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Cultivate Discomfort: Nevin Danielson

Michael Hunter


Welcome to Uncommon Leadership.

I’m Michael Hunter with Uncommon Teams.

Today I’m talking with Nevin Danielson.

With decades of experience as a facilitator, coach, and trainer, Nevin helps leaders and their teams ignite purpose, possibility, and partnerships to sustain an energized workforce amidst evolving trends like turnover and remote work. After a quarter-life crisis showed him the value of serving others, Nevin founded Induction Consulting to uncover practical steps that tap teams’ untapped potential. His skills cut through outdated expectations and elevate processes and interactions to be fresh, meaningful, and authentic.

Welcome, Nevin.

Nevin Danielson

Thank you. Thanks for having me, Michael.


You’re welcome. I’m super excited to have you here.

In your journey to seeing people as people and learning to leverage their unique gifts to best accomplish your goals, when did you first recognize this might be a valuable approach?


You referenced it briefly in the introduction: the quarter-life crisis. I have this really notable; I feel like it’s my origin story in terms of what I do now.

I was working in government in Canada, or our provincial government. There was always a discomfort with me about how people could just follow routines or just follow the rules.

I don’t think I’ve ever really liked that. I love having autonomy and stuff.

I have stories, maybe we’ll get into them, about ways I tried to make things uncomfortable at work for me there.

But my quarter-life crisis was I had gotten elevated to leadership.

I had a team of eight, and I was so uncomfortable with being their boss, and it felt so inauthentic to be smarter than them.

I didn’t like it when I was a team member, and I certainly didn’t like it when I was the boss, and I just was really uncomfortable.

I’m a pretty mathematical, logical guy. I was like, “This math does not work. I don’t care how good I am at creating policy; there’s no way I’m better than these eight smart people. I need to get out of their way.”

And so, it was a tense period trying to figure out how to do it.

I told myself that I would get warned at least twice before they fired me.

I said, I can either be comfortable all day and then I sleep restlessly, or I can be uncomfortable all day and I can sleep like a baby.

I had to figure out how to be more comfortable and sleep at night.

I actually changed the whole way our team worked and basically said to all of them, “I need to get out of your way. You have really bright things to offer, and I need to be out of your way.”

One of the things that’s really driven me since then, that I did at that time, is I said, “But it’s really unfair to abandon you and to say, I’m out of your way. I have a role. There’s a reason I’m there. And we could maybe call it quality control or oversight or whatever.”

What I figured out was that I was going to make a really strong commitment to them of what I did provide to them, but that they were responsible for the final answer.

And so, I have my three C’s. I said, “I need it to be concrete, credible, and compelling. And so I am not allowed to tell you a better answer anymore. I need you to make it concrete, credible, and compelling.”

It’s not the kind of answer I thought was going to come.

I have to challenge myself to back up and say, “Why don’t I see it the same as them?”

Because I was good at it.

I could make great advice and policy and stuff.

But that wasn’t the job anymore.

It was to help them.

When I started doing that, I couldn’t figure out why anybody would do anything else as a leader other than just trying to help everybody around them.

I was so explicit and so committed to it that my team actually just started calling me New Nevin.

They didn’t call me Nevin for, like, two years.

It was New Nevin.


That’s great.

How did your team react when you; and before that, how did you present this to your team? That there was New Nevin in the room and this is what he was going to be like?


First question, how did I share?

I was really open about it.

Thinking about having this conversation with you, Michael, I was like, “Is everything I am doing easily repeatable by other people?”

The one piece that I feel a little sheepish about is how self-confident I am.

With all this privilege and upbringing and stuff, maybe that’s unfair, but I just want to acknowledge it at least.

I was so confident that I just was able to say to this group of people, “This is so dumb. I can’t do this. I’m not good at this. I need you to do it.”

It took a ton of courage.

It was scary.

The other thing I did, and again, I was 25, 26 years old, I went to my senior, my leader, and I said, “You are not going to be happy with how responsive I am. It’s actually going to drive you crazy. But it’s going to give you better results because we’re going to mobilize a whole bunch of people to do a better job. But, hey, heads up. When you have a panic and you need me to just be perfect and give you the perfect answer, I’m not going to give it to you.”

Then later, when they said, “Crisis, I need something from you, Nevin,” I said, “Remember that conversation we had? Sorry. This is what it looks like. We have really bright people that are going to give you a better answer.”

I was overly talkative about it.

Michael, should I just say the other part was, how did they react?

It took time.

They were skeptical.

I mean, this is government.

“Is this the flavor of the month?”

Mostly, they rolled their eyes with each other about how much Nevin was pushing on this.

But as I kept doing it, they’re good.

They still talk to me about how meaningful that was.

Some of them are really senior in government now.

That was a moment for them where they remembered that that’s how they could lead.


Did your management, the leaders above you, did they react in the same way?


Well, for the most part, they’re so busy and so swamped that they’re like, “What noise is Nevin making? I just need my stuff.”

But, you know, Michael, I said, “I’ll get warned at least twice before they fire me.”

I never got warned.

I got more opportunity.

I got more assignments.

They asked more of me.

I would never say that they understood what I was doing as much as even you do right now.

But as long as they weren’t getting beat up by the elected official, they were okay.


They didn’t need to understand what was going on.

They recognized the results.

The results were better than they were getting before.

And so they’re like, “I don’t know what Nevin’s doing, but keep on doing.”


Theoretically, I’m like, “This stuff is going to slow us down before we speed up.”

But in truth, there wasn’t a real big slowdown period.

Mostly it’s just, Nevin only thought of option A and B. And now all these amazing people are also thinking about option C, D, and E.

Surprise, surprise.

When they think about it for eight hours and Nevin only thought about it for twenty minutes, they make way better answers. They make way better solutions.

I just needed to honestly just get out of the way.


You were the roadblock.


Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has an analogy of working in the jungle.

To recognize that leaders don’t need to be up front showing how to use a machete and swath through the jungle.

They need to be behind people, sharpening their machetes, strength training, nutrition, whatever.

Then there needs to be other leaders that are up high in the trees saying, “This is the direction we’re going.”

That’s a lot easier said than done.

Most people who got in positions of responsibility, they were super good with a machete, and now we’re saying, “That’s no longer your top responsibility.”

We’re not even saying that.

Most bosses, at least in government at that time, were like, “I want you to be super good at using a machete.”

They don’t even ask them to be good at helping everybody else do it.


What do you imagine allowed you to set aside your belief and your leaders’ beliefs that you should be wielding a machete and take that step back to ask, “How can I best help my team wield their machetes?”


Great question.

I cared about being honest with myself.

I didn’t care about ego or position or getting the promotion so much as being fair and honest with myself.

At that time, The Office, the American Office, was quite popular.

There was also just a part of me that was really worried that I was Michael Scott.

I was like, “I so don’t want to be that. I want to be real and valuable to these folks around me.”


It goes back to what you said earlier, that you knew how to be comfortable and you knew how to sleep well at night, but you didn’t know how to do both at the same time, and you wanted to do both at the same time.

So, you let yourself realize that you didn’t know how to do both at the same time, and then to let answers for how to do both at the same time come even when that conflicted with everything you thought you knew about how you should do your job.


I gotta step back a minute.

It’s not directly related, but it’s a superpower I have is that I have multiple sclerosis, which is a chronic illness.

It’s a superpower because I get perspective smacks all the time.

I’m reminded how big or small things really are.

Maybe it was a little bit easier at that time and maybe even now to say, “Actually, this is all just a big rodeo. I can experiment, I can try stuff. And what really would happen if they just fired me? How difficult would that be?”

Again, privilege. I couldn’t be destitute if I tried. I would just keep getting fed and helped and all those sorts of things.

I want to go back, Michael, because I missed part of an answer I want to share.

You said, “How did you challenge yourself or see that it could be different?”

All of your audience is asking that question, too.

It’s not right.

The way that it works, it’s not right.

We all are discovering it all the time, and we’re putting words to it.

It’s a bit of a logic game to say, “How important is it to make this courageous plunge to change it?”

I found coaches and books also did that for me.

Seth Godin says, “What feels risky is safe, and what feels safe is risky.”

I am risking way too much here by just following the rules.

I need to do the safe thing.

Even though that felt uncomfortable.


I like that transposition.

I find that to be true so often, that what feels safe is so unsafe when we look at what the repercussions really are.

What seems incredibly risky often is the most safe thing we can do.


Yes, absolutely.

Let me hit home with that.

The safest thing I can do with my chronic illness and very expensive illness is go be on somebody’s benefits plan.

But I choose to do the risky thing and find my livelihood without relying on one person and their benefits plan.

So which one’s risky and which one’s safe?

I’m diversified, and having a livelihood that doesn’t depend on anybody.

But, man, that feels scary.



Even for people who are working for someone else, they can still diversify their income, I’ll say.

It doesn’t have to be, “I do this one thing,” or, “I work for this one person.”

It’s, “I do all sorts of things, and I understand how to find the people who value those things, and I can help them, even when that’s not officially part of my job description.”


The way you describe it, it sounds like maybe a side gig or something like that, which is one option.

There’s a diversification that people can do in their jobs that feels risky but is quite safe in the way we’re describing it, which is wherever they feel like they got to stay in their lane, if you do things that are outside of your lane and they feel scary, and people say, “What’s gotten into you?” or “No, I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m not listening to you.”

If you lean into that and all of a sudden you’re touching a lot of things and people say, “I don’t exactly know what Michael’s doing, but geez, everything is sort of better connected and growing or more effective when he’s here.”

There’s diversification you can do that isn’t even a separate income source.

It’s just like finding your way to be more valuable, more connected.


That’s part of what I was meant to saying, that even entirely within a corporation or small business, however, wherever in between, almost always there are opportunities for you to find to do what you enjoy doing, even when that’s not part of your job description, and to find the people who would love to have you do that for them and to form those partnerships.

Oftentimes, because when we do what we love, we tend to do it really well, those unofficial, maybe on our own time at first, collaborations within the company quickly become official parts of our job descriptions because the value of that becomes super clear.


I totally agree.

I coach individuals.

Often, they’re in an organization, but the person that wants me in there, they say, “Come talk with all my staff.”

One of the things that I’ll discover with staff is that they have really good ideas or things they want to do, but they’re not quite sure how to bring them up.

And it’s interesting, a bit of a side tangent.

If the boss invited it, it would be so much easier, if the boss just said, “What great ideas do you have that I just haven’t heard yet?”

If the boss isn’t doing that, people can still take a risk and it feels super uncomfortable.

They can go to their boss and say, “I don’t think you’ve been considering this and you’re so busy and so many things going on. I think I have a solution for you that I don’t think you were thinking about. You could have me do ten percent of my time over on this other thing and ask me to build this new idea for you. And I just want to take that off your plate for you. And it’s a brilliant leadership move by you.”

I’m being facetious.

“It’s a brilliant leadership move by you. Congratulations on thinking this through. It’s going to work really well for me to just own this for you and do it.”

Does that feel uncomfortable to push for that?


It certainly can.


There’s ways to say it where you feel a bit sheepish that you just didn’t offer this tremendous value beforehand.



And oftentimes, when we understand how to present it as, like you said, those perfect words, “Take this off your plate so you can focus on what you want to be doing,” even the mediocre managers, not just the really good and great leaders, will throw it at you because they know that’s not what they want to be doing.


If I replay what I just played out for you, that sounded a little bit passive-aggressive.

Don’t do it passive-aggressive.

Don’t say, “Manager, you’re brilliant,” even though you’re clearly poking at them.

We don’t have to do that.

You can say, “I feel really responsible to help you with this. So this is what I think I can do.”

The other thing, I actually think this is in the cheat sheet I want to share with your listeners, is every organization has words on a page that are posted somewhere that we forget to pay attention to.

That’s a freebie for you, for anything that you feel like is scary to say.

You can say, “On our words, in our document, we say we’re going to be courageous. We say we’re going to speak up even if it’s uncomfortable. We say we’re going to value the client even over our own comfort. Because we say that, I’m really stepping out and I’m pushing myself because I want to do what you and I put on the page. That’s why I’m doing this.”


A great way to tie helping ourselves and helping our manager back to what the company says is important.


I cannot find things that people want to do, as selfish as whatever they want to do sounds, I can’t find anything that actually isn’t in service to the organization.

Whenever they say, “I want to come in an hour late every day,” when we break it down and figure out what’s really important for the organization, we can do the most selfish thing we can think of, and it will serve the organization.

We get caught in some routine where we think, “That’s all to the rulebook,” or “That’s against the rules.”


We’re so often raised that selfishness is a bad thing, where it’s really the most productive and helpful thing we can do.

When we are 100% focused on “How do I make myself happy?” then that happiness radiates out to everyone else.

Even if they don’t want to be happy, they’re going to be a little more happier just because the overall happiness level is raising up.

We are almost certainly going to be more productive, effective, efficient, whatever adjectives and adverbs you, your business, cares about.

Because we’re doing things that we enjoy doing and want to be doing.

We’re going to be working better because this is what we’re here to do.

That helps us see all the places where we can apply that.

It also gives opportunities for everyone else to do the same thing.

Because we’re focused in the things that we love doing, which means we want to get rid of all the other stuff.

There’s always someone else who would love to do that other stuff and hand something over to us.


That’s awesome.

Bosses, leaders, they’ve all read enough articles about the profound value of employees being engaged that they agree really quickly.

They agree.

In my two facetious models, you can go to a leader and say, “I know employee engagement is a really big challenge for you. And so, I realize it’s not very fair of me not to tell you all the selfish things I’d want to see to be more engaged.”

Again, too facetious.

“It’s unfair for me to not tell you the things that would make me super happy and engaged here.”

“I’d like to stop having to report a boring status update every Tuesday morning that nobody listens to. And I’d like to write it down in an Excel spreadsheet for five minutes and just make sure that everybody knows that it’s available. And if I did that, I would feel so much more engaged here. There you go. You’re welcome, boss. Let me know if you want more ideas about how to get me more engaged.”


Even when there are outside structures, strictures that prevent us from looking like we’re making changes, oftentimes within the team, we can still make changes.

A real common example: maybe the manager has to be the one to send the status report every week because that’s what their managers say they expect.

It doesn’t mean the manager has to be the one to put that together.

The team can do it by, as you say, putting it together in a spreadsheet.

Or maybe there’s someone else on the team that would love to go around and gather all the information and craft the story about what the team did that week.


That’s brilliant.

Let’s solve the manager; we’ve got a selfish outcome that we want of not doing the boring report or whatever.

Let’s orient it around the manager’s problem and see what we come up with.

There’s this fantastic phrase of, “Firm on the problem, flexible on the solution.”

If we say, “Firm on the problem,” manager has to blow their boss away with an excellent status report, say, “Hey, boss, that’s a tough one and we want you to be successful with it. I think we have some ideas, or I have some ideas about how we could do that to nail exactly what you need to do in a way that works better for everybody.”


Every problem is an opportunity.

Every opportunity is a problem as well because of not just how do we seize and take action on that opportunity, but as we move into that opportunity, our whole environment shifts.

That is going to, oftentimes will bring, will raise, problems with the other parts of the organization that we’re interfacing with because we used to be doing it with our left hand, now we’re doing it with our right hand or with our nose, and it feels a little different to them.

They may not realize it’s the left hand versus the right hand, but it’s going to feel a little different to them.

That’s going to inflict change on them.


What I find really fascinating about this conversation we’re having, and I’ve seen it many times, and I’ve certainly experienced it myself, is when you start finding out how you can more directly address your frustration.

Let’s say, “Hey, boss, we can fix that report for you and we can do it in a different way.”

You realize that it’s completely within your domain to do it.

You actually don’t have to do it.

You get to choose whether that’s important enough for you to do or if it’s not.

When you say, “Every problem is an opportunity, every opportunity is a problem,” it’s like, “I see so clearly how I can make that better. And I’m choosing not to do it. I’ve got other things I want to do, and I’m choosing not to do it.”

What it liberates you from is being frustrated that the boss keeps asking for it.

You go, “I’m doing this stupid, boring dog and pony show, and I know I could fix it or I could do something different, and I’m not going to. Therefore, I get it. It’s just not worth the challenge to do it.”


Thanks for reminding us about that.

That just because we see a way something could be better doesn’t mean we have to take that step and make it better.

It may not be the best thing for us in the bigger picture, or it may be not the most important thing to do right now or just not what we want to do right now. And that’s all fine.


It’s so fine.

A really important part of an employee experience, in my experience, is that we get to choose.

You don’t have to do it the way that I’m thinking about or anything else.

Just to know that you get to choose.

The power is in knowing that you get to choose.

Not in influencing everything, but you’re not a victim to any of that stuff, hopefully.


It’s a great example of how we often are more empowered than we believe we are.

We have more choice than we believe we do.


You’re saying we have more power than we think we do? Absolutely.

When I’m talking with someone and they’re at a complete loss, how do they move out of this, I’ll go right to the most foundational thing I can think of that they can do, that does not matter what power that other person has.

It won’t be much of a surprise for you or a lot of people, is, it’s a feedback model.

You say, “Are you open to some feedback?”

And then you give them factual information of what happened, and you say how it affected you, and there’s nothing that they can tell you you’re wrong about.

Doesn’t matter what power they have.

If I go to the most high elected official that has all this power, I have a card to play that does not require me to have any power or influence over them at all.

“I have feedback to share with you.”

Now, if they say, “I don’t want to hear your feedback,” I guess maybe you don’t.

In the workplace, it doesn’t matter how powerful your boss is.

It’s maybe a little uncomfortable.

“When you asked me for a status update, and as soon as I started describing it, you started peppering me with additional questions and didn’t let me finish my status update. I felt that you undercut me.”


You’re not powerless.

They may not have realized what they’re doing.


This has been a great conversation today, Nevin. What else should I ask you?


This is just the first five minutes. We’re going to go for the full hour, right? [laughs]

I think you should ask me what the atomic number of lead is.


You’re saying, “What is the atomic number of lead?” And why should I ask you this?


What a random question. Are you trying to trip me up, Michael?

This is going to be crazy, but I just looked about an hour ago.

I was curious myself.

It’s eighty-two.

No, you know what you should probably really want to talk about is the parable of the river. Do you know the parable of the river?


I have some ideas of what it might be. Tell us the parable of the river, please.


When I look it up, it’s actually used a lot in the health industry.

It’s this parable that’s about prevention versus crisis and what’s the right balance.

You can think about health and people sick and how much can you get in front of it and stuff.

The parable of the river, as I understand it, is there’s a quiet little village, people are farming, and all of a sudden, there’s a child floating down the river.

The person that’s working in the field there, they jump in and they save this drowning child.

As soon as they get to the shore with this child, another child’s floating down the river.

Before you know it, children just bobbing down the river.

Almost the entire village is devoted to saving children.

How could you not be just devoted to saving these children? They’re yelling for help.

One of the last people coming from the village just starts ambling upriver.

People are so angry at this person.

“What are you doing? These children are drowning. What are you possibly doing that’s more important than saving these children?”

And of course, they say, “Somebody’s got to go figure out why these children are falling in the river.”

That’s the parable.

We can spend our entire careers talking about what’s the right choice of what we should do when we’re at the river.

I really can’t fault those people that are right in the middle of saving drowning children.

But also, we all know that if all we’re doing is saving those kids, it’s not enough.

We got to figure out what’s happening.


This goes nicely back to our earlier conversation, because some people are great and love to pull kids out of the river, whereas other people are way better at wandering upstream and puzzling out, where are all these kids coming from?



We don’t have to specialize completely.

In our work, it is not a constant stream of drowning children.

There are lulls, and there are things we can do to create a space in there to have those conversations.

Even if you’re great at doing the saving, you have your own version of going upriver a little bit.

When do I at least get better at swimming? Or, how do I figure out how to haul two kids at a time?

There are small things you can do that are still your version of going upriver.

It’s an interesting balance.


When do we start stocking life rafts and life rings alongside the river? There’s a lot of depth there.


You can do a career just thinking about it.

In fact, a lot of my work is, one of the biggest discomforts that I’m leaning into is, that we need to find more time to look upriver.

I go into panicked organizations all the time and say, “I’m so sorry you’re busy and panicked all the time. For this next half day or whatever, we’re going to take a breath and we’re going to look upriver.”


That’s lovely.

You have a great cheat sheet for our audience. You mentioned that earlier, actually, so give us all the deets.


It’s been a fun exercise to think about what would be good for your audience.

I’m certainly open to some feedback about whether it is or not.

What I said to myself is, all of these things we talk about feel kind of daunting, and it’s really hard to make cultural change and to help this shift happen.

What I often find is that on the day when you want to really push and look upriver, everybody else is busy saving.

Then the day someone comes to you and says, “Can we have a chat about how to do this better,” you’re like, “No, I’m busy saving.”

It’s hard to coordinate and stuff.

So, the cheat sheet is practical, immediate ways where you can just make a little bit of a shift.

They all probably have a little bit of discomfort.

Like, people are saving, they’re not paying attention to the potential to do something else.

So you’re coming at them with something a little bit different.

I tried to find words that would make it a little easier to share that, and people will recognize that, “Oh, yeah, we do have to balance.”


Sounds great. Thank you. I’ll put those links in the show notes.


Thank you.

So, it goes to my website. I made a page where that PDF is available and a link to book time with me, too.

If people want to have a conversation like this, the half hour is going to fly by really fast.

It’s so helpful for me, by the way, to hear about different experiences and what people, see what it actually looks like for them.

So, happy to chat with people as well.


Thank you, Nevin. That’s a perfect segue into: what’s the best way for people to connect with you.


I have all the social media handles and none of them work to catch me except LinkedIn. So use LinkedIn.

Or please visit Careful you don’t put .com. inductionconsulting ca.


What would you like to leave our audience with today?


I had a coach that said to me, it’s so true for me, and I think it’s true for a lot of people.

She said, “Nevin, I think your success is going to be directly related to the amount of discomfort you can endure.”

I keep finding this time and time again, that when I push myself into uncomfortable situations that I very deliberately and rationally know I should be going into; ever since my quarter-life crisis all that time ago, every time I push a little bit.

I don’t do it carelessly.

I do it with a ton of thought.

I preplan all of the things I need to do to mitigate the risk that I’m worried about.

My takeaway for people is that discomfort is directly related to success.


That reminds me of career advice a top leader gave me one time, which is when you’re looking for your next opportunity, look for something that you’re fifty percent, “I one hundred percent know what I’m doing,” and fifty percent, “I am so uncomfortable right now and so clueless. I have no idea what I’m doing.”


That’s a comforting ratio for some of the things that I’m doing. “I’m going to be awesome at this,” and “I have no idea.” So that’s very good. Thank you.


Thank you, Nevin, for being here today.

And thank you, audience as well, for joining us today.

Please let us know: what’s making you uncomfortable, and where are you explicitly going into that uncomfortableness and exploring what that has to teach you? Nevin and I would love to hear your stories.


Absolutely. Thank you so much.


Thank you so much. Have a great day.

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