Heretics to Heroes

Dr. Relly Nadler:
Today we are fortunate to have with us, Cort Dial. Over the last 30 years, Cort has been in a variety of environments ranging from corporate skyscrapers to South American jungles. Cort has honed a unique methodology that reliably produces performance heretofore deemed impossible. We are going to hear about that today.

He calls this method All-In Performance transformation. He trains and certifies business executives and rising leaders in it at his Heretics to Heroes, which is the name of his book. He has leadership mastery summits held throughout the year in Austin, Texas.

Today, he is the President of Cort Dial Consulting, where he has successfully guided business coaches and executives from organizations such as Chevron, Intel, US Borax, Disney, and Apple, to cultivate and develop a new breed of leaders.

He guides individuals through frank self-evaluations, personal change, and the pursuit of extraordinary performance he creates in the All-In Leaders; high achievers who recognize the power of human connection.

Cort, welcome to the show!

Cort Dial: Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Cort we always have a few questions that we want to ask you to get a little bit about your background. Who has most influenced you in your life as a leader? Then we have a series of questions that we want to follow up with.

Cort Dial: That is an extremely difficult question for me to answer when you sent it to me in your notes. There were so many.

I would have to say there are two people. One was the Dalai Lama who I had the fortune of meeting and seeing present at Arizona’s Idea University when I was a young man. I actually realized sitting through that session, that there was an intentional way to live a happy life and it’s had a huge affect on me as I’ve gone through my life.

But, from a leadership standpoint, it would have to be the George character in my book. George taught me two things: one is that the first job as a leader is to fall in love with my people, and I’d never even considered that as a role as a manager or a leader before, but he taught me that. If you read about when I went to Bahrain in my book, you read all about that.

Then, he also taught me that who I’m being had as much to do with the results that I produce as what I do. I’d always seen results in leadership and management as basically all around my behavior and never considered who I am being as I behave as having any affect on the results I produce.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Cort, when you were looking at how to put together something that was meaningful that you could take to other people, I have a quote here from your book, I believe—or, it’s from your website—”you don’t know what you are capable of.” We say that a lot in our book, What Happy Leaders Know triggered in us the sense of fearlessness. We say, “what are you truly capable of.”

What is really powerful here that I’m going to quote you on is, and I really resonate with this and love this, “it takes a heretic to confidently walk into a room cold and speak the truth, but that is exactly what you, your people, and your customers need.” That is very powerful.

Can you talk a little bit about where that came from?

Cort Dial: Years ago, I was watching a show on TV and it talked about a farmer who found a cave in France and it has some of the oldest human artifacts on the cave walls, in human history.

In this show they talked about some of the little hands on the wall were from children. Children of what we would consider a cave person. The thing that intrigued me was it said that if you took that young child and raised them in our home today, that child would be no different than our own children. Could be an astronaut, could be a football player, whatever, design video games.

It got me thinking well if children and people from thousands of years ago are capable of doing what we can do today, then that must be true of us, thousands of years in the future. What is it that limits us? I believe it’s what we hold as a possibility. Anything that we hold as a possibility we are capable of doing.

I think it’s one of the key roles of a leader, is to be and hold and embody a possibility. An example I use a lot is Dr. King. We don’t remember him because he stood up and said, “I have a strategic plan.” We remember Dr. King because he stood and declare a future that was so compelling that a lot of people said hey, I want to be part of that. I can see it, and I want to be part of it, and I’m willing to change and do whatever it takes to make that happen.

That’s what I bring to a leader. I bring to a leader the potential and the capability to articulate a future that is so compelling that it captures the hearts and minds of his or her followers and then teach him or her how to direct that energy toward realizing that future.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Cort, you are getting into your book and we want to hear more about it; Heretic to Heroes. Define for our audience what heretic is and then talk about the story around the book. I imagine people can get the book at Amazon and other key places, right?

Cort Dial: Yes, just about everywhere.

For me, a heretic is a time traveler. Heretics are those rare individuals who can go to the future, spend some time there, and come back and tell us what it’s going to be like. Unfortunately, they are rarely listened to in the workplace.

My book is about the journey I took as a heretic. There’s a chapter in the book where I talk about it. It’s called He’s a Witch. In that chapter, I tell about getting in front of about 600 top executives in my company and making three different assertions. One of them was is that it was unacceptable to produce business results at the expense of people or the planet. This happened to be a chemical company and we did that a lot at our company.

I won’t tell the whole story, but at the end of my speech a man in the room stood up and yelled out, he’s a witch, burn him. The whole room burst out into laughter and applause and that’s when I realized I am totally different than all of these other people. I see the world differently. I can see something that they can’t see. Fortunately, as I tell in my book, I talk about the people who recognized a heretic like myself and knew how to utilize someone like me.

In the book, I try to help the people learn how to recognize the heretics in your organization and how to take advantage of that extremely valuable resource that is almost always ignored.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: When you say that you are a witch or that someone is a heretic, is there a way to get permission to be that person in an organization without taking risks?

Cort Dial: Without taking risks? No. It’s always going to be risky, in a sense, because you are going to challenge the very essence of what is going on.

I talk about, in my book, the concept which I call the drift. I describe the drift as the way things are done. But, the drift is really a living organism and it will fight for its survival and the heretic is a threat to the survival of the drift.

I recently had a young man in a company I was coaching, knock on my door. This is an organization that is failing and was very likely to be going out of business if they couldn’t turn things around. He came into me and he said, Cort, I know exactly what we need to do in change and I know how to do, but no one will listen to me, in fact, my boss told me to shut up and don’t ever bring it up again; what do I do?

My first work with him was to see whether he was willing to go all in and put it all out there and stick with his idea no matter what the consequences were. Once I was convinced that he was willing to do that, I encouraged him to go find a mentor and he was smart enough to go to the most senior person in the organization and walk into his office and say, would you please mentor me. Then out of that mentorship he was able to share his idea and long story short, he is now leading the most important project they have in that organization and they have turned things around.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s a great example and I know through storytelling, a lot of what you do in the book is a way to kind of create influence, and even this story about this individual, not only did he have to believe in what he was saying, he really had to then use some strategies about getting mentors and getting allies there, which is one of the competencies that we talk about a lot.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the performance that you had in Bahrain and why there? One of the things it sounds like is that you were able to have a project there that saved money and time. Talk a little bit about that and also save lives.

Cort Dial: Well, you mentioned story-telling. Real quick, the reason I use storytelling is it captures people’s emotions and I’ve learned over time, that’s what drives people’s behavior and that is what gets us results.

I think it’s a key skill of any leader; storytelling.

But in Bahrain we were faced with a very difficult situation: how do we build a refinery, in a sense, with thousands of men who were unskilled, and I say men because in Saudi women didn’t work at the time, and do it without harming people and do it when everyone involved with it was impossible. As a matter of fact, their plan was to kill two and hurt 100, seriously.

That was the challenge was to put forth in front of the leadership of that organization the possibility that work like this can be done without harming anyone. That was a heretical idea at the time. People thought I was nuts and that we were nuts by even proposing that. That’s what heretics do. Heretics also know how to enroll people and how to articulate that future in such a compelling way whereas I said earlier, people say, I want to be part of making that happen.

We were successful at doing that and not only didn’t they kill anybody or hurt anybody, they didn’t have a single person leave the site for needing medical attention. They finished ahead of schedule, they finished under budget, millions of dollars were saved and thousands of people who would have suffered, would not have suffered.

The key there with the leader’s ability to capture the hearts and minds of those thousands of men from Pakistan and India, and Jordan and all over, and have them focus all of that energy on a mission.

The mission was that we are going to find out a way to build this without hurting anybody, treating people with respect and dignity, we are going to do it ahead of schedule and under budget. We are going to have great quality and we are going to have a lot of fun. Those were things that were never put in front of these workers. These workers were viewed as instruments, like a wrench; you break one, you throw it away and get another one.

Listen to the entire interview above.


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