Krister Ungerböck Transcript

My guest today is Krister Ungerböck. Krister Ungerböck is a #1 Wall Street Journal Bestselling author of the book, 22 Talk SHIFTs: Tools to Transform Leadership in Business, in Partnership, and in Life.  Krister Ungerböck is a leadership communication expert, keynote speaker, and former CEO of a global tech company. His work has appeared in NPR, Forbes, Inc.,, Chief Executive,, and Entrepreneur. Before exiting corporate life at age 42, Krister was CEO of one of the largest family-owned software companies in the world.

While leading the company to over 3,000% growth, his team won five consecutive Top Workplace Awards and achieved exceptional employee engagement levels of 99.3%.

In today’s podcast, we are talking about language. More specifically, Talk Shifts. Krister’s powerful book reveals tools that people can use to communicate more authentically and improve listening skills. In addition, he explains how emotional intelligence can drive connection, growth, and performance. His lessons are equally applicable in the workplace and at home.

The impetus for the book was five, six years ago. I found myself at the YMCA signing up for a gym membership, and I broke down crying when the woman asked me, who is your emergency contact, and I had no one. I had built this company worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And at that moment, I had no followers. I had a breakdown with my business partners, which caused me to leave the company as CEO. This was the impetus for the tools to transform leadership in the context of business. A lot of the research that I did was this concept of partnership at the highest levels of an organization. Some of the dynamics of fear that enter into leaving a marriage or a lifetime career as a senior executive where you’re making a significant income, that fear dynamic starts to create some similarities between long-term relationships and business partnerships.

The interesting thing about vision, what I realized while I was writing the book is that if you’re a CEO or a top-level executive, you have two tools at your disposal to inspire people to follow you; you have the vision of great things that you want to do together. And I think ultimately, that’s why people followed me. But the other tool is, are you the kind of person that someone wants to follow, and that comes to how we treat people and speak to them. And ultimately, what I realized is that I had a vision that people wanted to follow, but I wasn’t necessarily the leader that people wanted to pursue. And so here’s the important thing: in any organization, there’s a handful of people, maybe one to five people who get to define the vision. So every other leader in that organization can only for the most part, inspire people by being someone that people want to follow. And I think fundamentally the leadership style that I used to build this, you know, highly successful company is the same leadership style that people are running away from these days.

If you create an inspiring vision, people are going to want to follow that vision, and the leader automatically attaches themselves to that vision. You’re going to follow the idea; therefore, you’re going to follow me.


There are 6 trends that are transforming leadership forever do you know what they are and are you ready for them? Download the PDF to learn what these 6 trends are and what you should be doing about each one of them. These are crucial for your leadership and career development in the future of work!


Can you talk a little bit about why those two things are not the same? And how can people want to follow the vision but not the person?

This is one of the fundamental changes in the United States, at least over the last 18-24 months. Following the vision is often a financial motivation. It’s a career motivation. It’s a success, motivation. But following a leader is about emotional connection; the person who is the leader who’s most directly responsible for my emotional well-being as an employee cares.

Great leaders don’t stop people from leaving the organization. Instead, they stop people from looking. And ultimately, the same thing happens in relationships.

There are two things as leaders in any personal, professional relationship, we need to stop the things that cause people to want to leave their jobs or relationship with bosses and do more of the things that cause people to want to stay. There are some straightforward language techniques, like not using the word “you” when having a conversation about someone’s performance. Now, that sounds like how would you even have a conversation about someone’s performance without saying, Jacob, you did this? Well, if you take that, and you start saying, well, how would I say it if I didn’t say the word you, you now begin unlocking different ways that are a little bit more indirect, but they’re less likely to put someone into that state of shutting down. All I heard was the negative thing you said, and I never listened to the positive thing because of how that negative thing was said. So these are the straightforward rules that we have in the book.

What are the similarities between marriages and relationships between bosses and employees? So much of it is fear and silence because of a power dynamic. But the exciting thing is, I asked two marriage counselors “What have women and men been saying on your therapy couch for decades?” They said he doesn’t listen; he always solves my problems, constantly criticizing me and my values. And men have very similar wording. And so the exciting thing is, these are the same things that people say about their bosses when they’re frustrated. Their bosses always solve my problems and never let me have my ideas. He cares more about the work than he cares about me. So there’s a lot to be said that the behaviors that create unhappy employees also make unhappy spouses and unhappy children.

Changing your approach and communication is a step in the right direction.  Try to speak in very fact-based terms; things you can observe, hear and see. Another simple tool is one of the other most straightforward talk shifts when you ask questions, starting with what or how. When it doesn’t start with the word what or how you’ll notice that most of these are solutions. Are they closed-ended; have you called the customer? Why didn’t you do this? Avoid why questions. Convert it to a less aggressive question by saying, I wonder what happened here? And so rather than why did you do that? Or why is the customer upset? This is one of the examples of how we can change our communication.

Have we turned our culture so soft that I need to treat you with kid gloves and use all these soft words. And I think that every time a leader says to themselves or someone says, Why are you so sensitive? We also need to ask the other question: why am I so insensitive? Because maybe the problem is not that the other person is sensitive. It’s that we’re being insensitive. And I would dare to say, as a person who said those words many, many times in my career, that the people who say, why are you so sensitive? The problem is not that the other person is so sensitive; the person who says that is too insensitive.

You can have a great company with excellent company culture. But if you have a leader who doesn’t have good, strong emotional bonds with the people, then the company itself will not necessarily keep someone there working for a mediocre or bad leader.


There are 6 trends that are transforming leadership forever do you know what they are and are you ready for them? Download the PDF to learn what these 6 trends are and what you should be doing about each one of them. These are crucial for your leadership and career development in the future of work!


What makes you a leader who people want to follow? It does come down to communication.  A good example is more autonomy and space for real conversation. The 22 Talk shifts are tools for open meetings in a more compassionate way than an aggressive way. Many readers say I would never ask an aggressive question of my wife or employee because I’m afraid to ask it. We give tools on how to have these conversations. We need to start talking about the words we’re saying, the ones we’re choosing, the ones we’re using, and the ones we’re saying, and most importantly, the ones we aren’t. Because it’s the fear-fueled silence that is causing our relationships at work and at home to end in silence. A simple example that we talked about in one of the talk shifts is the difference between requests and demands. I need you to get that project done. And it needs to be done by Thursday at 5 pm. Well, that’s a demand. Instead I can say, hey, Jacob, here’s this project, when do you think you could have it done by and you say, Thursday at 4 pm, you committed to doing it one hour earlier than I was going to tell you that it needed to be done. If you say Monday at 5 pm, I can still come back as the boss and say, Jacob, you know, unfortunately, I do need it by Friday at 5 pm. It is a simple difference between aggressive leadership and compassionate leadership that gives people a little more control.

How do you keep people accountable? Where do you begin with all this?

The book gives tools to ask others to hold you accountable. We created one of the first-ever video books, purposely with the intention that many of these tools are much more powerful If you experience them together with someone or your team. You could watch a chapter with your team to get a shared understanding and allow you to practice your communication skills and let the team help each other and also to prioritize which of the 22 tools would be the one or two that you could start with?

If you pick up the book, within the first 20 minutes, you’ll already have one thing that you can start asking people differently. You can choose which ones are more powerful to you, or, more importantly, ask other people around you which ones you think would be the best for our communication? Or ultimately, I always say that if it’s too uncomfortable to ask someone about your relationship, ask about your communication because the answer is the same.

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There are 6 trends that are transforming leadership forever do you know what they are and are you ready for them? Download the PDF to learn what these 6 trends are and what you should be doing about each one of them. These are crucial for your leadership and career development in the future of work!