There is no shortage of advice on how to be a better agency leader, but much of the advice out there is esoteric or theoretical. The ideas are grand, but a solid, tangible game plan is rare. Without clear steps to take, old habits and behaviors easily return before these new ideas have a chance to create lasting change.
Author Jonathan Raymond’s diversified background led to an interest in figuring out how leaders could grow their business in a way that was in alignment with their values. He has developed some interesting ideas and action plans for how to inspire your team to want to follow you.
In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Jonathan and I take a pragmatic approach to leadership. We examine how to recognize when you’re undermining the team and how to create clear expectations. We explore a 5-step method for managing performance. And we discuss the link between personal and professional development. Becoming a better leader starts with a desire, but requires a plan of action. Hopefully, this conversation offers a bit of both.
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.
What You Will Learn in This Episode:
- How to recognize when you’re disempowering your team
- The need to set clear expectations
- A 5-step method for managing performance
- Understanding the time limit on feedback
- Why pattern recognition is important in agency leadership
- The power of uncomfortable silence
- Why personal and professional development aren’t different
- 3 reasons why poor behavior isn’t called out
Ways to contact Jonathan Raymond:
- Sell with Authority (buy Drew’s book)
- Facebook Group for the Build a Better Agency Podcast
- My Future Self Mini-Course
It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run; traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR. Whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you made. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute, and I am back with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Super glad to have you. I have a great guest for you. Before I tell you a little bit about him, let me just get some news in your ear. First of all, if you joined us for the Build a Better Agency Summit 2021, which was back in August, thank you so much for being with us. It was a blast. And in fact, it was so awesome we’re doing it again. So Build a Better Agency Summit 2022 is on the books, May 24th and 25th. The tickets are not going to get any cheaper as we get closer to the event, so if you were with us and you want to come back, which I really hope is the case, grab your ticket now. If you were not with us and you wished you had been with us, grab your ticket now.
If you were not with us and you have no idea what I’m talking about, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, and up in the upper left corner, you’re going to see a nav indicator for BaBA Summit, Build a Better Agency Summit. Click on that and you can read a little bit about the conference and who’s going to be speaking and all the things that we’ve got going on and we will get you all informed. But I’m telling you, it’s two days of learning, it’s two days of laughing, it’s two days of connecting with other agency owners and leaders. I had one agency leader text me and say, “I have never been so sad to leave a professional conference in my entire life.” That just made me so happy.
Yes, the content’s great, and yes, you’re going to learn a lot, but what you’re going to really do is connect with the Agency Management Institute community, other agency owners, and you’re going to find a lot of kindred spirits who are struggling with the same challenges, having the same successes and are really eager and ready to share with you what they know and to learn what you know. So I hope you join us May 24th and 25th. It’s in Chicago, and you can grab your ticket now. We are about a third sold out. It’s capped at 300 people. So it’s a nice small, intimate group people. It’s not thousands and thousands of people. But I do expect us to sell out. So if you’re interested, you might as well save some money and get your ticket now. That’s what I have to say about that.
All right, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So Jonathan Raymond is the CEO of a company called Refound and the author of a book called Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For. And Jonathan has some really interesting ideas about how we should show up as leaders and managers. And I’m going to pick his brain because I think the book is brilliant, it’s super helpful, very pragmatic, lots of good applicable tips that you can put right into play. And he’s got some really interesting ideas around leadership and how to inspire your team to want to follow you. And I think you’re really going to enjoy the conversation and him and his insights. So let’s get right to it. Jonathan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Hey, Drew. Good to be on.
So give everybody a little bit of your background and how you came to write both books, because you’ve got a new book coming out. And just give us the lay of the land of how you came to know what you know.
Sure. So I started out my career as an attorney, actually, in a big firm in New York and became very disillusioned very quickly about life in a big New York City law firm. I transitioned… Actually, a few bumps in the road. Went into tech, went into clean energy, went into the nonprofit space, and I spent basically 15, 20 years trying to figure out what I was good at professionally. And it turned out what I was good at was taking ideas of whatever type and making them real. So I was good at the business development part of it, about explaining what we did how we did it and why it mattered.
But while I was doing that, mostly what my heart was in was as a personal and spiritual seeker. So I was really focused a lot on my own development. I was trying to figure out who I was as a human. As a young man, I was very depressed and single and couldn’t figure out how to do relationships and couldn’t figure out my place in the world. And so I was exploring all sorts of things; meditation, yoga, somatic psychotherapy, anything and everything I could get my hands on to try to figure out who I was and how I wanted to be.
And it was really the convergence of those two things that led me to what I do now, which is essentially how do you grow businesses? How do you get better at the business part of it in a way that is in alignment with your values of who you want to be and what does that mean to be authentic? And so that led me to the beginning of the current place in my role, which I know we’ll get into, but that’s sort of two lives converging into one, thankfully.
So what about the convergence of that led you to start the company, led you to share what now as an author?
It came to a head of really screwing it up where I was running as a CEO. It was my first real gig as a CEO, some 10, 12 years ago, and I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought I was reasonable, I thought I was generally good at talking with people. And I realized through very, very painful personal experience that whatever I thought I had learned in my own personal growth, in my own emotional work wasn’t translating. And I was still the same arrogant ass that I was beforehand and I had not figured out how to actually be a good human with the people on my team. And I lost my team, essentially. The business was okay, but I lost the momentum of my team and the culture that I had built.
And people, I just could tell that people just, they didn’t want to follow me anymore. And that was a rude awakening that the things as I said, the things that I thought I knew and the ways that I thought I had evolved was mostly BS. It was mostly a story that I was telling myself that I had evolved when I actually hadn’t. And that really led me to rethink what I was doing and how I was going about it. And that led me to change my style and approach. And not just at work, in my own relationships with my wife. We were going through a difficult time financially, changing how I was thinking really about everything. And so that’s really what led me to write Refound.
It was really about me being refound. And it was also, I started to work with clients and I started to have some successes with teaching what I was learning about myself, which was new for me trying to coach and teach other people. I was very transparent about this. I said, “Look, this is working for me. I don’t know if it’s going to work for you, but it’s working for me.” And here we are some, whatever it is, eight years later putting something good out.
But now you’re finding that it does work for other people.
It does, yeah. And I’ve been really surprised, because for example, I didn’t have you know… We have clients, some of them are creative agencies, some of them are big manufacturing, some are healthcare, some are tech, it’s all over the map. And my background was really as an office person, right? I was doing business development for software startups, energy businesses. And what’s been really lovely and surprising to me is how these ideas have translated across really all industries and different stages. So that’s been very rewarding. That’s been really the best part for me.
So we keep talking about it keeps working. So what is it?
Yeah, what is it? So there are three core ideas that I teach. They’re all in the book Good Authority. The first is an idea called More Yoda, Less Superhero. The second is idea around alignment that sparks ownership, and the third is a tool called the Accountability Dial. So we can dive into this a little bit.
The first one is really that More Yoda, Less Superhero mindset, which is what I found for myself was I learned how to be, I was rewarded for, and I only recognized myself as a superhero. Superhero, I got things done, didn’t take no for an answer, drove things forward, created results, solved problems, fixed things. I got it done. That’s how I knew myself. That was the self-value that I had.
What I didn’t know how to do was to be more Yoda. I didn’t know how to really be curious, how to hold space for other people to ask questions that they maybe didn’t feel so comfortable asking. I didn’t know how to develop people in a way that created productive discomfort. So I would be like, “Oh, you need to do this.” That doesn’t help anyone.
The “let me just fish for you” model.
Yeah. And so this idea of More Yoda, Less Superhero, all of the folks that we work with, whether they’re CEOs of multinationals or first-time managers, what we’ve seen is everybody these days, and was true before COVID, it’s even more true now, people are struggling to keep up with the amount of work, with the pace of work, and with the level of detail that shows up in your inbox. And if you’re not careful and intentional and thoughtful, you just end up in this perpetual scramble, in superhero mode trying to get everything done. And that shift to more Yoda, that’s the core mindset shift.
[inaudible 00:10:26] that look like? How do you really delegate in this crazy world we live in? How do you create space for other people to grow? How do you build yourself as a replaceable person in the org chart so that you can elevate-
So how do you do those things?
So the first thing that you do is you inventory, is you figure out how you’re not doing that today. So we have a set of exercises. We work with leaders in coaching programs, we work with managers in our training program to really identify what are the ways… We call it the Shape of Your Cape, is an exercise that we do. And what are the ways that you’re actually doing that today, where you are disempowering your team, and for example, disempowering your team and disempowering yourself at the same time.
So for example, I was walking with one of my… It was a client of mine who was a VP in a large business. And I followed him around for the day. We came from four different meetings, super interesting meetings. There was a lot of good stuff. He added a ton of value to those meetings. And we walked and we sat down and we went to go have some lunch, and I said, “So what do you think? What do you think I’m going to say?” And he is like, “Well…” And he went [inaudible 00:11:33]. And I said, “Why are you in those meetings?” And he looked at me and he was like, “I don’t know. I said, “It’s not that you didn’t add value. You did. That’s the problem.”
And he looked at me and his eyes lit up and he’s like, “Yeah, I just have this feeling I’m not supposed to be there, but I don’t know how to not be there.” And I said, “Okay, well, if you weren’t there, what would need to happen?” So we did a whole… “Well, what kind of visibility would you need coming out of that meeting so you can relax and not actually be…” So there was a whole process that we went through. Sometimes it’s really basic stuff, but emotionally, it’s really difficult to extricate ourselves to pull our fingers off of this journey.
Yeah. What’s interesting is I talk to agency owners and they are trying to get out of the day-to-day and focus on actually doing their job as the business owner. A lot of them will say to me is, “I feel guilty I’m not doing stuff. I’m not in the meetings. I’m not contributing.” And I’m like, “No, of course you are, are contributing, but you’re doing your job and you haven’t been doing it before. So you’ve been doing other people’s job, and A, it was easy for you because it’s old hat. But B, it was, you were making a thing somehow, like decision or actually making a thing, so that felt super productive. And your actual work isn’t about making things, it’s about knowing things. And that looks really different.
And we can borrow from the big guys, let’s say, right? Like, so if you talk with a 50-year-old executive coaching firm, Refound is 10 years old, we do it a little differently. But the old guard has a lot to teach us. And one of the things that they would say if they were talking to any of those clients at the executive level, they would ask you, “How many days are you spending working on the future of the business?” And it should be like three out of five, at least. How about as a agency owner or a small business owner? Maybe it’s at least one. Let’s start with one where you’re spending one day a week, 20% of the week focused on the future of the business.
Guess what? When your team sees you doing that, senses you doing that, they’re going to love that they know that that’s what you’re doing. I’m doing that right now. I’m working on my second book, so I haven’t been around the business as much as I normally would be. I can feel it. My team, they love that I’m out writing a new book, putting something out that’s going to build the future of the business. If I’m there, they’ll ask me questions and I’ll have an opinion and my opinion will be stupid or smart or whatever, but they don’t need me there. They need me not there.
Yeah. Well, one of the things I advocate is for agency owners to be out of the office at least a day a week. And I’m like, “You have no idea what a safety net you are for your team.” And they ask you questions, not because they don’t know the answers, but it feels better to have you validate the answer before they go ahead. But if you’re not there, they’ll figure it out. But we have to get out of the way. We have to be invisible a little bit.
Yeah. And this is part of the mindset shift. This is a… We’ll do a little bit of maybe mass coaching here, is just to… You can and should say to your team, “Hey, here’s something that I want to be able to do, which is I want to spend one day a week out of the office, or two days a week, and it’s really hard for me.” You can and should be a little vulnerable about it. “This is really hard for me. You know me, I want to be in on everything, I want to… It’s really hard for me. I could really use your help. Give me a little poke. Be like, “Hey, Jonathan, why are you here?”
“It’s Tuesday, get out.”
“It’s Tuesday, get out. We don’t need you.” I give you my permission, I give you my blessing, because this is hard for me.
Yeah. And it also says, “And I have faith in you and I want you to move ahead without me. Don’t wait. Keep going.”
And this goes to our second, the second of the three framework. So we say, “Hey, you got to be more Yoda, less superhero.” When you decide to do that, the next thing that you have to do is you have to make a set of new agreements with your people. That’s what we call agreements that spark ownership. So if I’m going to step away, if I’m not going to be up in their business the way I was before, well, we have to agree, well, what are their roles? What are they accountable for? What’s the purpose of their role? And there’s a tool that we introduce that we work with leaders so that people feel a sense of clarity.
McKenzie did this longitudinal study, eight million managers, what’s the biggest challenge? Setting clear expectations. So we introduced a tool for how do you do that in a way where people feel like, “Okay, I got it.” He or she is going to step back a little bit, and as a result, “Here’s what I need to own. Here’s, not what are the tasks in my inbox, but what’s the purpose? What’s the essence. What’s the question that I should be asking when Drew’s not here.” So that’s the second of the three things that we work with leaders on.
So we keep talking about the book. So I just want to mention the book is called Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For. That’s the book that’s already written. And then you are finishing up a new book, correct?
Yes. I’m working on a second book. We’ll see if the title holds, but the current title is Grow Out of Control. Okay. We can talk a little bit about what that book is about, but that’s the current title. And it’s a book for everyone. But Good Authority was really a book written for leaders and managers, and Grow Out of Control was a book written for everyone to move beyond this conversation around strengths or weaknesses, which is a really annoying conversation. It’s not about strengths. It’s not about, should you double down on your strengths or work on your weaknesses? It’s about learning what your strengths are and learning how to work with them responsibly.
Because what happens is we have a strength, everybody’s got a strength. In the book I talk about the seven strengths, but what happens is we overrely on it. We become a one-trick pony and we only know how to be that one thing. We hold ourselves back in our career as a result. So evolution is about saying, “Hey, I’m really good at that. I’m never going to not be good at that, but I’m going to diversify my portfolio of strengths a little bit.” So that’s what that book was about.
So the third of the… So it was Yoda, it was align, have agreements that lead to ownership. And the third one again was?
The third one is actually the one we’re most known for, it’s the most popular, probably for obvious reasons. It’s called the Accountability Dial. And the Accountability Dial is a five-step method for how to start, manage, and complete development conversations, feedback conversations. So it’s, how do you do it in a way that doesn’t leave people feelings defensive, that is based in curiosity, that assumes positive intent, that’s based in principles of psychological safety? Which are all words that mean something to some people but are irrelevant to most of humans. What matters is, does it work? What words do I need to use? When do I need to use them so that I can make observations about what I’m seeing in ways where people go, “Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought of that,” or, “I noticed that too. I wasn’t really sure why I did it that way.”
So it’s a five-step process that we teach for leaders and managers mostly. But it’s for when you see things that are happening that are not good, but it’s also for when you see things that are happening that are good. Leaders don’t do enough of that. How do we reinforce moments of good behavior, moments of good collaboration, moments where things are aligned, moments when people do do the right things? Managers and leaders don’t do enough to put their thumbs on those moments and say, “Hey,” not just, “That was good, but that was good because, and the impact that it had was blank. And if you do more of that, it’s going to lead to X.” That’s constructive feedback. At best, most people say, “Oh, that was good.”
Right. So briefly just give us an overview of the five steps. And then we’re going to take a break and then we’ll dig into the steps after the break.
Sure. So the mention is the first step in the Accountability Dial. It’s like, if you see something, say something. “Hey, I was in this morning’s meeting and I got the sense that people were a little bit unclear about what the objective was. Did you sense that?” That’s a mention. Now, there’s nothing punitive about it, there’s nothing hostile, it’s not aggressive. I’m not demonstrating my authority. It’s just, I noticed something I wanted to raise. That’s it.
The invitation is the second step, when you’re seeing a pattern. Maybe it’s a couple days later. “I noticed… Do you remember I said something about that meeting? I don’t know, it just seems like the team was a little bit less… They’re not as crisp as they usually are. I know there was this difficult moment that we had with a client. It seems like there’s a bit of a pattern brewing here and I don’t know what it’s about, but it seems like we should get out ahead of it.” So it’s pattern recognition is the second step.
The third step is what we call the conversation. So the second step we call the invitations. We had mention, invitation, wow we’re at the third step which is the conversation, which is talking about the impact. So who cares? So those things that you observed, why does that matter? So what impact is it having on the team’s ability to perform at a high level? What impact is it having on our working relationship? What impact is it having on our customer or partner or vendor? Let’s get specific. What are the impacts of that behavior? So we’re not just giving feedback to give feedback. We’re giving feedback because it’s connected to something that matters to us. That’s the conversation. And some of this happens in one-on-one conversations, but a lot of it can happen in a hallway, a virtual hallway or a real hallway, if you’re so fortunate in our world today.
The fourth step is the boundary. The boundary is, “Hey, what needs to change by when? What does change look like? How are we going to measure it? And what’s the agreement that we’re going to have?” So i