Episode 277

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Leadership can feel like a loaded word. We often think about leadership as defining how you run your business but, to me, that refers to how you manage, not how you lead. Leadership is how you show up, and great leadership isn’t just about getting people to do what you want, it’s about inspiring them to WANT to do what you are asking because they are invested, emotionally and otherwise, in your goals and the goals of the agency. In this podcast, we’re going to explore how we can get to be that kind of leader.

As a self-proclaimed “snow globe shaker”, Jeff Nischwitz is on a mission to shake up how we lead and the impact of that leadership. A global speaker and coach, Jeff is all about pushing aside our fears and leading from the heart so we can all be better leaders.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Jeff and I talk about the challenges and revelations of agency leadership over the last year during the pandemic. Beyond that we dive into the untapped power of vulnerability, the need for grace, and the biggest fears in modern leadership. We look at the specific skills and tools that leaders will need as we move into the next normal.

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.

Better leadership

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The need for vulnerability in better leadership
  • How fear is driving leadership challenges
  • Why what you tolerate defines your agency
  • The importance of creating a “no waiting zone” in your agency
  • Defining the difference between a good manager and a good leader
  • How the concept of grace is missing from business leadership
  • Why leaders need to invest in the physical and emotional safety of their team
  • Understanding why bad leadership is actually a selfish act
  • The need to reframe your definition of “nice”
“Vulnerability breeds authenticity and those two things together is the foundation of trust which is vital to leading people.” @jeffnischwitz Click To Tweet “There’s a lot of great managers. There’s not a lot of great leaders.” @jeffnischwitz Click To Tweet “Leadership is not about our processes and systems. It’s about our people.” @jeffnischwitz Click To Tweet “Great discomfort always proceeds great outcomes.” @jeffnischwitz Click To Tweet “Your leadership, your culture, and your impact are not defined by what you say, they are defined by what and who you tolerate.” @jeffnischwitz Click To Tweet “In business we so often talk about the return on investment; but moving forward the most important will be the return on safety: the safety of our people both physically and emotionally.” @jeffnischwitz Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Jeff Nischwitz:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

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 make. 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 McClellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. This topic this week is one of my favorites, so I’m anxious to get to it. But before we do that, I want to remind you that we have a workshop coming up, it is just for agency owners. If an agency owner shows up, they’re welcome to bring their right-hand person, but the right-hand person can’t come without the owner. It’s called Running Your Agency For Growth And Profit, and it is April 6th and 7th in Chicago.

Drew McLellan:

We’re going to spend two days together talking about all of the backend systems, finance, operations, workflow, BizDev, all of those sorts of topics, all of the things that you need to do well to run your business effectively, to grow it and to grow it profitably. And so we’re going to spend two days doing that in Chicago, and I would love to have you join us. It is one of our most requested and recommended workshops from people who have attended it, they want to recommend other people to it, they are asking if they can send team members to it, which again, it’s really is very-owner focused. It’s really a big picture thinking.

Drew McLellan:

We do get into the nitty-gritty of a lot of things, but they’re all going to be things that you as an owner have to decide to do or not do or to care about or not care about. So you’re welcome to bring someone with you, your integrator, if you will, if you follow the traction model, or your COO or your director of account service, but the owner has to be in the room as well. So like I said, we get rave reviews, we hear things like, “Oh my gosh, I wish I had known this 20 years ago.” Or, “Where were you Drew McLellan five years ago?” So I know the content is valuable.

Drew McLellan:

And we’re constantly tweaking it and updating it, of course, as things change. But the core of it is all about how to be more profitable and how to grow your business. And again, growth isn’t always about the top line, there’s lots of ways to grow your business, and we talk a lot of those. So I would love to have you join us, you can register on the workshop… On the workshop? Listen to me. You can register on the website under the, How We Help tab, you’ll find the workshops listed and you can jump right in. So we’d love to see you there. All right. Let’s talk a little bit about leadership. I think that’s a loaded word, and I think it’s a word that…

Drew McLellan:

I think a lot of people think about leadership in terms of how you run your business, but I think that’s more about how you manage your business. I think leadership is much more about how you show up and how you encourage your team to show up than it is about the nuts and bolts of your business. And I’m going to warn you, I’m recording this intro after I have talked to my guests, and we are recording this right before Christmas, December 22nd, to be exact. And it is been a crazy day in my neighborhood for the Amazon Truck and the UPS and FedEx people.

Drew McLellan:

And so you may hear, we have the best editors on the planet, but you may on occasion, hear Heather, let me know that the house is under siege because there is someone in the neighborhood delivering a package to someone, wasn’t even to our door, but nonetheless, she needed to alert me that we were under attack and we must immediately defend the castle. So I’m sure the editors will get most of it out, but if on occasion you hear a dog bark or snuffle, that is not my editor’s fault, it was just, it was a very busy, active day in the neighborhood.

Drew McLellan:

Anyway, leadership is about how you show up leadership is about how you…I think the word lead is a misnomer. I think great leadership is not getting people to do what you want them to do, I think great leadership is getting them to want to do what you need and want them to do so that your priorities are their priorities, that they care so much about the company, and the outcome, and the clients, and the agency owner that they work for, that they want to march into battle, metaphorically, with and for that owner. I think that’s what leadership’s about. And I’ve said this to you before, but I think many of you have been an unbelievable in the last year.

Drew McLellan:

I think how you have shown up and how you have been vulnerable, how you have reached out to your people to connect with them at a level that you’ve never connected with them before because you knew that they were hurting and they were frustrated, or they were scared, or whatever was going on in their life at that moment, but you didn’t show up like a boss, you showed up like a caring, compassionate, human being, and you were willing to let them know that you weren’t okay with everything that’s been going on either. And that you’ve had struggles, but you also galvanized them, you excited them about what you were going to do together.

Drew McLellan:

You gave them confidence that you were going to get them through the storm and you have, you absolutely have. And many of you have earned your stripes as a leader in 2020. There is no doubt in my mind about it. And I think you’re going to bear the benefits of that as we go into 2021, I think your team sees you differently, and I think they have even more respect and affection for you because you didn’t have all the answers and because you were transparent about the fact that you were figuring it out, you were repairing the plane while you were flying it.

Drew McLellan:

Nobody had all the answers this year, and I think the fact that you were forced to show your hand, that you were called upon to be a more transparent and vulnerable leader, I think is going to serve you well. And I think that’s one of the things that I hope we don’t roll backwards when things get back to whatever new normal is, whatever that is. Wherever we’re headed next, it’s going to be less tumultuous than what we have been in, whatever that is. And I worry that some of you are going to put your guard back up because you don’t have to be as vulnerable anymore.

Drew McLellan:

All of that said, that’s why I invited Jeff Nischwitz to be on the show. So Jeff is a self-proclaimed snow globe shaker. He goes into organizations and shakes things up, and he’s on a mission to help people shift how they lead and the impact of their leadership. He speaks all over the globe, and he is a coach that goes in and works with leadership teams and business owners. And he has an interesting background, he actually started as a lawyer, but what Jeff talks a lot about is this idea of how do we push aside our fears and lead from the heart.

Drew McLellan:

As you probably know, I am a huge proponent of that tactic. I’ve had guests like Steve Farber on the show before who wrote the book, Love Is Damn Good Business. And I think there’s a place in our business vernacular for words like love, and commitment, and compassion, and grace. And that’s what we’re going to talk to Jeff about today is how do we show up as a better leader, which I’m curious to see how Jeff defines it, but for me, what that means is a leader who is willing to wear their heart on their sleeve a little bit. All right, without further ado, let’s jump into the conversation because I have a million questions for Jeff.

Drew McLellan:

Jeff, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Thank you for having me, Drew, I’m looking forward to our conversation.

Drew McLellan:

Me too. Tell everybody a little bit about your background and how you came to have this insight and knowledge before we get into actually talking about it.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Well, I love that question. People seem to be fascinated with my story even more so than I am.

Drew McLellan:

You’ve heard it before.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Well, I have heard it, but to me, it wasn’t extraordinary because I just did it. I think the thing to point out is I started my life as a lawyer and did it for a long time. I practiced law in a big firm and then on to head my own firm for another seven years. So I practiced law for 17 years and I like to slam it, I say, I’m a slow learner because after 17 years and great success at every level, I realized that I actually hated being a lawyer.

Drew McLellan:

It only took 17 years.

Jeff Nischwitz:

It only took 17 years, but there’s a lot of traps in the practice of law, which is another conversation. And when you look at how I get from there to here, the simplest thing is I stumbled a lot, and then I learned to shut up and listen a lot. And like the thing that I do today, people say, “Well, do you have an MBA? Do you have a degree in organizational development?” And I say, “Nope, got none of those.” But what I do have is a life certificate of paying attention to how people live, interact, lead, how they communicate, how they don’t, how they are relate and don’t.

Jeff Nischwitz:

I just have an ability to listen to things and see things differently, which basically turned into how I help business leaders now.

Drew McLellan:

Articulate for us, how do you help business? What do you get called in to do and what do you deliver?

Jeff Nischwitz:

There’s typically two or three things. Because I’m an ex-lawyer, which is professional services and highly relational, most of my clients tend to be probably 90% or some service business and they’re highly relational businesses. So typically, I’m called in by the owner who’s got one or two if not both issues. One is, they’re just stuck, not sure what to do next, they feel like they’ve maxed out on their ideas and their ability to grow something. So it’s very business growth focused.

Jeff Nischwitz:

The other is maybe they’ve figured out the business part, but other things just aren’t clicking. They’ve got all the outward trappings of success, but they’re not happy, their relationship at home is suffering, they’re not showing up as a partner or as a spouse, as a father, mother, whatever that is. But a lot of times, it’s both, there’s an unsettled newness in them. So that’s number one. Number two is, if they’ve got a team, I’m often brought in to help get the team more engaged, to work on culture, I call it building intentional culture, communication issues. Usually, the biggest issue is a trust issue, there’s some breakdown in trust.

Jeff Nischwitz:

And the other time I’m brought in is where they want to get some better momentum and consistency in what I call rhythm around their business development activities. I have some unique perspectives on relationship building and business development and what I call the rhythm. So those are really the three areas I’m usually brought in.

Drew McLellan:

How do they find you. What title, or what label would they put on the service you provide? What would you call yourself?

Jeff Nischwitz:

Well, I’ll answer that in two ways. It’s actually changed a lot since COVID because the answer to how they found me would have been through speaking, because pre-COVID, I spoke a lot. You’d mentioned before we got on 200 planes a year. I don’t know my plane number, but about two weeks a month, I was on the road and I would go speak at a conference and people came up and hired me to coach. So they heard something they liked and so they didn’t care what I was called. It was very experiential, and they have an experience of me and say, “That guy has something I want, let me see if I can get it.”

Jeff Nischwitz:

But if you label it, I’m a coach, a facilitator, a trainer. Categories, I’m usually under a leadership, team and culture, and business development.

Drew McLellan:

So, when you go into a business and the owner is unsettled in some way, is there typically a common thing that’s underneath that sense of being unsettled?

Jeff Nischwitz:

Oh yeah. Let me try and answer it in the simplest way, because there’s some complicated… What I’ve learned about this, Drew, is, people always like to talk about things being hard or easy, and I don’t know what’s hard or easy until you get in it, but I think we over-complicate things. So my part of my role is to bring simplicity to the complicated. What I know about business owners based on research, not my own, but worldly research is that the biggest challenges for leaders, and particularly their biggest fears are failing, not having all the answers and lack of confidence or not being seen as confident and competent.

Jeff Nischwitz:

So the underlying piece of all those is fear. So the underneath is a fear issue, and most people aren’t dealing with it directly. And part of what I do is just say, “Let’s just deal with it directly. Let’s just talk about what you’re actually afraid of,” because when you don’t talk about it, you pretend it doesn’t exist and now the fear is running things, and you’re going to play small and you’re not going to be all that you can be as a leader and a business owner and as innovator. People don’t want to talk about it because this is where vulnerability and leadership is so critical. Finding someone that you can just talk to about these things and get to the root of it so that the root’s not driving the train.

Drew McLellan:

And when you ask them to talk about the fear, do you find that most of them can articulate what they’re afraid of or do they need help identifying it?

Jeff Nischwitz:

They almost always need help, for a couple of reasons. One is, we have a resistance to acknowledging fear, and actually, it’s a little more predominant with men than women because in our culture, and I hate this phrase but it’s the reality in our culture, the expression of fear is often seen as a weakness-

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Right.

Jeff Nischwitz:

And more so men than women, a little bit. But definitely, it’s perceived as a weakness. So I don’t even want to acknowledge it. So the starting point is, they’re going to want to say, “I’m not afraid of anything.” So that might be the first hurdle, is to help them just own that. But what happens is, when you start talking about fear, typically, I always say this to anyone, your first answer about fear is usually the most dramatic thing and the least likely to happen. And when you start digging, I always say you got to ask the question six or seven times to find out, what are you really afraid of?

Jeff Nischwitz:

So I’ll give you a quick example. I came from a coaching session yesterday. Now, this is a team member not a business owner. And we were talking about interaction within their team. And he said… He used the word triggered, which is a word I use a lot in my coaching. Triggering is an emotional response to a situation. I said, “So what do you trigger? What’s the emotion?” He said, “I’m angry.” And I said, “So what are you angry about?” And he said, “Well, because there’s these people on the team who don’t know what they’re doing, but they presume to know what they’re doing, and they’re going to take us down the wrong row, and I can’t believe such and such is letting that happen.”

Jeff Nischwitz:

So his articulated fear was, it sounded like it was all about the company. That sounds noble. It’s about the company and what’s best for the team and for the customers and clients. Well, 20 minutes later, after digging into it, turns out he wasn’t really angry, he was actually afraid. And what he’s afraid of is that he wasn’t going to be seen as competent as he’s seen now because people were buying into this other story of confidence. And he started laughing when we got there. I said, “Why are you surprised?” He said, “God, you piss me off, Jeff.” I go, “I know I do, that’s why I’m here.”” But he said it in a really encouraging way, because he’s saying, “God, I never realized that. That was all about me.”

Jeff Nischwitz:

And that’s something that’s hard for us to acknowledge, but when we get there, now we can not only limit the impact of that going forward, but we can do it and catch ourselves quicker when we do it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And how often is the fear not about us personally?

Jeff Nischwitz:

I would say never.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah, I would have to agree. So

Jeff Nischwitz:

As you said, I just pull strings. I don’t always have the answer, but I pull enough strings that they show themselves the answer.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I know you have some beliefs around how business owners should show up and some of the leadership traits that are important. Well, let’s talk about what you believe is the most important leadership or owner super power in business today.

Jeff Nischwitz:

When you say super power, I’m going to interpret that as, what can be the superpower if you choose to employ it?

Drew McLellan:

Sure. Of course. Yeah.

Jeff Nischwitz:

This is not unique to me, and I’m going to emphasize that, not because I’m trying to say, “I don’t have some value here,” but everybody seems to agree on this. It’s vulnerability, because vulnerability breeds authenticity, those two together is the foundation of trust, which is vital to leading people. And it is the thing that allows your team to feel valued, seen, heard, and have an experience where they feel like they matter. Without that, they’re not going to engage, they’re not going to be at their fullest proficiency and productivity. All the things that we want more from our team, we cannot get without starting with the vulnerability.

Jeff Nischwitz:

The problem is, if you look statistically, and this is anecdotally, there’s some research on this, only a small percentage of leaders are doing this today.

Drew McLellan:

Why?

Jeff Nischwitz:

Because it terrifies them. It terrifies them for two reasons, well, three really. One is, it’s just so different than what they’re used to be. But times have changed, teams have changed. My father is 83 years old, I’m 61 years old. When I came up in the workforce and certainly my dad, vulnerability wasn’t an issue. It was a different world. It was all about performance, and it was, you showed up and you did your job and you did it well, and you worked hard and you got rewarded for it. And if you didn’t get a pat on the back, it didn’t matter. And too many leaders grew up in that. So they’re saying, “Well, you don’t need it because I didn’t need it.” Well, that’s a rather selfish view of leadership.

Jeff Nischwitz:

So one is, it’s a big change from what people grew up with. Secondly, people misunderstand it. They assume that vulnerability is all about showing emotion and just being emotional. It can be, but it’s a small piece of what vulnerability is. Vulnerability is just being willing to do the little things like acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers, acknowledge that I need some help, ask for help. Being open to feedback as a vulnerability, being willing to really hear it. The third issue is, in being vulnerable, there is an exposing to it. And there’s a collision here because there’s there’s a huge study, I believe it was, it was Stanford or Harvard Business Review or together where they were asking leaders their biggest fears. And they’re the ones I listed earlier, “I don’t want to be seen as lacking confidence or competence, I don’t want to fail, and I don’t want to be seen as not having the answers.”

Jeff Nischwitz:

“So this is my biggest fear, but in order to be vulnerable, I have to allow the space for that fear to maybe come true.” So that’s the biggest thing. And I will say this to just close off this thought, I gave a talk this last week, and I was talking about just this. I was talking about building trust with your team and how important it is to make time for your team. You have to make time for them. You have to be willing to be present with them, listen to them, understand them, know them, have empathy for them. During COVID, it’s even more critical. The ripple of COVID into our lives is so deep. And if you treat your people as if that isn’t happening, there’s a coldness to that.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Four or five people on this call asked me this question, some version, “Well, what are some tactics, tactics, If we struggle with finding time for our people?” I got a little upset, I didn’t say too much, but what I said was this. I said, “Look, I don’t have a tactic. I’ll give you an approach, and that is this, get really honest with yourself about, what’s the message you send to your people when you don’t make time for them? Because when you do make time for them, they feel seen, heard, valued and like they matter, and they feel like a human being. When you don’t, they feel unseen, unheard, unsafe, and that they don’t matter and they’re not valued.” I sai