Leading people and companies to their full potential is what CEOs or leaders ideally do to promote growth. In today’s episode, Diane Hamilton interviews Jason Jennings about the subject of leadership and hiring. Jason has traveled the globe in search of the world’s fastest companies for his landmark debut book called It’s Not the Big That Eat the Small, It’s the Fast That Eat the Slow. As he dives into his book, he also talks about aligning with your purpose or the big “why,” and shares some strategies in hiring and interviewing potential employees and guests. Learn more from Jason’s experiences working with big names like Steve Jobs, and more.
I am so glad you joined us because we have Jason Jennings here. He is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and New York Times bestselling author on business and leadership. He is one of the best. I’m looking forward to this.
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Leadership, Hiring, And Aligning With Your Purpose With Jason Jennings
I am here with Jason Jennings who has traveled the globe in search of the world’s fastest companies for his landmark debut book It’s Not the Big That Eat the Small, It’s the Fast That Eat the Slow. That hit Wall Street Journal, USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists and led to more books that were more successful. His research has identified the world’s ten most productive companies for his bestseller Less is More. He followed that by Think Big, Act Small, which profiled that only ten companies in the US to have organically grown both revenues and profits by double digits every year for ten consecutive years. His last book, Hit The Ground Running: A Manual For New Leaders reveals tactics and strategies for the ten new CEOs who has created the greatest amount of value during their first five years on the job. You have The Reinventors and The High Speed Company. It’s amazing the work you’ve done. Welcome here, Jason.
Diane, it’s great to be with you.
I was excited to have you on this show because I was watching a couple of your videos on different things and I love that you embrace curiosity. I was watching you talk about why do we manufacture tires and why do I write books or we ask each other why do we do these things. I want to get into the why of things. First, in case nobody has a complete background and of course they know who you are, but for those who don’t know a little bit more about you, can you give us a little background?
I will start at the young age of thirteen. When I was thirteen years old, I walked into the local radio station in the Midwest, a small town where I grew up and said, “I want to be a disc jockey,” and then they promptly threw me out. You see that I had a problem because I had told all my friends I was going to get a job at the radio station. Now I’d be very embarrassed that I got thrown out. I went home. I put on my confirmation suit. I have just been confirmed in the church and I got a yellow pad of paper and a pen and I walked up and down Main Street. Over the next two weeks I had crossed at the top of the paper it said, “The following business has agreed to spend $35 a week each to sponsor the Jason Jennings teen time show.” By the end of two weeks, I have more than 30 signatures representing about $700 a week or about $3,000 monthly, which would be the equivalent of $15,000 or $20,000 now.
I walked back to the radio station and I said, “Do I get the job?” They looked and said, “We pay $1.25 an hour for bringing in a disc jockey, but we’re going to pay you a 15% commission.” I said, “What’s a commission?” They said, “You’re going to get $1,000 a month for bringing in this kind of money.” I went home and I told my mother and father. I said, “I’ve got to tell you several things. First of all, you can skip the allowance. I don’t need it anymore. College is taken care of. I won’t need any money for clothes and I’ve hired a carpenter to remodel the basement because I’ll be moving to the basement.” I was precocious, but that early life lesson taught me that if it’s going to be, it is up to me, and I have never sat around waiting for something to happen.
What has allowed me to get to where I am authoring my books and speaking and teaching around the world speaks to what you do. I am probably one of the most curious people you will ever meet. I believe that 99% of all people are fascinating and the 1% that isn’t fascinating are fascinating because they aren’t fascinating. I always tell people when I get off an interview for each speech I do, I spend 90 minutes with the CEO on the phone, I conduct twelve other interviews with other people who will be there and I end every conversation the same way. I say, “Thank you, I am a better man for having heard your story and learned about you.” I’m a curious person. It was working in radio, going to school, becoming the youngest group owner of radio stations in the United States. Out of that came a big consulting company, Jennings-McGlothlin & Company, and finally years ago at age 42, I have my midlife crisis. I thought, “Is it just about radio stations? Is it about consulting clients?” I am on a search for meaning in my life.
I thought I was going to go back to the seminary and become a second career seminarian. The head of the seminary, Dr. Timothy Lull, of Pacific Theological Seminary after several months of discussion said, “If you want to come to seminary, we will be happy to have you, but that’s not your calling. I had figured out your calling. You love leadership done well. You love business done well. You have little time for leadership in business done poorly. I think your calling is to identify the greatest business leaders, the greatest companies in the world, that need to be the gospel that your writing and talking about.” That’s what led me to my first book contract with HarperCollins and my publisher and out came the first book, It’s Not the Big That Eat the small, It’s the Fast That Eat the Slow.
I could have easily written one book and nothing would have happened. It wouldn’t have sold and I would be on to something else, but before its publication, I got a call from a friend of mine, Craig Kitchen, who was the CEO of the Premiere Radio Networks, and he said, “When is your book coming up?” I said, “In a couple of weeks.” He said, “Do you remember last year you came in and spent a day with my executive team, we were disorganized and disheveled?” I said, “Yes, it was a great day.” He said, “You got us on track. Do you remember I never paid you because I had nothing in the budget?” I said, “You’re my friend, forget about it.” He said, “I’m going pay you back now. Put together a radio commercial for your book, set it down. I’m going to give you $1 million for free advertising.” The day that the radio commercials hit, that book became not the number one business book in the country, it became the number one book in America. That’s the lesson in karma, of always going out of your way. If you help other people get to where they want to be, believe me you’re going to have an abundance and you’re going to be taken care of.
Zig definitely had something to say about that and that is one of the most important things I learned from his teaching. I actually had his son on, Tom Ziglar and that there’s so much that we don’t even realize that you’re doing that you could benefit other people. I know so many people who don’t even do it for the reason that you know for any hope of something coming back later. It comes naturally and I love it when I meet people like that because it’s the why of what they’re doing.
For me, it is truly the thrill of leading the people and companies to their full potential. My life has been about necessity. My life has been about finding out what people want to achieve, what people want to do and figuring out how I can help them achieve what they want to achieve. That’s why I feel I’ve never worked it in my life. If you love what you do, you’ll never work it in your life.
A lot of people don’t know what they want to do. That’s the thing that I deal with a lot when I’m talking to him about curiosity and we see a lot of people in the workplace who are disengaged. We’ve all seen Gallup’s number of this. We’re losing $500 billion a year and we have less than a third of the workplace that is engaged. I think it’s because we’re not letting people ask questions and explore what they’re interested in as much and people are just maybe misaligned to some extent. How much do you think that has to do with it?
The poll of the American Workplace by Gallup shows that 76% of employees are either not engaged or actively not engaged. That’s a sad and a telling number and I don’t think it’s an indictment of the workforce, I think it’s an indictment of leadership. What I always think of is I always think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which has been replicated so many times. Down at the bottom, what are we all looking for? We’re looking for food, clothing and shelter. I don’t know about you, but I would go to any means to provide food, clothing and shelter for my family. I would probably walk 2,000 miles over cut glass to provide food, clothing and shelter for my family. What is the next thing that we’re looking for? We’re looking to belong to something bigger than ourselves. We’re looking for a sense of being loved and then what is the next thing we’re looking for? We’re looking for a sense of fulfillment. What are we looking for next? We want to achieve our full potential.If you help other people get to where they want to be, you’re going to have an abundance and you’re going to be taken care of. Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, people don’t get that in companies. You used the word purpose a couple of times, but truly enlightened leaders and enlightened companies provide their people a purpose. In the 800 or 900 calls I make every year getting ready for my speeches around the world, at the end of the conversation I asked business leaders, “What’s keeping you awake at night these days about business? What are the challenges? What are the speedbumps? What would you like to change?” Invariably, I hear a couple of things, but one of the things that I hear is, “How do I engage people? How do I find, keep and grow engaged people?” The number one answer, if you do the research, we’ve studied 220,000 companies for my books is the starting point is you provide a huge big purpose, not a vision statement, not a mission statement, but a purpose. Out of the purpose, you build a culture and culture is the only competitive advantage that any organization will ever have and it has to be a culture.
I was doing a speech in front of a great company of young people that’s grown from zero to $400 million in revenues in just a few years. It’s exciting to watch. I was speaking to them and at this point where I was talking about purpose, I said, “We hire people the wrong way.” We interviewed them, we looked at their qualifications, do they have what it takes to do the job. I said, “That’s hogwash.” The first thing we should be talking to them about is the purpose of the organization. Who and what we’re trying to be? Where we’re trying to go? First of all, you better find out if they want to go on that journey with you, and if they want to go on that journey with you whatever their skillset, you’ll have a place for them. If they don’t want to go on that journey, I don’t care what their skills are, you don’t want them around.
At which point in time, the female CEO stood up and shouted, “Amen,” and that’s the reason for their success. First they hire, they interview and they are looking for people who want to be part of what they are trying to do, who have a proven passion for what they do. When you are lucky enough to find somebody like that, then determine their skillset and then you’ll figure out whether they’ll fit in the organization. People have to have the ability to grow and move within that organization, but first and foremost they have to be aligned with your purpose, the big thing that you’re trying to do, the big why.
I had a job where they made us memorize their value statement and it was three pages long. They had us do a video of us to make sure we memorize it word for word and you could tell, the professor in me that it was grammatically incorrect. It drove me crazy. I had to memorize this thing and it was a Southern company. He put like a good old boy spin on it and it was cute, but it was so not how I would say things. That’s what is coming to mind as you say that, but I have worked for companies where they actually put their mission statement in giant red letters on the wall when you walked in. I think it’s important to determine the match because it’s challenging to get the right people. When you’re talking about that, I interviewed Olin Oedekoven who owns the company where he said he hires people if he sees things in them and then he creates jobs around what they’re good at. I don’t think a lot of people do that and that can be expensive and challenging. Do you think that we should do more of that? What do you think of that idea?
In one of my books, I wrote about a brilliant company that was found when James Archer out of the Midwest got fired from his job at a downsizing. He went to the bank and borrowed $30,000 against his IRA, which banks are not allowed to do, but somehow small banks and small towns make exceptions. He borrowed $30,000 and he was working on all of these concoctions in his garage. He was going to go into the oil field service business, making lubricants for the pumps that get oil and gas out of the ground. Within a matter of a few years, he built this into a huge enterprise employing thousands of people and ultimately sold it about ten years later to Halliburton for $800 million. It is an incredible success story, but his rule was, “Hire hard and manage easy.” He said they interviewed people so many times that frequently they will ask, “Am I ever going to get a job offer or are you just going to interview me for the rest of my life?” He said when you hire hard and you only hire the right person, then you get to manage easy.
It was like that in pharmaceuticals. I’ve never been through such a rigorous hiring process in my life. I can’t even remember how many times they interviewed me from an individual phone to the group. They went through all this. It’s interesting to see the difference. I remember interviewing Ken Fisher of Fisher Investments asking him about that. He was saying how it’s super challenging to pick the right person in the interview process that it’s almost impossible to get it right, but it can be. Everybody is putting their best face forward in the interview process. I’m thinking of somebody that I work with in the past. She kept hiring people, but they weren’t a good fit. What do you think it is we’re doing wrong in interviewing process?
Coincidently, I write about that in my book too. It said, it’s what your life’s work has been about, it’s curiosity. When I’m interviewing someone or when a great business leader is interviewing someone, they don’t talk about the job, they don’t talk about the company, they talk about the person. They sit and say the same thing that I say in my discovery conversations, “Tell me about you. Tell me your story.” The applicant would say, “Where should I start?” I said, “Start with I was born in.” “That won’t take very long.” What you have to do is settle back and the only words you ever have to say are “uh-huh, or, and then what happened, and then what did you do next, and then what happened after that?” After you fully heard this person’s story then you have to ask the magic question, “Where do you want to be? What do you want to achieve in life? What are you trying to do?” By the time you have truly taken the time to listen to somebody’s story and get to know them, then you’ll know whether this is a potential fit. Only then should you start talking about the company, only then should you start talking about their qualifications.
Finding, keeping, growing and engaging the right person is the number one challenge in business. Over the years, from the 1,200 keynote speeches I’ve done and 400 to 500 half-day and full-day workshops, I’ve interviewed some 20,000 people. I had 20,000 conversations preparing myself for these events. Whenever I ask the question, “What’s keeping you awake at night? What are the challenges? Invariably, in 98% of the conversations, one of the things I hear is finding, keeping, growing and engaging the right people. If the numbers are that huge, let’s basically change the way we evaluate, get to know and recruit people.
You’ve touched on some of the interesting things there because in the interview process, there are certain things that we can’t ask of course, about the family or different things, but then like “what next” kind of questions, and “then what.” I get interested when they started asking questions of what kinds of questions they ask. If they’re asking how the job affects them more than what can they do to help the company, is that a big red flag?
That is a huge red flag.
Like, “Will I get a chance to be off for this holiday?” if that is your first question type of thing. We know what their thoughts are. It’s interesting to see the type of questions people ask. What kind of questions do you think people should be asking just to show that they’re good or do you want to look at it from the leader’s perspective? What would you want them to be asking?
From a leader’s perspective doing the interviewing, just do a discovery conversation. Learn about them and you can’t rush that and you can’t be making notes. This is not an interview that’s going to be broadcast or written. This is truly a discovery conversation because you’re fascinated by learning other people’s stories. At the appropriate time, what questions do you have for me? I think one of the shifts that have taken place over the past years is I remember many years ago when the subject of culture came up, the CEOs would often say, “Culture, we move the touchy-feely stuff up to HR that’s where they sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya.”
That CEO would be a dinosaur now. There’s no place for that CEO. Everybody understands that 50% of their job is culture, minimum half of their job is the culture of any CEO. Where CEOs come to now do this, “In order to be a great leader, a great CEO, you have to take the mirror test.” I talk about this in almost all of my speeches. Most of the points in my speeches change, but the final one is always the same. I post a PowerPoint slide that says, “Great leaders are what?” The slide reveals itself, “Great leaders are stewards.” They understand that they have five constituencies. They have their employees, their customers, their vendors and suppliers, their shareholders and they have the planet.
Their job is to improve the lives, improve the world of every member of the constituency. Before we start talking about tactics of what CEOs or what leaders should do, they need to take a mirror test. The mirror test is this, you have to stand in front of a mirror and you have to ask one question and it’s the most important question that anyone will ever ask themselves. I believe that only a sociopath could look in the mirror and lie to themselves. You can’t do it because you know the truth. Unless you’re a whack job, you cannot look at yourself in the mirror and lie.
The question you need to ask yourself is this, “Will my life be more about me or will my life be more about others?” When you’re able to say my life is going to be more about others, you’ve taken the first step toward being a leader who allows their head to meet their heart. If you ever find a leader who leads only by the head, you’ll find a cold, calculating person that you don’t want to be around. Similarly, if they only lead from their heart, the business will become a social service agency and they will be out of business. A true leader, great leaders allow their heads to meet their heart and they understand that the why is the single most important thing in people’s lives.
That all ties into a lot of the course they teach. I’ll touch on conscious capitalism, servant leadership, and some of these things that touch on these areas. As you were mentioning that of what you see when you look in the mirror, how do you account for the success with someone like Steve Jobs? He is an interesting person to analyze, I think.
I love to begin by telling you about my relationship with Steve Jobs because I had one. I did and I’ll give you a little bit of insight into Steve Jobs. Many years ago, I had just moved to San Francisco. I was beginning my career and I met this older guy down the street from my office and he became a self-appointed mentor in my life. His name was Harvey and he was a deal maker. Harvey had ten deals going in a day. His motto was, “Give me a deal a day.” One day, he called me up and he said, “Ken, can you come over this afternoon at 1:00?” I said, “Why do you want me there?” He said, “I got this young guy coming in who’s going to make a presentation. He wants me to make an investment or find some investors for him.”
I went for the 1:00 meeting and there was Steve Jobs. This is long before Apple. He was pitching a device that you would put over the mouthpiece of a telephone. Once you put in the mouthpiece of the telephone, you would tap in a code and then you get a dial tone and it would allow you to make free long-distance phone calls. It was not exactly a legal device. Harvey eventually did not fund it. However, a couple of years later at my company Jennings-McGlothlin & Company, we were considering buying a vendor that supplies this called Cory Sound. They were involved in recording studio and duplication facilities and their largest client was Apple because early Macs operated on cassette tapes. I want to meet, lo and behold, here’s Steve again.
Did he remember you?
Of course. Let me answer your question this way because it explains everything about Steve Jobs. I think there’s more of misinformation out there about Steve Jobs. Information is absolutely incorrect. Something I do in every speech, but on occasion on what’s at, I will grab a handheld microphone. I will walk up the stage and go among the audience. I will go up to somebody who will say, “Are you a reasonable person?” and I say, “I try to be,” and I go to the next person. I say, “Are you a reasonable person?” “I hope so. I certainly try to be a reasonable person.” “Are you a reasonable person?” “Of course, I am.” I go to the next one, “Are you a reasonable person?” “Yeah, I wear my readability like a badge of honor,” and I look at them and say, “I feel so sorry for all of you.”
As George Bernard Shaw wrote a long time ago, “For any change or any improvement in any field of endeavor, look for the unreasonable man or the unreasonable woman, because reasonable people will go along with whatever they find, but unreasonable people will force the world to conform that their vision of the way things ought to be. Therefore, for any improvement in medicine, any improvement in life, any improvement in business, look for the unreasonable man or the unreasonable woman.” Was Steve Jobs an unreasonable man? Yes, completely, but what he was doing is he was changing the world and you were either with him or not with him. As a testament, look at the CEO who he created to fill his shoes after he was gone and look at where Apple is now. I am nothing but a fan of Steve Jobs and I love people who are unreasonable. I didn’t say you shouldn’t try to be nice all the time. I hope to be nice in all of my going up and coming in, however on occasion, you lose it because they’re not on a journey, they don’t get the why. He was a remarkable leader and what Apple is now is a testament to this remarkable man who was led by a why.
Do you think that it would be any better or worse if he had worked on his interpersonal skills?
I don’t know that his interpersonal skills were that bad. “Could he explode with anger? Could he be dismissive?” “Yes,” and I had the tendency to dismiss those things. If you got the why then you would take the being yelled at or being dismissed and bounced right back and fight hard because you didn’t want to be on anything but the journey you are on.
I had Guy Kawasaki in the show.If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. Click To Tweet
Guy and I are great friends.
He is wonderful and it was fun to hear how he stood up to him.
That’s what you have to have, but it does not mean that Steve Jobs is a bully. He is not a bully at all. He is a man being led by a why and I can understand it. If you were a military commander, what would you say to the troops? “We’re going into battle. We’ve got to win. You’re either with us or you’re not with us and if you’re not with us, get out of here.” That’s how the cow ate the cabbage.
I am interested because I didn’t realize you had this background with him, but I knew you had interviewed Phil Knight. I thought that was an interesting discussion of what you learned from that interview. You must have known some of the biggest of the best apparently.
Let me tell you what we do. I am humble about how we work and this will give you an indication of the people I’ve been able to be around. When I come up with a topic for a book, I go to New York and I get together with my publisher, Adrian Zackheim at Penguin Random House. We know that the book is going to take a couple of years to do by the time you research a book, write a book, edit a book, and it comes to market. We’re not Nostradamus by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re like, “What are things likely to look like in two years? What are business people going to be interested in two years? What would we think would be a good bet for a business topic?” We ended up on speed, on productivity, on culture and innovation.
What I do is I assemble a research team and I put an empty easel in a room. We’re locked in the room and I said, “We’re writing about innovation. How will we define and how will we quantify innovation?” What most people do is they say, “Southwest is innovative, Intel is innovative and the same old hackneyed company gets written over and over again.” We finally come up with a list. They have to do this, they have to do that and we say, “We’ve got to find these companies,” then we hire an outside research organization. We use Research on Demand and we use a number of companies who have access to the data on hundreds of thousands or millions of companies.
What they do is they will come up with a potential list of 400 or 500, then we start building manual files on every single one of these companies. Some companies get discarded for this reason, some companies get discarded because they’ve done something illegal. We whittle it down and finally, we come up with a list of about 20 to 25 companies. We say, “These companies are the personification of innovation.” What we have to do is gain access to these companies. If you want to gain access to the company, you have to gain access to the CEO of the company. I will tell you, this is the hardest part of my job.
What was interesting to show you how wrong I am sometimes, I thought after that first book, It’s Not the Big That Eat the Small, It’s the Fast That Eat the Slow became a wild bestseller, I thought it’s going to be easier now to gain access to people. No, it got harder because they know people read your books. For all my books, we have only not gained access to two companies that we want to get into, and I felt bad. We would gain access to hundreds of companies, we’re like a dog with a bone, we never give up.
I remember sitting on the telephone I’m on, receiving a call one morning in about 6:00 California time and this guy said, “Are you ever going to stop?” I said, “Who is this?” and he identified himself as the CEO of the company. He said, “You contacted my office hundreds of times, and we told you no. You’ve contacted my customers and now you contact my biggest vendor who sits on my board and he is calling me, bugging me. If you want me, get your ass on an airplane and be in Atlanta at 9:00. You’ve got one day.” The only two that we’ve never been able to get to eventually were two companies that led to declaring bankruptcy. They knew things that they didn’t want us to know and they knew that the pretty story that they were portraying would have been discovered by researchers being inside.
There’s a great story you want to hear about this. A big first printing of a book is about 50,000 hardcovers. You’re well covered in all the bookstores and all the airport bookstores if you’re about 50,000 books. There’s a thought guru by the name of Gary Hamel in Silicon Valley and he has always managed to keep a high-profile. He was the one that wrote the ultimate book on Enron. What he did is he went to Harvard Business Press and he said, “I don’t want any money in advance. I want you to guarantee me 100,000 hardcover books in the first printing. If you make that guarantee, I’ll go with you and here’s going to be the ultimate book about Enron.”
I remember walking through the San Francisco airport one day right the day the book came out and I actually got jealous because there were stacks and stacks of his book in every single bookstore. They didn’t have it five deep or ten deep, they had it about twenty deep. I was filled with envy thinking, “I wonder how he handles this.” Four days later, Enron collapsed and you didn’t hear from Gary Hamel for a number of years because you would do with any self-respecting person would do. You would hideout for a few years and hope the people forgot that you have written a book.
I never got the principles of Enron. They would not have made the cut. We’ve never written about the company that went upside down. We’ve never written about the company that hasn’t continued to do well and I always needle my competitor. Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great, which was a landmark book, about three of the nine companies he wrote about went upside down. They stopped being greater and something happened. What is done in response to your original question? Because we don’t give up, I have had access to a remarkable number of people and I have been humbled to be in their presence. I talk to them the same way I told you we should be talking to job applicants which is tell me your story.
“I don’t want to talk to you about a specific topic. I don’t have a list of questions, I just want to get to know you and find out about you.” There’s that old-line, once you get somebody talking about themselves, the hard part is getting him to shut up. That’s been the case with every one of the tens of thousands of interviews I’ve done for speeches and research for the books. “What do you mean you want to hear about me? Where should I start?” “Start at the beginning, where were you born? “That won’t take long ago to tell that story.” I said, “Start telling it.” You could see them visibly react because they’re living in a world where everybody is talking about them 24/7. There’s so much noise around them, but somebody is sitting here saying tell me about you.
At the end of every several hours with the CEO, at the end of an hour-long telephone conversation with the CEO, what I invariably hear the CEOs tell me, “I have told you things I’ve never told my wife. I hope these things are going to be confidential.” I said, “Yes, you’re going to see every word I write in a book before the book goes to the publisher and these things that are close and secret between us would never be told.” This guy who said, “Get on the airplane and have your butt here at 9:00.” I walk into his office with my three recorders and it was a testy welcome because his assistant who had told me no ten times on the phone, was trying to be nice, but she was actually angry that I had won.
I shake his hand and we sit down. I set out my three recorders at that time because in case two of them don’t work, I never want to lose the magic. We started at about 9:50 in the morning. We went to lunch and at first his answers were terse, and by lunch he was warming up. He said, “Come out with me. Let’s grab a sandwich.” We grabbed a sandwich and we continued to talk, then we go back. It’s now 5:00 in the evening. I’m supposed to fly home on an evening plane. He said, “When are you flying out at Atlanta?” They were about an hour and a half out of Atlanta. I said, “8:00.” He said, “You’re not going to get there. The family is gone, why don’t you come to the house and we’ll grill a couple of steaks and keep talking.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “We’ll get you home on the company jet tomorrow.”
We’re grilling steaks. We’re having a couple of pops and he finally said, “There’s something else I want to talk to you about. You’re such a good listener. I feel like I’m a failure as a father and a husband. Can you help me out with that?” Why do people open up? It’s because it’s what you do for a living. It’s because I am so authentically curious. I am a richer person for every conversation I get to hold. I sit there spellbound just the words I shared with you, “and then what happened, and then what happened next, uh-huh, and then.” What they end up telling me is I’m a great communicator. I’ve only listened. I haven’t communicated at all. People have a need to tell their stories. People want to be heard. People want to be understood and that’s our job to do.
I had to interview some people who are a little more challenging. You obviously are an easy-going nice guy. I’ve had a few that are hard to get on the show or similar things that you’re mentioning. You know by the time you talked to them, they are a little bit not thrilled at the beginning sometimes and then by the end you’re like, “Now we’re close. We are a really good friend type of thing.” You got into it on one of your interviews. I mentioned Phil Knight and I thought that was interesting, his reaction to your question. What did you learn from interviewing him? I thought that was another person that stood out.
I learned from him the same thing, I ultimately learned when I dig deep enough into a successful company. He is a man who has led a company with a purpose. He is an extraordinarily humble man. Not many people know that several years ago he was on the Stanford campus taking a couple of university courses and never even identified himself. He did not have a need to tell anybody. He was there for one or two semesters. He did not have a need to identify himself or say, “I own Nike.” I learned about competitiveness. I learned about compassion and he was one of the first companies. I’ll just be blunt and use a phrase I shouldn’t here. He was one of the first where I learned that vision statements and mission statements are BS. They’re overdone and they either cause people’s eyes to glaze over or they roll their eyes back in their head and their best role to get into a game of buzzword bingo because it’s not about the statement, it is about purpose. Many years ago when I interviewed him, he was one of the people that got me on this journey that there’s something beyond vision and mission.
I like your story about him wearing sunglasses the whole time you interviewed him and you asked him about what it’s like to be worth $6 billion. Can you share his response to that?
I don’t remember. I wrote about it in my book, but you do remember.
I do remember. You said, “He kept his sunglasses on for the whole three hours.”
You tell the story. I do remember. I remember the story.
If you remember it, you would tell it so much better how he told you what a dumbass question that was, you’re a fool and all that. He said something to the fact that he didn’t get into those thinking he is going to sell running shoes, he was going to make $6 billion doing it. He did it for the thrill of beating and winning and being better than anybody else.Great leaders allow their heads to meet their hearts and understand that the 'why' is the single most important thing in people's lives. Click To Tweet
What I remember most is we were sitting in a room with fluorescent lights, it was bright. He is known for always wearing tinted glasses. At that time it might’ve $6 or $7 billion, which now would probably be $15 or $20 billion that was earlier in my career. We had a great conversation going and I said, “What is it like? I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be worth $6 billion.” He reached up, took out those shades, and he put them down and said, “That’s the most stupid dumbass question I’ve ever been asked in my life. Is that why you think I do this?” “It is a thrill of winning, competing and being better than anybody else. It had nothing to do with the money.”
I find that consistently with truly great leaders who have had said that at the heart. Everybody knows, if you create economic value, you’re going to be fairly compensated. It’s one of the rules in the marketplace. I always tell people that everybody makes exactly what they deserve to make based on how much value they create and I believe that. I believe that’s the number one rule of the marketplace. If you create $50,000 in the value that’s your annual income. If you make $3 million a year of speeches and books or whatever amount of money it is, that’s how much value you’ve created. I do remember that slightly fiery exchange, but it ends up well and in truth he did as much for the show before anything else.
I like that he said he did it for the thrill of beating, winning and being better than anybody else and as you put it because he was being honest. How much is the competition part of why you do what you do? Is it the thrill of winning? Why did you do it? What are your nonfinancial reasons for what you do?
I look at the numbers once a year. I’m a competitor. The last week in December, Christopher, my bookkeeper, who I’ve had a delightful relationship with for several years, he shows up every Saturday morning. If I’m off the road, I cook him and serve everybody a nice, beautiful breakfast, and then he takes over my study. We have a wonderful relationship and he looks out for my interest. One year, the last week in December, he said, “I suppose you want to see the numbers.” I said, “I hope they’re higher than last year’s.” He runs the numbers, he runs a report for me and we sit down and talk about it. I’ll be honest and frank, I’m enough of a competitor that every year I want the numbers to be higher whether it’s books, speeches or whatever it is, only because it means I’m doing something of value.
If I told you how much I earn and how much we live on, there is a huge difference between them. We have a beautiful home and live a modest existence. We support a lot of charities and a lot of things that we believe very strongly, but I don’t do it to be a consumer. The best way to answer the question is I get 100 to 120 emails a day from people who have read the book or have been on a speech. My rule since day one is that if somebody finds me, I will get back to them. It’s not going to be a five-paragraph email, but it’s going to be a paragraph email saying, “I acknowledge what you said. Here’s the answer. Thank you very much.” An assistant doesn’t do it for me. I answer these. I’m up at 4:30, 5:00 every morning and it’s the first thing I take care of every morning.
I will tell you, I’m half-English heritage, half-Scandinavian heritage and as they said that Scandinavians have their kidneys close to their eyes. There has never been a morning when I’m reading these emails where I don’t sit and get moist-eyed. There has never been a morning where I don’t sit and get moist eyed because I haven’t been able to positively impact someone’s life, help them out, help them go to step closer to where they want to be. Why do I do what I do? Why will I keep going? As long as the marketplace wants to buy my books or wants to hear what’s on my speeches, it’s because of the thrill of helping people get what they want.
There is no greater thrill in my life than making that happen and that’s what drives me. Why do I travel 340,000 miles a year? That’s why. Why do I have such a grueling demanding schedule? That’s why. Why do I do a podcast? Why do I blog? Why do I research books? Why do I write books? That’s it. I remember I was so excited about writing my first book and I’m like, “I’m going to be an author,” and it was all about me. Right before the manuscript went out, I thought, “This is not about me at all. This is going to be around for a long time. I have to make sure that every word I’ve written in this book can’t hurt anybody. That it can only help people.” From that point on, I realized that my greatest responsibility is to readers and the people who list in my podcast and who listened and to people who come in most of my speeches.
I love what I do so much I can’t imagine not helping people get what they want and achieving what they want to achieve. I was in Bogota, Columbia giving a speech and at the end of the speech, a young man in his mid-30s came up to me, his name was Daniel Sarmiento. He said, “Can I spend a few minutes with you?” I said, “Of course.” We sat down and he said, “I have a question to ask you. How old are you?” At that time, I said I was 61. He said, “At some point in time, you’re going to stop doing what you do. Are you going to slow down?” I said, “It’s not in the perceivable future, I hope. Unless you know something I don’t know.” He said, “What’s going to happen to your body of work? What’s going to happen to all of your discoveries? Don’t you have an obligation to pass this on to the next generation of leaders?” I began thinking about that nonstop.
On the July 4th weekend, I was in Toronto for the first-ever gathering of the world’s top 30 leadership gurus. I managed to be on that list every year for many years, but that was the first time that all 30 were getting together. I was moved at that event to learn about another guru, Dr. Goldsmith. I made a decision to give away knowledge. By the end of the conference, I stood on stage, shook his hand and I said, “I’m going to do the exact same thing.” We’re in the process right now in the little village where I live on the San Francisco Bay, it’s called Tiburon, a beautiful little village. We’re going to have the first Jason Jennings Summit and it’s free. There’s just no money angle on this at all. It’s free but there is a big price.
The big price is they have to have read the books, they have to have gotten to all the podcasts, they’re going to get a lesson plan they have to follow, but I’m not going to tell people who can come and who can’t. It’s going to be a process of self-selection, but you will know if that particular week doesn’t work in California, then you’re not going to come. If you don’t want to spend the money to get to California, then it’s not going to work. If you haven’t read the books, then you’re not going to come. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, because you have to come already armed with the knowledge.
At the end of three of the three most intense days these people will ever have, everybody in attendance is going to become Jason Jennings certified and they will be certified to act in my stead, to speak in my stead, to write my stead, to walk in my stead. I am giving all the knowledge away. If you ask me if I’m competitive, you bet, but it’s the compassion. The other thing when I was together with these 30 other leadership gurus, we all agreed that we were never going to be competitors, that we were going to love and support one another. I’ve noticed an immediate change in everybody who at one point in time what I’ve thought in sales is being in competition with another leadership guru, now every email ends with love or with gratitude and is not hokey. It was a profound weekend that I’ve spent with these people.
I have probably quite a few of them on this show. I serve on a board with Harvey Mackay and I had Marshall Goldsmith on this show. I’m thinking of some of the big names and they’ve all been super impressive.
It was Marshall’s lead in giving away the knowledge that I made a decision to do the same. You asked me if there’s anything I want to promote, you’re only promoting something if you want somebody to buy something. The only thing I got to promote is coming up. It’s going to be Jason Jennings Certification Summit and I’m getting very excited.
How do people find out more about that and how do they reach you in general?
I announced this on my podcast and I said, “Send me an email at Jason@Jason-Jennings.com and say, ‘Hi, my name is such and so, here’s one paragraph about me. I am interested in being part of your three-day certification summit.”’ That’s all you need to do and then we’ll get you on the list and start sending you regular updates every two weeks about what you should be reading, about what you should be studying and there will be a whole lesson plan that I will ask you to complete before these intense three days.
That’s amazing and I think that there are many people who will benefit from that. I’ve been inspired by how Marshall has given things away to so many people. It all comes around to the most incredible people and whenever I’ve gone to events, I’ve been to Marshall’s 100 coaches, 50 or whatever it is now and everybody there are in it for the right reasons. They have a bigger purpose and this sounds similar to that way of thinking. I could see that this will be a great event. This has been so much fun, Jason. Thank you for being on the show.
Diane, one, I am a richer person for having learned about you and for having experienced your curiosity. I hope we have another opportunity to spend time together and end our time together with a lot of gratitude.
Thank you and I feel the same way. I hope that this event turns out to be an amazing thing for so many people because you have so much information everybody could benefit from. This was a fun show.
I want to thank Jason for being my guest. What great guests we get. If you have missed any past episodes, you can go to DrDianeHamilton.com. If you look at the top, you can go to the radio to listen to it and you can learn more about curiosity at the top as well. We are in all the radio stations across the country from Florida to Vegas and California. We’re on multiple markets and were also on iTunes, iHeart, Roku, you name it. I’m very excited to get the message out there and enjoy having guests like Jason and others on this show. If you have missed any past episodes, please check them out and please join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Jason Jennings
- It’s Not the Big That Eat the Small, It’s the Fast That Eat the Slow
- Less is More
- Think Big, Act Small
- Hit The Ground Running: A Manual For New Leaders
- The Reinventors
- The High Speed Company
- Premiere Radio Networks
- Tom Ziglar – Previous episode
- Olin Oedekoven – Previous episode
- Ken Fisher – Previous episode
- Guy Kawasaki – Previous episode
- Penguin Random House
- Good to Great
- Marshall Goldsmith – Previous episode
- iTunes – Take the Lead Radio
- iHeart – Dr. Diane Hamilton Show
About Jason Jennings
Jason Jennings traveled the globe in search of the world’s fastest companies for his 2001 landmark debut book, It’s Not The Big That Eat The Small – It’s The Fast That Eat The Slow, and, within days of its release, it hit the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and New York Times Bestsellers Lists, and USA TODAY named it one of the top 25 books of the year. Next, he and his research teams identified the world’s ten most productive companies for the bestseller, Less Is More.
That was followed by, Think BIG – Act Small, which profiled the only ten companies in the US to have organically grown both revenues and profits by double-digits every year for ten consecutive years. His next book, Hit the Ground Running – A Manual for Leaders, reveals the tactics and strategies of the ten new CEO’s who created the greatest amount of value during their first five years on the job.
His New York Time’s bestseller, The Reinventors – How Extraordinary Companies Pursue Radical Continuous Change, reveals the secrets of those leaders and organizations that have successfully reinvented and transformed themselves. His latest book for his publisher Penguin Random House is, The High-Speed Company – Creating Urgency and Growth in a Nanosecond Culture.
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