Behind every successful organization is a responsible leader. On the other hand, a reliable executive leadership coach is behind every effective leader. George Randle brings to the show the person who coached him, organization development consultant and Forbes contributor Bill Gardner. The “Coach of Coaches” shares how he helps executives hone their skills and develop their mindset to become influential leaders. Bill also talks about the programs and assessments he uses in his coaching career, how he approaches the recruitment process, and the top three traits every responsible executive leader must possess.
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The Coach For Coaches – Who Coaches Turn To Elevate Their Skills With Executive Leadership Coach, Organization Development Consultant, Forbes Contributor Bill Gardner
Talent warriors, I’ve got a friend and a professional colleague joining us, Bill Gardner. He spent so many years as an executive coach and the coach to coaches. He’s somebody I’ve known for a long time, which energized me about getting into the coaching field and somebody that I turned to all the time. Standby for some of the best advice from one of the most senior coaches globally and one of the Top Forbes Contributors.
Welcome to 2022—happy New Year to you all. We get to start the year with a good friend, a coach and advisor, somebody I admire, and indeed one of the nicest people on the planet. This is a coach of coaches, the Yoda of coaches. I’m going to embarrass him when and where I can, but I was looking forward to this episode. There will be some great information on how you assess talent from a tool perspective. Standby as we get into what makes an excellent assessment and how to use them to help your skill.
Mr. Bill Gardner, welcome to the show. Happy New Year to you.
George, Happy New Year to you as well.
These are fun because you listen to so many podcasts. You’re not just having conversations, so I look forward to having that in this episode. I’m going to lead off. The audience doesn’t know one of the things I’ll let them in on is I don’t even know how many years ago, but I was given the gift by Christina, my wife, of having you as a coach. We did the leadership circle. I liked to kid myself that I’m a pretty insightful and self-driven person to evolve. That bubble was burst after I took the test, and I’ve learned a lot about myself, but if you’re open to it, I want to get in and tell the readers where your career started and how you got into coaching.
I’d have to go back to MBA grad school when I majored in Finance and Economics as an undergrad, and I went back to school to get an MBA. In my first quarter at that university, I met a man who would become my mentor and signed up for his class. Right off the bat, he started with an assessment. Based on that assessment, he grouped us into small groups of eight that would be together throughout the quarter as a learning cohort. After that, there were tons of instruments as part of that program.
When I graduated, I had a crazy opportunity to teach MBA pre-reqs, primarily Finance and Economics, eventually Management, at a regional campus for that university. Dr. Bracey, my mentor, was charged with finding a way to develop faculty members, and he picked twenty professors. You can’t see, but I get close around professors, since I only had an MBA, to be a part of an internal consulting group at the university to consult with deans and department chairman on organizational issues, as well as leadership issues.
Once a year, we brought whatever faculty members wanted to come together on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. We did a week-long faculty development. My career shifted from Finance and Economics too, “I want to be in this line of work and develop people.” I got fascinated by organizational culture and change issues.
As everybody knows from the State of Mississippi, I grew up in the civil rights movement period. I had gone through that ranching change process and was always fascinated by change and resistance to change. If you jump way forward, I worked at an electric utility, a high-tech company, an industrial gas, and chemicals company. I was part of leadership and organization development in all of those companies.
When I arrived there with air products and chemicals, the first leadership workshop they had ever done was using the Center for Creative Leadership Assessment. The evaluation of that workshop said, “Every workshop you do from now on, there has to be a 360 assessment before you start the workshop.” The workshop has to be based on the findings from that assessment.You don't come to work to form friendships. You make commitments, live to them, and hold people accountable. Click To Tweet
For years that I was there, we had to find an instrument for every development opportunity. Eventually, we started to create instruments to assess so that we knew who was showing up but more importantly, we knew how to target the development. What is this group of 36 leaders? What’s their blind spot? What did they need to know? We would alter the workshop based on that.
Quickly into the coaching piece, I didn’t formally call myself a coach at any of those companies. I was an organization development specialist, at one time, manager, the director eventually at AMD. Part of the change process was that I didn’t call it coaching then. In our internal workings, I called it holding leaders’ hands to calm them down when things aren’t going exactly as predicted or help them understand pushback as part of the process. We knew this was going to happen to begin with.
Years ago, when I left AMD and decided to start my own business, I planned to be an organization development person available for large-scale organizational change projects. Number one is our product or service. Number two, I’m going to do team development. I’m not going to call it team building because I assess the team with an assessment I developed. I assess the team before I decide what they need and then I do team building, but it’s around those needs that they go straight to. Lastly, I’ll throw my hat in the ring and do some coaching.
In the market, I started getting requests for coaching and then my revenues had been 80% coaching. Most of the others are team development. There’s a little bit of organizational development because companies, in my experience, have become less long-term focused throughout my career, but it seems that it should go years ago. It hit me in the face that when you talk about culture change and you’re talking to the CEO or whoever says, “We need to get this done in eighteen months,” In all honesty, I can’t say, “I’ll take this off.” That’s not possible. When I say, “The research shows that it takes 6 to 7, maybe 8 years to fully change a culture,” I get these blank stares like, “We’re not talking about that.”
With the US populace, we tap our feet in front of microwaves, hoping that the 30-second reheat moves a little quicker than 30 seconds. It heightens our patience. I hate to say that if I set it for 30 seconds, I’ve turned it off at 27. I do have to admit to that. It’s interesting that you set out with that intention and then end up coaching. I’ve started to see that. You’re helping me become a better coach. Did you like how the market turned out for you? Not from a revenue perspective, but has the individual side of coaching helped you understand the team side more or does the team side help you understand the individual more?
When I first went into doing the coaching, even though I could say I’ve been doing it for many years, I felt a little bit flawed. I didn’t have any certification in coaching. I was basing it on my experience and what I had learned. I did what I tell people to do, which is I went to the Center for Creative Leadership’s five-day coaching certification and learned a very interesting thing going through that process. I don’t think I picked up any new skill, but I started to understand the knowledge and research behind most of the stuff I had learned through trial and error.
Let me say my last few years at one of the companies that I worked for, so I don’t get too personal here. I’ve always believed that the leader has so much power and influence over an organization, but I went through many mergers and acquisitions and then eventually, there has a change with the CEO of a company I was working for. It’s not overnight, but it felt like overnight that the culture changed and shifted.
We went from a guy who, every time he spoke, said, “People first. Products and profits will follow.” He kept saying it over and over again. We went to a person who, in my first conversation with him as the senior OG person for the company, said, “You don’t come to work to form a friendship-type relationship. You make commitments and live to them. You extract commitments and hold people accountable. If you’re looking for people that you liked well enough to go to lunch with, get a dog.” That attitude shifted the company’s culture so quickly.
I was at a meeting with the whole HR leadership team. This relatively new vice president of Human Resources commented and then somebody said, “That’s because of our founder.” He said, “Are you going to say people first? If you are, that’s not working very well and it hasn’t worked very well.” I remember that moment so vividly. I can tell you the seat I was sitting in and who was around the U-shaped table because I went, “Things have changed here like that.” Does it help me understand teams? It helps me understand the dynamics of teams or organizations by getting into the mental models and the thinking of a leader.
Let’s dive right into that. You’ve been a coach. I don’t know if you will have the same masochistic gene in you that I’ve had being in recruiting for decades. One of the taglines we were asked is, “How many people have your teams hired?” My teams have hired over 80,000. I’ve sat arguably, conducted more interviews and seen more real assessments, not with tools.
Once I got into recruiting, it was the assessments that started everything. I want to trust my gut and say, “I’ve seen enough samples, done this enough and got a good beat on that.” Somebody told me once that the acronym GUT is Give Up, Thank you. I’ve liked that. I started to lean into the assessments and you as well used assessment tools.
First of all, tell us about the different types of assessments out there. Some people may be under the misunderstanding that StrengthsFinder is the same as a Leadership Circle or a Hogan is the same as a Predictive Index. There’s any number of them out there like Wonderlic. Tell us the basics about assessments from your view.
The first question to ask about assessments always for me is why are you doing the assessment? What’s the outcome of this assessment? That’s what should drive the evaluation of any assessment instrument or the creation of an assessment instrument. While I was thinking about it, you said the word test. I always struggle with saying it’s not a test. It’s an assessment because, with a test, our brains pass or fail. “What grade am I going to get on this?” That’s why it’s important.
If you’re talking to a bunch of companies that offer assessment, this is what we’re looking for and why we want to do it. How is your instrument going to do that for us? With my academic training and background, I need to understand what is the theoretical construct that underlies this model? Why did they ask these questions? What’s driving those questions?
Sometimes that involves a deep dive in neuro-psychology and a whole lot of other stuff that most people don’t feel comfortable diving in themselves but a vendor of an instrument should be able to give you a nice, concise and easily understood response to the theoretical construct. At the bottom line, this assessment looks at how much attention span a person has. It’s based on the studies that did this stuff. Why are you doing it? Does it transcend over to theoretical construct?
A philosopher who looked at not just assessments but theories and models about the way people interact used to model a true clock phase and put GAS, maybe if Dr. Pepper points around the clock phase. He said, “Whenever you’re trying to assess or understand a person, these three things have to be played off against each other, generalize ability. In other words, if my instrument says this person is blue, then they’re blue at home, at work and under stress, pressure and stuff like that.” That’s general for the most part. “Is it accurate?” In other words, can I do retest reliability? Will it pick up development and things like that, then, “Is it simple?”
You can’t have all three of those. You have to go for two of them and tradeoff the third one for business reasons or whatever. It’s important, not theoretically but faithfully. In other words, if somebody takes an instrument, I give them the theory and say, “You’re a blue person,” they go, “I don’t like that but yes.” I say why so I can understand it.
This is the part a lot of people missed. After you’ve chosen, you need to set up a process for assessing the assessment. You go back through the same criteria that you did before. Now that we’ve used it, is it doing what we thought it would do? Is it answering the why? Do we understand the theory enough? Are we seeing it play out at work? If not, then we need to go back on the search for a new assessment and develop a new one. That’s my way of approaching it.
Let’s stick to the executive senior leader’s performance. I’m not going to parse out, “We’re coaching or helping advise somebody to go from low performance to high performance.” We’re stepping in to meet them where they are and take them to the best of their capability. I want to be careful because I know your position and your reputation are everything. I don’t want to call out or say, “What’s a good assessment or a bad assessment, a good instrument or a bad instrument?” You prefer things when working with executives, that three-prong test that is more reliable and accurate at face value. What do you prefer to use with executives in trying to take them to the next level of their game?
Leadership Circle is my go-to for assessing executives that will buy into a 360 assessment. Many senior executives are not open or they’re anxious about getting that kind of feedback, but if they are willing to do a 360, it’s The Leadership Circle. There are many reasons that I liked, but a couple that stands out for me is the most important one. It identifies or shows the level of adult development that the person being assessed is showing up as or careful that they max their level of development.You can change your behavior quickly. However, you cannot sustainably change it until you get the mental model driving that behavior. Click To Tweet
I still thought that once you became an adult, you were done developing because you were adulting and that was everything. Different theorists and researchers started to say, “Development doesn’t stop when you’re 24 or 18. They’re stages that you can chart of a person’s developmental journey.” The Leadership Circle has that as part of the assessment, at least an estimate of where somebody is.
It’s focused on two areas. One is the reactive area and one is creative. If I could make a change, I’d probably go back. Those are the stages, but it gets confusing sometimes because nobody wants to be reactive. The fact is reactive is typically what’s most responsible for a leader’s success up until the point that I’m called in to be a coach. They’re able to move quickly, make decisions and do stuff in a very reactive manner.
The next most important thing is it gives, from the beginning, a look at possible mental models that the leader had. You can change behavior quickly. I can change my behavior tomorrow. I’ve changed my behavior around diet and exercise probably 10,000 times in my life. Until you get behind the mental model that was driving that behavior in the first place, you can’t sustainably change it.
The Leadership Circle goes right there from the beginning. “Here’s what your score is. Here’s a booklet to interpret it.” That stores from personal experience. “Here’s a possible list of mental models. If you believe this, put a box. If you don’t, put a line through it. Let’s look at the ones that you believe because those are the beliefs and mental models that are causing you to show up less effectively than you want to show up.” That’s my go-to. A lot of times, executives don’t want to do 360 if it puts them in a very vulnerable position. My fallback is Hogan. You and I have had some experience with Hogan as well.
I’m working my way up to The Leadership Circle. My developmental stage is Hogan. Soon, the next one’s coming.
A critical thing fits you on both models. A critical thing between these two is both are complicated. For a fancy word, they both have a requisite variety. They are as complex as what they’re trying to assess. Here’s what’s critically important. To help a person understand Hogan, it takes me several hours of pouring over the results and comparing the three different reports and all that stuff for me as a coach.
Mostly, I try to be able to say, “I can’t put it on a bumper sticker for you but let me put it on a big batch of bumper stickers to help you understand what this is.” The Leadership Circle has a one-page net-out summary that beautifully illustrates the results. Not just the results but the interplay and interaction between reactive tendencies and creative competencies. It helps them see.
The guy I was talking to was very high on control. As the theory would predict, it’s not that great in developing his followers being a mentor to them or them having a good relationship within that driven part. It’s there on the page where you can look, “Here’s this high amount of control.” Across the circle, look at what’s done to your relationship.
Typically, the way I answer this is to say, “Do you have some examples of when that need for control got in the way of your mentoring or helping somebody?” I haven’t had anybody that, if they were at all personally insightful, would be able to say, “Here’s an example that happened. Here’s an example that went wrong.”
Those two are my real go-to. The last time you and I talked, I’ve added an instrument that I first learned about in 1977. It has come a long way and I got back acquainted with it. What I love about it is it is not a 360. It is a self-assessment. I don’t see it in use for my executive clients but clients at a lower level when I have those and for the team. It’s a great team assessment. It has an underlying metaphor that I just learned.
You got to tell me the name of it too.
It’s the SDI 2.0. They’re rebranding to move toward CoreStrengths. The metaphor that I love is they use an image of a buoy in the water. They say that buoy in the water is representative of your behavior as a leader, mentor, husband, wife or whatever. What do we know about buoys? It can move a little bit and it has about 360 different options depending on the context, but it’s anchored. That anchor is what they call your motivational value system. It is based on Sigmund Freud’s seven personalities, updated significantly.
What they say is your motivating value system doesn’t change. It’s the anchor. It’s holding that buoy that can’t go anywhere it wants to. It’s chained to that motivational value system. Depending on the conditions, it can show up in an almost infinite movement. They look at the motivational value system where things are going well, and then they look when you get in conflict. What do you do? How do you try to resolve the conflict? They have a strength assessment, which they show you is a powerful thing.
Let’s say you’re going to work with somebody else. One of your strengths is you’re assertive. Based on working with them, you know that one of their strengths is something different. Your behavior is going to be different with them than it would be with somebody else whose value is assertive. You would be assertive but for a different motivational value system.
Here’s a quick example to clarify that. Between the three corners of this triangle, people process and productivity, I come out between people and productivity. I’m not big in the process category. I’m a big picture guy, though. I feel lost in the details, but you would be surprised that given my last interaction about a Hogan assessment, I will spend hours deep diving in numbers, write-ups and stuff like that. It’s because my motivational value system is about people. I can do that process stuff as good as anybody else in the world if it’s helpful to people, but if you say, “Go analyze this big data set,” and I don’t see a value of that helping to people, I can’t even start it. I’ve added that to my bag of tricks and use it in an offsite for a team.
I want to back up a little bit to The Leadership Circle because I wanted to know your opinions. There’s one thing that we talked about in our book, The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent. For our readers, we had this call-out box at the back that Bill, our guest, helped us with, which was brilliant. It summed it up at the end. The Army took some 200 years to add the trait of humility to the qualifications of being a good leader.
Where I’m going with this? When I took The Leadership Circle, the thing for me was I was like, “There are parts of me that are fearful of what I’m going to get back from subordinates, peers and supervisors.” I got over the better devil. I’d rather know than live in denial. When people resist taking The Leadership Circle, do you immediately default and say, “They’re not humble or not committed to self-development enough. That fear is going to get in the way?” Do you see them saying, “Frankly, I don’t trust their judgment? I don’t know if it’s going to be helpful?” Where do you see executives coming down on the 360 when they’re not in favor of it?
The first answer to your question is no. I don’t just throw in the towel and say that I don’t want to do a 360. My general approach to that is to say, “Can you help me understand a little bit about the why? What’s going on? What’s the downside of doing a 360?” I try to address my response to whatever they say, but I will say, “The go-to for me is that the people that would give you 360 feedback, the thoughts that they have about you as a leader are walking around in their head.”
This instrument does not create an opinion about you. They’re asked about behaviors to see things that you do. There are two options here. You can land and walk around in their head, which to them is true. Their perception is how they’re acting. If they think bad news and it would be harmful to their career, if you give them bad news, they’re not going to give you bad news. Is that the kind of leader you want to be? This information is out there.
Secondly, feedback is a gift. Having gone through the holiday season, your family gives you gifts that you go by every year. Here’s the deal for you. If you get a gift of feedback that you don’t like, as a coach, I’m going to push you to examine where that could have come from and why people are saying that but in all honesty, you don’t have to do anything about it. You can take it back and trade it in on something that you like. That’s hard to do.
You say that you’re really caring and you support your employee’s personal development. However, we ask a bunch of your employees and they say that you don’t support their development and you’re not a caring person. Let’s look at that. Where could that conflict be coming from in their perception? Ultimately, if I’m pushed far enough, I’ll give it up and say, “That’s their perception. Let’s move on and look at some emotional stuff.”Executive leaders must be life-long learners. No matter how educated, smart, or experienced they are, they must always see learning as part of their constant process. Click To Tweet
I’m going to push for the 360. The other thing that’s important, depending on your company or who I’m pitching to, is the price. Some assessments are out there on price and a chief financial officer is probably not going to go there if their company is struggling. I can’t see myself spending that kind of money. It has to deliver a wall up.
The other thing is I have enough senior executives I’ve worked with that if someone is considering, but they don’t want to do 360, I can give them a reference. If you’re a CFO and I gave you a CFO with who I’ve used the session and their experience, would you be willing to talk to them? That’s where I’ve tried to get around it because, in all honesty, my heart and head feel that 360 is going to be better. If it’s a self-assessment, all those excuses come up.
I was having a bad day that day. Not that they don’t come up with 360. When they were filling that out, we had announced no bonuses for the year. That’s reflecting that, which I always say, “Let’s add two positive points for all your answers. If you still come out with it as your most development needs, let’s talk about that.”
That’s where I go with that. I’m not immediately going to drop to, “Let’s do something that’s not a 360,” but it’s a judgment call. I have pushed some people until they decided to go with a different consultant and that’s only because, in my head and heart, I thought at the moment a self-analysis or self-response to this guy hoping it’s going to work, so I’d rather not want to work with them.
Have you ever used the Hogan pre-hire assessment? Have you ever been asked to evaluate somebody that they’re considering for a C-Suite or one click off the C-Suite?
What’s your thought?
The one that pops into my head is a company that was getting ready to hire a VP of human resources, which was their highest human resource job. My previous client had been the person that this person was replacing. They wanted to use the Hogan pre-hire. It has to be legally defensible and it is. I did use a Hogan pre-hire for that.
What they did were interviews to get the top three candidates. I assessed the top three candidates and gave them the rapport. I added a little twist to it. I asked the chief operations officer, who the vice president was going to report to, if he would take the values part of the Hogan Assessment, not to answer it for himself but for the company. What would he say the company does? It went well. I did three choices, not from our strong value. It’s different to it.
In addition to what Hogan provided, I did a values comparison based on what the boss would’ve said. Between the three, there was one candidate that there’s no way the other candidates could hope handle her. She was a standout and had all the right experience, but she checked all the boxes for a senior leader with her Hogan.
After I went through all of that with the chief financial officer and the people that will be reporting to the vice-president, they chose one of the other candidates. To bring this conversation full circle, it was a gut feeling they had. The other two candidates were men and the company was predominantly male. All the people decided that one of the men was the better fit. I don’t know whether that was the end or not. I’m not speculating one way or the other, but they went against the recommendation and the money they had invested in having me do that pre-hire assessment.
I said this to a graduate class that I was in. If you think of a relationship continuum, one anchor is anything whatsoever about this person and at the other end is, “I know this person so well. I could give you their bio. Stop the comp. I don’t have to have notes. I know the way they think and act. I could finish their sentences for them. I could even tell you how they would act in certain situations.”
If you got that continuum, when you start looking for somebody for our position, most of the time, you’re in that, “I have no clue about this person. I don’t know them. I will recognize them if they walk wearing bright.” You don’t hire somebody that you have that little knowledge of. How do you build knowledge with them? There’s an assessment that’s objective. You can interview them and do a simulation if that’s appropriate for the job where you could see them in a simulation. With each one of those ads, information and knowledge, you’re not going to get to that point where you know everything about them before you hire them, but you want sufficient knowledge.
George, you and I are both suffering from a Cedar fever. If I had to interview somebody that I didn’t interview after my Cedar fever has gone, I’m a different evaluator. I will change between those two times. No matter how objective I try to be, I can’t be completely objective. We know from neuroscience that the first bit of information we have about a person, our brain goes into a predictive process to say, “That guy has a beard. Can you trust him?” That’s got to be overcome by a lot of data. “That’s going to drive my decision-making.” In addition to all that other stuff that everybody does in hiring, the whole reason you would assess is that it at least is one piece of data that doesn’t have as much noise as six different people.
When Mike and I opened up our book, we said, “You can’t see talent. You need a process that reveals it.” I love that we’ve been able to talk about assessments, but I’m going to ask you an off-the-cuff. We talked about nine character attributes of talent. We had to boil it down. We think we get the best nine. It’s our collective with all of our contributors and thoughts.
With all of the executives that you’ve coached, if you were to have to recommend for people like me, not as a coach but as somebody doing an executive search, three traits that you think stand out amongst excellent executives that come to mind about, “When I feel like I have a great executive, generally they have these three things that are showing up,” what are those?
The first one that popped into my mind was being a lifelong learner. By that, no matter how educated, smart or experienced they are, they see part of their process to be constantly learning. I’m not talking about just industry knowledge. That’s all-important. I’m talking to lifelong learners about them as humans and how they show up. I’m a fanatic about reflection and journaling. That’s a sub-category of a lifelong learner.
When I talk about reflection and journaling, the best executives that I have coached from the start are the ones who came in and say, “I’ve been doing that.” Years ago, I didn’t start my career like that, but once I left that senior position for the country of Africa, I thought, “Before I go back to the US, I’ve got to capture some of the boom learnings that I’ve had here that question what I knew.”
Right along with that is humility. Not a fake humility but a humbleness that says, “I don’t know it all.” There may be somebody in my group who could do a better job at this than I could. I’m going to be humble enough to accept that. The third one is intense interest and almost fanatic need to lead. By that, I mean to have an influence on other people in a way that leaves them and the organization better than if I had not been there to have it work.
Those were right off the cuff of the top of my head. A lifelong learner is easy. I get asked the question a lot of times. What’s one thing you would say to me starting as a new manager that starts as the rest of your life is going to be in addition to everything else with a learning experience? What can you grow? If I were going to add a fourth, I would probably say it’s a clear understanding of their legacy how they want to be remembered.If you're not reflecting on what you are doing today that would make people remember you, some changes within yourself are needed. Click To Tweet
As coach leaders, how do they want to be remembered as a leader? When they leave this company, this position or this Earth, what would they love to think that the people that work for them and were influenced by them would say about them? The power of that in coaching is to ask them the question, “How would you want to be remembered?” They’re going to say a lofty thing.
As we talk and they tell me an experience because I had a subordinate or an organization, my most powerful question is often, “When we started, you said you wanted to be remembered as fair above all else. Can you help me understand how? What did you say you did in that situation that was fair?” A different way to ask the question is, “That guy that you shoot out in front of his direct rapports, you demoted. If somebody had a video of that moment and they were given a list of characteristics, would they check fair that you were interested in developing your people? These are the four things you said. I didn’t give you these. Is that what they would say about you? At the end of the day, if you’re not reflecting in saying, ‘Did I show up in a way that would have people remember me the way I want to be remembered,’ then you have some changes to make.”
I have a session with the gentlemen that you helped me with. This is reconnecting after the holidays. That made me think of a question, have you ever given that as homework to say, “I want you to write the vision statement that says, ‘This is my legacy of leadership and how I want to be remembered in this firm?’”
Yes. I typically do it as homework. When I was talking about my process in my chemistry meeting, I described this process and said, “I’m not going to tell you what to do as a leader. I could. I’m perfectly capable to do that, but I’m not going to do that because what I think is not important.” I have a little worksheet that I give people to say some future perfect thinking. “Go out to this point. You pick the point.”
When you retire, leave this job or this company, put yourself out there whatever that point is in the future. You say, “If I’m going to retire at 55, let me put myself emotionally in that place. How old are my children? How old is my spouse?” Whatever you can do to put yourself in that place, that future perfect banking and then think to yourself.
Depending on how much I’ve seen them willing to be open to some borderline woo-woos, I may say, “Close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths, reflect on it and imagine that everybody’s gotten together for your retirement party, all your employees and everybody you’ve managed or led. Somehow, you have an ability.” Maybe a friend of yours is walking around, talking to people and saying, “How are we going to define the George Randle days as a leader to this? What would you say?”
If you can hear that, think of the words that you feel good about cognitively, that your head would say, “That’s good that I came across that way and I was able to impress them.” Get your heart involved with that too. You may get missed about this stuff, but what was something that an employee would say, “I’m a better human being because George was my leader,” or whatever it is that would get your heart involved?
At some point in my coaching, I’ve got to introduce them to get involved in the somatic or their body awareness as a data point. I might as well start upfront with the fact that you’re not going to see my MBA coaching because we’re not going to talk about business. We’re going to talk about leadership and your leadership or business, but I’m not going to talk about your margins or return on investment. I’m perfectly capable of doing it, but that’s not what you’re hiring me for. I don’t have the kind of insurance that would cover me giving that advice, so I’m not going there.
One of the questions I was going to ask you is what the great tips are, but the humility and lifelong learner, we’re going to go capture those and put them out as a lead into this episode. This is so great. As we’re wrapping up, I give this one question to everybody on personal development. If you were to go back as you were to graduate college, what would you tell yourself to be better, more successful holistically, not necessarily financially, whatever that means to you, and for things to be easier for you? What would you tell yourself those lessons that you have that you wish you’d learned, then?
This was pretty easy for me. It’s a moment of background. I grew up as the baby and the only boy in a family. I was spoiled beyond all reason. Trust me. I can tell you a story that you would go, “You’re spoiled. That’s ridiculous.” At fourteen, I lost my mother due to cancer. A month before my sixteenth birthday, I lost my father due to a heart attack. They were 47 and 52. I’m not talking about old people.
Almost overnight, I went from spoiled beyond all reason to independent. What that meant for me when I went away to college was that my aunts and uncles were very well-meaning relatives trying to take care of their sister or brother’s child. They pushed me to go into pre-med because I was good in math and science.
I went off and started college as a pre-med student. I lasted as a pre-med almost sixteen hours because they made all the pre-med students go to a presentation called, “You think you want to be a doctor?” There was Dr. Nickel. I’ll never forget his name because I walked out and changed my major. One aunt, in particular, said, “You got to go into banking. I know you’re lazy and banker’s hours are a real thing. You have to be personable, social, get along with people, take them to lunch and stuff like that. You should go into banking and finance. You’re good in math also.”
I did go into that. I wish that I had done some self-examination, worked with a guidance counselor or something to say, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I wouldn’t have been a banker. If I were to go back at eighteen when I left for college, I would probably say, “Do you want to do that? Are you just doing it to please your aunt and uncle?”
If you fast forward to my first night of the MBA program in a class with my eventual mentor, he did an exercise where we paired up and interviewed each other and then introduced the person that’s called Peter Paul Introduction. I ended up in a group of seven. I didn’t have anybody match with me, so he interviewed me. It was brutal. I worked my butt off. I asked him a lot of yes and no questions, stuff like that.
When it was his turn to interview me, he looked at his watch and said, “I got five minutes to interview, so I’m going to set my timer. Tell me everything there is about you that is important for me to work with you this quarter.” I filled my guts. At the end of class, he said, “Mr. Gardner, would you come up? I need to speak with you for a second.”
I waited. As the last person left, he said, “I have a question for you based on our conversation. When will you start living your dream?” I wish I could say I was an insightful guy and go, “What a great question. I’m going to go ponder that,” but to be honest, it made me angry. I felt my face and ears get red. I thought, “Who is this jerk?”
He had talked to me for five minutes, asking me a question like that. I didn’t sleep that night. The next morning, my knowledge was, “I’m done living my aunt and uncle’s dreams. I need to think about what it is I want to be.” That’s what I did in the course of the MBA program by taking all of his courses. His business partners later formed the Atlanta Consulting Group. He wrote Managing from the Heart. I worked with them in the group I talked about and the faculty group. I also started working consulting with them. I would have been much further along in my career and would have felt much more successful earlier if I had his advice years before that.
It’s great advice. Live your own life. I go back and look over my years. I want to be arrogant and say I was living my own life, but I’m like the ice cream cone and everybody else is putting the ice cream in. I’m living what flavors they give me. It’s how I look at it. I can’t thank you enough for having sage advice. Everybody ought to read that, especially for the leaders to be lifelong learners. That’s what we’re trying to be and we hope to deliver on this show.
I am grateful I get to start the day talking with you. I will send good thoughts that we both start to breathe semi-normally because the Cedar is not going away, but hopefully, we can do this again. I can’t thank you enough, Bill. It’s been wonderful. You’re filled with brilliant insights, which will get out. Thank you so much. Have a great new year. We’ll chat again soon.
Thanks, George. I appreciate it.
- Bill Gardner
- Leadership Circle
- Predictive Index
- SDI 2.0
- The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent
- Atlanta Consulting Group
- Managing from the Heart
About Bill Gardner
My training was in Organization and Leadership Development and my career taught me the power of leaders to create and maintain culture. I now primarily coach senior executives and consult with leaders about building their teams, organizations, and culture.