Episode 344

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As agency owners, the work environments we create are a direct reflection of our leadership styles. In a trust-led environment, our people should feel safe to speak up, take risks, and take ownership of the work they produce. Trust is the cornerstone for strong communication, creativity, and the innovation that fuels our business. So, what happens when trust isn’t part of the equation?

Our guest for this episode of Build a Better Agency, Sue Dyer, is an expert on all things leadership. She wrote the book on trusted leadership (literally) and has seen firsthand how teams and even entire agencies tend to fall apart when the people at the helm aren’t leading with trust.

During our conversation, Sue and I unpack what it means to be a trusted leader, how agency owners can determine their leadership style, and what it takes to build successful organizations based on trust.

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

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What it means to be a trusted agency leader
  • Why trust is the cornerstone of success for any business
  • How to create a high-trust environment at your agency
  • Ways to help new team members adapt to a trusted environment
  • Why “fear-led” environments have wiped out so many businesses
  • How to determine whether or not you are a trusted leader
  • What to do in order to start becoming a trusted leader
“I don’t know any great leaders who aren’t also trusted leaders.” @sudyco Click To Tweet “A leader is someone who has followers when following is 100% voluntary.” @sudyco Click To Tweet “You cannot succeed long-term in a high-fear environment.” @sudyco Click To Tweet “The primary job of a trusted leader is to create an atmosphere of trust.” @sudyco Click To Tweet “People still believe that their people won’t do what they want them to do unless they use some kind of power.” @sudyco Click To Tweet “Values create attitudes, and attitudes begin to create behaviors.” @sudyco Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Sue Dyer:

Resources:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build A Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money, and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down the road sellable, with 25 plus years of experience as both an agency, owner, and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Super excited to be back with you again today, this week with another great guest, to talk about how to scale and grow your business, and how to think about your agency a little differently, and how to be really the leader that you want to be, and how to groom other folks to be the leaders you want them to be. That’s going to be the topic for today.

At AMI, we have a couple different ways that we serve leaders inside agencies. We do a lot of things for agency owners, of course, but we also have some offerings for folks on your leadership team. So, first thing that we have is we have a peer group, we call it the key exec group. They meet twice a year in Chicago, and they’re basically a cohort of about 12 or three teen agencies. So 15 to 20 people in a room, same folks get together every time, so they get to know each other and become a support system to each other.

But they come together and for two days they share best practices, and learn from each other, and from us. And they don’t talk about financials for your agency, but they get into all the other nitty-gritty stuff, systems, process, people, all of that. And they come back fired up and understanding how they can help you, the agency owner grow your business the way you want to. So if you’re interested in that, you can find out more about that.

Let me try that again. If you’re interested in that for your team members, you can find out more about that on the website, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com and under membership, look for key executive, and you can read more about it and shoot us an email and ask questions.

The other way that we serve leaders is that we have some coaching around leadership and a curriculum around that. And so if you’re grooming a young leader to take over a department position, or maybe even grooming them to be your successor someday, we have one-on-one coaching for them that will help them learn how to be the kind of leader that you want them to be.

Anyway, those are two ways that we serve leaders. So, that tee in or that lead in for me is perfectly timed because my guest this week is a woman named Sue Dyer. Sue is a subject matter expert around leadership. She just released a book not too long ago called The Trusted Leader: Using the Partnering Approach to Become the Trusted Leader People Want to Follow, just hit number two on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller’s List.

It’s a great read, and really insightful, and practical and just smart. And Sue’s also going to be with us at the summit this May. So I’m excited about having her on the main stage to share her knowledge about leadership and what a trusted leader looks like, and how we all can figure out, are we a trusted leader? And if there’s a gap in that, how do we close that gap? So, it’s going to be a great conversation, I have lots of questions for her. So let me introduce you to her and let’s get started. Sue, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Sue Dyer:

Thank you so much, Drew. I’m very happy to be here today.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, I am excited because this is kind of a twofer. So, we’re going to talk today, but you’re also going to be at the Build a Better Agency Summit, talking about leadership. And I just think that’s such a huge topic right now as people struggle to lead in this new world that we’re in the middle of. So I’m excited that they’re going to get double doses of you. So thanks for agreeing to do this today.

Sue Dyer:

Hopefully it’s good.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, I have no doubt it’s going to be good. So tell everybody a little bit about your background, and how you came to write the book, and then I have a ton of questions for you, so.

Sue Dyer:

Yeah, so for 40 years, I was a leader and a thought leader in the construction industry. And I used it as a living laboratory to figure out how to create and lead teams of diverse people in a manner that actually creates success. Because it seemed like in order to be successful, you had to have the gods with you, the weather with you, the sun and moon aligned. And then maybe if you were really lucky, you’d be successful.

And I thought, there’s got to be more to it than that. So after 4,000 projects with the beginning, middle, and end and working to create a model that creates predictable results, I actually ended up creating five models and one of them was called a Trusted Leadership Model. And that’s what I wrote my book on, and we were lucky enough to hit number two on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller’s List so-

Drew McLellan:

That’s awesome, congratulations.

Sue Dyer:

Thank you.

Drew McLellan:

So, you came up with five models. What made the other models not right, and the Trusted Leader Model right?

Sue Dyer:

The reason I wrote this one first and put this one as the first thing, because every single project or business that I worked with, I would not be able to get the kind of results I knew would be possible, simply because the leaders didn’t know how to create a high trust environment. And they didn’t have the mindset that allowed for that to happen.

And so I thought, well, the very first thing you have to do is get that right. If you don’t get that right, then your business isn’t going to be high trust, no matter how much you try to work on it down in the project level, client level, organizational level. You’ll of course be a lot more successful, but not as successful as you could be, not extraordinary. So I thought, that’s the first place. So it’s about training your brain to think and act like a trusted leader, to know, to learn how to create a high trust environment.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. What I think I’m hearing you say is that the other models weren’t something you tossed, it’s that they’re more advanced.

Sue Dyer:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

And that this is the starter kit to being a great and amazing leader is you start by becoming a trusted leader.

Sue Dyer:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

And then you get to advance to the other models.

Sue Dyer:

Yes. In fact, I would say, I don’t know any leaders that are great leaders that aren’t trusted.

Drew McLellan:

In other words, you have four more books in you and you’re going to keep coming back on the podcast to teach us how to keep getting better at this leadership thing.

Sue Dyer:

Yes. Yes. It all starts with what’s between your ears.

Drew McLellan:

Yes, as it often does, frustratingly, right?

Sue Dyer:

It does.

Drew McLellan:

It’d be so awesome if it was about what other people had to do, yeah.

Sue Dyer:

Well, that’s later on.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, okay.

Sue Dyer:

But it still comes from what you’re doing. What you do is a reflection in your business, it just always is. And so the first thing is to learn how to create the intentions and the values which I call the partnering approach, that actually sets up the business because people follow you. My definition of a leader is a little bit different than most people’s.

Drew McLellan:

Can you tell us?

Sue Dyer:

My definition is that a leader is someone who has followers, and following is 100% voluntary. So people don’t follow you if they don’t trust you. And right now, my book could not be more relevant in the world stage as you watch Putin and Zelensky.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Sue Dyer:

Because you have a feared leader who doesn’t know what’s going on because people are afraid to tell him what’s going on, and has just decided that the more power to, the more power he can make anything happen. And then you have Zelensky who’s a trusted leader, and he is in with his people, and trying to create an environment of trust worldwide. And it always has predictable results. That’s one of the things I’ve learned, it always has a predictable result.

Drew McLellan:

Huh. It’s fascinating.

Sue Dyer:

You cannot succeed long term in a high fear environment.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, I think trusted leaders, one of those things where if you add every leader, and you said, “Are you a trusted leader?” There we go, “Absolutely.” I don’t think very many leaders go, “No, my people do not trust me.” So what is a trust… How do I actually know if I’m a trusted leader? How do I know in what we’ve been talking about, how do I know if I can just ignore this and wait until the next book comes out, or that I have some work to do? And I would guess everybody has some work to do, but how do I know where I am in the spectrum?

Sue Dyer:

Yeah, I would agree with you that it’s sort of like love, is there enough of it? And when do I know if I have enough? But it is also very easy to measure where you are with the trusted leader profile that I’ve created. So, it is a profile where you fill out some questions, and then you will get a report on your profile and it will give you a few things.

The first thing it’s going to give you is, there are five styles from feared leader to trusted leader. So I’ll show you what style you are. And then you’ll also get a number. What number along the continuum are you, between one and 15? So you can see it exactly where you are. What is your trust level? And it’s really interesting to also do this profile with your entire team, because you can then see, well, where is our team at? And why do you feel this way? Why is this going on?

Then you’re also going to get two graphs. And the first graph is your primary style. And this is the way you’re actually leading. These are the norms you’re creating in your business. And then you’ll get graph two, which is your secondary style, and this is your perceived way of leading. This is your perceived style.

Drew McLellan:

My self perceived way?

Sue Dyer:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

All right.

Sue Dyer:

You think you’re leading with graph two and how you’re actually leading as graph one. If there is a gap, a difference, significant difference, you can see that. And of course, that’s first place you need to look at, how do I reconcile these? And then beyond that, you can see between the continuums on the 14 different elements where you fall, and you can see where they’re different, sorry, you can compare paragraph one and graph two. And it gives you pretty specific things to work on.

Drew McLellan:

If people want to… So if I understand it right, I’m self grading myself, right, I’m not asking my team.

Sue Dyer:

It’s a self assessment, yes.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. Where would someone go to take this and [crosstalk 00:11:13]-

Sue Dyer:

Yes, you can go to my website, which is sudyco.com/profile S-U-D-Y-C-O.com/profile. And right now it’s free and I’m making it free to your people, it’s going to be not free here in the very short period of time.

Drew McLellan:

Well, yeah, when you have a Wall Street Journal Bestselling novel or book, you don’t have to give it away for free anymore. So, on behalf of my readers, thank you for letting them continue to do it for free. So we’ll include that link in the show notes.

Sue Dyer:

Perfect.

Drew McLellan:

Folks, for those of you who are on the treadmill or driving, do not try and remember it or stop and write it down or text it. Do not text it to yourself while you’re driving. I promise we got you covered in the show notes. Okay. So, I’m going to take this profile and I’m going to learn that perhaps I’m not as trusted as I would like to be.

Sue Dyer:

You may also find that you’re more trusted than you think you are in certain ways too.

Drew McLellan:

Interesting. Okay. This seems like a really stupid question, but why is trust such a cornerstone in your opinion, around leadership?

Sue Dyer:

Well, this is what I’ve seen happen. So, let’s just go to the two diverse polls, right? When you work in a feared leader atmosphere, what happens is that the leader really drives everything through fear and then fear is around punishment. So you don’t have to be there more than five minutes before you begin to realize that if I don’t do what I’m told, exactly how I’m told, punishment will be involved.

And I don’t want to be punished. I like my job, I’ve got a mortgage, I’ve got a car payment. I’m going to do what I’m told. But I feel as though I am being forced to do something in a way I don’t really think is best, and I certainly wouldn’t do it this way. And so coercion begins to grow and be the norm of how the whole team operates. And for anybody who I have to lead or reports to me, I coerce them into doing what I want. So everybody does exactly what they’re told to do. And that’s how the entire business or each team operates.

What happens over time is that everyone just settles into this and they start complying. Okay, you tell me what to do, I’ll do that. You tell me to do that, I’m going to do that. And you’ll begin to see, teams like this will tell me things like, “Well, meetings, we don’t have meetings, what’s the point? There’s nothing to talk about. We don’t talk.” So conversation gets very stifled, nobody really tells anybody anything, nobody’s going to stick their neck out and say, “Something’s wrong,” or “I have an idea.”

Drew McLellan:

So, no early warning signs from your team because they don’t want to get into trouble.

Sue Dyer:

You’re not getting that. And so a problem always pops up sometime, right? Big problem pops up, nobody is going to tell anybody about it, nobody is going to share an idea, nobody’s going to say, “There’s an opportunity here.” No one’s going to tell each other. So it always, always leads to you the failure of whatever you’re working on, and I have seen it wipe out over and over and over the entire business, over and over and over.

Drew McLellan:

I would also think it would contribute to turnover, like that doesn’t sound like-

Sue Dyer:

For sure.

Drew McLellan:

… an awesome place to work, right?

Sue Dyer:

If someone had a chance to move somewhere else, they’re going to move, absolutely. So, that’s why I created the model to move more towards the trusted leadership side where you work there and you feel… The primary job of a trusted leader is to create an atmosphere of trust. And so, you start working there and pretty soon, you’re talking to the leader, you’re talking around, hey, I feel like, okay, I don’t know this person very well, but I feel like I could trust them. So at least I start out that way. And I feel like I’m choosing to be a part of this. I’m choosing to lead, I’m choosing to be here, and so does everyone else. And-

Drew McLellan:

I’m choosing to take risks, I’m choosing to speak up, I’m choosing to say ideas that feel half baked, but maybe somebody can help me bake [crosstalk 00:15:46] right?

Sue Dyer:

I’m here by choice. And so everyone feels that way, so pretty quickly you begin to feel coercion. And that sense of we’re a purpose, we’re in this together, we’re going to make this happen. And so from there, that really creates commitment. And commitment to the leader, commitment to each other, commitment to whatever we’re trying to achieve. And I really know that the business is going to be really successful when say things like, “We’re committed to doing whatever it takes.”

Now, you’ve created the right atmosphere that allows for creativity and innovation to occur, and I’m just going to tell you, it’s impossible, impossible to have innovation without this atmosphere. Now, every problem is an opportunity. You can find ways to do things differently, you’re going to share ideas, you’re going to share problems, you’re going to share what’s going on.

Communication becomes open, honest, transparent, and they will create solutions to things. And so, because this team is working together, they make improvements. And that leads to the growth of the business, the growth of even the entire industry often. And they just do extraordinary things. And so, that’s [crosstalk 00:16:59]-

Drew McLellan:

I was talking to Carla Johnson, who also is going to be speaking at the summit. And she wrote a book called RE:Think Innovation, and we did a workshop together which was brilliant, she’s just brilliant. But actually, she was asking me, who else was speaking at the summit? I had dinner with her last week and so I said that you were going to be there. And she was like, “Oh, that’s great. Because people can’t do what I’m going to teach them until they do what Sue teaches them.” So she agrees with you that innovation cannot happen without trust.

Sue Dyer:

It’s peanut butter and jelly, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, so true. And I would also assume, well, let me back up. How many organizations percentage-wise do you think are an organization built on trust with a trusted leader in place? Is that a common thing or an uncommon thing?

Sue Dyer:

I think it’s still quite uncommon. In fact, I was giving a speech and this was an international group. And in the questions I actually got asked, “Are you saying that fear and intimidation is a bad thing?”

Drew McLellan:

Wow. Out loud, they asked that question.

Sue Dyer:

Yeah. Well, I just like… I still get those questions and people still believe that their people won’t do what they want if they don’t use some kind of power.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Interesting. So-

Sue Dyer:

I still think it’s the norm, and it costs the economy and the businesses trillions of dollars because we have five university level research projects that have been done on my models. Which shows that you get about a 10% savings in cost, time, 12% improvement in satisfaction, and then of course about the same in innovation and all those are additive.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right, that’s a huge… So, what made me think of that question was I… I was hearing you talk about what it looks like to be a trusted organization, build on trust, with the trusted leader. And I was thinking, so what that means is every time we hire someone, odds are, they’re coming from an organization that is not built in trust. And so, we’re not starting at ground zero, we’re starting at a negative number. They walk in being distrustful and anticipating that our environment, no matter what we said in the interview or whatever is going to be like their last environment, even if they’re hopeful that it’s different.

How do you onboard someone into a trusted environment as a trusted leader when you know they’re coming from a very different place, because there’s so much movement right now with employees and things like that. It just seems to me that every time you would sort of hit the status quo of everybody’s trusting each other, and they’re pulling the wagon in the same direction, and then you add somebody who isn’t wired that way right now, because they’ve been trained to be distrustful in a distrusting environment or a fear based environment. How do you help them acclimate to an environment where trust actually is real?

Sue Dyer:

I probably have two answers to that. One is that what I have seen is that the high trust leader, high trust environment attracts the best of the best, and keeps the best of the best. So people select to go to that business because of the environment and the leadership. So then it’s not a mystery they’re going for that purpose. And then you better be consistent with what their expectation is.

And then the second thing is if they’re not, and they just happen to be lucky and get a job up there, what I’ve seen is that there’s definitely a learning curve for people to trust it, but it doesn’t take that long, but again, it has to be consistent. So it’s not something that can be faked, it has to be consistent. And then the onboarding places that I’ve seen did a really good job was by allowing, have someone that’s sort of their buddy for a while, and introduces them around, and they talk to enough people who say, “Yes, this is real. Yes, this is really how it is. Yes, this is what we’re doing.” And even eventually, the most doubting of Thomases begin to say, “This is cool.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. I like this, I want more of this. What does it look like? If I’m… Actually, you know what, let’s take a break and then I’ll come back and ask, but my question was, let me finish my thought and then we’ll take a break and come back. I wonder if people can tell if they are in a trusted environment, not if they have a trusted leader, but if the trusted leader’s leadership style or attitude has permeated the organization, how would I recognize a trusting, an organization built on trust?

Let’s take a quick break and then come back and dig into that. Hey, I promise we will get right back to the conversation, but I wanted to make sure you knew that we have two AE Bootcamps coming up, two live workshops. The first one is the Advanced A Bootcamp. That’s going to be for folks who have five years or so of experience being an AE in an agency. That’s going to be in Chicago, June 16th and 17th. And you can register by going to the AMI website and going under the, how we help in finding the workshop tab, and you’ll find the Advanced AE Bootcamp there.

Again, it’s two full days of learning and sharing. So the AEs not only learn from us the ins