On this episode Josh speaks with Elise Mitchell. They discuss her blog post “What Every Leader Needs to Know About Letting Go Without Losing Control”.
Elise’s experience encompasses both entrepreneurial and corporate life. She is the founder of three companies – two in leadership development, one in public relations.
Most notably, she is the founder of Mitchell Communications Group, one of the top 10 fastest-growing public relations firms globally and a two-time Inc. 500/5000 fastest growing company.
Over the past two decades, Elise has coached, consulted and trained leaders from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.
In today’s episode you will learn about:
- A different way to lead
- What makes a good leader
- Three ways to earn followership
- Tips for being a more present leader
Narrator: Welcome to “Cracking the Cash Flow Code”, where you’ll learn what it takes to create enough cash to fill the four buckets of profit. You’ll learn what it takes to have enough cash for a great lifestyle, have enough cash for when an emergency strikes, fully fund a growth program and fund your retirement program. When you do this, you’ll have a sale ready company that will allow you to keep or sell your business. This allows you to do what you want with your business, when you want in the way you want.
In Cracking the Cash Flow code, we focus on the four areas of business that let you take your successful business and make it economically and personally sustainable. 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 and allow you to be free of cash flow worries.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code with my guest Elise Mitchell today. I saw Elise speak at Steve Farber’s Extreme Leadership event several weeks ago. Now, when you hear this podcast is going to be like six months ago because we record this podcast so far in advance but if you’re watching us on Facebook Live it was just at the end of February right before the Coronavirus really kicked off and got started.
We’re kind of glad I made it home. Elise and I found one of the most engaging speakers I’ve ever seen. She is absolutely an amazing woman. She started a PR agency that grew to 110 people then she sold it to an international group. By the way, if you don’t know anything about PR having 110 person PR firm is absolutely huge. It’s really unusual.
Today, we’re going to talk about a blog post or at least we’re going to start talking about blog posts that Elise wrote, which is what in a ton of was what every leader needs to know about letting go without losing control. Before I give you my opinion, let’s bring Elise on so she can tell you what she meant in that blog post.
Hey, Elise, how are you today?
Elise: Hi, Josh. I’m great. How are you?
Josh: I’m well, thank you. Thanks a lot for joining me today. It’s such a pleasure having you here.
Elise: Oh, thanks. It was great for us to connect in person. I was so honored. You asked me to join you.
Josh: Oh, well. Thanks. I loved your talk. I think we’re going to have a great episode today. Let’s start there, what does every leader need to know about letting go without losing control?
Elise: Well, I wish we had a lot longer to talk because boy, is this a timeless challenge for leaders. It’s not uncommon for a goal oriented leader, a driven leader do what most good leaders are very oriented toward accomplishment. It’s not uncommon for them to want to try to control as many things around them as they can that often is part of what leads to their success. But when it comes to people, that’s really not the most effective way to lead. That’s a tough lesson for a lot of goal oriented leaders to learn.
Josh: I have a question for you, in my own personal growth along becoming a reasonable manager for being the worst manager who ever lived. I really had to end up looking myself in the mirror and realizing it really wasn’t other people’s fault that things weren’t working out. It was really my fault. Do you find that happens often with leaders who are on the path to becoming terrible leaders to good leaders?
Elise: It’s great that you point that out and self-awareness is huge. Yes, I think that’s a turning point for most leaders. When you start thinking all about it, this is a problem with everybody else to wait a minute, maybe I need to show up in a different way, but I get a better result.
Of course, often the answer is yes, if you show up differently, you could be a lot happier with how things turn out for you. So I agree self-awareness is where it begins with a section where it ends. You have to take that as the starting point and say, “What do I observe? What do I learn? What needs to change?” Good practice of reflective leaders, they constantly ask them themselves those types of questions.
Josh: So a lot of people listening to this podcast have somewhere between five and 15 employees, they’ve probably had that many employees for 20 or 25 years. I consider that being stuck. What I generally see is those folks who have not really ever learned how to be effective leaders. So if you run across someone in that situation, what are the two or three things that you really want them to focus on so they can get out of their own way?
Elise: Well, I think the first one is just this idea of self-awareness and then building on it to say, “How do I stop thinking just about myself?” That’s, again, something that a lot of leaders that really are oriented toward accomplishment are very focused on themselves, not necessarily because they’re self-centered, but it’s because the first thing that they can think of that they can control is, how do I be able to make things happen the way that I want to by sheer will, by working myself as many hours as possible?
Then how do we get other people to do what I want them to do? Shifting that to say, how do I change myself in order to engage and attract the kind of people that I need in order to be successful? I think is is a big turning point because then you realize you have to be a different type of leader. One that cares more about other people more than they do about themselves.
That’s evident to other people. It’s a leader who shows a lot of respect for others is willing to sit and listen to diverse points of view is willing to instead of saying, “This is what I want you to do” which is sort of a command and control approach is saying, “What do we think we should do?” Of course inviting other people in to help create the right and best solution for your company, not just necessarily what you see other people doing? It’s the activity gauging other people who willingly choose to follow you. That is when you really begin to see a turning point to that leader.
Josh: You just said [inaudible 00:06:09], which I find kind of interesting, as you sort of just touched on that I want you to expand a bit on that, which is the telling versus asking portion of being a leader.
Elise: Yeah, I love this one. This was really hard for me to learn every day. There came a point in time when I was growing my company, where people were sort of writing into my office and say, “We have this problem, what are we going to do about it?” I would think to myself, “Well, I don’t really know.” I think I’m supposed to know. That was like a moment of crisis for me as a leader, when you have this sort of sense of self-doubt.
I have a lot of leaders that I coach now in my executive coaching practice that they struggle with this imposter syndrome idea, which is I think I’m supposed to know, but maybe I don’t really belong in leadership. I don’t have a clear idea of what to do and being able to shift from that to say it’s okay to say you don’t know, but you can’t [inaudible 00:07:00].
You have to do whatever it takes to find out. What that does is it reframes your thinking about being a leader who’s supposed to know everything to be a learning leader. This was a huge shift for me. It’s a huge shift for leaders when they make this move, because what they do then is say, “Okay, I don’t know everything.” But nobody does. The smart and most successful leaders, the ones who just set about the business every day of learning what needs to be done.
Then as they role model that they engage and invite others into say, “Let’s learn together.” You almost sort of create an atmosphere of giving people permission not to know, but the expectation of that they have to learn so that we can find the solutions that we need together.
Josh: That’s absolutely true. Now, one of the things I read about a lot, and I hear about when I’m listening to a talk about leadership is authenticity. Now, I think authenticity is great, but there’s a word which I think is even more important, which is almost never used in leadership language, which is the word vulnerability. I bet you might have a thought or two about for a leader who doesn’t know everything to actually let them become vulnerable.
Elise: Josh, that’s a fantastic insight. I’m so glad—you should bet me 20 years ago, I would have been a far better leader had I thought about that, which I agree. We think we we’re supposed to have this like perfect armor so there’s no jinx. I’m supposed to present this very polished, smart, perfect image to the world. I sort of call this a carefully curated. It’s human nature. You want to present yourself in the best light possible.
That’s not really what makes the most attractive leader because what happens is when you present yourself in this sort of perfect way, other people look at you and they say, “Well, I’m not that. There’s something must be wrong with me.” I’m not good enough to be a part of that person’s team. I don’t seem to have all the answers that are expected of me by this person because she seems to know it all and I don’t.
It creates a huge chasm between you and people that you want to engage either as your followers, or perhaps even your clients, or your customers being vulnerable. There’s TMI, there’s ways you can share too much information that you shouldn’t, but being vulnerable in the right ways, and the thoughtful ways and the authentic ways allows people to see the whole person. That becomes incredibly attractive. People feel that you’re accessible to them. They see it was real.
They see you striving back to the idea of being a learning leader. You are aspiring to become a better version of yourself. I have a real belief and that I tell myself and my clients too, which is, what you want to do is get up today and say, “How can I just be a bit better today than I was yesterday?” I don’t have to run the whole marathon all at once. I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other each day to get a little bit better.
Then over time, you’ll be able to look back and see you actually made a lot of progress. That, to me is a much more vulnerable, authentic way to lead. It’s so attractive because it’s human. It’s the way all of us are trying to live until we—
Josh: Several months ago now I decided to go into a 10 minute deep dive into what a terrible leader I was and the road I went on from becoming a terrible leader to be coming an okay leader. After the talk, it must have been 15 people that came up to me said, “Because of the story you told at the beginning, I felt I could do all the stuff that you talked about during your conversation.” That’s true, whether you’re talking to a group of 1000 people, or you’re talking to one person in your office. If you let them see that yourself with the warts and all, you become more real. They say if this [inaudible 00:10:50] could do it, I can too.
Elise: Well, I completely agree with that. When I wrote my book, Leading to the Turn, I had a very interesting experience. I gathered a group that I call my Accountability Committee together with me for pizza one night at my office. I said, “Here’s the outline of the book that I want to write. It’s a couple of chapters. What do you guys think?” They all sat there eating pizza saying, “Well, this is this is good, but—”, there’s just look at the face. I was like, “What, what? They said, “Where’s all the hard stuff? Where’s the mistakes you made? Where were all the lessons you learned?” I said, Oh, I don’t want to share those things with people.” I think like, they really kind of looked at me.
They said, “Do you really want to help people with these, you have to tell the truth. You have to tell the whole story. Tell them what it is.” I will tell you, Josh, it was the most freeing feeling for me because when I thought about that, I thought, “Well, then only thing to do is write what it is. I just need to tell what happened.” When I did that the words just flowed. I told all the stories good and bad.
What I realized later when I do a lot of keynote speaking now, what I realized later is that people really love that you are vulnerable right from the beginning and say, “Let me tell you how I messed up.” That’s exactly how I lead off my keynote speeches. I tell them here was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made as a leader, but there’s hope because I learned from it. Now, I’m going to tell you what you could do if you are experiencing the same challenge. It’s so it just kind of opens the door for oh my goodness, like she’s not going to present herself to be perfect because of course I cannot.
That just makes you I think there’s more powerful connection and people are willing to learn from you because they feel like they have a comrade or a friend. I always tell people think of it as running alongside someone. So leaders run alongside their followers and their teammates. They don’t run way out in front of them and they run so fast. Everybody just kind of gives up and stops running. You run with people and alongside them. I think that’s so much more powerful to inspire and motivate others to want to be a part of your running group.
Josh: One of my favorite people in the world is woman named Susan Bradley, who owns a company called Sudden Money. She has a term I love which is thinking partner.
Elise: Oh, that’s good. Yeah.
Josh: I kind of when I work with people, I say, “Look at I’m not a consultant. I’m not a coach. I’m not a mentor. I’m not any of those things. What I really am is a thinking partner, we’re going to think together about what can make your life better and together, we’re going to solve these issues.”
Elise: That’s so good, Josh. I can tell you reminds me of the story thinking partner that’s so good. That my son graduated from the Naval Academy last May. My kids are really proud of them and we have our daughter too. She’s amazing. My son told us a story when he was a senior at the Academy, we was in charge of sort of a boot camp experience for the incoming freshmen one summer.
He was part of a leadership team. He had a group of these young incoming freshmen. It’s tough. They do a lot of physical and mental challenges and academic challenges right in the very beginning of their experience. He was telling his story. I was asking him one night I said, “Well, how’s it going with your group? Do you have any that are really struggling?” He says, “Yeah, I’ve got it a few.” He said, “I tried something and it really made a difference.” What did you try? He said, “We were doing these early morning, very long runs, like five or six mile runs early morning. They were really struggling.” He said, “So I dropped back and I ran alongside the last ones in the group. I just ran alongside them to encourage and I said you can do it.
You can make it. It’s just a little bit further to go.” I was so proud of him for that because it was leading. He was role modeling what it means to run alongside others, as opposed to up at the front of the group saying, “Come on, hurry up, you’re running too slow.” It’s back to your very first question about leaders who command and control tend to say you need to be running as fast as I am. What’s wrong with you? You need to do what I tell you. I think leaders who truly engage that invulnerable, that are authentic, they care about your people that truly earn followers are the ones who brought back and they say, “Let me help you. Let me encourage you because I believe in you and I know that you can do it.”
Josh: It’s a concept I call leading from behind. I tell people who asked me all the time. I get asked to be the chair of a group and I say, “I really would prefer not to be a chair.” Let me tell you why. I’m a much more effective leader when I’m sitting in the back of the room, and I can just interject a good question here or there. I call that leading from behind. You’ve heard of servant leadership, I’m sure. My belief is a good leader turns the organizational chart upside down and ask them themselves this one simple question. What can I do today to make life easier for the people who report to me? If you do that all the way down the chain, you start getting an extraordinary company really fast.
Elise: That’s a great approach. It reminds me of a technique I have taught a lot of my clients that is a really powerful one that kind of reinforces this idea of lead or behind. It’s the technical lead by question. Which is instead of telling people what to do, impose good questions to them say, “Tell me more about that challenge. What do you think is the right next best thing to do? How can I help you accomplish your goal? What are some different ways to think?” Well, here’s one of my favorite questions. What would you do if you could do anything to solve this problem? Because a lot of times, of course, we have self-limiting beliefs.
Well, I do this, but the client won’t like this. Have you really know? Is it worth it to try? What would you do if you could do anything? This whole idea of leading by questioning sparks insight in others, and it also gives them confidence like, “Hey, I [inaudible 00:16:39].” I need to come in and ask my meter for affirmation or permission or for ideas. I have good ideas. I need to rely on myself a little bit more. That’s exactly what you want to do as a leader is to inspire and empower and equip your people to solve problems where they don’t have to convince your door to get that help.
Josh: When I coach people in this, I have two things. There’s one thing that almost always happens. They say, “Well, I tried that.” They kept saying, “I don’t know.” I have two questions I encourage the people I’m working with ask. One is, if someone says, I don’t know, to me, I’m going to say, “Well, what would happen if you did know? What would you be doing?” When they say, “I don’t know” to that which happens more often, you would think you think that would kind of break it free, but it doesn’t always.
Then they say, “Well, here’s what you do. I want you to pretend you know, and tell me what you would have done is you’re pretending.” That pretend is what he will actually do, but now you’re giving permission to make it up. I think the reason people never really get there is that we’re taught at a very young age, that mistakes are not okay. Good leaders not only accept mistakes, they kind of celebrate mistakes because they realize it’s the only way we learn.
Elise: Yeah, for sure. Failure is an iterative process to getting to good. I call that a journey mindset. I ride a motorcycle that kind of changed my life when I learned to do enjoy the journey again, because I was so focused on the goal. I’ve always thought of myself since then as a destination leader with a journey mindset. What that means, especially to entrepreneurs and small business owners who are kind of out there sort of us against the world.
You have to kind of pull yourself up by your bootstraps is you have to remind yourself, I’m going to try some things and they’re going to work. I’m going to try some things that they’re not going to work. But if I’m a reflective leader, I’ll always stop and say, “What did I observe? What can I learn? What needs to change? You view it as an iterative process to refine an idea. It’s far better to get out there and try some things and learn as you go. You’re going to get a little bit dirty doing it along the way.
Far better to do that, especially as fast as the world is changing these days than it is to sit back and try to make something perfect and keep it sort of under wraps for a couple of months. Because then you’re going to lose your window of opportunity. Some competitors going to come up with something. We’re trying to be an early leader in launching new products and services or trying new ideas.
You’ll become known as a bit more innovative. You’re going to learn a lot faster to your point even if you have some stubs at the toe very rarely is any mistake going to be devastated anyway. Usually it’s just like, that didn’t really work. We’re going to adjust, modify. We’re going to keep trying. Try version two, version three, version four to until you have some success.
Josh: One of my favorite mantras is when I got from a guy named Doug Hall, who’s an innovation expert. One of Doug’s mantras was fail fast, fail cheap. The truth is, most things we try don’t work. You have to be able to let them go and move on to something else to another experiment and be okay with that. If everything I tried work right the first time and that happened with me when my first two years in business, that was just pure, plain dumb luck.
Elise: Yeah, a lot of times it is. I agree with you is it sometimes we get lucky and then we think, “Oh, it’s because I was so smart. It’s because I’m not a person who fails.” Then you completely set yourself up for sometimes really huge failure the next time around.
Josh: Well, that was the worst thing that happened to me when I first run the business from the time I was 24 to 26. Everything I did worked out just perfectly for all this lucky stuff fell in place in like every other 24 year old, I fell, and it was all because of my brilliance that this happened. Well, for the next five years, I paid the price for that arrogance.
Elise: Yeah. Oh, that’s funny. That is great that you learned it though at a young age. I mean with our children, we tell them, it’s good to struggle early on. It makes you appreciate the fact that you’re not perfect. You’re not infallible and also this idea of resilience. We want our children to learn to be resilient. You don’t always get what you want. You don’t always get what you try for. The key there is how do you learn to lose experiences, get back up, and try again and be a little wiser, a little better, a little smarter on the other side. Again, that idea of incrementally better, as opposed to, “Oh, I have to win the lottery every time I have an idea or every time I kick off a new product or service.” It’s not the way it’s going to work.
Josh: Yeah, well, the truth is, you have to learn to manage your mistakes. It’s when it really comes down to. Mistakes don’t make you a bad person or an evil person. If you happen to be working in a company where mistakes are punished, leave and go someplace where it’s not.
Elise: Yeah, well, that I’ve always believed and tried to tell myself sometimes it’s easier to say it and do it. It’s not success that is the ultimate victory. It’s the try that matters. I remember when I was running my public relations firm, I wanted to have this sort of greenhouse culture idea. Like how do I create a culture of try is what I called it. How do we try things? How do we take some calculated risks and see what we can learn? It did actually help us get out a little bit earlier than our industry on a lot of things like video with content through social media, things like that when those things were sort of evolving.
We jumped on early. We’re like, “We don’t know if this is going to be big or not, but let’s try it. Let’s see if we can do.” I like this idea, especially as a leader, practical innovation, how do I look for practical things to try? Because innovation is really just about turning ideas into money. You want to be practical in the way that you do it. You sort of have to look at it through a couple of different lenses, is it desirable in the marketplace? Is there demand for this? Is it feasible for us to be able to actually do this?
Like we wouldn’t jump into a completely different business that what we’re capable of doing? Is it viable? Am I going to make money? Am I going to make profit doing this? If I scale it, could it be something that I could sustain as a key part of my business and I have a way of, of making good profits by doing it? You think about it’s not going to have 100 ideas, but most of them should probably never see the light of day, but there might be two or three really big ones that you should try.
Josh: That’s what testing is all about. The other thing, which is really important to realize is most people think innovation is only an external activity. I will tell you that the most valuable innovations we ever made were internal. The customers benefited, but it was the way we operated our business were the biggest innovations happen that had the biggest economic effect in our company.
Elise: What would be an example?
Josh: An example would be is that we went from having 140 items in our warehouse for our glass on snack machines. Those like candy bar and chip machines down to 14. As a result of that, our average service which is our productivity measure went from 40 some odd dollars per service to $140 per service. Our sales went up by 40%. Only because we never ran out of the stuff people really want to buy in the first place. That was an internal evolution which actually took three years to get to. We didn’t ever went from 114 down to 14. We went from 140 down to 135, and then down to 120, and down to 100. It took years to get to where we actually got to. That one innovation made us significantly more profitable. Our customers were significantly happier because the four or five items, which were 90% of our sales never ran out.
Elise: There’s a great learning that for anybody who’s a small business owner to which is the idea of what do I want to be known for? I should be known for everything because then you’re known for nothing. Is there one or two or three things that you could be really known for? That’s the person who does x in a certain way. They provide dry-clean in this way, or they create a product in certain way or they have this unique delivery model that is it because like I said, it’s innovative because it’s the way they do business. It’s how they approach business that’s innovative. Maybe their pricing strategies are innovative, but they’ve offered these new and different payment terms or ways to purchase products and access products in different ways.
Josh: For example, as far as I know, one of the few consulting firms actually has a guarantee for results. So when someone does a project whenever processes with us, they don’t pay me unless we’re successful getting them a result. Now, that puts the onus on me to choose wisely who I work with. It doesn’t put the onus on them to choose wisely who they choose to work with. Hey Elise, unfortunately we are out of time. You are an absolutely captivating person. I’m sure people listening are going to want to find you. How would they go about doing so?
Elise: Very simply, just go to my website, https://elisemitchell.com/. You can find my book there. My coaching services. Love to help leaders if they want to engage with you there.
Josh: Cool. I also have an offer here which is probably more applicable today than any time in our history because by time you listen to this, the Coronavirus will still be probably wandering around, is that my unfortunately my business career have had lots of times of disaster planning. In other words, almost going bankrupt, almost running out of cash, having all sorts of wonderful bad things happened to me along the way. One of those things that really is important is if you own a privately held business, it’s something you want to leave it which most people do at some point in your life.
You need to become financially free from your business. If this little tool called the Four Boxes of Financial Independence, it’s a quiz. It’ll take you about seven minutes to do and to tell you whether you’re on the road or not on the road to financial independence from your business. To do it’s really easy, you go to https://thecashflowcode.com/ that’s https://thecashflowcode.com/ all one word, click on the big orange button. Takes seven minutes and answer the questions and you’ll find out where you stand. This is Josh Patrick. We’re with Elise Mitchell. You’re at Cracking the Cash Flow Code. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to the “Cracking the Cash Flow Code” where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?”
If you’ve liked what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 extension 102. Or visit us on our website at www.sustainablebusiness.co. Or you can send Josh an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening and we hope to see you at Cracking the Cash Flow Code in the near future.