Interview with Cy Wakeman Drama Researcher, International Speaker on Leadership & Management, NY Times Best Selling Author, Global Thought Leader

Interviewer: Mariham Magdy

Publisher: Ahmed Mohamed Hassan


Cy Wakeman, Join the Revolution!
This is the first welcome you will receive immediately when joining Cy Wakeman website newsletters!
What Cy really presents to us today is such a revolution against our traditional way of thinking which have dramatically impacted us as well as our work in a negative way.
When reading her book “Reality-based Leadership”, from the first pages you will feel the influence of her golden advices that really touch a very deep point inside of each leader who suffer from the same impediments that may be holding back the performance of the team and even impacting tragically the work environment despite all the motivating activities adopted to help them move forward.

1- HR Revolution Middle East: Welcome Cy, we are really glad to be having such a great opportunity to interview your good-self & help our people to get to know more about you & your precious studies & books.
Please Cy, we are so curious to know from you about the first motives that encouraged you to start your research & writings about “work-place drama”
Cy Wakeman:
My entry into Reality-Based Leadership started with the Open-Door Policy. After several years as a family therapist, I got a promotion in my organization, and I was told in my company leadership training that a great leader always has an open door. The Open-Door Policy did exactly what it was supposed to do. Soon team members began popping their heads into my Open Door.
“Do you have a minute?” they asked. “Sure, I have two!” I’d reply. “Come on in.”
They’d ask for a minute or two, but then stayed planted in my office for an average of 45 minutes. Now, if they had really needed me — to talk through a critical decision for serving the business or to help them develop or hone skills — the time investment would have had a satisfying pay off. But people weren’t coming to me for that.
People came in to tattle on others. They wanted to tell me stories they’d concocted about things that hadn’t even happened. Or they’d vent about circumstances that couldn’t be changed (what I call reality.) They’d use our time to spin fantasies about the future. Frequently, it was a combination. I spent the majority of these impromptu “Got a minute?” meetings listening to elaborate narratives that had almost no basis in reality.
The kicker? At the end of the meeting, they would say to me, with a straight face: “Please don’t do anything about this. I just wanted you to be aware.”
As I witnessed the economic effect of this Open-Door Policy in action, it made no sense to me. Can you imagine what would happen if went to the CEO and said, “I plan to spend 10 hours a day in a series of 45-minute one-on-one meetings talking about stuff that doesn’t add one whit of value to the company. And I’m going to expense the door stop.” I’d be opening the door into the unemployment office.

2- HR Revolution Middle East: When did you first start reaping the fruits of applying your studies & methodologies in the workplace?
Cy Wakeman:
One of the first methodologies I taught employees was a good thinking process, adapted from my cognitive therapy background, was how to edit their stories and eliminate the emotional churn that muddied the waters and obscured reality. People began to learn productive ways to resolve their own issues. They began to figure out what the real issues were, and come up with productive options for tackling them. They stopped the BMW (bitching, moaning and whining) driving. It wasn’t long before our team began operating in a completely different way. While leaders in other departments were getting bogged down in constant firefighting, the teams I worked with were becoming independent, efficient and highly engaged.

3- HR Revolution Middle East: I do believe that I am really a fortunate person for having an opportunity to attend one of your workshops, I was so much touched with your famous saying “Your circumstances are not the reasons you can’t succeed. They are the reality in which you must succeed”. You know Cy that this thought has always been a conviction to most of us to be the reasons hindering our success, that it is all because of our circumstances, I could have been a better person if I were elsewhere,…..etc. How do you advice especially Egyptians to apply your golden advice “Stop Arguing with Reality?
Cy Wakeman:
Challenging the facts of situations like these is something that we’ve all been guilty of. The problem is that arguing against these facts is a battle we are sure to lose.

So why continue this losing battle? When we argue with the facts we’re wasting valuable time and energy. That’s why I’m challenging all leaders to think differently. Together, we can end this argument once and for all and use our time and talents for good, not evil – all while encouraging the same within our teams. Here’s how this can be accomplished: Be a lover of reality—Conserve energy that was used in the past to fight the situation and, instead, accept what is and use that energy to innovate and problem-solve.

4- HR Revolution Middle East: “Succeed Anyway- A 20 Day challenge” How was this initiative, launched on your website, able to influence leaders & change their way of thinking? I believe there must be a number of success stories & people who benefited from this program.

Cy Wakeman:
In my research, I’ve learned much about what it takes to achieve the personal or professional goals you’ve set for yourself, make it stick for good, and ultimately have more success and happiness in your life. There’s no doubt you will be met with challenges and circumstances along the way, but you can succeed anyway. My research shows that highly accountable, successful people know that accountability is a mindset, not a skillset, and it begins with a willing commitment to do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal.

Here’s a testimonial that seemed to be a theme from those who took the challenge, “Don’t let circumstances or others be an excuse for not achieving what you want to. There will always be setbacks but you need to work through those and recommit every time you face a setback.”

5- HR Revolution Middle East: In your book “Reality-based leadership” you wrote such a great quote when you said “The future belongs to the leader who is able to change the way people think and perceive their circumstances” we would like to learn from your experience what competencies a leader must develop in order to be able to change the way people think?
Cy Wakeman:
In order to restore peace to your life, first you need to understand that the source of your suffering is not what happens to you, but the stories you create about what happens to you. We all tell ourselves stories and live with the resulting drama, whether we are conscious of it or not. I call it “arguing with reality” and it’s the single largest barrier to peace and success for most people. The only way to change it is by becoming aware of when and how you tend to do it. You are arguing with reality whenever you judge your situation in terms of right or wrong instead of fearlessly confronting what is. When you are judging, you are not leading; not serving; not adding value. Your judgment is a waste of your time and energy—an opinion that cannot be proven and is only loosely based on the facts of a situation. As I mentioned above, a great tool to use is to edit your story – write down what is happening, and edit it again and again until you are left with only the facts. Then ask yourself, “what is the next best action?”

6- HR Revolution Middle East: “Free yourself from frustration and find opportunities in every challenge you face” How can Cycology  help us to do so?
Cy Wakeman:
The ego hates changes – it prefers the status quo where it can stay comfortable without the pain that can come from growth experiences. Yet it’s not change that causes us pain, it’s attachment to our current circumstances. Employees who are in a high state of readiness don’t require time to grieve change. They are aware, they are willing, they are advocates and they are all in for what’s next. They adjust their sails and chart a new course. They’re not attached to the past because they’re ready for the future. They’re not naïve about the realities of making change work, nor are they blind to the obstacles and difficulties of new processes or projects. Ultimately, they’re not generating emotional waste by voicing resistance and frustration by arguing with reality. They’re too busy ensuring a successful outcome and adding value because they were ready for what’s next

7- HR Revolution Middle East: I like so much the way you foster “accountability” correlation to our happiness & productivity at work. You indicate that we must develop our employees so that they can have a real impact on what happens around them. How can we start actively reducing the office “freak-out factor”?
Cy Wakeman:
Personal accountability is the belief that you are fully responsible for your own actions and consequences. It’s a choice, a mindset and an expression of integrity. Some individuals exhibit it more than others, but it can and should be learned as it is not only the foundation for a successful life, but also a prerequisite for happiness. This outlook may, at first, seem backwards for some. That’s probably because many of today’s leaders have blindly bought into the concept that engagement and happiness come from a lack of stress at work. As a result, they’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time and resources working to perfect their team’s circumstances – creating nothing more than a culture of entitled employees with unrealistic expectations. The truth is, this approach is not sustainable long-term, nor will it help prepare their teams for navigating tough times.

Instead of attempting to soften the blow of change or adjust workplace realities, work to call your people up to greatness by asking, “What would great look like?” or “How can you get skilled up to succeed here?” Once they stop focusing on what’s happening “to” them and focus on what they can do within their current circumstances to succeed, they will get the results they are looking for.

8- HR Revolution Middle East: As an HR magazine, we would like to learn more about the HR solutions you provide to Organizations: “Reality-check Survey”, “Reality-based Performance”, & “Reality-based Talent”
Cy Wakeman:
We are the voice that interrupts thinking, reveals the truth and settles the mind. We translate the best research into Reality-Based Philosophies, tools and training. We eliminate drama and restore sanity to the workplace and worldplace.

We do this by offering some core solutions:
Speaking Programs:

Reality-Based Leadership Facilitator Certification Programs:

Online Virtual Training Program:

Reality-Check Engagement Survey:

9- HR Revolution Middle East: Are you planning in the near future to provide Reality-based Certification Program (TOT) in Egypt or in the Middle East in general?
Cy Wakeman:
We have no immediate plans to offer certification programs, however, you can learn and apply the philosophy via this on-demand, interactive micro learning platform. Online Virtual Training Program:

10- HR Revolution Middle East: You have lately published your new book “NO EGO” where you provide leaders to learn how to cut the cost of workplace drama. From your experience how much are Organizations losing as a result of “workplace drama”, considering the fact mentioned in your book that the average employee spends 2.5 hours per day on drama?
Cy Wakeman:
They lose money in two ways. First, they’re investing money and organizational energy in employee engagement surveys, HR initiatives, and Learning-and-Development programs that actually exacerbate the problems they’re trying to solve. Second, organizations aren’t developing leaders who have the mindsets, methods and tools they need to help eliminate costly Emotional Waste.
Our research found that the average employee spends two hours and twenty minutes per day in drama and emotional waste. While wages and salaries vary greatly from organization to organization, let’s use a hypothetical of a company with 100 employees, each earning $30 an hour and working 40 hours a week. Annually, wages paid would equal $6,240,000. Based on our research on the cost of emotional waste, well over $1,794,000 would have to be written off as a loss.

11- HR Revolution Middle East: “Better/faster/cheaper” how valuable could be our contributions to “change” if we really thought with the concept you provide us in the book “Reality-based Leadership”! Can you kindly share with us sample success stories for Organizations who succeeded to train their people to map their minds to act with this concept towards change?
Cy Wakeman:
Businesses who are successful who are able to build a workforce that is ready for what’s next have moved beyond traditional change management practices, which focus on protecting people from the impacts of change, to business readiness, which shifts the focus of keeping the business ready change. While working with a multi-national client pharmaceuticals company, I saw a great opportunity to gather data on my business readiness methodology. The company had long worked in a traditional, hierarchical office-and-cubicle environment. Senior leaders made a strategic decision to move to an open environment to foster more collaboration, cooperation and creativity. Private rooms still would be available for meetings or private conversations as needed, but in general, the walls were coming down. Employee chatter about the impending change spanned the emotional spectrum, from predictions of doom to skepticism about the viability of the plan, from tentative exploration to excitement.
To see if readiness was linked to difficulty of change, we created a survey that would help us assess employees’ state of readiness. Before the move, we asked questions see how technology savvy they were. We inquired about the size of their networks, what current communication methods they used, whether they were up on new music, what innovative ways of working they had tried. How up to date they were on the news in their industry? Were they citizens of the modern world or still living in a bygone era?
Three months after these folks moved into their new environment, we did another survey asking them to rate their experience of how hard the change was and how the company had managed it. We found an overwhelming correlation between people who were low in readiness and those who categorized the change as difficult. The employees who said they had really struggled with open environment also were the most critical of the way the business managed the change. They stepped down into blame instead of stepping up to accountability.

12- HR Revolution Middle East: In your journey with different organizations, to what extent have you seen CEOs willing to accommodate & accept implementing this new culture in the work-place?
Cy Wakeman:
CEOs love the Reality-Based Leadership approach because they, along with other c-level executives, get value. And by subtracting the cost of drama from performance, we can finally align employee value to business results. They understand the positive impact that can come from ridding the workplace of emotional expense and drama. They recognize how it can greatly impact the bottom line by improving productivity versus trying to achieve results solely through improving performance or trying to increase engagement. Many of my clients embrace Reality-Based Leadership because their CEO loved the message, and then told their leaders or HR team about it.

13- HR Revolution Middle East: What was your first impression about Egypt in your last visit past December? Was it your first visit to Egypt? Are you planning to come again soon?
Cy Wakeman:
Yes, this was my first visit to Egypt! I was so thrilled to be there for the first time. My husband joined me and were blown away by the hospitality and love of the people. I was spoiled rotten with fabulous food and lots of learning about the culture. I witness the true definition of resilience in Egypt – the people have so many challenges in terms of currency and revolution, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. I don’t have a return trip on my calendar – yet!

14- HR Revolution Middle East: How can Talent Management professionals start a “Proactive Talent Management”, with the Cy approach, nowadays, to cope with all the technological & economic disruptions we are facing?
Cy Wakeman:
Work with the willing. Focus on the group that says “yes” – give them your time and attention and support. Remember, the average manager spends about 80 hours extra per year on employees that are in a mode of resistance and who have very low odds of moving out of resistance any time soon. Why waste your time and resources? You don’t need everyone on board to move forward – only about 46%. So find them and reward them.

15- HR Revolution Middle East: Cy to what extent do you see business leaders aware of the fact you indicate in your book that “HR role is to protect the Company & serve the employees, not to fill in the gaps left by poor leadership”?
Cy Wakeman:
A big shock to people when we first meet is when they learn that I research drama in the workplace. The work experience is so full of drama that it’s seen as a normal cost of doing business. But I believe drama is both avoidable and has a real negative financial impact. It leads to lost productivity, peace and happiness. Historically, leaders have been told their role is to inspire, to motivate and engage their teams. But as a therapist, I know from behavioral science that people make their own choices about motivation and inspiration, so for leaders, employee happiness and engagement is an impossible responsibility. I believe the modern leader’s role is to help employees eliminate drama (emotional waste) by facilitating good mental processes. For the many who hear the message it’s a game-changing approach that relieves leaders of the burden of coming up with all the answers. As these mental processes are hardwired, employees begin to self-manage, become more productive, and as a result, understand the connection to accountable choices, their mindset and the results they deliver.

16- HR Revolution Middle East: Finally I would like to thank you so much for the opportunity you gave us to make this interview. What last advice would you give to CEOs & business leaders in Egypt in order to encourage teams to conserve their energy lost to drama and put it directly into outcomes and results?
Cy Wakeman:
What you might be realizing throughout this interview is self-awareness has a big role to play here. So, when people ask me for my best advice, I tell them, “Stop believing everything you think. Question most of what you think.” This new awareness is groundbreaking in and of itself. A great question, then, to enter into self-reflection is, “If I were being great right now, what would that look like?” You see, everyone knows what great looks like, because “great” is the basis for which we judge other people on. And so the question, “What would great look like?” causes judgment and drama to stop, and switches back to the better part of your brain. Then all those things we teach people, like innovation, collaboration, creativity, team work; those come naturally, because those behaviors are our natural state once the drama is gone.