Leadership can be difficult and even unnatural at times. The ups and downs come fast at you. One crucial factor in handling all of this is being a humble leader. It takes a dose of patience for sure to be a humble leader. Today’s guest is Shaun Sexton, Founder at Skynet Innovations. Inc Magazine ranked his company #1742 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Skynet Innovations is an information technology consulting firm of IT professionals with over ten years of skilled technical experience in personalized support and services. Shaun shares why being a humble leader matters to company growth. We look at what often gets in the way of humility. Discover how you can connect to the principles of being a humble leader in this interview.
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Shaun Sexton: The Transcript
About: Shaun’s relentless focus on company culture and employee professional growth has caught the attention of clients, team members, and notable media outlets. It’s also one of the reasons Skynet Innovations became a founding member of blueAlliance IT. Shaun recognized that the “Power of Alliance” was the future of Skynet Innovations for its ability to advance employee growth and deepen client engagement. He has led his Cincinnati-based firm for more than 12 years, and Skynet became one of Ohio’s fastest-growing tech firms and has twice been recognized on the Business Courier’s Fast 55 list for achieving triple-digit revenue growth as a privately held company. His focus on culture resulted in an impressive 99 percent client retention rate, while his values and philosophy also were foundational to talent attraction and retention. Inc. Magazine featured Shaun in an article about customer retention and culture, and his efforts also resulted in numerous additional accolades, including ChannelE2E Top 100 Vertical Market MSP; No. 69 on Channel Futures Top 501 MSP in the country; and inclusion on the Inc. 5000 list.
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.
Shaun Sexton: [00:00:00] The bubble is important there’s, there’s a couple of key terms that go along with that I, I’m a big believer in, I mean, I think I heard it once and I, I remembered it forever. It’s it’s a leader has to be strong, but not rude kind, but not weak, bold, but not bully humble, but not Tennant, timid proud, but not arrogant.
Introduction: 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: Can we look at being humble and how important that is to creating an organization where people follow you, trust you and give their heart and soul to the company. We look also at servant leadership and all of this wraps up into an incredible episode. If you want to be a better leader, our special guest today is Shaun Sexton. He’s the CEO of Skynet innovations, their it service firm. [00:01:00] And we dive into what humble leadership really means and how it plays a role inside of growing the company. You may be surprised that he will say something about really talented employees. That aren’t very humble and what he does to that. Maybe you’re not surprised because you understand how important it is inside of an organization to build a strong culture, to have humble leadership, and to be a servant leader. We unpack those things inside this episode so that you can be a better leader. That’s our commitment. It Growth Think Tank because it helps you with strategies and helps you see new perspectives about leadership. My question to you is what exactly is getting in the way of you leading powerfully? Because I claim that you cannot have a strong company.
If you’re not a strong leader, if you want to be someone who is driving growth and aligning people and having everything going in the right direction, you want to be an extraordinary leader to what’s getting in your way. Well, if you don’t know quite what it is. Then you have a blind spot because we [00:02:00] all have things that we’re working through. Even the greatest people I’ve ever talked to. And the ones that we read about the ones we admire, they have shortcomings, and sometimes their strengths are their shortcomings. So what is yours? You’re not quite sure what it is. And I know I’m kind of going into this pretty heavy, but I want you to invite you to, into a conversation. Let’s have a chat about what’s going on in your business. Your own leadership, get real with each other. I’ll help you identify the blind spots and also give you a plan to move forward. Now, some of these conversations spur additional conversation and allow us to talk about how we could work together. But the first conversation is really about you and that plan. So that being said, all you have to do is go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call today. Now here’s the interview with Shaun
Gene Hammett: Shaun how are you?
Shaun Sexton: I’m good, how are you?
Gene Hammett: Oh, fantastic. We’re going to have a great conversation about servant humble leadership. Before we dive into this, tell us a little bit about Skynet innovation.
Shaun Sexton: Yeah. So SKYNET Innovations is an it services company for businesses. We started in 2008 we focus [00:03:00] on the ITC, outsourced it solutions for companies of the small to mid-market and starting to get into some of the large enterprise size businesses and you know, anything, it service-related for those companies.
Gene Hammett: Well, I know that technology is a huge area. What is the main areas of growth that you see for your business of the next three years?
Shaun Sexton: More outsourced it. I think with regulations coming down and companies having to follow compliance, they’re learning that their, their internal it is, is not cut out for those types of things. So they’re having to kind of look for outsourced solutions to help get those things in place for them. And so that’s, what’s really taken off for us.
Gene Hammett: Perfect. We’re going to dive into today’s topic, which is really around humble leadership, but you also threw in the word servant when we were talking earlier, what does being humble mean for the growth of your company?
Shaun Sexton: So think that, you know, how bold is important and there there’s, there’s a couple of key terms that go along with that. I, I’m a big believer in, I mean, I think I heard it once and I remembered it forever. It’s a leader has to be strong, [00:04:00] but not rude kind, but not weak, bold, but not bully humble, but not tenant, timid, proud, but not arrogant. And so if you have all those qualities, you know, you earn respect from your team. you need to make them feel like you hired them because they’re an expert at what they do. And when you’re a fast-growing company, you’re expecting them to go above and beyond every single day. I mean, you’re pushing these people to their absolute limits. And without showing that respect back to them, you’d be lucky if you get that kind of work ethic out of them. So that’s why it’s important cause fast-growing you can’t, you can’t hire fast enough. You can’t find talent fast enough. So your team is always being pushed to their limits.
Gene Hammett: I don’t know if you’ve read that, but did you, is that something you kind of center on in all of those statements around leadership? ,
Shaun Sexton: some of them, yup. Yup I look at a lot of different things. The leadership, I think, you know, leadership is it’s translating vision into reality I, I think I look at my team and I see them bringing me their problems. And I [00:05:00] think, you know, the day, the day my team stops bringing me problems is the day they’ve, they’ve lost confidence in my leadership. so I think leadership is, is a lot of, you know, problem-solving so you know, a little bit of all of those things combined,
Gene Hammett: I, I’m kind of curious because a lot of people would say, well, my team brings me problems, and then I would ask them, you know, what, what does empowerment look like in your company? And I get a little bit confused if they’re bringing your problems. How do you make sure that you keep them empowered as they solve problems themselves?
Shaun Sexton: So every one of my company knows do not bring me a problem without an idea on the solution. I, you know, 99% of the time when they bring me a problem, I already know how to, what we should do, what direction we should take to resolve that problem. But I never come out and just say it. I say you know, what do you think? And I try to empower them, to think that way. And then if they give me their idea of a solution, but I disagree with it. Well, then I asked myself a couple of things I say, okay, I do disagree with this, but are we going to end up at the same at the end, are we going to the same point? If so, then let them go [00:06:00] that route anyway, you know, let them, let them do it their way. Don’t constantly critique them. If I feel that we won’t end up at same point or the point that’s needed in there, and they’re really way off base, but they don’t want to start asking all the questions to, to try to lead them to that answer. I, I don’t want to persuade people. I like to teach them and educate them and allow them to persuade themselves to get to that, to the, give that point of that, you know, subject
Commentary: Shaun has been talking about empowerment. I want to just kind of highlight something here. If you aren’t willing to empower your people, then I claim that they’ll never stay with you and really be able to perform at their highest levels because empowerment is where they think for themselves. They share their ideas because they’re not afraid. And they are willing to drive forward no matter what challenges they come in front of them. And you have to be able to do that as a leader, you have to demonstrate, what empowerment needs by trusting them fully. And if you’re not doing that, then you’re probably not a great leader. I know that’s probably blunt when I say that, but if you want to figure out what’s missing and get, and really address it, then look at how you’re [00:07:00] empowering others. Back to Shaun.
Gene Hammett: Yeah. That’s really important for us to think the highlight for a moment. It’s really hard to build humble leadership. If you think you’re going to solve all their problems and just tell them what to do next because here’s what ends up happening. They begin to feel a little bit minimized that they’re not there. Their opinions are not validated, not respected, and they bring you the problems and you just solve them no, it’s the quickest way for people to get things done, but the quickest way, the best way.
Shaun Sexton: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s not long-term right. It’s you, you’re only one person you can be, can be spread so thin. So at some point they have to be able to come up with those answers themselves,
Gene Hammett: you know, going back to this being humble. Have you had to wrestle with this with other people inside the organization? I know your company has grown massively, but have you ever had to have conversations across the teams about being a little bit more humble in situations?
Shaun Sexton: Yeah. We’ve had people not last in our company. They’ve had tremendous talent and they were exactly what we needed, but they would become off as arrogant. [00:08:00] We’re in the it space. We’re in the technology space. Probably most people listening to this knows that it’s pretty easy to come across it. People are very arrogant. If you’re arrogant in our culture, you’re not going to last very long, no matter how talented you are. That’s, that’s one of our fundamentals that we just cannot get around. So, you know, it’s, that’s, that’s a big one. And then, and then you have to realize too, that I, one of my, one of my heart things that I can realization with was not everyone wants to be a leader early on.
I thought, you know, everybody wants to be empowered. Everybody wants to be a leader, but not everybody wants that. Some people just want to sit in a cubicle and punch their numbers and do their thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s fantastic. We need tons of those people. But that was a sudden realization. It was hard for me to, to come across and learn. So now I know when I get to know people I’d have to find out what do they want? Do they want that empowerment and that leadership, or do they just want to kind of do their job and be done with
Gene Hammett: it’s a huge realization when you realize that everyone’s different.
Shaun Sexton: Yeah. Yeah. You always want to go into thinking they, well, they think like me, right? I mean, everybody thinks like me, but no, they don’t say you [00:09:00] have to realize that and perform to that.
Gene Hammett: I’m glad you brought that up. Shaun. We’ve been talking about her humble leadership, but there was also the term servant. And I think servant leadership is a really powerful principle inside of leadership.
I think there are areas where it can go a little bit too far, but let’s just get a good basis for what is servant leadership to you and your organization?
Shaun Sexton: I think servant leadership is, is showing your team that you’re willing to get into those trenches with them. We’ve had times where my team has had to spend an entire weekend night and day 24/7. Restore an entire computer networks that have crashed and I’m right there with them. You know, I, I may not be on-site, but I’m right there with them at two o’clock in the morning, texting them, calling them, making sure they’re okay maybe one time, I, you know, I had a, I had an employee that had a server that was down at a client and, and he’s, he told me, I called him to check on him. He said he was just really dragging his feet. He really needed an energy drink and as a single go get an energy drink. So I can’t the customer standing right there. If I left and her servers [00:10:00] down. I’m gonna flip out. So yeah, I hopped in the car and brought the guy an energy drink, you know, and to me, that’s the servant part because I can’t fix that server. I don’t have the expertise to do that. So I want him to understand that I know that I don’t have the expertise to do that. He does, but I could still be part of that team. I can still help out. I can bring him what he needs while he does those things.
Gene Hammett: I, and that shows a little bit of humility. You have there to you because you probably are an expert in some domains of it, but probably not every domain.
Shaun Sexton: Right? Right.
Gene Hammett: You got to rely on others around you and be humble enough to know where your strengths are and where they’re not. And that probably gives you a lot of respect across the team. Would you say?
Shaun Sexton: Absolutely. Absolutely. They, know, I empower them to, do their jobs and I will not get in their way. I’m just there to be supportive.
Gene Hammett: Another aspect of servant leadership is this whole concept of an upside-down. We’ve all looked at these typical pyramids that are smaller at the top. And then they flow down. As the organization gets bigger, we have different levels of expertise and that, you know, on the very front lines of [00:11:00] employees, of those guys that are maybe tickling the keyboards and your world and making things happen with servers and, and whatnot. but in certainly the ship, we flip that upside down. You work for the people above that, and finally. You’re all working for the people on the front lines. And they’re working for the people that are paying the bills, the customers. Is that a fair representation of certain leadership in your world?
Shaun Sexton: Absolutely. The first time I drew out our org chart, I put myself at the top of it and then I put my middle-management coming down, and then that went down to the technicians are out in the field and client-facing. And then I looked at everybody in that org chart and I said, you know what, everybody at the top, all the way down towards the bottom. Is absolutely replaceable. The people that are client-facing and actually doing the job. Those are my people that are not replaceable. I need to flip this pyramid. This pyramid should be though totally upside down. And I didn’t like seeing myself at the top of because even I’m replaceable. And so I kind of flipped it. I put myself at the very bottom. And then I put the management that I report to above myself and in the technicians that they [00:12:00] report to up there. So the client-facing people, the people who are out in the field, they see the client, they know what’s going on in the company more than anyone does more than I do. I’m not in the day-to-day those are the people at the top of our pyramid.
Gene Hammett: I love the way the detail you gave there about replaceable. Cause the ones that are on the frontline. And I don’t think it’s just your world of it, but really is they, they are the ones that are making all of this work together and servicing and adding value across the organization. When you look at servant leadership, I think there’s some, some gaps that happen when we take it too far. It’s not a bad thing, but I also talked to a lot of clients about serving too much. Is a problem. Have you ever run into that across your company?
Shaun Sexton: Yeah, I think so. I think there’s sometimes you have to still exercise your authority. there, there can be times where employees will feel they can test you farther and push you farther. That is a super rare case. And it usually comes from that person that was arrogant. Didn’t last in the organization of the first place, for the most part, my, [00:13:00] experience has always been when these people see how hard I work for them, they’re willing to work just as hard back from me. And, and, and I have a small business that’s growing has to have you can’t just quit at five o’clock. You can’t just not, not be around on the weekends these people, you know, they have to, they have to work on vacation sometimes, you know, when you’re a small business that’s growing, that’s the way it has to be. And if they don’t think I’m willing to that. Well, then they’re definitely not willing to do that.
Commentary: Shaun has been talking about servant leadership. I was trying to lead him into this, but let me just tell you a story about my own journey. As a leader, I ran a fast-growth company from 2001 to 2010, and I learned a lot about it through that. I had my own inflection points. Yeah. But I want to share with you a very specific moment where I was working with a coach. Her name is Linda, and she asked me a key question that I want to share with you today. Now I felt a little bit more like a firefighter than a CEO. I’d probably said those exact words. And I was explaining to my coach at the time, Linda, that I was solving the problems of my employees. And she asked me to give some examples. So we did, we talked [00:14:00] about customer problems and payment problems and technical problems that a team of about six or seven people. And she asked me a key question that I want you to really ponder on it. It’s this. And this is where servant leadership can go too far. She said, who told you that you needed to solve the problems for your people? And I’m sure I responded something similar to this. As I wanted to make it easier for them to do their jobs. I was taking all the roadblocks out of the way. And she went on to ask me another question because, but if you solve their problems for them, when did they learn to solve their own. And there hit me. I was actually doing them a disservice by solving their problems for them, by truly serving them to the highest level at which I could, I needed to serve them in a different way. And so I share all this with you because I want you to think about how you’re serving your people. Are you truly empowering them in a way that makes this work for them? This wraps into the humble leadership. Are you demonstrating you humble leadership across the company? Are you able to say, I don’t know. Well, only you can tell the answer to that, but [00:15:00] I really wanted to remind you and share my story with you of my own journeys of growth over the years. Now, this was about 20 years ago. I can happily say that this is an issue with inside my, my business right now, but I wanted to share the story for you to see if it would help you move forward. Back to Shaun.
Gene Hammett: Well said we’ve been talking about servant humble leadership. What have we left out that you feel like is important in this conversation?
Shaun Sexton: I think possibly some of the environmental things. You know, in our culture, I kind of looked at our typical business runs, you know, you’re giving an employee two weeks off you’re making them come into an office every day. But for me as the owner of the business, I don’t have to abide by those rules. Right. I can take off anytime I want. I don’t have to come into the office ever. And I think how is that fair if I’m truly as some servant leader. I have to abide by the same rules they have to abide by. So therefore we established unlimited PTO our employees have always been allowed to work from home even before COVID. So for all the years we have, since, since very beginning, everyone who worked from home as much as they want or come into the [00:16:00] office, it’s totally their choice. Unlimited PTO. If they need to take a day off, if it’s not a problem, we give them day off. We don’t say y’all, you’ve had two weeks. You can’t go to your son’s graduation. Now I don’t follow those rules. I don’t expect them to either. So I figure if I treat them with that respect, but then at the same time they see how hard I do work and they give me that back.
Gene Hammett: Shaun. There’s a big argument inside of productivity inside of businesses about work from home. You’ve said you’ve had this kind of, you know, the ability for people to do their work wherever they are coming to the office, work from home. Have you seen across the organization when you have the right people in the right place, that they are more productive when they’re working at home? Are they more productive in the office?
Shaun Sexton: A hundred percent when you’re people that work from home, they typically don’t stop at five. When you’re in an office environment, everybody clocks out at five, they’d go home, and guess what? They’re not going to do it once they get home. They’re not going to pull that laptop back out and start working again. You know, it’s been shut down for the day it’s it’s gone. It’s done. So when they’re working from home at the laptop station, They keep working when they go do dinner, [00:17:00] sometimes the laptop is still on and they’re off the home office. They still go back in there and knock out a few more emails. I get it. I get more hours out of them. I hate to hate to say it sounds like the slave driver, but you know, you get more hours out of them. You get good quality work out of them. And, and, you know, they, they feel more empowered that way. So I’ve always had great luck having people work from home.
Gene Hammett: So all those companies out there that are, that are resistant to this and keeping this as a sort of standard, what would you say to those leaders?
Shaun Sexton: I mean, I think you should try it. Absolutely. I mean, it sounds like, I mean, cause of COVID you probably already have, and I think there’s a lot of companies that are definitely wanting to pull their employees back in and there’s some employees that want to work in an office environment. So I don’t, I don’t see anybody coming back to a full-time office environment per se, but come into some sort of a hybrid environment, you know, having office stays having worked from holidays. if you find, like I said, if you find the right people, you’re going to get a better work ethic out of them, you respect their homelife. It can be home. We’ll let the dog outside, you know, I mean, and that’s a fantastic thing. And you know, they’ll, they’ll give you their time for [00:18:00] that,
Gene Hammett: I think the future of work is going to require flexibility. If you want the best people, if you want to retain them across the organization, you’re going to need to trust them enough to be flexible. I want to wrap this up with one big question. We’ve all made evolutions as people and as leaders. Can you think of an inflection point that you had to make in your career that put you on a different path as a leader?
Shaun Sexton: Yeah, probably I think I have the saying, I say that the mindset that got you to where you are is also the mindset that will hold you back. So you may have grown a very successful company with the current mindset that you have, but then. I’m also going to get stuck at some point with that same mindset. So you have to be willing to change, to keep moving forward, to keep hitting those boundaries, and getting to that next step. So that’s a realization that I’ve had to come to and realize that I have to be ever learning ever willing to change. Never. You’ll never hear the words come out of my mouth. Well, we’ve always done it this way. You know, those are just very, very dangerous words [00:19:00] right there,
Gene Hammett: Especially in it.
Shaun Sexton: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
Gene Hammett: All right. Well, when you talk about in this mindset thing, I’m always curious. What have you found is the best way to keep your mindset fresh and growing at the same time?
Shaun Sexton: For me personally, I like a lot of leadership books. I read books a lot. I do audiobooks. I can listen to them. Always talking to the employees and seeing what’s next for them, where do they need to be? And just trying to stay in front of the curb, trying to always think outside the box to think, what could we be doing differently that everybody else is doing exactly the same.
, I always worry that we do things just because everybody else does in that way, corporate America. So I, you know, just always trying to think, because just because they do it this way, doesn’t mean we should be doing it though this way.
Gene Hammett: I want to leave the conversation with this. What is something you guys do differently that you think other people aren’t doing it’s made an impact on the growth of your company?
Shaun Sexton: Well, the one that I would have said pre COVID was allowing people to work from home now we don’t have that as an advantage so much [00:20:00] anymore but the unlimited PTO, the giving the employees, the ability to make things right with the client. I made sure that we tell our patients. You don’t need my permission to make that client happy. If there’s a problem, you have the empowerment to make it right. And if that’s a credit, if you have to credit the entire cost of the laptop, then you can do that. You have that empowerment to do that. And so the more I make them feel empowered, the more it does feel like it’s their business and not just mine.
And we’re truly all as a team.
Gene Hammett: Love that. I’m glad I asked that final question and you brought it up, so really appreciate you being here, Shaun, and sharing your wisdom and leadership to us here at Growth Think Tank.
Shaun Sexton: Yeah, not a problem. Any time.
Gene Hammett: There’s a point where I get to reflect a little bit about this whole conversation of servant humble leadership. And Shaun’s going to listen in, as I kind of reflect back, what are the benefits of this? You know, it really is an incredible place we have as leaders to be able to develop others, and being Humble’s a necessary element, not just at the top levels of the company or at the bottom [00:21:00] levels. If that’s depending on your pyramid, you want to make sure. They’re humble across the organization. And just because someone is talented does not mean they get to stay in that role because they’re probably going to impact and affect others across the organization. I think you also need to look at the mindset you have as a leader and it has to evolve consistently. It has to be challenged. It has to be something where you’re not set in stone. And most people, we believe what we believe and we. Yeah, it really changed our minds, but I think that’s a really faulty way to look at it. When it comes to leadership, you want to make sure you’re open for new ideas and open to these new concepts.
Unlimited PTO probably scares the hell out of a lot of people. I get it, but it really is something that you want to be open to if it’s right for your organization. I say all these things to you because I want to remind you that your job is not to just get the work done, but it’s to lead the people powerfully. If you want to figure out how to lead your people more powerfully than you do today. Make sure you check out the free resources. If you want to have a conversation with me, I’d love to offer that to you. Just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call. We’ll talk about [00:22:00] your business. Figure out what’s getting in your way and unlike the leadership books and the audiobooks that Shaun mentioned those books.
Don’t talk back to you. I get to ask questions that will challenge you. And get you to think differently about who you are, and where you’re going. That’s my promise to you. If you want to take me up on that offer, just go to Genehammett.com. Schedule your call today. When you think of growth and you think of leadership, think of Growth Think Tank as always lead 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.
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