David Elikwu speaks with David Morris, the Chief Operating Officer at NeoInsulation.
David dug deep into his background and the road to becoming a chief operating officer and everything that he learned along the way.
They also discussed the idea of finding your path and not over optimizing for optionality. Finally, David unpacked his leadership playbook, sharing everything that he's learned about leadership, both at home and at work, as well as the skills and values that you need to be a great leader.
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📄 Show notes:
David's journey to COO [1:59]
The magic of 'mid-life' [8:32]
The pressure to have things figured out [14:32]
What does it mean to get things right [16:40]
The glamorous alternative future [27:20]
How David built his career [31:54]
Learning values through hard lessons [38:02]
The hardest skills (you really need to learn) [47:07]
Great leadership and great parenting [50:33]
The battle against cynicism [54:58]
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👨🏾💻 About David Elikwu:
David Elikwu FRSA is a serial entrepreneur, strategist and writer. David is the founder of The Knowledge, a platform helping people learn more and live better.
- Twitter: @Delikwu / @itstheknowledge
- Newsletter: https://theknowledge.io
- Website: https://www.davidelikwu.com,
- Podcast: http://plnk.to/theknowledge
🚀 Career Hyperdrive
David runs a course which will help you build a toolkit of mental models and bulletproof core skills that will drastically shorten the growth curve for your career, business or personal brand. Join the next cohort to take control of your path, build future-proof skills, and design a career you can be proud of.
🧭 The Knowledge
As a writer and serial entrepreneur, David Elikwu speaks with elite performers from a variety of backgrounds, unpacking everything there is to know about navigating the world around us.
This podcast is a catalogue of excellent data points. Join us each week for actionable insights to make sense of what matters most.
The Knowledge is an online publication designed to save you from information overload. It’s where you go to figure things out. A curated digest of the world's best ideas, drawing on insights from psychology, philosophy, business and culture. We explore tools, frameworks and stories that will help you navigate with clarity and cut through the noise.
David Morris: Everything that you are proud of, everything that you love about yourself every sense of contribution that you make to the world. That has all arisen out of the things that you've had to struggle through in your life.
And So if you try to remove yourself from the struggles of day-to-day life, you remove yourself from all of that growth as well. And all of the refining that happens as you're facing all of that. And so my argument to people was always yeah, fantasy looks good, but you don't really want it.
That other job looks really good. And it might legitimately be a better job for you or a better environment for you to be in.
But you're still gonna have annoying co-workers. You're still going to have a bunch of tasks that you have to do every day that you don't like doing. Those things are just inherently part of our experience.
David Elikwu: Hey, I'm David Elikwu and this is The Knowledge. a podcast for [00:01:00] anyone obsessed with learning more and living better. In every episode I speak with successful people from a variety of backgrounds to unpack everything they've learned about navigating the world around us.
This week, I'm speaking with David Morris, the Chief Operating Officer of Neoinsulation. We had such an incredible conversation. I've been referencing this for the last few weeks, and I'm so glad that I'm finally able to share this with you. David and I dug deep into his background and the road to becoming a chief operating officer and everything that he learned along the way.
And tied to that, this idea of finding your path and not over optimizing for optionality. And finally, David unpacked his leadership playbook, sharing everything that he's learned about leadership, both at home and at work. And we really unpacked a lot of the skills and values that you need to be a great leader.
You can find David [00:02:00] online on Twitter @wdmorrisjr.
If you love this episode, please engage with it. Subscribe, share it with a friend. And most importantly, please don't forget to leave a review because it helps us tremendously to grow the show and reach other people. Just like you.
So you're a COO. What is that like?
David Morris: So in my job, I'm responsible for essentially running the whole organization. So we have a manufacturing arm, so I help oversee our manufacturing and, we have of course, a sales team that's out.
So I'm involved in direct sales myself and so I have customers that I take care of. And then I'm also of course then involved in leading and managing my sales team. And then we also have an operations side. So I've got offices around the country that have operations leaders. So I'm working with them, building their teams [00:03:00] redesigning processes and procedures and getting feedback.
Troubleshooting issues that come up throughout the day. So it is literally kind of a new day every day. In fact, most days I come in in the morning and I'm pretty disciplined about sitting down for 10 minutes and saying, what do I want to do today? And about 75% of the time the next morning when I come in, I still have that same list because something happened the day before that took me off that, and I didn't get anything that I thought I was going to get done that day done.
So that's that's kinda what my, what my world is, is just coordinating a whole bunch of different people doing a number of different things and trying to make it all make sense in our framework.
David Elikwu: Was this always something that you saw yourself doing? Cause I find that at least in my mind, I see a lot of COO's falling into one of two boxes. I think you get the natural operators, people that were, always operators. And this is something that they wanted to do.
And then you get people that maybe [00:04:00] fell into the position because they just had aptitude, and it's just a role that they can use almost as a vehicle to still contribute within the business.
David Morris: Yeah, that's a very interesting question. and, I'll give you two answers. So answer number one is no, I had no idea I would be doing this. From a career perspective. I've never been somebody who had kind of a grand plan, so I've, I've always been ambitious, but my ambition had less to do has always had less to do with ambition in terms of accomplishing some career goal.
And my ambition had a lot more to do with being the best at whatever it was I was doing at that time. So there's kind of some different ways that people do that. And like I said, some of them, and I know a lot of people that had a, kind of a big long-term plan and they kind of work towards that plan and they had an ideal position they wanted to get to and they, they worked faithfully to get there.[00:05:00]
I'm, I've never had that. I mean, I still, I'm still not sure what I want to do for a career. And I'm 45 and I've been working for 25 years, you know, so I think about this all the time. So so on one hand no, this isn't something that I always wanted to do. On the other hand, what, what happened for me because of that in my career is that I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I just knew that I wanted to do a really good job at whatever it was I was doing.
And so. Opportunities came to me and I would try to be the best at that. I mean, I've, I've tried to be the best at like including silly things. Like once for a summer in college I worked at a bagel shop and I was like, my job was to bake bagels. And I came in at 3:30 in the morning and, and fired up the like did the first kind of bake up of bagels during the day.
And I remember just thinking, like, I'm going to be the best bagel baker that they've ever seen. And it was just career benefit to that whatsoever. I did [00:06:00] that for two months in a summer job, but but, man in my mind I was there's no, there's, there's no rate yourself against the rest of the bagel bakers in the world, but but I, you know, I just always felt it was always ingrained in me growing up that whatever you're doing.
Put your full faith and effort into it, right? There's, there's nothing beneath you if you're, if someone's trusted you to do a job, then make good on that. Right. And, and do the job well. So, so I did a lot of different things that really came to me just kind of by way of relationships. And then I would, I would move into a job and I would try to do a really good job at that job.
And then people would give me other things to do, you know, provide additional responsibilities to me and I would oversee, you know, something else. And so what happened over the course of time is that I just collected this very broad skillset where I had done a lot of different [00:07:00] jobs in a company, you know, so I had, I started off kind of in the recruiting world. And then then that expanded into this kind of some general, like HR type of things. And then I was in leadership development and training for awhile. So these things were all kind of connected to each other. And then the company I was at. They just needed someone to oversee sort of a hodgepodge of things like, you know, the vehicle fleet and, you know, as well as the training and then that expanded into, they were trying to do some process improvement initiatives.
And so they gave those to me and I was responsible for that. And then they implemented a quality management program and they put that under me. So so all of a sudden there was just a whole lot of stuff that I had done. And and then I got into a consulting role for several years and, and that was when I was working with CEOs and senior business leaders and owners and founders in that consulting role.
And it was kinda the [00:08:00] first time for me that I was in those meetings with those people and thought, oh man, I actually have something to contribute to these conversations. Like I can actually, like, I know things that can help them. And I know things that, that they don't know just because they haven't ever done that function before.
And so that was a, that was a few years of that really kind of brought all of my professional experience together and said, man, even though I've kind of been all over the place and bounced around, that was the moment that it all converged into a Hey, this is actually there's some value to this. And so, so the, the role that I'm in now was actually a company that I was consulting with at the time that that approached me and said, we'd like for you to come in full time and into the COO role.
And when I got into that role, I said, oh man, this is the perfect role for me because I am just by personality, a [00:09:00] generalist. Like I'm not really, I don't have a deep knowledge in anything, but but I can do a serviceable job at just about everything that there is in the business, just because I've, I've done that.
And so, so in the right spot and the right application when I found the COO role, I thought it felt like I had sort of come home from a career perspective. So it's certainly the kind of thing I could see myself doing for the rest of my career. But but based on my past history, I would always say to myself, who knows what I'll be doing in five years or 10 years because something comes along.
That's interesting. And, and one of the things that I'm just motivated by personally is the chance to learn something new and develop a new skill. And so so who knows what that'll look like, but that's kinda my two answers had no idea that this was something that I even wanted to do. Once I found it, realized it was something that I really loved doing.
David Elikwu: I love that. It definitely resonates with me personally. The idea of being a generalist. I [00:10:00] think that is the title that suits me perfectly. And also funnily enough, quite a few people that I've had on this podcast. And I, I find it interesting how often, I think there's this narrative that you're supposed to have this desire in your heart, and you should always know exactly what it is that you want to do.
And you should just be the best at that thing and build this skill set and just only be good at one thing. And there's a real big push to focus, particularly even coming straight out of college. In some instances much earlier than that, actually there's a push that you have to out a straight line to follow keep going down that road until you reach some kind of conclusion.
David Morris: And yeah, I agree. What's hard about it is that, so one of the magical parts of midlife is that enough time has passed that you've seen a lot of things play out. So when you're in your twenties and even in your thirties, you're still kind of in the middle of things playing out.
And so, so what's challenging is [00:11:00] and before I say this, I'm going to pause and add, just added a little bit of a disclaimer here from what you said. It is absolutely a valid path to know exactly what you want, to specialize in that, to focus on that and to build your career around that, I've got a lot of good friends who have done that have been incredibly successful and incredibly happy doing that.
So I think a lot of it comes down to who you are and how you're wired. I agree with you a hundred percent that the message that's kind of pushed down to us when we're young is. If you don't have that sense of clarity and direction from a career perspective that something's wrong with you, or, you know, that that's a problem.
And, and so that's the part that I wish we could correct to say. So, so what I, what I labored under for many years was more or less, you know, a sense that I was broken from a career perspective, right. That there were other people that I knew [00:12:00] who for a period of time were advancing, you know, way past me vocationally because of that kind of, they knew what they wanted to do, and they focused on that and they specialized in it and they, they advanced so it wasn't until I kind of got to that place.
I mentioned when I was in that consulting role, that by that time I was, you know, Probably pushing 40. I think I may have been right around 40 when I went into that job. And, and so it wasn't until then that the previous 15, 17 years of kind of the, the non-linear work that I was doing all kind of came together.
And then what happened was at that point, I took this big step forward career-wise and sort of caught up with all these other people that I had felt, you know, quote behind before that, if that makes sense.
David Elikwu: Yeah absolutely.
David Morris: So, the, so the, the perspective of time, that's [00:13:00] the, like I said, that's kind of the magic of midlife is that you've seen all these things play out.
You've seen people who you thought were going to take over the world bottom out, right. You've seen people who you thought would never amount to anything do amazing things and you've seen everything in between. And so it loosens a lot of your, kind of like your grip on. I gotta have things figured out because what you see is like, nobody has anything figured out.
And even people that think that they do, I mean, there is unexpected stuff that happens every day and things change really quickly. And, you know, I'm, I'm one phone call away from my world completely changing today for good. Right. And I, and I have no control over whether or not that happens. And the same thing applies in your, in your.
Things change all the time. I've had people ahead of me in organizations that I worked in that I thought would never, [00:14:00] ever, ever leave that I was in. You know, I, I had risen as high as I would cause that person would never leave. And one day out of the blue, I walked into the office and they say, I'm leaving.
And the next day the boss, you know, two levels above me comes and promotes me into their position and I never would have dreamed that that would happen. So so if you can kind of loosen some of your grip when you're young on the idea that you have to have it all sorted out and instead look at the other side of that, which is the, it will all work out given time that helps so much.
So I have a daughter who's in her first year of college. And this has been so interesting for me to look at it from that side of it, because there's all this pressure on her to pick what you're going to study, you know, which means, you know, what are you going to do with your career? And man, it's hilarious to me that looking at it from a parent, you know, with my child, trying to figure this [00:15:00] out, that that we would ever have any expectation that somebody who's 18 years old would have any clue what they want to do with their life.
Right? When you're 18 years old, you don't know what you want to eat for lunch. Right. You know, when you get up in the morning, but nevertheless, what you want to do for the next, you know, 40 years of your life. So, you know, I think that's been the message that I have tried to preach to people who are younger in their careers, as much as I can is just man, just, if you could just relieve some of that pressure and take a perspective of it'll work out and what's in my control may not be getting it all figured out right now.
What's in my control is I can get up every day and I can go to the job that I have and I can work to be the best at what I do to be the best employee that the company has, right. To make my [00:16:00] boss's life easier to be a joy to work with. And if I can do all those things, then opportunities seem to magically appear over the course of time.
Right. So so that's, that's always my encouragement to anybody is. Just take a deep breath. It's not going to work out the way you think it is. Nothing in life does. Right. And so be flexible and be focused on where you are and being excellent and you know, and where you are. So anyway, I don't. Why, why do you think that that's such a pressure on people when they're younger to have it all figured out?
What do you think about that, David?
David Elikwu: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think there's a few things. One is partly what you touched on. I think when you're young, particularly say your late twenties, early thirties, or even earlier than that, I think it's a combination of this uncertainty. Cause life is fixed, right? You only have a fixed number of hours fixed amount of time.
You don't know how long that time [00:17:00] is. And there is a pressure that can't go back. So you have to get things right the first time, because. I guess it goes to what you say about the experience where you haven't lived long enough to realize that actually a lot of times you can go back and there's plenty of people that have completely reinvented their careers and reinvented their lives several times over by the time they're 50 or even 60 or beyond.
so I think when you're so early in that journey, I think it's this combination of there is so much uncertainty, but there's also a lack of control where you might not even there's things you hope you're going to be good at, but you still haven't figured out exactly what your, your best foot forward is.
You don't know exactly what you are best at for yourself, but also best at maybe compared to others. And so you are still trying to figure out, you know, you're almost throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks and you're trying to figure out what is going to work.
David Morris: yeah. You said something interesting that spawned another question for me is [00:18:00] just, I wonder so often where this, even this idea that you can like, get it right. Or get it wrong comes from, you know, because I mean, that is I mean, that's one of the things, like, I don't know if you have a spouse and children or any of that stuff, like when you're raising, when you're raising kids, like you're getting stuff wrong all the time, but, but you can still in a, in a kind of a wide angle perspective, beginning stuff, really right. You know?
And so there there's so many things like that. There's so many things like that with work. Like I've, I've tried to just figure out, like, what does it mean to get things right today? Like in the smaller perspective and. And that's probably, if I get things right today in critical areas of my life, then over the course of time, that's probably means I'm sort of getting things right.
At least, you know, on the [00:19:00] trajectory towards, right. Whatever that means, you know, as opposed to, you know, there's you know, it's not like driving a car down the highway and you have one lane that you have to be in. And if you get out of that, you know, you kill yourself or somebody else or drive off the side of a cliff, right.
Cause an accident it's, it's a little bit more like going hiking through a beautiful place. And there's a path that you can be on, but it's kind of wide and there's some paths that go off over here and you can go see a waterfall if you want to And you can go sit in a meadow if you want to.
And there's just a lot of stuff that sort of branches off of that. And depending on who you are if somebody went on that hike and you said, how was your hike? And they said, oh, it was great. I walked the main path for a while. Then I went and looked at the waterfall. You wouldn't go, you're a failure.
What do you mean? You got off the main path and went and looked at the waterfall, right? You'd say, oh, that's wonderful. I'm glad you did that. That's an interesting experience. What was that like? Maybe I should do that [00:20:00] next time. I've never done that part of the path of the trail. And, and yet we have these things like work, and, or career and parenting, relationships and all these other things that there's this embedded pressure of.
There's a right. And there's a wrong. And if I don't find the right then I've missed it. And now, you know, there's this dread of, like, now that chapter is closed and I can never go back and change it. And anyway, what are you going to say?
David Elikwu: Yeah. I think a big part of where that comes from, at least in my view is this of choice that never really existed before. I think right now you have so many options. There is so many more things that you could do. You have more options of what to do than anyone that ever came before you.
That number of choices almost becomes a constraint because that is what makes you panic. And it's like, oh my gosh, I could be a lawyer and a doctor and a engineer. And I could do all of these things, I don't know which to pick. And so that stifles [00:21:00] people's creativity and makes them less likely to try things and to pick and to see what happens you feel like you have to make that decision, which is quite interesting because when you think about over time, kind of similar to the analogy that you use.
But I think maybe one differentiation is that I think if you think decades ago, if you grew up in a certain area and your parents do a certain thing, the trajectory that your life is going to go down is a lot more confined. It's maybe necessarily confined, but more predictable. probably going to go and do something similar to that.
If your mother, if your mother was a dressmaker and you know, your dad was a cobbler, then maybe that's probably what you're going to do something around there. But I think it's almost the difference between. Driving on a, on a road where there's two lanes and you can pick, okay, there's a, maybe a slower lane or a faster lane.
There's two lanes like this and going on a big highway where there's loads of lanes and you are constantly moving forward and you can see all the signs and [00:22:00] it's like, okay, if you're, if you want to become a doctor, you have to turn off here. If you want to do this, you have to turn off here. feel as you're on this conveyor belt where you have to make a decision, that's going to take you somewhere else completely before it's too late.
David Morris: Hmm. Yeah. That's a really interesting perspective. I think your point on choice is, is really fascinating. I think the damage that choice has done psychologically to our consciousness is that it has eroded our ability to commit to our choices. So there's always this thing that happens where it's like, well, even something really simple, you know.
I chose to go to this restaurant and eat and I didn't love the meal. Man, I really wish I would have gone to this one, you know, and, and sometimes you go to the one and you eat, you don't like it that much. And you still go to the other one, get some stuff because you're, you regretted not doing that. And so, because we have such a proliferation of choice we always have this thing in our minds that says there's probably something better that I could have chosen instead of saying [00:23:00] what I have chosen is the right thing.
And I'm going to make the most of it. And my dad had this really interesting experience that he tells the story of. So my dad was an only child and his father died young. So he grew up poor and sort of had to make his own way in the world. And when he married my mother her uncle was this, this very big time executive at a big company based in Houston.
And he was one of those guys who had his salary published in Forbes magazine as like the highest paid executives in the United States. So, so my dad worshiped my mom's uncle, you know, as a young businessman looked up to him and sort of like the pinnacle of success. And my dad tells the story of he was trying, he had an offer to change jobs and he wasn't sure what to do.
And he got a call one from my mom's uncle's secretary inviting him to come to this big, skyscraper in downtown Houston to have lunch with them. And so my dad said, sure, I'd be happy to. And so he went there and they went up and it was [00:24:00] in the old days where they had just like the executive dining room that was just for senior executives.
And so so they go and they sit down and uncle John said, you know I heard, you're trying to make a job choice here and tell me about that. And so my dad laid it all out for him. And uncle John said would you mind if I gave you some advice? And my dad said, Yes.
you know, and he's, he's thinking, man, this guy who knows everything is going to tell me what the right thing to do is like what choice I should make.
And this was the advice he gave my dad, whatever decision you make will be the right decision. And my dad said, he was like, oh, he left the meeting and he felt so let down by the experience. And but it stuck with him. And over time he continued to think about it. He continued to think about it. And what he realized was that the secret to success for men, like my mom's [00:25:00] uncle for, for anyone, but for someone who had achieved something great, like my mom's uncle was that they believed that, that they made decisions and then committed to those decisions, believing in faith that they had made the right decision and they moved forward, but they discarded what the other options were and fully committed themselves to the path that they were on.
And that, that was. That that truly was rather than being, you know, a dismissive or disappointing thing that was truly a secret to success that was being kind of bestowed upon him by this, by this person who had achieved so much. And, so that always has stuck with me just as a simple life experience that my dad passed along with the message of saying whatever it is that you choose commit to that The person that you choose to marry, commit to them.
There's a hundred people that you could marry a thousand people, an infinite number of people, people get all caught up and worrying about, have I [00:26:00] found the right person or right. You know, all this stuff. The person that you married is the right person. So, operate that way. The job that you're in is the right job.
The career path that you're on is the right career path. How does that shift things for us? If that's the way that we look at the world, not in a there's this whole menu of things that I could be doing maybe I'm doing the wrong one. Maybe I should go this one, maybe this one will be better. Maybe this one will be better.
And you know, and so that's the, that's the thing it reminded me of when you talked about just the the saturation of choice in our world is that it, does have this this sense because to your point a hundred years ago, or 200 years ago your parents farmed the family land. And from the time that you were conscious of the world around you, you assumed you were going to spend your life farm in the family land, you know?
And so, you know, I'm not saying everybody loved that life and. [00:27:00] They just did it and, and, and they, and then it was up to it's up to each of us to decide, to be happy in what we're doing, not to expect what we're doing to make us happy. And, and that's just that's just a different framework for how we go about living our lives.
David Elikwu: Yeah, I completely agree. think it's this really interesting balance. I think particularly, I remember reading an article in the Harvard business review quite a few years ago, but it was essentially about the curse of optionality. And it's this, a bit of a paradox because on one hand, optionality can be a great thing.
You know, it's something I was going to mention earlier on with. it linked to something you were talking about, but this idea of able to give great gifts to your future self and of, you know, can you do now that gives you more options down the line. Those are always fantastic things.
Those are always things that can help you to grow and to develop. But at the same time, we hedge our bets too much. And we are so [00:28:00] concerned with preserving all the options possible that we don't make any choices now, or we make bad choices now because we are afraid to commit like you were saying.
So think it definitely goes very much following on from what we were just saying where I definitely think that a lot of people are quite scared to commit to things because, you know, there's the well-known phrase that comparison is the thief of joy. And I think it's very easy now to look around see what everyone else has and compare that to what you have.
even if you pick something that you are completely happy with, when you see someone that looks happier with what they have, then you start thinking, Hmm, did I pick the right thing? Does this taste as good? There's like this, the meal that I sat down and ate it tasted good at the time, but now I've seen another one on Instagram.
I don't know if it was the best. It could be. There's a person that I chose to my partner. Oh. But now I see all these other things. Now I see all these other options. And think even with that, I think part of the issue [00:29:00] is that you don't always see both sides the way that our society is, we just show you one side, we show you the good side, the best possible outcome of alternative.
So if you weren't doing this job here is how glamorous life of this other job could be. Or here is how fantastic it could be be doing this other thing. But you don't see any of the negatives, the hard parts, the things that make it difficult.
David Morris: Right. Yeah. If if you were around me a lot, one thing that you would hear me say on a regular basis is that reality is no match for fantasy. A fantasy wins every time. And, and so you always have to be careful about what you're comparing you know, to your point, because what we live in to a certain extent, and this is what social media does, is it paints a world of fantasy.
So you see, you know, really well crafted a meal that somebody who's a professional photographer [00:30:00] has taken a picture of and put out there. Of course, it's gonna look better. If you try to do it, it's not going to look that way. It's not going to taste as good. It's not gonna smell. Right. So so the idea that that we kind of walk around all the time and project out only the good that we see.
And you know, so I see somebody just, we'll just use a spouse. For example, you have a spouse, you see someone else and you think, oh man this is this person would be so great to live my life with. I wish I was with that person instead of my spouse. Well, the reality is, is that. If you were with that person, they would do stuff that's annoying.
You'd get in fights about dumb stuff. They would call you on you know, you leaving your dirty laundry on the floor, whatever, you know, all these things in your current relationship that are causing frustration, headache, annoyance to you that are spawning this idea that I'd be happier [00:31:00] with somebody else.
All those same things are going to happen with somebody else. They might look a little different sound, a little different, but, but that's reality. And so one of the things that we have to be careful to do, I say this to my children all the time is that you always have to try to project out reality against reality.
If you project out fantasy against reality, then reality is always going to lose because it's, it's. It's real. And, and in the realness of life, there's a lot of, there's a lot of dirt and grime and gritty and ugly and uncomfortable. And and there's no way to escape that. There's no magic thing you can do to change your life circumstances, to remove all of the difficulty.
And my argument is you don't want to, you don't want to, because it is in, it is in the difficulty it's in the having to navigate and [00:32:00] negotiate and work through a challenge in a relationship or a frustration in a job, or that sense of feeling stuck or you know, unhappy or discontent in your life.
It's in the middle of working through all of that, that we experience personal growth. And, and that's what shapes who we are. And so everything that you are proud of, everything that you love about yourself every sense of contribution that you make to the world. That has all arisen out of the things that you've had to struggle through in your life.
And so if you try to remove yourself from the struggles of day-to-day life, you remove yourself from all of that growth as well. And all of the sort of refining that happens as you're, as you're facing all of that. And so my argument to people was always yeah, fantasy looks good, but you don't really want it.
You know, and that's my argument to myself. You don't [00:33:00] really, you don't really want that. That other job looks really good. And it, it might legitimately be a better job for you or a better environment for you to be in. Those are all practical kind of pragmatic matters that you can evaluate rationally.
Right. But you're still gonna have annoying. Co-workers you're still gonna have frustrating people that you work with. You're still going to have a bunch of tasks that you have to do every day that you don't like doing. I mean, those things are just inherently part of our experience. And so you're foolish if you project out just the, the nice changes and you don't also keep as a constant, all the other stuff, you know, you're going to have to deal with.
David Elikwu: Absolutely. I'm interested to know how you found your orientation coming out of college. So when you were first kind of emerging into the world of work, I know you said you were already working during college, but how were you thinking about approaching, building your career?
David Morris: Man. That's a really interesting question. And [00:34:00] the way that I was thinking about building my career was oh shit, I need money. I have to find something to do. And I don't know what to do. I mean, I was scared to death to enter the work world. So when I first started working, so when I was in college, I got my first kind of job through a friend who was working at a big company locally and they had an opening.
And so I worked there for about a year and a half kind of concurrently while I was still going to school. And then in the process in there I'd gotten married. And my wife had been accepted to a graduate school in Nashville, Tennessee. So we moved from Oklahoma to, we had kind of agreed before we got married.
That was like one of my conditions to getting to marry her was that she was going to go to this graduate school. She delayed it for a year. And so I had signed on the dotted line that yes, we'll move in a year. So so then that bill came due and we followed through on it and we moved to Nashville. But I didn't know a soul.
And these were back in the very early days, I [00:35:00] think like kind of the original job boards had just started on the internet. So there was like, I think Monster was out there and that was kind of the first thing. But I was, I was looking through like the newspaper would have like, you know, wanted job postings in it.
And I was looking through that stuff. And so I was doing a little bit of applying for stuff online and, and, and making some calls. And I just got an interview at this company that did technical recruiting. So basically like, like head hunter type jobs. I figured out later they were kind of a bottom of the barrel type of a place.
And so so maybe they just couldn't find people, but I went to work there and, same thing I kind of mentioned earlier. I tried to do a really good job at that. I cared about what I was doing. Had an interesting experience there. And so to answer your question, I, I didn't really approach it as, oh, Hey, I've got a plan or I have something that I want to do.
[00:36:00] I had a little bit of experience because the job that my friend had gotten me in college was in a human resources department where I worked with the recruiters and I worked with the benefits people. So I had a little bit of background on that. So that gave me something to sort of a category to start looking in, you know, I wasn't applying for an engineering job or something like that.
So I had a little bit of a lane that I was in, in terms of. Maybe because I've got a little bit of experience. I could talk somebody into hiring me, you know, who works in this world, but, but that was about it. You know, like I said, there was, it was mostly just out of oh my goodness. I got to find something.
And so, so I did, you know, and that's the, that's the thing also that you see over the course of time. That is it's fascinating to me about human beings is that we just, we have an ability to figure things out, right. When you're forced to, when you're put in a situation where you've just got to figure it out, [00:37:00] people figure it out, you know, That's the same thing that's happened to me kind of over and over again in my career.
That's what I've. When I mentioned that earlier that I I'm really motivated by learning. I never would have thought that about myself just because I, you know, I never loved school. I never loved formal learning, but But I started getting responsibilities given to me with things. I had no idea how to do. That I had to figure out.
And, and I realized over time man is difficult and as stressful as it is at the start, just trying to figure something out. There's something about that process that just like starts this growth engine inside of me personally. And so over time that became something that I crave in my career experience. And then the other thing that happens over time unless you just really lack self-awareness as a person, I think everybody has a pretty healthy dose of self doubt. [00:38:00] And, you know, so you, you go into something and there's just this voice in your head that asks, that's kind of gnawing at you saying, you know, can you really do this?
I don't think you're going to be able to succeed at this. And you know, they shouldn't have given you this responsibility. They're crazy, all those kinds of stuff. And so as you build up some experiences of saying, Oh, no, I figured out that last one and did a good job with it. And then they gave me this and I was able to figure that out and do a good job with it.
You know, there's also this growing sense of confidence that happens as your career progresses. And again, that's part of the benefit of being, you know, 25 years into it, as opposed to being five years into it is that you just build up this kind of book of, of confidence in yourself to say, I've done it before I can do it again.
So there's still, there's still the voice of self doubt that lives in there that you, that you have to fight. You just have a little more ammunition for punching back [00:39:00] over the course of time as you get older.
David Elikwu: But even in those other days, I find it really curious that you were saying people were still willing to give you additional responsibility, which tells me that, much like what you were saying, you probably did come in with quite strong values and you came in with an approach that, you know, you're going to do the best you can.
You're going to be the best version of whether it's, whether you're making bagels or whether you're doing recruitment. You're going to be the best version of that that they've seen. And I guess the question I have, maybe there's two parts to it and you can choose which you want to go down is on one hand, one question is like, where did those values come from?
Was that something that was just natural to you? Or is it something that you had to cultivate in some way? And I guess the second side of that is within some of those early experiences, what were the biggest you learned or skills that you needed to develop in order to be given that additional responsibility?
David Morris: [00:40:00] Yeah. Okay, great, great questions. And I think I can answer both of them. You know, I would say less than something that I needed to cultivate in terms of some of those values. I think what I went through was more of a discovery of figuring out that they were there because I would consider myself a pretty late bloomer in the sense of, I wasn't driven and focused or particularly hard worker. When I was young, I had this one this one little slice of my life in high school. I played a sport that that I ended up being really good at. And I, I put a lot of work. Like that was an area of my life, where I was really willing to work hard and, you know, in season and out of season.
And so I had little pockets, but just in terms of like, I did like lawn care work, had a little business doing that in high school. And then and before that, and you know, my [00:41:00] parents would have to get on to me about, you know, get off the couch and go do stuff that you need to do. I mean, they were always, so, so I wasn't particularly, I would never describe myself at that point in my life.
As someone who was, you know, particularly cared about doing a great job, working really hard, making the best of the situation I was in that kind of stuff. And, and that's probably how that a significant contributor to how that formed inside of me is that I I had to bear the weight of the consequences of not taking those things seriously.
So, I blew some good opportunities early on by not not being focused on doing a good job. I, I hurt some people, I let some people down. I had some, I had a friend who stuck his neck out for me to get me hired someplace and I, and I flaked out on them and, and it really wounded that friendship.
And I didn't like the way that those things felt. And, and I didn't, I wasn't happy with [00:42:00] myself. Living that way. And so I, I think what, what happened was through that process, I discovered that there was underneath it, all this desire to be disciplined, to be, to be focused, to be the best that I could at what I was doing.
I just hadn't been giving it any attention. And so when I started to let that come to the surface more than that was where things kind of came together for me a little bit in that regard. Did that answer your question on that?
David Elikwu: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
David Morris: Okay. Okay. So, I think That a lot of what formed me was painful experiences and, and then particularly it had less to do with, you know, someone perpetrating something against me.
It really had more to do with me, letting myself down and and kind of getting to a point of saying, man, I don't, I don't want to do that [00:43:00] anymore. I want to take the responsibilities, the opportunities that I'm given more seriously. And it connected with me a number of years ago something that is very simple and elemental and I should probably be embarrassed that it took a long time for me to, to understand it was that when somebody put trust in me that created a responsibility for me to be worthy of their trust. And so I used to treat other peoples trust very cheaply. It didn't mean that much to me. And, and so as a result, like if you don't value the trust that people are placing in you and you treat it cheaply, then what happens is you lose it. And, and then once it's, once it's gone, that hurts. And, and so so it took me some time to, to connect to this idea that if someone trusts me, then I need to be worthy of that trust that they put [00:44:00] in me that that creates a, a burden for me to live up to that expectation. And so, so those were some of the things that began to form in me, primarily through failure, through my own personal fit, over the course of time. From a skill perspective you know, I really think our world has begun to undervalue your skill just with just the ability to relate to other people to work well to know when to speak up and when to shut up to read a room you know, those are some skills that that I learned early on.
So I had about an eight year portion of my career where I worked in a church setting. And so that was kind of, I have kind of this block of my career where I was kind of going down a different path that was kind of more of a, like a, a lifetime kind of vocational pastoral path.
And so it didn't end up really being a great fit for me. And I came back into business and have been [00:45:00] much happier. There's felt like a better fit for me. But what happened during those eight years was that I really, that world is really all about your ability to relate to people and communicate effectively with them.
You know, so you have to be able to stand up in front of a room and deliver a message to a thousand people while also being able to sit across one-on-one from somebody and have an effective, meaningful conversation and listen to them. You have to develop this sensitivity to how people receive you and your impact on them.
And so there's all these human relational dynamics that happen in that world. And when I came out of that went into business back into business. I think the holdover, the carry over of that aspect of, of my experience ended up having a greater impact than I, than I realized because I was. I was able to write, well, I was able to stand in front of the group and speak, well, I think a tremendous amount of [00:46:00] success in business can come from just those two simple skills, being able to stand up and present and speak to people and being able to articulate ideas clearly on paper or in an email or whatever.
So, so I think those things were really valuable and just then that ability interpersonally to, to build connections with people. So, you know, in my world today that, that ability it might be, you know, connecting to a prospective new customer and, and talking to them one minute and then it might be, you know, developing a leader in the organization that and another minute, and then it might be, you know, recruiting and trying to bring in an onboard and other, a new employee in some part of the business.
And so all of those, all of those dynamics are happening all the time. And so so I think that skillset of communication, and then just just being able to be adaptable and, and relate to people has a pretty significant impact on [00:47:00] career. And like I said, I think I have tried to encourage my children as much as possible to focus on those things.
I think there's such a drive now in the world to develop a technical skillset. And I'm not, I'm not demeaning that there's obviously a tremendous amount of value in having a technical skillset, as long as it's not at the expense of your relational skillset because I still we are still working with human beings at least for the time being every day.
And so the ability to relate to them, communicate well with them will always be a distinguishing skillset.
David Elikwu: Absolutely. I think in many ways the soft skills quote-on-quote are still the hardest skills are the ones that can't be taught. I don't think, but you have to develop for yourself it's not okay. There are some people that are just born naturally extremely charismatic. They're great speakers.
They can elucidate themselves very well, they can speak on stage, they can do all [00:48:00] of those things straight out of the womb. Okay, fantastic. But I think for everyone else, is not necessarily the case that you just go buy them somewhere. You can't just do a boot camp and suddenly be a lot more empathetic and suddenly be better at speaking and communicating and understanding people.
You can definitely learn of those skills in that context, but a lot of it just comes with intentionality and experience of putting yourself out there, being curious about other people, being very intentional about how you and how you come across. And a lot of it is repetition. There's there's reps, there's practice and you have to care about it.
And I think that is very often the missing piece where I think there are some people value those things much lower and value of maybe their technical skills or other skills higher. And for me to say that one is better than the other
David Morris: Right.
David Elikwu: but I ultimately anyone can unless your intelligence is the hindrance, anyone can learn some technical skills at some point, right?
[00:49:00] that is a lot easy to learn from a book than working with people.
David Morris: Well, the, the analogy that I use, this is where I, and man, I could be way off, I think all kinds of oddball perspectives on like the future of work. Okay, so take this with a grain of salt, but you know, I think a hundred years ago, literacy was a defining line between people, you know, people that could read and you had people that couldn't read and the people that could read advanced in the world, and then you had levels of literacy that further distinguished people.
So what, what, you know, kind of level of, could you read just simple things and then what could you write? So people that could write really well, they advanced further than other people. And so your kind of add on piece to that, so you have something just called literacy, which you could just put in a big bucket, but there are dimensions of that that make people better and, and allow them to advance further in their careers.
And I [00:50:00] think, I think technical skills like coding, for example, like I could envision a future where every kid that graduates from high school knows how to write code, right. That that's sort of becoming the new literacy in our world. And, and so then the question is, well, what are the add on skills that will take you beyond?
If everybody can do that, then it's no longer special. So today being able to read, nobody says, oh man, you can read? You're hired! Right. Right. You know, so, so that's, that's that no longer means anything in the, in the workplace. That's an assumption in the world. And, and I envision a future where being able to write code, having technical skills, reaches a level of saturation, the way that literacy has.
And so then the question is, well, what is the, what is the add on skills that really takes you over the top and really helps you advance your career? And what I keep coming back to is I think that what you described, you know, [00:51:00] soft skills, the ability to relate to people, the ability to to navigate a difficult conversation and to work with the customer and to listen and to understand and ask good questions and to engage in meaningful dialogue, and personal connections with somebody sitting across the table from you. If you can do those things, then I still think those become significant skills. So what I see potentially in the future of work is sort of a flip-flopping again, is that right now it feels like the bulk of the momentum is toward technical skills and, and learning and kind of going down a technical path and, and kind of beefing that world up.
And part of that's just the result of the demand that it currently exists in that space. But I see a tipping point where that becomes a little bit more of an assumed thing that everyone can do that. And then we're back to the things can you lead, can you cast vision? Can you rally [00:52:00] people together?
Can you, you know, that those types of, of interpersonal skills really having a premium value kind of, again, for those to have a rebirth in the, in our kind of corporate collective corporate consciousness.
David Elikwu: I love that. And I think I saw you writing not too long ago, actually about some of the skills required for great leadership and also great parenting. And I'd love to maybe hear a few more of your, your thoughts on that.
David Morris: Oh man, I have, I have lots of thoughts and I'm going to tell you my, my predominant thought in that space I'm always hesitant to say this, cause I never want this to sound like I'm demeaning the people that you're leading, I'm not saying everybody's a child. What I'm saying is that I realized years ago that leadership and parenting are the same thing.
That all the same rules and principles apply to do, to do either one well, right: you have to, you have to you have to have a kind of an overarching vision and [00:53:00] set of values that are applied to everyone while at the same time, treating each person individually a little bit differently based on who they are.
Right. You do the same thing with your kids. I don't let one child eat whatever they want and then make the other child eat healthy. Right. So I have, I have an umbrella rule in my home that, hey, we're gonna try to eat pretty healthy meals. But, but the application of that for each child is a little bit different.
One kid doesn't like broccoli, the other one does. So I'm going to put broccoli over here. I'm going to put carrots over here. Right? So there's, so those, those same type of rules apply across the board. I, I have seen that that really, when it comes down to it leading and managing anyone, including leading and managing yourself in your own life is not, it's not that complicated.
You know, people want to be listened to same way, you know, even with yourself, like it's [00:54:00] amazing how much momentum there is in our world towards come mindfulness, journaling, meditation, you know, these are all just these desires to pause and listen to yourself, right? Just your desire to be listened to even by, by you because there's so much noise and there's so much demand.
So, you know, people want to be listened to, people want to be given attention to people need structure and guidelines so that they know they know how to operate, and what the parameters are. People people want to know what a good job looks like. And so as a, as a leader, and as a parent, you have to explain that, right.
People want you to be patient with their failures. You know, all these, all these things that so a long way of saying, you know, I don't see a divide between those two things. I see them as as the same, the same rules that the same principles perhaps [00:55:00] applied a little bit differently, you know? I've never put one of my employees in a room by themselves and let them cry themselves to sleep.
Yeah. But you know, so there's some different applications, but but I think. From a big picture sense. Both the people that you lead in an organization and the people that you lead in your own home they, they want you to be present with them to care about who they are as an individual, while also providing some clear structure and, and not living in a chaotic environment.
So nobody does well in chaos. Everybody, whether it's in a home or whether it's in a workplace, everyone needs structure, everyone needs order. They don't want to be suffocated by the structure and order. They want to be, you know, given some parameters and then allowed the ability to kind of function and live their life within those, within those boundaries.
And, and [00:56:00] I've just found that if you can do that and administer it in a way that is, that's kind, gentle, loving when you screw up if you go back and admit that and apologize, I'm amazed at how forgiving people are. I mean, I have been so blessed by my own children who I have completely lost my mind with and then gone back and said, man, I blew it.
I'm sorry. I have a 13 year old daughter. And she has this habit of when I go back to her and apologize for something, she wrapped her arms around my neck and says, dad, I will always forgive you doesn't matter what happens. I will always forgive you. So and I just think that's more of the primary human perspective than, you know, The great battle is always against cynicism in life.
And so it's easy to be cynical about people. And, and so if you can press [00:57:00] past that and you can say the people that work for me, the vast majority of them want to do a good job. So if they're not doing a good job they're not happy with that. They're going to want to do better. I've just got to figure out how to help them know what a good job looks like.
Right? My kids, they want, they want me to approve of them. They want me to be happy. I need to be free with that approval. I don't want to withhold it. I want to tell them what I'm looking for and then praise them when they deliver it. You know, all these things are are not they're not these kind of complex ideas that require some deep literature review and university studies to understand, right.
So just you look at yourself and the things that you long for, and you assume those things about other people as well, and then treat them accordingly, whether they are your offspring or or your office mate.
David Elikwu: Thank you so much for tuning in. Please do stay tuned for more. Don't forget to [00:58:00] rate, review and subscribe. It really helps the podcast and follow me on Twitter feel free to shoot me any thoughts. See you next time.