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Inspired Business Interviews

Join bestselling author Jon Gordon for an informative 3-part series on overcoming the challenges posed by COVID-19.

The series wraps up with a virtual Q&A session immediately following Episode 3, hosted by Oscar Santos, Inclusion and Diversity Segment Leader and SVP, Center for Collaborative Education.

Episode 1: Positive Leadership in Uncertain Times

In a discussion with Truist’s Chief Digital and Client Experience Officer, Dontá Wilson, Jon Gordon shares his insights for successful business ownership during COVID-19.

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Dontá Wilson: Thank you, Jon, for joining me today, in what we hope to be a new groundbreaking series. You know, at Truist, Jon, our purpose is to inspire and build better lives and better communities, and what better time than now to really, really step out and do so to support our small business clients. As you know, our small business clients and small businesses and the whole United States period are the backbone to our economy, so it's super important for us to be there for them and help them manage through this coronavirus pandemic, and I just want to thank you for being with us and joining us today. But before we get started, I really, really would love to know how are you personally doing and how's your family doing?

Jon Gordon: Well, thanks for asking, Dontá . I appreciate that. We're doing good. It was a struggle in the beginning. Like a lot of people we really faced a challenge early on, and then we got together and through this time we actually got stronger together. We really worked on a lot of things of being a stronger family, of getting through this together, of being optimistic, being positive. It was an interesting time but it was also really positive and productive and incredible learning opportunity for all of us.

Dontá Wilson: Well, that's fantastic. Great to hear, and we're all learning. And even if you just put the current events aside and just focus on COVID-19 it's just been unbelievable what's happening to the economy, what's happening from a health perspective, what's happening from a social perspective. It's just really changing the world and it's been interesting just to follow and be a part of and to remain positive. You know, Jon, I was taking a look and I wrote down a couple statistics that came out of J.D. Power that I just wanted to mention to you and reference and ask you a question about as I was writing it down this morning. 

57 percent of Americans feel some level of stress regarding their finances, 19 percent applied for unemployment, and then have 7 percent that reported permanent job loss. So those clients are really struggling right now. I would just love to know what you would have to say to those clients and those people in our country that are struggling that might be helpful. 

Jon Gordon: We need to recognize the challenges that exist. Let's not sugarcoat the situation. Being a positive leader is not ignoring the reality of what's happening. It's about knowing that you have to stay positive through it. They did research at Duke University on optimists and they found that optimists work harder, get paid more, and are more likely to succeed in business and sports, and what they found was that because these optimists believed in a brighter and better future they then took the actions necessary to create it. 

It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Right now more than ever what you believe will determine what you create. We have to be positive during this time, and I don't mean Pollyanna positive. This is not about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. This is knowing that you have the power to overcome the thorns. We're not positive because life is easy; we're positive because life is hard.

And so we stay positive through these challenges. We find a way forward. And in doing so we're able to rally our team, to serve our customers, to create success together, and that's what it's going to take right now. It's going to take positive leadership that does those very things.

Dontá Wilson: Yeah, you're absolutely right that positive leadership is super important and that together – you used the word together, which I think is meaningful, we coming together and standing for positivity is super important. That same poll, Jon, had some interesting stats around what's coming forward. So 28 percent of the people in that poll thought that the crisis was going to last another three to five months. Another 28 percent, Jon, thought the crisis was going to last for another 12 months. So as they're preparing for managing and leading through that crisis, what should business owners be doing today to be prepared for that?

Jon Gordon: Well, when this hit in March I called it March Madness, and in March Madness you survive and then the goal is to advance, and then you adapt, and then from there you want to thrive on the other side of this. So right now for many of us we just want to survive and keep our business going, but then we want to advance and move forward and get better along the way, and to do that we do have to adapt. We have to find new ways of doing things, new ways to reach our customers, new ways to keep them safe in some instances.

So we have to make sure that we're adapting. But the goal of this is to make sure that we thrive on the other side of it, and so we're doing all these things to get through this time but also then to thrive because of this time. And so what I'm telling people right now is you have to win today. Like we can't focus too much on the future. We have to win every day. And if you win today and then you win the next day and you win the day after that you will win the future, but it starts with winning each day, staying positive with your team, understanding the challenges, understanding the reality, but then making sure that we're moving forward together in a productive way.

Dontá Wilson: Jon, as you think about winning each day, take some small business owners that start off super optimistic and super positive of managing through the crisis, leading through the crisis, and they see themselves coming out of it and then all of a sudden they reach burnout or another mid crisis event happens and then they start to go right back down into that negative valley of, wow, here's something else. I don't have enough energy to get back out of it again. Why is this happening again? I thought this was over.

What would you tell someone that is in that cycle, kind of that second round of the fight? Because in many cases you're going to have a second round, a third round or a fourth round that you're going to have to manage through in order to get that championship belt of success with your business, and so what might you tell that small business owner who may find themselves in round three or four how to dig out of that?

Jon Gordon: We don't get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it. Purpose now is more important than ever. Your purpose is greater than your challenges. You have to focus on your vision and your mission. Where are we going? Yes, we were here yesterday but where are we going now? Yes, we had this challenge but what is our vision as we move forward?

Keep your vision alive. Most marathon runners do not quit the marathon in the first mile, because you're just getting started, and they don't quit in the last mile, even though you've been running the longest and the farthest they don't give up in that last mile. Why is it? Because they can see it. Because they can see it they keep on moving towards it. Most people quit in the 20th mile. That is where they're physically tired and then mentally drained.

They lose their vision so they give up. So we have to make sure we're keeping that vision alive and then keeping our purpose alive, remembering why we do what we do, and that purpose will drive us and help us overcome the challenges that we face. And so talk about your purpose, talk about your why, talk about your vision. It's not impossible to stay positive. It's our purpose that often drives our positivity.

Dontá Wilson: Jon, let's talk about your business, and you and I have talked about how you lead your company. And so one of the things I really, really respect is that you don't really have a lens of being a business owner as it relates to your team. You don't really have a discipline of boss ship; you have a philosophy and a doctrine around leadership. Why don't you talk to us about why leadership and showing up from a leadership perspective is so important and not to get that confused with just business ownership or running the business.

Jon Gordon: Because it's not just about owning your business. It's about leading your business and leading others. Right now people are discouraged, they're fearful, they're uncertain, and we need leadership now more than ever. We need positive leadership who shows the way, leads the way, and rallies people towards the way, and it's the positive leaders that will be able to rally their team to create a brighter and better future. Again, people are fearful and scared, and so you have to listen to them, you have to understand the challenges that they're facing, what they're feeling, you have to be empathetic as a leader to understand that, but then you have to lift them up.

You have to encourage them, so that way you can actually create great success going forward. And by doing that you're going to create more success for your business but you're also going to empower your team to know that they could overcome their challenges, that they can go through difficult times as well and get better on their own. Allen Mulally, I think about him a lot. You know, when he took over Ford in 2006 they were losing like $14 billion. He had them profitable in a few short years. 

It was one of the greatest leadership feats in history. And everyone was very negative within the company, it didn't look like they were going to be successful, but his leadership transformed that organization and he saved thousands of jobs through his leadership and he rallied people together, he built great teams, and then together they would go onto transform Ford and create a brighter and better future for our country. So it's incredible what one positive leader can do during a challenging time, and so we need leadership more than ever.

Dontá Wilson: Jon, a key word that you placed in that was positive leadership. Why is positive leadership so crucial right now? Because there's a difference between leadership and then positive leadership. I want to focus in on that positive aspect of it.

Jon Gordon: Because pessimists do not change the world. Throughout history it's the optimists, it's the believers, the dreamers, the doers that have the greatest impact, that transform their teams and organizations and make the greatest impact. So right now more than ever it's positive leadership that we need. There's so much negativity, there's so much uncertainty, there's so much fear. How do we overcome fear? With faith. What do fear and faith have in common?

They both believe in a future that hasn't happened yet. Fear believes in a negative future. Faith believes in a positive future. And if neither has happened yet why wouldn't we chose to believe in the positive future? So it's the positive leaders that believe in the brighter and better future and then they inspire their teams to believe as well. Leadership is a transfer of belief. So we have to transfer our belief to our teams to be successful.

Dontá Wilson: And Jon, that positive leadership is contagious, it's energizing. Even talking to you today I just feel more inspired, so it's an attraction point, it's a magnet. I'm curious, Jon, I know you're a big man of vision, what does it mean to share your vision forward with your team?

Jon Gordon: You gather your team together and you talk about where you're going. You talk about the vision for the road ahead. Here's where we're going together, and you also get their input. Where do you want to go? Where do you want to go personally, where do we need to go collectively? And when each person understands how they can contribute to the vision of where you're going they'll be more engaged.

So it's important to also talk about how they contribute to the vision and also what does it mean to them. So it's not just some ethereal idea; it's where are we really going, what do we really want to create, what do we want to build, what success do we want to have going forward? And you really get concrete about what that looks like, and when each person understands what it looks like, how they contribute to it and what it means to them now you have a team that is really engaged, very energized and ready to achieve and realize the vision.

Dontá Wilson: You know, Jon, according to Barlow the majority of small businesses have had some negative financial deterioration, and if you think about that – and one in five of those are looking to really, really not even return to business, and so that's going to have an impact on many people. A lot of our ownerships of our companies are owned by folks that were near retirement, so now they're not going to be able to retire, they're going to have delayed retirement and unfortunately maybe have to come up with some other plans. What would you say to those individuals that find themselves in that place?

Jon Gordon: I would say that we can't control the events in our life but we can control how we respond to those events, and so often that determines the outcome. I lost my job during the dot com crash. I know what it's like to struggle. Didn't know how I was going to pay the bills, had no insurance for my family. The scariest, most fearful time in my life. 

I also owned restaurants in my past. I second mortgaged my home and put $20,000 on credit cards to open up this restaurant. It was a pretty scary time as well. There were many times I wasn't sure if we were going to make it. And I learned that grit is the number one predictor and factor of success, and there's a formula for grit I want to share. It's inspired by vision and purpose. 

We already talked about that. It is fueled by optimism and belief. It is powered by faith and hope. It is driven by love. If you love it you won't fear it. Bring that love to what you do, that love to your customer, that love for your business; bring that love and you won't fear it.

So continue driving with love. It is revived by resilience, kept alive by stubbornness. So now more than ever we need to be a little stubborn, like we are not going to quit. We are not going to give up. It doesn't look good but we're going to continue to work hard, move forward, do the right things and trust, truly trust in the outcome. We're not going to allow doubt to set in or discouragement to set in.

We don't give up because it's hard. We give up because we get discouraged. We're going to continue to move forward. And that grit will drive us forward, keep us going, and I truly believe if we do that on the other side of this we'll have success. So everything that we can do with grit in our heart, with the passion we have, with the purpose that's driving us, with the love that fuels us, if we truly have that our grit will make us successful.

And I've been through it. I've lived it, so I truly understand and I understand what people are facing and I'm right there with them, and that's why I'm so glad we're doing this because I want to encourage people to keep going. Do not give up.

Dontá Wilson: So Jon, you're my guy. You know, you and I are both – we were born with an extra dose of optimism, so we're optimist-aholics. I know some that are watching this right now are saying, "How do you wake up every day super positive? How do you really, really manage through these trying times and remain so positive?" So I'm just curious for you specifically what do you do to feed yourself in order to stay as positive as you stay and remain and sustain and thrive through these unfortunate times? Just because there's some people out there that say, "There's no way you can be that positive every day."

Jon Gordon: I want people to understand that I am not naturally positive. I actually go towards the negative. I have to work really hard at being positive. I think that's why I've become a good teacher because I understand what it's like to have to overcome the negativity and the adversity and the challenges and the pessimistic, negative thinking. But you can feed the positive each day. You can weed the negative, feed the positive, and when you do you can rewire your brain from negative to positive, and that's what I've done.

I wake up each morning and I practice gratitude. I say what I'm thankful for. I take a thank you walk. And the research shows you can't be stressed and thankful at the same time, and so by doing that I'm flooding my brain and body with these positive emotions that uplift me rather than the stress hormones that slowly drain me. And so every day I'm feeding the positive.

I'm looking at my challenges and I'm focusing though on my opportunities. What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? How can I get better because of this? I lost 90 percent of my revenue as a business because of the coronavirus but I didn't get down – well, I want to be honest.

Actually I got down at first. I did get pessimistic at first, and then I said to myself, "Is this going to help me create my future? Is this going to help me help others?" I knew I needed to stay positive. I needed to live what I write about, and so every day I showed up and I said, "I'm going to win today."

I'm not going to worry about tomorrow. I'm going to win today. I'm going to stay positive. And I had this quote that I love that really fueled me. It says that star shines the brightest in the darkness and positive people shine the most through adversity. And I knew every day I had a choice; I could rise and shine or rise and whine, and I had to get up and rise and shine in order to create the success I wanted to create.

It was amazing. By doing that I was able to find opportunities in all of this, and we have leadership training – we created our first virtual leadership training event that we were doing physically – we adapted, we innovated. We had 150 people for our first leadership training that we did virtually. It was a huge success, and we would've never done that if it wasn't for this adversity, for this challenge. So you can learn, you can grow.

So the idea is feed yourself every day so you can feed others. And if you don't have it you can't share it. So more than ever make sure you're talking to yourself instead of listening to yourself. If you listen to yourself, you hear all the negative, the fear, the doubts and the complaints. If you talk to yourself you can feed yourself with the words and encouragement that you need to keep on moving forward.

And it may sound corny, but it's really not. It is very powerful and it helps you move forward in a very positive and powerful way.

Dontá Wilson: Those are amazing thoughts. Thanks for sharing that with us, Jon. I'd love to ask you a little bit about work/life balance, and really I believe in work/life rhythm personally, but I'm curious; small business owners, they have so much requirements to be able to be successful as a small business and particularly today when the environment and the economy is tough and they're trying to recover, but it's super important to have balance. So maybe share with us on maybe some experiences that have brought you to a place where you're able to keep balance as a small business owner, because that's going to help you run the business better.

Jon Gordon: Well you said it best. I don't believe in balance. I believe in work/life rhythm. And right now we're not going to have a lot of balance. We are trying to create our success in our business. We're trying to get through this. We're trying to survive. So there's not a lot of balance when you're going through these challenging times.

You will do whatever you can to be successful. The key is rhythm. So it's knowing that we're going to work really hard now to be a success and then we're going to take a break. Or for the rhythm, I've got to take a break on Sunday or Saturday and make sure that I go really hard during the week, but I've got to take that one day so that I have that rhythm of rest and regeneration and restoration to fuel myself, to keep going. So you know that you need to take time to rest, to recharge so you can move forward.

For each person it's going to be different. For me, yeah, I have to take that one day to recharge or else I don't have enough in the tank to keep going. But then also each month, yeah, where can I find time in the month to take a couple days off to have that rhythm? But it's know that you may be spending 16-hour days right now or whatever it takes to be successful, and that's the reality of the situation. It's nice to say work/life balance, take time, but we don't have a lot of time often, and when that happens the rhythm is the key, recharging is the key, but you have to be intentional about it. If you're not intentional then it's not going to happen.

Dontá Wilson: Hey Jon, I just really want to thank you for being here today with us. Every time I talk to you I'm just reenergized, every time I read one of your books it just inspires me, and I really wanted to end today really focused on a question around purpose, because what I found is any time that I've been in a challenging time, if I just remember why I'm here that helps me manage through. So at Truist I reflect on our purpose, to inspire and build better lives and better communities, and it helps me get through. Personally, my own personal purpose is to be a dealer of hope, helping other people excel, and so I try to really focus in on that to help me remember why I'm here. Talk to me about your purpose and how you may zero in on your purpose during those difficult times to manage through.

Jon Gordon: I reached out to my various clients and said, "How can I help? How can I encourage you?" And I received a lot of requests back, "Will you Zoom with our team, will you speak with our team? We don't have a budget but will you do that?" And I saw my purpose during this time was greater than anything. It wasn't about dollar signs; it was really about truly living this mission and purpose.

And I went all the way back to when I first started speaking. I gave 80 free talks when I first started. And so I was thinking like a rookie once again. I was living my purpose. I was back to the beginning just helping and loving and serving and showing people that I care about them, and that's what I was doing. It was so energizing actually just to do this.

I didn't make money but was energizing people, and I knew I was planting seeds of hope and encouragement, and I knew if I planted those seeds and just took care of my clients and served them and lived my purpose that great things would happen, and it was amazing the response that I got from people. And I tell people because I know that once you're living your purpose and remind yourself of the purpose you're more positive, you're more focused, you're more energized, and customers sense that, your business relationships sense that, your team senses that, and then everybody works with more energy and passion and creates more success.

And so I can tell you purpose is the fuel that will drive us where we need to go and it powers our positivity. So when we talk about positive leadership it's really also about purposeful leadership and serving others is always a big part of a positive leader's purpose. 

Dontá Wilson: So Jon, you know, one thing about being an American is that we are AmeriCANS and not AmeriCANTS, and so we always focus on what we can do, and typically that drives us to success, but there's some things that we can't do if we want to be successful or shouldn't do as it relates to really managing through this recovery. So what are some things that we probably just shouldn't do – can't do if we really want to be successful in recovery?

Jon Gordon: If you want to be successful as a leader and a team you can't complain, and I don't mean justified complaining, I mean toxic complaining, mindless complaining. That doesn't help you or your team move forward. It will actually sabotage you and cause you to focus on where you are instead of what you want to create and where you want to be. We also can't allow negativity to sabotage our team. We can't allow that one person who really doesn't want to come to work, doesn't want to serve the customers, doesn't want to be there, we can't allow that one person to sabotage the team.

One person can't make a team but one person could break a team. So we want to make sure that we're addressing that. As a leader and team we can't have poor communication. Where there's avoidant communication negativity will fill it, so we have to make sure that we are really communicating a lot during this time. We have to overcommunicate. And I think one of the biggest mistakes leaders make is they allow communication to just not happen or they do a poor job of it.

They think people understand what they need to do and people don't really understand. And we also can't have clutter, we can't have complexity. Now more than ever as a leader and team we have to have clarity. Clarity leads to focused action. Hear the problem, this is the solution, and here's how we're going to create it together.

Dontá Wilson: Jon, I'm real curious. I've heard you talk about some things about moving forward, and those things are super important, but there are things that could hold us back. Do you have any insights or thoughts on what are those things that could hold us back?

Jon Gordon: I'm so glad you asked that because I just wrote about the five D's in a new book I wrote called The Garden, and these are the five D's that will sabotage us if we let them. And the first D is doubt. There's a lot of doubt right now about the future and doubt can set in and really cause us to be discouraged. And so one of the second D's is discourage. We don't give up because it's hard, we give up because we get discouraged.

And so often it's the distortion, it's the lies that we talked about, those lies that come in, those negative thoughts, the fear that comes in that's really not based on truth. They come in and they discourage us and they create doubt. So those three D's really can wreak havoc on us. And that leads to a fourth D, which is distraction. We often get distracted by things that really don't matter. We watch the news, we watch all the negativity, and we allow that to sabotage us instead of focusing on what matters most.

Distractions are the enemy of greatness, so we have to be aware of distractions. And then there's division. Division sets in. And the word anxious literally means divided, and right now there's a lot of anxiety. People feel divided. Think about it. There's been a lot of social isolation going on and people feel more divided than ever. 

So how do we overcome these five D's? Well, instead of doubt we trust. Instead of distortion, lies, we speak truth to the lies. Instead of discouragement we encourage. The word encourage means to put courage into. We need to put courage into our team, courage into ourselves. We need to encourage ourselves.

Instead of distractions we focus on what matters most. And what is that? Relationships, our team, our family, our customers. Relationships and loving people. We do that we're going to build great relationships and we'll build great success. And instead of division we need unity.  

Now more than ever our country seems divided in a lot of ways and we need to bring people back towards unity. People act like we're separate teams. No, we are one team and we need to be united together, and once we realize we are one team we will create amazing things together. We are better together, and then together we will accomplish amazing things, but we need to realize it's unity that makes us successful, not division.

Dontá Wilson: Your words and insights are making a difference today, so we thank you for sharing a little bit of your time with us. We thank you for all that you do. Keep doing what you're doing. I love you. Again, I appreciate you being on Inspired Business, and I just ask if you have any more last words to share with us today.

Jon Gordon: Hey, thank you, Dontá . I appreciate you, I appreciate Truist, I love the way you serve others, care about others, and I just love your purpose. Inspired Business is everything because right now people do need to be inspired. I want to share this quick little story to close on this, because I think it's really powerful. I was called a few years ago by Evan Spiegel from SnapChat. Evan's the founder and CEO of the company, and they were going through a really tough time.

He read my book The Power of Positive Leadership and he asked me to come speak to his team. So on my way there I asked him, "What do you want me to talk about? The cost benefits of positivity? You want me to share the data, the research?" Because these are really smart people, so I was thinking he wanted a lot of data and analytics. He said, "Jon, just help us stay positive. We've got Instagram coming at us, Wall Street is really giving us a hard time, the media is trying to destroy us; we've got all these forces on the outside that are coming at us. We just need to stay positive." 

So I talked about the very things that we talked about right now. I told them focus on the inside, not the outside. Stay positive on the inside, build a strong team, build a great culture, and you will create success on the outside. And that's what they've done. Over the last few years they've done that. He's talked about that in his various articles he's been interviewed on and he talks about the importance of positivity in business. 

And once you think that way and you lead your team that way you'll have more success. Thank you so much, Dontá . I appreciate it. 

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Episode 2: Positive Connections

Jon Gordon talks with Truist’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Kim Moore-Wright, about strategies to help bring your team together during COVID-19.

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Kim: Jon, welcome back to Inspire Business. During our first episode we talked a lot about the importance of leadership in uncertain times and truly how businesses and business owners could use positive leadership to help weather any storm that they might have. So this time in this episode we want to talk about leadership and driving connections when you're working in a hybrid workforce, which is what we've got now. And I heard somebody use this phrase the other day; instead of the new normal it's the now normal.

So how do we do that? I want to start off by first asking your perspective on this topic as a whole. What is it that you're seeing, what are you hearing in terms of how connectivity within our work culture is really being impacted by COVID-19?

Jon: Well it's changed the way that teams work and connect and communicate in so many ways. We're having to find so many different ways to reach each other, to talk to each other, to work together. I've heard from some leaders that it's going really well. They're actually connecting at a deeper level. And I've also talked to other leaders that are actually struggling.

They're so used to being together in an office and working in person that they're struggling with it. I've also heard from other leaders that said they're having the best conversations they've ever had as a team. I think you and I doing this right now is a great example of having to work differently, to be innovative. We're actually doing this from our homes, and yet we're coming together to collaborate, to create this video and share this message.

So it's really so interesting to actually see how, you know, different people are working via Zoom, via Facebook, via Skype. Some people are actually spending more time FaceTiming and so forth. Some are talking on the phone more. So we're finding different ways to communicate and to connect. I know for me personally my team has actually gotten stronger through this. Early on when this happened we said, "How can we come together as a team and model this for all of our clients and for the world?"

And so we have literally been coming together, communicating every week, talking about our mission, talking about our vision, and we've actually come out of this a lot stronger as a result of finding different ways to communicate and connect.

Kim: During a crisis, any kind of crisis, what can business owners do a better job of when it comes to connecting with their teams and workers. 

Jon: Well they can communicate better. It all starts with communication, because communication is what leads to connection, and where there's a void in communication negativity fills it, and most teams break down because of poor communication. So as a leader, as a team, we have to communicate, communicate, communicate. So now more than ever business owners need to make sure that they're communicating with their team collectively but also one-on-one.

That's why so often we fall short as business owners and leaders. We don't communicate one-on-one with our team. I received great advice from Doc Rivers one time. He's the basketball coach of the LA Clippers, he won a championship with the Boston Celtics.

Kim: Yes

Jon: And he said, "Jon, the most important thing I do with my team is not just communicate collectively but I communicate one-on-one. I have to know where each person is in order to lead them where I want them to be." I said, "What would you like to do better as a coach?" He said, "I'd like to be a better communicator." He's one of the greatest communicators on the planet and in sports and he wants to get even better at communication.

One of the things that you can do as a leader or a business owner during this time is to ask your team on a scale of 1 to 10 how well am I communicating with you, on a scale of 1 to 10, and then what would make it a 10? You'll get so much great feedback from your team that will improve yourself as a leader and your communication with your team, and then as a team you could actually come together and talk about how well do we communicate as a team on a scale of 1 to 10 and what do we need to do better to make it a 10?

Kim: Great. I think sometimes – and I'll press a little bit more on that – I think sometimes when you talk to leaders and business owners about making those connections sometimes that can be a little bit of a challenge and veering off sometimes from just talking about the business at hand to really getting a little bit more personal and diving in a bit more, especially with being remote. Sometimes that's necessary. What do you think really creating connections really means and why is it so critical at all times but perhaps especially now? Why is that so important?

Jon: That's such a great question, Kim. It's not just about communicating. It's about communicating in order to connect, and you want to connect because that's where you build trust. It's where you create a bond. It's where you experience psychological safety, and that is so important now more than ever. Google did a study  called Project Aristotle.

They wanted to know where their best teams came from, where their most inventive ideas came from, so they studied their teams within Google and they studied thousands of teams outside of Google, and what they found was that their best teams did not come from the A teams. It didn't come from the ones that had the most domain-specific knowledge, the geniuses in their field. It came from actually the B teams. These are the teams that had connection, they had commitment, they had psychological safety.

They felt free to share ideas back and forth. They weren't worried about being ridiculed for sharing these ideas, and as a result of that it unleashed the genius in the team. The connection is what led to the commitment, and you'll never have a committed team unless you have a connected team. So connection breeds commitment, and that should be our goal as businesses; develop the connection, create a great commitment, and you will produce greater results..

Kim: Creating better connections to get to that commitment, that's amazing and that's great to think about. Let's talk a little bit about this from the standpoint of the environment that business owners have to create for their teams so that they can create for their teams. What role do you think internal culture plays in this?

Jon: Well as a business owner and leader your job is to create an environment where people can come and do their best work. You want to implement the four C's. We talked about communication, we talked about connection, we talked about commitment, and we talked about caring. If you create a team that has communication, that connects, and you foster that connection amongst your team members, they'll be more committed, and then when they care about each other you all perform at a higher level, and this all goes to culture. Culture's not just one thing; culture is everything.

Culture drives expectations and beliefs, expectations and beliefs drive behaviors, behaviors drive habits, and habits create the future. It all starts with the culture we create, and we have to really invest in our culture. So often we focus on the fruit of the tree, the outcome and the numbers and the stock price. We focus on the fruit and we ignore the root and then the tree dies, but if we invest in that root our culture, our people, our relationships, and we make that our number one priority, we will get great fruit. So as a business owner create that environment, focus on your great culture and that will lead to sustained success.

Kim: So let's talk for a moment about employee engagement, and I know that engagement is something that's always been an important part of business owners achieving true success. So how important has engagement become in 2020?

Jon: It's everything. If you are not engaged now as a team you will not be successful. You need people who are coming to work every day and they are engaged by the vision and by the mission. Let's face it; every organization today has a mission statement, but only the great ones have people who are on a mission. And so you need to get your team together, talk about the vision, talk about the mission. Each person has to come to work understanding how they can contribute to the mission and the vision.

How can they show up every day and make sure that they're being successful and helping the team be successful? When you have that you will have an engaged workforce. Now what constitutes engagement? We want people who feel like their work matters. They need to know that they have a growth process, that they can actually grow in where they are. They have to know that you actually care about them as an owner and as a leader.

So if you care about your team members they're going to be more engaged. If you want them to love the customers then love them, if you want them to care more, care about them, if you want them to serve others, serve them, and so the more you're doing that and engaging your team they will be more engaged. It really starts with you, but by doing these very things and getting them engaged they will actually take you and your team and your business to a much higher level.

Kim: How important is solid communication and how have the events of 2020 as a whole changed the paradigm between the business owner and their teams? Or maybe a better question is how should it change the paradigm of business owners and their teams?

Jon: I believe it's changed everything. The phrase, "It's not personal, it's business" is history. Now everything is personal. We've been working from our homes, we are now talking about our families so much more, we're hearing about our families. We may even hear about our families in the background of a meeting.

[Laughs]

And so now everything is personal, but that's actually a good thing. Now we know what matters most. We know who matters most to our team members, and in knowing that we actually now have formed deeper connections, greater bonds, more trust, and that allows us to work in a more powerful way together.

Our performance will go up when we actually have informal networks of relationships, and so those informal networks of relationships actually lead to greater business engagement. The research shows that it's very clear on that. So I actually think this should be hear to stay. This is a great trend. Let's not lose this. When we go back to normal, I don't really want to go back to the normal the way it was. 

Let's go back to a normal that includes knowing about our family members, talking about what matters most and allowing us to be real people who actually come to work and create real results.

Kim: Jon, what's a way that you could get the team to connect more and be stronger together? How could we do that?

Jon: So That's such a great question because I'm a huge believer in team-building exercises. You have to be intentional about connecting as a team, and my favorite exercise is hero, hardship, highlight. I call it the triple H. Talk about as a staff who your hero is, talk about a highlight in your life and a hardship that made you who you are today. When each person does this the walls of pride and ego come crumbling down and that paves the way for vulnerability, authenticity, which leads to meaningful connections and a greater commitment.

I work with a lot of executives, a lot of teams, a lot of sports teams on this; it is so powerful when you do this exercise. My other favorite one is have each person pick a word for the year, a word that will drive them to be their best. One word that will give them meaning and mission, passion and purpose. So each person comes up with a word, and we have a teambuilding session where they share their word and why they chose it. When you understand the word and the why and you help that person live that word for the year you get such enhanced engagement as a team, greater performance, greater teamwork.

Such a great powerful exercise to come together and be the stronger team. Two of my favorites right there.

Kim: What is something that's changed for you and your team in this environment that you want to stay, that you want to remain?

Jon: TOne thing we did as a team early on was we started to get together and have a weekly teambuilding session, and it's been such a powerful thing for the team to come together, to talk about their challenges, to talk about what's going on in their lives. It's something that will stay for the rest of our existence. We've also adapted and developed new leadership training. So we came together very quickly and said, "Okay, we've got to create an online virtual training program instead of our physical event," because we've actually had to cancel a bunch of physical events.

And literally within a month, we worked so hard together we created a new leadership training within a month and we became such a stronger team as a result of doing that. I truly believe that it is your challenges that lead to greater opportunities. And personally, from my own team at home, my son's been home from college. He's 20 years old and we spend a lot of time together now. In the past we did not spend a lot of time together because I was on the road speaking, he was a competitive tennis player.

So this has been an opportunity for us to spend really meaningful time together to help him get on track, to coach him, to guide him, to be there with him, and we have formed a deeper bond as a result of that. I've lost a lot of business, but I've got to tell you the time I've spent with my son has been priceless and all that I lost is actually something that I would do again to have this time with my son.

Kim: That's phenomenal, and I agree. The time that we've been able to have with friends and family, reflect, think differently, are things that can't be replicated and will never be the same, and a lot of really great things are coming out of this now normal that we have.

Jon: And Kim, I've talked to so many people that as a result of this time they are spending more time with their families and it has led to greater discussion, it has led to a stronger bond with their families, and they've realized what matters most and they're still able to be successful in their business. They're realizing they can actually work hard in their business, spend more time with their family and overall be a lot happier. So I think we've learned a lot; that we can actually work differently, we can work more remotely, we can actually be very productive and still be very successful. Not every business could do this, but a lot of businesses can and it's actually been a good thing, and I think we're going to be more flexible going forward.

As I said, not every business can but a lot of businesses will have more flexibility, allow people to spend more time working from home, and as a result I believe people are going to be happier and also create more success. 

Kim: So Jon, when you're building a team how important are the traits of authenticity, empathy and perspective?

Jon: Let's start with authenticity. It's everything. You have to be real. To be a great team member you have to be real. Your team needs to know that they can trust you, that you're real, that you're not fake, that you are who you say you are, and the more authentic you are is a big thing.

And you may have some difficult conversations around that. You may have to have some difficult conversations to talk about the things you disagree about, but being real is actually more important, and then when you have conflict and difficult conversations being real allows you to move to a deeper level. I had a team member call me today and ask me about a post I recently made on social media, and we talked about it and we had a great conversation, and as a result of that, being real together, authentically talking about it, we actually grew so much stronger in our relationship by having that conversation.

So you have to have difficult conversations, you have to be real, and then you also have to have empathy. Like I have to understand my team members and what they're going through. They have to understand what I'm going through. And the more we have empathy for each other we're actually able to be stronger together. Now this doesn't mean that we allow someone to vent all the time. It means we understand what each person is dealing with, where they're coming from, the history, their backstory.

That's why understanding someone's story is essential. Someone you work with, knowing who they are, the hardships they face, the challenges they're going through right now is really important. So having empathy for them and putting yourself in their shoes is key. And then perspective; how we see the world determines the world that we see. And as a team you need to come together and have a great perspective together. It has to be an optimistic perspective.

You have to believe together. You have to stay positive together knowing that whatever challenge you're going through that you can create a brighter and better future together. It's going to take a team to do it, but it's also going to take a positive team, which you have to overcome all the negativity, adversity and challenges in order to do that, so the right perspective is everything.

Kim: Jon, how important is it to deal with negativity on a team?

Jon: You must address negativity on a team, because if you don't it will persist and exist and eventually sabotage a team. The biggest mistake that teams make is they do not address the negativity. One person can't make a team but one person could break a team. A good friend of mine is Nick Nurse. He's the coach of the Toronto Raptors. They won a national championship last year in the NBA.

And early in his season he actually put an elephant on his desk, and any time a player walked in they knew they were going to talk about the elephant in the room. They weren't going to allow issues to persist, they weren't going to let the bitterness and anger develop; they were going to address the issues, they were going to talk about them, they were going to be positive through the challenges and have the difficult conversations in order to get better and grow. It's one of the reasons why they won an NBA championship. So as a team you must address the negativity.

You must say, "We will not allow negativity to sabotage our vision, our mission and the work that we're here to do. Now we're going to have disagreements. We're going to have fights sometimes. That's normal. We just don't want to allow the fighting and the negativity to sabotage us. We want to talk about it, we want to grow from it, and we want to get better because of it."

And it's all how you approach the negativity. I wrote a book called The Power of a Positive Team, and we talk a lot about dealing with negativity as a team in order to be great as a team, but you must address it. If you don't it will eventually sabotage your team.

Kim: That is one of my favorite books that you have and I love the – I've had – we've done the Positive Pledge as a team, so just a little plug there, Jon. Just wanted to let you know that. And I love that list that you have of the traits of a great team and some of the work that you've done with Dabo Swinney, so awesome. Jon, thank you so much for joining us on Inspire Business. We really appreciate the time.

Jon: Hey, thanks Kim. I appreciate you so much, I appreciate Truist, and I appreciate you allowing me to share this message with your clients and customers. We are all in this together. We're talking about the power of a positive team, and one thing I know we are better together, and together we accomplish amazing things. No one creates success alone. We all need a team to be successful

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Episode 3: The Client Experience

Discover new ways to use positive leadership to rebuild your client base. Jon Gordon lends his expertise in a conversation with Truist’s Head of the Corporate and Institutional Group, Beau Cummins.

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Beau Cummins: Jon Gordon, thank you for joining us your third appearance. Welcome.

Jon Gordon: It’s great to be with you, Beau.

Beau Cummins: It’s a pleasure. So, the first time when you were her, what we all talked about was leadership in challenging times, and the second episode was leading hybrid teams in those environments. Now, this episode, what we thought we’d talk about the client experience. How does these times affect client experience today?

Jon Gordon: Well, it hasn’t just changed the client experience, it’s changed the human experience. We're now seeing the world differently. We're looking at things in a different way. We've never experienced anything like this before. Now, more than ever, things are more personal. We're feeling things more personally, we're feeling things more deeply. And so, the old phrase of, “it’s not personal, it’s business”—that’s history. Everything is personal. We've experienced each other’s families, during calls, during meetings, you're hearing families, people are talking about their families more than ever. And so, you have to understand, it’s very personal.

And out of this deep feeling and this personal feeling comes a greater appreciation also for our clients and for the businesses have for our clients. So, it’s the greater appreciation we have for the businesses and the greater appreciation that businesses have for us as clients. There’s a greater appreciation for each other.

The other day, I went to my favorite seafood market, and I saw Tim there, and Tim was smiling at me, he was so happy to see me, I was happy to see him. It was like old family getting together again and reuniting.

 And I think that’s the kinda feeling that has changed the paradigm, it’s changed our world, and I believe it’s here to stay. I believe the feeling of personal business is actually now here to stay.

Beau Cummins: You know, COVID put us all in a defensive crouch, a defensive posture. But how do business owners pivot to playing offense in this environment? How does the psychology play a role in that?

Jon Gordon: Well, when we're experiencing these times, when there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty, people want more control. They want to do business with people they trust. They want to be safe. So, as a business, this is your time to build that trust, to show your customers why your business matters, why your service matters. This is an opportunity to actually provide incredible customer service, to go above and beyond, to love and to serve and to care. When you love and serve and care, you're gonna stand out from the competition. So, this is the opportunity to be the trusted resource that your customers go to when they're feeling uncertain, when they're feeling fearful, and it’s your trust and the relationships you build that will actually determine the success of your business

Beau Cummins: Talk a minute, then, Jon, about what you call the greatest customer service strategy, and what does this look like through the lens of the business owner in difficult times like today?

Jon Gordon: Well, the greatest customer service strategy of all is actually about making sure that you invest in your employees, that you take care of your employees, that you serve your team so that way your team could actually serve your customers. When you build a team that loves and serves and cares, by loving and serving and caring about your team, they will actually do that for your customers. And the more we invest in our team, the better they'll be able to actually take care of our customers.

Beau Cummins: That’s great, and it makes a lot of sense. So, what role do positive customer relationships play in a business’ success and how do difficult times impact that?

Jon Gordon: Well, no matter what people are buying, people are always buying you. It’s always about the relationship. So, positive customer relationships are everything, and during this time, people are seeking out relationships that they trust, people that are familiar, brands that mean something to them. So, the relationship now during this time is even more important, and you can build it even stronger now more than ever.

So, now it’s about getting with your customers, investing in that relationship. I talked about loving and serving and caring—I always say don’t focus on building your business, focus on loving, serving, and caring and your business will exponentially grow. When you do that and you truly care, you'll stand out in a world where most don’t seem like they care any more. And so, the loving and serving and caring is actually the way we stand out, we differentiate ourselves from the competition, and we make a greater difference. And that will all serve to develop the relationship that you need to build a great business.

Beau Cummins: So, COVID-19, Jon, created some challenges, and how has that impacted brand loyalty and that—you know, the love that clients have for their brands?

Jon Gordon: Well, one of my clients did a lot of market research. They wanted to find out what their customers truly wanted. They spent millions of dollars on this market research. They found that they wanted three things.

The first thing they wanted make it simple and clear for me. In a world of clutter and complexity, the more simple you can make it, the more clear you can make it. That clarity generates focused action. So, make it simple and clear.

The second thing they wanted was coach me, guide me through the process. When you coach your clients, when you coach your customers and you guide them, you earn their loyalty, you earn their trust. The coaches in my life impacted my life. I still think about them and I'm so thankful to them because they made a difference in who I am today. It’s the same thing in business—when you coach people and you guide them, you'll earn their loyalty for a very long time. And also, as part of that coaching, we help people identify their challenges, and we give them solutions so that they can get better. So, every business needs to answer the question of—what is your challenge and how can I help you?

And then third, give me the confidence I'm making the right decision. So, we wanna explain things, we wanna give them the confidence that this is the right decision that they're making, and going with you is the way to go and it’s the right decision they're making. A big part of that today is safety. People are looking for safety, and if you can make your customers and clients feel safe and they know that you're the one to deliver that safety, they will go with you.

Beau Cummins: What can they do to build positive connectivity with these clients? What advice would you give them?

Jon Gordon: Well, to be a positive leader, it’s not just a state of mind, it’s a state of action. So, I would tell them, “This is what you need to do to build great relationships.” We talked about love, serve, and care, but I also want to share the four Cs. The four Cs are communicate, connect, commit, and care.

So, right now, we demonstrate positive leadership and positive customer service through great communication. Where there’s a void in communication, negativity will fill it. So, now more than ever, you have to really make sure you're communicating to build that trust. You have to connect. How do we connect, now? We listen. We listen to our customers. We hear their stories. We understand their challenges. We provide solutions.

So, through the listening and connecting, we build a greater commitment, but commitment is also built through great service, and letting our customers know that we are committed to them. We are here for them. During this time, I have reached out to so many of my customers. “How can I help you? How can I encourage you? What do you need from me during this time?” When you are committed to your customers, they will be committed back.

And then finally, show that you care. The difference between average and greatness is caring. If you care more, people will feel that caring, they will know that you care about them, and they will distinguish you from all the other people that are just trying to get their business trying to sell them something versus someone who’s actually caring about them, serving them, committing to them, communicating with them, and through all of that, that’s what’s gonna really build your business. So, those four Cs are essential—communicate, connect, commit, and care. Are we just hear to build something, or build something great? Caring is the difference.

Beau Cummins: I'm intrigued by this. So, a wild card question, if I may. So, on the subject of caring, how does a business leader care for themselves so that they're in a good position to care for their clients?

Jon Gordon: That is such a great question. You have to feed yourself so you can feed others. So, you care for yourself by taking the time to be thankful, by reducing stress. We can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time. I get up every morning, I take a walk of gratitude—because the research shows that if you're practicing gratitude, you're flooding your brain and body with these positive emotions that uplift you rather than the stress hormones that slowly drain you.

So, every morning, I do that. I get back to my office, I've created a fertile mild that’s ready for great things to happen. So, I'm feeding myself first so I can feed others. And I had to do this because I've faced a lot of challenges during this time as well. And so, I've had to make sure that I am right, that I am mentally strong, that I am developing myself as a positive leader, because leadership is a transfer of belief. So, I have to make sure that I'm believing the right things to be able to share that with my team. So, you feed yourself in order to feed others.

Beau Cummins: I love that. What I hear you saying is, if you can’t lead yourself, you're not ready to lead others, and there’s a virtuous cycle in here of positivity, of taking care of yourself so you're in a position to take care of others.

Jon Gordon: Very much so. If you don’t have it, you can’t share it. Now, more than ever, as a leader, you need to be positively contagious and share that positive energy with your team the belief, the optimism, the hope. Yes, let’s discuss the reality of the situation, the challenges we face but let’s also discuss how we're gonna overcome those challenges to create a better future for ourselves, our team, and our customers.

Beau Cummins: So, Eleanor Roosevelt once said that yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. So, talk about being present in today and how that feeds positivity.

Jon Gordon: When the Coronavirus first hit, it really rocked my world like it hurt a lot of people, because it was so uncertain, we never have experienced anything like that before. And so, I wanna admit, at first, I went towards the negative. I was a little pessimistic. And then I said to myself is this gonna help me create my future? Is this gonna help me help others create their future?

So, what I focused on was winning today. I said, “I can’t focus on tomorrow. I can’t focus on what the outcome’s gonna be. I just have to focus on winning today, and if I win today and I win the next day, and I win the day after that if I win each day, I'm gonna win the future.” So, my focus is and I wanna encourage you to do the same—focus on winning today and you will win the future.

Beau Cummins: So, Jon, question—as I reflect on positive leadership, how do you meld or weave authenticity into positive leadership? How does that work? 

Jon Gordon: So, when we talk about positivity, we're not talking about fake positivity. We're talking about real positivity. We're talking about being authentic and transparent, sharing your challenges, talking about the struggles that you're facing, talking about the issues at hand. We're not gonna sugarcoat anything. We're gonna have to have difficult conversations as a leader with our teams in order to grow, in order to get better, in order to overcome these challenging times.

So, being authentic and transparent is everything. Being authentic and transparent to our clients and our customers is everything. Hey, we're struggling like you. Hey, we're going through challenges, too, but we are with you. We're overcoming and we want to help you overcome. This is what we're facing, this is what we've learned, and now we want to help you get better.

So, the more you can actually share those truths and the real story behind what you're facing, people will appreciate you more. Now more than ever, people want vulnerability, they want realness, they want authenticity, and they're attracted to brands that share that.

So, be real. You don’t have to be perfect. Real is better than perfect always remember that.

Beau Cummins: In difficult times, being real leads you to dealing with the problems with people. So, to me, you've cracked the door open to empathy. So, talk about how empathy plays a role in authenticity.

Jon Gordon: I'm so glad you brought up empathy, because right now, people are struggling. People are fearful. People feel uncertain. Your customers are scared right now, so the more you can be empathetic to them and understand what they're going through to know their story, to feel what they feel, and to actually join them in that feeling, when you practice empathy, it’s like, “I understand you. I get you. I'm here with you. I suffer with you.” Maybe you're not suffering in your business, maybe you're not suffering in your own personal life, but, “I suffer with you.”

And then what you need to do at that point is lift them up. You don’t want to stay down there with them. When you practice empathy, it doesn’t mean you come down to their level to actually struggle or suffer with them for the long-term. You feel what they feel and then you lift them up and you help them rise higher. And people need that more than ever.

I've been telling a lot of people right now it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to feel the feelings you're feeling, to struggle, to have anxiety. You just don’t want to stay there, because that will take you down a spiral staircase of despair and depression. What you want to do is then lift up, move out of it, move forward, advance forward with positivity, with optimism.

And so, as a business owner, what you want to do is make sure you're there with your customers, you're being empathetic to them, and then lift them up and point them towards a brighter and better future. Just like you have to do as a leader with your team, you're now doing this for your customers.

Beau Cummins: Jon, you're a best-selling author, you've got a lot of books out there. I know there are some great stories in those books, but what’s one or two stories that come to mind that would really resonate with business leaders today?

Jon Gordon: Well, in my book, Soup, I wrote about creating a culture of greatness, and I said that customers actually buy the essence of a company without even knowing. When you have a great culture, people are buying your culture.

I remember visiting Organic Valley Milk in the middle of Wisconsin, and they have an incredible culture. And they don’t focus on profits, they don’t focus on numbers, they focus on their purpose. They are purpose-driven goals, and it’s to provide sustainability for farmers. They want to actually provide organic and hormone free, antibiotic free milk to their customers. They want to make a difference in the lives of their communities. So, they're so focused and so driven on their purpose that, amazingly, their numbers keep growing and growing. And so, they forecast, but they actually don’t focus on it.

So, I believe that now, more than ever, being purpose driven is the key. Maybe your goals have changed, your numbers have changed based on the economy and what’s going on, but your vision should remain the same, your culture should get even stronger, and your purpose should drive what you do.

For me, I'm not speaking on stages right now, but my vision and mission has stayed the same. I'm just using Zoom and technology to do that now. So, the vision remains the same, the goals may change, but the purpose drives us to be really great and to provide greatness for our customers, and it all starts with the essence and the culture of who we are. That’s from Soup and it’s a very powerful lesson.

Beau Cummins: Appreciate it. Is positivity something somebody’s born with and they're just inherently positive, or is it choice?

Jon Gordon: Well, I am naturally negative. I'm actually a pessimistic optimist, so I know this well. I go towards the pessimistic route and then I have this eternal ray of hope, of optimism that things are gonna get better.

And so, many of us, the research shows, are born more negative than others. But the research also shows we can actually become more positive. We can rewire our brain from negative to positive. And that’s the great thing, that we can all become more positive.

Now, will I be as positive as my wife? Probably not she’s very positive. But I can become the best version of myself to be the most positive that I can be.

Beau Cummins: So, positivity is a choice, and it sounds like a lot of positivity may lead to happiness. Is happiness something that you think about?

Jon Gordon: I always say, “Don’t chase success. Decide to make a difference, and success will find you.” Don’t seek happiness work with more passion and purpose and happiness will be a byproduct of that, and happiness will find you.

And so, ironically, we become happier when we're not focused on happiness. We become happier when we're living with passion and purpose and serving others and making a difference, and really approaching the world in a more positive way.

Beau Cummins: So, Jon, any final thoughts on what advice you would give to a business owner that we haven’t covered yet?

Jon Gordon: I would tell you to put caring into action, to identify your caring trademark to show that you care. Each business could actually have a caring trademark that is unique to them, to show their customers they care about them.

I met a marketing executive and he told me that one of his clients, in a town of 12,000 people, was doing 6,000,000 in sales in a furniture and bedding store. The average sales should've been about $1,000,000.00 he was doing 6,000,000.

He said, “You wanna know what he did? You wanna know his secret?” I said, “Of course, I do.” He said, “Within 30 days of a transaction, the owner would call the customer and say, ‘I'm thankful for your business. Are you satisfied?’ and ask them for any advice or feedback they had.” He would see people in the grocery store, in restaurants they would thank him for the call. Just by caring, he stood out and he built an incredible business. So, I would tell people find your unique way that shows that you care about them.

I would also say, you know, be optimistic. The best really is yet to come. I've heard some great advice from Doc Rivers the other day, I had Doc Rivers on my podcast, Positive University. And Doc said, “You know, everyone’s acting like 2020 is over.” I said, “It’s not over yet. It’s half-time. We had a bad half. We could still win the second half. Let’s go win it.”

So, I would say that let’s go win the second half. If you're listening to this and it’s the fourth quarter even better. Let’s win it in the fourth quarter. We got this.

Beau Cummins: Well, I think that’s great advice win today. That’s gonna be my mantra as we go forward, and I'm excited about our conversation. You've left me with some gifts that I'll take forward, so I wanna thank you, Jon Gordon, for joining us again on Inspired Business.

Jon Gordon: Hey, I appreciate you, Beau. I appreciate Truist. I appreciate everything that you do for your clients. You're here for them and you're a great example of positive leadership and serving others and committing to others, and it means a lot to be a part of you with this.

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Episode 4: Q&A Session

Jon Gordon and Oscar Santos round out our Inspired Business Interviews series with a thought-provoking discussion about positive leadership in difficult times.

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Oscar Santos: Jon Gordon, our first-ever guest speaker on Inspired Business. Welcome once again and thank you so much for joining us today, Jon.

Jon Gordon: Oscar, thanks for having me. I'm honored to be with you all.

Oscar Santos: Well, we've covered so much ground in the first three episodes, talking about how do you lead in challenging times. Also, how do you lead remote teams versus when in person? Also, how do you keep the perfect client experience? We have received so much great responses from presumably our small business owner community that have seen the serious utter truths that come, and one of the things is, you know, obviously although we filmed these videos a few months ago it feels like a lot longer, and therefore given where we were then versus where we are now I just wanted to get your thoughts. Leadership in small business ownership is now more important than ever. Wouldn't you agree?

Jon Gordon: I would agree with that 100 percent. Leadership is not just one thing; leadership is everything. And we need great leadership to get through challenging times. Leaders show the way. Leaders find a way. Leaders don't let obstacles get in the way. But we don't just need leadership; we need positive leadership that's able to rally their team towards a brighter and better future so that they can create it together.

And you can see right now the leaders that are doing a great job of leading their teams, their organizations, even at the highest levels of our country, and you can see those who are falling short. So it's all about great leadership right now to lead people through this difficult time.

Oscar Santos: Well Jon, you are a small business owner and our viewers have been wanting to know about how you personally have been handling your own business under these challenging times. Would you mind talking to us a little bit about that? 

Jon Gordon: You know, I'm glad you asked me that, because you have to be able to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and it has been a challenge, though. I want people to know it's been a challenge for me, for my team, my family. When COVID first hit we were shook like a lot of people, and I honestly got a little negative even though my work is all about positivity. And I said to myself, "Is this going to help me create my future? Is this going to help me help others create their future?" 

I knew I needed to turn it around, and so although we've lost a lot of business, we've lost lot of revenue because my job is speaking to companies all around the country and around the world and that's not happening, I knew that I had to continue doing this work, continue to make a difference, continue to find a way to serve and to help others and to do this work. And so although it's hurt our business, at the same time we're still doing our business, we're still surviving. We're getting by. And we're also in many ways though, I have to say, adapting and growing. 

We've added a virtual leadership component to what we do, we've added a coaching program to what we do, so we've adapted, we've innovated, and everything we've created now is something we're actually going to do and use going forward even when physical events come back. So I truly believe we've grown stronger from this, we've gotten better because of this, and we're not wiser because of this. So we really took our own advice and said how can we learn from this, how can we grow from this, and how could we get better? And while we've lost a lot of business – I'm going to be very honest about that – we at the same time did not allow that to bring us down. We kept moving forward knowing that we had to survive, we had to advance, we had to innovate, and on the other side of this we really believe that we're going to thrive because of it.

Oscar Santos: Following up a little bit on that, Jon, we have heard before in a different episode that you're not an optimist by nature, so the question that I must ask is how have you figured out a way to find that path to optimism even in these challenges times?

Jon Gordon: Totally. So I received this great advice from a Navy Seal named Chad Wright. He said, "Jon, a lot of guys don't make it through Hell Week trying to be a Navy Seal because they're longing for it to be over, they're dreaming for it to end. The ones who make it are the ones who want to just make it to breakfast, who just make it to midday, who say, 'I'm just going to make it to breakfast again.' They're focused on the moment. They're focused on winning the day." 

So that became my motto. Like my motto became in today. Like don't worry about tomorrow, Jon. Just win today. Show up. Work hard. Serve others.

Stay positive. Make a difference. Do that every single day. Win today. And if you win today you will create the future. 

I have a good friend who owns a restaurant chain and it's a popular chain. I can't tell you what it is, but he told me that he applied that win today concept after hearing me talk about it to his company. They're at 83 percent of their pre-COVID sales, which is pretty amazing in the restaurant business to be 83 percent of your sales, and they're surviving, they're doing well, but they're focusing on winning today every day, and he said that mindset has been a gamechanger. And that's what I had to do to stay positive every single day.

Oscar Santos: Talk to me now, Jon, a little bit about the people that surround you. Tell me a few words in regards to how they have contributed to your success and the success of your business in these challenging times.

Jon Gordon: Well my wife first and foremost was really supportive, and she was very positive when I found myself at first going negative. So she definitely lifted me up. Having the right team around you is everything. No one creates success alone. We all need a team to be successful. We're better together. 

We would not have had the ability to get through this challenging time without the team I had around me. They really came together and they led in a lot of ways. They formed a group that met every single week, and we invited all of the team members to join us and we got together every week. And to be honest, there was prayer involved every single week and that really brought this team together. We're so much stronger now because of this time.

Oscar Santos: That's great. So Jon, now we have some questions here from our viewers, and the first question that we have is from Matthew Sullivan. Matthew is the CEO of BES Cleaning, and he asks, "Jon, is there a past experience in your career that you look back on as an example for others to look at and believe that they themselves can make it through their own toughest moments?"

Jon Gordon: Definitely. I could share an experience that happened many years ago. I lost my job during the dot com crash. It was the most terrifying time of my life. I didn't know how I was going to pay the bills, no insurance for the kids; it was a really scary time, but it was during that time that my faith was born. 

I also right after that had a restaurant opening. I decided to second mortgage our home, $20,000 in credit cards, to basically open up this restaurant. It was a Moe's Southwest Grill franchise. And so it wasn't going well, didn't know how we were going to survive, but somehow someway we kept promoting the business, we kept showing up, we were breaking even, breaking even the day after that. 

I remember I had my Jerry Maguire moment, where I was like, "Show me the money, God, show me the money," [laughs] because we were really struggling, but we made it through. Like we just made it through with a lot of faith, a lot of hard work, and I'll never forget at that time, it was the most fearful time of my life, but it was also one of the most faithful, one of the most special times because I saw the hard work, I saw the faith, I saw the optimism, I saw the belief, I saw my wife stick together through that time, and we made it through it. And so when I speak about this, when I talk about positive leadership and getting through tough times, I am speaking from experience.

I have lived it. I came out on the other side of it better because of it. So when this hit, when we experienced this time, I was ready for it because I had been through it during the past time. Now when I lost my job during the dot com crash I went very negative, but then with opening a restaurant and finding faith I found a new beginning for my life, I found this career that I'm meant to write and speak, and so I would say everything that happened during that time led me to this time. So I hope that gives people hope because if I can get through it I know that they can too.

Oscar Santos: Great. Thanks so much for that. Jon, another question from a business owner, Louis Jeroslow, and he's a co-owner and winemaker at Elkin Creek Winery, and Louis asks, "Jon, as you know COVID's impact is overwhelming at best. As business owners we have had to reduce our workforce, take on more routine tasks ourselves due to decreased sales. We're exhausted. There's no real end in sight. How do we keep our excitement and engagement through repetitive tasks and long schedule and with little to no breaks for vacation?"

Jon Gordon: There are going to be days that we don't feel very positive; we are tired, we are burned out. That's where we need to bring our purpose to the forefront. We don't get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it. Remember your purpose. Focus on that.

Let that drive your optimism. Let that drive your passion. Yes it's hard, but we will do whatever it takes for our business and for our family, and right now you have to do whatever it takes. You have to work more hours. You have to give more. 

I was doing that with the restaurant that I just talked about. My wife and I, we were flyering neighborhoods, we were flyering movie theaters, we were knocking on doors selling catering. You will do whatever it takes when your family's future is on the line. We had two small children. As I said, we second mortgaged home. 

And looking back, there were no vacations, there were no breaks, and I know that this time is hard, but you do it with a purpose knowing that you will get through this. This too shall pass. This is not forever. It's a difficult season right now. But the seeds we plant today and the hard work we do today will actually produce a harvest in the future, but we just have to make sure that we're planting those seeds every single day, and that will lead to growth. 

So I hope that encourages you along the way. I know it's challenging. I know it's okay to not be okay. We're going to have days where we don't feel okay, but we pick ourselves back up each day with that purpose and that hope for the future, and then we work every day to create it. As I said, this is not just words – I lived it – and right now we have to do the work, but that work will produce success in the future. Know that and believe it.

Oscar Santos: You know, I've heard in the past that when change comes most people are really not that concerned about the change. Many times they understand why the change needs to happen. The part that many struggle with is the fear of losing something created by that change; and therefore, I wanted to ask you and get your thoughts around how do we manage that sense of fear that sometimes is overwhelming and quite honestly paralyzing? And how do we actually go about managing that ourselves?

Jon Gordon: Well it is normal to be afraid. It is normal to feel fear. But great leaders don't lead with fear, they lead with faith, and they understand that their team, their people, their clients are afraid and full of fear, and then they lead them with faith. They inspire them with belief and optimism and faith and hope.

So I kept telling my team and also posting on Twitter, "I'm not buying the doom and gloom. I'm investing in faith, hope, and love." And every time I would post that I would get like thousands of likes and retweets and people seemed to need to hear this message more than ever. Because what do fear and faith have in common? They both believe in a future that hasn't happened yet.

So fear believes in a negative future. Faith believes in a positive future. And if neither has happened yet why wouldn't we choose to believe in the positive future? Why wouldn't we choose to believe that our best days are ahead of us, not behind us? And so as a leader you want to lead with that faith instead of fear, but understanding that people are feeling the fear.

Understand it, empathize, and then lead them to a more positive, hopeful story knowing that it's possible, and that's how we're going to create success. If you're fearful and you get paralyzed by fear you will never be able to create the success that is available to you. But if you have the faith and you have the possibility to create a bright and better future, I truly believe through hard work you will. So it's the faith that keeps us going. It's more important than ever.

We need to lead with it. We need to understand that it's the way we counter the fear that we feel. And also don't forget love too, because love casts out fear. So if you love it you won't fear it. So any time you start to get fearful – I've had to do this – I focus on the love of my clients, the love of the work that I'm doing, the love of my family, and the love of life, right?

There is a risk in living a life. There always is going to be a risk of living life. But when we focus on the love of it it's amazing how fear dissipates. And I'm not talking about, you know, not being smart, I'm not talking about not being cautious – we have to be cautious, we have to be smart – but we should not allow fear to sabotage the life that we were meant to live. And right now those who are faithful, who work hard, they will be the ones who are successful and they'll lead their teams in a more positive way and they'll lead them to more success in the future.

Oscar Santos: So Jon, before we close out any last thoughts? I'm going to turn it over to you to see what you have to share with us.

Jon Gordon: Well I think what we've seen in the country during this time is that we do need to include everyone and bring everyone to the table to be able to have influence, and we have to hear and listen to a diverse group of thought, a diverse group of ways of doing things. We have to be open to the possibilities of improving our country in so many ways. We need to have new thought and new ways of doing things, and the way you do that is by bringing people together. And so I'm really big on inclusion and inclusiveness, where everyone feels like they are a part of the solution.

They are valued. They can contribute to the solution. They are a part of the team. And as a member of the team they get to have a say in what is done and how it's done and they feel valued because of their contribution and also, even more importantly, who they truly are. So inclusiveness is about valuing people, recognizing them, and valuing their contribution and how they can contribute to the team to make it better. So as leaders we need to value everyone, we need to include everyone, and we need to bring everyone to the table to be part of a team to create a successful team.

Oscar Santos: Jon, thank you once again for sharing with us your insights, your expertise with our Truist clients, our small business community during these unbelievably challenging times. Thank you so much once again for joining us on Inspired Business.

Jon Gordon: Thank you for having me. I loved being with you all.

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