Michael Thompson is a career coach and communications consultant and a mentor at Startupbootcamp – a global network of industry-focused accelerators.
He’s a prolific writer whose articles on leadership, relationship building, communication, and career advice have featured in renowned publications like Fast Company, The Ladders, Business Insider, Forbes, INC, MSN, and Apple News. He has close to 45,0000 followers on the popular blogging platform Medium and is the top writer in six categories.
In this episode, Michael deep-dives into the simple yet crucial aspects of life, like how his stutter made him a better leader, how he makes time for family, how to invest in relationships and intelligent networks, how the quality of your communication improves the quality of your life, how to be productive, and more.
4 Simple Emails You Should Send Every Week
On Peaches, Park Benches, and Choosing What Matters Most
Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork
Why Your Weak Tie Friendships May Mean More Than You Think
I have a stutter and it’s made me a better leader
Renegades: Born in the USA
Give and Take
Man’s Search for Meaning
D.S. Hutchinson’s Introduction to the Epicurus Reader
You Don’t Need a New Thing to be Grateful For
Prioritizing ‘White Space’ Is the Key to a Productive Week
Taking Time Off Can Increase Your Productivity And Better Your Company
Give People the Gift of Not Saying These 10 Phrases in 2021
The Coddling of the American Mind
My Remarkable Journey
Oprah: A Biography
Becoming: Michelle Obama
(02:13) On choosing what matters most in life.
My son wanted to have a peach while they were walking home, but I wanted to get home and answer some emails. My son won and we sat down on a park bench for five minutes and had a peach. When we finished and were walking home, my son said, “Thanks dad! That was a really good peach.” We scream “family first” but want to get back to emails as fast as possible. We know the right thing to do is to spend time with the family, but our natural instinct pulls us towards work. At such times, it’s good to have a reminder. For me, it’s a park bench and a peach.
(6:16) The philosophy behind his writing.
Some writers come out as an authority, using the “you need to do this” voice. But many people don’t respond well to it. I take a softer approach to write articles — gentle self-help ones with stories — that connect with just enough people. Even the articles I remember are not the ones that tell me what to do, but the ones that let the reader determine the next step. If you want someone to change, they need to have their own reasons. My articles are simple reminders in my life, and we all need reminders.
(09:20) The path to massive wins is through small steps.
Sometimes you have to make big jumps, but most times, improvement comes by making the simple right choices consistently. Keep your running shoes beside the bed, stock healthy food in your fridge, send one short email to thank or appreciate someone who’s doing work you like or because you’re looking for a mentor. All these steps will pay off rich dividends in the long term.
(10:43) How to find people you want to connect with?
You can connect with people on the internet, read their articles, see their videos, meet them in other groups, and connect with them to hold more meaningful conversations than you can at any networking event. There are plenty of smart people in the world, people you think are cool. Surround yourself with such people in your own backyard. You won’t just have interesting conversations; you’ll also get information and access to opportunities outside your close circle when the Weak Ties phenomenon kicks in. Five good friends and 100 connections are enough, but you need to keep those connections moving forward through email, WhatsApp, and quick messages. If you share opportunities, they’ll come back manifold.
Since COVID, we’re seeing people are trying to stay on top of others’ minds through small gestures like monthly group calls with friends and coworkers. We’ve now noticed that if we’re just sitting at home replying to emails all day and don’t have some way to reach out to people, we’re in trouble. We’re not taught how to keep in touch with people, how to email them asking about their family or suggesting a book they might like, but these are simple ways to invest in relationships.
(19:36) On bold decisions and stepping outside your comfort zone.
(Correction: Michael was 23, not 33 years old, when he took up a sales job.)
It’s a misconception that shy people like to huddle indoors all day. In fact, we crave connection with others even more since we’re not good at it. When I got out of college, all my friends were doing good stuff. I got a job at Wells Fargo and ended up making a blunder, and was asked to leave. But it taught me I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer all my life. Some friends suggested a job in sales because though my stutter was a thing, they saw I was good with people. So I took a sales job to build some confidence and overcome my fears. And I made 100 phone calls a day, every day. By the end of the first year, I was among the top salespeople in the company and moved into training leadership positions. I also taught new salespeople. Thus, sales opened doors for me to see the other strengths I had. There’s often just one thing holding us back, and if we can overcome it by doing the small things, we can discover much more about ourselves.
(28:43) How to add value to others’ lives?
Most people think of what they have to do immediately after waking up. A person like Conor (Neill) wakes up and asks himself, “Whom can I be useful to today?” One of the things that helped Victor Frankl survive the concentration camps was that each day he woke up and asked himself, “Who needs me?” It’s sort of egotistical to think about how we can “make others’ lives better.” Instead, it’s better to ask, “how can I be useful today?”
(38:50) The significance of whitespace in our daily schedules
Whitespace is a half-hour or an hour a day when I do nothing because if I’m stuck, I never get unstuck staring at my computer. These blocks of time allow me to step away and come back faster and better after a break. Renowned coach Dan Sullivan works 150 days in a year and takes the rest of the days off. He plans his vacations at the beginning of the year and schedules his work around them. As a result, he’s one of the most productive people in the world.
(41:30) Hunch hours
Fred Dust is the founder and Managing Director of the non-profit side of design company Ideo. He applies constraints to conversations to make them more engaging. When he meets new people in a group, each person is asked to give a hunch about what the world will be like in a year, but you can’t talk about the pandemic, politics, and bitcoin. And the other people either say they “confirm” to support the argument, or say they “complicate” it to provide evidence that makes the argument difficult. So it’s not an “opinion hour,” it’s a hunch hour. You can be wrong about a hunch and not feel stupid, and choosing to confirm or complicate is softer than agreeing or disagreeing.
(43:20) The language you use is generally the world you see
If you use the word “conflict” a lot, you’ll see conflict. So instead of that word, Fred uses “creative tension,” trying to figure out a way for everyone to work together. Another example is when we say “Like I already said”, others interpret it as us implying that they’re not listening. It’s all about simple reframing of your arguments, and if you do, people will get along with you just fine.
(50:01) Don’t let too much planning get in the way of action
Malcolm Gladwell had a professor who lived by the philosophy that Hamlet was wrong because Hamlet spent too much time planning and thinking instead of taking action. Planning is guessing. Plan, but don’t think too much. Get out there, say yes, and don’t quit in the first three months just because you don’t like the job. Choose your blisters over your bliss. Choose the hard work, get your hands dirty, and as you get better you get at a job, you’ll begin to enjoy it.
(P.S. Download a free ebook on 10 simple lessons to create a life you look forward to each day here.)