How much time do you spend thinking about how you might perform better – at your job or in other areas of your life. Just in time for your new year’s resolution, Dr. Carla Fowler is thinking about it for you. After leaving a pursuit of medicine, she realized she wanted to help people, but in a different way. She’s gone on to build THAXA Executive Coaching. In this revealing conversation, she and Adam discuss where knowledge workers often go wrong when they approach performance improvement, and how they might think about it more productively.

Find Carla Fowler at THAXA and on LinkedIn:

Find your host, Adam Pierno at

The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people whothinkfor a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to pushback onsomething you hear in this episode, go to and leave a message or a voicemail. The mostinteresting messages will be added to future episodes. Music for The Strategy Inside Everything is by Sawsquarenoise. Host Adam Pierno is an author, speaker and strategyconsultant. Learn more

Show notes:
0:02 How Carla got to where she is today at THAXA
2:40 The decision to leave medicine and start a business
7:47 The importance of having a multi-pronged strategy
13:07 What are signs of confusion?
15:32 What do people want out of your career arc?
19:24 The importance of asking questions to help people understand their industry
25:03 What is an extreme outcome goal?
27:43 Process vs. outcome goals.
33:34 How do you promote yourself when there isn’t a scoreboard?
39:44 How does time play a role in a person’s success?

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Transcript here

A P 0:02
This is The Strategy Inside Everything. I’m Adam Pierno. The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people who think for a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to push back on something you hear in this episode, go to and leave a message or a voicemail for me. The best and most interesting messages will be added to future episodes. And I can’t wait to hear from you. All right, welcome back to another episode of the strategy inside everything. Really looking forward to today’s conversation. I have the managing director at THAXA Executive Coaching, Carla Fowler, MD and PhD. Carla, how are you?

Carla Fowler 0:27
I’m doing great. Adam. Thanks for having me.

A P 0:30
I am. Obviously we talked a little bit about your, your education. And I’m clearly impressed, blown away already by just just the early parts of our conversation. So looking forward to learning more about your expertise and about you. Before we get up and running, would you give people a sense of, you know, how you got to where you are at THAXA?

Carla Fowler 0:52
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So many people look at sort of my background and have the big question like, wow, how did you get from like medicine and science into executive coaching. And I think the simplest way to explain it is just that I’ve always been someone who really liked how different fields sort of contributed to each other, so like multidisciplinary thinking. And, and also, I totally liked math and science. I was like, stem before it was stem. But I just I really liked problem solving. And for the life of me, couldn’t really figure out history and English. And so like math and science were my jam. And so ultimately, I was an undergrad. And when someone told me there was this program, I’d already figured out that I also really liked people like I liked, sort of figuring out problems related to people. And so medicine seemed like a good bet for me. But I had a friend actually tell me that they have these programs where they actually paid you to go get an MD, but in the middle of it to pause and get a PhD, it’s more or less, it would be your job. And it would take you like somewhere between eight and 10 years, depending on the program. And I ended up at nine. But I thought that sounds awesome. And so yeah, so I did that at the University of Washington, and ultimately, Graduated, went down to Stanford with the intention of studying general surgery. And that first year of residency is your intern year, most people familiar with it from Grey’s Anatomy, like made famous by. And really, during that year was the time when I had to make a decision about do they want to practice medicine? Did I want to be in academia? And I think the answer for me was that I actually wanted a lot more space for creativity. Maybe you could even call it entrepreneurship, although I don’t think in my mind, that’s exactly how I posed it. I think I just knew that there was sort of a level of autonomy and for sort of problem solving, that I wanted to be able to do that the current constraints of medicine, and what it would mean to be a surgeon, were not going to give me and looking back at the common threads at that moment, when I realized, you know, I’m in the middle of the year. I actually had one of the surgeons say, Hello, what’s your plan? I was like, What do you mean? I mean, I’m going to be a transplant surgeon and combine my immunology with

A P 3:39
it hadn’t occurred to you that you didn’t want to do it yet.

Carla Fowler 3:42
This is early. This is like month three. Yeah. I had not yet occurred to me. And he’s like, no, like, what’s your plan to get out of here? Can I suddenly was like, Oh, I was like, oh, no, you might have known, but he also knew for himself. And he was, I think, thinking about creating an app and sort of creating some flexibility for himself so that he wasn’t like totally tied or wedded to that as a profession and could have some more freedom and autonomy. And I think that was the first seed of like, oh, no, like, the grand plan is not going to manifest the way I thought. Yeah. So um, needless to say, about nine months later, I was very clear on at least the decision to leave and add some ideas about what I was going to do next, which was to actually I had not fully formulated what the practice would look like. Exactly. But I knew I was obsessed with highperformance. That’s how I ended up in like a surgery residency to begin Stanford because, yeah, it’s like surgeons definitely think a lot about highperformance. And there’s a particular type of thinking that they have to practice which I think will be familiar to anyone who is making high stakes decisions for their companies or their programs or whatever they’re doing, which is, you have imperfect data, often you need a timely decision, like, and you’re gonna have to own that choice. And you’re gonna have to make a choice, because to make no choice is still a choice. And I knew Yeah, so I noticed a lot of that in surgery. And I was really felt like their ability to think that way, was very appealing. And I wanted to, like, learn how to do that. So that has a lot of parallels actually, in as you start to think about coaching, decision making, working with people who have high stakes goals, and are doing things that are uncertain, or that have a lot of risk involved and where there isn’t a playbook.

A P 5:53
And so in doing that kind of coaching

Carla Fowler 5:56
10 years in February, so that is, so 10 years ago, or actually sort of 11 ish, I left my residency. And I started at thinking reading, like taking both from personal experience, I had been in a number of different kinds of very high performance environments, sports, music, academics work. So I took some of my own experience, but then also started to combine it with the science of performance reading things from business, from psychology, the productivity movement, a lot of the different resources and ideas out there, and then built a method of what I thought would really help people who are trying to perform at a high level, yeah, and do that. And then i beta tested it on, a queen says it was like, match that profile. And I said, please let me like, let me test this.

A P 6:55
Several CEOs of Fortune 500 companies now, right?

Carla Fowler 6:59
They’re all still alive today. Even better. No one was harmed in the you know,

A P 7:07
do you carry you carry that part of your oath? Right?

Carla Fowler 7:11
Yeah, exactly. So that that was the the sort of moderate version of the story of kind of how I ride dream today. So that was 10 years ago. And I’ve been coaching ever since. And

A P 7:26
so that group of beta testers, did they did it turn into kind of a word of mouth thing where they were they went through your, your method and your framework that you were working on and recommended you to more people that they thought it would help or were, how did you grow it from that seed group? I’m assuming there’s some sort of connectivity there from that starting point.

Carla Fowler 7:47
It definitely helps. But I would say, and this is probably good advice for anyone starting a business is like everyone wants to think you’re going to go viral, and you’re like, I will help one or two people, and they will connect me to everyone. And I think it’s much better to assume that like, No, you are going to need a multi pronged strategy to think about how are you going to go from zero clients to a thriving business practice, you know, whatever it is. So I notably, they do not train you in sales, they don’t train you in business, when you were in medical school, I learned a lot of things. Not that I read a lot of books on business, you know, this, there is good stuff out there to be read. And but I think the biggest thing, I definitely read about sales, and I knew that it was going to be the thing that I was going to dislike the most. Versus and this is common, right? Like in business, they’re kind of making stuff and they’re selling stuff. If you really want to simplify it, you need to do both things. And more businesses tend to fail because people didn’t do enough selling versus like perfecting and making and you know, building this beautiful thing. It’s like right, what? Oh, it’s actually good point. I think it absolutely can fail for the other reason. I believe it’s less common, but at least in my experience. Now, yeah, go ahead. Like you sound like you see this a lot. So I love having no

A P 9:22
idea. I live it. Yeah. How do you how do you coach people pass that that idea? Because I’m assuming if you experienced this idea that there’s inertia of the going out and selling it, that’s something you work through, and I’m assuming that’s part of performances, whether literally selling things, or whether promoting themselves

Carla Fowler 9:43
or your ideas, right, like a lot of times that’s what we’re selling in knowledge work in particular is not a thing, but you’re pitching yourself for some thing where you’re pitching your idea. Yeah,

A P 9:54
so I absolutely hate promoting myself. And so how do you coach people? Like, where do people go wrong? When it comes to that? What do you see that that is a common obstacle for them that you’re that you try to coax them through.

Carla Fowler 10:08
So there’s there’s two things, two different angles that I often do this from. And I think the first is related both to this, but also to more broadly than just the idea of promoting yourself or selling yourself. And it’s that we like learning to sell or learning to pitch, it’s a learnable skill. But one of the things that happens to a lot of us is like early in our career, we may be kind of just on some, like railroad tracks, that there’s a lot of work to be done, we need a lot of bodies at that level to be doing that kind of work. And so we kind of get carried along, right, and you get some promotions. And assuming you’re like dotting the i’s crossing the t’s, like, you kind of move up. But there’s definitely a level when there are just fewer positions, you have to be cognizant, and think a little more about how you’re pitching yourself, or how you’re positioning yourself to maybe have one of those positions. And at the same time, sometimes something that happens is we get really comfortable. And we like actually knowing things. So early in our careers, we don’t know anything, and our peers don’t own anything, and you kind of get used to just existed.

A P 11:24
And you know, you move with the flow of traffic, right? Everybody’s moving at 65. So you’re going 65

Carla Fowler 11:30
Yes, right. And we don’t blame ourselves, we don’t like shame ourselves, or do any of that when we don’t know something early on. Yeah, but there comes this point where like, it is seeking is different for everyone. And I it doesn’t happen 100%. But we really start to like finally feeling like competent, or more confident about what we know and what we can do. And the sneaky, like, sight, like other side of that is we lose the muscle memory and the tolerance for learning something new, and he’s bad at it. That’s true, like that feeling of like, oh, most of my day, I feel really confident. But now I need to start thinking about whether it’s like promoting myself in a position. Or, or actually, let’s use me as an example like saying, okay, like, I was a very accomplished X, Y, or Z and like medicine and science. And now I’m going to go out and have my first sort of just just networking. So I did a lot of networking was part of my, the major piece of my strategy, which is coaching is a relationship based business. And people want to know who they’re working with. So, before you’re even selling, you just need to build some network and people need to know about you. And so but you’re still when people say what do you do? That’s your moment to pitch. It’s not a hard sell at that moment, but and you can really tell how well you’re doing or people could fears you’re like, Oh, I didn’t explain that well at all. You know, and I’ll tell you, it doesn’t feel good. One year?

A P 13:08
Is it usually Yeah, the sign of confusion, usually that they asked a lot of questions or that they asked zero questions.

Carla Fowler 13:15
Oh, it can be either. Yeah, I find what questions they ask. Yeah,

A P 13:21
I find if I tell someone what my job title is, and they they don’t they just go okay, then I’m like, no, I lost them. They don’t know what that is. They’re not. They’re not engaged at all.

Carla Fowler 13:30
Yeah, that that is common. I actually would say, I got more of the questions. And I think it might be because I when I started out. So I think I exist squarely in the industry of executive coaching. But I built my own model. And I was trying to approach it from kind of a different angle, which was that sort of science of performance and, and think about it in a different way. And part of that was because I thought that executive coaching as an industry could use a little more rigor. And based on the training I had had before just in terms of like, actually being in really high performing environments, a lot of hours spent talking already with people about really high stakes decisions. And frankly, like a number of years kind of informally thinking about performance and all of that. And so I you know, in those first conversations, trying to express how you’re different, whether it’s, you know, differentiating what you’re trying to do. I think that it was one of those things where number one people are always curious about something different if they don’t understand it. And but number two, that doesn’t mean you always succeed at answering their questions clearly in a way that they’re like, oh, yeah, I totally get it.

A P 14:45
Yeah. And with someone you’re working with, the reason I wanted to talk to you was about knowledge workers seeking performance improvement and then the way they think about improving their performance and I I thought it might be interesting. I don’t want you to to give away a free coaching session here. But more I’m wondering, you know, what are things you see where people, common misconceptions maybe? Or places where people try to apply energy in a misdirect energy? That is maybe it looks like we’re helping ourselves, but maybe not so much.

Carla Fowler 15:19
Yeah, that that was a great question. And totally, I’m excited to talk about it. If it is free coaching, frankly, we can all use a little bit of free, man, I wouldn’t turn their lives including me. Yeah. You know, I think one of the, I think one of the first things and is, and this will sound basic, except like for most of us, like we often don’t spend a lot of time doing it. I think one of the first really important questions to ask ourselves is actually, what do we want to have happen? Like, what do we want out of our career arc out of our next step? And here’s some good reasons why we don’t ask that question and actually spend some time to define it. One is like, we don’t have a lot of time. Number two, I think we think, Well, if we just if I just work hard, I’ll get there. I mean, like, Are there any ways? Yes, good. Perfect. Yeah, exactly. And well, I just want to be successful. Right is another version of it. But that’s actually like, and I think we don’t ask that question. Because, number one, sometimes we feel like, well, I don’t have that much control over it anyways, is, I think, one unconscious thought we have. And so probably, I should just work really hard. And do my best and see what happens. And I think I have had that thought many times over the course of my career. I think it’s, it’s a common thought. Yeah. But But the challenge with that is it gives us like, no help or direction about where we might actually influence something. And I use the word influence intentionally, because yeah, at the end of the day, like, I don’t actually really control what happens tomorrow. And there’s a lot of it out of my control. But we do have some influence. And I don’t think we can start to really influence things effectively, until we’ve actually sort of asked ourselves, what do we want? So I think that would be my first

A P 17:23
thought. So actually having an objective of some kind.

Carla Fowler 17:29
And it’s okay, if it changes, like you’re not not wedded to it for life. Yeah. Can be an iterative process. Yeah. And is it? Is it different for different? Yeah, go ahead. Yeah,

A P 17:40
it’s a different for different, like, you work with a lot of executives. And so I would imagine that crosses a lot of different industry types, is that? Does the coaching vary? I mean, if you were coaching surgeons, there’s very specific, you know, surgical implications. And it really is life or death, in some cases there. But for industry, if it’s somebody in you know, oil and gas versus someone in higher ed versus someone in casual dining, is it different coaching, or is the coaching pretty consistent, and the the moves they need to make as a as a knowledge worker, as an executive, pretty similar, consistent.

Carla Fowler 18:18
The way I approach coaching is to, I would say, have a set of kind of metal lenses. So this idea of principles that cross industries, however, part of the whole coaching process is collaborative. And so how I think about this is my, my client and I are thought partnering and each bringing expertise to the table to then decide and figure out what are the things that are going to give them the best impact towards what they want, including us talking about and figuring out, well, what do we really want, which isn’t something that I can tell them. So I look at this as saying there are distinct performance principles that generally across industries, and my job is to kind of look at things and have some mental models for myself, through which we can then figure out what’s gonna most help this person, what’s relevant. And we can talk, I can explain those, I can ask what seems relevant to them. In turn, they have to explain their industry to me, like I’m not an expert at oil and gas. I have more expertise if it’s someone in medicine, or like biotech or something like that, but it’s really still the same. I’m not going to be a specific expert in what they’re doing. And the sheer act of them me asking questions, and saying explain to me how this works in your industry, whether that’s how people are promoted or what is considered to be success or high performance within your, your industry or sphere, when they actually think annex Explain it to another person who’s asking thoughtful questions about it to try and understand it, it turns out, they get insights that were not readily apparent, even though they have all that knowledge in

A P 20:10
their brain. So it’s, it’s I referenced earlier that you get to a certain point where you’re kind of going with the flow, and then you get to a certain point where you want to be good at something. And when you get to that cruising speed of being good at it, you don’t, it’s automatic, you’re not thinking about it. So you’re not, you’re not in it as much. I mean, you’re doing it day to day, but you’re not processing the information in the same way you’re kind of moving through it.

Carla Fowler 20:35
And that, like our brains are actually sort of built to do that. So the idea of like it, Thinking Fast and Slow, like Kevin’s book about how we have an automatic system, and then a more deeply thinking system. And it’s natural that we do that. But part of why I love thinking about performance scientifically is because when we know that our breeds do that, we can then both understand why someone might be a little bit on autopilot. But it also helps us think about, yeah, how do we deliberately and we will need to do it deliberately find brakes in that autopilot, to try and bring out some insights to try and see something differently, to highlight a blind spot, and part of my method I figured out is really to ask questions, and kind of have processes in that dialogue that make that happen for people, even though it seems like I you know, I might be asking a dumb question about an industry that I don’t know anything about. But the numerous times that’s like, had someone go, hmm, yeah, like, even before they’ve answered the question, they’re like, well, actually, that brings up something really interesting, you know, right. And you’re giving them a chance to interrogate it on a level that they they’ve already been promoted through it.

A P 21:53
They don’t haven’t thought about that in five years. It’s at that point. So if I could go back to the the idea that you said of, you know, charting the course, where do they want to go? What have you learned? Or what do you surmise? Is the reason why people prevent that? I mean, is there is there something about putting a name to it? I’ve, I’ve definitely have been guilty of that over my career of like, I want to set a firm goal. And I’m like, Man, I don’t want to do that. I know, I want to get promoted. But I don’t want to say what what the role would be, or something like that. Why? Why do people? Why did the people that you have talked to do that?

Carla Fowler 22:30
So I think that it’s sometimes happens, because putting a goal in place, suddenly brings to reality, the fact that they might not hit that goal. And I think some people have also had bad experiences with goal setting like, well, I, I didn’t hit it. And then I just felt bad. Like, then I just made myself feel bad. And sometimes people, I find that they set goals, and they’re very successful reaching them, but then it kind of puts them on this treadmill where they just like burn themselves out. Like they’re hyper goal setters. And as soon as they put that, like goalpost down, they’re like to sing it at 100%. And they can’t put it down till they hit it. But then the moment they hit it, and I call this performance discounting, they say, oh, yeah, but that was yesterday. Like I scored that goal yesterday, and like, this is a new game today. What am I going to do today,

A P 23:30
all of a sudden, their little NFL player like what what have you done for me lately? To themselves?

Carla Fowler 23:35
Yeah, exactly. asking yourself that question. And so I think the other thing about goal setting is, I think, intuitively, people notice that there are some pros and cons to goal setting. And for example, it’s hard to measure this stuff sounds like scientifically, but there is research out there about when does goal setting work? What kinds of goals seem to be the most effective? And one of the ways this is delineated is like, is it an outcome goal versus a process school? So I’ll give a simple example. Great, a process goal could be that I’m like, I am going to I’m going to complete a I printed a marathon training program online, I am going to complete that training program. And by that I mean, we’re going to do every workout that was recommended to me. And then I’m going to go run Seattle marathon. And this is a training program that, you know, let’s just say it was gave some times and said probably if you do this, you can hit a nine minute mile for the marathon.

A P 24:46
You’re talking about the HAL Higdon intermediate training.

Carla Fowler 24:50
Yeah. You know, and so a process goal would be to say, I’m going to complete that training program. And then I’m going to go run the marathon. And we’ll see what time see what happens. Yeah, exactly. And a outcome goal would be, I want to run a nine minute mile marathon might be more like that. An even more extreme outcome goal would be, let’s just say you figured out that that equated to being like 50th in my age category, which will remain

A P 25:29
forever, your reference ever be anybody could.

Carla Fowler 25:35
But that would be an even more extreme one. Because it’s not as it’s more of a zero sum game than, like, as many people who want to can run a nine minute nightmare average marathon. But the moment you start to say, I want to play a certain

A P 25:54
place. Well, if you have athletes, someone else can have it. And, and vice versa. And you can control that’s an external thing that is out of your control, that you can, you can sort of do can train for the part you control, which is how fast you run. But you can’t control that there’s a horse running group that is coming from Chicago to run the Seattle men marathon and they’re all aiming for age 55. Yes, now you’re 55th

Carla Fowler 26:19
Now, right? Yes, well, and like let’s just say in the workplace, what this could look like is to say, hey, I want to process school might be more around, I want to develop the skills and demonstrate the results and the abilities, I need to be considered for promotion to this particular position. But you may have colleagues or peers who are also in the running for that position. And so if you like it, you set the goal of like, I want that position. One of the challenges is, there’s more of that outside of your control than to say, I want to develop and promote put myself forward in the best light here, the skill sets and the results. I think I need to demonstrate to position myself well, I’m going to make sure people know about it, you brought up pitching yourself and visibility. This is something I talked to a lot of people about not just doing good. But seeing how are you making sure people are seeing, like your performance and what’s happening. But anyways, process goal would be like, Yeah, I’m going to just do, it’s not I’m going to do the best I can, which again, is vague and does not help us actually figure out what in what concretely we should do. Yeah. But, yeah, to actually start to say, Great, where do I need to focus? What is the work and effort, I think we’re time I need to put in on those things. If I need to, I need feedback along the way to track progress. Great. So you could really design some process goals around that. And not only do process goals produce kind of more sense of self efficacy, and kind of confidence, they produce better results is what some of the kind of meta analysis of this literature suggests. So it’s, on the other hand, setting a big outcome goal, like sometimes is the kick in the pants, that where people are just like, oh, shoot, I gotta get into action. But it’s

A P 28:15
so sounds like it’s like any kind of okay, or like, if you build in the milestones, so you set the outcome goal, I want to get that position, I want to get that promotion to this title. Okay, that could be effective for some people. But for some people, it just feels like, all right, and I don’t know how I’m gonna get there. But if you say I need to gain these skills, you know, I’m going to learn R and I’m going to do X, Y, or Z to get there, then even if you don’t get promoted, because there’s a merger or something totally outside of your control, you have now added elements that you can lean on to get that position elsewhere or just your you’ve enriched yourself in some way. So you, you will have the benefit to fall back versus just feeling like well, I didn’t achieve that goal. What a failure. And maybe I don’t even know why. Yeah, right. Right. And

Carla Fowler 29:04
so I like that was the perfect punch line. And I think it’s this like push and pull between types of goals. What is good goal setting, and also getting to know yourself, and like what motivates you. And this is something in coaching that I work with people on because I get to know people and I need to think about where are they at their most confident? Are they a person who really likes the big ambitious goal and that just sets them up? Awesome, we should do that. And we should acknowledge that process matters, not just having this huge deadline hanging out in the future and design some milestones. But for other people really focusing on process is sometimes the most self efficacy producing, like way to go. And and I but I think that is why that ambiguity, the fact that it’s not, goal setting is like Is is the thing or not goal setting is the thing. It’s the nuance in that that people get kind of bogged down in

A P 30:07
as a coach. Where is, so let’s say somebody, let’s say you start working with someone, you start meeting them, and they tell you I’ve already developed, I already have a goal, I’m going to share it with you. I have some milestones, and they ask for your help you help shape the milestones a little bit more, you add more definition. But then

where is the the equator between some definition and ongoing reshaping of the milestones, which starts to feel like procrastination, you know, how much how much strategy is overkill? Versus like, No, you need to do things now. It can’t just be all be a plan.

Carla Fowler 30:51
Yes, so one of the things we do is, so the reason I like to start with strategy, and actually, when I’m coaching, one of the things we do is we spent, like five hours when we start to actually talk about what do you want and explore that question, but also really try and drill down on, okay, given that goal, or sort of direction you want to go in what is actually most important, what actually are the gears that drive you there? And not the long laundry list of things? That could be good. But really, what are the fundamentals? And this to me, is sort of seeing in a coaching sense. What’s your, what’s the strategy for you, as a performer, right. And that often includes areas of focus for the business, like if I’m coaching a founder, we are often it is thinking about the business, but it’s also thinking about them as a as a human being. And we’re, you know, where do they need to be thinking about that stuff. But you’re right, like, defining areas of priorities. And this is something that actually is very relevant to all of us, is not just defining what we want, but actually then trying to understand what matters most like, what are the results that actually matter, that take us where we want to go? And often sometimes that stuff we know. But sometimes, it’s also like really getting into what matters to other people, like the people above you, or your customers. And those things are king, if we want to like keep moving up? No, no. Yeah. Well, sometimes what we think matters, we’ve done a really great job of something. But it may just be kind of sat on the side or decent. And if it isn’t related to like one of those fundamental things, for example, that maybe your manager or director is going to be judged on? Well, like they may they may not see it, or they may see it and say yeah, but that’s not helping with what really matters to me. And, you know, sometimes this is customers, right? There’s that the story of like, when you build that great product, and there’s no market seems like a great product to you. But there’s Yeah, and so this idea of seeing, what do you want, but also, let’s try and understand what matters most for that. And in particular, not just for you, but what do you think matters to the people who are going to be very influential in kind of what happens next that your customers, your director, you know, any of that. And so that’s, and the reason that’s important is because performance in knowledge work in particular is way more ambiguous than like athletics. Like we use some athletic examples, because they’re really easy example. Like, who won the race? There’s a score word. Exactly. And that is not as clear generally in knowledge work in particular. And so it is definitely worth trying to get some more clarity to get out of that, like ambiguous role.

A P 34:04
Okay. But But how do you as someone who’s if you’re someone who creates PowerPoints for a living, essentially, as a knowledge worker, or whatever, whatever format you’re working in, we use Google Docs.

How do you promote yourself when there isn’t a scoreboard and when it’s, you know, meeting to meeting almost, that you delivered the information or you had the right data or whatever, how does a knowledge worker, document that and show some kind of score for the people around them for their peers so that they can even measure their own performance and know if they’re doing well or not? I talked to so many people that are like, I like my job. I don’t know if I’m any good at it. I mean, almost that exact quote, is just as uncertainty of day to day not knowing if what you’re doing is valuable, that’s hard.

Carla Fowler 34:54
It is hard. It is a very motivating place to be and so I’m a big advocate of like, go like, go be a detective go like be a scientist and start to like, figure out what matters. And so I’m a big proponent of saying, talk to people read some books. And that’s very general knowledge, or sorry, general advice. But So more specifically, one of the things as a leader. So ideally, you have a leader who actually says, Hey, guys, this is the scoreboard. And so if you’re a leader, and you’re in this position, one of the best things you can do for your team is to have clarity around here is where we’re going, this is what matters. It’s okay, if there’s stuff that’s ambiguous and to acknowledge that, like, Hey, I have no idea if the CEO is going to X, Y, or Z at the end of this year. But here are the things I do know always matter, like revenue always matters, generally, you know, things relatively directly tied to revenue also tend to matter. But it’s, if you can give some clarity to your team, that then helps them know how to say, okay, how am I doing on those things? Now, often leaders, like sometimes leaders are not providing that so. And for people who don’t know how they’re doing, I’m guessing they’re not in one of those teams that has a really clear kind of scoreboard where the leaders in that. So in that case, I often recommend looking at kind of number one, what are the functions generally of the team? Like, where’s it positioned? In the org? How does it relate back to like making something or selling something? Like, often, if you can tie it back to, like the ability of the company or the org to function or to kind of, you know, sometimes we think about, they’re sort of, in a company, there’s the jobs of the CEO are to, number one, don’t run out of money. Number two, you need people to like deliver the work, right? You need to recruit, hire, retain talent, and then you need to have a plan for the future. And so you could one way one could look at this is to say, which of those does my function tie back to? You can talk to your director or whoever’s above you and say and actually ask the questions. What do you think is most important that we are going to contribute this year? Like? Or what are the biggest risks we might encounter that we need to mitigate? It could be what’s our biggest opportunity to make an impact, like make something really better for another team or form the company as a whole? It is thinking above whatever is your level and trying to say, what is that? This is sometimes called, like, owner mindset, like or CEO mindset, like, what is the CEO thinking? What is the owner thinking? And of course, if you are in one of those positions, you’re already you’re thinking like that, but I would hope Yeah, you Oh. So ask those questions and see what they say. And often that can give some clarity about how you can best contribute. You could even ask the question like in those annual reviews, or as you’re making annual plans to say, here are my thoughts about how I can like really impact things that I think are most important for team or for you. But like, what are your areas of concern? Are there other things that can help with? Do you agree that these things are those things? And so it does require asking, it does require more or less raising your hand and saying, I want to make an impact I want to contribute. And this goes back to something we said earlier, is you are showing some vulnerability when you do that, versus just Well, I’m just gonna keep delivering, and no one’s complained yet. And so I’ll just keep on keeping on. Good luck with so those are some of the ways yeah, those are some of the ways that generally we approach that

A P 39:04
one, one last question for you, and then I’ll let you go. As you’re coaching people, you know, I’m you’re working with executives that are extreme high performers, and you’re trying to coach them from what it sounds like to me from eight to nine from nine to 10. How important for those people is some element of non work goals and non work, you know, structured activity. So you mentioned running as setting a goal. Do you find that for those for those people that setting those goals around running or personal activities, whether it’s fitness or art or whatever it is? Does that play a role in their their professional success?

Carla Fowler 39:48
I think that there’s good data to say that our brains like to operate on some different wavelengths and so, you know, doing one thing and only one thing all day Time, like, probably denies us have some just some brain rest. And also some of that like background default mode that allows our brain to work on a problem without like consciously working on it, and reach some insights that if we just sat at our desks doing the work, we might not have come to that insight. The thing that I encourage for people, every person is different. And what they’re actually working on, say, with their professional work is different, and has different requirements. And I try to be realistic about things. So it’s wonderful when we read articles about like a startup founder, who is somehow like, you know, like an amateur artist on the side, and also training for their third Ironman. But like, I think the truth is, in most like really ambitious pursuits, we need to properly account for the amount of time that it’s going to take. And I think the idea of what you don’t want is someone who is like, working their butt off to do their startup feeling like somehow they are supposed to also be like training for an Ironman on the side 35 hours a day just gonna result in less sleep, which is a bad strategy. And I think you really have to sort of say what is most important, and sometimes you have to sequence stuff in life. And so if this is like, the startup period of time, sometimes what we need to ask is like, what is really the most potent and important other things that we need to make sure you have time with to be healthy, happy and thriving. So things like that commonly come up, always sleep, because as human beings, we all need it. The second one is like often friends or family like, really, that some time connecting with other people and not being isolated. And that is often a common one. Exercise, some kind of like, what are the sort of physical ways we were taking care of ourselves. And but we might have to make those really targeted and potent. Because they I mean, an 80 hour work week might be their norm. Like, if you’re a surgeon, I can tell you, you do your surgery. And then that is what outside looks like. And that can work. But it’s much more difficult. I think if people have an expectation that somehow they’re supposed to like put in an 80 Hour Work Week, and then also somehow be doing all these other things. Right. You’re just you’re just stacking it on top of something that’s already high stress and demanding of us psychologically.

A P 42:36
Carla Fowler, it’s just fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Carla Fowler 42:41
No, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

A P 42:43
This is great. Where can people find you online?

Carla Fowler 42:47
So I am on LinkedIn. And that’s a place where I post things I post when I’m a on a podcast. And so great place to follow me. And I’m at Carla dash Fowler. And then the other great place to connect is through my website, which is T-H-A-X-A. And that is where you can message me through the site, particularly if you’re interested in learning a little more about coaching, there’s good resources there. And also, if you actually want to kind of have an intro call to explore the possibility of coaching. That is a great way to get in touch for that conversation. And yeah, those are all good places.

A P 43:27
I’ll be linking to both of those in the show notes for you. And thanks again for making time. It’s just really fantastic.

Carla Fowler 43:34
Awesome, thank you.

A P 43:35
The Strategy Inside Everything is produced by me, Adam Pierno If you like what you’ve heard, leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Actually, I have no idea if that helps, or if it’s ever done anybody any good. If you really want to help the show, and you liked what you heard, share it with someone else who you think will dig it. That’s the best way to help the show and keep the conversation growing. New Music for the strategy inside everything is by Sawsquarenoise. If you have an idea, a question or want to push back on something you hear here, go to and leave a message or a voicemail for me. If you want more information on your host Adam Pierno you can find it on and learn about my books, speaking and consulting practice. Thanks so much for listening.

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