Why I’m Investing In My Team…

And why it involves a week on the Big Horn River in Montana.

I haven’t met a leader who would disagree with the idea of investing in their people. All say it’s important to invest. How much, is another story.

I started a new tradition a couple years ago. I take my management team and some friends to Montana for a week and help them disconnect. Why Montana?

Well, let me explain.

Montana is where the Big Horn River is. It’s beautiful.
We fly fish.
Do we know how to fly fish?
No. Most have NEVER fly fished before.
So, why do this again?
Because there are some very important things I want to reinforce and I’m down to do that in creative ways.

First, our company has to be a learning organization.

My job is to drive this deep into the organization. We do this in small ways like sharing content in our “share” channel in Slack and by going to Montana. To be a learning organization you have to love learning in general. Not just learning more about your job.

So, we learn how to fly fish.

In learning something new, you stumble. You fail. Failure is good.
It’s good to be a newbie. The truth is, we’re newbies from here on out.
You can thank modern technology and the broader technological eco system that everything is a part of. What do I mean? Well, all of our tools and technology is in a constant state of updating. Your iPhone will need a OS update soon. You’ll have at least half a dozen apps that need to be updated this week. Just when you learn a feature, a new one is released, and you have to relearn things. The same is true for algorithms and software. And marriage. But that’s a different story. We’re all newbies and I want my team to be comfortable with that.

I want them fluent in flux.

Fly fishing for a week is particularly effective.

When you learn something as technical as fly fishing, you have to focus. You have to be open. When you do that with a group of 10–11 other guys, there’s a little more pressure there. That’s a good thing. But learning in a beautiful place like Montana is icing on the cake.

I remember my first day, I sucked. Like bad. Like really bad. On multiple occasions I snagged my fishing line and created a nasty tangle. Imagine a birds nest on a line. That was my line. I felt sorry for my fishing guide. Yet, he patiently figured it out for me every time. At one point I was like, “hey man, you can just take me back to the lodge.”

He replied, “not a chance.”

I suspected he’d seen this before. Executives and professionals at the top of their game in one area, now fumbling around as they struggled to learn something new. It’s funny what comes up — what you feel — when you suck at something. In front of everyone.

In all of that frustration, I also had a chance to come back to the present and to the joy of learning something new in such a beautiful place with great people. It’s a privilege, really. When you can come back to that, it’s transformative. That’s all I wanted for my team and the other guys on the trip as well.

But all of this costs something. And it’s not cheap.

All expenses are paid for except for the airfare. So, if you can get there, I take care of the rest. That’s an investment for a small business owner, but I believe in the long-term gain of people who love learning.

Rest and Disconnecting

As a digital agency, we’re always on. Always connected. Always in the technology. It’s important to disconnect. I need to lead in this area. I try to do that by creating a space where my management team can do so too. When you disconnect, naturally you also reconnect…to something.

That something is essential.

At first, the body and mind go through a digital withdrawal. You’re so used to checking notifications, emails and social media. We’re connected to work. To projects. To finances. But in Montana, there’s no reception at the lodge with the exception of a phone or two. There’s no internet. That’s intentional. It’s kind of a forced disconnect. You know what happens? “Found time.” You acquire a bunch of time. And with it, you nap, read, eat, talk, laugh, light fires, smoke cigars, enjoy a beverage, fish, nap, hike or nap again. After day 3 or so you breathe a little deeper and slower. You feel the air and see the sunset. You connect to something deeper. Sometimes, you hear your own voice and desires with a new clarity.

Practice Vulnerability

Vulnerability used to be a no-no. I wasn’t raised to be vulnerable. I’ve had to unlearn a lot of that over the years. Instead, I believe those who embrace vulnerability grow faster. They have an edge. They have a velocity to their leadership and growth that outpaces their peers. I’m not saying we’re hugging each other all day and forcing conversation. Not at all! I’m just saying, being in a boat all day with different people for a week opens you up. You talk. You laugh. You open up. There’s healing in that. I’ve come to respect that so much. I’ve come to suspend my tendency to want to interrupt and change course when things start to feel a little vulnerable. Now, I let go and let it be. One time, a guy opened up about his marriage. Another moment, someone talked about depression. These are strong, brilliant and extremely capable leaders. But they have shadows too. We all do. Vulnerability brings a little light into it all. No judgments. Just good people (and whiskey).

Abundance vs Scarcity Mindset

Growing up, we didn’t have money. I fight a scarcity mindset from time to time because quite frankly, I didn’t have much growing up. Doing trips like this reminds me of abundance. Montana is big. The sky is big. The stars vast and bright. It reminds me, there’s abundance all around. We’re lucky. But sometimes we lose sight of that and operate out of scarcity. In scarcity, our relationships are more intense and our perspective limited. There’s an intensity, but it drains. Abundance excites us to possibilities. It’s also intense, but it fuels action and hope and creativity.

My hope is that each of these guys tap into that. If they do, so much more is possible.

The bottom line is this, Montana is one type of trip. A very specific one. It’s not for everyone and not everyone would have a desire to do a trip like this. It’s not about Montana, it’s about investing in people when you can. Though expensive, they’re worth every penny. The return may not always be reflected in the bottom line right away, but it’s always shown in the well being and vitality of the people. And in the long run, that most definitely affects the bottom line. People first. The profits will follow.