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Feed your good wolf: Jay Floyd

Michael Hunter


Welcome to Uncommon Leadership.

I’m Michael Hunter with Uncommon Teams.

Today I’m talking with Jay Floyd.

Jay is a data engineering leader, life coach, and podcaster. He is also the curator of the ‘What’s Good’ brand, dedicated to finding the good in all of life’s scenarios, or as he calls it, ‘feeding our good wolf.’

Welcome, Jay!

Jay Floyd

Yes, thank you. Thank you for having me, Michael.


I’m happy to have you here today.


I’m happy to be here, especially to talk about these kind of topics. This is what I love.


Great! Let’s get right into it then.

In your journey to seeing people as people and learning to leverage their unique gifts to best accomplish your goals, what have you struggled with recently?


In my journey to seeing people as people and leveraging the unique gifts each person brings, I feel like that’s my calling in life.

When I look back on my life and what I have been great at, something that’s a common thread is me being able to relate to people in a deep way.

A lot of it comes from the unique and deep experiences I had in life.

Leveraging that opened up a lot of things in my life, opened up me to be able to live in a very free way.

But it is a struggle.

I am currently the data engineering manager for two teams at Zapier, which is a SaaS [software as a service] company. Learning how to be a manager for a person who is a natural coach is a unique journey.

My initial response to being promoted to a manager a few years ago was, “Hey, I’m a coach. This is what I do. I coach people all day. Of course I can manage people.”

Learning more and more exactly what a manager is, and that a coach is only one role for a manager. There’s a little bit of a Venn diagram there, and there’s a lot of different hats you have to wear to properly manage a team of multiple people through multiple projects with competing priorities. Being a coach, you have to be very strategic with when you’re a coach.

So for a person who is a natural, I wake up every day with the desire and innate skill to coach people, to have to put on a different hat and know when to put on a different hat, that’s a struggle.

I’m very confident in being a coach. Taking that hat off and putting another one on can affect my confidence.

I have to coach myself to remember that I am not only good at it, I’m still growing at being a manager, and learning how to have self-compassion, and not expect that I’m going to be a fully completed product as a manager yet, and that it’s a journey. I have to remember that.

All those things that I coach people on, I have to coach myself on through my own journey.

So for me, that’s the biggest struggle: operating as a person who is a coach in a role that is only probably twenty percent coach.

It is a struggle, but I love it.

I’ve learned so much about being a leader in various ways, in a variety of ways. Learning how to be diverse in my approach for people who are diverse and have diverse challenges is growing me and I love it.

It’s not easy, but I love it.


What has been the biggest impact for you from learning that being a manager isn’t just being a coach?


It’s kind of funny.

When my manager approached me about moving into management, there’s this process that we have to do at our company called “manager readiness”. Part of it is you have to write an essay stating why you believe you be a good manager. Then you have to write a follow up essay stating what you probably will struggle with as a manager.

In my first one, I stated, “I’ll be a great manager because I’m a coach and this is a natural transition.” They pass this along to the directors and the heads of the department and then to the people team and they get to include feedback on your essay.

The feedback on my essay was consistent across the board, “This guy’s probably going to be great, but just make sure he doesn’t over index on coaching.”

So, I will say that I kind of walked into it like, “I get it, but they don’t understand because I am a coach and I’m great at coaching. I am going to invent a new version of management that is coaching.”

About two months, three months in, ran into enough scenarios where it was like, “Oh, now I see what they mean. I can clearly over index on coaching and it can be a detriment to management.”

Coaching is great, but management needs a flex of multiple skills.


What signals have you identified that tell you you’re maybe over-indexing on coaching right now?


One of the first things that tends to happen is an overdependence.

As a coach, one of the things that you’re constantly looking for is making sure that your coaching client is not building a dependence on you. If you’re having weekly or biweekly sessions, that in between those sessions, they lose all their strength, encouragement and they’re waiting to have another session and then they can build it back up, that’s a red flag and you want to help coach them out of that dependence in management.

When you’re over-coaching, you can start to see that same dependence build, where they need you to build them back up at all times. They’re not holding on to their own strength and encouragement and reasons for moving and being a self-starter.


How do you differentiate that over-dependence from they don’t have the skills yet and the best way for you to help them is to help them find and give them those skills?


It’s a nuanced thing.

I work with my manager, director. She’s very patient and understands my specific needs. Of me being a coaching manager that the things that I’m going to most likely need growth in is this, understanding that line.

I’ll say that for the most part when dealing with my direct reports, there are times when; if I have to wear my coaching hat, I’m helping them believe in themselves. When you’re a coach, your coaching client already has their own answers. You’re helping them walk the journey.

It’s a patient listening. It’s what we like to call motivational listening. Where you’re helping them walk a journey, they’re the one setting the goal and they really drive the timing on when they’re going to receive their deliverance as well.

As a manager, you don’t always have that time.

You have to understand when to give a little bit of flex for that, to let them walk their own journey, but also when to take that hat off and explain some things to them that they need to see.

Sometimes you have to give them the answer and expect that they’re going to hold on to it or understand how to arrive there later.

But then there’s also times where you’re going to give them space, but it’s limited. It’s a bit of a limited timeline because it’s a cost-benefit analysis. There’s risk involved with allowing them to walk too long, because there’s a bunch of dependencies in our time.

It’s understanding when to take those unique approaches.

And then there’s always those times where you just have to tell a person exactly what you want them to do and exactly how you want them to do it in a very clear and explicit way.

Now, obviously, those kind of scenarios, you don’t want to be repetitive. I shouldn’t have to tell someone exactly what to do and exactly how to do it multiple times over and over.

But there are times where that’s exactly what’s needed. And to be as fair as possible to the direct [report], I need to explain to them exactly what I’m expecting from them.


There’s unconscious incompetence and then going through to conscious incompetence, unconscious competence, and then finally conscious competence. Wherever someone is along that spectrum from unconscious incompetence through conscious competence, the amount in timing of direction they need, and the directness of that direction, can vary widely.




Just because they’re consciously competent in one skill doesn’t mean that they aren’t fully unconsciously incompetent in another skill. We’re all over the spectrum all the time in all these different layers, and it all interplays together.

How do you navigate this complex weave to suss out what’s the right degree of direction and coaching and how to do that mix for this particular moment?


Well, I would say in my approach, I don’t think it’s completely up to me.

Every organization has a framework of what the expectation is for their employees at certain levels. Whether they have the L1, L2, L3, L4, et cetera framework, most organizations are very explicit on what they expect at each one of those levels.

I like to be very transparent with all of my directs on, “Here’s what’s expected at your level.” I like to know if you have aspirations to be advanced, to be mastered, at this level. Let’s discuss what that looks like for you.

I don’t want to put you in a box, but there is a framework of what’s expected.

So, let’s find the unique version of what that looks like for you.

If you have aspirations for the next level up, let’s talk about that, because what I found is most direct reports and ICs [individual contributors] are really most frustrated when there’s no clear expectation set for them. Even if they’re told, “You did great,” but I did great at what? So how do I know how to keep doing it? Or you didn’t do so great, you were inconsistent this quarter. Okay, at what level? What’s expected of me?

I like to be extremely transparent, to say, “Here’s how the organization defines your current level. Here’s what I believe that looks like for you. Let’s talk about it.” What are your aspirations? What are your goals? Maybe they want to go into management, or team lead. Let’s talk about what that looks like.


So then is that ladder level expectations mixed in with what you know of the team member’s desires for career growth always present and part of the mix? Or are there times where “This is the thing that’s going to happen,” or whatever the situation is, all that disappears because of the stress of the situation or your current experience or whatever else is going on?


Haven’t found that it disappears.

For me it’s always there.

I feel like it’s only fair.

Right now I have seven reports at various levels. I find that it’s only fair at the end of the day that I measure them according to what their level is.

Sometimes it’s great that people are overachieving at a high level, but let’s sit down and talk about what that means. Let’s ensure that you are fairly rewarded or compensated for it, or at least acknowledged for it.

Obviously the stress goes up and down. We have fly-ins and competing priorities like anybody else. But I haven’t found for me that there are moments where all of the laddered expectations go out of the window. It’s always there for me.


What helps you keep that perspective in the picture?


I don’t know.

I would like to believe it’s because of my coaching approach.

Although I understand a manager holds more hats than coach, I always start as a coach.

I start by understanding who is this person, what’s their motivation, and let’s identify their unique strengths.

I do that with all of my direct reports.

When I start that way, it helps inform me when they’re saying, “I’m at this level, I’d like to get to the next level.”

I’m a really big proponent of, “What does that look like for you as a unique individual?”

Maybe you have a certain strength as an empathizer, or maybe you have a certain strength as a deliverer.

Let’s lean in on that strength. Let’s not make you look like your colleague.

You don’t have to be your colleague to be at the same level as your colleague.


When you are working with someone who could use some skill in coaching and that’s not their default place the way it is for you, how do you help them build that muscle?


It’s a really good question.

I’ve actually had those conversations with other managers, where they are much more highly indexed for strategy than I am, or project management than I am, but not so indexed with people management.

We’ll exchange notes.

“What are you thinking about on a daily basis? Here’s what I tend to think about on a daily basis.” I think so much of it.

I wrote a book called The Driver’s Seat, and it has a chapter in there that talks about your engine, knowing your engine.

I know there’s an antiquated framework of calling people alphas, betas or omegas. The kind of person, do you wake up with a fire burning in your belly, or do you wake up as more of a distant, laid-back kind of person?

It’s important to know what your preference is and how you live your life because then you can know what to do with that in order to run at a certain speed that you’d like to run at.

I know for a fact that I do not wake up as one of those, what you would typically, traditionally, call an alpha. I don’t wake up with that burning drive to just go get it. I lean on things like models, like reminders, like coaching techniques, because I know that I want to run at a speed where I can keep up with natural alphas. It’s important in that way.

So when I work with fellow managers and they’re like, “I want to improve in the people side,” I’m usually like, “Let’s share notes, because I want to improve on the strategy side. So let’s make each other better here.”

It’s worked in the past and I’m always learning.

It’s one of the things that excites me the most about management is all those other non-coaching hats. Love it, love it, love it.

I’m able to give freely any coaching tips to people.

It usually starts with empathy and seeing a person, like your question asked, seeing a person for a person, seeing them for who they are, having true empathy for a person.

And having care.

Wanting to listen to what a person, where do they come from? “What brings you here?” is one of the questions I like to ask people. I’m really good at eliciting life stories from people.

One of the tips that I usually give, I set up one-on-ones with everybody in my perimeter.

Even if I don’t have any work with you, I’m probably not going to work with you in the near future, I still will set up a monthly one-on-one where we can just get to know each other, get to know what we care about.

I found that when the time does come that I have to work with you, I see you for who you really are. I know you. You’re not just a stakeholder that I’m doing some work for. I know what you care about.

And that really starts us off on a better foot.


How do you build those relationships with the Type-A, give-me-the-information-and-get-gone kind of people who might view that as, “You’re just in my way”?


The key is in exactly what we said: I see them as people too.

I want to know why they’re like that, what drives them. I love that. I don’t want to make them any different. I don’t want them to make me different.

They like that, they respect that.

That resonates with people, when they can tell, “This guy’s not trying to change me, he’s really just trying to understand me.” That really resonates.


If I could rephrase that, tell me if I got this right: The way that you succeed is by showing them that you are interested in who they are. Everybody wants to talk about themselves. They react to that authenticity. Even when the conversation may be a very quick, “Here’s the facts, we’re going to do this in five minutes where someone else might do this in five hours,” they’re responding to that authenticity and desire to understand them as a person.


And the value of how they are, not just who they are.

If they are a person that wants to get the information in five minutes; I do work with a few people like that and they can tend to turn people off or not necessarily build the warmest relationships, but for me, I see the value in that. There’s a reason they’re at the company and there’s a reason they’re successful.

You need people who can do that, and that’s great. I admire it.

I’m not like that. I admire that.

I don’t want to be it, but I admire it and I see the value of it.

When people know that you see the value in what they’re bringing to the table, I’m not rejecting them just because I’m different. That’s great. I’m glad we have a well-rounded team.


I appreciate that emphasis on the value of who they are, not just the specifics of who they are.

That makes more evident the business benefits of seeing people as people and spending this time to understand, “Who are you? Why are you this way?”

If we know that, then we can better understand what they perceive as their value and we can better understand what we recognize as their value and then bring that together to really supercharge the impact that they can have on the company that we can have working with them by combining our value with theirs.


Absolutely, absolutely.

Actually, at Zapier, we have five core values, and some of them, on the surface, seem to be competing with one another, or at least at the opposite ends of spectrums.

One of the values is Default to Action, and kind of on the other end of the spectrum, one of our values is Empathy Over Ego, and those can tend to compete.

But when you have well-rounded teams, you’re obviously going to have people who are far more indexed to really easily default to action, and they may struggle with empathy over ego, and that’s fine. And you’re going to have other people, and I consider myself on that other, in that other bucket of people who are highly indexed to empathy over ego, but they got to work on that default to action part.

As long as we’re all trying to help each other work on what we’re working on, it focuses together, it works together.



Just because we understand a lot about who we are and how we work best and how to implement that in all the different situations doesn’t mean that we don’t still struggle with making that work and understanding when we may be over indexing on something.




I remember an interview with Pema Chödrön, who’s one of the super famous Buddhist teachers, and she said, “I still fall asleep meditating.”


[laughs] This is good stuff.


With everything that you’ve learned over your journey so far, what is the one thing that you would go back and ask yourself to do differently?


The one piece of advice; I probably wouldn’t do anything differently, but there’s a piece of advice I got from my first business mentor, which I’m always trying to implement it more, and that is “Fail faster.”

I am a person who has had a hesitance or a risk aversion, especially in the past, because of fear of failure.

I have found that a number of people, specifically minorities or people of color or people who may have had a nontraditional educational upbringing, tend to have a fear of failure, which leads into a kind of risk aversion.

One of the things that I try to instill in my children, well, not necessarily instill, because they’re born with it, they have it. I try not to steal away: their willingness to take risks.

If I could change anything, I would say I would have implemented that advice even better.

The ability to fail faster and use that failure as fuel going forward and not thinking that a failure is the end of you, but understanding that it is part of the recipe for success. Or I won’t even say success, but fulfillment of your purpose. Which is really where we’re all headed.


If I, as a leader, would like to do that as well, become more facile with failing fast, how can I get started?


Address the fear.

In my book, The Driver’s Seat, the second chapter is, Identify Your Seatbelts.

What’s the thing that has you stuck in the backseat?

What are you afraid of?

This is where I believe that coaching will never leave my approach to management or any kind of leadership.

Helping a person identify what’s holding them back.

What’s their limiting belief?

What happened in your childhood? What is the thing that was expressed to you, whether explicitly or implicitly or circumstantially, that you believed that is holding you back? What are you afraid of?

The more that we address our fears for fears, instead of allowing our secondary languages of anger to speak out or action or over-motivation to speak for that fear, address the actual fear and heal from it, that can heal that risk aversion and help us fail faster and fail forward into this purpose.

We all have a purpose. We have these unique skills.

My firm belief in the thing that what’s good is all about is we are all given this unique journey.

Some of us have been through some horrific things in life.

I’ve suffered the murder of my brother.

Experiencing that, for a long time, I thought that was what was going to hold me back.

I didn’t realize that these are the things that make me who I am.

This is what makes me strong.

That’s why I don’t really like to use the word successful.

It’s really about seeking my purpose.

I have a purpose is why I’m still here. The more I can overcome the fears that life has given me, I can get further into that purpose.

So I would say address the fear. And address it at the root.

Usually, we need some help going back to really look at what it was.

Whatever that day was, that event was that comment that limits us, that keeps us scared. Address that and heal it, and then we can move forward.

It’s almost like if, you can envision one of those funny cars, those drag racers, that they take off, and they’re going all fast, and the smoke’s everywhere, and then this parachute flies out of the back of it, and it slows it down and grinds it to a halt.

That parachute, even after the car has stopped, it has all these ropes that’s attaching it to the car.

We got to cut those if we can cut those.

But you got to look back.

You got to be willing to get out and look back.

And that’s the hard part.

Most of us, we’re scared to look back.

But if you don’t, you’re just stuck with that parachute behind you the rest of your life.

So you got to look back and start cutting it.

And a lot of times we need help.

I always encourage people to get a coach.

Especially coaches. We all need coaches.

Anyone who has done anything great, whether it’s Muhammad Ali or Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or anybody, Elon Musk, anybody, they have coaches.

I would encourage people to get a coach and start doing that work.


That’s great. What else should I ask you today, Jay?


Wow. This is one of my favorite questions.

I am really not good at asking this question, but I’ve learned that I should end all meetings with, “What else should I be asking that I didn’t?”

I would say, what about a powerful closing message, Michael? What about that?


All right, well, that goes right into the wrap-up question, then.

Let me first ask you: For people who’d love to talk with you about coaching and coaching themselves, helping themselves recognize when they’re over indexing on whatever they over index on and everything else that we’ve talked about today, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?


It’s actually my website, which is, W h a t s g o o d dot w o r k. I know we don’t see many dot-work link websites, but, yeah, that’s my link. what’ Because it’s centered around doing the key work.


Great. And I’ll have that link in the show notes.


Thank you.


So your answer to, “What else should I ask you?” is my always wrap up question: What would you like to leave our audience with?


I’ll leave it with this visual. There is the parable of two wolves. It’s usually told by motivational speakers. I am one of those speakers. So I know that we use this story a lot.

The story goes that there’s two wolves inside of everyone, one that is loving and giving and selfless, the other that is greedy and taking and a bit evil. And they’re fighting for control of you. The speaker usually ends by saying which one wins and they tell you that the one that you feed the most is the one that wins.

The insinuation there, the purpose of that story, is to convict us so that we can realize that almost all of us are overfeeding that bad wolf.

But there’s a continuation to that story that I like to think about, and that is it always says that we have both wolves.

So, although we may be feeding one more, what about that other one?

We have a good, loving side.

We have a selfless side.

It may be malnourished, but it’s there.

I always encourage people, don’t walk around with a malnourished good side. Start learning how to feed that one.

That’s where that parable lacks, because it doesn’t give us instructions on how to feed that, which to me is the most important part.

How do we make a healthy change?

Look, go around through your life and find the times where you can feed that healthy side.

If you’re looking at your music, your movies, your intake, all of your inputs, are they overfeeding one side?

Are they feeding your depraved side and not your healthy side?

How do I love through this?

How do I have grace with other people through scenarios? I

f you don’t know, then that probably means you’re a bit malnourished.

I have a podcast. I write books. My entire presence is about helping me, and you, start to figure out, how do we feed that good wolf on a daily basis.


Thank you, Jay.


No problem. Thank you.


This conversation is helping me feed my good wolf, and I’m sure it’ll help our audience do that as well.


Absolutely. Thank you. This has been really great. I really enjoyed it.


Thanks. I have, too.

Audience, please let Jay and I know: How do you feed your good wolf? Where are you experiencing challenges doing that? Let us know. We’d love to help.

Thanks, and have a great day.

Thanks for joining us on Uncommon Leadership today.

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