Authentic Leadership

Ben Vance Postlethwaite & Netterville

While it is easy to associate leadership with perfection, there is a lot to be said for leaders who show up as authentic human beings that still have a lot to learn. Today’s guest is Ben Vance, and he joins us to talk about how this approach to leadership informs his role as Director of Business Valuation and Transaction Advisory with Postlethwaite & Netterville. Our conversation starts on the difference between management and leadership, and Ben makes some critical distinctions. For Ben, management is all about ensuring a project is perfect and delivering it on time. In contrast, leadership is more interpersonal and thus more complex and more challenging to get right. Ben tries to see himself as a constant student in the art of leadership, and he talks about the value of accepting that we won’t get things right the first time around when it comes to leading people. This aspect of admitting our shortcomings is a crucial part of being authentic, and it is authenticity that helps us empathize with, connect to, and motivate our staff better at the end of the day. Ben also shares some valuable points about the challenge of knowing when to take command as a leader versus letting staff make mistakes and learn on their own. Another key subject from today is how to stay motivated and keep up a spirit of learning once we master our professional roles’ technicalities.

Key Points From This Episode

  • The difference between management and leadership.
  • Why being a good leader is a continuous learning process.
  • The deadlines and deliverables of management versus the people business of leadership.
  • Being a manager requires being perfect, while being a leader is about being comfortable with not being perfect.
  • The leadership style Ben advocates for of giving his employees agency.
  • Knowing when to take control versus give employees the space to fail and learn.
  • The value of downtime for leaders and knowing when to give it to employees.
  • Learning leadership lessons by going through cycles of stress and recovery.
  • How Zoom calls in the pandemic have allowed people to show more authenticity.
  • Being a more empathetic leader by remembering people have a lot going on in their lives.
  • Knowing when to prioritize family versus work: an essential leadership skill.
  • How to overcome decreasing satisfaction and stay energized.
  • The mindset piece of good leadership; being mentally prepared for the challenge.
  • How much better of a leader one becomes by being authentic.


[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:20] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we have Ben Vance, a Director of Business Valuation and Transaction Advisory with Postlethwaite & Netterville. Ben and I discuss the topic of leadership and how we can all bring a more authentic approach to our leadership style. I hope you all enjoy.

[00:00:40] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.


[00:00:48] AD: Ben, welcome to the Branch Out podcast. Excited to have you here today.

[00:00:52] BV: Thank you, Alex. Excited to be here too.

[00:00:54] AD: Talking to our listeners for a minute, Ben and I, just before we jumped on recording here, we were talking about leadership and management and what’s the difference and what does leadership mean versus what does management mean. We’re going to really take this show today and just try to have some conversation around that and dig into that a little bit. Ben, before we recorded, you said a statement to me that I thought was really interesting. He said management is really around deadlines and deliverables, whereas leadership’s around people. What do you think about that?

[00:01:21] BV: I think that I’m still learning that. I think that’s something that has come over time where, yeah, I don’t believe when I went – There wasn’t a leadership class you went to. They don’t teach leadership. They teach various aspects of management, and I think just being a student and trying to learn management seems to come into mind is what we want to do and we want to grow, and we want to grow ourselves into that. Then you start to get in and to learn that you’re managing around a bunch of people, you’re dealing with people all the time on the sales side or on the project side, and there just becomes a point where management only takes you so far. It’s a point you strive to in your career. It’s a point some people can stay at in their career because they’re really good at it. But leadership is another aspect on top of that that I think involves some similar skills and different skills, and it’s still something that I’m learning.

[00:02:15] AD: Management only takes you so far. I think that’s a really important statement. But what I want to go back to, you’re still learning. I love that your spot started there. I think that’s actually really important for everyone to think on for a minute. I think leadership in general and even as we continue to dig into this a little bit here, it really is a constant journey, right? There isn’t – You don’t achieve leadership. You don’t achieve a place where all of a sudden you’re a master leader and you’ve got everything figured out, right? It’s a constant journey through that process. Would you agree with that?

[00:02:42] BV: 100%. I think I go back. It’s funny how things that you’re told are here a decade ago sticks in your mind and it – To me, there was a comment. I was working a student job or I was working for an IT company while I was in college and just somebody I had a car ride with who was from Connecticut – It really doesn’t matter where he’s from. I had no connection with this guy. He just saw me as a young kid and just talking through stuff. He told me. He said to me that A students work for C students, and B students work for the government.

I don’t mean that in any sort of bad way, but it stuck me at the time. Then overall, as we’re kind of gearing up for this conversation, I took that and I’m interpreting that more is that leadership is not perfect. People that lead have to be okay with not being perfect and being perfect – I mean, being imperfect, making mistakes, being vulnerable allows you to better connect with people. But on a management side, when I think of that, it’s all about meeting a deadline and having a perfect deliverable in a scenario where you get the chance to present a draft. Edit it. Make feedback. Prove it and share it with – Polish it up. Add formatting. You may have 10 or 15 different iterations of a deliverable that you’re managing before it goes outbound.

Leadership is a constant barrage of one. You don’t get second chances to interact with people. You are going to make mistakes when you do that. As we talk about authenticity and relationships, it’s being in a way in which you’re comfortable not being perfect, and others feel comfortable not being perfect around you. But at the same time, you can’t deliver projects that are not perfect. That needs to be in it, right? I mean, that’s why people pay us to do what we do is to not deliver imperfect work. But you have to understand that in being a leader and with dealing with people and dealing with yourself, you’re not perfect.

[00:04:44] AD: Let’s dig into that dichotomy for a second. I love the statement. Leadership is not perfect and leaders have to be comfortable with knowing that what they’re doing is not perfect. I think that’s very important, but then your point is also well taken that management specifically around projects and deadlines and deliverables. In the case of many of our listeners and in your work, it’s a client deliverable. It’s something that’s going to go external that a client is paying you a meaningful amount of dollars to complete. You have to get it right. You have to have it meet a certain deadline. There are certain things that come with that that are really about perfection.

I’d love to get your thoughts and some of your perspective around this. You are a leader and a manager in the same token, right? You as a person and in your role in your firm, you are managing projects and workloads and deliverables and timelines and kind of the final deliverable to a client. But at the same time, you’re leading your team. You’re leading your people. One of those requires you to be perfect. One of those you will never be perfect. It’s a big dichotomy to carry in your mind and a lot to kind of balance there. How do you – What’s been some of your experience around that? How have you navigated your way through it?

[00:05:50] BV: Again, still learning on all of this. I will – As a young father, I have two kids. I think that has allowed me to see some things. Maybe your eight-year-old reacts to how you are approaching things. Going from the business setting to baseball practice with your son and trying to operate the same way, I start to pick up on things that just don’t work for an eight-year-old, and they also don’t work in the setting. What I mean by that is managing to a deliverable, it seems like there’s constant feedback. We need to tweak this. We need to change this. This is what I need done. You don’t always have time to pause and really explain yourself.

But leadership is more about teaching them how to understand that, but also make mistakes and learn along the way so that they can then turn around and teach other people, and they can start to be more independent. An example, when I’m talking about my son and where it hit me, is we’re in the batting cages. We’re talking about how to be a better hitter, approach complete. He’s getting ready for kid’s pitch. He’s eight years old. I can’t believe he’s getting to be that old, but I’m like, “What’s your approach?” As we’re practicing like, “What is your approach at the plate?” He’s like, “Well, Dad. I’m trying to think about firing my hips and quick hands and keeping my eye on the ball and turning and really just being quick and aggressive.” I’m like he’s thinking way too much because that’s everything that I’ve told him.

This will resonate with some and not others. But if I want to be the baseball dad in air quotes and every time he struck out, I went to the dugout and said, “You got to get your hands up. You got to do this,” that’s managing him. I might – The next time he’s at the plate, maybe he remembers that. Maybe he does good on that specific time. But leadership is about, you know what, it’s okay if he, whatever, strikes out. If he makes a mistake, if he doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, we’ll talk about it later, and he needs to learn how to draft some of that himself.

When I flip back into the business setting, it’s, again, knowing where it’s okay to fail, knowing where it’s okay to just sit back and allow some things to happen and resist. My natural inclination is just to constantly stop, tweet, and change that because I want it this way. Next one, next one, next one. That’s my natural, like how I want to approach it. I think that helps managing a deadline. I do not think it helps from a development long-term perspective.

[00:08:09] AD: When you’re working with people, which is what leadership is, we talked about this is around people. This is around the relationship you build with people, helping people learn grow and develop. At the end of the day, think about – I ask all of our listeners. But to you in particular, Ben, just think to yourself every lesson you’ve learned, anywhere that you have really learned something where you look back and like, “Man, that was a learning moment,” I’m going to bet there was some challenge failure, something that happened, right?

I mean, if we do everything right all the time, you don’t really learn from doing it right. You learn, “Okay, this works.” But where at least, for me, my own experience is the things I learn the most from are when I do something wrong, when something doesn’t work, when you hit a wall and you stumble and trip and fall. You’re like, “Okay. Now, I need to learn more.” To your point though, if you don’t give someone the rope, the latitude, the space to go out there and try stuff, and they’re going to fail a little bit. They’re people. Especially when you’re leading a team, undoubtedly the people you’re leading are going to fall short in some areas. Again, the challenge, and there is no manual about the perfect right way to handle this. But the challenge is you have to be careful about what are you letting them fail in.

Let’s take the client deliverable. If you have a new associate or even a senior associate that’s growing in the organization, you’re trying to develop them, you aren’t necessarily going to say, “Hey. Go complete this and deliver this to the client,” because you’re going to want to put a second eye on that. You want to make sure that’s right. That’s too important. But can you say, “Hey. Here’s the type of model I’m trying to build. Can you go build this for me,” without saying, “Here’s the six steps you’re going to follow.”? Just saying, “Go build this.” They may come back with something that is 100% wrong, and you may have to start all over, and you may still have to do it yourself to get it done. But that experience is letting them learn. Does that resonate with you?

[00:09:53] BV: Yes. Again, something that I’ve done correctly in some instances, and I’ve done the exact opposite, just kind of depending on maybe my mental state at the time or the stacks of projects you’ve got on top of that, as far as how you approach it. But, yeah, I do like to try to communicate this is what we’re trying to happen and then see if they can give it back to me, and we sort of use that as a learning point. But sometimes, the timelines don’t allow you to do that the best. But I think it’s just being aware of that.

[00:10:22] AD: Something you’d said to me before, and I have this written down as a bullet here, you had said to me when is the right time to pause versus when is the right time to meet a deadline, which is really what we’re talking about here in many ways. When is the right time to slow down and say, “Hey, let me give you some rope. Let me give you a chance to learn this. It may take us a little longer, but this is a good learning opportunity,” versus, “No. We have to meet this deadline, and things have to get done.” Both exist, right? In the workplace, both exist. There’s no way around it.

[00:10:49] BV: No. Yeah, I agree.

[00:10:51] AD: Ultimately, the challenge behind that becomes when to balance that, how to do that right. Something I want to go back to you said that’s important here, you said you’ve done it right and you’ve done it wrong, and it’s really dependent on your mental state at the time. I think that’s a really important statement to pull out there because for all of us, I think that is a driving force. Are you stressed? Are you wound up? Do you have a lot of things in your mind? What’s going on? We all have ups and downs. We all have different mental states in different days, but I’m a true believer that at the end of the day real true successful leadership really lies in your ability to have a calmer mental state.

Again, it doesn’t mean it will never be perfect. We all have our ups and our downs. But when you’re at a peak mode of stress, what type of leader are you? How do you behave to those around you?

[00:11:35] BV: Ineffective. But, Alex, you’re touching on some things that I could dive into, and we can go deep, but I’ll try to keep it at a surface level and not try to stray away. But you mentioned stress. You mentioned growth. I can throw out a number of books, but the one that comes to mind is called The Way We Work Isn’t Working. There’s other topics that are sort of interrelated, but it talks about how we as humans grow and how we need this balance of stress and recovery and stress and recovery and stress and recovery.

That pause is knowing when either yourself or your team member is just – It can be work-related or it can be knowing that I know. I’m just hypothetical but I know when they close their laptop, they may be dealing with a relative who’s living with them that’s challenging, and they’re also trying to study for something. I know that even though they may be working on one project here, they’ve got other things stacked on top of them, and they don’t have a moment to relax and recover. That’s when you sort of need it. So it’s understanding that for yourself, which I battle a lot with of knowing what I need to have that pause but equally as important as when you can give it to others.

Almost the more I notice it in others, it’s time for just, “Hey, don’t work this weekend,” or, “Close your laptop.” I don’t want to see an email from you at 7:00 or 8:00 or 11 o’clock at night. But then there I am sending them an email saying, “Hey, don’t worry about this. We’ll check it out. Look at it in the morning.” I think when I’m aware of it, others needing it, it also has a reminder of me of maybe I need that as well. I think all of that is healthy over time to have those periodic cycles where you’re stressing and then recovering on this path to growth and effective leadership.

[00:13:22] AD: Stress and recovery cycle. I think that’s a really good way to describe and to look at this. You’d mention that at times you have to make sure you’re doing that for your people. That’s part of good leadership. But at the end of the day, you have to do that internally too, and I think that’s a really important concept of leadership. This is my own evolution in learning and as with you and my own leadership journey and trying to better understand that the best way to lead. We always hear lead by example. Everyone has heard the term lead by example, but what does that really mean?

To me, that means if I can sit here and we’re having a conversation, I say, “Hey, I think it’s important that you manage your stress levels because I know that when you’re at your optimal stress levels, you are going to perform better,” meaning the stress and recovery cycle. There is a point of having some pressure and some stress, but you cannot live perpetually in that stress mode or else it has detrimental impacts. Well, it’s easy to say, very easy to say, very easy to talk about. But if you tell your team to go do that and then you’re sending emails all weekend, and it doesn’t matter if that email says, “Don’t worry. We can talk on Monday,” you still know what’s happening when that’s hitting their inbox. You still know. We’ve all been on the other side of that, right?

[00:14:29] BV: Yeah. I think you mentioned this before the call. It’s like if you read all these leadership books telling you that your team needs – It’s important that you have this. I know there’s some theme about being authentic. But back to I can tell others to do that. But if I’m not doing that myself, it’s hollow. It’s just something that they’re going to acknowledge like, “I know you’re telling me this but I really don’t.” If I want to get to that level, it doesn’t seem like I need to be recovering. Now, we can’t recover all the time. There needs to be this cycle and this balance, and I think there are several things I think this pandemic has taught us about being authentic and about finding balance. I think there are several things to learn about coming out of this that I think will help all of us just be better connectors with people.

[00:15:16] AD: Let me ask. What are some of those for you? You look back. We’re now just about a little over a year since everything really changed here in the US in particular. We’ve all learned a lot of lessons about that. When you look back from a leadership standpoint and from a leading people, are there any certain lessons or ahas that you’ve really had in the last year?

[00:15:37] BV: There are. I mean, essentially when you say that, I don’t think about it until maybe this morning or when you just asked me that. But I do think people have become more comfortable being themselves in all of this. There’s certain things you just can’t hide, right? We’ve got – You can change your Zoom background and you can see either the corporate logo behind you or some generic sky Eiffel tower scenario. But in a lot of instances, it’s you with your 12-year-old curtains and three-year-old kids running around the house. There’s something about that that you realize, “The person on the other side is really just like me.”

There have been a number of times where truthfully of needing to meet a deadline but having – Whether it’s a virus run through your house or just things that happen that you can’t control, I’ve been more comfortable saying because I’ve heard others say it of, “I’m home today with my sick daughter and I’ve seen Aladdin 12 times already this morning and I’m going to just pull my hair out.” I think it’s just connecting. It’s allowed me to be more myself to people that it is okay to, “Hey, I’m going to be late on that. This happened,” or, “I’m going to get you that a little bit sooner because I need to take the –” There are just things that may have happened that allow me to open up a little bit more not just with my team but with clients and people that we interact with.

With just naturally having these conversations and opening up and being a little bit more authentic allows you to I think just connect better with anybody. Again, I think the pandemic has removed some of that, just in being able to converse and interact more from your home.

[00:17:15] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.

[00:17:24] AD: People are people. We’re all people. When you’re leading, you’re leading people, and people have people problems just like all of us. I think there’s a really important message under all of that is it’s so easy and I can – Man, I look back at some of the ways I acted as a leader in my former career in investment banking, and it’s a high pressure job that is on the go all the time, and there’s always some client demand. There’s always something to do. There’s many times I look back at people I’ve worked with.

I’ll give a shout out to Jordan Warner. We worked together for a number of years. If you’re listening, Jordan, how are you? I look at how I approached my leadership towards him at times where it was, “Hey, I need this done,” and he was like, “I can’t get this done.” My response was to get mad. “Well, this needs to get done. We got to meet this deadline. This has to be – I don’t care that you have a date planned tonight. This needs to get done.” It’s easy to get in that mentality because you want something accomplished, especially when you’re feeling that stress and that pressure yourself.

The hard part, and you said this earlier, when someone’s closing their laptop and they could have something else in their mind. There is a lot of other things going on in people’s lives. That doesn’t mean that you don’t hold your team accountable to meeting tough deadlines that sometimes come up because that’s part of this business. That’s part of what has to get done.

But at the end of the day, recognizing that if someone’s having a bad day or is having a challenge or isn’t meeting a deadline or something’s not going right, I innately believe that people try to do their best. I don’t believe that people show up and see if they can just intentionally not meet a deadline. If they’re not – No one wants to say, “Hey, Ben. I know you said you needed this today, but I’m not going to do it.” I don’t believe that’s the general way of thinking for most people, but it’s easy to get upset about it or frustrated and maybe not consider the fact that they probably have other things going on in their life that could be affecting that. Instead of saying, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Is there – What’s going on? Is there something I can do to be helpful here?” It’s just a different mentality, but I think that it’s really important from a leadership standpoint.

[00:19:25] BV: Yeah, I know. I totally agree. Again, I think pandemic and being at home, I have seen it becoming a little bit more comfortable to talk about, “Is there something going on? Can we talk about that?” A, because I don’t get to see you and interact with you every day, and so I want to know those cues where I may be able to visibly coming in late or just kind of looking disheveled or whatever it might be. I’m like, “Hey, let’s talk.” If you’re just interacting via email or phone call, sometimes it can be hard to pick up on that.

But I did want to go back to an example, Alex, you said earlier of when to pause, when to learn how to do certain things and leading by example. In addition to being father and I love my job and love people that I get to interact with, I’m a huge sports fan and I pick up on things in the professional setting, whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, and how that applies back to us and just fitting. I’m a Saints fan, so this kind of hurts me a little bit, but the coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs, Bruce Arians, I’ve heard him talk about and tell his coaches that he will fire them on the spot if they miss a child’s event. Meaning if I find out that you missed a recital, you missed a game, you missed homework, you missed something important in your child’s life, I will fire you on the spot. He says he learned that because he’s missed too many in his life.

I go back to that. He didn’t just read a book and feel like, “Okay, this is what I need to say because this is what I think it takes to be a healthy team.” He failed in some ways as a parent, thinking his priorities were his career when his priorities are really his family, and he doesn’t want anybody else to make that mistake to the point of he will fire you on the spot if you make the same mistake he did. Those are – There’s countless other examples of that, but it’s to the point about knowing not just saying because you read it. Growth about failing and being a leader and how you apply that, that’s always stuck out certainly to me.

[00:21:33] AD: Well, what’s the message that ultimately sends? This goes back to a little bit of if you want to be a good leader, you really have to lead by example, and you have to believe in what you’re saying in the example you used there. I very much do believe family comes first. People come first. People have to take care of themselves. At the end of the day, if you take care of your people, the people will take care of the business. Ultimately, if it is important for you to create an environment in the culture that is focused on people, which I believe is very important, I believe that is really the core of leadership, then you have to set parameters like that.

Now, the example of firing someone at an event, that’s obviously an extreme way of putting that in place. But I think there’s a lot of merit to what’s being said there and a lot of benefit there because if – Let’s just say let’s play this out. Ben, you and I are working together. I work for you and you tell me, “Hey. It’s really important you hired in. We care about family. Family first. We want to make sure you’re spending time and you’re not missing any of your children’s events.” Then I say, “Hey, I’ve got my son’s game tonight,” and you say, “Hey, that’s cool, but we got to get this project done. You’re going to have to go ahead and miss that, and you’re missing your son’s game too.”

Now, there may be a rare occasion where there’s some client demand that you just can’t get out of the way of, so I don’t want to discount that those events can happen in professional services. But I also recognize that if you’re missing your son’s game again and again and again and that becomes normal, what is that message saying? And or if you’re allowing me to do it again and again and again, what does that say, right? It comes down to you have to lead by example. If you see me not doing it, you have to hold me accountable to live that same way because that’s how you want your people to be.

[00:23:10] BV: No. 100%. I want to unpack that a little bit. We may dance around a few topics. But when I think about being an effective person, I mean Stephen Covey always comes to mind of The 7 Habits book that I think everybody has read.

[00:23:23] AD: If they haven’t, they should.

[00:23:25] BV: If they haven’t, they should. If you’ve read it, reread it because there are always things that I unpack in there. When we were conversing about this topic, I go to my pride and true of like Stephen Covey leadership management topics in the search engine and go. I found it interesting that there were a couple of quotes that maybe misquoted or said the same thing. But it was all around effective management is about putting things first, but leadership is about deciding what things go first and how effective leadership is about putting.

This is where it was different. It was you hear that quote, and then it was effective leadership is about putting things first, and management is having the discipline to carry it out. Even there, it kind of tells you that there’s definitely a relationship between leadership and management. They have to coexist. But being an effective leader has a lot to do with knowing when to prioritize the family, when to prioritize the deadline and being able to see that. Sometimes, you’re going to learn that through failing, but it’s just something that is resonating more and more with me about being able to manage a deadline but also know when you need to step back and realize what’s either important or what may be going on in someone else’s life that you just need to be aware of.

[00:24:41] AD: Well, your point that we started this whole conversation out with is you’re still learning, and we also talked about the fact that failing is how we learn a lot. The point of, yes, leadership and management are very co-mingled in terms of what the ultimate objective is and what that role looks like, and there isn’t a clear answer. I think the clear in particular around leadership, there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all or a perfect way of doing things. I think the right thing will continuously change, and you will inevitably get it wrong from time to time.

The key under all of that is that you’re aware of that and that you’re looking for opportunities to grow and learn from it. That you’re really saying what can I do better, how can I improve this, how can I grow. Actually, it’s a good question that I’d love to get your thoughts on. As a leader, you want to grow. You want to continue to – One of the ways to do this is your own self-reflection, that introspection of how is my life going. Stephen Covey has some great tools that you can – Especially the Eisenhower Matrix is a very powerful way of thinking through some of that.

But when you’re also working with people, you need feedback from people around you. You have to hear from people because you don’t know. You don’t know if you’re doing things right. You can kind of guess based on maybe how they’re acting. But at the end of the day, you need your team to tell you where you can improve or what’s going right and wrong. Anything come to mind around that? Any examples or an experience where you’ve either done that well or not done that so well or words of wisdom around how to navigate that feedback? Again, there’s no handbook behind this. There’s no one-size-fits-all.

[00:26:12] BV: Yeah. I mean, I think being truthful on there are probably times when I may not be aware of it, but the tone and how I may communicate in a setting. I’ve had peers that I have good relationships with maybe approach me afterwards and say, “Hey, you’re a little brash in that response. Let’s – I want you to be aware and there’s obviously – You’ve got to be stacked up against the deadline and deadline.” Your point was well taken but just be mindful of there were people in that room that don’t know you as well as we know you. If they don’t know the other side of you, they just only know what was in that moment.

Those are kind of some checking moments of you need to be authentic and I think that you also need to understand that sometimes people may not know they may not have that much history with you to understand the other side or the true side of where you’re coming from. That’s a reflection. Then also, I can see where there’s a couple of things I want to unpack here of where you may be pushing someone to constantly get this project out and the next one and the next one. I guess just knowing that that’s – I find that may be a hard motivating tactic if there’s always another project.

Something that this is where I’m sort of learning, and I’ll kind of ask this question to you of when you’re in the mode of getting projects done, it feels really good to get a project off of your –

[00:27:33] AD: Check that list off, right? Feels great.

[00:27:35] BV: You’re right. It feels good to say, “Man, I got this one out.” Then you start advancing your career, and you realize there’s six more behind it. [inaudible 00:27:43]

[00:27:43] AD: [inaudible 00:27:43].

[00:27:46] BV: It’s almost like I feel like that I don’t know if you want to say law of diminishing return or whatever of the satisfaction I get from finishing the next project gets less and less with each project that I deliver. So it’s got to be more than just managing a deadline. It’s got to be about how am I able to support my family by getting these projects out, how am I able to teach others things that I’ve learned in getting these projects out, and how am I able to grow as a person in getting these projects out. Those are things that I found some of that pockets of being able to re-energize myself and to get motivated about kind of looking backwards and thinking about what did I learn on this project, what did I teach on this project, who did I get a chance to connect with on this project. Yeah. Those sort of things that I start to learn from.

[00:28:33] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.

[00:28:41] AD: This is a random thought that’s coming to mind and is totally off topic but I think also relevant. This is I think in some ways people talk about wanting to find their passion or find something that excites them in what they’re doing. What you just described is I think a challenge that many people run into in their careers, and I know I certainly have, where you start a career, especially in the accounting, finance, legal, professional services world as a whole. You have a highly technical career that those first handful of years it feels really good. You’re learning all this technical stuff. You’re gaining so much knowledge. The learning curve is steep. You’re drinking off a fire hose but you’re constantly learning new things.

Then you wake up one day and realize that your to-do list never ends, no matter what, no matter how many hours in the day you work. I don’t know if Outlook has a bottom to the email because I don’t think it exists, and it’s a non-stop cycle. You find I think this is when many people – I’ve definitely found myself in this from time to time. Burnout’s a good word that’s used around that and just lack of enthusiasm, lack of enjoyment, fulfillment, and feeling like, “What am I doing? What is all of this for? Yeah, I’m getting a paycheck but like what am I doing?” The thought where I think this ties all back to leadership is at the end of the day, in my experience, leadership is a very fulfilling activity. The idea of really leading people to be the best versions of themselves to really take a team, accomplish a project, help people overcome their challenges, help people become better versions of themselves which is, again, the core element of leadership in my opinion.

That is hyper fulfilling for me. I look forward to that. I talk about wanting to ignite a passion. That, for me, is how the passion starts to come out. That has nothing to do with the projects. That is nothing. The projects have to get done. The to-do list has to get – There’s always things that are going to have to get done, but your point of it at some level you evolve past that and start seeing that, hey, if all you’re focused on is the deadline, is the project and not realizing the impact to the people you’re helping, the greater change that’s coming out of it, you lose your energy. You ultimately can find yourself zapped. Again, burnout’s the word I think that most of us associate with it.

[00:30:52] BV: I’ll go into the deep end for a second. We’ll see where this goes, but it’s that you mentioned that constant learning and how that’s energizing. By no means do you ever figure it all out. There’s no end point to that learning point. But in my career as a CPA doing a lot of transaction work, there is a point where you sort of learn all the fundamentals. It took you so long to learn these fundamentals that you’re not learning the fundamental technical things as much each time, so you sort of plateau, even though you’re continuing to learn.

But that energy to learn becomes less of a driving force. You sort of meet that pinnacle and then you’re still learning but you’re learning less technical skills and you’re learning more about how to bring on new work, how to teach other people. That’s how you interact with that over time. I say it like this of when that starts to slow down a little bit and become a little bit more natural. I’ll go back to the sports world of you hear that a lot about the game looks easy for this person, and they’re professional athletes and all the amount of work it took to go into that. But at some point, they become such a master of that, and then it’s just about turning certain things off and just being yourself and going out there and having fun.

Now, that’s a little cliche-ish, and I get that that’s not always the case, but I constantly draw parallels between that. Here’s my deep end moment that I’ll bring in there. At the end of the day, we’re all about – It’s all people. There was a prior episode that you did with the – I think it was the team at Riverside. Y’all talked about aligning –

[00:32:26] AD: Episode 35 for listeners.

[00:32:28] BV: There you go. Yeah. Good plug. Episode 35. Great episode. Talked about aligning your thoughts with your actions and picking up on that and, again, maybe digging a little deeper. But when I look at how that relates on the sports setting and how it relates in the professional settings, I sense some of the same things that are brought up over and over. I’ll throw out a quote by Yogi Berra. Not the picnic basket guy but the Yankees catcher and manager. He says that baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical. Okay.

I can interpret that a number of different ways, but self-serving the way how I approach that is at some point you can be as physically gifted as you want and practice all you want. But if you’re not able to clear your mind, slow things down, you run into a point where you can only be physically gifted. It only gets you so far. If baseball is a team game, you got to be able to interact with other people. You got to be able to how to respond to adversity. You’re going to strike out. You’re going to make mistakes if you’re not mentally tough. I want to say it was Bobby Jones says that golf’s played in a five-inch court course between your ears. I mean, so you hear it there too.

Then I’m going to flip it the other way with Simon Sinek that everybody should know. Start with why. Okay. You think about what’s he talking about. It’s the same thing. If you can control how you think, if you’re in an environment where you can be authentic, you can connect with people that connect with you, you’re able to slow down. You’re able to let your guard down. You’re able to be yourself because you’re just connected with people that think like you. How you think control how you act, control the results that you want to get, whether you’re hitting a baseball, you’re leading a team, you’re trying to get a deliverable or you’re trying to be a parent or a husband.

At the end of the day, Alex, we’re all people and we’re all interacting. Until we get to a point where we’re all trading bitcoin and dealing with robots, we got to figure this out, and we’re never going to figure – We’re always going to be learning.

[00:34:25] AD: Well, that might happen sooner rather than later, but I digress. No. Ben, I like that thought a lot. I’m going to do my best job to share some of my thoughts around authenticity and leadership in particular here. I am not a sports fan, so I can’t relate quite as much on that front. But where I can share is a little my own experience. In particular in this last year of my life here in getting Connection Builders off the ground, a lot of the work I’ve done has been podcasting like we’re doing now or speaking in webinars and engagement, talking to other people in the authentic side. I think this is where leadership does play in.

If I am trying to act a certain way, if I come into this call and try to say, “Okay, I have to act like Alex the podcast host, and I have to do all these things right,” in the back of my mind the entire time, I’m worried about am I doing this right. That’s when my thoughts get off track. That’s when I start going and worrying, and that fear and all those different thoughts go rushing through my head, and that’s when all of a sudden you’re a deer in the headlights not knowing what to say. That’s right, and you catch yourself in. At the end of the day, and I’m talking in the podcast context here, but in general human, communication and leadership in particular has a core root in communicating with those people around you.

If you are in the moment, thinking about being yourself, just not worrying about who you’re supposed to be but showing up as who you are, now that doesn’t give you a right to just be any kind of person. There’s a part of being a good human work on yourself, constantly look in the mirror and figure out how to make yourself a better person. But if you’re showing up doing your best and just worried about being you in that moment, that’s all you can do. Then you’re not worried about what you should or shouldn’t be doing, and that’s when you start performing. That’s when you’re really there. That’s when the mind doesn’t run off down a rabbit hole, telling you that you’re saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing. In leadership, a deadline management.

If you’re in a situation where someone comes to you and you’re trying to get a project done and they, “Oh, I can’t get this done on time,” and in your head you’re worried about meeting that project deadline and just not focused in on anything other than that project deadline, you’re going to react harshly to that. You’re going to have a negative to reaction that versus just being you a human and saying, “Man, that’s a bummer. Is there anything I can do to help? How do we get this done?” It’s a totally different approach but it’s all about leaning into just being you as a human and not worrying about who you think you’re supposed to be.

[00:36:47] BV: Yeah. I think, again, I could talk hours on this topic. But for the sake of the listeners, I won’t. When you are acting a way in which you’re not comfortable, it requires you to exert more energy. You’ve only got so much in your tank on a day-to-day basis. To make a very real analogy or exercise that I always try to use is if constantly throughout your day with deadlines and people issues that you’re constantly not yourself and you’re trying to be the person that you read in a book or the person you heard in an orientation, it becomes just mentally draining throughout the day.

Often, probably unfortunately, it’s when you go home when you realize your tank is empty and your family. It’s just you cut them off. I don’t have time. I just need time to myself, whatever it is. I just need to relax. I had a long day. When that should be the chance for you to like refill your energy. It’s just knowing know back to, well, if I can just be myself more at the office, I can be more authentic and be me. Communicate and get to a point where I can have more control of the surroundings over the people and surrounding around me. That helps me be a better person, helps me be a better leader, helps me be a better parent, helps me to be a better husband. Learning all of that, constantly, constantly learning, and I think just being aware of that is step one.

[00:38:05] AD: In embracing it, embracing the journey, embracing the fact that you have to be aware of it and you have to learn, and it’s never going to be a perfect answer. Ben, that was – What a great way to wind down this. It sounds like we’ve got an opportunity for authentic leadership part two. I’m hearing that there’s plenty more we could go in on that. But, no, with that, just for the sake of time here, I’m going to do a run-through of the highlights from our episode today. Jump in if there’s anything I miss around this.

But we start out. I asked you know the difference between management and deadlines, deliverables, and leadership being around people. I love that you came right out of the gate with I’m still learning, and I think that’s really a core theme here is leadership is about continuous learning. So let’s just know that from the beginning. Then we talked about management really only takes you so far. At some point, leadership is really what’s going to take you to that next level, and leadership’s not perfect. If you really want to be a good leader, you have to be comfortable knowing that leadership isn’t perfect and that you will not be perfect and that those mistakes and trip ups along the way are learning opportunities. Those are opportunities for you to learn and grow, but you have to make them and you have to be comfortable that as a leader you are going to make them.

We dove into the mental state, and really the importance of your mental state as a leader and knowing that if you’re under high pressure, high stress, or you’re wound up, you’ve got a lot of things on your mind, you’re not going to be an effective leader in that mode. Bringing awareness to yourself and knowing that you have to focus on that for you is really important, but it’s also really important to recognize that of your team and know that their mental state is also important. So knowing that that’s a core element of leadership is really the condition of your mind. Again, the battle is one in the mind I think’s a way to say it. But at the end of the day, it really does come down to having a calm mental state to really excel.

Then we brought up the stress and recovery cycle. I think this is a really good point of recognizing that all growth, whether you’re talking physical growth or personal growth, it really does come from a stress and recovery cycle. I’m a weight lifter and I believe in that you lift really heavy weights, and then you give yourself time to recover. That’s the athletic side of it, but at the end of the day stress and recovery. If you don’t have that recovery piece that many of us forget is important, then you never get the actual growth out of that, so you have to focus on that.

Then we jumped into just the whole fact that people are people, and people are going to be stressed. There’s going to be challenges, things are going to come up, and you have to accept that people are people, and people have people challenges. So accept that in other people and lead like that. Lead with that mentality versus leading with the mentality that everyone’s just a task completer. They’re humans on the other side. Then you have to look for feedback. At the end of the day, any growth takes some kind of feedback. The feedback loop can be your own personal internal feedback loop through reflection and introspection and really looking at yourself, but you also need that feedback loop from outside, and you have to seek that out. You have to ask other people to give you that feedback and look for that opportunity.

Then we dove into this whole idea of being energized in your work as a leader and recognizing that at times most of us in our career find that we get maybe burnt out from project management, just trying to meet deadlines, just trying to get the task done because the tasks will never end. The list will never end. At some level where work really becomes fulfilling is when you are helping other people grow and achieve and move forward and looking at the impact that you make. It can really re-energize you when you just stop and reflect on what you’re trying to accomplish and looking for that opportunity to be a good leader and to help other people and to really act as a leader, rather than purely focusing on that project deadline or getting tasks done. Because, again, the task list will never end. At least in my experience, it never ends.

Then you said something really good. You said how you think leads to how you act, which leads to how you perform. I think that’s really important and all that comes down to how you think. This goes back to stress and recovery, your mental state, a lot of what we’ve talked about here, but recognizing the thoughts that are in your head, the way you’re thinking, that is what is going to drive your ultimate actions. Maybe not in every instance, but over time, the aggregate way of how you think is going to be the aggregate way of how you act, and that is what’s going to drive to your ultimate outcomes and performance. So recognize that the way you think means so much, especially as a leader. You have to be thinking. If you’re acting one way and thinking a different way, all’s that’s going to do is drain your energy.

As you said, at the end of the day, we all only have so much energy. We only have so much emotional capacity that we can expend every day. Every time that we’re not being and acting in an authentic way, we’re worried about how we should do something or worrying about something external versus just really trying to make sure that our thoughts and actions are aligned, it’s draining energy from us and it’s taking away our ability to really be our best selves. Not only in our career, not only as our leader but also in our personal lives and with our family with our children, with our friends, every even with ourselves. So I think it’s so important to recognize that.

Ben, anything I missed around that, anything to add?

[00:43:13] BV: No. I think that was well said. I think I’ll close with the pandemic I think has done a few – It’s been terrible. But if we can take any positives out of it, at least from my vantage point, it has sort of blurred the lines between home and father and spouse and leader, and it’s allowed me to realize that the common thing throughout is just being authentic and being yourself. It will allow me to be better. It allowed me to understand that there are similarities between all of them. At the end of the day, we’re all people and we’re all trying to help each other get better. It doesn’t matter whether I have a polo or a button down or a t-shirt on. I’m just trying to be a better person and help other people be better as well.

[00:43:55] AD: What I would point out is you as Ben and me as Alex, we are the same people at home as we are at work. You’re one human. You’re one person. It’s not – You don’t get to be a different person in different places. We may act different in different settings, but you’re right. It’s the same, and ultimately I think it’s really important to remember that.

For our listeners this week, for a call to action, I want to challenge everyone in the next seven day. Find 30 minutes of space and sit down and write down a handful of bullet points about what type of leader do you want to be. What does that mean to you? Really put some thought into writing out some statements of what type of leader you want to be. Then whether you handwrite that or type it, print it out, however, keep that in front of you and just look at that for a couple of weeks, and just keep an eye on that. I think that’s a huge step towards authenticity is really writing down very clearly what type of leader I want to be. How do I want to act? How do I want to behave? How do I want people to think about me? Even just getting a few bullet points down to start thinking on that and make it something that you glance at again and again in the coming weeks, I think that will go a long way. So I really encourage you to do that.

Ben, for our listeners, how can they get in touch with?

[00:45:06] BV: You can find me on LinkedIn, probably the best way. I welcome and appreciate any connections that can be made.

[00:45:11] AD: Awesome. Well, Ben, I really appreciate you coming on here today. This has been an awesome conversation. I’m looking forward to having you back here again sometime soon.

[00:45:19] BV: Thank you, Alex.


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