Episode 392

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How you lead your business is critical to its success. People are the most important assets in our agencies, and without them, we can’t deliver our best work to our customers. That’s why it’s critical to prioritize agency leadership so your teams can do their best work and grow alongside your organization.

Dr. Amin Sanaia is an expert in leadership development with extensive experience studying what attributes make the most successful leaders. Today, he shares the top five personality traits of a good leader, also known as CRAVE, and how we can bring leadership development and growth opportunities to our employees.

If you’re ready to take your leadership to the next level and start showing up for your people with more empathy and authenticity, Dr. Amin has the tools to get you on the right path.

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.

agency leadership

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What gets in the way of being a great leader
  • Finding the balance between servant leadership and honest feedback
  • Balancing employee wants and running your business profitably
  • Offering fringe benefits over more money
  • How agency leadership can show up with more empathy without going overboard
  • Setting the tone of your agency culture
  • Coaching and mentoring new agency leadership
  • How to start behaving like a leader

“People are at the heart of what we do. When you work in providing a service, or you're taking care of someone, people become your number one asset, and they're vital to what you do.” @AminSanaia Share on X
“We've learned through the last three years going through a pandemic that people are really looking for something else at work. They're not just going to work to go to work. There has to be a purpose.” @AminSanaia Share on X
“You're not hiring what is on the resume or what's on paper. You're hiring that person, their personal experiences, their upbringing.” @AminSanaia Share on X
“Invest in your leaders and invest in leadership development. And you'll see how your culture will change drastically.” @AminSanaia Share on X
“If you have an agency, whether you have one employee or hundreds, make sure you decide the culture you want in your organization. Because you have a culture whether you set it or not.” @AminSanaia Share on X

Ways to contact Dr. Amin:

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.

Speaker 2:

Hey everybody. Drew McClellan here with Agency Management Institute. Good to see you again in air quotes. Thanks for joining us for another episode of Build A Better Agency. I’m excited about this topic. I always love talking about leadership, which is where we’re going to go today. But before I tell you about our guest, before we dig into that conversation, I just want to remind you that, and I know you probably already know this, but I’m getting really excited. We are counting the days. Actually, I’m recording this in mid-February, so we’re only three months away from, right? February, March, April, May, yeah, three months away from the Build A Better Agency. It’s actually May 16th and 17th, and I cannot wait to see you in person. I cannot wait to interact with you. I am all about the hugs, so bring them. But I’m just really excited that we get to come back together, learn together, laugh together, create connections.

I was just talking to somebody on a coaching call today and he was telling me about a partnership that he put together at the summit. He just happened to be sitting next to somebody in one of the sessions, they started talking and now they are partnering with each other and they are working together and all just because of the summit, which I really love. So please join us. Head over to the agencymanagementinstitute.com website, click on the Build A Better Agency summit button in the upper left. Grab your ticket before we sell out, before they go up in price and join us. I promise you, it’s a game changer and if you feel like you wasted your time or it wasn’t your thing, you come talk to me about it and I will give you your money back because I am that confident that you’re going to love it.

With that said, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. So Dr. Amin Sanaia has a PhD in leadership and he is an expert in how we can create a workforce that is strong and vibrant and collaborative. And so he has a whole methodology, he just wrote a book. He has a whole methodology around how we can create that kind of work environment for our team. I think you’re going to love the conversation and there’s going to be plenty of really practical tips for you. So you might want to grab a pen and a pad of paper or, and if you’re driving or on a treadmill, don’t do that, but you might want to take some notes or make at least some mental notes and put some of this stuff in place. So, all right, let’s get to the conversation, shall we? Amin, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Speaker 3:

Thank you for having me, Drew. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Speaker 2:

So leadership is I think an age-old conversation and certainly we have gone through the paces lately with COVID and the shift in the way we work, whether we’re in an office or working remote or hybrid. But at the end of the day, I don’t care what the business is, but certainly for our audience of agency owners, how you lead your business is critical to your business’s success. In our world, we don’t have a lot of equipment, we don’t have a lot of machinery. The most important asset we have in our business are our people. Without them, we cannot deliver our services. So super excited to have you here today. Super excited to have the conversation about this topic. So do me a favor and tell the listeners a little bit about your background, how you came to have this expertise, and then I have a ton of questions for you.

Speaker 3:

Sure. Great. So as you mentioned in your introduction, people are at the heart of what we do. So when you work in providing a service or you’re taking care of someone, people become your number one asset and they’re vital to what you do. In my experience, I volunteer at a retirement community early on as a teenager. That’s how I got introduced into a leadership type of position as I was in charge of the youth group and we go there and I just got drawn in to the people interaction and how the way you interact with them and the things that you can do for people that sometimes they can’t do for themselves becomes vital. So I decided to make it a career. I got into healthcare as an administrator, became an executive, and I started reading a lot. I was eager about learning about behavioral, how do you get the most out of people? Because when you work in that type of setting, it’s all about people, the people you’re taking care of, but also the people that you’re leading.

So if you lead people the right way, guess what? You’re going to be able to be successful in the service type industry. So I read a lot. First I started reading about it with Jim Collins, later on I really got into John Maxwell to the point that I went through his certification. So now I’m a John Maxwell certified coach, trainer, speaker. And that’s how I’ve shaped a lot of my leadership skills and knowledge. Later on in my career, I got a master’s in healthcare administration, but now I also have a doctor. So I have a doctor in leadership, and that is something that I’m really fond of because it gives me the opportunity to really impact people’s lives on a daily basis. I found that that was my calling. So that is my purpose in life. So I do what I love and what my God-given talent allows me to.

Speaker 2:

It is rewarding to do work that you love, that’s for sure. So you recently wrote a book about leadership. What made you think that you wanted to write a book and what about your book is different than all the other leadership books out there?

Speaker 3:

So I did just recently published my book. I was eager to really to figure out, how do I share my knowledge? So having a 30 year career, 30 plus year career, and leading people, well, I should be able to share some of this stuff, especially since my dissertation was on leadership development, specifically in healthcare. But it does-

Speaker 2:

… skills.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely, absolutely. So I decided to really take my experiences and what I found through building teams, what are the attributes that leaders that are the most successful, what do they have? And that’s what really my book is about, is it has the acronym of crave and it’s basically communication, respect, authenticity, vulnerability and empathy. These attributes and leading hundreds of teams have really shown that it really impacts the organization, but more so impacts what you deliver to the people that you’re serving.

Speaker 2:

So let’s talk a little bit about what you see as an authentic leader and a great leader. Why are so many people not good at this? Because you would think, everybody says, well, I want to be a good communicator and I respect people and I want to be authentic. You would think based on what people say and how we feel about ourselves and how we want to project ourselves to other people, I don’t think most people want to be a bad leader, but there are a lot of bad leaders out there. So what gets in our way of being a great leader?

Speaker 3:

So before I answer that question, I want to say this. What I found in working in different industries, while the bulk of my experience has been in working in the corporate America has been in healthcare, I’ve done a lot of consulting in other types of businesses. What I’ve found is that when these companies see someone that it’s doing their job that is really good at their job, guess what? Well, now you’re going to get a promotion, you’re going to be a manager. You’re like, okay, hold on a second though.

Speaker 2:

Whole new skillset.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, exactly. And then if you’re okay at being a manager, well, now you’re a director, now you’re a leader. You can’t do that for different reasons. The most important reason is because when you’re a super worker, you’re really good at what you do. You’re a specialist. So guess what? That’s what your talent is. When you’re in the management and you’ll become a manager or a director, now you’re a leader, that’s a different skillset set that you need as you’re not in the weeds, you’re not a super worker. You have to figure out a way, how do you motivate your teams to really be impactful? And those are two very different skillsets. So that’s how organizations end up with people in the wrong positions because hey, because you’re here on time and you go above and beyond. Now you can become a manager. No, you can’t.

You still need some professional training and some educational to go with that to allow those people to really be able to lean on something, because the first time you’re a manager and you run into a situation when you have a team member or employee that is not doing their job or having confrontations with other team members, how do you deal with that? Well, if you don’t have any professional training or any experience or any education on it, what do you lean on? There’s nothing for you to lean on, because you don’t have that. So it’s important that you’re able to really get those skillsets first before you actually really get into those positions. And that’s what happens.

Now, when we talk about authenticity, it’s important that we allow people to be themselves. So we’ve learned through the last three years, being in through a pandemic, it’s just unheard of that people are really looking for something else at work. They’re not just going to work to go to work. There has to be a purpose. So we’ve read that right on the news everywhere that people, the great resignation, why? Because people don’t feel a calling. They don’t feel, why am I going to work? And what happens is that they have leaders or managers that are really not fulfilling that and not showing what the purpose is for their work and how that work that they’re doing serves a purpose. So whether you’re selling cars or manufacturing widgets or taking care of a person’s life, your job is important. So the leader has to be able to show that vision that ultimately what you’re doing is valuable to society because of this.

So authenticity for me, that’s what hits home. How do you get people to allow them to be themselves, but also how do you let them bring them their whole self to work? So for example, let me ask you a question, Drew, in your life, so are you one person during the morning before you go to work, and then when you go to work, you just turn the switch and now you’re a different person?

Speaker 2:

Nope.

Speaker 3:

And then… No, you’re not. So you’re lucky.

Speaker 2:

Nope.

Speaker 3:

When you hire someone-

Speaker 2:

I don’t know how to do that. I know some people try to do that. I don’t know how to do that. I can’t show up other than how I show up. And I know that some people love that and other people say, nah, he’s not for me. Which is okay. Yep.

Speaker 3:

So what happens when you have someone that doesn’t have the skillset of a leader is that they’ll tell their employees, oh, when you come to work, it’s showtime, you have to put on your new face, or no, when you hire someone, you’re hiring the whole person. You’re not hiring what is on the resume or what’s on paper, you’re hiring that person, their personal experiences, their upbringing. So if you don’t figure that out and get to know people and what triggers them, what they like, what they don’t like, guess what? You are not going to get the best out of that person. So you have to allow them to be their authentic self, obviously within the ream of the job that’s being delivered. But you have to let them bring that because that’s how you get the best out of the person when they feel that they can be themselves.

Speaker 2:

As I’m listening to you talk, I certainly am hearing the theme of servant leadership, and I think a lot of people embrace that idea, but there’s also the balance to that. Being a servant leader and really understanding that you’re there to serve and support your employees is one thing, but one of the things I hear agency owners say all the time is, I don’t know what is left to give my people. I can’t seem to make them happy. No matter how much I pay them, no matter how many great benefits we have, we have all this professional development for them. Whatever they ask for, I pretty much serve up on a platter, servant leader, but I can’t seem to make them happy. And in today’s environment, I’m afraid to call them out to be authentic, to talk to them about performance issues because I’m afraid they’re going to leave.

And it’s so hard to find new employees now that I will tolerate mediocre behavior or mediocre performance rather than have a candid conversation. So how does somebody show up as a servant leader, but still run their business profitably, make sure that they have disciplinary conversations and mentorship conversations around course corrections and improvements with employees? How does somebody find the balance in that?

Speaker 3:

That’s a great question, Drew. So one of the things that I learned midway through my career was that no matter how much I read or how many people I talked to, there’s other tools that you need to have in your bag as a leader in order to be successful. So one of the things that I really leaned on was behavioral assessment, and one of the things that I’m actually certified on is predictive index. That’s a behavioral assessment that allows you to hire the right candidate and really work with them to help in creating some development plans throughout the life cycle. So when leaders or agency owners look at the opportunity of, okay, I have an open position, how do I really hire the right person? Well, don’t just go by your gut feeling or what looks right in the resume. Use tools that are available to you to match the personality, because that’s what you’re hiring. You’re not hiring… Anybody can put words on paper.

I’m not saying that people are going to lie on that, but the chances are that in a two, three minute conversation or say a 20 minute conversation, you’re not going to know what you’re getting. Now, if you go with tools like behavioral assessments, that gives you a better idea of when they’re put in certain situations, how people are going to react, so that’s giving you a better opportunity of hiring the right person for what you’re looking for. So what you do is you use these assessments, you tell them this is… You rank them in different boxes, and you say, this is what I’m looking for for this role. Guess what? As people apply, they do these behavioral assessments, the ones that are closest to what you’re looking for, guess what? That’s what you really are going to be hiring. So that gives you a good opportunity.

So that’s one, being able to hire the right person. If you hire the right person, then you’re good. Now, during the interview process, you want to make sure that you as a leader, you bring your authentic self and you set the tone and really, Hey, listen, this is our culture. This is who we are, or this is my agency. This is how things are here. We are honest. We’re going to give you feedback, good, bad, or indifferent, but this is who we are. So you know upfront what you’re getting into. So if you have those honest conversations upfront and you do your background upfront by doing behavioral assessments, you’re going to have a better chance of hiring the right person versus otherwise if you just go by an application and what looks right on paper and just by a 20, 30 minute conversation.

So if you do that upfront and you carry out as a servant leader the way you are and make sure you set the right culture, you’re going to be successful more often than not. Now, that’s not foolproof. Nothing is foolproof or a hundred percent correct, but that gives you a better leverage into being successful, hiring the right people so that you can keep the right people.

Speaker 2:

So let’s talk about keeping the right people. So again, we’re in a moment when agencies are struggling to find good employees, their employees are being poached left and right, they’re being offered huge amounts of money to leave the agency. Some of them are coming back to the agency and asking for more money. How in an environment like this where basically the employer is at a disadvantage, there’s more jobs out there than there are people who want the jobs, and in our world who does the work is critically important. So we have to hire the right people, we want to retain the right people. How do you find a balance of honoring what the employee’s asking for, whether it’s benefits or time off or they want to work from home or whatever it is, and also sticking to the way you want to run your business, being profitable in running your business so you can keep paying people. So how does somebody find the balance of that when you can’t possibly give your employees everything that they’re asking for?

Speaker 3:

Well, the first thing you want to do is you want to pull or survey your people in your industry, not only in your agency, but in your industry. So you want to see that, what are those French benefits? Because not-

Speaker 2:

Well, and actually we do a salary and benefit survey every year. So anybody listening to this podcast would have access to that. So they’re like a thousand agencies talking about what the benefits are and all of that. So have a source document that says, here’s what’s normal.

Speaker 3:

Exactly. So you don’t want to be the highest paying or the lowest paying. You want to be within their range. That’s the first thing.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Second, look at what are the French benefits that these people are looking for in your group, in your industry? What is it that they’re looking for? Are they looking for some flexible options as far as work life balance? If it’s that, then you want to build a program around that. But I think what I know from, again, from experience working in the healthcare industry, but also working with other companies that I consult with usually comes down to one thing. Who is the leader? Whoever they’re reporting to, that’s who they leave. They don’t leave the agency, they don’t leave X, Y, Z company. They leave that person they’re reporting to. So if you want to look at why your turnover is high, look at the person they’re reporting to. And if you will ultimately find what the issue is an