Episode 7

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Mitch Matthews is a keynote speaker, a success coach, and a bestselling author. He has an amazing podcast titled Dream, Think, Do. Mitch works with leaders from companies such as NASA, Disney, Booking.com, and more. He is passionate about coaching entrepreneurs and leaders to dream bigger, think better, and do more of the stuff they love.


What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Why mentoring your employees is so important
  • Mentorship 2.0: how to structure your mentor/mentee relationships to draw out the best results
  • The dangers of “getting a PhD in mentoring”
  • Mentoring with the CEO vs. CFO model
  • How to equip employees to make decisions
  • The fundamental differences between how we were brought up and how millennials were brought up and how to deal with these differences
  • How to mentor someone who is skilled in areas that you aren’t
  • Mitch’s “Mentor Manager Cheat Sheet”


The Golden Nugget:

“Verbalizing what success looks like leads to a higher chance of hitting it.” – @mitchmatthews Click To Tweet

Click to tweet: Mitch Matthews shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!


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If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invest in employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25+ years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there, everybody. Thanks for tuning into this episode of Build A Better Agency where we explore how to build a business that serves you, your employees and your clients. As we all know, the greatest assets that any agency has are their staff. And oftentimes, they are both the source of our greatest joy and sometimes our greatest angst. And that’s why I know today you’re going to really enjoy hearing from our guests, Mitch Matthews. Let me tell you a little bit about Mitch. Mitch is a keynote speaker, a success coach and best-selling author. He has an amazing podcast that I highly recommend called DREAM. THINK. DO. and it is at the top of the iTunes charts for a reason.

Mitch has worked with leaders and teams from organizations like NASA, Disney, Booking.com, and Principal Financial Group, just got off a big speaking gig, seven to eight days traveling, that’s sort of his life, working with folks and coaching. He also speaks in college campuses around the country. He’s really passionate around helping entrepreneurs and leaders dream bigger, think better and do more of the stuff they were put on this planet to do. One of the things that Mitch spends a lot of time doing is working with entrepreneurs and business owners, coaching their teams and mentoring. He also does executive coaching and coaching himself.

Mitch happens to live in Des Moines, Iowa, with his beautiful bride, Melissa, and their sons. In full disclosure, Mitch and I are good friends, we’ve known each other for over a decade and are part of the Mastermind Group together. And so I have had the good fortune of having Mitch mentor me many times. And that’s really what we’re going to focus today is talking about how to better mentor our employees and build them to be bigger, better and stronger for both themselves, for the agency and our clients. So Mitch, welcome to the podcast.

Mitch Matthews:

Thank you, Drew. It’s an honor buddy. Excited to be here.

Drew McLellan:

I am excited about this. So let’s talk a little bit about your background in terms of the coaching and the mentoring that you do, and sort of how you came to have that area of expertise.

Mitch Matthews:

Absolutely. So kind of a background in sales, and then moved into corporate training and loved that. I was a training manager for a $2 billion pharmaceutical company that loved that kind of thing. Started to get a taste of the entrepreneurial life, and so started my own business back in 2002, primarily doing executive coaching and keynoting. And I really enjoyed that. But the more coaching that I did, especially with entrepreneurs, they appreciated the work that we were doing together, helping them to get focused and helping them to really go after their priorities and kind of simplify in some ways, their lives, their businesses, those kinds of things.

Kind of a natural offshoot of that was they were like, hey, help me to do that in my own business, help me to do this with my teams. The things you’re doing with me, I want to be able to do with the people around me to help them get more clear, help them to take more autonomy, be more engaged all of those things. So I’ve started to do more and more training over the last five years, with leaders kind of helping them to infuse more of a mentoring and coaching approach into their leadership DNA. It’s been awesome to see. And I know, especially in agencies, especially with your audience, this is so critical. Because you want to inspire the best work, you want to inspire full engagement, you want to inspire loyalty, you want to inspire creativity, all of those things. And one of the best ways to do that is through mentoring. But so few of us actually received it.

When we were going through the ranks, especially leaders, so many leaders that I work with now, especially that are Gen Xers, that are boomers, they didn’t get a lot of mentoring. Sometimes they might have received a little bit but they didn’t get a lot of it as they were getting started. So it’s something that as people get some skills in, as they start to get more tools and strategies, they start to connect with it, but at the same time there’s a little bit of an interrupt because so few of us actually receive that kind of approach. And so it’s fun to be able to work with great leaders who obviously are always wanting to improve their game. But this is definitely one of those ways that people can do it. It’s fun to see it play out though.

Drew McLellan:

I think you make a great point. That A, lot of us may or may not have mentors, but B, I think the way we define mentors is really, there was an older guy or woman who taught me some stuff. I think what you do that makes it really different is, and I think one of the things for agency owners to kind of wrap their head around is, mentoring doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen every once in a while. And it is a skill. It’s not just meeting with the person on your team to talk about what they’re working on. It really is a very purposeful activity. And that’s really what I want to talk about with you today is, how do all the over-busy agency owner out there, how do I carve that into my day? And what does it look like? How do I do it well? Help us understand sort of what mentoring is and isn’t.

Mitch Matthews:

Sure. That’s a great question. I love it. And that’s something that we talk about in the training that we do. We talk about kind of the mentor 1.0 model is a great model. It’s kind of that Luke Skywalker and Yoda model. It’s the old, wise sage, and the young up-and-comer, and the old, wise sage just kind of offers all of this wisdom. Maybe it’s the Mr. Miyagi and Daniel San model where it’s the older person with all of the wisdom bestowing it on the younger person. And that’s great. I mean, if you can get it, that’s fantastic. But at the same time, we see especially in the marketplace that we’re in currently, with how fast things are changing with technology, and all of those things.

One of the other things that we see all the time, is that leaders oftentimes are not necessarily any longer the person that beholds the most information or the most wisdom. Technology is changing so fast that oftentimes leaders are the ones that have a perspective, a higher perspective, but they may not have as much wisdom in a given technology or in a given strategy. So we see over and over, and we also see honestly in some organizations, the younger person is actually in a higher position than some older people. So it can’t be age based. And it really can’t always be wisdom based, if that makes sense. So we see a need for a mentor 2.0 model.

And what that is, is that mentor 2.0 model is not the person who is the wise sage that just bestows advice and sits in warm leather chairs and smokes pipes with the young one as they share information. The mentor 2.0 model is how do you draw out ownership? How do you draw out autonomy? How do you draw out that person’s best work? And how do you do that in a way that’s efficient, that’s rewarding, but also gets results. And so that’s what we talk about. And so there’s different ways to look at that. As an example, one of the things we talked about is project specific mentoring.

A lot of times I think when people think about mentoring, they think more about that career mentoring and helping somebody with their overarching career. And that’s good. And that’s a whole nother category that we do talk about. But project specific mentoring is where you basically you identify someone maybe on your team, someone in your organization where you see they have capability, you see that you really want to invest in that person. And so what you do is you look for a specific project, where you could actually in fact, give them more autonomy, more ownership, more that they could actually run with on their own.

And you communicate that to them like saying, hey, in the past I’ve kind of guided you. I’ve told you what you needed to do. But with this particular project, or with this particular client, or whatever it is, you kind of isolate something, you say, I’m going to take a slightly different approach. I’m going to put on more of the mentor hat here. And I really want you to run with this, I really want you to own this. And so we’re going to check in, we’re going to do some quick kind of check in as we go along, but I really want this to be yours. And what that does is that sends that signal of you’re going to hold them as capable, you’re sending that signal that you believe in them. But you’re also giving them that autonomy that so many of us really long for.

Dan Pink wrote an incredible book. He’s an amazing author. I love him. But he wrote a book called Drive. And if you haven’t read … Drew, I think you’ve read it. But if our audience hasn’t read it, you need to read this book. It is mind-boggling. It’s offensive. It’s frustrating because it basically takes the carrot and the stick model that so many people believe in and it throws it right out the window based on research, based on just incredible stories and all of that. And it really goes to show that when it comes to the marketplace, our core motivators, especially once those base level things are met, our core motivator, especially in the creative class is autonomy.

One of those things is the project based learning mentoring really allows for more autonomy. At same time, it allows for limiting risk, and it allows for learning fast. And so one of those things that we’ve seen is looking for those things and being able to, again, assign or take a slightly different approach really allows that person, that high capacity person to become even higher capacity. At the same time, it also increases a sense of ownership, it increases that loyalty and it increases engagement.

Drew McLellan:

Well, as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking about conversations I have with sort of both sides of the equation. So in my at bootcamps, I’m hanging out with a lot of staffers, and what they tell me more than anything else is they want to be recognized for being capable. And they also want more of their bosses or supervisors attention and time to learn. So what you’re saying aligns perfectly there. And when I’m hanging out with the agency owners, what they are always saying, in one way, shape or form is, I want my employees to behave like they own the joint. So again, that it’s aligning exactly with what everybody wants. I just don’t think most agency owners understand they have … It’s not that they don’t have the skill, they don’t have the recipe for how to do it.

Mitch Matthews:

Right. And it’s one of those things, there’s some pitfalls, especially … And I’ve gotten to work with some agency owners, obviously, awesome people. But there’s some pitfalls that happen, especially for leaders, and I think this applies in spades for agency owners. One of the reasons why leaders are leaders is they fix stuff. They get stuff done. It’s one of those things, the reason why you’re in the role you’re in is you’ve had the answers. And those answers have worked in the past. So when you start to take more of a mentor approach, and when we talk about a mentor approach, generally some of the core aspects of that is instead of telling someone what to do, you actually ask them a question, and kind of help them uncover an answer that they own. Because if they own it, there’s a much greater chance they’re going to feel ownership, obviously, but they’re going to feel like they could do it over and over again. That’s something that they help to create. They own it so they can run with it.

So asking questions, instead of just giving the answer, celebrating the small wins along the way, really guiding them, but also allowing them to have that full ownership. The tension, though, that arrives, especially for established and successful leaders is we have the answer. So to somebody comes to us with a question, the way that we’ve brought value in the past is to give them the answer. Let’s just be honest, that feels good. Feels good to have the answer, right? It feels like, hey, that’s my job, I have the answer. Boy, boom, I’ve given it to you. And that in some ways, that also feels faster. In some ways, it looks faster, because you just answered their question.

The challenge is, is that then you create a relationship of dependency that doesn’t always look like that in the beginning. It’s so funny, I hear this tension where people talk about, I want to give people more ownership, but they never seem to run with it. It’s like, okay, well, what does that look like? Well, I’ll give them a project. But then what happens? They start to give advice. In fact, you can get a PhD in mentoring, basically. I don’t recommend it. There’s a couple of schools of thought, you can get a PhD. There’s Appreciative Inquiry is one school of thought and Motivational Interviewing is another school of thought. You can get PhDs in those. But in Appreciative Inquiry … Yeah. So hey, go check it out. Research it, Google it. It’s scary.

But one concept, especially in Appreciative Inquiry, that I find so fascinating, and what I love about it is that we’ve all felt this. But basically, it’s a phenomenon called the righting reflex. Righting reflex with an R, not a W. But basically what that is, is it’s that sensation we feel when we see something that we need to fix. I see this happen so often when somebody says, okay, yes, I want to take more of a mentoring approach. Yes, I’m going to ask more questions instead of just give answers. But then when people start to do that, they start to ask the question, even though they have the answer, they’re going to ask the question to help that that person uncover their own answer. That righting reflex starts to creep in, almost takes over. Because you just have to blurt it out, just give them the answer or just take the reins back and say, let’s just get this done. And that’s that righting reflex.

What I love about that is sometimes just being able to give a name to a phenomenon helps us to identify [crosstalk 00:14:38] start experience it. Like, there’s the righting reflex. Now at the same time, we don’t talk about, and this is where I always love to call out any chance of rainbows, butterflies and little ponies kind of theories here. We’re not talking about, well, whatever they say, let’s let them do it. It’s those things. That’s not good. One of the things that we talk about, especially when we’re deciding between needing to wear the mentor hat and the manager hat, is I always say that mentoring is wildly powerful. But it’s only powerful if you have kind of a clear area or clear idea of where you want to use it.

One of the challenges with taking more of a mentoring approach that I see all the time is that people get excited about it. And so they try to apply it everywhere. And that’s not good. And it actually diminishes the power of mentoring. So we talked about that, basically, a CEO versus a CFO model, that kind of helps people to understand when and where to apply it. So the CEO versus the CFO model. Basically, if it’s the CEO, is if you’re looking to instill creativity, engagement, and ownership, and it’s a lower risk scenario, then that is the ideal place to use more mentoring. If it’s a situation where it’s more CFO, which means it’s clear, it’s fixed, there’s only one way to do it, and it’s higher risk, then you can boldly wear the manager hat.

And then we even talk about that to even use that in some ways under vernacular, like, hey, in this situation, it’s a higher risk situation, or in this situation our timeframes are tight. So I’ve got to make the call here. I’m going to put the manager hat on. But to be able to say, okay, looking for those project based, as an example, those project based opportunities to be able to instill more mentoring kind of that CEO, where you really want to inspire some creativity, some engagement, some ownership, and it’s a little lower risk, then that’s definitely the time to ask more questions, to bestow more autonomy and let them run with it, and maybe even table, your own righting reflex, catch yourself before you just give them the answer and let them run with it.

Drew McLellan:

Is there a structure or a format, or meet with somebody an X number of days, or how often? What does it look like over the course of, say, a month or a couple months? And how much time does it take? Because I know how agency owners are in terms of they’re so time starved. I think it’s one of the reasons why they don’t spend as much time with their team as their team would like them to. So this sounds harder, and it sounds like it would take longer. It’s sort of like taking the toddler shopping with you. It’s going to take three times as long because they walk so slow.

Mitch Matthews:

Exactly. Come on. Exactly. Here’s the thing that that is true. And it’s one of those that none of us have an overabundance of time, especially in the real world. Yes, I know that there’s some four-hour workweek people here. And that’s fantastic. God bless you.

Drew McLellan:

I don’t know any agency owner that’s a four-hour workweek kind of person.

Mitch Matthews:

Exactly right. Love the title of the book. Don’t always see it happen in the real world. So one of the things that we talked about is that the mentoring approach does on the front end appear to take more time. There’s no doubt. Because instead of just giving them the answer, you’re asking a question, as an example. They come to you saying, what do you think I should do in this situation? And just respond back and say, well, what do you think? Tell me what you do. What do you think is the next step to be able to do that? Now, in a project based mentoring situation, we highly encourage kind of the two L’s of science, limit risk and learn fast.

So on the front end, that actually means checking in a little bit more often. Now, those don’t have to be long belaboured sessions, making sure you’re sitting around a table and talking for hours and hours. I actually like those follow up sessions. Well, I should back up. So usually, there’s an initial session where you sit with someone or talk with someone and say, hey, I’d really like to give you a little bit more autonomy, some more ownership over this particular part of the project, or this particular client relationship, I want to give you some more autonomy. And what that means is, when you come to me, I’m going to probably ask you more questions than give you answers, because I really want you to learn, but more so, I want you to take ownership and really run with this.

So there’s that initial session where you’re going to set that expectation. But then depending on the project, or depending on the client, whatever it is to be able to say, all right, let’s talk about when do we need to follow back up. Now, I really believe on the front end, it’s a little bit more labor intensive and a little bit more time sensitive, because you really do want to check in a little bit more often. But I actually suggest those follow up sessions. They can be weekly, but what I actually recommend is that those sessions are about 15 minutes. If they need to be longer, that’s fine, but 15 to 20 minutes, where you’re actually standing. Because sometimes when people sit down, it’s one of those-

Drew McLellan:

They settle in.

Mitch Matthews:

They settle in and we start to talk about a lot of different things. But you really are kind of setting that expectation that, hey, this conversation is about the project and really being able to kind of define what it is that we want to do. Now, that does sound a little bit more labor intensive. But one of the things that we’ve found is that when you take more of a mentoring approach, and really go after it, and really, in some ways, kind of discipline yourself to do that, there is a definite inverse relationship. So much so that we’ve had some leaders actually be surprised by this.

So the inverse relationship is that, yes, it does take a little bit more time on the front end to ask a question, to instill that ownership, to really draw out that autonomy, those best ideas, that full engagement, it does take a little bit more time on the front end. But what we see is over time, it actually takes less and less time. Because what are you doing? You’re equipping that person to run with more. You’re equipping them to actually make decisions on their own, instead of kind of setting up that relationship with dependency, all of a sudden, they’re actually better equipped to make decisions. They’re not even having to think about it because they know not just the answer to one black and white question. Now they know how to make those decisions, and actually feel that they’ve got some autonomy to be able to make those decisions.

It’s funny, this inverse relationship happens. And sometimes it’s subtle, so much so that a lot of times when we work with organizations, we’ll work with them over a period of months. Recently, we did work with this organization over a period of six months. And we did some of the initial training, giving people some tools to run with this. And then continue to follow up. And one of the last sessions, I had a manager pulled me aside and he said, “Hey, I really appreciate this.” He said. “But I might have a problem.” And I’m like, “What’s the problem?” He goes, “Well, I really picked out a couple of people, high capacity people that I really wanted to challenge.” He said, “I think one of them was even thinking about a different job, just because they weren’t really kind of feeling challenged.” And he’s like, “We don’t always feel like they’ve got a place to be promoted to.”

But he said, “I want to try this thing. I’m giving them more ownership just to see how they run with it.” And he said, “It was a little bit more work on the front end, but now we don’t meet as much. Is that a problem?” I’m like, “Are they getting the job done?” He goes, “Yeah.” He’s like, “They’re on fire.” I said, “So where’s the problem?” He goes, “I don’t know.” He said, “I just kind of got used to meeting with them. But now they don’t need it as much.” I said, “That’s a bonus.” That’s one of the payoffs of taking this approach. Is yes, a little bit more labor intensive on the front end. But actually, there’s a payoff for that inverse relationship on the back end.

Drew McLellan:

I think agency owners are good at some parts of this naturally. So the giving somebody a bigger piece of the pie to manage or whatever, that unfortunately, most agencies are so [inaudible 00:22:43] and mean that that happens. In fact, I joke that most agency owners initiations or orientation programs hire [inaudible 00:22:52] waited too long to hire you. Here’s where the pencils are. By the way, you have a client meeting at 10:00.

Mitch Matthews:


Drew McLellan:

So I think they’re pretty good at giving somebody something to own. But I think in terms of helping them understand and being really purposeful on sharing. Look, I’m giving you this to own, and I’m here to coach to learn how to do that, that’s the part that I think agency owners are often fuzzy. So let’s set up a scenario just help us understand some of this specifics. So I’ve got a relatively new account person on my staff, they might have sort of assisted on some projects before, but they’ve never really owned a client relationship. And so I’m ready to give them their first client relationship. Either we want a new piece of business or someone who’s moving on or something. But there’s an opportunity for them to step into a new role with the client. So what does that look like from a conversation point? And what kind of questions do I ask them as we’re goin