The Infinite Game Of Leadership: Thoughts On The 2019 EntreLeadership Summit
Forming and leading a business is an evolution. This year’s EntreLeadership Summit made that very apparent. It starts with bringing your idea into reality, followed by the discipline to navigate through storms, and the courage to guide your vision. This enables your business to flourish beyond your wildest dreams. This progression seems obvious, but the details get bogged down with day to day operations.
Black Tie attends a few conferences every year to recenter, pull ourselves out of our business, and look back in with a fresh perspective. This year, I had the distinct pleasure of attending Dave Ramsey’s 2019 EntreLeadership Summit in San Diego, California. The conference brought together some of the most innovative and successful entrepreneurs of our generation. Their goal is to help breathe life into American businesses by inspiring CEOs to lead with clarity, strength, and support. Hearing from industry titans like Dave Ramsey, Simon Sinek, Dr. Henry Cloud, Carey Lohrenz, and Ken Coleman was an eye-opening experience that will continue to help guide the trajectory of our agency.
Righting The Ship
The EntreLeadership Summits have been the most impactful events we’ve ever attended. In 2017, Simon Sinek taught us the importance of Why in his book, “Start With Why,” and it dramatically changed our business. We found our why and decided to stop what we were doing – providing a la carte marketing services – and created our Branding DNA Process. The changes brought us closer to our existing clients and attracted businesses we wanted to work with. It was an amazing transformation, but it didn’t happen overnight. When you overhaul your way of business, you also need to make sure your team is up for the challenge. Thankfully, the 2017 Summit helped us with that too.
Any business owner knows good help is hard to find. After trial and error, we radically transformed our hiring process. We defined our why, core values, and mission, and we’re now able to weed out candidates that are unable to serve our customers with our level of excellence. It’s also attracted candidates that WANT to work with us, which has been a game changer for our portfolio. When you don’t settle, the cream of the crop comes to you. As Dave Ramsey says, “Thoroughbreds don’t run with donkeys.”
We’ve been working hard at becoming the agency my business partner and I dreamed of so many years ago. We knew that our agency would greatly benefit from attending the Summit in 2019, we just didn’t realize how significant these four days would be for our agency moving forward.
Business Is The Infinite Game
“Start With Why” radically changed our company several years ago. It helped us evolve into who we are and what we stand for today. By defining our why, we’ve been able to better serve our clients and ourselves. We’ve attracted clients that believe what we believe. At the 2019 Summit, Sinek introduced the topic of his new book, “The Infinite Game.” This concept hit home. Hard.
“Success isn’t a series of finite games. Success is one infinite game.” – Simon Sinek
The idea is that most business owners think of business as a game that’s won and lost. We fight to beat the competition, to win business, and to end up as champions. However, business is not a finite game, there are no winners and no losers, just players. Worst of all, there are no rules. This idea was extremely impactful for me.
Many times in Black Tie history, we’ve attempted to compete with other agencies we viewed as competition. We won trophies and awards, yet weren’t winning the big proposals we desired. We’ve stepped out of our wheelhouse to win projects and clients over and failed miserably. We realized later that our most satisfied clients were the ones that trusted OUR processes, rules, and standards.
“We were schooled on The Infinite Game without even realizing it.” – Scott Brazdo
So often we think about business in terms of a finite game and expect everyone to play by our rules. After running a business for nearly a decade, it becomes obvious that everyone has their own set of rules they play by. The EntreLeadership Summit taught me to accept that there is no “game” to win, only to be honored to play year after year. The goal is to not beat your competition but to outlast your competition.
There Are No Set Rules In Business
When we realized that we were doing well by being ourselves, we changed our business. We used our mission statement, core values, and our why to make our own rules. With this same mentality, we build our team, processes, culture, and client base. We realized we were not like our competition, and we never should be. The concept of The Infinite Game gave us the words to discuss our struggles and create an actionable game plan. Now, we can finally let go of the past and navigate into the future.
Prepare, Perform, And Prevail From Your Current Crisis
What happens after you start playing by your own rules? You’ve got to make sure they are working for you. Carey Lohrenz, the first-ever female F-14 Tomcat pilot, was so inspiring in her approach to crisis management. As a woman who knew her potential was greater than the system, she taught us how to test the limits, question the rules, and navigate through tricky situations, like the Fearless Leader she is.
While we rarely deal in life or death situations, like landing a jet onto an aircraft carrier in rough seas, we often run into situations that feel beyond our control. We’ve learned that staying composed in stressful situations can make or break a business. Lohrenz’s advice for crisis situations reminds us that if you’ve prepared and performed, you can prevail. She handles crisis situations in these three steps:
- Aviate – Handle your business and point your efforts in the direction of success.
- Navigate – Decide where you need to go to meet with success.
- Communicate – Tell your team how they can help you survive, adjust, and succeed.
Taking the stress out of a business situation on your own can be extremely complicated. However, business is all about working as a team. There is no way Steve, nor I can do this alone. We all need each other to harmoniously build a sustainable, enduring business. Lohrenz inspired us to take a step back and see how our team works together to solve problems. Improving communications at our agency will be a key factor moving forward. Creating processes that communicate every project, start to finish, with every department is being built and worked out as we speak. As we aviate, navigate, and communicate, we will become a stronger team that can provide robust and resilient services to our clients.
“Fearless leaders recognize that failures will occur and that the real enemy is not failure but fear of failure.” – Carey Lohrenz
Trimming The Fat
Going to a conference like the EntreLeadership Summit provides an opportunity to learn from entrepreneurs who have been through the wringer. Dr. Henry Cloud says often in business, you get caught up competing with other businesses. If you’re not strong in your mission and vision, these items can become skewed over time. Adding products and services that don’t align with your why will spread your team thin and result in confusion, frustration, and failure. It comes back to the vision of your company. Who do you want to be, and what are you cultivating your team to do to reach your vision?
“Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on… With the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their abilities should afford them.” – Dr. Henry Cloud
I’m not saying that learning or offering new services isn’t in your best interest, but adding them just to check a box, or to say you do it too, can be detrimental to your team. Going to these conferences gives us the opportunity to look back and see where we aren’t doing excellent work, and reveals what is causing the downfall of our efficiency. Do we need to be providing all the services we offer? More importantly, we learned to ask the question, “Will today’s task fit into tomorrow’s vision?” If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
Building Your Company From Your Team Out
You’re not supposed to be the boss you were when you started your business. It’s inevitable, as your business grows, you’re forever changing. Dave Ramsey reminded me that a leader needs to be passionate and understand that change is constant. A leader also needs to be cognizant that they may not possess all the answers. They must know that if they build a vessel that empowers their team to brave the most violent storms, they will come out stronger, more experienced, and ready for the next squall.
It’s extremely important to understand that YOU, as your business’s leader, are the limiting factor of your team and your business’s success. If you lose your way, your business does too. You need to make sure that you’re picking the right people to work WITH you, not FOR you, to achieve your business’s biggest dreams.
Another concept brought to the table that has caused us to pause is Ken Coleman’s book on The Proximity Principle. The Proximity Principle is that you are the average of the five people you’re closest with. Be aware that this includes your team members and your clients. Do they build you up or weigh you down? This is crucial in thinking about your business because your clients can sometimes hold you back. Yes, client retention is important, but knowing when to say “enough is enough,” can have a major impact on the future of your business. Sometimes breaking up is hard to do, but in order to make your business dreams a reality, it’s essential to cut ties with clients that no longer serve your highest goals.
“People plus places equal opportunity” – Ken Coleman
My Takeaways From The 2019 EntreLeadership Summit
Running a business is an infinite game. Year after year, the EntreLeadership Summit has proven to be invaluable for my agency. It gives me time to reflect and learn from CEOs who have gone through ebbs and flows. Realizing that you need to take a step back and evaluate your business is crucial. These conferences show us that we need to be malleable in our philosophies, realize when we veer off our intended path, and reevaluate if it serves our why. There are no rules in business except the ones you make for yourself. Trust your passion, your processes, and your people.
If you’d like to attend the 2020 EntreLeadership Summit, it will be at the Gaylord Palms, right here in sunny Orlando, Florida. It’s expensive, but I promise you, the value you will get out of it will far exceed the money you pay. Try and prove me wrong.