Episode 277:

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 said, “If that doesn’t motivate you to find time and get out of the chair,” and that’s what I told them.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I find it fascinating that the thing that we have to do to be good leaders is the thing that we’re most afraid of.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Doesn’t that make sense though, Drew? Think about that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It also makes sense why a lot of people aren’t good leaders.

Jeff Nischwitz:

It does. There’s a lot of great managers, there’s not a great leaders. There’s a lot of good operators, but not great leaders because leaders are all about our people. Leadership is not about the processes and systems, it’s about our people. There’s this interesting dynamic that I keep coming across. I said this on a talk about a month ago, Drew and it resonated with me because you just hit it. I said, “Great discomfort always precedes great outcomes.” Great discomfort always precedes great outcomes. Well, that’s just what you said. The thing that makes leaders most effective and gives them all the things they say they want is the thing that makes them most uncomfortable. That’s what leadership is.

Jeff Nischwitz:

That’s why I talk about leadership being stepping into the fire. It’s the fire of leadership. It’s not a hot tub with a pina colada, that’s the manager’s role, the managers do that. The leaders are over there trying to figure out, “Who do I let in the hot tub?”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah You’re right. I’ve been saying this all year, but I think COVID has been like an NBA course in leadership for a lot of business owners. A lot of my agency owners really had to deal with their employees in a very different way, in a much more intimate way in terms of understanding that they had three kids at home and that they were homeschooling and little Billy was going to climb up on dad’s lap in the middle of a conference call. It just forced us to see our people differently. And it’s been fascinating to me to watch how different agency owners have responded to that.

Drew McLellan:

And some of them have been resentful and angry about it and others have embraced it and have really done what I think is a really good job of being willing to say to their employees “You know what, I know this is hard, it’s hard for me too. Here’s how it’s hard for me. How is it hard for you?” And it’s like magic watching what happens in those relationships when they’re willing to have those conversations.

Jeff Nischwitz:

And Drew, that’s the vulnerability. What COVID has done has been, it’s been a great revealer of leaders and leadership, because some leaders have reacted to that, and borrowing a term, they’ve leaned into it. And they’ve leaned into it and they’ve been more vulnerable and they’ve allowed those connections to happen. They’ve really been more empathetic, they have. Some leaders have resisted it. And the interesting test is going forward because some leaders did it because, like you said, they had to. The question is, what happens when we go back to whatever is next? I won’t even use the word normal, I don’t even know what the hell that means.

Jeff Nischwitz:

But when we go back to whatever is next, that is a little different, are they going to carry that forward if they’ve been doing it? I think a lot of leaders pre-COVID, the visual I have is that people came to work and at the door, the sign over the door at the office said, “No humans allowed. And take your backpack of your personal life and throw it in the bin, you can pick it up when you leave.” And there were leaders who did that during this. And I’ll tell you a quick story without naming the company. A very good friend of mine got laid off on April 1st due to COVID. She has a son in school. The school was already going on homeschooling at that point.

Jeff Nischwitz:

She was furloughed for 60 days. It was going to end on June 1st. There was a lot more to it, but at least the last several weeks before June 1st, she kept reaching out saying, “Hey, what’s going to happen? Am I coming back? Am I not coming back? I need to know, should I look for another job? What’s going to happen to my benefits? I’ve got my son, if I’m going to have to get a job where I’m out and about, I got to take care of him. I don’t have childcare anymore because it was through the school, and it’s now… ” I mean, that’s the ripple of COVID, right?

Jeff Nischwitz:

This company, that I’ll give you a hint. They have over 1,000 employees, so they’re not a small company, they never responded to the email ever, nothing. Not even, “We don’t know right now. Nothing. Complete silence.” On the Friday before June 1st, I think June 1st was a Monday, she gets the first communication in two months that says, “We’re not bringing you back, we just wanted to let you know. By the way, your benefits end today.”

Drew McLellan:

Oh my God.

Jeff Nischwitz:

“And by the way, you also owe us for some excessive PTO.” And you want to guess what industry this company is in?

Drew McLellan:

Probably communications?

Jeff Nischwitz:

Human resources.

Drew McLellan:

Oh dear. Yeah.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Epic, epic fail. Epic. It’s like the Exorcist, my head spins around, like, “What?” The problem is, I don’t think that’s the exception, I think that COVID basically was a call to vulnerability and some leaders answered it and some sent it to voicemail.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So true. I think about though, this season has required so much grace, so much patience, so much tolerance. I mean, that’s what it required of us, whether we brought it to that or not. But that’s what was really being asked of us. And so I know you equate the sense of tolerance to the results that we get. So talk about how those two things mash and impact each other.

Jeff Nischwitz:

I’m glad you teed it up that way. First of all, I love the word you just used. The word I loved is grace. Most people would never think grace has a place in business, but it absolutely does, because what is a business? It’s a place where people, people, come together and create something together. Grace is a people thing, so I love the idea of grace and I think it’s so important for leaders to embrace it. And I loved your setup because there’s no doubt this year has proven that we have a great need for tolerance in our world and our relationships. Absolutely. So in that sense, I’m a big fan of tolerance.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Where I’m not a big fan of tolerance is, and I’ll just start with this phrase that I coined about three years ago. And I remember where I coined it. I had never said it before. I was speaking to a group in Las Vegas, and I wrote it down just off the top of my head, I hadn’t planned it. And it said something like this, “Your leadership, your culture, and your impact is not defined by what you say.” And everybody said, “Oh, it’s by what you do.” I said, “No, it’s defined by what and who you tolerate.” And when I said that, there was a gentleman in the audience who literally jumped out of his seat and said, “That’s not true.” And as soon as he said it, I thought, “Oh, I’m onto something here, because if it’d excite that much emotion”-

Drew McLellan:

Right. If I get someone to stand on their chair.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Yeah. And he proceeded to tell me how he had a situation with his business partner that he said, “I’m not tolerating him, I have a reason.” I said, “You can have a reason. And frankly, it’s really an excuse,” which is another topic because he said, “Well, what’s the difference between a reason and an excuse?” I said, ” A reason sounds better.” And he said, “So you’re saying all reasons are excuses?” I said, “I didn’t say that, but you probably heard that.” But it turns out what he was tolerating was his brother who’s his business partner who, he has been verbally abusive for 20 years.

Jeff Nischwitz:

And I said, “Well, if he’s verbally abusive to the team members, then your culture is verbally abusive.” He said, “No, he’s the exception.” I said, “That’s where you’re wrong.”

Drew McLellan:

What you’re saying to your team is, “This is okay.”

Jeff Nischwitz:

It’s okay. That’s exactly. And if it’s okay, it means I’m not going to protect you. It’s okay if he treats you that way, it’s okay if he devalues you and doesn’t treat you with dignity and respect. And so my premise is that what and who you tolerate in your business in your friendships is the bar of your life and your friendships and your business. That’s the bar. It’s not what you aspire to be. I guess the metaphor I use for this is, so many people are trying to build a faster car and they keep fine tuning the car and the engine and the fuel and everything, but they never gain the momentum they want or get where they want to go fast enough, because there’s an anchor behind them and that anchor is tolerance.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s really funny. I was on a coaching call with an agency owner this morning and we were going over how her year was ending. For those of you listening, we’re recording this a couple of days before Christmas, 2020, if you’re not listening in real time. But anyway, we were talking about how her year was ending. And she really, despite COVID, has made a remarkable shift in her business. And I said, “Why do you think that is?” And so she listed a bunch of reasons. And I said, “With all due respect, I don’t think it’s any of that.” I said, “You stopped tolerating mediocrity in 2020. You all of a sudden held your vendors, your partners, and your employees to a different standard of excellence and they either Rose to that standard or they left, and now you’re surrounded by excellence. That’s the difference. You stopped allowing them to be mediocre.”

Drew McLellan:

And she was like, “Oh my gosh, you’re right.”

Jeff Nischwitz:

Yup. That’s exactly what happens. Yup, that’s it.

Drew McLellan:

I think that is, for many leaders and business owners, that’s their Achilles’ heel, that they want to be nice, they want to be well-liked, they care about these people because it’s a small business, so they know them, they know their family, they like them personally, so they tolerate either bad behavior or mediocrity in their business and then they wonder why they’re stuck.

Jeff Nischwitz:

They do. And that’s why I created when I came up with that concept on tolerance, and every talk I do, I don’t care whether I’m doing leadership, team, culture, I always talk about tolerance, it’s one of the two or three that I always talk about. Tolerance, I always talk about impact awareness, and we talk a little bit about vulnerability and trust, but I realized I was leaving people hanging because I was identifying the issue, but not giving them a way forward. So I created what I call Tolerance Assessment Process, and it has six steps, and it’s simple, but it’s just not done a lot.

Jeff Nischwitz:

First of all, you assess what exactly you’re tolerating. And you got be really specific. So it’s not sufficient for me to say, “Well, I’m tolerating Drew who’s the bad employee.” Now, tell me exactly what he does or doesn’t do that makes him the label of a bad employee. He’s a bad communicator. Now, what exactly does that mean? So get clear on what the tolerance is of, number one. Number two, assess the impact of that. Get really honest, how is that tolerance impacting the person, yourself, your team and the organization. That’s not a pretty picture usually, that’s a really hard thing that we don’t want to admit that.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Then the third thing we’re going to do is we’re going to assess the risks. What are the risks of changing this or attempting to change this? We might lose somebody, they may not like me. Assess the risk. Then number four is we’re going to assess the win. And the win is often more than just not having these other negative impacts, it’s actually all these amazing things that will happen and open up. And then number five, we’re going to make a clear, conscious decision now. Are we going to keep tolerating or not? Are we going to take efforts to change it or not?

Jeff Nischwitz:

And what I tell people is there’s another step after that, whatever your decision is, if it’s your decision to do something, do something, but whatever your decision is, you got to let this go. Because once you’ve made a decision, that means you’re not allowed to talk about anymore. If you decide to keep tolerating Bob and his behavior, then that means you’re not allowed to bring him up anymore. You can’t say Bob did this again, because you already agreed tolerate it. So it’s done, we are done, we’re moving on, is no longer a topic.

Jeff Nischwitz:

And the scary part is, I do tell leaders this, if you decide to continue tolerate it in any way, whatever it or who is, my best advice is to make your decision and tell your team because they already are making guesses and they believe you haven’t really thought about it, frankly.

Drew McLellan:

Or you don’t know, or you don’t care or whatever.

Jeff Nischwitz:

At least tell them, “Look, we realized this, here’s the process we went through.” And people are like, “Well, that’s scary, and we can’t talk about other people.” I said, “Well, you talk about other people all the time, just do it with integrity, affront.” That’s not behind people’s back. Because I agree with you, I think tolerance is such a huge issue, and it’s the one that leaders don’t want to look at, because it’s on their watch, they’re the ones, whether it’s been five weeks or 20 years, they can’t hide from responsibility for it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You’re so right. I want to take a quick break, but when we come back, I think tied to this whole idea of figuring out what you’re tolerating and make a decision, you have a notion of a no waiting zone that I want to talk about when we come back from the break. When it comes to conducting a client satisfaction survey, your agency has three choices, the first one is adopted, don’t ask, don’t tell policy and just roll the dice. Your second option is to do the study in-house. And the third option is to use a third party to conduct your client satisfaction survey.

Drew McLellan:

If you decide that you’re ready to invest in protecting your client relationships and improving your when and keep ratios, we believe there are some benefits of using AMI as your third-party research partner. Number one, we know emphatically that your clients will tell us things that they just won’t tell you. The reality is, they’re going to speak more freely if they’re not talking to you directly. They don’t want to hurt your feelings and they don’t want to get into a big conversation about it. So a third party is a safe place for them to share their real feedback.

Drew McLellan:

The second is that at AMI, we don’t have a bias about any particular client, we don’t know if you like them, don’t like them, if they’re a pain, if they’re your favorite. And so, because we understand the agency business, but we don’t come into those conversations with any preconceived notions, we can absolutely give you unbiased and unfiltered information based on what your clients tell us. And you know what? We know agency clients, we can hear what they’re saying and we know which threads to pull on as we’re talking to them to get more information for you and more insight.

Drew McLellan:

Your clients will be comfortable talking to us because we speak their language. If you’re interested in having AMI do your customer satisfaction survey, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and look under the, How We Help section of the website to learn more. All right, let’s get back to the show.

Drew McLellan:

All right. We’re back. Jeff, before the break, I said, I know that one of the things you teach is this idea of having or declaring a no waiting zone. Set that up for us, tell us what that is and when we should have one.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Right away.

Drew McLellan:

Sure. Don’t wait is what you’re saying.

Jeff Nischwitz:

If you don’t wait to have one already, I’ll give you a hint, you are already nine months too late because this came to me this year, no surprise. Because what I realized was happening during COVID is so many people, companies, teams, leaders, they went into a waiting zone, and most of the things they were doing, they hit the pause button. And the only thing they didn’t hit pause on were things that they couldn’t put pause on. For example, the reality in March was virtually every organization, except some of the essential businesses, it was pretty clear, you had to send your people home to work.

Jeff Nischwitz:

That wasn’t really a decision, the only decision was, how are you going to do that? What’s it going to look like? You didn’t really have a choice in that. So you couldn’t pause that because that had to happen. I can’t tell you how many businesses and this just blow my mind, here comes the pandemic and they start laying off their sales and marketing people, they start cutting their spending with their agencies. Your group has experienced this. It’s just, I want to shake my head, wait a minute, your revenues are falling so the first thing you’re going to do is cut the people who drive your revenue.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, right. It happened all the time.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Did you give me a different map? Did I get the wrong map? And did I go down the wrong road? Am I driving down a one-way street the wrong way. So there was so much pausing happening. They stopped investing in their people, a lot of people stopped making time for their people. They stopped training programs. They basically said all the things we believed in before we’re going to immediately cut instead of innovating. And also, that they stopped feeding the ecosystem, because one of the things I consciously did as a business owner was, look, COVID had a huge impact on my business.

Jeff Nischwitz:

My business in six weeks dropped 75%. That’s not a rounding error. I’ve been innovating, I don’t like pivot by itself, but pivot and move in a new direction, reinventing, reinvigorating, creating all these new things. It’s been an amazing year of innovation and creation for my business, but I started thinking about all these people were waiting and it’s just struck me that we need to declare a no waiting zone because the other waiting is this, in the first about four to six weeks after the pandemic hit, so from about March 15th, about six weeks forward, the common phrase was, I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.

Jeff Nischwitz:

I never said that. My response was, what’s normal? And why is normal such a good thing? Was your life and your business and your team so amazing before, you want to get back to that? Why aren’t you thinking about how this is an opportunity to make those things better versus back? Then after six weeks we went, “Wow, we thought this was going to be over in June, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.” Then we embraced the next one which is, “Now we’re in the new normal.” Well, that changed every day.

Drew McLellan:

And it’s continuing to do so.

Jeff Nischwitz:

And continuing to change. We’re in December 22nd, it’s still changing. And so I noticed how people are fixated on normalcy. And there’s a comfort to it. And I reject normalcy, I reject the comfort zone. Discomfort is where we learn and grow the most, discomfort is where we innovate. As I said earlier, great discomfort precedes great outcomes. So I encourage people during all of this and going forward to declare, formally declare, no waiting zone. I’m not waiting for things to change. I’m going to build my business today. This is something that scares people, Drew. I told a group in August this, it terrified them.

Jeff Nischwitz:

I said, “What if I told you that three years from now, so August of 2023, business is being done pretty much the same way it is today?” They stopped breathing. And they all went, “What?” And they gave me this look like, “No way.” And I said, “Well, let me ask you this, though. If I had told you that in March, you would have told me I was nuts, but I bet nobody now is saying is nuts.” Sorry. I said, “You need to build your business assuming that it’s never going back because otherwise, you are in a waiting zone.

Drew McLellan:

We’ve seen that. We saw that after 9/11, we saw that after the Great Recession, some things go back to whatever normal used to be, but everything evolves. And even in the normal times, certainly in our world and the agency world, our whole job is to help our clients evolve their business and grow their business. So our job is to be innovative. And one of the things I find interesting is that sometimes we are very innovative on behalf of our clients, but we’re not so innovative in our own business.

Drew McLellan:

Now, I will say COVID, one of the things that has really impressed me about my audience is that they have been innovative. They have recreated the way they serve clients, they have created all kinds of new platforms and information portal. They have embraced what they needed to do for themselves and their clients. The question is, will they continue to do that when the crisis has passed?

Jeff Nischwitz:

Right on, there’s the question. There’s the question. And that’s why I did a program about a month ago in November with a pretty big company, but it was a small group of them, and it was all on change leadership. And one thing I told them about innovation is I said, “Innovation is intentional and a commitment. Most of the innovation you have made during COVID was a reaction, it’s not an innovation unless you choose to keep it going forward, or maybe it was a short term innovation.” If you think about people working from home, what happens when they’re allowed to come back?

Jeff Nischwitz:

Now, I said, “You think you had tough decisions in March, the future is even harder because what do you do when people can come back, but some people want to come back, some people don’t want to come back. Some people like spending more time with their family and some people don’t have a family, so they’re feeling isolated? What are you going to do when the playing field changes?” That’s when leadership is going to be called upon. And I would also offer this, I think that there’s a phrase I came up with during COVID, COVID motivated it, but I believe it applies pre-post COVID, the rest of our lives.

Jeff Nischwitz:

In business, we so often talk about return on investment. I think the most important measure going forward is return on safety, the safety of our people. And COVID meant physical safety, I mean, most business owners have never had to make a life and death decision before in their business with their people, and they did, this year. But beyond that, I’m talking about emotional safety, psychic safety, team safety, who has my back safety. That’s what builds trust, that’s what builds great teams, that’s what drives empowerment, engagement, and incredible outcomes for everyone, and incredible experiences for your clients.

Jeff Nischwitz:

I invite leaders to start tangibly focusing on what is, how are you investing in the safety of your team, and look at the return you’re going to get. I just listed them. You get all the things you say you want by creating an environment where your people feel like people have their back, they feel seen, heard, valued and cared about. It’s not hard folks, or maybe it is hard for you. It’s not complicated, not complicated.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think there is a difference between complicated and difficult. And I think difficult is about getting back to full circle on our conversation. Difficult is being vulnerable, difficult is admitting you don’t know the answer. Difficult is standing in front of a team and admitting, “I’m wrestling with this decision you guys. I don’t have a decision today because I’m really torn about what we should do. I want you to know I’m thinking about it and I’m going to come to a decision, but it’s hard. And I need some grace while I work this out.” That I think is difficult, but not complicated. I think we make it complicated when we put a bunch of excuses in front of it to justify why we’re not doing it

Jeff Nischwitz:

Well, and the thing that people don’t want to hear, Drew, but I’m going to say it anyway. All the things that get in the way of what we know, inherently we know, it’s us. My hesitancy is about me, my fears about me. It’s selfish, it is. And no one wants to hear that, but I say that about myself. When I’m hesitant, it’s because I’m afraid of something and how I might be impacted, but I tell myself a great story that it’s really about my team, I want to make the right decision for my team. And I would argue that, yes, it’s important to make the best decision, there is no right decision. There are the best decisions in the moment and the circumstances with what we’ve got.

Jeff Nischwitz:

There’s no right decision, but leaders want to make a right decision because they don’t want to be wrong. And that’s the selfish perspective, I’m protecting myself. Leaders, don’t protect themselves, they protect the team.

Drew McLellan:

And I also don’t want to make a decision where I have to then do something I don’t want to do. I don’t want to make a decision that I now have to do something challenging, I have to let people go or I have to cut pay. I think one of the challenges of COVID, and I saw this in the agencies we work with is, normally one of their flaws is that they are very slow to downsize staff or do whatever they need to do when they’ve lost a big client or whatever, which then puts them in a hole that’s really hard to dig out of. And so I think often there are decisions that you know the results are going to be painful to deliver, and therefore, people are going to be mad at you or not like you, or, fill in the blank. So you just delay the inevitable, hoping that somehow something magically is going to change, instead of recognizing that you just made it more difficult.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Well, one of the things I tell leaders to do with any of those situations is to reframe the idea of nice. Because they’ll say, “I don’t know. I just don’t want to be so harsh.” How is honesty harsh? Honesty is not harsh. You can deliver honesty harshly, but honesty is not harsh by itself. Tell me something, is it nice that you have someone on your team that is struggling to failing? You know it, they probably know it, but they might not actually know it because they haven’t been told that. And you actually talk about them behind their back, but you don’t tell them. How was that nice.

Jeff Nischwitz:

In fact, that’s really cruel to me. In school, that was cruel. I thought it was cruel when someone talked about me behind my back. If we do talk about that and to your point, one of the questions I ask when I go into a company and sits there with the team, I always say, “How hard or easy it is to get fired here?” Oh, man, the answers. The best one I ever heard is somebody, and everybody on the team agreed, but they didn’t say these words, the guy said, “Are you kidding me? You’d actually have to kill someone that everybody likes and you might get-

Drew McLellan:

Not just kill anybody, you’d have to kill the popular people.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Yeah. And you might get put on a PIP. I said, “Well, okay.”

Drew McLellan:

I honestly think that is a disease that permeates most organizations, is that we allow people to stay much longer than we are serving them, or they are serving the business.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Then there’s the tolerance factor. That’s the tolerance factor.

Drew McLellan:

This has been fascinating, Jeff. I’m so grateful that you agreed to be on the show. If folks want to learn more about you, if they want to follow, I’m sure you’re writing, the things that you share on social, things like that, where can they find you? Where can they track you down?

Jeff Nischwitz:

Yeah. Well, it’s easy as long as you can spell my name because it’s a unique name. My last name is spelled N as in Nancy, I-S-C-H-W-I-T-Z. I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Facebook, Twitter. My website is Nischwitzgroup.com. If you go there, you can sign up for my daily newsletter, which by the way is new during COVID.

Drew McLellan:

You’re innovating.

Jeff Nischwitz:

I innovated, I created, I call the Bed Talks.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. I’m sorry, you need to define a bed talk.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Okay. Well, I didn’t create the idea, but I’ve certainly followed through, a fellow speaker of mine, friend, Dave Rendall back in March said, “Well, we’re not speaking on stages right now and we always want to do Ted Talks, so let’s do bed talks first thing in the morning, talk from bed. It’s evolved for me from sitting in bed to bed seems behind me to now I put pictures on the topic theme. But Dave, whose idea it was, and he had people all over the country doing this by the way, but Dave, I don’t know, maybe he’s done a dozen, no offense, it was a good idea. Today is December 22nd, today I put out number 196.

Drew McLellan:

Are you people in your jammies during the bedtime?

Jeff Nischwitz:

No. I thought about that, but I thought that was just way too vulnerable. I’m usually not dressed for work, but it’s just a thought for the day that takes two or three minutes. So if want to follow me, if you can find me, I love connecting with people and just hearing their stories, always up for a good conversation. And when weather permits for me, I will say this because t’s been really fascinating, Drew, I changed something on my LinkedIn profile about three months ago. It’s the best thing I ever did to my LinkedIn profile. I thought, why don’t I make this more personal?

Jeff Nischwitz:

So I spent time crafting the language and benefits versus… I did all the stuff. But in my profile, it talks about my title, which is Snow Globe Shaker, which is a whole another story, sort of what I do deliver, but I think it says, “Lover of bold red wine, Cuban cigars, I think rich bourbons and Broadway Theater.” I can’t tell you how many times now when people reach out to me, we ended up having a conversation about one of those four things and it totally reframes our conversation. People have connected with me because they see that.

Jeff Nischwitz:

They actually want to have a conversation versus want to sell me something. It’s been fascinating to watch that unfold.

Drew McLellan:

You know what? We want to know something about the people that we engage with. You and I talked for 20 minutes about baseball and our dads before we hit the record button

Jeff Nischwitz:

And Diet Mountain Dew.

Drew McLellan:

And Diet Mountain Dew, that’s right. The three important things. That changes the tenor of the conversation because you have a connection, even if it’s tenuous, you have a connection with another person. And at the end of the day, if we’ve learned anything in COVID it’s that, we are not meant to be isolated, we need connection with other humans. So I’m sure you get all kinds of fascinating responses to that.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Thank you so much for being on the show. I think you gave everybody a lot of food for thought, so I am grateful for your time today.

Jeff Nischwitz:

Thanks, Drew. Thanks for having me over. It was my pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency, just a couple of quick things. First, a huge shout out to our friends at White Label, as you know, they’re presenting sponsor of the podcast. If you’re looking for White Label PPC, designer dev, they are your go-to. So head over to Whitelabeliq.com/ami, because they’ve got a special deal for you. And I just want to remind you, speaking of connection and isolation, remember the Build A Better Agency Summit is going to become perhaps hell and high water, August 10th and 11th in Chicago.

Drew McLellan:

We’ve moved it three times, I am confident now that we will be well vaccinated, we’ll be back, the ability to be together. And it is going to be two days of you showing up to learn all the best practices around how to run your business better, but also for you to teach and share in small groups and connect with other agency owners. And I hope you are as hungry to be in a room with other agency owners as I am, and that you will join us.

Drew McLellan:

You can grab a ticket today on the website, and I look forward to seeing you there, and I look forward to seeing you next week when I will be back with another guest to get you thinking a little differently about the business and about how you show up at the business and how you can lead your best version of yourself inside the company. So, thank you for listening, thanks for being with me. And I will see you next week.

Drew McLellan:

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefits survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.