Investing in Your Growth & Development

Lenny Dacanay BDO

The link between business development and leadership may not be evident straight away, but it’s one today’s guest, Lenny Dacanay, has paid a great deal of attention to. In this episode, Lenny talks about how his idea of business development has evolved from a sales-focused one to a problem-solving one, and why this shift showed him that leadership skills were non-negotiable. Lenny also shares how he went from the speaker to the listener. He realized that to help his clients in the best way, he needed to unearth their problems and get to the heart of their issues. Through becoming client-centric, Lenny has managed to cultivate his empathy and trust-building skills. While it is not always easy being honest, Lenny has seen the power of it in forging strong relationships. Throughout the conversation, Lenny emphasizes the importance of understanding the complex nature of the people you work with. Everyone has their struggles, so approaching people with kindness first will always go a long way. We round the show off by hearing about Lenny’s experience with his coach and how it has made him a better leader, along with the importance of making time to consume content that promotes your learning.

Key Points From This Episode

  •  Why Lenny has focused on building his leadership skills and how it ties into business development.
  • Lenny’s ‘aha moment’ when he saw how his leadership education was helping his business development skills.
  • How Lenny’s thinking about business development has evolved over time.
  • What Lenny would do differently to help his clients solve their problems if he could go back in time.
  • Lenny’s understanding of authenticity and what it means to him professionally.
  • How Lenny approaches clients who are not willing to confront the truth.
  • Understand that relationships are built with people who have their own lives and struggles.
  • Lenny’s experience with his coach, how he engaged with her, and the valuable skills he’s gained.
  • Some habits Lenny has used to aid his personal and professional growth over the years.
  • The importance of fueling your mind with positive, growth-forward content.
  • Lenny’s piece of advice for anyone starting out in the business — always be open to learning.


[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.

[00:00:22] AD: Hey everyone, welcome to Branch Out. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is Lenny Dacanay of BDO USA. Lenny and I unpacked the correlation between strong leadership and business development as well as the value of investing in your professional growth and development. One quick note, all thoughts expressed are those of Lenny’s and not of BDOs. Hope you all enjoy.

[00:00:46] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.


[00:00:53] AD: Lenny, welcome to Branch Out. Excited for our conversation today. Lenny, you and I had a really good conversation a few weeks back and we were talking about this idea of leadership and the value of leadership. And to so many of our listeners out there, I think that there’s sometimes a disconnect between where business development, and back to our brand being a connection builder, really ties into the valley of leadership as well. And you’ve shared with me that you’ve personally invested in yourself both through executive education, through hiring a coach and really putting yourself in that position to grow and develop your leadership skills, but yet your full-time role is business development for middle market. What have you done and why have you focused on leadership? And help our listeners really understand why those two tie together so closely.

[00:01:43] LD: Yeah, thanks. That’s a good question, Alex. I guess let me start with the business development function. And how I view it today is completely different than how I viewed it 20 some years ago early on in my career. Early on I viewed business development more as a sales role to go out and generate sales and revenues. And as I evolved in my career and built relationships and grew into more of an advisor role, my mission and my mandate in the business development world has evolved to that of being a problem solver. And I’d be the role of a really true professional business development executive was not so much as a salesperson, but a problem solver.

In that context, if that’s the role that I have and it’s how I view myself in the marketplace and how I’m going to strive to help my clients solve their problems, I decided that I needed to be better, more informed, more, educated because the world has changed dramatically. That’s the purpose and that’s why I take those steps towards pursuing more education and acquiring more skillsets.

[00:02:50] AD: Let me ask you this, Lenny. So that’s the driving force, and you realize, great, you have to invest in yourself and that’s so powerful to see that. And I’m always excited when people do take the time to invest in themselves to help grow. What have you learned from it? What are some of maybe the aha moments where you step back and say, “Wow! This leadership development actually really helped me in my role as a business development function.

[00:03:13] LD: That’s a good question. As I mentioned, I mean as I evolved into looking at my role as a problem solver and business advisor, the ultimate goal is to serve the best interest of my clients. So how do we do that? And the aha moment really was at the end of the day what business am I in? And that’s in the business of relationships. There’re so many things that are involved in relationships at this level that I thought were challenging and I thought very important to have to focus on.

[00:03:46] AD: As a professional who’s evolved in some of your thinking around business development, I actually want to unpack that for a moment. You talk about kind of the evolution from sales to recognizing. As you said, you’re in the relationship business or you’re in the trusted advisor, the problem solver, and those are all terms that we throw around here on Branch Out a lot and they come up again and again. They’re very, I guess, common themes. Now let’s unpack what that really means there. So you’re not trying to convert a client. You’re trying to be there to help them solve a problem. And as a professional who has the ability to communicate clearly and to understand and ask for feedback from a client, that helps you better understand their needs. What are maybe some of the challenges you look back and say, “Wow! I approached it this way early in my career. And wow, now that I’ve evolved, here’s really how I wish I would have approached things earlier on.”

[00:04:37] LD: Sure. And my approach has evolved in the following way. If my real job and my real goal is to help my clients solve their problems, I have to really understand what those problems are, okay? What are the problems? Are they same things right or is there a root cause that I can get to? So what does that mean I mean? To be able to do that means you need to be able to ask the right questions. And my process has been grown from more telling to asking a lot more questions. I’m trying to understand what the real issues are, what the root causes are, what the real objectives are that are stated and sometimes unstated. That is something that I weld or matured into. At the end of the day, I think it’s not what you say, it’s what you ask. For me, I do my job well or I can help my clients better and I can serve them better when I can unearth the real issues and help them along the way and ask that next question. There’s no greater compliment that a client can give me than when they say, “Hey, Lenny. That’s a great question. I really need to think about that.”

[00:05:41] AD: And Lenny, I’m going to tie this back from business development and leadership together here. I very much believe that the best leaders don’t know all the answers, rather they ask the right questions. I think that questioning mindset, but also the listening and the ability to really genuinely listen to the person on the other side of the table and be able to understand their needs and be able to ask the right questions to pull that out. That is such an important skillset that, again, it’s a key characteristic trait of being a leader, but also a fundamental aspect to what you do from a business development function.

[00:06:17] LD: Yeah, that’s correct.

[00:06:25] AD: Authenticity is thrown around a lot in the professional world. What does that mean to you?

[00:06:33] LD: Authenticity to me really means having my clients best interests at heart. And we’re not talking about my goals. We’re talking about my clients’ goals, my clients’ problems. And in the spirit of being a trusted advisor, it means being honest. Sometimes it means asking questions that people are afraid to ask and maybe sharing feedback that people are afraid to give. Being authentic in authenticity, I’ll put honesty and communication in that same sentence because that is what it means to be authentic; honesty, transparency and being able to communicate.

[00:07:08] AD: I think that’s spot on, Lenny. Let’s be real about it as a professional. You’re sitting in a lot of tough places. You’re dealing with tough personalities in a lot of different situations. What do you say to someone that’s having a hard time maybe calling out some of the real issues, right? because, again, if you say, if you want to be authentic, your goal is to really be looking out for your client’s best interest. And maybe at times your clients not necessarily listening to the right questions. How do you put yourself in a position to be able to ask those questions and build that trust?

[00:07:42] LD: That’s a good question. Trust has to be earned. Trust is earned by listening and being transparent and being honest. In times where it’s been difficult, I just come out and ask and be honest if it’s a difficult question or if I’m not comfortable or I feel that we might be going someplace that the client is not comfortable with. I’ll ask permission to go there, because sometimes I have to be cognizant of where my client’s comfort level is. It’s one thing to be transparent and brutally honest, but there’s also a certain amount of empathy that’s required. Some clients are prepared or they’re not prepared to talk about some difficult issues, and it takes some time. And trust takes time to build. And when it comes to solving problems that are difficult to deal with, again, honesty is really the best – Is this the best starting point?

[00:08:32] AD: I want to reflect on a couple things you said there. One, it takes the ability to communicate to really focus on some of those what I’ll call soft skills and develop those out, and it doesn’t happen overnight in your own development, and we all have room to improve there. So it is a daily approach to continuing to develop those skills necessary to communicate. But you also said something strong there, it’s empathy, and it’s trying to really put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re working with, which ultimately is stepping back and taking yourself out of the picture and saying, “Okay, I’m communicating, or I’m working with, or I’m leading with this other person, or I’m connecting with this other person.” Ultimately, how do you understand where they’re coming from better? Listen, it’s tough, right? Because we all have our own perspectives, we all come from our own walks of life and we only see the world through our own set of eyes. But trying to take that time and to think back and to say, “Okay, how can I relate with this person better?” That goes a really far ways.

Now all of that to be said, it takes time to build trust. This isn’t something that happens overnight. And then you really do have to spend the time building those relationships if you want to meet that trusted advisor status.

[00:09:45] LD: That’s correct. I mean there’s an old saying that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And my perspective is whenever I’m engaged in dialogue, whether it’s clients or my colleagues, I see another human being across from me who may or may not be having a good day or might have other issues that I may or may not be aware of. Without getting too deeply personal or with some people, I want to know how they’re doing, because I sincerely want to know. Because how they’re doing is going to impact the course of that conversation. We’re in the business of relationships. So part of this the whole relationship, building relationships, building trust. Really, we’re building relationships and trusting that with corporations, you’re building relationships and trust with other human beings. That’s part of being part of my evolution. And that’s why I really try to take the time to really understand what is going on with my clients, especially in these times. I think I’ve logged over 150 calls with clients or Zoom meetings in the last three months. At the end of the day people are going through their personal issues adapting to the crisis or dealing with the newer environment. Adjusting with the business models and how the disruption in the business models and disruption of the family life. People – And based on the calls that we’ve had, the most common response I’ve gotten has been “Gee, Lenny, thanks for calling and checking in on us.” And not once has anybody said, “I’m too busy to talk to you.” It’s always been, “Thanks for checking and would love to hear what else is going on in the rest of the world.”

[00:11:12] AD: You hit on so many great things there. So we’re going to be vulnerable here for a moment. We’re all in a crazy place and this is all impacting us in a different way and recognize that, yes, coronaviruses is one thing. But in general, all of us are always dealing with struggles. And as people, that’s part of having challenges that we all face. And not everyone has a great day every single day. I’m just as guilty as the rest. I very much believe, and if I’m hearing you right, Lenny, you and I are on the same page with this, that when it comes down to it, our job as people and especially sitting in a business development role, but I just generally think as a person, it is your job to bring as much positivity as you can to other relationships and try to think and care about other people and see how you can help them genuinely. Understanding that it’s going to be different in every way. But when you’re just – Literally, in your exact example, you’re just reaching out to people just to say, “Hey, how are you?” People need that. People enjoy that, because you never know who you’re going to be talking to that might be having a bad day. And by you bringing some positive energy and bringing some excitement and some good news and really just saying, “Hey, how are you?” That can really be impactful for people. That can really help them on a very serious personal level. And all of that builds on to the benefit of building trust and building a relationship in the end.

[00:12:29] LD: Yeah, that’s correct.

[00:12:30] ANNOUNCER: This is branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.

[00:12:39] AD: So, Lenny, let’s talk for a minute on the value of having a coach. This is something you and I have talked about. You have engaged a professional code B with your personal growth. Share a little bit about your thoughts about that. Both what prompted you to? What was your experience like and kind of searching and identifying a coach? And then you know more importantly what has your experience been? What are the values? What would you say to someone that’s thinking about that?

[00:13:05] LD: Sure. I am engaged in my current coach about two years ago, and it all came out of the same theme, which was I am in the business of relationships and I’m in the business of helping my clients solve problems. I just felt that, yes, I know what I know and I don’t know what I don’t know. And I look at some high-performers out there, whether they’re sports, figures or as exec, other senior executives. They all have some coach to help them be better. So my motivation was to better serve my clients, and I asked the question, “How do I do that and what skills do I need to do that? Where am I lacking? And who can help me become a better person, a better executive, a better colleague, a better member of the professional community that I work in?” So that was a motivation.

And I spoke with a couple of coaches and found the person that I felt who understood what my goals were because she asked and she peeled the layers back even more. And by her questioning and by her math process of methodology, I chose to work with her. I will tell you it’s life-changing, because having an executive coach not only helped me get better, but helped me be more genuine, be more honest in my own self-assessment and been recognizing where my weaknesses were as well as my strengths. And more importantly, held me accountable. So I felt this was important, because if I’m going to lead others, how can I lead others if I can’t leave myself? And so that’s been for the last two years has been an evolution and a process of becoming a better leader within. It’s been a great experience. It’s been life-changing. It’s been life-changing in my professional life and my personal life and I highly encourage people that are interested in taking the next step to seriously consider it.

[00:14:58] AD: I couldn’t agree with you more. I am biased now in my current role here today. But the power of having someone just to hold you accountable is incredible. So I like what you said there a lot, Lenny.

[00:15:09] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.

[00:15:18] AD: My question to you know, you’ve about going through executive education. You’ve had a coach. You’ve had a lot of changes come into your life. So much of that is mindset. Myself being through similar processes and part of what we do here at Connection Builders every day, understanding that mindset is, again, part of it and it’s frankly the fundamental aspect. But at the same time, I’m sure there are what I’ll call systems and processes or things that you’ve implemented in your life, habit or behavior changes that you have really brought on through the last couple of years of professional growth. Can you share some of those? What they are and how they’ve really helped you as a professional but also personally?

[00:15:57] LD: Sure, I mean personally I mean I believe in the power of routine. I like to start each day, when I get to my desk, just taking 10 or 15 minutes, call it thinking, quiet time, meditation or prayer. But really just to think about what do I want to do today. What do I want to accomplish and kind of get into that state of mind that, really, how do I help others today? And that’s really – When I think about that. So guys, I start with that. And during the day, usually as I lay out my day, distractions come up all the time. And that need to be handled. Sometimes you just have distractions. And so I asked myself the question, “What’s the highest and best use of my time at this point? And is this really a priority?” And one of the things I learned to ask myself is, “What’s important now?” Because if everything’s a priority, nothing’s a priority. I’ve learned that in the past, like when I treated everything a priority, I got nothing done, and the important things never really got done.

In terms of overall longer term systems and processes, I believe that leadership requires lifelong learning. One thing I’ve learned is that – And when I say in the context of leadership is much more learning, we can always be better. We can always ask better questions. Part of that has also inspired me to be more selective in terms of my reading where I spend my time, reading and what I am reading. There’re great resources. I also read a lot of business books. If i get one idea from any of these books, it’s been worth the time and the effort.

[00:17:30] AD: Lenny, I could not have said it better myself. I’m sitting here nodding my head with every word you’re saying because I agree 100%. I want our listeners to take away from this that in today’s day and age and in the world we live in there is an abundance of valuable content out there, right? I mean, for example, the podcast we’re creating is obviously one of them, but there are many other really great podcasts. There are many great books out there. And you have to find the ones that are right for you, but there is so much content available that you should constantly be looking for something to be consuming. Some kind of positive growth-based content that you can consume that can help you grow, because ultimately I very much believe as a professional, if you want to excel in your career, it is lifelong learning. It is constantly investing in yourself. And the way you do that is opening up your horizons. And you said it so well, if you get one good idea from a book or one good idea from a podcast, I mean those little ideas can be so impactful and how they impact your life and the way you approach things. And especially when you build up a bunch of them day after day, you can really achieve incredible professional growth, but you have to start consuming that. You have to start getting those thoughts from somewhere, because they’re not just going to naturally appear in your head.

[00:18:51] LD: Exactly. So think about this. What are you feeding your mind? What are you feeding your intellect? How are you fueling your intellect? Again, I’ll go back to the same theme. How do I better serve my clients? How do I become better? How do I help my clients really solve those issues? And one thing I learned when I was a business owner and owner/operator was when the world changes and facts are the business models change and assumptions that you made your decisions on change, you’ve had to change along with it. And now more than ever, now more than ever with the disruption that’s been going on in the global economy, the world has changed dramatically. Therefore what skillsets am I acquiring to be able to better analyze problems and to be able to better solve problems and to better solve my clients? That’s my motivation. This world is changing dramatically. It’s changing very, very fast. What am I doing to improve myself so I can be more valuable and helpful to my clients?

[00:19:55] AD: One point I want to bring up for our listeners, we talk about find time to read. Find time to invest in yourself. Find time to get a coach. Find time to listen to podcasts, whatever it might be, to invest in yourself, right? And that’s very important. But also, I’ve been there myself and I find myself there time to time again where I’m like, “Wow! I’m overwhelmed. I have too much on my plate. How am I ever going to make time for this? How am I ever going to make it happen?”

And you brought up this idea of prioritizing your time. And what I would like our listeners to look into, if you haven’t heard of it before, it’s called the Eisenhower Matrix. I’m sure most of us have. It was made famous by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits. It’s a two by two matrix that crosses urgent versus not urgent and important versus not important. And when you really sit down and you understand the difference of the four quadrants and you spend time putting some thought into what activities of your life fall into which of those categories, you would be shocked at the number of things you realize that you do that really maybe aren’t as important as you thought they were. And until you spend that time really putting that together and bringing those thoughts together and then prioritizing and then more importantly writing it down and keeping yourself accountable to doing that, time will continue to slip past you.

Now, Lenny, you as a professional, you’ve evolved, you’ve grown. We’ve talked about a lot of different places where you’ve seen yourself change. If you could step back and give one piece of advice for someone who is newer in their career and is starting off here, what would that be?

[00:21:25] LD: Check the legal at the door and be willing and open to learn. Be humble. Your humility goes a long way in building relationships. Humility goes a long way, and understanding other people, their business issues. Humility goes a long way in gaining knowledge. I mean a friend of mine has a T-shirt that says, “Knowing you know nothing is knowledge.” That I think would be an important starting point.

[00:21:51] AD: Lenny, that that was such great advice there. Really appreciate your time today. This has been a lot of fun. Really enjoyed our conversation, and hopefully we get a chance to do more of these, because these are the types of conversations that we should be having more often.

[00:22:03] LD: Thank you for having me, Alex. It’s been a pleasure.


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