Inspiring leaders are passionate.
Cal Misener, who is a Culture Champion and Operations manager at TELUS, spoke with me over video chat and I swear there was energy exuding through my computer screen during our conversation about inspirational leadership. He is certainly passionate about his work!
Cal told me that he strives to find meaningful alignment in his work, and he takes great pride in ensuring that he enables his team to do the same. Cal believes we can be a more inspiring leader when we foster passion in ourselves and others.
But what does that mean?
Yesterday in a really interesting post by my amazing friend and fellow speaker, Laura Gassner Otting (linked in comments), she highlights that “following your passion” is bad advice and it is instead we need to think about passion as an active investment, not a passive wait-until-you-suddenly-crave-to-do-your-work feeling.
When I spoke with Cal, I realized he was talking about that *active* passion. Cal told me that he finds opportunity to invest in his work, explores things that interest him, stays curious, and reshapes elements of his job that lead to future opportunities which light him up a little more.
Cal noted that if we can empower people to “be passionate”, which is really is about helping them stay curious and lean into their strengths, then they are more likely to put in the discretionary effort that some may label as passion.
So my take away, Inspiring leaders are passionate. Not in the way that is a they-found-their-calling kind of thing, but instead that they are so willing to do the work, to keep “swimming” and find the next thing that brings them a bit more energy. They work for passion. And that is inspiring.
Curious to hear what everyone else thinks. How do you define passion? Does it exist? And if so, how do you know if you’re feeling it?
Cal Misener is a consultant, coach, facilitator and international speaker who is passionate about helping individuals and organizations achieve alignment between what is important to them personally, the work that they do as well as the impact they want to make. Cal is also the author of the best selling book “The Freedom Framework” which helps people align their passions with their profession. Cal has over 20 years of experience in a business environment and has a number of core strengths including leadership, communication and developing deep connections with other people.
Cal has gone through his own personal transformation of doing work that he was not that excited about to being able to focus exclusively on his passion of helping others achieve meaningful alignment in their lives. Cal has also been able to support the transformation of hundreds of others in order to ensure they are more aligned in their lives and has created a framework that can also help you or your organization, no matter how big or small.
Cal is a man of many pursuits including anything in the outdoors, travelling, fishing, and cooking. He currently lives with his wife on an island off of Canada’s West Coast. Find out more about Cal and his work at www.highperformanceculture.ca
Sarah: Hello, we have Cal Misener here. I am so excited to be talking with Cal because Cal and I are recent friends on LinkedIn. And what drew me to Cal was that his title had chief happiness officer. And I was like, I don’t care what this person does. I need to be friends with them. So Cal, thank you so much for being here.
Cal Misener: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’m excited for our conversation.
Sarah: Yeah. Through my internet searching of kind of like who is Cal Misener, I’ve seen that you’ve had a few different roles but largely stuck it out at Telus for 28 years, which is kind of unheard of in this day and age to be with one brand for that long. And so I’m really interested to explore your definition of inspirational leadership because I imagine you’ve seen this in the same environment transform over time which is unique perspective to have, because you can’t attribute it to a different culture, a different team, a different this. You stayed in that same bubble so I have no doubt the evolution of this has been very interesting
Cal Misener: For sure. For sure.
Sarah: So my first question is really about what is that inspirational leadership definition to you and maybe even walk us through the journey of what that looked like early on and what that looks like now?
Cal Misener: Sure. Well, early on interesting like many people, I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. And what I do to this day and what I love helping other people with is I really recreate my role every 18 to 24 months. And so for me, that’s the inspirational part is there’s so much possibility, there’s so many things that we can do and there’s something you and I talked about a little bit that I call meaningful alignment. And that is really what are the things that light you up? What are you most passionate about? And then how do you bring that to the workplace?
Cal Misener: And what I think is so exciting about that concept is the things that excite me change over time. So like what excited me three years ago is different than what excites me now. And so there’s this constant ability to realign and redefine. And so to me that’s the inspirational part is I find it sad. I think some people don’t feel like they have possibilities even in their current role or the current company and in my experience that’s just not the case. There’s always a way to realign or to get more deeply fulfilled from the work that you’re doing even today. And as an inspirational leader, I think my job is to help people extract that, like what is that thing?
Sarah: I have not heard this yet really about like inspirational leadership can be defined as reinvention. As a leader who’s constantly defining themselves is inspiring to be around. And I think that when you’re saying this and it’s your job to help activate this in other people what are you doing to do that? What does that look like?
Cal Misener: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I started literally several years ago and part of what I call my reconnection journey and that was just really getting more deeply aligned within myself. I started doing some deeper inner work and then I started asking myself deeper questions. And then I thought, “I wonder if I could bring this to the workplace.” And it’s not hugely profound. Like for example, in one-on-one conversations with team members, I would say, “Okay, forget all about Telus, forget all about this role. What do you want to do with your life man? Where do you want to go and how can I help you get there?”
Cal Misener: And the cool thing is people just respond to that and there’s like, “I’ve never been asked that question.” And the other thing I think many of us have never really thought deeply about that. So for some people it’s actually a bit of a challenge. It’s like, well, I don’t know. I’ve never thought about that. What do you mean? What’s my passion, what’s my purpose? A lot of people haven’t even thought about that.
Cal Misener: And I’ll tell you a really interesting story. So I took over a new team and supporting, there was three managers and a number of frontline team members. And so Cal just shows up doing what Cal does. And I’m like, “Hey, we’ve got a pen and a white board and forget all about your role here at Telus and forget all about this. What do you really want to do?” And the one manager was supporting, we were really getting along well and she was what I would call my people person. So like we’re brothers and sisters, man.
Cal Misener: We’re doing cool things for our team and really enhancing our culture. And I get a call from another leader at Telus that said, “By the way you know this individual has applied on a job in my area.” And I had no idea. So she was leaving. She wanted to leave my team basically. And so I talked to her and I said, “What’s happening here, man? I thought we were coming up with great things and great ideas. And this was the profound learning. She said, “Cal I’ve been here for 27 years. Nobody’s ever asked me that question. And so I just assumed you were here to fire me.”
Cal Misener: And I was just like gobsmacked. I’m like, what? It’s the exact opposite end of the spectrum of what I was trying to do. But again, what a profound learning because she said nobody’s ever asked her that kind of question and so she just assumed the worst. I thanked her and it was a great learning and so now when I meet people, I have my caveat at the beginning. I say, “So I’m going to ask you some questions and I assure you my intentions are nothing but pure. So please don’t freak out.” But yeah, it was just a big learning to me that while I think it’s so important to help people align to what they’re passionate about, how sometimes infrequently it actually happens.
Sarah: Yeah. What’s really interesting about that too, is that it almost seems like she was convinced that by aligning something to what she’s personally passionate about, that that meant she had no place in the workforce. She had no place in your organization. And we I think often disconnect those two things between what your role is and what lights you up have to be distinctly different. And-
Cal Misener: Totally.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s an unfair understanding because we can actually be an even better version of ourselves if we do find the marriage between those two things.
Cal Misener: I think it’s imperative and you’re right. In my experience, many people believe that you have to have your work face on and then your personal face and how exhausting is that to hide a portion of yourself, especially the portion that you’re most passionate about, the things that you’re excited about.
Sarah: Absolutely. And if anything, it’s I imagine… Did that individual end up deciding to stay or did they-
Cal Misener: No, she ended up leaving but we stayed in touch. And again, I thank her every chance I get for the learning for me that just… And as you can probably tell from talking to me I can be a little bit passionate, especially around this topic. So sometimes I got to like tone it down a little bit for people and really meet people where they are at. I actually am just working on a coaching designation and we had a session on Friday that was really quite another one of those epiphanies for me. And it talked about around, you’re probably familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Sarah: Of course.
Cal Misener: Well, this is about hierarchy of needs within the workplace. And they showed this model with three concentric circles and some people really they just want to work. They just want to go to work, get a paycheck and being deeply fulfilled in that work isn’t as important to them. And then there’s another layer. And I can’t remember what that one was but it’s like, yeah, I need to find some meaning in my work where there’s balance. And then there’s, I think people like myself, the third ring was it’s really extremely important for someone like me to find deep fulfillment in my work.
Cal Misener: And if I don’t then I’m not happy and I’m looking for something else. But again, the learning was not everybody’s in that space. And so it’s another learning for me to meet people where they’re at. And some people I still think there’s some sort of even mini alignment exercise to say like, “Hey, you spend a lot of time at work. Let’s enjoy, at least let’s go with the 80:20 rule. Hopefully you enjoy a good portion of what you do.” But everybody is different.
Sarah: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. There’s a lot of layers to meeting people’s needs and filling their buckets of what fulfillment looks like whether that is literally a fulfillment of having a job or a fulfillment in kind of where that extends and ripples out to.
Cal Misener: For sure.
Sarah: When you’re being this person you’re showing up kind of as the guy who wants to inspire reinvention in others, like you feel passionate about this for them, was this behavior modeled to you. And if so who was that? And where do you remember first seeing it or hearing about it?
Cal Misener: That’s a great question. I don’t know that it was totally modeled to me, but there was one mentor I had throughout my career and I just really followed him wherever he went because, and I don’t know… Well, I guess he did model it, but what’s coming to mind for me is he was more the enabler of that. He allowed that. So I’ll give you an example. I was leading a large technical team, very technically focused and ironically working for a tech company I learned over the years, I’m not as passionate about the technology I’m more passionate about people and their growth. And so I literally phone this gentleman up and I said, “Hey, you know all that technical stuff I used to do, I don’t want to do that anymore.” And he’s like, “Okay, Cal, what is it that you want to do?”
Cal Misener: And I said, “I want to support your team but from a people and culture point of view.” And I didn’t even know what that meant at the time. Now that term is ubiquitous for HR. But at the time, and I’m not an HR guy, I’m just a guy that’s got 25 plus years of leadership experience and loves people and loves supporting their growth. So he said, “Okay, I’ll play along. What’s your plan?” And I was like, “A plan. I don’t have a plan. I’m just trying to follow my heart here.” So my point was having a leader that I’m not sure that he completely modeled that behavior, but certainly created a space for me to do it.
Cal Misener: And then for me to support. So at one point I was supporting his team, which was 700 people across Canada. And through that exercise, I was able to really completely redefine the work that I did and focused on the things that I was passionate about and get help with the things I wasn’t quite as passionate about. And then I was able to work with our 70 leaders and 700 team members in total to go through a similar process. And I thought, “Hey, if I can facilitate this almost instant realignment of my work, I wonder if I can help do that with others.” And so that’s really the journey I’ve been on ever since.
Sarah: It’s almost like he really listened to that part of you that, going back to what you almost said at the beginning about what lights you up now, isn’t what lights you up five years from now isn’t what lights you up 10 years from now. And so he was genuinely curious and comfortable with letting you kind of say, “Hey, here are my strengths right now. Here’s what I’m best suited to do right now based off of my interest, based off of what I’m committed to based off of I’m sure other life experiences and having a leader that’s kind of willing to understand, help you and help you lean into those strengths so that whether he had you on your team in that technical role, or had you on his team as the people person, he knew that you had some assets to bring to the table and he really helped take a match and light that on fire or you were the match. He just helped ignite I guess.
Cal Misener: Yeah. Agreed.
Sarah: That’s really interesting.
Cal Misener: And I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think he… Passion is the highest currency you have. If someone’s, if someone’s passionate about whatever it is, they’re going to give it that discretionary effort. And the other thing that’s super cool I think in a team environment, I learned this over the years is there’s some things I’m really passionate about and there’s things I’m definitely not passionate about like data and analytics would be one of them. I’m good at it but I don’t love it but what I-
Sarah: Never the being good at it part. Not good at it at all.
Cal Misener: Okay. Fair enough. But the cooler thing is and again, this inspires me is there is someone on a team that is super passionate about data and analytics. And that’s the magic is I don’t have to be passionate about that. So I think that’s just, I often think about this as individuals. I want to be aligned and excited about the work I do for the individuals I support. I want to find the right people in the right roles doing work that they love. But then when you think about it from a team perspective, again, that’s the magic is I don’t have to be passionate or good at the things you are, but together the sum is greater than the parts. So pretty awesome.
Sarah: Absolutely. That’s really interesting to highlight of an inspiring leader. Not only like enables their team to reinvent themselves and lean into their strengths and passions, but also is kind of the puppeteer of making sure all of those individual parts or strands or lines of business are taken care of through the things that people are uniquely passionate about. This is awesome. I love this. There’s so many really amazing ideas being crystallized here.
Cal Misener: For sure. Cool. I see myself as a curator of fashion, so that’s-
Sarah: I feel that. I feel that. I’m like, “Cal, what can I do now? Let’s do something right now.” My last question here is if someone were to say, “Okay, tomorrow, I’m going to show up as a more inspiring leader. What’s one thing I can do tomorrow?” What would your piece of advice be for them?
Cal Misener: You touched on this earlier and I mentioned that I’m working on a formal coaching designation and I’ve been coaching people for 25 years but through the recent training, I learned something so profound yet so simple, which many things in life are. And here’s my summary of coaching. And the coaching industry may not like me for the simple summary, but it’s literally as leaders asking people the right questions and then giving them the space to answer it.
Cal Misener: And I know that sounds really oversimplified but back to not everybody knows what they’re passionate about or what they want to focus on. And so asking them questions like I did the girl that left my team, but asked her a question that she hadn’t considered before. And so that’s my new favorite thing to do is just ask people questions and then let them ponder.
Cal Misener: And it’s like planting these little seeds and you don’t know… I’ve had people come back to me months later and said, “Wow, that was a really great question. And I’ve been thinking about it and here’s what I’ve come up with. And awesome.” I’ll tell you another story that this one again, just struck my heart around that concept is we were leading some strategy sessions for our senior leadership team. And I’m usually the one that facilitates those sessions. But I wanted to give someone else the growth opportunity or the opportunity to expand. And again, back to being an inspiring leader, I think that’s another one of my jobs is to translate opportunity for people. It’s like, “Hey, I think you’d be good at this or this might stretch you.” And so this gentleman volunteered to facilitate these sessions.
Cal Misener: And immediately he reached out to me and set up a meeting he’s like, “Cal, I know you’ve done these before.” And he was really up in his head and for good reasons. He really wanted to do a good job. He was like, “Hey, I know we got to have like strategic outcomes, we got to have the measurements, we got to have KPIs and outputs.” And I just stopped and I kind of took a deep breath and I said, “Peter, let’s think about this a little different. I’m going to ask you a question. How do we want people to feel as a result of these sessions?”
Cal Misener: And again, it’s like one of those questions. Just stopped him and he is like, “Whoa, I never actually thought about that.” And so anyway, we worked through that and the whole idea or my thoughts were let’s bring more humanity to the workplace. Let’s bring a human aspect to this, forget about the KPIs and measurements, et cetera are important but… And so we just had this wonderful conversation about possibility and I’m asking them questions and just giving them space to think through some things and think aloud. And so right at the end of the conversation, he said, “Cal, this is by far the best conversation I’ve ever had in my working life and quite possibly my life period.”
Sarah: That is perfect.
Cal Misener: And I’m not saying that to impress you, that I had these great coaching skills, it was just the such a wonderful reminder of asking questions that are maybe a little different. The people aren’t used to giving them the space to… And the whole, what he came to through this whole conversation is like you were saying earlier. I can show up and be more human and I can bring both sides of myself. And he’s a process improvement black belt and his passion is writing novels.
Cal Misener: So I think through this conversation, he’s kind of finding a way to, “I can bring my analytical self and my creative self.” And so it was just a great reminder and so back to, I think that’s what we as leaders can do is just ask different questions, deeper questions, give people the space to work through them and what comes out of that, the magic, who knows but it’s usually profound.
Sarah: Oh my gosh. I feel like that line is like honestly struck my heart. It’s so true. That it’s a matter of simply unlocking the potential in your people. And I think it’s something that many leaders are uncomfortable with in terms of leaving that space that can feel like you are throwing your team member into the abyss. Like, “Hey, here’s this really hard and challenging question. I’m not telling you the answer and you may not even have the answer.” And it’s like, what do you think? And you kind of feel like you’re leaving them out hanging to dry or that they might feel like your one coworker did where they thought like, “Oh, they’re asking me this to test me, to fire me, to put me in a position.” No, I’m simply doing this to unlock your own potential, to help you explore your unique strengths and the things you’re passionate about and all of the things that we’ve put into this really amazing and colorful conversation here today.
Cal Misener: Totally.
Sarah: My goodness. Cal, this has been so insightful and what I love about this final line about, you can be a more inspirational leader tomorrow by simply asking a really great question and giving them the space to answer it is that is so actionable. And that is so doable. And I’m really excited. Sorry
Cal Misener: It’s so doable. No, don’t be sorry. I jumped in there too because I’m excited about this concept is the other thing like selfishly as a leader this insight came as a great relief to me. Because it’s like, “I don’t actually have to have all the answers.”
Cal Misener: I just need to help facilitate someone through their own process to come up with the answers. So to me it was like just this weight off my shoulders as well. It’s like, cool. I’ve got to witness a transformation and I didn’t do much other than ask questions and listen. That’s pretty awesome.
Sarah: Yeah. Right. Taking a bow after that.
Cal Misener: Yeah. That’s cool.
Sarah: Totally. You know you’re absolutely right. It can almost take some of the weight off that can almost suppress someone from being the best leader they possibly can because they think they need to carry the weight of their team and the answers on their shoulders. And that’s simply just not the case.
Cal Misener: Sure. Exactly. I’ll share one other little insight from the training I’ve been doing recently. This is for leaders and it’s the term they use is learn to tame the advice monster. Because it’s very easy to, instead of asking questions and giving people the space to come up with their own answers, it’s very easy as a leader to tell to dictate, to share…
Cal Misener: I’ve been in a position and currently in a position where I have some pretty young tenured leaders. So they come to me for that advice and now I think they probably get annoyed with me because I, “Well, what do you think you would do with that?” And just putting the question back on them. And not to be totally flippant about it, I’ve actually now started to say, “Look, if you really want advice, just please ask for it and I will gladly give it to you, but just know I’m going to start with asking you the questions.”
Cal Misener: So there’s kind of this hybrid between being a coach as a leader and being a mentor.
Sarah: No, I love that so much. Cal, this has been a really, really amazing conversation. I’m taking away so much here. I cannot wait to share this with all of the listeners because I know there’s a lot of gold here. So really, really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for being here. I’m looking forward to staying connected and following your journey because I have no doubt you are inspiring and empowering a lot of people in your life. So please keep in touch. Everyone enjoy this conversation because Cal is a legend.
Cal Misener: Awesome.
Sarah: Thanks so much for being here.
Thank you Sarah. All right. Thank you so much Sarah.