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Full show notes at www.LearningLeader.com

Twitter/IG: @RyanHawk12

John Chambers served as Cisco’s CEO from 1995-2015 and Executive Chairman from 2015-2017. Cisco went from $70 million to $40 billion in annual revenue during his time.


  • When John was six years old, he went fishing with his Dad in Elk River, WV. He was told, “Don’t get too close to the water, the current is strong and could pull you under.”
    • John’s curiosity got the best of him. He went too close and slipped, falling into the water. His dad ran towards the current as it was pulling John and yelled, “Just hold on to the fishing pole.”
  • Fortunately, John survived and was eventually pulled out of the water by his dad. His dad said, “Do you know why I told you to hold on to the fishing pole?
    • “Don’t let panic set in. Focus on what you can control. Work your way to calmer waters.” It’s a great metaphor for life.
  • When dealing with stress, hold on to the fishing pole.
  • How to deal with fear and uncertainty?
    • “I had two parents that were doctors. They helped me a lot.”
    • “They taught me not to waste cycles on things you cannot change. Focus on the future, deal with the world as it is, not as you wish it was.
  • This is why John deliberately puts the leaders he leads in stressful situations.
    • “Under stress you learn who people are.”
    • “With that said, I only coach leaders that want to be coached.” — If you don’t want to be coached, you probably won’t work with John Chambers.
  • How did he earn the job as CEO of Cisco?
    • “My parents taught me that education is the equalizer in life. I was a professional student. I got three degrees. And was trained very well at IBM, even as an entry level employee.”
    • “I decided to leave my job at Wang for the same reason that most people leave their jobs. My manager.”
    • “I left prior to even discussing another job with someone else. I didn’t feel it was right to be laying people off while looking for another job.”
    • “I thought the job offers would roll in. They didn’t. I initially had no job offers… And then I reached out to my friends and network and asked for help… I had 22 offers in 90 days. 21 of them from friends of mine. I learned that the golden rule is true. Treat others how you’d like to be treated and it will come back to you when you need it.”
    • “How you treat people determines your brand.”
  • Relationships — “I’m usually the best prepared for every meeting I’m in. That way, I can move with speed.”
    • “The emotional part of relationships comes from my mom. She taught me how to connect with people.”
    • “I love building extended family teams. My team at Cisco was my family. We had only 5% turnover while the market rate was 15%.
  • How is John different from Jack Welch?
    • “I learned a lot of lessons from Jack. He sent his team from GE to benchmark us at Cisco. They took 22 ideas from us.”
    • “Jack was great at quarterly business reviews, but he was very tough on his people.”
    • “I tried not to embarrass the people on my team in front of one another. I like to praise in public and criticize in private. That was different from Jack.”
  • How did they successfully acquire 180 companies?
    • They developed great playbooks and implemented them.
  • What John looks for in a company:
    • Do they have an excellent CEO who wants to be coached?
    • Can the company be #1 or #2 in their market?
    • Talk with customers and get a feel for the company from that vantage point
    • What is their culture?
  • What John looks for in a leader:
    • A track record of overachieving
    • “I look at their leadership team. Can they build a great team? That speaks volumes about them.”
    • Cultural match – “Our values need to match.”
    • They understand the industry they’re in
  • Culture must be owned at the top:
    • “The CEO must own the culture. In every meeting, the CEO should point out an example of how someone is living their values.”
  • Why are off site leadership retreats so important?
    • “It allows you to develop relationships outside of the office environment. You can build in depth relationships, built on trust.”
    • “The off sites helped us learn much more about one another.”
    • Gustavo (a leader John works with) saw a grizzly bear. Later he said, “I’ve never been more scared or more alive.”
    • “In the evenings, I ask for each person to give a toast and share a key learning.”
      • “I look for teaching moments.”
  • Sales – A noble profession:
    • “We are all in sales. It’s about connecting with people. I was with the King of Jordan and his wife (the Queen) was pregnant, I asked, “So King will you be in the room while your wife gives birth?” This was not something that was typically asked of the King. John did it as a way to connect and offer advice. “You need to be in that room. It’s the most amazing moment.” This is how John connects with others.
    • Sales is part of everything we do. You get rejected, have to bounce back, and keep going. “I once asked Steph Curry, ‘do you think you’re going to make every shot? Even if you’ve missed your last five?’ ‘Yes, he said.’ Sales is like that, you have to believe in yourself to make the next one.”
  • Advice:
    • Never compromise your values
    • How you handle your setbacks with determine your life
    • Treat people like you want to be treated. Be kind.
    • Focus, but also relax. Don’t be so uptight.

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