MEET BEN BROOKS, EXECUTIVE COACH (EP.28)

By Justin Kerr

MEET BEN BROOKS, EXECUTIVE COACH (EP.28)

Ben Brooks is an executive career coach, and the founder of the career coaching tech firm (PILOT),  who challenges MR CORPO to de-emphasize titles and money in favor of maximizing experiences early in your career. He introduces the idea of being an "intrepreneur" -- meaning you can think and act like a business owner in your existing job. Ben also explains why the curiosity deficit is the enemy of businesses big and small. He reveals how to get a "secret promotion" and says other smart stuff like "make the right thing to do, the easy thing to do." He is also prone to #humblebrag on occasion (for good reason). You can find him @benbrooksny on social media and his company PILOT is http://pilot.coach

 LISTEN HERE:

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

JUSTIN: That's the sound of the man working on the chain gang. That's the sound of the man working on the chain gang.

 (Intro music)

 

JUSTIN: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Mr. Corpo podcast. We have a super special guest today. His name is Ben Brooks. He is an executive coach who charges upwards of a thousand dollars or more. And he sold out. So when you're listening to this 30-minute podcast, think of it as getting a free 500 dollar coaching session. Or something like that. We don't have to talk exact number. He's a Corpo high-flyer, having worked at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Lockheed Martin, which is a fantastic name. No matter what he did there, it sounds impressive.

 

BEN: Absolutely.

 

JUSTIN: Uh, you're not supposed to talk yet, Ben. But okay. He's also the founder of a tech startup. He's an entrepreneur. His company's called Pilot. I'll let him tell you more about that later. And at one point -- and actually, the first time I met Ben, I thought, this is the most interesting person I've ever met in New York City. And then I thought, that was far too big of a compliment to give one human being. So I'm gonna peel it back a little bit, Ben, and say you're like a top three, top five, in New York City. Let me stop there and let me introduce the topic for today. Or maybe you want to introduce the topic today, Ben. What is our topic for today's Mr. Corpo podcast?

 

BEN: So today's topic is the idea of why you can be an entrepreneur in your career without having to start a business. And this whole topic of being an "intrapreneur." A very, very sexy topic right now. And actually, how being an intrapreneur is the best way to learn to be an entrepreneur, on the infrastructure and dollars of someone else.

 

JUSTIN: Okay. Now, one of my rules as the host of this show is to kind of dumb down the commentary of our guests to like, the common listener. And I consider myself one of those. So you've just made up a word. It's called intrapreneur. Now, the idea is that you're being an entrepreneur inside of a company. So this is one of those Corpo-speak words that's really trending right now. People are talking about it. But I think it's an interesting topic. Because especially in today's world, you look around, and all anyone talks about when you're talking about working and being young and starting businesses is, hey, you have to be a tech startup who's worth a billion dollars or you don't count for anything. So what you're saying is, even inside of a small, medium, or big company, you can act and think like an entrepreneur. Is that a good summary?

 

BEN: Yeah, and in fact, this is the best way to be even successful at a big company, even if you don't want to be an entrepreneur. Acting like one at a company is a killer success strategy.

 

JUSTIN: Okay, make it real for me. What does that mean?

 

BEN: So being an entrepreneur, a lot of it's about being comfortable being uncertain, doing things you're not good at, learning super quickly, taking a massive amount of responsibility and a wide view, and really spotting opportunity. And so to have that hustle, to have that focus, is something that, frankly, is pretty unique at big companies. And so part of the reason companies want this "intrepreneurship" thing is, they really want to get things done and to break things and to do things differently, and to have the innovation. But their structure actually impedes it.

 

JUSTIN: Okay, okay. So I'm getting you. But let me just ask, most of us have a boss. And we have a structure and a hierarchy. Does this mean we're just supposed to run rampage all over the company and just say, "I want to do everything, and give me everything, and I'm gonna break it, and I'm gonna screw it up and fail first" or -- what does this mean? Like, make it real for me. I go into work tomorrow, I listen to your podcast, I say I want to be an intrapreneur, I want to be an entrepreneur at my company. What do I do when I show up to work the next day?

 

BEN: Well, it's definitely not like the tea party, right? This isn't like, anarchy at your company and just going rogue, okay? Like, you can't pull a Palin at work. This is like not that -- that's not the advice. But it's much more looking for like -- spotting opportunity. So it's doing that extra thing. And the origins of this kind of concept of intrapreneurship, actually a lot came from engineering. Like, 3M, for instance, has always been know for products that have been out of the, you know, science lab for two or three years, you know, are responsible for a lot of their profit. And they do those because they give their engineers, just like Google does now, and other companies, 10, 20 percent of their time to work on whatever they like, what they're curious about what they see.

 

So you may be in finance, you may be in HR, you may be in something else. But it's the idea of spotting where's the opportunity. Maybe you guys are implementing a new kind of software at your company. Or there's a new market you're trying to address. You're trying to deal with diverse talent in a different way. Whatever it may be, it's like spotting, kind of, what's next, and helping really drive and get things out of the way to make the company successful. This isn't just about your own personal brand or your own personal interest. This isn't a passion project. If you like to do, you know, knitting, like, knit elsewhere, right? But this is about, like, moving things forward through the company. 05:02 In a kind of curious and scrappy way.

 

JUSTIN: Okay, so really what I'm hearing you say is this idea of, if you just sit at your desk and wait for someone to tell you to do something, you're going to be waiting forever. Versus, you see a problem, offer the solution. You see a big idea, you have a big idea, people want to hear it. So get off your ass and present it to people, or share it to people, or recommend it. Is that right?

 

BEN: Absolutely. I mean, if you're just waiting for things, people delegate the things they don't like dealing with. The things that are the least satisfying, or maybe the most nubby, hard things to do. So like, shit's gonna slide downhill onto your desk, and you're gonna be left with a bunch of things you're maybe not that interested in. Now, of course you're gonna need to take things you're delegated. But frankly, there's a lot more work you could do. And you may not get paid for it in the short term. You may not even get recognized for it in the short term. And people thing real -- you know -- small in that regard.

 

But can you learn? Really, the thing in particular, early in your career, the thing you want to maximize is not your income, it's your learning. That's what compounds, right? Einstein said, like, relativity wasn't that big of a breakthrough compared to compounding. Well, compounding can be about money but it can also be about knowledge. Right? So you want to bring that early, early in. You want to arc your learning curve early in your career. But some of that is, you're gonna pull more to you than you've ever been assigned. You see things and you just take ownership. It's like being the leader in a community. You spot something, and it -- you don't need to be too -- you know, it's not a land grab. You're just stepping up and saying, what can I do to be responsible? How can I be a citizen of this firm and do something meaningful?

 

JUSTIN: Okay, wow. You just said a lot. Um...let me think about -- this is also, then, it's about saying yes to opportunities too. So there's an element of, you've got to create opportunities, you've got to offer opportunities. But you also just need to be willing to get your hands dirty. And you see someone doing something, say, can I help you? Hey, what are you doing? If you're interested in it. How do you get involved so that you maximize the field of play, so to speak? And just see what's out there in the world. Especially earlier in your career. You want to know -- you don't even know what you like, or you don't even know what you don't know.

 

BEN: Totally. And that's -- I mean, if I just rewound what you just said, that's a great description of an early-stage entrepreneur. So the same behaviors you'd do if you just, like, put your job -- and you're just out there, be curious. What can you get involved in? How can you help someone out? How can you essentially, like, sample and taste a lot of different things from the composition, the problem, the type and dynamic of the people, you know, etcetera. How are you going to get work done? And so a lot of it is just like, maximizing, kind of, the stimulus that comes your way. And it's not gonna always be sexy things. Maybe, you know, figuring out the freaking mail merge, you know, for your boss, and they're doing some ancient way. You know? Or like, making the staff meeting better every week. You know, going around the horn and everyone giving an update? Like, talk about wanting to cut yourself. I mean, that is not the way to run a meeting. Like, just google a better way to do meetings. Find out -- use 15-5. Find some neat piece of software. You'll look like a messiah.

 

JUSTIN: Fascinating. I'd never even thought of this. So the idea is, play to your strengths, too. If you're young and tech savvy and you see something going the old way, raise your hand and say, "Have we tried this?" Or even what I heard you say there is, do the research to try and solve the problem. Cause probably everyone else is so busy, they're not gonna do the research. And there is this innate system built into these corporations where you just do things cause that's the way they were done before. And no one wants to upset the apple cart. Everyone keeps going, even if there's a better way.

 

BEN: It's the curiosity deficit. Right? There's a massive curiosity deficit in big companies, because of the automaticity and the inertia bias. It's the reason you don't cancel Netflix or a magazine subscription. The inertia bias, it just keeps going. Right? Including our processes and our paradigms and our way of working. So what you want to -- I mean, a critical career strategy, spend 30 minutes googling something. How to run a staff meeting better. I will tell you what will not cost you anything except 30 minutes, and you will come up with like, the world's best practices from the leading thinkers, and it'll be a freaking HBR article or a video or a this and that. You'll come in and, better than a management consultant for 30,000 dollars could, in 30 minutes of your time.

 

But the problem is, is that 99 percent of your colleagues won't do that. They won't be curious. They won't -- you know, they won't be interested. And they won't spend the time to just say, "How could we do this better?"

 

JUSTIN: Oh my gosh. You just said like ten amazing things, and I was looking in your eyes while you said it. It was like, overwhelming. Let me tell you. But -- but let me get back to -- to the situation at hand here. One of the things that I'm interested in is, people want it to relate to their everyday life. And what people want out of their work life is, I want more money. I want to get promoted. So one of the things that I want to connect what you're saying is, you're not gonna get promoted just doing your day-to-day job, doing the everyday tasks. You've got to go have special projects. You've got to contribute above and beyond your current job. And all the things that you're talking about here -- inventing new ways, improving things, studying something so you get better at it -- that's going above and beyond, is gonna put you in first place to get that next promotion. Does that sound like a way for people to connect it into what's their concern today, which is how the crap am I gonna get promoted?

 

BEN: Yeah, I think people get really 10:03 focused on this -- they want a feeling of advancement. So they look at money and titles as proxies for that.

 

JUSTIN: So you would almost argue my bringing this back to promotion is the wrong -- is dumbing it down in some ways.

 

BEN: I think -- I think promotions, in a flatter organization, there's just fewer levels, right? There's fewer bumps. And it takes a longer period of time. And frankly, whether you're like the associate program manager or the program manager, like, does anyone know or care in five years from now? It doesn't really matter. It may matter to you, you're gonna have that feeling of like, oh, I'm killing it, I'm doing this. But ultimately it's like, do you really -- have you created results? Do you have a great story? Did you have a big impact? Did you learn things? Right? I've learned things ten years ago that I use now, that I turn into real money. Like, it whatever, like, five, ten percent promotion bump back then on -- ten percent of nothing is nothing plus ten percent. Right? Whereas now I can turn that in on -- on big dollar basis. And big impact basis. Use it in interesting way. But I didn't even know then that I would use it now. But it became super, super useful.

 

So reframing. Like, it's like, title and money are things that people will do the dumbest things for. They'll go work at a crappy company because they'll pay them 15 percent more, right? They'll work in a -- a -- for a loser of a company. I know people that are, you know, going to media companies right now that like, you read the New York Times, that are just tanking, right? But like, that company, because they're tanking, they have to pay more, right? The companies that pay the most are often the worst to work for, cause they have to pay more. And they'll throw a title at you because they're desperate for people, whether you're ready for it or not. I know people -- it can be a big problem. If you have a certain title but you don't know that job, you're hollow, right? That puts you in a really vulnerable spot.

 

JUSTIN: So -- so this is interesting. So I -- I like this topic. Now, one of the things I want to add to this is, you can identify what this thing is, organize the drop box, fix this process, implement this. If you cannot articulate yourself simply -- make it simple, make it easy for them to say yes. Cause not only do they not have time to figure out what they should do, if you come to them with a half-baked idea or it's really confusing, or they can't find the confidence to trust you that you can execute this, it's gonna go nowhere and you're gonna get really frustrated. So your goal, whenever you're recommending something, is make it easy to say yes. Make the choices black and white. Would you -- would you agree with this, as an approach?

 

BEN: 100 percent. Because the thing is, people will get scared of rejection. So they'll kind of bury the lede, right? So they'll have some long deck or proposal or email about wanting to do something. At the bottom, it's like, can I go to a conference for two hours on Thursday? When that needs to be right up front, because it's like, can I go to this conference to help us figure out how to sell more to this segment of the market? Or whatever it may be. It's like, really clear, straightforward asks. Don't be so timid. Cause when you look at it, and you take a hard look, the reason you're being timid is cause of fear. And what are they gonna say, no? They're gonna laugh at you? That's the worst case that could happen.

 

Guess what? The secret -- here's the secret. Most things you ask for at work, you'll get. I worked at a company, I had all these colleagues that were, you know, 15 years older than me. And I started going to conferences. And they went ballistic. These people make a lot of money. And you got big budgets. So why does he get to go to conferences? And my boss finally stomped her foot down in a meeting and says, "Cause he's the only person that asked." If you asked, I'd let you go, too. So just making those asks. But also, you want to make doing the right thing to do the easy thing to do.

 

And like, safety. Workplace safety. That's a big thing. You don't want to make like, the earplugs and stuff, you have to rummage for them? Or even like, you know, in school cafeterias, they put the healthy food within arm's reach, and the bad food for you higher up. It's behavioral economics, right? So that's the way you want to do it with your boss, too. Is think: how do I make the thing that I really want, right, maybe I want them to make an introduction for me. Or something. Well, let me pre-draft the email and put the attachment with it, and everything else, right? Or maybe I've thought through all the details, which I know they're gonna ask about the exact cost of the travel, amount of time, who's gonna cover for me. It's just overcoming objections in the sales process. So you overcome all that so they can just say, "Hey, I've thought through all of this, it's totally sorted."

 

Because what most people do is, they have an idea which is really a complaint shrouded in some sort of, like, sparkle. It then becomes some crap that they throw on their manager's plate -- it's like, yeah, I have this idea. And then the manager's like, great. Now I have another thing to do. I got very good at getting a lot of money on the first or second ask. But I had thought through it. I mean, it wasn't just -- I didn't come in and say, "Oh my God, I watched a TED talk. We should hire a freaking, you know, whatever." Right?

 

JUSTIN: Alright, well listen. I want to move us over to the bonus section. So...bonus section. Bonus section. Bonus section. Come on, Ben, say something. Bonus section.

 

BEN: Bonus section.

 

JUSTIN: Okay bonus section.

 

BEN: Super whizmo bonus section.

 

JUSTIN: Alright. Now Ben, we are offering you this bonus section to say anything that you want to say.

 

BEN: Well I want to be useful, so there's this entrepreneurial thing that we've talked about. But eventually, after you've been somewhere a while, and you've solved a lot of practical problems, figure out from a legacy perspective -- it's kind of weird to think about, maybe you're at a job for three or four years, but like, what's gonna be your legacy there? 15:05 What's the thing, when you're gone, that they will remember you for? How will you leave your indelible mark on a place that you worked at? And it may be something that you're deeply passionate about or interested in. You may have to sell and lobby over a period of time. It may not be the most obvious thing.

 

So think about, when I left -- I was in management consulting, and when I left, I started a LGBT group, but it was from a really bad experience of being a gay person and being called, like, names when I started at the consulting firm. It wasn't from this great, uproarious moment. Right? But like, me and a number of colleagues co-founded this thing, and changed the firm. And when I left, our head of HR said, you know, this is -- this will be your legacy here. You've changed the firm more than some partners have. I was a junior employee. I was a -- you know. But I had found my thing, right?

 

JUSTIN: But you're incredible, Ben. So what about all the rest of us normal people? Like, you're talking about legacies, like, I can understand you having a legacy. But what about me having a legacy? I'm just a normal person.

 

BEN: You can be a legacy on your team, on your floor, on your department, on that client account. You don't have to think of this, like, massive global thing. Right? You know, a meteor hitting the earth, right? It can be just thinking and like, here's the guy that got us onto Asana, and now we actually have a project management system and we use it.

 

JUSTIN: What are you gonna be remembered for?

 

BEN: What is that thing that ultimately -- and when you get to, like, brand, people will try to, like, put out this brand, some story, all this other stuff. Ultimately, the brand should be the composition of the experiences people have with you. And really, you should have like, one deep pervasive one. And a job. You know? The thing that, like, you made -- like, cause just performing, just doing the requirements of the job, even exceeding those requirements of the job, will never have you be memorable. They'll just think of you as this utility player, this hard worker. You're essentially like a polished-up mule. What is that thing that's like, ownable? It's the story, the thing you could speak at a conference about. The thing that you can sell -- the next job, you know -- instead of "tell me about this job" and you rehash the requirements of the job in a job interview of your last job, you tell a story about the thing where you maximize your learning.

 

JUSTIN: And it doesn't matter what it is, right? Like, even if you're just like, you organize the playground for the kids to come every Thursday once a month, that can be your thing. You know what I like about this is, it actually raises your vision above the short-term. So I started this conversation by talking about, what about if I want to get promoted? What if I want more money? But that's today, tomorrow, six months from now. But I like what you're talking about. How are you going to be remembered? What is your legacy? Helps you to actually focus above and beyond and get off of your ass and say, what am I doing here? What am I gonna do that's gonna make a difference? How am I gonna be remembered?

 

BEN: And the -- and there's a secret kind of promotion, by the way. It's the kind that they don't tell you about, which is in the five to ten percent. If the 20 to 70 percent raise, which I've gotten --

 

JUSTIN: Hashtag humblebrag.

 

BEN: And so you got the -- you're really busting my balls on this. You know, I mean, hard to turn off a magnet, right? So -- so --

 

You get those from not doing your job. It's from doing this special thing. Cause there's this undeniable case, like, we cannot lose a person who creates these kind of things, who cares this much, who works -- produces these kind of results. You don't even have to ask for that promotion. That's the sort of thing that like -- like, there's a whole group of people that proactively think about, these critical people that they can't lose. And it's not because they're just doing their job, they're doing it better. It's because they're doing something extra or special that literally is not replaceable. And companies know it. And they will throw all sorts of things to keep you. And you feel deeply appreciated. And it's a fair trade. It's mutual respect. What you focus on is creating value and having impact. Not being entitled in -- you know, groveling over some tiny little promotion.

 

JUSTIN: Boom! I mean, boom. Ben, that was a fantastic -- maybe that was the best bonus section ever. Before we let you off the hook here, what do you want to tell people about what you're doing? Do you want to talk about the pilot program? Do you want to talk about your executive coaching? Like, I'm gonna hand you the mike for 30 seconds.

 

BEN: So I run a company called Pilot. Pilot, we help companies retain their employees by giving them executive coaching that normally is locked up for very high executive people that's very expensive. We deliver it through technology. It's all about responsibility, as I talked about. It's a lot about doing special things in your career, including things like getting on a nonprofit board, being involved in your industry, optimizing your job so you're more satisfied. So Pilot.coach is our site. And we're working with leading companies to retain their talent.

 

JUSTIN: You couldn't afford the dot com?

 

BEN: Dot com is owned by Hearst, unfortunately. They're not using it, which is interesting. But nonetheless, you know, no one really goes direct to a domain anymore. So it's kind of, you know, the dot com is like Pets.com era.

 

JUSTIN: My wife always yells at me, but I'm definitely a dot com kind of guy. You know? That's like -- if it's dot com it's real. If it's dot net, it's like, oh, second tier.

 

BEN: Well it's a little like DVDs versus, you know, streaming. It's like, I can't see the show.

 

JUSTIN: Okay, I was trying to insult you, and you double-insulted me.

 

BEN: You know, we're just bad, you know.

 

JUSTIN: Alright Ben, thanks. This will not be the last time you'll come on the podcast, if you'll have us again. But fantastic info, definitely raised the bar. And everyone go check out Pilot.coach.

 

BEN: Pleasure to be here. 20:00

 

JUSTIN: Oh, by the way, you can reach me at mrcorpopodcast@gmail.com. By the way, I've gotten three fantastic questions this week, and was able to get back to everyone. That's free coaching that I give over at mrcorpo.com, so you don't have to go to Mr. Ben Brooks to get his expensive executive coaching. You can get the bad, lower, free coaching from me over at mrcorpopodcast@gmail.com. Go to mrcorpo.com. Buy the book, How To Write An Email. And we're still looking, we're still looking for sponsors for the Mr. Corpo podcast. We have almost 10,000 downloads, or more! And we have no sponsors.

 

I'm gonna talk about Pilot.coach. I probably shouldn't have talked shit on Pilot.coach, right? Oh well. Anyway, Rob, thanks so much. Ben, thanks so much. Get to work.



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