Randy Cantrell, founder of Bula Network, LLC serves entrepreneurs, executives, and leaders. He serves owners and founders through peer advantage, leveraging connection & collaboration for improved performance. The work focuses on hitting the trifecta of successful business building (the three activities of successful business building): 1) getting new customers, 2) serving existing customers better and 3) not going crazy in the process. He also serves local city governments.
I’m Not The Sharpest Knife In The Drawer, But I Am A Knife (The Power Of Curiosity) – Season 2020, Episode 28
When it comes to understanding people and situations I’ve not found anything more powerful than curiosity.
Curiosity drives understanding.
When our curiosity is low, our quest to understand is low, too.
How do we know?
We stop asking questions. Mostly because we either lack curiosity, we don’t care or we think we know enough already. Or any combination of those things.
I’ve told you before how limited my super-powers are, but I do have a few. The other day I’m having this conversation with a CEO about business. He’s telling me about his background and how he came to be where he is, both in business and life. He asks me about my background and I explain to him how I’m like so many of my generation who stumbled into things, made the most of it and it sorta worked out. I told him I wasn’t like the rare friends I had who grew up always wanting to “be” something specific. Or like those people who have many talents from which to pick. When your talents are somewhat limited life can get easier I suppose. You either soar with your strengths (as Donald O. Clifton evangelized, he of what once was “Clifton’s Strengthfinder” fame), or you don’t. The key is knowing your strength of course. Again, easier to do when there are so few of them. Harder to do when you have to pick among the many you may have.
At which point I made the remark that serves as today’s title. And he laughed. But it’s not merely a funny line. It’s completely true and we went on to discuss how asking questions is the only way to satisfy our curiosity. But also how afraid we often are to ask the questions – especially the ones that are most obvious to us at the moment.
Here’s some context for you, regarding the title.
The subject was the power of questions. And curiosity.
But the real subject was (and is) UNDERSTANDING.
Umpteen years ago I concluded that “the quality of our questions determines the quality of our business.” Whether it was a customer interaction, a vendor decision, a contract negotiation…questions seemed to be a great barometer of whether or not I was on track as a business leader. Any time I took a shortcut thinking I knew enough BEFORE asking more questions, I almost always lost. That’s why I made up my mind that after I had asked the obvious questions (those I felt were obvious), then I’d search for the not-so-obvious ones. I adopted the “Columbo Rule” of asking one more question after I felt I had exhausted all the questions.
Over the years I learned that the thing always getting my way was ME. My arrogance. My ego. My pride. That’s what would prevent me from getting the understanding I most needed to make better decisions and to behave better.
When that epiphany hit me it almost didn’t make sense. Only because of one thing – I had always embraced my naivete. I was the person unafraid of asking the stupid question. I was the person in the conversation circle when somebody would ask if you knew somebody, or if you’d seen some movie — who would say (if it were true), “No, I have no idea.” Rarely would I feign understanding. I’ve always been pretty shameless at avoiding pretense for the sake of understanding. Hence, the statement I made to the CEO which kinda-sorta serves as today’s show title: “I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but at least I know I’m a knife…and not a fork.”
My being a knife is my strong desire and curiosity to understand.
Coaching executives and leaders involves me asking lots of questions. Not interrogating them, but in seeking to better understand what’s going on with them, and to figure out how they’re operating. Sometimes I’m trying to understand what they’re feeling whenever they̵...
If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing It Well – Season 2020, Episode 27
Business folks know the old maxim, “If you don’t have time to do it right, then when will you have time to do it over?”
Experience has proven how true it is. Still, it’s often harder to figure out how to do it right the first time. Sometimes we don’t know how to do it right. Maybe because we lack information. Maybe because we don’t see things clearly. Maybe because we lack what we need. There are many reasons why our efforts to get it right fail.
Recently, I’ve encountered a number of situations where organizations are challenged by their own agendas. For example, there’s a gated community operated by a property owners’ association which is a private, tax-exempt property owners association headed by a general manager, hired by a board of directors who are tasked with serving the needs of the citizens. Well, some years ago the board voted to outsource the management of the gates resulting in security concerns for many citizens. It seems the outsourcing company used nominally trained and compensated employees to man the gates, resulting in a haphazard strictness the citizens of the community wanted. Without a vested interest in the situation, I engaged in a conversation some time back about it with a person who is very vested in it. During that conversation, I made a statement that serves as today’s show title. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing it well.”
I don’t care if the community is gated or not, but if it’s going to gated, I asked my conversation buddy, “then isn’t it worth doing well?” Else, why do it at all? Ditch the whole notion of gates if you don’t want to do it well.
Given enough time it can become blindingly obvious where the canary in the coal mine may be. That is…the thing that seems to indicate where problems reside. If the canary in the coal mine is dying, then the oxygen supply is dangerously low, or non-existent. Keep your eye on the canary and you can improve your odds of staying safe – at least so far as having enough air to breathe is concerned. We can do the same thing with our organizations, teams, and groups. It can be a gated community, a city government, a corporation, a civic group, or a marketing team.
Thousands of podcast episodes are released daily. Who knows how many books are published daily? Or how many articles are posted? And then there’s video content. More hours than any human could possibly watch in a single lifetime. We’re busy reading, watching, and listening to something new. Lifelong learning is an attribute of high achievers…but it’s also an attribute of bored, curious or slothful folks, too. Sometimes we all can find our way into any of those categories. It’s why there’s great truth in the statement, “After all is said and done, more is said than done.”
Doing stuff is hard. Doing it well seems even harder.
Perhaps the most famous quote of Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher is…
“We have a strategic plan — it’s called doing things.”
Herb omitted one other important point. Southwest Airlines has historically been committed to doing things well. Not everybody is.
Let’s start with whatever decision has already been made. We can second-guess it 8 ways to Sunday, but we’ll save that discussion for another time. Right now, I’d like you to think about a decision that’s been made – like the decision to have a gated community. Right, wrong or indifferent…who cares? The decision is made, “We’re going to have a gated community.”
Now, armed with that decision our next question is, “How will we manage that?”
Nobody is going to pipe up and say, “Poorly. Let’s do it poorly.” But it happens.
The Questions That Make All The Difference In Your Leadership (and your life) – Season 2020, Episode 26
Today’s show is about two areas where we exercise our point of view and four questions that can make all the difference in our lives and our leadership.
First off, you should know I don’t fancy myself as a thought leader. I abhor that title, especially when people ascribe it to themselves. Even on my About page I say I often struggle to lead my own thoughts so I don’t really want the burden of trying to lead yours. However, I do very much want to help you figure out how you can learn, grow and improve your life and leadership. That’s always the objective. So let’s see if we can accomplish that today. Let’s see if we can do that every day!
How we see the world and our place in it – these are important for every person because they determine our choices and actions. Convictions. Character. Beliefs. Thoughts. Feelings. Those are all wrapped up in how we see the world and our place in it. But those don’t specifically speak to the two areas where we exercise our point of view.
The main ingredient for today’s podcast is our self-awareness. All of us prefer to think our self-awareness is spot on. We may tend to overestimate how accurately we see ourselves. We think we’re always right, even though we may be wrong. Why would any of us intentionally hold a wrong thought or belief or feeling? Well, it’s not because we know it’s wrong. It’s because we incorrectly believe we’re correct.
Self-awareness can also influence how we see others. We don’t often view others without thinking about how we’re impacted by our feelings or thoughts about them. That’s why all those gaps in our knowledge about others get filled in with assumptions. Our assumptions likely have more to do with us than we’d like to admit. Our assumptions can lean toward being more wrong than right as we craft stories that fit with what we most want to think is true.
The first viewpoint isn’t measured in rightness or wrongness. It’s like somebody asking you, “What’s your favorite flavor of milkshake?” You say, “Chocolate.” They say, “Well, that’s not right!” You like what you like. We prefer what we prefer. It’s our viewpoint and it has no accuracy component. It only hinges on whether or not we’re telling the truth. I suppose somebody could gift you a vanilla shake and ask, “Is vanilla your favorite?” – to which you might politely answer, “Yes. Thank you.” But really, chocolate is your favorite.
We like what we like. We prefer what we prefer. It’s neither right nor wrong. It’s our view of the world. It’s our view of ourselves.
There is at least one area where this can be problematic. In my coaching sessions, it’s common for people to have self-limiting beliefs or viewpoints. A person may aspire to a higher position of leadership in an organization, but they struggle to see themselves as worthy of such an opportunity. Having never been in such a spot they wrongly think their inexperience at having held such a position before disqualifies them, never stopping to realize that everybody in that top spot had a first! These viewpoints aren’t preferences though. And rather than judging it as right or wrong, I prefer to judge it differently.
I’m fond of questions to help us gain clarity. Experience has taught me there’s a big challenge to questions though. That is, taking the time and effort to answer them. It’s particularly noticeable whenever we’re considering worst-case-scenarios. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” We all ask it. Fewer take the time to answer it truthfully.
But today I’ve got four questions which are really just different aspects of the same question.
Is it constructive?
Is it destructive?
Triage & Post-Mortem Your Actions – Season 2020, Episode 25
Robert woke up around 5:30 in the morning, more tired than when he went to bed. Back in mid-March, his company was outpacing their projections so significantly his team was wondering how they had failed to more accurately project revenues and profits. At the time, back in the fall of 2019, Robert’s team was skittish about being too aggressive with their 12% revenue increase projections. As the end of Q1 approached – along with the pandemic – sales were almost 20% higher. Like most teams experiencing grand success, they just accepted it and were thankful.
By March 18, 2020 life began to change. Dramatically.
Robert’s banker made sure the company got all the federal funds possible. Thankfully, they qualified for a significant loan, which was easily converted to a forgivable “grant” as Robert used almost all the money to keep staff on the payroll. At the time, Robert was hopeful the money would be enough to help him ride out the pandemic storm. But it wasn’t.
During those days he assembled his leadership team on Zoom calls trying to wrestle to the ground strategies that would help them hang on. In the span of about 90 days they went from feeling stupid because they had so grossly under-estimated sales projections…now, here they were talking about how to manage cash flow so they could just survive. Robert admitted, “Somedays, it was just too much of a swing. My mind couldn’t seem to handle it.”
The employees have been prominent in Robert’s mind. He’s got talent that has been with him for years. Some that’s quite specialized. All of it, to hear him, are loyal. It was crushing for Robert to even entertain conversations about how impossible it was going to be to keep the payroll fully intact. Harder still when he had to personally inform people that the company could no longer retain them. For Robert, it was especially painful to do such a thing by way of a video call rather than in person. “That’s as bad it gets,” said Robert. “You lose people who have done great work for a long time and you can’t even show them the respect to do it in person.”
Like many, Robert experienced death by a thousand cuts as he tried every day to figure out ways to avoid the inevitable. At every step he and his leadership team – who were all the first to forego pay so they could try to hang onto as many employees as possible – were pre-thinking every possible scenario and he’ll tell how they were “second-guessing every single thing we do.”
Triage is mostly a medical term. It refers to the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties. I’ve used it for years to refer to a management team’s assessment of the present circumstances in order to decide the priorities. It’s the ability of leadership to accurately figure out what course of action should happen next!
Robert and his team were putting in the hard work to triage their situation. But this was and is an unparalleled time. There’s no precedent upon which to draw. Robert’s vast experience seemed inadequate.
Like most business owners Robert made some personal decisions early on. Each based on how he personally felt he had to react. He remained true to himself by erring on the side of gratitude toward his staff. That’s why he decided to stave off parting ways with people as long as possible. Meanwhile, I know other owners who operated quite differently. Being true to themselves, some had little to no compunction about parting ways with anybody. I’m not judging it. Some owners view their staff as invaluable to the success of the enterprise. Others view them as more disposable. Robert held the former viewpoint.
This is important because we love to think that every decision is pur...
Humility Is The Path Forward – Season 2020, Episode 24
Admittedly, humility is a trite topic when we’re talking about leadership. It gets lots of lip service, but less practice. Humility sounds wonderful as a characteristic, but many people disbelieve it has real power. And real power is largely what folks clamor to obtain. Those who have it can be desperate to hang onto it.
Making decisions. That’s the name of the game. We want power, control, and authority. We want to make the decision and issue orders. There’s no place for humility when that’s the objective. So we may think.
Let me tell you what prompted today’s show.
Before the pandemic shut us all down I was engaged with a number of groups about making a leadership presentation. They had similar desires – growing and developing leadership that could propel them forward. Each group had so-called leaders, but each group felt leadership was largely ineffective.
At the heart of the conversations about how I might be able to help them was culture, a term I insisted we talk about it. Specifically, I wanted to hear their own description of the culture – the environment, the feelings, the opinions of the group members.
Here are some of the words and phrases used to describe the cultures. Keep in mind, this is how THEY described themselves – their own culture.
“Participation is sparse.”
“Some are always chasing the spotlight for attention and power.”
“Most of us don’t speak up. Ever.”
“We’re told our opinions matters, but nobody listens so most of the time we just keep quiet.”
“We’re told what to do. Nobody ever asks us anything.”
“Decisions come down without any discussion.”
“You can’t have a conversation because it feels like people have their mind made up.”
Sound’s inviting, huh?
Sadly, it describes too many groups and teams. Long ago I figured out that leadership challenges largely stem from how people view authority. And how badly some seek authority.
In my coaching practice, I’m blessed because I always – 100% of the time – am commissioned to work with high achievers and performers. I don’t do remedial work. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just not my calling. By the time I was 25 I learned I wasn’t a zero to 60 guy, but instead was a 60 to 240 guy. That is, I’m innately focused on taking an existing performance and finding paths forward to even higher performance. It was true in the businesses I operated and it’s been true in the teams I’ve assembled, and now in the people I coach. For me, the biggest question is, “How much better can it be?”
I say that because it’s rare for me to encounter a client with a poor view of authority. My clients all lean very heavily into recognizing their responsibility and are very intent on upping their game. Along the way, we almost always engage in conversations about lessons learned from the bad bosses they had along the way. Invariably we have a discussion about authority and why some people see it as decision-making rather than service. It’s at the heart of many leadership challenges because too many bosses lack the humility to lead.
My focus on leadership humility centers on curiosity, compassion, and understanding. These are the path forward for all leaders, even those who are already high achievers and high performers. We can all improve our abilities in these 3 areas.
The reason I focus on this triad of traits is because humility fosters these and lack of humility erodes them. The real focal point of humility? Others. When it’s not about others it’s about us, but not in a selfish way. It’s about our willingness to question ourselves. It’s about our commitment to our own learning,
The Destructive Power Of Restlessness – Season 2020, Episode 23
Since I wasn’t alive during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, this is my first pandemic experience. But I have experienced disruption. My working life really began during major disruption in the 1970s because of the oil crisis. Thankfully, I was a teen and didn’t know any better (or different). From then until now I’ve encountered numerous downturns that weren’t gentle slopes, but more like rock slides. Maybe that has something to do with how I approach market disruptions. Mostly, I don’t get too preoccupied with them because they’re so much bigger than me.
I don’t remember ever feeling dispair. Uncertainty? Of course, but maybe because I started out as a high-schooler when the economy was awful…I just don’t pay much attention to it. I certainly don’t claim to have some special mental toughness or special gift. Experience and perspective must be the reason.
There is a game that is played far above my level. Sports stopped during the pandemic, but the game of business ramped up to super-major-league levels. Unfortunately, the play happens out of sight of the public. We’re only able to see the score when the game is finished. The winners are business people able to leverage the restlessness of others to their advantage. It’s among the reasons why some companies experience exponential growth during tough times. It’s why others are able to acquire valuable assets at greatly reduced investments. And it’s why others fail and fall off the game board giving increased opportunities to the competition.
Restlessness in markets has an upside if you’re able to take advantage.
Restlessness also has a powerful destructive force in our professional and personal lives. And in our organizations. This is why we have to be more keenly aware of it and work to manage it in our lives and in the lives of the people we serve.
Today I just want to focus on one big element that makes restlessness destructive and see if we can help leverage it, instead, to serve us positively.
Restlessness kills curiosity because we grow increasingly impatient.
This pandemic is an ideal manifestation of it. People are anxious and exhausted. The polarization of opinions is growing. All because we’re restless with the situation. We just want to get past it. Never mind a deeper understanding. Out goes whatever curiosity we may naturally have. And if we lacked curiosity before the restlessness set in, then we’ve ditched it all together now.
The formula is ridiculously simple: curiosity prompts the quest to truly understand, which in turn drives our understanding. Greater understanding arms us with better data from which to make a decision resulting in improved actions, assuming we can execute as we want.
It starts with curiosity, which requires patience. Insert the pressure of “no time” or the perception that we have no time and patience goes down (or away). There goes curiosity.
During this pandemic, I’ve actually heard a phrase uttered by folks who ought to know better. “My mind’s made up.” Translation: I don’t care what you or anybody else says. I already know what I want to do. I don’t have time for any input or insights.
It’s a recipe for a fatal decision. I’m not saying that’s guaranteed, but we dramatically improve our odds of making a very poor and costly decision.
The destruction caused by our unmanaged restlessness goes deeper though. It erodes our relationships. When we lose our curiosity we lose interest in others. We stop caring what they think or how they feel. Selfishness grows. We know what we know and we arrogantly think we know best. Maybe we do. Maybe we don’t. But our restlessness propels our ego forward while shoving other people aside.
How many “smartest guy in the room” people do you know...
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Great business wisdom!
Randy has a lot of business experience, and shares his wisdom effectively through this podcast. There is a _ton_ of content here; looking forward to working my way through these episodes.
Just starting listening only had 2 episodes but seems to be good information in a pleasant format.