Episode 258:

Many of us have earned our MBAs in leadership over this past year. As we wrap up 2020, we have some ground to make up and we can’t do that alone. We need to inspire our teammates to rise to the occasion, overcome their personal speed bumps, and build momentum as we drive to the end of the year. Elise Mitchell’s experience running agencies and coaching business owners provides actionable clarity on how we get there.

Elise Mitchell started Mitchell, her PR firm back in the nineties grew it to a seventy-person shop before selling it to Dentsu in 2013. What she loved most about the agency business was building young leaders so she built a leadership training program over the last several years. She works with emerging leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs, agency leaders, and a variety of others.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, I pick Elise’s brain about how we, as agency leaders, can get the most from our teams during these critical months. Elise’s wide range of expertise can help us inspire and coach our team to a new level of greatness.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Agency Leaders | How to become a more effective agency leader

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Elise’s transition from agency owner to leadership coach/consultant
  • How agency leaders can better lead their teams through change
  • Why agency owners should acknowledge that it’s okay not to have all the answers
  • Critical mindset shifts that enable us to find opportunities in times of uncertainty
  • How to bring your team through change when everybody is not on board
  • How to empower your employees by helping them discover their own insights
  • How to become a more mindful leader and avoid succumbing to burnout

The Golden Nuggets:

“We don’t like change because we lose control, and we’re afraid we’re going to fail. As agency leaders, we can look at uncertainty and times of change as a window of opportunity to drive change in our business.” @elisemitch Click To Tweet “Not everyone feels the same passion or mindset as the agency owner. The better you can understand how other people’s minds work, the better chance you have to engage them to join you on the journey.” @elisemitch Click To Tweet “The extrinsic rewards of leadership are powerful in their own right. But you also have to seek out the intrinsic rewards that fuel your soul and give you a sense of purpose.” @elisemitch Click To Tweet “Good leaders often stop themselves from telling or directing, and instead they ask an empowering question.” @elisemitch Click To Tweet

“Fundamentally, where we become the most committed, empowered, and accountable is through our own ideas.” @elisemitch Click To Tweet“A centered leader is a leader who is grounded with a clear sense of purpose about why the lead and why they’re doing what they do. They know who they are on the inside and they don’t mind standing in the tension of the moment.” @elisemitch Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Elise Mitchell:

Tools & Resources:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, is packed with insights on how small to mid sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for joining us. Thanks for carving out the time to hang out with me. I think you are going to be very glad with this particular episode that you made that time. I’m really excited about this conversation and what we’re all going to learn from my guest. So before I tell you a little bit about her and what we’re going to talk about today, just a reminder that we have a lot of resources on the AMI website for you. We have on demand webinars where you can watch old webinars with your whole team. We have eBooks around financial planning and other things like that. We also have the sweet spot client filter. So head over to the Agency Management Institute website if you have not been there for a while and take full advantage of all of the free resources that we have there. Also want to invite you to check out the book that Stephen Woessner and I wrote called Sell With Authority. The whole premise of the book is that, A, how we sell as agencies has changed. The marketplace has told us it has to change, so that’s number one.

Number two, the old way of selling is harder and less effective than the new way which Stephen and I outline in the book. And three, that if you sell by helping, by serving, by teaching, you can sell faster at a premium price because you’re a subject matter expert. And so I invite you to head over to Amazon or you can go to the AMI website and you can buy it from us direct. But it’s Sell With Authority and I promise you that it will get you thinking about how you sell and better ways to do that. All right?

So with that, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. Our guest today is Elise Mitchell. And Elise is interesting because she started a PR firm back in the ’90s and built it up to be about a 70 person shop and then sold it to a holding company. And then had to ask herself, “Okay, now what? What do I do now that I’ve sold my agency?” And what she’s done over the last several years is she’s built out a coaching and sort of a leadership training business and she specifically works with emerging leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners. Yes, she works with agency folks but she works with non agency folks.

And what I want to talk to her today about is this idea of leadership and how we show up as leaders, particularly given the chaos that our world is in today. And I know she’s going to have some great insights for us as we march ahead with leading our agencies forward. I’ve said many times that a lot of us have earned our MBA in leadership over the last few months. And I think there are ways for us to really bring our team together to do amazing things on the back half of 2020 and as we go into 2021. And I want to pick Elise’s brain and her expertise around how we can best do that. So let’s jump right into the conversation because I can’t wait to start asking her questions.

Elise, without further ado, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Elise Mitchell:

Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You have a very unique background in that you used to do what we all do and now you’re doing something different. So tell everybody just briefly what your background was and how you ended up doing the work that you’re doing today.

Elise Mitchell:

Well, I had one very simple dream Drew and it was global domination in public relations.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Elise Mitchell:

Very simple. Right. Right. This was naïve sort of dream when I got out of college. I loved the field of PR and I wanted to, I thought someday, just be able to do something meaningful in the industry. In the early years of my career I worked at a couple different agencies. I also was in corporate life for a number of years. And then I had the opportunity to start my own firm. And the funny thing about that I remember was, gosh, I’m so ill prepared to start an agency.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. I thought you were supposed be old and wise and I was absolutely neither one. I’m a lot older now. Maybe just a tad bit wiser. It was a great opportunity in my life and we just had moved to a new place. My husband always say, drugged me kicking and screaming to a small part of the country. Northwest Arkansas. Fayetteville, Arkansas. Many people know it as the home of Walmart in Bentonville which is just a few miles away. And at the time we moved there, it was 23 years ago, there was not much there. But it turned out to be the best place I could possibly go to start a firm. And I started Mitchell Communications Group. That was in 1995. I always sort of remember. You can tell how old I’m getting now. I sort of lose my years. It was right in the minute ’90s. I had just left corporate life in Memphis and started my firm. The first 10 years it grew kind of slowly. We ended up though getting three of the largest companies that were based there. Walmart became a client, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt. And then in the mid 2000s kind of the whole region really just took off and grew pretty significantly. And we were very fortunate as our agency was able to grow along with the region.

And then at the end of 2012 I sold the firm, which is something I never thought I would do. You should never say never about some things in life. And I sold our agency to Dentsu, which now people know as Dentsu Aegis Networks. One of the big holding company groups. And spent the last seven years since that time … I had a global role with Dentsu doing some M&A work in the PR field for them. And really trying to shepard my firm through the integration process because that’s a big, big shift going from being independent to being a part of a global organization.

Drew McLellan:

And how many employees did you have when you sold?

Elise Mitchell:

At the time we sold we had about 70. At our peak we had about 110. And we had offices. We by that time had expanded offices into New York and Chicago.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Elise Mitchell:

Drew, it was an amazing ride. I often say entrepreneurship was the ride of my life. Never could have predicted the ups or the downs. What a great ride.

Drew McLellan:

Someday we’ll have to have you come back and really have to talk about what that process was like. What the selling process and all of the challenges with the integration and all that. Because I’m sure that’s a fascinating story.

Elise Mitchell:

It is. I do get asked about that quite a bit.

Drew McLellan:

I bet.

Elise Mitchell:

And I understand that, yeah. Because you really don’t know when you’re standing on the independent side, what would it be like if I sold? What would be the pros and the cons and how do I make that very important decision?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. We’ll have to do that another time. That will be fascinating.

Elise Mitchell:

Okay.

Drew McLellan:

But you didn’t just retire. You didn’t just decide to have a cabin in the mountains. You decided to recreate an entire new career. So what are you doing today and what are the breadcrumbs that went from your old world to the new world and tell us a little more about what you’re doing today because that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Elise Mitchell:

Well, thank you for asking about that. I will tell you, that was one of the most profound experiences for me. Even though entrepreneurship and building the firm, I think wow, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It really was. But it wasn’t the end. And that was what was so fascinating, is I remember just having an experience of … It was one very specific moment in time I remember when I sort of had this feeling of, I’m not completely satisfied. I’m not completely happy. It isn’t that anything is so necessarily wrong. But I just had this desire to do more but it wasn’t doing the same thing. And so I actually went to my parent company and I told them I said, “I want to start one more company.” I had actually started a second company on the side back in the 2000s doing coaching, training, consulting. I’m sorry, facilitation with a very good friend of mine. And I’m happy to say she’s still a very good friend of mine. But I had that experience. We sold that business because I was really focusing on the agency’s growth. But I thought to myself, I want to go back and do that, which wasn’t public relations but something quite different.

And they actually were very kind. They said, “Well, we don’t mind if you start another company but don’t leave. Just become chairman of Mitchell Communications Group and we’ll rewrite your contract and allow you to start this new business.” Because I told them that’s what I really want to do longterm. So I spent about two years while I was chairman of Mitchell really launching the new business I have today, which is elisemitchell.com. I do executive coaching, leadership development, business consulting. Although, that’s not really the focus of what I do. It’s really leadership. And then I do keynote speaking. And I’ll tell you Drew, it was really a fascinating experience to have that sense of what is it that I really want to do with the rest of my career? And I asked myself two questions that I think were really the most guiding sort of questions that I could have asked to help me figure it out, which one was, what is the happiest day that you can remember in your recent work life? Think about the happiest day. Who was there? What were you doing? What was that experience like? Why were you so drawn to that day?

And then the second question is, what is your greatest contribution to the universe at this stage of your career? Because there’s a lot of things you can do but what should you do? What should you do that’s truly meaningful to other people and to the world in general? And that was when I thought, “I don’t really want to be the leader anymore. I can. I did that for many years. I want to help other leaders be great. What would that look like if I could pour all of the knowledge and the mistakes and lessons learned into other people and help them be great?” And that’s what led me to coaching and leadership development.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Awesome. So one of the things I’m sure that you are helping your clients with today is how do you lead through change? Because certainly we have probably not, for most of anyway, been through a moment of time that has so much change. Not only do we have the pandemic, but now we have the Black Lives Matter and all of the discussions around racial inequality. It just feels like we are in a time, the whole world is in a time where people are scrambling for and demanding, and in some cases forced into change. And a lot of the agency owners I’ve been talking to, they’re feeling uneasy about their ability to lead their team through. So right now what’s happening … We’re recording this on June 16th. What’s happening right now, at least in the states, is a lot of agencies are going back to work. So they have been sequestered at home, working from home for the last three months and many of them are making their way back to work but of course it’s not the same. And I think we all have a sense that whatever is coming next is not the same on a variety of roads.

So talk about how do we lead through change? And part of that is, I think a lot of the owners don’t want it to change. So their own head and heart is like, “I don’t want change, I want what was. And then how do I get over my own self in that and then help my team understand where we’re going, why we’re going there?” What do we need to be equipped to do that is different than just normal run of the mill leadership?

Elise Mitchell:

Well, you’re right. It is such an unusual time. And there are many days I wake up and I think … I always try to start my day as something I’m grateful for. What’s one thing I’m grateful for and I try to start that way. But very quickly my mind goes to, wow, but there’s so many things that are really challenging and yeah, it’s a difficult time. And I think first thing I would say is I think as a leader, give yourself permission to say I don’t have the answers and it’s okay. I remember always having this feeling of dread like oh my goodness, I’m supposed to know. Like I’m the leader. And everybody’s running into my office wringing their hands looking at me going, “Elise, what do we do? We have this problem.” And I would think, “I have no clue what to do at this very moment.” And I remember sort of having a distinct feeling about that which was, “Elise, you’re just not going to always know. How could you know? You’ve not ever been here before.” And so it was giving myself permission to say, it’s okay to say I don’t know but I can’t end the sentence there. I must do whatever it takes to find out.

And it’s a shift in mindset that says I don’t have to have all the answers but I have to have the drive and the desire and the curiosity to go find the answers. And really it’s find the answers for us. Something may work for you but it may not work for my firm. How do I find what’s right and best for us? And of course the best leaders get their team to help them. They don’t just wave a magic wand and be the fairy god mother all the time. They say, “Hey, let’s figure this out together.” So having a bit of a learning mindset I think is a big burden. Or that’s a joy to have because it takes a big burden off your shoulders. I don’t have to have all the answers but I’ve got to go find them. And the second part of that I think is also a mindset shift to say, “I’m going to try to be excited about what’s happening.” Because we don’t like change because we lose control, we’re afraid we’re going to fail, we’re afraid things are not going to go our way, which is why we say I want to go back to what I knew because I-

Drew McLellan:

It was working. Yeah.

Elise Mitchell:

It was working. Or at least I thought it was working because I could see it and touch it and I knew it. Fundamentally what we don’t like is the uncertainty.

Drew McLellan:

Right. And boy are we living in a world of uncertainty right now, right?

Elise Mitchell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s right. And so our minds are hardwired. We are hardwired to avoid uncertainty. Because when we are certain about our environment, if you’re a friend or a foe, all the things around me, if I have certainty I can feel a little more focused and comfortable where I am because I’m certain of my environment. So that’s where your brain’s kind of hardwired to work. So when things become uncertain you become very defensive because you’re trying to protect yourself. In the days where we were foraging for food all the time we were trying to protect ourselves from predators. Is that a saber toothed tiger jumping out of the bushes or maybe that’s a little rabbit that’s going to become my dinner. I don’t know. So the uncertainty is what makes me anxious and defensive. So I always think that’s how I feel when I’m uncertain about the way thing are around me. I can’t control them. I’m afraid I’m going to fail and I don’t know what’s going to happen. So I’m anxious and I’m defensive and that also then makes me kind of close my mindset down and I don’t see potential. And that’s the key.

If as leaders we can look at uncertainty and times of change to say, there might be some real potential here. Opportunity, a chance to develop new skills, a chance to pivot my firm, a chance to push and press into a new area at an accelerated pace that maybe I couldn’t before. Maybe I have a window of opportunity to drive change in my business because of the uncertain. These are all things that kind of put you in an open and a toward state of mind.

Drew McLellan:

So how do I get in that place and then how do I lead from that place?

Elise Mitchell:

Well, that’s the trick, right? I think some of that comes from having a deeper sense of who you are inside. This kind of place of inner purpose and clarity. And that’s where most leaders are right now. Trying to figure out, why do I do this? A, why am I a leader? It’s really hard. And B, why am I an entrepreneur? Which I think is wearing the two hardest hats. Because that’s really difficult to be both a leader and an owner entrepreneur. You’ve got to fundamentally answer that question to know why you’re in the game in the first place. And go back to that sort of central moment of joy and happiness. Like the question I ask myself, wow, what was I happiest doing and why? What was going on around me that made me sort of come alive at that time? And remind yourself. And chances are, it’s a combination of both intrinsic rewards and extrinsic. So I always say the extrinsic is all good stuff. Money, power, fame, a title, office, whatever you can think of are these external rewards that we feel good about. Those are just rewards. But you’re going to have to find these intrinsic rewards as well that fuel your soul.

I love helping other people. I love solving problems. I love thinking creatively. I love making an impact on people or the world in someway.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think too, not only are we navigating people through change right now but there’s a lot of resistance and pushback. I was chatting with an agency owner the other day and they said, “Two thirds of my staff is ready to come back to work and can’t wait to be back together and the other third is digging their heels in. They don’t want to come back. They don’t want to leave their house. They’re afraid. I don’t know how to navigate some of the pushback. I don’t know how to help everybody get on the same page, get us where we need to go as an agency.” So when everybody’s not on board, how do we navigate through that?

Elise Mitchell:

I remember the day one of our bright talented digital stars walked into my office and she said, “Elise, can I talk to your for a minute?” “Yeah, sure. Come on in and sit down. What’s on your mind?” She said, “I want to be a nutritionist.” And I said, “What? You are a digital star.” This is back when we were first beginning to embrace digital as an industry. And I thought, “How could you possibly want to leave?” And she said, “I’ve just always had this dream of being a nutritionist.” And I thought, okay. And it was that moment of reckoning, not everybody loves it like I do. Not everybody feels that passion and sense of … Like the owner’s mindset. To be honest Drew, I loved running the business. I know a lot of people don’t, but I thought it was fantastically challenging, interesting. It’s like every day putting the pieces of the puzzle together. HR, tech, operations, talent. It was just all these different pieces. It was a constantly changing situation and I thought it was very engaging and very interesting. So I loved it. I know not everybody does. But it did constantly remind me not everybody loves it like you do. So how do you get your team engaged? How do you draw them in?

A lot of the client agencies that I’m consulting now have this situation where they’re trying to … Some of the people are saying, “Some of my key people are going to say they’re going to go into a cabin in the woods and maybe never come back.” And so part of that is understanding that not everybody works like your brain does. Everybody thinks differently about things. The better you can understand how other people’s mind works, the better you have a chance to engage them and to bring them with you on the journey. So I often talk to people about understanding people’s triggers. So some of our listeners might have heard of the SCARF model. Have you ever heard of that Drew? The SCARF?

Drew McLellan:

I haven’t. Mm-mm (negative).

Elise Mitchell:

When I got my coaching training I attended a program through the NeuroLeadership Institute. And the founder is David Rock. And he was really one of the first sort of neuroscientists that was bringing practical neuroscience research and learnings to leadership. So my training was very much brain based coaching and thinking. It helps you sort of understand what’s going on in your head. And he is the author and creator of this model called the SCARF model. S-C-A-R-F. And I’ll walk you through what they are. This is a really interesting and very, very useful model to understand. The SCARF model is basically the five most common social triggers that people have. Which is based on some further neuroscience research. But SCARF is easy to remember. So S stands for status, which is your relative importance to others. Like desire to be respected. It’s sort of a sense of competitive spirit. So status is a trigger. Certainty, as we’ve just been talking about, is a big trigger. Which is a desire for clarity. The ability to predict the future and its impact on you. That’s certainty. A is for autonomy, which is a sense of control over the events in your life and the ability to influence outcomes. Sort of the independent mindset if you will.

R is for relatedness, which is how connected and safe do I feel with other people? So sense of community. That’s relatedness. And then F is for fairness, which is the perception of fair exchange and treatment between people. And if you were to sit down … And I do this exercise really quickly with a lot of leaders. I say, “Just take a minute and rank order them, one through five. Which one triggers you the most? Which one doesn’t really bother me?” And then I have them sit and think about the top two. Which of those two … The combination of those two probably are responsible for the things that get you the most upset? And also interestingly, it gets you the most excited. Like for example, autonomy is a big one for me. It probably is for a lot of our listeners because we’re entrepreneurs. Which is, I don’t like anybody telling me how to get things done. I want to drive my own show. That’s a great thing to have as an entrepreneur. So you can kind of look at your staff and say, do I have any autonomy driven people on my staff? And if so, what does that mean for me? How do I lead them? How do I not trigger them negatively? How do I reinforce that trigger positively so that I get them on my train so that we’re going the same place together?

So those triggers are really useful and quick and easy to do in your mind of, how am I being triggered? How’s that person being triggered? And how do I overcome or mitigate that trigger in them? So to the point of the discussion, guess which one is the one that is most driving people crazy? It’s certainty.

Drew McLellan:

Certainty. Right, yeah.

Elise Mitchell:

And so you have to think too, how do I overcome and mitigate that trigger so people feel less anxious and less defensive about the uncertainty in their world?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and I would think that in some cases part of what you come to realize is that the work that we do and the way that we do the work may no longer be a good fit for this person.

Elise Mitchell:

Yes. Very true. Like the person who wants to go live in cabin in the woods. And I told my client, I said-

Drew McLellan:

Or your nutritionist, right? It’s like okay.

Elise Mitchell:

That’s right. I can’t force what I love on other people. That’s when the intrinsic motivators in your mind takeover, which is first I’m like, “Man, I don’t want to lose this digital star. She was really helping us.” And then I think, “Yeah, but if I really care about her …” Which I did. I thought she was just a really great, great person. I thought then the intrinsic part of me as a leaders says, I want a positively impact people’s careers and lives. That’s part of why I’m a leader. Basically I sat right across from her and kind of took her hand and I said, “What can I do to help you? How do I help you get that dream to come true? Is there anything I can do?” Generally there are things you can do to help somebody move along to the next phase of their career. And then I used to always tell people when they would leave Mitchell, I would say, “You are always a part of the Mitchell family, which means you have to come back and see us and tell us how you’re doing and stay connected.” And so trying to create kind of a sense of alumni spirit. “You’re part of the family. We love you. We wish you the best. Stay close.” And of course that often, as you and I know, it leads to boomerang employees too.

Drew McLellan:

Which are the best employees.

Elise Mitchell:

The best ones.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Oh gosh. Yeah, they’ve been to the other side and they’ve seen the grass is not greener, right?

Elise Mitchell:

For sure.

Drew McLellan:

And they spread that word all through the agency. Yeah. They’re often an amazing resource. Yeah.

Elise Mitchell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So I want to take a quick break and then I want to come back and talk a little bit more about how you determine these triggers and specifically around this idea of sort of coming back to work and overcoming this uncertainty when honestly, right now our entire world is uncertain. Between all of the things that are going on. So if you have somebody who is really triggered by uncertainty, is there a way to help them? Let’s take a quick break and we’ll come back and pick that up.

Hey there. Do you have up and comer inside your agency who’s become like your right hand person? How are you investing in them? Who are they surrounding themselves with and who are they learning from? You might be interested in taking a look at our key executive network. It’s built to help you groom the leaders in your agency. It’s designed to surround them with other AMI taught agency leaders. And it’s facilitated by one of AMI’s top coaches, Craig Barnes. They meet twice a year and they stay connected in between meetings with calls, Zoom get togethers and email. AMI agency owners call it one of the best professional development investments they’ve ever made. Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and look under the membership tab for key executive network. All right, let’s get back to the interview.

All right. I am here with Elise Mitchell and we are talking about how to be a great leader, not only today during all of the crazy that is our current world, but just in general. And before the break we were talking about, using the SCARF methodology, sort of recognizing what things trigger ourselves and other people. And if we have an employee that is one of their core triggers … And I would love to hear … Because you said, not only is it the thing that motivates us on the negative but it’s also often the thing that motivates us and gets us excited. So when you look at uncertainty or I guess the C is certainty. When you look for certainty, how do we help people who are really caught up in that right now? How do we help them? Because the uncertainty in our industry right now is certainly not just our physical safety with COVID and all of that. But there’s a lot of uncertainty about the business and are clients going to come back? We are right now in a world of uncertainty. Again, you’ve got all the racial inequality conversations happening, which is making people not only uncomfortable but there’s certainly going to be change that comes out of that. So what does that change look like? We’re just in a moment in time I think on the planet where uncertainty is reining supreme.

So how do we help people who that’s sort of their core motivation or one of their triggers? How do we help them sort of work past that?

Elise Mitchell:

Well, I think there’s a couple of strategies that you can try. Because of course the first step is, can I figure out what it is that’s triggering this person? Certainty is not triggering for everybody but certainly for a lot of us it is. And as I said earlier, our brain’s are kind of hardwired to try to create certainty around us. That’s a very normal thing to do. So the first thing you really want to do in your mind is kind of normalize it and say, “Yeah, I view this as normal. It’s okay for us to feel this way. And if I see an employee really struggling with certainty what can I do?” And I think the first thing there is to try to share with them things that you know that are certain. So there’s a lot of things in life that we’ll never be able to predict with certainty. Even though now it feels like there’s more of the external forces that feel uncertain to us so it feels exacerbated at the moment. But in reality we don’t really know what’s going to happen.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right, right, right.

Elise Mitchell:

But we can tell people, hey, wow. We know there are things that we are not certain about. More so now than in the past. There are things that we can be very certain about. And that’s where you as a leader go back and tell them, these are the things that are never going to change about us. Our values, our beliefs, the way we treat each other, the type of work we want to do. Even though it might change a little bit. Fundamentally you know the type of work you want to do. What it is. The impact and the expertise that you bring to the world that you are hoping to see come to life with your clients. So you can kind of go back and talk with your team and remind them, what are the things about us that are never going to change regardless of what we look like and where we set and all of these sort of externals? Internally, who are we? And I think that could be a very empowering and comforting conversation for your staff to have. And I wouldn’t be the only one to come with the list. As a leader, come with your list but good leaders often stop themselves from telling and directing and they instead ask an empowering question.

Because the idea there is to engage everybody else in the conversation and to let others discover their own insights, which fundamentally is where we become most committed and empowered and accountable about our own ideas. So if Drew tells me all of his ideas I’m like yeah, those are Drew’s ideas. That’s great. That’s his vision. Not really mine. But if you said to me, “Elise, what is it that you want? How do you see this agency going forward?”, things like that, the ideas in my head start to come to life and I get really excited about them because they’re my ideas. That’s the way our brains work. So engaging your team in these types of conversations where you ask them good questions and then throw some of your own ideas in there too. Telling them what’s not ever going to change about us. Maybe also telling them, hey, here’s what I know, here’s what I don’t know, and here’s what I’m doing to find out. Create a level of certainty because you just explained a process. And then telling them and when I do know, I’m going to come back and tell you so you can count on me to be transparent, forthcoming, regular in my communication to you so you won’t have to wonder what I’m thinking.

Which I remember as a leader, I used to be kind of guarded about that. And I had my team at one point say, “Elise, we don’t even know what you’re thinking.” And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s because I’m not ready to tell you.” And they would say, “But then we’re left guessing all the time of how-”

Drew McLellan:

I was going to say, they fill in the blanks, right?

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And what they fill in the blanks with is always much more horrid than anything you’re thinking. Yeah. I tell agency owners that all the time. It’s like if you don’t tell them what’s going on in your head, whether it’s like we’ve lost a big client, so are we going to have to do layoffs or whatever is, if you don’t tell them what you’re actually thinking and planning, they fill in the empty space with the most horrific stories they can tell.

Elise Mitchell:

Oh. Completely agree. It’s always way worse. When I began to realize that I thought, “Oh, so you guess want me to tell you even though I don’t really know?” They were like, “Absolutely.” Because they would also say to me, “Because Elise, we want to help.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Elise Mitchell:

And I’d say, “Oh, how crazy Zack that I’m carrying this burden on my back of making this huge decision and I’m not even engaging my people who can help me?” Again, these are lessons you learn as a leader which is, that’s not very empowering. It’s not very smart. Because then the agency is only as good as me. Which I remember when I realized, oh, that would be really a bad thing. If this agency were only as smart as me, only as good as I was then, wow, what a loss. Because yeah, I have a lot to bring but good leaders surround themselves with people who have talent and abilities they don’t have. And that’s where the magic happens because this sort of exponential impact of these brilliant minds working together. We all know that. We see that in our teams every day. When you have good people around you, you can do things that you could never do on your own when you do them as a team.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. So much of leadership is not about the other people we lead but so much of it is about us. And I think sometimes we look at the external influences on our leadership and we get frustrated as opposed to saying, “Okay, how can I be a better, more centered leader?” And so talk a little bit about what that means in terms of what is a centered leader and how do I get to be better at being one?

Elise Mitchell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I love this concept of the centered leader. It was something I think I began to think about more seriously in the latter years of my leadership. Which again, looking back I think, wow, had I really focused on myself and leading myself, I could have been way better a lot earlier in my career. Which is part of what my motivation now is how do I help leaders avoid many of the mistakes I made? Show up in a way that really serves them well and helps them accomplish what it is they want to accomplish as a leader and as an entrepreneur. A centered leader is a leader who’s grounded, who has a clear sense of purpose about why they lead and why they’re doing what they do. They know who they are on the inside. And they don’t mind standing in the tension of the moment. They think that’s kind of the key around this concept of being centered. I can kind of know who I am. But if when the chips are down and the pressure’s on, I sort of fall apart, then I’m not really solid inside. Something is causing me to lose my cool or react defensively. Show up in a way that I’m not really proud of that doesn’t serve me well. So it makes you kind of go back and peel one more layer of the onion back which is, why am I doing that?

Usually it is a fear that drives us. Which I always tell all my clients, “A, you’re part of the human race so it’s normal to have fears. And B, the best way to beat a fear is to stare that tiger down and walk right past it and say, ‘You don’t own me anymore.’” And I remember having an experience in my agency life when I finally did that. My biggest fear Drew, was fear of public failure. Absolutely. Which I think with a lot driven people that’s their common fear. Imposter syndrome, believe it or not, is most common among highly successful people.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Interesting.

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. It is interesting. I have a lot of clients I coach on imposter syndrome. And I always tell them, “Let’s get down to kind of the root of the issue. Is what is that fear driving you and why?” And there was a lot of self discovery I went through when I fought through all of that process and I began to realize, oh you know what? I failed publicly and it really wasn’t that bad.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. Right. Nobody cared about it as much as I did. Right.

Elise Mitchell:

Nobody cared. I don’t think that many people even paid attention. I just thought it was going to … I don’t know. Because again, we see the world through our own eyes. We don’t have a really good sense of awareness of that other people … I tell people, your most popular topic, your favorite topic in the world is yourself. And if you know that about other people then that makes you a great conversationalist because you always say, “Hey, tell me what’s going on with you. How are things with you?”

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. The most fascinating person at any cocktail party is the one that asks you the most questions about you, right?

Elise Mitchell:

Absolutely. The same is true in leadership which is why I tell people, say less and ask more. Because you’re going to empower and engage that other person and make them feel valued by you and you’re also going to learn a lot. The information is so valuable. Because as you pointed out earlier, many times I come to difficult conversations with completely wrong assumptions. I thought this or that about you and it turns out I was completely wrong. And so ask good questions and go oh, I’m so glad I realized that I was wrong about that. But a centered leader is really somebody who has that sense of self around, I know what I’m afraid of but I also recognize that it’s not the worst thing in the world.

So like there’s a lot of good conative strategies you could use. One of the very, very simplest ones is called reprioritize. Which is on a scale of one to 10, Drew, how big a deal is this in the scheme of your whole life? And I would have moments where if you asked me that I’d say, “Well, frankly, it’s a 14.” And you would say, “Come on Elise, really.” And if I said, “Well, I have my health. I have a great guy that wins the award for the most patient husband in the world to be married a PR person and an entrepreneur and now a three time entrepreneur, wins the award hands down, most patient husband.” All these good things in your life you begin to go oh, you what? It’s probably just maybe a six. It’s bad right now but it’s not nearly as severe as it feels. And so I’m going to kind of calm down and not be so upset about it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. I think the perspective matters. When my daughter was little we used to play the what’s the worst the thing that could happen game. So she’d be afraid of about something like, “I don’t want to climb up on that jungle gym,” or whatever it is. And I said, “What’s the worse thing that’s going to happen? Do you think you would die if you climbed up there?” “Well, I might fall.” “Okay well, what’s the worst thing that …” We would just play this game constantly of what’s the worse thing. And I think when we play that game in our head, we all of a sudden go oh, the worst possible thing that could happen isn’t so horrific that I’m not willing to climb the jungle gym or whatever’s in front of us, right?

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Elise Mitchell:

I love that idea. And also there’s a really good way to think about this which is, neuroscience research has also shown that we tend to overestimate the negative impact of something on us while we also underestimate our ability to deal with it.

Drew McLellan:

Interesting.

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. It’s really good to remember. It’s like oh yeah, I’m probably overestimating and I’m underestimating. A lot of times when I’m coaching executives I’ll say, “Think back at a time that was really tough for you in the past. What happened? How did you overcome that? What worked to help you overcome it?” And when they actually go back in their mind … Which again, imposter syndrome keeps us from giving ourselves any credit so we’re like, “Oh, I’ve never done a good job at that.” No, not true. Go back and think about a time and then you can draw a lot of inspiration and go you know what, that was pretty hard. And I was able to demonstrate some resiliency, bounce back. Here’s what I did to kind of find my way back again and usually it’s you did a lot of things. You talked to a good mentor and advisor, you engaged the help of somebody, you were willing to take risks that you weren’t willing to try before. Which is back to the beginning of our conversation of this moment in time offers huge potential and opportunity. Now I need to show up a little braver to say, I’m willing to try some things. Don’t know for sure if they’re going to work but I’m more willing to try them now to see if that something might become a home run for us than I might have been in the past.

And that’s where the learning and the growth, oh my goodness, goes off the charts. I remember for us in 2008 that was actually the beginning of a five year period of rapid growth for us. 2008 was the first year of that. We grew over 500% in five years from 2008 to 2013. And I reflected back on that time in many conversations here in recent months with clients were like, “What do I do now? It feels like the sky is falling.” I’m like, “Yes, but potentially 2020 could be the beginning of a whole new trajectory of growth for you in the firm.” “How could that be?” I don’t give them answers because I don’t know what those answers might be for them. But I challenge them to shift their mindset to see potential at this moment in time to say well gosh, we’ve always wanted to make a shift into fill in the blank. Some discipline or some area of growth or opportunity. Maybe now is the chance for us to try. It’s like okay, well what would it look like if you tried? What would it look like if it really worked?

And then they get into this open state of mind where they begin to get very actually … I have a lot of clients now that are in this very excited place.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Elise Mitchell:

Because they’re seeing the potential. Because I’m strong, because I’m making good decisions, because I’m showing up in this very courageous way, I’m going to try some things and I’m not going to be so afraid. Because no matter what happens I can probably bounce back, I can probably learn from it. And I’ve got good people by my side to help us make something have a chance to go.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s interesting. So much of leadership is about having a pretty good understanding of who you are and what you’re about. And sort of this idea of mindfulness, right? Like that when you take the time to think about who and how you are and wired and how you can use that to your advantage, I think you show up as a different kind of leader. So I know that you do a lot of work with your clients around this idea of this mindfulness and that it helps them show up differently and also helps them avoid burnout and some other things. And I will tell you, I think right now one of the greatest risks to agency owners is burnout. They have been going seven days a week, 12 hours a day for 90 plus days as they have scrambled to figure out work from home and make sure their team is safe and comfortable and they’re trying to save their business and they are fried. I had an agency owner say to me the other day, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I can’t set any Q3 goals. I can’t whatever.” And I was like, “When was the last time you took a day off or you read a book?”

“You need to refill the bucket because it is empty. So of course you can’t think about the future, you’re exhausted.” So talk a little bit about this idea of mindfulness and how we manage. Because as you know, not only because of your work with folks today but because you lived it, agency life is demanding when you own the joint. It is. It is a full contact sport. So how do I take better care of myself? How do I be mindful and remember that if I allow the tank to get empty it’s a lot harder to fill it up from that point than it is to keep topping it off?

Elise Mitchell:

I love your idea there. It’s a full contact sport. It really, really is. Which part of what makes it so appealing I think is, I love doing challenging things. I don’t want to do things if they’re easy or if everybody’s already done them. I want to do really interesting, challenging things. And I think a lot of agency leaders are like that. But you are so right Drew. We get very depleted as leaders. That’s sort of really one of my core stories about myself and my own leadership journey was I was very much a workaholic. I’ll be honest to say, there were years that pretty much all I thought about was winning at work. How do I build the best agency? Doing the greatest work. All these things that actually are strengths and are a part of what makes you driven person. But as we all know, any strength carried to an extreme can become a weakness and it can become your downfall. And for me it really was. My marriage was suffering. My parenting skills were horrible. I “didn’t have time” for hobbies or friends because I was so busy running this agency.

Motorcycling actually, I tell people, kind of saved my life. That’s really what happened, is I got on the back of my husband’s motorcycle. We took a 10 day trip because we hadn’t been a vacation together in years. And it changed my life. Because all of a sudden I began to realize I needed to rediscover joy in the journey. I needed to become what I call a destination leader with a journey mindset. So destination leader is a goal oriented leader. But when all you think about is reaching the destination then whenever you get to there, wherever there might be … I want to reach five million, 10 million, 20 … Whatever these specific goals we have. Then when you get there if you turn around and go, “Okay, what’s next?”, and you don’t really savor and experience the moment, you miss the joy that comes from the experience of getting there. And so that to me was a huge difference maker. When I began to say, “Elise, slow down a little bit. You can still have these goals and dreams but can you not possibly also try to enjoy the ride?” And I ended up learning to ride a motorcycle. My husband and I ride together now quite often.

To me it became this very powerful metaphor in my mind, which I kept this in my mind of how do I be somebody who enjoys the ride more? And it changed me. And my staff used to say there was pre motorcycling Elise, we loved her but we didn’t really like her. And there was Elise who became a real person again. Like the person we first fell in love with and wanted to be a part of her experience when she wanted us to come work at the firm. And it was a real wake up call for me. And so I often will challenge leaders to say what is it that you love that brings you pure joy just in the doing? And how long has it been since you’ve really done that? And why are you waiting? Go back again and rediscover some of those things that give you pure joy. Of course in the lockdown I think a lot of us had a chance to do a little bit more of that.

Drew McLellan:

Or have been prevented from doing it depending on what it is. Like if travel is your thing you’ve been … Right?

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. Yeah. But to that point is … I tell people, what’s your COVID version of the thing you love? How do you travel even though you can’t? Can you travel halfway across your backyard and sit and begin to see the beauty around you of where you live and get to know your neighbors and things like that? So there’s a lot of ways that I think, to your point of combating burnout, is you have to pour into yourself in a way that fills your cup or you won’t have anything left for anybody else. And you’re the only person who can do that in a meaningful way. So stop looking at other people to fill your cup.

This is another big aha for leaders. If you’re looking for those extrinsic motivators like praise and recognition and title and all these things, they’re not bad but that can’t be all that fills your cup because what happens when all that goes away? That 15 minutes of fame really only lasts 15 minutes and then what? So you have to say, “I fill my own cup because I have a solid sense of self, I understand how I’m wired, I’m focused on things that are bigger and better than me in my life and I have a feeling that each day I get up and I have a chance. Not always every day is that way. But a chance to do something that relates to sort of my higher calling as a person, as a leader.” And this to me Drew, if we do this more, day in and day out, kind of constantly working on that skill. Mindfulness is a really useful skill to build up this sense of inner concentration and inner calm.

As I work on that skill and develop it, then whether the pressure’s on I have to make a difficult decision, I have to have the courage in my convictions, the client is calling and they’re going to either cut the account or they’re going to scream in my ear. Whatever. Just a moment of total fear and anxiety. I can remain calm. I can stay focused. I can ask good questions. I don’t lose my cool. And I try to see the good that can come from dealing with this difficult situation in a more measured and thoughtful way. And that happens when we use our brains. When we think, think, think instead of having this emotional outburst and response that basically shuts down every bit of my thinking ability. When I think my way out of problems, I promise I show up 100 times better than when I emotionally react in a situation. Then I’m almost always going back and cleaning up a mess, apologizing. Trying to rebuild trust that I just lost. Things like that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. If our listeners … Because we can talk about this idea of a centered leader probably for six or 10 hours. If listeners want to learn more about this concept and how to become more centered, are there some resources that you can point them to? Because I know they’re listening and going, “Okay, I could be better at that.” Because it’s probably no matter how good you’re are at it you could probably be better at it right?

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. Oh, so true. Well, I want to tell the group about a study. You can google it right now after you’re done listening. It’s done by Bain Consulting. B-A-I-N, Bain Consulting. They did this study on inspirational leaders a couple of years ago. This is where I first sort of came up with this idea of, oh, what would the centered leader look like in all practical applications? And the Bain study on inspirational leaders, they examine what is it that makes leaders so inspirational? And they came up with 33 traits. Which I was like, okay, I’m two of the 33. I get overwhelmed. But then they said, but there’s one trait that matters the most and it’s what they call centeredness. So centeredness is engaging all parts of the mind to become fully present. And that’s when I really began to think more intentionally about how would that look like in practical terms? So I encourage that your listeners go find this Bain study if they want to dig a little bit more into it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. We’ll stick it in the show notes so people can grab it. Yeah.

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So if the centeredness is the most important of these 33 traits and I want to get better at that, are there resources that will help me learn what that means and begin to practice it more and maybe be able to teach it to my leadership team?

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. I’m right in the middle of developing some stuff on the centered leader. I’ve got a client, not an agency but a corporate group, that’s just hired me to do a whole series with them this summer on what they call the centered leader because they’re wanting to explore too. And there’s so many tools and resources. There’s one we should give to the audience on triggers. So I can share that one with you that I think could be really valuable. It gets much more into around some of the principles of the brain and how it works.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. Great.

Elise Mitchell:

Which is right around this idea of how do I control my thoughts and emotions a little bit better. There’s some good apps out there, Drew, that I think people ought to check into. I have one called Insight Timer. But there’s one called Calm. There’s one called Headspace. There’s all just-

Drew McLellan:

Lot of my agency owners love Calm. Yeah.

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. It’s a good one. And even with my daughter who’s home with us now this summer. She’s studying for the bar. She just graduated from law school. And she’s been having some anxiety about things and I said, “Hey, let’s do some mindfulness moments together. Let’s just sit outside, maybe at the lunch break or something, and just sit for a couple of minutes and practice together this idea of focus and calm. Because the whole idea is you’re trying to train your mind not to run away from you.”

Drew McLellan:

Interesting.

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. It’s really the voices in your head. We all have them so you’re not crazy if you have them. That’s normal.

Drew McLellan:

But you could be crazy and also have voices in your head. I want to be very clear about that.

Elise Mitchell:

Very true. But you have these voices in your head that are going on these limiting beliefs is something that’s very common for leaders. The anxiety and the worries. And the key there is you want to learn to take control of what you think. I’ll tell you another quick trick that’s really a good one that I share with people. I heard this one a couple of years ago. I thought it was great. Imagine yourself on a hike in the woods and you come into a clearing where you see this beautiful waterfall. And the waters just flowing off the edge of a rock cliff in front of you but you are standing safely on this ledge observing the waterfall. Think about that in the same way with your own thoughts and feelings and emotions. The waterfall is the stream of consciousness of those worries and your emotions and those limiting beliefs that sound so loud in your head. What you want to do is stand on the ledge and observe them and say, “Yes, I see them, but I don’t have to be them. I don’t have to get swept away by the torrent of my thoughts and feelings because I know in the end they don’t really help me. And probably most of them aren’t true. They’re overly worrisome about things.”

“I need to just stand on the ledge and observe that this is sort of the practice of self observation.” Which is stepping outside yourself and turning around and observing yourself. And that’s a really good exercise to do.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s a great idea. Yeah.

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah. Because sometimes I’ll turn around and go, “Ooh, I don’t like what I see.” And I think, “But what do I need to do to change?” And that’s the moment when things get better, is when you say I can change and I can show up differently and it will serve me well when I do.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. This has been fascinating. I feel like we’ve just sort of scratched the surface but I want to be mindful of your time and I think everybody is probably exhausted on the treadmill by now and saying, “Drew and Elise, stop talking. I need to get to work.” So I want to wrap this up. So if folks want to learn more about your work, if they want to follow the work that you’re doing or learn more how they can engage with you, what’s the best way for them to track you down?

Elise Mitchell:

Just come to elisemitchell.com. Just my name. And I have a website there. I have a knowledge center with a lot of resources. I write to my blog every other week or so and I have a lot of training courses and I do a lot of leadership training workshops and I love to do it. I love to engage with leaders. I think it’s because I was an agency leader for 23 years and it was really some of the greatest times of my life. I’d love to stay close to agency leaders and help them be their best.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. This has been awesome. This has been a great conversation and I’m sure we have people whose heads are reeling right now with … What I’m hoping came out of this conversation is a sense that even in this crazy time we have a lot more control than we give ourselves or the world credit for. And a lot of that starts with the control that we have over our own thoughts, our own emotions. And when we grab that control and we show up as our best version of ourselves, we can help other people also grab control and come on the journey with us. Because at the end of the day, I think true for all leaders but certainly in an agency environment, if our people don’t come on the journey with us, we’re done. Right?

Elise Mitchell:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So being a good leader and being somebody that people want to follow even in moments like this, I think is fulfilling. I think it allows us to get to our goals. And I think for most agency owners it is the joy of the journey. I think most people love the people that work with and around them. And to be able to be focused in the same direction and that feeling of that team is just cooking on all cylinders and we’re going in the same direction, that’s a great day for most agency owners. So hopefully we’ve given them a lot of tools to try and create more of those days in this crazy world. So thank you so much for sharing your expertise and your experience. And I love the fact that you know our world as well as you do because you lived in it for so long so really great context for today. So thank you.

Elise Mitchell:

Thank you for having me. It’s great to be with you Drew, always.

Drew McLellan:

It was fun. All right guys. Boy, did Elise give you a lot to think about. She’s going to send me some of the tools that we talked about. We will get you the link to the Bain report on inspirational leaders. We will get you as much of the resources as we can. They’ll all be in the show notes. Be sure you head over to Elise’s website and check that out. I suspect you can give her your email address and she will gladly send you information as she creates new tools for us as leaders.

So here’s the big takeaway, I think, for today is lots of things you can do right now, but also understanding that no matter how awesome you are … And a lot of you are amazing leaders already. No matter how awesome you are, there are some tuneups and some tweaks that you can do, A, and most important, to calm your own head and heart so that you can lead from a place of less anxiety and more calm but also that you can inspire that in your team and in your clients and in your family. So I think this is one where you have some short term homework, but also sort of an acknowledgement that this is work that we can keep doing for the rest of our lives. All right?

So a couple quick reminders before I let you go. Remember that the Build A Better Agency Summit, god willing, we will be together in Chicago. And we’ve got an amazing lineup of speakers who are going to help you really tool your agency for a killer 2021. Interestingly, we’ve got someone coming to talk about impostor syndrome. We’ve got people coming to talk about biz dev. We’ve got people coming to talk about how to make sure your financial house is in order. We’ve got storytellers. We’ve got all kinds of people all focused on the business side of your agency. And as you know, that’s my whole thing is I want you to run the business of your business better. I want you to make more money. I want you to keep more of the money you make. And that’s what those two days are going to be. And they are going to be a celebration. They are going to be a we kicked COVID to the curb. We are strong. We are ready to barrel our way into 2021. And I really want you to be there with us. So head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and you’ll find right on the main navigation the BABA Summit link and you can read all about the conference and grab your ticket there.

Also, a reminder that, remember, we give away a free seat at one of our workshops every month and all you have to do to be in the drawing for that free workshop is to leave us a rating or review on the podcast. So leave your rating or review, take a screenshot of it, because a lot of times your username … I don’t know what that is and it tells me more about something you love or don’t love than tells me about your agency. So take a screenshot, send me an email, and we will put you in the drawing.

All right. That’s what I have for you today. I will be back next week with another guest who’s going to bring it like Elise did today. But in the meantime, you can always track me down at [email protected] Take of yourselves and I’ll see you next week. Thanks for listening.

That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build A Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages, and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.