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Head & Heart Leadership: Strategies for Safety Leadership and Governance with Dr. Kirstin Ferguson

Head and Heart Leadership Strategies for Safety Leadership and Governance



“Safety is such an important gauge of how an organization is performing.” You don’t want to miss our latest episode of The Safety Guru featuring Dr. Kirstin Ferguson, Australia’s most prominent leadership expert and author of Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership. Tune in to hear Kirstin share her expertise about head-based and heart-based leadership attributes and the art of knowing which one is needed and when. Listen in to gain a deeper understanding of Kirstin’s unparalleled and distinguished strategies for safety leadership and governance.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski. A globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today I’m very excited to have with me Dr. Kirstin Ferguson, who is Australia’s most prominent leadership expert. She was an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. She was the CEO of an international consulting firm, and she was appointed as acting chair and deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She’s a weekly columnist in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age. She holds a Ph.D. in leadership and is probably one of the few authors that have done incredible work around safety governance, which we will touch on in that regard very soon, and some elements around expectations for the top management team. She’s also an adjunct professor at QUT Business School. Kirsten, welcome to the show. Really excited to have you with me.

Thank you, Eric. I’m excited to be here.

You’re just about to launch a book, Head and Heart. I’d love to start out by hearing a little bit about what does… You talk about a series of moments. What does that mean from a leadership standpoint?

That’s a really great question. I’m conscious there’s going to be a lot of health and safety professionals listening today. And you guys know better than most those moments where you notice someone doing the right thing and going and acknowledging that and saying, Thanks for keeping people safe. There are also those moments, though, when we witness leadership where it’s not particularly helpful, and there’s a shame and blame culture. So, I guess for me, I really believe that leadership is simply a series of moments, and every moment offers us this opportunity for us to leave a positive legacy in our wake. And I think so often, life is moving so quickly, we’re in a digital age, and we can have unintended impacts very easily. But we need to be conscious that every single moment is an opportunity to leave a positive or sometimes a negative legacy in our wake. And it can impact. That’s what builds cultures. That’s what drives safety cultures as well.

And that a topic you touch on in your book is around the concept of a modern leader and the difference between a modern leader and a not modern leader, essentially. Educated, I don’t think those are the words you use.

I know. Well, dinosaurs and dick heads are somewhat in the traditional leader bucket. And apologies for the language. You’ll have to have a language warning now. But I think everyone knows the traditional leaders that really object to working from home or workplace flexibility. They like to stick with the way things have always been done. Modern leaders, though, are the leaders, I think, new generations and also most others want around them. And for me, the art of modern leadership, which is what this book is about, is about being able to lead with the head and the heart. I mean, that’s a metaphor we’re all very familiar with. But I wanted to go and actually understand what attributes we need as leaders through leading with the head and the heart. And it’s all about balance. And I think for safety professionals, this is particularly relevant because, as safety leaders, we know that the head side of things is all of our compliance metrics and lead and lag indicators and all of those capabilities we have as professionals. But without leading with the heart and actually having empathy for how people within your organizations are actually grappling with the jobs that they’re doing, having that humility that perhaps we don’t really know as much as we might think we know, the self-awareness of the impact our policies are having on others, then we can’t truly be the modern safety professionals that we need.

And I think leading with the head and the heart is such an opportunity for the safety world to really capture ways of leading that still ensure high performance, high quality, and high safety but also bring everyone along the journey.

And I love that metaphor. I think it’s very simple to understand and sends a very strong message. And you’ve broken it down into four attributes for the head and the heart. Is it worthwhile maybe getting into some of those attributes and maybe some circumstances where it would be beneficial to lead from the head?

Absolutely. The art is knowing what’s needed and when. I should say for every listener if you go to, you can measure your own head and heart leadership. It’s all free, and you’ll get a personalized report. I built that tool with one of the universities here in Australia because I think it’s important to be able to self-assess where you sit now. And a lot of people are very surprised because Eric, I’d ask you, would you say intuitively you’re more of a head or a heart-based leader?

Intuitively, I would actually say probably more heart. And then head still matters and probably historically more head, but more recently more heart.

Which is good to know. And of course, you realize, though, you need both. You can’t have one or the other in any situation. But I’d love you to go online along with your listeners, and you can see whether or not you actually self-assessment the heart because most people find them, they’re surprised. But the attributes of leading with our head, and I won’t go into all of them in detail, but the curiosity, wisdom, which is about really weighing up decisions in the face of very little information, weighing up risk and reward, perspective, which is about reading the room and capability. And I think for the safety profession, curiosity is incredibly important. I think in so many situations, we may think we know the best safety outcome in any given task or role, but perhaps we’re not curious enough just to find out why that hasn’t been implemented or why it’s not been successful or taken up by those on the ground. And that curiosity is around accepting and acknowledging. We actually don’t know everything, and so we’re always seeking to learn and challenge our own assumptions as well. And then the second of the head-based attributes I think are most relevant for the safety profession is one I’ve called perspective.

And that’s about really, in layman’s terms, reading the room and understanding the environment you’re leading in and also noticing who’s missing from the room and what’s going on outside of the room and really being conscious of your environment or the context that you’re operating in and that you’re trying to drive change in and trying to see a few steps ahead and the implications of your decisions. Those kinds of things, I think, in the safety profession, are incredibly important, obviously. But so, too is leading with the heart. And the four attributes of leading with the heart are humility, self-awareness, courage to speak up in the face of pressure, often not to do so, and empathy. I think courage is a particularly important skill for safety professionals because often you do need to speak up in the face of pressures around productivity or profit or whatever it might be that’s driving a contrary safety outcome, and it can be difficult to do so. You could have a whole heap of line managers saying, Actually, that’s not our biggest priority. As we know, as safety professionals, it needs to be if we truly want to keep everyone safe.

So, I think modern leaders understand that we still need to make decisions that are the right thing to do, even in the face of pressure from others not to do so. And leading with courage means you create psychologically safe cultures where everyone else feels able to speak up and have courage as well. And then the other attribute of the heart that I just wanted to call out is self-awareness. And I have noticed in my experience as a board director and in all the work I’ve done with the safety profession it can be easy to fall into a bubble that the work we’re doing is the most important thing in the organization and that, of course, we should be spending whatever we need to and keeping people safe. And in theory, everyone will agree with that. But I think having self-awareness of what’s going on around you and then how you’re responding to that and your awareness of the impact your actions and leadership and behavior is having on those you work with; I think is incredibly relevant. Self-awareness is all about knowing your limitations and working on those as well.

Is this something where you flex? Depending on the circumstances, you may lead more from the head, more from the heart, absolutely.

And this is the art. The art of modern leadership is knowing what’s needed and when. And there will be some situations where you go in to write a policy or implement a policy or something that’s going to use all your capabilities. There’s a lot of head-based work there. However, it’s never done in isolation. You also got to have some understanding, empathy for the people that have to actually live this policy. And the other thing to be aware of is even when you think you’re in a meeting that’s very head based, and of course, this is just a metaphor, it can easily turn. You can easily realize that, actually, what I thought was going to happen hasn’t happened, and it’s now becoming quite a difficult conversation. I need to really draw on my humility to understand and listen, my curiosity, and also my awareness of how I’m being triggered right now and how I’m responding. It’s that art that is impossible to put in a box and say here it is, but that each of us learns and develops as leaders.

Interesting. Is this something that people can learn skills? Absolutely. Typically, the head skills tend to be perceived as taut skills in some cases. But is it really true? We talk about emotional intelligence as an example. That’s also something that you can learn and flex.

All of the skills, and these eight attributes that I talk about can be learned, but they’re not in a textbook-learned way. They’re in an experiential way. And by being willing to learn and have a growth mindset and all of those sorts of things, I think the intellectual learning we do is probably the easier part of being a leader because you can actually open a book and study it with practice. All of these attributes are capable of being learned. Empathy can be learned. You can put yourself into a situation where you’re really using that empathy muscle, and that’s going to help you lead with empathy. It’s also important to remember that it doesn’t matter what your position title is. It doesn’t matter what your business card might say. We are all leading, and this is appropriate for everyone because we’re leading in our families, we’re leading our communities, we’re leading in our organizations. And even if you’re listening and you’re a safety supervisor or a safety team member, in the org chart, you might not be sitting at the top. You’re still leading. You’re still in the decisions you make those moments, in every impact you have, you are leading.

I think that’s something we need to remind the people we lead for those listening who are at the top of the org chart. If you went and asked everyone in your team, do they actually understand that they, too, are leaders?

In the safety arena, I think it’s so essential because you’re really trying to influence somebody’s choice when nobody’s watching. And that whole influence base is leadership.

That whole, what are they doing when no one’s there? And the idea of the way we do things around here, which obviously in the safety world, we talk about a lot, that is personal leadership by that person at 2 AM in the morning, and whether or not they choose to put their hard hat on or use three points of contact or shortcut way to do something so that they avoid doing it safely, that is leading. That is a moment, and that is a true moment where it is either going to end in disaster or it’s going to show that this is the culture we have in our organization. And so those moments apply regardless of who you are. But I think in the safety profession. It’s those moments you’re chasing. That’s the job, chasing those moments and hoping that in that moment and in the moment, you are leading, the right choice is made.

Absolutely. In your book, you also talk about emotional self-awareness. Can you tell me a little bit more about what that means for the modern leader and why it’s so critical?

Well, I’m going to give you an example. I was in a meeting maybe a month ago, and I had thought the meeting would go one way, and in fact, a quite positive way for me. And then, within a few minutes, I’m like, Okay, this isn’t where I was going. And in fact, it ended up being the absolute opposite. So I completely misjudged what I thought the meeting would be and how it would end. But what I was aware of within moments was those traffic riggers we all have, that feeling. For me, it was that flash of adrenaline, tight chested, feeling hot, thinking, hang on, what’s going on? A bit of fight or flight. And because I was aware of that, I was then really conscious because it was an important relationship with this person that I needed to manage myself. And that is emotional self-awareness. It’s aware of what Daniel Goleman, the father of emotional intelligence, called an amygdala hijack. Being aware that right now, it’s actually really important I stay present, and stay conscious of what I’m talking about because my body is reacting to the fact that this meeting isn’t what I wanted.

Whatever feelings trigger for you, it could be embarrassment or shame or anger or whatever it is, we all have it, and we all have those moments. That is emotional self-awareness. I think it’s having that insight into knowing what kinds of things are going to trigger you and then being really present and being aware of what’s happening so that you can have a really productive meeting, even though the outcome might not be what you want. I always think about, remember the Oscars last year when Will Smith jumped on stage. Now, that is a classic example of an amygdala hijack. And unfortunately for him, it was done in front of millions, hundreds of millions of people. We all want to try and avoid those. And that’s why emotional self-awareness is so important.

And how can you develop that? Because part of it is recognizing the signs. At least that’s the way I see it is you recognize the signs where something doesn’t feel the way you do, just like you would have a trigger before you respond the wrong way.

Well, sometimes it’s hard, and you miss it. I mean, I would have had more meetings where I’ve missed it than I have caught it. And I think I’m pretty normal in that respect. So there’s a bit of trial and error. Feedback. I’m a real believer in feedback. And in the book, there’s a lot of time spent on how to have really effective feedback conversations and how to give feedback and receive feedback. Because we’re unfortunately not very self-aware, there are some statistics from some research that I quote where 97 % of us, something, think we’re pretty self-aware. Most of us feel like, yeah, I know what’s going on. Only 10 % to 15 % of those we lead agree. Now, that is terrifying, Eric. I know I can see your face. Listeners, you can’t see Eric’s face, but his face is how mine was when I read that statistic. And that is why feedback is so important because self-awareness is hard to assess. We can look for the signs. We can learn to look for the signs. But if you can develop really good relationships with those around you who are prepared to give you helpful feedback that lets you know what’s going on and what others are observing, that’s going to really help build that skill.

This episode of The Safety Guru podcast is brought to you by Propulo Consulting, the leading safety and safety culture advisory firm. Whether you are looking to assess your safety culture, develop strategies to level up your safety performance, introduce human performance capabilities, reenergize your BBS program, enhance supervisory safety capabilities, or introduce unique safety leadership training and talent solutions, Propulo has you covered. Visit us at

Excellent. Your book, Head and Heart, is already debuting in Australia’s best-seller list. Thinkers 50 is already identified as the top 10 new management book of 2023, and you’ve been nicknamed Australia’s Bernie Brown. Quite impressive as a resume.

Look, it’s been a whirlwind. But safety is where I started. That’s how you and I came to know each other, Eric. I love the work that I’m doing now, but I’ve still got a very soft spot for the health and safety profession.

If I may, I’d love to touch on one of the topics that were key before this book was key to your Ph.D. really around safety governance. You’ve authored some of the most relevant work in this space. I think the importance of the top management team, and the importance of governance, are so critical. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations don’t do that well. What are some of the key attributes that make for good governance from your perspective?

I can answer this from both. Obviously, the Ph.D. research I did specifically looked at the role of boards and senior executives in safety governance and safety leadership, but also has been a director now, sitting on public boards, private boards, and government boards for about 15 years. I think as much as the Ph.D. took 100,000 words to say it. I actually think I can now narrow it down to one sentence, which is really role modeling what it means to be someone who believes in the vision of keeping everyone safe. And that role modeling idea means setting a vision for what it looks like in that organization and then holding people to account for that, but not in a blaming way. And I’m a true believer that if you get safety right, everything else follows. That means you tend to get higher quality levels, you get lower absenteeism, and you get higher overall operational excellence. And so, safety is such an important gauge of how an organization is performing. And if a board gets that, and frankly, not all boards do get that, I think many boards see safety as a cost of doing business as opposed to this wonderful opportunity to Excel in business.

But if you have boards that get it, the conversations I’ve noticed are much different. They’re much more high quality than they’re more mature around. How can we really now take it to the next level as opposed to looking at lag indicators and what happened last month and focusing on slips, trips, and falls when there are these enormous hazards right in front of their face that they’re not spending time on? So, I think most people listening probably know those kinds of leaders who get it and don’t get it. It’s hard if you’re working with a board or an executive team where no one gets it. I don’t know that that will then change unless something dreadful happens and there’s a real burning platform that means they have to change. If you have even one board director, and I’ve been in this experience where they are passionate and they get it, that can help drive different questions, different kinds of reporting, different quality of conversation. But we talked before we started recording about how in Australia and the UK, there are particularly stringent laws that govern health and safety. And that was implemented about a decade ago. And it’s really driven a changing culture by our boards and their focus on health and safety.

It’s sad that that had to do, had to be it. Why should it have been enough on its own? But it has led to an incredibly mature conversation in those two countries about health and safety. Usually, the risk of jail time will drive. It’s a pretty good deterrent. It does its job. It does do its job. And as we were shared before, there are occasional examples of CEOs that have lost their job specifically because of numerous fatalities. A series of fatalities have occurred. And that also sends a message to others to say, Maybe I do need to care about this as well.

Don’t you think, though, Eric, I find it really depressing that it takes someone going to jail because clearly a life has been lost or a serious injury for someone to go, oh, maybe I do need to pay attention? Ideally, you would have people going, I don’t want that person to lose their life. Regardless, what can I do to make sure that never happens?

But sometimes I believe it has a disconnect that if you’re on a board and you’ve never actually been on a shop floor in a mining environment, high risk, high hazard environment if you become an accountant, you become a lawyer, normally you’re not exposed to people dying on your watch, and it’s not the same. It’s theoretical. It’s not real.

Yeah. And that’s a really important point. And I think for the health and safety profession, bringing to life… Do you know what I talked about earlier about perspective and reading the room? If you’re presenting to a board about a hazard that you need to communicate, and some of those board members have never been on a side or understand it, you really need to read that room and understand how you can best influence the decision. And I know I was on one board years and years ago, and the poor health and safety professional kept bringing papers to say, here’s this hazardous task that’s being done, and we needed an investment. And the board just didn’t grasp when no one had done that role. They didn’t really understand. I didn’t understand. I knew that I was listening to the person, but I couldn’t picture it. At the next meeting, they brought along a video of the person doing the task. And the whole meeting was like, Oh, my God. Really? Did we ask someone to do that? That’s got to stop. How much money do you need? I think health and safety people really need to think and put themselves in the shoes of others.

And that’s the attribute of empathy and think, okay, if that director is an accountant out of New York and they’ve never been in a mine site before, how can I best communicate to them what I need?

I’ve seen, in some instances, organizations bring the board to a mine site or bring the board to a high-hazard environment so that you start with a tour, you visit it, and you experience what it means.

Best practice. Absolutely. Site visits are a no-brainer, and that should be part of every board’s understanding of the organization they’re governing. I think all the site visits I’ve ever done in my life can be quite structured. And they’re called wedding parties, you’re taking along, and you’re meeting everyone, and it’s all clean and perfect. And you’re not going to observe that really hazardous event. They’re important to do, but the more natural you can keep them, the better.

Yeah, I would agree. When you roll up the red carpet, and everything’s perfect, you’re not getting a real experience. I’ve heard some, even where it’s less structured, they’re allowing more variability. Obviously, there’s still some protection around where you want the board members to go, but where it’s more free, and maybe it’s a ride along with somebody.

Even better is not the whole board going. You paid off, and it’s not eight or ten people all going on a tour, but you’re in pairs with another director, and you’re given a specific thing to think about or look at. People can’t help but answer questions if they’re given questions. Probably the best site-visits I’ve ever been part of, where I was with another director. So, it’s good to have someone else because you’ll have different skills and different things you can talk about. But there are only two of you. So, if you are talking with someone on the shop floor, they’re not feeling overwhelmed like there are ten big bosses. And there’s something in the back of my mind we’ve been asked to think about. Now, it could be as simple as housekeeping, but it could be more complex on how open you find the people that you are speaking with answering your questions. How willing are they to tell you what keeps them up at night? Even that is a cultural touchstone that you can then come back and go, Actually, I found out no one would tell me, or I got a really rote answer that was pretty benign.

That tells you something because there will be issues keeping them up at night. How are we creating a safe enough environment they can speak up?

We shared a couple of examples just there of influencing the board in terms of what areas to look at. We talked about listening tours or going to a site, visiting, listening, and what’s happening. We talked about the videos, which I think are a great way of depicting what the challenge is. What are some of the other ways that an organization can influence the board? Maybe open up the view you talked about. Boards sometimes will go focus on an injury rate as opposed to looking at serious injuries and fatality risk. That’s a shift in mindset even. Have you had some successes where people influence the board? 

Yeah. I think I’ve worked with a whole range of health and safety professionals. The best are those that have a strategic mindset. What I mean by that is they’re not looking at coming to the board as a monthly job they have to do to report their paper and stats and take questions and then leave again. They will be thinking about what is going on in the business more broadly. There might be a merger and acquisition going on. There might be a divestment that’s happening. There might be something that’s going on in the organization. Or the share price has fallen through the floor, and there’s a lot of distraction. They actually link what’s going on more broadly because, you know, the board will have been talking about that to how it’s impacting what they’re seeing on the ground. Stats, statistics, and data are all very interesting, but without giving a story and being great storytellers about what it means in practice, I think you can lose people along the way. And so, I would encourage anyone listening to think of themselves as the thought leader, the strategic expert in that organization, around how health and safety can drive operational excellence.

What is it around that merger and acquisition that’s happening that’s distracting people, why is it that you’re noticing some impact on the shop floor because people are worried for their jobs or whatever it might be? So, I do think it’s about thinking of yourself as a strategic storyteller. I’ve just come up with that on the spot. But in the health and safety space, because that is where you’ll win hearts and minds.

I agree. Well, Kristen, thank you so much for coming to the show. I think your insights are really, really helpful, both in terms of the leadership elements as well as some of the elements on the governance side. Definitely encourage readers to do the self-assessment. We’ll put the link in the show notes. Pick up head and heart as it gets launched. Thank you so much.

Fifth of September. I can’t wait to have everyone in North America get a copy. I’d love to hear from anyone. I’d love to hear how you apply it in your environment.

Perfect. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Thanks, Eric.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, and grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams, and elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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Dr. Kirstin Ferguson is Australia’s most prominent leadership expert and a highly experienced business leader in her own right. Beginning her career as an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, Kirstin has held roles that have included CEO of an international consulting firm and was appointed acting chair and deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by the Australian Prime Minister. Kirstin writes a highly popular weekly column in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. She holds a PhD in leadership and is an Adjunct Professor at QUT Business School. Kirstin was included on Thinkers50 Radar List in 2021 and shortlisted for the Thinkers50 Distinguished Achievement Award in Leadership. In 2023, she was appointed a member of the Order of Australia, in recognition of her “significant service to business and gender equality.”
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Leadership Under Pressure: Creating Conscious Control with Anton Guinea

Leadership under pressure: creating conscious control



In this episode, we welcome Anton Guinea, a seasoned expert in leadership under pressure. With his formative and compelling experiences, Anton has dedicated himself to helping leaders become the best versions of themselves for their teams. Listen in as Anton shares valuable insights on maintaining emotional control and keeping calm under intense workplace pressure. Tune in to learn about Anton’s practical approaches to cultivating a blame-free environment, encouraging psychological and physical safety, and creating conscious control to lead effectively under pressure.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski. A globally recognized ops and safety guru, public speaker, and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy’s success story begins now.

Hi, and welcome to The Safety Guru. Today, I have a very exciting speaker joining us, Anton Guinea from Australia. He’s a coach, a consultant speaking on leadership under pressure. He’s got some amazing stories that have shaped his thinking in this space. We’ll get to those very soon. He focuses on working with leaders to deliver the best version of themselves. I probably destroyed your sentence in some way, shape, or form. Anton, very happy to have you with me on the show today.

Thanks for having me, Eric.

So, Anton, why don’t we start out with your story? Because it’s fascinating. You had three events that shaped your thinking. Why don’t we start there?

Yeah, cool. Thanks, Eric. First, at the age of 21, I was unlucky enough to get blown up in a switchboard. I was working at a chemical factory in Glastonbury. I’d finished my apprenticeship, so I was qualified as an electrician and couldn’t get work in town at the time. Finally, I did get a very short-term role in a shutdown of the chemical factory. I rushed a job. I was working with a tradesperson who we were working together, and we were working closely to put something or mount something in a switchboard. We were working on switchboards. We’d isolated it, we’d test it for dead. So, we’d done everything right, we thought. The problem was that I was rushing that job, and I used a steel ruler to measure where we were going to put those components in that switchboard. And that was a really, really poor decision. And it was a poor safety decision. And it was a decision that was based on the wrong priority. So, the priority was to, in my mind at that moment, was to get a pat on the back or get a job because I was in a short-term role, to impress.

So, all those other things that shouldn’t be on your mind when you’re doing work in a switchboard that’s potentially fatal, sadly. Even though we’d isolated ourselves, which I’ll tell you that story in a sec. But as I started measuring, the steel ruler got in behind the main switch and either got close enough or contacted live electrical buzz bars, and it blew everything up, including me. So I was exposed to, we now think about 20,000 degrees C of carbonized air caused by that arc flash. And my hands and my face and my neck… So, I had long sleeve cotton clothes on, so I wore work clothes, but still, my face and my hands and my neck and my arms were burnt really badly. So, I had about 15 % of my body was second-degree burnt. Burns pain Eric, is something that I won’t even try to get your listeners to understand. It’s a horrible experience. And I hope for your sake and for theirs that no one close to you, or you have been through Burns pain because it’s just a horrific thing. And they can’t do much for the pain on site. So, I got down to the nurse’s station and she could use water and tried really hard. Got in an ambulance, got to the hospital, where they could use some morphine and take some of that pain away. And then it was into the recovery for the next five weeks. I say that I was doing a five-minute job. I was trying to save a few minutes and I went home about five weeks later. I went to intensive care with the arc flash, which is what it was. You get burned internally as well. There was some concern about my internal organs and the ambulance drivers shared with me, God love them, you can die up to a few days later from these injuries. I said, oh, thanks. Thanks, team. Great information. I was off to intensive care, and we were trying to see what the internal damage was. Fortunately, once I got to intensive care and they started checking that it wasn’t too bad, then it was off to the burn, and in Brisbane, where I got some really good care down there. And part of that healing process was all of that dead skin had to be removed because it was obviously charred, it was cooked from the explosion. And the new skin had to come through from underneath. And that experience of debriding, it’s called, where they would basically remove all of the skin on your hands and your face and do that quite specifically with tweezers and scissors, so they get under the skin where they can and pull it off. And then they cut it off and get a nice little pile of your skin happening in a little silver kidney-shaped medical container. It’s quite a horrific process. It was something that I had a lot of painkillers for. They gave me this thing called a suppository. That was interesting. I still look back on that. It was a really painful experience and just an emotionally painful experience, probably too, just getting a facelift and watching people peel my skin off. Then, of course, there’s the rehab because, with burns, your skin tightens up. It was a pretty horrible four to five weeks recovering Eric. And I’ll just go back to that story I was going to tell you before because I said we’d isolated and tested for dead. We’d isolated the panel that we were working in and tested that. But the whole board, the switchboard itself, was not isolated. And the buzz bars were coming in through the main switch.

So, the line side was isolated, but the live side was still alive. And the steel ruler got in behind the main switch where those buzz bars were because it was so thin, and it was so flexible. And you couldn’t even see the gap in between the main switch. It just got in behind it and all of a sudden caused this massive arc flash. And yes, it really was. horrible. And you don’t see it or you don’t… I don’t remember being in an arc in the fireball because they come and go in 0.5 of a second. So, these things just come out boom and then they’ve gone again. They self-extinguish. They literally bang in and out. And in that 0.5 of a second, you’re just exposed to all of that heat energy and that carbonized air. And the air is actually electrified as well. So, it’s ionized because of the short circuit or the electrical process that’s going on. So, they say you get electric shock at the same time, which is interesting. So, you get electric shock at the same time, you get the arc flash and the arc burn. So that was interesting. I was lucky that where I was holding the ruler, it looked like, and it felt like the electrical current actually didn’t go across my heart for some reason.

Once they did the checks, my heart was okay, and we couldn’t find any exit wounds on my body. Very lucky and grateful that I didn’t lose my life that day. I’m here to tell the story.

You had two other boom events. I remember we talked about it.

I love the word boom event because that’s what the switchboard did, went boom. Then 10 years later, probably, I was actually working in a copper smelter. After that first event, that first boom event, Eric, as you can imagine, it’s really horrible and it’s really hard coming back from that. There’s this thing called post-traumatic stress, right? I really feel like I probably was in that space for a few years. I couldn’t talk about the incident for 10 years. I was down about it. I was down about it. I didn’t want to be an electrician anymore. I did it for a few years on a mine site because it was low voltage, so I thought, oh, that’s safer. But I was never really a safe worker because I was so scared of electricity when I was on the tools then. So, it worked out that I wanted to get off the tools and I wanted to climb the ladder of corporate success as you do and be a leader. So, for some reason, that switchboard was the spark that changed a few things in my life. And one of them was, I’m not going to work as a spark anymore.

I’m going to do something with my life now, which I realized that I hadn’t been. One of those things was study. The other one was doing leadership. I got off the tools as quickly as I can and got into some maintenance planning roles and some leadership roles. And a few years later, I was age 29, so it’s probably eight years later, I’d done a degree and I’d done some other stuff. I was finally at the superintendent manager level in an organization. I’ll never forget that this is 20 years ago. It’s a bit of a legacy of what we call 1900s leaders, or the old-school leaders. And this refinery was very old and some of the leaders in it were a little bit old school. I was a new leader. I was trained sure. I was learning leadership. And what happened was I went to a management team meeting, and I was leaving in a manager role and I was sitting with the team of the senior leadership team. I’d made a really significant mistake on some work that I’d done on a budget. And the mistake was my budget was over by seven times because I was calculating it in yen, not Australian dollars.

Just a slight mistake. Many millions of dollars, right? But I remember sitting in that little management team meeting and sharing that mistake. And the management team went nuts. An abusive, aggressive, abruptly. And it was like, in your face swearing like that, really that 1900’s leadership style. And it was ugly. I still say to this day that it hurt my heart that, what do we pay you for? You’re this and you’re that. It was really hard to deal with in that time because I just didn’t have those skills at the time. And it was one of those moments, and it wasn’t the only time that it happened on that particular site. And it was one of those periods in my life where I went, you know what? Achieving all these goals, sometimes they’re not all their cracked up to be. You get to this point, and you go, Was that worth it? Was it worth all the effort to be abused? And to be, yeah, I’d made some mistakes, but I would have loved to be coached and mentored rather than brutalized. Abused. Absolutely. Brutalized, emotionally. And I actually, it wasn’t long after that I jumped out of employment because I said, you know what?

If that’s the way you’ve got to be a senior leader, that’s not for me. Now remember, this is two decades ago. I made a call, a conscious decision to actually help leaders be better than that. So, I made a decision to actually go out and be the person that did something about old school leaders. And I’ve been on a mission since then. If you’re an old school leader, I’m coming for you, basically. And if you want to be a new school leader, and if you want to be a little bit more emotionally connected and have conscious control and not think it’s okay to go and abuse or be aggressive and be abruptly, come and talk to me and we can work with you. Or if you’ve got a leader like that, I’m here to help you and your team deal with those types of leadership styles. And that’s the best version of yourself. That was beautifully put when you said that at the start of the session. I want to help leaders be those good humans. And that’s leadership, just being a good human. And so that second boom event, Eric, was such a game changer because I was so career focused.

I was so driven to do leadership. And then to see poor leadership, the decisions each other. One of the decisions was, that’s how I’m never going to lead. I will never ever lead a human.

And we often we learn from our worst leaders how not to be probably sometimes better than the best leaders we’ve had, unfortunately.

That’s right. We never remember the ones in the middle. We remember the really great ones who made us feel great. And then we remember the really poor ones who didn’t. And so I say leaders, be memorable for the right reasons. Eric. So that was the second boom event, mate, to work for really crappy leaders that just changed my whole career trajectory. And now I’m self-employed and I’ve been working on leaders keeping their calm ever since then.

In terms of calm, you talk about cool, calm, and collected. The topic you cover is really around leadership under pressure. Every leader has seen pressure at some point in time. Sometimes there’s a major event that pops in. Sometimes there’s a crisis that you’re dealing with. So, tell me a little bit about some of the tools and tactics that those great leaders drive when they’re under pressure.

Love it. Can I lean into that just quickly with the event first? And I’ll tell you. Absolutely. So, two years ago, 25th of May 2021, I was on a… So, I was consulting on a power station site. And literally, the plant went boom. It’s all over the internet. You can go and Google all this information. There was a major turbine on that power station that blew up the turbine shaft separating from this machine. It was a world-scale event. It never happens. And I feel sorry for the plant that it happened in. Fortunately, no fatalities. Fortunately, no injuries. And obviously, two years later, that turbine’s still not on the back into service, I believe now. But it was so scary, Eric, because the noise was horrific. The offices were close to the plant. There was a whole range of other flammable materials around that. The building literally blew up that the turbine was in and we could see it still exploding as we were evacuating the plant. The problem was that because the turbine went down and they lost power to the site, you couldn’t actually do a roll call. You didn’t know who was on.

The spot. Oh, right. Because you had no power.

So, how do you do you do that then? And it was clipboards. It was pen and paper. And on that side, it was a small country town. And you had brothers and sisters and wives because it’s a small community. So, people didn’t know whether their loved ones were hurt. It was a scary, scary, scary, scary time. And at the same time, though, with the leadership under pressure hat on, I was watching those leaders respond to that event. I was watching the general manager. I was watching their senior leadership staff gather the troops, pull everyone together, and make sure we were safe. Eric, they did such a good job. They just nailed it. From then, for me, it’s been… That was the example for me. That was a crisis event. I remember that was a world scale event and well managed. Now, in answer to your question, what did they do? T o me, the first thing was there was this amount of calm that was across the place. I always use the word calm now because I just felt calm. The skill set was for me, being in control of your faculties. Now, what I mean by that is that emotional control drives behavioral control.

There is a skill to emotional control, as we know. And we now know from the Daniel… So, I’ll probably bring a bit of theory into it now, if that’s okay. Because since then, as you know, I’m now doing pretty much PhD research into leadership under pressure because I really want to get inside people’s heads and do the research to validate a lot of the work that I’m doing. So, there’s this conscious control or this emotional control piece where the first thing we need to do to be in emotional control is to be able to describe our emotional state, to be able to put language and words around our emotions. We know from Daniel Goleman’s research in emotional intelligence that even writing it down or talking about it or being able to speak in emotions helps us to control our emotional state and have this conscious control around our emotional state because that drives our behavioral state. Step number one, Eric, is to understand that you are now in amygdala hijack, which means that you’re in a fight or flight response, which means that your pituitary glands have sent a message to your adrenal glands, which is released cortisol, which is stress hormone, and you are now high on cortisol.

And now, it’s very easy for you to get out of control. And your body wants you to. So, it’s sent all of its blood and energy to your outer extremities so that you can fight or flight as you need to, which is obviously a primitive response pattern. Now, to be able to combat an amygdala hijack is about being able to understand that we’re in this emotional state and then regulate that emotional state. Now, the way that we regulate that emotional state is through our language, and it’s through our breath. Now, and this is the short version of probably a two-day program of lead. You had a lead under pressure. The first thing is in our language, talk in emotions, but don’t talk in too powerful of words. We don’t want to talk about when we’re under stress, we’re under pressure. We don’t want to use words that have too much emotional power in them. So, oh, Jesus, we’re going to die, or we’re going to… This is a tragedy, or this is a catastrophe. So, our language will drive then what’s going on inside us, because… And it will drive what’s going on inside us and those people around us.

So, if you use big, catastrophic words or big, powerful words, all of a sudden you heighten other people’s emotional state as well. So, we want to be really aware of our language. And the first thing that goes, Eric, when we’re under stress or under duress is our breath because we start to breathe very shallowly. Right. Now, if I could say to leaders, the one skill if you did nothing else after listening to Eric’s podcast today, learn to breathe. Now, we were born. We all popped out. From a creation and evolution perspective, let’s cover both sides of that so I don’t offend anyone. We pop out and one of the first things that babies do is they g ag. As soon as their lungs hit oxygen, we g ag. We take our first breath and it’s called the g ag reflex. And that’s the only breathing training most of us ever got. And we learn the rest on our own. And leaders under pressure forget the importance of their breath, and they forget the importance, or they forget how much their breath is required to make sensible, smart, controlled, consciously controlled decisions. Y our brain uses 20 % of the oxygen that you inhale. 20 % of the oxygen goes to this 1.3 kilo lump of mass in our head, gray matter. 1.3 kilos, 20 % of the oxygen, 20 % of the calories.


Now, given that the first thing that goes when we’re trying to make these decisions when we’re under stress is our breath, because we’re breathing so shallowly, what we got to do is we’ve got to take a step back and we’ve got to start breathing properly. What’s breathing properly mean to you? Well, there’s a whole range of breathing techniques, but the message is to breathe in a way that you feel relaxed. You can relax yourself with your breathing, which will help your breath, help your speaking and help your language. So, the first thing that goes when we’re under pressure is our ability to speak properly. That’s only because we’re not breathing properly. Sure. Now, by oxygenating our body properly, which means breathing, belly breathing, slow breathing, and holding breathing, all of a sudden our brain is full of oxygen, which it needs, and we are more relaxed. And we know that when we’re relaxed, we make better decisions. And the world could be falling down around us. We know that breathwork changes our brains. And it’s called, I call it aerobic decision making, decision making with oxygen, like doing aerobics. Not anaerobic, which is without oxygen, but aerobic decision making.

Great. Now, the other skill that I’m about to, next Wednesday, I’ll be submitting a paper to a journal, I think, in the States, public service psychology journal. So, I’m going to submit a paper on leadership and all of this stuff. And one of the skill sets is, once we’ve got our breathing right, once we’re in conscious control, there’s this concept called normative competence. Normative competence. Which is tied to decision making, and it’s tied to decision making that is focused on the humans that are involved, the future of this particular boom event. So, it’s really easy to get sucked into the moment, but we’ve always got to have a forward focus. What we know about decision making and crisis events is the more we can have a forward focus, Eric, the more we can be looking to the future. Yes, we’ve got to… Yes, and leaders will be listening to this going, Hold the phone. Or you’ve told me so far as to breathe, and I get that.

And. Language. And language, absolutely. And slow your body language. Slow your body down. Slow down, literally slow down. Sit down if you can, because you want to be as relaxed as possible. Now, the next thing is normative confidence, which is decision making. And yes, you’ve got to deal with what’s going on right now. You’ve got to deal with that. We’ve got to contain the crisis event. But at the end of the day, we’ve also got to be looking forward. We’ve got to be saying, the decisions that I make now will affect us in the future. And what we’ve got to be looking at is the humans involved. Let’s look at the humans involved and let’s unpack the way that our decisions are going to impact them. So, leaders can tend to forget that as much they’re stressed. But what about their teams, Eric? What about everyone around them who’s also extremely stressed? And this is the problem for leaders. They get wrapped up in the organization stuff, or they get wrapped up in the political stuff, or they get wrapped up in how they’re feeling. The easiest way to have conscious control and emotional control is to have a forward focus and think about other humans.

Think about the impact of our decisions on others. How will this decision impact other humans? When we can get to that point, when we’re actually thinking about impacts, outcomes, and we’re thinking forward, we’re not just thinking in the moment, normative competence, decision making with a future impact focus. And then that will help other people stay calm around us as well. Because what we don’t want to do as leaders is we don’t want to incite, we don’t want to inflame a situation. People’s emotional state, right? We want to help them stay calm and collected. Now, what we know is there’s this thing called emotional contention. And what emotional contention is, is our emotions are mirrored by those around us. So the more that we can stay in control, and this is the beautiful part about being in conscious control for leaders, the more leaders can stay in control, the better their teams will, too. Because while leaders are out of control, this emotion is contagious, the energy that goes with this and the energy that comes through in the language.

All goes towards driving other people’s energy state up. So, what we want to do is we want to… And leaders need to be so focused on other humans that they can actually see what’s going on for them. This is part of being in control where you can think fast, and talk slowly. How’s this person going? How’s that person? How’s my leadership team going? How’s my disaster management team going? Leaders need to be that focused on not only the situation but the other people around them. I think sometimes that gets forgotten as well.

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I think quite a bit there. I think the altruistic looking at others gets you also more grounded in terms of it’s not about me and my emotions. It’s about the broader group. Definitely. Let’s unpack a little bit more. You said something about think fast, talk slow. Tell me more about that idea because I think that’s also an equally important element when it comes to how you respond under pressure.

Think fast, talk slow to me is the summary of the Daniel Goleman model. Daniel Goleman talked about self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social regulation. So that when you’re looking at someone else, Eric, you can actually be thinking about what they’re experiencing at the moment while you’re talking to them. Now, to me, it is the absolute epitome of multitasking. It’s multitasking.

It’s tough.

Which is tough, right? And we say there’s no such thing as multitasking because we’re task-switching. I say when we’re talking to someone, we’re multitasking because we’re having a conversation with ourselves at the same time that we’re talking to another human. And the thing is, we have triggers. So, there’s stuff that you might say that might trigger my emotional state. When we’re heightened, it’s easy to trigger people, especially when we’re in a boom event. I might say something that triggers your emotional state. And even for those listening, I just watched where Eric’s eyes went then. And so that’s part of thinking fast and talking slow. What do those body language movements mean? When I say something, what does that response mean? And if Eric gets triggered when I’m talking to him, make sure that I’m aware enough of that so that I can change, regulate, or influence your emotional state in the right way, so that I’m not inflammatory, if that makes sense, especially at the moment. Sure. So, I know what I’m doing to either trigger your emotional state or bring it down. So, think fast, talk slow. What’s the other person experiencing when they’re with me?

Is what I’m saying landing? Am I speaking too fast? Am I speaking too slowly? Is my intonation right for this particular person? Are they with me? Are we connected? Are we in rapport? Am I communicating clearly enough? Because when we’re under pressure, the instruction has to be very specific, and it’s got to be clearly communicated. And we got to make sure that message is clearly delivered and clearly understood. So that’s thinking fast, talking slow.

That helps. Absolutely. And let’s touch a little bit on blame. So, in a lot of events, you talked about your second boom event, which was blaming Anton for everything. What’s the element of blame? Because we have a tendency to gravitate towards blame when something bad happened. Tell me a little bit about what should be.

The right response. Yeah, great. Thanks, Eric. The human species, we tend to look for the person that caused it, that did it, that is responsible. Instead of looking at the organizational situation, circumstances that could have led to this boom, from occurring as well. I know even back when my switchboard event occurred, remember the general manager coming up and saying, Look, I was in intensive care in Gladstone, and though I’d started to come around, and it was either that day or the next day, and he came up to see me in intensive care, and he said, I just want to let you know it’s all good. We can’t fault you, or something like that. I know, right?

It’s an interesting comment.

I know. It was something like that. And I thought, oh, so you’re trying to? And I didn’t know what had happened. They’d worked out that there was a little gap around the switchboard. That’s how I found that out because I actually didn’t know that. I didn’t know what had happened. But the thing was, the first response for most people when they’re investigating or when they’re looking for causal factors, we go to humans. Now, it’s natural because… Well, it’s not really. Yeah, it is natural. 96 to 99 % of workplace incidents and injuries are blamed on or caused by human error. Human. Behavior. Even at that level. So, you just read the internet and you read that, all of a sudden you think, you’re conditioned, the humans wrong. Can we get to zero harm? No, because we’re all human and we’re all going to make a mistake. Well, yeah, I get that. And so, there’s this whole we’re human, we’re going to make mistakes, and so we got to blame someone when something happens. The thing about that is that you don’t look far enough back. You don’t look at the organization or you don’t look at everything else.

And when you blame people, what you do is you actually stop them from reporting. You stop them from contributing. So, you don’t have psychological safety in your organization. And psychological safety is a big deal. So, if people don’t feel safe to report, we know that, and you know this, that safety cultures, strong safety cultures are predicated on two things. One of them is reporting culture. How easy is it to report? How willing are people to report? The next one is, how easy is it to communicate about safety? And how willing are people to do that? So especially at the front line, is safety okay to talk about? Or are interactions, and are they an intrusion into our just getting our work done? Sure. When you’re measuring safety culture, you’re measuring those two things. When you blame people, you get people not to report because they’re fearful. Blame culture is just driven fear. They drive psychological safety down, and they drive the wrong message in an organization that if I report this, I’ll get sacked or I’ll get disciplined rather than having a learning experience. Now, I get it. Some of your listeners will be thinking, Yeah, hold on a second.

There are sometimes that people make intentional mistakes. Now, if you make an intentional breach, any investigation flowchart starts with, what was the intent? Was it to break a procedure, or was it just a mistake? What was the intention behind it? If there’s an intentional breach, that’s a different discussion. Most of the time it’s not, though. Most of the time it’s not an intentional breach. We’ve actually got to use a coaching mindset, more leadership rather than a blame mindset. Does that answer that question?

Yeah, absolutely. I think there are two leaders I worked with a while back and both made a shift where instead of finding fault with the individual, started blaming their role in it. Even if they weren’t the final fault, they started recognizing some of the elements of the actions that they did and how it impacted the outcome. What’s incredibly powerful there is that when the senior leaders started speaking that way, other leaders started taking their part of ownership. The element in terms of if you really want to drive safety ownership, it’s incredibly powerful because when you start removing the blame, recognizing the lots of people are part of it, then others are willing to be vulnerable as well.

Great summary. Beautiful summary. Taking that Extreme Ownership, great book to Lave Babin and Joko Will was the other author.

Jocko Will, yes. A lot of conversations around psychological safety. We’ve talked a little bit about removing blame, which is an element, a contributor to our psychological safety. Tell me a little bit more about how that links back to leadership under pressure.

Thank you. Great question. Psych safety, Timothy R. Clarke, four stages, inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, challenge your safety. Are we included? Do we feel included? Is it safe for us to learn in this organization and learn from our mistakes? That’s the blame piece. Is it safe for us to contribute to be the best version of ourselves, to bring our whole selves to work? And is it safe for us to challenge the status quo? Now, poor leadership doesn’t include blames. People don’t feel like they can contribute and don’t ever challenge the status quo. status quo in a poor leadership organization or poor lead, it’s a poorly led team. In a team with great leadership, come in, inclusion. We know that there’s no groupthink. Groupthink came out of the NASA Challenger disaster where the junior engineer wasn’t listened to. And so, this is inclusion in decision making. Defer to expertise in the organization. Who’s the right person, doesn’t matter what level they are, to include them in the decision. If we need that information, bring those people up to the table. Learner, can we learn from our mistakes? Have we got a learning culture in the organization in general terms?

Do we send people away to conferences? Do we give them leadership coaching and mentoring? Do we help people grow and develop? We know it’s a fundamental human need to grow and contribute. And then the contribution safety is about not feeling like… So, in Australia, Eric, we’ve got this thing called a tall poppy syndrome so that if you do a good job, people try to pull you back down. You don’t want to stick your head out of the trench because suddenly, you’ll get shot. I know we’ve got a weird culture like that over here. We’ve got it. And you don’t want to have too big an ego. You don’t want to shine too much at times. This is contributor safety, right? I know it’s weird. There are some people that… Sometimes at trade level or in our… What do you call them? Craft teams, people have got to slow down, to slow down and work at the same level as the rest of the team, so that the project goes longer or so that they… You know what I mean? They don’t shine. And that’s contributor safety. You’ve got to be out. You’ve got to be able to do your best work and not feel like you’re going…

But it’s a version of yourself, right?

And then challenge your safety. Is it okay to challenge the norms? Is it okay to say to your leader, hey, I think there’s a better way to do this? And will your leader listen? So psychological safety is feeling safe to take interpersonal risks. Thanks to Amy Edmondson for that great definition. Interpersonal risk, which means speaking up. In short, psychological safety is, have you got the right people saying the right things because they’re comfortable speaking up and challenging and contribute.

Makes sense. Anton, thank you very much for coming, sharing your story. Leadership, member pressure, an important topic is when you’re in a world that safety is relevant matters, you’re going to be faced with some pressure, hopefully not of your boom events, particularly your first and your third boom events. But it’s good to be prepared to reflect, to have the skills to think about how I describe. So, I recognize the triggers.

Really think about how I regulate my breathing. You talked about that it resonated with me, the language I’m using, not big words. We’re going to die or anything of that nature. You talked a lot about the breathing and then really the forward focus and looking at the people and the humans in front of you. I think those are good takeaways from your message. Anton, thank you so much. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, learn some more about what you do.

How can they do that? The Guinea group is probably the best place to do that on the internet, Eric, or email me, Anton, at I would love to hear from many of your listeners. I would love to talk them through how we could… If they want some support around leading under pressure, psychology safety, or any of the other work that we do with leaders, please reach out. That’d be great to hear from them. Perfect. Thanks for having me too. Really appreciate it. Great questions, great stuff. Thanks again.

Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the Safety Guru on C-Suite Radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, and grow your success. Capture the hearts and minds of your teams and elevate your safety. Like every successful athlete, top leaders continuously invest in their safety leadership with an expert coach to boost safety performance. Begin your journey at Come back in two weeks for the next episode with your host, Eric Michrowski. This podcast is powered by Propulo Consulting.

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Anton Guinea is an expert in the field of leadership under pressure, a best-selling author, and a motivational speaker. Anton nearly lost his life in a workplace accident and has turned that experience into something that others can learn from. He suffered through teams that had poor leadership and high conflict, which pushed him to studying a Bachelor of Business in HR and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is doing masters level research into the psychology of leadership, teams, and leading under pressure. Anton partners with leaders and businesses who are under pressure to help them create conscious control so that they can create psychologically safe and high-performing teams. Anton’s speaking, training, consulting, and coaching programs are based on psychology, neurology, and biology, and they provide leaders with real and relevant strategies to improve their teamwork and leadership.
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Lessons in Leadership from a Career at NASA with Donald G. James

The Safety Guru_Donald G. James



Donald G. James, author of the recently released book Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t shares great insights from his lengthy career at NASA. From stories of how the Challenger and Columbia incidents shaped his view of leadership and blind spots, to sharing ideas for leaders to reduce these very blind spots and create environments where people are comfortable speaking up, this is an engaging podcast filled with stories and insights on the importance of Psychological Safety.


Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.

Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I’m your host Eric Michrowski and today I’m very excited to have with me for great conversation Donald James. He’s the author of a book, Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t. He’s incredibly passionate about careers for students and through his 35 years’ worth of experience at NASA, has seen how much NASA can inspire people around the world. But here we’re going to talk about some really interesting insights from his career at NASA.

And Donald, welcome to the show, first of all. And I’d love for you to tell me a little bit about you and your career with NASA and most importantly, the thoughts that you’ve got around the importance of a manor’s linking it back to the book you recently published.

Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be on your program, and I really appreciate the opportunity. I enjoyed a wonderful career at NASA at 35 years, starting right out of graduate school. Interestingly enough, at the very beginning of my career, I didn’t know that I want to stay with NASA. It wasn’t until the 1986 Challenger tragedy that I found my calling in the agency when it had to do with a personal experience, I had with the post Challenger activities that NASA was doing.

I was invited to participate in some of the educational activities that the backup teacher to Christa McAuliffe, as you know, who perished on challenger Barbara Morgan. She was going around the country speaking to teachers and students, and I got to join her on that journey. And it was during that experience that I realized that NASA could inspire so many people. And it was at that time I said, I’m going to make a career at NASA, that I’m going to do my part to inspire the next generation.

So, I’ve had a wonderful career and delighted to talk to you about any and all of it.

Excellent. Well, you touched on the challenger. Obviously, there was also the Columbia incident. How has it shaped your view of leaderships and blind spots? Has your book really talks about the importance of I would call it grounded leadership, but tell me how those incidents shaped your view of leadership, particularly when it comes to safety?

Yes. So, in my definition of manners, I take a very broad view of it. I first want to say that, yes, I think it’s important to develop common courtesies, you know, please and thank you staff and things of that nature. But I view manners much more broadly and deeper than that. I view it as a way we show up in the world, our sense of awareness, how we engage people. And as a leader, I found that it was critically important, particularly when it came to safety matters, to pay attention, to pay attention very closely, because sometimes you can see problems that are right there in the plane view and a lot of it from one of our former astronauts, Jim Weatherby, who showed charts that they were presented earlier after Challenger.

And he showed how if you actually look at certain parts of those charts, you can see red flags that some of the engineers were sharing but didn’t come out right and see it. So, you have to develop a heightened sense of awareness about that.

I think that’s a phenomenal point and so, so critical when it comes to leadership, but most importantly on the safety leadership side, is creating that, as some people call it, psychological safety, the environment where people are comfortable speaking up, but also that you’re aware of some of those potential blind spots. One of the things that really impressed me when we talked initially, it was a lot of your insights around how you can reduce those blind spots, some very tangible ideas.

You mentioned some FBI body language training. I’d love to hear some examples that you’ve got in terms of tactics that have worked with you and your career.

Yeah, so I’ve learned to develop and cultivate a sense of awareness around, for example, body language. We know from research that communication is not just verbal, it’s also our body. And you might be in a situation where you’re talking to somebody about a particular issue and you can tell by how they’re carrying themselves, the degree to which, for example, they’re very concerned about an issue and it could make a life-or-death difference. I had a specific example where a colleague was sharing with me a concern about another colleague who actually had a drinking problem.

And this particular colleague was in a situation where he was around students and also around equipment, equipment that could be dangerous. And I could tell by how she was carrying herself that she was really, really concerned about it. But after speaking, she was being a little bit more measured, probably because she was, you know, dancing on some very sensitive things here. And so that’s the kind of thing, as just one specific example of truly trying to pay attention to the whole range of communications that you get for blind spots.

I’ve learned to try to reward people who point out blind spots that I may have. That seems like a very simple thing. But you find that your people may not want to bring things to your attention because they feel that, you know, as the saying goes, they’re going to the messengers are going to be shot, so to speak. Whereas in my experience, I tried to reward them sometimes publicly by saying sometimes by mentioning their names or not.

You know, I really appreciated that so-and-so presented to my attention that I didn’t understand and appreciate and thank them. Then the staff knows that you value that and they’re quite likely to bring things to your attention that they might not otherwise do.

I think that’s an incredibly important point. I wish more leaders did that because it’s really about demonstrating, setting the stage recognition, incredibly powerful vehicle for that in terms of how you get people to understand that it’s safe to challenge, to raise issues, to see opportunities or look at things differently.

That’s right. That’s right. And NASA, we developed after Challenger a whole separate structure, engineering and safety structure that ran parallel to the program management so that the issues of safety could be brought up a separate chain of command and the issues involved in the program management. And this allowed people to raise issues to a level where somebody can question or stop something that wasn’t necessarily driven by concerns of budget and schedule. And you know very well that budget and schedule is what often drives us to make poor decisions or to operate with blind spots, because what we’re rewarded for is meeting a schedule or making budget.

We’re not necessarily rewarded for avoiding a mistake because it’s awfully hard to know when you’ve actually done that. And yet when you do make a mistake and it’s costly, then it can actually be deadly and people lose their lives and their jobs.

And I think it’s a point that’s incredibly important, a lot of the it’s still the early stages, but a lot of the investigation of what happened behind the 737, Max. And the recent episode speaks to two similar themes. It was about meeting a budget and a meeting, most importantly, a timeline, because it was huge pressure to make sure they would be beat Airbus in launch of a specific upgrade to the aircraft. And that’s where certain things maybe didn’t surface.

That’s right. And I’m particularly sensitive to that because my brother, who’s also my collaborator, is a 737 captain. In fact, he’s flown the 737, Max. So, when this came to light, of course, you know, I peppered him about questions, many of which either couldn’t answer, didn’t know, or you got tired of answering. But for me, it brought home very deeply that a problem that could have been caused by who knows what and where it could have ended up costing somebody that I love very dearly his life.

And fortunately, you know, there were only two catastrophic accidents and now they’re just in the process of retraining their pilots on the new systems, on the max. And so, I have faith that, you know, they’ll get it right. But these problems have deep roots, and it’s important for leaders to have, you know, an imagination as to how problems can actually come about like this or that. You don’t intend doing that. But obviously, a good place to start is looking at pressures on budget and schedule.

And you know that that was a lot of issues with NASA as well.

And when we spoke before, you had a very inspiring quote that had shaped a lot of your thinking around this, and it had to do with essentially when somebody says as a problem, to what degree do I trust that problem? And can you share maybe a little bit about that that quote and some of the thinking behind it?

Well, I’m trying to remember this specific one. Maybe you can help me out here, because I don’t want to, I don’t want to go off on a tangent here. But I do know that, you know, there’s times when if you’re involved in an operation or a system, particularly a complex system, an engineering system, and you’re aware that there is a variable that’s present that probably wasn’t present before. So, if you take the example of Challenger, the variable that was present that really wasn’t present before was the very cold temperatures on launch day.

And so, there was concern about the impact on the system, particularly the O rings that ultimately failed. And so, what I what I took away from that was that if you are aware that there is some type of variable in the mix and you’re had a consequential decision, it behooves you to kind of pay attention and ask, how do I know this is going to going to work just the same? So, you think about the 737, Max. And I just want to be clear.

I am not an expert on that aircraft or systems or the accident or the and neither am I. But I I would I would start with the idea that what’s new is that they had developed some type of a safety system in the plane. And the way they approach the training of that, they felt that it was a simple software thing, that it could it could work just fine and it didn’t work fine. And I’m probably over abusing my knowledge of what actually happened.

But I think the lesson from leaders is and this can be applied in many circumstances, that if you see that something is new in the dynamic, if you do things over and over again and you don’t do something new, even if it’s a software thing, you need to ask yourself, what is the possibility that this can have an unintended consequence and then explore that a little bit and find the naysayers, find the people who are concerned to make sure that you got it right?

Because I’m telling you, when you’re a leader and issues come to your desk, they’re usually not easy. That’s the reason they’re on your desk. President Obama said this. You know, when you when I get a problem, it is a hard problem because of the energy problem. It would have been solved in the Lomi. And that’s just the price you pay as leader. You have to be able to deal with complex and confusing information.

And I think the coach just said that you chaired had to do with somebody in Houston and that the comment had to do that. Sometimes when somebody raises an issue that it may not appear as strong, they may downplay the importance of severity of it. And part of it is to read between the lines.

That’s right. And I’m like, yeah, I’m not remembering this specific example, but the point is, is very well taken. It’s important to triangulate the information you get, you know, and this is hard. For example, if you get an email and you’re not sure if the email is telling you something that you’re not reading, you need to check it out with different, different people. And I always did that, particularly with consequential decisions. I would ask different people in the entire organization what they think about things to make sure that I wasn’t missing something.

And sometimes I did miss some things. So, body language is an example where, you know, you’re in a staff meeting. Sometimes I walk into a room for a staff meeting and I started on my agenda. And I can tell in the meeting that something is wrong because people are being very quiet. They’re all in their iPhones. We call it the iPhone. Crouser, you know, they’re just like their heads are buried down there in your table.

Nobody’s looking at anybody. And I can tell that something is not right. And what I learned as a leader is that if I don’t stop right then and there to try to check out what the issue is, I’m probably going to end up with a problem down the road because people aren’t paying attention or we’re not going to be focused on what we need to do. Then most cases in my example, the consequences were more dangerous. We’re talking about flying astronauts.

Blind spots can be deadly. And I know a lot of astronauts and I know when there were some close calls. And you can’t afford to be wrong when you’re in space because it is unforgiving.

Absolutely, in your book, you mention also you have you have a chapter that speaks to what you call a pink suit. I think it would be great if you shared a little bit more about what that idea.

Yes. So Pink Suits is a metaphor. And I talk about wearing a pink suit and how there’s a pretty good chance I’m not going to go to a store and buy a pink suit. Now, with all due respect to, you know, creative people out there that wear all kinds of different colors. This is not you know; this is not a criticism of the attire. It’s meant to be a metaphor. And the point of the metaphor is to be willing to try on an idea or something, even if you don’t want to.

You feel uncomfortable, you feel strange, and you might be embarrassed. Sometimes trying it on gives you an insight that helps you. Let me give you an example. That’s not an example. There is a story that’s well documented that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, got a great deal of insight into new fonts for Apple in the early days by taking a calligraphy class. And he did it as a fluke. He wasn’t doing engineering any of that kind of nature, but he went on to explain how he appreciated doing something different like that, gave him an appreciation for how he could apply those skills in a different environment.

By the way, just a little fun aside about Steve Jobs, and I like to share with the listeners the reason Steve Jobs got interested in computers is his father took him on a tour at the NASA Ames Research Center where I used to work, and that’s where he saw his first computer and that got him excited. So, if you don’t think you can inspire people by just taking them on a tour or showing them something, think again. You could end up creating the most valuable kind of.

Wow, I didn’t know that story. That’s a that’s a phenomenal story on the on the on the power of the NASA. That’s right.

That’s right.

So, you’ve shared a lot of ideas about increasing how people on your teams get more comfortable speaking up. Do you have any other pearls of wisdom in that regard? Because it’s so, so critical at NASA in that we talked about the 737-max scenario. But in all industries where hazards are present, there’s constantly this theme of I wish I had spoken up or leader saying I wish I had listened.

Yes, it’s fact. You know, NASA is a very technical organization and we’re never going to hire you to be an astronaut because you have good manners. You have to know how to fly the spacecraft. But I can guarantee you, and I know this for a fact, that if you don’t have good manners, you could be stuck on the ground. I know for a fact that there are astronauts who actually went all the way through selection, but somehow mysteriously were never selected to fly.

And I used to think it was only because they weren’t trained for the right mission or any number of cases. Now that I’ve been on the inside, I know there’s one or two cases where the reason that they were not manifested for a flight is that they had something lacking in their manners, skills that the leaders of the organization that puts the crew together decided it wasn’t a good fit. I happen to know that there is one astronaut who did fly and he will never fly again because the crew did not like that person and how they interacted.

And I want to be careful here because I’m not here to out anybody. That’s the point is that manners do matter. But you do have to know how to fly the plane, right? My brother says that, you know, he works as a 737 captain in a very technical field that’s bounded by the laws of physics. But manner set the tone for interactions with the most important resource, and that is his flight crew. And, you know, NASA even did a lot of research on flight crew, crew interactions and provided to the FAA some suggestions about how to change certain protocols.

So, it’s not just the captain is the only one who says this is how we’re going to do it. They’re actually trained now to take in opinions from other people, even dissenting opinions when they’re faced with certain challenges. And this is actually shown to save lives. So that’s my argument, is that manners are a skill set that’s very important to learn. It’s part of a range of skills that are important. It’s just not good enough to be smart if you want to work in a place by NASA.

And I would argue it’s not good enough to be smart to work in a lot of other places. You need to develop these skills. And that’s why I wrote this book, because I wanted to share this with students and early career professionals and I hope there is something inside it that will help them take them, you know, where their brains of money.

What I think is a very important point. They are very familiar with the airline industry. That’s where it started in the safety space. And you’re absolutely correct, the impact of crew resource management, how people can challenge each other, how they speak, the dynamics so, so critical to saving lives. And we’ve seen time and time again where that dynamic was not well balanced, how it cost in several cases, hundreds of people’s lives due to a fatal error.

And what are some of the approaches if when we’ve talked before, you really talked about the importance of those range of skills that are needed to be great leaders, how does one start cultivate that that broader range of skills, not just that the technical skill set?

Well, I suggest that one place to start is and I have a whole chapter on this called Who is on Your Team? It’s Chapter 10 and that’s proactively cultivating a group of people around you that you invite them to really support you around manners and other aspects of you as an individual. And I make a couple of points about this. First of all, I don’t mean team like a sports team where you get together at the same time and you meet when I’m talking about is a set of people from different areas of your life.

And I have a model in the chapter about the different sources that you can find team members. But the key is. What you asked them to do for you, the key is to ask them to please be sincere and honest about what you see, even if you think I don’t want to hear it, which means that you have to be willing to risk your relationship with somebody because they may tell you things that you don’t want to hear. I’ve had a personal example of this that I share in the book that in some circles, in many cases, probably could have gotten my boss fired from what he told me.

And yet I realized after I was upset with what he said to me, I realize he was giving me some wisdom that to this day has helped me greatly. That’s the kind of relationship that I talk about. So, the sources of those relationships are you can be your family members, you could be your friends, it could be your professional networks, it could be professional experts. It could even be your higher power. But it’s important to cultivate those relationships and ask people to mentor you, but not just to be your friend.

You don’t want your friend just to tell you, Eric, you know, you’re great. Don’t worry about anything. You want them to tell you the truth as they see it or to affirm things you think you’re doing right and to call out things when they think you’re doing wrong. And then it’s up to you to decide what you’re going to change in order to do it. So that’s one place you can start as a team. One other quick example in terms of interviewing, because most of us have to interview.

I have a whole chapter on interviewing. And my hypothesis in that chapter is that you’re always interviewing, so just be mindful of that. But I particularly talk about the importance of doing mock interviews and being videotaped, because it’s amazing that when you see yourself on a video, you look you look very different than you look like. It’s sort of like someone showing you a picture of yourself when you’re naked and you’re like, oh, my God, you’re like, that’s horrible.

And yet you look at yourself every day when you get out of the shower. Right. And you don’t think so. It takes an external source to show you a version of you that you don’t see to help you realize maybe I better get in shape or even your body language, how you show up in videos, etc. completely agree. Haven’t done the exercise. As much as I despise the activity, I think it’s a it’s a phenomenal if we’re only important tools.

So, I think these are very good ideas. Thank you. Thank you so much, Donald, for sharing this wisdom, putting a put it together in a book to help young professionals orient themselves from a career, bringing a lot of your learnings from your experience at NASA in terms of how to become a more well-rounded leader. And the book Manners will take your brains and money.

Thank you so much. Absolutely. Thank you so much for coming in and sharing about your experience and your thoughts around you.

Thank you. I appreciate it. It was great.

Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your teams. Fuel your future. come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru, Eric Michrowski.

The Safety Guru with Eric Michrowski

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Donald Gregory James, an executive leader, a manager, a facilitator, a public speaker, a mentor, and author. Donald began his 35-year NASA career as a Presidential Management Intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland in 1982. He transferred to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA in 1984 where he served in a variety of roles of increasing responsibility and complexity, including Public Affairs, Government & Community Relations and Education.

Donald decided to make a career at NASA after the 1986 Challenger tragedy. Asked to support the post-accident speaking tour of back-up Teacher-In-Space Astronaut Barbara Morgan, Donald was so inspired by the overwhelming love and support for America’s space program – and education – that he realized NASA was a special place where he could make a difference. His journey of public service would take him from being an intern to the senior executive service and member of NASA’s senior leadership team.

James served as Ames’ Education Director from 1999 to 2006. In the Fall of 1996, James co-led the record-setting Open House at Ames attracting over a quarter of million visitors in one day. In early 2006, James worked on the Orion crew spacecraft at NASA Johnson Space Center, where he drafted the program’s first project plan. Later that year, James was named Project Manager for NASA’s (successful) bid to host the International Space University’s 2009 Summer Session Program (ISU- SSP), attracting an ISU SSP best 136 students from over 33 nations, involving over 15 corporate and non-profit partners.

In August of 2014, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden selected James to serve as the Agency’s Associate Administrator for Education where he led an enterprise comprised of 75 civil servants, over 250 contractors organized to strengthen NASA and America’s future workforce. Under James’ leadership, NASA learner and educator engagement reached over a million people a year. James retired from NASA on March 31, 2017.

James holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He was awarded a three-year graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation to pursue his MA in International Economic Development from the American University in Washington, D.C. James also studied economics and history at Cambridge University, England, and attended Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows program. He is the recipient of numerous awards and citations for exemplary service. 

James was inspired by the places he’s lived overseas, including Ghana, Thailand, Kenya, and Niger. He’s also traveled to Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines, Spain, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.

His forthcoming book, Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t: Lessons from 35 years at NASA and Momma’s Wisdomwill be released February 2nd. Donald and his wife Tanya live in Pleasanton, California. They have two children, 28 and 25.

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Inspiring Safety Leadership and Ownership with Brad Gardner



It’s been over 10 years since Brad Gardner lost his right arm in a workplace accident—an accident that didn’t have to happen. Brad and his wife, Dolores, have dedicated their lives to making workplaces safer in order to prevent tragedies like their own from happening to others. Listen to a truly inspirational story on the importance of safety leadership and ownership from Brad.

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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams; their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe, yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now. Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. I am Eric Michrowski your host. I’m very excited to have with me Brad Gardner. Brad has dedicated his life to making sure that workplaces are as safe as it can be. This is following a 2003 industrial accident he was part of. But today I want him to share a little bit about some of his lessons about safety. So maybe let’s kick it off. Brad, if you could share a little bit about your background and what got you into this space. OK, I’d love to. Like I said, I’m Brad Gardner. I’m from Idaho is where I’m from, but. I was really young when I got married, I married my high school sweetheart. I needed a job. I didn’t have any money. So, I ended up taking in a little potato processing plant and I hated the job. It was just horrible. I didn’t like anything about it. So, one day I just got fed up. I said, that’s enough. And I joined the Air Force going to the Air Force. But I wanted to do was get into engineering. But they took one look at me and said, no, you’re not an engineer. You’re an air traffic controller. So that’s how I ended up doing. I was an air traffic controller in the Air Force for a total of twenty-two years. Left my first 20 years. I retired in. May of know it wasn’t August of twenty-one, and then when 9/11 hit, I was called back into active duty and had to serve another two years. So, I ended up spending twenty-two years as an air traffic controller. I was heavily involved in 9/11. I was comptroller in New York on 9/11, so I guess I really got stressed out. I mean, I was just burnt out and couldn’t do anything anymore for a while. So, I retired, moved back to Idaho and said, I’m not going to do anything but fish and relax. I found out this too much. It was great for fishing. So, I ended up going back to work. And of all things that most people can’t believe is I ended up going back to work at that same exact potato processing plant that I dated twenty-two years earlier. But, you know, at the time, it was a great job. It was very. I have to think of what you’re able to sit back, relax. Work, I loved it, it was just I really did love the job, it was just manual labor, but it was fantastic. I worked at about six months. And then. That’s when my life changed. Six months later, that’s when everything changed all at once. And on that day in 2000. Three, I went to work that morning, and it was a normal everyday morning, right? And that’s when I had my accident. So, tell me a little bit about your accident and if anybody who wants to know more, you’ve got a website where you talk a little bit more about it. You’ve got some resources. You’ve talked and presented many different places. Website is Brads helping hand dot com. But I’d love to hear a little bit about what happened, but obviously for the purpose of understanding how do we prevent these things from ever happening again. Right. What happened to start today was right off the bat, first thing in the shit that morning, my foreman came in and told me that had a guy call in sick. So, they were guys short and they had to clean some equipment. I told my supervisor, then I saw him and I said, you know, I’ve never done it before, but, you know, show me what to do, tell me what to do. I can do it. I can. And so, I went to a new job that morning and I had to create a big order. This augers about five feet across and about twenty-five foot long, and it was about the third or fourth quarter that I cleaned that morning, building up to that big. And as I was playing in it, I got distracted, I looked away and what I was doing at the time and next thing I knew, my hand was in the yogurt. Oh, my goodness. On the inside the machine. I was in the machine about eight seconds. Oh, my goodness. There was nobody buying me. I was by myself. And I knew as it was pulling the end of the auger through my mind was the only way I was going to live. I had to rip off my arm. Oh, my. And that’s what I did. Changed my life. I have no doubt in. So that’s a that changes everything, and I know when you present to audiences, sometimes you even present with your wife and you talk about kind of the impact on yourself, family and how change. But what were you thinking before that day? How did you frame yourself in safety? What was your perspective? You didn’t really like you had done a lot of different things in your career. What was your perspective on safety before that day? You know, my idea was. I’m good, I’m fast, I can think things through, right? And I didn’t have to worry about shaking because I wasn’t one of those dumb guys. Made a stupid mistake, right? That was my friend. It’s like, oh, give me a job, I can handle it. I’m good. You know, I’m fast. I could multitask like crazy and do some things at one time. That’s what I did as an air traffic controller. Of course, it is a job that does really handle a lot of information. Well, the same time, it’s probably that job. Right? And that job is nothing but safety. I mean, when it boils down to an air traffic controller is nothing but a safety guy. Yes. So, I didn’t. I always thought that second nature to me, I can handle that I don’t have to worry. And that’s really what I thought is I don’t get to worry about that. I mean, I could put my hand in your 50 times and pull it out and it’s not going to do anything. I love that story. I need that one little mistake. And that cop never. So, you know, I mean, it was just a matter of. You know, it’s going to happen to another guy. Other people make mistakes. I don’t. Right. That was my philosophy. I mean, it really was I didn’t realize it at the time. That’s where I was. That’s really what I was doing. And you know, I’ve heard this so many times, it won’t happen to me, the guy where this happened to, he’s not as good as me or something to that effect or I’m lucky that person wasn’t lucky. Or, of course, I’ve done this many times. It’s not going to happen to me. And that’s the sad part, is it can happen to anybody. It takes a split. Many people will say that was really stupid, it was, but I’m not a stupid guy. By no means, but I did it, you know, and I did something stupid, I thought I could get away with it and I could. So, what are some of the lessons? And I think I appreciate that you’ve taken that as a learning and trying to teach others to make a difference in the world. That is phenomenal. What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned and that you share with leaders in terms of making a difference in the workplace? What I did is after my accident, I went back into safety for the same company and worked in safety, and that’s what I started learning safety and start talking to people. I did some research on my accident. You found out, you know, it wasn’t just me. They were mistakes that were made by everybody all the way from the very top owner of the company. What did you do when you come out and talk to the people, it was always talking about production? We got to get to production up. We’ve got to get these things done quicker. He talked about safety. Did the notion like the bottom line, his production? But I would learn, you know, and that’s what I found out. That was a mistake that was made. And I boiled down to I wasn’t properly trained. They’d given me a job I hadn’t done before. There was a whole bunch of mistakes, including near misses, having stand near misses on a machine that never got reported. So, I started looking at it like it’s just not my fault. It’s all these people could have stopped it. I don’t blame them. And. I might have done the same thing. I don’t know, but it’s. I wish everything right now. Somebody would have stepped up and said something. Get involved, you see it, something that looks dangerous. Say something if you’re told to do something and you’re not sure how to do it. Stop them say, hey, what do you mean, what am I supposed to do here? I talk a lot about. Different things where people have made mistakes. Well, a lot of people will blame the foreman that I have a job I hadn’t done. For him, it was my brother. Well. And then he had to take care of me. He had to be the attorney that he had to take me down. He had to go get my arm out of the machine. Oh, my goodness, you won’t see any of that. Of course, I just made a simple mistake, too, but when you add up all these simple mistakes. It’s a huge consequence. And if it would have been me, it would have been somebody else later on. Right. If tell people to say something, get involved, do not let things go by, if you see something, say something. If you feel unsafe, say something. If you see somebody else doing something. It’s not safe or you don’t think looks right. Say something to try to get him in trouble, but you want to make sure that they’re safe. You don’t want to see it happen to somebody else any more than you don’t want to have to be yourself. I can tell you, I experienced. The suffering that I went through is nothing compared to what other people went through. That same day, you know, my coworker’s night, and then you break it down to your family and your wife. My wife actually, when I normally speak, reach out of her diary. Tell us what she saw that day. Tears me up every time I see it. Oh, it hurts so bad. It you know, luckily, I have a wife with I don’t know why this is every bit when I talk, I use dominoes. When I come out and speak at the plants, I use Domino’s as an example. You know, I could take Domino’s and put them up on a table and put names on the Domino’s all the way from the owner of the company to my supervisors, to my brother, to my trainers, to my coworkers and my second to the last. Domino has my name on it. Call it what it took to save my home is one person in that whole line. Including me. They would have stepped up and said something, I would still have my arm today. It is a simple but such a powerful message, say something, it goes down that everybody owns safety. It’s the workers, the leaders as the foreman. Everybody’s got a part to say and has an opportunity. And really that that sense of keep your eyes open. But I love the simplicity of something. Get involved, do something about it. Right. And that’s what I do. I talk to people now all over the world. I’ve spoken to China, Africa, Europe, almost every state in the United States, Mexico. All the same, people are the same everywhere. And when I go out and talk to them, all I want to do is get them to loosen up, get them to think about safety, and that’s what I do. And Medicaid is not. That’s all I do not say, and I loved every minute, which is phenomenal because you’re doing something you’re sharing, imparting some ideas. Can you share maybe some of the key lessons that you have for other workers like you, people that are listening, that are doing work where there could be a risk, could be a hazard. What are some of the things that obviously you talked about? Say something. Are there any other pearls of wisdom that you have that you share with them? If you don’t feel comfortable, stop, right, just think about it. I’ve talked to thousands of men and every one of them say to them up until they stop because they didn’t feel safe. He said, that’s what I want to hear. People are afraid to do it because they think they’re going to get in trouble, they think they’re going to question for it, if that’s the way that job is, you don’t want to work it anyway, right? No, just watch out for each other. You know, that’s a big you know, so it kills me near misses. People don’t want to say they screwed up and they made a mistake. But just step out the tent. Hey, guys, I did this because, you know, if you did it, somebody else, too, right? Work together, everybody has to work together, you can have zero action. Everybody works together, everyone. Be afraid to step up, say something like I said, everybody, the one thing that I want you to get out when they listen to me, just remember the dominoes, you know, and don’t watch them fall. Yes. It’s that simple. And I think when you talk about don’t be afraid to speak up to essentially stop work, I think leaders have a huge part in this because you have to create an environment where people feel safe to stop work, that they don’t feel there’s a ramification that you want to encourage those things as well, because I think that’s a simple action a leader could do to really drive a difference around stopping the work, pausing if you think there’s a hazard. Yeah, and tell your workers. If you have to tell them every day, remember, guys, safety’s number one. And they have been beat up by their actions. Yeah, and that’s too often miss, right, I say safety is number one, but I give you more on productivity. Go faster, right. Right. You can’t do that. You’ve got to. He said, you know, you’ve got to present data, you got to live that right. You’ve got to stop, stop work. Don’t do it. And when they do it, you don’t get them. You don’t get mad at them. You’ll never happen again. I had a guy come up one day, said, I won’t report in here because if I do, it goes on my record. And when it comes time for promotion, it’s points against me. Right now, I want to secure that company and told him that that’s bull crap because they didn’t know he had got out and got that information out. They had a system to do it anonymously online. They had. And the CEO of the company said, if I ever had a foreman come in here and fire somebody because they were a safety thing, you said that guy isn’t going to work for you anymore. But too often, too often, that doesn’t happen, right? I was actually just talking earlier today to somebody who is describing a CEO and a company that whenever somebody would report something is an issue, a topic, rather than say, I want to learn, they would descend and we get angry. And how could this happen? And so, people are learning was I don’t want that experience. So, I’m not going to say something. Right. And that’s what they need to be able to come out and do that every day. Yeah, absolutely. For you, you have to have their trust and the way to get their trust is you’ve got to back up what you say. I completely agree. Any other thoughts you’d like to share? I think your power, your story is so powerful. I love your example of the dominoes in terms of really showing how anybody could have stopped this. Any other pearls of wisdom you care to just share from your experiences. You’ve done so much to try to help organizations, leaders, team members to start thinking about how safety is so critical and something that everybody’s going to. You know. Everybody’s going to have to do their own thing. I don’t think there is a right way to do it; sometimes depends on the different personalities and stuff like that. The. Again, I just I keep going back to that communication, you’ve got to have those communication lines open all the time, regardless of who it is, you can’t be afraid to come up and talk. I’ve never talked to a CEO who said they would. You know, reward somebody for stuff like that, but people don’t know that, right? They just keep communications lines open all the time. And that’s what’s going to stop it. It really is. Communicate whether it’s on either end, whether you’re the listener, the talker, either one. That’s what you have to do. I mean. I just love watching when I get up and speak to people and I’ve got crowds of four or five hundred people out there and I can look down on somebody and they’re looking at me and they got tears running down her cheeks. And I know exactly what you’re going through. You know, I’ve done this. Right. I don’t want to hurt my wife. I don’t want to hurt my kids and that’s what I’m going to do if I continue doing what I’m doing. And that’s really important, I think I always say that to the people, you’ve got to make safety something that you own because you need to start thinking about why is it you keep yourself safe, like it’s really an investment in yourself into the experiences that we’re the people that you want to be around? And that’s the part where I do it for myself whenever I do anything. I’m always trying to think back to why is that so important? What experiences do I want to have, what’s important to me, and make sure that that’s what I’m focused on, what I am about to do something? Yeah, and, you know, I do it all the time, my wife now is it’s just amazing. I guess we literally stuck on the freeway. Where there’s a construction team working and my wife went over and said, what are you doing? You have no more protection or you do not have the potential. And she said, I’m going to call, OK, but you don’t get it done right now. So, what happens when she does that? They do it, but they do it. You know, one day she’s seen a guy working in a trench and all you could see was the top of his head. My wife, when I said, get out of that trench, there’s no showing here. There’s nothing to get out of there. Right. OK, I don’t have to. Oh, don’t leave me alone. I’m fine. I should go get out now or I’m going to start making some phone calls. And within a half-hour, they had Suring done on every bit of the line that they were working on. You know, my wife and I, we saved somebody’s life. Yeah, but that’s such a powerful message is you’re not going to be a bystander, you’re willing to stop, you’re going to say something which is exactly your message. Everybody has a part to say and everybody should be trying to get involved and say something and help others to keep safe. Love it. Well, I know we’re talking here just about a few minutes. My normal presentation with my wife last up to an hour and a half long. We got lots of stories to tell. And we went through a very generous it’s really cool. It’s really low. And that’s phenomenal. And then so if anybody is interested in hearing more, getting more details about the dominos and the presentation and thinks of this, the story can help the organization really shift. Thinking about the importance of safety. Your website, again, is Brads helping hand dot com. Brad, I really appreciate you coming on the safety guru sharing your story. It’s a very tough and difficult story to hear, but a message that’s so important for so many people to listen to. So, thank you and thank you for having me. Excellent. Thanks, Brad. Take care. Thank you for listening to The Safety Guru on C-Suite radio. Leave a legacy, distinguish yourself from the pack, grow your success, capture the hearts and minds of your team’s—fuel your future. Come back in two weeks for the next episode or listen to our sister show with the Ops guru Eric Michrowski.

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Brad and his wife, Dolores, are world-renowned safety motivational speakers who share their story in order to prevent tragedies like their own from happening to others. Their delivery is versatile enough to move audiences from laugher, to tears, and finally to solemn reflection. This talented team has inspired hundreds of thousands of industrial workers from all levels of management to look at the importance of safety in a new light and energy—and they can help your team too.

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