Peter Bregman: An interview by Bob Morris
Peter Bregman is the author, most recently, of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. He advises and consults with CEOs and their leadership teams in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups to nonprofits. He speaks worldwide on how people can lead, work, and live more powerfully. He is a frequent guest on public radio, provides commentary for CNN, and writes for Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, and Psychology Today. He is also the author of Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change.
Peter began his career teaching leadership on wilderness and mountaineering expeditions with Outward Bound and the National Outdoor Leadership School. He moved into the consulting field with the Hay Group and Accenture and, in 1998, he founded Bregman Partners, a global management consulting firm.
Peter earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his M.B.A. from Columbia University. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children and can be reached at www.peterbregman.com, where you can subscribe to be notified when he writes a new article.
To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing 18 Minutes, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal and professional growth? How so?
Bregman: There are so many people. I couldn’t reduce it to one person. I view life as an almost infinite number of small steps, experiences, learnings, and aha moments. Each one moves us in a certain direction. Sometimes it seems like it takes me 20 times making the same mistake before I learn to avoid it. And then I make new mistakes. And each time, I have new teachers and people I admire who influence me and help me develop and grow.
Certainly my parents fit in the category of being important teachers. And Eleanor, my wife, has a great influence on me. Then there are friends of mine – some accomplished, like the late Dr. Alan Rosenfield who was the dean of the school of public health and a remarkable man, and some who are simply kind thoughtful intelligent people who live their lives in a way that I admire. And then, of course, there are my children who, these days, may have the greatest influence on my growth because I feel such a need to be a better person in order to be a good Dad.
Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) years ago that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Bregman: It was more of an experience. I went on a camping trip that was training me to lead camping trips and I fell in love with outdoor leadership. The people on the trip were generous and talented and simply good people and living in nature and leading people to work effectively with each other felt great. I just loved it. That trip set me on the course that I’m on today.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished thus far?
Bregman: It’s been helpful, to be sure. But it’s been one experience of many that move me – both emotionally and practically – toward my accomplishments. I loved going to school and I was fortunate enough to have terrific teachers – not just because they were talented and smart – but because they cared, we’re passionate about their subjects and about learning, and took an interest in me. Also, my fellow students always taught me as much as my formal teachers. Learning really does happen in every moment if you are interested.
Morris: What specifically do you know now that you wish you knew when you began teaching leadership on wilderness and mountaineering expeditions with Outward Bound and then the National Outdoor Leadership School?
Bregman: Not much. I enjoy having life uncovered as I experience it. I’ve made mistakes for sure, but I don’t really regret any of them. Each of my mistakes has helped me become clear about what’s important to me and how I want to act in the future. Each mistake teaches me something. I’m pretty pleased with my decisions – good and not so good – and I’m happy with the way knowledge has unfolded for me in my life.
Morris: Opinions are divided (sometimes sharply divided) about the importance of charisma to effective leadership. What do you think?
Bregman: I believe that charisma is really important. I think people want to be inspired by their leaders. I know I do. But it can’t be all charisma – leaders need to create processes, organizations, and other leaders who can operate independently of them.
Morris: Although hardly an authority, I am a serious student of great leaders throughout history. However different they may be in most respects, all of them seem to have been great storytellers. Presumably you agree. How do you explain that?
Bregman: Great leaders engage the emotions of those around them. Great leaders help us feel passion and loyalty and courage and persistence and a million other things. Great leaders help us feel deeply. And stories are one of the best ways to help people connect to their feelings.
Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original expectations and much of the resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?
Bregman: I don’t believe that people resist change. We all change, purposefully and intentionally every day. We get married, have babies, change jobs, move – and those are some of the big ones. We also change what we eat, how we travel, and places we visit on vacation.
People don’t resist change, they resist being changed. I don’t mind changing as long as it’s my choice. But I will resist when you try to change me. I don’t like to lose control.
So the way you avoid resistance to change is you don’t force it. This is what I wrote my first book about – Point B: A Short Guide to Leading A Big Change. The book includes 7 strategies for creating change without resistance. The strategies are counter-intuitive like “get the change half right.” We usually try to make change perfect but that leaves no room for people to write themselves into it.
Instead of shooting for perfect, we should be shooting for half finished and then let the people we want to buy in to the change finish it. It’s while they are perfecting the change themselves that they buy in to it.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Peter Bregman cordially invites you to check out the resources at www.peterbregman.com.
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