Leslie Ehm: Authenticity
Leslie Ehm is one of the most incredible people in the world. Giant heart, talent in abundance and more energy than the Duracell bunny! She has SWAGGER in abundance and spends much of her life helping others to unleash their brilliance with her training company, Combustion. I feel very fortunate to see Leslie as a dear and true friend, and choosing the word for today’s discussion was easy… In Episode 5 I talk to Leslie Ehm who shares her insight into the word “Authenticity”. Listen in on our conversation and enjoy being a fly on the wall to our discussion. Looking to help your organization to think, act and achieve better things, you may just need a little of what www.combustionco.com has to offer.
The full transcript
Phil Jones: So here we are with another episode of “Words With Friends”, and this time, I’m with one of the best friends I have on the planet all the way from Canada, which is like the other side of the world. Here we have Leslie Ehm. Leslie, welcome to the show.
Leslie Ehm: Hi. Thanks for having me. I’ve been waiting for this day.
Phil Jones: You have? Just waiting, forever thinking, “I cannot wait to chat with Phil about one single word.”
Leslie Ehm: I wake up every day saying that, and it’s the fact that I get to spend that extended period of time with you. That’s the thing that . . . .
Phil Jones: Ah, well that makes sense. That makes sense. And the fact that you must be telling the entire truth here at this moment in time is obvious because the word that I picked for you to talk about today is the word “authenticity”, so Leslie, what does the word “authenticity” mean to you?
Leslie Ehm: Well I think “authenticity” means the ability to keep hold of exactly who you are and manifest it in the face of all of the crap that the world’s gonna throw at you to try and squish you back down into your place. Nope. It’s about embracing and accepting who you really are. But there are some conditions to authenticity, which sounds weird because it should be without conditions. Authenticity gets a really bad rap. I’m finding these days that people say, “I don’t know. You can be too authentic. Don’t be too authentic.” No. You have to be 100% authentic, but you gotta check yourself or your intention. You know?
So if your intention is to be an asshole, for example, and you are authentically an asshole, well okay. More power to ya. But don’t be surprised when the world blows back on you. So it’s really about just holding on to the core truth of who you are in the face of the world trying to suppress that.
Phil Jones: Okay. And we live in a world right now where everybody’s told, “Live your truth.” “Be your authentic self.” “Show me the real you.” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, and then we have companies and organizations saying, “What we’re looking to better do is to develop best practice, great systems and processes and look forward to people being able to deliver our brand message and become ambassadors of our truth.” Now surely those two things fight a little. Which version of authentic shall we pick today?
Leslie Ehm: Well I don’t think that process and authenticity have anything to do with each other. Process is process, and it’s there for a reason. If you have to work well with others, which we have to do, process is really important because it establishes the guidelines for, “How are we gonna do this? How are we gonna march forward as a collective?” But everybody has to bring their true self in that process. You want all of these people marching forward, flying their individual freak flags high but being focused on the same goal and understanding that their intention is to satisfy or fulfill that collective goal. I mean if you’re part of a collective in some … We all are ’cause it’s the human race, so you can fly your freak flag high and march towards betterment of the human race, but you gotta do it with your own swagger, your own flare.
Phil Jones: Okay. Well let’s take an example you said a second ago, right? Is say your boss is this asshole, and authentically, what I wanna do is to punch him in the face. Should I punch him in the face?
Leslie Ehm: No, because what would your intention be in that case?
Phil Jones: Probably to cause him huge amounts of pain or to respond to the fact that I thought he was being an asshole, or should I tell him he was being an asshole? Shall I do that?
Leslie Ehm: Yeah. I think it’s okay to do that, but you gotta be smart. Being authentic and … You don’t just wanna barf your truth on people. It doesn’t make sense, but if you’re saying, “Look my feeling is that this person is authentically an asshole, he’s not gonna change,” or, “She’s not gonna change, and no matter what I do, I’m not gonna be able to change that.” It’s not our responsibility to change somebody else. Then authentically, you should go, “Screw you. This is not the place for me,” but that’s about you speaking your truth, but you gotta live in a world, in a space where you can speak the truth ’cause that’s about truth, intention, and self-belief, which I think is a core driver of authenticity.
Phil Jones: So you’re saying really this is about speaking your truth to yourself and then letting your actions lead that, so given this scenario of your boss is an asshole, and you feel like you wanna punch him in the nose, or you wanna tell him that he is, maybe if that’s what you’re feeling is the authentic action would be to crystallize that belief, drop it into some form of self-talk, and make a decision to say, “Well I’m either gonna rise on up above it, put myself in a position where I hold the controls, or I’m gonna step and go somewhere new, or I might authentically look to be able to bring my brilliance towards something else through acceptance of the fact that I’m not gonna change somebody’s persona.”
Leslie Ehm: Yeah because that … We’re dealing with a person that is incapable of embracing your authen- They don’t wanna hear your truth. They don’t wanna hear how you feel. They’re not interested in that. They’re interested in their goal and their intention, which is a crappy intention too. So yeah, more power to you.
Phil Jones: Now if authenticity is about living your truth to a point, what are the consequences of not doing that? What do you see in the world where people are hiding behind a version of themselves that isn’t true, or they’re not showing up in the world with some level of authenticity?
Leslie Ehm: Aw man. It breaks my heart. I see this all the time. I do a ton of training across the border on all kinds of things, and things are [inaudible 00:05:40] authenticity, and I’ll … Take some of my leadership training for example. I get given these people who are identified as high performers, future leaders, and everyone’s stepping into really senior roles. EVP roles, VP roles. And they’ve come that far in their careers because they’re smart, they’re good at what they do, they put their heads down, they work, but I’m telling you they have no freaking idea who they are and what their real place is in the world, and they’re coming to me, and I spend six months just cracking them open like the real nuts that they are and showing them that it’s okay to be flawed.
It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to get angry and to get frustrated. It’s how you manage those things in the context of other people without sublimating who you are that just superpowers you, and it builds your empathy like crazy, ’cause if you’re doing that, and you’re asking other people to accept it of you and from you to a reasonable degree, then you start to realize that everybody’s feeling this, and everybody hiding all of that stuff, and if we create an environment in which people can express it, we get the best of the best of the best, and we become so so so strong in the pursuit of that. It’s mind-blowing when I see what happens to these people.
Phil Jones: What’s one or two of the best examples that you’ve experienced in your life where you’ve seen somebody go through that kind of transition or change?
Leslie Ehm: Wow it’s hard to pick. I mean I have people who come in who are deeply, deeply introverted, and they use that as the shield. “I’m not so comfortable talking in front of people, and I really don’t … ” And they’re trapped. They truly are trapped, and I have so much love for those people because I’m the exact opposite. I’m so everything on the outside, and you can see that they want to show up. They wanna show up big, but they’re so terrified of that space that they’re gonna fill up, and what I do is I hold them, and I hug them, and I pull them, and I tell … Inch by inch. It’s like babies. Inch by inch, I go, “Oh my God. I see you. I see you. Good for you. I see you,” and when people realize that they’re being seen, despite not having to be super demonstrative or all over the place but just by cracking themselves open a little, we all cry. Everybody cries. We get a lot of crying going on, and they come and tell me, “I realize that I’m bigger than I thought. I’m worthy of taking up more space in the world,” which just blows my mind.
Phil Jones: Right. Okay. Let’s jump to social media. Now social media can provide what I see to be a beautiful veneer for people to be able to present themselves to the world, and that veneer might be three inches thick. It might be a millimeter thick. It might be just the thinnest of a sheet of paper thick, but it does provide this ability to bring a veneer to the world. What do you see through your lens as to how people operate on social media, whether that’s an authentic voice or an inauthentic? What are the things that you’d be more used to?
Leslie Ehm: I think it depends on the person. Some people use it as a way to distance themselves from the world, and that’s through tons of makeup and the perfect selfie and the perfect portrait lighting and, “Look at me. I’m here,” and, “Look at me. I’m there, and I have the best life.” Whatever. Those people, I’m the most suspicious of. Those are the people I think are in the most pain because you wouldn’t feel the need to put on such a protective front. To me, it’s like protective coating. It’s like a force field.
I look at people who choose to use social media as a way to express their authentic voice, and people who talk candidly about struggles with addiction or with mental health or with body issues or whatever it is, and they’re kind of yopping into the void. They’re saying, “Is anyone listening to my truth?” And that makes me so happy because yeah, people are listening to your truth unless you’re a teenage girl, and then they just wanna pounce on you and devour you for your truth, but in general, I find it’s a struggle even for me, and you know. I mean social media. We’re buddies on social media. I’m pretty unfiltered. I’m pretty straight up.
I tell my stories about my life and my kids and my thing, and actually today, I just posted something. I was sitting in my backyard, and I was thinking about this in preparation for this, and I thought, “You know what? Screw it,” and I pulled out my phone, and my hair was in a pony tail, dirty. I had no makeup on, and I shot a little video that said, “You know what? I talk a lot about authenticity and about keeping in real and whatever, and so this video is this is it. This is it. It’s not so pretty. It’s not so fresh, but this is about being unafraid to express who you are because the only reason you don’t is because you’re afraid of what people are going to say.”
Phil Jones: Right.
Leslie Ehm: And then you go, “Well what difference does it make what people say?” And they’re not gonna say it to ya, or they may say it to ya. If you’re a grown up, sometimes they do. I’m not enough of a social media personality to have trolls. I’ve never really been trolled on social media, so I’m very fortunate about that, but I don’t think I would give a shit anyway. To me, it would be kind of just something to block out, but that’s because I have a really strong sense of who I am.
I think … I have a 16-year-old daughter, and social media is the bane of her existence. She doesn’t know it, but it’s the bane of her existence. It’s brutal because she does not understand what authenticity actually is. Authenticity is the consistency of the veneer.
Phil Jones: Right?
Leslie Ehm: Right? It’s just the brand that you build, and it’s consistent. Keepin’ it real, girlfriend. Keepin’ it real with moments with my selfies. That, to her, is authenticity. She would never go into social media, strip down, no makeup, lookin’ like a rag. It just would never happen.
Phil Jones: But what if authenticity to you is never leaving the house without having makeup on? Would that not then be the same for how you would show up within the social media side of yourself if social media is the extension of your personality and that what it is is a way of accelerating the real world? If your decision is, “I wouldn’t leave the house without makeup,” why would that not then authentically appear through the lens of social media in the same way?
Leslie Ehm: I think it would. I think the question that I would ask given a conversation with said person is, “Well why? Why do you feel the need to always put on makeup when you leave the house?” And if it’s because, “I just feel I got more bounce in my step. I’m feeling my bad self. It’s all good. I do it for myself,” more power to ya. If it’s because, “I’m afraid that people might judge me if I don’t,” I think it’s different.
Phil Jones: But people do judge you, right? I mean I’m just … And this is just a conversation. I mean I rock up on stage, and if I’m delivering a speech, I will shave. I will do my hair. I will put a jacket on. I’ll probably wear a button-down shirt, and my shoes will be polished. Now the authentic version of me does that because I believe that’s what’s expected of me, and then there’s also a part of me that’s like, “Man I would be so much more comfortable if I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.” And-
Leslie Ehm: What do you think [inaudible 00:13:00].
Phil Jones: I don’t think it’d be that much of a big deal.
Leslie Ehm: That’s my point.
Phil Jones: Right? And I think both sides of that though are also true is that I don’t think I’m being inauthentic by putting a jacket on and a shirt. It’s just one requires more effort and that given the choice, I’d rather make less of an effort, but then also, there’s a choice and another voice inside of me that says, “Well no. I like making the effort. I like to put a suit on. I like to look sharp,” so I think sometimes, we have these dilemmas in ourself where authenticity isn’t one thing. It’s a cocktail of which multiple things are true, so what’s the opposite of authentic?
Leslie Ehm: Well Ron Tite, our friend Ron Tite, said this brilliant thing about authenticity. He said, “Authenticity is about going into your closet to pick the outfit that you feel is best for the situation, but it’s never going shopping for something that you wouldn’t otherwise buy.” You know what I mean?
Phil Jones: Love it.
Leslie Ehm: Isn’t that genius? I was like, “Oh-”
Phil Jones: I should’ve interviewed Ron on this word, not you.
Leslie Ehm: No. He only said one brilliant thing, nothing else. Nothing else. That’s it. That’s it. Now which original question was that? So but doesn’t that make sense?
Phil Jones: That makes perfect sense.
Leslie Ehm: ‘Cause it’s not about … You gotta have a range. We all have a range of stuff and hey. Listen. I am a subject to judgment as anybody else is. I get deeply frickin’ insecure. I worry about, “Do I look good enough? Do I sound good enough? Do I … ” All those things. But I do everything in my conscious choice to not let it change me ’cause that’s my struggle. That’s my journey that I have to go through, but if i start saying, “Well I’m gonna pretend to be someone I’m not so that people will accept me and will like me,” then you lose it because my mother said … When I was a teenager, this was the best advice my mother ever gave me. I was a rebel kid, and I had shaved hair, and it was purple, and at 15, the boys were not feeling me. It was not cute, and I was . . .
Phil Jones: And you mean that in a contextual feeling, right? Not necessarily a literal feeling you, right? Just for clarity. The boys were not feeling you.
Leslie Ehm: They were … Well, no. There was not a lot of feeling me. There wasn’t a lot of that going on, no, and I was lamenting this to my mom. I was crying. I have a great mom. I was crying to her, and I was saying, “Should I change? Maybe if I just changed, the boys would like me,” and she said, “You know, Les? You’ve gotta be exactly who you are from the word jump.” Because if you pretend to be someone that you’re not, and then a guy likes you for that, at some point, he’s gonna figure out who you really are, and if he rejects you then, that’s heartbreaking. But if he doesn’t just … He doesn’t vibe you at the beginning, who cares?
And she said the signs. “If a guy is too dumb to recognize what an amazing girl you are, what would you wanna go out with such a dumb guy for anyway?” Genius. Genius. So it was … I had to deal with my own insecurities and my own fear and my own stuff, but I wasn’t gonna pretend to be someone that I wasn’t in order to alleviate those fears. You gotta step into it. You know? I mean that’s where the juicy stuff lives. It’s stepping into that fear and taking some risks and stretching yourself a little, and instead of wondering, “What if? What if? What if? What if I do this? What could happen?” Or, “What if I say this? What could it … ” Just frickin’ say it once and see. Just do it once, and most people are incredibly surprised.
Here’s a good example. So the graduation of my leadership programs, and I’m into the fifth cohort, so I’ve had 125 people move through this. So the graduation is each team does a presentation in front of the entire C-level executive team of this gigantic financial services organization, okay? And the kind of presentations that I get them to do are outrageous. They’re full on skits. There’s singing. There’s dancing. There’s props. People are spraying themselves green. It’s outrageous, and because I boil the frog. I move them along so slowly that by the time they’re presenting, they’ve forgotten that what they’re doing is so extreme for what this organization is used to, and instead, they’re just up there feeling their bad selves.
I mean we’re talkin’ singing, dancing craziness for executive-level business presentations, and they do it with gusto. With gusto. And the reaction that they get is standing ovation, people screaming and howling and saying, “Best presentation ever.” Now could you imagine asking them to do that on a Tuesday? “Hey I’m thinking. Could you go into your boss and maybe sing that presentation or?” But they couldn’t. But because you do it slowly, and you move them along, they realize they have so much more potential, and you get them to take little tiny steps into their own authentic voices, and then it’s real hard to put them back in the box. Once they’re out, they are usually changed forever, which is great.
Phil Jones: Segue this in another direction. The word authentic and authenticity sometimes is translated to things like food, so it’s an authentic flavor of or brands. “These are authentic Levi’s,” or all of those kind of references to words authenticity kind of comes into play. How does that translate, or how do we communicate it? Particularly the food one. “This is authentic Jewish cuisine.” It’s like what is it that makes that that? If we were talking of matzo ball soup, what would make it an authentic matzo ball soup?
Leslie Ehm: You see that’s a hard one because it all … You can call it authentic, but it all depends on what kind of a Jew you are and where you’re from. The household of some . . . say authentic matzo ball soup, and I’ll go, “What kinda shit is this? This is not like my bubby used to make.” Because for me, what is real is what my bubby used to make. That’s what makes it real, so I think it’s completely contextual to the individual. So if you’re serving authentic Senegalese food, it’s probably what your mother made for you in Senegal, which for you sort of represents your culture and your history and your story and your family, so you call it authentic, and you can always taste when it’s not, ’cause even if it’s not part of your experience, you could always taste if it was made with soul or not. ‘Cause a lotta places call themselves authentic, and you eat the food, and you say, “No no. This is not. This food has been compromised. This food has not kept it real.”
Phil Jones: So authentic is a label that you own. It’s not a label that somebody else gives you.
Leslie Ehm: Hell to the yeah.
Phil Jones: You could say that, “This is my authentic voice,” or, “This is the authentic flavor,” or, “This is the authentic style or manufacturer of the brand,” and nobody can challenge that if you’re the one that is labeling authentic.
Leslie Ehm: That’s right. Exactly-
Phil Jones: What we can’t look for is somebody else judging your level of authenticity because they don’t hold the right to judge.
Leslie Ehm: Well the two would cancel each other out. You can’t-
Phil Jones: Absolutely.
Leslie Ehm: If I’m saying this is authentically me, and someone says, “No it’s not,” I’d be like, “Say what?”
Phil Jones: Right.
Leslie Ehm: “Yeah it is.” Right? It’s not … It’s like saying to someone, “Oh you’re not standing in front of me right now,” or, “You don’t exist. You don’t have substance.” You know what I mean? “You don’t have-”
Phil Jones: Yes.
Leslie Ehm: Well if this is my truth ’cause the way that I break down authenticity is three elements. Truth, intention, and self-belief, so if I am speaking my truth, for good or for bad or for ugly, and my intention is clear in my own mind. There’s a purpose for doing it. Now hopefully, your intention is good, but not everybody’s intention is good, and you believe in your ability and your right to say that absolutely, that manifests authenticity, and sometimes we talk about leadership. People will say, “A lotta people don’t want their leaders to be authentic because they don’t wanna see vulnerability. They want their leaders to be strong and to be able to carry them across the finish line, and they don’t wanna know that their leaders have fear or doubts.” So on and so forth.
And I go, “Well that … Being a good leader is being able to read and understand what your followers need from you, and if you’re going in and crying out your problems to them because you’re authentically heartbroken about something, and they seem to be really really uncomfortable, you probably should stop.” Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel it. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express it somewhere but might not be the best environment to be expressing that. You gotta go find a peer or two to express that to or a friend or someone who you can speak that truth to ’cause it might not be helping the people that you’re trying to help, which goes to intention.
Phil Jones: Got it. What do you think of superheroes?
Leslie Ehm: What do I hear superheroes? Hm. I don’t know. I’m a little bit kind of over the masked man thing, the masked woman thing. I love the kind of the new Marvel superheroes. I love the Jessica Joneses and the Luke Cages and stuff because they’re just the every person who is completely flawed and completely revealed. They’re not hiding. There’s no mask. There’s no cape. There’s no nothing. They’re just a person who’s got some really cool powers, so I relate more to those kind of superheroes than I do someone who is like, “I gotta hide my true identity.” I go, “Eh.”
Phil Jones: I think Superman is brilliant, right? Because he confuses people by wearing a pair of black-rim spectacles. That’s it. “All I’m gonna do is I’m gonna put black spectacles on, and now I’m just a news reporter or a journalist, but without the black spectacles, I’m Superman.”
Leslie Ehm: And I have black glasses quite similar to that, and I can tell you for a fact whenever I wear them, people go, “Oh cool,” so there may be some … Perhaps there … Can Superman have a super power that is not talked about? Which is the ability to obscure his identity through those glasses? You know what I mean? If there’s … Maybe there’s something. Maybe those are super glasses, and what we don’t know is that as soon as he puts them on, truly, he is obscuring his identity not just by glasses, but there’s some super shield thing going on, and nobody can actually see him. But that would suck too. You know?
Phil Jones: Yeah.
Leslie Ehm: And also, I wouldn’t wanna have to put on a freakin’ neoprene suit to be my most badass self.
Phil Jones: This is true.
Leslie Ehm: That’s kind of slutty. Slutty and-
Phil Jones: Well he should be able to show up naked or in jeans and a t-shirt and still be Superman, right? That should be okay.
Leslie Ehm: Yeah. Yep.
Phil Jones: Okay. So what do you think of this phrase, that gets thrown around a lot, particularly in I call it “wantrepreneur” circles like “fake it ’til you make it”.
Leslie Ehm: That makes me so mad. That makes me so, so mad, that phrase. Oh my God. It makes me mad ’cause here is the thing. Competence breeds confidence.
Phil Jones: Right.
Leslie Ehm: Confidence does not breed competence. You can’t … It’s not called faking it. It’s called frickin’ doing it. Just do it. You don’t know the skill, and put your hand up, and go, “Ah so right now I’m not so good at this, but I’m working on it. How am I doing?” Just keep frickin’ … It drives me nuts because first of all, you are not really fooling anybody, and there’s nothing worse than pretending to be something that you’re not, and then somebody finds you out. I mean it. It’s horrifying when that happens.
You go into a meeting, and you pretend you know everything, and you’re trying to snow your boss about the fact that you’re the shit, and then he asks you six questions, and you pee in your pants-
Phil Jones: Know nothing.
Leslie Ehm: You got nothing, and then you’re sitting there going, “Why? Why did I feel the name to big myself up so much?” As opposed to, “Huh. That’s a really good question. I don’t think I have the answer, but I’m gonna go figure it out, and when I do, I’m gonna come back and tell you what the answer is.” So the whole “fake it ’til you make it” thing is such a pile of shit, and the faster people stop doing it, the more they’ll be able to focus on just getting good. Just get good. Keep doing it. Increments.
Phil Jones: So what do they do instead, right? Because the internet tells us, “You can wake up tomorrow a bazillionaire if you just follow this six-step program. In six months, you’ll be making six figures.” We get told all the time that there is this certain way of being able to do things, and the only fuel that can support that is “fake it ’til you make it”, or what you need is you need a great website. What you need is then a great video. What you then need is more testimonials written by your mother. What does Leslie say to those people about how they become more successful with authenticity? You’ve been around a long time. I’ve been around a long time. What do you say to that?
Leslie Ehm: I mean nine women do not make a baby in a month. It’s not true. It’s not real. It’s not possible. When you talk about building a brand, you think about the greatest brands that exist so ones that are unimpeachable, that in Melissa’s words and are invincible brands. They’re the ones who have proven themselves over and over and over and over again. They didn’t come out of the gate as those invincible brands. They started out … Usually they started out as something that was just really serviceable and really amazing in terms of what they accomplished, and then over time, they just didn’t fail. They just consistently did their little thing. They chugged along, and then people started to go, “You know what? I like the fact that with ketchup, Heinz ketchup, I always know what it’s gonna taste like. I really appreciate the fact that when I wear Levi’s, and I’m riding my horse down the range, my pants don’t split in my assless chaps. I really appreciate”
“I appreciate the fact that when Phil Jones comes into my room, I’m gonna get some really, really serious and playful and meaningful sales training that’s gonna transform my people,” but the first time you went into a room, the promise had to be commensurate with what you could deliver. Hey I make up some tips. I make up a tip.
Phil Jones: Yeah. You saw it there, right? The promise is exactly that. “I got a load of experience, and I’m gonna understand your problems, and I’m gonna do the best I can to talk you into that with some experience. I’m not gonna be the world’s number one, the world’s leading, or any of those things first of all, but I think I got something for you. Why don’t we give it a shot?” Okay. So your encouragement is-
Leslie Ehm: And there are some . . . . You’ve earned the right to claim certain things because you’ve done it over and over and over and over again, right? And at that point, you can say, “Here’s what I’m really good at. Here’s what I know I’ve been able to help people with in the past,” and so on, so forth. But imagine little skinny Phil Jones at how old? How old did you start to speak?
Phil Jones: Well in this game, in terms of being expert stood at front of the room, I was 24 or 25 years of age from the very kinda get go, delivering expert base in [inaudible 00:28:15] rooms full of people, and I was skinny, and I needed a jacket, just so I looked like a grownup.
Leslie Ehm: And you were probably shit scared.
Phil Jones: Yeah.
Leslie Ehm: And if I know you, you were probably going, “Don’t oversell yourself, Phil. Don’t oversell yourself. Don’t oversell yourself.” Right? Try and let people see exactly who you are, and see if you can help them. Genuinely, authentically help them.
Phil Jones: Yeah and I think that also, just to be true to the listener right now, in the early stages of my career, I was reaching for the best version of the truth on anything that I could from my backstory to be able to support and give credibility towards a moment. There were no lies there, but we were taking best version of the truth from everywhere of things that had been achieved, things that had happened, things that I could be able to plug up to say, “No I am good enough. I am experienced enough to be able to do this.” So we shouldn’t go without our armor if we’ve earned our armor, right? You’d be an idiot to go to war without wearing protecting clothing if you’d done the training and-
Leslie Ehm: Well why is it armor? Why do you call it armor? Why does it have to be [inaudible 00:29:17]?
Phil Jones: Well because I think sometimes, we all have insecurities, and having the ability to lean on some things that help bolster you up is no bad thing. Now I’ll have things around my desk here right now where I’m working that are, to me, they’re affirmations. To anybody else, they wouldn’t look like an affirmation, but the object itself talks to me in a way that tells me I got this. There are certain things that I enjoy to be able to wear that provide me certainty or confidence. There are things that I have within my routine about how I go about doing my business that if that routine gets messed with, it affects my ability to be able to show up with a level of confidence that I know that people would expect from me.
So I don’t see it as armor as a bad thing. I see it as armor as a good thing and that I was smart enough to collect the experience that means that when I go to go do a thing, I take some stuff with me that is gonna increase my chance of success in the moment, in the same way that I think if a soldier went to war, they’d be an idiot to turn up without their weapons and without their armor, knowing somebody’s gonna throw spears at them. That wouldn’t be the most intelligent or even authentic way to be able to show up, if what you were trying to do was to deliberately make yourself vulnerable when you could’ve made yourself strong.
Leslie Ehm: I hear what you’re saying. I think it’s the use of the word armor because I think about vulnerability as being strained, so I go well . . . you want things to support you, and you want things to fall back on, or you want things for sure that reinforce your confidence or affirm your abilities and so on. But as soon as, for me anyway, I find I’m at my worst when I feel like I have to protect myself from the world. That’s when I start to lose my faith. That’s when I go, “Who are you?” And it happens to me sometimes when I’m around certain people or when I get … You know you get intimidated and you whatever, and then you start talking, and you think, “Who are you, you idiot? Just you’ve lost your mind, and you need to stop and get back into your own body.” And so I think the armor is kind of that defensive measure to protect yourself from the world, and I . . . I am at my best when I am the most vulnerable, I find.
Phil Jones: Okay. And in many circumstances, I would agree. I’m just gonna give an alternative thought to the view that armor is protection, is armor could be protection. It could also be prepared, and to be prepared for situations that we understand we’re gonna be presented with because we have the experience of having been in the situation before, for me would be a good thing. I feel more prepared in armor as a professional speaker knowing that in my bag, I have three different versions of an Apple dongle that would allow my presentation to be able to work, and I’ve got the mental preparedness to say that whatever might happen on that day with a technical failure, I’ve got this.
I have the confidence of knowing that I have spare batteries for every clicker that I ever possibly carry. The likelihood of me ever needing those things, slim to none. The fact that I have them means that’s one less thing for me to be able to worry about, and if I can control my controllables, then the chances are I can then appear more present in any moment that I find myself in ’cause I’m not worried about what might go wrong because I’ve used experience.
Leslie Ehm: I don’t know. I think we’re mixing up metaphors now.
Phil Jones: I know.
Leslie Ehm: Because . . . those things are about being smart and being prepared, and yes, you should be. It’s called being a grown up and being responsible and professional-
Phil Jones: I agree.
Leslie Ehm: And all of those things. I think that just the metaphor of armor-
Phil Jones: Of armor. I can agree with that.
Leslie Ehm: . . . somehow, and it’s separating you because you’re anticipating some kind of attack.
Phil Jones: Yeah but yeah. I could buy that.
Leslie Ehm: And don’t you find that often, you learn the most when you are humbled in some way, shape, or form, and your defenses are not really working? Or you realize that you don’t need defenses. You’re just in it, and what you learn is so mind-blowing, and you go, “I was scared shitless of going into that ’cause I didn’t have any armor. I didn’t have any defenses. I wasn’t the king of the hill,” or whatever it was, and then you discover that you thought you were gonna get squished, and in fact, you get filled up, and if you weren’t open-
Phil Jones: So many.
Leslie Ehm: -Armor, you could maybe not have gotten filled up. Just sayin’.
Phil Jones: And I’ve been there way too many times in my life as well where what I’ve done is I’ve showed up as the smartest or the most experienced person in the room, and I’ve got nothing from the moment because all I’ve had is a shield and a force field up . . . is when I’ve surrounded myself with people that I trust, and then I open up and show vulnerability. That’s where my biggest growth has always come from.
Leslie Ehm: Well you said to me … I remember you saying to me, “Hey if I’m the smartest person sitting in the room, I need to get into a different room.”
Phil Jones: Right.
Leslie Ehm: That’s a Phil Jones-ism . . . . He’s smarty pants. I remember him. Because, and that’s . . . but that’s you saying, “I wanna walk into those situations where I’m vulnerable because I’m not the smartest person in the room, and that actually is better and stronger and faster, so I can keep going into rooms and keep being of service and keep learning.”
Phil Jones: Yeah. And look-
Leslie Ehm: To hell with the armor.
Phil Jones: Yeah, throw the armor away. What we’re gonna say is that we will be prepared when moments arise, but armor is unnecessary. Alright, I agree. Cool. I have three more questions to ask you ’cause I could talk on this stuff forever, and you’ve been a delight to be able to chat with, but the first question I’m gonna ask you is if you could flip the switch around here right now and ask me a question to do with authentic or authenticity, what would you ask of me?
Leslie Ehm: Well you’ve done an incredible job of building the Phil M Jones brand. What is something that we might believe about you based on that brand that really is probably not so true?
Phil Jones: You seen The Lego Movie?
Leslie Ehm: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Phil Jones: There’s a song in The Lego Movie, right? That repeats on play. It’s “Everything Is Awesome” and-
Leslie Ehm: Uh huh. Can you sing it for me?
Phil Jones: Well you can sing it ’cause one thing I know that’s authentic and true about me is I cannot sing. That’s it. That’s it, you did it. See I don’t need to now. From the outside looking in, the belief could always be is that everything that Phil Jones touches turns to gold. Everything is awesome in his world. There’s never a problem. There’s never an issue. Why can’t I be more like that? So many things that we’ve built out in this brand have categorically failed to a point that they didn’t even get off the ground to a point of visibility that you saw them fail. That is complete truth. You didn’t see them fail ’cause they didn’t get high enough to even see it in existence, and I have-
Leslie Ehm: [crosstalk 00:36:17].
Phil Jones: Right. I have hundreds of them, and if there’s a lesson in that is . . . what I’ve learned in like nearly 12 years in this business right now is that the more prolific you are with the creation of ideas, the more chance you get for one of those things to be able to run, and so many of the things that have been … People say to me, “What was the mastermind behind the success of the book launch for Exactly What to Say?” And I’m like, “Hang on. Let me consult my crystal ball, see if I can figure that out.” I don’t know. All I know is that we cared like crazy about it. We worked like hard, and we never planned a book launch. We just introduced a book to the market. It was a core part of my methodology that had worked for my clients for the last eight, nine years, that got repackaged into something beautiful, that we spent hours of timing curation and content production, and then I tried just about every form of marketing angle that I possibly could, and the stuff that worked well, we did more of it, and the stuff that didn’t work so well, well we did less of that, and then the stuff in the middle, we keep rollin’ the dice on and still trying to figure out what actually works, but I don’t think I’ll ever know.
Leslie Ehm: [inaudible 00:37:34].
Phil Jones: So there’s some truth. Hey?
Leslie Ehm: And you do have that aura of the swan. Gliding on top, but underneath the water, there-
Phil Jones: I work like crazy. People think that some stuff kind of is achieved instantly or whatever. One thing that very few people see behind the lens of the brand that we present is just how much fricking work that we do and how much money that I invest and how many other people I consult and what I do with my spare time to be able to then plug and play around with some other challenges when people might be doing other things with their life that are way more joyful, and I got a great piece of advice early on in my career from a guy called Nigel Risner, who was a good mentor to me and an aspiration towards wanting to get into this business. And he said, “If you’re gonna compare yourself with anybody else, compare the whole of you with the whole of them.”
And I’d urge anybody do the same when you’re looking at somebody else’s brand is, “Do I want all of everything that went into that to get all of everything that came out of it?” And more often than not, the answer is no, so when somebody says, “How do I emulate some of the things that I’ve done?” I map it out to them as to the things I know that will be written, and they go, “That looks like a lot of hard work,” and I go, “Yeah,” and they go, “I don’t wanna do that,” and I say, “Well that’s okay.”
Leslie Ehm: Well then that’s right back to authenticity. It’s being someone that you’re not requires you to be someone that you’re not, and in the end, it’s not gonna be satisfying. It’s not gonna fill you up, so the dream … You have to transmit the dream based on who you are and say, “What’s my version of this success,” or, “My version of this joy,” or, “My version of this life? Not somebody else’s frickin’ version on social media but the way that I gotta run it with my crazy life or my crazy family or my ADHD, and I can’t focus on a thing.”
Phil Jones: And I think another really important truth that I’d like to share in this episode is I still have no idea what I’m doing. All of us now are moving at a pace that means that we are making stuff up as we are going along. There is no blueprint or best practice, and we only have to look at world leaders and company leaders and some of the biggest organizations in the planet to find sufficient evidence that nobody knows what they are doing. So what we should really be looking to do is to play from a position of heart and a position of genuine care and a position of purpose and then give it the best we’ve got. There’s not a right way and a wrong way. There’s just a, “Alright,” and if we’ve grazed on these a few more times and got a few more bumps and bruises, then we might be able to help some others avoid some of those mistakes ahead of time or to be able to find a smarter path through experience, but there is no right way or wrong way, and self-admittedly, I’m making all of this stuff up, and I’ve been making it up since the very beginning and then writing the stuff that continues to work.
Leslie Ehm: Truth, intention, and self-belief, baby.
Phil Jones: You got it. I love that.
Leslie Ehm: That’s [crosstalk 00:40:28].
Phil Jones: I love that. I’ve got two more questions for you.
Leslie Ehm: Go.
Phil Jones: One is if people were talking about you behind your back, and they said, “You gotta meet Leslie. She’s,” blank, and that blank was an adjective, what would you want that adjective to be?
Leslie Ehm: Okay people are talking behind my back? Do they-
Phil Jones: Yeah not necessarily in a bad way. There’s just a conversation that’s happening that you’re not present in that you get the privilege of being able to be a fly on the wall. People are using an adjective to describe Leslie Ehm. They say, “Leslie Ehm, she’s,” blank. What world would you really hope or love that they’re using to describe you?
Leslie Ehm: I think probably “real”. Just “real”. “Feels so real. That Leslie, man, you know what you see is what you get. She is on the 100% real. No filter on that one.”
Phil Jones: I love that. Love that. “What you see is what you get. She’s real.” Okay. Which I guess gets me to final question, which is what are you all about, and how do people find out more about you, and if they wanna be able to plug into some of the stuff that you really do when you’re not talking to me about authenticity, what’s the story? Where do they find you?
Leslie Ehm: Well I have kind of two … I have two ego, alter ego kind of thing. I’m the president and chief fire starter at Combustion Training. We’re a boutique training company based in Toronto, but we train all over the world, focusing on communication skills, leadership, creativity. That’s kind of our focus, and we’re a different breed, I guess, of training company because we’re not trainers. We’re subject matter experts who learned to be trainers, and we create wild and amazing experiences that really have the potential to transform people, so that’s really cool, and I spend part of my time speaking, and I speak a lot on guess what. Authenticity, which I call swagger.
That’s owning authenticity in a whole new way and saying authenticity in its pure manifestation is what gives you swagger as opposed to it being an external manifestation. It’s the internal manifestation, and I speak on creativity and storytelling and so on, so forth. So I’m on a plane, on a train, in an automobile doing my thing. You can find me either … So LeslieEhmSpeaks. Website, Instagram, Facebook or CombustionCo.com for all of your training needs, and when you can’t find me, you’re gonna find me in the boxing gym.
Phil Jones: Which is another story, and I’ll let people be able to find out on that by pluggin’ into your Twitter, your Instagram, and those kind of things and seeing what you get up to in your spare time. Lastly, looking to kick the butt of cancer is one of the things that you’ve been working-
Leslie Ehm: That’s what started me boxing is to fight in a fight against cancer ’cause we’ve all lost too many people, and it’s really good to punch cancer in the face. You know what I’m saying?
Phil Jones: Yeah.
Leslie Ehm: So I fought my first sort of boxing match in front of 900 people to raise money for cancer research, and I fell in love with the sport, and I’ve been boxing ever since, so I will punch a face off and hug you ’cause I’m all about the love. All about the love.
Phil Jones: Leslie Ehm, thank you for joining us here on Words With Friends. Thank you for chatting “authenticity” with us. It’s been a delight, as always. Looking forward to catching you soon.
Leslie Ehm: No better way to spend an afternoon, my love. Thanks for having me.