As a leader, from the moment you wake up, you already feel like you’re behind. So how can we be ruthlessly efficient to get the job done effectively while not taking away from family and life outside of work?
Donald Thompson: Welcome to the Donald Thompson Podcast! Thanks for tuning in.
We’ve had such a great 3rd season so far with amazing guests like Anson Dorrance, Tonya Williams, Jen Hoverstad, Joe Colopy, David Gardner, and more. And I love having conversations with folks in the Triangle who are inspiring me and others to be great.
But today we’re going to do something a little bit different.
I’ve heard from some of you that you want to hear my perspectives and my advice on how to be a better leader, a better executive, and how to navigate through this storm of COVID-19 and the potential recession. So mom – and everyone else who asked for solo episodes – this one is for you.
So one of the questions that I get a lot, and that I have to deal with myself as I evaluate people in business, is what are the characteristics of a CEO? What are some of the things that CEOs – leaders, not just CEOs, but leaders – do better than others that allows them to progress independent of the situation that they’re in, right?
How do they move through the stress and strain of, you know, if you’ve got a family, if you’ve got family responsibilities, kids, work, church, life in general that we all have. And there’s a couple of characteristics. One, you wake up as a leader, right? Me as a CEO, as an angel investor, biz person, but when you wake up as a leader, you’re already feel like you’re behind the moment you wake up, right? So there’s a stress associated with that feeling, right? And that’s why there’s a joke that if you send a CEO a memo and it has more than one page, right, it’s going to get thrown away because there’s only so much information that you can assimilate in any one day time period of your life and bite sized chunks that are high value are most important.
So, the point of the matter is this, one of the things that you can control is how you spend your time, who you spend your time with and what you spend your time working on, right? And these are fundamentals that we can all learn from. And so, everybody’s really focused now about being this kinder, friendly, gently, gentle leader, all this stuff.
And it’s good. It’s right. It’s important, but not with your time. You have to be ruthlessly efficient with your time. And so your effectiveness has a lot to do with what you say no to, you know? And how do you determine that? So when – in my business, as a CEO of a marketing firm, as the founder and CEO of a diversity inclusion consultancy, the only currency we have is time.
And so watch this – if you spend time with unproductive people, then you are unproductive. There’s no way around it, right? And so therefore, I make sure that, from a business standpoint, who I hire, who I listen to, who I spend time with are people that when I invest time, effort, information, and knowledge, they’re going to do something with it that matters.
They’re going to do something with it that moves the business forward. If you are unorganized and you’re always kind of moving from thing to thing, like a, like a butterfly fluttering around, how can you make progress and do something with massive productivity? You can’t. How can you have massive productivity if you’re doing things twice because you know, here’s one thing is fast plus sloppy equals slow. So sometimes to move quickly, you have to slow down to do things right the first time, or at least create that right iteration. But the biggest thing is why are you in a meeting for an hour that only needs 30 minutes, right? So are you being nice if you politely stay in a meeting, that’s a waste of time?
Who are you being impolite to? Your family, your own health, the client, you need to be doing that work. So I’d rather end the meeting sooner and not allow somebody to go through 37 slides in a slide deck when I got the point after five slides. No more information, no more data is going to sway it. If they couldn’t get to the point in five slides, we ask questions and keep going.
Then I need to wrap it up and move to the next thing unless what they’re talking about is worth millions of dollars. Because it’s not my responsibility to allow other people to drain my productivity because they’re unprepared. Leadership is a mindset, right? Another thing is like, who can you get to help you so that what you do is better the first, second or third time?
So if I’m writing an email, who do I get to proof it? If I’m building a presentation, who do I work on it with? So I already have multiple points of view while I’m doing something in process, verse that email chain of review that everybody goes through and things that take an hour take days. How many times do you spend going back on an email thread with four or five people back and forth over a period of days, when a 30 minute phone call could handle the situation? Phones still work. Common sense is still valuable. If you have people that are in your organization, and you consider yourself a leader, but you have people within your organization that need you to answer every single question before they take risk or action.
Then how big of a leader, how big of a business can you run? But it’s all a perspective about what you spend time, who you spend time with and what you’re doing kind of in that time. So for me, that’s why I like to work with people that have big goals, big ideas that want to take on big responsibility.
Because, then if I teach them, if I work with them, they’re going to go after, let’s say it’s a sales rep, low self image, right? they’re always going to get out negotiated with. That means if they’re talking with a client, I’ve got to go back and forth with them two to three different times to get the business outcome that we need.
If I’ve got a high octane sales rep, they’re trying to charge too much. I’ve got to cut it down a little bit, which is great, but I know that they’re pushing the envelope for creating the great amount of opportunity for us and the client, and all I’ve got to do is review a contract once or twice because they’re trying to push the envelope.
They’re assertive, they’re aggressive, they’re self esteem. Think about this, if 30 to 40% of every meeting that you’re in is a waste of time, how much more you could you do? I just think about like, how much more could you do if you bought back a day a week of wasted time? What do you read? So how much time do you spend on the internet reading comments from people you don’t care what they think or agree with anyway? So if you’re spending an hour or two on social media, that’s why I’m always going to beat you if we’re competing in business, right? I’m too busy for the unimportant, unless it’s my downtime. But during, but during my kind of my, my work day. If you go to meetings, one of the things, if you work with me closely, I really don’t like meetings without agendas or agenda bullets.
Most questions people have can be answered before the meeting.
Why would you walk through a presentation with me as a CEO for 30 minutes, and then leave five minutes for questions? You haven’t learned anything. All you did was talk. Verse, send me the information ahead of time. I can read it in five minutes, and I ask questions about what I don’t understand, and then you’ve got 20 minutes to talk to me about whatever’s on your mind.
Whatever I can help you with. Whatever goals you want to achieve together. So the inefficiency of how people have meetings is one of the biggest time stealers in the history of the United States. People love to hear themselves talk and that’s fine. People like to argue about things that don’t matter.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re running a social media campaign and you’re talking about thematics in kind of the content flow, right? Or you have a design question, right, and people are debating what design is better. Why wouldn’t you put both designs out and test? Why would you spend two hours in a meeting arguing about what design is better when you can push it out to a test group, get the feedback and decide.
So I try not to argue about things that you can test. It saves me time, right? Yeah. And it’s a practical thought process around things like that. It’s like this, if I’m going to go do something new, if I’m going to invest in a technology company – and I’m not a computer science guy by nature, I understand technology, but and conversant in technology – but I talk to Greg Boone, I talked to Brian and Onorio who are both computer scientists, both good business people, I get their perspective on the technology. I go into the meeting solo, and the person on the other side of the table is trying to debate me about a particular price, about an estimate, about how long something should take, but I’ve talked to people with 40 to 50 years combined experience on that particular set of code, type of code, type of build, so I’m smart in the moment cause I did my homework, so it takes me less time to assimilate information. When you’re thinking about characteristics of a CEO, one, we talked about time.
The other thing is measured risk. If you have to figure out the right way to do something at the 90 to 100% level, before you move forward, you’re never going to be a high level leader. Leaders have to decide with 70 to 80% of information and go. You have to be comfortable with being wrong, right? Learn from it, fix it, change it and move on.
Most people think that there’s a right answer, which is actually a fallacy. It’s really a combination of choices. What do I value when I’m thinking about things in a business situation? I’ve had people, and designers do this all the time, and people – they’ll they’ll bring me a single design that they think’s amazing versus giving me three options.
So why not have them take the extra hour, two hours, three hours to create three options that we can test, three options that we can talk about, all at the same time, but junior people are forever bringing me the greatest design that they think. And they’re not the customer. That’s why it has a high potential to be wrong. What difference does it make what they think? Like, it’s what they think creatively, right?
That will go with the customer, but they’re not the greater, they’re the creator. There’s a difference between the creator and the consumer. The creator is supposed to build content, build code for an application, build messaging for the consumer, the consumer decides what excellence looks like. So I’m a big proponent of testing, a big proponent of preparation with people that are smarter than you before you go into meetings situations.
And I’m a big proponent of if you’ve got an hour, get the meeting done in 45 minutes and save time to team build, save time to get some lunch, save time to do anything else other than spending 20 more minutes filling up time, right? The final thing that I would say in terms of like, just time management and how you think about the function of time is how do you scale time. Hire people quickly that are good at things you’re not, and stop trying to do things that you’re not good at, and that allows you to spend more time on things you’re good at and less time pretending. Like, I’m proficient in finance, but I’m not great at it. I don’t like it. So as a business owner, I make sure in any business that I’m running, I have a CFO that is outstanding, that I trust completely, that would quit and call the police before they do anything illegal financially.
And I let them run with that kind of, that part of the business. And I mess with it once a week. I run a multi, multimillion dollar business, and I spend one hour a week on finance and operations because that’s Christy’s job.
And if I hire somebody that’s excellent at their job, I have to oversee it, but I don’t have to micromanage it. And so I can spend that time on what my job is, which is partnering, business development, growth, hiring, and recruiting, and retaining the best people. And so your self image has to be strong enough as a business leader to hire people that are excellent at their job, so that you can be good at what you’re good at, right, whatever that may be. But so many people are scurrying from thing to thing, and they gotta have their hands in everything, and they can never scale a business because they’re not doing enough of what works for them and what they’re great at. So one of the big things for leaders is negotiation. That’s whether you’re negotiating your own salary, that’s whether you’re dealing with people that you’re hiring, that is whether you are, buying a product or service or a partnership. Two things – I don’t, I don’t like the word negotiate.
Number one. I have conversations about money. I have conversations about mutual value. Conversations about mutual value. I want my partner, I want my employee, I want them to feel good about what they’re doing, about what they’re compensated for it, but I don’t want them to be overpaid so that it changes my perception of what they’re doing and how many mistakes I’ll tolerate.
If you over negotiate with me and then underperform, I’m going to fire you. That’s bad. You go to zero. If you stair-step and we negotiate something fairly and you outperform that, then I give you a raise. We’re both happy. But in the process of you growing into that compensation that you want, there’s room for margin and error in the relationship versus this high initial number upfront and I have an expectation of competency, perfection excellence every single day.
So you got to figure out that balance in the conversation about fees. I also don’t like the word negotiate because it’s adversarial. I just want to talk to you about what you think. I want to talk to you about what you need to feel whole, and I want to talk to you about what the expectation and what success looks like for the relationship.
Because if we have that conversation, I expect we’re going to do a lot of deals together. So on some deals, you may be a little bit high, some deals I may be a little bit low, but if we’re doing it over time, we’re going to get it right. And we’re both going to be extremely happy. Negotiation makes things feel like a transaction. Conversation is what you do in a relationship.
So I have conversations with people about financial things. I don’t like to have conversations about money over email. That doesn’t make any sense to me. How can I sense your tone, your mood, your perspective? What I do on the telephone is I say, “Listen, I’m not really loving the numbers that you’re giving me right now, but I want you to explain your perspective. ‘Cause I might not understand.” That person will be like, “No, no, no. We’re not set in stone, but let me tell you what I was thinking.” And then they talked through their reasoning and then I’ll give them a couple of perspectives. And then all of a sudden, we usually can find a third rail of innovation to where everybody is reasonably happy and can move the deal forward.
And that usually can be done in 30 minutes or less because in most financial conversations, it’s pivoting on two to three issues, not the 50 that a lawyer put in a document. That’s total bullshit. have some of the best lawyers all time, and I love them. And they’re great. I mean, I’ve used Forrest Firm for years.
Like I, I loved, I loved them before at first, but I don’t like how lawyers make everything longer than it needs to be, right? And protect me from every single possible catastrophe known to man. And it’s a struggle to get the things shorter, right? Why? Because if I have a deal for let’s use $240,000, $20,000 a month. Let’s say is the deal. $20,000 a month. And let’s say, I’ve got to spend three weeks with their legal and my legal on paperwork on the MSAs. On monotonous points that don’t really matter. Then the deals delayed, and that deal delay cost me $20,000.
Can you imagine how much money is lost in productivity, noodling over things that don’t matter? That’s why I like phone calls. That’s why, when I negotiate deals that are complex, I actually do my own term sheets with my partner on the other side. I don’t have legal do the first ones because I want to get agreement with the partner on the other side of what we think in, English, and we write it down in English, then we agree to it in English. And then, I want to give it to their lawyer to do the first draft. So don’t have to pay for it.
That saves me time all the time. I was like, “Hey, you want my lawyer to write this up? Your lawyer?”
“No, no, no. My legal can do it,” I’ll be like, “Fantastic.” Then my lawyer will review it, saves time, save, saves money. But if you do financial conversations over the phone, over Zoom, you’ll find that you have a partner on the other side that wants to do a fair deal.
Typically, people don’t want to take advantage of other people. They just want to get a fair deal. Now, from time to time, you will get a bullet. You will get a big company. You’re a small company, we’ll get an enterprise company and they’re trying to put the thumb on you, right? Here’s the thing you got to remember: this is where you got to know the value of what you’re delivering, not the size and strength of the person on the other side. If you think about how large the other person is or the other company, then you’re going to be fearful. But if you’re negotiating with them, there’s a reason why they want what you’re selling.
And you need to understand the value of what you’re selling, not the size of the company. And if you know the value of what you’re selling to them, then how large they are won’t intimidate you. So if what I’m selling is going to make them or save them millions of dollars, I don’t care if they’re IBM.
If they need what I have, then we need to have a fair conversation.
And so it’s all about your, your negotiating perspective in what you’re doing. When I’m talking to people about- I had a partner where I’m doing this right now, we want somebody to build something for us, and they have some intellectual property and different things, and we were negotiating percentages of revenue and we agreed to a split.
And then they came back and said, “Yeah, but we’d like a higher percentage if we also do this, right?” This other thing that I would have expected them to do as a partner, which is co-promote what we’re doing. I don’t like that very much because if we’re partners and we’re going to do what we need to do to make the deal successful, and we don’t have to nickel and dime each other.
So if I feel like we’re not partners, then my attitude is how about nothing. It’s still a conversation. It’s not a negotiation. How about zero? Shut it down. Keep it moving. The biggest thing about a negotiation is you gotta be willing to go to zero and do something different with someone else.
And if you can retain that ability, and you do that in sales by having a pipeline. So if you’ve got 50 clients in your pipeline, 10 of those clients are in close zone, five of them you’re in paperwork with, then you don’t have to get bullied by any one of your clients. You can still make your number as a salesperson.
If you’ve got one deal, you got to close, you’re going to get fired. You’re going to do a bad deal for you and your company. So your business pipeline dictates your strength and conviction in a conversation that turns into a negotiation, which is more aggressive. So your point of walking away is based on your alternatives, and I always try to make sure my alternatives are strong, so I don’t get pushed around because I hate to be pushed around and I hate to be bullied. I like to do fair deals, but I hate to be pushed around. I hate to be bullied. Sometimes you got to eat it. You know what I mean? Sometimes it’s not the way you want, but I don’t like it, and so I like to have a full pipeline so I can do that.
Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.