Today’s guest is Jeffrey Davidson, by the age of 35, Jeffrey had been both director at a start-up and president of a multi-million dollar sales organization. Despite reading and teaching others about leadership, he wasn’t a good leader. None of his teams came close to reaching their potential. In frustration he gave up on management and became a consultant.

Real leadership began when a client asked Jeffrey to build a team of analysts. He started by hiring good people. And keeping an unrelenting focus on learning and improvement. Within 2 years the team was the envy of the organization.

Eventually, Jeffrey realized he hadn’t taught people how to be a good team. The team had taught Jeffrey how to lead. Jeffrey took his hard-won knowledge and went back into consulting, rescuing high-impact projects. In every instance there were at least two problems – and one of them was always teamwork. Now Jeffrey is sharing his tested ideas with teams and leaders like you. If you are ready for your leaders to move their teams to responsive, execution-minded high performers, then welcome to our conversation!

Here are some of the things you’ll learn in today’s podcast:

  • Getting feedback (as individuals, teams, systems, etc) is vital.
  • Challenges around being a leader
  • What we do on our hiring assessment
  • Why having a hiring system is important.
  • Lots of other fun stuff.


Narrator:        Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.

Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.

Josh:                Hey, this is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business. Today, my guest is Jeffrey Davidson. Jeffrey is a serial entrepreneur. Today, we’re going to be talking about team building and leadership. He had an experience where his high-performance team actually taught him about how to be a good leader which I find really interesting. And we might just start there. And along the way, I’m sure we’ll learn a bit more about Jeffrey and what his background is. But instead of me wandering on about that and you listening to it, let’s bring Jefferey in.

Hey, Jeffrey. How are you today?

Jeffrey:            I’m doing fantastic. Thanks for asking, Josh.

Josh:                My pleasure. So thanks for being on the show.

Let’s start there. Let’s start with, okay, you had this high-performance team that you had put together. And they were supposed to be doing something. And you were their leader. But at the same time, they taught you about leadership. How did they do that?

Jeffrey:            You know, I didn’t realize that they taught me, at the time, because they were doing little things. You know, one day at a time. What I came to realize, as I look back at it, is that as we built the team, we built a strong relationship between the people. And as we built a strong relationship between us, we learned to care about each other. We learned to respect each other. We learned to constantly challenge each other to learn and grow and do a better job. And that through that constant interaction that I became a better leader. I learned what they needed and I was able to give it.

Josh:                So my question is, challenging each other usually is something that doesn’t often go well in businesses.

Jeffrey:            No.

Josh:                And [laughs]—

Jeffrey:            Yes.

Josh:                — that might be an understatement.

So your team was able to challenge each other and not become dysfunctional. So my guess is there were some things that happened along the way that allowed that. What were some of those things?

Jeffrey:            Great questions. You’re making me trip down memory lane. There were a couple of things. When someone started, we would bring them into a conversation. It would be a conversational policy. “What should we do? And what’s the best way to go work with our customers?” And if they gave the typical, “I’ve been here two days so I’m just going to give a polite answer.” I would say, “No, no, no. What’s good about this idea? What’s bad about this idea? What do you think would make this idea better? Use all of your life’s experience, not just your two days. Use your life experience.” So we would start people off right away, treating them like they had value because that’s why we hired them, because we believe they had value.

Josh:                So when you ask somebody those sort of questions, my guess, is you get a little bit of push back that say, “Well, I really don’t want to answer those questions. Or I’ll tell you it was good but I’m not going to tell you what I think needs to be improved around here even though I’ve only been here for two days.”

Jeffrey:            Sure.

Josh:                How’d you get past that?

Jeffrey:            (1) I knew I had hired great people. I knew that with my interview process, my job was to hire the top 5%, the top 10%. I did not want anyone to come in the door. I wanted the best of people. So it took me longer to hire them but when they got in, I treated them like they were one of those people who were special, like they were someone who got it, who was doing a good job and had everything they needed to contribute. I mean, they did in our context but they already had the base level.

Josh:                You just clicked on something which I always find interesting which is hiring processes. So you had a great hiring process, what was that great hiring process you used?

Jeffrey:            (1) We would do some assessments that were certified to be fair between people. So we would do some online assessments and that would weed out 60% of the applicants, just to make sure that they were good, that they knew things that were relevant. For us, this was a team of analysts so you have some thinking skills whether it’s math or reasoning or whatever.

Then, once they came in, I did the first set of interviews and I said, “One of the things I look for is, what are you going to add to my team?” In other words, if you were just another version of everyone I had, well, I’ve already got those people. I want you to bring something special. So what do you have?”

Another is, in the interview, I distinguish between what I could train versus what I wanted. So do you have the right values? Do you have a history of growth and accomplishment? Or do you just know the technical things that I could teach you about the job? Because if all you know is the technical stuff but you don’t have a history of accomplishment, you’re not going to last very long.

Josh:                So what were some of the values that you were hiring to?

Jeffrey:            (1) I wanted people who are constantly learning. (2) I wanted people with a positive attitude. (3) I wanted people who were really good at communicating with others because I wanted them to be a team member and not just a contributor on their own.

Josh:                Okay. So I have a theory for you, I’m going to test it out.

Jeffrey:            Give it to me.

Josh:                If you knew me well, you would say, “Well, tell me something we don’t know that you have a theory about something.”

Jeffrey:            Well, that’s just it. I’ve been listening to your podcast for a year, Josh. So I love hearing your theories. Come on, bring it on.

Josh:                Okay. So here’s my theory. My theory is the reason that you were getting good feedback out of the box with people that you brought on was that your hiring process, you hired people who were inclined to behave that way.

Jeffrey:            I think that’s part of it. But I do think, because I’ve seen other people mis-hire or they just do one hiring process but they treat them differently on the job, is I treated them with the same respect when they got there. But you do have to start there.

Josh:                I get that. And here’s my— you know, when you said, “Well, you know, I’ve got people who are telling me the truth two days into the job and they’d be truthful about that.” That’s always hard for me to believe when someone tells me that. And the reason is, is that the way most people in this country are brought up is that you don’t tell the boss the truth. And the reason you don’t tell the boss the truth is because if you do, you’re going to get fired because that’s their experience. Or you don’t tell your parents the truth. Or you don’t tell your teachers the truth.

You know, there’s all these things going up that I tell people all the time, “When someone joins your company, they’re not coming in with no life experiences. They’re coming into your company with rich life experiences so you might as well hire the right type of rich life experiences.” And what you were doing— although it might have been by accident, what you were doing, you were hiring people with the right type of rich life experiences.

Jeffrey:            I agree, completely. In fact, one of the things I said is, “I want a history of accomplishment.”

Josh:                Right. I keyed on that. That’s one of your values, by the way.

Jeffrey:            It really is. I didn’t think it was value but it was. And there are times I’d go through the interview and we’d [inaudible 00:07:08] and I’m not going to hire them. And I would say, “Do you realize you have a pattern in your employment?” And they would say, “What do you mean?” And I would explain how they’d have the same problem in three different jobs. And they’re like, “Whoa, I’ll have to go think about that” [laughs].

Josh:                Right [laughs].

Jeffrey:            I’m like, “It’s your life. I’m just explaining it to you.”

Josh:                Yeah. Well, most people in my experience are not deep thinkers about themselves. And they’re certainly not deep thinkers about themselves if they’re under 35 years old.

Jeffrey:            It’s certainly harder to find those people.

Josh:                It doesn’t mean that they won’t become deep thinkers about themselves but I happen to think that wisdom comes with age. It’s not something that— you don’t see a lot of 30 year old’s with deep wisdom.

Jeffrey:            No.

Josh:                You see a lot of 60 year old’s with deep wisdom. And I think that a lot of that is a function of just living 60 years and getting knocked around a bit and saying, “Okay, what did I learn?” even though most people never actually ask themselves that question.

The other thing which I’m going to be you brought to your party, and I just want you to reflect on and respond to this for a second is, you had shown a deep level trust of people out of the box. In other words, they’re going to have to prove to you that you should distrust them. They weren’t going to have to prove to you that you should trust them.

Jeffrey:            Yes. Though, I will say, I think how you start a job is how you continue.

Josh:                I agree.

Jeffrey:            And that, too often, companies will bring someone in and say, “Do you know what, thanks so much for showing up. We don’t have a computer. We don’t have a seat for you. We don’t know what you’re going to do this week.” And they leave him floundering for the first week. And their impression is, “I’m going to be able to kick back and be lazy at this job forever.” So even though I exhibited this trust, their first week, I wanted them to do about three weeks’ worth of work because I wanted them to think, “We’ve got a good pace but this is fun and we’re going to do it.”

Josh:                Cool.

Jeffrey:            Like I said in initial impression there that help them to be great in the long run.

Josh:                Okay. So that’s an interesting thing. So your expectations were that you produce from the minute you walk in the door that we’re not going to play orientation forever and we’re actually going to have the tools you need ready for you the minute you get—

Jeffrey:            Correct.

Josh:                Which is a really important thing, by the way.

You know, I used to own a food service and vending company and having the right tools available for people do the job was always a big deal for us because if you didn’t, they couldn’t do their job. And it probably means that if you’re bringing somebody new into your organization. And everything isn’t ready for them to walk in the door and hit the ground running, maybe it’s a better idea to postpone that person’s start date for a few a few days.

Jeffrey:            I think people should have something to do when they come in. I agree with you completely that we need to start off with saying, “We’ve looked for good people. We’ve found great people. And when you get here, we want you to contribute just like that great person we hired.”

Josh:                So one of the things I know that employees want, they want to know how they’re doing.

Jeffrey:            Yes, totally. Totally.

For those of you on the podcast, you can’t see me. I threw my arms up like he just scored the biggest touchdown of the game.

Josh:                Well, it’s actually true in the fact that employees do want to know how they’re doing. And it’s actually one of my two favorite reasons for having systems in place. So how did you, when you— Okay, so you understand your employees want to know how they’re doing or you want to know how people you’re working with and they want to know how they’re doing. How do you help them figure that out?

Jeffrey:            That’s a great question. I think feedback loops are the key to success.

Josh:                Explain a feedback loop.

Jeffrey:            (1) That one of the core questions every employee wants to know, when they’re doing something is, “How am I doing?” They already think they’re the center of the universe. Everyone I’ve ever met, at some level, thinks they’re the center of the universe.

Josh:                You mean I’m not [laughs]?

Jeffrey:            [laughs] You, Josh, are by the way the center of the universe.

Josh:                Oh, okay.

Jeffrey:            So what I need to do is I need to treat you as if you are the center of the universe. But at the same point, the center of the universe is [inaudible 00:11:10] into itself and it doesn’t know how it’s responding so I need to be clear about expectations. And after I’m clear about expectations, I need to tell you how you’re doing against those expectations.

You know, I want to share one of my new theories with you, Josh, and see if this resonates.

Josh:                Yeah, please.

Jeffrey:            I think a lot of people say they want to be kind. But really what that means is “I want to be liked.” And because they want to be liked, they don’t share the hard truths and they let a lot of misbehavior go on. What I think we need to do at heart instead is say, “I want to be kind. And to be kind, I need to be true and tell you how you’re really doing.”

Josh:                Okay. And you have to have the belief that I’m being kind by telling you how you’re really doing.

Jeffrey:            It is. One of the ways I think that we need to demonstrate that to employees is to say, on a regular basis, “How am I doing?” In other words, I say to everyone, “We have a culture here. And that’s a culture where we’re constantly checking with each other and saying how we’re doing.”

Now, I know, I mean to do a good job. Based on me wanting to do a good job, I’ve got two questions. “What did I do good that I can build upon and be great?” That’s question one. And question two is, “I meant to do a good job but I probably had a miss somewhere, so where should I re-focus in order to achieve something better?”

Josh:                I like your second question a lot.

Let me ask you a question about 360 reviews. First of all, I’ll explain what a 360 review is. A 360 review is where you review the person working for you, the person working for you reviews you. And their co‑workers also review you. Where do you stand on that?

Jeffrey:            I think there’s great potential in 360 reviews. I would add that, in addition to co-workers, boss, self, you need to include customers in there. And you can’t just pick the colleagues or costumers that like you because you don’t get the hard feedback that you need to grow.

Josh:                That makes sense. So why would we want to get hard feedback?

Jeffrey:            Oh, because, in physics, it’s called intertia. We don’t like to change. In biology, it’s called homeostasis. Plants don’t like to change. In humans, we call it stubbornness. We don’t like to change. And if we don’t ask for feedback, we don’t change. We need the hard feedback to grow and get better.

Josh:                Yes. It’s actually one of the things that’s good about online ranking systems. There’s a guy named Jay Baer who wrote this really interesting book called Hug Your Haters.

Jeffrey:            I know Jay but I’ve not read the book. I’m going to have to check it out.

Josh:                Yeah, it’s a great book.

And in there, he basically says, “You’re going to learn a lot more from the people who hate you than you are from the people who love you. And you need to embrace what they’re hating you about because there’s probably some good lessons in there.”

Jeffrey:            Definitely, totally agree.

Josh:                I mean, that’s certainly true for me. And then, you also have to decide whether it’s actually something you care about. For example, I can certainly appreciate the grammar Nazi’s who hate my writing. And when I do get a grammar Nazi, I say, “I appreciate what you’re saying but the people who read my stuff, who I really care about, and who are my people, they wouldn’t know good grammar if it hit them in the head.”

Jeffrey:            I know what you’re saying. Here’s what I tell people when I teach teams this, that feedback is a gift—

Josh:                Yes.

Jeffrey:            –and that when someone gives you feedback, it’s a gift.

Josh:                Yup.

Jeffrey:            But here’s the thing, not every gift is valuable. Sometimes Aunt Edna gives you the ugliest Christmas sweater known to humankind—

Josh:                [laughs].

Jeffrey:            –and what you do is, you nod your head, you say thank you, and you put it at the bottom of the drawer. You don’t have to use every piece of feedback or every gift.

Josh:                Yes.

So I want to circle back to “how am I doing?” because I think that’s an interesting question. And I agree with you that everybody who ever worked in any company, any place, including people who own companies, we all want to know how we’re doing. And what we’re really looking for is someone to tell us we’re wonderful.

Jeffrey:            Ideally.

Josh:                And that’s what we really want to have happen but sometimes the universe says, “Well, that’s not likely to happen. What we really need to do is tell you where you need to improve.” And I have a theory around this. Now, I happen to be somebody who gets great delight in breaking systems into pieces and seeing how I can shortcut my way through there—

Jeffrey:            And that’s a kind of feedback too. You’re giving this system feedback.

Josh:                Right.

But I have a strong belief that for most people that work in most companies, having really strong, well thought out, well-implemented systems is actually a greet feedback loop all in itself because what you’ve done is you put the steps together for creating excellence. And my favorite example of that is the Walt Disney Company. If you’ve ever been to Disney World or Disney Land, there is no secret for anybody working in those parks what the definition of excellence is.

Jeffrey:            So much of this is about setting good expectations.

Josh:                Yes.

Jeffrey:            It’s so true that, if you don’t set expectations, you will never achieve what you want to achieve.

Josh:                And those expectations should be something that is ascertainable as being done or not done.

Jeffrey:            Correct. Because we want to know what success is. When I start a job, one of the things I want to know is, “How am I doing?” But the other is, “I’m supposed to accomplish something. You’re paying me to accomplish something. How do I know I’ve succeeded? Give me a clear destination and then give me ways to check myself against that destination.” And if your process makes me do the destination plus 90 other things, well that means that where I’m going is really vague, and unclear, and convoluted, and I don’t know how I’m doing.

Josh:                Yeah.

Jeffrey:            So clarity in what we’re doing, how we’re doing, how we measure it, is a big part of how we need to make sure the systems are working.

Josh:                In one of these 80s New Age seminars which I was [inaudible 00:16:52] through when I was in my early 30s, one of the sayings on one of these seminars was “Clarity is power.”

Jeffrey:            Totally.

Josh:                And, as corny as that statement is, I find it is incredibly true. Now, clarity really is power. And without clarity you have no idea what it is that you’re supposed to be doing.

Jeffrey:            Well, I think this gets back to our feedback issue which is everyone wakes up and looks in the mirror and says, “I want to do a good job today. I want to be told I’m great today. I’m the center of the universe. I want the world to see it today.” And then we got to the new job and we don’t know how to behave. “My intentions are good. I didn’t mean to wreck the truck. I didn’t mean to crash the database.” I didn’t mean to do all these other things. So we need to be told, “This was your expectations—or this is your desire. Your intention is to be great. But in this environment, here’s how you act like you’re great. Here’s how you get the results that lead you to greatness.” And we need that feedback loop because otherwise we’re struggling.

Josh:                So we have time for one more question which I want to talk about which is you just said something really interesting, is that we want to know what we need to do for greatness not what we don’t need to do for greatness. Can you talk about that a little bit? About what going towards what you want to do and not avoiding what you don’t want?

Jeffrey:            I think there’s a couple of elements in that question, if I heard it right. And (1) sometimes an employee says, “I want to be great at this” and the job or the needs today have nothing to do with what you want. And I think, as bosses, we need to figure out where we need them to be. It’s not just about where they want to go.

And sometimes it’s, “Hey, I understand this is what you want to do but I don’t have any of that work right now. When it comes up again, let’s have a conversation. And if I forget, don’t hesitate to come and tell me. For the next month or for the next quarter, whatever your circumstances are, I need you to focus right here, even though that’s not your favorite thing.”

And then the next is, this conversation about what can I build upon and where should I refocus. It’s not a once a year conversation. Oh my God, you would never take the most precious plant in the world and lock it in the closet and not give it food and water. You would put it out in the sunlight. You would give it nutrients. You would water it. And the same thing is true for our people. And feedback is how we water our people. So we need to have these conversations at least once a week.

I make my teams take around these questions and talk to each other. Go to someone this week, one of your peers, one of your customers, and ask these two questions. That’s a constant thing.

Josh:                Yeah. I think that you just hit on one of my pet peeves of the world which is performance reviews.

And we are unfortunately out of time on the podcast for this but we’re going to continue with performance reviews when we go back to Facebook Live.

So, Jeffrey I am going to bet some people are really interested in the work you’re doing and they would likely try to get in contact with you. So how would they go about doing so?

Jeffrey:            Like so many people, I’ve got a website too.

Josh:                I hope so [laughs].

Jeffrey:            My website is That’s And just for podcast listeners, there’s kind of a hidden folder and it’s M-O-R-E. And in there, I have some tools that leaders can use to help their teams get better.

Josh:                Well, that sounds great. So you want to go to to find some hidden stuff there which I like hidden stuff. It’s always cool.

Jeffrey:            It is.

Josh:                And I have an offer for you folks, too. I just finished publishing my first book. It’s called Sustainable: A Fable About Creating an Economically and Personally Sustainable Business.

Ah, Jeffrey is holding up a copy of my book. I love that.

And to get the book it’s really pretty easy, you just go to There’s a big orange button on the homepage. Click it and you can order the book. Now, if you order the book from my website – don’t get it from Amazon, you get two things that come along with it, one is, a free 20-minute conversation with me about a problem you’re facing or an opportunity you’re not taking advantage of. And I’m pretty good at helping people with both. And the second thing is I’ve written a 38-page how-to guide for the book Sustainable.

The book itself is a novel. It’s a parable about a dysfunctional business family. And you may be wondering as you’re reading the book, “Oh, this is nice but how do I fix it?” Well, that ebook will help you through those things with lots of exercises.

So contact Jeffrey, buy my book, and thanks a lot for hanging around with us at The Sustainable Business today. I hope to see you back here really soon.

Narrator:        You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at, or you can send Josh an email at

Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.

Topics: Creating Value, For business owners, leadership, hiring systems, sustainable business podcast, Business Strategies, Hiring, systems, learning leadership

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