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What can you execute? Dave Rodabaugh

Michael Hunter


Welcome to Uncommon Leadership.

I’m Michael Hunter with Uncommon Teams.

Today I’m talking with Dave Rodabaugh.

Dave has 23 years of experience making analytical data products by turning THIS data into THAT model.  He also has a track record of teaching others to do it, and helping them turn into data leaders.  Data products are built by teams of people, not by technology, Dave holds.

Welcome, Dave!

Dave Rodabaugh 0:39

Thanks. I’m glad to be here today.

Michael 0:42

Happy 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?

Dave 0:57

I think most of the answers you might get to this question, or at least the way I default to thinking about this question, is to point to an event or to a point in time.

I can’t do that in this case.

An important part of my story is a story of impairment.

One of the things that I learned, I realized more as a young adult, was that the circuit that most human beings have for naturally interpreting the people around them doesn’t work for me. Body language, facial expressions, tone of voice; I have tended to struggle with that throughout my life. Made my childhood more difficult than it might otherwise have been.

As an adult, you have additional responsibilities.

You have to make decisions about your own life.

You got to get along with fellow students when you’re at college.

You have to get along with coworkers when you’re working.

You have to get along with roommates, if you don’t have a family, and I didn’t. My wife of twenty-four-and-a-half years and I got married when I was twenty-eight. So I had quite some time of getting along with roommates prior to that.

It became; I don’t think that I explicitly said, “I gotta figure out how to relate to people,” but it’s kind of a survival mechanism.

The world is cruel at times, life punches you in the face, and oftentimes that punch is self-chosen. At least most of the problems I’ve ever had I created for myself.

It took me about twenty years of adult life to reach a level of competence, I feel, in terms of synthesizing the things that most people do normally.

Somebody says “this”, their facial expression looks like “that,” their hand motions are doing “this”; those inputs go into f of x and what comes out is, “This is what I ought to say. This is how people usually feel. This is a way to handle that.”

I’m not the only person I’ve ever talked to that has this.

One of the most effective organizational leaders I’ve ever worked for, and I’ve worked for that man as an employer or contractor four times in the past twenty years, he confessed to me when I was telling him about this, he says, “That’s totally me. It’s all synthetic. It’s all mechanical.”

I marveled, because he’s so very good at it.

I felt encouraged, because there was something that I could model.

One of the things he did really well was he made connections with people on an individual level.

So, I recognized pretty early that this would be a valuable approach.

I don’t think I did so within the context of an uncommon team.

I think I did so just because life is hard. And I had to figure it out.

I’m well past my first twenty years of adult life.

In fact, I’m sufficiently old that I’m into the fourth decade of adult life.

I’ve had an interesting byproduct of the intentional drive towards synthetic simulation of intuitive human political nature.

I’ve learned to feel.

Things that were completely mysterious to me have become more organic.

I consider this a gift.

I don’t know how this has happened.

I don’t know why.

I wish I did, because if I did, I would sell it and make a lot of money. And then I’d buy Porsches, because I have Porsche lust.

It served me well, the increase in that natural capability.

I figured it out pretty early on, although I saw it as manipulation of people at first, which is a terrible thing to say.

But I didn’t mean it in the Machiavellian sense.

I meant it as a coping mechanism, realizing that I struggle with a lot of things.

So pretty early on.

Michael 5:59

If you weren’t natively processing all of this, what signals showed you that there was something to change?

Dave 6:16

That’s a great question.

Everybody has different things that motivate them.

One of the things that motivates me is a fear nigh to terror of embarrassment.

When I would behave badly, which happened a lot, and somebody exposed that behavior, I would be very embarrassed.

I hate being embarrassed.

Some people don’t deal with embarrassment, they deal with it better than I do.

That really motivated me.

Michael 7:06

You started as, “These things lead to me being embarrassed. I’m going to identify these things so I don’t and then figure out how to change what I know is coming, so that I’m not embarrassed,” and then just naturally, you started noticing other things that didn’t lead to embarrassment?

How did that widen out to, “I can do this with everyone and it’s helpful in all those areas.”

Dave 7:38

Well, I think one of the things that most children and therefore young adults struggle with is a focus on the humanity of each individual.

I’ll give you an example.

I have several brothers. One of them likes a certain kind of racing and a star of that series perished in a crash about twenty years ago.

Many years after that crash, he made some disparaging comment about that racer, effectively saying something like, “That guy was a jerk and deserved what he got.”

I was aghast.

What I said to my brother is, “You have lost sight of the humanity of that person that you only knew via television. Are you better off as a race fan because he has passed on?” No. “Are the people whose livelihood depended upon his success better off because he passed?” No. “How about his wife and son? Are they better off because he passed?” No.

We are all poorer, for his departure, which I personally think is one of the tragedies of death.

Trying to see the humanity of each individual was something I had to focus on.

What spurred that focus on the humanity of the individual was a combination of a faith in which I was raised that as an adult I have deliberately claimed as my own, as well as some reading.

But even then, that focus on humanity was an intellectual thing, an analytical thing.

Michael 9:51

What was it of all the data you were pulling in that said, “This is going to be useful to chase after more important than these other ten things that I see I can go do right”?

Dave 10:08

I’m not sure that the process was ever quite that deliberate.

Because data, we all say it’s intrinsically valuable, but the truth is the intrinsic value is, it’s like buying a house and the house appreciates in value.

Sure, your balance sheet shows that you’re worth more as a result of ownership of that piece of property.

But the truth is, it’s an unrealized gain.

It’s not real money.

You can’t spend it.

You can borrow against it, but that has its own side effects with which you must deal.

With regard to understanding what data is valuable, what data isn’t valuable, in pursuit of this synthesis of interacting with people, I don’t know that there was anything deliberate.

I can tell you what helped me was, referencing that faith again, a framework of morals that you could use to determine what was virtuous and what wasn’t.

I still use that framework today.

That was an important guide for me.

I can give you an example if you’d like.

There are nine attributes that I consider to be virtuous: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.

Depending on the translation, you get a slightly different version of the nine.

That’s a good start right there.

Which of those are most important?

Well, I don’t know.

All right, which ones can I execute?

Oh, that’s a different question.

When you struggle with the native understanding of humanity, the question of, “What can you execute?” becomes really important.

That’s true, from an engineering perspective, for anything.

When you’re leading a team, the question of, “What can my team execute?” is also an important question.

For me, it was, “Maybe shoot your mouth off a little less. Stop being so confrontational when somebody disagrees with you.”

That’s one way to do it, even if you didn’t feel like it.

Which of those virtues is that in support of?

How about gentleness?

How about humility?

Humility has been an important guide for me in my career. I can point to specific spots where I chose humility and I got in at least less trouble than I would have had I not, and maybe I got, I’m sure I got, some benefit which I would have forgone had I not chosen some humility.

Another one might be, “Let other people choose. “

Everybody that is good at something, most people that are really good at something, struggle with the trust issue in an uncommon team.

You look around, in my case at the engineers, and you may say, “I don’t know if any of you are better at this than I am.”

That’s an irrelevance.

Total irrelevance.

Since I can’t do all the work, you have to trust the people around you.

The question is not, “Am I better?”

The question is, do your people have what is necessary and sufficient to get the job done?

If not, how do you help them be necessary and sufficient?

Then, once they achieve necessary and sufficiency, how do you help them achieve excellence? To grow into something beyond necessity and sufficiency?

What virtue is that in support of? Self-control. Patience.

I needed frameworks.

In general, I need frameworks.

Sometimes I form my own framework.

The truth is, I’m not that smart.

Most of the time, I just want to look at frameworks, pick one, and go, “I think I can apply that.”

Michael 14:32

It sounds like a lot of what you do is, you’re really good at listening to your inner guidance, and then using that to direct your execution.

Dave 14:45

Yeah, I do.

When you’ve been married for twenty-four-and-a-half years, you have three sons, you go through a lot of frustration.

Marriage is the hardest thing I have ever tried, by far.

I’ve needed some counseling over time.

A counselor I trusted, and whose advice has benefited me greatly, once told me I might be the most self-aware patient he’s ever had.

It’s interesting to note that that self-awareness doesn’t necessarily result in good decisions.

Nonetheless, I agree with your description, which is there’s an internal monologue for me, which I’ve learned to rely upon, but that monologue is not sufficient.

It’s the frameworks in which that monologue fits that have helped me over the years.

Michael 15:43

Have you developed signals that indicate how well a model is going to work for you?

Dave 15:49

Oh, yes.

Models can be a highly scientific thing, where the method is loosely defined as, I’ve got a hypothesis, which is the model; and then I’m collecting data, which is the observation part; and then I’m seeing if the model is invalidated or validated by the data I collect.

Models don’t validate data, data validates models.

I’m constantly using inputs I get to evaluate the frameworks that I use.

The indispensability, those frameworks, I rely on them both so heavily, that I’m constantly trying to measure them for validity.

When they’re not, I, sometimes under great internal strife, I change them.

Everybody thinks they’re right all the time until the data says they’re not.

Then the question is, do you have the courage, maybe the humility, to say, “I better change that framework.”

Michael 16:49

How much of this measuring and evaluating is conscious versus going on under the covers?

Dave 16:58

Good question.

For me, I think it’s largely conscious.

Everybody should focus on their strengths.

As a framework, focusing on your strengths to the exclusion of shoring up your weaknesses is generally a better recipe for success.

If I’m lousy at playing piano, then I should stop trying to play piano and I should go do something else which I have demonstrated more aptitude.

With regard to measurement, one of my natural strengths is measuring.

But that strength reaches its full throat when you do it deliberately.

I’ve always been a critical thinker.

Fanning that ability is an intentional act.

Regarding measurement, what’s the intentionality?

I am looking for signals that constitute data, I’m actively seeking to collect them.

I am then intentionally trying to process them compared to the framework or frameworks that I use to try to understand people in pursuit of an uncommon team.

Then I try to have the courage to change the framework or amend it.

Sometimes it’s not invalidation.

Usually the frameworks just get new details and new facets.

I try to do that.

Talking about intentionality, another way I do that is, I seek the counsel of other people that do this well.

One of them has been a guest on your podcast. He is arguably the best I’ve ever seen at doing this.

I find that highly inspirational, not to mention productive, when we sit down and have conversations. We are both natural conceptualizers; he’s just so much better at it than I am.

I find not only inspiration but I find instruction in that ability.

Michael 19:25

That’s something you find you often gain from the people you interact with? Instruction?

Dave 19:31

Generally, I’d say yes.

Whether they intend it or not, because it’s part of that data collection.

Michael 19:40

I guess that would be the case for you, especially.

Have there been times where all this data collection completely failed you?

Dave 19:59

Can I change the question?

Much more broadly, are there times where the approach of framework fails me?

The answer is yes.

It happened on Monday.

I participated in a meeting with a potential external partner.

My input into that meeting was probably less pertinent and valuable than it could have and should have been.

I intend to have a conversation with the leader of our technical organization about what I perceive to be my poor performance, and to get his perspective on it, and to understand where the flaw is in my framework.

Because sometimes you make mistakes, and you replay that, you’re embarrassed—I am—and you replay that in your head again and again and again and again, as part of ruminating.

That’s a term that has great meaning around here, by the way.

We, Select Sires is, a purveyor of genetics for artificial insemination, which is a polite way of describing the product that we deliver all over the world.

And I don’t remember where I was going with that, that’s a middle-aged moment.

Anyway, with regard to the, I realized I, when—oh, ruminating—that’s where I was going with that.

That’s what a cow does.

It’s a ruminant.

It chews the cud.

That’s what I do too.

I’ll internalize something and I just chew it and even if it’s unpleasant—especially when it’s unpleasant—I chew it and chew and chew it and chew it and try to understand, digest as much as I can.

Because I rely on the framework.

And I realized that ten times out of ten, I would have done the same thing.

That I didn’t miss a signal.

I was guilty, probably, of some conceptual error.

It’s a tough experience sometimes.

I anticipate I will have them for the rest of my life.

Michael 22:27

What is your typical next step when you discover that a framework has failed you?

Dave 22:34

Get busy modifying the framework.

Get busy.

What was it that was missing from the framework?

What do I need to change in that framework?

Can I describe that to somebody else? Especially that is into frameworks.

Like this friend I was talking about earlier.

I can bounce all this off of him.

I’ve got other friends that can do that as well.

There’s wisdom in the counsel of many.

Many means more than me.

That’s very useful.

I get busy working on the framework.

Because, for me, the avoidance of failure is a far more powerful inducement than the thrill of victory.

For some that will feel like a miserable way to live.

For me, I don’t know any other way.

I’m far more motivated by the humility of defeat than I am by the thrill of victory.

And so, okay. I could live with that.

I have for more than five decades.

Michael 23:49

Learning is not so much a primary motivator for you as just part of how you are, it sounds like.

Dave 23:59

You’re right.

I would agree with that.

Learning is not a primary motivator, but desire to know is.

I picked up a new friend.

I like cars.

Earlier this year, I bought a toy.

In pursuit of that purchase, I met a guy locally here in the Columbus area that owns a similar car to the one that I ultimately purchased.

While I never drove his car, which is weird, he and I’ve become pretty good friends.

He’s a lot different than I am.

He’s a cop, which means he has a lot of process in his life.

And he details cars. He’s a good car detailer on the side. That’s more process in pursuit of outcomes.

One of the things that he has come to understand about me is I like to know things.

He likes to do things.

I do like doing things; I mean, adventure’s fun, right?

But I really just like to know things.

So the learning itself, the process, is not something I particularly enjoy, but I love that prize of, “I know this,” when I’m done.

Michael 25:20

What has been your biggest struggle through this journey?

Dave 25:27

It’s my own impairment.

One of the things that I need is a model, not my own, because I’ve struggled to; if I could have made this model or had the circuit, I was naturally gifted at understanding people on an individual level, we wouldn’t be talking in this way.

I need a model for understanding people on an individual level.

Your question about learning and knowledge was very appropriate because I’ve been exposed to multiple models, Myers Briggs, at a prior employer we used Birkman which, Birkman is a difficult thing to comprehend in my opinion. Once you are coached to understand it, it can be very powerful.

I’ll give you an example of a story of that.

I worked with an engineer over whom I was not in an oversight position.

He was a peer and grew up on a different part of the world, speaking a different language, etc.

Engineers, most engineers, in my experience, tend to answer questions directly and they tend to lead with the trump card. Whatever the most important thing is, that’s what they go to first and they move into.

When this engineer would answer questions, you’d start getting the story and I’d get frustrated.

Stop telling me the story. Just tell me the answer.

Then we all did Birkman, and we went over each person’s Birkman.

I understood something about my colleague: my colleague has a biggest need to feel respected.

He gets energy from feeling respected.

Personally, I don’t really care about that.

I just want the answer.

It was interesting to: everybody, all the other engineers on the team were like me, except that engineer.

When I saw that in Birkman, all of a sudden, I realized the way I was communicating with him was totally wrong.

I totally changed the way that I communicated with him.

And our relationship got a lot better.

When I asked him a question, I listened to the story, because he felt respected, and because in the story, I was gonna get the answer that I needed.

It took more time than if you just gave me the answer.

I love bulleted lists; just give me the bullets.

But that was not within that colleague’s capability to execute.

So more generally, that’s really what I need.

I need pursuit of a model for understanding people at an individual level.

That’s been my biggest struggle.

So you ask, “Why aren’t you working on that? That sounds like a top objective.”

And the answer is, I don’t find the topic especially interesting.

Remember how we talked about I like to know things, but I don’t particularly like the process of learning?

I’m caught up in that right now.

You should spend some time surveying the models and then picking one and really getting to know it.

That sounds boring.

I don’t want to do that.

Even though, rationally, I know that that is one of the most potent things I could do.

I am struggling with inertia in that particular matter.

Understanding people at an individual level is a constant theme in this conversation, coming from me.

I was born without the ability to understand them.

I was born with this impairment.

I’ve gotten a lot better at it.

But I love these frameworks.

I want to commit; I want a framework for understanding them at an individual level.

But I find myself balking at putting in the time to pick one and get really good at it.

Michael 29:39

You need that matrix auto-download capability.

Dave 29:46

Yeah, I do.

If you could sleep on a book, under your pillow, I’d be all over that.

You know how much calculus I’d know?

Michael 30:02

This is a great conversation, today, Dave. What else should I ask you?

Dave 30:15

A question to ask is, why would a guy who is aware of his struggles to relate to people, their individual humanity, why would he choose to be a team leader?

Michael 30:33

What has led to your so often leading teams when leading to people it’s been such a struggle?

Dave 30:44

I was an independent contractor for a long time.

That suited my personality well.

I liked the money. I didn’t mind hustling for the money. I mean that in a good way.

I always wound up the, when you’re a consultant as opposed to just a contractor, when you’re a consultant, you’re being brought in for one of two reasons.

The first is you have skills the team does not have and they’re encountering a hurdle they’re having trouble getting over and you’re going to be able to help them do that.

The second is they just need the time.

It’s always been both at the clients I tended to play in.

Because they always have a skill barrier that the team is struggling to get over, you’re selling the client on the idea of, “I am an expert. I already know this. I can help your team get over it.”

Whether you say it out loud or not, you’re saying, “I can be a leader.”

From a technical perspective, I’ve always been a leader.

I’m good at teaching. And I like it.

Teaching has been one of those things that helped me understand the individual humanity.

The way it did that was, when somebody asks you a question, usually they’re asking you a different question.

Can you hear the real question they’re asking?

Can you see the hole in their knowledge?

Can you see the error in their thought process that has led to the question?

That’s always been natural for me.

With regard, then, to the individual humanity, I use that as a way to say, “I can see individual differences.”

At least intellectually, I could see it.

I could craft my response aimed at the particular thing they didn’t understand and often describe it in a way that resonated well with them.

Because you proceed with the assumption everybody wants to do better. And they do.

Teaching was really helpful for me.

That aspect of technical leadership is something that I’ve done for a long time.

My role as an organizational leader is only about eighteen months old.

I have had people that told me, “You probably shouldn’t do this.”

So, why now? Why try this?

The answer is, partially for the challenge.

Another part of the answer is the belief that it can work.

Another part is because I’m tired of the technical.

I never liked to develop.

One of my mentors early in my career, we were working for a consulting company. He said something—he said multiple things I never forgot, but one of them was, “We set rate based on what we know but we get paid to get it done.”

Which is a clear statement of, “You got to produce the work.”

I don’t like hands-on development.

I’m good at it.

I’m not particularly quick.

The quality of the results usually are of high quality and they solve a problem that the organization needs to have solved.

In some respects, I view this as a frontier in that regard.

I don’t want to say I’m experimenting at the expense of the people on my team, because that’s a cynical way to look at it.

I believe it’s going to succeed.

I believe it’s already succeeding.

Our goal in pursuit of making good data products is first, start with an excellent team.

I wanted to know how to do that.

I want to know things.

I want to know how to make a high-performing team.

By the way, speaking of uncommon teams, high-performing teams, I like the Patrick Lencioni model, because it’s easy to understand. Once you learn to read allegory, it’s easy to understand.

“I know it, I can teach it, I can fix it when it breaks.”

Those are three important things that are helping me help the team get better.

I like all of the people on this team.

I like this organization.

You don’t always like the places that you work and you don’t always like the people with whom you work.

I like it here and I like the people.

And for the most part, they like me.

Within my team, within the team I oversee, we’ve worked hard at that cultural part.

So why now?

The answer is, partially for the adventure.

It’s also a belief that we will succeed.

And, “We will succeed, because.”

If you can’t answer that question, you shouldn’t try it.

You don’t have to know all the becauses at the outset.

But you got to have some of them laid out.

Because the first becauses leads to layers of deeper becauses and those reasons, those details, eventually culminate in excellence.

Also, it’s a way to serve.

It’s the appropriate way for me to serve in this place right now.

And their success is my success.

The success of the individual engineers on my team, and the data analysts, the success of our internal stakeholders and our users, our external customers, our corporate partners, their success is my success.

The biggest and most important part of that is people.

My alma mater is good at college football, and I’ve been to almost three hundred, I’ve attended almost three hundred of their games.

I call it a second religion. It’s really quite domineering in my life, to be honest, and it starts Saturday at 3:30, you can watch it on TV.

We had a coach from 1951 through 1978, highly successful, and he wrote a book, and that book was called You Win With People.

Boy, is that true.

I want to know how to do that.

That’s why I’m doing it.

Michael 38:01

Wonderful reason to do it.

Dave 38:04

It is if you have a reasonable belief you can succeed.

Because if you don’t, you’re messing with people’s success, and you got to take that pretty seriously.

Michael 38:15

Absolutely. 100%.

If people would like to connect with you, Dave, and talk more about your models, your process, everything else that we’ve talked about today, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?

Dave 38:33

Well, email or LinkedIn.

You can find me on LinkedIn. There is actually more than one Dave Rodabaugh on LinkedIn, but I think I’m the only one in Columbus, Ohio doing data products. So, you should be able to narrow that down.

Michael 38:51

Excellent. And I’ll have those links in the show notes.

Dave 38:55

Thank you very much.

Michael 38:57

What would you like to leave our audience with today?

Dave 39:07

If I can do it, you can do it too.

There isn’t anything special about me.

In fact, I would suggest the opposite.

I especially would like to encourage people that if they hear this story and they go, “You know what? I’m impaired the same way.”

Because there is a certain percentage of the population.

One of my sons has this problem in the circuit.

I have one son that the circuit works brilliantly, one or two standard deviations to the right of the mean if you could quantify that sort of thing.

I watch him, I go, “I wish I had that.”

I’ve got another son that he’s more like me.

And if I can do it, he can do it.

Another thing to leave them with is, don’t get caught up in the details of the path.

There is no “the path.” There is no “the sequence of operations” to go from not as good to better.

In my own life, I’ve quit, people say, “What do you picture yourself doing in five years?”

Look, I don’t know what I’m eating for dinner tonight.

I have no, I’ve totally stopped predicting what life is going to be like in five years because it’s always wrong.

Everything is a learning opportunity.

Everything is in pursuit of a goal.

Don’t worry about whether I should learn this first and this second and this third.

We can invert the order of operations or scramble them around and at the end we can arrive at the same learning, the same excellence.

I don’t disagree that the order probably influences a) the success that you have along the way and b) your perception of the factors that contribute to excellence.

But that’s diversity of experience.

The way to deal with blind spots is not to, in my opinion, is not to work on becoming visible where you, getting visibility where you have the blind spots; that’s a weakness, you shouldn’t focus on your weaknesses.

It is to partner with people that don’t have the same blind spots.

There’s wisdom in the counsel of many.

But don’t get hung up in the specifics of the learning and the path that you take.

Just work at it constantly.

You can be an intellectual plodder, and by that I mean P L O D D E R.

The tortoise couldn’t run nearly as fast as the hare, but he won the race by never stopping putting one foot in front of the other.

That’s worked well for me, especially when it comes to trying to form an uncommon team.

Michael 42:32

Thank you so much for your time today, Dave.

And thank you, audience for joining us today.

David and I want to know: where are your models failing you? What troubles are you having finding and developing models? What else have we talked about that you’d like to know more about? Let us know.

Have a great day.

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