Chip Espinoza: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

Chip EspinozaChip Espinoza was born in Espanola, New Mexico. His mission in life is to help organizations become worthy of human habitation. Recently, he has focused on the integration of Millennials (AKA Gen Y) into the workplace. He is the co-author of Millennials Who Manage: How to Overcome Workplace Perceptions and Become a Great Leader, with Joel Schwarzbart and published by FT Pearson (October 2015). He is also the Academic Director Organizational Psychology at Concordia University in Irvine.

Chip also keynotes internationally and across the country on how to create environments in which managers and Millennials can thrive. He is a leading expert on the subject of Millennials in the workplace. He consults in the civic, corporate, and non-profit sectors. He has authored several articles on the subject of leadership and is the go-to person for news agencies on the subject of integrating younger workers into organizations. He has been featured on Fox News, CNN, CBS Radio, and in major publications. Chip is also the author of Millennial@Work.

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of Chip.

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Morris: Before discussing Millennials Who Manage, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

There were many people at different stages of my development that were key to my personal development. My mother gave me a love for putting words together. She made me do the Word Power activity in every Reader’s Digest. My Grandpa Reggie was my biggest fan. I don’t care who you are — having a committed fan can help you through a lot of failure. The late Dr. Norman Shawchuck inspired me to earn a Ph.D. I know some would put education in a professional development category but it ended being more personal development for me. Norm believed in me before I believed in myself. Dr. Al Guskin was the chair of my dissertation committee. I had always been assertive for others but he taught me to be assertive for myself. Dr. Roger Heuser taught me to think more critically and let go of the notion that I had to master every subject matter. Ken Wayman is an attorney who took me under his wing when I was a young and ambitious. He took me to lunch once a week for years. Oh, and Mr. Allen for kicking me out of band in the 9th grade. Some people are born to make music and others are made to listen to it.

The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Espinoza: I credit the aforementioned people. In addition, I have a couple of amazing sisters that have inspired me. Cholene attended the Air Force Academy and went on to become the second woman in history to fly the U2 spy plane. She became a Captain for United Airlines, flew for Emirates, and then retired from flying to become a medical doctor. By the way, she took a leave of absence from United Airlines to be an embedded reporter with Fox News in Desert Storm. Valerie worked as an administrative assistant for the Secretary State of New Mexico and then transferred to work in the labs in Los Alamos. She was elected Santa Fe County Clerk for two terms and is currently running for her second term as one of five New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioners. She wins her elections by double digits. I have no doubt that she will hold one of the top three offices in the state at some point of her career.

Rick Newman, my financial planner, challenged me to think bigger and value my time. He has helped me make two professional transitions that paved the way for me to do what I do. My roommate in college, Tim Allen, was bigger than life. He and I inspired each other to pursue higher education, not as a trophy but as a means of serving others. It may seem weird but I am going to mention someone I have never met but whose writing has shaped my world-view with respect to organizations. His name is Dr. Edwin Friedman. He was a Rabbi and sociologist. He wrote on the subject of family systems theory and leadership. I wish I had gotten on a plane to go listen to him when he was alive.

Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

I can remember at age six wondering why people show up to their jobs. Seriously, I was in the back seat while our station wagon was making its way through a tollbooth and I thought to myself, “Does that person like their job?” My work on Millennials started in the classroom. I noticed a difference between my students from the 90’s and my students from the 2000’s. In the 90s I would hand out the syllabus and students would stick it in their backpacks without glancing at it. In the 2000s, students would take a red pen out and go line by line through the document. When they would come to the 10-12 page assignment they would ask if 10 pages was a “C” and 12 pages was an “A.” They would ask how many classes they could miss and still get an “A.” They entered the class with the mindset that everything is negotiable. I was teaching an elective titled Emerging Management Theory. I was teaching the students that management is a dynamic subject. I assigned a final where they had to write a paper that finished the sentence—what is coming next in management? In typical Millennial fashion, they flipped the question on me. On the final day of class (2005) they asked me what I thought was the next big thing in management. I told them that generational diversity would be a big issue. Truth be told, they inspired the best work of my career.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Espinoza: I think the best thing about my formal education is that I learned that it is okay to not know everything. I feel for leaders that are not able to leverage the strengths of their teams because they have to be the smartest person in the room. My take on the value of education comes from another mentor of mine. Dr. Jesse Miranda tells a story of being a young minister in New Mexico. He pastored a church that had several men who were member s of an Indian Tribe. They invited him on a deer hunt and he was reluctant because he was raised in East LA and had never hunted. They assured him that he would be successful. They staged him on a rock at the bottom of a ravine and instructed him to shoot when the deer emerged. He waited patiently and sure enough a doe walked in front of him followed by a couple of small bucks. He didn’t shoot because he had his sights set on a big buck whose antlers would serve as a trophy on his office wall.

When the men who had walked the ravine emerged from the trees, they asked why Jesse had not taken a shot. Jesse explained that he wanted a trophy for his office. The men explained that to Jesse that they did not hunt for trophies but they hunted to feed the tribe. Some people pursue education as a trophy for their office wall. It is a symbol that separates them from others. I have been fortunate to learn from educators who pursued education to “feed the tribe.” I am an academic director for Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Leadership at Concordia University Irvine. I love the stories of people who have gone through my programs. Many of them are doing amazing things. That is invaluable. You cannot put a price tag on that. I approach all of my work with the desire to feed the tribe.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Espinoza: I mentioned earlier that I struggled with being assertive for myself. When I was 23 years old I had a boss that demanded that I return to California by Monday for work. I had taken 2 works days off to drive to New Mexico to be with my Father on his deathbed. I called to ask for a couple of more days because my Father’s passing was imminent. My boss said no. I made it halfway back to California when I received the news that my Father had died. I wish I had known that some people are not worth following. I also wish I knew that my time and contribution were valuable. I once had a client that rejected my invoice because they considered my work to be more valuable to them than what I had billed them. They would not pay it until I doubled the amount in the invoice. Those of us who are concerned with feeding the tribe at large will often compromise our ability to feed our own tribe.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Espinoza: This one is easy! Article 99 is a must see for anyone who wants to examine organizational life. How does mission get put on the back burner for personal interest? How does informal leadership work? How do organizations become dysfunctional? How does money get allocated to the wrong things? How does dysfunction become a pattern? The movie is about a Veterans Administration Hospital. Again, a must see for anyone who wants to understand how incongruent mission and operation can become.

Morris: From which business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Espinoza: Yikes. This one is very difficult. However, Dr. Friedman’s book was on family systems theory and not business so that gives me a break. I would say, Warren Bennis’ work. I loved his book On Becoming a Leader. I had the chance to meet him and produce and interview with him. The line in his book that has stuck with me since I read it, “Leaders are primarily concerned with expressing themselves and non-leaders are primarily concerned with proving themselves.” I had the privilege of studying under Peter Vaill. He wrote Managing As a Performing Art and Learning As a Way Of Being. He is brilliant on negotiating change. I also have to mention Richard Farson’s Management of the Absurd.

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To read all of Part 1, please click here.

Chip cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Concordia University link

LinkedIn link

Twitter link

FT Pearson Press link

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