Leaders are learners. The best leaders never stop working to make themselves better. As Kobe Bryant once said, "There is power in understanding the journey of others to help create your own." That's really why the Learning Leader Show exists. To come together to understand the journey successful leaders are on so that we can better understand our own.
Recently, I was sent a very thoughtful email from an up and coming leader named Haley Gribler… She works at an Accounting firm in Brentwood, Tennessee and is striving to get better. Haley sent me a number of questions. Instead of just emailing her my answers, I thought I would share publicly (yes, I checked with her first!)
Here we go… Her questions in bold. My answers follow:
1.)You started in sales at LexisNexis before running The Leadership Advisory team at Brixey & Meyer. Was there anything you learned, or practices you implemented, during that transition process that you believe were foundational to the start of your leadership teaching career?
I started my podcast as a way to put my learning into warp speed. I had earned my MBA and wanted to continue my education. I looked at PhD programs, but didn’t find any that I loved. Instead, I chose to create my own form of a Leadership PhD program. One in which I purposely chose all of my professors and the topics covered. AND, I’ve chosen to do it publicly and record all of my “classes” — re: conversations with my teachers so that others can learn along with me. This has built a community of people. A lot of those people in my community have hired me and they are the ones who have essentially built my business. My streams of revenue as the person running the Leadership Advisory team at Brixey & Meyer are: 1) Keynote speeches 2) Facilitating and running leadership circles (paid mastermind groups) 3) 1 on 1 leadership advising with high level leaders 4) Online courses 5) Podcast advertisements 6) In person workshops. Creating six streams of revenue doesn’t happen overnight. It all started from creating a podcast that was helpful, useful, and entertaining for people to listen to.
To better answer your question: I learned that following my genuine intellectual curiosity gave me the highest possible odds of long term success. What I study and share seems to helpful for others. For long time listeners who eventually meet me in person for the first time, the most common response is: “You seem exactly the same in person as you are on the podcast.” Yes! It’s hard to be two different people. And that seems to resonate with people… Especially if they have had a bad experience in the past when they met someone they thought they knew… And found out that wasn’t the case.
As far as teaching… A big part of my work is teaching and helping others. In order to be a good teacher, you have to become a learning machine. Like the legendary Civil War hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, “I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line, I know how to learn. I study, I tell you, every military work I can find.” He was a voracious reader and found and bunked with a wise older mentor named Adelbert Ames and said, “every night, I ask that you tell me everything you know.” → Having a curious mind will help you immensely.
2.)As a young professional, what advice would you give for how to prepare for your future, while continuing to grow in my current position?
Play the long game, build relationships that are lasting, not transactional. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be direct, tell them what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and ask for advice. (Just like you’ve done with me).
3.) What are some practical ways to find mentors (the WHO that Jim Collins talked about) in your field of work?
Go to events where they will be (I went to three of Jayson Gaignard’s events when I was first getting started). Build genuine, real relationships with people. Find those who have done what you want to do and approach them with a curious mind. Most people are flattered and willing to take time to help you (just like you did with me, sending a cold email and setting up a call).
A tip on following up: After a mentor has invested time to help you, send a follow up note thanking them. Write out what you learned (be specific), why it was important to you, how you will implement it, and how you think it will make your life better. This will make your mentor even more excited to help you and they will root for you (we can never have too many people rooting for our success). Additionally, tell your mentor that they are welcome to forward your email on to others that they mentor in order to multiply the impact. This shows that you are thoughtful and that you care about others. You are also adding great value to the life of your mentor by: 1) Documenting their thoughts for them (this takes time and you saved them some). 2) It shows that you found a creative way to help other people (a great thing to do).
4.) What are the most important tools to develop as a young leader?
I asked this question to one of my mentors (Rex Caswell) recently and this is what he told me:
Observation and critical assessment of what is going on around you: It is a combination of self-awareness, listening and evaluating actions and the thoughts, actions and outcomes of people, processes and social dynamics.
Experiential Learning: To understand one must participate, get involved, challenge themselves and not, using Garth Brooks’ metaphor, “standing outside the fire”. The crux of learning leadership is to be in the fight, make mistakes, earn respect, internalize what it feels like to win, lose or draw. There is simply no way to intellectualize leadership. Read from those that have gone before you and apply that to real situations. Be prepared to fail, to make a wrong decision or to screw it up. But also, be prepared to admit the failure and try again … differently.
Empathy: One must remember what it was like to be a follower and recall what you wanted from your leader at the time. You can only be who you are and interpret what you felt about people, situations and actions. Turn those experiences into your guide to lead others. As you mature and experience life (work, family, social change, conflict, economic changes) you will discover that your level and capacity for empathy will evolve and become more salient.
Perpetual Self Learning: Until the day they throw the dirt on your coffin you can learn, think and grow as a individual. Whether your learning is formal, virtual, experiential or hard knocks every lesson will carry you to the next level of mastering leadership IF you apply it to yourself and people.
5.) As a young professional, what are some ways you suggest I try to lead in my workplace?
Sign up for the hard projects. Run towards the chaos. Be known as the person who is not afraid of doing the hard work. As Shane Parrish put it, “Run towards trouble. Have a process. Focus on strengths. Accept responsibility. Pass on wisdom and advice. Work with the world as you find it, not as you want it.” And Brent Beshore: “Meaningful = Hard. If something worthwhile appears easy, it means I got lucky. Or, I’ve never done it. This is crucial to setting opportunity costs, evoking gratitude, suppressing envy, and cheering others on.”
6.) What are some leadership practices you exemplify in your workplace?
I try to be a good listener (like a trampoline). I try to ask good questions and even better follow up questions (the magic is in the follow up. If you want to go deep, you have to ask fantastic follow-up questions. And you can only do that if you are listening). I try to truly get to know the people I work with. I care about them. I show that I care through my actions. I try to be helpful.
I think about what Brent Beshore (that conversation had a big impact on me!) told me when we recorded together and try to live my life this way. “Serving vs. Served: The great paradox of life is self-sacrificial service. The more I give, with no expectation of reciprocity, the better life goes for others and me. Counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.”
7.) Have you seen a generational difference in leadership styles or how leadership styles are accepted? If so, how do you bridge those generational gaps?
Possibly. I feel like the Adam Grant’s and Kat Cole’s of the world are having a very positive impact on leaders throughout the world. A more thoughtful, empathetic approach. Or maybe I’ve just done a better job surrounding myself with those types of people.
I’ve had a few bad bosses: selfish, narcissistic, know-it-all, non-readers, talks down to others, in my life, but not since making the leap to what I do now… I suppose a few of those types will “take their way to the top” from time to time, but I’m hopeful that it’s becoming more rare. Looking at our newest members of Congress: they are the most racially diverse and most female group of representatives ever elected to the House, whose History spans more than 200 years. I think that bodes well for our future. Diversity of thought is what makes up Dream Teams… Just ask Shane Snow, he wrote an entire book about it.
8.) What has been the most transforming concept you have learned in talking with the best leaders from around the world?
Here are a few concepts/themes/ideas that I’ve found to be useful:
Intentional — The most effective leaders in the world have intent behind everything they do. This doesn’t mean they are not open to spontaneity, it just means they know why they do what they do. The have a decision making process and are intentional about how they spend their time. They don’t wander haphazardly around. They have direction.
Linear thinkers — Rarely are events, projects and challenges isolated situations. The most effective leaders analyze the factors that preceded the situation so that they may change, resolve or eliminate the issue and move to success.
Great listeners — As mentioned before, listening is an undervalued skill. The best listeners do not simply wait their turn to talk. They listen to that person until they are completely finished before asking the next question. (I’ve taken improv classes to help become a better listener. It has helped. I recommend you do too!)
Fantastic communicators — Every day a leader communicates both orally and written. This skill separates the good from the great. My Dad was famous within his company for his “Keith Notes.” His emails were always well thought out, succinct, and vividly clear. Everyone always knew where they stood after reading them, and had confidence in the organization because of the communication skill of their leader.
Ability to synthesize — Leaders are bombarded with loads of information on a daily basis. The most effective ones understand how to synthesize all of it, ask proper follow up questions, and then share the key, most pertinent points with others in a distilled manner. This is a very hard skill to develop, but the great ones do it.
Curiosity — Curious people ask better questions. Curious people learn more, faster. Curious people are always seeking a better way. In my opinion, if the leader of your organization does not have a high level of intellectual curiosity, then I would look for another place to work. That curiosity creates a learning culture… “When the environment is dedicated to learning, the score takes care of itself.” — Bill Walsh. You are the product of your environment so choose the environment that will best develop you towards your objective.
Optimistic — “The leader is the emotional thermostat of the team.” – Scott Belsky. “It is your duty as the leader to be in a good mood.”- Keith Hawk. As the leader, your team will look to you and will follow you. They want to see how you respond to adversity. Are you able to handle it with grace and keep moving forward? Or does it cripple you? As Robin Williams told John Krasinski, “You’re going to go far in this business. And one day, you’re going to be #1 on the call sheet (meaning the lead actor of a movie). Just know that it’s not a luxury, it’s a responsibility. Your job is to carry a set. You have to be the most energetic, be the kindest, take responsibility. That is a huge honor. Don’t ever forget it.” And John followed, “We were down in Jamaica filming a scene and the air conditioning went out. And Robin said to me, ‘I’m hot, but I’m not going to complain and say I’m hot. Because if I’m hot, then the entire crew is hot and then it all goes downhill.’ It’s an amazing responsibility to be the leader. As my dad has always said, “It is your duty to be in a good mood when you’re the leader.”
Over the years, I’ve gathered career/life advice from many sources: My podcast, 1 on 1 conversations, books, twitter, etc… Here it is (I will update this list regularly — Please add great pieces of wisdom you’ve learned in the comments below):
John Krasinski got advice from the legendary Robin Williams early in his career. Robin told him, “You’re going to go far in this business. And one day, you’re going to be #1 on the call sheet (meaning the lead actor of a movie). Just know that it’s not a luxury, it’s a responsibility. Your job is to carry a set. You have to be the most energetic, be the kindest, take responsibility. That is a huge honor. Don’t ever forget it.” And John followed, “We were down in Jamaica filming a scene and the air conditioning went out. And Robin said to me, ‘I’m hot, but I’m not going to complain and say I’m hot. Because if I’m hot, then the entire crew is hot and then it all goes down hill.’ It’s an amazing responsibility to be the leader. As my dad has always said, “It is your duty to be in a good mood when you’re the leader.”
“Identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.” – Susan Cain
“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.” – Carol Dweck
“Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now.” – Naval Ravikant
“Ability to focus for long periods of time to become great at something, coupled with the ability to cold call your way to anyone can get you a really long way in this world.” – Garry Tan
From Ryan Caldbeck: “We have crystallized what we look for in a person to hire.”
Horsepower – intelligence over experience
Integrity – don’t talk negatively about others. Do what you say you will do.
Work ethic – must be willing to work hard
Teamwork – need to work well with others
Pride – care
From Kim Malone Scott: Hiring is the most important decision you will make as a leader:
“If you’re not dying to work with that person, don’t hire them”
Steve Jobs – “It’s better to have a hole than an asshole”
Dick Costolo – “You can’t just hire great people and get out of their way. You must invest time in helping them, develop them even more.”
“No skill more essential than knowing how to spend more energy on the stuff that matters and less on the stuff that doesn’t. the seduction to do the opposite only increases over time.” – Scott Belsky
From Ben Horowitz: Managerial intelligence, being an excellent manager comes down to two things:
Systems thinking – “most people cannot think, ‘If I change this here, it impacts that over there.’ The ability to understand how each tweak or change in one place, how it impacts the rest of the organization (or world). (Example: How changing minimum wage impacts the rest of the economy)
Really seeing the people in your organization for who they are. Knowing everything about their makeup, their motivation, why they do what they do, how they think, why they think that way, how they will respond to decisions made by you and others. Can you interpret them well enough even when they aren’t there? It’s as if they were there even when they aren’t. Can you understand the implications for them? See it through their eyes. Most people don’t have that. A great manager is extremely perceptive of people.
“Take the stairs and not the escalator. The escalator’s for cowards. We’re going to take the stairs. It’s going to be … one … step … at a time and we’re going to get there.” – Kevin Ollie. Choose voluntary hardship. You don’t know what you’re capable of unless you force yourself to do it.
“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought” – Matsuo Bashō
Most success comes from repetition, not new things. “My whole system of life is keeping at it. The task of life is not to see clearly in the distance but to do the task at hand.” – Charlie Munger
“Compounding creates success in almost anything. Always ask better questions and obsess over that. Take wherever you’re at and just try to push your understanding deeper. Focus on being great at what is scare. What is scarce? Intellectual property, or good ideas about what should be produce. Quality labor with unique skills.” — Tyler Cowen
“Learn to sell. Every job is a sales job, especially as you move up the ladder.” – Sam Altman
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.” – Maya Angelou (power in reflection. It’s how we learn from experiences, zoom out our perspectives to appreciate that life has all manner of ebbs and flows. We can’t learn without reflection)
“Run towards trouble. Have a process. Focus on strengths. Accept responsibility. Pass on wisdom and advice. Work with the world as you find it, not as you want it.” – Shane Parrish
“Genghis Khan was not born a genius. Instead, as one biographer put it, his was a persistent cycle of pragmatic learning, experimental adaptation, and constant revision driven by his uniquely disciplined and focused will.” He was the greatest conqueror the world ever knew because he was more open to learning than any other conqueror has even been. Each victory and advancement that made Khan smarter also bumped against new situations he’d never encountered before. It takes a special kind of humility to grasp that you know less, even as you know and grasp more and more.” – Ryan Holiday
“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next – and disappear. That’s why it’s so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.” – Joshua Foer
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin
“Meaningful = Hard: If something worthwhile appears easy, it means I got lucky. Or, I’ve never done it. Crucial to setting opportunity costs, evoking gratitude, suppressing envy, and cheering others on. Serving vs. Served: The great paradox of life is self-sacrificial service. More I give, with no expectation of reciprocity, the better life goes for others and me. Counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.” – Brent Beshore
2018 was an incredible year for The Learning Leader Show. Here’s a quick look back at the great things that occurred over the past year:
I walked away from my corporate career to partner with Brixey & Meyer and share the Learning Leader message the world over.
From 34 stages in 7 states and in 3 different countries, I had the privilege of delivering the Learning Leader message in person.
We created our first two Learning Leader Circles – paid mastermind groups that meet on a regular basis via Zoom to have dynamic conversations about excellence, leadership, growth, and accountability. 4x as many people applied for our second group as for the first, and applications came from more than 20 states and 3 different continents.
We hosted learning leaders from across the US at a workshop in our Brixey & Meyer office to focus on being personally excellent as a leader.
Every one of our podcast advertisers renewed for multiple episodes, and even more want to partner with the show in 2019.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with two incredible leaders/business-owners as their 1-on-1 leadership advisor. This has been amazingly rewarding work that will continue in 2019.
Looking ahead to 2019, I’m excited to soon be able to share news on some upcoming projects like:
an online course (we’ve spent a massive amount of time building this and it’s launching very soon),
a forthcoming book,
more in-person opportunities to meet with fellow learning leaders, and
With that said, I know that this all starts with the podcast. None of the other cool projects, ideas, or events happen without producing a high quality, useful, and entertaining podcast for people to listen to. Because of the quality of the content, the podcast and message spreads one person at a time through the best type of marketing ever devised: word of mouth recommendations.
The purpose of The Learning Leader Show is to:
Help you reflect, pause, and learn something new.
Provide actionable takeaways that are immediately implementable.
Entertain with great stories that help you remember what you learned.
I realize that not every conversation appeals to 100% of the audience. That said, I firmly believe that all episodes are useful in some way. A big part of my feedback loop is hearing from YOU, the listeners. Continue to send your thoughts/ideas my way: Ryan at LearningLeader dot com.
Here are the most popular episodes of 2018
(“most popular”= the combination of episode listens + number of emails I receive about that episode):
Episode #281: George Raveling – 8 Decades Of Wisdom: From Dr. Martin Luther King To Michael Jordan. A pioneer and innovator in college basketball. The first African-American coach in the Pac 8. He’s in possession of the “I Have A Dream Speech” that Dr. Martin Luther King delivered. He helped sign Michael Jordan to Nike. This is one of the conversations I treasure the most.
Episode #252: Tom Peters – In Search Of Excellence. He’s written one of the most read leadership books of all time (In Search Of Excellence), given more than 2,500 keynote speeches, made two deployments to Vietnam, and co-founded McKinsey’s gargantuan Organizational Effectiveness practice.
Episode #245: Maria Taylor – ESPN Gameday, Embracing The Grind, The Value Of Versatility. Maria is a force who has exploded onto the broadcasting scene. On ESPN Gameday, Saturday Night ABC football sideline reporter, and regular co-host of Get Up on ESPN. She was a two sport star at Georgia playing volleyball and basketball.
Episode #246: Patrick Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team. Pat is the founder of The Table Group and the author of 11 books which have sold over 5 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. The Wall Street Journal called him “one of the most in demand speakers in America.” He has addressed millions of people at conferences and events around the world over the past 15 years.
Episode #242: Daniel Coyle – The Secret Of Highly Successful Groups (The Culture Code). Dan Coyle is the New York Times bestselling author of The Talent Code and The Culture Code. He works as a special advisor to the Cleveland Indians.
Episode #276: Scott Belsky – How To Find Your Way Through The Hardest Part Of Any Venture (The Messy Middle). Scott is an executive, entrepreneur, author, and investor (and all-around product obsessive). He currently serves as Adobe’s Chief Product Officer and Executive Vice President, Creative Cloud. He’s the best-selling author of Making Ideas Happen and The Messy Middle.
Episode #239: Dan Pink – The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing. Dan is the author of six provocative books — including his newest, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, which has spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list. His other books include the long-running New York Times bestseller A Whole New Mind and the #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human.
Episode #260: Mark Divine – How To Create An Unbeatable Mind. At twenty-six Mark graduated as Honor Man (#1-ranked trainee) of SEAL BUD/S class number 170. Mark served for nine years total on active duty and eleven as a Reserve SEAL, retiring as Commander in 2011. His leadership of teams was so effective the government tasked him with creating a nationwide mentoring program for SEAL trainees.
Episode #263: Charlie McMahan – How To Build A Tribe From 50 To 5,000 (Video Episode). Charlie has been the Lead Pastor of SouthBrook Church since 1992. He is driven by a deep concern for those who may feel like they don’t belong in a church. He’s been the driving force behind Southbrook’s incredible growth from a small 50 person church to one that hosts over 5,000 per weekend.
Episode #266: Ryan Caldbeck – CircleUp CEO: How To Build The Framework Of Your Life & Career. Ryan is the founder and CEO of CircleUp. He’s become well-known for his intelligent and useful “tweetstorms.” He offered an amazing amount of life and career advice on this episode.
Episode #274: Heidi Grant – How To Get People To Help You (Reinforcements). Dr. Heidi Grant is a social psychologist who researches, writes, and speaks about the science of motivation. In 2017, she was named one of Thinkers50’s most influential management thinkers globally. She is the Chief Science Officer for the Neuroleadership Institute, Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University, and author of multiple best-selling books.
Thank you for your continued support in my life’s work. I am very fortunate to do work that I love on a daily basis. None of that would happen without your support. Here’s to leading, learning, and excellence for you in 2019 and beyond.
Many podcast listeners/friends have asked me what books they should read to become a better leader. The totality of this list is in the hundreds… But for now, let’s start with seven. You’ll notice I’m more interested in reading about fascinating stories and the heroes in them than I am about “business” type books. There is so much to learn from real stories and the action taken (and the subsequent consequence of those actions) by the leaders in those stories. Note** This list will evolve over time…
Not many people are aware that President Roosevelt was the first to chart and navigate a totally unknown river in the Amazon… And he did that AFTER he was President.
Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.
The simplicity and beauty in which this story is told is inspiring and useful.
James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business.
Leaders “keep a blue head.” Wise leaders seek to understand how the brain reacts to stress and practise (this is how it’s spelled in the book) simple, almost meditative techniques to stay calm, clear and connected They use maps (an operating system), mantras, and anchors to navigate their way through highly pressurized situations.
The word automatic is from the Greek, Automatus, and means “self-thinking.” By training with intensity, we make our performance more automatic.
Leaders do extra. Leaders “sweep the stalls.”
Values: “Humility, honesty, integrity, respect. You know, I say all those words and for me and for the people I’m speaking to I’m saying, “Look, you shouldn’t really need to work on those because they should just be a given.”
Values “cannot be espoused and adopted by us at a conscious level – they are something that we are.”
An incredible story of curiosity, determination, and an immense desire to teach the world how to fly.
On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two brothers—bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio—changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe that the age of flight had begun, with the first powered machine carrying a pilot.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity. When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education and little money never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off, they risked being killed.
This is a non-fiction book written like a beautiful novel. This is a book written by someone who “just did it.” And continues to do so…
Fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his car in 1963, Knight grossed eight thousand dollars that first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion.
Bill Gates gave one of the best recommendations I’ve read about this book: “an amazing tale, a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey, riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. Phil Knight opens up in ways few CEOs are willing to do.”
Tom Peters and his coauthor Robert Waterman profiled 43 companies in what Bloomsbury Publishing has said is the “greatest business book of all time.” It describes the eight basic principles that made these organizations successful: 1) A bias for action 2) Staying close to the customer (frontline obsession) 3) Autonomy and entrepreneurship 4) Productivity through people 5) Hands-on, value-driven 6) Stick to the knitting 7) Simple form, lean staff, and 8) Simultaneous loose-tight properties. There’s a reason this book was checked out of the library more than any other for 17 years! Tom has a no BS approach. Straight, to the point. And always useful.
This book will help you better understand the evolution of mastery: The keys to it. The hidden force. The strategies for finding your life’s work. The importance of apprenticeship. Why you should value learning over money. The seven deadly realities. Strategies for acquiring social intelligence.
Each one of us has within us the potential to be a Master. Submit to a rigorous apprenticeship, absorb the hidden knowledge possessed by those with years of experience. Study the behaviors of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci and the nine contemporary Masters interviewed for this book.
Ryan Hawk runs the Leadership Advisory practice at Brixey & Meyer. He works with clients all over the world to help them be personally excellent and more effective leaders. He does this through keynote speeches as well as 1 on 1 leadership advising. He’s learned the commonalities of sustaining excellence from interviewing 275+ of the most thoughtful leaders in the world on his hit podcast, The Learning Leader Show.
Over the past week, I met with two college athletes who asked me “what I wish I would have known (and done) while in college?” In order to be better prepared for those conversations, I wrote down some of my thoughts. As I did this, I realized I had a few regrets (primarily for not taking action when I had the chance). My goal was to make sure the people I met with knew this so perhaps they wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
Following the meetings, I expanded the notes a bit… While the advice was originally meant for college athletes, I quickly learned that it could apply to anyone. Here they are…
Learn to speak in front of people. Public speaking is one of the most useful skills in the world to develop. It’s a “reps” game. The more you do it, the better you will be. (Bonus points if you have someone in the audience who is able to coach you and make you better). Warren Buffett still says the greatest investment he’s ever made was the $100 Dale Carnegie class he took early in his career that taught him how to be a better public speaker. Don’t wait to do this. Episode to listen to: #263 with Charlie McMahan. Book to read: TED Talks by Chris Anderson.
Learn how to sell. No matter what your major is, you will need to sell. Join the Sales Club at your school (they exist at most schools). Ohio University has one of the best in the country. I did not join the Sales Club and I regret it. Episode to listen to: #221 with Phil Jones. Book to read: To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink.
Write great papers. The best way to become a better writer is to write. Again, developing quality communication skills (speaking and writing) will help you long term regardless of what you decide to do after college. Also, think about documenting your experience as a college athlete in a journal or even a blog. I wish I would have journaled in college. I would love to look back on those writings now to remind me what it was like being a college quarterback. I have memories, but it would have been even better if I had written them down… Episode to listen to: #242 with Daniel Coyle.
Seek out mentors. Ask your coaches, professors, and other interesting people if they’ll meet with you (just like you did with me). They’ll say yes. Bonus: After you meet with someone who helped you and taught you something, do this: Write them a follow up email. Share with them everything you learned and how it will positively impact your life. Ask them if you missed anything. Tell them to forward your email to any other person they mentor so you can have a “multiplying effect” on your meeting. This will differentiate you from 99% of the people out there… And it will show your mentor that you care. Not only about yourself, but about others as well. It will also create another person who will root for your success, and that is never a bad thing. Episode to listen to: #245 with Maria Taylor.
Develop curiosity for something outside of sports or your direct major. “Read what you love until you love to read.” Go deep on something that is outside of your normal studies. Build the framework now (at a young age) for the ability to master a topic. This will help you as you continue to progress in life. Episode to listen to: #217 with JJ Redick.
Visit your professors. If they have office hours, make a point to connect with your professors. They love it, and you’re able to learn directly from a wise person who has more life experience than you. This serves multiple purposes: 1) You learn something new. 2) If you’re on the border of getting a B+ or an A, those meetings can push you over the edge. Episode to listen to: #216 with Jim Collins.
Talk to your coaches about life. I played for interesting coaches who traveled the world and had a lot of great experiences. And I never met with them outside of our standard football meetings. I regret that. Make time to talk with your coaches about things other than your sport. (I’m assuming you have good coaches). There is a lot to learn from people who have more “life reps” than you. Episode to listen to:#244 with Bill Curry.
Build real friendships with your teammates. You have a shared experience and a bond you’ll remember for the rest of your life with your teammates. Don’t take it for granted. Be curious about your teammates. Ask them questions, visit them in their hometown, meet their parents. I remember visiting the home of one of my teammates from Miami. I met his entire family, shared a great dinner, and learned a lot more about him. It created a bond and I felt more empathy and care for him moving forward. I wish I would have done this more. Episode to listen to: #78 with Kat Cole.
Be smart on social media. Everything you put on social media is searchable forever. Be defined by what you love. Don’t complain, degrade, or be negative about anything on social media. If you choose to use it, share things you love: good stories, great people, good books, inspiring videos, etc… Episode to listen to: #211 with Vanessa Van Edwards.
Be known as someone who speaks positively behind someone’s back. My favorite teammate and one of the most likable people I’ve met is Austen Everson. He’s known as someone who always spoke positively of others, whether they were there or not. Be someone who spreads “positive gossip.” Lift others up, share great news/stories about people. This will differentiate you from the rest of those who spread negative gossip. Be positive about your friends, teammates, other people in general. Episode to listen to: #127 with Adam Grant.
Remember your fundamentals. You will continue to improve in both your sport and school when you focus on the little things. “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Be focused when you prepare, practice, study game plans on opponents, review film, or spend time in the weight room. Episode to listen to: #207 with Liz Wiseman.
Focus on continual improvement. Focus on getting 1% better every single day. Over time, this compounds (just like interest) and a year from now, you will be exponentially better. Focus on today and getting better today… And then tomorrow… And so on. Episode to listen to: #248 with James Clear.
Ryan Hawk played quarterback at Miami University and Ohio University. He is the host of The Learning Leader Show, a podcast with more than 275 episodes with the world’s most thoughtful leaders.
From Albert Gray’s book The Common Denominator of Success
Several years ago I was brought face to face with the very disturbing realization that I was trying to research and explain what it took to be a success in sales, without knowing myself what the secret of success really was. And that, naturally, made me realize that regardless of what other knowledge I might have brought to my job and to others, I was definitely lacking in the most important knowledge of all.
Of course, like most of us, I had been brought up on the belief that the secret of success is hard work, despite this, I had seen so many people who work hard and don’t succeed and others who succeed without working hard. Because of this, I had become convinced that hard work was not the real
secret, though in most cases it might be one of the requirements.
Given my background and training, I began trying to explain success by reviewing all relative research on such topics as motivation, behavior, performance and job satisfaction. Next, I set out on a voyage of discovery, which carried me through thousands of books, magazine and newspaper articles, biographies and autobiographies. I then conducted numerous empirical research studies in over a 20-year period.
After a time, theory, research results, and hearsay overwhelmed me. Then, one day as I was day dreaming, everything I had done came to focus. My mind focused on the realization that the secret I was trying to discover lay not only in what people did, but also in what made them do it.
I realized further that the secret for which I was searching must not only apply to every definition of success, but since it must apply to everyone to whom it is offered, it must also apply to everyone who had ever been successful. In short, I was looking for the common denominator of success. But this common denominator of success is so big, so powerful, and so vitally important to your future and mine that I’m not going to review all of the writings and research, which have brought me to the common denominator of success. I’m just going to tell you.
The common denominator of success – the secret of success of every person who has ever been successful – lies in the fact that the person formed the habit of doing things that others don’t like to do. It’s just as true as it sounds and it’s just as simple as it seems. You can hold it up to the light, you can put it to the acid test, and you can kick it around until it’s worn out, but when you are all through
with it, it will still be the common denominator of success, whether you like it or not.
Why are successful people able to do things they don’t like to do while others are not? Because successful people have a purpose strong enough to make them form the habit of doing things they don’t like to do.
When Top People Slump
Sometimes even the best people get into a slump. When a person goes into a slump, it simply means he/she has reached a point at which, for the time being, the things he/she doesn’t like to do have become more important than the reasons for doing them. And may I pause to suggest to you that when one of your good people goes into a slump, the less you talk about production and the more you talk about “purpose,” the sooner you will pull the person out of the slump.
Habit Is The Key
Now let’s see why habit belongs so importantly in this common denominator for success. People are creatures of habit. Every single qualification for success is acquired through habit. People form habits and habits form futures. If you do not deliberately form good habits, then unconsciously you will
form bad ones. You are the kind of person you are because you have formed the habit of being that kind of person. The only way you can change is through habit.
You Have A Purpose
Here’s what has happened. Your resolution or decision has become a habit and you don’t have to make it on this particular morning. The reason you seem like a different person living in a different world is because you have, for the first time in your life, become master of yourself and your likes and dislikes. This is done by surrendering to your purpose in life. That is why behind every success there must be a “purpose,” and that is what makes purpose so important to your future. For in the last analysis, your future is not going to depend on economic conditions or outside influences of circumstances over which you have no control. Your future is going to depend on your purpose in life. So let’s talk purpose.
What Is One’s purpose?
Purpose is something set up as an object or end to be attained. Occasionally purpose is referred to as someone’s personal mission statement. In setting your purpose, or mission statement, first create an imaginary ideal life you would like to live, in every respect. Your ideal life should be based upon who you are and where you are going in life. Let yourself dream big dreams. Let your mind float freely into the future.
Wants Or Needs?
Human beings are motivated by needs and wants. A person’s needs result from a lack of something desirable, such as food, car, clothes, or shelter. Wants are needs learned by the person. They are often seen as emotional or psychological and not practical. For example, people need transportation but want a car instead of a horse or a bicycle. Most people want a luxury car instead of an inexpensive used car or truck. Instead of watching the game on television, some want season tickets. Instead of a five-room house some want a twelve-room house on two acres of land. Instead of working until one’s 80, some want to retire at an earlier time in their life mainly because they have not made their job satisfying for themselves.
Make Your Purpose Based Upon Wants.
Remember, needs are logical while wants are emotional. Your needs only push you just so far. When your needs are satisfied, they will stop pushing you. If, however, your purpose is in terms of wants and desires, then your wants and desires will keep pushing you long after needs are satisfied and until your wants and desires are fulfilled.
Recently I was talking with a young man who long ago discovered the common denominator of success without realizing it. He had a definite purpose in life and it was definitely a sentimental or emotional purpose. He wanted his boy to go through college without having to work his way through as he had done. He wanted to avoid for his little girl the hardships, which his own sister had to face in her childhood. He wanted his wife and the mother of his children to enjoy the luxuries, comforts, and even necessities, which had been denied to his own mother. He was willing to form the habit of doing things he didn’t like to do in order to accomplish this purpose. Not to discourage him, but rather to have him encourage me, I said to him, “Aren’t you going a little too far with this thing? There’s no logical reason why your son shouldn’t be willing and able to work his way through college just as his father did. Of course he’ll miss many of the things that you missed in your college life and he’ll probably have heartaches and disappointments. But if he’s any good, he’ll come through in the need just as you did. And there’s no logical reason why you should slave in order that your
daughter may have things which your own sister wasn’t able to have, or in order that your wife can enjoy comforts and luxuries that she wasn’t used to before she married you.” He looked at me with a rather pitying look and said, “But Mr. Gray, there’s no inspiration in logic. There’s no courage in logic. There’s not even happiness in logic. There’s only satisfaction. The only place logic has in my life is in realization that the more I am willing to do for my wife and children, the more I shall be able to do for myself.” I imagine, after hearing that story, you won’t have to be told how to find your purpose or how to identify it or how to surrender to it. If it’s a big purpose, you will be big in its accomplishment. If it’s an unselfish
purpose, you will be unselfish in accomplishing it. And if it’s an honest purpose, you will be honest and honorable of it. But as long as you live, don’t forget that while you may succeed beyond your fondest hopes and your greatest expectations, it is impossible to succeed beyond the purpose for which you are sacrificing. Furthermore, your surrender will not be complete until you have formed the habit of doing the things that others don’t like to do.
After recording more than 250 episodes of my podcast, The Learning Leader Show, one of the common questions I get from listeners is, “How do you get such high quality guests?” My consistent reply is “I start by sending them a cold email.” Their inevitable follow-up is, “What do you write?” The purpose of my post today is to answer that question.
First, specifically tell the potential guest why their work has made your life better. Do not simply say “Your work is inspiring.” Tell them why they inspire you. For example, when I first sent Jim Collins a cold email, I told him why Good To Great had changed my life. “Your work helped me understand AND find my personal “hedgehog”. Additionally, I learned and implemented my own “20-mile march” because of what you wrote in Great By Choice. “I learned that my paranoia about my sales quota was actually an advantage and helped me achieve high levels of success because you revealed that high achievers have something called productive paranoia.” I told him specifically why his work changed my life for the better.
I told him specifically why his work changed my life for the better.
The touchdown scored in the Big House referenced in my cold email to Adam Grant
Find an uncommon commonality — Find something you have in common that will come as a pleasant surprise to this person. This takes time and research. For example, when I sent a cold email to Adam Grant, (someone who gets thousands of cold emails each week), I did extensive research on his background, (in addition to his books/TED Talks). I learned that Adam earned his PhD from The University of Michigan. I happened to have played a game and scored a touchdown in the big house (got called back for a holding penalty after the fact) while I was the quarterback at Miami University my sophomore season. In the email I wrote him, I told him about the game and the touchdown and connected with him on a deeper level.
This part takes time and research, but it will differentiate you from the rest of the typical cold emails they are receiving.
Share information that adds to your credibility. Some credibility for me that I communicate in each cold outreach: I’ve recorded more than 250 episodes over the last three years… That there have been millions of listeners in more than 134 countries worldwide… Forbes called it “the most dynamic leadership podcast out there.” Inc Magazine named it “1 of the 5 podcasts to help you lead smarter.” I will share some of the leaders who have been a guest on my show that may interest them (I tailor the names depending on who I’m emailing). If you’re just starting out and don’t have that type of credibility built yet, write something notable about yourself (“I traveled abroad and gained incredible perspective, etc).
Then, make the direct ask in bold. “Would you like to join me as a guest on my show?”
You can tweak the language to your specific ask, but make sure it stands out, so they know exactly what you are asking them to do.… One last note: DO NOT use the phrase, “Can I pick your brain?” Instead, say, “Can I ask you for advice?” It sounds more appealing (and less creepy).
My response rate has remained high (80%+) and the acceptance of my offer has increased as my show has become more popular. As with anything, it was much harder at the beginning of this process more than three years ago. However, following this formula helped me land some incredible guests before I even launched the show (I recorded 22 episodes prior to launch).
Sending cold emails to your heroes can be very rewarding… If you do it right. Developing a friendship and earning respect from people you look up to can truly change your life. This was discussed on episode #232 of my show. After cold emailing hundreds of people, recording more than 250 interviews with the world’s brightest leaders, I was able to make my “side hustle (The Learning Leader Show)”, my full-time work at Brixey & Meyer.
A good friend of mine recently sent me an email asking for advice: “Ryan, I am in the process of hiring a few management positions. I have eight candidates lined up. What questions do you ask to hire great leaders?”
Below are some of my thoughts on: 1) The art of the interview 2) Knowing what you’re looking for, and 3) Understanding why you’re asking every question that you do. Prior to running the leadership advisory practice at Brixey & Meyer, I worked with large international corporations for 12 years in a variety of leadership roles. I’ve interviewed 500+ candidates for many different positions. Additionally, on my podcast The Learning Leader Show, I’ve interviewed 250+ of the brightest leadership minds in the world to better understand how we all can sustain excellence over an extended period of time. My thoughts have been formulated based on my personal experiences and the conversations on my podcast.
What Are You Looking For?
First – What are you looking for? What questions should you ask based on that answer?You’ll need to create this for yourself and it should evolve as you learn, make mistakes, have success, etc… And like a great stand up comedian, have a purpose for every word that you utter in the interview. Don’t “just ask questions” because that’s what you do in an interview. Ask questions that tie back to the qualities you are looking for…
What I Look For In A Leader
Self-Aware – Most people do not have this. Do they really know themselves?Strengths, weaknesses, etc. Are they able to express this intelligently?
Great Communicator – As a manager you need to communicate effectively across many spectrums – speeches, emails, working with colleagues and clients…
High Energy/Likable – Ideally, the team will like their boss AND respect him/her (my Dad is very good at this). High energy and likability are a good thing. Remember, people don’t leave companies, they leave their manager. Also, it’s hard to be a good teammate (with colleagues) if people don’t like you and/or you bring no energy to the room.
Confident – Not cocky, but sure of oneself. I like someone who has put in the necessary work to confidently trust in themselves to make good decisions.
Some Questions I Ask (notice each question is tied to the qualities I’m looking for)
What is your process to learn something new? I don’t care what they are learning about (an instrument, a second language, historical people). I want to ensure that they have some sort of a thought process towards learning. The best leaders in the world are constantly learning. They strive to improve on a daily basis. If there is no process in place (even as simple as, “I love to read fiction books to boost my creativity” is better than a candidate who has no process to improve). And always ask for examples.
What books have you gifted the most to others? OR What books have influenced you the most? Why? (“In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.” – Charlie Munger)
(Start, Stop, Continue Exercise) What should you do more of (start), what should you stop doing (stop), and what is one thing that you’ve really figured out and should continue doing as a leader (continue)? This is a hard question and I don’t expect them to be perfect. Even great leaders will struggle doing this off the cuff… I actually like it when the candidate pauses and thinks for a little bit. It shows they have the confidence to really think and they don’t feel the need to instinctively say something. Hard questions will come up throughout the person’s life as a leader/manager/coach… I want to know how they will respond in those moments. I want someone measured, self-aware, thoughtful. It shows security in oneself. That’s good. If they rush it and say something like “I need to stop working 18 hours a day” then that is a red flag. Ask follow up questions to dig deeper and understand the implications of “their stop.” “What are the implications of you working 18 hours a day?” “Why do you do that?” — Asking why as a follow up typically helps the conversation go deeper. “Approach each conversation with genuine curiosity.”
What questions do you have for me? Sometimes I start the interview with this or do it in the middle. If they are intellectually curious, they won’t need to get out their binder and ask the pre scripted questions. They can ask the natural questions that should be in their mind. – Additionally, I love the candidates who ask me questions without any prompting (and this is something I always do when I’m being interviewed). I like the confidence and the curiosity of someone who is willing to ask questions whenever they come to mind. I want candidates who view this as a two way street. If the candidate is strong, they probably have options. They should be interviewing me just as much as I’m interviewing them… My best hires over the past 10 years have done this.
How would your closest friends describe you? How about your colleagues? I’m looking for some self-awareness… Every adjective named shouldn’t be positive. Does this person really know themselves? Great leaders have high levels of awareness (both self and situational awareness).
What are the commonalities of the greatest professionals you’ve worked with? – I want to know who they will be looking to hire… Hiring is the most important aspect of being a manager. Have they thought about this? I hope so…
What are the common traits of leaders you know who have sustained excellence? Why do you think those qualities make up a great leader? I’ve found that a lot of candidates start describing themselves because they assume they are a great leader. I hope that they are striving for something… That they realize “they haven’t arrived.” Additionally, ask for examples of the people they’re talking about. Maybe it’s a great boss, or someone from a book they’ve read. Ask why, why why…
How will you build a great culture? Can you define what a great culture is? I’m genuinely curious about this. Maybe they can help me learn… Primarily looking for someone who has thought about culture and how to build a great one.
Can you share an example of when you made a big mistake? What went in to that decision? Why did it go wrong? How did you respond? What was the result?Self-awareness, courage, humility – Looking for all of those qualities with this question… Also, if they start blaming other people during the course of this answer = red flag. As the leader, don’t blame others when things go bad, take ownership.
Can you share the process for the last big purchase you made? This question is to measure thoughtfulness and for me to learn how they make big decisions. Do they do a lot of research before buying a car? Do they negotiate with the sales person? As a manager, they will need to make big decisions. I want to learn about their process for doing that… Again, if they do not have a process for this = red flag.
Find ways to “simulate” experiences they will have on the job. Do micro role plays with them to see how they handle situations. (Conflict; tough decisions; personal vs. business tough decisions; etc).
Ask the candidate to share what they have done that validates they are an excellent communicator – public speaking; writings – this is one of the most important business skills. Sometimes I ask them to give me a 3 minute speech on a favorite topic of theirs – something they are passionate about (sports team, vacation, spouse, kids, etc.) – I want to actually hear them as if they are speaking to a group on a subject for which they have passion (as I will need them to do this every day in their job).
I need to get an understanding of what kind of teammate they will be for their colleagues – Seek real examples of the candidate being a great teammate (charity work, prior job, sports, church, etc.).
The greatest interviewers ask great follow up questions. They are active listeners. They do not “just wait to talk,” but they genuinely listen and if an answer sparks something in their mind, they dig deeper. Interviewing people on The Learning Leader Show every week has really helped me develop this skill. As an interviewer, this is something to think about.
Be okay with silence. Roger Dean Duncan shared a great anecdote that he learned from Jim Lehren: “He urged me to ask a good question, listen attentively to the answer, and then count silently to five before asking another question. At first that suggestion seemed silly. I argued that five seconds would seem like an eternity to wait after someone responds to a question. Then it occurred to me: Of course it would seem like an eternity, because our natural tendency is to fill a void with sound, usually that of our own voice.” Lehren explains: “If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you’ll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he’s already said or he’ll go in a different direction. Either way, he’s expanding his response, and you get a clear view into his head and heart.”
Find this article helpful? Agree? Disagree? Comment and let me know what you think. And please like and share it with others as well…
“People Won’t Care How Much You Know Until They Know How Much You Care.”
When starting a new leadership role, it’s important to learn as much as much as possible about my team. Before working to implement new plans and processes, my team needs to know that I care more about them as people than as an “FTE” or an “Employee.” They are people who have hobbies, desires, and families to support outside of work. I urge them to bring their whole selves to work and this “Getting To Know You” exercise helps do that. I email this to each member of the team, ask them to fill it out, and then I fill one out for them. I keep all of their answers in a Google Sheet and refer to it often.
In addition to doing this when I’m the new leader, I do it on a yearly basis. Teams change, new people join, etc… The document evolves and is updated with new, more interesting questions as I go… I’d love to get your thoughts and additional questions to add to it. Email me: Ryan@LearningLeader.com to discuss.
Here it is…
Years of employment with the company:
Education and School(s):
What do you hope I do as a leader?
What do you want to change about our current processes?
What is your most important tool for figuring out what our clients want?
What would you like to be known for?
What inspires you?
What are your career goals?
Other than your family, what are you most grateful for?
What would your five closest friends say are your best qualities? (If you’re unsure, ask them):
What well-known people would you like to have dinner with?
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
What is your dream job?
What is your biggest fear?
What are your hobbies?
If you were asked to give a commencement speech, what would the title be?
What are some questions you ask to help truly understand how someone thinks?
Who do you admire most?
What book or books have impacted you the most?
What is your favorite quote?
What is your favorite documentary (or movie)?
What are your family member names & birth dates?
If you could be ANYWHERE in the world, where would you be right now? Who would you be with? And what would you be doing?