Ken Lear shares his philosophies on success, leadership, and how to be a great coach.
Q: How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
Ken Lear: I view success is a game of inches – there are so many games decided on just a few plays. So as a mentor, what I get excited about and what I try to point out is when I see people make progress. I don’t think you can become a leader in the business world overnight, I think it’s just a lot of small decisions over time. I try to notice small adjustments week over week, maybe a small change in self-discipline, a bit of goal-setting, maybe it’s a little bit of professional development, maybe it’s honing in on some public speaking skills. The most important thing is that there’s progress.
If you think of other people before yourself, ultimately you’ll be set up to have an amazing life. It’s a give before you get mentality. You have to think about your team before you think about yourself. You have to talk about your people’s goals. Don’t hesitate to ask your team “What are some things we need to improve, what can we change, how can I help you guys grow?”
As leaders, we have to be the pacesetters. I’m a true believer that scarcity brings a ton of value. If you do something that other people aren’t willing to do or can’t do — then you’re going to have a lot of value. You will be needed. You’ll make a lot of money. There is a lot of scarcity of true leadership in this world — those who lead by example, who are good people, who treat others well, who are selfless, who give their time with no immediate return or financial gain. They just do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Q: Do you have any non-negotiables for your mentees?
Ken Lear: Yes. The first is being on time. It’s a choice and a discipline. The second is honesty. If you’re dishonest, you get terminated – there’s no room for error. Everything else, for the most part, is coachable.
Q: How do you incorporate recognition and empowerment into your coaching style?
Ken Lear: In my company, I try to recognize leadership behavior early in someone’s path. When new employees show lots of promise, I’ll often take them out for dinner to get to know them and have some important conversations. I talk to them about not waiting around for others who have been at the firm longer and to start taking control of their opportunity.
Here’s another example: Sometimes when we hire several people at once we do a training class in the office – and if it’s clear that some of the trainees are getting things down sooner than others I take them to breakfast. I let them know that the reason I singled those people out is that it’s clear they are putting in more effort than the others. I tell them, I just want you to know that we notice the effort. I make sure they know that I will mirror their effort – the more you put into this, the more we’re going to put into you. I want people working with me to know early and often that their efforts will be rewarded. Effort equals results.
Q: What do you believe is the key difference between successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs?
Ken Lear: It’s their motivation. If someone is incredibly motivated they can make up for the lack of skill that they have — they’ll go balls to the wall 15 hours a day. If they’re not motivated AND they lack the skill (i.e. being new at running a business), that’s when they get run over.
Q: What is your advice to someone who is trying to take his/her career to the next level?
Ken Lear: Success in anything comes down to discipline and habits. The discipline piece is what you do when nobody’s watching. It’s what you do for your company and for your future and for your goals when no one is there cheering you on. Clarify what you want, then develop a roadmap. You have to get emotionally attached to your goals. Thoughts equal feelings, feelings equal actions and actions get you results.
Set a high bar and keep raising it. Don’t become complacent, never take your foot off the gas. You have to have an urgency to your day and an urgency about learning new things.
Q: What are some specific ways to help someone who is struggling?
Ken Lear: One of the best ways to help someone improve is to connect them with people of the same tenure who are already doing well. In sports, for example, it helps to get a struggling freshman around a fellow freshman who is an All American. The same goes in business — if one of my newer managers isn’t getting the hang of things, I encourage them to get on the phone with or go visit another new manager who is doing really well.
Q: What is your best advice for coaching someone who is new to your business?
Ken Lear: When I’m coaching someone who’s new at something, I expect them to screw up and get frustrated. What I tell people is, it’s easy to be excited when you’re hitting home runs, but what I’m really curious about is how you’ll handle it when something is difficult. People say that it builds your character when hard stuff happens to you, and that’s true, but I also really think your character is revealed. When someone gets knocked down, I pull them aside and say, hey, how are you feeling, I am here to help you.
Q: How do you coach someone who isn’t making the necessary changes?
Ken Lear: You have to be willing to have the tough conversations. As a leader, it’s up to you to give people the awareness of things that aren’t in their best interest. You have to tell them that if they don’t make critical changes, they won’t reach their goals.
Here’s an example of something I’ll say: “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you’re saying. I hear that you’ve got a lot of goals, but let’s take a step back and figure out an action plan.” Then we put that plan on paper and I coach them towards their plan. If they’re not going to make the positive changes, I tell them, “No biggie, it’s just going to be a long time until you hit your goals. It’s not about me, it’s about you.” I encourage them by my example to follow my lead. I also encourage them to have fun. Additionally, I make sure that I’m giving positive attention to the people who are doing well. Everyone wants to be that person.
Q: What are your thoughts on having to work long hours as an entrepreneur?
Ken Lear: You have to have the right mindset. You’re not going to become wealthy in this world working a standard 5-day week — it is what it is — there’s too much competition. Some entrepreneurs will tell you stories about not taking a vacation for years, working 7 days a week, or not paying themselves and saving up money. Any entrepreneur who is able to think long-term understands that there is a short-term sacrifice required to hit their goals. When you’re really committed to your goals, you’re willing to endure the short-term pain for a long-term gain – and you know that running a successful business will ultimately pay off and take care of your family.
Particularly when you’re new at running a business, you’re going to have to take advantage of the extra hours of the week until you have the time management skills to get more done in the same amount of time. At this point in my career, I can get more done in 2 hours than I could in an entire day when I was 22. I can make a confident decision in minutes that used to take me hours – I’d be over-thinking and over-analyzing – but now I can just pull the trigger. When people are new at something, they have to work harder and put in more time because they lack the skill, the efficiency, and the decision-making ability that takes time to develop.
Q: What is your best advice to new college graduates?
Ken Lear: Go towards something where you’ll gain the experience that you’ll need to reach your goals, don’t just go towards the money. If you gain the experience, you’ll make money.
Some new graduates feel entitled – they think that just because they went to a good school or have a certain degree that they’re worth a certain amount of money. These people will likely learn about the real world the hard way. For those who have high-self esteem and who are prepared to work hard, I think it’s a great idea to look for opportunities to build business skills, as these will translate to increased pay over time. I’m a firm believer that people want to be paid what they’re worth – so if someone feels they should be paid “x” number of dollars per year, then they should create the revenue to justify it, and of course, find a company that values performance.
I’m raising my kids to understand this at an early age. I believe that you earn what you get in this world and that nothing is handed to you. Ask my four-year-old son, Brady, about the quarters he’s earned recently for cleaning his game room and helping with the dishes.