Begin with WE — Kyle McDowell on 10 Principles for Building and Sustaining a Culture of Excellence

Ross Romano: [00:00:00] Welcome in everybody. You are listening once again to the authority podcast here on the B podcast network. Thanks as always for being with us. It is always our pleasure to have you listeners joining us. And we're really pleased to bring to you today, another great guest and hopefully another great conversation.

So, For nearly three decades, my guest, Kyle McDowell, who is a former senior executive turned bestselling author, speaker, and leadership coach has amassed an impressive track record of delivering superior results, also cultivating authentic leaders and driving cultural change. Prior to exiting corporate America, he led tens of thousands of employees at some of the biggest companies in the country, and today we're going to be [00:01:00] discussing his Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling book, Begin With We, in which he examines the root causes of dysfunction in business.

Highlighting the plague of a meat oriented paradigm and provides the remedy with his framework, the 10 Whee's. Kyle, welcome to The Authority.

Kyle McDowell: Hey, Ross, it's great to be here. And thank you for having me.

Ross Romano: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think there's a lot of value here for our leaders listening in who, it's just that constant ongoing pursuit creating a great culture, great organizational dynamics. And you know, let's start here. We said leaders are listening. So what's the definition of a leader in your perspective?

from your perspective.

Kyle McDowell: Well, I can, I'd rather lead with what it's not. And and that's probably a theme for the conversation. And that's a boss and a leader are not the same thing for a variety of reasons. And I think everybody has their spin on it. To me, a leader is someone that wants to be better than they were yesterday and is curious, I And focused on bringing others along on that journey of curiosity.

And I always preface it [00:02:00] with the boss versus leader caveat because I think it's, those two words are so conflated especially in big corporate America but a leader doesn't necessarily even have any direct reports. So there's so many differences that it's just important to call that out early, I believe.

Ross Romano: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think that's fortunately that's been a consistent theme when we've talked leadership on this show, right? That leadership is about what you do. It's not about your title. But in, and in order to develop, of course, in the type of leadership model that you write about in the book, there's this quote unquote me oriented paradigm that we want to get away from to the we paradigm.

Most people may have a view in their head of what this is, but tell us a little bit about what this me oriented approach is and importantly, why so many leaders adopt that approach.

Kyle McDowell: Yeah. You know, Ross, I was I'm not proud to admit, but I will share that the first 20 ish years of my career, I was that me oriented leader. And for [00:03:00] your listeners, it's, I think it's obvious, but it's someone who is nearly exclusively focused on his or her own accolades their own growth, their own corner office, the title all of the kind of cliche things that we all think about when we think about.

Corporate America for me I led that way. And let me be clear, man. I, you can be very successful with a me orientation. I think the question to, to be asked for anyone that is wrestling with that and why not lead that way. It's at what cost, in other words, who do you alienate along your journey?

Kyle McDowell: And what is your legacy, man? What, two words I don't think that are grouped together very often, that's leadership legacy. And every single person who ever has had any, a single second of leading, they have a legacy. You know, what are their teams talking about when they're at the dinner table with their loved ones?

They're talking about what happened at work that day. And oftentimes. The boss or the leader [00:04:00] comes up in that conversation, but it's not sustainable and I learned this probably a dozen or so years into my career, the teams that I had led at that point in my career within the, in the thousands in terms of total head count they, I thought respected me, but it turns out they feared me.

And that is, that's not a point of pride and that is certainly not a recipe for long term success. But it was around year 20 or so, Ross, that I just I had reached my boiling point. I was apathetic towards the whole machine. And at this point I had, I was leading Thousands upon thousands of people at really premier brands in the world for that matter.

And I just knew I, there had to be more, there had to be more than what I was experiencing. Had a great salary, really cool corner offices fancy titles all the perks that one could ask for. But I just knew there had to be something different because I was just unfulfilled. I lost all the energy and passion that I first entered the workforce with.

And I exited. I stepped [00:05:00] away from corporate America and I told myself if I were to ever be given an opportunity to lead differently, lead a way that I had never led and let the chips fall where they may, I was going to try it. And in a real be careful what you wish for moment in my life, I wasn't out of the game very long.

I got a phone call asking if I would like to take over an organization of about 15, 000 people where there was an opportunity for some cultural transformation and some leadership development. And the night before I was to meet with this group of leaders the top 50 or 60 of that 15, 000 person organization.

I was terrified. I didn't know what I was going to say. I didn't know what I was going to put in front of them, but I knew it couldn't be the same old. I was the new guy here to save them. I was have, I was the one that was going to turn this thing around. I knew I needed them because it was a domain in which I wasn't entirely familiar.

And I knew they needed me because the last person before me had been unceremoniously dismissed. So I just knew the word we had to be something very strong in my messaging and I just with no pre planning and really no muse on my [00:06:00] shoulder. The night before I had my laptop in my lap and after about two hours worth of kind of opining on what I was going to say, I landed with 10 sentences.

They each begin with the word we, I'm not super creative. So now we have the 10 we's and what followed sharing those principles the next day, man is nothing short of life changing for me and for many others. But most importantly, the relationships and the outcomes that we delivered together were were really had never, had not been seen before in that organization.

I put it, we went on a year and a half run of unprecedented results, all while getting closer to one another, all while kind of forming a family. As corny and cliche as that sounds, it is absolutely possible. But that's where we came for me. And it's what ultimately compelled me to write the book.

Which is just past 10, 000 sales, by the way, which is a real milestone that I never thought I would achieve

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Ross Romano: excellent. Well, congratulations on that. And yeah, I'm wondering as you're talking through that, I'm thinking about [00:07:00] this idea that most prospective or aspiring leaders would probably intellectually agree with the aspiration of the we approach. And yet a smaller percentage of them would successfully put it into practice.

And it's making me think about on on my other show, Sideline Sessions, we talked to sports coaching, right, about their strategies, best practice for success. And the same thing comes up many times how there's these outdated or what we consider to be ineffective dictatorial, right? Ways of being a sports coach that, again, most future coaches as athletes, they may have a coach like that and they may intellectually say, okay, if I'm ever in that position, I don't want to do it that way.

I want to do it differently. And then many [00:08:00] times it doesn't manifest. It's kind of either self perpetuating or it's okay. I want to do it differently, but actually that's the only thing I've seen modeled. I don't totally know how to do it differently. Or the organizational the incentive structure isn't such that it really provides motivation to do it differently, right?

In that case Ultimately, you're judged by your wins and losses. And if I feel like it's too risky to try something different, it might damage my wins and losses. I stick to what's comfortable in the business context. Same thing, right? There's certain metrics, parameters, KPIs where, okay, I'd like to try something new, but I feel like kind of having this certain approach is the quickest way to get to this quarterly earnings or you know, certain metrics we're working towards.

So I just kind of stick with that. What do you think? How does the, do you think that's typically kind of represents what happens or? Yeah.

Kyle McDowell: I think about [00:09:00] this a lot actually. Why is there so much dysfunction in the business world and really not just isolated to business world because we hear about it in stories and in, in sports, especially professional sports as well. And I'm convinced it's twofold. And the good news is it is beatable.

It can be overcome. So here's how it works, at least in my experience, and I think it's two of the factors that you mentioned. I'll just go a little bit deeper. The so Ross, you and I are on a team of 10 people, right? We're working away having a great time at it. Let's just say at a regional bank and Our boss, who we're not big fans of, you and I, he's he's the first to point out when we're a minute late, the first to point out when we miss, make a misstep or a mistake that really isn't maybe necessarily that big of a deal, but he's doing his job as the boss to check that box to point out where we've come up short.

Well, he gets promoted. He goes on to somewhere else in the organization. Now there's an opening. You'd like to make a little more money. I'd like to make a little more money. You and I are [00:10:00] both really good at what we do. We throw our hands in the air and say, I'd like to, I'd like to get a shot at that role.

Okay. So I pulled myself out of this equation. Now, Ross, you're the lead candidate for this role. Hands still in the air. You want this job? Well, you're it's, you're not naive to the fact that the people making the selection are the same people in most cases, or a lot of cases.

that you loathed their leadership and management style to begin with. So you inherently almost I don't think it's purposeful. I think it's almost a subliminal shift in one's behavior and that to endear themselves to the people make, making those hiring decisions, they have to replicate and almost fit in.

With what they've seen they want to, just like when you joined the team, Ross, you wanted everyone on the team to to think highly of you. You wanted to be liked, you wanted to fit in. That's now happening in your new role as well. You want to fit in. You want to be like, you've got to be you know how you and the team were [00:11:00] led.

So you're likely to replicate those same behaviors that you loathed in the boss that is now gone. I think that's more than half the battle. I think the rest of it is something else you also touched on. And that is. The incentive structure. Rarely in, in the corporate world, especially big companies, is there an incentive structure to step outside of your lane, to be innovative, to create something new to, to maybe say I'm going to press pause on the upward trend of our metrics of the delivery of our metrics, because I want to go fix something over here.

I want to go address something that we just haven't had the bandwidth to do. There's no incentive to do that. And it's even it's exacerbated when I think I'm doing the right thing and I go ahead and try to take on something different and I stumble, I get slapped over the wrist or beat it over the head with it to say why were you even looking at this thing?

You have this prescribed set of things to do. So there's very little incentive. And I do think both of those things are reversible, but it really takes someone. Kind of stepping out [00:12:00] of familiar patterns. And that was the risk that I took when I decided to really be conspicuously focused on we over and above everything else that's the trends I'm seeing.

Ross Romano: And we will we'll get into some of the specifics of what these we principles are, but to, to those points and looking at it kind of broadly you know, to me, one of the, one of the most important factors of leadership period. And certainly one of the things that could be a distinguishing you know, variable between more me oriented mindset and the we oriented mindset is.

how the leader communicates, right? Communication, transparency, such as it is inclusive communication. And you know, where I think the mindset of more kind of defaulting toward we're all important stakeholders here. So if there's important [00:13:00] information, We should talk about it or we should make sure to communicate it versus the me orientation of, okay, this is proprietary.

I'm keeping this to myself. You know, but one of those things that also can clear the path. for leadership to try those new things, do ambitious set ambitious goals, do things that are apart from the straight line metrics, because they can communicate a vision for where things are going, right?

And get. people behind the ideas that they're implementing. And I think that's been borne out in some of the biggest companies in the world. Some of these really charismatic founders, right, that were able to keep investing in growth because they were able to communicate to their boards and their shareholders.

you know, This is why we're doing it. This is what we're going. So look, our quarterly earnings this quarter, aren't going to look like we made a lot of money, but here's what we're doing. Here's where we're going towards. Same thing can happen in any kind of [00:14:00] an organization. Again, if you, but if you're ineffective or you're not mindful toward communication you're not going to be in the best position to, to possibly do the thing that you believe is the right thing for the longterm.

Kyle McDowell: Well said. Amen. You know, communication is I think it's what stands in the way really effective leadership for a lot of people. And it's a combination of not enough of it. not doing it in a manner that resonates most with those that you lead which is a really common mistake where all of a sudden if I'm promoted to a position of quote unquote authority, I have to use 14 letter words.

I have to speak in ways that try try to make myself sound More intelligent than maybe I really am, which does nothing, then nothing more than just alienate you from the team because they don't speak that way. And I always find it interesting that we actually have two different sets of [00:15:00] vocabulary.

Almost every single one of us, there's the vocabulary we use in the workplace. I mean, Ross, let's be real. When's the last time you went home to your significant other and asked them about their deliverables? The takeaways from the conversation that you had the night before, the action items that you two discussed.

Did you circle back and talk about those? You don't use those words at home. So there's this facade of intellect that I think a lot of people feel as if they must portray to be leaderly for lack of a better expression. So I think the fact that we don't communicate as as, as widely and maybe perhaps as accurately and thoroughly as we could is part of the problem.

The other problem is just trying to be something that we're not, which is why I just think, And I was clear, by the way, I was clear to write the book, and I even say so in the book, in a way that was not indicative of someone who went to you know, some fancy MBA program. I wanted it to be something that resonates with anyone in any circle, in any domain, and in the [00:16:00] industry.

Which, and to do that, it doesn't matter how smart you are, or how smart, or how deep your vocabulary is, it matters. Who you're leading and who your reader is, how they interpret your words, what resonates most with them. So I think you're spot on communication is if you can't two things, if you can't communicate, you can't lead.

And if you don't care, you can't lead, you got to have both of those to be an effective leader in my mind.

Ross Romano: Right. Well, and to that second point of the caring piece and to what you said about,

you know, tendency to, to take on whatever we believe is a leaderly persona as contrasted with the shift that we approach, there's a vulnerability to it, right? And when you write in the book about. your first time presenting these ideas and talking about them and kind of laying them out there.

And you're observing how you feel like people are responding. You know, these people over here, they don't really seem too into what I'm saying. And there's a discomfort that you have to work through to say, I'm putting it out there. I'm being [00:17:00] my authentic self. I'm not putting on a mask or a persona of what I think a leader is.

I'm just being the leader that I am. know how to be. And ultimately, because I really care, that means that I am a little vulnerable to if somebody responds unfavorably, it might hurt a little bit, but I have to push through that to really try to make a change.

Kyle McDowell: Well said. I think ego is the enemy on many aspects and many fronts of our lives, but it absolutely is in terms of breakthroughs. And that's, and that was essentially what my issue was before I found leading with a more we oriented paradigm is that I had to have all the right answers. I had to be the smartest person in the room.

You know, I could not be wrong. Which, what a shame and which, what a mistake. I really, just in hindsight, what a silly way to operate, but you know, I guess with the benefit of experience and age it's we all try to evolve and be better. And that's why I [00:18:00] feel as if in this kind of second chapter of my career that this is my purpose now, it's to try to prevent others from having that, that, that kind of tainted journey for the first part of their career and really live and lead in an authentic and vulnerable way.

It all boils down to trust Ross, as you know. The best leaders have high degrees of trust, trust with those that they lead and vice versa. And for me, the recipe for establishing trust is quite simple. I got to be relatable. I got to be authentic. Those two things combined equal trust, relatability and authenticity equal trust.

Because if I can be, as you say, be vulnerable, be open that I might make some mistakes. I know you're judging some of these things. You know, that's in my mind, being vulnerable in the workplace is being relatable because as the boss, you can certainly walk up to anyone on the team and be critical of them and put them in a vulnerable position.

So for me to behave in a way that is not, That's [00:19:00] also vulnerable. That creates, what? Relatability. And I think if you, when you can relate with someone and you know, they're being authentic and that's where the authenticity piece comes in and you know, they're being genuine. And they're not being something that they're not, or trying to be something that they're not, and they're not using you as a means to an end, but rather a human being who has an aligned goal or set of goals.

I think that set of authenticity is critical and out of those two things, I think trust is born. I or at least advanced.

Ross Romano: Yeah, I mean, totally. And relating that back to the communicating piece. When you do that, when you're able to authentically communicate who you are, what you're doing, what you're working toward, you show one, your commitment to the organizational goals and you can gain and sustain buy in and commitment and trust from your team. Even if there's individual ideas they disagree with, right, because they, because you have that foundational understanding of we're on a [00:20:00] mission here we're all attempting to do our best here. There may be certain details we disagree on, but we understand what we're working toward. So you head off those, Narratives this branching narratives about, okay, well, I, I think this person has an ulterior motive because there's something they're not telling us and all those, which really damaged the foundation of an organization and another piece when we talk about the.

the dangers, the the negative outcomes of that me oriented atmosphere, particularly from the perspective of the per, the people who are in position to appoint the leaders, so to speak, right. The for our listeners, certainly in the education field, for the district level leaders who are choosing who should be the school level leaders, things like that. The thing that is to me so unrecoverable, and it's so critical is. [00:21:00] When poor leadership leads to apathy and an apathetic workforce, because to me, that just means there's no longer an emotional investment. There's no longer where it's easier to, by replacing a leader with a more effective leader, or even a leader changing their tactics to shift people from.

Upset to invested, right? Cause they've still cause. If I'm unhappy with how the leadership is going or I'm angry about it, it means I still believe things could go well if you're doing it right. Once I become apathetic, then it's like nothing matters and it's unrecoverable. And that's why it's so, I mean, critical.

It's not only critical for the individuals to kind of put these principles into practice, but if I'm evaluating, okay, What skills am I looking for in somebody who I'm going to put in that position? You know, somebody who's [00:22:00] going to generate apathy is going to really put me on the wrong course for I can't even replace that person.

I'm going to have to replace my entire organization.

Kyle McDowell: you know, I learned recently that on average the American worker spends about 98, 000 hours working of our entire work life of our entire life on this planet. We're going to spend any, depending on there's some variability there, but let's say that's on the short side, 90, 000, the high side, a hundred, 110, 000 hours.

Second only to sleep. You won't do anything else in this existence more than work other than sleep. And I just came to the conclusion, man, that Shouldn't, apathy should not at all be associated with the thing that we do most in our existence. Sure, there'll be times of unhappiness and you know, you can really even have a lot of disdain for what it is that you're doing and those that you work around.

But I'd like to [00:23:00] think those are. Kind of roadblocks or hurdles before you find something else, but apathy should be a four letter word inside, inside the workplace, because if you've resigned yourself that you can't make an impact, you're not adding value, you're just going through the motions, just lather, rinse, repeat thing every day for the next, oh, I don't know, 70, 000 hours or whatever your age is.

Dude, I just feel like there's more to this existence than that. And I, and that's why I'm doing what I do now. If you want to have a better, more thriving existence in your professional life, which by the way, If you do it right, that will transcend into your personal life.

It's what I've seen. And that, and I've heard about so much since the book has been out. You can, but you have to make a choice. You have to decide I've got, if I want a different result, I have to have a different input. And that might mean some uncomfortable steps along the way. Leaving the organization you're in, maybe taking a step back in your compensation and listen, man, I'm [00:24:00] not naive when I say things like that.

I need people to hear and understand. I'm not naive. We have bills and commitments. That doesn't mean you have to, you just disregard those. And that's, I think, a big reason why a lot of people don't make that choice to do something different is. Those commitments outweigh, and the risk of not hitting those commitments outweigh the benefit of chasing, chasing something different.

And it's a shame.

Ross Romano: yeah, totally. So let's talk about some of these 10 we's. We'll kind of touch on a variety of them here, but the first one we want we do the right thing always. And you're right, right? Like determining what is the right thing is not always easy. So let's talk about that a little bit.

So and Assuming and tell me if I'm wrong. There's a reason this is the first one, but also how do you go about that process as a team, as an organization, as an individual leader of determining what is the right thing in situations where it's not necessarily objective, right?

Kyle McDowell: Well, let me caveat the answer first with I am the absolute first person to admit the [00:25:00] first handful of the Ten Wheeze on their own, in isolation. Your listeners are probably saying, well, yeah, no kidding, Kyle. We're going to do the right thing. But I will add that when you are conspicuous and make them part of your daily vernacular and they are part of the ethos of the team you can't escape them.

I mean, they're everywhere. They're ubiquitous. And you're purposeful about that. They start to take on a life of their own. And lastly, when combined with, cause every weed builds upon from one to the next until we hit weed number 10, then you're right. It had to be number one. We do the right thing had to be number one and listen, if you were to walk to any walk into any organization across America or the world for that matter, I'd like to think if you ask the question, Hey, you guys do the right thing here.

You know, almost every single person is going to say, yes, if you ask them, when was the last time their leader made sure and said, Hey man, we're doing the right thing, or is this the right thing? Or let's make sure we do the right thing. [00:26:00] And they hear it over and over again. I think the answer would be quite different.

And for me, it had to be the foundational. We, and if we aren't. If we aren't disciplined in following we number one, two through ten is a house of cards. So wouldn't it wouldn't have mattered. So I had to make it the foundation. And I love that you alluded to the fact that the right thing can be elusive.

And it's often not only is it all, is it elusive at times in our work lives. But we are faced with, or wrestle with the right thing might be more expensive. It might be harder. It might take me longer. All characteristics of a culture of excellence. Now I do like to use a set of filters and a decision making tree almost when determining the right thing.

And this is what I encourage folks to think about when you're wrestling with the decision, whether to go left or go right, start this new thing or stop this thing. As a leader, I think you got to look at it through three lenses. The first lens is it right for the company? [00:27:00] And I can hear the eye rolls in your audience right now.

It's like, okay, here's this big corporate America guys looking out for the company. Well, hold on because if there's no company, there's no. client. And number two on my list is the client. Is it right for the company? Is it right for the client? And if there's no client, there's no third C and that's crew, the team that I lead.

With no company, there's no client, there's no crew. So I think if I can make a decision or choose a path that checks all three of those boxes, it's a home run. I am thrilled with that decision. I'll live with two boxes being checked. And if I have to, I'll go with one. But what's conspicuously missing from that list is me.

I just, I couldn't be more emphatic that when facing a tough decision, a leader should not factor the impact that it has on him or her. I think that we are just too subjective in nature and we will not appropriately weight The three preceding cohorts, if we factor a fourth being us. [00:28:00] So we're gonna do the right thing.

And I saw this lived out over and over again in that organization where I introduced it. One memory comes to mind where we were facing a pretty big financial hurdle that we had to cross. And it involved making a decision that would be, frankly, really adverse to our team, our employee base of those 15, 000 people.

So my decision Was an easy decision. So someone on the team came to me, kind of walked through the scenario going to cost us probably hundreds of thousands of dollars to take, make this decision. And she said, her name was Lori. Lori said to me, I think I know what you're going to say. We do the right thing.

We're going to, we're going to take the hit and make sure our employees are made whole, right? I said, enough said, moved on. So it makes decision making easier as well. But that's the we, number one is the, it's there for a reason you called it.

Ross Romano: Right. Yeah. And admittedly you know, I'll say upfront for our science experts out there I'm probably going to be wrong in how I remember this, but it's it's either you know, in amphibians or [00:29:00] reptiles or there's different species of animals, right. That see an entire, an entirely different spectrum of color than what we see.

Right. And it's almost like you have to put on your reptile glasses and see that there's. There's more nuance and options and choices and decisions than just this or that, this is right. That's wrong. There's certain things that are clearly going to be wrong. There's other things that might be clearly right, but there's also what's the most right in this situation, right?

Talk about the client and the crew. There's certain decisions where those things might be in, in conflict, right? Do we sign up this? contract with this client that we know we can't really deliver on, but we need the cash flow to pay our crew or do we not? And looking at what are the things that are sustainable, what can we build on?

I mean, I can tell [00:30:00] you that maybe the certain leadership would have claimed they were doing the right thing. I've been part of organizations where it was made impossible to do the right thing, right? And why is it so critical? Well, one anybody with any integrity is going to head out the door.

And two you know, you totally undermine any reputation you want to build as an organization, any trust from any community because it will become known pretty quickly that you're not. focused on figuring out what is the right thing to do here, what what's the honest thing, what is the thing that has integrity behind it and has care for the constituencies, as you mentioned, right, all those three C's.

And sure, right, it has to be the right thing for the organization, but the organization is made up of. Your individuals, both your customer and your employee, and if [00:31:00] those things aren't accounted for, it becomes clear pretty quickly and things can go, you can go from a strong position to a weak one pretty quickly with a couple of clearly clear decisions that are not really emphasizing the right thing, right?

Kyle McDowell: Right on.

Ross Romano: So, so some of these I we're not obviously going to go one by one through all 10, but there's a few also that kind of grouped together in one sense to me. And I'll say and then here's, we do the, well, we do the right thing, which we just talked about. We own our mistakes. We pick each other up.

We embrace challenge. Each of these To me, are only going to be facilitated in how we create an environment that incentivizes them, right? How are we incentivizing our individuals to make sure they're doing the thing that's the right thing versus the thing that maybe is the easy thing or puts them maybe puts them in the best position as opposed to the organization.

Owning our [00:32:00] mistakes and being able to be honest and transparent about those mistakes and correcting them versus hiding them. picking each other up you know, embracing challenge, like trying to do hard things, understanding that, It's not always going to be perfect, but that what we're incentivized by is the pursuit and is eventually the success, but not just the rote routine.

But all of these are to me, would be representative of teamwork, right, of ambition of challenge, of trying, of pursuing growth and long term objectives over just what's convenient today. But in thinking about being a leader that wants these to be core tenets, what are the factors to account for when creating an environment where everybody involved is going to feel comfortable, motivated, incentivized to, to really embrace them,

Kyle McDowell: [00:33:00] Yeah, so lots unpacked there. You said two things that really jumped out at me. The first is, in search of something, and then you added the word excellence. And that's it, brother. You hit it. It's search of excellence, not perfection. You also touched on that. It's, and that was the goal for me when I created the principles.

And by the way, not to go too nerdy on you and your audience, but let's remember the definition of principle. It is a fundamental truth. It is our system of beliefs that are things that we hold to be true, right? So if a team has a series of guiding principles that are constructed and geared towards creating a culture of excellence, that means we have a set of things that we believe in.

We have, these are our foundational beliefs. So if I'm on a team where not just the leader, but members of the team have worked really hard to create an environment where, yeah, we pick each other up when someone makes a mistake. There's [00:34:00] a lot some nuances there that I'm happy to go into, but I think the way you premised the question and recognizing those those how those principles do go with one another and the importance of the leader and the leader's role in creating an environment where these principles are not just cliche and words on a wall.

They're not some happy unicorns and rainbow mission statement, like, or corporate values, which I think are, Incredibly important, but they don't compel employees to behave a certain way, in my mind. So you started with, and you kind of ran through we five through seven or eight. But I'm going to go one step beyond that, and that's we number four.

And that starts with, that is we take action. And if you want members of your team to be curious, to look for and try to find that next and better mousetrap, to be innovative, to search and find excellence, they got to take action. You can't have an environment where everything is cookie cutter. Lather, rinse, repeat over and [00:35:00] over again.

You don't encourage your team and members of the team to think about how we do things differently and that can mean an improve something, a process change that drives a better outcome for our customers. It could be a process change or something internally that improves the The employee experience or makes our jobs easier.

I want my teams to take action to find those things. But when they take action, we got it. We can't be naive. Let's be open and honest that we number five is we own our mistakes. Let's be honest that if we want people to take action, they have to know that. Mistakes are going to be okay. They're going to be acceptable.

Now, I'm not naive. There are varying kind of severities of mistakes and some ultimately can lead to to really bad outcomes. But we're talking about the mistakes that are made out of effort, not malice. So if we're going to take action. The only way I'm ever going to take action is if I know someone's going to be there if I make a mistake.

So when I do own that mistake, I'm going to look around and [00:36:00] my team is going to have a handout because we, number six, is we pick each other up. You gotta, you need to be the first person in my mind to reach your hand out for someone who has stumbled. And I'm not just, by the way, Ross, stumbled because they had a project not work out or they had a failed quality evaluation.

I'm talking about life, man. Someone that's struggling with a sick child, you got to pick up their slack, someone that's going through something externally like a divorce or they've lost a family member whatever life is going to throw us curveballs and to not acknowledge those is a real miss when you're trying to build a team.

So picking each other up is incredibly important. There is a second component to that one, if I'm a leader. Or the leader of that team. I think it's the obligation for, that I also propel members on the team to new heights. So I just can't pick them up when they're stumbling. I got to help them get to their next step in their journey.

Whether that be a promotion, taking my job, even leaving the organization to go do something else. As ironic as that sounds, I think when you position yourself to help someone get to their next [00:37:00] step, whatever that is, they pay that back with an earnest approach to their job and a lot of the, their commitment grows, I should say.

Ross Romano: Yeah.

Kyle McDowell: So you nailed it, brother. And then to me, you jumped right to eight. We challenge each other, which is really, it's my favorite. We actually, and that is look, man if, and I'll go back to the sports metaphors we talked about earlier, the head coach of an NFL team has a 53 man active roster, but there's one head coach, it's impossible for that one person.

to challenge, motivate, inspire, critique 53 people. That's why we have assistant coaches. That's why there are position coaches. There are people up and down the chain that are responsible for challenging other members of the team to get better. In my mind, in a culture of excellence, we have challenges from the leader.

We have challenges peer to peer and absolutely. Absolutely required component is members of the team are not only allowed and enabled to challenge their leader, they're obligated to do so. And that [00:38:00] was a, that was, I led this whole conversation back when I introduced these principles to the team, the caveat going into my, to my little speech was, Hey guys I will hold every single one in this room accountable to these principles.

Make no mistake. only because I expect you to do the same to me. And I mean that so sincerely. That's the vulnerability and ego part we talked about earlier, Ross. I literally said, grab me by the ear. If you see me behaving in any way, contrary to any one of these principles, no leadership gap. So that's why the, but without we number nine, which is we embrace challenge it's anarchy.

So that's, you gotta have challenge to get better, man.

Ross Romano: Yeah. And to extemporaneously pursue, I'm sure is a bad, another bad metaphor. You know, if I'm in basketball practice and I make 10 out of 10 layups, that's perfect. I have 20 points. I've made every single one. If I make seven out of 10 three pointers, I have 21 points. It wasn't perfect. I missed three, but it was excellent.

Now if we're judged only by the success. of an individual action and there's [00:39:00] no account given to its ambition, right? And what we're working toward, then, okay, well, I'm not going to take the shot I might miss, even if the payoff is higher, I'm going to do what's safe. Well, guess what? In an actual game situation, your number of opportunities to get that guaranteed make, are so low you can never score enough points to win, right?

And guess what? Even the best shooters will sometimes shoot you out of the game because they have a bad day, but more often than not, they'll they'll help you win that game because they're excellent at the things that are harder to do, and, but that's what you need to incentivize, right?

Kyle McDowell: Well said. Well said. And not to, I don't I, at the risk of being too kind of elementary for your audience, I don't want the audience to hear your listeners to think, By incentive, we mean pay more or set up some kind of perks scenario. It's not that. The incentive is you're not going to get your head chewed off if you make a mistake.

You're not going to, you're not going to [00:40:00] be admonished if you actually voice a dissenting opinion to your leader, right? Those are incentives as well. So this environment thing is an incentive within itself when it's pulled off.

Ross Romano: Right. Yeah. It's recognition. It's being empowered. It's being trusted. It's knowing that your efforts are being noticed and acknowledged and properly valued by the people that matter. So how about we number 10? So we obsess over details. Critically important, right? To have this detail orientation.

I mean, this is where things fall through the cracks. But there's also that. It can certainly feed into some tendencies to either micromanage or to get stuck on to perseverate on one individual thing. When we have more things to do have you worked through that, right?

What is the, what does it look like to correctly obsess over details, but to do so in a way that's not [00:41:00] feeding into maybe our lesser impulses?

Kyle McDowell: It sure is a slippery slope. You nailed it, man. And I was purposeful that this, we ultimately ended up as the final of the 10, just like we, number one was so purposeful because if we come out of the gate saying we're going to obsess over details and we're a detail oriented organization, like the font on all of our presentations is the same, the margins are all the same we are we have, We've QA'd our reporting we're intimate with our data, those are the types of things I'm talking about.

If we were to lead with that, I think it's a recipe for disaster. We need to establish who we are and how we behave and treat one another before we're looking for that type of excellence in our work product. So that's the premise behind why it's number 10. Now I happen to believe, and I'm, and I don't think I'll ever be convinced otherwise, that customers, consumers, those who purchase our products or services, they see, And better yet, can feel how attentive we are [00:42:00] to the details.

I mean, dude, when is the last time you opened a package from Apple? You may not be an Apple fan, I'm not sure if you are or not, but you have to be aware of the sexy nature of how they package things. Now, that's just the end user experience, but behind the scenes? They have engineers locked in rooms for months on end every time there's a new product unveiled to test the packaging over and over again.

And the packaging has grown synonymous with And if they spend so much energy and detail and time and care on the packaging, gosh, that sends the message that the product inside this box must be life changing. And the flip side of that is true as well. For me, like if I'm hunting around Amazon for a product or maybe even bought something, the box shows up, like the instructions are terrible, bad grammar, like misspelled words.

I think, who the hell threw this together and what level of care did they put it, put into this? At the end of the day, excellence comes from obsessing over details, and it's what [00:43:00] separates good from great, it's what separates average from above average, and ultimately it separates us. It, it creates survival.

If you're haphazard or careless with details, I think ultimately you get lapped by someone who is much more in touch with the details. You're not wrong though. It is a very slippery slope. You can waste way too much time on something that, that, that could be just as sufficient or applicable to whatever it is you're doing without going so deep under those details.

Now it's situational. I don't have a, I don't have any sexy equation or set of filters to work through. But I would encourage folks to think, what is the, who is the audience for this thing I'm working on? And if it's internal, it's certainly important, but probably not quite as important as something a consumer would see.

So you can't, yeah, you don't want to spend an hour on an email to a coworker. Like that's not a good use of your time. But I think making sure that when the audience has an opportunity or that they could take their business elsewhere. Or they can you know, have a legitimate critique over how we [00:44:00] deliver the service or product that we did for them based on my lack of attention to details, that's something that should probably spend a little more time on,

Ross Romano: Yeah. I mean, and you don't know which detail which missed detail right to a customer, a client, a a stakeholder is going to be indicative of a bigger problem. Which things are really going to resonate. And to tie this all together on one final point, I mean, the. The through line in this, we approach is mutual accountability and that's a big thing of the details, right?

Is to get away from that micromanagement perspective. It's having that teaching, training learning mindset toward we can all learn. To be accountable for the details. It's not just me having to feel like, well, I need to go in and double check everything or make sure it's right.

But kind of having that, that mutual accountability. And that's the final point I wanted to land on is. You know, making the case [00:45:00] to you make the case to the people in the leadership positions, why establishing mutual accountability is not only the right thing to do, but also to their own benefit, right?

Because I think again, a lot of times where We operate where that's not explicit. It's either because of a good, now I'm in this seat. I don't have to, I don't have to have people hold me accountable. I want a relief. But but ultimately putting yourself out there and having that you're going to also get the best out of the team, but what's the case for that?

Kyle McDowell: I think the case is obvious. It's, it is. A we versus them mentality, leader versus the team, is not a recipe that's that's ripe for success, certainly not sustained success. We are wired to care for one another. Humans are. It's in our nature. Over time, I think, as we've lost that That we've lost our closeness with that characteristic of our being in the workplace.

And it's never been more difficult [00:46:00] as of late, simply because of the hybrid work environments that so many of us have gone to, which I think is a great thing for many. But at the end of the day, when a group of people are aligned around a common cause, A common goal or series of common goals, even if that is just to pay our bills and live a life of a little bit less stress because we know our bills are going to be paid.

We have food on the table. You know, we're not buying yachts and things like that, but I don't want people to miss hear me. It's not about. Business goals. It's about our human goals, getting along in this world, getting to our next step in our journey, trying to make ourselves better than we were yesterday, maybe give more to our children than we were given, and continue to advance in our position on the planet.

I think it's only achieved. in a team environment. Nobody does it alone.

Ross Romano: The listeners, you can find Kyle's book, Begin With We, and more about his work at kylemcdowellinc. com. We'll put the link to that below in the show notes so [00:47:00] it's easy to click on. Kyle, is there anything else you want listeners to know about or check out on your website?

Kyle McDowell: Well, we've talked a lot about it, but the book is Begin With We 10 Principles for Building and Sustaining a Culture of Excellence. My website is pretty simple, kylemcdowellinc. com. And I would love to hear from your listeners on pretty much every social platform, the handle at kylemcdowellinc as well.

Ross Romano: Excellent. Everybody check that out. We'll put those links below so you can find the book or anything else that you're looking for. Please also, if you're not yet, subscribe to the Authority for more in depth author interviews like this. coming your way every week or visit bpodcastnetwork. com to learn about all of our shows.

Kyle, thanks again for being here.

Kyle McDowell: Thank you, Ross.

Creators and Guests

Ross Romano
Ross Romano
Co-founder of Be Podcast Network and CEO of September Strategies. Strategist, consultant, and performance coach.
Kyle McDowell
Kyle McDowell
Bestselling Author. Speaker. Leadership Coach.
Begin with WE — Kyle McDowell on 10 Principles for Building and Sustaining a Culture of Excellence