Ask yourself: As a leader, am I worthy of following? Great leaders don’t command or demand. They establish the team vision, not their vision. They implement strategies that align with the team goals, and they support them. They aren’t title driven, they are team driven. When the team experiences the leader supporting them, being fair, and using disciplined authority during difficult times, trust is validated, which increases team engagement. Engaged teams follow the vision established by the focused leader, that benefits everyone.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Rodriguez. Mike is CEO of Mike Rodriguez International LLC (MRI), a global speaking and training firm. Mike is also a professional speaker, a master trainer and a trusted adviser for leadership, life and business strategies. As a multi Best-Selling Author Mike has written 13 books and over 75 articles. He has shared the stage with legends like Tom Hopkins and was signed by Nightingale Conant, the world’s leader in personal development, to produce several of his audio courses. His firm works with clients globally and their logos include names like Bank of America, Hilton, Thomson Reuters, U.S. Army, and many others in tech/ software. Mike believes that through faith and action, you can overcome the challenges in your life and uncover your greatest potential.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Mike! What is your “backstory”?
I’m glad you asked about my backstory; our backstories are the key foundational elements to establishing our core direction. Life is about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we have committed to go using our potential. Most of us tend to focus more on our past, placing a greater emphasis on where we’ve been instead of focusing on where we should be going.
For my past, after I graduated high school, I had no direction. I wanted to work, so I took my first job at McDonalds, but I only lasted only three days. I went on to college, but dropped out after two years, because I was misguided. I was eager to succeed, but reckless in my decision making. Afterwards, I quickly realized that I had made a mistake, not just about leaving school, but by making such an important decision without proper direction or guidance.
After a few years in unfulfilling jobs, not using my potential, a telecom exec took a chance on me and hired me for a corporate sales job. That opportunity led me to grow into a 25-year award-winning career in telecom/ technology, where I would ultimately lead many organizations and finally run my own business in a partnership with AT&T.
Through many failures and successes, I learned how to strategically think and help others. It then became very clear to me that I was passionate about developing people through speaking and training. This was where I functioned best and where I was most effective. It was a major turning point to commit my goal to inspire and develop others. Today I am humbled to run a global speaking, training and advising business, while I finalize my master’s degree. Our clients include many organizations around the globe, ironically including McDonalds Corporation. With that, there is a lesson here: a company that gave me my first Job, now trusts me to develop their own people. When I speak at Universities, I often cite this story about how your backstory can make or break you if you let it, but your outcome is in fact up to you, influenced by the limitations you choose to accept or overcome.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I have had many interesting stories, but one that really stands out is when I was hosting a book signing at B&N in the Dallas area. After the event, I was approached by a gentleman who asked if he could have a moment to talk with me. This type of request is not uncommon, but his story was. He said that he had recently moved down from Ohio and went on to say that while he had been living there, he was diagnosed with cancer. He told me that during this terrible time in his life, he and his wife were having major difficulties going through the treatment and that it was putting severe strain on their marriage. He said that shortly afterwards, his wife left him due to the stress of the situation, so he had resigned himself to believe that his life was at a loss. He said that he had previously purchased another one of my titles and after reading it, that it had helped him to find a way and keep going. I was stunned. He then said that when he heard that I was going to be at this store, he felt compelled to come out and let me know his story, to tell me how much that book helped him. It was a deep moment, and after talking for a while, we were both in tears.
From this gentleman, I learned that you never know how you are impacting other lives with your work. That experience was humbling and truly gave me a greater perspective to what I do in this world.
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?
Although it wasn’t funny at the time (to me), it certainly is now.
I was giving a leadership seminar on the importance of shifting from memorizing the content you learn, to internalizing it, so it can become a part of you. Just as I was at the peak of the message, my foot caught a power cord which had been poorly taped down. The jolt of the cord by my foot caused the projector to become unplugged, which in turn shut down my entire presentation and all of my content. All of the audience eyes were still on me, but now they were bigger than ever. I was forced to keep going, not skip a beat, and put into practice what I had been teaching — internalizing! It was challenging for sure, but I made it through without skipping a beat.
The lessons from this mistake were many! I now prepare much better than I did before, not only with tech set-up, but also by truly owning my content. I take about 3–4 hours prep time for every hour I train. I also learned that people want genuine and real lessons about information that the speaker lives and breathes, not just cliched content repeated to them. As a leader, I have consistently worked to improve my communication with my team and with clients during planning and preparation calls and during engagement to generate the best possible results. We all make mistakes, but how we respond to them is the ultimate key to growth.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to (keep) talent today?
I am a firm believer that you don’t ‘keep’ talent; instead I believe that we should constantly work to develop our people so that they will desire to grow where they are, causing them to ‘choose to stay.’ People are dynamic but are constantly being pulled back into positions of comfort by daily routines. Routines are powerful and after a while, if we lose sight of why we started, they can falsely convince us that ‘this job isn’t working out” or that “I’m not happy here,” or that “my manager is to blame.” When you factor in complacent routines with a non-supportive or disengaged boss, situations can then be magnified as being valid reasons to quit, often resulting in the person falsely blaming the manager.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there are bad managers out there, but as a norm that is usually not the case. Remember, the mind is a powerful thing, and we will usually find what we are looking for, even when we desire to quit a job. It is much easier to blame than it is to be accountable to grow, causing us to seek somewhere else what we could potentially find where we already are.
With that, I find that most people do not want to quit their jobs or their bosses, they simply desire ‘more’ from their employer or from life, and that is completely ok. People not only need to be encouraged, but they must also be challenged, as we are all constantly fighting complacency. Leaders must also understand that in today’s world, being fulfilled both at work and personally are critical to most people. If work is not fulfilling, it will become a task and that is not enough to keep someone inspired long-term. If an individual has not been able to communicate their career goals or their personal purpose or concerns, and if they no longer believe that the place they work can help them get there, or that there boss isn’t looking out for their best interest, then they will leave.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
This is hard, but not impossible. To effectively work together, everyone must understand the end result (vision), and the reason to get there (purpose), while being personally engaged in their role. Teams who lack vision and purpose are part of a broken culture and will typically work within silos. Leaders must be in positions to empower, but without an ego or a big head due to things like title or position. Team leaders must be in constant ‘live’ communication with their teams, and they must communicate effectively together. When I say live communication, remember that many communication matters have been misinterpreted through email and text. The reason is that written word lacks voice inflection, causing the reader to add their own, creating a risk of misunderstanding.
Another issue is a lack of response or no response by team members. When people don’t respond, they are showing you that they cannot prioritize, maybe due to being overworked, or that they are just disengaged. Either way, you better pay attention and have a clear talk quickly.
I encourage teams to use what I call Measured Teamwork. This concept allows teams to clearly define roles and tangible expectations up front. Each person must be accountable to the established team timeframes, deadlines and expectations. If members are not accountable, the system allows team members to catch risks and deficiencies early to make course corrections. Clear and definitive communication is the key.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
- You need to establish and know your Leadership Philosophy and Style. There is in fact a difference between managing and leading; contrary to popular belief, this is not a semantic. Managers oversee tasks: metrics, targets, reporting, projects. Leaders develop people to be successful in completing tasks. In summary, I always say that you ‘manage’ things and you ‘lead’ people. Style is important as it affects how the leader chooses to engage with their people. Some leaders are too ego or title driven. Others are too authoritative, demanding, or commanding and boss or manipulate others as a way to get results. They usually do get results, but at a major cost: morale and attrition. Others are what I like to call the ‘Buddy Leader.” These types are too friendly, and they often deflect important matters as coming from ‘the company’ and not ‘me.’ Buddy leaders are chronically at risk because they avoid confrontation. Interestingly, most do not have the respect of the team or the full performance from their team. “My team loves me” they often say, which is great and often true, but balance is the key. Business cannot be a full-on social event.
- Understand the difference between Culture, Strategy and Tactics. If your culture doesn’t align with your strategy and tactics, then you are destined to fail. Your team culture will always dominate your strategy. A strong culture determines how your strategy is acted on (tactics). Strategy and tactics are very different things. I often say that strategy happens from the neck up. Strategy is how ‘we plan to do’ what we have been ‘thinking about doing.’ Tactics on the other hand, happen from the neck down. Tactics are how we ‘actually do’ what we thought about and planned ‘to do’ (also called execution). However, strategy & tactics are always secondary to the culture you are building. Culture is a living breathing force that is being determined by what you allow and by the level of standards that you accept. You must know who you are, so your team is willing to not only believe, but to purposely live and work together to succeed. Effective strategy and tactics are indicators of a healthy culture.
- Evaluate the BIG 3: Skills and Resources and Desire relative to your team needs and targets. Skills are the expertise level that a person brings to the team. Skills must be developed consistently, as we do not and cannot max our skills (That is desire issue). Resources are the tools that we need to do our job ‘at or above’ the level required by the culture. Desire pushes us to do what we do for a living. Desire is shown through our skill levels and if, and how, we use the resources we have been given. When the Big 3 are fully present, the individual will take the appropriate action to get the best possible results. When results are low, this means that skill, resource(s) or desire are anemic or missing altogether. You cannot have one without the other two and realize true success. Effective and consistent one-on-ones can help.
- Mindset drives engagement. Don’t overlook the fact that a person’s mindset ultimately impacts engagement. I often get asked ‘how can I make my people more engaged?’ My answer is always “you cannot make anyone do anything to get the results you desire.’ People must be willing to be engaged by “illuminating their own light bulb.” This means that the person must realize the purpose and benefit of what it is they are being asked to do, so they truly want to do it. If the task being asked is only because ‘you ask,’ or because they are ‘supposed to,’ it isn’t enough. There are three core mindset tendencies: The Competitor, the Complacent, and the Complainer. I call them ‘The 3 Mindsets.’ Your complacent mindsets make up the majority of your team. They are comfortable in their roles and they sustain the company by doing what they are supposed to do in their role. This is your core group. The Complainers are a small percentage who have lost sight of ‘why’ they do what they do, so they aren’t engaged. They are checking out or have checked out mentally, but instead of doing something positive about it, they complain. This group creates resistance, intentionally or unintentionally, but they are inevitably holding everyone back and preventing growth. The competitors are an even smaller percentage, but they are ‘all in’ and drive your growth. They aren’t perfect people, just focused people. All competitors have been complacent or complainers (including yours truly), but they finally decided that it was time to change themselves. This type of change starts in their own minds and begins where they are employed right now. After all, they realize that if you cannot make it where you are now and you don’t change, you probably won’t make it anywhere else.
- Ask yourself: As a leader, am I worthy of following? Great leaders don’t command or demand. They establish the team vision, not their vision. They implement strategies that align with the team goals, and they support them. They aren’t title driven, they are team driven. When the team experiences the leader supporting them, being fair, and using disciplined authority during difficult times, trust is validated, which increases team engagement. Engaged teams follow the vision established by the focused leader, that benefits everyone.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Step back and evaluate your tendencies and routines relative to your current and projected outcomes.
Think bigger and set expectations up front about your culture for both new hires and existing team members. Building a culture starts with hiring the right people. Don’t be so fixated on cliched hiring techniques that you keep hiring the same type of people just because you’ve always done it that way. Remember that your goal is to move people up (by pulling not pushing) or, if they don’t want to move up, then you help them to move out quickly. You never want to lose anyone, but the truth is that if they don’t want to be there and they are creating resistance, they owe it to you and to themselves to be happy. Either way, a great leader helps them find their way.
You are a person of great 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. :-)
To lead like a Lion personally and professionally. Please let me clarify. Lions are magnificent, bold, disciplined, and calm animals when they are not hunting. They are a true example of disciplined authority under control. However, if you were to encounter a lion in the wild one on one (in person), the average individual would be terrified. Please understand that people aren’t afraid of what a Lion ‘is’ they are afraid of what the lion can ‘do’ to them. Likewise, a Lion isn’t afraid of you. A lion would determine if you are a food source and if hungry, they would satisfy their need, or they would determine if you are a threat and take appropriate action with a warning growl. A lion knows it is a lion and what it is capable of doing. It doesn’t need to ‘roar’ to let you know that it is a Lion. It knows who it is, and it knows that ‘you’ know.
It is the same in the business world and in life. If you have to yell and or boss others around to get things done, you have already failed. You are merely showing you don’t know who you are or what you are doing, and you are abusing your authority. You must analyze situations, being aware of your authority; then you responsibly and properly execute for the livelihood of everyone.
A lion leader lives and thinks for the livelihood of the pride. They are confident, not arrogant. The pride knows that their survival depends on a strong leader who doesn’t need to tell the others that it is the leader. They strongly desire to follow their leader, because they know their purpose and what is at stake: their livelihood. They both know they need each other so they work together effectively.
Remember, when it comes to leadership, it’s not the title that counts. Ask yourself, am I worthy of following?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite life lesson quote is the one that I have built my life and career on “Through faith and action, all things are possible.”
It is only through faith that we will take action, and the action that we take is clear evidence of our faith. This quote, rooted in scripture, has been a mantra in my life. Every failure that I have encountered that I was able to overcome, was a direct result of having the strong faith that I could succeed, and that I would eventually succeed if I kept going. I also always remembered why I needed to keep going, which was my purpose, as my livelihood was at stake. That mindset caused me to get up and keep going again, and again, not focusing on the past, but on today, which I knew was building my future. The principle of ‘faith and action’ has keep me relevant as a leader, it has kept me sober, happy and willing to do what it takes to help others succeed to become the best person possible.