Working with elite performers across sports and business, Todd Herman is an entrepreneur, business coach, mentor and author and in his book the Alter ego effect, Todd has pushed the narrative of having different personas for different situations, however today, I talked to Todd about something a little different.

Following his report into how men and women CEO’s are responding to the current Covid situation I sat down with Todd to see why he wrote that report, what he found and what he thought we could learn from it. We also got into a few other areas of interest including why someone that was winning on the outside could actually be losing on the inside.

So enjoy, because in this blog you can read the best bits of my talk with Todd Herman.

I started by asking Todd why he put the report together, what his thought process was and what made him do it.

“We’re obviously working through and dealing with some fascinating times right now and while I value research, I value the action that happens on the field of play. I’m more interested in what people are actually doing, not what people are saying that they’re doing because there’s a massive divide, and when you’re working with people from a performance standpoint I like to pay attention to the words that people use because your words that you use create a fantastic window into how you perceive the world, how you perceive yourself.

When the proverbial shit was hitting the fan at the beginning March, at least here in North America, I immediately started reaching out to CEOs, founders and leaders of entrepreneur organizations and started interviewing them on a base set of questions that has evolved into something far larger just to find out what their mindset was and how they’re responding to this.”

Todd then expanded on what he expected to find.

“I was figuring that we’d probably find two specific groups, one that would be leaning towards maybe fear, the other one that was maybe leaning towards opportunity, and the reality is, there’s been three groups.

There’s a fear focussed group, there’s an unfocussed group and there’s a strategy focussed group.”

And how he found that data.

“I’ve been interviewing 91 CEOs. We’ve been tracking data with them every single week. They’ve got to be filling out certain things with me and it’s been bringing out a whole bunch of phenomenal data on who’s winning right now, who’s losing right now. What are the decisions that they’re making? What are their choices? There’s fascinating stuff between how men and women are responding differently right now and the results that they’re getting.”

I asked Todd to elaborate on the differences between an academic study and what he is doing, here’s what he had to say.

“I want to be mapping stuff back to how is it actually changing the behaviour or changing the results that you’re getting? Because there’s a lot of stuff out there that sounds wonderful and it would be lovely if it actually worked out that way, but human beings are massively nuanced and all of the stuff that sits inside of leadership books or personal books or self-help books, it just doesn’t actually bear fruit. “

Todd then provided some practical examples from within his study

“One of the examples right now of the three different groups, there is a large group of the fear focus group who are actually winning and getting some better results than some people who are strategy focussed right now, meaning the numbers inside their company are slightly better and their ability to pivot hasn’t been diminished.

My point is, people automatically make the assumption when I break down those three groups that the strategy focussed people are automatically winning. No, they’re not necessarily. But what they are winning at, better than the fear focus group is they’re actually people who are having a way higher level or way higher quality level of mental health.”

Which then transitioned into the differences between men and women

“So the people that are sitting inside of the fear focus group, men particularly, men leaders, are 4.2 times more likely to be battling moderate to severe levels of depression, so they could still be winning, but mentally, they are not winning. Their quality of sleep has diminished, so they are getting less hours of sleep and that affects almost everything. Decision making goes down when you have lack of sleep, your cortisol levels spike, so now your stress levels are spiking, your emotional regulation starts to plummet and you become all over the place and so, that’s the stuff that’s fascinating and that’s the stuff that doesn’t get talked about very often.”

I asked Todd to talk about that and to talk about the people who may be winning on the outside but struggling on the inside and how they could be more aware of that.

“So I’ve had this checklist that I’ve run through for myself because mental health, when you manage it and when you are aware of it, does it ever massively change the quality of your life.

Because people who deal with procrastination, avoidant behaviour, even sleep issues, levels of self-confidence, all of that stuff can be tracking metrics that can be going back to really you might be dealing with depression right now. So one of the things I do is to be tracking overall levels of mental health. So there’s a checklist you go through. It actually comes out of the book, Feeling Good, by Dr. Burns, called ‘The Burns Depression Checklist’, I’ve modified it a bit, put it into an Excel document that people can use and track and it actually starts to create a graph over time. I encourage people to do it, this is what we’re doing, this is why I’ve got so much data right now on mental health, every single CEO on the study is filling out this checklist weekly.”

After discussing the importance of language I asked Todd what he listens to when communicating with someone, especially in a leadership perspective

“Well, it’s the choices of words that people use to describe a situation, but then also so the word alone isn’t just enough, it’s also the emotional context around it.

So, for example, inside of the study right now, people that are in the fear focus group will use future pacing negative words 13 times more than strategy focussed people. It can also be a present tense thing, hard, difficult, now here’s the interesting thing, strategy focussed people are still using some of those words, but it’s the context around it.

So if a strategy focussed individual is saying, you know what, these are hard times, but, we’ll find the right game plan or i’ve been through hard times before and we’ll make something happen, there’s something good that’s going to come out of this.

Whereas a fear focussed person is going to sit with the actual experience of it being hard and it creates a context of doubt, whereas for the strategy focussed people, it doesn’t create the context of doubt, it creates the context of opportunity or growth, and so that’s what I mean by word choices.”

And how is that impacting on the decisions that each group is making?

“The unfocussed group is taking longer to take action. The fear focussed Group is taking the action, but the driver of the action is out of fear and the strategy focussed group is taking the action, but the driver is out of looking for the opportunity and growth and it’s those two shifts in perspective that is changing how people are experiencing this change.”

I asked Todd to tell me more about the key findings from within the three groups and specifically the differences between men and women.

“Right now women CEOs are 18% more likely to be strategy focussed than men and what’s been fascinating, through the study, what this (data) is showing, is we will actually go and retreat into traditional roles, or traditional archetypes that we live through, so women, as a group have retreated and responded into becoming far more caretakers, so what do I mean by that?

Well, just some stats, women are 351% more likely to have sent care packages to their employees than men, they’re 603% more likely to bring up child care as a personal responsibility than men are and 247% more likely to be caring for an elderly parent, but again, that’s just situational and women are taking 65% longer to make adjustments to their teams, meaning layoffs, furloughs or cutting freelancers, and again, that goes back to the psychology of a caretaker.

What that means is that before this whole thing started, women were 18% more likely to be running a more profitable venture than men were before March 1st, but now, they’re 11% less likely after March 1 and that’s because they were just taking longer to make some of the shifts with the team.

On the men’s side of things, again, like I said, men are 430% more likely to be suffering from moderate to severe depression. 85% more likely to have applied for the financial government programs than women were and men are getting 12% more sleep than women and when you take a look at some of these things it’s just fascinating things.”

What was the thing that really stood out and surprised you the most?

“Men are 225% less likely to be coachable, meaning seeking advice.

Men are seeking advice, but this is the key thing, women are seeking advice with the intent of listening and taking action. More men are battling mental health issues than women are, women have reached out, they’ve actually created more support groups around themselves than men have, and again, it’s the intent. It’s the intent of listening and taking action, which men again, not massively, but it’s still a significant amount, are just not being coachable as much as women are, that’s one thing that’s been really amazing.

The male ego is helping in some ways and hurting in others. It’s helping in optimism as men are actually more optimistic than women are that something good is going to come out of this, but where it’s hurting them is in the identification of if the business is struggling, they take it on, and that’s what’s triggering a lot of the mental health stuff.”

Todd then highlighted that these points were being driven by the data, not his own thoughts

“It’s just the data, like I said the women are just mentioning childcare more than men are. Well, that would be something that a caretaker would say more. They’re concerned about their parents more and again, how do I know they’re concerned about their parents more? Word choice. They’re just bringing it up more and I’m paying attention to what you’re saying and because your word choices are an indication of where your thoughts are leaning towards men aren’t bringing it up as much as women are.”

Final thoughts

After elaborating further on his book, The Alter Ego Effect, and taking a few questions from our listeners my time with Todd was over but it proved to be an informative, fun and fast paced podcast with a very interesting guest and someone that I could listen to all day long.

It was a great interview with some very interesting points regarding how are male and female CEO’s are responding differently to the current crisis and it’s podcast I recommend you go out and listen to immediately. You can hear the rest of the podcast and hear.

about Todd’s book and the idea of having multiple personas by clicking the link.