On our podcast ‘Tales That Tethr’, tethr Founder & CEO Matt Zerker interviews entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, and regular people about what is means to be a man, the challenges that modern men face, and how to overcome challenges and live life in a more connected and authentic way.
Last week Addison Brasil chatted about leadership with Chip Conley over on our IGTV. If you missed it live, we highly suggest you check out the full thirty-minute talk.
At 26, Chip Conley founded what became the second-largest boutique hotel company in the United States. In his fifties, he helped build Airbnb into the company it is today. He’s written five books and now runs the Modern Elder Academy, helping those in ‘midlife’ continue to learn and grow.
Here are five major takeaways from the conversation:
Emotions are contagious
"You’re not the thermometer, you’re the thermostat. You set the climate and you influence the culture."
When it comes to leadership, Conley believes everyone is a CEO, a chief emotions officer. This means that when people look up to you as a leader, it’s not just your actions that affect them. Your emotions matter as well. The higher up in an organization you are, the more contagious your emotions, Conley explained.
He used the example of a parent shifting their behaviour around their children because they know that they have influence. “The higher you are in leadership, the more of an emotional thermostat you are. You’re not the thermometer, you’re the thermostat. You set the climate and you influence the culture. Leadership is particularly important because of that.”
Life is about transitions
“When I started the boutique hotel company Joie de Vive they called me the ‘boy wonder’ because I was 26 and then when I joined Airbnb they called me the Modern Elder,” Conley laughed, explaining his personal experience with life transitions. He was twice the age of the average person at Airbnb when he joined in early 2013.
“The idea of the three-stage journey, of going through transition, is really helpful because what it allows people to understand is, which phase in my journey am I on?” Conley said. “There's the ending of something, there's the messy middle, when you're liminal and in transition… and then there's the new beginning.”
Each phase presents its own issues. In the first phase, the ending, people often struggle with “acknowledging that there’s something that they are ready to let go of — how do you let go of the things that are no longer serving you?”
In the messy middle people tend to get scared and fallback on old habits and addictions to avoid true transition. In the third phase, some people struggle with being at the beginning again where you aren’t in control and you don’t know everything yet. “So long story short is, if you can see those three phases, you can learn a lot.”
"how do you let go of the things that are no longer serving you?"
Conley has written extensively on the subject of life transitions, including his book Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder. He also writes on the Wisdom Well, the Modern Elder Academy's blog, where the writing focuses on those in midlife.
“What I learned at Airbnb is that we live in an era where we’re living longer, the power is moving younger and the world is changing faster,” he said. “Those three variables… has a lot of people in midlife bewildered.” Though traditionally midlife spanned ages 45 to 65, Conley includes anyone between 35 and 75 years old. “We have so little in the way of schools and tools and rituals and rites of passage for people, and midlife is full of transitions. So that's why we created the world’s first midlife wisdom school dedicated to long-life learning, not life-long learning but long-life learning.”
We all need emotional insurance
People pay for car or home insurance so that they are covered if something happens. It is a necessary a safety net because we know life can be unpredictable. “When you have a rainy day, your car or your home is at risk, you have the comfort of an insurance policy.” That’s something that’s missing when we’re dealing with emotional turmoil: “We don’t really have the same when it comes to our emotional lives, especially for men.” Conley believes we need to change that.
"The walls come closing in when you aren't tapping into the emotional insurance you're developing nor the social wellness that could be available to you."
Prioritize 'social wellness'
The wellness movement right now focuses predominantly on what Conley classifies as ‘personal wellness,’ including things like diet, exercise, getting the right amount of sleep. While those elements are important, we sometimes lose track of social wellness. “When you look at longevity, what really helps a person live a deep, meaningful and longer life is not their personal wellness, it’s their social wellness.”
Conley referenced Blue Zones as an example, areas in the world with higher than average life expectancies. One of the defining characteristics in these zones in an emphasis on community life and collective wellbeing. As Conley pointed out, the word ‘wellness’ starts with ‘we.’
"When you look at longevity, what really helps a person live a deep, meaningful and longer life is not their personal wellness, it’s their social wellness."
Tying it all together with something we talk a lot about at tethr, Conley finished the discussion discussing the impact of language. “Whether it’s emotional insurance or social wellness or the three stages of transition, if you have a language for it, you can understand it.”
He noted that this is particularly important for men, as they’re not often encouraged to understand their emotions — there’s no emotions 101 course in high school to help men navigate them. Becoming more emotionally fluent, as Conley puts it, helps you understand the ingredients of what’s going on inside. Knowing the difference between anxiety and remorse, disappointment or regret, allows us to handle them better.
Language is also important in leadership. Conley described an exercise he used at Joie De Vive and Airbnb. He asked all his direct reports to replace the words ‘leader’ and ‘manager’ with the phrase ‘role model’ for one month. “Such a fascinating journey in both cases, when people actually shift their language from ‘manager’ or ‘leader’ to role mode, it shifts their behavior.”
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