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!)
- Defining Extreme Leadership
- Extreme Leadership Principle #1: Cultivating “Love” in Your Business
- Extreme Leadership Principle #2: Infusing Energy into Agency Culture
- Extreme Leadership Principle #3: Inspire Audacity
- Extreme Leadership Principle #4: Proof that it Works
- 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…
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 really happen simultaneously. But the proof is, another way of saying it, is leading by example. If you get into a situation where it’s like, “Yeah, this will be a fun thing to do for the agency, let’s…because you people need it. I don’t have to participate in it, you people need this.” It’s really about jumping in with both feet and being a part of the team, and do the best you can to organize your schedule. And when you’re doing those kind of activities and team building or social gatherings or whatever it is, organize it around your schedule so that you’re in town and then be there. You gotta spend time with people.
One of my mentors, Tom Peters was one of the guys who coined the phrase “Management by walking around.” And you have to…it’s even more relevant today than it was way back in the ‘80s when we first started using that language because we can separate ourselves so easily with technology. We could be sitting in the next cube over and communicating through email.
Drew: Right, with headphones on.
Steve: It’s crazy. So that personal connection is so important and this is not about…you can’t you can’t delegate this, you can’t delegate any of this stuff to somebody else and say, “Okay, now you go create this culture.” If you are the leader you’ve got to be right in there.
Extreme Leadership Principle #3: Inspire Audacity
Drew: Yeah, yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about audacity because I know that that’s one that a lot of the owners stumble around with a little bit, that that’s a tough one for them. So define it for us and give us a couple of examples, so we can wrap our head around it.
Steve: Yeah, and it is it is a tough one for a lot of people. I define audacity, as it relates to extreme leadership, as a bold and blatant disregard for normal constraints in order to change the world for the better. So, first of all, by world I mean small W world, just as much as I mean capital W World. So changing the world of your clients, of your agency, of your employees, etc, so you define what world is. But a bold and blatant disregard for normal constraints is not think outside the box, it’s more like, what box? It’s a box-free mindset in order to change things for the better. So, if you rethink that through, to be audacious, to be a world changer, means you have to be willing to stick your neck out, you have to be willing to take risk. And if you’re willing to take a risk, by definition, that means you’re willing to fail, and most of us don’t like to fail.
Drew: Especially in front of our employees.
Steve: Especially in front of our employees. And of course the irony in that is that if you fall in the general category of human being, you’re already failing, because it’s part of the human condition. We all screw up every day. You screw up every day and everybody already knows it because everybody else is screwing up too.
Now, there are different degrees of screw ups, and there are kind of screw ups that can sink your business, that’s not what we’re talking about here. There are…it’s the screw ups, the mistakes, the slips and falls that come through the act of trying to change things for the better, through the act of being innovative. And it is tough because for one thing it’s relative. There are some people that being interviewed on a podcast is a terrifying thing, and for other people, and I would put myself in this category, I love this. I could do this all day long. Not that people would listen all day long but I can do it all day long. So, it’s a relative thing.
And a while back, I did a survey of my community, the Extreme Leadership Community through my speeches and my email list and all that. I just asked people, “Out of those four elements of LEAP, what do you feel you need the most help with?” And audacity came out on top by a factor of three to one. So it is tough, but at the same time, I think it is, it’s a learned behavior. You start small and really what it starts with is understanding that fear is good in the right context.
We tend to interpret fear as a sign that they were doing something wrong or something is bad, and it’s the fight or flight, they want to run away, and sometimes fear is that, that’s what can save our life sometimes. But in the right context fear is actually a sign that you’re doing something right, or at the very least, that you’re doing something. And it’s a matter of looking at it and saying, “Oh, okay, that’s a natural thing, maybe I should do more of that not less of it.”
Drew: And you know, our industry is changing so dramatically. And things that agency owners would have never fathomed, whether it’s remote employees or full of digital realm that we’re all deep in now, that audacity is almost a prerequisite for being a successful, financially successful, long-term, sustainable agency owner. But I think most agency owners get so busy doing the day-to-day that sometimes they forget that they have to push themselves out of their own comfort zone.
Steve: Yeah, we’re all in the same boat, agency or no. Another of my mentors, Barry Posner, I don’t think these were originally his words, I think he was actually quoting one of his clients, but it really stuck with me. He said, he’s talking about this complex, fast moving time that we live in. He said, “If you are not confused these days, you don’t know what’s going on.”
Drew: Yeah, ain’t that the truth. Yup.
Steve: That’s the state of the world we live in.
Drew: So for owners that are listening that want to be, that want to infuse more audacity into their leadership style, you said start small. What are some things they can do to reframe the way they think so that it even occurs to them to be a little bit more bold and brazen?
Steve: Yeah, I would suggest that you start by pursuing the OS!M. And that OS!M is spelled capital O, capital S, exclamation point, capital M, which of course stands for the Oh-Shit! moment. So the pursuit of the OS!M is the way that we keep ourselves audacious and keep ourselves growing. So what I mean by that is, find something that you wanna do, that you feel you should do, it’ll all be good for you, intellectually, it all makes sense.
I’ll just pick something that scares a lot of people, public speaking scares a lot of people. So, maybe it’s participating on a panel at a conference, right? You have something to contribute, you’ve been asked to do it. You haven’t done it because you’re scared to. And that’s the only reason you haven’t done it, is because you’re scared to. Start with that, do that. Do that, pursue that OS!M.
So, you just have to imagine being up in front of that room at that conference, sitting behind the table with three or four other people and your palm starts sweating, just know, “Oh, that’s the OS!M. Oh, that’s a good thing.”
That’s an indicator that you’re about to do something that really has extraordinary potential for you. So, start with picking OS!M like that. So another way of thinking about it is, if there’s something you’ve been wanting to do or you feel you should do but you haven’t done it, and if you ask yourself, “Why haven’t I done it?” And the honest answer that you give yourself is, “Because I’m scared to,” then that’s the reason to do it. The only reason you can think of to not do something is because it scares you and that’s the reason to do it.
So, start with that and really what happens, what you find is that the OS!M is a relative thing. And today’s OS!M is tomorrow’s walk in the park for a lot of people, you’ve just got to do it more. And then you say, “All right, well, this doesn’t scare just seating behind a table in a panel discussion, not a problem. That used to scare the hell out of me, now I’m good with it, what’s next?”
Drew: Right. The keynote is next or whatever, right?
Steve: Yeah, that’s right, what’s next? Or maybe it’s having that difficult conversation with one of my employees. That’s something that scares the vast majority of us. We don’t wanna do it, we know we have to, we know we should, we know they need it, but we’re not doing it because it makes us really uncomfortable. Well, is that why you’re not doing it, because it makes you uncomfortable? Okay, then that’s the reason to do it.
So, you just start with that kind of mindset and really it’s a little bit of a game that we play with ourselves. What we’re doing is we’re reinterpreting, we’re reframing to use the old pop psychology term “the experience of fear,” we’re turning it around into a positive thing as opposed to a negative thing.
Extreme Leadership Principle #4: Proof that it Works
Drew: I know you work with lots of organizations, I know you work with for profit, not-for-profit, big, small, all of that, and so I’m assuming you walk in and they’re an average business, and by the time you’re done working with them they have really embraced extreme leadership in their practices and policies and how they interact with each other. How does that business look different? If I walked into a business or if I interacted with the business, and if I looked at their books, by the way, how would they be different than a regular, old business?
Steve: Well, first of all, thank you for setting it up that way. But I have to say that is not always the case. I wish I had a magic wand that said every time I walk in and I give a speech for example, that cultures are transformed. It takes a lot of work. Keep in mind a lot of the work that I do nowadays is I’ll give a keynote. So I’ll go to a company or an association meeting, and I come in and I present extreme leadership for an hour and a half, maybe I do a half a day thing where we talk about it a little bit more and then I hope on a plane and I’d say, “See you later.” That can really embed some great ideas, that can blossom into something later on, but it’s as simple as that, so it’s it takes a lot of work.
Now, assuming that an agency or a company is willing to do the work, what should happen is we should see significant changes in everything from employee SAT numbers, engagement numbers, whatever. People should say, “I relate them into greater retention, reduced turnover.” It’s should be easier to recruit people, to recruit talent because of the reputation your agency has. The greatest way to recruit talent is the turn people loose in your office and say, “Go ahead, talk to people, see what they say about this place.” Do you have that kind of trust where you can do that? Then that’s a pretty good indicator in and of itself. So you should see greater retention of talent, greater ability to recruit talent.
And on the customer side you should see greater retention of customers and you should be able to measure it, however you measure your client response. So are you doing surveys are you? Are you doing the…what’s… the term is escaping me right now. You know 1 to 10, would you recommend this place to your friends, you know that whole line of thinking.
However you measure client response and retention, it should improve. And subjectively, you should feel a difference, you should feel a difference over time when you walk into the place and your prospective clients should feel a difference. They should feel something tangible when they walk through the doors, in terms of the way they’re greeted and just the vibe of the place and the smoothness of communication with people, all of that should be affected by it. Again, if you have an environment, the culture where our biases that we strive to make this a place that people love working in and people love doing business with us, all that stuff is gonna fall out naturally.
Drew: Well, I as you know go into a lot of agencies, and one of the things that I see is, when the whole place embraces this idea, whether they’re familiar with the term or not, they behave the way you’re describing. They also are able to not only retain their clients longer but charge a premium because they are so loved, and what they deliver is so loved that people are happy paying a higher price for it.
Steve: Absolutely, absolutely. And one of the reasons for that is that the quality of the work is that much greater. And you should see an impact there. When people love the environment they’re working in, they bring a lot more of themselves to bear on the work. A lot more their creativity in a problem solving skills and because they wanna do what they love in the service of people who love what they do. They wanna see their clients be ridiculously successful as a result of the work that they’re doing for them. So, you should be able to measure quality of work as well. And yes, all that stuff here translates into a bigger bottom-line.
Drew: So as you know, this is a topic that I have great passion around and I could talk about forever, but I would be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about “Greater Than Yourself” because I think, at the end of the day, that book is why you do all of these other things. So can you just set up the premise of that book for everybody so they understand, sort of, at the end of the day, this is how you measure life’s worth, right?
Steve: Yeah, I believe so. So “Greater Than Yourself” is the title of my third book and Penguin Random House is going to re-release it or has re-released it, depending on when you’re listening to this podcast, at the beginning of 2017, which I’m really excited about. It’s a simple premise, but very challenging. The premise of “Greater Than Yourself” is, and it presents a bit of a paradox, is that the greatest leaders become the greatest leaders by making others greater than themselves.
So, the greatest leaders don’t shine the spotlight on themselves, they don’t try to take all the credit. They invest their energy, they invest their heart in raising other people up so that by the time we’re done working together you’re better at this than I am. They’re the ones who crank out superstar after superstar. They have a reputation on the street for being the kind of person that creates the next generation of leaders. It’s mentoring on steroids, if you want to look at it that way.
And I really see “Greater Than Yourself” or GTY as I call it for short, as a very powerful application of LEAP. So if you consider LEAP for a moment to be an operating system, “Greater Than Yourself” is an application of that, because it’s love, energy, audacity, and proof wrapped into this practice.
So the idea simply is this, start out, and this is a good thing for folks listening to this podcast to begin to consider right now. Is there anybody in your world, in your business world and beyond that you can take on as your GTY, “Greater Than Yourself” project? Now, let’s acknowledge that some people don’t like being called a project, I understand that. But for the sake of conversation, I like the term project because it implies that there’s a beginning and an end and a measurable output that we’re after.
So somebody that you can take on as your GTY project, in other words you’re gonna invest yourself in that person to such a degree that you’re gonna raise that person up above yourself. And maybe it’s the obvious successor in your agency or maybe it’s just somebody that you look at them and you see they have this incredible potential, and you can really help them live up to it in ways that surpass what they even think they’re capable of. But I don’t wanna put any boundaries around it, and it doesn’t matter what the reporting relationship is. It could be a peer, colleagues, it could be your boss, it could be somebody that works for you, it doesn’t matter. Inside work, outside work, just start somewhere. Start with one person because once you have the experience of what that’s like, what that feels like to lift somebody else up, you’re gonna want to do that for more and more people. So it’s my subversive way of getting all of us to do this for as many people as possible by just starting with one person.
Drew: Yeah, in a lot of ways that’s on the AMI side of my world. I get to do that every day. I get to coach and support and encourage and cheerlead for agency owners, and teach them everything I learn from all the others so that they can bring it together and build a great life for themselves and their employees and their clients. And so in a lot of ways, not in the same way you’re talking about where I pick one person, but an aspect of my work is I get to do that every day and it’s awesome.
Steve: Yeah, it is great. And that’s why people like you and me and other folks that do speeches and training, and consulting, and coaching and all that are very fortunate because that’s our job description. But imagine if that were the norm in every agency and every business. Where the norm is that what we do around here is we strive to make each other phenomenally great. And we do that by sharing knowledge, by encouraging each other, by sharing context, by introducing…closing the gap between people who don’t know each other, that should know each other. There’s lots of ways to do it.
But imagine, if that was the way we did business as opposed to the classic zero-sum game mentality that says, “The way that I’m gonna succeed is by making sure that you’re not as successful as I am or maybe that even, you know, you fail, so I can step on your shoulders and boost myself up,” just imagine that shift and what that would look like, and how that would change the landscape of what it means to go to work every day. And you see, I mean, that this is an application of cultivating love, because that brings us right back around to an environment that people would absolutely adore working in.
Action Steps for Becoming an Extreme Leader
Drew: Yeah, it all makes sense when we talk about it this way, but as you said, several times it’s harder to do than it is to talk about. So, if people have been listening and we’ve got them a little fired up beyond reading your book, which I highly recommend as often as I can, and listeners I will tell you that it is one of the very few books that I read at least once a year to keep myself focused on the kind of leader that I wanna be, so I highly recommend you go grab “Radical Leap” and all of Steve’s books.
But if somebody is fired up and they want to start working on being a more extreme leader today, right now in their office or in their car or on their treadmill or wherever they’re listening to us, what are some things they can do, some DIY things that they can do to begin that process?
Steve: Yeah, I’m gonna give a little bit of a prescription, and it’s not…I’m not the kind of person that likes to give prescriptions because you’re the expert on your business. The agency owner is the expert on his or her business, I am not. I have a broad base. I work with a lot of different businesses. How to run an agency, marketing agency, advertising agency, etc, I have…that’s not my thing, that’s yours.
So having said that, the prescription that I would offer is this, and at first it might sound a little bit simplistic but it’s not, it’s significant. The place to start is to just stop for a few minutes, however long it takes and ask yourself this question, “Why do I love this work?” Why do I love this work is the part one? And part two is, how do I show it?
And you can ask that question any number of ways. You can say, “Why do I love this work?” You could say, “Why do I love this agency?” You can focus on your colleagues. You can focus on your employees, “Why do I love my employees?” “Why do I love my clients?” like we were talking about earlier, and how do I show it? But start with you, “Why do I love this work, generically speaking, and how do I show it?” And, I’m the first to admit that some days that question is easier to answer than other days, right?
Some days it’s not a problem, you arrive at work in the morning, you throw open the doors, you think, “Why do I love this work? Let me count the ways,” And you can write a love sonnet to everybody on your team, and it’s just glorious. But then there are other days where let’s just say it’s a bit more of a stretch, right? The question doesn’t even come up the same way, it’s not, “Why do I love this work?” It’s more like, “Why the hell did I sign up for this?”
Drew: Right, right.
Steve: “I wanna teach school. I wanna go back to bed. I wanna deliver pizzas. I don’t want to do this,” we’ve all had those days. The more difficult it is to answer that question, the more important it is to answer that question. Because that question is designed to help you stoke your own fire, flip your own switch. It’s designed to help you inspire yourself. If you’re really gonna cultivate love, generate energy, inspire audacity and provide proof, you have to light the fires in your own heart first. So, that very simple question can be very challenging for a lot of people.
And for some, there are gonna be some people, some of you are…you’ll, when you think about it you’ll say, “Well, jeez, when I first started in this business, when I first started this agency, I loved coming to work, and I just don’t anymore.” So where did you lose that spark along the way? So in other words, this question can take you down any number of paths. You’ll find yourself reflecting on your career and how you got to where you are today. You’ll find yourself thinking about the kind of future that you want to create for you and yours. Let it take you wherever it takes you, and the answer is yours and yours alone, I will say that, but there’s a great value in sharing that with people as well.
So once you have an answer for yourself, consider at your next staff meeting telling people, “You know what, here’s why I love this business. This is why I do this every day,” and then ask them to think about that answer for themselves as well. That’s a great starting place and particularly for somebody who’s used to, “Okay, let me give you something to do. All right, let me give you a list of tasks.” I’m not gonna give you a list of tasks. That is a very powerful question that it will take you wherever it is that you need to go.
Drew: Yeah, as I’m listening to you talk I’m thinking, “What a great conversation to…,” I’m a big proponent of having one-on-one meetings with your team, what a great conversation to have with your teammates, in their one-on-one, saying, “Okay, we’re meeting this week, I’m gonna pose the question when you come back next week, I can’t wait to hear your answer, why do you love this work?” It would be a great way to connect and to learn more and to really know…I think one of the challenges in today’s agency environment, as you know you’ve got multigenerational workforce, and how do I motivate all of them? And by asking them what they love about their work so you can allow them to do more of what they love, what a great way to reward them for being a part of the team and contributing and all of that?
Steve: Absolutely. And the caveat that I would offer to that, kind of a nuance is, you don’t wanna set it up in a way that there’s a right answer. So in other words, let’s say the answer to that question is, “Well, I don’t.” That’s really good information to have. Not information to have in terms of judging the person but information to have in terms of, “Well, why don’t you?” And getting in the way and maybe that will reveal one of the energy suckers that we were talking about earlier, right? So be open to whatever answer they have and give them time to think about it certainly.
And another way of phrasing it which might be a little bit easier for people is, “Why do I love my work?” is a very big question. To focus it in a little bit more and maybe make it a little more manageable is to say, is to phrase the question as, “What do I love about my work?” And it is…it’s a subtle difference but it really creates a different kind of a process in the brain, in the heart when you try to answer it.
Drew: Yeah. First, of all I’ve already made a mental note that I need to ask you back because I barely scratched the surface of the things that I wanna talk about around leadership and agencies, so I’m hoping you will come back and do this again sometime soon.
Steve: Oh, any time, any time.
Drew: Awesome. But as I wrap up this episode, any parting words for our listeners around leadership and to having the bravery and the audacity to use your work to become or think about becoming an extreme leader?
Steve: Yeah, I think it is our, not only our opportunity today to be extreme leaders, but I believe it’s our obligation. I don’t think any of us would argue that we live in rather precarious times, and maybe that’s always true in the human condition, right? But I would say that now more than ever our obligation to step up as extreme leaders and bring our hearts to work and make work a place that people are really engaged and feel fulfilled and motivated is gonna have an impact on the world with a capital W.
So, I would encourage you to pursue extreme leadership for your own development, for the good of your business and the bottom-line of your agency and all that, but also for the rest of us because these small W worlds do add up and we do have an impact far beyond the people that we literally see every day. Our influence stretches much further than that. So, I would really hope that people will step up to this for the right reasons, including the value that we bring to everyone.
Drew: Yeah, amen. On that note I am going to wrap this up listeners, thank you so much for joining us again this week. Steve, you know how much I hold you in high regard. I’m grateful that we’re colleagues and friends and I drink your Kool-Aid, you know that, so I’m so happy to be able to bring you to the listeners and introduce them to your work if they’re not familiar with it. So again, thank you for joining us.
Steve: Well, thanks, Drew. I was really, really thrilled to be able to do it and I look forward to the next time.
Drew: Me too. So, listeners, hopefully this was awesome, hopefully you are fired up. You are ready to go back to your agencies and start practicing extreme leadership. And hopefully the podcast continues to be of value to you. If you are finding this content helpful, make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode, and if you ever need to reach out to me you know how to get ahold of me, [email protected], anytime, anywhere, and I will see all of you next week where I will bring you another great guest to help you think about building a bigger, better, stronger, more profitable and more pleasing to you in every way, agency that serves you, your employees and your clients. So I will be back next week, hope you are too.
That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency on the four extreme leadership principles that you need to become a great organization leader. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free e-book, and check out the blog, growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build a Better Agency.