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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #115: Leading Across: Expanding Your Circle of Influence

December 3, 2020
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #115: Leading Across: Expanding Your Circle of Influence

Today, Chris and Perry welcome the CEO of The John Maxwell Company, Mark Cole to the podcast. Mark is an expert at connecting with people, leading across, and expanding his network, something leaders at all levels need to be doing if they hope to increase their influence. 

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to The John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holly, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President, John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining. Just as a reminder before we get started, if you want to learn more about The 5 Levels of Leadership or even what we’re talking about last couple of weeks, the 360° Leader, don’t hesitate to visit Perry’s also developed a guide that you can follow along with our episodes there, or even if you have a question about leading a team, or a comment that you have that we can address on a future podcast, we would love to do that. Well, you guys know that every time this part of the podcast comes up, Perry has an interesting title for me. And he always usually kind of puts me on the spot. And so, today we’re going to talk about leading across, expanding your circle of influence. Now, here’s what’s interesting. The title’s not interesting, but what he didn’t tell me was that my boss was going to be my leader-

Mark Cole:       Surprise.

Chris Goede:     Was going to be on the podcast with us today. So, we’re going to continue to really talk about this 360° Leader, and we’re going to talk about leading across. And not leading up, as I do sometimes with Mark Cole or Mark leading down to me, we’re going to talk about leading across on this, and then Mark’s going to join us for a future episode. But he’s in a position of leadership that we just want you to hear from him about application years of sitting under John, we’ve worked together for years. I’ve seen him grow tremendously in this area. And he now, beginning January, not only is he owner of The John Maxwell Enterprise, but also continues to be the CEO of all four companies.

And that leadership for him has changed. And it has allowed him to now grow his leadership and figure out how does he need to lead across, not only in our different enterprises, but also different industries, different circles of influence that John has around the world, as he’s assuming kind of this mantle, John. So, Perry, I’m assuming with that title, that’s where you were going with this. And maybe I kind of just hijacked your thought, but at least that’s where I want to go with him today. So, Mark, thanks for joining us, we’re super excited that you’re here.

Mark Cole:       Super glad to be here. And gang, let me say this to both of you, and it’s apropos to what we’re talking about today. Chris does not work for me.

Chris Goede:     Yes.

Mark Cole:       He works alongside me. And Perry, you’re not just a facilitator coach, you are an active part of the team because the biggest thing that I can give you today on this title is, we’re all on the same team, we all see each other as teammates, and not get caught up relationally, in the hierarchy. Now, I feel the weight, the buck stops here . I got that. But as it relates to being effective and leading across, see people as your peers, not as your subordinates.

Chris Goede:     I think we can wrap it up right here. shortest podcast I’ve ever… People are like, “Thank God we don’t have to listen to Perry and Chris.” That’s right.

Perry Holley:    Mark, we all know your story, but in case folks don’t know your story and your journey with John, can you just catch everybody up so we can jump into the subject, but I think it’s important to know how you got here.

Mark Cole:       Yes. So, I started in the back corner office, and it was really actually in the stock room, and I started as a telesales representative. So, I was smiling and dialing for 75 times a day to get butts in seats. We were an event company back then. Chris, you were running operations back then. Chris and I were in the backroom. Perry, you didn’t-

Perry Holley:    I wasn’t born .

Mark Cole:       You weren’t even born yet. And so, Chris and I were way back in the stone ages, in back rooms, in the stock room. And I’m going to tell you through leading principles of 360, this is why I love what you guys are doing right here. By taking those principles and starting with nobody even knowing my name, much less having a direct report, exercising these principles, began to get more and more opportunity. So, 11 years ago now, John asked me to be his business manager. 10 and a half years ago, we started, we aggregated all of the intellectual property, all the trademarks and started The John Maxwell Company. And those intellectual properties, John let me invest in. So, I became an owner about 10 and a half years ago. And it was at that point that John asked me to be the CEO of the enterprise.

Perry Holley:    Wow, good.

Chris Goede:     So, when you’re talking about living out and fleshing out these principles, this is the guy right here and has been doing it for years. Now, I want to stop for just a minute. You didn’t mention it, but I want to talk about it. You often say this is really a calling for you.

Mark Cole:       Yes.

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Chris Goede:     And I think it’s important because it was a calling for you back then too. And you began to live out and flesh out these principles. And we don’t hear leaders use that type of language when it comes to what they’re doing, whether it’s actually a position or whether it’s leading or whatever it is, they don’t call . Give a little bit of insight onto that passion behind the calling for you and what you do in leading people. And not only leading people, but using John’s principles to lead people.

Mark Cole:       Yes. And I think what’s funny is I’m talking to some corporate leaders, some executive leaders, some team leaders today on this podcast, Perry, because what you and Chris do. I mean, you have aggregated some of the finest global corporate team leaders listening to this podcast, and I’m proud of you guys for it. First time on. I don’t know what you have to do to qualify to be on, but I finally qualified.

Perry Holley:    Perry’s I didn’t know your mind. I admitted that on the front end.

Chris Goede:     Yes.

Mark Cole:       But I’m sitting here and what you guys are doing and the people you’re speaking to, I’m very aware, Chris. One of the things I would say in my answer to you is, spent time last week with Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta. That’s a pretty big corporation. That’s a pretty big corporate leader. I spent sometime ago, some time with Kevin Turner back when he was the COO of Microsoft, we’re talking corporate leaders.

And I’ll tell you this, they don’t always use our language of calling and I was made for this, but with the really good CEOs that are effective leading up to the board, leading across to some of their peers in the industry, leading down to their teams, every one of them that have sustainable effectiveness may use different languages, but they are called to it. They know they were made for it. I’ll never forget talking to Ed Bastian when Delta acquired Northwest, they both had to file bankruptcy and talking to Ed, one of the first times I ever talked to him and he didn’t use the same language, but he said, “I was made for this. This is my moment to lead Delta. And by the way, I believe I have more in me to lead at a higher level.”

So, while a lot of executives may see it as a J-O-B, as an opportunity, as a chance to get their 401ks fully funded in their future retirement plans they’re, the really good ones that sustain it what they do, they find purpose and significance in what they’re doing on a day in and day out basis. I think that’s really important.

Chris Goede:     It really is. And I was just thinking as you’re talking about Ed Bastian is as a… Well, all of a sudden is rumor remarkable Delta customers, but I get the communication during the COVID-19 and he has just taken it to another level of personal touch that you can tell when you say he’s made for this. I truly believe that because I’ve seen some of the other airlines in the communications that we all have different flights we think, but he really raised his game.

And let me say something about somebody else Chris, that we just spent time in Kiawah Island with them. We were COVID safe everybody be don’t be… Be safe. I mean be… Don’t be comfortable. We were safe. But we just spent time with Jimmy Blanchard who was the CEO of Synovus, one of the largest financial institutions and the best place to work year after year, after year. And make no mistake, that guy was called to that. And that’s why he’s sustained. That’s why his fulfillment far outreached his year in bonus. And that’s why he created this great place to work.

Perry Holley:    Well, let’s get to the topic at hand because I, I’m not really known you as long as Chris, but I have observed you as a high level leader, working with another high level leader, John Maxwell and a founder of the organization is somewhat of a popular and more famous person. When you walk in crowds, people know who he is. But I noticed you work… In my observation you’re very hard to develop relationships. You go out of your way. I just watching you in the office upstairs. You’re not here a lot and you came in and you stopped at every office, you’re connecting all the time.

But you seem to always be looking for ways to kind of expand your network, include others in what you’re doing. This seems a little contradictory to a lot of the senior leaders I see who kind of walk in a hurry to get to the next meeting or the next call or the next thing. And I just wonder how do you see that in connecting and expanding? And it’s not always peers, it’s up down and sideways for sure. But when you’re with John and you’re expanding your network out there on the road, doing so many connections you make, how do you do that?

Mark Cole:       I feel really fortunate to be able to answer this question with the passion and the conviction that I have because not everybody gets this. But I’m a product of our product. Chris, you’re a product of the product. You see, I stand here today as the CEO now owner because of other people who through relationship, I caught their eye and they put a good word in for me to the boss. So what I understand is, no matter what level people in our organization are working, it was somebody in a similar level that was working as I began to progress through the organization that put in a good word for me. And I’ve never forgotten that. So when I go through the office, like I did while ago, they may not have been here 20 years ago when I started advancing through the organization. But somebody very similar to them was here and they were impacted by the way that I did what I was asked to do back then, and they put in a good word for me.

Too many CEOs get in the job because of a previous accomplishment, and then they get into that level. And so they don’t think they owe anybody working for them because they earned the right. They paid the price, not realizing that the people that are working for them could advance them even more if they would take time to be relational. Linda Eggers, John Maxwell’s assistant, Chris we’ve worked alongside of her a long time.

Every time I talk to her, I say, “Hey Linda, thanks for the opportunity to run John’s company.” And then she kind of laughs like that Perry. But at the same time, I’m telling you, when John Maxwell didn’t know my name, Linda Eggers was telling him that Mark Cole really has a good rapport with the people. My challenge on this answer to every person listening is never cease to see your effectiveness depends on the people that you’re interacting with. Your advancement is dependent on the people interacting with you. And the day you forget that either because you were hired in to run a team or because you’ve been in your position so long that you’ve forgotten it is the day you began to lose effectiveness at leading at a peer level.

Perry Holley:    I know John says, people won’t go along with you if they can’t get along with you. And I watch as you’re connecting with people and I’ve seen you at events and thousands of people around, I’ve seen you come off the stage where you could be viewed as a very important and a famous person up there and you come down and you just connect easily with everyone, and is that an intentional thing you do? Part of your natural bent? But like you said, it’s just… You don’t get there. You’re not going to be successful as a lot of us want you to be. And so, you’re making those connections everywhere you go.

Mark Cole:       You know, one of the people has highly infected us chris here is Jack Welch. And when years ago John was connecting with him and he talked that night. He also is known for cut the bottom 10%, all of that. But let me tell you one thing that I did learn from Jack Welch as it relates to relational, he would get on the plane, he would go to the factory. He would get on the floor. And he’d say, “Talk to me about your leader.” And he’d tell his leaders, “Hey, I’m going to talk to your people about your leadership style. You can walk with me or I’ll come back and give you the report, but I’m going to get the report.” And if somebody like Jack Welch, leading CEO, leading GE for years and years and years can slow down and take time to get down and walk with the people to find out how leadership is doing, me and my little organization on a state connect to do with the people.

Chris Goede:     Yes. So, I want to clarify a couple things I heard you say that I think are really important. I don’t want our listeners to miss. Mark started this session off today by saying we work with each other.

Perry Holley:    That’s correct.

Chris Goede:     Now let me tie that to what he just talked about of every single person that Perry gave an example, when we were just in our office about him walking through and connecting. He works with every one of those individuals. And so, he has the mindset of leading them as a peer. So, I want you all to think about this as you’re thinking about your position in the organization where you are. I want you to begin to define who your peers are. And I would challenge you internally to answer that question.

Mark Cole:       It’s good.Chris Goede:     Because do you look at it from a hierarchy standpoint or as Mark has led us down saying, “No, no, we work with each other.” That’s my first thing I want you to take away. The second thing is, make sure your motive is pure. We’re staying in today recording in this studio because we know Mark’s motive. There are a lot of leaders that are doing what Mark’s talking about doing, but they’re doing it for selfish gain.

Perry Holley:    Manipulating.

Chris Goede:     And manipulating. The right difference between influence and that is that motive right there. So, make sure that your motive is pure when you’re doing that. Don’t miss those two takeaways from the conversation that we just had with Mark. Now Mark, as you think about expanding, I want to talk about leading influencing your peers outside the John Maxwell world. So, Perry talked about events different thing you’re always connecting with people. Very appreciative of that, where they’ve come from. I want you to talk a little bit about leading and influencing people that are now your peers, that at one point in time, they were John’s peers.

They still are John’s peers. But now as you’re with John in this CEO, in this ownership role and the challenges that you face in leading them, that at the peer level, that the internal leadership voice which we all have goes, “Man, that’s a struggle for me. Man, that’s a challenge.” Share some of the things that just come to mind when we talk about leading across, leading your peers. Specifically, I was thinking about for you outside of John Maxwell Company, that’s just a challenge for you. It keeps you up at night.

Mark Cole:       So, one of our initiatives Chris is a non-profit initiative called John Maxwell Leadership Foundation. To where we train leaders in countries around the world. So just in the last seven days, Perry I’ve met with the president of Guatemala. I’ve met with the president of the Congress. That’s what they call their head of Congress. I met with the Attorney General in Guatemala. I met with the entire cabinet minus two, that was out in the countryside fixing something and then met with the.

Supreme Court. That’s in the last seven days. The exposure that I get with John causes me to have to answer this question. The reason I brought our foundation up is because that’s kind of what we do, we help them train their next generation on values-based leadership. Casey Crawford… To answer your question, I’m coming back to a guy named Casey Crawford.

You may know him and our podcast listeners as the CEO of Movement Mortgage. Movement Mortgage underwrites the mortgages of every 46th mortgage written Movement Mortgage. They’re the fifth largest in the country. Prop second largest privately held. Casey has become a great friend to our foundation, great friend to our organization. John and I do consulting work with him and his leadership every month. He is a guy that looked at me last week. Now again, last month wrote $18 billion worth of mortgages.

Perry Holley:    Last month, he said.

Mark Cole:       Last month.

Perry Holley:    Yes.

Mark Cole:       Not last year, last month. He looked at me and he said, “I feel like that I’m supposed to serve you and help you in leading John’s enterprise and in leading the foundation, what can I do to serve you.” That number one, I had to do what you guys do, because these guys that share with you on your podcasts every day, they know me and they think that’s comical, because it is comical. It is comical that somebody at that level of leadership would say, “You can’t ask me to do something that I won’t do to serve you.” Therefore, Chris, it comes back to your question. I do, I see myself as wanting to serve him. I see myself as wanting to represent John well, but in that moment, I saw myself as being responsible to cast a big enough vision, that it would engage somebody at that caliber and people like me that have grown from the stock room to where I am today. I could keep a servant humility that would cause me to lose the opportunity at that moment.

And so, today what I’m having to do that is new for me, is I’m having to feel the responsibility and the authority to respond when people make that request or give that offer to me. And too many leaders either are so egotistical that they don’t feel like they need anybody and they never get that response or when they get that kind of an invitation they misuse it or they keep themselves so humble they don’t take advantage of that moment. And that balancing that has been one of the biggest things for me in leading across.

Chris Goede:     Yes. That just leads into something. I was really interested in your on the edge of it there was, one thing I’ve known you and I watch you as you’re a product of the product, as you say, but you’re always, you’re leading, you’re investing in yourself, you’ve not arrived, you’ve got this attitude. And I’m wondering that teachable, relatable onus of that, and it could be humility is a great word, but you’re a very approachable for a high level leader in a very visible setting, you’re a very approachable guy. And I was wondering how important is that? And how do you maintain that desire to continue to grow when you’re at the top?

Mark Cole:       You used two attributes of a leader right there that really striked me, whether you’re leading up, leading across, leading down. Humility, approachability… Sorry, approachability, which is humility and then teachability. Yeah. And so let me say this about approachability. I know some really effective leaders that are very awkward. They’re introverts. I could name a few right now that you would know in podcast that I won’t. And so, Jake, our producer is pointing at himself. I won’t go there Jake, but what I will-

Perry Holley:    Put your finger off the mute button.

Mark Cole:       What I will tell you is there’s some profound names that are very introverted and they’re not approachable, yet they’re very effective. Approachability is very important in leading across from a relational standpoint. It’s not the non-negotiable like teachability is. Teachability is a non-negotiable. If you’re not learning and you’re not hungry to better yourself, you’re on a shelf life already, the time’s ticking. Your effectiveness, your relevancy is short-lived if you’re not still teachable. People ask all the time, “What is the greatest attribute of a leader?” And I think it is teachability. They want to learn. Pat Lencioni calls it hungry. They got to be hungry. They got to want it. I look at you Perry, and I hope you guys, Chris have done a great biographical connection Perry of the people you work with for the companies that you’ve worked with. And yet I look at you today and you find great joy out of making Chris and I better.

And you didn’t know I was going to go there. But here’s what I will tell you. The world is yours in the world of corporate training, based on your experience and the fact that you’d come over here today, that you would up-level this podcast is a hunger in you. It’s not a, “I know this, I got this, let me share what it is.” It’s this hunger and this desire to better yourself and to share that and be a conduit through that. And that’s the kind of people Chris that we attract. I believe that’s the people that’s listening to this podcast. Why are you listening to this podcast today? Because you want to be better. You’re hungry. You’re teachable. And that is a huge .

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Well, let me wrap up for us today and then Perry, I’ll throw it to you and let you kind of close. Just some closing thoughts for me again, let’s go back to what I challenge you with on that question, which is, who do you determine your peers are inside the organization? I think if you begin to look at that and you begin to differentiate between maybe how Mark defined it for us, versus how you define it will be a huge step forward for you in being able to lead across. The other thing is, and he just touched on it. Mark did there about being relatable. Mark cannot go into a setting and lead across inside the organization or outside and not be relatable, right? There are people as he talked about to where we know great leaders, but none of us would want to sit down and have lunch with them, right?

Because we wouldn’t be able to probably connect with them. And in order for you to be successful at leading across and I know not all of you are wired with a natural relationship level too, as we talk about, but it’s got to become a learned behavior if you want to increase your influence leading across the organizations and do it with the right motive, get over that fear and do it with the right motive. And I think what you’ll begin to see is, you’ll begin to see your career begin to increase.

Mark talked about it. He started he started in the cubicle back when we started Mark and I were six years old, we started to over 20 years ago and Perry wasn’t born yet. Just looking at our pictures . We started back there. He influenced and led that way back there. And I know, because I can tell you people right now that’ll testify to it. The exact same way he’s leading cross right now as the CEO and owner. So just begin to think about that no matter where you are, begin thinking about leading across, whether it’s inside the organization or it’s outside the organization.

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, Mark, that was fun. Will you come back for another episode?

Mark Cole:       I’d love to.

Perry Holley:    See, that’s how you know you’ve made it when you get to come back.

Mark Cole:       That’s right. We don’t invite everybody back.

Perry Holley:    That’s right. Just as a reminder, as Chris told you at the top, if you’d like to know more about The 5 Levels of Leadership or even the 360° Leader, you can go to We’re doing virtual and face-to-face, if that suits you, you can also ask us a question we’d love hearing from you. And we’re very grateful that you would spend this time with us today. That’s all today from The John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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