How do you lead an energized company?
David Casullo is the author of Leading the High-Energy Culture and is president of Bates Communications. He’s here to discuss his book and teach how you and I can apply some of the ideas in it.
David Casullo, Bates Communications
David Casullo is the President of Bates Communications, an executive coaching, communications and leadership development company.
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Everyone, my name is Andrew Warner, I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious self start and a place of course where over 700 proven entrepreneurs have come on here to tell their stories and teach you what they have learnt along the way. In this interview, I want to understand, how do you lead, how do you create and lead an energized company. David Casullo is the author of “Leading the High-Energy Culture” and is president of Bates Communications. I came here to discuss his book and to learn from him how you and I can apply some of the ideas in it. David, welcome.
David: Thank you, Andrew. It’s a pleasure to be here. I appreciate the opportunity and I’ve looking forward to speaking more about energized leaders and how anyone who cares to, can become one.
Andrew: So, I want the audience to understand the impact of an energized leader and you work for one, Neil Goldberg. Can you talk about where the company that you worked for Neil was, when you guys started and then what happened as a result of his hindered energy and his leadership?
David: Sure. I happened upon Neil at a place and time in my career, when I was at a critical juncture. I had just left another large manufacturing company as president and was on an entrepreneurial planned programs started up. When Neil and I met, he begin to talk about (?) again was a very sizable retailer, (?) retailer at that time and he taught to me about his executive team, which had a significant holiday and I felt during that conversation an energy, an energy like, I think that many of your viewers have likely felt during their careers or during their lifetimes, when people who embrace or embody some value and actively and consistently act on it and speak about it and behave consistent with it, energize you. You know this may be a coach, maybe a religious leader, maybe a family member. Neil, embodied this energy and I felt it when I was talking to him. So when we met and he explained to me about the hole he had in his executive team which was a senior vice president him at resources, I had never intended to enter to become a senior vice president of him at resources. I was a business leader and I brought value to the business from the highest level. But Neil said to me this, he said, “That’s exactly what I’m looking for, Dave. I’m looking for a business leader, who can lead our people, be the leader of the people and help drive value through that critical position”, I’m fall back yeah. So we were at the time when I joined the company about $250 million. Through our first…
Andrew: 250 million in earnings, right?
David: 250 million in actual sales, revenues.
Andrew: Oh, sales. Okay.
David: In revenues. Earnings, our bottom line was about 20%…
David: …which in the retail industry was fantastic. We knew we had a business model that we could expand, so we started to do that incrementally. We bought other companies in the Philadelphia market, and in the Metropolitan Connecticut markets, and began to surround Metropolitan New York, and effectively moved our business model into those areas, and made it very profitable and doubled our sales. During that period, we started to hire people from the outside to help lead the organization in high level leadership roles. But we were failing at a high rate, when we decided to move into Metropolitan New York. Neil and I sat one night and talked about this.
He said, “You know, Dave, it’s interesting that people within our organization who grow up in our organization organically, and share our values, seem to be more successful in helping us expand our business, than people who come in from the outside who are very talented and successful themselves, but don’t for some reason share our values. They’re almost counter-cultural, which is ultimately their demise within our business. So I’d like to build a leadership development institute here, and literally grow our leaders organically.”
So, that was the beginning of this whole process.
Andrew: The process ended – let me see if I understand this. You started at a 0.25 million in sales, reached .05 million in sales. You guys were excited about that thinking, “All right, we’re good.” He wanted to push you into New York. You said, “No, we’re not going to make it into New York City. This is a tough city in a recession that we’re going to try to break into right now.” He pushed forward. He listened to you, but still kept pushing into New York, and as a result you guys ended up doing a $1 billion in sales. Do I have this all right?
David: You have it exactly right.
Andrew: Okay, now I’m a little shaky because I called your revenue your profits, and I want to make sure that everything that I’ve got here is correct. All right. So, this is what he was able to do, and you’re saying that one of the reasons why he was able to do it is because of the way that he taught leadership within the organization.
David: The way he embodied leadership and actually led was the secret to our success.
Andrew: Give me an example of it. What is it about this person that… How does energy come out of him on a basic level?
David: Yes. This is really the point.
David: What Neil embodied, and what we learned was important, was clarity of personal truths.
David: When you came through the door in the morning at Raymour and Flanigan, and you reported to Neil Goldberg, you knew what his important elements were. You knew what his focus was about. You knew what he was going to spend his time focused on, talking about, and behaving consistently…
Andrew: Can you give me an example of how that comes through on a daily basis that you have a regular interaction with the leader, and you can tell what he stands for in that interaction?
David: Absolutely. His rally cry was, “Enhance the customer shopping experience.” Everything that he did, and every initiative that we were focused on, whether it was strategic or whether it was tactical, was intended to enhance the customer shopping experience.
Andrew: How, for example?
David: Yeah. In the furniture industry, for instance, there was an enormously important element to assets, to minimizing cash outlay for assets. Most furniture retailers, for instance, Andrew, did not purchase enormous amounts of inventory. So, when a customer came through the door and decided they liked a piece of furniture, they had to typically wait six to eight weeks for that furniture piece to arrive at their doorstep.
In our business, we decided that that was inappropriate, that that was not going to be our model. So, we had a three-day delivery promise. If you or your significant other, or someone in your family, came into one of our stores, they could pick the furniture off the floor and have it in their house in three days or less. That particular single event was (?) all intuition and business acumen within retail furniture.
What Neil did was he created an advantage that allowed us to enhance the customer shopping experience, and challenged us to create it in a way that made it very profitable for a business. So you can imagine the supply and distribution links cause we sourced furniture from around the world that had to be created to do that efficiently and effectively so that it was not only cost efficient but most importantly customers found that the piece of furniture that arrived at their door was high quality, put into place without any dings, damage or problems and they got it instantly. Instant gratification.
Andrew: Where another leader with a different set of believes might say, it’s all about making the experience fun and that would be the way that he project out to his employees, what they needed to do and that would be the message that he send out to customers. Maybe another leader still might say that it’s all about marketing and by being clear about who he was, a guy who is a marketer, everyone else in the organization would never to channel their energy. You work with a person who is about customer experience, now I understand how that permeates the business. All right, so, in order to be a leader like that, one that tells, one that communicates well wherever company is going. You’re saying we need to know, what we believe first and we need to really be clear on that, right?
David: Yes, that’s correct. The power of that clarity begins by understanding and reflecting internally and what is truly important to you as a leader and what we have learned in the process of the leadership development institute was that when people are clear on their personal truths and when they are courageous enough to commit to acting on them consistently, then people who are (?) actually respond to that in a way that prompts their self motivation that engages them in ways that other leadership tactics and methods will not and actually creates an aura of energy within the organization with prompts things like innovation and out of the box thinking and action that are consistent with the goal, enhancing the customer shopping experience without being inhibited by some set of policies and procedures.
Andrew: I see, right. How do we get to that, because I got to tell you, I took business classes at NYU, studied business like a mad man. They taught me how to understand a balance sheet and I love them for teaching me that. They taught me how bonds work, they taught me about the stock market. They didn’t teach me how to look internally, they told me if you want to look internally, you probably in the wrong major.
Andrew: But I understand that the people who I admire, the leaders who I want to follow are clear about what they stand for and they are passionate about it and I want to, I understand it and I want to embody with this (?). So I want people to see me like that. How do I get to that, how do I understand what I stand for that clearly?
David: The first step is reflection and what’s interesting about reflection is most leaders today even successful leaders who have greater potential than their success currently. Do not take the time to effectively reflect and re-center themselves on what’s important.
Andrew: How do you do that?
David: We teach story telling. Story telling is a very effective tool towards this end. Story telling from a communication perspective helps business leaders speak to the hearts and the minds of their important audiences but equally, importantly when we tell people that they all have important stories in their history that if they take time and reflect on them through medi (?) mission which means thinking more thoughtfully about how we think, meaning when we reflect on the great stories of our lives, they include hints to what’s important to us because we remember how we felt and . . .
Andrew: Maybe you can, to be honest, I’m not following this and I want to because it’s such an important point. You write that we do learn well through stories and in fact the vice president of your company Craig Bentley on your website, in that video says, “That stories are the way that people remember, it’s all this the hills and this new is iPhone Apps.” Tell me a story, give me an example of how, you did something that helped you reflect on who you are and come out understanding yourself better maybe that will help me understand how I can do it.
David: Sure, I come from a town in American family (?) and my father was a member of the greatest generation and my dad was always very dutiful in his actions. It was clear to me that his primary goal in life was to create a family that is safe, that is better off than he was, and there’s one that he can be proud of. How he did that was very interesting but I reflect on specific story that help me understand and recall a value that indicated that dutifulness was very important to my dad. I was an early pre- management in a distribution company and I was sent down to New York city, to meet with an executive at The New York Times, to, to discuss a strategy around recruiting executives for our company, and I was young, and this executive was very high level and very experienced and through our CEO’s network, I was wondering how in, how in heck I was going to connect with this individual.
Well, when I met him at this gorgeous building in this big city, I realized that he was an Italian American as well. So, to try to engage him, I mentioned to him that I come from an Italian background and that, you know, I had a dad who was from the greatest generation and interestingly, he did too, and we started to talk about that and he shared something with me that created a story that helped me reflect and understand one of my values. He said to me, “Dave, do you know? My dad never said “I love you” to me”, and I thought, “Wow! That’s interesting. My dad never did either” and he said, “You know what though, Dave?”, he said, “When my sister walked into the room, he would light up like a candle and he would say, “Dolly, I love you very much!” ” And I thought, “Wow! That’s really interesting!”, because when my sister walks into the room, it’s the same story, and he said, “Dave, do you know why that’s the case?”, and I said, [inaudible 01:54- 01:59]
Andrew: He said, One sec, well, the connection was dropping there for a second. OK, he said?
David: He said, “Well, let me tell you why, David”, he said, “When our dads were young and were fighting this horrible war, in a country that they were unfamiliar with, against a tyrant that was probably likely to take over the world, and lest they did what they had to do dutifully, they were engaged, and they were connected by one truth that was important to them, and that was their women back home. Their mothers, their sisters, their girlfriends, their wives, those were what kept them moving forward under these strict horrible circumstances and you defied them to help them take the big fight and get back home, to those they love and that’s why his father in his mind, called his sister “Dolly” and he said that’s why Dad calls your sister Dolly”, and I thought to myself, that is an enormous revelation, an (?) and I realized that it wasn’t because my dad didn’t love me that he didn’t say he love me.
It was because, he dutifully fought the big fight, unified under this common denominator, which will (?) our, the women, that they wanted to protect, and that’s how it carried over into our lives back home, and what I learned about that was, their duty was very important to my father, and it wasn’t absent love, and what I reflected on my own personal values, I realized that I am all about duty, and love, and those character attributes I embody, even in my leadership behavior, and I find that people who are of similar folk are attractive. So, that’s a story in my life that helped me reflect on my personal truths, through my dad’s personal truths.
Andrew: I see, and so, you found your personal truths, by understanding your dad’s need for duty?
Andrew: How else, how can I do it in a more deliberate way for myself, or how can my audience who is sitting there saying, “Hey, I do need to be clear about what I stand for, and for no other reason than just to give sanity to my own life, but better still, may be I can also give sanity to my company.”
David: Yeah, one way they can do it, is in terms of a coaching relationship, or a mentoring relationship, or someone who is a trusted advisor, to leaders in your audience, is to actually sit with them, in a comfortable setting where they can ask, you know, “What is it that you see in my behaviors that demonstrate to you, are those values that you believe or perceive are important to me?”
Andrew: I see.
David: And listen, we call that dynamic inventory angel, and in the process in the book, where we helped leaders reflect and understand in a way that clarifies their personal truths. One important part of the process is once they’ve identified several that they feel are elements of what makes them who they are, then to query others in a way that creates a dialogue in the form of almost like a personal 360 degree assessment, where it either confirms or actually discounts personal truths that others see you behaving.
Until and unless you’ve done that litmus test, we call it the acid test, you haven’t really sifted for the goal that is your personal truths. Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the most talented people documented in history. He believed that truth and wisdom comes through experience, and experience comes through actively doing something and then reflecting on what you found out or realized from doing it. He called that (?).
When he created a masterpiece, he would try to look at that from three different perspectives before he even painted the first stroke. That kind of testing your belief before you act is really important to clarifying your personal truths, so you get to the ones that are most fundamental.
Andrew: All right. I want to spend a little more time on the inner game, and then we’ll talk about how to communicate that to other people.
Andrew: You say that in order to understand ourselves, we have to understand what we would die for. We have to clarify through doubting. We have to commit ourselves fully, once and for all, and we have to behave in alignment with our personal truths. I remember as I was reading that chapter, I said, “Understand what you would die for? Who is an entrepreneur, who’s a CEO who’s so clear about what he dies for, and how does that even relate to business?”
I understand the example in your book of your father going to World War II. Yeah. Fighting for America, fighting for freedom, that’s something worth dying for. But in business, how do we figure that out, and how does that express itself? Do you have an example?
David: Yes. I have several. Obviously, Neil Goldberg is one, because Neil believed what he believed so deeply that metaphorically it’s something he would die for because it was so fundamental to himself. It was like what Martin Luther King believed when he spoke about liberty for all Americans.
But in business, this translates simply by leaders who have clarity so profound that it is consistent and they’re committed to it. For instance, the most, I think, popular iconic examples today are Alan Mulally at Ford Motor Company and before him, the late Steve Jobs.
For instance, Steve was so much in the mindset that he could create a dent in the universe. If we thought differently about how computers could actually impact us in ways that others couldn’t imagine, that we could create tools and products that would actually change the way we think and act. He embodied that and embraced that, and created Apple as a result of that.
Alan Mulally, who was an engineer, who was prior to Ford Motor Company at Boeing, came over and said to the Ford family that he wanted to return to the fundamentals that made Ford great. He wanted to make Ford take a few steps back to make several steps forward. He believed that so deeply because in his past, that’s who he was. That’s what we need to (?) in his leadership. He wanted to bring that into…
Andrew: Would he have died for it? I’m not sure that I understand this part of it. I understand the example in the book of Martin Luther King willing to… Well, that wasn’t a direct example that you had gave there. But Martin Luther King absolutely would be willing to die for equality, but would Alan be willing to die for…? What’s the idea that he so believes that he’d be willing to die for it?
David: Well, let me switch to Suzanne Bates.
David: Yeah, let me switch to business, because Suzanne Bates is our leader. She’s the CEO of our company.
David: She believes that, in terms of communicating effectively, leaders can create results and can move organizations in a direction of success, unlike others who cannot communicate as effectively. That is so fundamental to her being that she has created an organization or have owned it that will either live or die based on the reality of that belief.
David: That’s what I mean by (?) who are so committed to what they believe, fundamentally. That, you know, perhaps, you know, dying part, is not so much about, you know, human death, but, organizational death.
Andrew: OK. All right, I see what you mean. I don’t mean to take it so literally. I’ll tell you why I, I was pushing that, I feel, I wonder why, why you chose to use so many historical references in the book instead of business people who you work with, like why, why references to Eleanor Roosevelt to I wrote Martin Luther King, to Gandhi, to Jaime Escalante from Stand and Deliver, instead of more references to business people who you guys have helped, so that we can see how they physically embody these business attributes…
Andrew: …and how it works in our world.
David: I think the, the, the best way to answer that is, because in speaking to the audience of many who would read the book, and feel themselves inspired to act on this internal source of energy and really clarify it and really magnify it to a point where it creates business value. I wanted to take common inspirational leaders from history who have made changes in the world, that are recognized and that pretty much are fundamental to everyone’s belief system. I think that I want to take the conversation back to this energy. This energy around these leaders, including business leaders, who have a way of moving other individuals to act, that is a differentiated way from others who just lead for non- personal truth, fundamental purposes, and that resonance does not connect unless they have those clarity of their personal truth. So, I think the readers who look to the historical leaders and understand how they moved people to action, in my mind, were more likely to understand how personal truth embodied and embraced in the way of layout in book can help them as business leaders.
Andrew: OK. So, after we have gone through the work, the inner work of understanding who we are, what we stand for, what believe in completely, what do we do?
David: That’s great! That’s a great question. So, now what we do is we commit to acting on these things. So, when we studied the leaders at the leadership development institute within our company, that were the top eighteen percent in the normal curve, we realized that they had five common attributes, that made them more effective than their peers, and frankly were the ones that leveraged their abilities and their leadership skills to the place that a lot of us to grow (?) billion, a billion and beyond and we call these, these characteristics the (?) sees, it was character, commitment, competence, courage and communication.
David: So, once they have clarified their personal values, and they have recommitted to acting on them, the character element became fixed, and then they could move to commitment and competence. Competence is skill development and skill development is the difference between leaders who grow to the highest level of their potential and others who don’t. Will, Will Smith is a perfect example. He says the difference between talent and just skill is an insane work ethic, and he embraces that when he does acting and he learns more about the character than his (?) actors, which makes him, in his mind, better and more effective at, you know, playing them on screen. So, competence is a function of skill development. So, the next step in the process Andrew, is to take what is inhibiting (?), our listeners and readers as leaders and building the skills to drive the competence around those gaps.
The next step beyond that is courage to act once they have the skill. It’s kind of a vicious circle because to have the courage, the skills and the confidence must be in place. Otherwise, there’s going to be a sense of uncertainty, which is the demise in a lot of the business leaders that we work with in our business.
David: That uncertainty, even though it is often hidden or thought to be hidden, is felt and seen by the people around the leader in ways that actually detracts from the tangible results that they’re trying to drive. So, courage to act consistent with the personal truths, with the skills and the competencies in place is the fourth step.
The fifth step is communication skills. The reason this is important, Andrew, is because some of the best leaders that we work with in business are the most technically competent, intellectually capable people in the organization. But if you can’t communicate in a way that takes what’s inside you and distributes it to others in a way that moves them to action towards a goal that is consistent with the business strategy, and towards tangible results that drive the organization forward, then as a business leader, you’ve really got nothing. So, the fifth step is good communication skills.
Andrew: All right. Let’s break this down and see if we can understand it. For courage, in the book you give the example of Iris Newalu, Director of the Executive Education Program at Smith College. You say her personal truth is that independent thinking is essential if women are to continue to gain their rightful place in business. How does she express her courage through that? That seems like something that is pretty common for educators in general. Directors, I’m assuming, at educational institutions should believe it too. Where’s the courage? How does she express that courage?
David: Right. Iris is a remarkable leader. She, in reflecting on her own personal truths, recognized that this independence was something that drove her to help herself become a successful leader in the academia world. At Smith College, where she is the Director of this women’s executive leadership program, she literally personally participates in each of the classes, and walks around the room, and creates dialogue with each of the participant women to understand what it is that’s in their heart and in their soul. Then, either encourages them or helps them overcome fear that prevents them from positioning themselves as a business leader who can succeed to the highest levels.
Andrew: I see. So, it’s not so much that… The courage isn’t in attending the sessions. The courage isn’t in having the dialogue. The courage is she’s teaching them to have courage. Do you have an example of how she taught someone to have courage? I want to see this in action so that we can see how this applies in business.
David: Yeah. There was a person from Johnson & Johnson, who was asked to move to Europe to participate at a higher level in one of their business units there. They participated in the class that I was in. Iris explained to me that when she engaged this person in a conversation, she lacked confidence in her ability to exercise her leadership skills in a completely different culture.
When Iris began to dig more deeply into that fear, she recognized that some of the assumptions that this young lady had made about what it takes to lead in another culture, completely destroyed her motivation, her courage, her ability to see herself as a successful person. They were based on foundationalists or less than truth in terms of what that culture was about.
So, she asked questions and helped the young lady understand that maybe some of her assumptions about that culture that she was moving to were false or ill-founded. When that person started to recognize that until and unless she puts herself in that role and applies the truths and the fundamentals of what have made her successful today in that culture, then she’s never going to be able to succeed at a higher level. And gave her the catalyst that allowed her to position herself correctly for that opportunity, and she made the move and became successful.
Andrew: I have to tell you, I’m feeling like I need to have courage in some of the things that I say in my interviews. It’s really easy for an interviewer, and I think you appreciate what I’m trying to do here. It’s really easy in an interview to sit back and not admit when you don’t understand. To say, “Hey, I read this book and everything is great.” and ask you a question and have you answer it. I think I need to have the courage to say sometimes, “I haven’t seen in the book.” or “I don’t understand yet how courage plays itself out in business. I don’t understand why.” Some of the things that I’ve said here, I won’t go into them.
David: I appreciate that. I don’t want to turn the interview around but I would love to ask you, Andrew. Is there a person in your past, specifically in your career, who has inspired you as a leader either at a peer level or a level above you?
Andrew: Tons of people. I can think of the Dale Carnegie instructors who taught me when I volunteered for them back in high school. Who showed me how to actually ask somebody, “Can you spell your name?” or “Did I get your name right?”. I used to be so afraid but they encouraged me to do that. I worked for a guy named Paul Sebera [SP] back in college who kept encouraging me to read books about business and, more than that actually, he encouraged me to buy audio books from Nightingale-Conant, those self- improvement audio books.
David: I remember Earl Nightingale. He was wonderful. “Acres of Diamonds” is one of my favorite stories.
Andrew: Yes. You can see in that how much power there is in ideas because as I listened to Dale Carnegie’s lessons and used them in my life, I could see my life change. As I listened to the recordings that Paul Sebera introduced me to, I can see how my life changed. I can also see that sometimes, some articles and books in business don’t get that for me. I feel like if I push, if I challenge, if I learn, then I’ll get those results. When it’s not there or if I don’t see it, then it’s on me to push for it.
Andrew: Let’s talk about communication. How do business leaders who then understand themselves communicate?
David: Business leaders who first are clear on their personal truths, who are most effective and clients of ours who get this, first and foremost, are development minded, Andrew. If someone doesn’t enter a process of wanting to communicate better with the mindset of “I’m going to do what it takes. I’m going to put myself at risk. I’m going to make myself vulnerable.” then they’re not likely to become better communicators. Most business leaders are not effective communicators to the level of their potential. Most of us have the opportunity to express ourselves in a way that is more impactful, more inspirational, that creates action as a result of our communication style in a way more consistent with where we’re trying to drive value. Not only for our business but also for the constituents within our audiences that we’re speaking to and moving with our words and our body style.
The first thing is a commitment to developing those skills. The second thing, which is an interesting concept, is clarifying the message so that it’s most simple. Alan Mulally; one floor, one plan, one team, one objective. Those are the kinds of things that make clarity and simple rallying cries most powerful. Reducing a complex set of strategies bound to elements of communication that are clear and powerful is very difficult. Mark Twain said “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Clarifying and simplifying your message is the second tool. The third tool; this is counter-intuitive to most people in business, Andrew, is recognizing who your disciples are and starting with them. We call that principle “Saving the saved”. I learned this from a high school by the name of Paul Minsch, who was very energized about becoming a social studies teacher and like his dad wanted to be recognized as one of the best in his school system. So in his first days as a teacher, he focused on the five kids at the back of the class that were clearly holding up all of the signs of no sale and he was determined to engage them and turn them around and help them become good students.
So he focused on them, day in and day out with different techniques that he felt were going to engage them and he completely failed and during the period of lowest exasperation, he went to his dad and he said, “Dad, help me understand. I’m trying to move this five young people to action and to make them better students and I failed miserably.” And his dad said, “Paul, tell me how much time, you’re spending on these five people in relation to the rest in your class.” And he said, “I’m probably spending 60 to 65, maybe even 75% of my time on these kids” And he said, “Now tell me how much, you’re spending on the three kids in the front of the room who are ready to go, who want to learn and are your best students.” He said, “Well they are basically on their own.” And he realized that his father was about to say the truth.
The truth is start with those three kids. Get them on board, make them your disciples and then they will help create energy around your message in the rest of the normal curve and eventually even those five kids are going to get on board and some of them will or they are going to get out of the way and that message in business is enormously valuable and it’s a mistake that most business leaders did make. They start with the lower performing people, they start with the leaders, a lot of them that aren’t likely embracing the message and genuinely interested in conveying the message in a way that moves others and that is a waste of their time and effort. Speed and simplicity are the key to communicate. So those are the three primary areas where people who in business are most affected since start.
Andrew: How do you communicate the more subtle messages, so I’ve done interviews with entrepreneurs who talked about how to tell stories and I can see how with practice, we can all become better story tellers, all of us, even those of us who are scared to speak can become better story tellers. But this, the more subtle communication, like- Hey, I’m going to succeed at this company. How do you say that without being so in your face about it that you are seen pathetic? The subtle message of, this is the right thing to do, stop questioning me, I’ve got this, I’m confident and I’ve got the backing to make this happen. That’s a tough one to communicate. All those subtle things that are, which decide whether people will people follow you or not. How do you communicate those?
David: Yeah. It’s an art and a science. And the subtle, maybe more soft elements of communication are really falling in the category of the art versus the science. One of the recommendations that we do often with business leaders who are struggling with that particular aspect of their communication is to query them about their audience and to try to help them understand what is on the mind of their audience. We call it 180 degree thinking. So in that particular example, Andrew, I might ask you, “Tell me a little bit about the person or people that you’re trying to convey that subtle message to.” And then ask you, “What do you think are the important questions, most difficult questions on their mind. How they’re feeling about interacting with you, when they are with you? What is their sense of who you are?”
And often what is revealed is that there is something on the audience’s mind that actually prevents them from believing that subtle message. So when that ah-ah moment happens, we can create a presentation or communication that allows the listener to understand that, I understand what concerns you and here is something that indicates that whether it’s a story or a point, write up front to help you get it that I get it. And then that subtle message can be worked into the conversation because that person is engaged and believes that you understand what’s on their mind. That’s the most important note.
Andrew: I see. Let me see if I get this right. These are, I’ll give you an example that comes up in our world all the time. We pre-interview just about every entrepreneur who comes on to do an interview here. For you, we had the book and so we put together an outline of the ideas that we thought the audience would want to hear. But, for most entrepreneurs, I think, we pre-interview them, and when we do, we sit down and we look for their stories, the stories of their, of how they got their first customer, the stories of when they were crying in the shower and, and, and how that made them feel and why that forced them to turn their lives around. We look for those stories, and entrepreneurs don’t want to tell stories. They want to give you facts, they want to tell you about what they did, but not in a story format.
And so, we have to convince them to do it and you are saying, “Hey, if you want to convince them, you’ve to understand why they don’t want to tell stories and then show them that you understand it, and may be why they don’t want to tell stories is, that they think their stories are too fluffy, that they think their stories don’t have enough substance to communicate just how much they have done, and so we need to address that and once we’ve done that, then we bring down the barriers and they’re more willing to listen to us.”
David: Absolutely. Stories are more powerful than most business leaders give them credit, and it, and it’s, and it’s probably because they don’t understand the structure of an effective story and they don’t understand how to think about their story in a way that’s actually going to not only move their audience, once they understand their audience, but also bring about a, a thought, within the, we call it a flag, within the audience’s brain, that he’s an (?), it says, “Oh! I get it”, and makes them sit on the (?) seat and almost predict where the conversation is going from there, because you touched something inside them that resonates. Stories are very powerful when they are done effective.
Andrew: What is the structure?
David: Well, it’s a six part story structure.
David: And, we, we, we start with the setup, which is basically, the scene from the perspective of, you know, what’s happening, where are you, what is it enough for information.
Andrew: I see. I am sitting in the board room, and it’s a giant board room, marble desk, big view of all of Manhattan, and I am waiting for the CEO to come in and meet me. That’s what…
David: That’s right.
Andrew: …you try set up.
David: That’s right, and then, it’s the build up. What’s happening? You know, bring the audience into the, into the scene, help them under-, understand what, you know, is the key element of, you know, what’s happening at that moment? What’s your feeling? What you’re seeing? And then bring them to the point where it’s the scene, where it’s actually the moment of truth, and, and you have the audience then in your hands because they understand the conflict around the scene, and then it’s the resolution. How did you act? And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a success story. It can be a story, where you’ve actually lost, or something happened that was apart from what you’ve hoped or expected, and, and, and then, that sets up the story for the lesson. What did I learn from that? You know, what is the personal lesson that came from that? And it’s very similar to the story I told about my dad.
Andrew: I was actually playing it through in my head, as you were telling the different steps to piece it, to put each step on, to put each part of your story on the steps that you just described.
David: Right. Its, and then, that, that (?) then can be conveyed in a way to your audience, that is the universal theme. What is, what is the, what is the point that they should take away from this story that makes them understand why in their own world, this is important, and nine times out of ten it storms the story in their mind, where they reflect and realize, “Oh yeah! I remember”, and they start thinking about that in a way that allows us to then reverse the process, and help them begin to that story, in a way that creates it, can create it in a way they can use it in a business situation, and, and help drive the end result that they’re looking to drive.
Andrew: I am looking down at my notes here, the ones that, that we sent you before the, before the program started. There’s a lot we didn’t cover here. Of all of this, which one thing did you think we, we, we shouldn’t end the interview without talking about.
David: Yeah, there’s a lot we didn’t cover and I apologize for that.
Andrew: No, that was me. I was, I was keeping you so long on a couple of sections of this, of the book, that we didn’t get to of course cover it all.
David: Yeah. I think one thing that I would like to say Andrew, that’s an important for, you know, all of your listeners and viewers to understand is that regardless of your leadership position, you are in the seat. You are in the seat of leadership and more people are in the seat of leadership than they understand. We work with business executives in Fortune 500 companies, so it’s obvious how their leadership is important to the success of their organizations but the truth is, all of us are leaders. You’re leading the organization that is your viewership.
What I want to make sure that your viewers understand is that your actions, your words, your behaviors are influencing others in this world in ways that you may not have understood or recognize but are real. So, until and unless you accept the responsibility of the leadership role that your in, currently, most important of all leadership roles and take that responsibility seriously and recognize that in understanding what’s important to you and courageously acting on that and behaving on it and consistently communicating it through your language and your body emotions is influencing others that can actually change this world and that’s an important point for all of your viewers to understand.
Andrew: Absolutely. All right. The book is “Leading the High-Energy Culture” and the website . . . Actually, I don’t have the website here in front of me. What’s a good website to send people to?
David: Well, for the book, Amazon.com is definitely the website.
Andrew: Of course.
David: For our services, www.Bates-communications.com, where we have a lot of interesting information, in addition to the book, about communication and business leaders who are effective communicators and how they do that. Take a look. We’d love to help you.
Andrew: Bates-communication.com. Before I go, I should say to the Mixergy Premium audience, if you’re a Mixergy Premium member and you’re interested in better storytelling, check out Nancy Duarte’s course on Mixergy Premium where she teaches the structure of the story and you watch her tell a story and, obviously, she’s a great person to present to herself. She’s the woman who taught Al Gore how to put together the “The Inconvenient Truth”, basically a PowerPoint presentation that became an Oscar winner. So, it’s at Mixergypremium.com and if you’re a member, it’s all there for you.
All right. David, thank you so much for doing this interview.
David: Thank you for having me, Andrew. I really enjoyed it.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for watching. Bye.
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