Author & TV Host Jeffrey Hayzlett: Why You Should Fail Fast So You Can Win Faster

Yitzi Weiner
Jun 8 · 12 min read
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I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffrey Hayzlett.

Jeffrey is the primetime television host of C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett and Executive Perspectives LIVE on C-Suite TV and is the host of the award-winning All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett on C-Suite Radio. Hayzlett is a global business celebrity, Hall of Fame speaker, Chairman and CEO of C-Suite Network, home of the world’s most trusted network of C-Suite leaders and best-selling author. His most recent book is The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create Winning Cultures.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Jeffrey! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur — or at least have had that mindset. It’s in my blood; it’s a way of life. It’s what drives me to get up in the morning. In fact, I can’t wait to go to sleep so I can do it all over again the next day.

Growing up poor taught me that I needed to earn everything I wanted — whether it was a record, a new bike, or something else I wanted at the time. It taught me the meaning of working for everything you had and yes, to hustle in order to get a good deal. When I was seven years old, I went door-to-door selling subscriptions to “Boys Life” and “True Grit.” That’s how I made my money. I wanted to convince people to do what I wanted them to do, so through hustle and grit, I got them to buy my magazines plus, it made me some money. There was no downside to that for me.

I got into the printing industry and that’s where I met Mike O’Connor — the owner of a print shop I ended up purchasing. He taught me the proper way of running a business, including the right benchmarks to use to determine how much I needed to sell, what metrics and KPIs would get me to where I needed to be and understand the targets I needed to hit. To this day, I apply those principles — even so during my tenure as Chief Marketing Officer at Kodak. After Kodak, I wanted to branch out and do my own thing so I founded a PR agency, TallGrass Public Relations and later on the C-Suite Network — a trusted network where executive leaders can come gather, ask for advice, give advice, and become active members of the business community.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

A few years ago, I had a great, talented young lady that started working for me. At the beginning of her tenure, we were getting ready to go to a meeting and about 15 minutes before we had to leave, she asked me, “should I bring color copies of our presentation to the meeting?” I said to her, if you could ask me 21 questions every day, do you really want to use one of those questions right now? She answered with a ‘probably not.’ I answered back with “Good move, because if I have to answer that question, then what the hell do I need you for?”

I wrote about that in my “Think Big, Act Bigger” book and I named it “The Katelyn Rule.” To this day I still use this as an example to anyone who asks a similar question — not out of spite but to empower them to make better decisions or ask most poignant questions. I was right, Katelyn became a superstar and went on to do great things later on. I named that rule in her honor. That situation helped me define the expectations I have for everyone on my team.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Let me tell you about my pheasant farm experiment. I’m a South Dakotan and we love to hunt pheasants. So here I was thinking about my next genius idea and it hit me — buy a pheasant farm. Why not? People come from all over the country to hunt so why not start this new business venture? I was so confident in what this opportunity would bring — my love for making money and my passion for hunting, what could go wrong?

I got all my pheasants and one day we had a massive rainstorm and all of my pheasants drowned and just like that, my business venture was no more. Pheasants are not very smart creatures and, in their haste to run away from the pouring rain, they drowned. Needless to say, I lost a lot of money and while it’s funny now, it wasn’t so funny then. The lesson here is, pheasants are great for hunting, make for great meals, but they weren’t a great business opportunity for me.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Now more than ever, we can’t stress the importance of having a community that understands the challenges we’re all facing. As entrepreneurs, we start small and it can be a lonely road so when challenges present themselves, we want to be a resource for those people (and anyone) in the business community to resort to. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse and I can’t sew a mask. I started thinking about how I could help small business owners who don’t have the capital or resources bigger retailers do. We launched the “Business First Responders” initiative where we positioned ourselves as such.

I wanted my business experience to matter, to count, so we got creative and launched more initiatives, like C-Suite Loans and C-Suite Supplies to help as many businesses as possible maintain business continuity. While there are always opportunities to be found during a crisis, we know that not every business will make it, but if there’s anything I can do to help, I’ll take that chance. We all know cash is king and keeping the cash flowing could mean everything to a small business. Just like right now, we’re all inching closer to the new way of doing business, why not protect our most important asset, which are our employees and customers?

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Every single day I get emails from people saying how grateful they are to us regarding all the ‘programming’ we’re doing at the C-Suite Network. Whether it’s a webinar on managing costs in order to drive and thrive, to having our weekly huddles with our members and even taking my podcast, “All Business with Jeffrey Hayzlett” daily — it has all made a difference in someone’s life and even livelihood.

While everyone else pushed pause and adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude after COVID hit, we decided to put pedal to the metal and move forward. If I’m going to preach ‘business continuity, I have to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. We’ve never been busier and I’ve never worked harder than right now. Last week I received an email from one of our podcast hosts thanking me about the shout out I gave him on the podcast (that was unintentional), about how he was “impressed” with how our organization has been able to pivot to become an online resource in the midst of this crisis. We have grown the business and we expect to continue doing so. I share all of these emails with the team so they know their hard work is paying off — I know they are tired and are feeling the pressure, but I’m asking of them what I demand of myself. We’re all in this together.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

For once, they can stop the incessant bickering. It’s unnecessary and counterproductive. The situation is serious — people are dying and they’re busy playing politics. I’d tell them all to shut up and come up with a productive plan to get America back to work: safely!

This is the root of most of the problems we’re seeing — when the people in charge fail to see the bigger picture, we all suffer and things get mishandled, which is the main problem we’re all facing right now.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership can be classified as a relative term. For me, leadership is being able to direct and align the mission, vision, and values of an organization with the proposed outcomes. I’m a direct leader, who’s very upfront with what I want. A good leader doesn’t tell others what to do, it’s not about cracking the whip. Good leadership is about guiding, mentoring, and counseling a team that fosters a good and productive work environment.

Here’s an example: two or three months ago, we had a slightly different set of goals. When COVID hit, we had to pivot and continue moving fast. More meetings, more huddles, more workload. I led that charge and explained to the team what my end goal was (to come out the other side victorious). I explained what our mission was, and how we were going to deliver on that mission. Today, we continue pivoting and I try to lead by example. I’ve never been busier and I expect everyone on my team to work just as hard to drive the outcomes we need to deliver and meet the benchmarks we’ve all set for ourselves.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. When I first started I was kind of quiet — no one wants to hear from the new guy. But one day I sat in on a meeting, I kept hearing these people who were older than me talk about how they did things the way they did because “that’s how it’s always been done.” I thought that was an incredibly stupid way to think but since I was new, I figured I better keep my mouth shut. Looking back that was a mistake — I should’ve said something; however, that pushed me to keep thinking of ways of pushing the envelope as I got along in my career. I wish someone had told me ‘kid, speak up.’ Now, no one has to tell me that. I’ll speak up whenever I see people falling into that pattern.
  2. Fail fast so you can win faster. It’s inevitable that in business we will fail. Anyone who tells you they’ve never failed, run away from those people. They’re lying to you. Failure is the biggest lesson not just in business, but in life. I wish someone would’ve told me not to be afraid of failing early on. At Kodak, I came up with this big idea to hire Vinnie Pastore (actor on The Sopranos) to do an ad for us. My idea was to build a campaign to engage our customers and portray Big Ink as out of touch with our target audience. I decided to create a mobile texting and email campaign (this is prior to the Facebook boom and the launch of Twitter) by offering consumers electronic discount coupons for our products and decided to play the spot in movie theaters to a captive audience. The campaign tested well prior to launching, so what could go wrong? We received TWO responses. Not 2 million, not twenty thousand, not twenty. TWO! What happened? Someone from my team said the following, “Jeff, what’s the first thing you are asked to do when you walk into a movie theater?” And there it was, the ‘ah-ha’ moment on why we failed. Failure is inevitable — especially when you think outside the box and think BIG.
  3. Define my Conditions of Satisfaction (COS) — My conditions of satisfaction are simple: to make money, to learn something, and have fun doing it. It brings me a sense of grounding when I think about the simplicity of this. We’re always thinking about the next big thing, about moving faster, and going above and beyond. The COS brings you back to basics. Are you having fun doing something? No? Find something else to do. Is this making me money? No? Dump it. Did I learn something? Probably. For me, everything I do has to meet at least two of the three for me to move forward with it. If it doesn’t, why bother? I move on to something else.
  4. Pick a side. Where do you stand? Do you have the courage to stand by your convictions, even when it’s uncomfortable? In life, or business, you can’t please everyone. But you can make the right decision for yourself, even when it makes you the least popular person in the room. For example, I wrote about Dan Cathy, CEO of Chik-Fil-A. He’s got a strict set of values, or guidelines, that he won’t stray from, not matter how much he’s criticized. I disagree with his reasoning but I admire someone who has the courage to stand by those convictions. Here’s the lesson — stop being a people pleaser. They’ll criticize no matter what, so do whatever you want anyway. Also, the carvers at the Crazy Horse Memorial. They’re a 140-year old start-up who are carving up a legacy. People often ask, ‘why don’t you speed up the process so you can see the finished product in your lifetime,’ to which they reply, ‘what’s the hurry?’ They live their values by not succumbing to anticipation and outside pressure. Their job is to carve a legacy, to do the memory of Crazy Horse justice, as well as their father, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. It’s not something anyone can influence.
  5. Focus on what matters and tune out the noise — At the beginning of your career, everyone has advice to give out — wanted or unwanted. Kid, do this. Kid, do that. And while there’s no substitute from experience, one needs to learn to differentiate between legitimate advice from those who wear the battle scars of the experience and those who want to discourage and derail you. As a young professional you’re focused on pleasing your boss and keeping your head down so as to not rock the boat, but that’s BS. I wish someone would have told me to speak up sooner and perhaps things would’ve changed sooner.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d love to encourage people to get off their behinds and get to work. When this pandemic started, I received some criticism about my decision to forge ahead with our “drive and thrive” initiative to maintain business continuity. I was told I was pushing too hard and that I should sit back and wait. Nope, that’s not in my nature. If someone wants to pause and wait it all out, that’s fine. That’s their decision. I will continue driving and thriving to be Business First Responders because if you ponder, you squander.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business,” by Henry Ford. One of my conditions of satisfaction is to make money, so this always resonates with me. Money may be how we keep score, but any idiot can make money.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

My granddaughters. I have the information of a lot of influential people on my phone. I could call them at any time and have a meal with them, but I would love nothing more than to have a meal with my granddaughters. We would have pancakes and have a grand ole time.

I would also love to have breakfast with my mom. She unfortunately passed away a few years ago, but that’s about the only people I could think of that I would love to do this with.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On Facebook, they can follow my page: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyHayzlett/

Twitter: @JeffreyHayzlett

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hayzlett/

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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