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Episode 11: The 11 Essentials of Leadership | Skill Two: Practice Your Moves Everyday

Dennis Brouwer
CEO, Leadership Enthusiast, and Award-winning Navy Tactician.
The Brouwer Group

Dennis Brouwer is the CEO of The Brouwer Group, a business analytics firm that helps companies become more competitive, agile and customer-focused. He has over two decades of experience as a senior leader in sales, marketing, and product development roles, including five years as an executive with P&L responsibility for a $300m global IT services business.

He began his career as a naval flight officer and mission commander searching for Soviet submarines while deployed aboard USS Ranger and USS Enterprise. For the past five years, he has applied his military and business experience to the challenges of creative leadership, peak performance, and business strategy. He holds the certificate in leadership coaching from Georgetown University and is the author of “The Return on Leadership”, which focuses on the Vision, Engagement, and Execution as the key building blocks used by highly effective leaders.

Connect on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dlbrouwer/
Visit the website: https://www.dlbrouwer.com/
Learn more about his book: https://www.dlbrouwer.com/book

SHOW NOTES:

00:01 John Sheeran: B2B marketing and sales can be tough to master. Sale cycles can be long, and buyers are notoriously difficult to close. That's why you need Minds On at your side. We are a B2B marketing and digital agency that's helped more than 200 clients evolve their brands, win more business and succeed more often. And we're ready to help you. Visit www.mindson.com today to schedule your no obligation consultation. Now on to today's program.

 

00:31 Dan Harris: I'm your host, Dan Harris and welcome back to another episode of Minds On B2B. Thank you so much everyone for clicking, subscribing, sharing, downloading and of course listening to our podcast. This is a weekly show dedicated to helping busy B2B executives, marketers and sales professionals stay informed, learn something new and perhaps, apply lesson learned or run with an idea shared by our guest. As we say at Minds On, all of our minds together are better than any one mind alone. Who knows you just might like what you hear, connect and network with us.

 

01:07 DH: Welcome back everyone, and thank you for tuning in and listening. I'm your host, Dan Harris and this is Minds On B2B. Re-joining us today is Dennis Brouwer. He's a proven turnaround leader, decorated Navy veteran, dynamic keynote speaker and a certified leadership professional. He's also the author of a best-selling book called "The Return on Leadership." In today's episode, we're gonna hear from Dennis, and he's going to talk to us about practicing our moves every day, and if we're lucky, we might learn a little bit about rock climbing. So, Dennis, welcome back to the show.

 

01:43 Dennis Brouwer: Great, thanks Dan. Always good to be here.

 

01:46 DH: Alright Dennis, let's shake things up this week. Go ahead and tell people what the essential action is at the end of this show and let's talk a little bit about, maybe give them a tip on what we're gonna learn about rock climbing because I know it's in your tagline.

 

02:01 DB: Yeah, okay. The real finish here is, the essential action, that we're gonna end up with is practice your moves, everyday. It's like, well, what does that mean? That's the introduction, I think, to the tagline here, which is prepare to free solo. And just in case you didn't catch that the last two terms they were free solo. That's not some [chuckle] next installment in the Star Wars pantheon [chuckle] of films. It sounds like it, what it actually refers to and some people may be familiar with this, is it's a rock climbing term that was popularized by a climber named Alex Honnold. And if you haven't followed his story, we'll talk about it here, but it's an incredible story of courage and determination and just focus that really begins with a willingness to examine the skill set that you have, to set a big goal and then to examine the skill set that you have to apply to that.

 

03:00 DB: And just to define those terms so that it makes sense, in the world of rock climbing free means that you're climbing without mechanical aid. When we see rock climbers, we think of ropes and Carabiners and pitons and that sort of thing. Yeah, none of that stuff exists. All you have are your shoes and a bag on your belt that carries chalk and the clothes on your back. So that's the free aspect of it. Solo, as you might have guessed, and you may be clenching your teeth on this already, solo means you're doing it alone, so you don't have a climbing partner, you don't have a climbing team, you don't have a Sherpa, you don't have any of that stuff, it's just you, your T-shirt, your shorts, your shoes and the mountain. That's what free solo is all about. Now, Alex Honnold, the climber that I mentioned, is the most successful rock climber or in the world by several important measures. One is that he's still alive, which is a pretty significant qualifier to be [chuckle] the most successful rock climber, because it is a dangerous occupation.

04:04 DB: The second is that he's free-climbed some of the most amazing and actually one of the most daunting mountains in the world. We'll talk more about that, but the fundamental concept behind this, the essential principle, behind prepare to free solo is that as you show up in each one of those three teams, you need to examine the skills that you bring to that, and you need to not just show, but you need to really embrace the fact that you need to be a personal learner. Just because you moved into management role and that position may be the pinnacle that you've been shooting for, of your career, all along, that's no reason that once you get there to plateau. That means that new job, that your team, those teams that you joined are gonna demand more of you, and as you strive to fulfill that, you need to embrace and commit to being a personal learner.

04:54 DH: So, it's interesting that you say being a personal learner. You're obviously coming into the organization, you've been hired as this new manager, you're a part of these teams, so you already have some skill set and some knowledge. So when you talk about being a personal learner, can you talk a little bit more about what that entails?

05:11 DB: Yeah. In many cases, there is that concept, and I think it was a title of book that said, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There." So I look at the specific case, and I've certainly been through this, where you've got a fantastic individual sales person who's then promoted into sales management, and it's a completely different set of skills. What I found as an individual contributor salesperson in a business-to-business market world for six years, is that one of the fundamental motivators, we want customer satisfaction, but really what the reason customer satisfaction is important to us is because we as individuals have an individual sales plan. And our job is to optimize that sales plans so we can make as much money as we possibly can and without damaging the franchise, to carry that franchise forward. I've always been in services businesses with long-term contracts, and we as individual salespeople are optimizing our individual revenue. You move into management and suddenly you have a broader team, and it's a completely different set of issues. You now are focused on not just sales performance, you're focused on the performance of your team and there's a whole new set of skills that you have to learn.

06:23 DB: And as you move up into higher levels of sales management and then move into general management, you'll have additional skills like better understanding of the financials in the business. Maybe better understanding of what's going on at the op side of the business, and then of course on the human side, as you attempt to communicate what it is you're about, what's important to you, and as that has to ripple not just to your sales engineer, your partner in crime as you're an individual salesperson, but now has to go to your direct reports, and then through your direct reports, perhaps to dozens or hundreds or thousands of people, there's a whole new set of skills that are required at each one of those levels that we need to deliberately think about and develop ourselves around.

07:04 DH: When you think about that approach of, as you grow and evolve in an organization and you talk about becoming a personal learner, and now you talked about this idea of preparing your free solo, how does that apply to an individual who is starting that process, and how do they continue to be a personal learner? What types of tactics do they use or resources do they look for?

 

07:32 DB: Well, it's a great question, and this is where I think I'd like to skip back to that example of Alex Honnold and the free solo concept. In a lot of cases, the fact that we're good at something is what really limits us from getting better at something, because, "Hey, I'm comfortable here, I'm pretty good at this, people acknowledge, I've got a skill set here." And how do I challenge myself to focus on my weaknesses, to make my strengths stronger, but then to eliminate the weaknesses that could be derailers, is the HR term for it, or could be a fatal error, is the rock climbing or aviation perspective on it.

08:06 S1: So if you look at Alex Honnold, he's a great model for that because he's a very accomplished rock climber. If you look at his history up through 2015 or so, he had already done some amazing things. He was highly respected in the industry, he was known as somebody who was incredibly calm, almost eerily calm while he was climbing, he climbed with others, he climbed with ropes, 95% of what he did was traditional rock climbing with ropes, but he began to become interested in free soloing and he started to do free soloing on boulders, and then he started to do it on larger slopes, the larger pitches, more difficult pitches. And he eventually got to the part when he decided he really wanted to tackle the ultimate challenge for free soloing and that was to climb El Capitan, free solo.

08:57 DB: Now, if you think about that, if you've ever been to Yosemite Valley, which is where El Capitan is, you have some kind of stomach-churning appreciation [chuckle] for the insanity of that goal. El Capitan is a 3000-foot tall granite Monolith, a granite face. I don't know about you, but for me, it's a little difficult to appreciate that. I've been there, looked up, I've been in other parts of Yosemite where you can look down and it's just like, "Okay, this is terrifying." But how do you get your head around that? So, yeah, here are a couple of examples. Think about the Washington Monument, if you've been to DC, I think it's 550 feet tall. Stack five of those up and you're a little short of El Capitan. Think of the Eiffel Tower, that's something that we all have a mental image of, I think, Eiffel Tower looming over Paris. So take the Eiffel Tower and then take another one and put it on top of the Eiffel Tower and then take a third one and put it on top of that and then take a 20-story building and put it on top of that, and that's 3000 feet.

10:09 DB: So there's a physical challenge to climbing that, but he'd done that many times. It's primarily a mental challenge. So he knew that, like so many things, there is a physical part to the game, and there's a mental part to the game, and he began to prepare himself for that. Keep in mind, this is a guy who's already an elite climber, he doesn't have to do this. He's recognized as an elite climber, he knows he's an elite climber, but he set an audacious goal. So over the next two years, he traveled the US, Canada, China, and Morocco, climbed in all those places, specific pitches that would challenge him in specific areas where he felt he needed to be better, more robust, have a better set of skills. He also developed habitual workout routine, so that he always does fingertip pull-ups every day.

11:00 DB: So he eventually gravitated back to the Yosemite Valley, he had lived in his van at the foot of El Capitan, he did his fingertip pull-ups in his van every day, he has got a finger tip board in there, and then he worked the mountain side roped in. He knew that at the most difficult pitches were about 300 feet from the top, so he hiked to the top of El Capitan, roped himself in, rappelled down to that particular part of the climb and do that climb over and over and over again. So he was interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel within the past few months, and he said that that entire 3000-foot client, he can play it in his mind. He can lay in his van and play out every move of his foot, of his hands, the way he shifts his weight, the kick he has to do to get through an overhang, every single bit of that.

11:44 DB: So as he prepared for the physical game to the workouts, he also prepared that mental game, visualizing success. And this isn't just "I believe I'm gonna succeed." This is, "How I will succeed and this is how I translate my perspective on my skill and psychological deficit into an action plan which ultimately prepares me to go out and succeed in a prices laden situation," in a scenario where failure is unthinkable. And the consequences of failure of focus, of any misplacement of a hand or foot or getting his weight wrong, is just irreversible and like I said, unthinkable. The consequences are so severe and irreversible that he had to be 100% and 100% confident in what he was doing. It's really an amazing story. Get that introspection into a daily plan to practice those moves every day.

12:46 DH: Yeah. Well I think for those listening, they're probably not doing death-defying stunts at that level, but it does make sense, and I think that's a great story and a great example of what it takes. So as we start to think about individuals in business and sales and marketing and product development in these various roles that individuals are listening, what are some of the things that they could be thinking about from a focus perspective and how this story translates to their life?

13:19 DB: Well, I'm really glad you asked that question because on the one hand, we have the ultimate individual accomplishment. A person who literally who is free-soloing. No mechanical aides, no team, and is able to accomplish this. But if you think about it, what we as leaders have to do in many ways is more difficult than that. It certainly has a completely, it has another additional spectrum to it. Because when Alex Honnold climbed, Alex Honnold only had to worry about Alex Honnold. So if he rolled his ankle or he missed a grip, that was on him and he suffered the consequences. He didn't have to convince somebody else to hang on or to do their chin-ups. So it was, everything that he tackled was under his control. Now, if you look at what leaders have to do, most of what we have to accomplish, at least initially, is not under our control. So we talked a little bit about the definition of leadership is achieving through others. What we as leaders need to do is not just to say, "I wanna climb El Capitan." It's to say, "I want this team to climb El Capitan. We're not gonna leave anybody behind. We're gonna climb it faster or in a new way, on a new route that no one else has ever done."

14:37 DB: So you have that challenge to... Always remember that the free soloing, the only the reason you're doing this concept of free soloing is handling your skills, is so that you can be a better contributor and collaborator in your role as a leader, a follower and a peer. So what we'll do as we talk further through our conversations together is we'll tackle nine more essential actions that leaders, that highly effective leaders do more often than not, and the skills that that translates into, that you can then apply into your role, into each one of the three teams whether you think about or and not, you're a member of. Now, I'll give you a little hint of where we're gonna go the next time that we get together, and that's gonna be around un-dividing your attention. We have so much around us every day that conspires to distract us, to divide or attention between certainly our iPhones or our smartphones and the physical reality around us. But deep down even when you're going into the apps on your phone, the apps at work, the challenges that we face and the distractions that we face are screens and the apps on them try to divide us across.

15:53 DB: Family communications, personal communications, professional communications and from app level, text, voicemail, email, or Fidelity accounts, and everything else that strives to divide our attention and how that makes it so difficult for us to really follow through on the physical but especially the mental game of being a great leader and a great team member and applying our principles that we've talked about already of pervasive engagement and being a personal learner. So we'll talk more about those individual skills and how the fact that you're a member of three teams and you're a personal learner, how that now translates into an action plan for the leader to become more effective.

16:39 DH: That's terrific, Dennis. Thank you so much. Really appreciate your time today, and this topic, and I can't wait for this next episode because I truly need to un-divide my attention. [chuckle] It's gonna be be a great episode. I'm looking forward to it. So if anyone wants to get a hold of you, they'll get your book, how do they reach you and how do they get the book?

17:01 DB: Okay, great. Well, my book, The Return On Leadership, is out on Amazon. You can search for that title, The Return On Leadership, or my last name Brouwer, B-R-O-U-W-E-R. And as always, I will remind you, it's the Dutch spelling, the same way it shows up on a bottle of Amstel Light or Heineken. You can also reach me via email at dennis@dlbrouwer.com. You can look on my website at dlbrouwer.com. And I've got some information on there about my book, The Return On Leadership, and about the 11 Essentials of Leadership which really builds on the return of leadership, the principles that are there. And of course, I'm out on Twitter and LinkedIn I always love to connect there.

17:41 DB: The last thing I leave you with here is that for people who are really good at something, it's not like you start out really good and then you get to do it all the time. What happens is you do it all the time, you get really good at it, and then you become really very effective at it. And that willingness to acknowledge the skill set that you need, any deficits that you may have in that desired skill set, and turn that into new habits is all about practicing your moves every day. Habits are built one day at a time. Small changes tend to create powerful habits, and that's why the essential action of practicing your moves every day is essential.

18:20 DH: And if you dare to climb rocks, good for you. I don't see you on any face of a cliff, but truly appreciate it, Dennis.

18:30 DH: So listeners, here's where you come in. If you have ideas for possible episode topics, like to be on the guest of the show or know someone that would be a great B2B or coach, make sure to connect with me on LinkedIn. You can find me by searching Danny D Harris, you can also send you an email with the subject line, "Minds on B2B idea or guest," to dan.harris@mindson.com. The more input we get from listeners, the more the listeners, the better the podcast is gonna be. So make sure to subscribe to iTunes or your favorite podcast player, and until next time, this is Dan Harris. Stay curious, connect often, and learn always.

19:08 John Sheeran: Thanks for listening to today's Minds on B2B podcast. If you like what you heard today, please subscribe. Also, feel free to share this episode with your peers and colleagues, so we can keep bringing you quality content from the best minds in B2B. Until next time, from all of us at Minds On, have a great week.

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