Can the secret to great management be held in just two words?
Leadership can often feel like navigating a minefield, and while there are countless books, videos, courses (and yes, podcasts) with loads of leadership tips, sometimes the simplest actions are the best. This CEO found one question composed of two words that helped him keep priorities in check and also allowed him to lead every person as an individual.
Dave Munson is the founder and owner of Saddleback Leather. He started his business out of the back of his truck in Mexico in 2003. Saddleback now does over 15 million dollars a year in online sales. He's an adventurer, a man with a huge heart, and a natural storyteller.
I recently interviewed Dave for the LEADx Podcast, where we discussed his best leadership advice and the key to enjoying life’s many challenges. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: You say the two words every leader must know is “By when?” Can you expand on that?
Dave Munson: So you ask them, “Hey, that's a great idea. By when can you have that?” If they go, “Ah, I don't know. I'll have to check and get back with ya,” you write down every time they don't hit ‘by when,’ and keep track of that, take mental notes. Then it leads to easier conversations when you can say something like, “You don't ever hit this. Is everything okay at home? What's going on? How's your family?” That sort of thing.
The other one is; know your people. If I need a bunch of data like, “Hey, how much leather have we bought from the different tanneries? At what price, what Peso exchange rate, how many decimeters? Could you put all that together and give me some numbers?” From 2008 to present, you have some people all of a sudden tying their shoes at the table and other people are fighting over it, their hands are raised, “Hey it's my turn, I want to do it, I want to do it.” You just gotta know your people, then you know who to ask stuff from, and who to not ask stuff from.
It's just really important to know your people, and then don't ask them to do stuff that they're not wired to do.
Kruse: Basically you need to identify their individual values and strengths, and then you tailor the work based on what they're good at.
Munson: Let’s say I were hiring someone to fetch sticks out of the pond in front of the house, and a cat applies for the job and they have a masters degree in stick fetching, then a lab shows up and he's all wet and he applies, he doesn't have a masters but he has a little experience, you know? I would totally hire the lab. I wouldn't ask the cat to go swimming all day long fetching sticks, though they could do it. It's getting the right people, doing the right jobs.
And I would say for a manager, find out about yourself. You know, the Greeks always say, “Know thyself,” or said. I bet they still say it. Know yourself. Take a bunch of strength finders, and DISK, and Meyer's Briggs, and CVI. I love the CVI, the Core Values Index. But take those tests, and find out about yourself. It'll really help you out as a manager.
Kruse: You seem to be an entrepreneur who is loving the war, the fight, the problems of entrepreneurship. Is every day a fun adventure for you?
Munson: Every day's a fun adventure. So here's the cool thing, we just had a bunch of theft, a whole bunch of theft. Legally I don't know if I can talk about it. But we just had a whole bunch of junk go on. It was like a forest fire. And it caused us to be healthier than we've ever been in our history at the factory. We got total upgrades, we got everything else.
I believe that God is always shaping us, and always changing us, and things happen for a reason. I asked for him to help me in this thing, so I figured that he would. If he does, it doesn't always come in the form that I expected it. But man, I got to a point one time when I had $19 in my bank account, I was sleeping on the floor, I had a full bag of dog food. I didn't have any money coming in for three weeks. But you know, I got stuck in Juarez. Seriously, Juarez is not a tourist destination.
I got stuck there for three years because someone stole from me. But you know what? It ended up being part of my story. I mean if my story were, “Daddy bought me a business.” That's not very attractive. So all of these things, they turned out for the good if you believe that they will. I just thought it was kind of a blessing, and these things. And because of the theft, we got a huge upgrade in our people, and we got more efficient, and everything. It's really been cool. If you see everything as a downer, and going wrong, and it's a disaster. If you know that there are bigger things coming, and that's how you get wisdom. You can't take a class on wisdom and now you're wise. You have to experience it, you have to go through it, and you develop a different kind of character that most people don't get if you go through struggles.
Kruse: It's just a good reminder not to hide the early days, not to hide the struggles, but to really share it out.
Munson: That is so important. Year three in my marriage, Suzette and I were fighting—I have a great wife by the way—but year three, we were fighting like crazy. I mean all the time. It was just like, I couldn't believe what a jerk I married. And she was literally thinking the same thing. She was like, “What a jerk. Bait and switch, this guy's an idiot.” Then we worked through it, and we read a book called, Love and Respect, and it really changed our marriage.
It opened our eyes, and now because of that, we've been able to help a ton of other people in their marriages, who are going through the exact same thing that we were going through. But if we hadn't gone through that tough time, we wouldn't have been able to help other people. Man, use it as a blessing.
Kruse: Do you do a customer appreciation day, where everybody can fly to Texas or Mexico, and hang out with you for a day?
Munson: Well actually, you know it's funny you say that because there are two things. We have a daycare at the factory, and we have an English program where I was teaching English way back, that we pay for them now, that school that opened up by our factory, for the kids of the employees. We're right next to the coolest town—and I'm not kidding—in North America. It's called Guanajuato. I wanted to have a customer gathering, a Saddleback family gathering there in Guanajuato. Everyone does a tour of the factory, they take a tour of the daycare. And then another one, a second tier in Rwanda, because we've taken about 300 people to East Africa, Rwanda, and we're very involved with African New Life Ministries. That's kind of like Compassion International.
I wanted to take a whole bunch of customers with us to see what happens with the money that they send us, because really we're a people business cleverly disguised as a leather bag company. We want to take people in and so they can experience it. I think it'd be really cool to start probably in the spring, actually.
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.