138: Leaders with Heart do What is Necessary to Lift Others

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In this episode, Heather speaks with John H. Chuang, Founder and CEO of Aquent about his leadership style, a time when he was not the best leader he can be, and some great tips for leaders new and seasoned.

Key takeaways:

  • It’s less important if something is easy. Make it happen; be different.
  • Focus on people and do the right thing for them always.
  • Help your people realize their highest potentials.
  • Make people feel like they are a part of something new and exciting.
  • Using data is a brilliant way to scale better employee experience.
Prepare your ears for this insightful episode. Thank you for listening.

John H. Chuang is the CEO of Aquent. He founded Aquent in 1986 in his Harvard dorm room, and grew into the largest marketing and creative staffing agency in the world. 

Over the course of his career, John has been widely recognized for his entrepreneurial leadership and accomplishments. John’s accolades include Boston Business Journal’s “40 Under 40,” Mass High Tech’s “High Tech All-Star,” and Ernst and Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” for New England.

How it started

Aquent didn’t start with some master plan.  It started very organically. I was in college with some roommates who are still my partners and shareholders today. We’re all working together for 35 years.

We saw an opportunity while working on a student newspaper together. We did desktop publishing for companies in the area and it did really well. Then we thought maybe we can help other companies by sending people. We did well in Boston and we just started opening other offices. That’s how we got started.

We're always looking to differentiate and to add value. That's how we add value to the world. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Right Communication

Right communication is so important as a CEO. If you don’t like saying the same thing over and over again, you’re not going to be a very good CEO. When you communicate and you have 10,000 employees, you’re often saying the same thing over and over to a large group. You’re talking and writing about it. Nowadays, you’re doing videos about it as well.

You’re constantly communicating. The CEO needs to emphasize, reemphasize, communicate and over communicate a single message. You’re saying the same things over and over, but with a different twist, every time and with as much excitement that you’re almost like an actor. This is why actors sometimes become great leaders.

I say something for the hundredth time but I need to say it with as much passion and genuine feeling as I did the very first time. That’s what you have to do for the person hearing it as they might be a new employee, or someone hearing it for the first time. That’s part of the job requirement as a CEO and a leader.

If the message you’re saying is correct, then it will stand the test of time. It will resonate over and over. It also has a reinforcing quality. If the message is actually correct—if it’s actually working in the marketplace, that message will resonate.  It will be possible to continue to do it because it’s really working.

If it is not working then perhaps you want to shift or change strategy. I believe company strategy changes, but company values do not change.

The message and the values that a company has shouldn't be changing every day. They really need to be grounded and rooted. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetSometimes, it's people that stop themselves. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Worthy Accomplishments

There’s constant adversity. You have tough competitors that arise in the market. There’s lots of change. So, what keeps me going is the self-reinforcing satisfaction that comes from accomplishing worthy tasks. When we accomplish something or achieve something that the world has never been able to accomplish, that’s what I live for.

The satisfaction of being able to accomplish something for people drives me and leads me to keep on pushing forward to do more. For example, in 1992 we became the first staffing company to offer full health insurance to all of our temporary workers.

Today, we are one of very few companies and we are definitely the company that offers the very best benefits to our temporary help employees. We’re extremely proud of that. During the coronavirus pandemic, we became the first staffing company and first gig economy company to give sick pay to all our employees in all states. Again, it’s that satisfaction of being able to accomplish things that are worthy.

You need to be bold enough to take risks and not worry so much about what might happen if someone says no. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetWhat's great about today's generation is they really care about impact and making a difference. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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125: Leaders with Heart Course Correct Themselves and Others with Care

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In this episode, Heather interviews Curtis Martin, CEO of FOCUS about his drive to lead, his leadership style, his struggle with patience, and a time when he took his eye off the business and abdicated responsibility.

Key takeaways:

  • Don’t abdicate responsibility but be there to guide people.
  • Show the balance of care and strength. 
  • Take the long view when leading so that you can create tension for the long term goal benefits.
Don’t miss this insightful episode!

Curtis Martin is the founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), one of the fastest-growing college outreach apostolates in the Catholic Church. 

FOCUS was founded in 1998 as a national outreach to college students on campus. Starting with just two missionaries on one campus, FOCUS now has hundreds of full-time missionaries serving tens of thousands of college students on campuses throughout the United States. FOCUS is working to play a vital role in the New Evangelization called for by Pope Saint John Paul II. 

Curtis Martin holds a master’s degree in theology and is the author of the best-selling book, “Made for More.” Curtis is likewise the co-author of “The Real Story: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible” with Dr. Edward Sri and “Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue” with Dr. Tim Gray.

In 2004, Curtis and his wife, Michaelann, were awarded the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Saint John Paul II for their outstanding service to the Church.  In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Curtis as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council of the New Evangelization. Curtis and Michaelann live in Westminster, Colorado. They have been blessed with nine children.

The Prodigal Son

The story that Jesus told of the prodigal son was my life. I was blessed to have parents who love me. The table is set for me. It was a great life, but I wildly squandered it growing up. I was a train wreck when I was 18. I realized that I have only one life and I can live differently. So, I decided to come back to my center and live.

Sometimes people walk through life saying, “I could do whatever I want. I’m not hurting anybody.” In truth, you might not be hurting anyone but you are supposed to do something to help people. 

I cannot fix everything. But I can fix something. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Ripple Effect

The key is create a ripple effect of impact by God’s grace—not just setting things better for others, but to teach them how to do it for others whom could also be taught how to do it for their people. 

With this, you’re also able to impact people you’ll never meet by paying it forward. This is a better way to live life than simply avoiding hurting people.

Some people believe in life after death, and some people don’t. But whatever it is, you’re done. All you have is a memory, but that memory lives on.

We live in a world with radical poverty. There’s breakdown of families, and marriages and children are in need. There are more people in slavery right now than ever in the history of the world, whether it is the typical slavery of work, sex slavery, or drug abuse.

You could spend the rest of your life addressing these issues and making people’s lives better, or walk through life hoping not to hurt anyone. I think that the former option, choosing to live for others is such a compelling invitation to form meaning and purpose in people’s lives. That’s a really exciting way to live and to help other people to live.

People start to come alive when they realize that they could walk through life and set things better. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetFriendship is a wonderful ointment—in the midst of life, you are sharing life. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

On Friendship and Parenting

I’ve worked to establish friendships with the people that I lead. It’s been an honor to not just work with them but also to be invited to weddings and to their homes. You may throw an elbow or step on a toe unintentionally, but friendship is an ointment that heals that wound. I’ve been blessed to work with great people

Many of us are parents. I am working with a 12 year old, and I have an impatience with parenting. It’s a slow walk, and I know they’re not going to be living in a mature life overnight. 

My goal is not to be a buddy, but to be a coach. We can be buddies 20 years from now, but I want to be friends with you a million years. So, I do not care whether I lose a little bit of credibility because I take phones away.

As a father, I have to play the long game all the time. Sometimes it’s three steps forward, one step back, and that’s okay as long as we continue to make progress.  But remember the goal we’re aiming for.

We are patient with one another, even in failures because we’re willing to lose our battle. This is not a war against people. We aim to win people’s minds, hearts, and trust to care for them and help them overcome obstacle that keep them from experiencing lasting joy.

Great vision and great investment covers for impatience and imperfections. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetWe're always grateful, but never satisfied. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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122: Leaders with Heart That We All Get Better One Step at a Time

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Matt Sweetwood, CEO of LUXnow, on his leadership style, his strong drive to lead, and where it comes from. He also shares how he treats his employees like family, and his very profound story of adversity and rebirth.

Key takeaways:

  • When things go wrong in life and business, focus on fixing one thing at a time while looking forward.
  • Sometimes when we are easy on team members whose performance is short, we enable them to fail. Then, that failure becomes our own.
  • Set the bar high, live it and then raise it once your team members meet the bar.
  • Regarding challenges, this too shall pass if you make it pass.
  • Succeed one step at a time.
Hope you don’t miss this episode. Listen and learn!

Matt Sweetwood is the CEO of LUXnow – the marketplace for luxury autos, homes and yachts. 

He is an internationally known professional speaker, author and life coach. With over 30 years of entrepreneurial experience, Matt has been credited with the reinvention of the modern camera store. However, his greatest achievement is having raised five successful children to adulthood as a single dad. 

He is a frequent TV and publication contributor and has a #1 best-selling book: “Leader of the Pack: How a single dad of five led his kids, his business and himself from disaster to success.”

Success, A Habit

When success is a habit, you’re just driven to make sure to end the day more successful than before. Finding success is what makes me complete as a human being. If I fail at something, I really take a deep look at it and try to overcome. If there’s something in your life that you want badly enough, you’re going to make it happen.

I want to be successful. I don’t want to be a failure in front of my kids. When I retire someday, I don’t want to be sitting there, figuring out how I’m going to pay the bills. Drive for success comes from within.

Being able to feel somebody and put yourself in their circumstance actually helps you lead them. – @MSweetwood #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Tough Love

I always treat my staff like my family. I have written hundreds of articles, and some of the popular ones talked about how similar leadership in business is with parenting at home. In fact, one of my articles that was featured best of the day on LinkedIn was, “What’s the difference between great parenting and great leadership?” My conclusion, of course, is that they are the same.

I think sometimes I’m too easy on my staff. I am too humanistic with them. Sometimes, in a CEO position, you have to be a little more ruthless. Every time I say that to myself, the name Mike Bloomberg comes to mind. He had a reputation for being ruthless. He has a long standing reputation of throwing resigning people out of the window and never speaking with them. But he became a billionaire.

I’m not saying this that I want to be like them, but I just think it’s an interesting study on leadership—to find the balance between having your staff love you and hate you, and what’s the right mix to find the most success. It’s something that I deal with all the time.

I was the good guy. My door is always open. I deal with my staff on a personal basis. But I sometimes wonder whether I should have been a whole lot harder. Maybe I would have found more success or more balance, I don’t know.

If I want it badly enough, I'm going to win. – @MSweetwood #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetYou cannot be successful unless you're in good shape. – @MSweetwood #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Raise Your Level

Sometimes when you’re too easy on an employee you enable them to fail. I think being too easy on a poorly performing employee enables their failure. Then the failure becomes yours. 

You have an obligation as a leader to correct people obviously in a kind way, never in a demeaning way. If you don’t do that, then the failure is yours.

Your job as a leader is to never let your level, go to the level of your staff. You have to bring them to your level. The goal is, you bring everybody to your level. When they get to yours, raise your level then bring them up again. That’s how you build the biggest and best of enterprises.

Always keep pushing yourself to be better. Never allow your standards, your morals and your ideology in any way to be compromised. Your principles always have to stay in in charge. 

If you’re the leader, you’re leading the company. You’re responsible for failure or success. Make sure you don’t fail because you lowered your level. Simple as that.

Let us start fixing things one by one. – @MSweetwood #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetJust keep going and enjoy it. – @MSweetwood #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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89: Leaders With Heart Make It Safe To Speak The Truth

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Joe O’ Neill, CEO of G & D Integrated about his unique approach to providing psychological safety in the workplace, and how he engages with his front line and uses orientation to do it. He talks about a time when he became a detached leader by stepping away from being CEO and what he discovered in the process.

Key takeaways:

  • Have a “I work for them” attitude and not the other way around.
  • Ask your people to judge you and hold you accountable.
  • Have honest and truthful conversations with your employees.
  • When you don’t speak the truth to someone, you manipulate them and show disrespect.
  • Your people need you for your presence and guidance, even if it seems like they have it all handled.
  • Detached leadership does not work.
  • Nothing replaces human interaction in relationships.
  • It’s okay to fail as a leader. Don’t become complacent about it though.

This episode is fully-packed with helpful insights. Listen and learn!

Joe O’Neill’s Full BIO

Joe O’Neill joined G&D Integrated in 1989 and is currently the President and Chief Executive Officer. He is responsible for managing the overall operations and resources of the company. Prior to joining G&D, Joe practiced bankruptcy law in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. He has led and managed the organization through economic expansion and contraction through the years. More recently, Joe’s focus has been on expanding the geographic reach of the company and the diversification of G&D’s customer base.

Joe graduated from the Creighton University School of Business with a BS in Business Administration with an emphasis in finance and accounting and a JD degree from Creighton’s School of Law. He is active in the Peoria community and has served on various nonprofit boards through the years. Joe and his wife are currently active supporters of The Crittenton Center and The Community of St. John.

 

Working for my People

Leadership is a journey that never ends. I’m in one for 31 years. I’ve been through many cycles and experiences. At my age, I have finally come to realize that I work for everybody affiliated with my company. It doesn’t matter what you do or how long you’ve been there. I remind myself everyday that I work for my people.

I don’t stand in front of them, because it sends the wrong nonverbal message. So I just sit, every time during orientation, and I would sincerely ask everybody in the room to judge me. Why? It’s because we’re all human beings possessed with unique personalities and dignities, which must be respected. If they understand their right to judge me as their leader, it sets the longevity of their career with us.

Truthful Conversations

I can never be a person who wants everyone’s approval. I truly want to be evaluated by my people. I want them to sit down with me, to join me over a cup of coffee, to chat with me, or to call me on a phone, and let me know what they think. 

I make it very clear to them that I am 100% wide open to the conversation. Actually, these are very fun and interesting conversations because most of these people have never been informed that they have every right to look at someone and say, “This is what I feel about you.” 

On the other hand, I also tell them during orientations that I cannot judge them. I wouldn’t know how to drive a truck, or do welding. I wouldn’t know how to dispatch trucks and perform safety measures. So, I make it clear that I cannot assess the merits of their performance, because I quite simply do not know how to do their jobs. But, the only time that I would ever get involved with my people and their work is when they’ll be severed from the company. 

Truth has to be the currency of our realm. If we cannot always speak the truth to one another, then we are being disrespectful of each other. Being untruthful is a form of emotional manipulation. Everybody in the conversation must only speak their truth.

It doesn’t mean every conversation is going to be easy, fun, or pleasant. But we’re all going to speak our truth, and only by doing that can we express our respect for each one.

I make my people understand that we’re all in this together. - Joe O'Neill #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet Even the smartest, most ambitious, and the most driven people in the world who are in an organization still want to know that there is guidance. - Joe O'Neill #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Empowering People

My people understand that I am an extremely person-centered leader. 

I believe that everybody should be respected. It doesn’t mean we cannot hold them to performance standards or we’re not going to get things done efficiently. But it is a fact that in spite of innovation and technology, we are still human beings. An organization is made up of human beings. I believe in empowering people and giving them the freedom to make their own decisions.

At the end of the day, people do want to be lead. Even the smartest, most ambitious, and the most driven people in the world who are in an organization still want to know that there is guidance.

When leadership takes place, human interactions also take place. The true essence of being a human being can only take place face to face. It can’t hide behind the computer screen. It cannot engage through an email or a text. True human life occurs only when people are talking to each other face to face.

Being untruthful is a form of emotional manipulation. You cannot manipulate people. - Joe O'Neill #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet I believe in empowering people and giving them the freedom to make their own decisions. People respond extremely well to the freedom they receive. - Joe O'Neill #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet Conversations are not always easy, fun, or pleasant. But only by speaking our truth can we express our respect for each other. - Joe O'Neill #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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