In Art Of Coaching Podcast

As with most things in life, context matters. And whether we intend to or not, our behavior changes depending on our current environment. Yes, being ourselves is important, but it’s not realistic (nor effective) to behave the same way in every situation. Instead, mastering the ability to adapt is key to executing our roles successfully.  

Stephen Pak has spent his life mastering the art of adaptability. Now a retired Major in the Air Force Reserves, Stephen spent 12 years active duty working as SWAT team leader and later a Special Agent in the Office of Special Investigations where he specialized in Counterintelligence Operations to disrupt spy and terrorist efforts domestically and abroad. After leaving active duty he spent time working on strategy consulting for intelligence agencies and Fortune 500 companies. He spent just under five years leading different businesses at Amazon and currently leads teams at Facebook making products safer for the community. 

Stephen and I cover: 

  • Context switching and how to be the best version of yourself in each role
  • How communication changes as you move up the leadership ladder
  • Managing stigma, expectations and assumptions when switching careers
  • Effectively leveraging past experiences to get the next job

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Stephen Pak  0:01  

As you move in your career, think about a growth trajectory chart or a bar chart. The tactical stuff is the things that you needed very early in your career. Like example, the X’s and O’s are really important. But as you grow in your career, like the state, by the time you’re a head coach or you’re leading an organization, it’s all those soft skills, the ability to communicate the ability to set a vision and have people follow you. Those are much more needed than the X’s and O’s later in your career and in the in, the more broader the organizations that you’re leading.


Brett Bartholomew  0:46  

Welcome to the Art of coaching podcast, a show aimed at getting to the core of what it takes to change attitudes, behaviors and outcomes in the weight room, boardroom classroom, and everywhere in between. I’m your host, Brett Bartholomew, I’m a performance coach, keynote speaker and the author of the book conscious coaching. But most importantly, I’m a lifelong student interested in all aspects of human behavior and communication. I want to thank you for joining me and now let’s dive into today’s episode.


It is not every day you have the chance to connect with learn from and listen to someone who is a senior manager at a global organization such as Facebook, who also worked at Amazon, got their MBA at Darden, and is a veteran. But that is exactly what we have in store today. With Stephen Pak Stephen’s, a retired Major in the Air Force Reserves. He spent 12 years active duty working as a SWAT team leader, and later a special agent in the Office of Special Investigations, where he specialized in counterintelligence operations to disrupt spy and terrorist efforts, both domestically and abroad. Now after leaving active duty, he spent time working on strategy consulting for intelligence agencies, and fortune 500 companies. He spent just under five years leading a different business or different businesses that Amazon including launching one to two hour delivery prime now and the growth for Kindle textbooks. But he also currently leads a team at Facebook who makes product safer for the community. His undergraduate degree in criminal justice was from the University of Maryland for any of you chirps out there. And as I mentioned, his MBA is from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. 


This was intimidating. And Stephen found me through an unlikely medium. Yes, the one that is often demonized social media, we share a lot of affinity, a shared affinity for all things leadership, and how to navigate communication and understanding that,  it’s not about rah, rah, it’s about understanding the roles of the follower, it’s about understanding your own communication tactics. More importantly, it’s about understanding true strategy in the workplace. Guys, I can’t be more excited to bring you this episode. And if you’re new to the art of coaching community, please understand, please remember, we have so many other things that cross domains here, whether it’s my book conscious coaching, our online courses, we have communication training that we have utilized with people who are in strength and conditioning my primary base where I started, but also individual, an individual who’s running for mayor. So these conversations about leadership behavior change how we evaluate great communication interests you please go to I promise we have something for you. Without further ado, I bring you Stephen Pak


Guys, you are jumping right into a conversation with me and Stephen Pak. Stephen, welcome to the show.


Stephen Pak  3:50  

Oh, thank you glad to be here.


Brett Bartholomew  3:52  

I always feel weird saying welcome to the show. Because I know off air I describe it as just a lunchtime conversation and then the show makes it really formal. But I really appreciate you taking the time to chat about a lot of things especially leadership oriented and with everything that you have going on.


Stephen Pak  4:08  

Oh yeah, I love your show. And I think the topics because they’re so diverse, really interesting and so happy to join in the conversation.


Brett Bartholomew  4:17  

Speaking of diversity, one of the things that drew my attention to you and this is I don’t want to tease the audience too much was your thoughts on leadership, this not being a one size fits all model which anybody that watches our show knows we’re really not about the rah rah stuff. We’re about being adaptable. You’ve been incredibly adaptable within your career. Now, guys, if you’re jumping in and you skip the bio, I’d urge you to go back but given the amount of positions you’ve held and the nuanced nature of those situations that you put yourself in as a leader, as a follower, as a professional, talk to me about has that ever wreaked havoc on you really knowing how to identify yourself in this space you reside in or how have you done that being a veteran and then being in tech and then Being in defense and all these kinds of things, talk to me a little bit about that.


Stephen Pak  5:05  

It’s definitely something I’ve wrestled with. Because at times, I’ve identified myself as an expert marksman. I’m a SWAT team leader, or I’m, really good at this thing. And then I have this fear of trying something new. But I have this lifelong desire of learning, and trying to grow myself and, challenge myself. And so I lean on those experiences. So when I go to the next thing, I lean on my experience of, I’m super confident in my ability to do a lot of these other things. And I have these experiences that I can look back on and say, Yes, I was successful. I didn’t know what I was doing then when I walked into that role, but I know that when I go into this new role, I can deal with ambiguity, I can deal with adapting myself to the situation and the people that what they need and what the situation needs. And so those are the things that I really lean on, but it really is a challenge. In the beginning stages of like, I think you called it, imposter phenomenon. Like that happens, right? And like it’s acknowledging it and continuing to move forward.


Brett Bartholomew  6:16  

Yeah. And I’m glad you brought that up. Because one question we’ve gotten, I don’t even know if I know how to answer it well, so I’ll, I think maybe you and I can teeter totter back and forth here is somebody once said to me, Hey, I’m really starting to learn as a coach and a leader that I need to get outside the X’s and O’s, whatever that means relative to your industry, right, just the tactics, I need to learn more about people and management and leadership, however, and this was their question, how much is enough? whether it is related to the tactics or nuances of your job before you really focus on higher tier management and leadership? how would you address that question of how do I know when I know enough from a tactician standpoint to branch into other forms of leadership coaching? And what have you?


Stephen Pak  7:01  

Yeah, it’s a good question. I think the way I think about it is its balance, right? And so, one it’s never enough, you’re continuing to grow like those skills are the ones that as you move in your career, think about a growth trajectory chart or a bar chart, the tactical stuff is the things that you needed very early in your career, like, example, the X’s and O’s are really important. But as you grow in your career, like let’s say, by the time you’re a head coach, or you’re leading an organization, it’s all those soft skills, the ability to communicate the ability to set a vision and have people follow you. Those are much more needed than the X’s and O’s later in your career. And the more broader the organizations that you’re leading.


Brett Bartholomew  7:47  

So with that, and given the organization’s you’ve been a part of, people hear this advice all the time, Stephen, but they don’t always take it seriously until, some author, some big name, celebrity or some aspirational self says it, you work at one of the largest organizations in the world is this more than just kind of the fluff that we hear or how to soft skills represent them selves every day, either in the job you have now, or, in any of your previous positions, if you’d rather talk about that, where was a hurdle, an obstacle where you’re like, Wow, this is really where I need to direct a lot of my education.


Stephen Pak  8:23  

I, this may not directly address the thing that you’re getting to, but we could probably come back to it. But I think one thing I like to talk to people about is right when they’re trying to get promoted, or right after they’ve been promoted. And the thing we talk about is the things that you were doing that made you successful at x level is not what’s going to make you successful at the next level. And so we try to pinpoint like the soft skills, and the ability to influence and in multiple organizations that I’ve been in the ability to influence and bring others along to your ideas, or to support other people’s ideas, because it’s very real to that there’s relational capital that you have to think about in an organization. And so my current organization, your ability to work with really large teams like that are cross functional, you have no direct, like responsibility or ownership of that team. They work for different leaders. And so you bring all these teams together, we need to get to a solution. And so the ability to hear and listen to what people’s perspectives are, what their concerns are, and then try to address them and make people feel like they’re heard is really a huge key to success at any level, but the further you move into an organization, it becomes more important.


Brett Bartholomew  9:47  

Yeah, I think you alluded to that. Well, I’d recommend anybody and guys, I’ll link it in the show notes. You had written an article on LinkedIn and you had it’s called on followership. And I think you mentioned you wrote this at the airport, is that correct? 


Stephen Pak  9:59  

Oh, I wrote it on a plane


Brett Bartholomew  10:01  

on a plane. Yeah. Okay, so I need to work on my listening skills. But on number five in that list, you had said, every leader needs their team to be successful. And when you see those areas, blind spots, so to speak, you do have this choice, right? One is complain and pick apart the leader and those around you or even attack the organization, which I think is fairly popular, somebody is not supporting you, or there’s not enough psychological safety or there could be whatever. And now or you say, be fine, you’re like, how do you leverage these strengths and experiences to support them? And do you think that becomes harder when leaders isolate themselves, and do identify as one thing? Because then they don’t have a rich reservoir? Or is Is there something else that can kind of lead to helping them navigate that?


Stephen Pak  10:48  

Well, it’s a amazing question. I think, yes, the Isolate anytime you isolate yourself as a leader, you’re missing perspective. And the thing that every leader has to consider is, how are your actions and the things that you do or perceived by your team? Are you being fair and equitable across your team, when you lead large organizations, that’s really key, it doesn’t mean you don’t invest in people or anything like that. It’s just making sure that you’re aware of how your actions are being taken. The The other thing I was thinking about, on that point of it’s your mindset of how do you react to negative things in your organization, one thing I’ve taken since I was just an individual contributor in the military, and through any organization I’ve been a part of, is, all of us can control what we do, right? And so what’s in my control, so if I don’t like something that’s happening within my team of four people, like I can control, I can try to change that, right? It’s my sphere of influence. And as your sphere of influence grows, that your ability to really help people or change the way like if you don’t feel like there’s psychological safety, you can create it in each of your relationships. And, or if you don’t like the way that the organization is going, like you can be a part of the problem solving. And to be fair, and I’ve gotten this feedback before, when I’ve, when I’ve posted things like this is yeah, that assumes that you have people who are receptive. And, so there, it is a two way street. So if you’re in a caustic organization, or team, and you’re trying to influence your bubble of sphere of influence, and no one’s like receptive to that, and, it’s not working. Like I’ve been a part of that I’ve failed at it, too. 


Brett Bartholomew  12:37  

I think we all do


Stephen Pak  12:39  

Yeah, and so like, it’s like best case scenario, this is how you should your mindset should be, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. And it’s how do you adjust to that?


Brett Bartholomew  12:47  

Yeah, and I think that brings an interesting piece, you mentioning a caustic organization. One thing that drives me nuts, and you and I have talked about this offline, is the pervasiveness of rah rah leadership, right? Like, we can just positivity mindset, our way out of every situation, we can come in with icebreakers with our teams, and some tips, and everybody’s gonna do really well. 


And you and I had talked a little bit, just offline about, well, when you have followers, and the research talks about this, who are have narcissistic traits, or they are kind of they can display toxic behaviors, that doesn’t mean they’re toxic people, right? It just means that there’s a fit a behavioral fit here, that’s not locking in, navigating that, what approaches have you learned, don’t work, right, like, and I guess, to be more specific with my question, we tend to see somebody who’s problematic. We try to listen to them, we try to make them feel heard, and we try to influence or inspire them out of it. Have you ever had to take a little bit more of a direct, heavy handed approach? When as a leadership book, and the advice in it failed you? And how did you pivot out of that? 


Stephen Pak  13:59  

Oh, man, 


Brett Bartholomew  14:00  

it’s a deep question. So feel free to attack it any way that you want?


Stephen Pak  14:04  

For sure. That is a deep question. Because I think as a leader, you fail a lot. And you get a lot of feedback about from yourself. And, I think you every leader has this internal dialogue of like, Man, I could have invested here and I would have prevented this thing from breaking or this person from breaking like, those things happen, right? And you try to reflect on okay, what could I or should have done differently? And I think the real leadership challenges I’ve had or when I couldn’t pull myself out of the situation, like I was so deep and mired into that person’s problems or the organization’s problems that I couldn’t get perspective. And when you reach the point of, I literally don’t know what I should have done differently. I have to, talk to my friends, the people like party or counsel right have have these this group of people that you trust, they know you, they know how you approach situations and they can give you some have real feedback because you’ve lost perspective. And so in situations like that, I think anytime you try to follow a book, you can, if you don’t have balance of the situation, if you don’t have balance of what are the people need at the time, and sometimes you need a rah rah leader, because it’s that situation, and those people need it because they’re down. But a lot of and a lot of organizations, what they need is clear vision, clear communication, and the ability to communicate with you is not just communication downward or to the organization, and also has to be the to the leaders. And so those are the things that are usually more important than the rah-rah-ness, it’s adjusting, and adapting. So if you work in any of these really large tech companies or in businesses, what they need are clear communicators, what they need are people who can listen and help enable the really smart people, you’ve hired your organization to do the great work that they want to do. 


Brett Bartholomew  16:04  

Yeah, I think that’s, and I’m going to come back because I want to ask you a question regarding clear communication. But if I can share for a moment, something that I know that failed me is, we know that when we read a lot of these books, or we try to become leaders, for me, a lot of it is managing your emotions, but not in the way we may think I think a failure of mine, if I can share it is that you, when you think of leaders, at least, what the best kind of leader is in the Western world, we always kind of espouse somebody who’s calm and rational, right? And they can take their time and be really pragmatic. And I remember I’ve tried taking that approach once when an athlete was fairly emotional, and even when an operator I had been working with and I said, Hey, tell me how you feel. Okay, I can appreciate that, I didn’t say and understand that. I said, I can appreciate that. And what do you think are some solutions and this and that, and I got bombarded with just like, Man, can you cut this shit? can you just be real with me and put this away, and then I realized, I just took off the filter. And I was like, Yo, I’d be pissed too if this happened. And in reality, this is kind of how I’d want to behave. And this is things that I do and, I leveled with him, because I can be fairly irascible, like, I grew up as a little brother, Stephen, right, you get your butt kicked a lot, especially when you’re four years younger than your sibling. And the one thing I can lean on was my temper. And what was odd is that the day that I learned that sometimes my temper was actually a superpower, it was good, like showing somebody that I had a motion, and that they weren’t these like, socially acceptable ones all the time was okay, whereas another coach who didn’t show that and tried to be the, buttoned up leader, people just said, I can’t relate to him or her, like, he doesn’t know, it seems like an automaton. Talk to me a little bit about that, if any of that resonates with you.


Stephen Pak  17:52  

It absolutely resonates. I even go into the point of as I think about, as a leader, there have been times where sometimes I was the wrong leader for the person or the organization. And, and I was trying, like, I have a framework for how I lead. And guess what that framework did not resonate with a person on my team, and they’re like, you’re full of crap, this doesn’t work. For me, I don’t like this, this is what you should do differently. And I think the thing that all of us have to do is say like, Okay, is there a better fit for you? It maybe it’s not on this team? Maybe it’s not like on my team. And it’s not like a negative on you. It’s just like, we’re not fitting in this in? And so it does make you question like, Is there something I need to do to adjust my framework? Is there something I need to do to adjust my style to ensure that I’m reaching this person or this team, that whatever I’m doing is not resonating?


Brett Bartholomew  18:48  

Yeah, I’d love to hear more, if you’re willing to share about that framework, you brought up a really important term that I think goes hand in hand with communication, it’s fit. And there are times where, somebody can feel like, let’s say, somebody got fired, or somebody was, it just didn’t work out in an organization, however, that transpired. We tend to take it personally. but we don’t see that in athletics. When we talk about the weight room to the boardroom, or the locker room to the boardroom. athletes get traded all the time. Sometimes it may be personal, but oftentimes, hey, it doesn’t work with that offensive system or that defensive scheme. But in work, we can take it very personally, and sometimes you’re right. It’s just, hey, this isn’t where you can flourish or this isn’t where we can flourish together. It’s not a personal thing. We both gave it a good try. But would you mind kind of going in on that framework a bit?


Stephen Pak  19:39  

Yeah, I would tell you, it’s definitely evolved so early in my career, again, leading a SWAT team or something like that. I was very, here’s the line. If you don’t meet my standard of excellence, you’re out. And if you’re on that line, you’re out like, I’m just going to hold this really hard, rigid line and if you couldn’t meet it , you’re like, You’re not worth my time. And obviously, that’s a very immature way of thinking about things. And as I grew, I had leaders who helped me understand that like, everybody has a superpower, everybody has strengths that they can provide to the organization, and to stop viewing people as black and white in, in or out, but more of the, where can we leverage their strengths in our teams? And so the way I think about my leadership framework is really about okay, how can I when I talk to you, what are your superpowers? What are the things that energize you? What are the things that you feel like, if I did this my entire day, like, I would be flying high, and I feel like I’m doing my best work. And vice versa, what are the things that drain you. And so the example I give to my teams are like, I love to context switch, I love to be in rooms with people and talk to them about their problems and help them unblock problems are solved the things that they’re trying to solve, that are important to them. That gives me energy. And I would love my data look like that. Luckily, I’m in a job that allows me to do that where literally it’s overload of context switching. But I really enjoy that. The flip side that I share is I would get drained if I spent my entire day in code, or if I was just doing analysis all day, just like crunching. And I did that for a week straight. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, or I can’t do it. It just means I’m not getting energy from it. And I’m probably not doing my 100% best work if I if that’s what I’m doing all day.


Brett Bartholomew  21:34  

Yeah, no, I think that helps a lot. And I want to keep on one term and Pardon my ignorance. But I think it’d be good for our audience to define context switch. You know, when you when you say that, can you give us an operational definition? And then some examples of what you mean?


Stephen Pak  21:49  

Sure, I guess my definition would be that. Like, when you run from one meeting, or one situation and you’re literally talking about completely different topics, different types of problems, so like, very real world scenarios that you’ll find leaders in. So I can like when I was at Amazon, I would go from one meeting where I’m meeting with someone on my team who’s thinking through like a product problem, like we have this customer facing issue, how do we solve it, we have these potential solutions, and you’re talking through what are the pros and cons? What does the data tell us? Flip you walk, into the next room, 30 minutes later, you’re talking through a financial model of how your business performed for the week, and you’re leading the team to think through like, what are the big things that matter here that we should actually go and fix? Flip Now you’re going into a room with a design team, and get in trying to give feedback of like, what do we think this new design proposal will be in? Is it the right solution, then you’re going to meet with three of your VPS and trying to explain what is your entire business doing? And what are the trade offs that you’re making? What is your long five year strategy? Those are all completely different problems and mindsets and the way you show up in each of those really matters.


Brett Bartholomew  23:02  

Yeah, that’s really clear. And I appreciate that, I think, when we look at Context being defined as the situations and circumstances where something occurs, that has been a huge struggle point of mine lately is how do I balance a PhD topic and a new book that I’m writing or being a podcast, host, and then being a dad, and then after that, being able to work on a project and then certain times a years, I’ll still, work with athletes. And so, people will ask me sometimes, how do you manage information overload. And for me, I always try to pair it with a certain context. I also have tried to create a ritual you might laugh at this and feel free to one thing that’s helped me I mean, even after I’m done with this podcast today, and I need to go work on a related but very different topical thing is I try to create something that is a clear separation of that, that might be taking a walk, that might be taking a shower, that might be any kind of activity that allows my brain to just turn off for a second absorb what was and then prepare for what is or what’s going to be do you have anything like that like that you do? Is that is that absurd? And tell me because I’m a aspiring leader. So if you have better tips, I want to know


Stephen Pak  24:15  

No, i You’re 100% right, like you need to create these mental breaks right? And so yes, I go on walks as well. It’s like sometimes it’s listening to a podcast sometimes it’s a walk in the evening to basically break my mind from thinking about all the topics that your day just took in right and so it sometimes it’s been some people will go in social media, some people will read a news, things like that. The things I’m wary of is taking in new inputs, right? So if you’re in information overload your context switching a lot, it’s actually not good for you, or at least not good for me to go and read the news and then like literally try to process what’s happening in the news, right? I have to create time in which I’m We have to intentionally do that when my brain is in a place where I don’t have to literally think about the next thing and be prepared. And so like some of the things that you’re talking about is, for example, if I’m going to go speak to a few 100, people, like, I’m going to create a block of time before that, because I know that’s how I operate best. Like, if I want to come in with the energy that I want to show up with, I need to create the spaces for me to be prepared for that. And I can’t go back to back to back, walk into a room a few 100 People speak like, it’s just not going to work for me. I work with leaders who can and it’s, they’re amazing. But for me, like each individual has to identify what it is that they need.


Brett Bartholomew  25:37  

Yeah, I think that should be inspiring to people, because we have folks that will listen to the podcast that will feel and I know I was one of them. And so I can fall into the trap that every day has to be filled with input, right? Wake up and you take it you read an article or read a book when you walk you listen to a podcast when you do this. And it can be great for when you’re creating content when you’re ideating, what have you. But there needs to be a point where it stops and you do something fairly mindless, and whatever that may be to you. So you mentioned you do walk and what have you. Is there anything that you do and I know you have children? So this is limited to some degree with that. But is there anything that you do that if you told somebody, Hey, this really helps me kind of just blank slate, reset myself? What have you that somebody would consider unconventional? Meaning it’s not exercise or reflection or what have you? Is there anything there that that people may think would be? Oh, I never thought of that.


Stephen Pak  26:33  

It’s actually something our resiliency teams talk to us about, which is, if you’ve been through something that’s really stressful, there’s research that shows that playing a game like Tetris where your mind is engaged, but on something very different. So like, I’ll open up a Tetris app, and it would actually it helps like, memories or like track graphic events from like, attaching to your memory. And so that’s like a weird one that like most people wouldn’t think of, of like, Oh, really. So if you’ve just witnessed something really rough or your normal part of your job, a senior police officer and you see something really, rough, if you don’t want that to stick, there’s a lot of research that shows that like something like that actually helps those memories not attach,


Brett Bartholomew  27:21  

I think that’s super helpful. Shifting gears context switching. Yeah, I think something that a lot of our audience can relate to. And something that brought us together in a way is, and we talked about it a little bit earlier, when you switch roles when you become when you transition whether from a leader to one organization to another, something that can follow that as stigma. Now you have a background, that’s military oriented. And now you work in tech, I think that’s something that the world has seen more and more of now, there’s a lot of I think that leadership switch or the co linearity there, especially for military is, can be a little bit more, I don’t want to use the term obvious. That’s poor communication. But I think it makes sense for some organizations I know, in our world, a lot of times strength coaches or people in the performance realm, the larger world doesn’t really know what that is, right? You can be perceived as a personal trainer, this. So I know that I’ve had to work to shake stigma of like, hey, not just a weight room guy. Did you have to do any of that when you moved from military to TAC? or what have you? And can you talk to us a little bit about that?


Stephen Pak  28:25  

hundred percent, you’re spot on. And I think you still find it, and it’s getting way better, because there’s a lot more nonprofits and organizations out there who are helping, not only veterans, but also employers understand, like the value that you can bring with a veteran on your team. And so I think initial stigmas that I faced when I first entered tech it so I got out of the military and active duty in 2010. And trying to get a role in tech was really hard. going to graduate school was my path. But there are many more paths now. That opened up doors. And what I found and what you still find is a lot of people when you talk about what’s the obvious fit is people think operations, they think the best places, okay, they can lead people they can build processes. And so I’m going to throw them into a warehouse, or I’m going to have them manage these type of operational problems, and they also come in with some preconceived notions. So when the people in the military that often your peers are you have a lot of blue collar folks who are coming from, really diverse backgrounds and all over the world, right? 


So, for me, I’m the first person to graduate from college, in my family. And you see a lot of that these people who are very bootstrap like they’re going to school at night. They’re in the military, and they’re persevering through tons of ambiguity. They’re getting moved every couple of years. So they’re having to restart school, all those things. So it teaches them a ton of grit, it teaches them to problem solve, it teaches them to prioritize, like what really matters at the time. So then flipside, when you move over to the tech, what you see is a lack of diversity and some of those backgrounds. And so what I found when I joined tech, is that there were a lot of people who had not actually didn’t know any veterans, no one in their families, none of their friends. And so what, a lot of times what veterans find is, they’re an ambassador, for every military branch, they now are just grouped as you are an army, which is, there’s multiple branches, like everybody just assumed you’re in the army. And they also like, I found that some of my leaders would assume things about me, you’re just really good at taking, taking orders and going and doing the thing. And great military organizations are not like that actually, like a really good military organizations, at least the ones I’ve come from, they’re looking for great ideas and solutions everywhere in the organization. And they the best ideas bulk themselves up. They’re not like a very hierarchical, like, you will do this. And there’s times for that, for sure. But, I found that, like, that’s the biggest challenge to, the, like a stigma that that I’ve had to overcome in, tech initially. And then you go to different organizations, and it’s our job as every veteran to go and, show, like be the example of excellence in every area. And not just those things that are we have this positive stigma in our favor, right?


Brett Bartholomew  31:41  

Yeah, yeah. And to draw attention to yet another article you had written this was that tips for veterans to communicate their experiences in interviews. And I think you did a really good job. And admittedly, you introduced me to a framework I hadn’t heard before is, you mentioned the star framework, right, they should be able to explain, you’d mentioned a veteran should be able to explain several impactful thing that they’ve done in the military and post military, through looking at this framework and star is situation task action result. And I thought you did a really good job of the co linearity of saying, hey, and I view the same as, training conditioning coaches, we all have to deal with ambiguity to some degree. You guys do it, obviously, in a far more kind of life and death fashion, we may have to do with a star athlete that all of a sudden blew out their knee can’t do this, what’s the contingency? How are we going to adapt to this, but we’re all entrepreneurs in our own role. And so, is this something that you think that people really have to practice? Do you think that a certain level of reflection and mindfulness of just saying, like I always try to get people helpful activities of saying What’s something you do in your job? And then pick another career, even if you’re not interested in going in that career? Just as a thought exercise? Think of how that same thing is done in that job? Meaning, how did you get really good at talking about this? How did you start to? Are you just a reflective guy? Do you dissect this? Did you do really poorly in a lot of interviews? What helped you?


Stephen Pak  33:11  

I don’t think I’m a great interview. So like, if, if people were interviewing me, I never feel like I’ve done a good job of, explaining the experiences that I’ve done. And I have 100%, like what you just said, I have failed miserably, where I just couldn’t connect with what the interviewer was asking me for.


Brett Bartholomew  33:30  

Oh, boy, I’m doing that to you.


Stephen Pak  33:32  

But no, no, no. On the flip side, I’ve also been I’ve interviewed well over 500 people as a part of in my roles in tech. And I’ve seen and I’ve gone to the top business schools and interviewed there. And what I find is that the people who have those narratives and who have, you don’t have to have a bunch, you need probably five, five, strong examples in your career of where you can address the very common questions that are going to come up about how you dealt with ambiguity, how you, exceeded expectations, how you serve as the team, those type of things. If you have five great examples, I think they will resonate in. So just thinking through those. And honestly, part of that was going to grad school and like they, they kind of prepare you to have those, buttoned up and ready to go.


Brett Bartholomew  34:29  

Yeah, no, I think that’s helpful. Especially give me a number of what are five examples. I think the irony is sometimes we can think of them when we’re just having a casual conversation. I know I tried to pack a number of them in my book, but then the irony is if I’m asked them I could be like, I swear I have a 300 page document that details this right like. So let’s flip that a little bit. You mentioning you’ve interviewed over 500 people and whether or not you’re in a role. Well, let me ask you this. Are you in a role now, where you actively will interview or seek out candidates or what have you, or is that? Yeah. Okay, so we talked about how you came from a non traditional background, do you when you guys, let’s say, an opening comes up, at Facebook or any of the other organizations you are part of? How do you do you ever look at non traditional roles like you and I connected, right? I’m in human performance, but how do you? How do you kind of seek out these folks where you’re saying, alright, we need somebody for X role, or I need somebody in leadership. I’m gonna look laterally here, I’m gonna see who piques my like, how do you go about finding the diamonds in the rough, so to speak, and saying, Hey, you ever think about crossing boundaries here and coming to a different thing here? That makes sense?


Stephen Pak  35:41  

Yeah, I would tell you, this is the thing that in the organization, I’ve been a part of these tech companies that I’ve been a part of have been amazing at this. Like we generally my general principle is I look for excellence. So when I’m looking at a resume, I’m not looking for you have done the exact job that we’re trying to hire for I’m looking that you are a rockstar in the thing that you do. And so like that’s in what you find these tech companies doing is they are looking for that sometimes, like example, the more senior you are, the more specialized you need to be right. So it doesn’t apply to everybody, right? But when you’re talking about like, coming out of grad school, or you’re maybe a couple years out of undergrad, those types of things, and we’re interviewing for those, we look for people that Excel that, they can solve problems, they take initiative, and they’re just great at what they do. And then what we try to do is we have a framework for how we interview and we’re looking for behavioral examples of how you’ve exhibited the things that will make you successful in our organization. And it’s a lot less about like your very specific experience. And so give you a great example where of an interview, I just completely bombed, which was, I was interviewing for a product team. And the questions were around, like, how would you start a streaming service at our company? And what are all the factors that you would think about? And so I started thinking about it, I’m listing them out, and I didn’t have a great framework for like, how I would build it out. How would I price it? Because the answer they wanted me to get to is, what would I price it at? Oh, yeah. And in a completely bombed, bombed the interview 


Brett Bartholomew  37:22  

just say, look at competitors.


Stephen Pak  37:26  

No, I thought about inventory, like, here are the things you need, like you obviously need a bunch of artists in the music, I would think about like, so how does that compare to our competitors? Like the offerings like What is the experience? Like those types of things? Like those are all good? What I didn’t think about because I didn’t know, because I was coming out of the military is like, Did I check with legal on the digital rights? Because I didn’t know that? Because I had, how would I know that? Right? 


Brett Bartholomew  37:56  

Yeah, yeah.


Stephen Pak  37:57  

And so at the time, I was, well, this sucks, like, How would I ever know that? And so like, if you were a, if I was coming from a product management role, I would have known that but like, so that was an example of like, where someone would they were looking for pretty specific Tech experience. And I completely bombed it. Because I didn’t know because I had been in that space yet


Brett Bartholomew  38:18  

And what a phenomenal example, because there are some things, man, there’s a lot of touch points here. I want to try to not talk your ear off. But like, for example, I had been in a legal situation at a relatively young age that that is never anything I’d want to put on my resume. Now, it was a simple business thing, right? It’s not like it wasn’t like murder in the first degree. And I had to hire somebody to get me off. But like, that gave me such an incredible experience with how to look at communication, how to look at running a business, how to look at contracts and contract negotiation, that I feel like that gave me a tremendous leg up when we’ve created even speaking contracts, online courses, protected ourselves, from those standpoints, but it’s never something I could communicate on a resume. And then you wonder if like, let’s say, you were interviewing me, and you say, oh, talk about a hardship or what have you? Do I bring up Hey, at this age, I was in a legal battle. These are things I didn’t know. Maybe I’m embarrassed by that. Maybe that knocks me but you’re like, oh, wait a minute. So you’re a guy that’s worked in performance, but you have an understanding of legalities of things that’s led to you creating more robust contracts. This could be a great asset. It just becomes so tricky from a disclosure standpoint. Right. I think it also is good to hear you say that, the resume doesn’t matter so much in terms of Yeah, we want to know if you’re a rockstar at what you do. But there might not be things you want to hide. 


And maybe I misinterpreted this, So correct me if I’m wrong. I remember one point, a video game company, a larger company had wanted an employee was like, Hey, I read your book. I’d like you to come speak in our organization. I’m going to pitch you right. And they came back a couple of weeks later and said hey, it was a no go and I said Well, would you mind me asking why it’s all good feedback, because I had given them a media kit and what have you. And they said, well, they just noticed a lot of your background is in sports performance. And they’re looking for somebody that’s,  more like a and they literally named dropped, Sheryl Sandberg. And I said, oh, so like you’re gonna reach out. Now there might be a little bit of a price difference here. And I don’t know, Cheryl’s availability, right. But what they looked at because on my CV, it had showed my strength and conditioning experience. So then I thought I looked at my wife and I go, do I need to hide that? I go, do I now need to like send people a media kit, because I also talked about the cup, but it just becomes tricky of knowing really how to represent yourself. So you sidestep the stigmas and biases. What advice would you have given in that moment? is that something somebody that should hide is is do they need to highlight something else? What would you do?


Stephen Pak  40:52  

It’s interesting. So on your resume, what I would say is like just sharing how you rock it, right? Like the things that you’re great at, like, what are the results that you drove and like you’re responsible for? Like, everybody has like scope and big things that you’re a part of? But what are the things that you solved and like what you brought to the table, but I would tell you, Brett, like in that situation, I really think about like customer fit, right? So in your situation, that wasn’t a good customer fit. Because they that organization, whoever the decision maker was, wasn’t valuing your experience and what you were about to bring to them. And for you, that’s not a good fit, because you want people who get it, right, you want people who understand exactly what you’re bringing in to that room. And we have made mistakes. Let me take a step back. Anytime, like we think about bringing in guest speakers and things like that. It’s often someone’s like a lovin thing on their list that they need to go research someone to bring in, they need to go they have this budget. And, so people don’t do the due diligence, right? So in this scenario, what they should have done would be like, do the due diligence to understand like, what is your message and they would understand it’s not just about athletic coaching, it’s much broader, right? It’s about actually, how do you gain by in how do you lead teams? How do you actually get people to do the things that you need the organization to do? That’s very different, right. And so to, they have to hear that, 


I can tell you about a scenario where we brought someone in, and it was a complete misfit for what our employees needed to hear, because it was a veteran who was just way too graphic and way too, like, rah, rah gung ho and that’s not who you we necessarily needed in that situation. And for that those set of employees, what we needed was someone who was much more deliberate, maybe someone who was more thoughtful. It’s okay, if they were a veteran, like we wanted that. But we wanted to highlight what we wanted. We didn’t want like that specific message to be given to our employees. And so that’s the thing that we want people to be thinking about is like, What message are you trying to send?


Brett Bartholomew  43:02  

Yeah, no, that’s helpful. What message are you trying to send me in the key point there, I always have found it fascinating on the outside looking in at how some organizations world class will bring people in that, maybe somebody worked with one person for 30 minutes, and then they’ve created a speaking career. And it’s like, man, and this is certainly I’m gonna use the name of an organization here, but it’s not a real example. Let’s say Deloitte and Touche, maybe they just needed 30k that they need to drop in the marketing budget, right? And now, all of a sudden, this guy that talks about let’s call it the way, hey, I have the way tell me the way show me the way. And I’m like, what, what are these people getting out of this? and, but it is fascinating, looking at this and being introspective, as introspective as you are. I do want to ask you a simple but tough question. If you’re open to it. Are you good with it?


Stephen Pak  43:49  

I wanted to add one more thing to what you were talking about your resume, 


Brett Bartholomew  43:53  

please. Yeah. 


Stephen Pak  43:54  

So the resume, I would say that one best practice is to actually have different resumes. Yeah, I agree. Really neat. We’ve done so in your in your case, you’re talking about a different set of marketing materials? Like yes, you should. And so for people who are applying for a couple of different fields, you should have resumes targeted to those fields. So it is relevant, like you want to make it as easy as possible for whoever the reader is to understand why your experience is relevant to that field.


Brett Bartholomew  44:22  

Yeah, no, I think that’s helpful. Because what and just one thing that helped me do that, as I said, guys, this is no different than Nick Saban or somebody else like coaches, because I think that retort was well, we’ve never really had coaches come and speak and I go well, I assure you that Pete Carroll’s and Nick Saban’s, do I saw a lecture of Nick Saban speaking at a car sales show here in Atlanta, like talking about, hey, how sales in sports is like sales in this, but it’s so fascinating the way we perceive the world around us. Right? I mean, selfish question. When you first found out about me and we connected, would you? Did you have any idea what a strength and conditioning coach was I give you when you heard that term what’s the association that came to mind?


Stephen Pak  45:05  

So I do lift, and I do follow strength and conditioning. And so like, I have my own routine. And so I’m pretty well versed. And I know there’s a wide range of people who are very knowledgeable. And also having worked out in CrossFit. I’ve also had wonderful experiences of like, really intentional coaches, and I’ve had people who can really get folks hurt. And so I’ve been on the wide spectrum. And so when I think about strength and conditioning, I think about that range. Like  there’s people who are really, really great coaches, who are very deep into the research of how do you improve the person that you’re working with that, like, here’s a broad paintbrush for everybody. And then there’s also people who would literally just scream at everybody that walks in the room. And so that was my context, in how I thought about strength and conditioning, obviously, I had been listening to your podcast and, had a little bit more context of like, what you and what your message was about?


Brett Bartholomew  46:01  

Yeah, I just always think that’s interesting, to get an idea of how we find out about one another. And what I was going to ask you prior, and I’m glad you went back and made the point about the resume and how you communicate things? Do you consider yourself a clear communicator?


Stephen Pak  46:18  

I don’t, and it’s probably one of those things where I think our communication skills are something that we have to continually work on. Yeah. And so the things I think about are my ums, my pauses,


Brett Bartholomew  46:34  

disfluencies, here and there.


Stephen Pak  46:36  

Right. And this is something I’ve been intentional about, how can I grow it? I’ve considered hiring, like a vocal coach, all these type of things, right? To help me be more influential. The reality is, and I think a lot of your listeners, do you have the time? Do you have the money? Like, I’m a father of three children that are under under six? And so it’s not realistic? And so what I have to do is okay, what are the small things that I can pay attention to that will help me communicate effectively, in the reality is, I have to think about what forum so in my one on ones, each person has a different way of receiving information. And so I need to make sure I’m tailoring my approach to them. This goes into context switching. And when I go into different rooms, I need to understand what is the audience their need and want? And who’s the decision maker in the room? So if you’re in a room of 30 people, 50 people, 100 people, who were the three people or a couple people that like I’m trying to reach and make sure that hear the message I’m trying to send?


Brett Bartholomew  47:37  

Yeah, I think that’s helpful in that. That’s really specific, with you being in tech. Now, a question I often get asked is, well, how do you measure or evaluate good communication? And we’re doing a lot of research in the medical space of this dichotomy between does my clinician get me? And do they get it? Right? And, we look at communication. And I think this ties into the question I just asked you, great communication isn’t so much, hey, you have flawless speeches? No, disfluencies, it’s a byproduct, or what we see as a byproduct is enhanced efficiency, more trust, right? A lot of transparency. How do you guys measure or evaluate whichever term you want to use? Great communication in your organization? If you don’t mind me asking?


Stephen Pak  48:21  

It’s a great question. So you have to think about like, what are the we’re global, right? And so we have people who are in multiple time zones, from Singapore to California. And so a lot of our communication is written. And so how we measure that is we put out frameworks for people to use that makes it clear, why should they read it, because when you’re at these tech companies, there’s information flowing nonstop. And what you need to be able to communicate is like, what’s the so what so we use something simple, like a device like a TLDR, too long, don’t read TLDR. And so it’s essentially in the military, they call it a bluff, bottom line up front. But it’s essentially a summary of, here’s this really long research or really long thing that we looked into, and here’s the problem, the actions we took and the results of that. But then the TLDR is like if you’re consuming tons of information, the summary tells you do I need to read further. And so we try to build that into our teams. And then also, we give feedback on that, here’s what we need. And if you can standardize communication whenever you’re across a broad organization, so let’s say you lead several 100 people, if you can have consistency and how you receive information. So if you’re the leader receiving all these emails, that consistency will help you gain context faster, and also help you know when you need to read further.


Brett Bartholomew  49:52  

Yeah, I like that a lot. The beloved TLDR it’s essentially Hey, don’t bury the lead, right? And it’s funny because it’s a form have marketing in and of itself to a degree. I mean, in scientific journals, you’ve got to do the abstract and while certain people bemoan, oh, don’t just read the abstract Well, I’m sorry. The abstract is going to give you insight as to should you read further, because some people just purchase some people will publish research, just, to substantiate their paycheck. Not all research is helpful. Not at all information is helpful, right? 


Listen, I want to be responsible with your time and I want to get you out of here. So we just got a couple of hotseat questions, and then you’re off. Is that okay? 


Stephen Pak  50:30  

Sounds great. 


Brett Bartholomew  50:30  

Beautiful. All right. Now speaking of context, switching, and speaking of our affinity for kind of getting rid of leadership BS that’s out there and helping people realize there’s not just one way to be a leader, I’m going to give you a quote, and it’s a common leadership quote, and you’ve got to give me kind of, hey, where do you agree with it? And then when do you think it’s not true? And, and just to give you a disclaimer, so you can feel safe? anybody listening to this? This is a game alright? So it doesn’t necessarily reflect my or Stephens views. He literally has to argue against something that may even be in arguable. All right, so we’ve put it out there, it’s safe. Everybody knows the context. There are no bad teams, just bad leaders. There are no bad teams, just bad leaders. Give me a point where you agree, and a time where you’re like, Nope, that is straight trash.


Stephen Pak  51:21  

It’s interesting. what do I think about that? I think I have an aversion anything negative. And so my focus wouldn’t be on the bad leader, like the way I think about that would be what is the team doing to make that leader better? And, I’ve gotten feedback of like, hey, it’s not my job to make the leader better, I would argue it is. Like, if I feel like my leader has blind spots, or they’re not doing something that I see the organization needs, it’s my job as a team member to call it out, like, Hey, Brett, I need you to do this thing differently, it will make our team more effective. And so that’s how I think about it’s not just, I’m not about assessing blame, I’m about like fixing things. And so if that’s what I get from that, quote, that’s more of like, I’m trying to say like, this is a bad leader. And I’ve worked for great leaders and really bad leaders. And so that’s how I think about it every time like my job was to help make great leaders even better, or support them. Or if I have a really terrible leader, what are the things I can try to change and help them?


Brett Bartholomew  52:31  

Yeah, no, I think that helps. And I think that goes back to the value to a degree of ambiguity. we have a neighbor who works for Lockheed Martin and I were talking the other day about, how, we have a role at art of coaching, that has very high ambiguity. I mean, we’re a company that’s got to adapt during a pandemic, right, small business, adapt, and pandemic. And so we require, we don’t have this kind of collectivist culture, where you are gonna get guidance and hand holding every step of the way, we are going to ask you metaphorically to do a 1080 10 Or literally, hey, 10% vision set, here’s the sandbox, you got to plan 80% creation, at least a wireframe or whatever term you want to use. And then the final 10, what have you and, and there are a lot of people and rightfully so that are just like, I couldn’t survive in that, I couldn’t have, but I would argue we all need to learn how to survive in that, because that’s essential to being a father or what are your thoughts on that? And I promise is the last one, it will let you go through their summer preview?


Stephen Pak  53:26  

No, I love this question. And the reality is, Brett, like some people will are going to thrive in that. And we have absolutely, we have a lot of roles on our teams like that, where we need people who can thrive and the hard thing is, which we could dive super deep into is like, how do you actually assess someone’s ability to deal with ambiguity when you’re interviewing them? Because we’ve missed Right? Like, we’ve made mistakes, and like, the person’s everybody says they can but like, how do you actually assess it? And behavioral style interviews is the challenge. The second part is I would like to call out that like, not every job needs that. And so that’s right, it’s to a degree, yes, you need to have flexibility to be able to deal with ambiguity in your life. But there are some people, for example, like some of our engineers, I need them to be super rigid. I need them to be super focused and very clear. And, these are the business requirements. And here’s what we’re going to drive for example, I don’t have a lot of ambiguity thrown at them. Because I want them super focused. It’s similar to like, there’s certain just certain fields in which you don’t want that and don’t need that. So it’s trying to find the right fit for the role.


Brett Bartholomew  54:33  

Yeah, no, and you’re right. I think that there are certain jobs that that don’t need that. And that’s okay. I mean, we look at jobs, certain jobs in education, certain jobs in service industries, certain jobs, in engineering those things, hey, there’s a step by step mechanical process to do these things. And you can thrive in that, right. Yeah. And that’s, but that’s not the nature of tech. And that’s certainly not the nature of a lot of pandemic oriented kind of business adaptations. We’ve got to make now but I appreciate the thoughtfulness version of that, 


Stephen, you have been more than kind with your time. I know you’re a private person, I want to respect that. So I’m not going to ask, feel free to share if you want where people can reach out to you. I mean, I recommend they check it out at LinkedIn, because you’ve written articles there. Do you have a preference there? Do you want to stay in the shadows a bit?


Stephen Pak  55:19  

LinkedIn is great. That’s, that’s sufficient. I’m not trying to write a book or blog post or anything like that. Right now, it’s the medium in which I’m communicating. So that would be great.


Brett Bartholomew  55:29  

Well, I thank you. And hopefully, I asked some questions that made you think and reflect I look forward to our future discussions. And, guys, make sure, reach out, look at these things. You have the opportunity to learn from somebody that has done this at such a global level. And I hope you’ve taken a lot of notes. If you haven’t, go to the podcast reflections. Stephen Pak. Thank you again for your time. 


Stephen Pak  55:50  

Yeah Thanks Brett.

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