How Your Self-deception Can Kill Your Company
In this episode, I talk with Lee Odess, COO at UniKey Technologies about their bold decision to invest heavily in their leadership development, culture, and team cohesion. Odess describes what drove their decision to overcome the fear associated with self-improvement and self-awareness, their commitment to defend the investment to their board, and the impact it has had on him personally as well as the team. In part 2 of this 2-part series, I talk with Odess about Roy Johnson, a talented engineer who went from being a self-described “troublemaker” to a reliable, effective “right hand” and somebody I describe as the poster child for self-accountability in the organization.
Laura: Welcome to this episode of Unlock Your Potential, a podcast for people who want to maximize the potential of themselves and their organizations. This show provides you with a practical application of behavioral science as well as inspiring you to shoot for progress over perfection, which is one of our core values here at Key Talent Solutions. On today’s episode, I talk with Lee Odess, VP at UniKey Technologies. A lot of leaders say that their people are their most important asset, but this is one executive team that truly puts their money where their mouth is. I talked with Lee about UniKey’s decision to continuously invest in their people. Leadership development, team cohesion, culture building. He describes what he believes to be the real reason leaders don’t invest more: fear. And talks about the impact it has had on their company. This is part one of a two piece series that explores UniKey’s focus on their people. Make sure to tune in to our next episode as well, where we talk with Roy Johnson*. A year ago, Lee wanted to fire Roy. He was smart, competent, and capable but he was a, quote unquote, “troublemaker,” using slack to do the devil’s work.
Lee: He was on my list.
Laura: Today, Lee says he wants Roy to be his right hand.
Lee: He’s a steady rock that I can rely on so we’ve, I would say we’ve, we’ve turned a massive corner.
Laura: But for this episode, let’s understand Lee’s perspective on the investment they made and listen to the impact it has had. Welcome to the show.
Lee: Thank you.
Laura: Can you, uh, introduce us to yourself?
Lee: Sure. Lee Odess. Vice President at UniKey Technologies.
Laura: Awesome. What’s your role there, specifically?
Lee: Uh, Vice President, so got a handful of things. I handle business development, sales, part of the leadership strategy team, also human resources.
Laura: [02:00] So, I wanted to, um, ask you today about some of the choices that you’ve made specific to leadership development–
Laura: –in the company. Um, but before I go into that, can you just, uh, give our listeners a little bit of background, um, and history on UniKey? Like how old is the company? How many people are you?
Lee: Sure. So, UniKey started 2009 by a guy by the name of Phil Dumas. Uh, our whole mission is to take key– all your keys and cards and everything you use to unlock something and put them in the phone and do it in a more convenient way. So, passively interacting with them versus just connecting with them with your phone. Um, so we, we’ve been, uh, out of the Orlando area. Started in the incubator program at UCF and was on Shark Tank. Hit a bunch of milestones, uh, along the way. We’ve raised close to 20 million dollars and* coming out of our series* A* and roughly about 50 people at this point. Products in 65 different countries and sold hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them, uh, all over the world. So, great opportunity. We’re at that sort of growth point right now where we’ve got some, uh, pretty aggressive targets, uh, to, to get to the next level but, um, everything looks, uh, very positive.
Laura: Excellent. So, I don’t have a ton of familiarity with, with all the products but I’ve used Kevo–
Laura: –and loved it.
Lee: Oh, good.
Laura: Oh, my gosh.
Lee: Good. I’m happy to hear that.
Laura: Yeah, it’s one of the things that I’ve told Phil repeatedly, like, “I cannot wait for you guys to just take over the entire world–
Lee: Yeah. You and me both.
Laura: — to use into the phone.” Because once I, seriously, once I had Kevo and it was so easy to lock and unlock the door and get in and out, I wanted that everywhere.
Laura: Actually having to bust out my keys again was like, “Ugh. This is so annoying.”
Lee: As someone that’s been working on it for a long time, it was a, a big day for me where I was able to get into my office without using keys or cards and then, that same day when I walked home, I was able to not use a key as well–
Lee: [04:01] –and it sort of, you, you know, you spend so much time talking about sort of the vision, to actually finally see it work–
Lee: –um, was, was a personal good milestone day for me that, you know, I like high-fived myself–
Laura: That’s awesome.
Lee: –and got all excited.
Laura: It really is cool. It’s really, really cool. I’ve, uh, told all my friends and family about it,–
Lee: Thank you.
Laura: –how amazing it is.
Lee: Keep doing that.
Laura: I will. Absolutely.
Laura: I’m a huge supporter.
Laura: So, um, what’s your philosophy on leadership development?
Lee: Uh, on leadership development I, I look at it as one of the sort of pillars of, of, of not only yourself but as the company that really I, I believe we need to work on those things in order to be successful. It just don’t come natural to a lot of people, so having sort of that thread throughout the organization –plus, I think it’s just from a cultural standpoint, I think it’s important– um, I think it’s, whether it’s a differentiator in recruiting or, you know, if I , if I look at the, if I weighed different companies and the percentage that I believe they will succeed and, you know, if I see this as a big portion they’re not working on, I, I question whether they will actually succeed. Just like I do, you know, are they technically strong? Are they sort of emotionally strong? And psychologically strong? Or at least working on it?
Laura: Mm hmm. So you see it as, just as important as the technical skills and the functions and the work that gets done?
Lee: Yeah. Absolutely I do.
Laura: So, can you say a little bit more about the belief or the fear that maybe a company will fail if they’re not investing in leadership development and culture?
Lee: Yeah. It’s, uh, personally I, I take great pride in, in the desire for, for the organization to succeed that I’m at. And I, I also, I think it’s also a duty of the organization itself to invest in its people. Um, you know, they spend a lot of time in the office. They spend a lot of time at work, even out of the office, and we’ve, we should be investing in growing them as individuals and as people as well. And, frankly, if you’re not doing that, you’re, you’re somewhat of a one-trick pony. So, you can be sort of, let’s say, extremely technical and vetted* but impossible to work with.
Laura: [06:16] Uh huh.
Lee: Um, or super, super smart in security, uh cyber security, but socially just someone that no one wants to work with so you just become ineffective. And if you have sort of all these ineffective groups in the organization, it’s gonna die.
Laura: Yeah. So I feel like a lot of leaders, especially who are leading growing companies, think that it’s, it’s too early for them or they’re not big enough yet or it’s not something that they should be focused on until some future date but you all made an investment fairly early.
Lee: We did. Um, yeah, so I, I just think it’s, it’s good self-awareness from, you know, your engagement with our organization was before I was there so, um, I think it’s a good self-awareness of the leadership that was there at the time. Um, of recognizing, I would say, a weakness or a void. I don’t know. Maybe a void, not a weakness, but something missing. And the desire to fill that, um– it’s also the power of the network. ‘Cause I believe how he was introduced to you was through somebody else and they referred you and said, “Hey, you should really do this.” And he obviously –he being Phil– respected whoever that person was that did the introduction and then saw your work and it sort of hit a, hit something within him that, that he saw the value in doing it. Um, then I would say, as we’ve evolved with it –’cause I would say it was you worked strictly mainly with the leadership in the organization– and then there was this desire to spread it throughout ’cause, uh, it, we could be as strong as we needed to be at the top of the organization but the foundation needed, needed the work as well and, you know, I would say we believed in it to make the investment in doing it. And that might be the, the key to it, ’cause I also, you know, if we didn’t believe in it I don’t know if we would have made the investment. So, truly believing it and saying, “We’re gonna do this” and sort of holding hands and, and, and moving forward with it was important to be– to us as well as the organization. And the response was great. So that, that even, uh, helped, sort of solidified as now it’s just a, it’s a normal part. Actually, I was sitting in an interview the other day and hearing somebody yell, “Tell it as a perk, if you would, to the organization that we do this.” Then the reaction from the, the person we were interviewing told me that it sort of, now it’s sort of almost a fabric of, of the organization, so it’s, it’s turned even a corner there, which is, which is really what I wanted. I wanted it to be we are an organization that not only demands excellence out of you technically, but we will help support you emotionally and psychologically to help you grow as a human being so if you were to even leave the company, you walked away thinking, “Alright. I’m, I’m better than the, I’m better now than I was the first day I started there.”
Laura: [09:20] Yeah. And they hear enough about me to invest in me and my group.
Lee: Exactly. Yeah. ‘Cause that’s– it’s, you know, when people are just sitting down, looking at organizations or where they wanna go and we, we’re not just talking the talk about investing in our people. I mean, there’s not many organizations that I know that have the, the schedule filled like we do with, with doing these things. So–
Laura: When you say “These things”, what are you talking about?
Lee: Um, the, the, we have group sessions. We have a full calendar every single month that we work with the leadership team on topics that, sort of sequential almost, and sort of development of them. And then we, after that, we meet with the entire company. So, the leadership team is getting, uh, direction and feedback and training. It’s then, um, solidified with the overall organization itself. So there’s, there’s, there’s continuation so that, you know, if on Monday we had the training, we’re working on it Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday throughout and it’s, they feel supported so it’s not just, you know, this, you know, it’s not like we just wrote a blog or a book and we have these new fancy terms that they’re starting to put in like “concordance”–
Lee: –but they’re actually, um, they can see that it’s, uh, it’s a real program, if you would. And then we also do one-on-one office hours. So, every month they can go in as they like and spend as much time so there’s not only sort of the they have to be at a meeting, but now they can, if they want additional help and additional work, they can also, uh, seek it themselves, um, and then, um, we meet as a, as an executive team. Uh, we also have one-on-one coaching as an executive team. We do quarterly meetings with the leadership team outside of that, which is mainly driven by the leadership team but support from you. And, and your team on that end. Um, and then there’s workshops and that throughout the year that we either support by sending people to them or we highly recommend that they go.
Laura: So, this level of investment–
Lee: Other than that, nothing.
Laura: Other than that–
Laura: Just, just a, just a couple things.
Lee: We don’t–
Laura: Just a handful. Right. So, I think that a lot of leaders are gonna hear that and think, “Oh, man. So, I mean, who knows what that even costs. But then there’s all that time that’s being spent.” Can you speak to, to what has the impact been on the company?
Lee: [11:50] The impact, at least in my mind, what I focus heavily on, and there’s a lot of impact so I probably won’t be able to touch on all of them, but the ones that stand out to me, um, is the effectiveness of working together that I see. So, um, you know, they, they meet and we have these large sessions where, like, this past week we did one around conflict. And we float*– conflicted areas and talked through them and, you know, we start to, to build the muscle memory of how to deal and handle these situations. Um, and then we set expectations with them to take that and drive it through the rest of the organization and, and it’s– they problem solve quicker. So, we get through things that might take months and months and months to fester and really infect the entire organization and they somewhat get blunted and handled and then, you know, like the big boulder issues we work through so we can really focus on the fine details. Um, I would also say there’s, there’s not a lot of noise, uh, ’cause we’ve, we’ve learned how to have honest, open conversations, not out of fear, you know, lacking the emotion, like the emotional aspect. So it’s still emotion but it has more emotional intelligence with it than just pure emotions. So our, our meetings and our conversations are far more effective and fruitful and I just feel like you’re –I always use the, like, the analogy but it’s like we have four wheels on the ground instead of just two– so we’re, we’re– everyone’s on the same page, moving forward. Now, to being, you know, realistic, it’s not always. So sometimes things fall off the track but at least I feel like we have the muscle memory to help put them back on the track where before, you know, you’d do things like, “I don’t know. You know. That guy’s having issues. Maybe we should replace him.” And we somewhat punt* on, on people instead of really working with them to find out what’s driving it. And, you know, somebody can be perceived as being, um, argumentative when you actually find out they’re actually fearful–
Laura: [14:10] Yeah.
Lee: –more than anything else.
Laura: Oh, almost always.
Lee: So, yeah. So, it’s, it’s, it’s just, it’s like growth. I mean, it just, you feel this part of your brain that I think you just didn’t –it’s like the monkey part of the brain–
Lee: –that’s like there’s this thing where you, you, you’re there to fight and you change that into actually trying to like work together and work through things. So it like, I don’t know, sparks this, this other side of you that, that, that has been there, it’s just now is sort of equal to the fighting side of my brain is now the working with each other side of my– I don’t know.
Laura: The collaborative part.
Lee: The collaborative–
Lee: Yeah. At least in–
Laura: We’re on the same team.
Lee: Yeah. That type of thing.
Laura: So, can you talk a little bit about– so much of what you’re describing here, there’s so many hidden costs.
Laura: Like conflict in the organization, people who are combative, you know, writing somebody off or not actually tackling the big problems. And so the Return on Investment, or the ROI, on something like leadership development is always really, really hard to capture. How do you explain it, justify it, rationalize it, or see it play out?
Lee: Well, I think even before it gets to the ROI conversation, so if I was to speak to why people wouldn’t necessarily do this, it’s probably more of the fear, as well, than anything else is the fear that things are going to be exposed that they probably, deep down, know are there but are–
Lee: –most, like, no. When you, when you start figuring out why it is the way you interact with other human beings, it’s, it’s personal. So you bridge this personal side into the business side. That’s the, you know, biggest joke is that it’s not personal*. It’s personal*. Like even when you’re the most heavy* part of the business, especially when you’re a startup, when it bleeds, you know, work, life bled together– it’s just, it is what it is of where you’re at with the company. So, you start to talk to your inner demons and they start to get exposed when you do this stuff and it’s scary because it’s not a math problem. And, and you try to, like, I do a lot on the sales side and a lot of what I do is a math problem but this is, this stuff we’re talking about is the touchy feely stuff that, uh, *(inaudible 16:30), you know, a lot of the people that are within our organization and other ones that, that I’ve been a part of that– you know, they don’t want to touch and feel the touchy feely.
Lee: They, they wanna leave that alone and, frankly, figure out the math problems. And at some point, some people figure out the math problems and they’re successful because they, they have but I, I think a lot more people would be highly effective faster and probably have a higher feeling of gratitude and worth and, and just, it feels better to know that you’ve– like, personally, I feel that if I was to make it personal on my end with, with people, I feel better that I’m, I’m helping these young people in our organization be better people and be more effective. And if they leave and they– even if when they leave, they leave and they go someplace else, I at least feel like I’ve helped make them better people by giving them the opportunity to participate in this than just whipping them to move faster.
Lee: Yeah. So. I don’t know.
Laura: So, a lot of what I’m hearing you say is you don’t think that it’s money and investment and even time that prevents people from going down this path. It’s more fear and lacking the courage to really say, “You know what? I’m gonna be more self-aware so I can be more effective, you know, personally.”
Lee: [17:55] Yeah. I mean, I’m sure there’s cases where budget’s a problem and things like that but I think if they were to really look at it and budget it as part of it, they could figure it out and to make it. But yeah, it’s mainly more, I would say it’s more, all things being equal, about fear of actually doing it. Or perception. Like, like of, I don’t know, if you have a board and they’re looking at it and they see this as a line on it and they’re, you know, they’re thinking, “Okay. So they’ve made a decision.” And so they’re hiring a software developer. They’re doing this or, um, you know, whatever. Whatever the tradeoff is for doing it is that they’re going to question it, uh, and then they have to defend it. Um, so and unless they really believe in it and understand it, you know, every day is a hard– you’re fighting all day long so do you want to fight about this with your board? So they might, they might just do it to not have to deal with it. But at some point you’re gonna deal with the effects of it–
Lee: –whether, whether it’s inefficiencies or organizational, sort of, chaos, or, or dealing with the board* or your people or whoever questioned it basically say, “Yeah. We’re committed to doing this. To make ourselves more efficient. And we believe this is the way to make us more efficient.” I mean, the truest test that I have is people that I, I have worked with prior that actually work now with me here, let’s say, “Man. I wish we had this at our old company ’cause we’d be more effective. We probably would have, you know, succeeded better over there.” So that tells me –and these are people that I trust and they, they’ve seen it– so it helps me be like, “Okay. So, I’m not crazy.”
Lee: This is, this actually is–
Laura: You’re not crazy.
Lee: Alright. Good. Thank you. I feel better.
Laura: Awesome. So, final question for you.
Laura: Is there any particular concept, of all the different things that your company and your team has learned about in terms of interpersonal conflict resolution, communication, what do you think has resonated the most? What do you hear about the most?
Lee: [20:00] Yeah. I look at the chart that you have on the board, on your door here, which is the openness side. Which is kind of interesting because I have always taken myself as a very direct and open person but it’s actually, I would, maybe it is compared to other people, but it’s still not as effective and open as I thought it would be. Um, so that openness side, the, really the, the “I” versus “You” statements of, you know, the, the, I think you say it as the “My reflection of you is a reflection of me” or how do you–?
Laura: “What bugs me about you is really about me”?
Laura: That one? Yeah?
Lee: That type of thing of, of when you take it away from it being about them and it’s more about you and you reflect on why it is that you feel the way that you feel and you– it, it just, it sort of, it, it makes it a lot easier to handle actually what the situation is ’cause the emotion part of it is somewhat gone away and then also you can, you can really–
Laura: Wait. I can?
Lee: There it is. There it is.
Laura: I wanted you to say that whole thing over with the “I”* language.
Lee: See? Still need work. All this (*inaudible 21:10) still need work. But no, it’s, it’s– yes, it’s more I find it easier to be able to get through the daily chaos that is there with using things like openness and the “I” statements. But it’s me, personally. That’s, that’s how I, you know, highlight the areas that I needed to work on and there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s in there but those are the ones that, that are, that are heavy on, on me. And I mean, we even do things like, “What I hear you saying is…” or–
Lee: –“The story I’m telling myself…”
Laura: Mm hmm.
Lee: Um, so things like that. That helps.
Laura: So, recognizing self-talk. Paraphrasing.
Lee: It totally, yeah, and being able to just be a better listener and, um, you know, the sort of people I believe, they all know those things, like, “I need to be a better listener” but then, in the heat of the battle when things are going and–
Laura: [22:07] Like when it matters the most.
Lee: Oh. And it’s sort of you go back to fight mode. Um, that– starting to recognize sort of the, the things that are triggering you to be able to then have those quick, sort of, checks to, to do– make you, you’re, you’re more effective. And then it’s also, it’s interesting to see people’s responses, almost like, they’re almost put on their heels with the, the, the calmness that you’re able to deliver. The– your non-emotional *(inaudible 22:40) the actual root. It’s like they look at it and they think, “Wow. This person really understands what the problem is. And they’re not just fighting for themselves.” I mean, those are the constants* that have stuck with me and I know I, I work on myself.
Laura: Excellent. Well, thank you for sharing a few examples and thanks for sharing time with me for the episode.
Lee: Always happy to do it. Thank you for all the work that you’ve put into our team.
Laura: I love doing it.