Lead Yourself, Lead Others with Gregg Vanourek
Gregg Vanourek is a leadership developer, executive, and award-winning author, delivering training, speaking, coaching, and consulting on leadership and life and work design. Gregg currently runs Gregg Vanourek LLC, a training and development venture and was previously a tech startup exec at K12 Inc, now a market leader with a billion in sales.
Gregg is co-author of three influential books, including “LIFE Entrepreneurs” and “Triple Crown Leadership.” His writing has appeared in or been reviewed by Fast Company, BusinessWeek, NY Times, Entrepreneur, and Harvard Business blogs, among others. He is a graduate of both Yale and the London School of Economics and has a TedX talk called Discover Mode: Find Your Quest.
LinkedIn: Gregg Vanourek
TedX talk: Discover Mode: Find Your Quest
Inside This Episode:
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You're listening to key conversations for leaders. This is episode number 36. Welcome everybody. In today's episode, we'll be discussing how to lead yourself and lead others with Gregg Vanourek. In this episode, we'll be talking about how values and vision can backfire if done incorrectly, the key ingredient to driving customer value, how to be a life entrepreneur in developing organizational flow and much, much more.
John Ryan 0:27
Leadership is about vision. It's about creating a vision and sharing that vision with others in a way that inspires them to walk with you towards fulfillment along the way leaders encourage, motivate, guide and even challenge people to bring their best each and every day. And it's all done through conversations. That's what the show is about better conversations for better leaders.
John Ryan 0:49
Hey everyone and welcome to key conversations for leaders. I'm your host John Ryan, and today we have a very special guest, Gregg Vanourek. Gregg is a leadership developer, executive and award winning author delivering training, speaking coaching, consulting on leadership, life, and work design. Gregg currently runs Gregg Vanourek LLC, a training and development venture and was previously a tech exec at K 12 Incorporated, now a market leader with a billion in sales. Gregg is a co author of three influential books, books, including life entrepreneurs, and triple crown leadership, and his writing has appeared in or have been reviewed by Fast Company Business Week, New York Times entrepreneur, Harvard Business blogs, among many others. He is a graduate of both Yale and the London School of Economics and has a TEDx talk called discover mode, find your quest. And today, we're very fortunate to have him here on our show. Welcome to the show, Greg, thanks for being here.
Gregg Vanourek 1:43
Thank you, john. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate the work that you do. And looking forward to our conversation.
John Ryan 1:49
Me too. And I thank you for the work that you're doing as well. And thank you again, for coming on the show. I want to begin by inquiring a little bit about, you know, Triple Crown leadership, you know, what drew you to that specific theme?
Gregg Vanourek 2:03
Yeah, so Triple Crown leadership is a book and also multi year project that I did with my father, Bob. So he was my co author on this book. And he's been on a leadership quest, his entire career. He was in the army and startups initially, but then big business and then turnarounds, and then with his influence on my life, and others, I've been on a leadership quest that's been more startup focused and work across sectors in business, nonprofits, and governments. And so I got inspired to think about my life and work and the opportunities to influence people through leadership. So we decided to look for great leadership, how can we really get people operating at their best. And we ended up finding through all this research on the World's Most Admired Companies, sustainable companies, innovative companies, three things that we want them to kind of we wanted to drive for. And it was excellent, ethical, and enduring. And so those were kind of the the quest, the ultimate aims of leadership, right? Through our interviews and our research, and we were looking for a metaphor for how to describe the three E's that I just mentioned. And we're having conversations with people. And it was like hattrick, it was trio Troika. And somebody said, what about the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing? And we said, Oh, my God, that's perfect. And we really dug into the whole history of horse racing to and ended up having fun with that metaphor, but it goes back to ultimately Triple Crown leadership, what kind of leadership does it take to build an organization that is one excellent, to ethical and three enduring? And then the real theme that emerged from this project, john, was, what is your leadership quest? You know, so for us, that seems like a really worthy quest, to raise our sights about what we can do with our leadership. But what is your quest, and what fits for you, you know, with your purpose and your values? And by the way, I guess the last thing I'll say about it is, we don't view leadership as about title position, authority in leadership is something anyone can do if they choose. And so it's very much about leading from below, leading from above leading sideways and creating a culture of leadership. And so it's about changing your mindset about what you can do with your life and work and that's the quest.
John Ryan 4:39
I love it. So that ties directly into your TEDx right discover mode and and find your quest. And you clearly have found your request and in your dad was involved, that's going to be a really exciting thing. Did you When did your relationship on this level with your father whom we asked him on a personal level like when did you guys start talking about about leadership did that grow up from when you were a kid as well?
Gregg Vanourek 5:04
Yeah, it's really fun to reflect back. And so my dad had these really high powered CEO jobs after working his way up. And he became disillusioned with business leadership early on in this career, seeing poor examples. And for example, just this kind of mercenary view of leadership of sort of treating people to extract value from them. And you're firing on this, the whole, like, m&a, and private equity in some some models. And he said, Whoa, is this what I want to do? You know, and then you came across servant leadership, the work of Robert Greenleaf, and it was just an absolute mind flip for him to think about instead of thinking about a leader at the top, who tells people what to do, and has the status to say, No, the leader is at the bottom, serving everybody in the organization so that they can add value to customers on the society. And so he engaged in this. And so when my brother and I were growing up, my dad would invite us to the company picnic, or we'd go into the office to meet him. And he had a really tough schedule intense turnarounds were kind of picking this up. And early in those years, I was a little bit cynical about business. And I was more interested in you know, nonprofit and government. But then I came around to how leadership can be about inside first, this goes back to an organization. And it can start with purpose and values. And you can really add value to people's lives through business, or through nonprofit or through government. And they're all important. And I'm actually interested in working across the sectors and having business have more impact and having nonprofits be more like business with innovation and these kinds of things. So there's a lot of potential there.
John Ryan 6:53
Well, it sounds like all of those experiences that you've had in your dad had really came together to form that Triple Crown, you know, ideology, starting from the inside being the servant leader, and then the goals and everything else comes and flows from that vision and values that you have. You know, one of the things I know that you talk about in your books, and is important to you is social considerations, as well as sustainability, which sounds like that ethics, and the endurance right there. What can leaders really expect right now? What are they thinking around like social change social responsibility, and, and long term sustainability?
Gregg Vanourek 7:30
Yeah. When I was in Business School, one of the first courses was about business and society. And that's actually really important and interesting. Because a lot of people view business as separate from society. And you kind of view business is a game that you're supposed to play that where you're supposed to maximize profits and growth and to maximize shareholder value. And this is actually kind of, you mentioned the word ideology. This is what business schools have been teaching for decades. And so it's it's actually been very influential as the way a lot of leaders views their role. But of course, this is only one point of view about what business is fundamentally Some people think it's obvious, it's that simple period, there's no discussion, but there are competing worldviews about it. And so the whole leading multiple stakeholders is another competing theory where it's, it's not just about shareholders who are, of course, important if they're investing and taking a risk, and you know, funding, you know, with capital, etc. But what about your employees, and their experience and their opportunities to develop and grow and be rewarded and recognized and have fun and feel part of a team or community? What about your customers? are you adding value solving problems in innovating? What about your partners, your suppliers? And are you helping them? And what about your communities? Are you engaged locally with the schools are volunteering? And what about the world and climate and larger things? And so business, of course, is one piece of the systems and I think, you know, right now we're talking during a pandemic, you know, and with all of the the health strains, but the financial strains and the mental health strains come with it, and it really shows
Gregg Vanourek 9:18
Yeah, John Kabat-Zinn said that the moment is the curriculum, and I think one of the things that I've seen clearer than ever is you see, how dependent and interdependent we are as systems, and that business can operate, you know, well, without government and regulation and nonprofits and societies and families and hospitals and schools, you know, with a lot of parents supporting their kids with remote learning. So so it's all connected and and so if you're leading people today, you know, they're gonna be asking you about particularly younger generations about sustainability question. What are we doing? Is that responsible? They're gonna be asking us about ethical and about impact. Are we in Engaging. And so there's a lot of people who are looking for some kind of higher purpose. And our customers are going to be asking for that too. And they're willing to pay a premium, if we're doing that well, and communicating it, but they're also willing to walk away, if they see you being irresponsible, or not sufficiently, woke, not sufficiently dialed in to these opportunities. And it's also business opportunity to do this well, right, you can add financial value and social impact and get that get that engine revving. But but it's not obvious, it doesn't happen automatically.
John Ryan 10:41
And it sounds like they're no longer mutually exclusive, where you have to focus on the financial stakeholder returns, when you can actually think about really, sorry, shareholder returns versus stakeholder returns, that you really think about the impact on everyone locally, and can even be globally in some contexts as well.
Gregg Vanourek 11:00
Yeah, I think that's right. And I think, you know, the more you actually think about adding value to the different stakeholders, the more powerful the overall business model can become. Because it gives you room in margin, right, but but it's a long term play, you know, if you're talking about just this quarter, or this month, I mean, clearly cut cut cut costs, you know, drive sales, you know, over, you know, over promised that, you know, don't meet the expectations that you set out with your sales team and these kinds of things under deliver. But that's going to come back to bite you in the medium in the long term, because you're going to be reducing trust, you're going to be losing people, you have to rehire retrain. And so it takes you into this tension between the short term and the long term. But then you also have to get away from the thinking of trade offs. It's either this or this, you know, that's like the simplistic way to view it, view it. And often with innovation, we can do both, we can sort of change the frame, and, and have the short term and long term have the excellent in ethical.
John Ryan 12:09
So to do that, then you have to be clear on your values and what's important to you as an organization who you are concerned about, and then challenge those constraints under which you're operating. Otherwise, you're going to stay in the same lane and not really going to redefine the game that you're playing.
Gregg Vanourek 12:25
That's right. And so going back to this metaphor of triple crown leadership, what kind of leader leadership does it take to build something that's excellent, ethical and enduring? We developed from all that research and our own experience. And we did interviews with 61 organizations in 11 countries, Google, Spotify, also be all sorts of Cisco G, you know, big, small, high tech, low tech, business nonprofit, we developed five advanced leadership practices for how to do that. And one of the key ones is what we call the colors, it's a horse racing metaphor, for purpose, values and vision. And so you know, I think a lot of companies these days, have a mission statement or a vision statement, but they do it very poorly. You know, they're very, you know, it's a paper exercise, and they don't live up to it. And so if you do it that way, it's actually very dangerous, because the people in your organization are going to see, we just wasted weekends, it retreats taught wordsmithing vision statements, and values. And here, I see my manager is time after time, not living up to it, and nobody's pushing back. And so it was all so they become very cynical. And so I think it's dangerous to even do that stuff, unless you're committed to doing it really well. And the way to do it really well, is to do it collaboratively, is to elicit shared purpose, shared values, shared vision. And that's another thing by the way, a lot of people confuse these terms, and they're not clear. And then you have to inculcated into the culture of the whole enterprise, the division your team, and connect people's personal purpose values and vision with the organization. And you have to communicate it over and over. And you have to have accountability mechanisms. And that's where we get into the fifth practice of aligning around these things. It starts with purpose, values and vision, but then you have to align to
John Ryan 14:27
Where does the idea of a culture of character come into play? And can you talk a little bit about what that is?
Gregg Vanourek 14:35
Yeah. So to step back, a lot of people maybe don't reflect on how important character is in leadership in life. If you think about families or anything if you're involved in the school committee or PTO character is fundamental to what people look for, in a parent, in a friend in a colleague It's certainly an A leader. And now in this world where we've got such a breakdown of trust, where you see so many people saying one thing doing another, over promising under, under delivering, you're not living up to their their actions, you know, don't align. And so you know, Warren Bennis, the leadership guru, who wrote on becoming a leader, he said, integrity is the most essential aspect of leadership, all the studies, stuff, stuff that he did. Warren Buffett talks about, you know, he looks for intelligence, he looks for integrity, he looks for energy. But he says, if you don't have integrity, the other to get you in trouble. And so first pausing on, you know, the three E's excellent ethical, enduring ethics is an imperative, we must meet our ethical obligations. And so a lot of organizations and leaders aren't committed to that explicitly. Right? And so that's, that's the character piece. But then you want to build to your question, you want to build a culture of that. And so you want to, you know, own the shared values, and then again, actually use them in decision making. And so where it gets very tactical, you know,
Gregg Vanourek 16:13
Zappos, for example, is an interesting example. So this is an online, it was an online shoe retailer, it was a startup that was grew to a billion was acquired by Amazon, and it's grown other things, they when they're doing performance reviews, 50% of the review is how did you do and your performance, your work performance, whatever it is customer service, you know, quality indicators, revenue, growth, whatever the other 50% is, what did you do to uphold our company values, and to make contributions to our company culture? And so then if it's 50% of your review, you know, it's got teeth, right people like it's not just something on the wall, I'm going to have to go answer for this. Every quarter, when I meet with my manager, we have conversations about specifically, what did I do, I have to make a case here. And I have to improve this over time. So you actually want to actualize it. And when you do that, it's very powerful. Because people see, wow, we we share values, we're part of a family, and it's working towards business goals, but also we have shared values that really can.
John Ryan 17:26
That makes some so much sense. And I love that example of Zappos and the 5050 split in there. Because I think what I hear you saying is that when if you're there's almost like a beginning of that journey, the hero's journey, you're about to go on, hey, this is going to be it has to be a serious deal. I might as well not even do it if we're not going to hold that. Because the two deficits are that if you as a manager not upholding the values will that reduces the integrity and creates cynicism, like you said, but it also as organization reduces the integrity overall, because now we're not living by our stated purpose. So it can't just be an exercise in checking off a box has to be commitment. How do you operationalize that sounds like the feedback reviews? Hopefully, more than once a year, of course, are actually one way to do that.
Gregg Vanourek 18:12
Yeah, I think that's right. And just a couple other quick things. And one of the good ways that we've seen where companies and organizations actualize this, is they don't just have a word for their values. They have a word with an explanation that they really described what specifically they mean by it. And then you can go further and say, What are the behaviors and you've got bullet points, like three to five behaviors for every value. And so then when you go into review, you're not just talking about integrity, you're not just in the abstract, or you're not just talking about quality, you're saying, okay, bullet point one, then what did you do to uphold the commitments you made to customers, okay, bullet point number two. So it becomes much gives it much more specificity. And concreteness. The other thing I'll say is that, you know, back to the trust piece, a lot of people view that ethical stuff is like, Oh, well, that sounds nice and abstract and philosophical. But you know, this is the real world, john, you know, we got it, we got to meet our numbers, and I'm under pressure. That's true. But if you don't have the ethical imperative, you literally erode your ability to drive business value and performance over time. So it literally were work against your, you know, some of the imperatives that you have in terms of your results. Because people will leave customers will, you know, not trust you with their business anymore. Suppliers won't work with you anymore. And so but if you do it, well, you build a trust bank account, that actually shows up in your bottom line, as well as in this in the experience that customers and employees have affiliating with you.
John Ryan 19:52
I think that's a really good point, especially in today's you know, digital age where customer experience goes online and It's not one to one anymore. It's one to many. And that reputation is everything. All we really have is our values and our words, I really loved your point about operationalizing it in terms of like, here's the value of integrity. Whoa, okay, well, what does that mean? Here's a description. What does that look like? And looking at it in every sense of the word so that there's no ambiguity there. Because if you and I are in a meeting, you have a word, a definition in your mind about what integrity is, and I have a definition, and they're probably very, very different. Does this concept of, you know operationalizing, actualizing, what it looks like to have integrity and values, as an example, does also come into hiring. I know, you talk about the heart characteristics. And when they're hiring, are they asking people to, you know, describe a time then when you fulfill these values? Or can they allow that person to grow into that role?
Gregg Vanourek 20:51
Yeah, hiring is really critical. And back to our five advanced leadership practice practices for the Triple Crown. It's the first one starts with, you know, what we call a head and heart. And this is where a lot of leaders make mistakes. Typically, what we do in hiring, if you think about an interview, you get the resume. And you're asking questions about their work experiences, their knowledge, their skills, and where did you go to school? What did you study? You know, what have you done tactically to add value. And those are, of course, important, your competence. But But the problem is, it doesn't stop there. And in Google has done a ton of research on this of what makes Google you've got to be really smart to work there. It's incredibly difficult to get hired at Google. In terms of the selectivity, it's way beyond the selectivity of Harvard University and others, in terms of actual numbers. And they figured out that the people who really thrive and add value at Google versus sort of the normal Googlers it's really at the bottom of the resume that very few people ask about, which is those interests and skills in those personal aspects of that you do? You're the Peace Corps, have you traveled around the world? Did you do some kind of, you know, neighborhood Olympics when you were a kid, and that's the heart piece. And so what people fail to address enough, you want the head piece too, but the heart piece starts with character, like we were just talking about? Because the trust factor, you know, you're talking about courage, are people willing to step up and have the tough conversations, you're talking about emotional intelligence, you're talking about their resilience in a setback, you're talking about their hunger to do great work, their drive, you know, so those heart characteristics, we want to hire for them, in addition to the head stuff, but we also want to develop them, you can develop emotional intelligence, you can develop ethical prowess, and you want to reward people for the heart stuff, too. And not just for did I meet my numbers this quarter. And then if you do that, again, it starts to inculcate the shared values and the culture character, as well as results that we were talking about earlier.
John Ryan 23:13
When I hear you mentioned those words, the heart characteristics there, you know, as leaders, business owners, executives, you know, we're the stewards of the organizations that were involved with, at the same time, the idea of resilience, it connects back to entrepreneurial ism. And can you talk about a little bit about the life entrepreneurship, ideas that you have from from their earlier book, as well, I know, we talked about Triple Crown leadership, but bring in some of those concepts and tell us what that's about too.
Gregg Vanourek 23:41
Yeah. So the life entrepreneurs project is another multi year project that I co authored in this case with Christopher Gergen, who is a really dynamic social entrepreneur and a friend of mine, former colleague at that startup that you mentioned earlier. And so we had this observation that we had a bunch of questions in our life and kind of a transition of kind of, who am I, you know, why am I here? Where am I going in life? What should I do with the rest of my life? And we noticed that weekly, this was sort of early in our career, and we noticed that a lot of our friends and family and colleagues were also wrestling with these questions. And then people had midlife come back to this question people in sort of the retirement so on so these questions never go away. And so the life entrepreneurs piece is really about how do I integrate my life and work with purpose and passion?
Gregg Vanourek 24:42
So it's not about being a lifelong entrepreneur. It's about entrepreneurial our lives, our whole lives, work, family life, education, fun, play all these things, so that they're integrated, and they're a whole I find a lot of people are compartmentalize. These things are a lot of people are so focused on one, that they drop the other balls and ways that they really come to regret. And what we really want is the whole the whole package, how can we thrive in all of our chosen endeavors. And so the entrepreneur piece is an entrepreneur has ownership, they take agencies, I am responsible, right? And then they innovate. And it's an adventure and they have vision. And they, you know, they're really resourceful. And so you put it together. So for that book, we interviewed 55 people around the world, who most of whom are business entrepreneurs, or social entrepreneurs. And some of them, you know, like Starbucks or Clif Bar, these kinds of things, but they integrate their life and work in ways that are really personal according to their values and what they want their vision of the good life. And so this is something I'm on the quest to be a life entrepreneur, I'm not, you know, I'm a parent with young kids and, you know, working starting a business moved back from Europe last year. And you know, we're all going through these challenges, and how do we? How do we design our lives and our work intentionally, as a life entrepreneur?
John Ryan 26:14
It brings up the idea of intentionality and flow, right? So when you're my opik, on that, that vision, the purpose, and you're getting rid of all the noise that's out there. And I know you've also written about this, what is an organization that's in flow look like we talk on our society about people being in the flow personally, but can an organization be in the flow? And what does that look like?
Gregg Vanourek 26:38
Yeah, it can. And so a lot of people don't realize we think of flow and the great research for me Hi, chick sent me Hi, at Claremont Graduate University is incredibly interesting studies over decades with him and his colleagues, where they surveyed, and they observed, you know, chess masters and jazz musicians and artists, and the flow moments and flow, just to be clear, is a state of being completely absorbed in an activity. And that's why we have the sense of kind of losing time, right? Because it's, they call it flow, because it's, it feels like you're being carried along by a current of water, right? Because you're so you lose separation from you and the activity. And you're so so in there, and there's sort of conditions of luck. So most people to your point, think about it as an individual thing, they think about Michael Jordan, or LeBron or whatever. But it the research found that it can be a group, a team phenomenon, as well as an organizational phenomena, but it's very, very difficult. And what we found in our research, is that most teams, most organizations are dysfunctional, they're not clear, they're not coherent. They're not willing to have those crucial conversations, we're stuck, somebody raises their hand and takes the risks and say, and says, Wait a minute, I've got some concerns about this, like, Can you tell me more about this, and, and part of it goes back to lack of clarity on purpose, values, vision, as well as the more medium and short term things. And you know, and poor communication. And so and then you end up in a situation where people are actually not aligned, and in flow, but working actually cross purposes.
Gregg Vanourek 28:25
And I've seen this in organizations where people are sabotaging each other, or undermining. And it's about ego. And it's about politics. And I think this is very, very common. And so that the alignment towards flow is a discipline process of the aligning the long, medium and short term across the whole enterprise, the departments and the divisions and the teams and the individuals, so that it all sort of lines up. And we in our book, we've got a 10 step process for doing that. Yeah, I don't, there are different models, you know, Patrick lencioni, has kind of a seven step model that's really excellent, you know, startups might want to use even simpler model, because they're not ready for the 10 step model. You know, it doesn't matter so much the model, you choose the framework that matters much more do you have a discipline process to keep checking in gathering data, making pivots, getting feedback, making adjustments, communicating and dialing in that alignment? And if you do, you can, you can achieve flow sometimes, but most people, you know, come nowhere near
John Ryan 29:37
Of course, it begins with you know, developing an awareness that something isn't working that we're off track here and, and hopefully someone can have their wits about them and they can take a step back and look at Hey, like you said, something's not right here. What do you suggest the leaders were there suspecting that they're not in flow and that things are, you know, maybe headed for a breakdown in the organization.
Gregg Vanourek 29:59
So So, you know, one of the critical tasks of a leader, I think, is to really keep your eye on the whole business and the big picture. We interviewed Billy shore, for life entrepreneurs, he's a social entrepreneur behind Share Our Strength, which is an anti poverty anti hunger organization that he and his sister run that's been very innovative and very successful with a business model as a nonprofit. And he says that as leaders, all of the incentives in an organization run towards the short term, it's like putting out a fire meeting our monthly target the quarterly report in this thing, he says, if someone doesn't keep their eye on the horizon, I don't know what the job of a leader is, if it's not to sort of be a steward of that vision, that higher purpose over time, and obviously, you need to balance the short term in the long term. And so Ron Heifetz at Harvard University is a great leadership guru. And he's got this metaphor for leaders, that to me, has been very helpful. He says, You have to be able to get on the balcony, as a leader, and observe what's happening.
Gregg Vanourek 31:11
And he says, often, we're in the dance, we're on the dance floor, and you're having a meeting, and there's egos engaging, and there's pressure, there's kind of, you know, kind of tension around stuff. And you have to, of course, engage in that during the meeting, you're probably facilitating the meeting. But you also have to have this meta skill, while you're in the meeting to rise up to the balcony, and observe what's happening here. Why is this person getting upset? What's going on? Is there a root cause? Why do we keep having this breakdown, you know, and to be able to observe it while you're in the dance. And so and that's a meta skill, we've got to lead ourselves, we need to have renewal practices where we keep we get good sleep, and you know, we have perspective, we're down into a higher purpose, you know, we move our bodies, we are integrated people who have commitments to our family, or our community, these kinds of things. It's about, you know, that perspective, so that you don't lose sight of the quest, right and seeing the potential in the people around you.
John Ryan 32:16
So we get pulled into that short term mindset. And it's easy to get sucked into that right? Short term games, like even eating food, or drinking something, or going on social media versus doing your work, there's risk rewards that happen neurochemically all the time. Any tips or suggestions to help people kind of interrupt that pattern, to go back into that meta state the bigger picture and look for the pattern, rather getting sucked into the old patterns that they have?
Gregg Vanourek 32:43
Yeah, lots of things that we can do. And so one is to calendar eyes, reflection, you know, often we can let our we can be unintentional, and lose our agency by the email inbox and the series of meetings and, you know, and, and then you're just reacting, right but but a leaders got to step up their game and said, I need to preserve time to think, time to reflect, right. And so that can be every week, you can calendar eyes, it but then you also need like a monthly check in a quarterly thing, you know, the annual thing, you need to build it into the rhythm, because otherwise it gets lost. I think mentors and coaches are really important to that, you know, to this, because, you know, sometimes it's, it can feel lonely, or it can feel hopeless.
Gregg Vanourek 33:30
And so having an objective person who doesn't have you know, a horse in the race, and they just have your best interest in mind, they can view it objectively, they can ask you tough questions. And then doing what we talked about earlier, which is building this culture of character and of stewardship, where it's not about the leader, being the steward of the quest to be excellent, ethical, enduring, and just fighting for the purpose, values and vision. It's about unleashing everybody in the organization to lead and to innovate and to own the purpose values and the vision. And when you do that, it changes everything. And so the leader doesn't have to be the only one that Billy Shar was talking about to look to the rise of everybody's going to say I've got my job description, which is Yeah, I'm doing you know, I'm doing it, and I'm building firewalls or you know, working on the servers or the landing pages, or I'm doing you know, I'm doing HR. So everybody's got their job, but they've also got a second job, which is I am a steward of our purpose, values and vision. And I am responsible to for asking questions about ethics, you know, the excellent in the enduring. And so then you build it into the conversations, you build it in the meetings, you build it into the workflow, where everybody has that ownership of it in the AGC. So, so again, get over yourself as a leader, it can't be you solving it and you being the one who heroically fixes it and comes up with the vision It's about, you know, unleashing the potential around you. And that's very powerful. People want to go work for places that you know, where people can be that invested, and have that much ownership to innovate and to do great work.
John Ryan 35:15
So shifting to that identity that I am the steward of the organizational purpose, values and mission, it's not just the leaders and executive team that have to have that inside. It sounds like everyone, do you think that that's some of the key to success for like some of the great customer service leaders in the world like Disney Marriott, and companies like that is that what they're doing is like everyone is embodying these concepts.
Gregg Vanourek 35:39
I think that's a really big part of it. I think often with leadership, we talk about delegation, I'm going to delegate authority to you on this project within a certain budget, we say that's fine. That's a step in the right direction. But it's not nearly enough. And so then people say, well, let's go to empowering people. And so I'm empowered on a project, we say, well, that's great, people want to have power. The problem with those is you can disempower and you can undo delegate. And so we prefer to take it even further, which is back to that sort of unleash, right, which is like if you've done a good job on the front end of hiring people with character with emotional intelligence, with courage with, you know, fiercely excited about growing and development as well as the head skills, you can unleash them, and then you can trust them. Obviously, sometimes people make mistakes, and then you know, that you sort of, you know, come back and work on it. But I think there's a lot of great examples where instead of having this overlay of a lack of trust, and kind of regulation and policies, where people feel like cogs in a machine, like my God, I, you know, I'm a grown person like I can, I can make a judgment call, if it's the reverse, and the leader say, we trust you, you know, you got this, that's why we brought you in, just go go go and make good judgment calls, you know, come back, and we'll talk about it, we have problems. People love that. And then they're going to innovate, because they're the ones who are dialed in to the customer, you know, call center in the real problems or their area, if they're, you know, doing the operational efficiency thing. They're the ones who have the knowledge about what the real issues are the people. And so it can be very, very powerful for people as as a motivating experience as an employee value proposition, as well as the performance. I mean, you add that up, it's a multiplier.
John Ryan 37:38
I'm so glad you brought up employee value proposition because it really is a buzzword these days, it's really popular, because the world is changing. And people are really demanding a culture that is a work life integration, like you mentioned. That's ESG. And you know, environmental, social, and governance is changing, too. All the way back to your initial conversation, which I agree when I learned in business school, it was the purpose of a company is to maximize stockholder value. And it's just not true anymore. I think people don't want to be a part of that. Is there a difference? And obviously, I can imagine that startups are changing faster than maybe some of the more established companies that are out there. Is there a difference from a leadership perspective? And you've had experience in working with and being a part of both? Is there a difference in leadership between the startup mentality and a more established firm?
Gregg Vanourek 38:30
Yes, there is. In the startup, the biggest startup experience I've had, and I've had several was a scale up, which was an online education venture that we built from scratch, we were able to raise a lot of money, and become the market leader in a short period of time, and in four years scale up from five people to hundreds of employees $65 million in sales on our way to an IPO and then went on to become a billion dollar company after I left, it was gone International. And but we almost ran out of cash a couple times, we made some huge mistakes on that sort of roller coaster. And so yeah, the startup context is very different from a traditional, you know, corporate or whatnot. I like to think of four things, the time pressure is really intense. They're resource constrained, you don't have you know, policies and procedures. And a lot of people in capital, typically, there's a lot of uncertainty. They have kind of like what's going to work, there's no Field Manual for your business model, your product launch, and there tend to be very chaotic, because you haven't had the time to kind of put it all together. You know, at the beginning, it takes time. And so that's a very, it's one of the most challenging leadership contexts you can have along with turnarounds.
Gregg Vanourek 39:47
And so given that, I think leaders need to be really nimble. And so I really like the whole Lean Startup methodology, which is, it's not just for startups, by the way. It's very much Innovation methodology. That's apple. It's designed for big companies and governments too, but but it comes out of startup experience. And it's really about as a startup, cash is king, right? You run out of cash, you're dead. And it's a very high risk. And the old model was, I've got an idea, I'm going to write a business plan, I'm going to launch it, and then I fail in 90% of the time. And lean startup is about nobody's that smart to be able to guess with all the variables of the market. And so what you have to do is you have to do these minimum viable product, you know, MVP launches, pilots, prototypes, and gather feedback. And so what lean startup is, is really about learning, it's about the Learn startup is how do you go through a feedback loop, and quickly learn about what will actually get traction in the marketplace and not what you think. And so that's one of the key things where you have to build an organization that's really good at testing, experimenting and learning. The other classic leadership mistake in startup land, is that people don't pay attention to building the culture. There's so many challenges going on, with cash and product launch, and you know, whatever PR and somebody fires, that you neglect the culture of the venture, and then you end up often with a mediocre or bad or toxic culture, and it ends up killing you in the long term. And so that's why, you know, there's a lot of, there's a metaphor of, if you're coding something, you have technical debt, it's all the compromises that you make in your code, just you're going to go fix it later. And the same concept from Steve Blank says you have organizational debt or culture debt, it's all the little compromises or the things that you neglected, because you were so focused on putting out fires, that later turned out to be a disaster. And you see, people are leaving in droves, or there's a revolt against your new compensation policy, because you didn't take the time to invest in the people. And you know, what the people are always the most important thing, you know, the work is through the people is hype, etc. And so we can never be in a situation where we're focusing so much on strategy or product or business model, that we're neglecting the people, the people are the ones who do all that, you know, it's all through them. So never neglect the people, the relationships, the conversations.
John Ryan 42:29
You know, I wanted to ask about conversations, because clearly, you know, as a consultant, author, speaker, traveling around the world, and speaking to virtually like this, you've had a lot of conversations with people from all walks of life, what has been, you know, one of the more impactful or profound conversations that you've had, either personally or professionally, that's impacted you and where you are today.
Gregg Vanourek 42:52
So for me, I go back to my college years, and a college philosophy professor, who asked, how is the world changed, and in a way, and got us thinking about the last 50 years, the last hundred years, and we had a conversation about it, where he got so intense, it he cared so much about pulling us into this conversation, that it sort of gave me permission to, to care too, and for a light to switch on for me to really apply myself on these questions. And that led me to the questions about, you know, I took a course called theories of the good life, you know, what does it mean to live a good life? And that took me into that land of like, Well, what does it mean to live a good life? And what other people said, and what do I think?
Gregg Vanourek 43:46
And I always keep coming back to that, because I think, as leaders, we often get stuck in this sort of our identity is wrapped up in leading our team, or our organization, and whatnot. And that's really hard, as you will know. But the the precursor to that the foundation to that is, I need to lead myself first. And if I don't do that, well, I'm not going to be able to do this other thing sustainably over time, and people are going to see that there's sort of rotten at the core, there's some fundamental character things are way out of balance, or frenetic. And so what I'm focused on is helping people lead themselves, so they can lead others and then we can lead change in the world, you know, with with our transformation of the organization, or more social impact and sustainability, as well as high performance. And all of those things need to align. You can't do that just the middle one without this one. And you're never going to get here in the third one without them. And so we need to be able to do all of them. And that's that's what the world needs of us now. So many big challenges in our marketplaces. In the world of great opportunities, but you know, this is this is what the world needs.
John Ryan 45:04
What a great question from your philosophy professor and to to guide you into your, your philosophy right now and in life leading yourself leading others and leading change. Now, Gregg, I want to thank you so much for for being here. What is the best way for our listeners to get in touch with you and find out more? and learn from you as well?
Gregg Vanourek 45:24
Yeah, so well, thanks for asking that there's, there are a few ways. And so I've got a website, www.GreggVanourek calm. And so it's Gregg with two G's. and Vanourek.com. And with our triple crown leadership book, we also have a website for that, which is Triple Crown leadership, calm. And on both of those websites, we have a ton of free resources for leaders, the other relating to leading self, leading others, entrepreneurship, social impact conscious capitalism, these kinds of things. And then I'm also I've got a YouTube page, but I'm also active on Twitter. And I think there's a lot of value that I say I really learn a lot from people on Twitter with conversations, and so at GVanourek on Twitter, so those are good places to start.
John Ryan 46:16
Excellent. I'll make sure I have all those links in the show notes as well. And I want to thank you again for being here. Thanks so much.
Gregg Vanourek 46:22
Thank you, john. Cheers.
John Ryan 46:23
And for all of you listening and watching until next time, develop yourself, empower others and lead by example. Thanks for listening to key conversations for leaders with your host john Ryan. If you enjoyed the show, please let us know. Give us a rating or write a review. And if you'd like to connect with me and other like minded leaders, I invite you to join our brand new Facebook group called Develop, Empower and Lead where deliver free live training every week. If you go to www.developempowerleader.com it will redirect you right there. Hope to see you there soon.