Here is a transcription of my interview with John Spence.
Gordon: So hi my name is Gordon Tredgold and welcome to the FAST Leadership show. This is a show where we are looking to make you the best leaders that you can be and on today’s show we are going to be talking about results because leadership it is about, it is about moving people from A to B, increasing the bottom line, archiving success.
And on today’s show I have got an absolute guru at achieving success and that is John Spence.
John is an internationally recognized executive consultant and trainer, he has written four books, Awesomely Simple, which I absolutely love and that was named one of the top ten small business books in Small Business Trends. He has written Excellence by Design, he has written Letters to a CEO, Strategies for Success. John has been named three times as one of the top one hundred business thought leaders in America, one of the top one hundred small businesses influences and one of the top five hundred development experts in the world. His consulting, training and expertise allows him to work all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Caribbean which sounds nice, Europe, Russia and Africa. He has got over five hundred client companies. He has worked with Bank of America, Microsoft and the Apple along with dozens with small private non-profit and industry associations. John was also recognized along with myself in the Inc. Magazine top one hundred top leadership speakers but for me John is actually one of the top five leadership gurus in the world, I love the stuff he does and he is an expert on getting the results and it is great to have him on the show. His passion and credo is making the very complex awesomely simple. So please welcome John Spence. Hi John
John: Gordon thank you so much for having me on the show.
Gordon: It is an absolute pleasure, I wish we had all day to talk because you and I share a lot of common interest and it will be great to chew on that. On today’s show what I want to talk about is, I want to talk about results and given that eighty per cent of first time business is go burst, seventy per cent of projects fail, is there a recipe for business success. I want to talk about what we can do to make ourselves better leaders, the role of accountability and one of the qualities and characteristics that make up a good leader. But before I get into that I want to ask you a question which I think you are perfectly positioned to answer and that is when it comes to leadership and you find yourself in the position where you are significantly younger than the people you are leading and they feel that they are more experienced. maybe even they should be doing the job, how do you manage and I know that you became CEO of one of the Rockefeller companies at the age of twenty six and two years later you were one of the top Florida CEOs. So you must have experienced that, so if you could tell us how you deal with that that would be a fantastic start.
John: The organization you mentioned one of the Rockefeller Foundations when I became Executive there, the CEO at twenty six it is important to know that I had four billionaires on my board and everyone else was worth more than a hundred million dollars. So I had very experienced seasoned powerful, powerful people on my board, so it was extra challenging. Here is what I try to do, I just try to outwork everyone else and out study, I ask a lot of questions, I constantly ask for input, advice and help but and I explained this to one of my mentees the other day, we would be seating in a board meeting and they would issue or a challenge, the board was discussing and Mr. Rockefeller would say does anyone have an idea on this and there were some powerful people and my hand which shoot up first and I would say, well I was reading a book the other day and Tom Peter said this that and the other then I was also reading some stuff by Jim Collins who suggested this that and the other and blah blah blah and then Don Tyson of Tyson Chicken would turn around and go I love your ideas Spence, why don’t we implement those. So I was using other people’s credibility and the research I was doing and what I was reading to put ideas out but once we implemented the ideas I was getting credit. From top leaders I would hear I love the idea John but the key role was that I was reading and studying and learning and watching and asking for help constantly. So it wasn’t that I was smarter and faster, I just had to be so good they couldn’t ignore me and I never tried to push my position I just tried to offer ideas that were so valuable from anywhere I could get them but at the end of the day they always said let us go with Spence’s idea or that was John’s idea, so I got the credit for it so it seemed that I was smarter than I was.
Gordon: So I would summaries that, and you can tell me if this is right of wrong, if you are going to work with giants try and stand on the shoulders of other giants.
John: Exactly right, when I got to the Foundation Mr. Rockefeller was incredibly kind in assigning his right hand man a guy named Charlie Owen to me as my mentor and every Monday Charlie would give me a book and every Friday I had to make a book report. But here is the way, and Gordon you are going to love this, instead of just saying what I learned he would challenge me we would go have lunch together and he would just pound me on it, contents of the book and what was in there and did I really think it through, did I study and read it and then his last question would always be alright John, what are three things you are going to apply from the book? And then he would write those down and he would let me know you will be now held accountable for doing that in your job. So very very early in my career I learned to take ideas and turn them into results. The feeling is nice, it is one thing to read a book, it is another thing to understand a book, it is completely a different thing to take the three or four best ideas and implement them with discipline and that is what Charlie taught me and that made a huge difference in my career.
Gordon: Wow, I really get that because I do a lot of reading as well, one of my favorite authors is Ken Blanchard and I love Ken because he keeps things simple and he does give you two or three ideas which you can take away and implement and make some significant improvement, some benefits and that really helped me establish credibility and also as you said have results.
John: In all my travels around the world working with clients there is no shortage of brilliant people, there is no shortage of really cool strategies, innovative ideas, ways to differentiate yourself in the market place, competitive strategies but there is a huge shortage of people that can take those ideas and actually implement them in the market place. That is where the real the gold is, that is where the leverage is.
Gordon: So like I always tell my clients is it is one thing to know the winning numbers of this week’s lottery, if you don’t buy a ticket, that knowledge doesn’t help you one little bit. You have got to take action and implement. So what I wanted to talk about next was I love your book Awesomely Simple and I would like to talk about what you see as the recipe for business success.
John: Sure, sure, giving more background on that in preparing this book, I looked at all the other books I read and as you and I both are avid readers, I read about a hundred to a hundred and twenty books yearly, I have every year since 1989 and I went through and one of the things I put my entire career on is looking for patterns, if I read a hundred books on leadership literally what are the four or five or six things that all of them say and then I take that out and compare to the real world, I mean, the ideas are great, the books are great but you have to take them out and combined it with real life experience and you backup and look at those two often times a pattern will emerge. Awesomely Simple was built on a pattern of what I had seen working with hundreds of companies from the Top Fortune 100 to brand new start-ups and the literally thousands of books I have read and I distilled all the information into an equation and the equation is in (t + c + ecf) x de = business success or business excellence. And what that stands for is talent, T is talent and what I am going to do is the quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team and the relationships they create with your customers are pretty much one of the only sustainable, competitive differentiators left to a lot of companies. You have got to get the top of the top, the best people you can possibly get and then they have got to be highly engaged which is the C, that stands for culture. There are two sides to the culture coin, side one is what the employees want and what I would call a winning culture and for them that is some place that is fun where they are treated fairly, where there is a healt atmosphere, they work with cool colleagues, they do stuff, they do meaningful work. And the key there is to get highly engaged, satisfied and loyal employees because that is the number one driver of engaged, satisfied and loyal customers. The other side of that coin is and it what the leader of the business or the manager wants which is employees with an ownership mentality, what I call intrepreanuers, people who are entrepreneurs inside your company, they treat like it was their business, they take high levels of accountability, they are innovative, they are proactive, they are trying to make the business better every day. So that is the two parts of culture, winning culture and ownership mentality. The ECF stands for Extreme Customer Focus and put an underline under that extreme, it is a big big idea that I believe in very strongly which is whoever owns the voice of the customer owns the marketplace. Whoever knows the customer the best has the strongest relationship with them, understands them deeply again has a huge competitive advantage, that is pulling an economic motor around your business if you really really have extremely customer focus and own the voice of the customer. Then you take those first three things talent, culture, extreme customer focus and multiply it and here is where you and I are simpatico, by disciples execution, by accountability, by taking those things and implementing them every day for every customer efficiently, effectively with discipline. When you do those four things, that great talent, a winning culture, with accountability, you have got incredible customer focus and the awesome execution you end up with business, and we used to call business success but if you do that then the equation is (t + c + etf) x de = BS and that doesn’t work so good. So that is the formula and it is based on a massive amount of research and a massive amount of real life.
Gordon: It is awesomely simple yet so many people fail to do that and the other thing I was just going to mention because you reminded me of that ownership. I remember I was working with a company over in Germany and we had Microsoft Excel consultant that we were working and I was going through the, I had only started with the company, I was looking at the cost and we had to get budgets done because it was at the start of the recession and I said to somebody we are paying this thousand dollars a day for some guy to do Microsoft Excel coding work, why are we doing that? We could get that skill for like four hundred dollars and the guy said yeah we could and I said sorry would you spend a thousand dollars of your own money and he went hell no, I would get somebody for four hundred to do it. So well do that with the company’s money, see as your money because we all get bonus from the company if it does well, so why not treat the company’s money like your money then we can be successful and then we will benefit from it. Don’t just think always it is the company’s money, it is a bottomless pit and spend, spend, spend and that was a huge cultural change that we had to make to get people to see the company as their own company.
John: There is a great book on that, you have probably read called The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack and he talks about the manufacturing company which built giant trucks, and in the first year they made the most revenue ever in the history of their company and all of the employees were like yeah we get bonuses, and it was like no we lost money, they were like what? And it wasn’t until they opened up the books and showed them that how much they were costing. oh now we understand, then they were going to treat it like their own company and watch every penny and every dollar and build it up to a very successful business.
Gordon: Often when I do talks on FAST leadership one of the areas I talk about is focus and one of the things that I talk about is you have got to be focused at the right thing because I worked with a company who I can’t name and we had exactly the same thing, we had record revenues but revenues is vanity and profit is sanity and nobody was really looking at the profit and we were actually selling products that made a loss, not only did they make a loss we incentivized the salesman to sell more of them, as many as we could. So you are in a hole and you are paying people to dig deeper when you should be trying to get out, it was crazy. As you said we have got to be looking at these things. Another thing that I believe that we both have in common and I would like to chew on that and within your model transparency skill because we have got to be able to see the progress we are making in order to make people accountable and what I tend to find is there seems to be a reluctant to hold people accountable or it is implemented in a blaming kind of way which you end up implementing accountability and it doesn’t take because you create a blame culture. How would you go about implementing accountability in a way that it sticks and results in ownership rather than blame culture?
John: And Gordon this is a question that I get from a lot of my clients and it is an issue, it is probably the single biggest issue I see worldwide in all the business I deal with which is lack of this disciplined execution and lack of accountability. Actually it was the Apple specialist from Apple that challenged me to put together something in their own words ‘as elegant and simple as our products’ nice challenge and we planned for months and months and here is what I came up with and this is a pretty strong model, it is what I call the five keys to accountability. So this isn’t for everything in a company but when you have a project that is mission credible, something that has got to be done, something that must be delivered and you want to get a high level of accountability when you are on it there are five steps you have got to take. Step one is one hundred per cent clarity plus the appropriate authority. You have got to take the person who is going to be held accountable for delivering that, it may be a big team but both us knows and everyone listening knows that that if you want to deal with this there is always got to be only one person who is the final authority, the final accountability. You have got to sit down with that person and you have got to be as clear as possible about expectations and the goal there is to make them specific measurable clear but here is the key word binary, it is one or zero, yes or no, no guessing, I have a phrase I learned when I was in New Zealand last year from my friend Simon who is awesome and here it is ambiguity brings mediocrity.
Gordon: I love it
John: I love that saying
Gordon: I think as well what people do that I have seen who are mediocre, ambiguity also allows them to make claims that are just not true as well and you can’t prove that I didn’t do a good job because there is no evidence.
John: Bingo, we are going to get there in a second. So step one is that one hundred per cent clarity plus appropriate authority, you have to make sure that if you assign them a task, you give them the authority, the support, the resources they need, there is nothing more frustrating than when a talented person a big project with full accountability and no authority, you are completely accountable for this but you can’t make any decisions, request any resources, to tell anybody what to do, that doesn’t work, that is step one. Now here is the big one and this is what keeps away from the plain thing, that include that person that you are holding accountable needs to give one hundred per cent agreement, they need to look you in the eyes, as a friend of mine in Austria says we must have the full eyes meeting when you look across the table from each other and that person looks at you and he says I understand the requirements, I understand the budget, I understand the timeline, I understand the due date, you have given me enough resources, you have given me enough authority, I think this is a reasonable goal that can be achieved, I accept one hundred per cent accountability. Until you have those first two steps you do not have accountability. And in teaching classes everywhere around the globe in the last eighteen months I have probably had fifty thousand senior managers and small medium size business owners in my classes and I would ask them on a scale on a scale of one to ten with ten being world class how many of you would make a nine or ten on consistently getting one hundred per cent clarity and authority and one hundred per cent agreement on all your most important projects and literally no one in the world has raised his hand, one guy in Australia did that and I told him you are lying because you are writing and he put his hand down. Think about that, I mean, tens of thousands of people in my classes and I laid these two very obvious things out, we have got to be really clear about the expectations and the person has to say I understand exactly what you want and I accept accountability, without those two you don’t get it. So these are the first two then step three is to track and post. And if you are going to hold somebody accountable for a goal, for an objective, for implementing something, they need to know where they stand and set goal and there are two major factors for the track and post. Number one is make it super super easy to understand, you know, green light, yellow light, red light, happy face, flat face, unhappy face, thumps up, thumps sideways, thumps down, no guessing, just hmm, I can look at it instantly know where I am. And number, here is the big one is, make it highly visible, make it so everybody in the entire company sees it. Cut down all of the trees, all the places to hide. And here is what happens when you do that, about ten per cent of the company people will come reloaded, I mean, they are in your top top performers, they are always green and they stand next to it says green, green, green, I am Mr. Green, they have got it nailed. About eighty per cent of the people of in the company freak out and about ten per cent of the people fall down the ground like two year old and start crying, complaining and those are the ones that will go it has been a pleasure working with you and make themselves available the industry, saying I am a mediocre and now I have no place to hide. So now what do you do with that big group in the middle, the eighty per cent that has freaked out, that is step four, coach mentor and train . What you need is, and you just said it, most people acquaint accountability with the win or punishment and they especially acquaint tracking with punishment, I am tracking you so that I can rail at you, I am tracking you so that I can tell you why you missed bonus, why you don’t get a bonus and what you need to do is turn it around and show them that no, no, no, we are tracking you to help you, that the second you get off track people punish you again from the sky walk, I am running to your office and all you are going to say is what do you need, how can we support you. And as soon as they turn that paradigm from tracking equals punishment to tracking equals help then they embrace the tracking and get excited about it which leads to the fifth and final one which is reward success lavishly. When I say lavishly I don’t mean money passé but recognition awards, give certificates and something like that and then deal decisively with mediocrity. So I will give you a summary and then we can discuss it. First step is one hundred per cent clarity plus authority, the second step is one hundred per cent agreement, the third step is track and post, the fourth step is coach, mentor and train and the fifth step is to reward success, deal decisively with mediocrity. And to go back, the reason it is so important to get those binary clear measurements is when you hold people accountable you don’t say Gordon I don’t think you can make you goal, Gordon, I don’t feel like you are trying hard enough. There is no gray area, you either got it or you didn’t, so I am saying Gordon I love you man we have been friends for years, you are awesome but you said you were going to sell a millions dollars of the product this year and you have only sold eight hundred and fifty thousand, where are we going to get the other hundred and fifty grand. There is no politics, there is no personality, there is no blaming, it is just fact, you did it or you didn’t and we are dealing with facts now and not emotion.
Gordon: Yeah, what I find because I have the same view on this and what I find is that initially there is a lot of skepticism and I always tell them, when it was my department, I am accountable overall, so we are in this together and when you actually do that, you know, get the visibility transparency and you reward lavishly and praise, people actually love it because it is like I can now assure you I do a good job and what I used to find was, I am quite a strong guy, I couldn’t carry all of our accountability focus reports but at the end of the year we had transparency and what that also did was it allowed us when we come to do with the year-end assessments there was no arguments about performance levels.
Gordon: There is no personality, there is no emotion, it is just facts, you met and exceeded all of your goals so here is your bonus, you met eighty per cent of your goals so you don’t get a bonus
John: You made the playoffs.
Gordon: It is crystal clear, there is no kind of a oh, oh, this team, they played some pretty football and they won one game. Sorry, your record is four and twelve, you did not make the playoffs. This is not a discussion, these are the facts, these people made the cut and once we did that it encouraged people because it comes back to what you were talking about, something you had written about before and that was fairness and when people see that the accountability is fair and just, I have seen huge results with that.
John: And the funny thing and I have had this happen to a couple of clients, some people say how do you measure this, it is easy, you ask your employees to create measures. I was working with one firm in Texas and that was a financial due diligence firm and I was sitting with the partners in about a fifty, sixty million dollar a year business and they had never had any accountability for the senior partners, no measurements, no goals and they were trying to put it in and I am sitting in the meeting and so I just looked at them and I go how do you guys like to be measured and one of the guys says oh I think that is easy blended hourly rate, utilization rate, number of projects under management, number of people under management, amount of business in the pipeline. I went really, do you have numbers for that and he was oh yeah, we should have a ninety two or higher per cent of utilization rate and XYZ blended hourly rate, we should have full projects under management, ten people working for us and at least three million dollars in the pipeline. I go cool, how does everybody else feel about that and they were no that is great. So I go great, you just created your own matrix and we started to track those and within about six months one partner asked to be transferred to another division and another partner quit because you walk in and they read twenty two per cent utilization, one project under management, two people under management and nothing in the pipeline and after it had shown up at six meetings with everybody looking at it was pretty obvious they shouldn’t have been partners and they didn’t moan or cry or complain they just went can I have another job or I quit.
Gordon: Yeah that is what I found, once the facts are clear and especially if you put yourself in a position of reward lavishly and before dealing decisively what can I do to help you and if you provide all of that support and they are still not making the numbers, as you said, they come to you and say, you know what I think you need to pull me coach.
John: Let me take a minute and teach a real quick tool that has been very very powerful for a lot of my clients, it is one that I have used, you know, you asked earlier about being a junior manager at CEO at twenty six. I had people working for me that had been in the business longer than I had been alive, and when you think about that, you know, I have been doing this for thirty five years, I have just been alive for twenty six, I have only been here for three years. So when someone like that came to my office who wasn’t performing well it is a really awkward situation to have a twenty six year old CEO telling a fifty year old person they are not performing up to spec and, you know, part of it was setting those clear goals but when I got to those folks here is the technic I would use of the tool, I would ask them to my office and would have a clear discussion with them that their manager and their manager’s manager had both done everything that they could support them, they are still not making the goals but I didn’t want them to leave the team, I wanted them to stay and here is how we were going to do it and I would ask them to get out four pieces of paper and say on piece of paper number one what I want you to do is write out for me as clearly as possible binary, no guessing, what would you do for the next ninety days and my business ran on a fairly slow pace so ninety days was fine, it might be a hundred and twenty, it might be thirty days but I would say ninety days, what would you do in the next ninety days to clearly show me and everyone else here that you should stay on the team and I want is specific and measurable, what would you deliver in the next three months to show that you can and you should stay in the company, you are a valued employee. And they would write that down, we would talk about it, discuss it, negotiate a little bit then we both sign it. It is not a contract, it is a promise between two professionals that you are going to deliver this the next ninety days. That was piece of paper number one, piece of paper number two was then what do you need from me as your manager or the CEO to make that happen, what support, training resource help, you know, what is everything I have to do for you, what doors do I have to kick down, what hurdles do I have to jump over for you to make sure you have everything you need to deliver everything on piece of paper number one. And again they would write all that down, we would negotiate a little bit, talk about it, once we were comfortable we would both sign it and put it aside. Piece of paper number three was if you nail everything on piece of paper number one, you deliver all of it, in addition to keeping your job which is pretty cool, what kind of a small reward would you like, you know, maybe dinner out with your spouse or flex time or something because you have done something amazing, you have come from the verge of getting terminated to being back on the team and that deserves a little recognition in addition to being back on the team. On piece paper number three they would write that, I would read it, we would sign it and piece of paper number four is if I give you everything on piece of paper number two, everything you have asked for and you do not deliver everything on piece of paper number one what would the ramifications be and almost everybody put termination or I will quit and we would sign that one and what I would do is make two copies and say I will see you in my office every Monday for twenty minutes in the morning to talk about the four pieces of paper. And, you know, seven days out, for about ten per cent of people they walk in and I go you totally rock, you have done ninety five percent of stuff on piece of paper number one and I am confident you are going to get the last five percent over the next ten days so you are going to get piece of paper number three, you are back on the team, everybody totally is impressed with you, I am so happy this is the performance we want, I am going to give you a reward, I am going to rip these pieces of paper, we are going to pretend this never happened, just keep performing the way you are performing and everything is going to be beautiful. That is ten percent of the people, the other ninety percent about sixty seven days in you go, you know you have got only two weeks left and you have only accomplished about eleven percent of the stuff on your goals and I have given you everything you asked for on piece of paper number two, we both signed them, so do you really think you are going to get that last ninety or eighty five percent in the next ten days? Here is what I can tell you Gordon, in my career I have been a CEO of ten companies I have to fire very very few people but I have had many people self-terminate.
Gordon: Me too. I just want to say one thing to the listeners right now, if you are not sure what leadership is that was the perfect definition of what you need to do as a leader, give your team the tools you need to be successful and hold them accountable and if you do that they will either be successful or they will take the action and that is absolutely fantastic approach and I absolutely love that.
John: It its, but I don’t want people running back to their office and start handing out four pieces of paper to everybody, four you, four you, four you
Gordon: It is a great approach to dealing with people and what I have seen with leadership and I strongly believe that a lot of people believe that leadership is a tittle, it is a position, it is a job offer. But it is more of a state of being and how we act and leadership starts with us and I’d like to talk about your seven Cs of leadership. I think if you covered quite a few of them just in that little example of how you deal with people who need to perform. So we can just go to the seven Cs
John: The sevens Cs came from again lots and lots of reading but I also run a survey to ten thousand high potential employees at top companies around the world, you know, the top fifty at Microsoft, you know, the best of the best and I asked them same question that Kouzes and Posner asked in their awesome book Leadership Challenge in truth about leadership, incredible book, what are the characteristics of a leader you would willingly follow? I will go ahead and read you the rest and then you can ask me some questions on each one. If you get the seven Cs and I didn’t do it on purpose that is just the way it came out. So here are the seven Cs, character was the first one, tell the truth all that time, period. You have got to have honesty, it is the single most important element of a leadership you will willingly follow, no honesty, no leadership period. So character, you can use integrity, anything like that honesty, the second one was courage and this wasn’t courage to make big bold decisions, this was actually the courage to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers, that you need help, that I hired you because you are talented and you can do stuff that I can’t do, could you help me with this. Now the leader can’t go weak in front of you all the time but every now and then and what these people told me is, we know that you can’t do it all, don’t try to pretend that you can, so be courageous enough to be vulnerable and ask for help. The next one is communication and of course they expected the leader to be able to stand up and give a good speech and all that stuff but really what they said, these ten thousand now potential employees was we want a leader who asks great questions and listens, and is an amazing listener. The next one was confidence, you have got to be towering the company, if you are not good at what you are doing no one will trust you and respect you and they won’t follow you and it is two steels, you have got to be confident at your job and you have to be highly confident in your leadership skills. The next one was collaboration and what they said was, I understand you are the leader but don’t load it over me, you know, if every now and then you get ……….. 0:32:51.8 because I said so, because I am your boss I can handle that but most of the time we want a leader who will roll up their sleeves, get shoulder to shoulder with us and do the work with us and collaborate as a partner and as a peer and if every now and then you have got to remind us that you are in charge, that is cool but that shouldn’t be what you “live with”. The next one is compassion and what and welcome to the millennials and the next generation that comes out, this is this group of ten thousand high potential employees, you say hey listen, I have a life outside of here, I am not going to do what my parents did, you know, bleed the company colors, I will come, I will give you my forty, forty five, fifty, fifty five hours but I am not going to live here and I have got a life outside of here, I have got hobbies, I have got a family, I have got faith, I make home brew and I want to go home and make beer and drink beer whatever might be. So you have got to have a compassion to understand that I need life out. And the last but not least the seventh one was contribution that once you have done the first six and you have earned the position of a leader then you have an obligation to give back to, as I like to say, plant the seeds of trees under which you may never sit and contribute back to your people, to your company, to your community, frankly contribute back to the world because you have access to resources, you have access to decision making and influence, use that for the long term good. Those are the seven Cs that these folks told me or the seven things they look for in a leader they would willingly follow.
Gordon: well I look at that last one and that quote planting seeds that you are never sit under because that forces you to look long term and not short term because when you look at short term you tend to be doing it for your own benefit rather than the benefits as a company as you said plant seeds of trees that you won’t sit under, that is about creating successes that you actually might not get the credit for and I think there is a lot of resistance from leaders to do that, they want to own the credit and that is a tough one to deliver.
John: Well I will give you two keys on that one and this is a sort of an unhappy note, I deliver a speech on this and I deliver it around the world and in other countries, I was just in Amsterdam and New Zealand, some stuff in Canada, on the idea of contribution will get a round of applause the minute I say it, standing ovation some places. In America nobody claps, they just look at me and one of the ideas that we cemented this idea from is I studied some companies in Japan, they do not pay the senior executive, the CEO their benefits and bonuses until twenty one years after they leave the company based on the stock price of the company the twentieth year after. Which means you have got to sit at your desk and make certain your decisions because if you wouldn’t get a penny for fifteen or twenty years and it is going to be based on the value of the company fifteen years from now you have to do the things today that will make the company massively valued a decade from now. Unlike many companies today as long as you make your quarterly numbers you get your bonus and as a CEO you can run a company into the ground and get a golden parachute and walk away with millions and the company is out of business in eighteen months. That is not a long term strategy and long term thinking and I don’t think we do like they do in Japan but the idea of sitting at your desk and making twenty year decisions that is what a true long term successful leader does in my opinion.
Gordon: And I think if, this is probably a little bit we are probably going to get into a topic which could be an entire series let alone another show, if the financial institutions had taken that view we would not have experienced the global economic crush of 2008/2009.
John: Agreed, agreed
Gordon: And I just want to come back on the two of them because they sound conflicting but I know they are not and actually to get your take on it and that is competent, you have to be competent at your job and you have to be competent at leading and then courage, the courage to be vulnerable because that kind of implies that you have to maybe show that you are not competent in some things.
John: Ah well, Gordon you said it beautifully, I am really competent in my job, I know how to run the company, I don’t know anything about IT, I know a little bit but I am not competent because that is not my job, my job is to hire great great IT people. I will use myself as an example, I can understand finance and I can understand spreadsheets with numbers and financials but I am not an expert in that. So I make sure when I run a company I have a really good CFO who is excellent at explaining that complexity to me in a simple way. When I ran the Foundation I basically said, my CFO was Jim Williams, Jim I just don’t want the paper, how much money do we have in the bank, how much do we owe, how much I coming in, you know, just give me the basics and I can figure out what to do from there and he would be like, you know, we have thirty seven million four hundred and eighteen thousand and fifty seven dollars, I go okay forty million and he goes no, no John thirty seven, and I went I don’t need to, my point is I have to have the courage to admit I am not an expert in financials, I can figure it out but if I have an expert on my team who can explain it to me then together the two of us can run the company exceedingly well but if I pretended we had one of those fifteen page final reports that I understood it you could see by the look in my eyes that I was completely confused and would have known I was lying. So I get really competent at my job running the business, doing marketing, doing sales whatever, my role is as a leader but I have got the courage to admit I can’t do everything else.
Gordon: I fully agree with you on that, it just made me think about another aspect of courage and competent as well when you talked about getting him to explain it simply. One of the things that I have experienced is my experts telling me don’t worry we have got it under control, it is too complex you wouldn’t understand it and then to come back and quote the Einstein quote, if you can’t explain it simply then you don’t understand it. So you are right, I am not competent about finance, you are, explain it to me in a manner that I can understand and a number of times I have done that and people have just gone white. I was once doing some work with Saber systems in Fort Worth and we were looking to buy a crew rostering system and I asked the guy to explain it and he said unless you have a degree in mathematics there is no way you could understand the technical details of this and I said great I have a degree in mathematics and he just went white and he said, I can explain this and you know I would have said I had a degree in mathematics whether I had or hadn’t because I could just see that he didn’t understand it and he was just trying you are not competent in this and I am just going to bully you out of it, I am just going to baffle you with BS. And sometimes we do have to have that …. 0:40:17.9 to say no, no explain it to me, walk me through it as a child and if you can do that then I will believe you, if you can’t then I don’t believe you can understand it.
John: Maybe it is something I did and I am going to touch on it just quickly is I am big on analytics and I am big on data and I am big on matrix and I am not really big on intuition or gut that much but in my twenty five, thirty years of doing business that is one of the red flag tests I have for people. You know, please explain to me simply so that I can understand, oh it is too complex, as soon as somebody says that I have already figured out from all of my experience before that if they are going to say that to me I don’t want them on my team, I don’t want to work with them.
Gordon: The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when you said that because I am completely aligned with that, the radar just goes of the scale when people say that to me.
John: It is a quick way to decide who you want to work with and who you don’t.
Gordon: And sometimes that requires them to be vulnerable as well to say actually, you know what, I don’t know today, I have a good idea but I will figure it out, okay, I am okay with that but you need to come back and explain it to me before we start moving forward. So we require them to be courageous as well.
John: And that is on trust, transparency, openness and if I had somebody say it to me like you just said it, I don’t really know it all that well, we have got some people in my office that do and I can give it to you in sort or an overview but I prefer to bring somebody else in who can explain it in more detail, okay that is fine you told the truth. I am fine with that, bring somebody else in, that is cool, they didn’t know I was going to ask this question but if they try and lie to me, if they are going to lie to me there or obvious get to manipulate you there they are going to do it through the rest of the relationship.
Gordon: Once I was working for DHL in Prague and I had only been with the company a week and I was asked to present the phase one of the project when I was taking over phase two of a hundred and fifty million dollar project and the global CIO said to me and we had one area that was red and it was to do with the interfaces and he said of the twenty six interfaces which ones are wrong and what are you going to do to fix it and I said actually I don’t know, and he just said, in a room of forty people, then go get somebody who does and get them to present to me. My boss said just a second, he is standing in for the guy, this is not his project. And you could almost tell the Global CIO uncocking his pistol and putting it back in the holster. But, I tell you something, I presented it to him every month thereafter and I never went in with anything where I didn’t have the data to back up every single thing I said. That was a great learning and lesson for me to fully understand and to be able to explain because I think good bosses and good leaders do ask great questions and one of those great questions is explain it to me.
John: Yeah, yeah. You know, here in communications and I mentor a bunch of folks, young business folks from my town and I was trying to explain to one yesterday that really one of the most fundamental skills you have to be superb at is asking great questions as a leader. The effective leader asks just the right question just the right time and who does that person believe about anybody else in the world the answer is themselves. Great leaders get their team or their people, and listen to this carefully, to tell them what they waned them to hear. Instead of me saying you guys need to do everything you see, they ask a series of questions that are probing and polite and digging in a little bit until the team says, you know boss, I think we need to do A, B and C and the boss goes wow that is a super idea, why don’t you guys get on that right now. Now they own it, now they believe it, they came up with the idea. Way too many leaders to tell people they want to solve all of their problems, it is more much better to help people solve the problems themselves then go I fully support that, I think that is a great idea, you go do it now, they are running like crazy with their idea.
Gordon: One thing that I learned was, I was doing a meeting with my team and I had a coach with me and they said to me, Gordon what we think we want to do is we want to do A,B and C, I was like wow, you know what, if you just do D as well this will be even better and they all got up and went out of the room and my coach asks me why did you do that
John: You just took all their power away.
Gordon: With A, B and C they owned it but you adding D it is now your solution.
Gordon: And that was a great learning for me and I thought but we have just made it better now, but no you have just made it yours.
John: I was listening an audio book with Michael Hyatt on it and he had a coach on it and he was a CFO of a very large company and they had missed the numbers one month of company and he had to make a presentation to the board of directors and the institutional investors and he was going to say, well he met with his coach first, it is out of my control, these people didn’t make their numbers, these people did make their numbers, I am just a CFO I just add all the numbers up. And she said if it wasn’t out of your control what about your leadership allowed them to miss their numbers and he said but but, no, no just answer the question, what about your leadership caused this to happen and when he looked at it he said, you know, I could have sent this email and I could have had a meeting here and I could have called that customer and she said as long as you believe it is out of your control it is. The minute you say what did I do to cause this you now take control of the back over and I thought that was a super powerful idea and it is one of the things leaders do to themselves in the end they help their people understand.
Gordon: Have you read the book, I can’t remember who wrote it, it is called Leadership and Self Deceits
John: Oh, yeah, that is a great book, I can’t remember who wrote it either, it is Leadership and Self Deception
Gordon: It is Arbinger Press but I can’t remember the author or whether it was just by Arbinger Press and I remember reading that book and thinking oh my god that is my fault. I shared it with everybody, I gave it to my wife and said I want you to read this book and first of all I apologies.
John: That is the favorite book of many of my mentees and a lot of my colleagues because of the mirror it holds up and whenever I go into a consulting engagement, I don’t do that much consulting anymore but the first thing I will ask the CEO is what did you do to cause this and they just look at me and say nothing. I go no, no, let me ask that question again, what did you do to cause it. If I have to ask it three times, I get to walk out and I am not, I hope nobody thinks I am arrogant or think I am better, it is just I know I can’t help, if they won’t take any personal responsibility, there is anything I can do to help them. So I better then let them go talk to someone else and get back to car to my car and go to some place where I can add value.
Gordon: I worked with a boss where the relationship was less than spectacular and I used to blame him for everything then I thought what could I do, having read that book I thought, let me assume that he is actually a really really nice guy and this is a hundred per cent down to me, what could I do to improve the relationship and as soon as I did that I realized that some of the times I was actually antagonizing him so he could criticize me so I could look at him and go see, you see what it is like. And by taking that ownership even though in my heart I didn’t believe it or I didn’t want to believe it and saying you know what, what can I do to fix this and I was able to make some small changes which improved that relationship dramatically.
John: I hope the folks that are listening to this show take what you just said to heart because that is an incredibly powerful lesson, that is a huge leadership lesson.
Gordon: And as leaders if we want all of the credit for success and we are not succeeding then we have to be accountable for all of the failures and when we accept accountability we put ourselves in a position to fix it and as you say if you don’t own the problem you can’t fix the problem.
Gordon: Okay John unfortunately we are running out of time, I would love to spend all day talking to you and I am going to insist that you come back on this show later on to share some of these gems and wisdom with us but I would just like you to, because of Awesomely Simple, give people one thing that they should take from this call today that they should go and implement now in order to become a better leader and drive better results
John: I will give two things, the first one quickly is be a lifelong learner, because if you are reading, you are studying, you are learning, you are asking for help, you are looking, you are watching, you will become a better leader, you cannot be a great leader without being a great learner. So implement as a personal kaizen. Continuous imcremental improvement. And then the last thing I will share with you is the single most important thing I have ever learned in my life, you become what you focus on and similar to the people you surround yourself with. Whatever you think about, whatever you are reading, whatever you are studying and whoever you choose to surround yourself with will in a large part determine what your life looks like a decade from now which is, and I am not sucking up to you, but which is one of the reasons I am so overjoyed to get to spend time with you, is, you know, if you surround yourself with brilliant people you are going to learn cool stuff and that is why I am glad that we are friends.
Gordon: Thank you very much John, I really appreciate that and if people want to get in touch with you they just need to go to johnspence.com.
John: And there is a lot of resources there, there is a link to my new channel, there is like twenty three videos and there is also a list there of the top sixty business books that I have ever read. So, you and I both read, I have several thousand, I try to get the top fifty or sixty that were really the most meaningful to me and those are in there so people might enjoy those.
Gordon: So thank you John, I have really loved it, thank for listening and make sure that you tune in next week because you are going to be able to learn some great stuff from the guest that we are going to have on the show. So thank you John and I really appreciate it.
John: My pleasure.