Fuel for the Journey: Conversations that Build Culture and Fuel Performance with Dan Rockwell

Dan Rockwell

Dan Rockwell

Dan Rockwell is the author of the highly recognized Leadership Freak blog and co-author of The Character-Based Leader. Leadership Freak, read in virtually every country on the globe, has been recognized as the most socially shared leadership blog on the Internet. Over 400,000 people subscribe to Leadership Freak’s social media channels

Inc Magazine lists Dan as a ‘Top Fifty Leadership and Management Expert’ and a ‘Top 100 Great Leadership Speaker’. The American Management Association lists Dan as one of the ‘Top 30 Leaders in Business’.

Dan coaches and advises leaders, leads workshops, and delivers keynotes to business and community organizations.Leadership Freak

Leaders have an amazing opportunity to make life better for the people on their team or in their organization. One important and sometimes neglected skill is managing and fueling energy; our own, others, and teams.

Dan will highlight the following in the interview:

  • Reasons organizations seem to battle a downward drag.
  • What are you learning about managing your own energy?
  • How might leaders fuel energy in others and on teams?
  • A 7-step conversation that creates forward movement. (Progress fuels energy.)

For more information go to https://leadershipfreak.blog


Read the Interview Transcript

Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. This is Hugh Ballou with a fresh episode of The Nonprofit Exchange. We are always talking about leadership, but we’re going to focus on leadership today. Nothing happens without leadership. I have a gentleman I haven’t really met until just now, but I have known about him for many years because he writes a lot of good stuff. It’s always fascinating to see what he is going to blog about. He is very consistent. He is consistently good. Dan Rockwell, tell people about yourself. Why is it you have chosen to do what you do?

Dan Rockwell: To tell you about myself, I am a farm boy from Maine originally. I live in central Pennsylvania, but I was brought up in central Maine on a dairy farm. That is everything you need to know about me. You are always who you were when you were 13, and when I was 13, I was milking cows and going to school. I live with my wife now. Our three children are grown. We have six grandchildren. I am excited about life at this stage and giving back.

How did I get into Leadership Freak? Mostly because I thought I was good at leading, but I sucked at leading most of the time. I got my MBA late in life. I got interested in organizational development and leadership and realized that I really wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was. I started writing. I made a commitment to myself to write five days a week. I had never written before; it wasn’t like I was some sort of magical writer, except for contracts. I had never written before, but I started writing. If it gets traction, I’m going to keep going. That was 10 or 11 years ago. I am thankful it really worked.

Hugh: What’s with this title Leadership Freak? That really gets your attention.

Dan: Originally, it’s like a sports freak. You’re freakishly interested in something. That’s where it comes from. There is no great story. I was doodling around at my desk one day, thinking about what I would like to call a blog. That’s what came up. Being freakishly interested in leadership.

Hugh: My background is in music conducting. The article I refer people to on Forbes is “What does a conductor know about leadership?” My answer is a conductor knows everything about leadership. You drop the baton; you must know what you’re doing, or else you just got a grand mess on your hands.

We live in a time where people say, “I know about leadership.” I think people who say that are pretty dangerous. What are the biggest blind spots you think leaders have?

Dan: That they are as good as they think they are. People are telling them the truth. No, people are not telling them the truth; people are telling them what they want to hear. I sometimes think about the lies leaders believe. I guess one of them is that we think we’re better than we really are, and people are telling us the truth.

Hugh: When people tell you, “Oh, I like you. You’re so good,” we can’t really believe it. The tensions are sometimes good. If you are in the culture of leadership in a corporate culture or church culture or an educational culture, there is this hierarchy. I guess you learned about that when you studied your MBA. There is this hierarchy. We might not think we have the permission to speak directly. Is that part of the equation?

Dan: I think it is. We need to get over the idea that hierarchy is always a bad thing. It’s not always a bad thing. There are leaders and certain people who have certain responsibilities and other people don’t have responsibilities that are the same. It’s all right to have that. If there is permission to speak the truth, if that actually exists in an organization, then it is something that the leader has done. It’s very unusual for people who follow a leader not to listen to the cues that they’re giving off. Sometimes leaders give off cues, “I made up my mind, and I’m not interested in what you have to say. My way is the right way.” A lot of people go along with that.

In some church traditions, there is a strong pastoral leadership model. This is a great challenge for leaders. On the one hand, you want people to buy in, you want people to contribute their very best, and you want to learn from them as well. In a strong hierarchical situation, where you have strong pastoral leadership, people will do more head nodding and agreeing and go out and execute. People will do that fine, but you won’t necessarily get their best. I think that is one of the great challenges in the church world.

Hugh: There is not enough time in seminary to study leadership. We have inherited this autocratic model. What we teach in SynerVision is the transformational leadership model. It’s about the vision, not you, bubba. It’s the conductor model. You build high-performing teams. You build a culture that responds to the nuances. You don’t tell people what to do. They know what to do because they have the plan.

One of the deficits I find over and over again besides what you have identified is people don’t have a clear estimation of their own skillset and are not aware of their own blind spots. They think they can move forward, especially those of us who are entrepreneurs. We think we can move forward because it’s in our heads. We create a mess. In your world, what is the relationship of having a plan? I’m a recovering Scottish Presbyterian. Everything is decent and in order. A musician has a very rigid plan. We’re like programmers. We have a rigid structure, but we have to be creative within that structure. What is your opinion on the deficits not having this structure set up for us as leaders?

Dan: First of all, let’s say that a vision without a plan is wandering in the wilderness, right? You have to have a plan. You have to have a vision, too. I love that you prefaced this with skillsets and gifts, and you transitioned into the plan. These things go together. In other words, the farmer who has a barn full of racehorses might as well not hook them up to a plow. It doesn’t matter what your plan is. A team of racehorses will not plow the field. Vice versa, too. If you have a team of plow horses, you won’t enter the Kentucky Derby. You may enter the Kentucky Derby, but it won’t go well for you.

When we think about plans, how do we plan? Part of the plan obviously is the vision. Another part of the plan is who are the horses we have in the barn? What are they like? What are their strengths? What are their gifts? I love when Paul writes to Timothy, and he says, “You fan your gift into flame.” It’s an awareness that you can have all the plans you want, but if you’re not aware of your strengths or gifts and are not leveraging them in service to the plan or vision, they seem to be squandered.

Hugh: Yes. I know how you think because I’ve read your blogs. You probably don’t know much about me. You mentioned 13 milking cows. You had a blog just recently I believe about seven things you learned when you step in crap. Cowpies make grass green. Talk a bit about that. You have a lot of sevens and fives, things I can check off in my mind.

Dan: I was going to bring that up by the way because I don’t want to say anything too stupid or something I didn’t already say. I don’t mind contradicting myself. I wanted to write about some of the tensions and difficulties and challenges that we face. That’s when I started thinking about stepping in cowpies. It just occurred to me that you look out over a pasture, and you see these green patches all over a pasture. What are the green patches? Those are the places a cow has done their business. Unlike us, they don’t mind doing their business in public.

You know what I love? One of the lessons of stepping in cow crap, and you can spot these people who have done it well, is that they are kind, they are compassionate, they are patient with others, and they are patient with themselves. You can always see someone who has suffered well because they are merciful and kind. You can see someone who hasn’t suffered well; they get all tense about stepping in the crap. They are angry and frustrated and pushy and complaining. Thanks for bringing that up.

Hugh: I used to do some live keynote speaking. Hope we go back to doing that again. Very often, people would introduce me as an expert in leadership. I would say I am a student of leadership, which is still true. But I don’t shun it anymore. I’m almost 75; I’m old enough to make all the mistakes at least once or twice and smart enough I have learned from most of them. I have gone to reclassifying those mistakes as learning opportunities. You and I have been around a little bit. Talk about some of the learning experiences valuable to leaders. We are talking to nonprofit leaders and clergy, but this is stuff that is applicable anywhere, isn’t it?

Dan: Devaluing the power of listening is probably one of the big mistakes that leaders make, especially young leaders. When I think about my leadership in my youth, I was way too anxious to craft everybody’s attitudes around what I wanted them to be. I was way too eager. I was in convince mode. My job is to convince you that I’m right. That is a colossal waste of energy and talent in the team or in the organization. One of the huge mistakes of young leaders in particular, at least young, extroverted leaders, is that talking is leading. No, leading includes listening, lots of listening.

Hugh: It is remarkable how many leaders think it’s important to have all the right answers when having the right questions and listening to the answers is probably a lot more valuable. If we stopped long enough to listen. As a musician, we are trained to listen, but can we transfer those skills into a non-musical setting? Can we transfer the skills we have into the current situation?

Let me run this one by you. I am going to change my background image. People often assume that a conductor is a dictator. That is an autocratic model. Do this, do this, do this. I say back that just because you have a little white stick, you can’t make those union musicians do anything, but you can influence them. Talk a little bit about influence in leadership: how we influence people both positively and negatively. Did you like my analogy by the way?

Dan: I loved your analogy. If you think that leading is like dominating, telling everybody, you never get the best from people. You get compliance. You get compliance from fearful people. You get compliance from sincere people who think it’s the way it’s supposed to be. Compliance is never getting the best, where people are showing up early, staying late, giving their heart to what’s going on. Making people do things, which by the way you can do to some degree. You can get outward conformity. You can pay someone enough to do what they’re told. Getting people to do what they’re told is not leadership; that’s a dictatorship.

When we think about going beyond that, a lot of things come to mind. The first thing is modeling the way. This speaks back to Kouzes and Posner’s book The Leadership Challenge with the five or seven functions of leadership. The first one is model the way. The leader who wants something beyond compliance is going to model the way. They are going to model things that bring out their best and the best in others. You can go back to listening as one of those things as well.

Hugh: That is one of the basic tenets as I have defined transformational leadership. It fits very well with the conductor model. One of the great teachers of conductors says that what they see is what you get. Based on what you said, modeling the culture is a reflection of the capacity that the leader shows. We can say whatever we want, but your children will do what you do, not exactly what you say to do. We can set the bar high, or we can set it in a negative way, can’t we?

Dan: I think we can, by those behaviors. Isolation for example, the leader who closes the door and isolates themselves, that is negative modeling that says, “Other people aren’t important. Relationships aren’t important.” We can definitely model bad behaviors. I do it all the time and did it all the time. You say things that suck the life out of someone. These ideas about bringing out the best and fueling people’s fire versus throwing cold water on them is the essence of being a successful leader.

Hugh: My fourth book is an anthology of stories of transformational leaders. I asked my friend Cal Turner for an interview. Subsequently I had him on this series years ago. This guy is a faithful Methodist. I met him at a job I was doing at the Methodist church in the Nashville area. He is a man of faith and clearly a leader. He said, “I went to my team at Dollar General, and I said, ‘My father founded this company. I got this job because of my genes. You got the skills, but I got the vision. I’m the boss. Boss is SOB backwards. Worse than that, I am the son of a boss.’” Everyone on his team stepped up. We were debriefing, and he said, “Hugh, leadership is about defining your skills and your gaps, and finding competent people to fill those gaps. We went public, and it was very successful. Everybody benefited. If I had pretended I had known everything, they would have gone, ‘I’m going to show him.’” There is this myth of having to have the right answers, but they bluff their way through. Talk about bluffing versus being sincere, straightforward, transparent.

Dan: I asked Mark Miller what he would tell his younger self. Mark Miller is VP of Leadership at Chick Fil-A. Mark said, “I would tell my younger self, ‘Don’t think you need all the answers. There is so much stress. You gotta walk around and know so much.’”

I recently had a conversation with the former CEO of Best Buy. When he introduces himself, he is a Frenchman, Hubert Joly. He says, “I am Hubert, and I need your help.” That is powerful.

First of all, we all know you don’t have it all together. Everybody knows. Sometimes we know you are pulling the answer out of your anatomy somewhere. People know this. It’s not like you’re fooling anybody. The better option is to courageously say, “Wow, that is a great question. I’m not sure of the answer. What do you think the answer is?” or “Who might know the answer to this?” or “I’ll get back to you. I’m going to do some research.” This idea that leaders have all the answers, I think what it does is drain the life and energy out of people. If I think you’re the answer person, I don’t have to worry about the answers.

You can always tell these leaders by the way. There is a path to their door, people coming for answers into their office. Everyone has a problem, and they want the leader to solve it. Let me tell you that path is there. That leaders loves having the answers. They feel important. They feel like they are a genius. They train their people to walk to them. What happens at one point later on is they’re exhausted. “Can’t anybody come up with a decision on their own?” Guess who made that world? The leader who needed to have all the answers made that world.

Hugh: That pretty much describes corporate America, doesn’t it? We are feeding leaders into middle management from MBA programs. If you have an MBA, that means you know everything about leadership, right?

Dan: No, absolutely not.

Hugh: I was visiting with a guy in a city which will remain nameless working for an airline which will remain nameless, but its abbreviation is United. He was a maintenance guy who got an MBA boss. He says, “Sit down. This is how we’re going to do things” and opened a manual to show him. My friend said, “I wrote that manual.” The fallacy of knowing it all, they don’t know what goes on below them in the system since they didn’t work their way up. What are the typical blind spots that you see that leaders really need to be aware of?

Dan: Believing that the job is easier than it is is a real problem. You’re sitting in your office and deciding who has to do what by when and assigning tasks. The belief that the job is easier than it is, and it won’t take as long as you think it’s going to take is a huge blind spot that shows disrespect for the people who are on the front line. One of the best things a leader can do is spend more time on the front line. Spend more time rubbing elbows with the people who are actually doing the work. We know this. The higher you go in an organization, and the larger that organization is, the more talking you do. You sit around in meetings all day long and talk. There is this perception that talking is the same thing as doing. No, talking is not doing. We get this feeling that things get done easily. That is one of the blind spots leaders can deal with for sure.

Hugh: There is probably a whole lot more, too. Dan’s website can be found at LeadershipFreak.blog. “Don’t Erase a Good Compliment with a Stupid But.” I have a friend who wrote a good book called Get Off Your Buts. You turn out quality stuff on a regular basis. So what is your inspiration to think of new things? How long have you been doing this by the way?

Dan: 10 or 11 years.

Hugh: Do you ever run dry? How do you get inspiration?

Dan: This is a great question. People frequently ask me how I write five days a week now. I used to write seven days a week at one time. First of all, I just screwed up a lot in my life. You make a lot of mistakes, and then you learn a few things. Part of where Leadership Freak comes from is I’m solving my own problems, and I continue to solve my own problems.

Here is something that is really useful for leaders, and it goes beyond me just writing Leadership Freak: If you want to pour a lot out of your life, you have to pour a lot into your life. This is a real issue with leaders. They are burning the candle at both ends. They get burned out. They get exhausted. That is because they weren’t pouring enough into their lives. The principle is this: If you want to serve a lot, you have to pour a lot into your life. If you want to pour out a lot, you have to pour a lot into your life. I always know when the ratio of pouring out is too high because I run dry. If I am pouring enough into my life, then I have more to say than five days a week. The blog post you brought up about seven things you learn when you step into crap, there was a lot more to that post. I set a limit of 300 words, so I didn’t publish the whole thing. I cut things down as much as possible. The answer to the question of where it comes from is I am pouring a lot into my life.

People. oh my. We have to have people in our lives. They make us richer. Right before our call, I had a conversation with a fellow by the name of Lou Burgess. They sent me his book; it’s not coming out until June. His book is called Wanting. This is life-changing for me. It’s not unusual for me to have these conversations with people who are smarter than me, who are so talented and gifted. It’s not difficult to find people like that to have conversations with. When you think about, “Dan, how do you do all of this?” pour stuff into your life. It’s books, mentors, people that you can have conversations with. Quiet time.

Seriously, how do you do this? You have to have quiet time. There is this little light back here in my office. I keep the blinds completely closed. In the morning, the lights are off. I see nothing. I just have this light on. I’m small; I’m quiet. It’s out of the quiet that we find strength. It’s out of the quiet that we find ideas that sometimes are surprising. I’ll start writing something, and I’ll come upon an idea and think, “Wow, that’s good.” I’ll like it. Holy cow. It’s not like I planned to write it. There needs to be some quiet. There needs to be smallness in life as well. You can tell I have a lot I can say about this because people often ask about it.

Hugh: The burnout is high with clergy and nonprofit leaders, higher with clergy. There are a number of roads that lead us to burnout. Having this quiet space, this time for relaxation, fun, regeneration, even time to think is so valuable. I had a conversation with my wife who is clergy and works with a lot of clergy in the district from the district office. Lots of calls. Lots of people to talk to. The danger, especially now that we’re home and doing everything on Zoom, is putting things back to back. The black hole is now the Zoom. My practice is to schedule now. Now is when we are talking. Have the buffer. I do 25-minute or 50-minute sessions, so I have a buffer in between. That is just walking around time. I have to write down thinking time and time to catch up with everything I’ve promised in all of those calls. We don’t give ourselves the grace of giving ourselves the space.

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The myth of “I have to work until I drop,” the myth of “I have to do everything myself because I have to be willing to do what I ask other people to do.” Especially in this sector, the burnout rate is high. What are some of the pathways that we need to be aware of so we can stop getting to the burnout phase?

Dan: You mentioned something that is really important and people are terrified of. That is how you manage your schedule. You mentioned 50-minute hours. I’m a huge fan of this. Don’t schedule back to back to back. The 50-minute hour is good.

The way we see ourselves is the way we see the world. If we see ourselves as the solution, as the answer, as whatever, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to always be there, always be available. It’s not just the nonprofit world. In the for-profit world, leaders find it difficult to walk away. They find it difficult to go home at the end of the day. There’s always one more thing.

This is so interesting: Burnout is sometimes a symptom of lack of trust. I cannot trust anybody else, so I have to do everything. I’m coaching leaders who are in the for-profit world. I had a leader just two days ago, I said, “What’s preventing you from going home on time?” He is working two to four hours longer than he needs to work every day. He had the chutzpah to finally say, “I can’t trust people. I have a trust issue.” He is going to burn out. We think he is burned out because he is overworked. He is overworked because he can’t trust people to do something.

Scheduling is a big factor in dealing with burnout. I think you’re a genius on how you do that. Learning to trust people is another.

If I could, I want to go back on how I’m doing my schedule. If you called me for an appointment, I would open my calendar and look. I have a certain goal that I want to have as many open days as possible. I’m not impressed with myself when I see a calendar full of appointments. I don’t think, “Oh my, you’re so important.” I think, “You’re an idiot. Why are you doing this?” I have a goal that Monday I don’t have any appointments. I can’t always keep it. I also have a goal that Friday is the same way, no appointments. If I do, I try to schedule them early and have them done.

Here is a scheduling tip: When someone calls you for an appointment, and you see that you have three hours open on Tuesday, and you have this other spot over here, do not schedule it on Tuesday. Protect that time. Personally, I would rather go three or four appointments in a row, 50 minutes, not up to the top of the hour, and protect a morning or afternoon than stick that in there and disrupt what could have been time for reflection, time to read, time to walk. One of the mistakes we make when we schedule is we look for open time. No, protect your open time as much as you can. For me, that’s been working.

Hugh: There is a certain amount of energy, a rhythm of boom, boom, boom. I’m an extrovert. Duh. I generate energy with people, so I have the next one and the next one. It’s so important to have some down time.

I want to ask you about your favorite leadership quotes, but I am going to give you a few and let you respond to them. Jim Rohn, “Work harder on yourself than you do on your business.”

Dan: Yeah, what a fantastic quote. I know a few leaders like this who are committed to personal development. They understand that the organization is not going to grow beyond them. They hire coaches, go to training, take time for themselves, read books, do all of these things to help develop themselves. That’s such a great quote, isn’t it?

Hugh: Love it. The best people are always in the front row in his speeches. He’d point that out.

How about James Allen? “People want to change their circumstances but are unwilling to change themselves. They therefore remain bound.”

Dan: Yes. This speaks to me about desire. This speaks to me about what does a person desire? If we want to see people change, and I almost said if we want to change people, and that would be dumb because we don’t change people, people change themselves. People do change. This idea that people don’t change is malarkey. People do change. If we want to help people change themselves, we speak to desire. What do you desire? What is that quote about if you want people to go to sea, what is that quote? “Don’t teach them how to build boats and cut wood; teach them how to long for the sea, and they will build boats.” I really think personal change and organizational change has a flame under it of desire. Where does the desire come from? How do we fuel desire? How do we see desire?

Hugh: How about one from Father Richard Rohr, Franciscan, “How we do anything is how we do everything.”

Dan: Wow. I’ve never heard that one before. That’s a great one. “How we do anything is how we do everything.” Is this about patterns? Is this about ways of seeing ourselves and ways of seeing the world where we fall into patterns? Is that what that is?

Hugh: I think it’s about how for example clergy want to behave one way in the pulpit but do something different in their private life. It’s about people in a professional situation pretending to be professional, but they misbehave in their private life. We’re going to be consistent if we like it or not. If we try to lie, we will give away ourselves.

Dan: Fascinating. Great quote.

Hugh: He also says, “Transformed people transform people.” Those are a few of my favorites. You have a bunch of books back there. You are already writing, so you put them in complete collections. On the Resources page on your website, talk about what people find here. They are inexpensive PDFs. You have a lot of free or low-cost stuff. What is your inspiration, and why should people have these?

Dan: I’m selling convenience. Everything in there has already been written. I did put everything together for building vibrant teams. I put articles on teams together. Several of those are simply 30 days’ worth. They are categorized by a topic. During a given month, I would, not necessarily intentionally, have written on five or six topics. I collect them and organize them by topics.

Hugh: I read the work of G.K. Chesterton. He must have had a personality like Churchill, who said, “The illusion with communication is that it has actually happened.” Chesterton said, “I do believe in Christianity, and my impression is that a system must be divine which has survived so much insane mismanagement.” Bill Gates had this successor. As bad as he was, it didn’t destroy Microsoft. He was totally incapable as a leader. The organization had so much energy the leader couldn’t destroy it. But that’s not always true. A leader can lead us into a downward spiral. If you’re working in an organization, and you’re working for someone who is leading the wrong way, is there any option except to leave?

Dan: We’re thinking now about influencing up. We’re thinking about managing up, influencing the leader. In some cases, some leaders are so hard-headed that it’s a lost cause. I suppose that’s not a very good thing to say. The bigger the personality, the harder it is to crack the nut. They don’t pay attention.

If you are in a downward spiral situation, you have a sphere of influence. Use it. Maybe you lead a small team. Maybe you lead a project. First of all, if you want to change the downward spiral into an upward spiral, focus on the people immediately around you. You may not get to the boss or pastor of leader of your organization. Simple ways to do that would be begin the meeting by saying, “Let’s talk about wins. Where are we winning?”

I’ll give you another one. Years ago, the first company I was asked to work with, they thought I was going to come in, wave a magic wand, and solve their issues. We all know that’s not the case. They called me, I came in, and they said, “Dan, we have a dark culture. Things are sad around here.” We spent some time together. I said, “What would you like to do about that?” They made a simple plan that I have shared ever since. They said, “When we’re walking down the hall, when we’re getting coffee, when we’re having casual conversation, we’re going to start asking people, ‘What’s working?’” I went back a month later and asked, “What are you learning?” They said, “We’ve had people in our organization for 10 years, 12 years, 15 years. This is what they’re telling us. ‘We’ve worked here for 10 years. No one has ever asked us what’s working.’”

We have a problem-centric approach. Bad is stronger than good by about 4:1, 5:1. I don’t mean moral bad vs moral good. I just mean a bad experience is stronger than a good experience of equal intensity. The ratio is astounding. If you don’t know this, you start to talk about problems. Those problems, we get an inflated value. Daniel Kahnman said, “Nothing is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.” You talk about problems. You’re thinking about problems. They become more important. They become heavier than they really need to be. We need to know this as leaders. There is a tendency to focus on problems.

If you want to shift the trajectory of an organization, you have to shift the things that are being focused on. Don’t worry, problems will find you. I’m not saying to ignore problems. All I’m saying is we have to bring into the mix conversations that turn the culture toward forward movement, that talk about wins, what’s working, strengths.

I have been at conference tables with high-level leaders in organizations and have them do an exercise. I’ll ask them, “There’s Billy Bob over there. Two or three of you will say, ‘When I see you at your best, I see you’ and fill the sentence out. ‘When I see you, I see you.’” Honest to goodness, I have seen corporate leaders with tears in their eyes because we don’t do this in organizations. We are so focused on what’s wrong with people, how they need to be better, what’s wrong in the organization, that we miss the whole point of leadership. It’s not just going with the flow; leadership is creating a flow.

In this case, what I’m suggesting is if we have darkness, if you have a dark leader, if you have sadness in an organization, start influencing where you are. Shift the conversation- I shouldn’t say “shift,” because it sounds like you’re not going to talk about what isn’t working. Add to the conversation healthy doses of what’s working.

Hugh: Absolutely. The topic is conversations that build culture and fuel performance. Everything we have talked about today is the leader’s duty and delight to be that inspiration, that influence on the culture. People do look to us, even if they don’t tell us. We are influencing people in everything we do. Dan, who in the leadership world has been an influence on your learning and your life over the years?

Dan: Lots of people. We’ll talk about living leaders. I suppose early on, Doug Conant, the CEO of Campbell Soup, asked me to lunch. He has an office in Philadelphia, and I live two and a half hours away. I don’t know if he knew it was that far, but I didn’t care. I was glad to meet him. He is humble. He is compassionate with people. He has this saying, “Be tough on standards. Be tender with people.” He has an influence on me. The people I talk with, it seems like everybody has an influence on me. I was telling you about the former CEO of Campbell Soup.

He has had an influence on me. The way he has this ability to listen. Lou Burgess, he has influenced me in a profound way. Stan Endicott, who founded Slingshot, a Christian search company, I saw Stan Endicott say on a video to a young fellow who was playing the guitar, “When did that guitar become so comfortable in your hands?” I thought to myself, I want to be like that. He has had an influence on me, too. The list is so long.

Hugh: You got books behind you. Do you have a favorite book or two besides the one you just highlighted?

Dan: Usually my favorite book is the one I’m reading. Not always, but often it is. When people ask me about book recommendations, I suggest The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. I have already mentioned it. They distill leadership into five functions: model the way, inspire shared vision, challenge the process, enable behaviors, and encourage the heart. They give a framework for leadership. It’s useful. They are also humble, really smart people.

Hugh: There is a lot of really smart people in the world if you look for them. What is a good pattern for leaders to focus on now that we’re hopefully coming out of this time of seclusion? Some of us like it. I’m a reformed extrovert. I’m enjoying my introvert time. I’ve heard people say, “We need to pivot.” It’s not really pivoting. There is no new normal; there is no old normal. I like to say there is a new radical paradigm for leading. What is your suggestion that leaders think about and embrace for leading in the future?

Dan: I’m gonna say choose your admirations carefully. Admiration forms aspiration. I admire this leader. I admire that leader. I am getting inspiration from so-and-so. You can say control your schedule or take quiet time. All of those things are important. One of the most impactful things we can do as leaders is intentionally notice our admirations. In particular, choose our admirations. Who are we admiring? Admiration forms aspiration.

Hugh: Hmm. I like to say that the foundation of leadership is relationship. One of the leadership methodologies I embrace, transformational leadership is so consistent with the conductor transforming cultures and leading by the vision and modeling. Also, the work of psychiatrist Murray Bowen, he is known to have said, “That which is created in relationship can be fixed in relationship.” We tend to want to give up with people rather than continuing to be in relationship. Talk about the relationship and leadership, how essential those two partners are.

Dan: I have been very slow coming to the party on this. That’s one thing I would say to my younger self: you need to have relationships with people, people who are outside your sphere, people who are inside your organization. Results come through relationships. We don’t have to choose results or relationships. We think about results through relationships. It’s everything. The customers that I have ongoing relationships with, those are the people I keep doing work with. It started with relationships, and then they kept coming back to me. Influence, you want to influence people. The people you are in relationship with are more likely to be influenced by us than the people who see us from a distance. It’s a powerful idea.

Hugh: It is. We are coming up on the last few minutes of the interview. I want to ask you about managing your own energy, and then how do you fuel energy in others who are in your spheres of influence?

Dan: Real quick on that. Knowing your rhythms is important. I’m a morning person. I will do the hardest, most important work when I’m at my best. Manage your energy by knowing your rhythms of energy. Are you a night person? Are you an afternoon person? Maybe it’s from 3-6. Whenever it is, know that.

Other people’s energy is so powerful, too. How do we manage other people’s energy? I will sometimes have leaders do a chart of their own people. Every hour, when do you see them at their best? When do they seem to be most vibrant? When do they seem to be most productive? Keep that for a week. Then go talk to them about that. They can also see when they are at their best, and why is that important to you? Let’s face it. For me, 1pm in the afternoon, I won’t do anything productive. I will probably concentrate for 15 minutes at the most. Then I will start chasing squirrels and rabbits. Later on, 5pm or so, boom, I come to life.

Hugh: Really?

Dan: Yeah.

Hugh: Whoa. *Sponsored by SynerVision’s online community*

Dan, this has been a lot of good stuff. We can’t begin to scratch the surface of your extensive knowledge. I want to direct people back to LeadershipFreak.blog. Get on his list. I get his emails five days a week, and they’re always worth reading. What do you want to leave people with today?

Dan: I think it depends on the day. Today, I’m thinking about saying we need to know we matter. We’re more powerful than we give ourselves credit. The people around us, we have the ability to encourage them. We have the ability to demotivate them. Know you matter. Walk around, not with arrogance. I don’t mean that. You have a place, and you have the opportunity to influence people. Have that kind of confidence, not arrogance, but confidence.

Hugh: Well-spoken words, Dan Rockwell. Thank you for your time today and for sharing your inspiration with your audience.

Dan: I so appreciate the opportunity, Hugh.

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