[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]
Kevin Kruse: Hello everyone, I'm Kevin Kruse. Welcome to The LEADx Show where we're helping you to stand out and to get ahead as a leader. And if you're the kind of person who always says “thank you”, then I hope you'll take one minute to leave a rating and review for the LEADx Show on iTunes or wherever you like to listen. And if you don't know how to do that in your own app or on iTunes, you can always point your browser to leadx.org/subscribe and that's going to bounce you to the right page where you can just click some stars and write a one-sentence review if you like. This is the single best way we can find new listeners over the long-term and build the LEADx family.
Today on the show I talk to a brother from another mother. He's a fellow Philadelphian and before the interview, we mind-melded on the Sixers and the Eagles and book publishing strategy, but on air, we sync up and discover that we have a lot of other things in common including our fixation on commitment and gratitude and so much more. We're going to start with a quote of the day. “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” That comes from Wayne Dyer. All about perspective.
Our guest today has been a lifelong serial entrepreneur. He's founded numerous for-profit and nonprofit organizations. He's currently the founder and CEO of Holman International, a global leadership consultancy. And his new book is Lead the Way: Inside-Out Leadership Principles for Business Owners and Leaders. Our guest is Robb Holman. Robb, welcome to the show.
Robb Holman: Hey. Thanks, Kevin. Joy to be on and I'm looking forward to the conversations, so.
Kruse: Yeah. We're gonna have some fun and we're going to talk about your new book in just a minute, but as you know I've got a tradition on the LEADx podcast where I always start the same first question because I think failures are stepping stones. I say no win or lose, it's just win or learn. So, tell me about one of your best failures.
Holman: Yeah, well, Kevin, I've never failed once ever. Yeah, right. I don't know, you have the wrong guest on. No. I've failed numerous times. Not afraid to admit that. And can't help but think of a time where I was in my mid-twenties as an entrepreneur and it became much more about things than people. And people kept on dropping by my office. At the time I was the president/CEO of a basketball clothing company based out of the Philadelphia area. And I had a lot to get done. A lot of responsibilities in the sales end, vision casting end. We had employees that were family members. We had employees that were non-family members. So you can imagine some of the drama that existed at times.
So, I had to get things done and I only had a certain amount of hours in the day to get things done. But I'll never forget. People kept on dropping by my office. Whether they were employees, whether they were just friends in the area, and they had obvious needs. And they would always come by, “Hey, is Robb around?” And my executive assistant at the time, which between me and you and your entire audience, was my mom, because it was a family business. Real official name of the executive assistant. But, in light of that.
So, there was this one particular time where a friend of mine dropped by and said to my mom at the front, as soon as he entered into the office, or the main office area, “Is Robb around today?” And, again, she was like, “Well, you know.” So, in any event, my door would not shut properly and it was one of those that like it just wouldn't shut properly. I had not gotten it fixed or whatever, so he comes in and he's looking for me. “Robb, Robb, are you here?” And he knows me well enough to walk around the office looking for me. And, I kid you not, I was in the middle of doing something quite serious, a lot of responsibility, had to cross some T's, dot some I's, and I hid behind my office door that was open about this … Just a little bit of a gap. Just so he could never find me.
“Robb, Robb!” And he starts entering in. I'm literally on my tiptoes behind the door so he could never find me, and just in the deepest part of who I was, I just felt like this little nudge, just like, “Now look at yourself. Look at what it's come to. You've put things before people.” Kevin, that was a huge wake-up call for me. And I was like, “I don't want to be one of those people.” And you're hearing from a guy, I love people. I've always adored people. I'm enthusiastic. I'm a cheerleader of people. But even with people that are extroverts and love people, it can become about things more than people.
From that point forward I said, “No more.” I'm gonna go out of my way to serve people, to listen to people. And, you know, obviously you've got to set boundaries and you've got to get things done, but I wanted to make sure to keep people first. And it's amazing out of that time what began to happen. My hours would be multiplied. I'd spend time with people listening to some of their problems and just that active listening that's just so critical in today's day and age and any business culture and in life. And when I started to do that, it just so happened that stuff that would normally take me six hours to do, I would be able to get done in an hour or two by putting people first.
So, I learned from that failure. It was a true wake-up call for me to never allow that to happen again. I still need little mini wake-up calls along the way, but I got the major lesson in that.
Kruse: Well, Robb, let me ask you because this is something that I like a difference of opinions on this show to talk some things out. So, I often, from my productivity, with my productivity hat on, will counsel people. I say, “Close your open-door policy.” And it's not about pushing people out always. I say, ‘We have to stop being managers of tasks and we need to start being leaders of people.” And yet, I feel that “the door is always open” does interfere with our deep work that does sometimes have to get done. So, what do you think about that?
Holman: Yeah. Great point. There's definitely a balance in it. There's no doubt about it. I love where you're coming from because, at the end of the day, I think in order to be an effective leader of people, it really starts with leading ourselves first. And in that, I think we need to understand even the discipline of good boundary setting. Boundary setting is just crucial. So many times leaders are saying yes way too much. Keep in mind what I just shared. My big wake-up call was, I need to put people first. So, keeping that in mind as maybe a foundation.
I think with leading yourself first and creating boundaries we need to understand what our true priorities are in any given season.
Kruse: Yeah, that's a great way. It starts there, right with the priorities.
Holman: It does. And so many people, so many leaders, just don't know what their priorities are, so they're saying yes even to things that would be almost like obligations or opportunities, or whatever the case may be, they're just saying yes to everything because their heart's in the right place. They want to help people. They want to be about big things. They want to see momentum. They want to see an enhancement. But out of what place? So I've learned, when we truly understand what our priorities are, now we can begin to sift through those requests that are going to come our way. Because let's be honest, leaders are only going to have demand on their time, resources, and energy. That's not going to go anywhere. As a matter of fact, that's only going to increase in time.
Kruse: Right. That's right.
Holman: So, it's our management of it that means everything.
Kruse: Now this is great. We've actually jumped into some of these topics I want to explore more deeply. But again, your new book is Lead the Way: Inside-Out Leadership Principles for Business Owners and Leaders. So, let's just sort of start like what is the big idea of your book?
Holman: Yeah. So, Kevin, what you're very well aware of, which you're a pioneer in this space is, a lot of workers without leaders are disengaged doing what they do. And so, I'll spell out disengagement as a lack of meaningful purpose and passion in what they do in their professional life. What they put their hands and feet to nine to five, so to speak. And I love the Lloyd University press statistics back in, I think, 2014 where it says that nearly 90% of employees or team-members are disengaged from their work. Not to mention, nearly 80% of the leaders of those people. So, there's a major problem at hand here.
And leaders obviously know that there's a problem because they're throwing money and they're trying. They're trying different things to try and solve that glaring problem. But what they're throwing at it, I don't think is as effective as it could be. And they're throwing out what I consider outside-in stuff. Outside-in. Like outside techniques and strategies that are a bit more motivational. Trying to get into the heart and the mind of the worker. What I have, over the years, developed was more of an inside-out approach, which is more of getting into the … Starting at getting into the heart and the mind of the worker. Understanding who they are, why they exist, etc., so that they're compelled to be about maximizing their performance and enhancing the company, etc.
So the main premise of the book is to see that lack of engagement, that engagement gap, really close. Helping people truly understand why they personally exist on the planet so they can maximize their passion and their purpose personally and see that infused into the workplace and what they do as a team member, an employee, and as a leader. Now, here's the thing though. If you want to understand why you personally exist, that sounds great and it's a question people are consciously or subconsciously asking all the time, but the book is about if you want to understand why you exist, understand who you are uniquely as an individual first and that will lead you down the path of understanding why you exist.
Kruse: So, let me come back to that who you are first, but I want to ask a follow-up on … With organizations let's just say they throw a lot of resources at the engagement problem, most of it doesn't work. Are you suggesting that managers or HR departments should serve in the role and can serve in the role of sort of the guru to help employees work from the inside-out or is that not their role, and if you're sort of suggesting that each of us as an individual, has to do this for ourselves?
Holman: I think it's both/and. I would encourage leaders to lead the way in that way. And I think a lot of HR directors and leaders that I come across, that I get a chance to serve and influence, they're doing a great job oftentimes with professional development. There's a craft for professional development. Sometimes with a missing gap. There's that personal development piece, and then bridging the gap into the professional development. So in a sense, is that personal development meets or marries the professional development in a pretty seamless way. So, a lot of times people think of things in categories. “Well, I've got to work on this personal development and then when I get done with that, then I'm gonna work on the professional development.” And people seem to, “Well, I'm a little ahead of the game if I have that.”
But when you start to marry both … And what I always say is, in the Eastern way of thinking, I do a lot of work in the Middle East and serve leaders and train up leaders in the Middle East, and I love it because I love the West and I love the East. In the East, we can learn a lot from Eastern leaders. They think of things very holistically. In a sense, our lives and what we do every day, it's like a wheel with many spokes. See, in the West, we tend to think things more categorical in nature. We're greatly influenced by Greek way of thinking, which is not bad, it just is more in categories, file folders, more black and white kind of thinking. So, I love to encourage people to say, “What would it look like to think more holistically? To marry personal development and professional development.” And if an HR leader, manager, or director can lead the way in that, as well as kind of seeing the employee or team-member themselves awakened in that and embrace that way of thinking and that way of living, that's where great things really begin to happen.
Kruse: Yeah, and Robb, you just gave me a gift because something that I've been asked over and over again for probably 30 years now, I will get questions from, say directors of training and big companies, and they'll say, “Help us. We don't know what to do with our most senior leaders, senior salespeople. We want to retain them and we know that by challenging them and helping them to grow, that will help with their engagement, but they've already checked the box on every training program we've got. They've been here for 25 years. What are we gonna do?” And I'm always thinking, what else can they learn for professional development? I think, have you done business acumen yet? I go in that direction and yet the answer's actually, they probably haven't checked too many boxes on personal development and to facilitate that, you can continue, because look, that never ends. There's no end of curriculum for personal development. And that's really going to be my go-to suggestion moving forward.
Holman: And I think too, Kevin, good point, and I think when we begin to tap into the individual, the person, with what lights them up, what matters, truly matters the most to them. We're tapping into the very essence of who they are and what they were created to … Who they were created to be and what they were created to do. In the midst of that then, because we know it's very popular to come up with a business mission, business culture, and stuff like that, and you can rally people, have shared vision times and it's exciting. But I've just recognized, if you want a vibrant and long-term sustainable culture and company, tapping into the individuals and the team members as a foundation and then seeing that infused, it just makes all the difference.
But I think too, I want to touch on this very briefly, I think that with many leaders, they don't know that line. And I just want to be very honest. The line of like, “Is it really my role or can I actually get fired or can I get reprimanded if I dive more into someone's personal life?” And I understand. There's lines there and you don't want to turn business meetings and team-building meetings and employee meetings into full-fledged counseling sessions, so I get that. But, the first time that I meet anyone, I want to lay a foundation. I want to get to know the individual. How are they wired? What makes them tick? What are the things that they are most passionate about in life? What have been their milestones in life? The good, the bad, the ugly that have gotten them to where they are today so I know who I'm working with. I know who I'm there to serve. And then moving forward, I want to build on that. I want to develop, at the end of the day, I want to develop authentic relationships. Because at the end of the day when we have authentic relationships, that's the place where trust is built and fosters. And we know, if we don't have trust, we don't have anything.
Kruse: That's right. That's right. Now, let me get back to, you say it starts with, in terms of inside-out leadership, with understanding. You said who you are, yourself, that's where it all begins. So, this is self-awareness? How do we begin that journey? How do we make progress there?
Holman: Yeah. There are five key areas for me in helping you discover or rediscover kind of who you are that leads into why you exist and seeing that infused in the workplace. Number one is, and these are very practical things, Kevin. The first is, do you know your personal core values? The things that you stand firm in. Strong convictions of the heart as I like to call them. These are things that matter the most to you that you're actually making decisions out of these places all day long, but may not fully realize it until you actually begin to have awareness of those things.
The second area is your top strengths. Of course, I love Tom Rath and Macdonald Poll and the Strengths Finder, the natural talents, the things that come very easy to you. They're not as much hard work. They're pretty seamless, there's a lot of positive fruit that comes from it. What are those top strengths for you?
Third, what are the top passion areas that you have in your life? And these are things that literally have you leaping out of bed in the morning in which to accomplish or to do. They are different for everyone. They could be work-related. They could be more hobby or pleasure related. Whatever it is, but what are the things that literally you could talk about these things or engage in these things all day long? And maybe you've been doing that for years, but it would be like every time you talk about them for the first time with a unique individual, it would be like the first time you're actually speaking about it.
Kruse: That's great. A great way to think of it.
Holman: I don't know if other people are going to be as excited about your … You get all excited about it. The fourth area, which I think is a biggie, is what are your top life milestones? And I touched on this just a couple of moments ago. And these are the things, good, highly challenging, or somewhere in the middle, that have helped shaped you to become the person you are today. And it could be the divorce of a family member, mom or dad. It could be the birth of your first child. It could be your first job, your first entrepreneurial paycheck. Whatever it is, but no matter if it's really great, a great blessing, or a huge trial or tribulation, these are the things that, at that time, that season, it's like a stake was put in the ground. Maybe you didn't fully realize it, but you knew you kind of would never be the same again. And I think that that is a really big deal for people and it really lets you in. It's about kind of owning your own story and in that process, helping others begin to own their stories as well.
And then the fifth and final area is, what's the primary gift you've been given? And understand that like, gift, there could be some crossover strengths and passions and stuff, but a gift isn't as much meant for you. It's meant for other people to be impacted and influenced by. For instance, are you just a gifted encourager? Are you a really compassionate person? Are you just a gifted leader? In a sense when you understand your primary gifting, these are an area or areas that you can then come alongside other people and where they can kind of unwrap you, so to speak, and it's a legacy you leave behind upon the earth when you are no longer here anymore that has the potential to affect future generations.
And so for me, I'll give you an example, I'm like a … People have told me this over the years, I'm a natural, that encourager. And encouragement isn't merely making people feel good about themselves, that can be an aspect of it, but Kevin, it's more or less like helping instill courage in people when they are down and out. Like looking into their eyes and be like, “When you don't think you can, I know you can so let's do it together.” And that's pretty powerful.
So those are the five areas, very practically speaking, when you take a closer look at those, it really helps affirm and encourage who you are and then it leads into the next appropriate question, “All right, why am I actually here?”
Kruse: So much great stuff. And I'm glad, I'll just remind listeners that not only do we have this great podcast, but this becomes an article that goes out on the website. And I encourage people to print out these lessons to refresh their memory, then, of course, buy your book to go deep into each of these. And just a couple of … You saw me jot all kinds of notes on this because they're very triggering and I love that as an encourager sort of giving people courage. I never thought about that aspect of the word itself. And it was only in the last few years, because I'm 50 years old, and as every year goes by, Robb, I'm shocked at how little I know. The older I get, the less I know.
Holman: You and me both. Yep. You and me both.
Kruse: And for decades, my nature is to be more of a logical type A introvert type person, and so in terms of my personal mission and what I thought I should be doing, it was often to help others very practically speaking. So my work was very practical. Here's a tool, Here's the answer. Here's a technique. And it was after my productivity book came out several years ago, I started getting all these emails and social media comments that surprised me saying, “I finally have hope that I can get it all done” or “I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and I have hope that I-” They started saying “hope” and I'm thinking, “I'm not a hope guy. I'm a hard-core … None of this motivational soft, warm, fuzzy stuff. I'm the hard-core answer guy.”
It took me so long to understand that without first having hope and courage, you don't pick up the tool and use it. You don't get out of bed and start. You need both. And I literally changed. I'm looking off camera here, but I added that word. My mission, to provide life-changing hope and help because without that first encouragement, without that courage, people won't take the next step.
Holman: No, they won't. And what you're speaking about, which I love, there's always a balance. It's always … Many times it not an either/or, it's a both/and.
Holman: And for any healthy foundation, personally, professionally, it's like we need foundations. And what are those foundations? I think you're talking about one. It's like when we can have a foundation that we stand on filled with hope and courage. Now you have tools for the tool-belt, they will help you live that out more consistently and intentionally so there will be long-term sustainability. And it's like, I always like to say, “It's like two sides of the same coin.” It's like vibrancy and long-term sustainability. Some people and some companies, they have all the passion and the heart and the inspiration and the courage, but there's no long-term sustainability because there's no structure, there are no things that are gonna facilitate that enhancement, that momentum, that growth. You really need both. It's like any healthy foundation. There are to be built upon. I love what you brought out, Kevin. I think it's a great point.
Kruse: The other thing, Robb. You said something that was really pure gold. Again, I realized it late in life myself, and you said it really quickly, and it's the number one facet you talked about, which is core values. And you said, “It's your values. It's how you're making decisions even if you're not realizing it.” This I feel, this is really underlining for all the listeners, the importance of core values. I think a lot of people think values, it's like, “Oh, it's that squishy stuff again. I'm supposed to know my values. I'm supposed to be a nice person and I'm helpful and all that.” Core values are very practical. They can be very practical because they drive decision-making.
A friend of mine, Dr. Jack Clover, he's one of the leading decision analysts in the world. He was in the US Army, officer, then a senior executive at Johnson and Johnson and now he's paid big money by organizations who are trying to make a big decision and they bring him and his company in to help them go through that. And so, one day I just asked him over a cup of coffee, I'm like, “Jack, okay, you're a guru at making decisions. How do you make decisions? Like, break it down for a regular person.” And he said it comes down to being clear on what are your values. What do you value and thinking it through and then are there ways to accommodate them? And this is very practical.
My daughter, Natalie, she's 17, she's receiving the college acceptance letters, and she's got a tough choice. And she's like, “Dad, we're going to have to sit down. I'm not really sure. It's not clear.” And already in my mind, the first thing I'm gonna tell her to do is, “All right, what do you value most out of your future college experience? Let's make sure you're clear on that. Is it living in a big city or is it a really good film program? And it might be both, but then let's rack and stack and see how we do it.”
So, if you can't … Anybody out there, if you're ever stuck on a decision, a big life-change you may need some courage to make, stay in your job, take a new job, do whatever it is, if you're fuzzy on it, it means you're fuzzy on your values and you need to think those through.
Holman: Could not agree more and you're getting me going now, Kevin.
Kruse: Let's go!
Holman: Honestly because you're speaking my language and if you guys haven't thought I'm passionate enough already, you just wait. Here's a thing about values as well. Not only do we need to have awareness of them, what they are for us, we need to help other people have awareness of what ours are as well and understand theirs. And I say that to say, one of my top core values is commitment. I'm a very committed person. Now, I could make a strong argument, everyone should be as committed as Robb, but how's that work for me if I put those expectations on other people? Now, I need to understand, I need to clearly define what commitment means to me. What that looks like for me and help my wife, help my kids understand that. Help my co-workers, help my team-members understand that, and the clients they have the opportunity to serve. So there can be an understanding and an honor and appreciation in the midst of them because all, because someone's top core values aren't commitment, doesn't mean they are not a committed person.
Kruse: That's right.
Holman: I think we'd all see a list of core values and be like, “Check. Check. Check. Check. I want all these to be … These are all my core values.” But I think if we're honest, there are some that come a little bit more to the forefront than others. And again, when we begin to own them ourselves, and also help other people understand our heartbeat behind that as well, now that gives way to healthy communication, good conflict resolution can come out of that, which is just huge, absolutely huge.
Kruse: Okay. So, I'm gonna geek out even further on this because I'm just trying to find, one of my top values for a long time has been commitment and in fact, to my companies, but to your point, I didn't realize that this was happening, but I had so communicated my value of commitment that my team-members used to call it the C word because I would often … They would say, “Oh, I'll have that report on Friday.” And then I would say, “You think you'll have that report on Friday or you're committed to having the report on Friday?” And just by … They knew what that meant. And so, behind my back, I felt like they would be like, “Well, did he use the C word?” It was like a dirty word, the way I would use it so much. So, we both value that commitment.
But for the sake of time, let me ask you about this because it's another really important practice for me, is all about gratitude. And in fact, in my Philadelphia condo, the only piece of original artwork I own is a piece by Peter Tunney and it's this crazy work “grattitude” with two T's and it stands for “attitude of gratitude”. And you write about this. Core conviction is to develop an attitude of gratitude. So tell me more about that.
Holman: Okay. First of all, yes. First of all, we need to realize we're swimming upstream on this one. In our culture and really worldly culture as well, but I'll say in American culture, people are much more negative than they even realize. I mean, we have one day of the year where we actually dedicate to a day of thanks. It's called Thanksgiving. It doesn't take long around the kitchen or the dining room table to all of a sudden hear a relative, I'm sure it's none of our listeners are the ones that initiate these conversations of course, but to all of a sudden to go from this thankful heart into just more negative bin of conversation of the things that are happening that are wrong, or gossip, or all these different things that lead us into a place of getting really frustrated, angry, and stuff like that.
And I'll state the point by saying this, I was taking a walk with a couple of my kids a few years ago and we were just taking … Beautiful day, Kevin. I'm talking like, for those that don't know, I live in the greater Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania. Kevin and I are both Philadelphians. We love the Eagles. So, in any event, I had taken a great walk, beautiful day, the sun's out, clear blue skies, and I come across a couple of individuals. I pass by them and I say, “Isn't today a beautiful day?” And almost their immediate response was, “Yeah, but in a couple of days the rain's coming.” I'm like, “Oh my! Can we just give thanks?”
And sadly, in our culture, in businesses, it's a lot more … It becomes a lot more about the problems. The frustrations surrounding the problems, the heartache, the disappointments, the trials, the tribulations, the bin of negativity is all around us all the time. So, what we have to do is, we have to realize that. We need to have awareness of that. And in order to counteract that, what I do is, I start every day … You know, the temptation is there for all of us. I'm not saying it's a bad temptation necessarily, but to all of a sudden, as soon as we wake up, to turn on the news, read the newspaper, check social media, check the voicemails, check the emails, and then now, we're caught in this stream, this current, of negativity, because a lot of it is negative in nature.
I've just decided I don't want my culture or my world to dictate any day for me. I want to take my day by the horns and I want to take good control of my day by setting a tone with gratitude. So, every day as I wake up, I start in bed. As soon as my eyes open up, one of the things most specifically that I'm grateful for in my life. I work my way downstairs, grab a cup of coffee, I continue that. Some mornings it's 10 minutes and some it's an hour. And my whole family, it's one of our values, is gratitude in our family. We're all committed to that. Before we turn on the TV, before we even start school.
And some days are demanding, so the leash could be a little shorter. Other days there's more flexibility, but nonetheless, we start every day with giving intentional thanks. That's huge.
Kruse: I love that practice. And again, to try to … It's phenomenal. I find if I'm ever stressed … I also begin my day with a gratitude practice, and yet if I'm having one of those days and it's 2:00 in the afternoon and I'm just starting to feel it and getting, whether it's angry or anxious or whatever that is, I drop back into that gratitude practice and sometimes it only takes a minute, other times it might take 20 to kind of get back to that perspective. But it really is a life-changing practice, so.
Holman: And if you begin to be intentional and consistent with that, it's like any good discipline. When you're intentionally consistent with that discipline, if you stay with it long enough, it becomes a lifestyle you live. And out of that place, I know leaders, business leaders, that it becomes such a personal practice and really that's led into a personal lifestyle, that now in the workplace they start meetings with a time of gratitude. They're not diving into problems. There are some companies I've encouraged to actually have a Wall of Gratitude and each employee has a different color sticky note and every day as soon as they come in, they have five things, they get five blue sticky notes, and here's the big Wall of Gratitude, every week's a new wall, and they just start filling it in. So every employee for the five days has 25 sticky notes in their color of the things that they are grateful for in each of the five workdays. And can you imagine, depending on the amount of employees that come in, that's the first thing they do.
So, you can be creative with it in your personal life, but also your professional life and it just breathes life into, not just your personal life, but professional life too and you can have a lot of fun.
Kruse: I love that idea and I'm gonna steal it shamelessly.
Holman: Steal it. Steal it, brother.
Kruse: And share it everywhere I go. So, Robb, how can our listeners find out more about you and Lead the Way, your new book?
Holman: Two great resources. One is my personal website, which is robbholman.com. And people are always like, “Two B's? Was it some like rebellious thing, you added a B like in your teenage years?” I'm like, “No, my mom and the doctor came up with it.” So, it's robbholman.com. Another great resource for my book would be leadthewaybook.com.
Kruse: Perfect. And we will put those URLs in the show notes and of course the articles. Robb, it's been awesome. I'm sure we will be geeking out on this again in the future and thanks so much for coming on to the LEADx Show.
Holman: Kevin, it's been a joy and an honor and I love the work you're doing and I look forward to the next time. Thanks.