Today's guest is Corky Curtis, the Learning & Development Director of MBK Real Estate Companies, the leading developer and investor in senior living communities, multi-family residents, and industrial real estate. Prior to joining the MBK team, Corky served in the US Army for more than 20 years, eventually retiring as a Senior Training Manager. He is an experienced people leader specializing in organizational development, recruitment, and operational planning with a passion for finding innovative ways to keep his team motivated and engaged.
[Tom Finn] 00:00:02 Hello, and welcome to the Talent Empowerment podcast, where we lift up people leaders so they can lift up their organizations. I'm your host, Tom Finn, co-founder and CEO of LeggUP. Together. We'll learn how to drive people innovation, how to transform HR into people ops, and how to secure buy-in to disrupt the status quo. And as I like to say, it's finally time to stop smoking on airplanes and update your people strategy. Let's transform your organization and move from a culture of talent management to talent empowerment.
This week's episode of the talent empowerment podcast is brought to you by LeggUP’s Talent insurance, an inclusive people development platform designed to help HR leaders empower their people through one-on-one professional coaching with results like a 66% improvement in avoiding burnout, a 54% jump in leadership skills and a 73% increase in job satisfaction. LeggUP guarantees improved employee wellbeing, productivity, and retention. In fact, they ensure it, your people stay or they pay! Visit LeggUP, that's L E G G up.com, to learn more. And without further ado, this is Talent Empowerment.
Welcome to the talent empowerment podcast, ladies and Jens, where we lift up people leaders. So you can lift up your organization. I am your host, Tom Finn. And today we have the Director of Learning and Development and a former US army leader on the show, Corky Curtis. Corky, welcome to the show.
[Corky Curtis] 00:01:36 Thank you. Good to be here, Tom.
[Tom Finn] 00:01:38 Well, if you don't know Corky, he is the director of learning and development at MBK real estate. Uh, it's a leading developer and investor in senior living communities. Multi-family residential and industrial real estate. Prior to joining the MBK team, Corky served in the US army for more than 20 years, eventually retiring as a senior training manager, which will come into play in just a second. As you get to know Corky, he's an experienced people leader, specializing in organizational development, recruitment, operational planning, and he's got a passion for finding innovative ways to keep his team motivated and engaged. You are going to love hearing from Corky today. You're gonna love his energy. Um, so I've gotta start with sort of the fundamental question Corky. How do we go from the army into people development and leadership roles? How did this all get started?
[Corky Curtis] 00:02:29 Well, it, um, I guess I'll take you a little further back and I'll take you back to, uh, I grew up in a small town in Western, North Carolina in the mountains and surrounded by great people. My dad was a, a restaurant here and own owned a business for 50 years and just grew up in a, in a family, in a small town where values meant something. Your character meant something, a handshake meant something. Uh, so that's kind of where it started and didn't really know what leadership was growing up, I guess. But in high school, my, my senior year of high school, I was the senior class president and we actually had a tragedy occur in our high school. And it, it led to kind of being pushed into a position where, um, it was leadership in crisis and we had wonderful faculty members and community members that came together that helped us.
[Corky Curtis] 00:03:26 But as a student body, we wanted to do something a little more to kind of calm nerves and, and pull students together. So I learned a lot about leadership there, really not even knowing what the position was or, or what I was doing. And so, so that's kind of the foundation of leadership for me, it started with a, uh, a focus on values, caring for others, and really just wanting others to, to be happy and, and be fulfilled. Um, always played sports. So grew up in a locker room, uh, played baseball my whole life. So a lot of those same team values and being a part of a team, really, really resonated with me and it aligned with the way I was raised. You, you took care of each other, you were dependable. You, you did those things and went to college and realized, Hey, I kind of like this army thing.
[Corky Curtis] 00:04:23 So my dad was a Vietnam veteran. I really admired the service. And it was something that I always knew I wanted to do. And so I joined the army and kind of was thrust into the world of learning leadership from day one. And really, I think the basis of my philosophy on leadership, is it starts with character. It starts with values. It starts with taking care of people and being who you are and carrying that through what you do. So over the course of my career, I was very fortunate to be in some neat organizations. I was, uh, in military intelligence and got to see a lot of fun, sneaky, spooky things, and then transitioned into recruiting. And I think I learned a lot about corporate America in recruiting. I certainly learned a lot about influence in recruiting command because it requires so much to find, find a, a candidate and to go through the process of recruiting.
[Corky Curtis] 00:05:30 And we may need high school transcripts from a, uh, high school registrar. And this high school registrar may not feel that this person should join the army. So they feel that they should go to college. So this has registered start the information on you. Exactly. They may not be willing to share things. So you had to learn, how can I influence this person? How can I build a relationship with this person? Because I think the, a common misnomer with when the people think about military leaders, they think everyone does what they're told everyone's does, what they're told, and they're supposed to be where they're supposed to be. And they're there on time in the right uniform with the right attitude. And it's just not the reality of humans, right. You know, there's, there's a, um, there's a saying in the Army's operation manual, never forget that combat is a human operation.
[Corky Curtis] 00:06:19 And that just resonates with me because it really is about the people. And so I was fortunate. My last assignment in the army was Southern California. It was not horrible. It was wonderful. And, um, I was getting ready to retire. And quite honestly, Tom, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I, I referred to MBK as my first real job because I got to do my passion, uh, for the majority of my adult life. And, and I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine and he asked me, what do you want to do? And I said, I have no idea. And he said, well, what do you like doing? And I said, well, I have this MBA. And all I really learned was I don't wanna do finance and accounting. <laugh>
[Tom Finn] 00:07:04 Yeah. That's, that's what MBAs are good for. I don't wanna do finance or accounting. Can I hire somebody or work with somebody on my team that does that work? It's hard work.
[Corky Curtis] 00:07:14 And so he said, well, what's your passion? And I, so I love leadership. I love helping people learn and be the best version of themselves. And he said, oh, that's learning and development. And I said, no, that's leadership. That's what leaders should do. And he said, no, you don't understand. In the civilian world, we hire people to teach us how to do those things. And, and that's how I got the BK. I was basically handed an organization and said, here, create a learning and development plan that goes beyond compliance and help our leaders be better at that influencing and in getting, um, the most out of people. And so, so that was in April of 2014, started at MBK. And as our companies grow, I've been fortunate enough to grow in that, that influence in those relationships over time. And so that's kind of where we are today. And that's a, a long version. I apologize, Tom. I know you might have won something shorter, but that's a long, long road of, of where I got to today. And I think that, you know, it kind of sums up who I am, but also how I like to interact with people and how I want to be viewed.
[Tom Finn] 00:08:24 Yeah. I think that's a beautiful opening. And what I take away from that is your core values haven't changed from when you were just a young man, uh, shaking hands and then dealing with a crisis in high school and taking sort of that first step to the way you operate, uh, as a leader in today's market, uh, you know, a few short years later, um, your, your core values haven't changed. And I think that is what is so important when we look at organizations is really understanding what people's core values are. And I think for me, I'm, I'm wondering in this, in this new world, in this remote setting, you know, how, how do you maintain those core values perhaps in conversation with your team members, uh, across your organization when you can't shake a hand anymore?
[Corky Curtis] 00:09:15 I think genuineness and, and authenticity, you know, I, I studied leadership theory in this authentic leadership theory of delivering on what you say, and also being intentional about those, uh, communication points. Um, that was one of the, one of the things that we really focused on two years ago now, as the world went remote was let's build time to have those conversations. I believe that 80% of our learning comes from meaningful conversations. And I refer to those as those standing in the doorway, uh, conversation. So how do we replicate that in a remote world? And thankfully we have tools like zoom. We have Microsoft teams, we have all those communication products, but just scheduling those times and, and scheduling in know in the, in the, in the HR world that we call 'em one on ones, but scheduling those 15 minute micro one on ones to just say, Hey, how are you this morning?
[Corky Curtis] 00:10:23 What's your plan for the day, because those are the things we talk about at, in the, in the lounge. Those are the things we talk about in doorways and how are you? And, and if you're intentional about that, you can maintain those relationships over time. The challenge comes in with senior people and when they get overbooked. And, and I think that's one of those tips, uh, for, for leaders is you have to guard your calendar for those leadership opportunities. Um, there are a lot of leaders that focus on leading up as opposed to leading who they're ch in charge of leading, and being intentional about blocking that time to have those conversations is really significant. And I think has really helped me to maintain that connectivity with team members.
[Tom Finn] 00:11:12 Yeah, I think the thread that ties us together is servant leadership and really inverting the triangle, uh, servant leadership, really being the basis of, um, you serve the people that report to you. And, uh, the best way that you can do that as, as, as I'm hearing from you today is really to communicate well and set up some time to chat and just ask how people are doing. I love that doorway conversation. You can just see that kind of visually right, with a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, and, uh, just see how folks are doing as we're, as we're walking around the office virtually, um, which is a great way, a great place to start. So when you think about that, have you been able to execute that strategy? Do you, do you carve out 15-minute increments? Uh, did you block your calendar? Um, if I was an up-and-coming, you know, people leader, what would you tell me to do?
[Corky Curtis] 00:12:00 Absolutely. That's the number one thing you have to do as a leader. Um, I, as I told you, my background, I think pretty simple and, and I'm pretty, pretty pragmatic in my thinking. And when, when you start getting those titles of manager, director, vice president, we spend a lot of time on the technical competence of that, but that leadership part of it, that's why we pay you more and that leadership part. So that has to be your priority. So you have to carve out those times and, and that's what I've had to be intentional about. And it, it will, um, not necessarily make you popular with people that want to get on your calendar and want to talk about other things, but you have to remain focused that your job as a leader first, um, years ago, I had a, a mentor say, um, you can't lead where you won't go and you can't teach what you don't know.
[Corky Curtis] 00:12:59 And that's a simple understanding. And if you're not passing those things on to those, with whom you're in charge, then, then we can sub that out. Right. We can, we can find a program or an app, that'll do your job for you. So yes, you, you have to be intentional about blocking that time. And, and it, it was a, you know, it was a process. I'll be honest. It was a process because I wanted to block an hour because I like to talk a lot. So I kind of found that sweet spot was, I, I didn't want to take our talent acquisition director out of the fight for three hours a week to hear Corky time. Right. So, so you have to be aware that you still want people to be productive. So I think for me that sweet, spot's kind of 15 minutes. If it's a new person or someone that comes on, obviously you'll need a little bit more, but it's just that, that intentional time of how are you today? What's your plan? And, and then you kind of move on through it.
[Tom Finn] 00:13:57 Yeah. That's beautifully said. And, and thank you for the pro tip. Um, I, I guess I gotta ask this question because I'm thinking it, that means other people are thinking it, which is okay, you're you got 20 years of military experience. We've got this younger generation in the workforce that is not necessarily of the same generation as you, my friend. And they look at things maybe a smidge differently than you do. Uh, they grew up in a different economy in a different world, um, with different tools and different technology. Um, so how, how does your military career allow you to, to communicate effectively with this next generation?
[Corky Curtis] 00:14:37 Tom, I'm a little bit obsessed with understanding age cohorts, and I've spent a lot of time because I, I just kind of refuse to believe that all the stereotypes of millennials and gen Z, I refuse to believe that the world is diminished moving forward. So I, I truly in my heart of hearts and can back it up with peer-reviewed articles, <laugh> the millennials and gen Zs, aren't that much different than my generation. My initial response, when I retired from the military that played a part in my decision to retire after 20 years, I, I was really struggling to understand this younger generation of, um, middle managers and leaders, um, because I had this impression they were selfish. So, um, it really requires leaders to be better. And I, I guess that's kind of where I'm going with. This is millennials and gen Zs. They want what our generation wanted.
[Corky Curtis] 00:15:44 We, as in baby boomers and gen X, we just gave up on that. We do not hold leaders accountable. We have not held leaders accountable. We've stayed at organizations for pension plans. We've stayed at organizations not to disrupt our medical benefits. We've stayed at organizations because we held on to hope that that next year was the year that I would be noticed. That's right. Yeah. And right. And we stayed for loyalty. We stayed because we felt like it was the right thing to do. The younger generations hold us accountable in a way that we haven't been held accountable for, they will leave. And, and, and we, we look at their resumes and we say, oh, they're a job hopper. I, I try to look at it from a different lens. And that very well could be true. They could be job hoppers. They could be dissatisfied and never, never will be pleased, but you have to ask those questions.
[Corky Curtis] 00:16:38 Why did you leave? And the majority of the time they left, because their expectations with the organization's expectations did not align. And that's a leader responsibility, right? If, if someone says that, I feel like I am a a, and if you, as a leader, feel like they're a, B or a C, then that's on you to let them know your expectation of them. And it shouldn't be a surprise. So, right. So we have to ensure that we're communicating, they want feedback. They want to plan. They want to know what's next for them in the organization and in their career. That's not selfishness. That's just them trying to take care of themselves, because this is a generation that was raised by gen Xers and baby boomers that lost their pensions, right? They saw organizations that we trusted do unethical things and fail. So gen X was the entrepreneurs, millennials and gen Z still have that entrepreneur entrepreneurial spirit, but they also have an obligation and a need to receive feedback. So organizations that are not training their leaders to provide consistent feedback, they're gonna feel the pain we're talking about, you know, the great resignation and all these factors that play into the staffing crisis.
[Tom Finn] 00:18:06 Yeah. The turnover tsunami. And I, I love it. I love it. When leaders sort of point the finger and, uh, love it is a bit ch tongue in cheek here, but love it. When a leader points a finger and says it's millennials and gen Zs, they're the problem. And I think, you know, you gotta turn it around and point the thumb, and you've gotta say, look, I'm a leader. I'm accountable, I'm accountable for this turnover. And clearly, I'm not giving my organization, my teams throughout the organization, the right tools, resources, support, coaching development, et cetera, to maintain, uh, you know, my talent base. And you know, where I sit it, there are very few answers other than pointing the thumb and being accountable as a leader to say, I, I have control over this. If I choose to engage and choose to provide the right support, uh, for this, you know, let's just call it what it is, a modern workforce, uh, that, uh, that has incredible skills and, and knows it this time. Right. Uh, you know, I think people are not afraid to say, I am really good as a marketer or whatever your skill is. And I can take that somewhere else. I'm marketable.
[Corky Curtis] 00:19:18 Mm-hmm <affirmative> and, you know, you, you hit on a key point there with pointing the finger. If we outsource our problems, we have no control of them. And, you know, if we say it's some millennials or it's gen Z, and we, we strap all these stereotypes to 'em as leaders, we have no control over that. So, you know, I, I choose to say, okay, how can I impact this? If I know I have a generation or a workforce now, um, because I think the numbers somewhere around 40% by 2024 gen Z will make up 40% of our workforce. So we better figure it out or the great resignation and the tsunami, turnover's not going anywhere. So we have to take control of that. And we can't do that as long as we point the finger and say, well, we just it's on us. Right.
[Corky Curtis] 00:20:12 As leaders, we're the ones that aren't getting what they need. So, so we have to be intentional in that feedback, in those conversations to ensure that our expectations align with what their expectations are, and be honest and, and work through those challenges as they come. And, and I've learned a lot of this, I, I have a 24-year-old daughter, and I, I get to be her full-time consultant as she's entering, you know, her, her professional career. And I hear the things she says, and I said, okay, listen, this is what you need to ask your, your manager. You need to have this conversation. Sure. And, and, you know, and, and you need to kind of take control. If you're curious about these things you need to ask. Don't, don't sit back. And, and that's my, I think the opportunity to, to help millennials and gen Z is you can't just get upset and send a text message and resign. You need to ask those questions. It's a leader's responsibility to provide feedback, but also put that on the employees is it's your responsibility to further your career and ask for feedback also
[Tom Finn] 00:21:25 That that's right. And look, that's why five years ago, uh, I started a company called LeggUP, uh, which you're very familiar with, uh, and the, the whole idea and premise behind LeggUP is that it provides training and coaching and mentorship, uh, for employees within an organization that you can't get to all the time. And that need that support and coaching and feedback loop, and constant sort of, uh, engagement on how to have these difficult conversations. And so, you know, there are, there are systems, there are platforms, there are ways to get this done, where it doesn't have to fall on the head of people or the, the head of HR where it's their responsibility for a few thousand employees. Um, cuz it's not possible at that point, but you can deliver this, uh, throughout, uh, an organization, which, uh, which is a tool that, uh, that folks can use. Um, now, now I'm, I'm thinking about this and I know, you know, we've partnered together in, in, in the past, um, to support your employees. What, what was your experience in working with, with our team, uh, over at LeggUP Corky,
[Corky Curtis] 00:22:32 You know, Tom, we, we entered the, the relationship and our number one focus was to address burnout. Uh, we currently have 35 senior housing communities in six, six Western states and we targeted the executive director. So the senior person at each community. Um, and I believe that was the summer, uh, following March COVID, uh, that summer, we just saw a, a group of people that were in the healthcare industry that they call it compassion, fatigue to where they were just absolutely exhausted from, from the process changes. The policy changes the, the, you know, the difficult conversations they were having on a daily basis. And so, um, we partner with, with LeggUP to give some coaching to these executive directors and our regional directors who were in charge of multiple communities, um, just to give them an outlet and give them some tools to really focus on how can I improve my resiliency?
[Corky Curtis] 00:23:36 How can I expand my toolkit with some coping mechanisms and, and, and get past this? And we absolutely, um, loved the relationship because we saw an immediate impact. We saw our retention rate increase. We saw people that had been frowning for two months, smile, and, and feel hope right at the end of the day, a leader's job is to provide hope and caring. And, and that really struck a chord with, with our executive directors and regional directors in that they felt like, okay, we have, they do hear me. They do hear me. And, and we have an opportunity now to, um, to continue. And we actually expanded our relationship and we're targeting other folks for professional development, you know, succession planning. We want to give them tools to improve their self-awareness, to see those areas that stand out to them that, that are willing to work on it because that's to not to rehash the age cohorts, but that is a, a group that is committed to continuous learning and improvement. Um, they're they have grown up with the access to information, you know, they, they do not sit and wonder. They're continuously evolving. You mentioned marketing earlier, and there's a large percentage of millennials and gen Zs, probably gen Zs, more than millennials that have marketed themselves on social media, their entire lives.
[Tom Finn] 00:25:11 Yeah, that's right. And they do a beautiful job of it. Right. <laugh> um, and
[Corky Curtis] 00:25:17 It's maybe not transparent, but they do a beautiful job of it.
[Tom Finn] 00:25:19 Yeah. Fair enough. Um, it might be, it might be a little, uh, there might be a touch-up photo here and there. Um, <laugh> from time to time, I would imagine. Uh, well, look, it sounds like you've spent some time thinking about this and, and you clearly are a passionate person. You care about people, you care about your employees. How do, how do you do that? Um, in a meaningful way, how do you, how do you show that sort of empathetic side to your organization or, or to your teams
[Corky Curtis] 00:25:47 Caring, you know, caring looks different in every organization. Um, and I think just sitting down, um, there, there used to be all these terms in the counseling world need a need, a knee Oak tree counseling, all these things, but there really is just that overwhelming form of empathy that, you know, it, when you see it and, and having those conversations and teaching leaders, the impact that that has, right. It, the impact that just caring for someone and showing that compassion, and then the consistency that comes along with that, right. It's really easy to say, I care about you, but am I going that next step further? And for me, caring and accountability are a two-way street. I care enough to hold you accountable. I care enough to tell you, you did a great job. I care enough to tell you, you need to work on this area. So I think that's the key with caring is I tell people all the time and I, I, I have this saying that one, when I hear it the first time, I'll give you credit for it the second time. I'll probably say, I don't remember who said it. And then the third time it's mine. So I'll just, you know, I, I think it's, it's that, you know, you have to care enough to hold someone accountable. Yeah. And, and that really is the key.
[Tom Finn] 00:27:13 Do, do you ever see the other side of that? Come on, Corky, you gotta be nicer. I mean, don't hold me accountable. I, you know, I've got things, other things in my life I've got other things to do. Uh, I can't possibly make that deadline. Uh, why, why are you, why are you so mean? Do you ever get that feedback?
[Corky Curtis] 00:27:30 Well, I think that's the, the key is you can be hard and have high expectations without being mean, you know, you, you, you and I, and I think it starts with being willing to roll your sleeves up, being willing to, okay, that's a huge project that I gave you. So where can I help? What barriers can I remove? I, I train leaders all the time that your job as a leader is to remove obstacles, right? You have to remove obstacles. And, and I think that's the thing is you have to know and be bought in to caring and being willing to, okay. Yes, that is a, that is a tall heel, but I know when to pull you, and I know when to push you and I have complete confidence that you can come over this. And then when we get on the other side, we'll laugh about how easy it was. So you just have to roll your sleeves up and get involved, um, to do that. And, and I, I think it's challenging Tom, at certain levels in the organization. That's challenging
[Tom Finn] 00:28:34 It, it is. But I think you said something that probably resonates with most, which is roll your sleeves up and, and get in the bunker and, uh, and, and be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. And, you know, don't abstain on your vote. You've gotta get in and you gotta, you've gotta help your team win, and you've gotta figure this out. And I think that's critically important, whether it, it doesn't matter if you're a people leader or you're an individual contributor, and you're a member of a team you have to stretch outside of yourself. You've gotta find a way to be a good teammate, uh, in corporate roles. It just, it is what it is. If you can't be that there are other roles outside of corporate that, you know, maybe a better fit, uh, in, in cert in terms of an individual capacity, right. Where you can be an entrepreneur or, or any of those roles outside of a, of a big company.
[Corky Curtis] 00:29:24 Yeah. And leadership is, is not for everybody. Yeah. I I'm in the camp that believes leadership can be trained. I'm also in the camp that understands. There's some people that just have God-given ability that makes them makes leadership easier for them. But I, I truly believe that you, you can learn empathy. I truly believe you can learn courage. Right. We all learn to ride a bike. And, and that's the, the pure example of, I, I hear that most well. How do you teach courage? Right. Well, courage is, is learnable. We all climbed a tree for the first time. We all rode a bike for the first time. Right? And, and then there's sometimes where you have to borrow someone's courage. <laugh> right. You have to, you need that teammate that says, okay, come on. And they put their arm around you and, and you go on and you have to borrow their courage. But, but I'm, I really believe that you have to be able to learn those things. And, and that's the wonderful thing about leadership is it's not for everybody. And if you don't wanna put the work in, then don't, don't raise your hand. You know, there, there's nothing more, um, challenging for organizations than lazy leaders, right? They're not willing to put the work in
[Tom Finn] 00:30:38 Well, a hundred percent. And, and the way that I view the work is, is a very simplistic view of the world. It's those that have an open mind versus those that have a closed mind. And if you have an open mind and you're willing to listen to new ideas, new products, new ways of thinking, and new ways of approaching a problem, then you're probably set up to be a pretty effective leader. You've got most of the tools in your toolbox. You might need some development, you might need some help from others, as you said, but if you've got an open mind, you're almost there. Now, firstly, if you, if you have a closed mindset, you know, it's gonna rain today. Uh, this isn't the right job for me. How could I possibly support anybody else when I'm not sure? I like my own job. Those are closed mindsets. Those are really hard people to make leaders. And they're really hard people to kind of help grow as well, because they haven't gotten enough confidence yet in themselves to, to allow themselves to be vulnerable.
[Corky Curtis] 00:31:39 Yeah. And that, to your point on the open-mindedness, that just improves your influence, right? And your sphere of influence, because that's how leadership grows. There are only so many people in the world, you can tell what to do, but if you're closed-minded, then you just shrink that circle and you shrink that sphere. If you're, open-minded, you'll learn more about people. That's one of the things I'm most thankful for in my military career. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina. It's really a funny story. My wife and I, our first duty assignment was Hawaii. Didn't suck. <laugh> it was great. And, uh, so we were those small-town kids from the mountains of North Carolina that we would sit on a hill and just look at the big city lights of Honolulu. So my exposure was really limited until I joined the military. And then, I mean, I, I didn't, I'd never met someone from Missouri.
[Corky Curtis] 00:32:37 I'd never met someone from, from, uh, California. So it, it was really, as you just progress in your career, you have to seek out those opportunities to learn more and to gain more perspective on people. It enables you to connect with people differently. I feel like it enables you to show empathy differently because you hear about someone else's experience, um, that, that they've been through. And it gives you a perspective now to understand that a little bit differently. So I think those are one of, you know, if there's a development story to be told leaders, you have to get to know people, you have to get to know different people with different backgrounds and understand where they come from. And that's a, you know, that goes back to these, these different age cohorts. Um, we can't blame them, right? They grew up with a phone in their hand
[Tom Finn] 00:33:33 That's right. But I think it starts with understanding your own story. And I, I don't think anybody, uh, expects to be Corky, uh, growing up in a small town, uh, in the Hills of North Carolina, but we've all got our own origin story. We've all got the place we came from and the parents that raised us or the grandparents, or, you know, the community that we were involved in. And I think before you can start to really take in others, you gotta really understand your own origin story. No matter what it is, it could be really fabulous on paper or not so fabulous on paper or a blend. Right. And for most of us, it's a bit of a mixed bag. Let's be honest. Right. And so you've gotta sort of take that in and say, look, I own this story. It's my story. Right. And now how can I take that and listen to others and improve my areas of understanding and, and openness towards other people.
[Corky Curtis] 00:34:28 Yep. Very true. Very true. We have to appreciate where we came from and the, the things that we learned and the things that we didn't learn in some cases.
[Tom Finn] 00:34:38 Yeah, that's right. That's right. So as you think about learning and, and support of others and your origin story, um, what are the things that you take into, into your day at work and like, what are you providing for employees? What, what basics do you provide for your employee base
[Corky Curtis] 00:34:56 Beans and bullets, Tom beans and bullets.
[Tom Finn] 00:34:59 Beans, and bullets. This sounds like it's got an army context to it.
[Corky Curtis] 00:35:03 <laugh> yeah. You have to give them the basics. Right? You have to understand what those basics are. You're providing. And outstanding leadership is the beginning. Um, every organization in the world, if we did a scientific poll and pulled the values and, and mission, vision value for every organization, there's some connotation to leadership and management and we have to provide those basics and it's gonna be different for every person, for every organization for all those. But you have to know that as a leader, right? You have to know that the army, the army understands their basics. We have to feed the troops and we have to equip them. Right. And as leaders in, in corporate world or in nonprofits or in whatever it may be, you have to understand what are those basics. And, and for me, that's leadership and it starts with caring. It, I I've said it 15 times already, and hopefully you'll delete some of those, but it really starts with caring and, and just this commitment to others, um, to, to provide what they need and to help 'em through their day.
[Corky Curtis] 00:36:22 And sometimes that's a nudge, right? Sometimes it's a hug, not, not a real hug, but sometimes it's, it's comfort. Sometimes it's encouragement and sometimes it's discipline and, and we have to know what those are and what we're providing. Um, but it just comes back to, to just basic common sense leadership. Um, and, and I think it's an opportunity. I, I truly believe that the, the smart factor in business has shrunk. And if organizations are gonna have a competitive advantage, it's in leadership, it's in, in how do they move the force forward? Because we can Google the answer for almost everything, you know, in, in, in real estate investment, the principles are basically the same. Each company will have a different performer and the different hurdles, but it's basically the same operations. You go into any hotel in the world, and you're basically gonna get the same things, maybe on a different level. And that's what I mean when I say that smart factor, the, the, the next, unless you're on the level of, of Elon Musk and some of those other geniuses in the world, you gotta make up ground in leadership. You gotta make up ground in the people business. And that's what excites me most about human resources and, and, and the work you're doing and the work we're doing is that it, it really gets back to those basics of people and taking care of people and encouraging them to, to be the best version of themselves.
[Tom Finn] 00:38:00 Yeah. And, and in the spirit of people and being the best version of ourselves. I gotta ask the humbling question, because it, to me, it feels like you've had this beautiful career you've you're so, uh, thoughtful about the way you approach people, but have you ever made any mistakes along the way? Is this a, is this a perfect track record of, uh, you know, behind you in, in the last couple of decades?
[Corky Curtis] 00:38:23 Well, it would be a pretty, pretty boring Netflix series if there weren't any, any, uh, toast stubs along the way. I think, um, and I think the, the best method of learning is failure. And I have certainly failed. And the, the one that I think about the most, and I use the most as a learning opportunity, um, 2007, 2008, I, um, started a new position. This position I was going into, I was following a, a legendary leader. And, and I mean that in every sense of the word, legendary was well known across the command. Everyone knew him, they left because they were getting promoted. And I went in and my boss at the time asked me because he was a big football fan. He asked me, are you gonna be Barry Switzer? Or are you gonna be Chan Gayley? And for those not familiar with the Dallas Cowboys, Barry Switzer followed, uh, Jimmy Johnson and his super bowl titles and Chan Gayley followed Barry Switzer and his super bowl titles, very different career path, right?
[Corky Curtis] 00:39:34 Barry Switzer went onto the hall of fame. Chan Gayley went back to being a position coach. So he said, what are you gonna be? And so I took this position with a lot of pressure that I put on myself and that the organization had put on. And I found myself when I went in for the first quarter, I was trying to be him. I was trying to lead the team. Like he led the team. He was a very charismatic leader, and a great multitasker. He could have 15 different things going in the air and stay with them, the football. He ran a run-and-shoot offense. The ball was flying all around and he was equipped to be able to manage that.
[Tom Finn] 00:40:19 And that was his style. That was his leadership style. That's his style, his leadership shadow. And, and you're taking this new job and they're saying, are you gonna be able to keep up with the guy that you're replacing, uh, in this role?
[Corky Curtis] 00:40:32 And so I went in trying to be him. I went in and tried to replicate what he had done in his style and failed miserably. Tom miserably, um, had the conversation with my boss about being Chan Gayley and only one thing changed in that building. And it was me, uh, so had those real honest conversations. And I had, you know, a bit of a I'll call it an epiphany to make it sound better, but it was really uhoh, I'm gonna get fired. And my career's over, if I don't figure out what I'm doing. And I went in the next morning and sat the team down and was very vulnerable and said, listen, I've let you down for the past 90 days because I tried to lead like him. I can't lead like him. I'm not equipped to lead like him. We need to run the ball on first and second down, we need to have manageable third downs and we need to play solid defense.
[Corky Curtis] 00:41:30 We had to slow not the pace of production down, but I had to put processes in place to ensure that I knew what was going on. And I was being the resource that the team needed because I was all over the place. I had no idea I had no process. So I put office hours in place. I put admin time on my calendar. I put specific times to talk with each team member about what they needed, um, because I just couldn't, I couldn't survive the way that I was. And thankfully we turned it around. We got back to the production from the previous, uh, leader and the story ended wonderfully, but it was enlightening to me because I, I realized, and it really solidified that leaders have to understand who they are and what their strengths are. Um, you, It's, it's easy to use the analogy of an introvert and an extrovert, right?
[Corky Curtis] 00:42:28 You, you walk into a room and you walk into a room of a hundred people. And to go back to the story, my predecessor could walk into a room of a hundred people in 99. Want to talk to him that wasn't me. I could walk into a room of a hundred people, and hopefully, there would be two people in there that could talk about sports or the army <laugh>. And, and I would be able to talk to them. So you leaders have to understand their strengths and their weaknesses, and they have to understand when to flex and when to educate themselves. I saw a huge gap in my understanding of age cohorts that led me to walk away from a career. I mean, it's not, that's, I, I tell it in a victorious way, but the reality was I felt like a failure because I had no idea how to connect to this younger generation. So I made a commitment to understanding what I didn't know as a leader. Um, and, and I think that's the basis of it. And I appreciate you asked that because it's a key thing for leaders to recognize that we're humans also, but you have to be vulnerable enough to share that. And, and, and in some cases say that to your team, you know, Hey, I've let you down and now we're gonna move forward.
[Tom Finn] 00:43:42 Yeah. Vulnerability and leadership just make you more human and it makes you more approachable and people feel like they don't have to be perfect around you. And that creates a conversation that, that really brings a team together, um, in, in, in personal ways and in professional ways. Uh, and that's really where the magic happens, and, um, Corky, we have covered just an absolute ton on, on this discussion today. I mean, we, we've gone from the org origin story of a, a kid in North Carolina, right? To, to really understand how to focus on individuals and, and understand the age cohorts. Um, and I love what you said, look, generation Z generation, uh, millennial. They're just holding people accountable. That's it? They want the same things. Uh, that's probably one of my favorite, favorite points that you made today, and then really understanding that providing the basics of compassion and caring and accountability to a workforce is probably the most important thing we can do as, as leaders.
[Tom Finn] 00:44:43 Uh, the beans and bullets, I think is what you called it. Uh, we gotta give 'em beans and bullets, um, to make sure they have what they need. Um, I, I can't thank you enough for being on the show. You've got such a terrific background and, um, we're so privileged to have you and, and, and your organization at MBK is, is fortunate to have you on the team. I'm sure you feel the same way about the leaders you work with there too. Um, how, how can we find you, Corky? Where, where can somebody track you down if they wanted to get ahold of you?
[Corky Curtis] 00:45:11 Uh, Tom, the easiest way would be on LinkedIn. There are not too many Corky Curtiss out there. So C O R K Y C U R T I S on LinkedIn is the easiest way. And, and I'll tell you, I, in, in your wrap up, I think the best thing is leaders just have to understand, just do the little things, just keep it simple. Don't overcomplicate leadership, do the simple things. Take care of people.
[Tom Finn] 00:45:35 Yeah. That's a beautiful way to end it. Take care of people. Uh, Corky. Thank you for joining the podcast and thank you all for joining the talent empowerment podcast. I hope this conversation lifted you up so you can lift up your teams and your organizations we'll catch you on the next episode, but until then let's get back to people and culture together. Thank you, Corky.
[Corky Curtis] 00:45:57 Thank you.
Michael Bush, CEO, Great Place To WorkListen Now
with Bamboo's Director of HR, Cassie WhitlockListen Now