with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, I speak to Stephen “Shed” Shedletzky, on how to foster a speak-up culture where people feel safe, trusted and worthy.

“Shed”, as he is known to everyone, is an author and coach who helps leaders and organisations create a culture where people feel encouraged, safe and valued in speaking-up.

He became the fourth person to join well-known leadership expert Simon Sinek’s team and has had the roles of Chief of Staff and Head of Brand Experience, Training & Development. The two still collaborate together.

He is also a TEDx Speaker Coach and the author of Speak-Up Culture: When Leaders Truly Listen, People Step Up.

In this episode we talk about:

✅  How he overcame a stutter and fear of public speaking to become a guru in speak-up culture.

✅  His framework and principles for helping you build a speak-up culture at work, and

✅  The most important things to consider in delivering a TEDx level presentation.

Thanks to former guest, James Whittaker, for introducing me to Shed.

Connecting with Stephen Shedletzky

You can connect with Stephen via LinkedIn and the Shed Inspires website. You can also see his Speak-Up Matrix on his website.

Books and resources

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“Know that if you are a leader, you have an impact on the health and wellbeing of the people around you. That's why leadership is either a life-depleting or life-feeding line of work.”


On working with Simon Sinek

  • Simon speaks of a more inspired, safe and fulfilled world. And I'm still contributing to that vision of the world. I want folks to feel inspired by their path. I want people to feel safe, psychologically safe and fulfilled. Fulfilment is where we can use our strengths toward a cause bigger than ourselves.
  • Two thirds of an answer is better than an answer and a half. It's better to be brief than to answer a question and then have to answer it again. 
  • So much of Simon's message is all about the inside out; that you must live what you preach from the inside out of you as a person, authentically, as well as your team.
  • Talk less, say more, and culture must be lived from the inside-out. 

On being a TEDx speaker coach

  • “It's very hard to read the label on the jar when you're stuck inside of the jar.” What I love about TED is that it’s a community that rewards ideas. They don't reward speakers because TED isn't searching for who's the most compelling speaker who has a new book out, like most other conferences do. TED looks at whose idea has the most efficacy to move the world forward.
  • What you end up getting is a lot of people who aren't necessarily practised or talented at speaking and so the fun is how can you work with and help mould someone who's really compelling, but doesn't yet know it and help them show up as their most compelling self.
  • The challenge is, as with anyone, it’s easy to be subjective, hard if not impossible to be objective. And so part of the fun and beauty of working as a TEDx speaker coach is to help point out to someone the stuff that's really compelling in how they share their story or their content, how they speak or the order. I often find that folks share their TED talk in the wrong order. My job is to go, “Hey, move this piece here, talk in the third person there and then go, that was me, by the way.”

On speak-up culture

  • There's a movement around speak-up and speak-out and challenging authority and a lot of societal pushback. When I think about speak-up culture, though, I define it as an environment in which members of a team feel that it is both psychologically safe and worth it to speak up, and speak up with ideas even if they're half-baked but can make things better.
  • And then to offer feedback to one another and to those more junior to those more senior in the organisational chart. The purpose of feedback is in those first four letters. It's not called “knock-down” back. It's called “feed” back. The purpose of feedback is to help one another grow and to share concerns before they become ethical or real tangible issues to a business.
  • One of the myths of a speak-up culture is that everyone gets along and agrees about everything all the time. No, that's a faux pas. That's not how real relationships thrive. Real relationships thrive when we use conflict with intention so as to propel upwards to learn and grow.
  • COVID accelerated some things in the sense that a lot of folks had an experience where they evaluated their lot in life. They said to themselves, “Is this what I truly want?” And so, in some respects, I think there's been great progress in what I want out of life and career. Where do I want to live? What type of job do I want? Do I want a career to be my number one goal? Do I want to work to live, or live to work?

On building trust

  • Trust is a belief that another party or parties have your own best interests at heart and in mind and in practice.
  • Trust can grow through reputation. So our reputation walks in the door before we do.
  • Trust means that I'm willing to tell you the truth even if it's hard to hear, which means that I could say, “Hey, I don't want to do this deal for you because I don't think it's good for you long-term. Let me explain why.”
  • I've heard trust broken down into four C's: Competency, Consistency, Compassion, and Character.
  • On the work from home versus hybrid work that companies are imposing, introduce me to someone who's very pleased to be mandated. Mandates and happiness are not typically strongly correlated. I'm a big believer in the nature of the work should dictate where the work takes place. And I'm all for in-person connection. And I want it to be strategic because there is nothing worse than forcing your people to commute in, have time away from seeing their kids off to school or take care of their dry cleaning or grocery or whatever, just to go into an office and freaking sit in another virtual meeting. That makes zero sense. Make the time in person strategic and a value add. If you have to mandate back to the office for the sake of the lease, then you have bigger problems.

On his Speak-Up Matrix

  • Speaking up in a speak-up culture is not without fear. It's actually feeling the fear, using it as data, and then choosing how to pursue it. So that’s the vertical axis – safety to fear. That said, I realised that the opposite of safety isn't fear, it’s danger – psychological danger. And on the other axis is apathy to impact (is it worth it?).
  • So the top right quadrant is where there's a common perception that it both feels safe and feels worth it to speak up –  we all want to be a part of a team like this. It isn't without an absence of fear, as I said, but it feels safe enough and that it is worth it. So if I have an intervention, that I speak up, that I share feedback, whatever it might be, and that I'm encouraged to do so. And more importantly, rewarded after I've taken that risk and spoken up. And the sweet spot of a speak-up culture includes tact, decency, respect, emotional intelligence, situational awareness. A speak-up culture is not sucking up, and a speak-up culture is not a hall pass to be a jerk.
  • Then the lower left quadrant is an unhappy marriage of danger and apathy or danger and futility. It isn't safe to speak up and even if we did, nothing would change. We'd get in trouble and it would be the status quo. And that's where we get resignation or quiet quitting.
  • The top left quadrant is high safety, but low impact. You and I can be best of friends. We go back 25 years and you realise that I'm doing something that's getting in the way of my success. You feel safe to have that intervention with me, but it doesn’t mean anything would change.
  • And then the bottom right quadrant is, it isn't safe, it's dangerous, but it's worth it. This is Boeing. I don't feel safe saying what's wrong with this manufacturing process or facility or culture, but I'm willing to raise my hand and take personal risk because something has to change for the safety of passengers and staff.

On managing cross-border cultures

  • Japanese culture, which is the birthplace of Kaizen, namely continuous improvement and from the Toyota manufacturing process, where they reward folks for pulling that cord because they see something that either there's a safety issue or we can make an improvement. We took Kaizen and continuous improvement, brought it over to the US and called it “lean”, which is why it doesn't work because you market the output and you take value away from the input in the process that sustainably gets you that output.
  • I would say the languages should be, I think, an artefact of the culture. I define culture as how we treat each other, how we behave, how work gets done in the context of an organisation, and the language used. The particular language in that culture is an artefact or an output or representation of what the culture is.

On why people struggle with speaking up

  • It's because it's hard. It's hard to have the courage to receive feedback. The biggest thing that trips leaders up or makes them ineffective, is insecurity. It’s fine to be insecure, but note that arrogance is actually insecurity. It's just loud. Ironically, this has given me greater empathy for when someone is arrogant!
  • What's interesting is you can both be confident and humble at the same time, but you can't be humble and arrogant at the same time. Confidence is the belief that you're good. Humility is knowing that you can always get better and that there are people who are better than you at things than you are.
  • The work of leadership is in helping others figure out what their instrument is. How do they fine tune to play it at their best in an ever-dynamic changing world and how to harmonise and play best with others. Secure leaders or strong leaders; insecure leaders are at risk of being toxic leaders.
  • We live in a culture that celebrates the individual too much. And behind every great leader is an amazing team. The most impressive leadership attribute I know is humility, which is an honest and modest view of oneself. And so I would pick anyone who realises that they're great because of the support of the people that they have around them.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders 

  • As a leader, especially if you're in a C-Suite role, you are, as I describe, a capital L leader. You have the title, but just because you have the title doesn't give you a hall pass, you still have to behave in a way that is worthy of that title. And I would say that your whisper is a shout and your tiptoes are stomps. Everyone is listening and watching your every move.
  • The relationship we have to our direct boss has more of an impact on our health than that of our relationship to our family doctor, and it's at par with our life partner. The number of times I hear CEOs say, “We're not doing heart surgery here.” But know that if you are a formal leader, you have an impact on the health and wellbeing of the people around you. So that's why leadership is either a life depleting or life feeding line of work.

Deal hope,