How to Take Radical Ownership of Your Life and Career — Claire Hughes Johnson

How to Take Radical Ownership of Your Life and Career — Claire Hughes Johnson

Preview (00:00:00)

  • Claire Hughes Johnson is a guest on Tim Ferriss's podcast.
  • Taking radical ownership means taking responsibility for your life and career.
  • It involves being proactive, taking initiative, and making things happen.
  • It means not blaming others or making excuses for your circumstances.
  • It means being willing to learn and grow, and to take risks.
  • It means being persistent and never giving up on your goals.
  • Self-awareness is key to taking radical ownership of your life and career.
  • It involves understanding your strengths and weaknesses, your values and passions, and your goals and dreams.
  • It means being honest with yourself about who you are and what you want.
  • It means being open to feedback from others and willing to make changes to improve yourself.
  • Setting clear goals is essential for taking radical ownership of your life and career.
  • Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • They should be written down and reviewed regularly.
  • You should have both short-term and long-term goals.
  • Your goals should be challenging but realistic.
  • Once you have set clear goals, you need to take action and overcome obstacles to achieve them.
  • This involves taking risks, being persistent, and never giving up.
  • It means being willing to learn and grow, and to adapt your plans as needed.
  • It means being resourceful and finding creative solutions to problems.
  • It means being resilient and bouncing back from setbacks.
  • Having a support system is important for taking radical ownership of your life and career.
  • This can include friends, family, mentors, or coaches.
  • A support system can provide encouragement, advice, and accountability.
  • They can help you stay motivated and on track.
  • They can also help you celebrate your successes.
  • Taking radical ownership of your life and career is not easy, but it is worth it.
  • It gives you the power to create the life you want and to achieve your goals.
  • It makes you more resilient and adaptable in the face of challenges.
  • It gives you a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

Say the thing you think you cannot say. (00:01:00)

  • Claire Hughes Johnson emphasizes the importance of authentic operating principles, including expressing true thoughts and feelings, even when difficult.
  • Fred Kofman, an accountant turned leadership coach, inspired Johnson to adopt this principle and influenced her leadership journey at Google.
  • During Johnson's tenure at Google, the company experienced significant growth, expanding from around 1,800 employees in 2004 to nearly 60,000 employees in 2014.
  • Sheryl Sandberg, then VP of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, prioritized investment in management and organizational skills, utilizing the company's financial resources for management training.
  • Radical ownership involves taking responsibility for one's life and career, addressing unspoken issues, and giving direct feedback in management conversations.

Detoxifying your left-hand column. (00:07:05)

  • To detoxify your inner language, ask questions instead of making judgments, and reframe thoughts to encourage curiosity and openness.
  • Be mindful of how you communicate to avoid negative reactions and address underlying issues or concerns within team dynamics.
  • Leadership involves identifying and addressing unspoken issues that hinder progress, such as duplicate work and dependencies between teams.
  • Taking risks and having uncomfortable conversations is crucial for growth and progress, even if it means saying things you're not sure you should say.
  • Practice radical ownership by stating your hypothesis and being open to validation or revision based on feedback.

Victim versus player. (00:15:30)

  • Fred Kofman's concept of "victim versus player" describes how individuals either take responsibility for their actions (players) or blame external factors (victims).
  • Coaching individuals from a victim mindset to a player mindset can be challenging, especially for those later in their careers who may be unaware of their behavior.
  • Leaders who avoid responsibility can become "empire builders," accumulating resources and accountability without taking true ownership.
  • To take radical ownership of your life and career, address uncomfortable situations and identify areas where you could have taken different actions.
  • Use productivity tools to increase accountability and transparency.
  • Recognize and address patterns of behavior that hinder your progress.
  • Employ the "five whys" technique to delve deeper into the root causes of problems.
  • Self-awareness is crucial for personal and professional growth.
  • Anthony de Mello's book "Awareness" is recommended for developing self-awareness.

Recommended reading. (00:25:05)

  • Claire Hughes Johnson recommends reading Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" for its profound impact on her worldview and understanding of literature's possibilities.
  • Woolf, an avant-garde polymath and feminist, wrote on various topics despite her problematic personal views.
  • "To the Lighthouse," considered Woolf's most significant novel, offers a dream-like, introspective narrative that explores deep themes of life, death, love, and family.
  • Johnson emphasizes the book's enduring relevance and its ability to connect with readers at different stages of their lives.
  • Despite Woolf's personal struggles and tragic suicide, Johnson highlights her ability to create maternal and nurturing characters in her writing.

The case for reading fiction. (00:31:32)

  • Reading fiction offers deep insights into the human condition, builds empathy, and enhances emotional intelligence.
  • Great novels transport readers to different cultures, providing a deeper understanding than travel guides.
  • Emotional exercise through literature and great films promotes personal growth and has a more profound impact than short-form video content.
  • Fiction often delivers truths more efficiently than nonfiction, making it valuable for personal development.
  • Reading fiction, particularly science fiction and magical realism, enhances creativity and problem-solving skills by exploring thought-provoking concepts.
  • Consuming diverse content leads to connecting disparate fields and ideas, resulting in innovative outcomes.
  • Despite busy schedules, reading fiction is essential for fostering creativity and intellectual growth.

Crafting a working-with-me document. (00:39:43)

  • A "working-with-me" document is a user manual that helps others understand how to work with you effectively.
  • It includes information such as your communication preferences, work style, expectations, and learning style.
  • It can be beneficial for both managers and individual contributors, and can help reduce anxiety and establish clear guidelines for collaboration.
  • Feedback from colleagues and direct reports can help you improve and refine your document.
  • Regularly review and update your document to ensure it accurately reflects your evolving preferences and behaviors.
  • Encourage team members to create their own "working-with-me" documents to facilitate mutual understanding and effective communication.

Make the implicit explicit. (00:48:11)

  • To reduce anxiety and encourage honesty, make implicit structures and beliefs explicit.
  • Add questions like "How do I help you make great decisions?" or "How do you like to make decisions?" to your working-with-me document to clarify your expectations.
  • Be explicit about your preferred communication protocols, such as whether an FYI email requires a response.
  • Clearly specify the desired outcome and the process to achieve it.
  • Inclusion ensures that everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinions, leading to better outcomes.

An Irish Goodbye. (00:54:01)

  • Claire recommends watching the short film "An Irish Goodbye", which is about 22-23 minutes long.
  • It can be found on Vimeo and possibly YouTube.
  • The film is described as hilarious, profound, and outstanding.
  • Claire believes Tim will enjoy it based on their shared interest in fiction.
  • Tim suggests watching "An Irish Goodbye" first to set a positive impression before moving on to "Little, Big".

Email policies. (00:55:11)

  • Claire Hughes Johnson discusses strategies for improving email management, including prioritizing emails based on sender and content relevance.
  • She recommends avoiding the "last in, first out" approach and focusing on the most important emails first.
  • Johnson suggests labeling and organizing important emails for later reading and setting clear expectations with people you invest in regarding your preferred communication methods.
  • This approach reduces cognitive load and eliminates guilt associated with not reading emails promptly.

Renegotiating the terms of expectations. (01:01:03)

  • People often feel guilty about disappointing others.
  • It is important to renegotiate the terms of expectations to avoid feeling trapped and overwhelmed.
  • Examples of renegotiating expectations include:
    • Telling people about your habits and preferences and giving them permission to contact you if needed.
    • Not making decisions about time or resource commitments in the moment without considering your future self.
    • Avoiding making decisions when rushed or compromised.
  • Do not make decisions about time or resource commitments in the moment without considering your future self.
  • Avoid making decisions when rushed or compromised.

Listening for the quiet no. (01:03:28)

  • When someone asks you to do something, pay attention to your initial reaction.
  • If you immediately say yes, consider whether you truly want to do it or if you feel obligated to say yes.
  • Don't respond immediately to requests. Give yourself time to think about whether it's a priority and if it aligns with your goals.
  • If you find yourself frequently renegotiating commitments, it's a sign that you're not making the right decisions in the first place.

Money versus time. (01:06:02)

  • Claire's mother, a talented mathematician, chose to major in history for more control over her time.
  • She realized the trade-off between money and time and prioritized time over a potentially more lucrative career.
  • Professors have more control over their time, which is what Claire's mother wanted.
  • Peter Thiel says people don't value their time highly enough.
  • Claire is trying to be less responsive to emails to avoid mortgaging her time.

Good rules can be liberating. (01:08:02)

  • Rules can help stop you from saying yes to things that don't align with your goals or priorities.
  • Examples of rules:
    • No more boards.
    • No more travel unless it meets certain criteria.
  • Criteria for travel:
    • Important to Stripe.
    • Personal connection that is meaningful.
    • Can be done with less friction (e.g., bundled with another commitment).
    • Can control when it is.
  • If a commitment doesn't meet the criteria, buy time to think about it.
  • The speaker had a rule of not joining any more boards.
  • A talented founder persistently asked her to be an observer at board meetings.
  • The speaker agreed to attend as an observer, but set expectations that she would not join the board.
  • After attending a few meetings, the speaker realized she couldn't commit to attending all meetings.
  • She renegotiated her commitment to attend only virtual meetings and declined in-person meetings.

Leadership and disappointment. (01:11:12)

  • Leadership entails making difficult decisions and managing expectations to gain acceptance and forgiveness.
  • While management focuses on executing known tasks, leadership involves pursuing uncertain visions and inspiring followership.
  • Stripe's user-centric culture emphasized assisting customers, with everyone contributing to support when needed.
  • Claire Hughes Johnson successfully built a 24/7 support system despite initial challenges and setbacks.
  • Authenticity, honesty, and a commitment to finding solutions are essential, even when expectations are not immediately met.

Renegotiating past disappointment. (01:16:39)

  • To avoid sounding like a victim when facing challenges, take ownership and renegotiate deadlines, being transparent with superiors about potential delays.
  • Prioritize tasks based on their importance and potential impact, seeking support and agreement from superiors when adjusting priorities.
  • Set clear priorities and expectations with your team to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Be aware of the "reality distortion" phenomenon and don't let your self-worth be tied solely to your work or goals.
  • Strive to make meaningful progress even when faced with challenging goals, focusing on achievable milestones.
  • Be data-driven and humble when discussing your progress and mistakes, publicly sharing your learnings and what you're doing differently to move forward.
  • Be mindful of your talent bind and recognize that you can only do so many things at once.
  • When facing challenges, present options and seek input from others to find the best solutions.
  • Take responsibility and be proactive in renegotiating commitments, communicating promptly and apologetically when rescheduling or canceling.
  • Provide context and be vulnerable to build rapport and understanding, being mindful of potential reputational impacts, especially for women.
  • Reevaluate personal priorities and communicate when demands exceed capacity.

Asking a question versus stating an opinion. (01:37:34)

  • To foster open discussions, especially in leadership roles, ask questions instead of stating opinions.
  • When seeking commitments from others, prioritize understanding their perspectives before sharing your own.
  • Refrain from immediately providing solutions when coaching or mentoring others; instead, encourage them to trust their instincts and develop their decision-making skills.
  • Effective teaching involves guiding individuals through the learning process rather than simply providing answers.
  • Establish personal rules to prevent yourself from immediately offering solutions, even when you have the answers.
  • Avoid impulsive commitments; take time to consider requests before committing.
  • Be mindful of the tendency to please others and prioritize your own needs and commitments.

Training wheels for a “no.” (01:41:17)

  • Instead of giving a direct "no", consider saying "I'm not sure, can you get back to me next week?"
  • This tactic communicates that you're willing to consider the request but encourages the person to explore other options.
  • If they don't find other options, they can get back to you by a specific date.
  • Ask yourself why it's not just a "no" if you find yourself doing this.
  • Putting the ball in their court can help you avoid dealing with persistent people who may not be persistent enough to follow up.

Time, talent, treasure, and testimony. (01:42:54)

  • To avoid feeling overwhelmed by requests for support, set clear criteria for when you will commit your time, treasure, talent, and testimony.
  • When someone asks for your time, consider whether you can offer a specific, limited contribution, such as reading a press release or making an introduction.
  • Be clear with others about what you can and cannot commit to, and don't be afraid to say no to requests that don't align with your criteria.
  • Use a five-minute assessment to screen potential hires by providing interview questions instead of scheduling a phone call (Claire Hughes Johnson).
  • Receive specific questions via text, such as supplement recommendations or intermittent fasting advice, which can be answered quickly due to expertise (Tim Ferriss).

Spotting bad apples while hiring. (01:47:29)

  • Ask for specific quantifiable rankings of a candidate's performance, such as "Is this someone in the top 20 percent of people you've ever worked with?"
  • Ask the candidate's previous manager what they could do to help the candidate improve. This can reveal important information about the candidate's weaknesses.

If you’re not self-aware, how would you know? (01:49:34)

  • Self-awareness is the foundation for everything else.
  • Some telltale signs of a lack of self-awareness include:
    • Consistently getting feedback that you disagree with.
    • Feeling frustrated and annoyed because you don't agree with your team's direction or decisions.
    • Feeling drained at the end of a workday and can't pinpoint why.
    • Not being able to describe what work you do and don't enjoy doing.
  • Self-awareness is important because you need to understand yourself before you can get great results from the people around you.
  • You can't move the mountain alone, you need to compliment yourself with other capabilities and skills.
  • Many people think they're the director at every scene, but they're often just an extra. Knowing this can make you more effective.
  • Many work style assessments can help you figure out your defaults.
  • Some common questions these assessments ask include:
    • Are you more introverted or extroverted?
    • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    • What are your values?
    • What are your goals?

Work style assessments for self-awareness building. (01:52:34)

  • Personality typing tests like Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Enneagram, Discovery Insights, Hogan Assessment, Big Five, and StrengthsFinder can help individuals understand their preferences and tendencies.
  • Two key axes in personality typing are introversion vs. extroversion and task-oriented vs. people-oriented.
  • Different personality types tend to gravitate towards certain fields, such as extroverted, people-oriented individuals in sales and introverted, task-oriented individuals in engineering, finance, and programming.
  • It's important to avoid stereotyping and generalizing based on personality types, but understanding one's own default settings and those of others can create more effective and inclusive environments.
  • Cultivate awareness of your default settings and behaviors, and consider work style assessments like Insights Discovery and the Big Five personality test to gain insights into your own and others' behaviors.
  • Be aware of your personality traits and how they influence your actions, such as high agreeableness and conscientiousness leading to over-committing.
  • Embrace discomfort and be willing to say "no" or make changes to protect your time and priorities.
  • Value diversity in teams, as different personality styles can complement each other and create a more effective dynamic.
  • Tim Ferriss expresses his desire to have Gregg Popovich, a renowned basketball coach, on his show.

Paragons of no. (02:00:10)

  • Sheryl Sandberg is good at being accessible, fast, and decisive in saying no.
  • Some people use a "cleanup crew" to cancel or decline commitments on their behalf.
  • Engineering leaders at Google were bold in openly declining meetings they deemed unnecessary.
  • A finance board member sets clear objectives and time limits for meetings, prioritizing productivity over闲聊.

No more boards. (02:02:36)

  • Claire Hughes Johnson reduced her board commitments due to the significant time investment required.
  • Serving on boards can be valuable but time-consuming, so it's important to carefully consider the commitment before joining.
  • Boards can significantly impact one's schedule and interfere with other commitments.
  • Renegotiating current commitments and setting clear criteria for future board commitments can help manage the time and commitment involved.
  • Governance matters for institutions and companies, but it's crucial to be aware of the significant commitment involved in serving on boards.

Pushers and pullers. (02:06:50)

  • High performers can be categorized into two types: pushers, who constantly seek more responsibility and recognition, and pullers, who are highly competent and consistent but don't actively seek more work.
  • Pushers can burn themselves out and the people around them, while pullers may not reach their full potential without being challenged.
  • For pushers, ensure that their colleagues enjoy working with them and provide direct feedback on their strengths and areas for improvement.
  • For pullers, it's essential to work on delegation, saying no, and setting boundaries.
  • Both types need to understand that true success involves avoiding pyrrhic victories and valuing the contributions of all team members.
  • Radical ownership involves taking full responsibility for your life and career, rather than blaming external factors or circumstances.

Parting thoughts. (02:14:20)

  • Tim Ferriss took copious notes during the discussion and plans to follow up on important side quests.
  • He recommends Claire Hughes Johnson's book, "Scaling People: Tactics for Management and Company Building," for its tactical advice, templates, frameworks, and specific strategies.
  • Claire Hughes Johnson's Twitter handle is @chughesjohnson.
  • The Stripe Press website has digital-only content, including interviews with leaders, which will be linked in the show notes.
  • Tim Ferriss thanks Claire Hughes Johnson for the wide-ranging and stimulating discussion.
  • Listeners can find links to everything discussed in the show notes at by searching for Claire.
  • Tim Ferriss encourages listeners to be a little bit kinder than necessary to others and to themselves.

Overwhelmed by Endless Content?