Leadership in Uncertain Times with Joe Calloway

We find ourselves in a time of uncertainty. When you don’t know what to do next, you have to develop a strong sense of leadership in uncertain times. You can’t do what you have always done. You have to lead your team through this ordeal. My guest today is Joe Calloway, best selling author, speaker, and advisor to mid-market companies. Joe and I talk about the importance of the foundational elements of leadership, like mission, vision, and values. Leadership in uncertain times requires you to improve communication and deepen your ability to serve. Discover strategies and tactics that will help you be the leader your team craves.

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Joe Calloway: The Transcript

Target Audience: Joe is a Principal in The Disruption Lab, a consulting group that helps companies with innovation strategies, and he has served as Executive In Residence at Belmont University’s Center For Entrepreneurship. Joe is the author of Becoming A Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity And Defy Comparison, which received rave reviews from The New York Times, Retailing Today, Publishers Weekly and many others.


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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Joe Calloway
The idea of being honest and open and transparent. And being really honest, is incredibly important. And you want to keep your employees here and here, engaged and committed and on board. And certainly if you’re in an all hands on deck mode, which a lot of people are right now. Then you’ve just got to be able to express what you don’t know as much as what you do know and how being uncertain helps inform your decision with.

Intro [0:43]
Welcome to grow Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [1:00]
Leadership in uncertain times, you have to think about your leadership quite differently than you did just a month ago. If you’re listening to this today, when we’re going through this ordeal of COVID-19, and Coronavirus, however you refer to it, you know, the things are different. You know that your team deserves a leader that can help them in this uncertain times. It’s unprecedented. I’ve been through many downturns in the market, and it was a little bit more predictable. There was less fear around. But that doesn’t mean you can shy away from this opportunity. You’ve got to step up as a leader. leadership in uncertain times, is more critical now than ever before. I reached into my network and I’ve been pulling experts that I think could really add value to this conversation. Today, our guest is Joe Callaway. He’s a professional speaker for decades, a best selling author. He’s worked as an advisor to mid-market companies for years. We talk about leadership in uncertain times. He recently talked about the power of uncertainty what that means. And trust, uncertainty. That may sound odd to you. But inside this, we will unpack that exact statement. We also talked about how you must shift as a leader to keep yourself grounded, how you must look at your mindset. What are the keys to really moving forward? There’s so much insight in this interview, that I couldn’t even begin to scratch the surface by telling you all the things that we cover my suggestion, tune in.

Gene Hammett [2:36]
Before you jump into the interview, I want to remind you, we have been putting together some training in the back end, really to help you serve and be a better leader. If you want your team to step up in a new way, then come to this webinar. If you want to go to it genehammett.com/webinar, you’ll be able to sign up there’s two different times. But we’re telling you that because I want you to get exactly what you need, so that you can be the leader that your team deserves. So you can develop those leaders so that they can lead to this crisis. When I share with you some of the mistakes that are commonly made, how you can avoid them, and what you can do about it. As you develop the team leaders to really lead through this crisis, go to genehammett.com/webinar. Now here’s the interview with Joe.

Commercial [3:26]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank really excited about sharing this with you. And before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such a exciting time to share with you those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is go to genehammett.com/webinar. So you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episode. When you subscribe to grow think tank you will find exactly What you need so that you can move forward? And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can tune in to the date that means the most.

Gene Hammett [4:08]
Hey, Joe, how are you?

Joe Calloway [4:10]
I’m great, Gene. I’m terrific. How are you doing?

Gene Hammett [4:13]
I am fantastic. I am excited to talk to you today about, you know, this really uncertain time that we’re going through. And I want to give you a chance you wrote a post yesterday, but before we dive into that specific post, about trusting uncertainty, give us a little background on your journey to get to where you are here today.

Joe Calloway [4:33]
Well, the quick version would be that, golly, a very, very long time ago, I actually started doing customized workshops for four different companies. A company would say, well, we need a sales workshop and I would put that together. I was a good synthesizer of information in a good teacher. And that evolved into people saying We need a keynote speaker for our professional association or our company convention or whatever. And so I shifted into doing keynote speeches. And that was the bulk of my business for a very, very long time. Along the way, I’ve written eight books about business and more recently, they’ve been about leadership. And now, I mostly work with senior leadership groups, anywhere from eight people to sometimes it’ll, it’ll be larger, it’ll be more like 25 to 50, but usually fairly senior leadership groups of small to mid-sized companies, and we have conversations about how to get better how to get where they want to go, growth always. And for them, it’s also how to be better leaders. So that’s, I’ve shifted from, from being speechy to having conversations and for me We like it better.

Gene Hammett [6:02]
Well, I still do both. I have really enjoyed, you know, having the podcast, being able to interview some really great leaders. Many of them are unheard of companies are growing fast. You’re working with some great leaders. And we talked about the joy of working with companies that understand the importance of their people to understand the importance of culture, and having a great place for people to show up. Now, I don’t think that’s different in this day, we’re in around this crisis. But I want to give you a chance to go back to that. That article that you posted yesterday about certainty and uncertainty. Yeah. Where did that come from?

Joe Calloway [6:44]
Well, you know, for a long time, a question that I will, I will sometimes ask a group that I’m working with understand this is a room full of leaders. And I’ll say I want to ask you a very, very general question. I’m gonna be putting parameters on it. So just go with your gut reaction. The question is what’s going to happen next? And there’s usually a pause while they well think about that for a second, but one by one, they tend to say, because I usually work with leaders that are really good. They tend to say, I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. And I, and my response is good answer, because that is the answer. And it’s funny a couple of days ago, in a conversation, a friend of mine, who’s actually his business is calculating the odds and providing insurance for for example, a car dealership that has a hole in one contest. The winner gets a million dollars.

Joe Calloway [7:50]
Well, the car dealership doesn’t want anybody to make the hole. So this guy sells insurance that says if anybody gets the Holy One, we’ll pay him $2 million. So he has to calculate odd. So he’s also a professional Gambler, poker player. And he said to me, if I have to choose between somebody that is 100% certain, and somebody that’s uncertain, I’m gonna go with the guy that’s uncertain. And I said, Yeah, me too, because I just, I don’t trust the judgment of anybody that says, I know absolutely what’s going to happen, because it’s exceptionally rare that you can do that. I think with any credibility, so that and for leaders, I think that now certainly more than ever, the idea of being honest and open and transparent. And me being really honest, is incredibly important. And if you want to keep your employees Hear and hear, engaged and committed and on board. And certainly if you’re in an all hands on deck mode, which a lot of people are right now, then you’ve just you’ve got to be able to express what you don’t know, as much as what you do know, and how being uncertain helps inform your decision make.

Commercial [9:27]
Hold on for a second. Joe just talked about the need for transparency and being really honest. Now, I know a lot of leaders that really believe this, and I’ve seen so many leaders that have seen the benefit of transparency, that I’m going to ask you, where could you be more transparent? Where could you trust your people more? Is it the financials, where do you draw the line on transparency, the best run companies, the ones that are really growing really fast value transparency, they push that line to an uncomfortable place, like radical transparency. I share this with you because in this time, this uncertainty that’s going on, people crave information, they crave honesty. You owe your team and they deserve for you to be honest with them. Don’t hold back. Back to Joe.

Gene Hammett [10:19]
And I think there’s there’s a sense of confidence that goes with the people that are ability to say, I don’t know. Yeah. Well, and vulnerability around it because a lot of leaders think they’re supposed to be the expert. But I know that when you when you promote yourself through this, sometimes you get outside your domain of expertise, some technical experts have to lead people in finance.

Joe Calloway [10:46]
I was just watching CNBC. And they were talking about they were talking about leaders and CEOs and on the screen the words came up very few CEOs or healthcare Experts. So for a CEO of the average company to say, Well, here’s what’s going to happen with this, for example, the COVID. Here’s what’s gonna shut out. You don’t know. Yeah. So you have to rely on what the experts truly do say. And, you know, it’s funny, Jean, I remember I felt like a rite of passage, when I got confident enough to be on the phone, for example, with a committee that’s deciding who to hire, and they start talking about something. And when I could say, Well, wait a second, I don’t understand what you guys are talking about. Explain that to me. Instead of pretending like I knew, and it gained me so much credibility to be able to do that.

Gene Hammett [11:48]
And it’s, it really is the only way to work. I mean, it’s, it’s it takes some courage to say that inside meetings when you’re supposed to know the answer, like you’re coming in as the advisor who’s the somewhat expert. Yeah, but For you to pause everything and say let’s zoom out a second. It’s really does take confidence to do that. I want to ask you something, you wrote a book called The leadership mindset. I’m sure there’s some elements in that we could pull out for today’s leader. What comes to mind when you think about the leadership mindset for going through this crisis?

Joe Calloway [12:24]
Okay, what two things pop up immediately one I was just talking about, which is and this is almost a cliche, and I think every leader that’s any good at it, leadership knows this. And it’s what we were just saying about communication and honesty, and openness and transparency. I mean, if ever you need to communicate effectively with your employees with your chain, it’s now and the other thing is we’ll let you know if you paint a scenario of a leadership conversation. I think a leader has to be able to say, based on what I hear from the people who know infinitely more than I know, about, for example, COVID-19. Based on that, it looks like that we should be coming out of this, you know, in three months or whatever. But I don’t know what I do know, though. And what I can promise you is that we’re going to monitor everything, I mean 24 seven, and we will be in regular communication with all of you. And we will be guided by the values that this organization is built on. And see, this is what gives us stability in a time of absolute uncertainty, and a time of outward instability. We go back to our core values, which we all agreed on from the get go. And so that’s what’s gonna guide And I really think that leaders in uncertain times, they go back to a culture, you go back to Who are we? What matters? What’s important? How do we treat each other and everybody, you go back to those things, because that’s what gives you stability in times of instability.

Commercial [14:22]
Hold on for a second. Joe just said, the importance of guiding by values. When you think about leading your team, you want to operationalize the values, you want to live them day in and day out. One of the best tips I can give you around this is something I call honoring the core values. It’s a ritual that you put inside your daily meetings or weekly meetings. It’s where you recognize someone who is demonstrating and leading by the core values of the company. You take one or two minutes out to tell the story or you invite others to tell the story. So it’s called honoring the core values, recognizing who is honoring those core values. share this with you, because I’ve seen how powerful it is for my clients. And I want to give it to you, because of what you have every benefit, you can be the leader that your team wants, and deserves. Back to Joe.

Gene Hammett [15:12]
I call it going back to the foundations.

Joe Calloway [15:14]

Gene Hammett [15:15]
Right. The real core of who we are mission, vision and values. Yep. What are we really here doing? What is it gonna look like when we get there? And then what are those values that keep us around? It’s a big part of my work. And I’m not surprised you won’t be surprised when I say this. When I talk to inc level companies are growing 1,000% a year or 20,000% in a couple of years. They have such a dog Id look at values. It is what makes them and breaks them. They hire by it. They onboard, they lead they develop, they exit all based on values. When you see organization that aren’t really keeping a routine around those values aren’t really operational. lies in them. What are some of the strategies you share or advise them to keep it top and center day in and day out?

Joe Calloway [16:07]
Well, and I think that’s the challenge is to keep it top and center day in and day out. That’s the part that a lot of people have trouble wrapping their heads around. remember years ago, and this was just one example of many, I was talking to a bank CEO. We were talking about values. And he said, he said, Yeah, everybody, every employee has a card with our key values printed on it. And at our all employee meeting once a year, if they’ve got that card with them, we give them a silver dollar. That’s pretty cool, huh? And I always get up in front of them and put our values on the screen and talk about it. And I think I mean, I was, I wasn’t rude, but I was thinking, do you really once a year.

Joe Calloway [16:52]
Wow, that’s man, that’s pretty powerful. Once a year. I’ve got I’ve got a friend that runs A really successful landscape company out of Dayton, Ohio Mardi Gras under and Marty’s put it this way. He said, If your employees don’t make fun of you for saying the same stuff all the time, then you’re not being an effective leader. Yeah, what he meant by make fun of you, not in a disrespectful way. But you know, when you get up in front of your people are what’s Jean going to talk about today? Well, Jean is going to talk about some new stuff. He always does. But he’s also going to talk about these five things, cuz he always does. Yeah. And, And to me, that’s a big part of the leaders responsibility is you. I interviewed for my book becoming a category one. Tractor Supply Company has been probably my oldest client, crazy, successful retail company. And I asked Joe Scarlet one time, who will at the time was I said, How do you get such a guy and he said, you know, we just talked about stuff all the time. And I think that’s true. That’s a thread see through every effective leader. They talk about that stuff all the time.

Gene Hammett [18:11]
I want to switch gears just a little bit, Joe and talk about what leaders could be doing right now to keep them grounded. Keep them calm. I had a great conversation with one of my leaders I’ve been working with for about eight months. And I said, What are you focused on right now? He goes, I just keep thinking about this phrase. He goes, I don’t know where I got it. And I couldn’t I can’t attribute it to anyone. But he said, calm minds prevail. So that was his kind of mantra behind this and he knew that his need for being calm was even more important now than ever. His ability to transfer that to the team was more important than ever. What are the things that you are seeing that leaders CEOs are doing to make sure they’re grounded and moving forward just lockstep day in and day out?

Joe Calloway [18:59]
Well, I think A big part of it is for them to understand the importance of, of their being grounded and demonstrated that groundedness I was talking to he, he’s not a brand new CEO. He’s been for about two years, the CEO of a Klansman and he said, times like this make me wish I were a little more like my predecessor, who was so inspirational and motivational. He said, I’m an operations guy, and I’m just gonna, Ms said, Do you get it how perfect you are for right now? Because you’re so solid. And you’re so reassuring, in always been as factual as you can be, even in the midst of uncertainty. And I think, you know, for some of the some of the leaders that I’m working with right now, and I know this is my mantra, is I wake up every day and what I’m thinking is how can I help In a lot of the best leaders right now are thinking in terms of, we’ve really turned a focus on our clients on our customers.

Joe Calloway [20:12]
What can we do as an organization to help them be more effective with their customers? And just to create that kind of energy, in which you, you end the day thinking I was useful today. Our company was useful today. I think that can be a big part of staying grounded too. But somebody asked me, he said, How do you stay through comb through something so complex, something like this? I said, because I’ve been around the track so many times. And I’ve seen the end of the world so many times and always come through it, that you think this is awful, and we’re gonna come through it. That’s where experience is a great help.

Gene Hammett [20:58]
Absolutely. I want to give you a chance to to talk about maybe to some new ideas or maybe new approaches to getting business. I know you wrote the category one, you’ve been on my podcast leaders in the trenches years ago to talk about that book. And it really is a powerful way to look at any place in business, if you are that category of one. What would you talk to these leaders about doing that inside their market? I know you gave some good examples of what speakers can do. Just in general, what would business owners be thinking about how they really can be different right now?

Joe Calloway [21:35]
I think right now the key for me, and part of it genius, because this has always worked for me. And I’ve always said that, if I could choose one differentiator in a purely competitive context, it would be this let me know more. Let me understand truly understand more about the customer than everybody else. Way more often than not, I’m going to win. And I think boy, particularly now to, to be able to go to your customers. And to go beyond saying in these in these current difficulties, we’re here to help, but to go to them with an idea, or a service or a product and say, Hey, Matt, read on what’s going on with you guys, is that this could really be helpful to you right now.

Joe Calloway [22:38]
Because I think one of the most powerful things that a customer can say about you is, is to say we do business with a lot of different people, but Gene gets us. Everybody else is really an expert at what they do genes an expert in understanding where we’re going, and it helping us get there and also If we get a CEO told me one time, he said, You’re the only vendor of your category that sits in my office and talks to me. And the reason is you get us. That was a huge lesson to me. And so I would go with that right now. Do some really deep dives with your customers. Although, see, I think you should do that all the time all along, just as a way of doing business and understand what is it specifically that they are up against right now? And how can you build?

Gene Hammett [23:37]
A little secret here behind one reason why I have a podcast is so that I can always tune in to what leaders are doing. My ideal clients are listening today, but I’m talking to 10 a week or sometimes 12 or more, every week about what’s going on in the organization, how they think about sales, marketing, leadership culture, and it’s given me a leg up because I can confidently say from a category one, I’ve had more interviews with Inc 5000 level leaders than anyone I know.

Joe Calloway [24:07]

Gene Hammett [24:07]
And I’m a stay true to that, because I really love this market. I want to give you one last chance what is the parting words for those leading through this difficult time to really lead a team and develop the next class of leaders?

Joe Calloway [24:26]
I go Gene, honestly, I would go back to what we were both saying earlier, which is go to your foundation. And understand that that is what’s going to get you through this. And of course, there’s all sorts of strategic and tactical challenges right now. And you figure you know, there’s an old metaphor that I love. It’s been around forever, but it says that you could drive from Maine to San Diego, you could drive all across the country. Totally. Night in pitch black darkness. And all you have to see is 200 feet in front of you at a time. And you can get across the whole country that way. As long as your headlights are Shannon at 200 feet, you can make it. So stick with your values, lean into those values, bring your people in on those values. And now more than ever, remember what your foundation is, and then take it 200 feet at a time. You’ll get through it and you’ll be fine. And I don’t mean that as rah pep talk. I mean that’s the way it works.

Gene Hammett [25:34]
I think there’s some benefit to win when you’re uncertain, is looking for the areas where you can take steps forward instead of letting it paralyze you. It’s really just keep moving, get keep the team moving. Let’s just keep taking steps every day. One time you’ll realize how far you’ve been. And I do believe I’m having a lot of conversations with founders that this is opportunity there. They are looking for four places to better serve smaller companies. I talked to a client today that’s serving a farmer who normally sells at markets. His crop is coming, starting to produce. And he’s like, I know, the markets are closed.

Joe Calloway [26:16]

Gene Hammett [26:17]
So this farmer who’s never moved into e commerce is building baskets of food that they can deliver to homes. Yeah, I bet you would take this take up on this deal. $40 we’ll deliver you fresh fruits every week. And vegetables. You’d sign up when you?

Joe Calloway [26:34]
Listen, we subscribe at our farmers market. And that’s it. We don’t know what we’re going to get every week. But right now, of course, it’s not the season we’re they’re working right now where they’re delivering but it could this could very well extend into that season. And they’ve very well made me delivered it. And I love it.

Gene Hammett [26:55]
Yep. So there’s opportunity even the small players big biggest some of the biggest company knees were were developed out of the creativity and innovation caused by downturns like this.

Joe Calloway [27:07]
A guy used to work for him to have a little plaque on his desk. And we would come in and say, This is a disaster, this deals falling apart, this isn’t working. And he would point to it. And all it said was, there is another way of looking at this. There always was, yeah, and so that’s where you have to be creative. And I love that’s become one of my mantras. There’s another there’s another way of looking at this. And by the way to to go back and give a yummy to to what you said, taking action is so empowering. Keeping that forward movement going. I’m telling you, that may be the most empowering thing you can do with your team, rely on your foundation, and keep movement going. Because that’s just gonna lead the effects of that are so, so powerful and so positive.

Gene Hammett [27:58]
I love it. Well, Joe, thanks for being here on the podcast, sharing your wisdom sharing your insight. I couldn’t ask for a better conversation.

Joe Calloway [28:06]
Thank you for having me, dude.

Gene Hammett [28:09]
I love what I do, I get a chance to reach out to people I admire who have insight who’ve been around for decades, I get to pull out of them things that will help you be a better leader, grow your team, and really lead through this uncertain times. When you think about your own leadership, you have to continue to evolve. And this is forcing you to evolve right now. I want to serve you in any way I can. I want to help you become the leader that your team deserves. If you want to get our free training, make sure you go to genehammett.com/webinar, where we talk about the five mistakes that leaders are making when they try to develop the next class of leaders.

Gene Hammett [28:49]
Make sure you tune in just go to genehammett.com/webinar. Inside today’s episode, we talked about a lot of things and I want to make sure that I’m available to you if you want to join for some weekly conversations around leadership and about really getting the support you need, and this is not a chance for me to sell you, but it’s about being a part of a community. All of the people listening to this episode are leaders, founders, CEOs of fast growing companies just like yourself. I’m putting that list together. If you want to be a part of it, just reach out to me give me an email [email protected]. I’d love to include you in where we can call it. Absolutely free to you. Just make sure you email me, [email protected] as always leave with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


GTT Featuring Joe Calloway



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