What is the power of positive leadership?
Good leadership requires discipline, foresight, and organization. Great leadership, on the other hand, comes with an added dose of strong positivity. Because while regimented strength is admirable, it does not inspire or influence a team the way that a force of positivity can. So how can you gain positivity, and use it to unite those around you?
Jon Gordon is a giant among business authors and speakers. His inspirational talks have motivated Fortune 500 audiences, schools, hospitals, nonprofits, and sports teams all around the world. His book, The Energy Bus, is a mega bestseller and his new book is The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World. I recently interviewed Jon for the LEADx Podcast, where we talked about the role of positivity (and even love) in leadership. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: Everyone says they want to bring their message to the stage. How would a young person get started today?
Jon Gordon: Well, you would start by deciding what message you want to share. What is your core message? Because we often have a lot of messages we can share but you’ve really got to get to the core. Once you find your core—like this is the message that if you died tomorrow you need to share this message today—what's that message? Then I encourage people all the time to come up with an overview of their talk. Describe it. Then create an outline for it. Then create a little bit of a webpage, where you share your information on a webpage or site. For me, it was Jon Gordon: Get addicted to positive energy. Initially, that was my core talk. Then I had ‘Events.’ We had no events planned but I put it up there. We had ‘Media,’ but we had no media, but I put it up there. ‘Schedule,’ we put up there, but I didn't have a schedule. I mean, that became my framework.
But then it became about filling in each spot on the website of what I was accomplishing. We had ‘Clients,’ I didn't have clients. But I gave 80 free talks.
I spoke to anyone who would listen. I called up friends who were in companies: “Hey, I'll come speak to your team, or organization.” Reached out to associations. It's funny. I still have hundreds and hundreds of emails that I sent out early on to associations saying, “Hey, I'd love to come and speak at your meeting or event. I'm Jon Gordon.” Of course, basically 99.9% did not respond to me. But one thing led to another and now I get about $35,000 a talk. I share that with people not to say, “Oh, look at me,” because I know where I came from. I tell people that because you have to start somewhere, but as you continue to do the work, continue to share the message, continue to reach people one person at a time, over time it builds.
Kruse: Have you ever gotten a paid gig from one of the places that rejected you years ago?
Gordon: Well, there were some that I don't really know for sure, like I can't even remember. But I guess if I looked through them, I would see. But yeah, I'm sure that there are some ones that like, “Oh yeah, you know, I'd love to have you speak.” I'm like, “Oh yeah, I reached out to you 10 years ago.”
Kruse: You met Ken Blanchard, legendary leadership guru. How did he influence you?
Gordon: Well, Ken Blanchard taught at Cornell. He was a graduate of Cornell and I went to Cornell.
Ken Blanchard was always a legend at Cornell. As I was going to Cornell, you always heard about Ken Blanchard. Then I read the One Minute Manager, like millions of other people read this book. He's the godfather of the business fable. When I started writing and I decided to write a business fable, it was because Ken Blanchard did it, because he was my role model. He was my mentor. Then when I wrote The Energy Bus, I reached out to Ken and he was very supportive, very encouraging, being a former Cornellian.
I happened to be in Las Vegas speaking. He was there. I was going to see Danny Gans, the Las Vegas entertainer, because Danny Gans read my manuscript. I sent it to him blindly but he actually read it and responded. We developed a friendship. The guy was incredible. I saw him on a TV show on CBS This Morning, that's how I heard of Danny Gans, reached out to him. Now I'm out there, going to see Danny. Ken was out there. I invited Ken to come with me, he and his wife, to join me and my wife. We went with Danny backstage before his show and that was the first time Ken and I actually really hung out. It was to go see Danny Gans. But then we developed a relationship from there. Because, again, I wasn't asking Ken for something. I was inviting him to something and to be a part of something.
Then when I was out in Los Angeles, we visited San Diego, and Ken lives in that area, and I reached out to him to see if he wanted to get together for lunch and so forth. Then he invited us over to his house on a Saturday. So, we went over to his house with our family to visit him at his house. Warming, encouraging. That's where the relationship started.
Then when I wrote The Energy Bus, I asked him to take a look at it. Would he write the forward? He agreed to. I don't think any of us, neither of us, thought it was going to be a success like it was, like it has been, but he's been such a huge influence in my life. Just the way he lives, the kind of person he is, his encouragement from the very beginning, and just his name on that book helped get it out there initially where people may not have read it but they read it because they saw his name. I credit him in a big way for my career, and I thank him all the time.
Kruse: Invite people along for an experience instead of just networking.
Gordon: It was fate in many ways because he just happened to be out there, I was out there. It was lined up but it wasn't like you said, I wasn't networking or trying to get something. Because I had no idea that I was going to ask for something later on. I just wanted to connect with Ken and have a relationship with him. So, yes, I was providing value to him because if I said, “Hey Ken. You want to join me to meet this so and so nobody?” I would get, “No, I'm a little busy, Jon.” But, “You want to go see Danny Gans?” “Okay, yeah. Sure. Let's do it.”
Kruse: Your newest book, is The Power of Positive Leadership. This one's not a fable. Why the shift?
Gordon: Because this is a book about what I've learned over the past 10 years in writing the fables. I wanted to share what I've learned and in a framework that I could write in this way. This book could not be a fable. Too much information, too much content, too many stories. I had to write the book this way to share all that I've learned about positive leadership from the leaders I've worked with, the companies, the sports teams, the NFL coaches, Dabo Swinney, Clemson coach, national champion, I worked with them for five years, and so this is really about what I've learned from these amazing leaders.
Kruse: I really liked the chapter on positive leaders building great relationships and teams. Talk a little bit more about that.
Gordon: I believe that's the most important part of the book and it's funny that you would actually bring that part up because it is essential. Positive leaders, they unite the organization, they unite the team, they bring people together to work together; to create one team with one plan and one goal, all working towards the same vision and purpose. Then once you have that, it's about connecting with the relationships, to develop the relationships with each person on the team, to be able to encourage and mentor and inspire. The stronger the relationship, the stronger the team. Most teams break down because of no relationship, no communication. If you can enhance communication, create connection, develop commitment with those individuals, they'll be more loyal to you, to the team, and then together you'll achieve so much more.
I often say positive leadership is not just a positive state of mind. It's a positive state of action. What are you doing to invest in these relationships that help people become their best so they can help the team be their best?
Kruse: You also write about the power of love.
Gordon: Yeah, when Dabo Swinney and Clemson won the national championship, there he was on national television and he said, “My word all year has been ‘Love’ and I told the guys the difference was going to be our love for each other. That was going to make the difference in us winning.” It's true. The more love you have for each other, the more connected you are, the stronger the bond, the more you will be committed to each other to achieve something. Where when you have a challenge or an adversity, if you don't have connection, if you don't have love, that team is going to run from each other and fall apart, rather than come together and be strong. Love, we often hear in the business world, is ‘touchy-feely.’ No. This is, “You know what? I love you, so I'm going to fight for you. I love you, so we're going to work together.”
I call it love tough instead of tough love. See, tough love works but love must come first. If your team knows you love them, they will allow you to challenge them and push them to get better. I've met way too many big, strong, powerful athletes who become their best because their coach and their teammates love them.
Kruse: I always our listeners to become 1% better every day. What's one specific thing we can do today to become better leaders?
Gordon: Well, I often talk about pulling out your telescope and your microscope. Your telescope is the big picture vision of what you want to achieve. You have to have the big picture because if you're working hard every day, you're grinding, and you lose sight of the big picture, you might give up. But that microscope is also essential as well. That microscope is the zoom focus action you need to take each day to realize the picture in the telescope. I guess to help people get better I would say, what are you committed to in the microscope each day to help you realize the big picture in the telescope? Don't tell me your goals because everyone has goals. Tell me your commitments because it's your commitments that will take you to your goals. That's the key to positive leadership. They carry both a telescope and a microscope for themselves and their teams, and that's the key for each one of us to be successful each day.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.