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.

Thoughtful — The truly think.  About themselves, their strengths/weaknesses.  About others.  About the world… They take time every day to be reflective.  We learn in moments of reflection. Being thoughtful is their standard mode of operation.  There is a pause between the stimulus and their response.  That’s when they think.  The smartest leaders I’ve been around are the most thoughtful.

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.”