that individual as well. Relationships, yet are incredibly powerful and important. Part Three Mistakes, Curiosity and Growth There's a strong correlation between when life doesn't work out the way you want and learning. Putting it another way, when mistakes happen. The opportunity for learning begins in this story. Diego starts out in the attic, then has a conversation with his daughter, which leads into a discussion about being human and what that entails again. Here's Diego. About ten years ago, I was digging through my attic and I happened to discover my workbook that I had when I was in second grade. And I opened it up and it was just filled with red marks and all these things wrong. And I remember seeing this question. I said, what color are Sally shoes? And I wrote Bork. And I said, oh my God, I struggled in school greatly. It was a very dark time in my life, all the way through high school. It was a very hard thing for me, but it just so happened that my daughter at the time was in second grade and she came home from school one day and I opened up her workbook and there were no red marks anywhere. And if it asked the question, what color were Shelly shoes? She wrote Blue. And I was just this huge sigh of relief. And I looked at her and I said, I'm so happy you're not going to have to struggle the way that I did in school. And so I kissed her on the forehead and I walked out of the room thinking that maybe I did a good job as a dad in that specific moment. But a couple of years ago we're driving and she looked over to me and she said, hey, dad, remember the conversation we had when I was in second grade? I said, yes. And she said, well, you didn't say this, but the way that I took it was that I didn't have an excuse not to do well in school. I commenced to crushing myself every day because I didn't have an excuse not to do well. And she did. She got straight as she's a senior in high school now, but for the last two years she's been taking College courses in high school. She's just been completely smashing school. What I took away from that because I knew the motivation behind what I was saying and the motivation behind what I told her that day about being grateful that she's not going to have to suffer was only coming out of love and nothing more. But she took it in this really powerful way that took her on this ten year journey of learning that she is not her thoughts. Just because she thinks something doesn't mean that it is. So the thing that I got out of that, which has shifted a lot of how I approach leadership, is that I'm not going to get it right and I can't get it wrong. There was just no way for me to tell that by me saying what I said to her was going to lead to her hearing the exact words and driving on with those exact words. There was no way that I was going to tell that all of a sudden she was going to just take that to, hey, you don't have an excuse not to do well, but I'm so grateful that she took that in the way that she did, because she learned something that a lot of conversations that I have with people who are 50 and 60 years old have yet to learn that their thoughts don't really matter. If I told her that at that age, hey, your thoughts don't matter. It wouldn't have any context. It wouldn't mean anything. But she learned something like that for herself at a very, very young age. Now that I know and now that I'm comfortable with, hey, I'm not going to get this right, but I can't go wrong is a really powerful place to be in leadership. You can direct, you can inform, you can guide, you can mentor, you can do all these things to fit your narrative or to fit your objective, but just know that they're not going to be met. Your expectations are not going to be met because people are dynamic and complex and complicated and all of this stuff. So whatever comes of that awesome, if not what I wanted to come out of this happened, well, what is that? And how could that possibly be of use to our growth and our development as organization or in this person's personal growth and development as they're continuing to grow and develop as being a human? Because that's what really matters, sort of the universe takes over and says, hey, this is what we want out of this. So if you can release to that and say it's not about what I need to have happen or what I want to have happen, it's just like whatever comes out of this, how do we respond to that and how can we use this for growth and learning, having that mindset, having a true alignment with the meaning behind all of this? I can tell you now there are mistakes that are made in our company or in other companies. I suppose you could say mistakes that happen that are like, oh, awesome, great. What amazing thing is going to come out of this or what now is going to come out of this that we didn't necessarily see coming. It's going to be helpful for us and it just changes everything. So now mistakes or whatever, awesome. Sweet. How do we work this thing to our benefit and then moving on instead of just doing over, oh, my gosh, this is what we planned on. This is what we needed to have. It didn't happen. All of that stuff is just really at the end of the day, you can't control it anyway. So why spend so much time worrying about it and trying to fix things that are not necessarily in your control in that way? When we're pushed outside of our comfort zone and expected to act to a particular situation or whatever, there is an ongoing fear that you're going to make mistakes and things are going to potentially go seriously wrong. It seems to me that part of leading is not only taking the risk of making mistakes, but acknowledging and being accountable when they happen and learning from it. And I think that's part of your message. Yeah, there is this expectation that if we do everything we're supposed to do that we're going to stop major mistakes from happening. That's not life doesn't work in that way at all. Mistakes are coming, but the value in the mistakes is it's not just about mistakes for mistakes sake, for the simplicity sake, these mistakes are pathways to growth and development, if you can see that in that way, they're very powerful tools for developing. It's not about avoiding mistakes. It's about doing the best you can and just understanding that once you release this thing out there and then when the mistakes do happen, how do you respond to them? Because there is powerful growth to be learned from this. That's what I mean by you're not going to get this right the moment you take yourself out of the equation. Now you're starting to get into these chaotic levels of possibilities, not necessarily worrying about not getting it right or being mistake free, just doing the best you can and however the chips fall, okay, now how do we respond to this and how do we gain from this? Being in that mindset all of a sudden takes you out of this very negative, reactive thing about something you can't control anyway and puts you in a place of curiosity, which then allows you to grow beyond growing because that's how growth happens is through mistakes and struggle and strain and overcoming and all that stuff. All of that is really good, but you can only have it when things go wrong. That's where trust is built. Trust is built when it's hard, not when things are easy. If you can get to the place when those mistakes happen and it's like, okay, how is this serving us? How is this making us better? What is the opportunity here? Then everything changes.

Participant #1:

My thanks to Diego Ugade. If you'd like to learn more about Diego, go to the show notes and if you have a question or comment, go to, click the message icon and leave a voicemail for up to 1 minute. I like to thank those who donate to the show your contributions makes a difference because this is an all volunteer service. I like to thank you for listening. This is Gary DePaul. Until next time, lead on.

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