What’s the best way to give constructive feedback on sensitive subjects? Steve Herz knows – he’s the president of IF Management, a talent agency that specializes in giving its clients productive, honest feedback. Steve holds that it’s better to be honest and helpful than allow someone to continue making the same mistake. Discover how he gives direct feedback without being offensive, and the three elements you can develop to be more personable and successful.
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Bio: The President and Founding Partner of If Management, Steve Herz believes that anything is possible. Shedding his extra girth while learning to swim, he met the six foot waves, the 90 degree temperatures and completed the prestigious Ironman qualifier in just under seven hours; all the while raising nearly $12,000 for the Leukemia Society and being voted Most Inspirational member of the Team in Training. After law school, Steve joined the Athletes & Artists division of the Marquee Group, then joined forces with Geller Media Management before starting If Enterprises in 1996. In the summer of 2000, If Enterprises was re-named If Management to reflect the broad range of goals of the company and its clients. As President of If Management, Steve has been a frequent contributor on CNBC, CNN and Court TV, on a myriad of major issues, including those involving Marv Albert, Latrell Sprewell and Jayson Williams. Additionally, he has served as a guest lecturer at NYU’s School of Continuing Education. In a business where you have to “swim with the sharks” regularly, it’s important that Steve literally has done it behind his desk and in the ocean.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners. We help companies achieve ambitious goals by strengthening leadership throughout the organization. I created this Podcast to share ideas that you can use to become a more powerful and courageous leader.
Here with me today is Steve Herz. He’s president of If Management. It’s a media management and talent agency. It’s 20 years old. Steve formed it, founded it and still runs it. They represent over a 150 broadcasters and major networks news and sports networks. As you’ll hear in this Podcast, Steve does a lot more than just represent people that are talent in his agency. He actually works to improve their performance, something we will talk a lot about this on this Podcast.
Steve is a friend of mine, so it’s a great pleasure for me to have him on the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m excited about this show.
Steve, welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Steve: Thank you Peter, thanks for having me on today.
Peter: Steve, the idea to have you on this Podcast came from a conversation that you and I originally had when I was talking about doing some more television. You looked at several of my videos and you gave me some very direct feedback. You told me I needed more authority in my voice.
It was a moment of clear, honesty, courageous communication and I think that it’s so important that we do that more often in organizations. It’s a critical element in leadership. That leaders are able to, as I’ve written in an article, be helpful more than nice.
You do that incredibly well. Not that you’re not nice, but you are incredibly helpful. Can you share what it is that you do, why you do it and how you do it.
Steve: I think that we have always believed this in the company and I’ve believed this, you’re only as good as a salesman as the product that you have. In the end, we are salesmen. We are selling individual talent. It’s not any different than selling a widget in some respects. If the widget is better, the widget is going to sell for more money.
A BMW sells for more money than a Buick. We try to take on Buicks and turn them into BMWs. It’s not that hard. It’s a question of really just giving people, like you said, that honest feedback about what their strengths and weaknesses are.
To the extent that someone has a glaring weakness, if they are 40 pounds overweight, or they have completely crooked front teeth, or their voice glides any level of authority, I feel like it’s our obligation in life to tell them that.
You are doing them such a disservice if the Albert Einstein’s quote of “Insanity’s the definition of doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.” We refuse to let the people do the same thing over and over again.
Peter: For you in a talent agency, if someone is 40 pounds overweight or has crooked teeth, that is going to directly impair their capacity to perform the way they want to perform. They are not going to get on television the way they want to get on television.
However disorienting that may be for us or however annoying that is, that’s just the reality. You are looking at the reality of television and you’re saying, “If you have crooked teeth, you are not going to be able to get the kind of position in a major network that you want to get. It’s my obligation to tell you that.”
Steve: Yes, most likely. Now, for you viewers out there or listeners, who play black jack, it’s possible to get 17 and the dealer has a four and you still pull a card. You are really crazy to hit on 17 and you pull a four. There are exceptions to every rule in life.
There are overweight people who go ahead in television. There are people with crooked teeth that do okay. But, for the most part, you don’t want to be hitting on 17 and you don’t want to be going for an aspirational career on television with really crooked teeth or a bad voice.
Peter: Those are the measures, the tools of success in many ways, in your industry. In other industries it may be other stuff. Meaning, you don’t walk around telling everybody they need to loose weight. It’s only if the weight that they are carrying is getting in the way of what they are trying to achieve. For someone else, it might be, “You’re not listening well enough.” Or, “You’re communicating too aggressively.”
Steve: I think you summed it up perfectly. Of course I’m not going around telling everybody to go and loose weight or change their teeth. But for those people that…. Look, I’ve been doing this job for almost 25 years so, I think I have a pretty good feel for what people are looking for out there. Often times, the problem is, this is an unfortunate part of life I,s that people allow people to smell around them because you don’t want to offend them. They’d rather see them fail and not reach their potential than to offend them.
I think that is more criminal than hurting someone’s feelings.
Peter: What does it take to overcome the concern of how you’re going to be seen? This is the issue of emotional courage; the willingness to feel someone’s displeasure and still tell them the truth because that’s what’s important.
Steve: I got to tell you, if you don’t mind, a quick story that when I was probably about 32, 33 years old, after I just started the business; two or three years into it. I went into a place called Mirror Vow. I learned how to train a horse.
One of the things you had to do what put the horseshoe, to clean the horse’s hooves. The only way to do that was to sidle up right next to the horse and really be incredibly firm with the horse, but also be very lovely at the same time. You had to show the horse that you really cared about the horse. But, you were also in charge of the horse at the same time.
If you did that, he would totally give you his hoof and you could clean it very easily and you were fine. If you showed any weakness, any lack of support, the horse would kick you.
I think that really taught me a great lessons to this business and to life. That if my clients know that I truly love them, truly care about them, and that love resonates because I’m really only in it for them, then the criticism doesn’t seem harsh at all. It’s really, I care about you, that’s why I’m telling you that.
If you don’t have that sense of support and that sense of caring and love, you can’t tell someone to lose weight because it sounds nasty and judgmental and it doesn’t sound supportive at all.
I only tell people that I’m working with that I have a deep reservoir of a relationship with that I can say it to. In my case with you, I feel like I was able to be in some respects, maybe someone might think was harsh, because you knew I cared about you and you knew we had this relationship to tap into. I think you took it in the spirit in which it was intended.
That’s the only way you can do it, in my opinion.
Peter: You said two things here. One, which you’ve clearly said, which is you have to care about the person if you are going to give them that kind of feedback and you want them to accept it.
There is another thing that you said, that’s a little more subtle, but I think is super important. I was talking to a close friend of mine, Mermer Blakeslee, who is a wonderful writer. She’s a writing teacher. I said, “How do you give feedback to people? Writing is very personal and when someone is writing poorly, how do you give feedback to them in a way that they can accept it and not take it harshly?”
She said, “It’s easy. I’m not worried about them, I’m worried about their story. What I really want is what they want, which is I want them to come up with the best story. I’m not worried about their feelings as much as I’m worried about how can we collaborate together to create the best thing out there, the best story.”
For you it’s the performance out there when you’re trying to get someone to perform. That’s something that’s a goal they want themselves. If they know you’re committed, not just caring and loving of them, but committed to what they’re committed to. Then, what you say to them is taken in that light.
Steve: I think you are a hundred percent right. I want to just add one point to that also is, some of these aspects that we are talking about are very subjective. I’m not an expert on writing, but I have to imagine that one guy likes Steinbeck and another guy likes Hemingway. There is a certain subjectivity to short sentences, long sentences or whatever it might be. Different narrative, themes in the way that people write.
What I try to do with my clients is only focus on the objective qualities. That if someone doesn’t like brunettes or blondes, I don’t tell the brunette to change to blonde or vice versa. That is a very subjective thing. What I think is very objective is body language.
Someone who is standing up straight and tall feels and confident and looks like it. It’s a very objective thing. The resonance in someone’s voice is very objective. In general, someone’s weight, the difference between being obese and being within the bell curve of a normal weight is very objective.
We stay away from any subjective criteria. That someone can’t say, “Well that’s just his opinion. He’s wrong.”
Peter: It brings up an interesting question which is, what if you are wrong? Meaning, I know because we’ve talked about a story where you suggested to one of your clients that they change their name. It was a very ethnic sounding name. In the end, they opted against it which you respected. You didn’t have a problem with that. But, I think this is a fear that gets in the way of people sharing their beliefs or sharing their views is, is the fear that maybe they are wrong? I don’t necessarily want to give this feedback to someone because maybe I’m off.
Steve: Well, I stay up and don’t sleep certain nights, wake up in the middle of the night and keep me awake. That’s the never one thing that keeps me awake. Because, two things. One is, if there is one thing that I feel I’ve been given as a gift in this world is that I think I have a great ear and eye for certain communication excellence. Because of that, I don’t ever doubt myself if someone’s voice isn’t the right resonance. I feel like I trust my ear and my eye tremendously well. When you’ve been doing this for 25 years and you see that you give…. It’s almost like you could have a control group because, you do overtime if you give certain amounts of time x amount of certain advice, some people take that advice and then they go on to excellence and achieve many if not all of their career aspirations.
Then you have another group of people who say, “Oh, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” They walk out of your office or they don’t do what you told them to do. You see they languish professionally, you sort of at the end of the day say, “Well, I must know what I’m doing here.”
The other part to your question is that, as far as changing someones name, that is a reflection of the market place. Some of the advice I give to people is only to the extent of I say, “Look, I’ve talked to 10 people about you and they secretly told me that you’re over weight. Or, they’ve secretly told me they hate the fact that your teeth are crooked or they don’t like, they can’t even pronounce your name. Nine out of ten executives said they would hire you if you changed your name to something more understandable.” In the example you are using, that is what happened.
We had several executives say to us, “This person would be much more relatable to the audience if she changed her name.” That’s, I only gave her that feedback in that context.
Peter: Got it. That makes a lot of sense. In fact, they might all be wrong, but they are the buyers. If she wants to sell, then she needs to know that’s what the feedback is.
It’s an important element of why we collect feedback at all. The leaders should go around asking what other people think because then it’s not about you being right or wrong. It’s just about you conveying what other people are saying and that’s data. That person can choose to do what they want to with the data. Either accept it or not, but they need to know that it’s data and not passing on that data does them a disservice.
Steve: You are a hundred percent right. You put your finger on something that really upsets me. I’ve referenced it a little bit earlier. It’s that, when you go for a job interview and I know there are probably all kinds of laws about it now, but I feel like there is this sad reality of so many people go for these interviews or they don’t even get to the first round. I’ll call the executive up secretly and I’ll say, “Hey what did you really think about Joe Blow?” They’ll say, “Oh, Joe Blow is pathetic. He came off way too strong. He seemed very desperate. He wouldn’t shut up.” Or what ever the feedback may be. Then I’ll say to Joe Blow, “Well, did you talk to executive A?” He’ll say, “Oh yeah. Executive A loved me. He said I was great. But he just doesn’t have anyone. They don’t have a budget for that job anymore.” Meanwhile, two weeks later they finally mysteriously got the budget.
Steve: They’ve really done Joe Blow such a disservice. Joe Blow is a great guy. He doesn’t know that he has these gigantic egg on his face. I have to be the one to tell him that.
Peter: You have someone on staff, I assume full time, who is an image coach.
Peter: It makes me wonder whether every organization should have an image coach. If every organization should have someone whose job it is to look at their executives and look at everyone in the organization to say, “How are you presenting yourself and are you presenting yourself in a way that supports the aims and the goals that you have in terms of how you want to show up?”
I could imagine that some people might find that obtrusive, but I could also imagine that a lot of people would really like that. In fact, it’s a support for someone to say are you putting your best foot forward? Someone whose job it is to look at you and go, here are some things you could do to show off a more powerfully as a person.
Steve: Absolutely, or more relatable as a person or…. It’s not just powerfully, it’s more vulnerable which is important at certain moments. Look, I look at people are like products. I don’t say that in a kind of a way that is dismissive.
But, at the end of the day, we are like products. It’s not the best people don’t always win. In fact those people don’t usually win. It’s the people that are able to best express themselves. In these multiple media, it’s the way you dress, the way you stand, it’s the quality of your voice, the way you look. It’s so many different things.
If you’re not going to at least have some level of awareness of all that, then you are really missing the boat. If you’re looking in the mirror and you’re not seeing what everyone else is seeing in a constructive way, then you’re putting yourself at a great disadvantage.
We feel like we brought Shaari on about a year ago. Shaari Gross, the image consultant. She’s been a tremendous help for us. Not all of our clients have participated in it, but the ones that have have got great results.
Peter: Great. I’m going to tap you for her later on after we talk on the show.
Peter: Steve, you and I have talked about three elements that you use in way of a framework. That you use both for helping people be more successful as talent in media and also in general. We’ve talked about the importance of this for leaders as well.
Those three elements are: authority, warmth and energy. You use the acronym AWE.
Can you talk about each one a little bit?
Steve: Sure, well I think authority is somewhat self explanatory. Do you believe what what I’m saying? Do you have credibility about yourself? I believe a large part of authority is one’s body language. Is one’s sense of voice and presentation. I don’t believe in a one size fits all attack. One could have authority about him or herself in many different forms of products and packages. So just one quick example of that.
I tend to be a very boisterous, very talkative, some would say a loud person with a lot of [inaudible 00:17:16] energy about myself. I do think that I come across with a good level of authority. I’ve been working with one of my closest colleagues for the last 16 years, Carol Perry. You could not find a more understated, low key person with a very quiet demeanor about herself. But, she has tremendous authority. She has a very steely gaze. People know her they trust her. You could take her word to the bank to the last nickel. She has an unbelievable reservoir of trust with people. All of that leads to someone with great authority.
However you come across, your own comfort level of what brings you authority of yourself, that’s what I think is important. Now I do think that you have to have certain underlying objective qualities. Including what Carol has and what I think I have. She sits up straight. She’s in great shape. She has a tremendous, has a good voice about herself. Body language relies a great confidence. She has a good voice, like I said earlier.
Those things have to be present, but they don’t have to be the same for everybody to have authority, if that makes sense.
Peter: Yeah. There are some elements of it. It sounds like comfort in your body, but it also sounds like holding yourself upright.
What are some other elements that, if people are listening and they are thinking, I want to assess my own authority and support my ability to show up with authority.
What are some pieces of advice you might give them?
Steve: I think the most important thing is to be able to sell yourself on you and that’s why it doesn’t matter whether you’re loud or your quiet. It depends on who you are. Somebody once said, “The weakest guy in the room is the loudest guy.” That can often be the case.
The bottom line is that I think you have to really be a true believer in what you are saying. I think that both your voice and your body both align with that message whatever the message is, then you will have authority about yourself.
Peter: Can you have authority and be uncertain, be open to uncertainty? That’s the vulnerability piece. Could you be vulnerable and still have authority?
Peter: Because you may not be a hundred percent sure of something.
Steve: A thousand percent I think you can. I think you can’t be too vulnerable. I think that sometimes if you are too authoritative you sound like you’re a little arrogant and people can sometimes see through that. But, if you are too vulnerable, your life shouldn’t be like a therapy session. You should never reveal yourself to people. Especially to those that you don’t know that well.
I think that’s part of it too. But if you could….
Peter: I’ve often talked about the difference between confidence and arrogance. The way I describe it is that arrogance is about me thinking I’m better than you. Confidence is me thinking I’m great and I think you could be great also.
Peter: It sounds like the authority piece comes with confidence, but too much of that may come off as arrogance.
Steve: Correct. I think you are a hundred percent right. That is exactly how I would say it. I think also, you are tapping into something that we try to tell our clients which is that in the reality of life is that you do often think you are competing against everyone else in this world. But, you’re really not. The person you are competing against the most is yourself.
If you can figure out how to be your best self. I know that’s a little hokey, maybe to certain people. But if you can figure out how to be your best self, you’re going to be very successful. You’re going to achieve greatness in whatever it is what you are.
Most of the reason people don’t success to the extent that they are capable of isn’t because somebody else boxed them out of something, it’s because they themselves didn’t work hard enough, or didn’t realize their potential. They didn’t work smart enough. Whatever it might be. It’s not because of someone else.
Peter: I just spoke with Hal Hershfield, whose assistant marketing professor at UCLA School of Anderson; the business school. In one of the pieces of research he did, he asked a thousand people who their biggest enemy was and 50 percent of them said themselves.
This coincides with what you are saying. Half the people surveyed are basically saying, “I’m my own worst enemy.”
Steve: Right. I think I feel bad for the other 50 percent.
Peter: Tell me about warmth. We have authority, warmth and energy. Tell me about warmth.
Steve: I think warmth is the way that you kind of allow yourself to be vulnerable in certain spots. I think vulnerability is connected to both warmth and authority. I think it’s your body language.
I always say one of the greatest people I always use as an example for warmth is Al Roker. He’s the guy that you just feel that you know. He just lets you in. It’s very subtle. I think you, Peter Bregman, are very warm guy. Everyone would say that about you.
I tell my clients all the time. If you want to practice warmth, go around hugging everybody without being inappropriate about it. The more[inaudible 00:22:26] you show the more eye contact you make, the more smiling you do, those qualities bring about a sense of warmth.
I think what you want to do, part of this is something that Amy Cuddy said, whom I’m a big fan of. She said, “Don’t fake it until you make it. Fake it until you are it.” If you are the person who never hugs anybody and you never smile and you around for three months hugging and embracing everybody you can find and being physically open to them, smiling at everybody, you’re going to become a warm person. You’re not going to be faking it anymore. You are a warm person at the end of that period. You just keep doing it.
That’s a huge part of it. Nobody wants to be around somebody they don’t feel connected to. I’m probably a loser in this regard, because it’s what I do it in my spare time. I try to study warmth. I went back recently and stared looking at old tapes of Ronald Reagan and Al Gore verses George Bush. Putting aside whatever one’s political views might be, I think if you lined up a hundred people in a room who had no political affiliation, 99 out of 100 would look at George Bush’s body language and say it is much warmer than Al Gore’s.
Peter: If you’re worried that that was a political statement, you could look at Bill Clinton who has tremendous warmth as well.
Steve: Absolutely. Off the charts. They used to make fun of him for that double fisted handshake, but that’s a point of connectivity.
It’s interesting because I can think of people in my life who don’t have authority and that seems like an easier thing to tell them than someone in my life who doesn’t have warmth. I can think of people I know who I work with who are clients who don’t necessarily don’t have warmth. It feels like that is a harder message to convey to someone, especially if they haven’t necessarily asked you to. But, you see that it’s getting in their way. How do you approach that?
Steve: I think that under the umbrella of when people become clients of ours, there is a reputation that we have for being brutally honest and trying to give them constructive feedback to help them get better at their craft. Like we said earlier, they’ll reach their own goal. They know that before they sign on or when they sign on. We talk about it often before they even sign on. We’ll say to them, “Look, you have a very stiff way about yourself. You’re not really connecting with people. This is what we feel and here are these specific tips that we would give you in order to improve that.”
Some people don’t like that. Either they are not open to that message, or they disagree with you or they can’t stand you after you say that to them. Then they won’t sign on with you. They try to be upfront with them from the beginning. But again, when they know that you care about them, why would you ever tell someone to go around hugging everyone that you know. What would that do for you?
All you’re doing is trying to help them. If they know that’s really what you’re all about and what you really- your focus is only for them, I think they take it in the spirit in which it is intended.
Peter: That feels very important that they are open to the conversation and that you are caring and doing it for all the right reasons.
Steve: Right. You also learn how to read people. At a certain point if you think that someone was, unfortunately, like abused or something and they just have tremendous psychological issues that they really are almost too afraid to open up at all, you may not say that to them. You tread very lightly around that.
Peter: I think just the warmth one is very interesting. By definition if someone lacks warmth, it’s going to be harder to have that personal conversation with them than if they lack authority and they are warm. Because warmth invites personal conversations. Whereas lack of warmth repels them to a certain degree. It seems like it’s a higher bar to get over in order to have that direct conversation with someone who may be lacking some warmth.
Steve: You may be right. Can I say one last quick thing on that note.
Steve: What I find really fascinating, and I have over the years, whether it’s warmth or authority that people that you think it should be so abundantly obvious to them that this is the most glaringly weakness that everybody on earth has probably said it behind their backs for 30 years. When you tell them, “You know you should really go be hugging people.” They’re like, “Really? I’ve never ever heard that before.” It’s amazing.
Peter: It’s very interesting. That’s the definition of a blind spot. We do a leadership training. In our leadership training, which is an amazing place to uncover blind spots. You’ve got all these people around the room. You’ve got 18, 19 people around the room and they all see something. They see something in someone and the person is looking around and they have no idea. It’s so obvious to everybody else in the room. One of the things we do in the leadership training is we share really direct honest feedback with each other. Which is hard for people to do. It’s one of the ways in which we develop emotional courage.
What’s always amazing is what’s so obvious to the 19 other people in the room, is a complete blind spot to the person that they are seeing it in. That’s the gift of feedback. That’s why, I think, feedback is such a gift.
Peter: Talk, Steve, if you would, about energy.
Steve: Energy is pretty simple to describe. It should be the easiest thing to fix. I think it’s the pace of your speech also it’s the volume that you speak at. It’s obviously related to your body language at certain points. If you could be a little more articulative if you will. With a little more forceful about what you say. It’s the kind of sense of urgency you bring to a message. I think those are the things that are pretty easy to fix.
If you don’t want to be, not everybody can go through life talking like John Basket Vitale. Maybe that wouldn’t work for everybody. But, generally speaking when you’re wanting to be on television, you want to speak with a lot of energy. I always think there’s certain people out there that have been successful. There is a local sportscaster here named Len Berman. Another said he has very sneaky energy. The same is true for a lot of other people that you wouldn’t think, “Oh, that guy’s really energetic.” But if you really kind of look at it, they actually aren’t very energetic.
Peter: The conversation about energy is interesting because I have found in my work that people put out different kinds of energy. It’s not just are you energetic? Or are you not? But it’s also the kind of energy that you put out. Do you put, not just sleepy kind of energy, do you put out sneaky energy? Do you put out trustworthy energy? What is it that you are conveying in your kind of energy and how is that coming across to other people?
Steve: I think you are a hundred percent right. What I have sort of tried to tell people over the years is, all of these things are interrelated to each other. But one of the things I’ve been imparting to people is the inflection in your voice.
I always say inflection is infection. If you inflect with your voice, you infect the listener with the energy that you feel. If you don’t inflect and impart that energy upon someone else, they are not going to be engaged with you.
That’s the whole goal of energy. Whether it’s, look it could be high energy mixed with low energy. It could be high volume, it should be high volume mixed with low volume. Fast pace with slow pace. Everything is the ability to vary those elements.
If you do that in an effective way, you are going to suck that person in to your message and that is what you want. If you’re a television personality or if you are a salesman, what do you want the person to do when they turn on the TV is not change the channel.
If you are trying to pitch somebody, if you’re a Jehovah Witness you walk up to someone’s door, what you want them to do is not slam the door on them. It’s quiet simple.
Peter: Steve Herz is the president of If Management. It is a talent media management agency. They have over a 150 broadcasters in major markets. Both news and sports.
Steve, it’s such a pleasure to hear your perspective. The way you manage talent is a lesson for many of us as leaders in organizations of how we need to manage both our own talent and the talent of the people around us.
I really appreciate you coming on to the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Steve: Thank you, Peter. It was amazing. Thanks so much for having me.
Peter: If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership intensive, as well as access to my articles, videos and Podcasts, visit PeterBregman.com.
Thank you to Clare Marshall for producing this episode and to Brian Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next great conversation.