We Are the Company We Keep

A few years ago, in my former life as a travelling keynote speaker, I was invited to speak at the semi-annual sales retreat of a major global company. I was told they were struggling to come up with new ideas, and they needed someone to help them shake things up.

When I arrived a few days into the week long retreat, I decided to sit down with the National Sales Director and ask him a few questions before diving in.

First up, I asked: “Are you noticing that the same issues tend to come up at this event year after year?”

He said yes, about 80 percent of the problems discussed at the retreat were the same ones they’d been tackling for years.

My next question was: “Do you have a lot of turnover, or is it always the same people in this same room twice a year?”

He told me it was pretty much the same people, and yes, they always came to this same resort.

“So,” I said. “Just to summarize: you bring the same people, with the same problems, to the same room, every single year? Twice? And you’re wondering why you can’t come up with anything new?”

For a few beats, he just stared at me. Then, he broke into laughter.

“Damn, you’re good”, he said. “I guess I’ve never thought of it that way.”

I assured him this was totally normal, that we all get stuck in our habits. We’ve all had that experience of realizing we may be in need of a fresh pair of eyes.

Take my friend Kevin Cassidy, for example. Kevin runs Cassidy Paving Corp, a leading commercial asphalt paving company in Massachusetts. When Kevin first reached out to me, it was to ask if I’d be interested in providing coaching and training to his team. I was definitely interested, but before going any further, I needed to make sure he understood something that I considered to be kind of important.

“Kevin, I don’t know a damn thing about the paving business,” I told him.

To my surprise, Kevin replied: “Good.”

“I have a lot of paving experts in my life. I don’t need another one,” he went on to say. “What I don’t have is a good coach, or somebody with your fresh perspective.”

Huh, I thought. Isn’t that interesting?

Looking at these two stories, I’m reminded of the famous quote from Albert Einstein:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used to create them.”

Over the years, I’ve seen many professionals, spanning many different industries, following the exact opposite of Einstein’s advice (and let’s be honest, he was a pretty smart guy.) Bankers hang out with other bankers. Pharmaceutical representatives hang out with other pharmaceutical representatives. Insurance brokers hang out with… well, you get the idea.

The thing is, there is tremendous power in mixing and matching different groups of people – particularly when those people have great leadership skills. The exchange of ideas that can occur in these unique circumstances is extremely powerful. What might be considered a breakthrough idea in one industry is just standard practice in another industry.  

Creating these special environments is what I do best.

When you bring together world-class leaders from a variety of industries, magic happens – but only if you have the right people in the room. These are people who are honest and open-minded, who have growth mindsets, who don’t hide behind bureaucracy. They have a willingness to learn, to not take themselves too seriously, and they are genuinely interested in helping one another. In other words, it’s a ‘No B.S. Zone’ when these kinds of people get together.

I am currently hosting the Leadership Advantage Olympic Games, during which the magic described above was on full display. As part of this unique event, 22 professionals from around the globe were invited to participate in a series of challenges aimed at helping them grow as leaders.

These folks came from all different industries, but they had a few things in common: they’re all people for whom I have a ton of respect, and they’re all doing amazing things out in the world. Not to mention they all play at the ‘Olympian’ level – that is to say, they give it their all and play full out. In other words, they’re the only kind of people I work with.

The idea behind this event was simple: if you want to be the best, you need to hang out with the best. Meaningful change happens one conversation at a time, and it involves people with different experiences and perspectives than your own. That’s what the Leadership Advantage Olympic Games were all about: having real conversations, having fun, learning lots, and then taking action.

This same spirit will drive my upcoming invite-only group program for world-class leaders. Once a month, these superstars will come together from across a wide range of industries to learn and share ideas. They will leave each one of those sessions with insights they can bring back to their businesses.

When we compare this model to one in which the same 20 people are brought to the same room year after year, it’s pretty obvious which ones works better.

So, my question to you is this: what’s your plan to play like an Olympian? How can you up-level your game, and who do you need on your team to get you there?