All you need is love. The Beatles put it to music but my podcast guest Steve Farber has taken those words to heart and put them into action! Steve is an advocate for extreme leadership and has built his business on the framework of love, energy, audacity and proof (LEAP), the four characteristics of an extreme leader. His book, “The Radical Leap” is one of my favorite business books of all time.

Implementing these four extreme leadership principles will drastically change the way you think about leadership. For Steve, “extreme leadership is not about your position. It’s not about your title. It’s not about what it says on your business card. It’s not about where you perch on the org chart.  It’s about your willingness and ability to step up, to change things for the better, often at the risk of personal sacrifice.” Isn’t this the kind of leader you want to be?

Follow Steve and I on the journey to becoming an extreme leader by discovering:

  • The definition of “Extreme Leadership”
  • What an extreme leader does
  • Love in the business place
  • Putting in more energy into your business than you take out
  • Why leaders need to be audacious and willing to fail
  • What agency owners can do to become more audacious
  • How a business that embraces extreme leadership looks different
  • Steve’s book “Greater Than Yourself”
  • How to become one of the greatest leaders by lifting others up
  • What agency owners can do right now to start working on the ideas from this  episode

Steve Farber is listed as one of Inc’s global Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts. He is a Leadership Pioneer, Strategist, Keynote Speaker, and Bestselling Author on Extreme Leadership. His expertise is in creating organizational cultures where leadership is not just an opportunity and obligation for those in authority, but for everyone at all levels.

Steve is the President of Extreme Leadership, Inc, and the founder of The Extreme Leadership Institute, organizations devoted to the cultivation and development of Extreme Leaders around the world. His accessible, deeply inspirational, and eminently practical Radical LEAP framework is widely used across the business, non-profit and education spectrum. He has been credited with redefining leadership in deeply personal yet practical terms and re-energizing thousands of people to make a significant difference in their businesses, lives, and the world around them.

His third book, “Greater Than Yourself,” was a Wall Street Journal® and USA Today® bestseller. His second book, “The Radical Edge,” was hailed as a playbook for harnessing the power of the human spirit. And his first book, “The Radical Leap,” is already considered a classic in the leadership field. It received Fast Company magazine’s Readers Choice Award and was recently named one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://www.agencymanagementinstitute.com/steve-farber/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.  

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:

Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)

  1. Defining Extreme Leadership
  2. Extreme Leadership Principle #1: Cultivating “Love” in Your Business
  3. Extreme Leadership Principle #2: Infusing Energy into Agency Culture
  4. Extreme Leadership Principle #3: Inspire Audacity
  5. Extreme Leadership Principle #4: Proof that it Works
  6. Action Steps for Becoming an Extreme Leader

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits, too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25-plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew: Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. And I cannot tell you how excited I am about today’s guest. So I think one of the biggest crises that is facing agency owners today and agency leaders is the whole idea of leadership. Many of us are what I call accidental owners. We were working in an agency or we were on the client side and for whatever reason we found ourselves out on our own, either by our own choice or by downsizing.  

And all of a sudden we sort of hang up a shingle and we’re doing some freelance work, and next thing you know, you’ve got five employees and you’re looking around going, “I don’t remember how this happened, but oh crap, I own an agency. And now all of a sudden I have to lead these people. I have to have a vision. I have to take them somewhere.”  

So whether you started your agency that way or whether you were more intentional about it, the reality is that most of us grew up learning how to be good agency people and not necessarily learning how to be great leaders. Some of us were probably fortunate enough that we had a mentor or two that modeled great leadership. But it’s really a critical issue in agencies today, especially, as we have some of the generational issues that we have and the pace is so fast, and the learning curve is so high. It really does demand that you’re a different kind of leader. Oh, and by the way, we have to lead creative people, who like to march to their own beat, thank you very much.  

So how do you learn how to be a great leader, and how do you embrace that idea? That’s why today’s guest is so exciting for me to have with us. So, today’s guest is a guy named Steve Farber. And Steve Farber has written a couple books, one is called “The Radical Leap” and the other is called “Greater Than Yourself”. And Steve talks about this idea that you shouldn’t just be a leader, you should be an extreme leader, and we’re gonna dig into that. But I want you to hear his message, because Steve talks about leadership in a way that I have not heard anyone else talk about it.  

When I read “The Radical Leap”, back in the early, early days of me being an agency owner, it was half a breath of fresh air, like no one had talked about leadership this way. And it was half a relief that somebody was talking about leadership in a way that made sense to me and that I had sort of intrinsically and just sort of instinctively been leading. And I still contend to this day that “The Radical Leap” by Steve Farber is one of the top five business books that I have ever read. I recommend it to everyone that I meet.  

And I just love the way Steve thinks about leadership, the way he talks about it, because he talks about it in a pretty risky way that uses the L word like love and he talks about being audacious. These are big concepts around leadership that I think agency owners are perfectly suited to step into.  

I think more than any other career, we are the men and women who can be extreme leaders. We work in environments that welcome that sort of leadership, we just have to step into it and own. And that is why I am super excited for us to have today’s guest with us. As you all know, Steve Farber is one of Inc’s global Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts. I’m hoping all of you are familiar with his books. Many of you know that when I’m asked what I think is the finest business book written, I will tell you that I believe it is “The Radical Leap” by Steve Farber.  

So let me tell you a little bit more about him. Steve is a leadership pioneer, strategist, keynote speaker and best-selling author on Extreme Leadership and we will ask him what that means in a minute. His expertise is in creating organizational cultures where leadership is not just an opportunity and an obligation for those in authority, but for everyone at all levels. I think that’s vital to agencies of all sizes, but particularly small to mid-sized agencies. Everybody’s got to step up and behave like they own the joint.  

Steve is the President of Extreme Leadership Inc, and the founder of The Extreme Leadership Institute, organizations devoted to the cultivation and development of extreme leaders around the world. His accessible, deeply inspirational, and eminently practical radical leap framework is widely used across the business, nonprofit and education spectrum. He has written bestselling books. He is considered one of the top leaders in this world in terms of leadership.  

His book “Radical Leap” received Fast Company Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award and was recently named one of the 100 best business books of all time. He has hit the bestsellers list with some of his other books as well, and organizations of all sizes and shapes hire Steve to help them do everything from deliver keynote speeches to coming in and really working hands on with their whole organization to bring extreme leadership to life.  

So, Steve, welcome to the podcast, thanks for joining us.  

Steve: Thanks, Drew. I’m really happy to be here.

 

Defining Extreme Leadership

Drew: So, let’s talk about extreme leadership, how do you define that for someone so they can understand when they see it and when they don’t?  

Steve: Yeah, you know, leadership is one of those subjects where you can find a thousand definitions from any number of people about what it is, and extreme leadership just adds, seems to add another wrinkle to the whole thing. To me, and by the way, I think this is entirely open to interpretation, but to me really what I’m trying to say is that leadership is extreme, that leadership is not about your position. It’s not about your title. It’s not about what it says on your business card. It’s not about where you perch on the org chart.  It’s about your willingness and ability to step up, to change things for the better, often at the risk of personal sacrifice.  

So, leadership should feel extreme. If it doesn’t feel extreme, you’re not really leading. To say it another way, extreme leadership is really real leadership. If it’s not extreme, you’re not really leading.  

Drew: And in the book “Radical Leap”, you articulate four characteristics if you will, of an extreme leader, can you just spell those out for anybody who has not yet wisely read the book?  

Steve: Yeah. So hearing that kind of overall definition of extreme leadership, the next question is, well, what does an extreme leader do exactly?  

And they take a radical leap, and LEAP is the framework of extreme leadership that stands for love, energy, audacity and proof. So the extreme leader is a person who cultivates love, generates energy, inspires audacity, and proves themselves day in, day out in order to change their piece of the world for the better.  

Drew: And how does somebody get to the point where…are some people just naturally extreme leaders and it takes no effort or diligence or purposefulness, or is this something that even great leaders have to work on to become that level of leader?  

Steve: Yeah, you know, that’s a great question. And it’s a valid question for leadership of any ilk, right? That question has been around for a long time in some form. Are leaders born or are they made? And to the question, are leaders born? I would say. I’ve never yet met one that’s not.  

So, yes, but that doesn’t mean that…  

Drew: But perhaps it takes more than that.  

Steve: Perhaps there’s more to it than just that first breath as it were. So, I think extreme leadership, leadership, management, mathematics, music, athleticism, some people are born with it and some people have to work at it. I think extreme leadership is really very much the same way. I mean, there are some people that are that are naturally inclined to it. Like for example, I’ve met a lot of people, I think you’re one, Drew, that have read “The Radical Leap” or any of my books, and really connected with it because it articulated who they already are and what they already do.  They just didn’t really have the language to describe it, to articulate it.  

So, a lot of people that have begun to call themselves extreme leaders, they already were before they even heard the term, right. So there are people out there…it’s just a confirmation for them that, “Oh, yeah, what I’m doing is right and it does make a difference and I’m not crazy.” Some of them are.  

Drew: Sure, they’re not mutually exclusive, right?  

Steve: But, you know, I’m not crazy in this…Yeah, that’s right, not necessarily. But, anybody who has the desire, the desire to become a better leader, to become an extreme leader can get better at it with work.  With perspective, with feedback, with trial and error, which means being willing to try new things and fail on the process and learn from the mistakes, we can all get better at it. It doesn’t mean we all have the capacity to be Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, etc. But we all can get better at it, and some of us can get really extraordinary at it, if we put our attention on it.  

Drew: Yeah. So I think one of the words…  

Steve: But the key there Drew is that desire to do it. There are some people that…

Drew: Yeah.  

Steve: Yeah, go ahead.  

Drew: Well, and the desire, I think, to keep getting better at it. So, you’re right. When I you’re your book I was like, “Oh my God, finally. This is how I’ve been leading.” But I’ve always thought I was a little bassackwards about how I was leading because I’d…you know, you talk about love in the business place and people get all wonked out about and I wanna talk about that in a minute. But I think regardless of where you start on the spectrum, you can always be better, and I think that’s part of it too.  It’s not just that I’m willing to do it but I recognize that this is a lifelong skill that I can keep sharpening that saw.  

Steve: Yeah, exactly. And it does come down to the desire to do it. If somebody really has no desire to play the guitar, for example, you can keep sticking the guitar in their hands, you can say, “Okay, you’re gonna practice for the next hour,” but they’re just never going to get better at it. So, extreme leadership, it’s the same way, if the desire is there and you’re willing to put the work in, and you have the right perspective and the right coaching and the right feedback, you can get really, really good at this.

 

Extreme Leadership Principle #1: Cultivating Love in Your Business

Drew: Yeah. So, I am sure when you lay out that framework for people or when people respond to you in terms of reading the book or going to one of your workshops, I have to think a lot of people stumble on the word love being associated with a business behavior. Can you talk about that a little bit?  

Steve: Yeah. We’re not accustomed to using the word love and business in the same sentence. And it does make some people very uncomfortable, makes some people squirm. But it’s interesting, not as much as you would think. For some of us, maybe even for most of us, we’ve bought into a stereotype about business. That business is a purely rational, you know, it’s not personal fitness, right, that kind of mentality. It’s purely a rational thing. Emotion has no place in it.  

Emotion and love and happiness and joy, they have a place in every aspect of our lives, right? We wanna love our spouse or significant other. We want him or her to love us. We wanna love our kids. We want them to love us. We wanna love our family and friends. We want them to love us. And then we go to work and it no longer applies because it’s business? It doesn’t make any sense.  

It’s just something that we’ve been conditioned to believe. So, I think, when you hear it in the context of business, it makes perfect sense. So let me put it this way, this is the short form of the case, the argument, if that’s the right word, for love as a hardcore business principle. If you think about it from your agency perspective for a moment, do you want your clients at your agency to be satisfied with the work you do for them, or do you want them to love it?  

And I would hope that, you know, as a business person, the answer is you want them to love it, and it’s a really simple reason, just from a purely business perspective. There’s no correlation between a satisfactory experience in a repeat business. If your client says, “Yeah, you guys are okay,” there’s no loyalty there.  They’re out the door as soon as they find somebody that blows their mind, right? So we want our clients to love us. Let’s agree on that principle.  

Now, the next step is, if that’s true, the only way that we can really create an experience, that combination of product and service that our clients are gonna love, is by creating an environment that people love working in, a culture that people love working in. Because if I hate working here, it’s very difficult to make my client love what I’m doing for them. So, we wanna create the culture that people love working in, and the only way to do that in any significant way is if I, as a leader or as a principal or as a partner or as anybody really in this firm, in this agency, I’ve got to love to work myself first.  Because if I don’t love it, how can I create the culture that people love working in, and how is that gonna create an experience that clients are gonna love?  

So that’s the business case for it. Once you understand that, then it’s like, “Well, wait a minute, maybe love isn’t California, touchy, feely, hoo-ha crap after all.” Maybe there is a bottom-line result from this thing that we’ve always considered, as business people considered to be soft and abstract.  

Drew: Yup. And out of all of your work, you have a mantra round that. Tell the listeners what that is.  

Steve: So, to summarize it, I put it in the whole context, is do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. So, there are three distinct elements there, doing what you love is the foundation for it, right? But it’s not the whole story. You could argue that criminals are doing what they love too. It doesn’t do any of us any good.  

So it’s doing what you love but in the service of people. That’s the context, so that’s both the moral and ethical context but it’s also the business context. So I’m doing what I love and I’m using that fire to create an experience, products, service, etc that’s going to serve your needs in a really significant way. And that’s the key, in a really significant way. So I’m not serving you because I know I’m supposed to as a business person, but I’m serving you in such a significant way that the impact will be that you love me in return. Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do is, yes, the extreme leader’s credo or mantra.  And I think it’s really just a great framework, again, through which to look at the way we do business.  

Drew: Yeah. So, there are a lot of listeners, a lot of owners listening to us and they equate love with coming in the office and hugging everybody, and they equate it with sort of the broader definition of love. When you talk about love in the business place, what does that look like?  

Steve: Yeah, there’re probably a thousand ways for it to be expressed. But you know what, hugging is not excluded from that list necessarily.  

Drew: Sure, no.  

Steve: It’s not the whole thing certainly. It’s really funny when I go and I work with companies and I introduced this idea. Let’s say I’m doing a keynote in a workshop and that kind of a thing.  I’s always funny on the breaks, I’ll see guys like you know getting around this, they go like, “Ah, yeah, I love you man. Yeah, I love you man.”  

Because like nudge, nudge, wink, wink, “I love you man,” and then it’s like, “Hey, this is my favorite interaction that I had.” And I’ve seen them more than once, they’re like, “I love you man. No, really but really I do love you.”  

Drew: Yeah, right.  

Steve: So, sometimes by giving people permission to use the word and to express affection. Now, of course, any human resources person, will…you know, their skin starts to crawl when they hear that kind of talk. So you have obviously…

Drew: There is a dotted line, right?  

Steve: Yeah, of course there is, and then it’s common sense for gosh sakes.  

You know, but that’s not the whole story. So love can look like…if you look, like a lot of things, very simply, do the people that work with you and for you and around you in your agency, do they know how much you appreciate their talent and their hard work and the fact that they work 20-hour days in order to get that pitch ready for that client? Do they know that you appreciate them? By writing a personal note or giving them a little gift or taking them out to lunch, that’s really an expression of love.  

Drew: Or just stopping and saying thank you.  

Steve: Just stopping and saying thank you, it goes a long way. And, if you really wanna use this, leverage it as a practice to change the way you do business, what you can do is do a little brainstorming session with your team.  Let’s take client A, how are we gonna show client A, in ways that we haven’t before, that we really love them?  That we love that they’re trusting their marketing to us for example. We love that we have such a great partnership. How can we show them that in ways that we haven’t before? You guys are creative, and figure out a way that you can do that. Because the biggest…and it will change the way you do business.  

Drew: I think you know..  

Steve: The biggest mistake that people make…Go ahead.  

Drew: No, I was gonna say, as you know, we created in my agency, so not on my AMI site, but on my agency site, we created “Who Loves You Baby Day” and we send gifts and love notes to all of our clients annually every year on Valentine’s Day. And we get amazing letters back, and we just write them a letter just basically saying why we think they’re a great client and how much we enjoy working with them. And we have some clients that have been around for a decade and they look forward to that every year. And it’s never a big thing, a lot of times it’s a box of chocolates or something sort of Valentine-y. But it’s just our way of saying of saying, “We appreciate you.”  

Steve: Yeah, that’s great. And I would say the caveat here, Drew, is that it has to be authentic, right?  

Drew: Yeah, absolutely.  

Steve: When you say that we’re telling them why we appreciate them as a client and it’s not a formal letter, I’m assuming. It’s different for each client.  

Drew: Right, right, no, right.  

Steve: You know what? I think it would be fun…

Drew: You’re not putting smoke up their skirt.  

Steve: Yeah, right, exactly. But what would be fun, I mean, given your listenership, the agency world, which is particularly an exceptionally creative group of folks, it’d be kind of fun to have a contest. See who can come up with the most creative idea that they…to show their clients how much they love them.  

Drew: Yeah, yeah, I agree.  

Steve: Because again, it’s a business practice. It’s not a frivolous activity. It’s a way to deepen a relationship with your client and so that they would never even consider going anywhere else.  

Drew: Yeah. And I just wanna touch on this then I wanna get to some other things, we can talk about each aspect of the framework, I know, forever. But infusing love into your leadership model does not mean you don’t sometimes have to do difficult things like layoffs or reprimands or mentoring, coaching when somebody has dropped the ball, right?  

Steve: Oh yeah, absolutely. There’s such a thing as tough love also. You know you can love somebody and fire them. And the fact of the matter is…listen, I don’t love everybody I meet.  I don’t love everybody that I’ve ever worked with. My personal bias is to want to do that, but it doesn’t always work out that way, and there are people that I choose not to work with because, you know, for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s because I don’t trust their integrity, but oftentimes just because it’s just not working. And if it’s not working, what’s the point of continuing the misery? So, tough love can show itself in a lot of ways.  You can you liberate somebody to use their talents elsewhere, where they’ll be more appreciated. You could give somebody really tough feedback.  

And if you’re coming from a place of a perspective that says, “I’m giving you this feedback because I really wanna help you get better,” that’s a very loving thing to do. Listen, sometimes people misinterpret this and they think, “All right, what I’m suggesting is, if you wanna create an environment that people love working in that we have to strive to create a place where everybody’s happy all the time and nobody ever argues and every so often you just stop the action, have a big group hug in the hallway and…I mean, honestly, that sounds nauseating to me. I wouldn’t wanna work at a place like that.  

In my experience, environments that are really based on love, in other words, another way of saying it is mutual care and concern for one another’s hopes, needs, dreams, and aspirations, including those of our clients. Those kind of places tend to have more debate.  They tend to be…they can be a bit contentious at times because the standards are so high. This isn’t about lowering standards to make everybody feel better. It’s about raising standards because we love this place so much that we won’t tolerate substandard, subpar work, behavior, relationships, and that kind of a thing.  

Drew: Yeah, I knew this was gonna be a great conversation, and you are delivering it so far. I wanna take a quick second and pause, because lots of our listeners have been asking how they can learn more either through our workshops or some of the other things that AMI offers. So I wanna take a quick minute and answer that question and then we will get right back into this conversation.  

Podcasts are great way to learn and a great way to educate your staff. Another great way our live workshops and AMI offers many of them throughout the year. If you’d like to check out the schedule, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/live. Okay, let’s get back to the show.

 

Extreme Leadership Principle #2: Infusing Energy into Agency Culture

So let’s dig into the other pieces in the framework. So talk about the energy piece for a second.  

Steve: Yeah. So, energy has a lot of synonyms to it: energy, excitement, enthusiasm. I think engagement is another term that we’re fond of using nowadays, I think, for all the right reasons, can be synonymous with energy. It’s that juice that you feel. It’s what propels you out of bed in the morning. You know those days when you jump out of bed, you know, those days when you fall out of bed, it’s a very different experience, and you know when you’re around energetic people and when you’re not. So, the extreme leader generates energy. So the question there is: are you putting more energy into the environment than you’re taking out? Because there are people that are the opposite. They’re the energy vampires. They suck the life out of place.  

So our job is to put more energy in than we’re taking out, and it’s a tangible, palpable thing. You know, I’m sure when you travel around and you’re going to these different agencies around the country. The minute you walk into an office, oftentimes, you could tell the place is cool, you could tell if it’s interesting, if exciting, if it’s energetic, or sometimes it feels like a morgue.  And it shouldn’t, it shouldn’t feel like a morgue, unless it’s a morgue, I suppose that’s okay.  

But you can even argue that if you wanted to, I suppose. So we wanna put more energy in than we’re taking out.  

Drew: So, I think for a lot of agency owners they feel like they do that, but sometimes it feels like that burden is on their shoulders alone. Or when they’re trying to infuse energy and excitement or playfulness into the culture, it sort of feels like a mandate rather because the boss is doing it. How should our listeners encourage and support and mentor their employees to infuse energy into the place?  

Steve: Well, I think one of the things…That’s a great question. There are a number of ways to do it. One is, by taking a very critical look at how you do business and see if you can identify the way that you’re working: systems, policies, procedures, etc., that are sucking the life out, the “energy suckers” as I like to call them.  Are there hoops that you’re making people jump through, that you really shouldn’t? And it’s just bringing them down, that if you were to remove those things the energy would pick up naturally, people’s enthusiasm would increase naturally. And just about every place of business has at least a small handful of those things.  

So that’s one thing. The other is, it really goes back to cultivate love. Love generates energy. Love is really the foundation that runs through the whole framework. Love generates energy and inspires audacity and requires proof. It’s another way of thinking of the framework. So, a lot of it goes to point number one, cultivate love. So if people in your agency seem to have run out of steam, oftentimes, it’s because they feel underappreciated.  They don’t feel love, or their work seems to them to be meaningless, or it’s become boring or mundane. And oftentimes that is because they’ve lost sight of why their work is important. So to really remind people that the work they do makes a contribution, that the work they do is really meaningful, and that the work we do together is really changing our clients’ lives.  

Drew: I think one of the places where agency owners sometimes trip up in this is when their employees try to infuse energy. Because the agency owners are so busy, a lot of times they don’t participate or whatever, and the employees read that as disapproval. So, I think that the other thing that owners need to do is sometimes we have to take a minute or two to play or participate in whatever is infusing energy into the staff, because otherwise they think they shouldn’t do it again.  

Steve: Oh yeah, and that’s really…we’re kind of skipping ahead to proof. I say skipping ahead, this is for the sake of conversation, all these things