Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Four Great Questions About Leadership

A few weeks ago, a student named Joey Brodsky, who is studying business at the University of Florida and is taking a class from a close friend of mine, Dr. Alex Sevilla, sent me some questions about some of the things he was learning about management and leadership.  I thought the questions were excellent and that you might find my answers of some value.  Here is the conversation between myself and Joey.

 

Mr. Spence,

Currently I am taking a senior leadership course taught by Dr. Alex Sevilla here at the Heavener School of Business. We are working on both theoretical and application based leadership strategies, learning how to combine them with our skills to become better managers.

Some questions I have for you below are about how you implement specific leadership theories in your work (or don’t), experiences you have had being an influential leader from such a young age, and certain challenges you have faced overseeing and motivating individuals. My goal is to relate some of the topics I’ve learned in my course to real world experiences. I’ll keep them brief as I know your time is valuable, but any information you feel would be influential I would love to learn from!

Questions:

  1. One of the first topics we discussed in class was the differences between trait leadership and process leadership ideologies. Trait leadership having to do with personality traits that influence one’s skill of leadership and process leadership being more interaction based. Do you find leadership to be a more inherent quality to individuals, or would you say it has more to do with the way someone interacts with their ‘followers’?

If I’m reading this correctly, it seems that you are asking the age-old question, “Are leaders born or made?”  I believe that if someone has good values – they are honest, they act with integrity, they show respect, they have empathy and concern for others – I can send them to a class to learn most of the process skills they need to be a good leader. However, if someone lies, cheats, steals, manipulates and doesn’t care about others – there is no way they will ever become a truly effective leader.  

Also, there are many people that talk about extroverts versus introverts as leaders.  I have seen many leaders that are highly motivational and inspiring, that can get up in front of a group and move them to action – I’ve also seen many leaders that are quiet, humble and introspective. But they have a burning passion for what they are doing and that passion creates highly loyal followers.  

In my opinion, a leader must be superb at two skill sets: they must be absolutely excellent at what they do, their actual job description, and they have to have strong leadership skills.  

Lastly, remember that leadership is not only the purview of the people at the top of the organization, every person in an organization leads at some level.

  1. Another interesting concept we have learned is the difference between an assigned leader (a leader because of a formal position) and an emergent leader (a leader because of the way others respond to them). Being such a young CEO at 26 when working with the Rockefeller Foundation I would expect you were very influential among your peers and showcased your leadership earlier on. Can you tell me a little about how you leveraged your leadership skills as an emergent leader into a more formal leadership role so early in your career? What are some of the characteristics you displayed that you think helped you to stand out?

Almost immediately after joining the foundation I became the “right-hand man” to the CEO (not Mister Rockefeller, a professional manager who was running the company on his behalf).   I spent a lot of time watching him, learning what to do, and learning what NOT to do.  At this point in my career I was reading every single business book I could get my hands on and listening to 4-5 business books a week.   In a meeting with our Board of Directors, one of the key directors asked a question that the CEO could not answer – and then the director (a multibillionaire) turned to me and asked me if I knew the answer – which I did.   Then, the board started asking me for my opinion more often, and when the current CEO began to stumble, they put me in as an interim CEO – which eventually led to me becoming the permanent CEO.  

Very frankly, I was in no way ready to lead an organization at that age, I was woefully unprepared.  I realized that I could not be successful if my team was not successful.  For my part, I studied, read, worked and did everything I could to learn as much as I could about leadership and business success.  I tried to model the behavior of lifelong learning and always striving to do your best.  I also went to my team and asked for help and focused a great deal on empowerment.  In the early days, I was very immature as a leader, but as I faced more situations I slowly learned how to run the business and be a better leader to my team.

  1. One quote from Professor Sevilla that really resonated with me was “It’s not about you [the leader] . . . it’s about them [the followers].” He said if there were to be only one thing we take away from this class, let it be this statement. In your professional experience, how important has it been to focus more directly on the group and achieving common goals, rather than just using subordinates to achieve more personal objectives?

Dr. Sevilla is 1,000% right.  This is a concept known as servant leadership, where the leader understands that they are actually there to serve their employees.  As to your question about common goals or personal objectives – it’s not an Either/Or – it is a Both/And.  Everyone in the organization must be focused on the vision, strategy, and a set of common goals they are all aligned to as the do their work.  It is the job of the leader to ensure that they execute the strategy with discipline and continuously deliver superb business results.  ALSO, the leader needs to help each person grow as an individual and show them how their work directly ties into the success of the overall organization.  

  1. Over the last few decades you have become one of and got to work with many of the greatest business leaders in the world. I don’t expect there to be a catchall answer on how to become a powerful and respected leader in the business world, but what are some of the strongest traits or strategies you see these leaders (and yourself) using to motivate others? Are there some particular things you think are more important for a young leader, like myself, to help showcase my skills to companies?

Rather than give you just my opinion, here is a list of traits that have emerged from the thousands of leadership classes I’ve taught and the great leaders I have had the honor to spend time with.

Honesty – tell the truth all the time – period.  Another word here would be integrity.

Excellent communicator – asks great questions and is an intense listener.

The courage to be vulnerable, to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Another word here would be authentic.

Competence – you must be exceedingly good at what you do.  My favorite phrase in this area is, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Great team player – treats their employees as partners and peers.  Shows them respect and gives them trust.

Compassionate – shows a genuine concern for their people and their personal and professional growth.

Visionary – has a vivid, compelling vision and strategy for growth that is well communicated across the entire organization.

Passionate – another word would be inspiring.

Innovative – a lifelong learner who is a good creative and strategic thinker.

 

Joey, I hope you found these answers helpful, let me know if you need any more information.

I wish you every possible happiness and success – John

Four Life-Changing Books

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How To Be More Successful

I recently had the honor of being asked to do a segment for ITPRO.TV, a video channel aimed specifically at delivering world-class training and certification courses to IT professionals. The topic they asked me to speak on was professional development, especially focused on how to take your career to the next level in 2017. I think there are several good ideas here that apply to anyone who wants to have more success in their career and life.

If you found this video helpful, I hope you will share it with your network. Thanks – John

Two Superb Books I Highly Recommend

John SpenceI have just returned from three weeks on the road, including 10 days on a speaking tour across Poland as a guest of the United States Consulate General in Krakow. I had a lot of time on airplanes and read several books but there are two that I would especially like to recommend.

The first is called “BOOKSMART – hundreds of real-world lessons for success and happiness,” by my friend Frank Sonnenberg. This is an absolutely fantastic book of wisdom and sage advice that is presented in a very user-friendly way, with lots of lists of things to think about and apply. The book covers numerous topics around business, family, success, financial health, marriage and other critical issues. The chapters are short but powerful. I have already reread this book twice and have applied several of the ideas to my business and life. This is one of those books I plan to come back to often as a reminder of what I should be focusing on and how to build a happy, joyful and highly successful life. This book would be a wonderful Christmas present for anyone you know that enjoy books on self-improvement or business improvement.

The other book I’d like to recommend to you is called, “The Leaders Mindset – how to win in the age of disruption,” by Terence Mauri. In this book Terence describes three major leadership mindsets:

  1. Think Big Mindset (Future Shaper)
  2. Act Bold Mindset (Risk Taker)
  3. Learn Fast Mindset (Knowledge Seeker)

He then goes on to describe how to integrate all three of these mindsets in order to be an effective and successful leader. I underlined a lot of this book, and I’ve recommended it to several of my clients. It’s a good, solid book that will help you take a new look at how you lead in your organization. One of the reasons I love this book so much, is that it aligned very strongly with what I have been studying for years about great leaders and great organizations. It was reassuring to read such focused and detailed ideas and descriptions that match so closely with my strongly held beliefs about what makes a real leader. If you are interested in a book that will help you examine the way you think about leadership and the actions you take as a leader, you will definitely enjoy this book.

I have just a little bit of downtime around the Christmas holidays, so I will have a few more books to recommend at the start of the new year. If you have recently read a great business or self-help book, please comment on it here so that my followers and I can pick it up and learn from your recommendations.

I hope you find these books of great value – take good care – John

 

I Hate Motivational Bullshit

Rich-man-1102x620I get sick of all of this motivational bullshit… “Just meditate on it and the universe will bring it to you… You were born to be great and change the world … If you say enough positive affirmations, you will become a billionaire.” NO, NO, NO and NO.

You can achieve success, wealth, happiness, respect, notoriety, fame, power – whatever you desire – if you’re willing to pick a clear direction, create a solid plan and work your ass off. Nobody becomes a billionaire by just “believing” that it will happen. The universe does not align to create your perfect life – you create it. I love great motivational quotes, I read them all the time, but I know that at the end of the day it is up to me to make my life better. If I don’t put in the work – nothing will happen.

I guess I’m being a little harsh here, but I meet so many people that do almost no work but hope their life will be amazing. I mean, if the things they said in the book “The Secret,” actually worked, we would have world filled with skinny, good-looking billionaires. Let me make this Awesomely Simple: Hope is not a strategy. If you want to have a better life – you have to get better. If you want to achieve more success – you have to add more value. If you want to be wealthy – you have to do something that other people are willing to pay a lot of money for. There is no silver bullet, no secret to success, no easy way to become insanely wealthy. If you look at any person that is massively successful… they worked very, very, very hard to get there. I challenge you, I really challenge you, to study anyone that has become hugely successful and tell me that they did it without any effort or work. Every single person that has achieved at a very high level, has worked at a very high level to create insane amounts of value in the marketplace. The key though is to do something you’re passionate about, something that you truly love, so that all that effort never really feels like work, just a wonderful and challenging journey on the path to you creating an incredible life for yourself.

Love, John

 

90 Quotes That Will Change The Way You Think

I was surfing the web and came across the following blog on Marc and Angle Hack Life: Practical Tips for Productive Living. Their 60 are awesome, but I added another 30 that were impactful to my thinking.  I welcome, no, I strongly encourage you to PLEASE add your favorite quotes in the comments section below – let’s make this a truly life-changing list!

 60 Quotes That Will Change The Way You Think…

In your quiet moments, what do you think about?  How far you’ve come, or how far you have to go?  Your strengths, or your weaknesses?  The best that might happen, or the worst that might come to be?  In your quiet moments, pay attention to your thoughts.  Because maybe, just maybe, the only thing that needs to shift in order for you to experience more happiness, more love, and more vitality, is your way of thinking. Continue reading “90 Quotes That Will Change The Way You Think” »

Say Thank You!!

man-mopping-hotel-floorI spend a lot of time in hotels and airports. Often when I see someone sweeping the floor, emptying the trash or cleaning the bathroom I will stop and say, “Thank you so much for keeping everything clean, it looks wonderful.” You should see the smiles I get when I tell them that. And it is totally sincere, these are people who work hard every day at dirty jobs to keep things clean for us. I do very much appreciate their work and I like to take the time, from time-to-time, to give them an honest and heartfelt “thank you.” So the next time you see someone who is not necessarily in the spotlight, but still giving you great service, I encourage you to let them know that you value their work, it will help both of you have a better day. Better even, it will become a habit and you will begin to look for people who you can genuinely compliment throughout your day, making every day a little bit better for all of you. It’s a nice way to be nice.

How To Become Mega-Wealthy

Rich-man-1102x620I had breakfast this morning with a young man I’ve been mentoring for a few years. He’s doing extremely well in his job but recently figured out that no matter how successful he is in his duties he will barely be able to move up in the organization and never achieve a significant income. He is not totally focused on money, but he would like to have the chance to grow his salary so that he can take care of his growing family. He would also like to be wealthy enough that he can be philanthropic on a multimillion dollar level. He asked me what I thought it would take for him to achieve these aims. Here is what I told him:

  • You will never get mega-wealthy working for someone else, you have to own the company or at least part of it.
  • You will never get mega-wealthy selling your time, you have to have a product.
  • The best products are digital, so you have development costs, but after that there is no manufacturing cost.
  • There needs to be a large enough audience to bring in significant revenue. Depending on the price of your product that target audience could be anywhere from a few thousand people, to a billion or more.
  • You have to create a product that is unique and compelling – highly valuable to your target customer – difficult, if not impossible, to copy – and then be able to deliver it flawlessly to the marketplace.
  • You have to be able to sell. Sell to customers, sell to investors, sell to your staff. And it is even better if you LOVE to sell.
  • To make millions in sales, you have to have real passion and belief in your product – be highly competent in your business and sales skills – sell something that is highly valuable – to an audience that can scale.
  • It also helps if you sell something that people have to purchase multiple times, or you sell to an audience that is constantly refreshing with new people coming in that will need/want your product.
  • No matter what, be honest and guard your reputation carefully. From a business standpoint, at the end of the day that is all you really have.

He seemed to find this helpful, and I hope you do too.

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How to Build a Personal Advisory Board

mentor advisor, mastermind business successI received an email this morning from a colleague who was asking about how to expand their network and specifically how to create an “Advisory Board,” of key individuals with specific expertise that could help him be more successful in his career. I get a lot of inquiries about this subject so I thought I would give you some brief advice about how to at least get this process started.

Step One: Determine exactly what you are interested in learning about. It does you no good to simply connect with people hoping that they might be able to add value to you, so it is important that you take the time to sit down and think through the skills, capabilities, information and expertise you hope to gain through your advisory board.

Step Two: Once you have a very clear idea of exactly the kind of person you want to meet, send a clear and focused note to everyone in your current network asking them if they know anyone who possesses the skills and experience you are looking to learn about and might be willing to assist you as a mentor or on your Board of Advisors (Basically a group of mentors).

Step Three: When one of your current contacts identifies a potential advisor, do as much homework as you possibly can on that person before you get introduced to them. Google them, check their LinkedIn profile, see if they have a Facebook profile, ask your contact for any and all information that they will share with you – before they make the introduction. And then create a very clear and specific outline of what you hope to learn from this person so that your contact can make a solid and compelling introduction on your behalf.

Step Four: Once the introduction is made be extremely respectful, do not waste one minute of their time, explain exactly what you’re hoping to achieve, and then ask them what they are interested in learning more about so that you can work as hard as you possibly can to help them gain new information and ideas that would be of value to their personal and/or professional growth. Remember, for a networking or advisory relationship to be successful you must give as much or more value back to the person who is advising you as they are offering to you. You have to make a significant effort to constantly be on the lookout for ways that you can help them, bring them new ideas/information and introduce them to other people that they might find value.

Step Five: Once you create a solid advisory/mentoring relationship with this new contact, and you feel comfortable that you have gotten to know each other fairly well, ask them if they would introduce you to three people they feel would also add a lot of value to your growth and who would enjoy spending time with you and find value in the kind of information you would bring to them.

Step Six: With each of these new contacts go back to step three and repeat the process over and over again. If you do this diligently, and always strive to add as much value as you possibly can back to your mentor/advisor, you will look up in a few years and your network will have grown exponentially and you will have a handful of very key advisors who could literally change the trajectory of your career and life!

I hope you found this helpful, and if you did please share it with everyone in your network.

Thanks so much – John