Episode 301

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We spent a lot of the last year steeped in worry. It was inevitable, given what we’ve all experienced. But even when we’re not facing a global pandemic — it’s easy to get caught up in your own mind, given our work. It’s the nature of the beast for problem solvers like us, working in an ever-changing industry, where our decisions and performance effect so many. Expected but exhausting. In that constant chaos, it can be especially difficult to remember to be grateful.

Author Kristi Nelson turned her journey back from Stage 4 cancer into a mission to remind herself and others of the importance for gratitude. Many of us have been on the receiving end of a wake-up call. The Covid-19 pandemic created that for a lot of people in every corner of the globe. Kristi’s message is all about how to be thoughtful and intentional as we move forward.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Kristi and I explore gratitude, with a particular focus on how it can affect and elevate agency owners and their businesses. We discuss how being grateful can assist problem-solving by reframing challenges as opportunities. We also look at how to show up as a leader who savors uncertainty, why it’s important to cherish connections, and what the “Golden Rule” gets wrong.

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.

Gratitude

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why it’s so easy to fall back into an unfulfilling groove
  • How being grateful can aid problem solving
  • Reframing uncertainty for gratitude
  • How to show up as a leader who savors uncertainty
  • Cherishing connections
  • What the “Golden Rule” gets wrong
  • How to find out what your team truly wants
  • Understanding liminality
“Ironically, the desire to get back to how things used to be can take us really far away from how we truly want to be.” @GratefulnessOrg Click To Tweet “Being grateful is a problem solution.” @GratefulnessOrg Click To Tweet “People look to leaders who can deal with difficulty and uncertainty and stay connected to their hearts.” @GratefulnessOrg Click To Tweet “If you want longevity in your teams and you want sustainable relationships, it’s not about having all the answers, it’s about knowing how to ask the right questions.” @GratefulnessOrg Click To Tweet “If you can reward people in a way that’s meaningful to them, you’re going to have a much richer relationship.” @GratefulnessOrg Click To Tweet “Attention is one of the greatest, most undervalued, underappreciated values we have in our hands and it costs nothing.” @GratefulnessOrg Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Kristi Nelson:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

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

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. I am super glad you’re here. This is going to be absolutely awesome episode. I know they’re all awesome, but this one’s going to be bonus awesome, I think. I’m super excited to introduce you to my guest and to really hear what she has to say because I think it’s going to be important in a different way for us as agency owners and leaders. I’m excited to bring her to you and to allow all of us to just sit and learn from her.

Drew McLellan:

Before I do that, I do want to remind you that we’ve got our AE Bootcamps coming up. So we have an advance day bootcamp for people who are four years or more of experience in agency life. That’s going to be August 17th and 18th in Chicago. Then our regular AE bootcamp and that’s for people with less than four years of experience is going to be September 14th and 15th also in Chicago. So you can read all the details about what we’re going to cover on the website. So just head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and under the “how we help” navigation tab, you’ll see workshops and you could read about both of the AE bootcamps there.

Drew McLellan:

I will tell you that we get rave reviews on those workshops from both the AEs and their bosses. So I am confident that we can help your AEs get even better and level up if you would like to send them our way. I promise we’ll take good care of them. All right, so let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So Kristi Nelson is a fascinating woman. She wrote a book called, “Wake Up Grateful.” As I think about everything we’ve gone through over the last year and I think about the uncertainty, the fear, the challenges, the difficulty in figuring out our next steps when it was very unclear where our next steps should be, I knew that Kristi was somebody who can help us get realigned.

Drew McLellan:

We are enough our of the pandemic that we can see blue skies ahead and many of you saw blue skies to the tail end of 2020. But even that, even when you had a good year and even if you’re having a good year now, I think sometimes the habit of worry and the habit of struggling for certainty and control, because let’s face it, we as agency owners and leaders, we like to control. I think that that can be actually exhausting.

Drew McLellan:

So Kristi’s premise is that we can literally wake up grateful every day and we can take nothing for granted and we can really celebrate things like uncertainty. I just thought she was the perfect guest for this season for all of us. I promise you, I’m as excited to learn from her as you are. So let’s get right to it and let’s dig into the conversation. Kristi, welcome to the podcast. I am so glad you’re here.

Kristi Nelson:

Not as glad as I am. I’m really grateful to be invited. Thank you, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. I think at the end of the day, the listeners are going to be the ones that are super grateful. We met through a mutual friend and I read your book, which I thought was brilliant. I have to admit I’m a bit of a gratitude grateful kind of guy. I think that should be a core thing that how we live our life and how we, the lens that we look through things. So I know that you and I are going to have a great conversation.

Drew McLellan:

I want to start with just tell everybody a little bit about why you wrote the book, what inspired you to write the book, and why do you think this message is important for business people.

Kristi Nelson:

I wrote the book as a cancer survivor who was not meant to be here really on so many levels to survive stage four cancer is pretty radically outlier-ish these days. And I was incredibly grateful to survive and also loss, that gratitude over and over again as I got back into the fast pace life with all of the future looking momentum and goals and ambition, and I would lose perspective over and over again honestly, swearing that I never would, right? So you get the second chance at life, you think that’s going to make you the happiest most grateful person in the world, and yet we also come to the pressures of every day and consumerism, and how things should be and all those things. So the pressures and the stresses.

Kristi Nelson:

So I wanted to figure out how to get perspective back again. That perspective of emerging from a huge wake up call like illness, a radical illness and many people have wake up calls in their lives. COVID has been a huge wake up call for people.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Kristi Nelson:

And how do we emerge from that as conscious as we can be and maintain perspective so that we don’t lose it and go back to this is the way things are supposed to be, this is the way things used to be, but actually be really thoughtful and intentional about having move forward.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think we’ve all experienced that. I think we experience it when our family or our friends experience a loss, I think people get super reflective and grateful and focus on blessings after they lose someone that they love. I think we saw it after 9/11. I think we are seeing it in COVID, but I think you’re right, in all of those cases, we very quickly, despite the profoundness of those circumstances. I mean, when you think about the pandemic and how profoundly it has impacted all of us personally professionally, you would think that would change us forever and yet maybe it doesn’t.

Drew McLellan:

So I can totally understand how even with something as severe as your illness that you’re so grateful to get back in the groove that sometimes the groove takes away what you learned from being out of the groove.

Kristi Nelson:

A hundred percent. Beautifully put. I think the ironic thing is, “Oh, I get to go back to how things used to be,” can take us really far away from how we truly want to be. I think that’s the distinction that’s so important to hold onto is how do we really want to be and to know that we have more in our power around shaping lives to reflect that then we often remember. So how do we keep perspective and those wake up calls, like I always say to people, “We notice when things go wrong all the time.” We have a gravitational call to the things that aren’t going right in our lives. Our attention just goes there like a magnet.

Kristi Nelson:

If you want to appreciate your capacities, break an arm or break a leg and have a cast on and then you get it off after six weeks and you say, “Oh my God, I am never going to take my arm for granted again,” and boom, give you back two days, maybe if you’re really evolved, but it comes back again. We take things for granted and that’s not our fault. We live in a society, which gives us every reason in the world to do that. So it teaches us, it surrounds us with all those messages of it should be different, it should be better, it should be newer, it should be faster. You should be different, focus outward.

Kristi Nelson:

So I think we are prey to those things and yet we can pull it back with perspective and that’s the thing that we got to earn ourselves over and over again is staying intentional, staying present, and working together I think so, having a community of people like this who belong to a sense of association, a sense of affiliation makes a huge difference when we can call each other forth in the best of ways. So I think that’s what you’re doing with your work and I’m honored to be part of it.

Drew McLellan:

Thank you. As I was reading the book and I was reading it through my own lens of course, and then my lens of what from this book am I going to pull out when I talk to Kristi to be valuable to the listeners, one of the things, one of the thoughts I had was one of the things that makes agency owners and leaders brilliant at their work, super successful, help clients every day is they’re a great problem solvers. So to be a great problem solver it means, and in fact, one of their greatest gifts is they’re problem spotters, right? So they can see where clients run into a brick wall or where something’s going to happen.

Drew McLellan:

So they’re constantly wired to find problems and solve them. And I thought, “Isn’t that interesting?” In fairness, I’m wired. That I own an agency, the work that I do with agency owners, with coaching and all that, I’m constantly anticipating what their problems are and trying to figure out how to help them maneuver those problems. I thought, “Gosh, does that get in the way of me spotting the good things?” I’m not out looking for all the great things that are happening, because they don’t need my help with those. But is that mindset, is that skill in essence actually blocking my ability and my listener’s ability to be as grateful as we could be?

Kristi Nelson:

What a great question.

Drew McLellan:

Thank you.

Kristi Nelson:

You’re welcome. It’s the first time I’ve been-

Drew McLellan:

I want to start with the big guns off the bat.

Kristi Nelson:

That’s the first time I’ve been asked that question and it’s really astute. So I think we’re all problem solvers in so many ways. I guess what I would say honestly Drew is that I think gratefulness and being grateful is a problem solution. It’s basically if we can apply looking through a great lens to the problems that we have in some ways and that’s not saying, “Oh, be thankful for everything that happens even the hardest stuff in the world.” But if we can see opportunities, if we can have that kind of opportunity lens that we’re looking through all the time, which is what is this problem really opening up as an opportunity rather than how do I shut this problem down in immedioso. So like, “Let’s get this problem out of the way.”

Kristi Nelson:

I think there’s actually often a lot of gifts that come forward. The most challenging things in the world often are the most generative things in the world for us in terms of teaching, in terms of wisdom. I remember somebody saying once, “Don’t try to deprive everyone you love of their difficulties and their pain, because if you look back on your own life, the most difficult things in the world are the things that taught you the most.” So how do we instead learn to be with each other and be with the difficulties in a way that seize and seizes opportunity rather than let’s just put duct tape all around this and just call it a day and wanting to put it behind us, because that’s not going to give us what we really want, which is what’s the learning in here?

Kristi Nelson:

What’s the teaching? What am I meant to extract from this? How do I get something, a gift out of this that I can carry forward for other people, for my future? It makes me think of a saying that I heard once, which is about, “A good hockey player follows the puck and a great hockey player gets in front of the puck.” He knows where the puck is going.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a Wayne Gretzky quote. Yeah.

Kristi Nelson:

Right, Wayne Gretzky quote. Okay. Good, okay. So that I have one sports quote to throw in here.

Drew McLellan:

There we go.

Kristi Nelson:

It’s probably my only one.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s a good one, yeah.

Kristi Nelson:

I think in terms of being strategic, I think business owners actually are not just looking for the problems to solve, they’re looking for the opportunities to fulfill. So that’s a different way of thinking about it too, which is okay, sometimes we see the problem and what we need to do is get out ahead of it in order to think just beyond it, where is this going? What’s the opportunity this offers us? And that’s a much more befriending way of dealing with difficulties as opposed to thinking that they’re all just huge problems that need to put put asunder.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think it’s probably seeing it in a more holistic way. And you make a valid point. I guess everybody looks for and solves problems in their life, but I think as agency owners and leaders, that’s what we get paid to do. So we’re just so hardwired to do that. I think COVID, when COVID hit last March and businesses of all variety had all of a sudden stopped, pivot, changed the way they did work. In many cases in my world, my agency’s lost 50, 60, 70, 80% of their clients in a week and then had to figure out how to get around that and how to build, rebuild as they help the clients that they still had.

Drew McLellan:

So when you’re faced with big, when you’re faced with cancer, when you’re faced with a death of a loved one, when you’re faced with COVID messing with your business so badly, how do you frame that? How do you view that from a lens of gratitude when you’re almost drowning in the loss or the fear, or the unknown? I think that’s one of the things that COVID has been so brutal for all of us is the unknown. I still think a lot of people are saying, “Things are good in 2021, but dot, dot, dot.” They don’t know what that dot, dot, dot means, but they just have this sense of pending something, right?

Kristi Nelson:

Yeah. And what do we do with pending something?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Kristi Nelson:

We go to pending doom.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Kristi Nelson:

Right? So that’s just where our gravitational, our mindset goes. So here’s what I would say. So there’s a few questions within what you are asking and I think they’re all important. What you’re asking this last part is really critical, which is are devastating circumstances land us in a greater awareness of the uncertainty of the world?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Kristi Nelson:

That’s one of the things they do is they really highlight that. One of the things that intrigues me a lot is that I think we live in a state of denial of uncertainty 99% of the time [crosstalk 00:15:34] until something happens.

Drew McLellan:

We’re type A people, right? We’d like all the control, please.

Kristi Nelson:

Yes, please.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Kristi Nelson:

Right. If I got it planned, it’s got to go just as I planned it, because I haven’t, forbid something comes in and surprises me and-

Drew McLellan:

I have a checklist. Yeah.

Kristi Nelson:

Yeah, exactly. I have a to do list, nobody get in the way. So yeah, we can be dangerous. Those of us who are wired that way and Myers-Briggs J, just if you’re a completion person, it’s like, watch out. I think uncertainty though is a fascinating concept, because I get asked about this a lot and I have a book, a chapter in the book called, “Savoring uncertainty.” When people say like, “Okay, now wait a minute, that’s asking me to go way too far.” How can you say that, you could say that tolerating uncertainty where the modicum of comfort. So how do I savor uncertainty?

Kristi Nelson:

Part of what I love to invite people to remember is that we’re always living in uncertainty. It’s perpetual, it’s always been true. However we’ve gotten here, we have a hundred percent survival rate to date, anybody who’s listening to this, of surviving uncertainty. Life has been uncertainly every single moment we’ve been alive up until now and it’s going to be again, and we’ve been faced with it in a more acute and vivid depiction of itself let’s say in this past 15 months. It’s gotten itself really crystallized and made us not forget it. So it’s like it’s right in our face.

Kristi Nelson:

I think that how we deal with that is going to say a lot, which is can we be open to surprise? Can we be actually available to the fact that life is uncertain a lot and are we able to get in front of the puck? Are we able to see what the uncertainty might allow for, because there’s also gifts and uncertainty. The most incredible things in your life, the most amazing things in your life have definitely come out of uncertainty. Falling in love, a lot of those things, we don’t plan to the T a lot of the most incredible things in our lives. We also don’t plan the most difficult, but people just want to like, “Okay, I want to filter out everything difficult about uncertainty.”

Kristi Nelson:

But then if you plan your life just so and you got hypervigilant, you’re also going to filter out some of the most amazing things in the world too, some of the most extraordinary delight, joy, beauty, love, all those kinds of things. So I am always interested in what opens up for me if I say, “Okay, I’m going to befriend this uncertainty in a way.” And what does that expose me to? What does that create for me? Sometimes it creates incredible new alliances, new ways of thinking about things, new pathways through things, identifying new opportunities.

Kristi Nelson:

And one thing I will say for sure is that if the world was completely certain, there would be no way for you to interact with the future and shaping the future in any way. If everything was already all laid out and there was no uncertainty, your role and it would be absolutely moot. You could just say, “I’m just going to sit here and become a couch potato and do nothing,” but the truth is you have a role in shaping the future. You have a role in contributing to possibility. And all of that requires uncertainty, because that’s what you get to figure out now. We’re in this crazy place of figuring out how to move forward.

Kristi Nelson:

I’d say befriending uncertainty rather than be grudging uncertainty. How can befriended? Because it’s the truth and I think we’re going to do better if we can figure out how to make friends with it a little bit better.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s so true. For a lot of the people listening, they have a staff, a team of people, and part of their role is to lead, to inspire, to coach. How would you recommend to them that they take this idea that you just outlined so beautifully? How do they show up as a leader to teach their team how to savor uncertainty? Because our world, one client calls and all of a sudden 20% of our revenue is gone, I have to lay people off or whatever it is. We’re at the end of a food chain in a lot of ways in our business.

Drew McLellan:

Sometimes that’s great, because we’re at the end of the food chain and we can make something cool happen, but sometimes it means bad things happen to our business that we didn’t have a lot of control over. So how do I as a leader help my people understand that A, that’s just part of the gig in life but B, it’s certainly part of the gig in our industry and to get comfortable in that? Because I think sometimes when people leave us, they leave because the uncertainty is so uncomfortable for them that they seek something that feels to them more stable or certain.

Kristi Nelson:

Yeah, they’re just going to a different place rather than uncertain future.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Absolutely.

Kristi Nelson:

Again, there’s the human instinct too. It’s just I’m going to shift, the grass is greener over there, so I’m going to go climb over that fence and then you go over and you know? My first thoughts are always about embodiment that as a leader are the call to us is always to embody anything it is that we want to inspire people, anything we want to inspire people about, we have to be in embodiment of it and we have to be pretty full proof around it, because people can smell it when we’re not real, when we’re not in that space ourselves.

Kristi Nelson:

So if you want to say to people, “You need to be more comfortable with uncertainty.” How are you showing up into that in your own life? And how are you modeling that? I think people are always looking in some level to leaders to be real, to be vulnerable, to show up and what I think is the most powerful thing is to acknowledge uncertainty. I think about the guy who, I forget his name, but the business that burned down and all he was doing fleece and he was in Massachusetts somewhere, and his whole mill burned down and how he took care of people.

Kristi Nelson:

People look to leaders who can deal with difficulty and uncertainty and stay connected to their hearts, stay real. It’s not about betraying your heart and going to your head and having to have just the right thing to say. I think it’s more about how to stay true to your heart and stay connected and relational in those spaces where you feel like, “Okay, now I’ve just gotta freeze the world for a year and figure out how I can bring my best self forward and be the leader I meant to be,” when what people are really looking for is in the middle of the hot soup, how are you stewing? How are you doing?

Kristi Nelson:

I think it’s about being real and authentic,. So embodiment is one thing. The next thing I would say is to say to people, model for people in the midst of all this unce