Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Customers Want You to Lead and Care

customer service lead careRecently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kevin Micalizzi, the host of Salesforce’s Quotable podcast. We talked at length about leadership and how honesty plays an important role in how leaders and business managers connect with their employees.

Check out our conversation below or listen to the podcast on the Quotable website.




John Spence: … Your customer’s looking to you to help lead their decision, lead their company. Oftentimes, they’re buying something that is business critical, essential to their company, and I don’t want to turn over something that’s extremely important to my business to someone who isn’t highly competent, doesn’t care about me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Welcome to the Quotable Podcast. I’m Kevin Micalizzi. Today, we’re speaking with John Spence. John’s a business expert, speaker, and bestselling author, and today, we’re going to dig into some of the most important issues that businesses are facing right now, whether that’s trust, issues with culture, or the fact that you not only need to manage change, but you need to drive it. Let’s jump into it. John, thank you so much for joining us in the studio.

John Spence: My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Kevin Micalizzi: So, John, it’s been, I think, a year since we first talked about having you on the show. I’m very excited that we were able to catch you. You’re constantly traveling. Would you share a little bit about what you do?

John Spence: For the last 25 years, I’ve been, sort of, an executive trainer, professional speaker, author, written a couple books. Very eclectic, the way I help companies, and I travel about 220 days a year worldwide.

Kevin Micalizzi: That’s fantastic.

John Spence: It’s fun.

Kevin Micalizzi: That’s good. Must get a little tiring.

John Spence: Well, I don’t have kids, and my wife travels with me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Oh, okay.

John Spence: So it’s a tremendous lifestyle business.


“The #1 characteristic of a leader that people willingly follow is honesty.”


Kevin Micalizzi: Oh, that’s phenomenal. So, John, when you were talking about things to watch out for in 2018, you talked about trust being at the top of that list. I think, politically, from a business perspective, trust is, it’s a conversation that … People are talking about trust, pretty frequently right now, and usually not in a very positive sense. What are you finding, and what are you recommending?

John Spence: Well, it’s been fascinating, because I teach a lot of leadership, and the number one characteristic of a leader that people willingly follow is honesty.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: We’re not seeing a whole bunch of that in many, many areas.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When I look at trust, there’s sort of a five-thing framework, a five-level framework, and I’ve got a nice phrase that goes with it. To build trust, the first thing is honest connection.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Getting to know the other person, hang out, talk like we are now.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Number two is to show that you genuinely care. That you’ve got compassion. We would call that EQ, now. The next one is competence, to prove that you’re really good at what you do.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Unfortunately, a lot of people lead with number three.

Kevin Micalizzi: Yup.

John Spence: If you lead with number three, you’re not really going to create that connection. The next one’s character, in other words, there would be integrity. Do what you say what you do. The last one is consistency, which, I’ve just seen some research lately that shows, and I know it from my own experience, that an inconsistent leader is one that’s hard to trust.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I have a phrase that sort of put around this. I wrote a book on leadership, here’s the entire book in one sentence: “I’m good at what I do, and I do it because I care about you.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. I like that. I like that.

John Spence: Yeah. High competence, high concern. And, as from a salesperson leader, a team leader, you want to consistently communicate that you’re competent. You care. I’m good at what I do, I’m working hard, I take this as a craft. I want to be great at it, and I do it all in service to you, to help you to serve the customer, to do what’s in your best interest.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right, and I think, to your point about the competency, I think a lot of people target individual items on that list, but they don’t look at it holistically and make sure that they are in service.

John Spence: Yeah. If you got something, the way I look at it, we use, sort of a quadrant. But if you’re really, really good at what you do, and not very nice, people would call that arrogance. I respect your skill and your talent, but I don’t trust you, because I know you don’t care about me. If you’re incompetent and you don’t care, this usually doesn’t work very good.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: If you’re really, really nice, but not competent, I like you. I’d like to hang out with you, but I don’t want you to work with my company, or be my leader, or be on my team. So it’s where that intersection of high competence, high concern, comes.

Kevin Micalizzi: Now, do you find that these leadership traits apply to salespeople, as well as the actual managers, and leaders?

John Spence: Oh, absolutely, yeah, because your customer is looking to you to help lead their decision, lead their company. Often times, they’re buying something that is business critical, essential to their company, and I don’t want to turn over something that’s extremely important to my business, to someone who isn’t highly competent, doesn’t care about me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right, and I’m finding in a lot of podcast conversations, we’re talking about keeping the sales process human, not just from a technology/AI perspective, but really, the fact that I think a lot of people miss the boat on needing that EQ, and really approaching it as being in service. But I think that the other side of it for me is, we just too often … Sales reps are not, they’re really not positioning themselves as leaders, and they don’t think of themselves that way.

I mean, customers obviously have pretty complicated buying processes, especially in our world, which is business to business. I don’t know, they’re just not embracing it as a leadership role.

John Spence: When I started my career, about 25 years ago, I worked for a large sales training firm, a global sales training firm, and the words we always used was, “trusted adviser.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And you’ve got to position yourself as a partner or peer, and to do that, I have to know as much about your company as I know about mine. I’ve got to understand who your customers are, how you make money, what’s going to give you differentiation advantage in the marketplace. A lot of people say, “I’ve got to be able to see around the corner for you as my customer, so I can bring in ideas and solutions for problems you didn’t even know you had.”

You don’t do that unless you’re really, really, really good at what you do, getting better every day. You lay awake at night, worried about your customer, worried about their business, trying to solve the problems that keep them up at night.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When you can present yourself like that of, “Hey, I’ve been studying, I’ve been working, I’m really, really trying to get better. I’m doing it all, because I wanna help you be more successful,” I think price goes out of the equation pretty fast. Or at least, it drops way down, and you become the person that they’re excited to see. “Oh, I’m getting to meet Kevin today. It’s fantastic. He always has great ideas.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Rather than, “Oh, great, here we go again.” Version 3.7.

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah. I mean, the product and price have to be dramatically different, for liking you and trusting you not being a stronger factor than price and product features.

John Spence: It’s got to be a balance. I have to like you enough, but I’m not going to spend a couple million dollars on you, just because we enjoy playing golf together.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: That’s a part of it, because I get to know you, get to know your family, I get to know your values, what you stand for. But that is not going to drive a solution that I’m willing to spend six, seven, eight figures on.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. Now, have you found, in the years you’ve been doing this, have you found … It seems like we talk a lot more about mindset nowadays, than I used to hear. Is it a more cerebral game now, than it used to be? Like, you’ve really get into, you’re in service to the customer. You have to have the right frame of mind. You have to be engaged, you have to be listening, really bring those EQ skills, to where … But you also have to have, I don’t want to say, just a positive attitude, but there’s a certain amount of compassion, and … I don’t know.

John Spence: Well, yeah, well …

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah. I’m not sure how to explain.

John Spence: Well, you look at most customers today, they do … I don’t know all the research. You guys know it better than I do, but I think it’s, 78% of purchasing decisions are made before they ever talk to the salesperson. Some number like that.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: So, to me, when I look at a really great salesperson, and I deal with folks all over the world, selling things up into the billions, and they’re curious. They really want to understand. I mean, they want to dig in deep. They’re like, they’re not salespeople, they’re consultants.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And I don’t bring up, I bring a consultant in, to help me build my business, and grow my business. When I think of a salesperson, that’s somebody I have to spend money on. So I think there’s a mindset now of connection, camaraderie, care. I really want to get in there and be very, very, very skilled, but do it all to help my customer be more successful, and this sounds … People talk about it all this time.

It’s very, unfortunately, very rare that I meet a really high-level salesperson who has positioned themselves as a true consultant, someone that the entire industry looks to, and I don’t like the word thought leader. But somebody who’s recognized as among the best at what they do in the world.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right, so, really driving that value. Not just relating to the product, but in helping the customer to be better.

John Spence: Oh, business. Oh, yeah. Strategy ideas. Leadership ideas.

Kevin Micalizzi: Yup.

John Spence: People they can partner with. Things they should read, bringing them ideas, information. No, I don’t … I think the product’s almost tertiary. It’s the relationship in, “How can I add as value, and introduce you to people on my network, and help you get better at things?”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I can’t solve all your problems, but there’s … What I always say to my clients is, “If I don’t have the answer, I can find somebody who does.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And I don’t make any money off that, but I’m there to say, “I solved this problem, this problem, this problem for you,” that had nothing to do with what I sell? Now I’m going to be way up on your list of people you want to talk to when you want to purchase something that I sell.


“Most companies’ competitive differentiator is the quality of the people they can get, grow, and keep on their team, and their relationships with their customers.”


Kevin Micalizzi: Right. So when we’re talking about trust, we can talk about the individuals, and obviously, you need to be consistent. You need to be trustworthy. When it comes to organizations, I mean, I think a lot of organizations have cultural challenges, and maybe aren’t as deliberate in what kind of a culture they want to portray. I mean, I happen to be lucky, in that I work here at Salesforce, and we are very clear and very strong about what our culture is. And that just permeates everything we do.

You talk about having a culture of purpose. What do you mean by that?

John Spence: Well, having looked at many, many companies, I understand this pretty clearly, that culture equals cash. That a lot of the organizations that I work in, their product is very similar to other people in the marketplace. The pricing’s pretty much the same. I could throw more money at marketing. There’s always somebody who will under drop their pricing, and go out of business faster than you.

When you really get down to it, I think most companies, their competitive differentiator is the quality of the people they can get, grow and keep on their team, and their relationships with their customers.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When you want to attract top talent, one of those things is, we need a winning culture, where people are excited and engaged, and having fun, and want to deliver business results. Now we look at it where, you can see that line of businesses, but the thing that really drives younger folks … I’m 53, so the Millennials, and folks like them, is not just, “Do I wanna make money?”, but, “I wanna make a difference.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: If you can find that noble compelling purpose, that somebody can get up in the morning, and they’re excited about doing that, it’s not just the job or the money or the paycheck, but I make a difference. Even if my job is not that exciting, maybe my company does really cool stuff in my community.

There’s a great book about the folks at Chick-fil-A, and they say, “How do you get somebody that makes minimum wage and cleans toilets, to be super excited and engaged every day?” The reason is each Chick-fil-A franchise saves a certain amount of their money, and gives it to the staff, to go help the community.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: So, the harder they work, the more money that their franchise makes, the more money they can contribute to the community, the more things they do. When I see companies like that, where, not only is the product … You’ve got GenTech in town. They’re a great company, that they save people’s lives.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When they get up in the morning, people go there, “I’m not going to work. I’m going to save people’s lives.” It’s hard sometimes. I’ll give you a very quick story about this. I worked with a CEO that owns a company that makes gearboxes.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Not very sexy.

Kevin Micalizzi: I was going to say, definitely not.

John Spence: No, and they make ball bearings, and things like that, and they’d just bought a company that made the gearboxes for Black Hawk Helicopters.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay?

John Spence: And they’d just bought the company. They called all the employees into a hangar, and they had their number one customer, which was the Department of Defense, come up to talk to them. They’re thinking, “Okay, here’s our biggest customer. If they spend millions and millions and millions of dollars… He walks up, stands at the podium, looks at everybody in the audience and says, “Both of my sons fly Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq. Don’t kill my boys.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow. Absolutely.

John Spence: So, now, it’s like, they don’t make gearboxes. They protect his sons’ lives, and the other people that are there.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: That’s a whole different purpose than building gearboxes.

Kevin Micalizzi: Definitely.

John Spence: Yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow. It’s hard not to get emotional when you reframe it like that.

John Spence: Yeah, and the challenge is, I was, boy I was trying … I can’t remember who the client was this week, but I challenged them, “What is the …” Oh. It was a software company. I said, “What do you do that changes the world? Why should people get up here?” “Well, we work on really hard problems.” “No, that’s …”

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah.

John Spence: “That’s really not an ennobling purpose: ‘I solve really tough problems, with mathematical problems.'” They do algorithms. Finally, I had to get to say, “What does it do?” And he said, “We make,” they do transportation stuff: “We make the world more efficient, so it’s greener, and people can feel good about traveling, and it’s more efficient. It saves money.”

So, when it got down to saving the Earth, saving money, making things easier for people?

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: That’s a lot more fun than just writing algorithms.

Kevin Micalizzi: Most definitely. That’s it.

John Spence: But they really had to stretch, to get to it.

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah. Well, you’re turning it entirely on its head, because, well, it shouldn’t necessarily be that you’re turning it on its head, but it’s really focused on the outcome and the impact that you’re having, versus what you’re physically creating, or physically working on.

John Spence: Exactly.


When we talk about driving change, part of building that framework is creating an irresistible case for change.


Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah, I like that. So we’ve talked about trust, and we’ve talked about culture. One of the things I do want to make sure we talk about is change, and not just, managing the change. Because, obviously, especially with technology, change is accelerating even more, but really driving change.

John Spence: This is a subject I spend a lot of time on because almost every industry’s going through massive change. You hear that all the time, but it’s really true.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I teach a class as a guest lecturer at Wharton every year on the future of business, and people walk out of there, where their head’s spinning, going, “I had no idea.” So when we talk about driving change, there’s a framework that we use, and I think the most important element, and this goes right to what salespeople do is, there has to be an irresistible case for change.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: That people are resistant, and you’ve got to overwhelm them, and make it so incredibly clear that you must change, that they have no choice. As long as they think there’s a door open, or an opportunity to get out, or they can resist, “This, too, shall pass”? You will not be able to drive the kind of change. That also comes from being able to expose them, not only to emotion, but data.

I want to get you emotionally agitated, scared or excited, and then, I’ve got to be able to back it up with hardcore data, and facts, and information, so you can’t really question me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. So it’s more than just, say, carrot or stick. It’s really trying to inspire them, and then, you’ve provided that supporting data for those more logical to …

John Spence: Well, what I want is proof, so you can’t just say, “Oh, it’s your opinion, John. Who are you to say the industry’s gonna change?”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Now, it’s going to change, and here’s all the stuff. So the first step is that irresistible case for change. Step two, then, is a compelling vision of the future. Again, this can be positive, negative or a combination of both that says, “Here’s something big coming. We’ve got to change. You have no choice. Here’s how great it’s gonna be in the future. This is how exciting, and it’s gonna be fun, and engaging. We’re gonna have a great time.”

I will give you a very quick story on this one. I was working with the CEO of a large hospital, and they had to tear down one of their big towers, and they were going to build a brand new one across the street. So, no one was going to lose their job. Get to work in a state of the art building.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: With the best equipment. They park in the same parking lot.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: They just walk one way. Nobody wanted to do it. Fight it.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I said, “If you give them a way out, you will lose them, and you’re standing up in front of them, going, ‘I don’t really wanna tear down the other tower. My kids were born there, and my mom passed away there, but the board says we have to, because we’re $62 million short,'” what did they do? They went out and started trying to raise $62 million.

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow.

John Spence: Bake sales, this, that. Everything they could, to resist the change?

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: But as soon as it was clear, they realized, “Hey, this a great opportunity, it’ll be fun, we can save more lives,” as soon as they put it into that, of, “This isn’t just about a building. It’s a state of the art equipment, children’s hospital, best of the best, we’re going to be able to save a lot More lives, and help a lot more people,” all of a sudden, they got excited about the new tower.

Kevin Micalizzi: And everybody got on board.

John Spence: Yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Are you finding, technology is helping with some of this, driving change, and really embracing how things are changing? Or do you think technology is a strong factor in the need to drive change?

John Spence: It’s fundamental. Technology is both empowering and scary. We’ve got amazing things coming, the speed of computers, algorithms, artificial intelligence, all those things, are driving massive change in many industries. I’m here this week, to go up to Napa Valley, to talk to about 100 CEOs of credit unions. Their whole industry is changing. Consolidation. We just bought a car, not too long ago. We never stepped foot in a bank. Never talked to anybody.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Never saw the car, never went to the dealership, picked it out online, had our bank do an electronic signature, car got dropped off at our house, they took the old one away.

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow.

John Spence: That is a completely different model for buying cars and financing them, and the technology is driving that change dramatically. The key is, you got to get out in front of it. You got to realize, it’s not going to slow down. It’s going to get faster and faster. There will be some industries that are completely annihilated, complete new industries that are created, and it’s been my experience that about 80%, 85% of people I work with in business, do not understand how fast how things are going to change, how dramatic it’s going to be, and how it’s going to impact their business, maybe make it go away.

Kevin Micalizzi: So, to your example, that’s a business to consumer example, with a car purchase, and I think we have truly become spoiled, in many respects. Because, your consumer experience is phenomenal, in so many areas.

John Spence: Yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Are you finding, with the business clients that sell to other businesses, that they are really stepping up their game, in terms of the consumer experience?

John Spence: They have to because everybody measures you by their very best experience.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: So, if I can get stuff downloaded to me in milliseconds, I can get, do a huge deal, not have to talk to anybody, see anybody. It’s perfect. It shows up at my house. All this amazing user experience stuff they have, for business to consumer?

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: When I go back to my business, I expect the same level of service from my business providers. You’re an even bigger company. Why cant’ you be even better at that? My credit union handles this better than you do!

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: So, everything’s measured in download speed now, and when I have a wonderful experience someplace, I expect every single person I deal with, from a business or consumer side, every one of my buys, to give me that good of a wow experience.


How can we take that service ethic and exceed the customer’s expectations consistently by delivering things above what they thought they wanted?


Kevin Micalizzi: Right, so you’re finding companies …

John Spence: Oh, yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Are actually stepping up.

John Spence: Oh, they have to, yeah.

Kevin Micalizzi: Oh, fantastic.

John Spence: What they’re doing is, they’re starting to look outside of their industries, and for years … While I’m here this week, I’ll be in a special program at the Ritz-Carlton, talking about white-gloved service.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: You look at it, people always compare themselves to big companies like that, where you say, “How can we take that service ethic, and we move into a business to business area, and exceed the customer’s expectations consistently, by delivering things above, even what they thought they wanted?” And that’s, A, that takes a lot of skill, and a lot of thought. B, it moves. It’s a really fast moving target, and as soon as you get there, it’s going to move again.

Hence, the reason driving change is so important. Not just embracing it, but driving it, creating those strong relationships, and having that strong purpose to drive, because it’s going to get harder and harder, and if you’re not running at full speed, you won’t be able to keep up.

Kevin Micalizzi: I love how you brought it back to the desire to serve, and when we’re talking about trust at the beginning, and really, how you approach that, a lot of it has to do with, you’re in service to the customer. I love the fact that it goes full circle. I mean, that customer is the center of everything that you’re doing as a salesperson.

John Spence: Yeah. I want to be the first person they call, when they have an issue or a problem, or they want to know, they want to understand something, whether it has to do with my product or not. I told them to look at me as someone who’s highly professional, very skilled, thoughtful, well read, well studied, so that if anything happens in their company, and they’re a little concerned, I’m one of the first people they pick up. When I’m saying “I,” I’m talking about any salesperson.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I want them to call me and say, “Hey, do you know anybody that could fix this for me?” Or, “Have you heard about this?” Or being the one that sends them information on technology that’s going to impact their business, that they never even knew to read or study. So that every time an e-mail comes from the salesperson, they go, “Oh, it’s not a sales thing? It’s a piece of information, a data, a connection, a link, something that’s gonna help me with my business. This is really valuable.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. So, John, we’ve talked about trust. We’ve talked about culture, and we’ve talked about driving change. For the folks listening, where’s the best place to start? I mean, obviously, you can’t tackle everything. How should somebody be prioritizing what they go after?

John Spence: That’s a great, great, great question, and I’m going to try to go about the answer the way it starts with you. It starts with you investing in yourself, invest in your time. One of the reasons that I’ve sort of gotten to where I am in my career is, I read 100 to 120 business books a year, and I have every year, since 1989.

Kevin Micalizzi: Wow. That’s an impressive number.

John Spence: Well, don’t forget, that’s what I do. But I did that when I was just a sales trainer.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And I’ve owned a couple of companies, but I always want to be ahead. So, the average college graduate reads a half a book a year.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: If you were to read one book, every other month, six books a year, you’d be in the top 1%, United States of America. You read one book a month, 12 books a year, and you’re in the top 1% in the world. It’s not just books, it’s YouTube videos, but if it were me, the first place to start is studying everything you can. Around trust, around change, around leadership, obviously, in your arena, in your industry. But I think, if you can create a habit of lifelong learning, what I like to call personal ties in, continuous incremental improvement, that you’re going to learn the stuff necessary to be the one that can drive change.

You’re going to understand human interaction, EQ, reading some of the stuff on that, to create better relationships. You’re going to understand your business well enough that you’ll start to see the purpose behind what you do, more than just, sell stuff. I think, if you improve yourself, you’re setting a living example, and that’s also what adds value to your customers, and value to your own life, and your family, and your community.

Kevin Micalizzi: I like that. John, are there any areas I haven’t asked you about, that are very much top of mind, or you’re getting asked about frequently?

John Spence: Yeah. One I’ll share with you is the single biggest problem I see at companies around the world.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Number one, lack of accountability, and disciplined execution.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: A lot of people are smart, right? I run into companies all the time, great product, fantastic strategy, new business model, and again, the classes I teach at different universities, I’ve got a senior executive class I teach at Wharton, for the securities industry.

Every year, I get about 100 to 120 senior executives in my class, and I ask them, “What percentage of companies that have a good plan, have a good strategy, have a good product, know how to win in the marketplace, have good people, what percentage of them effectively executes their plan?” Want to take a guess?

Kevin Micalizzi: Oh, gosh, I hate to say it, but I would say, 10.

John Spence: I already think, the answer, yeah, I held up my fingers to help him out.

Kevin Micalizzi: All right.

John Spence: It used to be 10% to 15%, now it’s 5% to 10%. And I see that on an individual level, too, so being able to be the person that not just has great ideas, but can turn those ideas into action, is a game changer.


Celebrate success lavishly, and deal decisively with failure.


Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And in an organization, if you got to just 50% execution on your ideas, you’d crush the competition. So, time and time again, it’s not that they don’t have great products and plans, it’s that they don’t have the discipline to get in, to actually make that happen every day. I think, as an individual, that’s critical, and then, as a leader in your organization, being able to take that stuff, and as a salesperson, being able to take your solution, to make sure they’re implemented effectively.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: So the person gets the value they spent their money on. The people that can do that are very rare, and extremely valuable.

Kevin Micalizzi: What about the accountability? I mean that, to me, sounds like a cultural problem within an organization.

John Spence: Yeah, one of the things … It’s a great workshop I did, and this is something your listeners could do, some of the leaders, is … I do a workshop called, What Will You Tolerate? What Do You Refuse to Tolerate?

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: I say, “Look at your culture, look at your values. Now, I want you to write a list of all the stuff you currently tolerate in your company that you know you shouldn’t. People showing up late to meetings. People coming in late, leaving early, looking at their electronics all the way through meetings,” and they usually write a list that’s very painful.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Because they realize, “We have a lack of accountability.” Another word I use there is tolerating mediocrity.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Then you look over here, and this other list of stuff, where you refuse to tolerate lying, cheating, and stealing. Being rude to customers. Being rude to teammates. That stuff, I can be proud of, and celebrate in my organization, and the other list of stuff you don’t? That’s the list you got to fix, so accountability comes down to five key things.

Number one is 100% clarity, plus appropriate authority and resources. If I’m going to hold somebody accountable, I got to give them everything you need.

Number two is 100% agreement. If you try to assign something to me, I got to say, “I understand it, I got it, I’m going to go track and post,” which is interesting with your product, and everything, being able to make sure there’s dashboards. We know what’s going on.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Coaching, mentoring and training, so that when someone is slipping, you can run in and help them. If they’re not being as accountable as they should, you can support them and give them what they need. The last thing is celebrate success lavishly, and deal decisively with failure. When you look at creating a culture of accountability, those are the five things you have to have around it. When I talk to senior leaders at companies all over the globe, and when we talk about the kind of employee they want to hire? Same two words, ownership mentality.

Kevin Micalizzi: Okay.

John Spence: Which is another word for high levels of both personal and mutual accountability.

Kevin Micalizzi: Definitely. So, John, I want to change gears, and ask you our Lighting Round question, and that is, if you could take all the knowledge and experience that you have now, go back to the beginning of your career, and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?

John Spence: Wow, that’s a tough question. It’s funny, I just had a friend talk to me about intuition, and I’m very, very data-driven. But I would have learned earlier to see the red flags with business partners or people that we’re dealing with, and realize that we don’t have a values match here.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: And no matter how much I might try, if someone’s a liar, I’m not going to get them to tell the truth.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I had a guy that worked for me that believed that every customer’s out to get you. They’re going to take advantage of you, if they possibly could. They’re going to get the lowest price, and every vendor’s trying to steal money from you, and I should have known that, the minute I hired him. It took me about a year to figure out, and it was painful for the whole company, so …

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I would have trusted my intuition more, and it hurts me to say that!

Kevin Micalizzi: Yeah, I know, but obviously, you’re still doing a lot of great work. So it’s great that you realized that, and you can actually apply it, moving forward.

John Spence: Now, after a quarter of a century doing this, when I get the red flags now, I just walk away.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Luckily, I’m at a place in my career that I don’t have to work for one person, and if somebody’s rude, obnoxious, it just doesn’t feel right, I go, “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, I don’t think we’re gonna fit, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to work together.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: It took a little courage to get there, but having been burned, by trusting people I shouldn’t have, now, the reverse is … I’ll tell you this story. So I’m a big believer, that you give people 100% trust, when you meet them, and if they violate, start to remove it. Most people are the other way that says, “You have to earn my trust,” and it might take six months, or a year, or two to three years.

The way to build trust quickly is to extend trust first, to say, “I’ve never met you before, but I believe you’re gonna tell me the truth. Then, then the minute you do something there, I can pull a little back, pull a little back.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: I’m not naïve. I won’t be taken advantage of, but I’d rather go into every relationship saying, “I trust you fully,” instead of, “In three years, I might trust you.”

Kevin Micalizzi: Well, and especially in a sales context, because, you’re struggling to get that prospect’s attention. You’re really trying to build your image in their eyes, and if you’ve already got that wall up, and they have to somehow prove to you that they’re worthy of your trust, I don’t know, that seems like a … You’re making this entire process far more difficult than it needs to be.

John Spence: One of the things that drives trust in people is, if I feel like you trust me.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right, yeah.

John Spence: I’m willing to reciprocate that, but if you’ve got a wall up, and you’re sort of standoffish, and you want to check every single thing, then already, I realize you don’t trust me. And if you don’t trust me, why should I trust you?

Kevin Micalizzi: Right.

John Spence: Because I’m a trustworthy person, at least, as far as I’m concerned. You don’t trust me, then there’s something wrong with you.

Kevin Micalizzi: Right. So, John, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me in the studio.

John Spence: My pleasure. My honor.

Announcer: Thank you for listening. For more conversations like this, visit


Do You Trust This Computer

Unfortunately, the original one-hour documentary has been removed from Youtube, but here is a five-minute minute overview from Elon Musk on some of the big ideas coming in robotics and artificial intelligence. I think you will find this very interesting and a little (maybe or a lot) scary!

The Role Of A Leader

It was 36 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a pretty good football player in high school, not a star, but at least one the key starters. I played nose guard on defense and when we were in the red zone close to the goal line I would sometimes go in as a running back to punch the ball across the line. I was a big guy even back in high school, a good athlete, but not the best… then everything changed.

In my senior year the head coach came to me and said that he was going to make me the captain of the defensive squad. I was excited, honored, and proud… I was going to be one of the team captains! Then he explained something about my role as a captain. He said, “John, if you’re going to be one of the captains you have to lead by example. You’re going to need to work harder than everyone else, play the best you’ve ever played and help the rest of the team to be excellent. That means coming to practice early, studying the playbook, supporting the coaches, working hard in the weight room and always coming in in the top three on sprints and long runs.” As I said earlier, I was a pretty big guy in high school, I think the word would be fat, and I had never, ever come in anywhere close to the top three on any running drill. Coach must have seen the fear in my eyes and said, “You can do this Bear (my nickname in high school), I have confidence that you can stand up and be a real leader for this team. Can I count on you?” I immediately answered, “Yes Sir.”

The next day, after the coach announced that I was one of the team captains, I started coming in in the top three in every drill. I ran faster than I ever had, I pushed myself harder than I ever had, every time I got tired I just kept saying to myself, “I’m the captain, I have to set the pace, I have to lead by example.” The metamorphosis was amazing, I literally changed my performance, dramatically, overnight. That’s when I realized it… I could have done it all along. Apparently, I had always possessed the ability to run fast and for long distances, but when I was just one of the guys on the team it was easy to come in last, there was always a few of us “heavy guys” bringing up the rear. But the minute I accepted a role as a leader I knew that everybody on the team was watching, all the coaches would be watching, everyone in the school would be watching me, and I could not let them down.

It is the same thing in my business career when I’m running a company I understand that I live under a microscope. My team sees everything I do, they see what I don’t do, they hear what I say, and they hear what I do not say. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – everything you do has an impact on how you are perceived as a leader. I love this, because it pushes me to perform better than I might on my own, just like on the football team I have to run faster, work harder, do more homework and deliver the highest level of excellence I can, because if I didn’t I couldn’t ask anyone else on my team to do it either.

Over the years, based on this experience, I have developed my own definition of leadership.

“Leadership is being a living example of what you hope your followers will one day become.”

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


How To Create A Mastermind Group

My wife, Sheila, speaking at a Mastermind meeting at our home.

Recently I’ve had several people ask me about how to set up a mastermind group. I wrote a blog about this back in 2011, but I have updated it and added some new information. I hope you find this helpful.



“You become what you focus on… and like the people you surround yourself with.”

This is the single most important lesson I’ve learned in my life so far. How did I learn it? By understanding the power of Mastermind Groups.

Thirty-nine years ago I failed out of college. After my first year at the University of Miami (Florida) I had a stellar 1.6 GPA!! Unfortunately, all the people I was hanging out with had lower GPA’s than I did so it did not seem like that big of a deal… until I was expelled. I moved to Gainesville, Florida to restart my college career and met an incredibly wise professor (Roger Strickland) who strongly recommended that I start a “study group” – a.k.a. — a mastermind group. At the beginning of each semester, I would stand up on the first day of class and invite anyone who wanted to do well in the course to join my study group… as long as they had a 3.6 GPA or higher! Forming that study group changed EVERYTHING. In the span of six years, I went from failing out of the University of Miami to graduating in the top three in the United States in my major from the University of Florida and then becoming the CEO of a Rockefeller foundation just three years after graduation.

I have continued to create mastermind groups throughout my life. In my early 30’s I created a group of young CEOs that met once a month at a local restaurant to share ideas and support each other as we tried to grow our businesses. For the last few years I’ve run a mastermind group of senior leaders, people who have been in business for 20 or 30 years, that gets together to talk about cutting edge business ideas, economics, politics, whatever important topic we all want to explore. This group has all become very close friends and I know that whenever I need help they are on my team. I’m also in a mastermind group with other people in my industry; professional speakers, consultants, and authors. We share our best ideas, contacts, client referrals and do everything we can to help each other improve our craft.

The reason I share my experiences with these two groups with you is to show you how incredibly powerful they can be in helping to guide, support, motivate and direct your life. I cannot possibly express how valuable it is to be an active member of a high-quality mastermind group. But here’s the catch; for most people, if you want to be in a mastermind group, you’re going to have to create it yourself!

Here are my recommendations on how to start and sustain a mastermind group.

Although there are many successful mastermind groups that meet via phone or online, I believe the most powerful ones meet in person, once a month or every 45 days, so I will address that sort of group in this article.

The first step is to look around your local community for one or two people who you respect and would enjoy learning from. Approach these folks with an invitation to create a mastermind group with you, let them know that it will be highly focused and a valuable use of their time.

When someone accepts your invitation, ask them to choose one or two people that they respect and would like to learn from and invite those folks to join the mastermind group too.

The goal is to have your initial meeting with six or eight members in attendance. At the first meeting is a good idea to take some time to set the framework for how the meetings will run and discuss the expectations that the members have about what they want to achieve in the mastermind group and what things would be of significant value to them. Structure is important to running an efficient mastermind group so you should set some rules around how often you will meet, where you will meet, attendance requirements, topics to be covered, length of meetings, confidentiality, and other issues you deem important. There should also be some discussion around how to invite new people to join the group what the process will be for deciding that someone should leave the group.

In our mastermind groups, we typically pose a single important question and ask everyone to come fully prepared to discuss it in the meeting. For example, in our last two meetings, the questions were: “What are the three most important lessons you have ever learned in your life?” And the next month we asked everyone, “If you were to turn your business over to your children (or someone else), what are the three most important pieces of business advice you would give to them?” Sometimes we all read a book and discuss what we felt was most important in the book and how we will apply those ideas in our lives and businesses. Other times we allow one of the members of the group to bring a specific challenge they are facing so that all of us can give them our best advice and connect them with anyone in our networks that we feel might be able to help them.

One of the biggest challenges of creating a mastermind group is keeping it to a manageable size once the word gets out that you have created something so powerful. I highly recommend that you have no more than a dozen members, which means you’ll likely have about 8 to 10 people in attendance at each meeting. If you get much larger than that, then you end up with cross conversations and a lack of focus.

Currently, my wife and I host the meetings at our home, we offer some light hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails and we all sit on the back deck for about two hours discussing the assigned topic, sharing stories, asking for help and getting advice. Not only is this incredibly beneficial session for learning new ideas and tools for improving your life and,  it is truly a blessing to be surrounded by such incredible people and to count them among your closest friends! We also invite spouses to attend which adds a lot of vibrancy and diversity to our meetings.

We do not charge any money to belong to the mastermind group, and we often rotate the meetings between different people’s houses to share costs. You could easily hold mastermind meetings at a local restaurant and let everyone handle their own bill, or gather at someone’s office and have food brought in.

Once you have a few meetings the group will begin to come together and start to open up. As trust builds, you will have some very meaningful conversations that will help the members of your group make major decisions in their business and life. Although mastermind groups will help you become more successful, the real wealth generated is from the friendships, learning, and access to each other’s networks…which is priceless.

If you are already involved in a mastermind group, please leave your comments and tell everybody what it has meant to you and how important it is in your life. I hope that we can start a small campaign here to get people around the world forming small mastermind groups to solve their personal problems, their business problems, their community’s problems and, yes, even the world’s problems.

Thanks, and take good care, John Spence

PS – Please take a moment to share this with anyone in your network that you feel would benefit from creating a mastermind group.

Do You Have A Culture Of Purpose

Stop Selling & Start Leading

In this video, I will tell you about a great new sales book that I found very helpful, and I am going to ask you for some feedback and advice.

I hope you take a moment to share your ideas with me…

How To Manage Up For Change

It is always challenging when you’re trying to convince someone in upper management to change the way they do things. Senior leaders, especially owners of private businesses, are often emotionally tied to the organization and feel that a request to look at things differently is a personal attack on their leadership abilities. I’ve had to deal with this challenge multiple times in my career and from my experience, there is a continuum of “aggressiveness” that one needs to move through to convince upper management to change their ways.

Here is the continuum from least aggressive to most aggressive:

Level I: if you have a good relationship with the senior leader then simply go visit with them and share your ideas. Make sure that you are extremely well-prepared, understand the full ramifications of what you are proposing and come with solutions, not problems.

Level II: if you personally do not have a great relationship with the senior leader, gather a small group of employees that the leader respects, talk to them about your proposal for change, gain their buy-in, and then go as a small team to speak with the senior leader. Again, be extremely well-prepared and come with solutions, not problems.

Level III: find a sponsor on the senior management team who believes in your ideas and is willing to take them to the CEO or owner. Let them use their credibility, experience, and relationship to support your ideas and encourage the top leader to embrace your proposed changes.

*** At this point you move from trying to convince a single leader, to attempting to change the thinking of the entire senior leadership team. This gives your idea more leverage against the leader who does not agree with your proposed changes.

Level IV: this is the one I use most often; overwhelm them with data. Do surveys, focus groups, research – whatever you can to build a solid case for your proposed changes. In the change process we call this creating an “irresistible case for change,” a scenario so irrefutable that it is nearly impossible to ignore the facts of the situation. Unfortunately, many people will choose to ignore them nonetheless.

Level V: find some excellent articles or blogs, on a topic your senior leadership team strongly supports, and then send those articles to everyone in the organization (if it is a small company), or to selected leaders. The first few articles should be about a topic that the leaders will enjoy reading about because they believe in it. After sending several articles that that support their ideology, start to drop in articles on the change you want to make the organization. This is a way to begin the conversation in an innocuous way, by introducing your ideas slowly, mixed in with articles and blogs on ideas they are in favor of. The goal here is to change the conversation across the organization, or at least within the senior leadership team, in hopes that they will see that they need to make changes within the business.

Level VI: gather together a group of key employees, gain their 100% commitment to the change, and then go as a group and demand change from the senior leadership team. This is different from my suggestion at level II because now you are being dramatically more aggressive and basically threatening the senior leaders that if they do not change, there is a possibility they will lose good employees.

Level VII: tender your letter of resignation. Explain fully why you are leaving, that you think the change you are championing is necessary but that the senior leadership team, or senior leader, refuses to make the necessary changes, therefore you are going to go to a new company that is more in alignment with your ideas about business success.

I have given this list to hundreds of people and typically they never have to reach level VII. At some stage along the way the senior leaders or leader eventually come around and either embrace the change or give a solid and thoughtful answer as to why the organization has chosen not to go in the direction you are proposing.

I hope you found this helpful – John

Do You Have A Team Charter?

I have been teaching quite a few high-performance teams workshops in the last several months and have been surprised to discover that not one group I worked with had ever created a “team charter.” By this I mean, a written list of rules and expectations that the team all agrees to and guides the way they work together. I believe this is an essential document to help people clearly understand their role on the team, what behavior is appropriate and what things will not be tolerated. Without a charter, members of the group are simply guessing at how they are supposed to act and behave together as a team, leading to assumptions, politics, rumormongering, conflict, lack of accountability and ultimately lack of results. To help your organization avoid these issues here are a few ideas of what a team charter might look like:

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review recommended that a team charter should include these basic foundational tenets:

  • I agree to be on time, realizing everyone’s time is limited and extremely valuable.
  • I agree to show respect to every other member of the team and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • I agree to give my best effort in accomplishing every task, the team’s mission, and our shared purpose.
  • I agree not to engage in any gossip about my team members and to put a stop to it if I encounter it.
  • I agree to communicate early and often pertaining to any time off needed for my personal life.
  • I agree to handle disputes, perceived offenses, or conflicts with dignity and professionalism.

This is the charter from a nonprofit organization I worked with:

  • Be accountable
  • Think before you speak
  • Ask for clarification
  • Set clear expectations
  • Treat people with dignity and respect
  • Empathy
  • Ask for help
  • Be direct and loving
  • Look for the positive first
  • Create safety zones where people can be honest in their feedback without fear of retribution
  • Be present
  • Check up on folks
  • Helpful and supportive
  • Communicate professionally
  • Spend time together
  • Have fun

This list is from a manufacturing company that I assisted:

  • Listen to each other with an open mind without interruption
  • Share knowledge, information, and experience with those who can benefit
  • Take key decisions based on reasoning, not rank
  • Express concerns only to those responsible for dealing with them
  • A responsibility culture, not a blame culture
  • Base our work on the ‘customer’
  • Strive for continuous improvement
  • Behave with integrity
  • Positively challenging dishonesty or destructive behavior
  • No ego

These are just a few ideas to help you in creating your team charter, however, it is essential that you develop a written, clear, and well-communicated charter that everyone on the team is fully committed to and agrees to support at all times. Without this document, it is impossible to build and sustain a high-performance team.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments and if you found value in this article I hope you will share it with your entire network.

Thanks so much – John

Who is Your Competition?

Last year I did a speaking tour of Australia and one of my session was a business excellence program for an organization called The Growth Faculty. A young lady named Kasey Patterson attend that workshop and recently sent me this question. I thought you might find a few ideas for your business in my response.

Hi John & Sheila

I attended the growth summit last year and saw John present. What an informative session. Thank you.

The reason for my email is that I have just watched your keys to success for 2018 video and have a questions in regards to competition and thinking outside your industry. We are a Financial Planning business and I have been thinking hard about competition outside our industry – ie banks, accountants, but that is where my mind stops. Who else would you consider our competition?

Kind Regards



Kasey, it’s funny, I was just watching that video myself because someone else asked me a question about it. So as a financial planner/advisor you likely get paid a percentage of the amount of money you manage for someone, or at least that’s how it works here in the United States. But no matter what, here are a few things I might consider competition/replacements if I were a financial planner.

Anything expensive that someone buys would compete for them saving for their retirement. So vacation homes, private airplanes, boats, motorcycles, around the world vacations, buying a new home, sending their kids to an expensive school/university – at some level, all of these could be considered replacements for saving my money and allowing you as my financial planner to manage it.

Another competitor would be startup companies that are seeking angel funds. Instead of giving money to my financial planner, I invest it in a company in hopes that I will have a much larger return.

Here’s a big one, bitcoin!!!

You could probably throw gold in on that list too, as another type of currency.

You compete against collectibles: artwork, cars, rare coins, antiques, and other such items.

You compete against people who decide to do it for themselves and think they don’t need a financial planner. Or, they use someone in their family to help them invest.

You compete against ignorance and apathy; people who don’t know that they need a financial planner or who don’t care.

You compete against nonprofits and other charities that will seek major donations from your potential customers, again, reducing the amount of money they have to invest with you.

You compete with ill health. If someone gets sick and has to spend a lot of money on care.

You compete with death. If someone in their family dies and does not have adequate life insurance then your potential customer might spend a large chunk of their money taking care of the funeral costs and other financial obligations of the deceased person.

You compete with disasters. If there is a major fire/flood/earthquake that wipes out one of your customer’s businesses or homes and they do not have adequate insurance they will not have enough money to invest with you.

Okay, I’m starting to run out of ideas here, but those are a few off the top of my head. Give this some more thought and let me know if you come up with any more.

I hope you found this helpful – John

I followed up with this last idea…

Kasey, I forgot the most important competitor of all… You. You are constantly competing against other financial planners, but the number one financial planner that can do the most harm to you is you. If you lack discipline, if you are not working incredibly hard every day to keep your current clients exceedingly happy, if you’re not constantly studying and trying to get better, if you are not out networking and asking for referrals, if you are not trying to be among the best in your industry… you are your own worst competition.

So, who do you compete against in your business?

Here is a link to the video Kasey mentioned if you’d like to watch it: Click Here