Bob is a Business Coach & Mountain Climber
Bob Neuman shares a similar vision to John in that every individual is more than just their profession. Bob talks about how a scary but successful mountain climbing experience brought him to this epiphany and discover his passion to help other professionals lead fulfilling lives!
• Getting into mountain climbing
• Bob’s corporate career
• Overcoming uncertainty
• The most fundamental block of an organization’s health
• Your vulnerabilities are your strengths
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Welcome to Episode 239 of What’s Your “And”? Merry Christmas! This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. And put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” those things that are above and beyond your technical skills and the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.
I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published in just a few weeks. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone is listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it. And please don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Bob Neuman. He’s a Business Coach and Consultant with Open Space Leadership. Now, he’s with me here today. Bob, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Bob: Oh, it’s my pleasure, John. Thanks for having me on the show.
John: Absolutely, man. You’re the present that I’m giving everyone on Christmas morning.
Bob: Oh, my gosh, they’re so lucky, so blessed.
John: Right. They have no idea what they’re in for, no idea.
Bob: Oh, my god.
John: You have no idea where you probably.
Bob: I’m sure about that.
John: But we’ve hung out so many times. I’m excited to have you on. I really appreciate it.
Bob: Me too.
John: But I have rapid-fire questions right out of the gate and things I’ve never asked actually for you. This will be fun for me to learn as well.
Bob: Let’s be messy.
John: Here we go. Here we go. Favorite color?
Bob: Blue. Like cyan blue, kind of a very vivid medium blue.
John: Okay. How about a least favorite color?
Bob: Some flavor of green, I suppose.
John: How about when you fly, more window seat or aisle seat?
Bob: Aisle seat.
John: Aisle? Yeah, yeah. Well, yeah, we’re both pretty tall. So yeah, for sure. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Bob: Not so much.
John: Fair enough. Yeah, it’s mostly the movie. What would you say you’re more of, an early bird or a night owl?
Bob: Early bird for sure.
John: All right. More pens or pencils?
John: Nice. No mistakes. I like that. I like that.
Bob: And just real messy I don’t care.
John: Right. Or just stretch it out, right?
Bob: Yeah. Yeah.
John: Yeah. How about for puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
John: Yeah. Nice. Okay. How about if you had to choose, Star Wars or Star Trek?
Bob: Star Wars.
John: Oh, okay. All right. Computers, PC or a Mac?
Bob: Both but I’m talking to you right now on a Mac. That’s our home machine. So that’s it, man.
John: Okay. Both though. Look at you all ambidextrous on that. Yeah. Nice. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?
Bob: Plain old vanilla.
John: Like you mess that one up, right?
Bob: It’s classic like me.
John: Absolutely. How about jeans or khakis?
John: Yeah. How about a least favorite vegetable?
Bob: Oh, man. I love them all. Cauliflower maybe, but —
John: Yeah. But now, they make it into rice and they trick everybody.
Bob: Yeah, they rice it. My wife does a really nice job with it. So yeah, I don’t know. I struggle with that.
John: No, I hear you. I hear you. Okay. Since I know you’re a big climber and I watched the Free Solo movie on Netflix, sport climbing or free soloing?
Bob: Sport climbing.
John: I think you’d have to be pretty insane to do the free soloing above 20 feet.
Bob: I think it’s very typical for people to say, “Oh, that guy’s crazy. That guy’s insane.” It’s just that he’s at such an incredible level. But it is unfathomable for most of us to think about that. So it’s just the reflexive kneejerk reaction to say that guy’s nuts. But I think he’s really on a mission, knows what he’s doing.
John: No, I hear you on that. I can understand that. Yeah. You’re just that good. That’s what I do. Four more. Do you prefer more hot or cold?
John: Hot? Interesting as we’re in the middle of winter in Colorado.
Bob: Yeah. Well, I guess I’m thinking about hot food.
John: Ah, there you go. Okay. Yeah, it puts the hot indoors. I mean you’ve got a fireplace, all that going. So I hear you. I hear you. Do you have a favorite number?
John: Okay. Is there a reason?
Bob: I like odd numbers. Better.
John: Okay. Fair enough. Yeah, absolutely.
Bob: Well, they’re balanced. If you think about it, there’s a middle, right? Then it’s balanced by two numbers on the outside.
John: I like that. That’s an interesting observation that I never really thought about before. But yeah, you’re totally right. They are balanced even though they’re odd. Yeah, somebody tricked us. But how about more cats or dogs?
John: Dogs. Yeah. And the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Bob: Oh, I’ve got so many favorite things. Right now, I’m thinking about the dirt bike in my garage, my climbing gear down there, these new skis that I’m looking at right here in my office.
Bob: Right now, I’m thinking about those skis.
John: Yeah. What kind of skis are they?
Bob: Well, their brand is called Stöckli. They’re made in Switzerland. They’re very high end, handmade. It takes ten days to build one per skis.
John: Oh, my goodness.
Bob: I’ve never had a pair of these things. I always thought about them and wanted them and was able to score a good deal on them. So yeah, I’m stoked to get out on those things.
John: Good for you. That’s awesome. And that goes right into one of the big hobbies and passions. I mean just being outdoors but especially the climbing part for you. How did you get started with that?
Bob: It really coincided when I met my now wife, my girlfriend at the time, about 13 years ago. I had some interest in. Then she was a climber. Her brother is a world-class mountaineer. I was like, “Okay. I want to try this.” So I bought some gear. We have quite a few friends that are rock climbers. Like most people, they just throw you on some wall that’s way beyond what you should be doing. But I did that. I was like, “I love this. This is a whole different kind of challenge that I’ve had in the past,” and just found myself figuring out how to climb up these vertical faces and dealing with the exposure of the whole thing, gravity and looking down and seeing.
We’re born with just only two fears — the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. That’s something that we’re all confronted by. Most people recoil from it naturally, I think out of their self-preservation. But I found myself just wanting to push against this thing. For me, it’s always fun. And I want to see what I’m made of. Can I push up against some challenge?
John: Yeah, I love that. Was it like a climbing wall or was it actually outdoors?
Bob: Yeah, outside up Clear Creek Canyon. There’re so many climbing meccas around here between Golden and Boulder and out 285. There’s just really good rock everywhere around here.
John: That’s awesome, man. And it’s like, “Here you go.” Then you lean into it, which is interesting.
Bob: Yeah, leaned into it. Then some friends of mine gave me a book that was really pretty pivotal in my life. It’s called The Rock Warrior’s Way. Anybody that knows me knows about this book because I’ve probably given them a copy. It’s a book about mental training for rock climbing. When I started reading it, I’m like, “This is a book about mental training for life.” I mean it’s about any challenge in life. It’s geared toward rock climbing, but I’m like, “This is a book that really started me off on a whole path of becoming more self-aware.” I’ve used it as a basis of coaching curriculum. I’ve given it to lots of people.
John: Yeah. Yeah, because it is amazing sometimes how these hobbies or other passions, if you will, come over into our work or into our life and things that we don’t do because of that, we do because we enjoy them. But there’s a pretty cool side benefit to them, like this that you found.
Bob: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it was the thing. For me, I had been in the office furniture industry for 25 years. I started out in New Jersey. I moved here to Colorado. I co-founded an office furniture company in 1995. We built it up. It was quite successful, but I found myself feeling like there was something else that I wanted to do. I really didn’t know what it was, but I felt like it was going to be in the direction of this outdoor stuff.
In 2013, my wife and I and her brother and another guy, we went and climbed the Grand Teton up in Jackson Hole.
John: Oh, wow.
Bob: That was really out of my comfort zone. I mean I’m still really just an intermediate climber. But that was something that really got my attention because it’s like 7,000 vertical feet of black granite. I mean when we got there the night before and I looked up at that thing, I’m like to myself, “I don’t know if I have what it takes to do this.” Bottom line is we were successful. I got done with that thing. I was just on cloud nine. I was just so elated about having done this thing that two days before had me scared.
Again, it was this overcoming uncertainty kind of feel. Everybody can do that. I think like you, you hear people telling stories about what they can’t do. At least, this is my spin on it. I’ve got lots of peers and people that I used to do things with. When I invite them to do them, they would say, “Oh, I’m too old. I’m too fat. I’m too whatever. It’s past my prime,” fill in the blank, whatever excuse you want to come up with. To me, it was really sad because I realized if I can do these things, anybody can do them. These are just stories. People create their comfort zones. They become smaller and smaller and smaller because — I think we define ourselves by what I call the social idealisms, right? I mean you’re supposed to have this much money and live in a house like this and have a job title, whatever it is and send your kids to this. I’m like, “That’s just such a small piece of life.” I wanted to create something to help people confront those stories that we naturally create for ourselves. But they are created. It’s not like we have this in our DNA. We create a story that says, “I can’t do this.”
John: Unfortunately, they’re not positive stories. They’re not our friends typically.
Bob: But since they are stories, my belief is we can create a different story, right? A more empowering story about what we can do, what we want to do. I mean life is just such a beautiful thing. The world is so vast. I want to realize as much of my own potential as possible. I want to help others who have this realization and want to lean into that. I want to help them. I’m not for everybody, but for people that frankly are the courageous ones, right? I’ve come to realize that people that are willing to look in the mirror and go, “Oh, you know what? I’ve been wearing a mask. I’ve got a story.” In my eyes, those are the strong ones
John: I love it, man. I love it. And just the example of thinking, “I can’t do this,” and in your own head, the stories that you tell yourself of, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t,” and then you went and did it. That’s a great example. So many of those that the skill set is a lot of mental stuff that I think people can then take to their careers or back to the office just as much as some of the other things that people might be looking to gain or whatever to make them better at their job.
Bob: Oh, absolutely, man. I totally agree with you. I mean business is typically defined by all the processes that go on. It’s kind of, “I’m going to hand you this and that. I’m going to trust that you’re going to give it back to me.” But I’m like, “That’s not leveraging the human inside that person that does those processes.” I mean the most fundamental building block of health in an organization is trust. It’s not predictive trust. I know if I hand you this piece of paper, you’re going to do what you’re supposed to do with it, right? Generally, people that are in organizations, they’re pretty good. They’re doing the tasks that they were hired to do. But real trust, in my way of looking at it, comes from being vulnerable, really showing people who you are. Part of that is what are the things that you do outside of work? What are your foibles? How do you screw up? I mean we all do. I mean we all do. So what could it be in organizations if we said, “You do this better than I do,” or, “I’m sorry,” or, “I screwed up.” I mean I think most people are doing two jobs. They’re doing the job that they were paid to do. And they’re doing the job of covering their tracks.
John: Yeah. Totally. Then they’re not actually going full speed at the job that they’re paid to do because they’re tapping the brakes.
Bob: Exactly. They’re tapping the brakes. They’re putting energy into this thing that’s really not very productive. What if there was trust in an organization such that people could just really be themselves?
John: Right. Yeah. And just let it rip. Then you have things put in place so that then obviously errors get caught and things get fixed. But there’s less errors if you actually just let people do their thing because people are pretty good at what they do. If they mess up, then be human and be, “Hey, I understand that I’m the CFO or whatever job I have. But hey, this was a mistake. My bad, everybody. Let’s get back on track.”
Bob: Exactly. It’s not like — we don’t have to point fingers. I mean let’s just be real. Even in my own company, when I think back of the company that I created and certainly companies I’ve worked for, I’m like, “There really wasn’t trust.” I mean we talked about it was about the people. And it was, but I’ve come to realize how much deeper that could mean. What is possible in organizations when people trust each other? When they trust each other, then they’re willing to engage in creative conflict. Then they’re willing to say things that they wouldn’t otherwise say. And that leads to committing to things. In other words, if they feel like they can weigh in, then they’re going to buy in even if they don’t agree with the decision. But they’re like, “Okay. I’m on board. I will get behind this thing.” That ultimately leads to strong financial economic results. Most businesses are so just focused on what I call the tip of this pyramid, which is the results. They don’t look at all these other things which are so much more fundamental and elemental, important building blocks for a strong company.
John: That’s awesome, man. I couldn’t agree more. You’re dead on. It’s interesting how you said even like the company that you built, people talk about these things, but do they either really mean it or in your case, you meant it but maybe you didn’t know how much deeper it actually needs to go for that to happen.
Bob: Right. That’s what it was because I was still running stories about my own identity and how this company was going to fulfill my dreams. That’s all great, but there was so much more that could have been gained if there was much deeper trust and connection built between the people. That would have involved me be more transparent and authentic and frankly stronger.
John: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I don’t know. To me, it is hard to be vulnerable. It’s not an easy thing. But to me, I feel like a baby step is here’s what I love to do. I mean I’m good at my job, but I also love skiing or painting or playing an instrument or whatever your thing is. And at least that humanizes you a little bit where people see that, “Oh, it’s not all work all the time for you.” And especially when you’re in a leadership role, that’s, I think, really crucial.
Bob: I agree. When you put yourself out there in that way, it unconsciously invites the other person to reciprocate, to go, “Oh, you know what? This is what I do.” I have found that going into these conversations without any agenda, I mean just really, truly connecting with somebody, is opening the door and being willing to go wherever the conversation goes, without wanting to get to someplace in particular. That in itself takes some courage because who knows what might come out of that other person’s mouth. At least in the work I do, I mean I invite that. That’s imperative. I mean I have to have trust. And people have to earn their trust. That typically happens from being vulnerable first and modeling, “Hey, this is okay to do.” And combining that with actually being vulnerable is like, “Oh, this is a different definition of what it means to be a leader and what it means to be a man.”
John: Your vulnerabilities are actually your strengths.
John: Those things that you feel are weaknesses, people feel are distractions or whatever, those are actually your differentiator. Those are your strengths. Those are things that are giving you the skills that other people don’t have because they’re all getting skills that you don’t have. An organization needs to understand that there’s expertise out there that’s beyond the textbooks and the degrees and certifications that we all have.
Bob: Absolutely. I mean we hear a lot about emotional intelligence and soft skills and culture. Those are the things that are being talked about. Leaders are recognizing that those aren’t simply nice to have, things that are fluffy. Those are essential now. Those things have bottom line economic results.
Bob: So people are going back and learning more self-awareness, learning soft skills, learning how to relate to people and being willing to show a little bit more of themselves, a little bit more transparency. You can be vulnerable. You still are going to have to make hard decisions. You’re still going to have to hire and fire people. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you abdicate those things. You still have to be all of that. It doesn’t have to be a “but.” What if it can be both end, right? It doesn’t have to be either or, one or the other, black or white, although that’s how we tend to think in our world. For myself, I’ve tried to figure out and looked at things from both end. Are these things mutually exclusive or is that just another story that I create? And it usually is.
John: Right. I remember when I got out of school and I went big for with PwC. And you just have this vision of, “This is what I’m supposed to be. This is how I’m supposed to act. This is what I’m supposed to wear. And this is the things I’m supposed to say.” I mean I remember everyone saying cut a check. I’ve never heard that ever in my life until all of a sudden, now I’m in the business world, it’s cut a check. And if you say write a check, everyone’s like, “Well, what do you mean?” I’m like, “You know what I mean? Shut up.” We turn into what we think we’re supposed to be because we model behavior in front of us or we saw it on a TV show or I don’t know what. But then you find out that that person’s modeling behavior from someone in front of them and modeling behavior in front of them and no one’s actually stopped and been like, “Whoa. How about if I just totally be myself up until the point where if it interferes with someone else’s ability to do their job? I think that’s where the line crosses. But up to that point, you know what? Fair game. It’s all fair game.”
Bob: Oh, man. I couldn’t agree with you more. I mean as I was listening to you talk, I think about when I’m working with people, I listened to language because people’s language is a vision into their inner environment. And I hear the word “should” quite a bit. Should. “I should do this. I should do that. I should work out. People as we say, people should on themselves, right?
Bob: It’s really reflective of what society wants us to do. But what do you give a shit about? What are your values? That’s what matters. I mean if you should do it, maybe it doesn’t matter to you. But when people really connect with that, “What does it feel like when you say should,” it’s like shame. I mean it’s like, “It does not feel good.” So I try to help people connect to things that are more authentically themselves and what they value and what they care about and not what society says they’re supposed to care about or whatever.
John: And I love it because I mean it’s something that you lived and you did it yourself. I mean similar to me where I was that and then, “Hey, guys, the grass is also greener on the other side. The world isn’t flat. We’re good. You can be who you are. You can bring that stuff to work. Not just because it’s nice to have, but it makes you better at what you’re doing.”
Bob: Well, you know what? I think people crave it. It takes people like you that, frankly, have courage and are willing to step out there and do things. Somebody has to go overboard.
John: Oh, thanks, man. That means a lot. I appreciate it.
Bob: No, you know what I mean? I think the same for myself but somebody has to go out there and model vulnerability and courage to show others what is possible. Sometimes, we don’t know. I don’t know if it’s going to affect somebody. But I trust that even if it’s not now, maybe someday in the future, they’re going to go, “Oh yeah, remember that guy I saw.” I’m sure that people have come up to you a year or many years later and say, “Hey, man, I saw you at whatever venue. You can’t believe how you affected me. I changed my job. I did all kinds of stuff because I saw you.” You didn’t know about that until you know. So think about how many others that didn’t get the chance to share that with you. You’ve had that impact on, right?
John: Oh, thanks, man. Yeah. But I mean I think everyone that’s been on this podcast, the work that you’re doing as well. But I think it’s so cool just sharing everyone’s stories, so then we all hear them and we think, “Wow, I’m normal. I’m not the outlier. I’m actually the norm by a long shot.” I mean it’s not even close. People are multi-dimensional.
Bob: They are.
John: Yeah. And it’s just cool sharing that with everyone.
Bob: It’s beautiful. I mean it is beautiful. We should know that about each other and share more of that with each other because ultimately, I think it builds up a safer world.
John: Ah, that’s interesting. That’s really interesting. Yeah. In what way do you think that?
Bob: Because ultimately, we realize we’re way more similar than we’re different, right? I mean right now, we’re in a world that’s very divisive. Perhaps it always has been, but it sure feels like it’s more so right now. But underneath people’s politics and belief, we are human beings. And everybody has dreams. Many of us have been brought to our knees. I mean we are humans. We’re more the same at a very core biological level than anything else. And realizing that and connecting to that, people just want to raise their families. They want good things for their children. We all want safety and security. I mean that’s — whether it’s you and I or people in any other country, continent in the world, we all are connected at that level. So I think that what you’re talking about in people’s professions, those things can separate us, right? I mean it’s like, “Oh, I’m this. I’m that.” I’m like, “Yeah, but at a core level, you’re the same as me.”
John: Even within the same organization, “I’m in the tax department. You’re the audit department,” or, “I’m manufacturing. You’re whatever it is.” Yeah, it’s all this. We’re on the same team, let alone the same Earth. That’s deep, man, definitely deep. I like that. You made my brain hurt.
Bob: I do a lot of reading.
John: Yeah. This has been awesome, Bob. Thank you so much.
Bob: Yeah. Thank you, man. I hope I haven’t talked too much.
John: No, this was fantastic. But before I wrap it up, it’s only fair that I allow you to question me if you’d like. Two or three questions. I’m available, all yours.
Bob: Well, you and I have talked before. I know your story. But I’m really curious about was there an epiphany? Was there a single pivotal moment that had you go, “Wait a second. This whole corporate thing that I’m under, there’s this other way of being. I have got to get out there and spread the word and do the greed apple thing.” I mean can you define a single moment where that happened?
John: Yeah. I was speaking at a pretty big conference. There was someone that apparently remembered me from my very first PwC office in St. Louis. He worked in the tax department. I never once even went to the tax floor. I never worked with him. For sure, I never met him. Yet 12 years later, he told the meeting professional, “Oh, I know John Garrett. That’s the guy who do comedy at night.” Because I had done stand up at some of the open mics. Word had spread and he remembered me. I was like, “Wow. I feel like everyone needs to have that moment where 12 years later, someone remembers you that you worked with.” He didn’t remember any of the hours I put in or my resume or the work I did, none of that, because he didn’t even know. He probably knew a lot of people that did great work. I was good. But was I the best? I don’t know how you define best, but I mean probably not. But I was one that he remembers. And I think everyone deserves that. We all work way too hard and put in way too many hours for this stuff to be completely forgettable. So that was the seed that started all of this.
Bob: That’s beautiful. I mean, yeah, it’s like — this may be kind of cliché but it’s like on your deathbed, what are people going to say about you, right? Is it going to be the hard work and the great audits you did at PwC or is it going to be, “No, this guy inspired thousands, tens of thousands of people in his life and literally change people’s lives.”
John: Thanks, man. Yeah. I mean I’ve been at partner retreats or executive retreats where someone’s retiring. People get up and talk about that person and never once is it the business they brought in. It’s always stories about us hanging out outside of work. That’s also what drove it home for me. Even at the top levels, it’s this way. So it’s not a millennial thing. It’s not a generational thing at all. It’s a human thing.
Bob: I agree. It’s a human thing. Yeah. Yeah, I think at a deep level, we are human. Sadly, I think many people have given up their dreams in order to have safety, security. But I think there’s a payoff and a cost for that.
Bob: So when somebody like you is actually doing it, you’re modeling like, “Oh, my gosh, that guy is really doing the thing that I wish I had the guts to do,” whatever my version of it is, right?
John: Right. And if you can carry them together, so you have your professional life and then you have these passions. For most people, your hobby or your passion, you’re not very good at it. That’s why it’s a hobby. But you love doing it. So keep doing it. Don’t let it die on the vine like so many of us do where we let it just go dormant and then eventually it’s extinct.
I’ve worked on the consulting side with some organizations. Then some of the executive level people are like, “Hey, I’m going to retire in five years and I don’t know what I’m going to go do.”
Bob: I hear that so often. And that is just so sad, man, because at some level, people just have given up nourishing themselves. Yeah, they come to the end of their careers. And frankly, a lot of people just kick that decision down the road like, “I’m not going to retire. Because if I’m honest with you, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
I mean I’ve asked people, “What are you passionate about? What do you love?” It’s almost like – I mean it’s confronting, right? I mean it’s like they don’t know. And that’s sad. In many cases, people are in survival mode, right? They’re getting kids through sports and college. It’s like, “All right, honey, you take Johnny here. I’ll take Cindy there.” I mean people have confided in me. They’re like, “You know what, man? We’ve been in survival mode for 20 something years. I don’t even know who my spouse is. And she doesn’t know who I am.”
John: “Or even myself.”
Bob: More importantly, yeah, you’re right. Exactly.
John: Well, this has been awesome, Bob. Thank you so much, man. This has been really great.
Bob: Yeah, John. Thank you. If you throw this in the waste bin, I won’t be —
John: No way, man. This is a Christmas present for everybody.
Yeah. Everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Bob in action or maybe connect with them on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread that who you are is so much more than what you do.