One of the scary aspects of leaving my job as VP of North American Sales at a multibillion-dollar international company was the uncertainty. How would we build a business from a base of podcast fans? How would we create revenue from something that is free to listen to? How would I productize myself? Now that it’s been three years, we are starting to get some of these answers.
Today marks the end of my third full year of dedicating 100% of my professional time to building the Learning Leader business and the Leadership Advisory practice at Brixey & Meyer.
This essay is my way of reflecting publicly on what we’ve accomplished together, my excitement about the trajectory of the business, and my continued gratitude for you. As you read below and reflect on your aspirations for 2021 (and beyond), I urge you to publish your own accomplishments and thoughts on the future. Writing provides mental clarity that will help you to prioritize and stay on track. Sharing it publicly creates accountability and provides your network with insights on how you can work together.
2020 was a year of uncertainty, unknowns, and a lot of questions. How long will the pandemic last? When will we be able to gather safely with large groups of people? Prior to writing this, I looked back on my 2019 year-in-review post. Wow. What a difference a year makes!
While I’m aware of the tragic death and destruction COVID-19 has caused to so many, here I’ll focus mostly on the positives in 2020.
COOL MOMENTS OF 2020
- I published my first book! After securing a book deal from one of the premier publishers in the world, McGraw-Hill, my book came out on January 28, 2020. Forbes called WELCOME TO MANAGEMENT, “the best leadership book of 2020.” It was named one of the “100 best audio management books of all time” (#25) by Book Authority. It quickly became a profitable book for McGraw-Hill (meaning they have earned more than the advance they paid me), and I am working now on book #2.
- I published 53 episodes of The Learning Leader Show.
- Apple Podcasts once again named The Learning Leader Show as one of the “All Time Best-Sellers” in the Management category.
- In January, I recorded a live podcast in front of 150 clients, colleagues, and friends with the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Jeni Britton Bauer. We did this in the same location where we had previously recorded a live show with the noted author of Atomic Habits, James Clear. I miss live events very much and am excited to (hopefully) do them again soon.
THE CLEVELAND INDIANS
While sitting in a meeting in early January, I received a text message from one of my literary idols, Daniel Coyle. Dan is the author of The Culture Code, the preeminent text on how to build a winning culture. His text said, “Hey Ryan, I’ve been doing work with the Cleveland Indians for a while. We’d love for you to come here and spend a day with us so we can learn from each other.” So, after the live show with Jeni Britton Bauer, instead of driving home to Dayton, I drove the opposite direction, to Cleveland, Ohio. The next morning, I had breakfast with Dan and then went to Progressive Field to meet with the leadership team of the Cleveland Indians. It was a day with a lot of dialogue and learning. (I believe I learned more than I taught them). Later, they asked me to deliver a Zoom keynote as part of their Speaker Series, in which they gather leaders from all over the world for interactive Zoom sessions. It was an honor to be asked. And from that, one of my favorite episodes of The Learning Leader Show happened: #380 with Jay Hennessey. He is a former Navy SEAL who is now the Cleveland Indians’ VP of Learning and Development.
I’ve sent my Mindful Monday email every Monday for 242 consecutive weeks (that’s every Monday for more than 4.5 years). No matter what’s happening in the world, I am proud of never missing a week—for the email or for my podcast (every Sunday night at 7:00 since launch). Consistency is one of my core values. It is very meaningful for me to ship my work. If you’d like receive an email from me every Monday, text LEARNERS to 44222 or click HERE.
2020 kicked off with a personal highlight for me. My first full-fee, big- stage gig of the year was speaking to the leaders of LexisNexis. LexisNexis is where I worked for the first decade of my professional career. To go back and see so many familiar faces was a seminal moment in my career. I’ll never forget it.
On March 5th, 2020, I delivered my final two “big crowd” keynote speeches of the year. The first was in the morning, as the closing event for the Ohio Country Managers Conference in Columbus, OH. I delivered my second keynote of the day that evening, for the Cincinnati chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). At that point, I had more than 20 additional keynotes contracted for the remainder of the year, with more in the works. Given that I had already done 12 paid gigs in two months and a few days, 2020 was primed to be a huge year for my keynote speaking business. Alas, it was not meant to be.
The good news is that most of the events that were cancelled for the 2020 have been rescheduled for 2021. In addition to that, many companies were open to the idea of “Zoom keynotes,” and this became a significant part of my work. While nothing compares to the energy of being in the room with an engaged group of people, I’m happy that leaders adapt and that technology allows me to earn a living doing something I love, even if we can’t be together in one room. One of those occasions happened with the Young Presidents’ Organization. YPO is a premier global leadership community of extraordinary chief executives, with more than 29,000 members from 142 countries. In this case, I presented in a room with a few (socially distanced) leaders, and the rest of the membership watched a livestream at home. It ended up being one of my favorite engagements of the year, and I have more planned with them in 2021!
LEARNING LEADER CIRCLES
Some of the most rewarding work I did in 2020 was with my Learning Leader Circles. These smaller group masterminds of 12 to 14 people met 17 times (every three weeks) over the course of the year. They did a series of exercises I’ve created and compiled from years of meeting with extraordinary leaders, building committed teams, and fostering friendships for life.
My initial Learning Leader Circle group has renewed for a fourth year heading into 2021! The members of that original circle hold a special place in my heart because they were the first to take a leap of faith with me. Their commitment has made us all much stronger. My newest Leadership Circle got an early start to 2021 and have already met twice. The number of applicants sky-rocketed in 2020, which created the opportunity for me to build a new group of deep thinking givers. I’m ecstatic about the caliber of people who applied. The willingness of this new group to open up, be vulnerable, and SHOW UP for each other is remarkable, considering we were all strangers a short time ago. Moving forward, I’m excited about building continuous Leadership Circles and scaling them so that some future groups will be led by members of previous circles.
THE LEARNING LEADER ACADEMY
I launched The Learning Leader Academy in early 2020. As my online training platform, this new program offers students a self-paced, 30-lesson curriculum that includes opportunities to participate in live Q&As. I’ve learned that it is a course best taken with a cohort of 15-20 people at a time, so I’ve added a “live” component to the course for leadership teams who want to take it together, facilitating additional dialogue during live Zoom sessions with the cohort groups.
This has been a critical component to the growth of my business, as I’ve seen demand for this style of learning skyrocket in 2020. I have multiple cohorts lined up for 2021, and plan to continue this work in the future. In a year when live events have mostly been cancelled, The Learning Leader Academy proved to be well-timed. The lesson learned? When building a business, create multiple streams of revenue so when one goes away, you can fill the gap with something else. Obviously, this is easier said than done. But it’s worth it.
When I launched the Leadership Advisory practice at Brixey & Meyer, I did not intend to do any 1:1 coaching/advising. I didn’t see how it would scale and wasn’t sure if I’d be that good at it. However, the market has proved me wrong. The demand for this work has increased significantly over the past year, and I said yes to some of it. I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy it. Understanding the challenges of high-level leaders and creating an environment where they can open up and share deep vulnerabilities in the hope of becoming more effective has been truly rewarding work. I don’t intend to ever work with more than a handful of people, but I do have thoughts about building a team of leaders who could help me do this work. In fact, I have had conversations with a few people who would be far better at this work than me. We don’t have it fully mapped out yet, but this could be an exciting area of growth for my business in 2021 and beyond. Stay tuned.
All of this started with the podcast, my “flywheel” that makes everything go. Having a long-form conversation with a clear thinker remains my favorite part of all my business activities. And receiving feedback from all of you that it has positively impacted your life fuels me even more. What a thrill and reward it is to have a profitable business that aligns my passion in life with listeners who seek out and benefit from the same insights. As Jonas Salk said, “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.” Because my work resonates with you, I get to keep doing it! Thank YOU for the privilege! Additionally, I’ve started recording all of my podcasts on video (in addition to audio). Go to my YouTube channel to WATCH each episode.
Based on the number of listeners and volume of email feedback I received, I pulled the most popular episodes of 2020. Here they are:
#348: Simon Sinek – Why Consistency Beats Intensity
#354: WELCOME TO MANAGEMENT – Book Launch Party with Doug Meyer
#357: General Stanley McChrystal – Leadership In Uncertain Times
#359: Patrick Lencioni – Three Actions For Leaders In Challenging Times
#361: John Maxwell – The Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace
#363: Admiral William McRaven – The Bin Laden Raid, Saving Captain Phillips, & Leadership Lessons For Life
#369: Nancy Koehn – Courageous Leaders Are Forged In Crisis
#374: Alexandra Carter – How To Ask For More
#375: Miranda Hawk – How To Cultivate A Loving Relationship
#380: Jay Hennessey – How To Build A Learning Organization
#384: Les Brown – How To Unleash The Excellence Within You
#387: Arthur Blank – Owner of The Atlanta Falcons, How Purpose & Profit Go Hand In Hand
#393: Chris Holtmann – Ohio State Basketball Coach – How To Lead With Conviction
Though 2020 was a year wrought with challenges for all of us, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve what has grown to be a broad expanse of faithful people who have found value in The Learning Leader Show and the many projects it has spawned. We have learned great lessons together this past year, and I can assuredly say that I’m looking forward to all of the discoveries we will make together in 2021!