Thank you, Mike, for sharing your story on Sidepreneur Magazine. Tell us who you are and what you do.
First of all, thank you for inviting me to do this interview! It’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to pour into other people out in the world marketplace. I have been in business for myself since 2006. I’m based in Little Rock, Arkansas. I help leaders and organizations build their teams.
Part of that looks like an executive search firm, a headhunting firm. My background is hospital leadership. I have done that since I was in my early twenties. I help hospitals recruit health care leaders, operational leaders, nursing leaders, and technical leaders. I’ve recruited chief executive officers, chief nurses, and chief operating officers.
We recruit leaders, and we coach and train leaders. Organizations sometimes promote employees who are not well-equipped to lead. Perhaps they didn’t learn the leadership skills it takes to move people where we need them to go. I help leaders develop and gain confidence in their leadership ability.
Mike, will you share one of your early defining memories of growing up in Arkansas?
Yeah, I grew up in Lower Arkansas. I call it LA when I’m doing speaking engagements—just for a little comic relief. I grew up on a small farm in a rural community. I grew up in a tough home. My parents were in a dysfunctional marriage, in and out of a relationship. I experienced a fair amount of physical abuse from my mom growing up. There was a lot of alcoholism in my home. Just growing up in that kind of environment, you learn certain skills to drive you to be better.
Some people who grow up in that environment can’t move past the dysfunction. But by the grace of God I was able to turn those tough childhood experiences into a desire to learn, a desire to grow. I learned to become a better leader in my own life first, then in my home, marriage, and my relationship with my kids. I learned to communicate, build relationships and lead other people in the marketplace. That’s not one defining moment, it’s many years of defining moments in my life.
Thank you for sharing that difficult story. Do you view your childhood as something good, or is it still something to get over?
No, my childhood is good. But what I say is I would never wish my childhood on anyone else. But you know what? Other people have grown up quite worse than me, so I’m grateful for many aspects of my childhood. I had a great relationship with my dad. He taught me many things about love. My dad was a great dad, and he taught me how to love my kids and how to work hard. He always worked hard. He’s sixty-nine years old, and he still works as hard as a lot of men my age.
I’ve moved way past being bitter over my childhood to realizing that it was a gift. Many of the things I learned I’m able to communicate to young kids, young men I mentor and develop. It’s been a gift for me, even though during that time in my life I didn’t see it as a gift. I wanted to be anywhere but home most of the time up until I was about fifteen years old.
What do you see as the most important characteristic of good leadership and how do you try to embody that?
This is something I did not know growing up. It took me years to learn, but good leadership requires developing close relationships. Get as close to your people as you can. My childhood embodies that saying, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” I took it to heart. I did a lot of things by myself. Early in my leadership career, I didn’t see the people who worked for me as working with me. I didn’t see them as important. I didn’t see the value they added to my team. They were there to work for me, not with me.
Over time, I found that a lack of relationship with a team is detrimental to you as a leader. Build relationships with everybody, with all types of personalities. It’s still not a strength of mine, to be quite honest with you. It’s not my number one strength. I have to work hard at it because I’m a Type A individual. I want things done, done right, and done right now. That’s not always good for relationships.
I have to work hard on doing what I teach others. I teach them to build relationships with others based on personality types. I teach that every single day. I’ve learned a lot of other people struggle with it as well. We all need to grow in our ability to build relationships.
What is a top tactic we can use to develop relationships?
Be intentional about it. Learn to ask questions about people instead of giving directions. I’m very good at giving directions. I’ve got two great strengths as a leader. One is telling people what to do, and the other is telling them how to do it. I laugh about that because it’s true, but now before I start telling people what to do and how to do it I pause. I work to build a relationship first.
Ask questions first and take a pulse check—to borrow an analogy from my medical background. Take a quick pulse check or blood pressure check and ask, “How are you doing? Where are you struggling? How’s your family doing?” Ask some close personal questions before you get into the business directives most leaders are good at.
Mike, I’ve heard you were into sports and are a military veteran. Could you share a story about how the discipline you learned has helped you in your business?
I was a baseball player growing up. I played it through two years of college. Then, I coached baseball. My son is fifteen now, and I coached him from the time he was four years old until he was thirteen. I spent twelve years in the military, six active duty and six more in the reserves, and I learned to do the little things it takes to be successful.
The military teaches you that little things matter. I served as an enlisted soldier and then went on to get a commission in the military as well. During basic training, they critique every little you do, just the minor things. I was tempted to say, “Man, this is crazy. Why do I need to pay attention to those little things?” But it’s the little things that at get us in trouble.
I remember Jim Rohn used to say, “What is simple to do is also simple not to do.” Doing something the wrong way becomes a new habit, and before long the habit controls us. It’s like eating a bowl of ice cream every night before you go to bed. It seems like a harmless thing. But when you eat ice cream every night for a year, you put on the extra pounds.
As an entrepreneur, the little things we don’t do on a regular basis trip us up. If you don’t prospect every day, pick up the phone and make the calls, it comes back to bite you. If you don’t put enough money aside to pay your taxes, you’ll regret it. We must pay attention to those little disciplines. The military and baseball taught me those little things. As Jim Rohn also said, “We can either live with the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.”
When you started your business, you jumped in with both feet. You told your wife, “In six months we’ll be bankrupt or successful.” Going into business takes a risk. Why does fear hold some back, while it pushes others ahead?
I have a fear of being found out. I’m afraid others will discover I’m not as good as people think I am. In reality, none of us are as good as other people think we are, right? We look good on the outside.
In America, we do a great job of showing people our best side. When we leave our house they see our best look or our best side. That fear of being found out is a huge driver for me. The other thing that drives me is the memory of my mother telling me I wasn’t going to amount to anything. That’s also a huge driver. I’m afraid she might be right, so it still drives me, even today. I don’t want to let her be right.
When I was in the military, I was afraid of heights. Of course, it’s not the heights I’m afraid of—it’s falling from them! You can stand on a building, but falling from it is the scary part. Despite my fear, I become an air assault soldier. I repelled out of helicopters from a hundred and thirty feet in the air. The fear of someone thinking I couldn’t do it drove me to do it. I was more afraid of being found out as a fraud and failure than I was of the heights. That fear drives me to do the things I know I need to do to be successful.
Relationships are very important to you in business. Please share a story of one relationship that’s helped you in business. Tell us how you built that relationship.
I’ve been a Christian believer for about eleven years now. That’s the most important relationship I have in my life. It changed my life. When I came to faith, I started becoming who I am today. I began stepping away from my past and stepping into my potential. Outside of that, I have a great relationship with a lady named Deb Ingino, who you and I have in common. I met Deb through our common relationship with John Maxwell. Those two people have had a great influence on my business life.
Deb and I partnered on several business initiatives, on coaching and training. John has mentored me through his books and his teaching for many years. I read one of John’s leadership books twenty plus years ago now. I never thought I would have the honor to be a partner with him. I’m now a part of the John Maxwell team. I get to sit at John’s right hand and learn from him on a regular basis.
To cultivate those relationships I set my ego aside and take the role of a learner. I want to be a learner, whether it’s in my Christian faith relationship or friendships. I want to be a learner from the book of leadership and the book of life. I want to be a learner from my dad and from friends like John. I put myself in their presence as much as I can.
That leads into my next question. I hear you have developed accountability partners. In the abstract that sounds easy. What advice do you have for others who need people to encourage them or hold them accountable to their goals?
When I’m doing leadership training I often say, “The only person who likes to be held accountable is Nobody.” None of us likes to be held accountable because we can’t hold ourselves accountable. We’re just not very good at it. Seventy-five percent of Americans set New Year’s resolutions. By the end of January over half of those people have already quit on their New Year’s resolutions.
I have a hard time committing to my own goals. I need somebody to hold me accountable, someone with whom I can share those goals. I share financial goals, health goals, and relationship goals. I need somebody who will be honest with me and ask me the hard questions. Not to beat me up, but to ask, “Mike, you said this was one of your goals. What are you doing to make sure it happens? Are you fully committed to it?” We can lie to ourselves, but it’s hard to lie to somebody else because they can hear it.
Deb Ingino is one of my accountability partners. I meet with Deb and another gentleman from London, England. We meet every Monday morning and to talk about our weekly goals and we hold each other accountable. I’ve developed several of those relationships through my church, and through business as well. I need strong people in my life with permission to hold me accountable. I say, “Here are my goals, and if you need to kick me in the rear end once in a while, kick me in the rear end, but don’t let me fail on these goals. They’re too important.”
If someone wants that kind of accountability but doesn’t have it, what’s one thing they can do to move toward it?
Put yourself in an environment of people who are ahead of you. This is uncomfortable for some people. Most of us are afraid to be around people who are ahead of us, who appear to have more money than us, who appear to have more ability than us. But those people who appear to be ahead of us are just like us. They were where we are today, and now they’re where we want to be.
Maybe you should invest in a coach. Find somebody that you can pay fifty dollars or a hundred dollars a month. Nowadays you can find coaches online every single day. Just search for “executive coach” or “life coach” and you’ll find somebody who thinks differently than you but has the same values. You want to have a values match in those relationships.
This is a great place, Sidepreneur Magazine. Find people who doing similar things and can encourage you. Seek out mentors and accountability partners. But first, we must lay our ego aside. We’ve got to say, “Look, I don’t have all this figured out, but hold me accountable, talk to me about my goals, and kick me in the rear when I need it.”
What’s one way you build relationships with your customers?
I’m not an old guy, I’m forty-five, but I’ve learned to do some things the old-fashioned way. Though it’s out of fashion, I still do what I call “pressing the flesh” with people. Get in front of your customers from time to time, even if it’s just for a meal. Shake their hand. If you can’t do that, make personal phone calls. Via smartphones, I have direct access to many of my customers. I’ll shoot them a text just to check on them. I’ll wish them happy birthday or happy holiday, whatever it is. I let them know I am thinking of them. It’s a little personal touch.
I don’t like social media, but it’s a great way to stay in touch with people. You get to know people a different way when you’re connected with them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I also use a lot of handwritten notes. I’ve got a stack of plain white cards here in my office. I’ll send hand-written notes to let people know I’m thinking of them. I drop a business card in there and shoot it off. Some people remember that. It’s a small but important thing. It only costs me forty-five cents for the card and a stamp.
Yesterday, as I was researching for some new training I’m developing, I came across an article I liked. I thought of a hospital CEO who is going through some things the article discussed, so I sent him the article. Little things like that nurture the relationship. You don’t have to buy gifts, just let them know you’re thinking of them.
Going it alone in business can be dangerous. How do you involve others in a business when you’re just getting it started and may not have the cash to hire resources?
I made a ton of money my first year in business. I hired four guys and poured a bunch of money into them, thousands and thousands of dollars. I bought new equipment and rented office space. I paid for training. I paid them good salaries. But since they were on salary, they didn’t have to work hard to make money. So I had money going out of my savings, my profit, to keep them propped up while I was starving myself. It was a lesson learned. It’s best to pay straight commission and have people make money off the things they sell.
If you want to bring people alongside your business, first be clear on your vision. What do you want to do as a business? When your vision is clear, you can talk about it and you pour it into other people’s lives.
My personal mission statement is to ignite a leadership revolution by lifting growth-driven people higher in purpose, excellence, and action. I can also tell you my goals and how I’m going to make that happen. I share that passion with other people and help them see where they can partner with me. I look for partners who will invest in themselves to learn to do what I’m doing. We partner together, and we share the success.
If I don’t have the money to pay them upfront, I make a promise to share future success. I split the profits according to the skills and contribution of my partners. There’s always a way. You don’t have to hire somebody. Build your business by finding entrepreneurial people who will partner in your future success.
Remember, there has to be a values match. This is one of the greatest things I’ve learned from John Maxwell. You and I don’t have to think alike, but if our values don’t line up, we’re not going to work together very long. When your values match, everything else takes care of itself.
What book most helped you build your business, and what did you learn from it?
The The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber helped me learn the difference between being a tactician and a strategist. It is all about creating systems so your business can run without you. We go into business because we’re very good at our work. But right away, we also need to be the CEO of our business and maybe even manage other people. At the beginning we rely on technical skill to lead other people, but sooner or later we’ve got to transition into leadership. The E-Myth is about moving from technician to strategist. How do you create a clear vision? How do you hire a team? How do you build a marketing funnel so your team can continue to make money? It’s about moving from being a doer to being a leader in your business.
Another book I recommend is Profit First: A Simple System to Transform Any Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine by Michael Michalowicz. Profit First is about how to make money, save money and turn a profit in your business. As an entrepreneur, it’s very easy to spend more money than we make. At the end of the year, we can have a loss even though we worked extremely hard on our business. I’m still learning some of these lessons even after nine years in business.
Every entrepreneur should read those two books.
Thank you very much, Mike. I appreciate you talking with me today!
Hey, Harvey, I appreciate you inviting me to be a part of your tribe and having the interview. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I hope that I’ve added great value to you in the interview and that we can continue to stay in touch and do it again!