057: The power of relationship building; Robbie Samuels, Part 1 (transcript)

July 3, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

Robbie’s podcast grew quickly as did the personal connections to people he didn’t think he could. So the beginning of our conversation is about his podcast, his leadership, how it grew, I can tell you that starting a podcast is a lot of work. He doesn’t sound like someone oppressed or exhausted from doing lots of work. He sounds like someone who’s enjoying what he did and I think you’ll hear why. It’s what happens when you start with your passion, with what you care about. The same joy shows up in his environmental action because he starts with caring his values and that’s what makes activity meaningful. You’ll hear the same joy showing up in his environmental action. He started composting totally unrelated to this podcast and you’ll hear how because he started with something he noticed you know really small but something he cared about, he acted on it and that acting led him to enjoy more and so on. So let’s listen to the conversation.


Joshua: How are you doing, Rob?

Robbie: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me here.

Joshua: Is Rob or Robbie?

Robbie: It’s usually Robbie. It’s actually short for Robinson which is not something most people know.

Joshua: So, inside information.

Robbie: It’s true, it’s true. It has not been announced in a podcast yet.

Joshua: It just has been. So, and your podcast is The Art of the Schmooze and it’s about leadership and networking.

Robbie: On the Schmooze.

Joshua: On the Schmooze. Yeah why don’t they of the Schmooze?

Robbie: Because that’s my signature session that I’ve been talking about and say speaking on for the last 10 years. So I’m probably even better known for that. I spoke in front of thousands of people talking about the art of the schmooze but the podcast is a little spin-off of that. It’s called On the Schmooze but you’re not the first person that confused the two.

Joshua: And so you’re about leadership, you’re about networking and you’ve had some really big guests. One of the things that you mentioned was that after you started it didn’t take long before you’re getting really people that you like before you even thought, “I don’t deserve to get someone like that.” How did you put it?

Robbie: Well, I always think I was speaking about Mo Gawdat in particular, he is the Chief Business Officer for Google X and I think I told you I have no business even knowing his name. And now he’s been a guest on my show.

Joshua: OK, so you went from nothing to… I don’t know nothing but like before the podcast it didn’t take long and you have a C-Suite person from Google I guess Google X..

Robbie: Yeah.

Joshua: How did this happen for you? What made it happen that you bridged the gap?

Robbie: Sure, well, so I’ve been speaking on inclusive networking for nearly a decade and I just released a book Croissants vs. Bagels: Strategic, Effective, and Inclusive Networking at Conferences. And it’s a best seller, it’s going really great on Amazon. That’s all fantastic. I launched a podcast a little over a year ago as part of building that same platform spreading a message, connecting to people and I think podcasting is an amazing networking tool. So at first, you interview the people who are the closest to you, that you know, that you have access to. But once you go live and it’s a good quality business podcast, people will start to be attracted to it.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the C-Suite Radio which is a network of C-level executives and I think actually being part of that now I have these PR companies that are pitching me to have their guests on. And so, Mo has a new book called Solve for Happy which is an excellent book. Go check out Solve for Happy, look for the link in the show notes. It’s a really cool book. So he took a sabbatical from Google X, then traveled around and with doing tons and tons of interviews and he’s a really interesting, smart you know just really encouraging person. I had a great conversation [unintelligible] but I had no other connections to him. And now we just sat down for an hour and had this great conversation that we’re able to share with other people about his formula for happiness.

Joshua: Now, you said podcasting is a very effective networking medium. Is it only podcasting? Could you replicate this type of networking success in other ways?

Robbie: Yeah. I guess the other way to do it, it’s interviewing. It’s not so much podcasting but it’s interviewing. So my good friend Dorothy Clark is a really prolific at writing articles for Inc., Entrepreneur, for Harvard Business Review and in order to keep up the pace of the zillions of articles she was putting out every year she interviews people and then writes an article about them, interviews people and then posts another post. And that actually it was a way for her to connect with people. So, similarly if you write to someone that you don’t know, that you admire that you know watched from afar and you say you know, “I’m writing for Forbes and I’d like to write about you.” I think people are more likely to say yes. While a podcaster says, “I would like to interview you,” people particularly they have something to tell. They have a book out or project they are launching or a message they want to spread. Like if they’re in the mode where they want to be sharing communicating ideas, then I think they’re more open to it more so than if I just said, “Hey I want to have coffee” and like the whole have-of-coffee thing it’s such a bad cliché. No one has time to have coffee with every random person. Hey, Josh, you want to have coffee? And Josh is like, “You know who has time to do all the coordination?” You know it’s either going to be a quick chat or this hour-long video chat that we’re having now is a far more intense and in-depth and just a bigger way to connect. And I just think podcasting is a professional development. That’s something I learned from John Corcoran. He also does podcasting, it’s Smart Business Revolution and he talks about how much he learns from being able to interview these smart people and so similarly I just feel like between the professional development and the networking, podcasting has been a fantastic medium for me.

Joshua: Now I want to make it as accessible as possible for people to… I mean a lot of people they don’t have a column in Forbes or Inc., so they can’t do what Dorie does. They could start a podcast but maybe the really nervous about that. And then also what’s the difference between like this getting coffee which isn’t effective and there’s podcasting which is effective? Can you specify what that difference is?

Robbie: You’re offering something of value in return whereas the whole hey-can-I- just-pick-your-brain, that’s taking from somebody, not offering anything in return. If I want to interview you, which by the way Arianna Huffington just came out with a new medium for…I’m sorry, I said medium which is another… Medium is also a website but Arianna Huffington has her own version of Thrive which is another site where you can post blog posts. You could put on your LinkedIn and although your traffic is probably better somewhere else. Always start by posting things on your own website if you’re just getting started. But yeah, if you are able to put it out somewhere consistently and build a following, then you’re able to then reach out people and say hey, “I want to spread your message” and it’s an offer, it’s an invitation, it’s helping them whereas the I-just-want-to-pick-your-brain if you have no prior relationship, that’s not the best way to start a conversation.

Joshua: So I’m picking up a common theme that you’ve mentioned that I hear of a lot of leaders on the show is that it’s about the other person. If you want to lead someone, you bring value to them. It’s what’s important to them. Because most people…Did you think that beforehand or did you also think like many people like you know it’s all about me?

Robbie: I am sure that I had to go through a whole metamorphosis on this. It’s now so much a part of my DNA, Josh, that it’s hard to kind of go back to that mindset. I go into every situation trying to think about how I can offer value and I was just in a 20- person business, executive business training, a full-day session in New York City and I should have come by and say hi, and I spent all day like trying to think about resources that I could add to the discussion. I offered to talk to anybody afterwards like “If you want to set up a video chat”. I offered to show people how to set up they were podcast they were trying to get started. I was like resource rich, I’ve got lots of things that I know about or like or willing to talk about and what I now believe is what I call the philosophy of abundance. If I give away knowledge, it doesn’t deplete me. It actually strengthens my network and when I have a strong network, there’s like nothing that I really lack. You know if I have a strong network, if my immediate circle can’t get it for me like there are outer layers that they will refer me to and it’s because they know I’m the kind of person who always offers.

Joshua: OK. So this is a style of leadership and influence that works. And I hear you speaking from experience. Am I right? You’re not telling me something you read.

Robbie: Yeah, it’s a lived thing. I mean it is something that you have to sort of focus on and be purposeful about because it won’t happen by accident.

Joshua: If they listen to your podcast, will they get to hear… Because like Dorie Clarke you interviewed maybe months ago, that was a while ago but Mo Gawdat, that was very recent. So I’m guessing that then can hear you develop as a leader/ schmoozer/networker who makes things happen. Is that right?

Robbie: Yeah. So what I did my first year of podcasting, last year, I alternated episodes so every other week I did a short solo episode where I focused on sharing networking technique eight or 10 minutes quick, or sound bites and those transcripts you know you could just print them and refer to them and really just like how do you write a follow-up e-mail, how do you do an email introduction, just really clear tidbits. The opposite weeks and ongoing throughout this year I interviewed talents and professionals and ask them questions about leadership, career challenges, work-life balance whatever that might mean for them and how they build and particularly how they sustain their professional network.

Because the same way you interested in leadership, the reason I focus on leadership is that I want to talk about networking but networking in a vacuum is this sort of amorphous theory. I wanted it to be applicable and the way to think about it is if you’re a leader, if you achieve success in your field well then you probably know something about relationships. Like you can’t achieve great success and like be closed off to the world. So I have these conversations that I sort of pull out as we’re talking, some takeaways for people to think about. And it gives you different examples that people follow very different formulas to achieve what they see as success. And I want my listeners to see themselves in this and find ways that they can put, “Oh, this person has a cool morning routine and this person reads all the time. You know like this person hosts dinner parties.” Like whatever it is, find something and just start working on it.

Joshua: So yours is all about accessibility too and making things possible and sharing what you’ve learned. It’s giving you like you’re living what you talk about. And I love that. OK so now I’m going to switch to… Now I want to connect this to the environment because that’s a place for a lot of people think about stuff and I think well, they hit the first challenge and then they give up and they don’t realize you enjoying all this leadership stuff I think a lot of people might say it’s a lot of work but I have a feeling that what you’re doing doesn’t feel like work to you.

Robbie: I think the best thing in the world, Josh, is when you’re able to find the thing that you do with ease and help other people realize how they can do it. And even better is if you can get paid to teach them.

Joshua: Does the environment fit that bill for you? Is it something that you care about, that you can do for others?

Robbie: Yeah, I love that you’re framing this in that way. My very first activism was… I lived in Long Island and growing up and I was at a very large high school, suburban high school. My graduating class was about 13 000 people so each building had two grades you know 6000 students in four grades. That’s a lot of people. And I started collecting cans and then because they didn’t have a way to get them picked up I was rinsing these cans and then stacking them and eventually a custodian took pity on us and dropped them off at a recycling facility. And from there I got the polystyrene that we were using to be recycled. So I helped [unintelligible] education. I found someone to pick up the polystyrene, we set up signs, I did trainings for teachers and students. So my first, my earliest activism was about helping people think about the one thing they can do and that one thing is like you know that tray that you’re carrying your stuff on and the cup that you are drinking out of, goes in this particular receptacle and the other stuff goes here and that’s your part. Just do that thing. And then we all took a trip like five of us to the recycling facility to see how the polystyrene got turned into plastic like lumber and it was like awesome. It was a fantastic lesson at a very early age about the influence you can have.

This part of the story is that I actually brought the head of the food service like company to meet with the vice principal. The two of them are who made it happen. But there was some weird, I still don’t know if I understand it was like a weird tape, red tape like you know B.S. They couldn’t talk to each other directly. But when I was a student I was like I want to meet with you. They said yes, individually and then I was like let’s meet together. And then when they started talking it was way above my head. Like I remember sitting in that meeting and like they clicked and they started getting so excited about this idea and they made it happen. But I was like, “Why did you even need me?” But they did. They needed a student to be the catalyst to even make that urgent.


Joshua: That’s why I’m making this podcast Leadership and the Environment because it’s not just the environment. There’s tons of stuff out there about if you want to know facts if you want to know little tips that you could do the internet is filled with millions of these things and people aren’t doing it and people say, “Why should I do X because it doesn’t make a difference what I do? It’s such a small little thing.” And then every now and then you do something that’s like you’re collecting cans and it doesn’t make a difference and people might say, “It doesn’t make a difference. All you’re doing is putting them in the corner of this room or wherever you’re putting them.” And then some custodian comes by and makes the next step happen because you started it and then these people who weren’t talking to each other, who really once are in touch they really want to get in touch with each other you make it happen. And so it’s like this little thing but kind of like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Sometimes you do the thing that makes a big difference.

OK. One of the big things getting me into this podcast is we have a president who believes that it’s a hoax and I was like I can’t wait another four years. And then the more I thought about it as I took on the mantle of becoming the Mandela of the environment, becoming the Martin Luther King of the environment that most of the social changes they didn’t come from inside government, they come from outside government. They influence government. Government doesn’t lead. We call them leaders but they don’t, they follow. And so when you say that you don’t have an official title to me I’m thinking, “Of course not. If you had a title you would be like talking, like just talking but not actually doing anything.” And if you actually do stuff, it makes stuff happen. What do people think of you?

Robbie: I don’t know that I cared.

Joshua: This is what I’m dreaming of people getting is that so many people see it as a burden, a sacrifice to do stuff that is protecting the environment or reducing their emissions or things like that and yet if it’s something you care about, you can take this as far as you want. I don’t think you’re done yet. Am I reading you right? Like you haven’t been like, “Ok, now I did the environment stuff, on to other things.”

Robbie: Well, I think it’s about having your one thing. So like you’re very singularly focused on the environment and I’m so grateful and so I have a different thing that I am similarly focused on. But my job is to still support you. I’m not like the champion. I’m not trying to be the Mandela the environment. I’m glad you are though. You know and I’m trying to get people to think about how to be more open and engaging and inviting and welcoming, like I’ve got a whole you know piece that I’m focusing on. But I do think we ought to do our part. I’m fond of saying that I think recycling is distraction but I’m still going to do. Like sometimes you know you’re standing there and you’re looking like where is this supposed to go. Like you’re confused for a moment and you’re like, “It feels like such a distraction.” But it’s like you know what? You’re still doing it, you’re doing your part and that’s like in that moment, that moment that day I know that I’m doing my part.

Joshua: You did refer to something and I think it’s a major thing that a lot of people that keeps people from…And I’m going to talk about leadership in general or pursuing your passions in general is people are afraid of doing something when they’re not really sure if it’s their passion or not. And the advice I give is if you’re not sure what your great passion is, find a passion and act on that and either that will turn out to be awesome. If it’s not, it’s the fastest way to find out what will be your thing because that thing will eventually lose its appeal and something else will keep gaining its appeal. And so when you said well I’ve moved on to other stuff I’m like well, that’s not… Someone who’s listening to this and thinks, “Well, maybe environmental stuff isn’t my thing.” Well, if you don’t know what is your thing, start with that. You know you listen to this podcast, something about it appeal to you so, start with that.

Robbie: Well, and I love that these stories that I forgot about are being brought to life and I’m connecting them to what I’m doing even just like within the last couple of years like I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into the fact that I got to this new job and I was like, “Why don’t we have a canned collection?” Do you know what I mean? Like I just did it. I was like and I was there for 10 years. So now it’s just part of the institution.

Joshua: So environmental stuff for you is among other things it’s connecting with people around you, serving them in ways that creating these connections and developing your leadership and developing your network. It works for you that way. I guess that stands because people generally are probably people who really just want a dirty environment it’s possible or they don’t care, they think it’s a hoax. But by and large a lot of people really like it and you want to share values so that you have people in your life… You want to act on your values so that people who you love are people who will also act on those values.

Robbie: Absolutely.

Joshua: So that said, you read the description of this podcast, I’m going invite you to take on a personal challenge. You can’t count something you’ve already been doing. So something new and it doesn’t have to change… You don’t have to solve everything overnight. So have you thought of something?

Robbie: Yeah, it’s funny because I thought of something, Josh, when you first invited me I start thinking about what would be my thing. OK. So here is a thing, I live on a college campus in Boston Massachusetts and our dining services have composting. And I don’t cook a ton. In the summer I cook a lot and the rest of the year I eat at a dining hall. But my son soon to have two children. They’re [unintelligible] always scraps of vegetables and fruits around, always. And so I’m going to set up a composting bin in our apartment and then will walk it over to the dining hall facilities to drop it off.

Joshua: Okay, cool, so that’s something… Oh, I see. So every time you’ve gotten rid of scraps you’re like I could have…

Robbie: I could have compost that. We make eggs every morning so it’s eggshells every morning, I think, “Oh, I could be composting this.” We make coffee every little while and I’m like, “Coffee grinds, I am totally composting this.” I was chopping up vegetables yesterday and I was like, “These vegetables all go in the compost.” Like I’ve composted in the past. I used to live across an enormous garden and I’ve never had a compost myself, I’ve never had a garden since I was a little kid but I was like oh is a compost like across the street. Why don’t we just compost? And so we did that. And then when I moved here five years ago they didn’t have composting but I know sometime in the last year or two they started to do it. They didn’t make a big deal out of it but I’ve sort of noticed they have these green bins in the back of the building. And I’m like, “Oh, they’re compost bins.” So it just sort of clicked. When I was thinking about your show we could just be doing this. And once that awareness was there I started to like… I will tell you three weeks ago I wasn’t feeling bad about throwing away the scraps or the coffee grinds. Like my awareness wasn’t there but as soon as the awareness came into focus now like, “Oh, I can actually do something about this.”

Joshua: You’re perfectly stating with this podcast is about, it’s about awareness. I’ve never heard a leader say self-awareness messes up leadership. People who aren’t self-aware they’re like how do I get aware. Well, this is one way. And you’re like this is fun. This is something that you’re something a lot of people think of as a burden, once you make that mental shift you are like, “I can’t wait to do it” or “Josh is making me wait.” I put this blog post a week or two ago, it says How to Have a Great Conversation in New York City Any Time because for me I keep my compost in the freezer because I can only take it over on Saturday mornings. So actually, if I need to I can take it to Union Square which is more often. But I’m trying to do at the smaller price to have it grow. If you bring your compost to a place in New York, you’ll have a great conversation with anyone who jumps off the compost because you all have to keep in your freezer. It’s a walk for me, it’s like, I don’t know, 10-min walk to get there and you’re good at talking to someone else who also did it and you get to see what you’ve been eating lately and it’s a great social thing. It’s really fun.

Robbie: It’s fun because you’re immediately going to be surrounding yourself with people who have shared values and who are acting on those values. And I think anytime we can align ourselves and be in a room full of people that bolsters our efforts, it makes us happy to know that we’re not alone in our efforts, like it makes the one little thing that we’re doing in isolation actually part of a movement when we actually see other people doing it. A lot of times these are actions that are happening at home, you know in private, so it’s great that you have a real clear example of seeing the outcome like that’s why I like doing it across the street from this enormous garden because I knew that this household which is all young adults like you know it’s a bunch of young people you know 20s-30s that I knew that every year they were going to have an enormous garden and the stuff that I put in was actually being used like I could see the whole cycle. And then they were like, “Hey, come grab, step up the vine.” I’m happy to do that.

Joshua: And this is what I want to happen. My goal is to change the cultural perception of doing something environment into the way you talk about it – joy, social, self- awareness, things like that. All right. So how long is it going to take? I’m getting my calendar now. How long is it going to take you for this to take root and for the next conversation to be really get at the heart of things? And I’m sure that with you even if you say you’re just going to compost, I can’t wait to find out because I know that it’s going to come back and it’s going to be some bigger thing that is beyond just composting. It’s going to be some community network or something like that, I don’t know.

Robbie: Yes, I don’t know [unintelligible]. I mean I already know the container. And there’s something I’ve been storing in the container and I figured out where I’m going to move the thing that’s been stored and I talked to my wife about where this container is going to live so it’s easy for us to have access to it it’s going to be right there on the counter. You know it’s got a nice lid. And I’m excited because we used to have a small trash can like really small, like kind of like a bathroom size because we really weren’t making a lot of food at home. And now that we have a kid, soon to have two kids December, I just feel like we’re making…

Joshua: Congratulations.

Robbie: Thank you. It just feels like there’s a lot more food prep happening which is great. I actually love to cook. So we had a larger garbage can because we needed to we basically couldn’t have a toddler be around and then that was open. But once you have a larger garbage can you store garbage for longer. So when you have a smaller garbage can and you might have some scraps it moves out of the house quickly. You don’t notice it but it’s smells. It’s just not good. When you separate your compost from your regular trash your regular trash ends up being, and you end up recycling also. So that’s the thing we are already doing. But you don’t end up with a lot of trash. So it actually takes a while for the trash can to get filled up so I’m kind of excited about the odor control.

Joshua: Sorry to interrupt you there but you are more conscious of how much crap, how much of my garbage I’m like putting into the world. Let’s say again how people can reach you so that people can read your books or hear your podcasts.

Robbie: Oh, that’s awesome. Thank you for asking me that. I actually wanted to give your listeners a little gift because again I’m a big fan of giving things and being of value. We talked a lot about networking and my book is about networking at conferences so I wrote something called Ten Tips for Conference Connections. It was a three-page guide. So really easy to consume. And in fact, if you’re going to a conference today you could bring it with you, read through it and apply some of the tips right away and have a very different experience so that’s available for you at robbiesamuels.com/LTE. And that’s for Leadership and the Environment. So robbiesamuels.dot/LTE. And you’ll find everything about me on Robbie Samuels and my podcasts on a Schmoozes on there. Link to my book is on there as well. Yeah, I’d love people check me out and my social. So I mean basically, find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and all those things. I love chatting with people.

Joshua: Awesome. Robbie Samuels and then I recommend in particular his interview with me. I would start at the beginning and then listen to a lot.

Robbie: Awesome, thank you.

Joshua: I really look forward to… I hope that your perspective on the environment, not just perspective of how you look at things but how you act on it and it becomes a social thing, something you like that’s what… This is what I want to get out there. And now I can’t wait to hear I think you’re going to take things to another level because you tend to do that.

Robbie: I tend to do that. I don’t think small. Yeah. Thanks, Josh.

Joshua: Thank you. And we’ll talk again soon.


Regarding composting did you hear how paying attention, just paying attention revealed something to act on and then actually acting, just starting lead to joy, to fun, to community, to happiness? In his words, offering something of value, going back to starting his podcast all effective leaders start with what others value. It’s one of the main themes of this podcast. That’s what I’m trying to do and helping the people who are listening to help them act on something they care about to find these joys. I hope you are thinking of something of value that you can offer to others and then also his words, “The one thing you can do and do that thing, once you start acting people will respond to that.” That’s leadership. People respond to you acting in a way that helps them because they want to help themselves too. You help them do what they wanted to do. By contrast, people thinking things like, “I have to get ahead” or “This is a distraction from me really doing what I want to do.” Those are thinking of themselves not necessarily are going to hurt your life but C-Suite leaders aren’t going respond to your podcast when you’re thinking about how you can do for yourself. They might but in Robbie’s case they certainly responded to him looking for ways to help them. So paying attention to what you can do, acting on it. Think of the one thing that you can do in doing those things and putting other people’s interests first. I think these things are what makes things happen.

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