Lead With The Brain In Mind with Bill Flynn

Bill Flynn is the Chief Catalyst at Catalyst Growth Advisors; he’s a coach, mentor and author of the number one Amazon bestselling book, Further Faster. In this our special 50th Episode, you can learn about:

  • Why creating a compelling vision allows others to follow
  • Why some businesses succeed while others fail
  • How the biggest reason for failure is success
  • Neuroleadership is a critical skill for 21st century leaders

Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

Welcome to our 50th episode. I can’t believe that we’re already halfway to a century of Leadership Hacker Podcast, so thank you everybody who’s been part of that. So, Bill Flynn is our special guest on episode 50, he’s the chief catalyst at Catalyst Growth Advisors. He’s over 30 years’ experience working with hundreds of different companies, including lots of start-ups. But before we get a chance to speak with Bill, it’s not The Leadership Hacker News. Instead, today we’re going to do something a little bit different. I’m going to introduce you to Jermaine Pinto from our production team. And Jermaine has been absolutely inspirational to help us on our journey with the 50 episodes. So, hey Jermaine, say hello to our listeners.

Jermaine Pinto: Good day listeners. Nice to meet you all. I’m really excited, and Steve congratulations on that 50 episodes.

Steve Rush: Thank you, my man, I really appreciate it. And for those of you that are not familiar with Jermaine’s accent, he’s in Jamaica and that’s the wonders of the remote world that we work in. We can have remote team working all over the place. So, Jermaine, I just wanted to say from my perspective and behalf of the listers, thank you for being part of our team on this journey. And over the course of our 50 episodes, there must be a few of those episodes that really ring a bell. And there must be some learning as I’ve had out of this. But from your perspective, what would you say has been the best part of being involved in the journey that we’ve been on?

Jermaine Pinto: Always hearing the guest stories, their background stories. Those are always interesting; those are always motivating. Especially some who have start from basically nothing and build their way up. Some who have accomplished a lot and still manage to start all over, no matter the age, that is always great to hear.

Steve Rush: Yeah, the backstory is really fascinated me because there’s been no two guests, right? That have the same backstory. 

Jermaine Pinto: Exactly.

Steve Rush: They come from different backgrounds, different experiences, and they all bring great learning and inspiration to others to get on that journey too, right? 

Jermaine Pinto: Yes, correct.

Steve Rush: So, who of the 50 shows has been the most inspirational for you?

Jermaine Pinto: I have two right here, Steve. And before I introduce the second one, my first one who be, you Steve.

Steve Rush: Aww, Jermaine, you’re such a softy. Thank you so much.

Jermaine Pinto: Steve I have to say thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your team. It was actually March 3rd 2020. 

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Jermaine Pinto: You reach out to me to do episode two with David Marquet.

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Jermaine Pinto: Yeah, and that was an amazing episode. And since then, I have been on this journey with you, and now it’s 50-episode, wow! that’s amazing.

Steve Rush: It is, yeah. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that man.

Jermaine Pinto: You are welcome. And the second one will have to be Michelle Boxx, The Blonde Fixer. She is just so vibrant. She’s is just so cool, energetic. And I just love her. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, good. 

Jermaine Pinto: Yeah, so what about you Steve? 

Steve Rush: Wow. You know, like you Jermaine, I try to find two or three people out of the over 50 guests that we’ve had on the show. Really tough, right? But there are three that really stick out for me. So, I guess in order of episodes, episode 29, a good friend, Eric Chasen, you know, this is a guy who lost his fiancé, tragically. Subsequently his mum passed away all the while his businesses were collapsing around him, but managed to find that, you know, real grit, resilience, and determination and get back not only to be successful, but to be a millionaire and retire incredibly early. That was a great, great inspirational story. Amber Hurdle, episode 40. Teen mum to superstar business woman and podcaster herself. Another great inspiration for anybody who listened to that. And I guess the one that really kind of moved me emotion actually was Nathanael Zurbruegg.

Jermaine Pinto: Agree. 

Steve Rush: He was on episode 30, right? So, this is a guy who has suffered much more than most of us would suffer. You know, he was told by his practitioners, he should have been dead six times over and still to this day, whilst he still suffers with chronic illnesses, still inspires and works and inspires others to change their lives. And I think, wow, what a great guy. And that’s all, you know, coming from a place of helping others. And I think that’s just amazing.

Jermaine Pinto: Yeah, you’re right Steve and I can tell the listeners that I’m actually one of the biggest fan, of the show. I look forward to hearing these stories every week. Most episodes I will listen to treat the three to four times to be honest.

Steve Rush: Yeah. And, you know, fortunately we get to hear all of these stories before our listeners do. So, we’re in a really privileged position to get all that. 

Jermaine Pinto: That’s always a plus. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, so if you think about how many hacks we’ve had on the show, we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of fabulous ideas and tips and tools and inspiration. If you had to kind of maybe think of one or two that resonate with you the most Jermaine, what would they be?

Jermaine Pinto: I actually have three and I’m going back to my favourite person again, Michelle Boxx, The Blonde Fixer. When she said facilitate feedback from your teammate. She is one hundred, spot on with that one. We can all relate to that. The second one would be from episode 9, John Spence. 

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Jermaine Pinto: When he said lead with your gut, you can never go wrong with that.

Steve Rush: Absolutely, and John was another inspirational guest too. Wasn’t he? This is a guy who reads over a hundred books a year and has done for 20 years.

Jermaine Pinto: Honestly Steve, I was blown away by that. A hundred books, I’m like, wow! 

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Jermaine Pinto: This guy’s on top of his game. 

Steve Rush: Sure thing. 

Jermaine Pinto: And the last one it’d be from Ira Wolfe from episode 49, growth mindset. Throughout the almost 50 episodes, mindset was one thing that was always said by most guests. 

Steve Rush: Yeah

Jermaine Pinto: Mr. Wolfe expound on that and try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistake, and he is absolutely right by that. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree. 

Jermaine Pinto: And so, Steve, I know you pretty much have a lot of hacks, so what would be your, maybe best three?

Steve Rush: So, I’ve gone back over my notes and I’ve gone back over the show notes. And there were three things, actually the present themselves where they keep repeating from many guest’s time and again. Then they’re also things that I share. So, I guess the first thing is journaling presents itself a lot, doesn’t it? So, you know, taking that time in the morning and night to really set out what your plans are for the day, how you can be thoughtful, how you can demonstrate gratitude and self-love, and self-worth that presents self a lot. Meditation, you know, is interesting, that keeps coming up. And it’s something that I do every morning. So, I meditate every single morning before I look at emails, before I look at work before, look at anything. And that’s now a core habit of mine. That is a key tenant in how I do things. A lot of our guests share meditation as a way to get into that zone. And the other thing that presents itself is mentoring. All the while we’ve been speaking to our guests, having a good mentor, having somebody they can rely on. Having somebody that they can kick the leaves around with is a real core attribute of all of our guests and anybody who’s been successful. And I guess those are three things that really present themselves to me.

Jermaine Pinto: And I would agree, especially the last one there Steve, Mentoring. I have never had a mentor, till you could see now, which is again, use Steve. Those one-on-one meetings that we have, where I would bounce ideas off of you. It’s really great to have someone that you can share with and you can also get their experience. 

Steve Rush: You’re right, your absolutely right. So, Jermaine, thanks for being on the show. Thanks for being part of our journey and behind the scenes and not often getting the recognition, I think you deserve. And hopefully our listeners will listen to this and connect with you through LinkedIn and your other mediums as well. So, cheers to the next 50, right? 

Jermaine Pinto: And let’s say here to a next thousand.

Steve Rush: Wow, yeah, why not? Absolutely. Let’s think big.

Jermaine Pinto: That’s how big we are going with this one.

Steve Rush: You’re right. Okay, so let’s get back to the show. This hasn’t been The Leadership Hacker News, but of course, as always, if you do have an insights, news or stories you think our guests could hear, let’s get in touch with either me or Jermaine my man. 

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Our special guest on today’s show is Bill Flynn. He’s the chief catalyst at Catalyst Growth Advisors. He’s a coach, mentor and author of the number one, Amazon bestselling book, Further, Faster. Bill, welcome to the show. 

Bill Flynn: Hey Steve, great to be here. You know, they say good things come to those who wait. So, it’s good to finally make this happen. 

Steve Rush: Our listeners won’t know that you and I have been waiting for probably four or five months, to get a hook-up and get together having spoken originally. So, looking forward to having a great conversation with you today, but for those that don’t know your backstory, maybe just give us a little summary as to how you’ve arrived at leading Catalyst Advisors.

Bill Flynn: Sure, I’ll do the quick version. So, I sort of had two arcs to my career if you will. I’m a start-up guy, early on. I’m not a founder, but I’m generally the person who comes in and helps on the scaling side. So sales marketing, that kind of stuff. I did 10 of those from 1991 through about 2015. And depending on how you count my contribution, I’m either 5 for 10 or 5 for 7 because there were 3, I left. Either they went out of business or actually I think all of them went out of business or got acquired by someone else. And then around 2015, I sort of said, what do I want to do? I had an opportunity to really reflect a little bit, I think I was just in my early fifties and I had an experienced at one of the start-ups that allowed me to basically become a coach, not knowing it at the time, of course, because I wasn’t smart enough to know what I was doing.

Steve Rush: Right. 

Bill Flynn: But I really remembered that experience. And I kind of said, how do I get more of that? I wanted that feeling of really being able to teach people how to fish, so to speak. So, I looked around, I looked at, I don’t know, six or seven different kinds of methodologies if you will. And I had sort of made my own in that experience that I mentioned earlier, I didn’t really have the confidence in, so I’ve never really been a CEO or a Founder. I wanted to have something that I could feel sort of backstopped me and my credibility. So, I picked one out of all the things that I looked at and began doing that around middle 2016. It’s really when I go through certification and all that kind of stuff and learning and such.

And I’ve been a coach for four or five years, what do I do as a coach? I’m a leadership team coach. I don’t do executive coaching necessarily, although it sort of is an off shoot of what I do. And what that means is I teach this framework, which I’ve modified a little bit from my experience and my research, but basically, it’s a framework on three things, which we’ll get into a little bit on my book of how to really build a healthy and thriving organization. There is a way to do it and it’s been done over and over and over again, yet, most people don’t know how to do it. We, do it differently and the stats show that the way we do it isn’t necessarily the best way to do it. So, I’m about teaching people how to do that. So that’s sort of my backstory.

Steve Rush: Awesome, and given the environment that we’ve been in over the last 12 months or so, how have you seen the role as leaders and teams change from your perspective? 

Bill Flynn: I don’t think they’ve changed that much, at least on how you should be a good leader. And we should probably describe leader because people have different definitions of leader. To me, a leader is someone who has followers more than anything. It’s doesn’t’ necessarily mean you’re in a position of authority because that’s different. You can have authority and not be a leader. Leadership is, I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall a bunch of other folks. I’m a bit of a contrarian. I don’t actually don’t think leadership is a thing. I know it’s a $15 billion dollar industry around the world, but there’s no real definition of leadership, that’s the same. Everyone has their own version. 

Steve Rush: I agree.

Bill Flynn: But the thing that I’ve found, two or three things that I found that permeate and really flow through all of those things. One is what I mentioned is if you’re a leader, you have followers and followership is really, I think the thing and followership is something that is voluntary, it’s given. You, can’t say, I’m your leader. People have to say, you’re my leader. I choose you to be my leader. I choose to follow you. So, you have to give them a vision, a compelling vision, right? Because if you want to have someone follow you, you have to say, here’s where we’re going. Follow me here. And then lastly, I think you have to have courage. And that’s the only attribute that, you know, they say humility and integrity and charisma and all this stuff. And, you know, I looked at that stuff and it’s really different across leaders. You know, Gates is different than Malali is different than Jobs is different than Ballmer is different than the Della. They’re all different.

You know, Buffet is a different kind of leader, but they’re leaders, people follow them for some reason. But I think you have to have courage. You have to courage to be able to give up, right? make it about them and not you and risk some of that. You also have to have courage to follow that vision. A lot of people are going to tell you your vision isn’t right. You have to have courage to do that. There’s a lot of things you have to do. So, I think those three things really make the leader. So, if you do that as a leader, then I don’t think it matters much except the platform that you have on how you use it. If you communicate well and you make it about them, and you care about these folks and you and I talked previously about really great leaders in the pandemic and what have they done, they made it about the other people. They said, look, I don’t know everything. I’m going to gather information. But we’re going to keep you informed. I’m going to make it so simple for you to understand. I’m going to tell you where we’re headed and I’m going to ask you to sort of follow along. And those that did a really good job at that did a much better job so far in controlling the virus with COVID-19 and those people who didn’t do that, or aren’t doing that, we’re noticing it. And we’re now saying, wow, you’re not really as good a leader as we thought you were because we’re in trouble and we’ve got stark differences across the world on who’s doing good job and who’s not. So, I think that’s what’s changed, meaning we’ve seen it. But I think those that are really good leaders haven’t changed their style at all. They’ve been doing the same thing. It’s now noticed that it’s more effective.

Steve Rush: And like you, I think leadership is a behaviour, It’s not a thing, It’s not a job. It’s just,  the way that you behave to encourage people around you to feel that safety and that courage to come on a journey with you. If we think about those organizations that will survive for the future versus those that weren’t, what do you think the main reasons will be between the two?

Bill Flynn: Cash, I mean, that’s really been apparent is that those people who have really understood how to generate cash or have cash in reserve, have been able to do things. Because if you have that, you know, cash is fuel. Most people I ask them sort of, you know, what’s the purpose of business and they all make it about money. And I said, really, it’s not really about money, is it? I mean, cash is fuel for your business, but your business should be about something else and you need the money to fuel the thing, right? You know, we don’t buy cars in order to buy fuel. You know, we don’t get a house in order to heat it, you know, and have electricity or whatever. It has a larger purpose, and I think too many leaders and runners of companies focus much more on that.

So, I think, you know, the ones that can come out of this really, of course, are solving a problem worth solving. It’s certainly, it’s more of a crucible now, right? That we’re focused on just a few things. Those that were doing it already, you know, the US stock market is driven by five companies right now, that’s it. You know, we go up and down based on Apple, Google, Facebook, I missed one. And I think that’s what we’re seeing. If you weren’t doing that, if you’re not empathetic and compassionate for your customers and really understanding what their struggles are, then they’re just not going to pay attention to you because they’re pay attention to so many different things right now. So those two things, you got to have either access to cash or ways to generate cash. So, you can ride out this stuff. If you can’t, then you have to be, I think compassionate, like Bob Chapman who runs, Barry Well Meyer who have several times, through to the 2008 crisis, you know, he lost 30% of his business, the entire group, and he could have laid people off and he never did, but he asked people to sacrifice for each other and they did. And they actually took things upon themselves. So, if you create that environment, that culture, that atmosphere, and you have the cash to be able to weather stuff like this, then you’ll always be able, I shouldn’t say you will always, you’ll have a much, much better chance of being able to survive things like this. Cause this is, you know, this is horrible and it’s different than the last two, but we’ve already had three crises like this in the last 20 years, right. We’ve had 9/11, especially in the US. 

Steve Rush: Yeah

Bill Flynn: We’ve had 2008 and now we’ve had this, there’s going to be another one. And statistics say every six to eight years, there’ll be another downturn of some kind of some magnitude. You need to be prepared for. If you can do that, then you’ll survive most things.

Steve Rush: What do you think the reason is Bill in your experience, that leaders don’t put cash in that same category as other things that they would maybe plan for and think about? 

Bill Flynn: Because we are enamoured growth, we were enamoured of top line growth. Revenue is vanity, and I’m sorry, but we are egotistic animals. And we like vanity, we like the social aspect and the emotional aspect of being seen as doing something important. And we measure and value revenue and revenue is vanity. You know, there’s a great saying revenue is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king, and that’s true. I think revenue is great for bragging to your brother-in-law or telling a reporter how great you’ve done. But if you see revenue as the financial metric to measure your success, you’re picking the wrong one, and that’s what you do. And then you say, oh, we need to grow. So, we need to, we need to sort of take this risk with this money. A lot of the time it works out, but sometimes like this, it doesn’t. And that’s what you’re seeing. Unfortunately, going out of business for completely unique to this pandemic, but many of them are going out of business because the light has been shown on them. 

Steve Rush: Yep. 

Bill Flynn: And we’re seeing that they’re just not very well-run companies underneath.

Steve Rush: So all of your learning and your career along with all of the start-ups and experiences you pulled together, you wrote the book Further, Faster. What was the inspiration for the book?

Bill Flynn: There were two things. There was an external inspiration, which were my coaching, colleagues and friends and my clients. When I say stuff, they’d look at me like it was different, right. They sort of said my perspective on things was unique to them. And I looked at it as, you know, my perspective isn’t any different anyone else’s, all the stuff that you and I do are based upon people that aren’t alive anymore. You got Drucker and Deming and Shine and all these guys, and now we’ve got, of course Lencioni and Collins and Sinek. But we’re just regurgitating the same stuff over and over again. There’s not a lot new here. So, I was surprised, and I said, okay, well, that’s interesting. 

And the second was internal, which is. Having been through 10 start-ups and, you know, that’s just almost masochistic, right? I just really found that it’s a shame that really good people, really good leaders, really good businesses and really good ideas just fail or struggle for completely preventable reasons. There is a way to run a very healthy and thriving organization. There’re some other factors involved, but it’s been proven over and over again for decades, if not longer. And we just seem to ignore it. We go back to conventional wisdom and intuition and, you know, I’m all for intuition, but there’s something called a gut check, right? It’s fine, go with your gut, but check it, make sure it’s right. And make sure that there’s data supporting what you’re doing, at least in terms of the fundamentals of running your business. We don’t do that enough, data shows that there’s two sets of data, at least in US, that I’ve seen. There are basically the same, one is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and one from The Small Business Administration. If you start a business in 1994, you had a 50% chance of making it to 1999, five years, 50%. It was like a flip of a coin. But if you made it to 15, there are only 25% of the people that did that. And if you want to get to 20 or 25, it’s 16. So, the longer you’re in business, the less likely it is that you’re going to stay in business, which is just a shame. And I know people choose and they retire or opt out or whatever, but even if you took those out, I don’t think that that curve would change that much. And I want to do my best to help at least a small corner of the world that I’m in to not have that happen to them.

Steve Rush: Do you think that’s complacency that causes that curve to narrow towards the longer period of time?

Bill Flynn: There’s a saying that one of the biggest reasons for failure is success. Is that, you know, you think because you were successful before that everything in the future that you do will be successful, and that’s true. I’ve seen that, you know, this is called Fonda Riotous in the start-up world, and I’ve worked with lots of folks and yeah, they just sort of feel like they can do no wrong and trying to guess what a massive people value and will pay you for. And then also be able to run an organization of completely crazy people. You know, we’re crazy, right? People are nuts, people are impulsive, we’re irrational, we just are. So be able to do that over and over again. If you can do that over and over again, you’re pretty rare. And thinking that just the way you did it before is going to happen again, is wrong because the mix is different. Every time the mix is different and you got to be able to work from first principles. I’m a first principles guy. If you can figure out your first principles and go from there, then you can sort of bob and weave and figure out as you go, how to apply those principles. And, and we don’t do that. We put our head down and we work and we never look out, you know, we don’t predict the future as much as we should. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we just say, oh, well, I’m really good at this. And we get comfortable and we just keep making the decision. And we think because we’re making all these decisions where the answer, man, that it’s good and it’s not, you know, I keep telling my leaders, you need to fire yourself from the day-to-day, that’s your job. Once you get through that knothole of figuring out and have some predictability and scalability of your business, you need to get rid of all of your day-to-day work as much as you possibly can, because your job is to figure out the next two, three, four years, not the next couple of quarters.

Steve Rush: Yeah, in your book, you focus on this quite a bit around specifically the CEO or the boss; they must fire themselves from their day-to-day work. And it’s a really interesting philosophy because I bumped into somebody just recently, who has been a start-up engine, if you like for about three or four different organizations, but never been the CEO, because they’re just not great CEOs, but in the leadership space, what would be the reason you would encourage CEOs to think metaphorically around firing themselves?

Bill Flynn: Well, so here’s the deal, right? If you’re going to grow your business, you have to predict the future and predicting the future is about innovation and creation and insight. And so, I asked this question, I’ll ask of you to view is when do you get your best ideas, Steve, what are you doing?

Steve Rush: Daydreaming, thinking, walking, at the gym, but not at work.

Bill Flynn: Not at work and actually, I would say, you’re not actually thinking maybe you’re different than most, but most people it’s, they’re not thinking. They’re actually letting their brain rest.

Steve Rush: Right. 

Bill Flynn: A little bit, and that’s the walk or the shower I hear a lot, or I’m on a run, just doing something else. And then somehow this insight is called the edge effect in neuroscience, where all of a sudden, a couple of different things have been floating around in your brain connect. And they actually physically connect in your brain, which is just really cool, the whole biology of it, really cool for me. And you know, there’s axon and neurons and dendrites, and they actually connect to each other. And then this idea comes into your head. It’s just the coolest thing. And so, if you’re doing all the time, you can’t do that. Your brain can’t focus on more than one thing at a time, multitasking is a myth. Most of us have learned that, right? It’s called context switching, and you go from one to the other, and there’s a whole issue around the degradation of that, which we won’t get into. So, I think you need to fire yourself the day-to-day because you need to be able to have these thoughts that come to you and, so you need to gather information. You need to go out and talk to your customers a lot more. You need to sort of roam around the business and talk to people and learn from outsiders, have an advisory board and capture all this information. So, when that thing happens, that insight happens. You’ve collected all this data already, and then you start making these connections and that figures out, where’s our business going? What is this thing going to look like in the next two, three, four years? And you can’t do that doing. 

I was a speaker at Investige for a number of years. And I asked hundreds of CEOs the same question, which was, what percentage of time do you spend working in the business versus working on the business? And I would say the majority of the answers was 80% to 90% in the business. And then to 20% on the business. And I said, look, if you’re going to make sure that you’re not guessing on a regular basis, you need to stop doing that. You need to flip that ratio. So, you’re spending a lot more time working on things for the future, which your two most important constituencies, which are your best customers, not all your customers, but your best customers and your top team, right? You’re A, B plus and B players. Those are the people you need to focus on the most. If you can do that, you’ll put yourself in a much better position to be able to predict the future. You don’t get it right every time, but we don’t do that. We got our head down. As I say, we looked down, we don’t look out as much. We need to look out a lot more.

Steve Rush: Got it. You’ve taken the thinking of neuroscience and applied that to your work. And it’s something that we both share a passion in. What’s commonly referred to as NeuroLeadership, for our listeners listening in today, maybe you could just describe what NeuroLeadership is?

Bill Flynn: Yeah, I’ll say one thing, but there is this great quote by Chris Voss, who I love, he’s written a couple of books and he says, “All humans should accept that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally driven animals, or all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic is fraught.” And when you have two people sort of interconnecting with all this irrationality and impulsivity and emotionally doing stuff, you know, you just have to understand that you have to know a little bit about how the brain works, because it doesn’t work the way we think it does. It fools us on a regular basis. We have supposedly 150 unconscious biases that are broken down into five major categories, according to the NeuroLeadership Institute and its simplicity. So, we bias towards the simple, we’d rather have a simple explanation we think is better than a not simple. 

Expediency, right? So, whatever it seems the fastest seems right. To us experience, we’re much more likely to dismiss science because our experience is different. Even though our experience maybe an anomaly or certainly biased by our own needs and wants et cetera. The next is distance, we are biased to things that are more close to us than things that are far away and then there’s safety, right? Which of course is a biological imperative. If we think we’re going to die, we’re much more likely to or be hurt in some way. We’re much more likely to believe that. That’s why there’s a negativity bias. So, you need to, what’s called lead with the brain in mind. If you understand that, then you’ll understand that your job is to create the environment for people to use their brains, not to tell them what to do and take their brains out of the equation, because you can have, you know, if you have 200 people in your company and you can have 150 of them actually thinking for you and helping you to move the company forward, it’s way better than what normally happens, which is a handful of you.

And that’s it. And then you tell everyone else what to do. Jim Collins calls this the genius with a thousand helpers. I think there’s a great phrase. You can’t do that. You have to be able to say, I’m the genius at figuring out the future. Because I love doing that, but you know, you’re much better at marketing than I am. You’re much better at this manufacturing thing than I am. I’m going to trust you, but I’m going to tell you, you know, sort of where we’re going, what we’re doing and work with you to figure out how you can contribute to doing that. I think that’s what NeuroLeadership means. You have to understand that we’re all irrational, impulsive, and emotional beings. 

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Bill Flynn: If you understand that, then you’ll be more compassionate, you’ll be more thoughtful. And I think you’ll be able to see it, this environment that you create is much more important than trying to figure out the answer to questions every day. You know, I keep saying you should, you should make one or two decisions a week as a leader. You know, we make dozens, if not hundreds of decisions a week, we shouldn’t be making like, what kind of birthday cake should we do for the person in our group? Amazing stuff that we decide is important. 

Steve Rush: It’s very true. Isn’t it? You talk about safety as being one of those key biases. And a, lot’s been said about the whole principle of psychological safety, but it’s an absolute key tenant of having the right behaviours so that you’re thoughtful and compassionate to do the right things. So, if you could give our listeners a crash course on psychological safety and how to create that culture, where would you start?

Bill Flynn: So psychological safety is a term I believe was coined by Amy Edmondson, as far as I can tell, she’s a person who acquainted. She has been studying this for about 20 years, I think. So psychological safety is basically is this. Creating an environment so that the people that are around you, especially your team, feels like they can screw up, admit mistakes, come up with crazy ideas without the fear of retribution or ridicule or scorn from others, either directly or indirectly. And if you can create that environment where people would just be themselves and not feel like they have to guard every thought and make sure that they’re, you know, they’re not looking stupid to their team, then you’ve created that environment, psychological safety. And then once you do that, then the magic happens, right? That’s when all the really cool stuff, all those ideas, you know, you don’t have to be the only one that comes up with the ideas of where to go.

You can get them from others. And as long as you’ve created this environment, and you’ve sort of put that roadmap of that vision of where we’re going, then you’ll recognize the good ideas. Because you’re like, oh, that can actually get us. That’s a better idea than mine, and that’ll get us closer or that’ll be a better way of doing something in your particular world. Because you know it better than I do, so you just need to create that environment, is really an atmosphere that you’re creating. That people could really just be themselves, and then once we relax again, backs that thing, once we can relax and we’re not worried about how people think about us, you know, Simon Sinek calls us the second job of work, which is lying, hiding, and faking, and if we can eliminate that and get them back to the main job of really contributing to the healthy growth of the business, then you’ve done a great job.

Steve Rush: What do you think the reason is Bill that leaders don’t embrace this enough?

Bill Flynn: It’s hard, right? It’s trusting someone else. You know, we live in a world that we kind of value that, right? We kind of value the knowing stuff. And we think that in order for us to be valuable, we have to be seen a certain way. And so, it’s all about winning for the person as opposed to winning for the team. There’s this great story about a football team. American football team here, a college football team here in the States, it’s called the Ohio State University. In the thirties, forties and fifties. They were a juggernaut. They were just really hard to beat. They were always in the hunt for the championship every year. And then they started giving away these stickers and they call them Buckeyes. Which is, I think it’s a nut or something and they put them on their helmets, but they were for individual awards.

And over the sixties, seventies and eighties, they started to get worse and worse. And then this guy came in and I think his name is Jim Tressel. And he said, you know, we’ve got to create this team atmosphere. We’re sacrificing our own individual rewards for that of the team or our unit. And so, he still used the buckeye thing, but he only did it when the team or that unit on the field, when the defensive unit, you know, how to sack. Everyone on the defensive unit, got a Buckeye when there was a great play that was executed on, whatever, special teams or whatever. Everyone got a Buckeye and then they started to become better and better. And they’ve now, they still do the same thing, Urban Meyer or someone is their coach. And again, they’re back every year, they’re in for the chance to be in the championship game. And actually, this year, I think they’re in it. And it’s because they’ve created this environment of being a team. You know, being a teammate is not being in a group. It’s being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s sharing the rewards or responsibilities, but also having each other’s back. And when you can create that environment, it’s amazing what people will do. We are tribal people. Let’s leverage that right. Lead with the brain and mind, understand that we are tribal people. We want to work together. So, create the environment so we can in the most way, and I think you’ll do a much better job as a team leader. And I do team leader in the large scope either if the organization, then you’re a team of team’s leader. And then if you’re in a particular group, you have a team. If you could teach people how to be really great team leaders. And I go into that a little bit, my book, and so does Amy Edmondson and hers called Teaming. And there are a few other people who talk about teams as well. You’re just in a much better position and you’ll do much better. So, I think that’s true of what we’re dealing with. 

Steve Rush: I love that. One of the other things that you focus on with teams is helping them really stretch their thinking about the art of what is possible and you call these Bhag or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. 

Bill Flynn: Yeah, Bhag is a term that was coined by Jim Collins. Made most famous by good to great, but I think he actually had it in an earlier book, but since Good to Great was such a bestseller. The term became a term of art. It’s over 20 years old. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, probably was actually. 

Bill Flynn: Basically, it stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal and being a contrarian than I am. I don’t actually think it’s a goal. I think it’s more of a consequence than a goal because goals generally have some sort of measurable timeframe, et cetera. And the Bhag is sort of this thing that in the future, there’s not really sure how you’re going to get there, but this is how we would recognize it when we did. And that is, I think, sort of the combination or really the metaphor of the success, right? Of this vision that you have for the organization. This is a way to describe it in very specific terms. So, people can recognize that, hey, when we get there, we’ll do this. There was a great company in Australia called RedBalloon. And they’ve been following this, they’re doing this kind of work for a long time. So, they were an experiential gifting company, right? So, you didn’t give away physical things. You gave away ballooning or jumping out of a plane or whatever. And they were tiny and they were in Australia and they were only in Australia. And so, they said, what would be the best? Like if we actually super successful, how would we know? And they came up with a numerical thing, which was, they wanted to have 2 million gifting experiences cumulatively. And they were like a few thousand, by the way, at the time. At the time when they did, they were only 20 million people in Australia. So, they wanted to be 10% of the population would be doing that. And so, a Bhag is a 10 to 30 year, according to Jim Collins sort of goal, somewhere in that 10-to-30-year timeframe, we will do this. We don’t know how we’re going to do it, but this will be it. And they did it in eight years. And I think that eighth year they’d push it up to 5 million. So, if you give people that, right, this, again, leading with the brain in mind. We’d love to have those targets, right? We love to be able to also see an experience and sort of recognize today, what’s possible tomorrow because you’ve described it in such a vivid way. And the Bhag is a great way to do that. And we’ve seen lots of Bhags over time. You know, I think one Bhag, most people in the US know is, we will send a man to the moon and bring him home within the decade. And that was when we landed on the moon. That was a Bhag, right? We had to create new metals and also things that we didn’t have before in order to get there. So, we had no idea how we were going to do it, but we said we were going to do it. And we put people on a task and human beings are wonderful, wonderful. If you give them something like that. If they have a passion for it, and it’s amazing, the things that we can do, and we just need to create that environment. That’s what the Bhag does. It creates something that’s tangible.

Steve Rush: And in reverse, of course, the biases you talked about are the things that stop us, having the ability to think big, to move outside our comfort zone and to take those risks and to feel that psychological safety. So, we need to pay attention to that in ourselves, don’t we? As well as when we lead.

Bill Flynn: Exactly, right. And this gets back to sort of this growth mindset and all the growth mindset means is you understand the power of yet, the word yet. I don’t know this yet. I can’t do this yet. And there are some things that you can’t do, but most things you probably could if you put the time and the effort and the energy into it, and you really had the passion for it and the love for it. And we’ve seen this over and over again with people, especially, you know, just imagine. Lionel Messi, right? Which is probably the best soccer player ever. I mean, he had a great under fundamental talent, but man, he put in a lot of time and effort and he practiced a lot, but he almost quit when he was 15 from Barcelona, because they were trying to turn him into what they described as the ideal soccer player. And they wanted him to focus more on his right foot versus left foot. Most of us know that his left foot is just superior to his right and superior to everyone else’s left foot as well. And they also wanted him to sort of stay in his lane and do his job, but that’s not how he was successful, right? The reason he was really successful was he had a left foot that no one could touch. And he was able to see the field in such a way that he would put himself in a position where the ball was going to be. So that means he needed the ability to roam. And they said, don’t quit. They said look, if you want to have your left foot be the main focus, you just got to be the best left foot in the game, let’s focus on it. And they said, you know what, when you’re on the field, we don’t care where you are, just be dangerous. And that’s what he did, right? And, you know, the story he is now 34, 35 years old. 

Steve RushAnd I’m still dangerous.

Bill Flynn: Still dangerous. He started when he was 15, can you imagine he was doing this for 16, 17 years. So, I think that’s a great metaphor for understanding being a leader, right? It’s understanding the unique talents of each of your team members and then try to have them use those as often as you can every day, every week, every year. If you do that, they’ll be happier, they will be more engaged. They’ll feel more connected, you know, et cetera, create that psychological safety. That’s why I think the NeuroLeadership thing is so important to understanding the brain is such a huge factor in creating a great organization and being successful.

Steve RushI agree, so this part of the show Bill is when I get to hack into your leadership mind and pull on all of the years of experiences. Now, given all of the vast experiences you’ve had, I’m going to ask you to narrow down what your top three leadership hacks could be? 

Bill Flynn: Sure. I’ve got three, there in my book. And basically, there’s a meaningful gap between what science knows and business does. We’ve already mentioned this a little bit. You know, I say challenged, conventional wisdoms. For instance, we’re told often to talk to your customers and that’s just wrong because it’s valid, but not sufficient, I like to say. You shouldn’t talk to all your customers. You should only talk to your best customers. The customers who love you and who you love, because you want to get to know them. So, you can find the next one like them, because their most profitable, they’re your best referrals and references in the business. Other things like our learning, we just more recently in the last 10 years, understanding how the brain learns, yet still go back to the old didactic model, right? Where teacher stand in front of the class and fills you full of information. That’s actually not how the brain learn. The brain learns in a completely different way. And my last one is feedback. I’m just not a big fan of feedback. I think feedback is a tool, but we use it as the thing, right? And to me, the thing that we want to do. Feedback as a tool for growth is to help others to improve. There’s lots of great ways to help them grow and feedback is one of them. And I think it’s actually one of the things you should use the least often, because there’s this thing in neuroscience called reactants, right? Which is, I’ll put it in terms of mask wearing. A lot of people don’t wear masks just because they were told you have to wear masks, that’s it, that’s reactants. We are like, screw you. Don’t tell me what to do. I know better. And we come up with reasons with freedom and CO2 is going to kill me or whatever, you know, we’ll make up irrational reasons to support whatever we think is important. And that’s the difference between science and just sort of conventional wisdom. And so, I think if you focus on the science of business and understand that there are real first principles and how to build a great business, and we’ve seen it over and over and over again and learn those and then see how they apply to your business and then create methodologies to help you apply those principles that work for you. The second thing is few things truly matter, but those that do matter, tremendously. Leaders do not spend enough time here. There are only a few things, and in my book is just three things, right?

It’s created a team environment. Performance is a team sport. If you want to create a business that scales in a predictable manner, you have to think in terms of systems and processes, your business is just one big system made up a bunch of small subsystems. And if you can understand how those systems work, you’ll be able to tweak them as they go. And by the way, if you fix one system, sometimes you break another one, right? If you fix the sales process, sometimes you break the delivery process because all of a sudden you can’t deliver on time. If you fix the marketing process, sometimes you break the sales process and so forth. So, figuring out those two things. The last thing of my three, so it’s team, it’s creating the business operating system. And then the last is cash. It should be your primary financial growth metric.

To me, those are the few things that truly matter in business. And you need to figure out how to apply those in your business. And then lastly is, leaders rely too much on effort, luck, timing, and force of will to achieve quote unquote, success. These do not scale profitably. At some point, you’re going to run out of hours in a day and energy, relying on yourself and a few people to make a business grow to a hundred, two thousands of people, just doesn’t work. So those three things, meaningful gap between science, what science knows and business does, few things truly matter. But those that do matter tremendously and leaders rely too much on effort, luck, timing, and force of will to achieve success. Don’t do it.

Steve RushAwesome, love that. Now this part of the show we Hack to Attack. It’s typically where something’s gone wrong in your life or your work. Indeed, it could have been catastrophic, but as a result of the experience, we now use it as a positive in our life or our work. So, what would be your Hack to Attack?

Bill Flynn: Yeah, so I’ve been a sales person since I was 22, 23 years old. And when I first became a sales person, I just became Salesforce by accident, to be honest with you. I was lucky enough to have a very well-connected family member in the Boston high-tech scene. And he got me a whole bunch of informational interviews. And one of them hired me, which is really cool. And they hired me as a sales guy. And I said, all right, I’ll give that a shot. And they told me, here’s what you need to be a good salesperson, right? You need to really know your product. You need to know it inside and out and so on and so forth. And you need to be able to relate to customers and all that kind of stuff, and I was terrible at it. Terrible, but I did all those things. I mean, I’m generally a pretty smart guy, I’m pretty relatable, most people like me. And I knew my product inside and out, but I was not good at it. And I looked at it and said, why? Why am I not good at this? All the things they told me to be good at, I am good at. But I’m still not selling. And I said, so there’s got to be a next factor in here that I’m unaware of. So, I really studied it and said, what is the essence of selling? The essence of selling is helping someone else to make a decision. So, I studied decision-making. How do people make decisions? And then that’s how I got into neuroscience, 15 years ago. 

The brain makes decisions in a certain way. And you probably know this, but maybe your listeners don’t. When a decision is made, most often the emotional centres of our brain light up first, and they actually light up often before we’re consciously aware of the decision that we’ve made. And some people call this limbic system. There’s a lot of controversy of the limbic system or not. I don’t really know, but let’s call it that for sake of argument. So, and your limbic system and decision-making system was designed before we really had language. So, we actually make a decision on an emotional level and then make up the reasons after the fact. And once I figured that out, I became the number one or number two salesperson everywhere I went. 

Steve RushAwesome, yeah. 

Bill Flynn: It’s like a super superpower.

Steve RushI love that. And it’s ironic, isn’t it? That all buying decisions are emotional first and then logical second, but most salespeople start with that logical approach and features, benefits, advantages when actually the emotional triggers are the ones you need to be focusing on first.

Bill Flynn: Agree, there’s this great theory called jobs to be done, which I love, which focuses on three things, which is the social, emotional and functional aspects of decision-making in the buying process. And all three are factors. Some out weight more than others and some before the others, but they’re almost always the three of them in there or two or three of them in there. And if you notice, two of them are social and emotional, which are not something that we focus on a lot. And if you can really do a good job of that, you can actually create great products that you never even thought you should make. And people, you know, a lot of the things that I do are talking to leaders and saying, helping them understand their future, which is really interesting how to create a strategy. And I asked them, why do people buy from you? And they basically say, because we’re awesome. Because we make great this, we do we do this, and their like, no, they don’t. They don’t really care about what you make. They care about what you do for them.

Steve RushThat’s right. 

Bill Flynn: Not what you do. And if you could figure out, how you make their lives better? How you fix a struggle or help them with progress? Then you’ll actually create products and parts of products and services that support that, but we don’t.

Steve RushIt’s interesting stuff. Really interesting. Last thing we want to do with you today, Bill is give you the chance to do a bit of time travel and you get to bump into yourself at 21 and give yourself some advice.

Bill Flynn: So, mine is, and actually this is funny Steve. I do this question a lot. I do an alignment question with my clients on a regular basis and alignment, meaning that these are things that they learn about each other that maybe they didn’t know. And this is one of them, which is, if you go back in time, give yourself some advice and that would have made your life easier or better or accelerated, you know, your successors in some way. So, I’ve been doing this forever. So, I love this question, which is, to me, it would be to embrace uncertainty and to eschew certitude. I was brought up in a household that having the answer was more highly valued than asking a question and being unsure, sort of not being as comfortable. There’s a saying, which I don’t know if it’s true, but I love it, which is that, you know, stupid people are always confident and smart people are unsure. 

Steve RushI like that.

Bill Flynn: And you know, so you got to be comfortable holding two opposing ideas in your mind at once or more. One of both, maybe right, depending on the circumstance. And sometimes combining the best bits of each may also be right or more right. And if you sort of keep that in mind and not get stymied by it, right? Cause you can actually go into analysis paralysis. At some point you got to make a decision. I think if you can do that, you could say embrace uncertainty. You know what? This decision might be wrong. And if it is, then we’ll fix it, but let’s go ahead. We’ve got enough information, as much as we can particularly gather, let’s just go with what we think is the best option, but know that we might be wrong either by hiring this person or making this product decision or bringing on this partner, whatever it is. And then if it is, then we’ll fix it because we’ve got all this wonderful environment created around the culture and values and purpose and all those kinds of things. And we might find out that we’re wrong and that’s okay. 

Steve RushAwesome. 

Bill Flynn: We’ll, we’ll fix it.

Steve RushBill, I could talk to you for hours and hours. Unfortunately, we’re coming to the end of our time together today. But for the folks that are listening, who also want to continue the conversation with you, where’s the best place where you can send them?

Bill Flynn: My website, which is catalystgrowthadvisors.com. And there you can find my email, my phone number, or you can actually set up a book some time with me, my book is on there. My book I give away for free on my site is if you just want to download the PDF, you can certainly do that. And more about the message than the money. If you want to buy it off Amazon, great. You can do it from there as well. There’s a link to my Amazon audible on my website, but that’s it. So, again, http://www.catalystgrowthadvisors.com.

Steve RushWe’ll also make sure those links are in our show notes Bill so that folks can head straight over and connect with you from here. 

Bill Flynn: Awesome, thanks Steve. Appreciate It.

Steve RushBeen amazing having you on the show, Bill. I wish you every success. It’s no surprise that you have been so successful, some fantastic foundations and some fantastic learning you shared with our listeners today. So, we wish you all the best for the future. 

Bill Flynn: Thank you, your very kindly.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers. 

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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