Ep051: Leadership Advice from America’s Top Banker & CEO with John Allison

John Allison Americas top banker and CEO on the TalentGrow Show podcast with Halelly Azulayy

Before he was named a recent contender for Secretary of Treasury, John Allison served as CEO of BB&T, America’s 10th largest bank for almost 20 years during which time he led the company to grow from $4.5B to $152B in assets. The Harvard Business Review has recognized John as one of the top 100 most successful CEOs. In today’s episode of the TalentGrow Show, John shares his incredible insights on seizing the opportunity in front of you, choosing character over genius when hiring, and handling low performers in an organization. He discusses his personal philosophy of success that led him from bank teller to CEO and an in-depth look at how Allison built important core values into the BB&T organization from the ground up. John talks about how to triple employee productivity, the biggest mistake leaders make today, and how he has discovered the most critical factor in motivating human action.

What you'll learn:

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  • The goal John Allison set that enabled him to become a CEO (Hint: It wasn’t to become a CEO or make a lot of money) (7:12)
  • Who Allison believes is the most important person in an organization to lead and why (8:54)
  • You need to identify this one thing in your life in order to make the world a better place (9:20)
  • The most precious thing you have and how to respect it (10:00)
  • What Allison believes is required to accomplish your purpose (10:20)
  • Allison discusses the purpose of values and why they are important in your life (10:30)
  • How John Allison instilled new values into BB&T early on in his career (12:11)
  • The value and business evaluation process at BB&T (13:58)
  • When Allison would and would not help his employees improve (14:15)
  • Allison and BB&T were merciless on this one thing (15:00)
  • Why Allison will take character over genius any day (15:20)
  • How BB&T tested for ethics in the hiring process (16:20)
  • What inevitably happens when there is a disconnect between an employee’s values and the company’s values (16:30)
  • What employees want in their evaluations (17:50)
  • How BB&T achieved a 20% compound growth rate while spending a fraction of what competitors spent on their advertising (18:45)
  • The advice Allison gives to college students and young leaders today (20:40)
  • How Allison gives front line employees a grand sense of purpose (21:15)
  • A leader’s responsibility for setting expectations and standards (22:45)
  • The biggest mistake leaders make today (23:20)
  • Allison’s strategy to get triple the productivity from employees (23:50)
  • What you should NEVER tolerate in yourself or others (24:54)
  • The type of worker Allison has never met (25:14)
  • What’s on the horizon for Allison (27:31)
  • A piece of actionable advice you can take today to avoid what Allison considers the ultimate psychological sin (29:40)
  • How to stay in touch with Allison (34:00)


About John Allison:

John Allison is an Executive in Residence at the Wake Forest School of Business. He is a member of the Cato Institute’s Board of Directors and Chairman of the Executive Advisory Council of the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives. Allison was president and CEO of the Cato Institute from October 2012 to April 2015. Prior to joining Cato, Allison was chairman and CEO of BB&T Corporation, the 10th-largest financial services holding company headquartered in the United States. During his tenure as CEO from 1989 to 2008, BB&T grew from $4.5 billion to $152 billion in assets. He was recognized by the Harvard Business Review as one of the top 100 most successful CEOs in the world over the last decade.

Allison has received the Corning Award for Distinguished Leadership, been inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Banker. He is the author of The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why Pure Capitalism Is the World Economy’s Only Hope and The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why the Future of Business Depends on the Return to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. In addition, he is a former Distinguished Professor of Practice at Wake Forest University School of Business, and serves on the Board of Visitors at the business schools at Wake Forest, Duke, and the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

Allison is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. He received his master’s degree in management from Duke University and is also a graduate of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking. Allison is the recipient of six honorary doctorate degrees.


Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey there, Talent Growers. This is Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist. I’m really excited this week and I think I probably always say that because I am always very excited about my show. I love doing this podcast and sharing information with you that I think will be very useful to you, and sharing some great thought leaders with you. This week there’s someone who is special, I think in a class by himself. My guest is John Allison and it’s not every day you get to interview someone that was considered to be Treasury of Secretary for the United States of America. Someone who was recognized by the Harvard Business Review as one of the top 100 most successful CEOs of the last 10 years. I mean, this guy is just a legend, and someone that I’ve really admired and looked up to and so to have him share his wisdom on this show is something that is really special. And I think that you’ll enjoy it. We talk about a wide ranging list of topics that are all related to leadership, but we go to philosophy to psychology to how to triple your employee’s productivity, how to hire, when to fire and what’s most important is how John integrates values and clarity around values with how he leads. And he teaches that, I think, really succinctly in this short podcast. I hope that you’ll enjoy it.

Before we get in, I just wanted to quickly mention something to you – sometimes I say this at the end, but I thought I’d say it at the beginning. This show has been going on for two years and we have thousands and thousands of downloads, but every few iTunes reviews. I know that there are people that are getting consistent value from the show, but are not really chiming in and saying anything about it. I want to ask you to do me a favor. I’m trying to get 60 new reviews in the next 60 days and you can help. It takes really literally a few moments of your time. I just got a review in this morning, or actually yesterday, that says, “I’ve listened to so many of Halelly’s podcasts for a while now. She’s super bright and cheery and it puts me in a positive mood immediately just to listen to her. Her podcast guests are super accomplished and aspiring and Halelly asks just the right questions to draw out their unique insights. I learned so much from Halelly and her guests during each podcast and I also feel refreshed and motivated after listening. I’ve actually started listening in the mornings for these reasons so that I begin my day in high spirits. Thank you Halelly. To anyone reading, I strongly encourage you to listen. It has made my days so much better to include the TalentGrow Show podcast episodes.” That’s just amazing. But the point of the review is not to make me feel good – which it does, it really, really does – and it really actually helps iTunes pop up my show in search results. The more reviews you have, the more that your show is considered by iTunes a good show to recommend to others. So when someone is searching for a good podcast to listen to and they’ve never heard of the TalentGrow Show, they’re much more likely to discover it if there’s more reviews. So, if you‘re listening and you’re getting value, and I do create this show for free. I share it widely. I love to share it with you. It would be such a small token of your appreciation if you would take the time to put in a review on iTunes. It doesn’t take a long time, you can use a pseudonym if you don’t want to use your full name and it’s something that’s just going to make a huge difference. So a few moments of your time will make a huge difference and I am asking you to do it. Please, when you get back to your computer, just go into iTunes, search the TalentGrow Show, go to put in a rating and a review and it’ll take you just a couple of seconds. I have a tutorial on my website that will help you do it if you’re not sure how to do it with screenshots of the screen and where to click. Thank you for listening to this and thank you for considering my request.

All right, so now, we are ready to listen to John Allison and his amazing insights on the TalentGrow Show. Thanks for listening. Welcome back to the TalentGrow Show, I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist and I am really excited this week to host John Allison on the show. I can’t wait for you to hear his ideas. He is someone that I’ve actually looked up to for many years, so I am very honored, John, that you’re on the show. Let me tell people who you are a little bit in case they haven’t heard. John Allison is an executive in residence at the Wake Forrest School of Business. He’s a member of the Cato Institute board of directors and Chairman of the Executive Advisory Council of the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives. John was the President and CEO of the Cato Institute from October 2012 to April 2015, and prior to joining Cato, John was Chairman and CEO of BB&T Corporation, the 10th largest financial services holding company headquartered in the United States. During his tenure as CEO for almost 20 years, BB&T grew from $4.5 billion to $152 billion in assets, and John was recognized by the Harvard Business Review as one of the top 100 most successful CEOs in the world over the last decade. He has received numerous awards. He is the author of two books – Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why Pure Capitalism is the World Economy’s Only Hope, and The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why the Future of Business Depends on the Return to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. He is also the holder of six honorary doctorate degrees and his bio is so impressive. I can keep reading it at you forever and ever, but it’ll be on the show notes page. In the meantime, welcome John. Thank you for agreeing to join us on the TalentGrow Show.

John: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Halelly: It is such an honor. I always start by asking my guests to tell us about their professional journey. I think it’s always interesting to think about how did you get to where you are today, and where did you start? Would you give us a very brief, high-level overview of your professional journey please?

John: Sure. I was born in what I call classic traditional, modern income family. I was the first person in my family to actually graduate from college. I joined BB&T when it was a really small farm bank in the early 1970s. I started out as a small business lender and worked my way up through the organization and became President in 1987 and CEO in 1989. Basically doing pretty much every job that was in the bank. We had a great run, as you heard in that biography in terms of the growth of the bank, mostly because I think we had a really clear sense of values and a clear sense of purpose and great people. I think we’re motivated by that energy. Now, people ask me about my goals. I never really thought much about becoming CEO or making a lot of money, although I liked being CEO and I liked making a lot of money. But my goal was always to do every job that I had better than anybody that had ever done it. And many organizations, that’s how you get to be successful. So I think a lot of people focus more on what’s the next opportunity instead of the opportunity they have that day and to maximize what opportunity you have in terms of performance of that job and understanding how that relates to the rest of the organization. That kind of mindset was critical to me in my career.

I made a transition from running a bank to running a Libertarian think tank. That was an interesting and educational experience, one that was very challenging at first. It turned out to be very rewarding and I found the same basic leadership principles applied in that kind of environment that it did in running a for-profit organization.

Halelly: Interesting. I’m looking forward to hearing more about these leadership principles. In fact, you have spoken frequently about this idea of what you call principle leadership, and I’ve heard you describe that everyone is a leader, when we lead ourselves, and some of us also lead others. For our listeners, who are either already leading others or getting ready for it, within organizations, talk to us more about what you mean by leading with purpose and values and what you think the role of philosophy is in leadership. Not that many people talk about that.

John: I think that’s a great set of questions. I think the most important person to lead is yourself. Most failures in leadership are failures of self-leadership. Very difficult to inspire a sense of purpose in other people if you don’t have a purpose in yourself. I think the number one organizing principle, what motivates and integrates human action, is a sense of purpose. I think that has two components – you need to believe that what you’re doing is making the world a better place to live for almost everybody. Not quite everybody, but almost everybody wants to make the world a better place to live. There are lots of ways to do that. You don’t have to feed hungry children in Bangladesh. Business has made the world a better place to live and that’s really important for business people to understand. Businesses provide the products and improve the quality of life, the services improve the quality of life. Business is the act of production and production is noble work. Good doctors, good teachers, good homemakers make the world a better place to live, but you need to have a sense of purpose in yourself and then inspire that in the rest of your team that you’re making the world a better place to live.

The second component of purpose is under-discussed. You need to make the world a better place doing something you want to do. Because you have a fundamental right to your own life. And if you were to make the world a better place to live and you didn’t enjoy doing it, you’ve wasted the most precious thin you have which is you. So, the beginning point for self-leadership and leadership of others is getting clarity about purpose. And then accomplish a purpose, you’ve got to have a clearly defined, integrated set of values. A lot of people play lip service to values. They don’t understand that the real purpose of values is to provide us the principles that improve the probability of staying alive, being successful and being happy. Today’s aren’t arbitrary. They’re not capricious, they don’t just fall out of the sky. We have to think about what principles will lead to our success and happiness. And the fundamental underlying principle is what I call rationality, making logical decisions based on the facts towards the purpose of promoting my own life, i.e. my own happiness, in the context of not taking advantage of other people, but living my own life and pursuing a life well-lived. So you have to have a set of values consistent with your nature as a human being and Mother Nature and in order to be successful, in order to be happy. These are really philosophical ideas. They’re ideas that you have a philosophy, whether you think about it or not. But if you get clear about your philosophy, you’re going to improve the probability of being able to use the right set of values for the end purpose of being happy, in the deep Aristotelian sense of the word.

Halelly: I love it. When you came into BB&T, when you came into the top leadership I guess of BB&T, because you were there for a while as one of the team members, did you feel like the values that you believed were the right values for that organization were already in place or did you feel like there needed to be some kind of more of just stating them explicitly or naming the unnamed, or did you feel like you needed to change the values of the organization once you took the helm?

John: It’s kind of some of all of the above. I had an interesting experience. When I joined the bank, it was a really small bank, and they didn’t have a training program so I was a teller, I was a bookkeeper, I mean, I wasn’t training those jobs, I was doing those jobs. Then early on in my career I was asked to develop a training program for the new college graduates we were hiring. I was able to, in that training program, put in the values that I had, which came a lot from, I’m a big fan of Atlas Shrugged, written by Ayn Rand, and the ethics in her books. We incorporated a lot of those principles into our training program. By the time I got to be CEO, a pretty big chunk of the organization’s leadership had been educated in those principles. That didn’t mean that everybody totally agreed with them, but if they weren’t in agreement with them, they probably had decided to leave in a big sense. They probably had decided to leave by then. So, in a certain sense I changed the values, but I kind of did it from the bottom up. I’d taken a training program in a small organization and as it got bigger, attracting people that found these values attractive to them, that they liked these ideas in that regard. Then when I got to actually be CEO, we concretized them in a way, actually, we had a BB&T philosophy. We had a booklet that was written and we had 10 core values that we discuss in that philosophy book. Everybody in the organization reads it and I reinforce it. I did videos, DVD type things once a quarter. I did an annual presentation to all of our employees that they all saw, and I spent about half the time talking about what I’d call business and half the time talking about values.

And even our performance evaluation, which we did for everybody in the organization, all the way tellers up to the top of the organization, twice a year, half of your evaluation was based on values. And half was based on results. And what I found, if somebody had a value issue, if they had an honesty issue, they didn’t act rationally, they weren’t productive, they weren’t an independent thinker, if they didn’t have those kind of values, that’s when they had performance problems in the long-term. Somebody was getting good results in the short-term, but wasn’t acting consistent with our values, they probably were doing something you wouldn’t be proud of and they would get in trouble and the organization could get in trouble in the long term. So we would work with people on performance, trying to figure out ways to get them to be better. At some point, you can’t tolerate poor performance, but on ethics, we were merciless. I don’t care how long you’d been there, if you violated our fundamental ethics, then we fired you. And people understood that. They understood that for me, for our organization, ethics was really critical and the people that thought that was important stayed and the people that didn’t left, and I do believe that people that have really clear set of ethics and are consistent with their ethics are much more likely to be successful in the long term. I’ll take character over genius any day. Not that genius doesn’t matter, I’m not diminishing the role of genius, but character is really critical. Not many people are geniuses.

Halelly: Yeah, and you don’t need a whole organization full of geniuses.

John: You’re not going to get it anyway!

Halelly: Interesting. I tend to agree with you. So I wonder, did you have some sort of screening mechanism as you hired new people into the organization to ensure that they held the right values that are aligned? Is this something that you hire for or is it something you think can be taught?

John: You have to hire to some degree and if people’s values can’t be improved … if their values are so inconsistent with yours and they’re a grown-up, it’s unlikely to move them too far. But you can move people a fairly long way. We did have a very intense selection process. We had scripted interviews. We had logic tests and we had psychological profile tests and we had an ethics test, as best as you can test that. We actually can test for ethics pretty well. So we were very careful in our selection process. The other thing we were just straightforward. We said, “Look, these are the values at BB&T. We really believe these values. This is not bromides and cliché. This is not something … a lot of companies say this stuff and they don’t really mean it and you know that. You try to figure out what the real values are. Here are ours. Ours are here, they’re written and we believe them and we’re going to act consistent with them. If this doesn’t fit you, that’s fine. Then you shouldn’t work here. If you want to be happy here and you want to be successful here, it won’t work out in the long-term.” We used a lot of testing and profiling, but we also were very explicit about what our values were.

Now, the difference in our values and a lot of businesses, we didn’t have any bromides and clichés. We were very much an objective performance organization. We believe strongly in justice. Those that contributed the most got the most, and both psychological rewards, economic rewards. Measuring justice is tough, but the idea was clear. We were not altruists and we rejected the whole idea of egalitarianism. We found that people have different levels of performance and make different levels of contributions. Everybody needs to be treated right as a human being, but people have different attributes and have different outcomes. So we were very much a justice organization. And good people like that, right? They want to be evaluated objectively and rewarded for their performance. And it improves the performance of the person. Because if there’s no reward for extra effort and extra productivity, there’s no reward for being ethical. Then of course people don’t act ethically.

Halelly: Makes sense. So as you developed leaders to help them make sure that the people on their teams are aligned to the values, what were some of the things that you taught them as you – it sounds like you had them in training, even before you were the CEO – that helped tool them up for this kind of work?

John: Well, two things. BB&T created its own university. We took, we made a strategic – this was something, as I was becoming CEO, decision that we made – we took our advertising budget or most of it and invested in employee education. We believed if we had better trained employees that understand our values and could take those ideas and benefit our clients, do the right thing for our clients, that we would be more successful and we would grow by word of mouth. We had a 20-percent compound growth rate over 20 years. Anybody who’s good with mathematics, those are amazing numbers, and yet we spent 10 percent on advertising of what our competitors did. But we spent 10 times as much on employee education and ideas, and we combined technical education – you’ve got to be really good at what you do at your job – and integrated that with our value system. So every education program that our university had, it taught the technical skills, which are critical, but it also reinforced how these skills were consistent with our values.

Interestingly enough too, we were very passionate about helping our clients. We strongly believed in win-win relationships in everything we do. We were committed [inaudible] to being economically successful and financial secure and we stood to make a profit doing it. And we were straightforward. We told our clients that. We said, “Look, we’re going to help you, and we stand to make a profit.” And so this whole idea and same thing with our employees of trying to create win-win relationships was very, very critical to our success. So a lot of the thing was investing in our employees and their ability to provide better products and services to our clients.

Halelly: So as we are talking to the leaders and aspiring leaders that are listening, what do you think is going to be one of those keys that really differentiates their future success if they apply it, given what you’ve just described?

John: My beginning advice, and I do a lot of speaking on college campuses is to be clear about your own sense of purpose. What it is, how you make a difference through your work and what makes that enjoyable to you. And then think about how you can inspire that in your employees and obviously it depends on your job, but I find that the most important way to inspire people, generally, is to help them see their job as bigger than the mechanics of the job, and I’ll concretize that. A teller, it’s less important today than it is now, everybody has gone to using the internet, but tellers were huge in the banking business for a long time. A teller can either view her job as cashing checks, which is pretty boring, or they can have a sense of “I’m helping my clients, providing them financial advice that improves the quality of their lives. Therefore I have to know a lot about them, I’ve got to be friends with them, I’ve got to really think about them.” And that is hugely job enriching and of course is the responsibility of the manager to then make that good in a concrete way for the teller. So the teller that does a really good job helping her clients, she can either get economic rewards if the manager has control of that, or at least psychological awards. A pat on the back and whatnot. Having a sense of purpose in yourself, inspiring that in your employees and one of the best ways to do that is to help them understand the significance of their work. I would get our managers to take our entry-level employees – customer service representatives – they’d take them to lunch on Wednesday and go by some of our customers. Go by this manufacturing plant or this agricultural operation and say, “The work you do makes this business possible. Because we provide financing to that business.” Help them connect to a bigger sense of purpose in their work if at all practical.

And then you’ve got to be ethical yourself. One thing I told our senior leaders, you cannot expect your employees to be more ethical than you are and be more consistent with your values than you are. Honesty is a really important value, and I think it’s the foundational value, that you have to be the most honest person in the room, including when it’s not so much fun to be honest. You can’t expect other people to be more honest than you are.

Halelly: That’s great advice. I love it. What do you think is the biggest mistake that leaders are making today? Is there something you’re seeing clearly that can be either just totally avoided or solved in some way?

John: I think unfortunately a lot of leaders try to be politically correct because that’s what sounds like the rewards system in our environment, particularly become altruistic. And in that sense, almost encourage mediocrity. When I was at BB&T, we acquired over, about 150 different companies. We didn’t buy many bad companies and we didn’t really buy many high performers. We bought a lot of mediocre companies that had good people, but people that were underperforming well under their potential. What we saw in those organizations was what I call paternalism. There was a little bit of differences between the best performers and the worst performers, but not much. And what we did, we came in and we said, “Look, if you do a really good job well, you’re going to do better. You’ll get more money but you’re also going to get more rewards, more opportunity. If you don’t do your job well, we’re going to give you every effort we can to help you get better, but if you don’t, if you aren’t committed to doing your job better, then you really ought to leave. And over time, three things happen. The people with high performance potential became far more motivated and radically more productive – I mean, double and triple their productivity. A lot of the people in the middle got better, and then the people that didn’t want to get better that were lazy, frankly, in many cases, left. And that was good. And the people that were there were glad those people left, because they were drags on the team.

The whole idea is about not tolerating mediocrity in yourself or in others. I talk about justice being a two-edged sword. Justice requires that we reward superior performance. If we don’t, they’ll leave and we’ll be worse off. And most business people at least pay lip service to that, even though in society it’s rejected. But it also requires that we deal with non-performance. Failing to deal with non-performance is an injustice. It’s a moral error, not just a technical error. It’s a moral error for two reasons. One, it’s unfair to the team because non-performers hurt the team, and secondly, it’s actually unfair to the non-performer. Because I’ve never found a happy non-performer. People that aren’t doing the job well are not happy. They’ll be better off trying to do something else. Even if they are, you still have the obligation to the team to weed out the people that aren’t carrying their share of the load. It’s important to demand in yourself and in your team high performance.

Halelly: I agree. It’s something that I try to help those, those that feel like maybe their motivation is compassion for the low performers or sometimes maybe just fear of confrontation, to think of the disservice that they’re doing to the others. That they just so often are focused on that one person and feeling bad for that one person, well, if you care so much about that one person, why are you throwing away the rest of your team? Why are you not upholding the standards that you expect of them and showing them that having high standards and protecting them from someone dragging them down is something that you care about?

John: You’re absolutely right about that. Plus I believe very strongly, it’s not fair to the non-performer. You’re actually hurting them by being … now, there can be special short-term circumstances. Somebody can be sick. That’s a different kind of issue. For somebody that’s a long-term non-performer, trying to coddle them is actually destructive to the team, but it’s destructive to them and it’s destructive to you. It brings you down.

Halelly: And it ends up eating up the manager’s time and energy so much. It is such a drag. So, I don’t want to talk about that, that’s just depressing, so let’s talk about something on the opposite end of the spectrum. First of all, you were in the news recently as one of the top contenders to have the Treasury Secretary position on the new administration and I know that didn’t pan out for whatever reason, but what is new and exciting on your horizon? What’s got you most energized these days?

John: I have a passion for defending the principles that underlie our free society. I believe that you can’t have successful organizations, successful businesses, unless we have freedom. We have recognition of individual rights, free markets, limited government, and I spend a lot of my time now speaking on college campuses, trying to defend the principles that underlie free society. I’m very outnumbered on college campuses. Most college campuses are extremely left wing, which I think is very bad for our society and very bad for the students. So, I teach in the graduate business school at Wake Forrest, but I spend more time at other universities, defending the ideas that underlie what I call a free and prosperous society. I talk a lot about what I consider to be the philosophical fight for the future of America, where those of us in the classical/liberal tradition, the defenders of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we’re on the defensive against people that want to go to the kind of societies that have failed. I mean, it’s kind of like they don’t look around and see that, hey, socialism hasn’t worked. Communism hasn’t worked. Freedom works! And they wouldn’t even want to live in the kind of societies that they defend if they were thrust into those kind of societies. So it’s interesting. I find that many students haven’t ever even heard the ideas that underlie free societies and that's kind of discouraging.

Halelly: Yeah. Well, thank you for that work. I appreciate that you’re doing that. That’s really important. Before we wrap up, and before we tell our listeners how they can stay in touch with you or follow what you’re doing, what would you say is – I always like to have one really specific, very actionable tip at the end that everyone listening can take the same day that they’re listening, or the same week, that you thing can ratchet up their leadership effectiveness. What would you suggest?

John: I am a really strong believer in something called self-awareness, being aware of your subconscious, often emotional beliefs, that hinder you being successful, particularly hinder you in being happy. I would challenge everybody to really, the next time you get mad at something, the next time let’s say you evade – you don’t want to face a fact, and you evade from that, that is really the usual cause of really destructive behavior. You see that often in small businesses, the leader evades. Next time you see yourself doing that, have the courage to reflect on what believe is driving that behavior. Why are you mad? You could be mad for good reasons, or you could be mad because of some crazy subconscious belief you had. You can’t ever evade for a good reason, because evasion is when you don’t face the fact and that’s when you get in trouble. So the next time you hear something that you’ve heard before, usually in some form of negative feedback from family or your manager, take an objective look at it. Be willing to say, “What is causing me to behave in this way?” That other people perceive, it’s probably the reality, but at least other people perceive this is a kind of behavior. Don’t evade, because evasion I believe is the ultimate psychological sin. The people that evade less and stay in focus more are the people that are the most successful in the long term.

Halelly: So evasion means not facing the reality, right? Or not admitting the reality? So as people are reflecting, they’re becoming maybe aware that you’re saying to try to understand the source of an emotion that they’re having or to try to seek out places where they might be evading?

John: Yes.

Halelly: And then what?

John: The classic case is maybe your parents, maybe your spouse, maybe your friends, then your manager, start giving you feedback about a certain kind of behavior. And you’ve been defensive about that. You kind of said, “I don’t have that kind of behavior. It’s not a real problem.” And you are evading, I believe, some deeper psychological cause. If you want to concretize – I mean, I can concretize that in myself – I used to believe that I was not loveable because my relationship with my mother, it’s not my mother’s fault, but my relationship, and I felt like I wasn’t good enough. And that’s why I wasn’t lovable. I’d get all A’s and one B and my mother would focus on the B. What I found is, and in looking objectively at that, my mother didn’t really have a problem, it’s just the wrong set of focus, and I was drawing the wrong conclusion as a very young person. When I brought down the intensity on that subconscious belief, I was able to think more objectively. Because a lot of times we rationalize that we’re thinking objectively when our premise is some subconscious belief that we developed in a relationship with our parents when we were three years old, five years old, that really doesn’t objectively make sense. And having the courage to kind of take a look at the layers that are driving those subconscious beliefs can profoundly improve the quality of your decision-making and the quality of your life.

Halelly: I see. So it sounds like just the awareness itself, bringing it into your conscious awareness, helps you reduce the intensity?

John: And you have to do it over and over again, because you’ve written that program pretty intensively at a young age, so you have to see when you’re behaving in a dysfunctional way. You kind of intuitively know there’s something happening here that doesn't make sense and you keep asking yourself, “Why, why, why?” If you do that over and over again, you will bring down the energy around that negative belief that is kind of what’s called a negative ground of being, that will actually help you think more objectively.

Halelly: Great, wonderful. This should be helping a lot of different people in so many different ways, so thank you for that. John, I really appreciate that you’ve spent some time with us on the TalentGrow Show. How can people follow more of what you’re doing, stay in touch with you?

John: You know, I think objectively I’d recommend my books, particularly the one on the leadership crisis. It really deals very clearly with the kind of issues we’ve talked about, about having a clear sense of purpose and a rational set of behaviors. It explains how I was able to use those in leading BB&T and Cato, so if somebody is interested in these ideas, I hope they’ll take the time and read that book.

Halelly: I will link to it on the show notes for sure.

John: Okay, thank you.

Halelly: Great. And any place else you’d like to send them to read more or see what you’re doing? Are you active on social media at all?

John: I turned up on Facebook a lot, just those people, I speak a lot at universities and a lot of that is recorded, so if anybody is interested, I’m sure they can from Facebook or You Tube, they can find lectures that I’ve done. The one that I’m doing right now, it’s called the Philosophical Fight for Future America, as I mentioned earlier. If they’re interested in that, it’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from students and business leaders, so if they’re interested in that kind of subject, and it does relate to leadership. I would recommend that.

Halelly: Great. Well, I will dig up a couple and I will link to those as well. Thank you again. I appreciate your time and your wisdom and you sharing it with my audience. Thank you John.

John: Thank you. Have a great day.

Halelly: You as well. Amazing, right? What did I tell you? So remember, your to-dos are, what John has suggested you do which is start by making sure you’re very clear on your purpose because it’s very hard to lead others towards a purpose if you’re not clear about your own purpose yourself. The second thing he suggested you do is search for those underlying beliefs that you might have that are holding you back that may cause you to evade. And then the third to-do you have, remember from the beginning, is to go to iTunes and to leave a rating, a five-star rating would be really nice but whatever you feel, and a review. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be as long as the review I read at the beginning. It can be one sentence, it can be two sentences. Just say something, because again, it helps us show up in search results. I really appreciate you listening. I really appreciate the review that you’re about to leave for the show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist and I hope that you make today great.

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