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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #116: Leading Down: How to Model Leadership For Your Team

December 10, 2020
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #116: Leading Down: How to Model Leadership For Your Team

Today, Chris and Perry continue their conversation with John Maxwell Enterprise CEO, Mark Cole. Leaders at every level need to be intentional about how they influence and connect with those who report to them. Mark will help us understand how to model leadership from the top of the organization. 

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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 Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with The John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thanks for joining us once again. Hey, just as a quick reminder before we get started. If you want to download the guide that Perry’s created for you to follow along in today’s session, or maybe you have a question about some of the five levels content, how do you apply that? Whether you want to bring us in to do some training or coaching virtually or in-person, don’t hesitate to visit While you’re there, you can also leave a question for us. We can answer in a future session.

Well, today’s title is called Leading Down, How To Model Leadership For Your Team. I absolutely love the fact that we’ve invited him back a second time. Perry, you didn’t want to, but I did, especially since I work with Mark Cole and he’s leading down, I thought it’d be a good idea to bring him back for this session.

But we’re going to continue talking about the principles of 360° Leader influencing not only up, down, and across. Today, we’re going to specifically talk about leading down. And Mark, glad to have you back, thanks for being here. I know you have a lot of weight on your shoulders when it comes to leadership and leading. Thanks for coming back.

Mark Cole:       Glad to be here,

Chris Goede:     Good. All right, Perry, I always talk about the titles and you’ve got to give context to those that are listening. Talk a little bit about why you put me in the room. Is this like an intervention? Is there something we need to talk about? What’s driving the title here?

Perry Holley:    I was wondering how long it would take for you to get it.

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    You think you invited Mark back. Mark and I had been planning this for months.

Chris Goede:     It’s for a long time. Here we go.

Perry Holley:    So if you want to sit down and lay down, whatever you got to do.

Chris Goede:     That’s right, that’s right.

Perry Holley:    No, seriously. Since we had Mark invited back, he decided to come back. Talking about leading down, there are some principles about leading down, and I thought we might just do a rapid-fire and rapid’s relative on this podcast, but key concepts of leading down. Mark’s at the top of an organization so he could be, set us all he does is lead down, but he also leads across.

And so I’m just going to start with the first principle of leading down, Mark. That says that one thing that John talks about, and we adhere to very closely is walking slowly through the halls. Now, back when we were young, they call that MBWA management by walking around. But how do you stay connected with the people when you’re on the move as much as you. I’m going to tell you this guy is-

Chris Goede:     All the time.

Perry Holley:    … never standing still. How do you keep connected with your team.

Mark Cole:       In full disclosure, and anytime you have heard me talk, that’s all I know Chris is full disclosure, vulnerable leading. The more responsibility that I get, the more focused that I am, the more weight that I feel, the harder it is to answer with integrity that I do this well. So let me just put that full disclosure out there because today, right before we came in the studio, just got to see some people I hadn’t seen a couple of weeks because I’ve been traveling and I had the moment. In fact, you guys were very gracious to wait for me to walk slowly through the crowd and tell them how wonderful they are. I don’t always get to do that Perry. And I’m afraid that if I act like I am, then people would disbelieve how busy you just made me sound because it’s hard.

It’s the tension needs to be felt. But here’s the first principle that I want to share right here on how you do that. Never feel like you are leading down. I know why John put it in the book because it’s a picture of organizational structure. But the problem with the picture of organizational structure is too many leaders thinks that’s the picture of their value to the organization and that’s not true. When you turn an organizational structure upside down and realize that you as the leader really are serving up to all the people that, quote, work for you, that’s the first mechanism.

When I walk into that room today, the office today, and I hadn’t been here in a couple of weeks. And I realized if those incredible teammates had not done their job the last two weeks, while I’m running a meeting, we would have never had those meetings in other countries with world executives. We would have never done it.

Perry Holley:    Oh, you moved the offices in that time.

Mark Cole:       In that time.

Perry Holley:    And I noticed that you spent a lot of time telling the people that did the move while you weren’t here how wonderful it was. You could tell the pride welling up.

Mark Cole:       Came back to an incredible office to work in today. You know why? Because the people that I work for, not an organizational structure, but the people I work for has worked very hard while I’m there. That mindset Perry, Chris, is imperative to leaders that know how to effectively quote, lead down.

Chris Goede:     And I think if you want some more context behind what he just said in that first principle, go back and listen to our last week’s podcast. Because Mark, we gave a little more context. He’s leading all of John’s world and has been for a long time and traveling a ton.

But he talked about leading across and you can hear the same people principles. No matter what we’re talking about, leading up, leading down, it doesn’t matter. You can hear that he values people. And when you have that mindset of when you’re leading, it brings different context to who you’re leading.

Perry Holley:    One quick story. John tells the story, perhaps many of you, the listeners podcasts has heard John say it, but he was in a restaurant here in Atlanta some years ago. And somebody came up to him. He didn’t know, John’s not been in the office for many years, came up said, “Hey, John, I now work for you. You’ve given me a job.”

And he stopped him. Immediately went, “Whoa, wait. I’m not sure what you do. I can’t wait to hear your name, but let’s get one thing really clear. Nobody works for me. You work with me.”

That goes back to the peer conversation in the previous episode. But let me tell you something, Chris, we don’t work in hierarchies. We have to have hierarchies for responsibility and accountability, absolutely. But in true functioning and working together, you have to turn that upside down and you work for the people in your organization.

Chris Goede:     And if you don’t have that mindset, Perry and I would just suggest maybe you’re a level one leader. And if that comment hurts, then it’s true, right? And we see this in a lot of our clients that we work with around the world that it really breaks our heart. That probably almost 70% of those that we’re working with leads straight from that level one command and control what’s the organizational chart and I’m going to lead down.

John talks often about “My name’s John. And I’m your friend.” If you’ve heard him speak, that’s what he does. He puts the cookies on the bottom shelf. And it’s his connection. You don’t work for, you work with.

One of the things I’ve learned from him. And you have sat under this, and I want to talk about it from your leadership perspective and applying this principle to all of the enterprise that you lead.

He puts a 10 on everybody’s head. Matter of fact, oftentimes you and I, we could probably share stories not on a live microphone about John putting 10 on people’s heads. We didn’t think there was a 10. And then we had to come back and fix that whole situation. But he lives that model out. And he talks about when you believe in and think and put 10s on people’s heads that’s how they respond.

Now, we work with some leaders in some organizations and Perry can attest to this from coaching conversations that he does. They’re like, “Yeah, Perry, but they’re not 10s, right? They’re twos.” And then Perry says, “Well, who hired them?” No, he .

So living that under John. And then now applying this as a leader, as a CEO with a lot of weight, a lot of responsibility how do you go about that on a daily basis and what you do from a leadership standpoint?

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Mark Cole:       Well, I think and I’d love to hear Perry describe what you just said because right before we went live, he talked about that. “Yeah, but they’re not a 10.” And in actuality, maybe they’re not.

But let me tell you what I’ve watched John do. If you get on my team with a clearly defined responsibility set of duties, and you have been given the tools to accomplish those responsibilities and you made it through our hiring process, you’re a 10. Now it’s up to you to prove I was wrong.

You can either prove that I was right that you are a 10, or you can prove that I was wrong. I’ve given you all the tools. I’ve given you clarity of responsibility. I’ve empowered you. And now you start slipping in the ranking.

Because I want to make sure to the executives out there, that’s going, okay, I’m already cutting this off. I’m going to the next episode because everybody on my team’s not a 10.

My question to you at the very beginning, Chris, you said this laughingly who hired him, and why did you hire an eight? Is your hiring process not very good. That’s on you. Is your hiring process settling for eights when you should have been looking for 10, that’s on you. Is the fact that you thought they were a 10 and they were not. That’s on you.

In other words, if you get somebody on your team that is not a 10 it’s on you, leader. Now, see if you can provide them the growth track to get to a 10. If you still can’t, they’re an eight, five, four, two.

You missed it in the hiring, and you can’t provide a track to get them to be the total best person for that role. Now we need to have some caring, candid conversations. So John, when he talks about see people as a 10 on their head it’s not an infinite game. That’s not to infinity and beyond.

That is for us to get started I’ve got to see you as a-

Chris Goede:     That’s clear context right there.

Mark Cole:       … 10 to give you the best opportunity to be a 10. But if you can’t get there, we’re going to come back and have a conversation of why you’re an eight and how we can get to a 10 or what you need to do to go be a 10 somewhere.

Chris Goede:     That is great context of that principle that I’ve been around this organization for a long time that I hadn’t thought about right there. So don’t miss that with Mark’s talking about and explaining that.

The other thing I thought about when he was talking is John’s age-old principle law of the lid. Leaders do not expect and, or come with a mindset of you’re going to put 10 on people’s heads unless you’re putting a 10 on your head in self-development and growth.

If you’ve ever seen John talk about the law of lid, you guys know what I’m talking about. He sits there and hits his hand. Everybody’s like, “What’s he doing?” Again it goes back to the ownership of you as a leader to make sure that okay, if we didn’t have the right system and process in place to hire 10s, get to that process. We got to fix that. No doubt about that.

But now that I do have them on my team, I’ve got to have a 10 mindset on their head to get them there. But the only way that they’re going to take that journey with me is if I’m modeling, because leadership’s a visual sport, if I’m modeling at that level. And you’d be amazed at when you believe in people, and I know people are going, “You don’t know the people I have on my team.” No, we do, right?

We have an organization just like everybody else, right? And so my wife says oftentimes whenever she speaking, she says, “Listen, you have your crazy, I have my crazy, I don’t want your crazy. And you don’t want mine.” We all have it though, right? But you got to believe in people and just think about this and Perry, I’ll throw it back to you.

How many of you are in the role you’re in right now because somebody believed that you were a 10 and you thought you were a negative three, in some situations myself. And so just be thinking about that in context to what also Mark added, which I think is great from that principle of putting a 10 in everybody’s head.

Perry Holley:    We talk about engagement a lot here and employee engagement. Are you going to be more engaged if you think my boss thinks I’m pretty impressive? And there’s a quote, John says, I’m going to mess it up but about it’s really hard to treat people as worthy and with respect if you secretly think they’re not worth much.

And so by putting that 10 says I see you as a highly valued person. I like the way you said it, now prove to me you’re not. And then that put that potential question. All right, principle number three was develop each person as a person. What’s your approach when you’re developing people. Do you have a formal development process? I mean, I know Chris is a special case, but is there a development process?

Mark Cole:       Yeah, we do. And Chris, you may have talked about this. I won’t spend much time unless you guys want to go deeper. But the responsibility of every leader that has a direct report in our organization is to know the PPFs of the people they direct. And let me explain PPFs. It’s the personal, professional, and financial goals of that individual.

I don’t think you can lead somebody if all you’re interested is, is in your benefit leader and not their benefit. So how do we have those conversations formally with a process again, where we want to know what person on our team, what teammate do you personally want to accomplish? What do you professionally want accomplish and what do you financially want to accomplish?

I remember this, we just acquired another division and brought them into this culture that we’re in that we call one team, one dream, our enterprise. And I remember having that conversation with some of them and then beginning to weep and say I have never had this conversation with a boss before of what I financially want. What I professionally personally want.

One of our teammates will remain anonym. She’s got a physically challenged and mentally challenged child. And her goal was to get that child to Disney World. They’d never been in, and they live in Florida. This year before COVID we set up a trip for them to go because that’s an easy one. I had some miles to redeem. That was one of the easiest things. COVID hit, they still haven’t gone.

But let me tell you something is going to happen to this individual, them and they’re mentally, physically handicapped child is going to be going to Disney World because that was a personal goal that we uncovered.

And so Perry, I would challenge you the way that you lead people for their benefit and yours is know what they consider a benefit and quit upping their 401k contribution and patting yourself on the back. Quit giving them a cost to living raise and go, “Wow, we’re a great company.” No, take time and discover what they think is a benefit.

Chris Goede:     I think what you heard Mark talking about right there too, is he talked strictly from the personal side in developing leaders. Again, we’re going after people first. And so we believe in developing people and Mark just modeled this in an example that he gave you leading someone in our organization, leading down to them, he modeled it. He said, “Hey, listen, we’re going to develop them personally and professionally.”

Mark Cole:       And let me say this on this, Chris, to interrupt you-

… intentionally. You’re a great example of a professional conversation that I did not have.

Chris Goede:     Sure.

Mark Cole:       We were hiring. We were opening up an opportunity. I don’t know if you’ve shared this on the podcast now, but I’ll open it up right now.

Chris Goede:     How come every time we get together on podcasts you want to talk about. No, I’m just kidding.

Mark Cole:       So I’m sitting here, and we were expanding our team. I had not taken the time to have a conversation with you until you were one of several being considered. Well, you’re now in that role, you’re now doing a podcast from that role. You’ve now become our executive vice president of everything we do corporate. And that could have happened a lot sooner if I would have taken time and done what I just shared with you all that I do. And so sometimes we get it right. Sometimes it takes us a long time to get it right. But eventually doing that, you’re going to get it right.

Perry Holley:    And we’re going to send you to Disney World.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. That’s right. And what I hope you’re hearing is just transparency with us, right? Leaders, listen, we fail every single day and we make mistakes. And so he did make a mistake back then, but listen, I’ve forgiven him. I’m standing in the room with you guys, but yeah, no. So it’s development of your people. I want you to be thinking about it.

Mark always is thinking about how do I develop them personally and professionally. He just shared with you the personal example, but from a professional, he continues to develop those that are working with him. All right, let’s talk about leadership principle number four John mentioned, placing people in their strengths zones.

And what I want you to just talk a little bit about here is that in as a leader and bringing together this enterprise and where you’re at you have acquired, and maybe some leaders have acquired team members or different things, especially if you’re downsizing or maybe you’re growing during this time. And you acquire some and you realize that maybe some aren’t in the strength zone of it.

How do you identify some of their strengths zones? What do you see? What’s the process you go through as a leader, that where you identify the strengths zones and then how do you go about maybe even transitioning them from a high level? I know it’s complicated, but for just to give our listeners a couple of thoughts in doing that.

Mark Cole:       We over celebrate discipline and we under celebrate anticipation. And so let me explain that. When I look for the strengths of people on our team, I’m looking for the things that causes anticipation in them, not the things that they are disciplined enough to do.

Because if you can get somebody to anticipate an opportunity, rather than feel like they’ve got to complete the opportunity because it’s my job. And you look for the things that they flourish or they succeed more in, that anticipation is where you’re in a strength zone.

John says all the time that people overrate discipline. I’m disciplined. I’m a disciplined person, but he was just sharing this last week at a conference that we were in. He said, “Do you know how I get up every day and write? Because I anticipate the impact of that writing when people began to read that book so I get up every morning, not from a place of man, I got to write, I get up every morning going. I get to write.” When you’re dealing with people’s strengths zones look for the things that they quote, get to do, not the things they have to do.

And when you can get a good radar on what causes people to anticipate, now you’re in a strength zone.

Chris Goede:     I love that. Now, let me follow up on that. With all the transition as leaders and all the transition that leaders have gone through this year, different teams, again, some are growing, some are flourishing having to bring on team members. Some are downsizing. We understand all of that. How do you go about from a high level begin thinking about transitioning a leader? What’s the communication, what’s the conversation? What’s the leadership thought that you have of getting them into another position inside the organization that aligns with what you identify of what they get to do?

Mark Cole:       Well. So one is, as I think, we overrate discipline and underrate anticipation. I think we overrate corporate structure and underrate corporate effectiveness. We think we have to put a structure, an organizational structure around everyone’s position in who you report to and how you report to. Chris, this morning, you-

Chris Goede:     Checking on the team.

Mark Cole:       This morning, you and I were talking about something that did not fit corporate solutions-

Chris Goede:     No.

Mark Cole:       … but we talked about something that would highly fulfill you in several areas of your life. And by doing that, you will lead corporate solutions better tomorrow. Not just because it was your strength zone, but because I give you and other people in our organization the chance to play in the entire sandbox, not just in their sandbox. And the way I discover your strengths is when I listen intently to something that typically wouldn’t be in your-

Chris Goede:     No, that’s right.

Mark Cole:       … set of responsibilities. And by doing that two things happen. One, I sense other areas in the organization where you could be effectively used. And two, I get more buy-in from the drudgery of the things that you have to do because we don’t eliminate them.Chris Goede:     No, they’re still there, and we all have them.

Mark Cole:       But we tolerate those more if we’re given outlets in the area of our strength. So don’t overrate an organizational structure at the big level, and by the way, challenge your leaders to not get so regimented in the organizational structure either so that they reproduce that activity organization

Perry Holley:    Last one and we’ll turn it back to Chris to wrap it up. Chris and I talk a lot about that people are watching you all the time. All the time, people are watching you. And so the fifth principle was model the behavior you desire and that people are watching you. So how do you do that? How do you make that click?

Mark Cole:       So one of the things that we do in our corporate solutions group, Chris, and you can talk more about this as you wrap up, but we help through the Maxwell Leadership Assessment. We have this assessment that we do, Perry, that ranks how effective we are. And there’s this scale, Chris, one to seven.

And so in this Maxwell Leadership Assessment, we rank ourselves. I’ll never forget this. To your question, the way that I model what the behaviors that I want in others, we are a consumer of our own product. So what we sell you here at the John Maxwell corporate solutions group, we consume at the John Maxwell enterprise level.

And so I had one of our coaches that’s available to all of you on podcasts. And again, Chris, you can talk about how they can get this. I had them talk to me about my Maxwell leadership assessment of how I ranked myself, others ranked me. And then we match the two. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. So I’m paying for it. So I pay our guy to coach me for an hour and he blasted me. By the way, he’ll blast you too, just buy it.

I gave myself as a six out of a scale of seven. I gave myself a six in loyalty and in buy into the organization. Now, gang, I was an entry-level telesales representative when I came to this organization. My wife and I recently leveraged everything we’ve got to buy this organization. And I have traveled last year alone, 2019, I traveled to 26 countries with John Maxwell as his sidekick, sometimes carrying his bags as the CEO. I’ve paid the price.

But I wouldn’t give myself a seven because I believe there’s room to grow in my loyalty and passion for the organization. And one of our facilitators looked at me and said, “If you can’t be a six, nobody else in the organization can be a four. And Mark, if you don’t get a better perspective of the behaviors you’re wanting to model and let people be at peak in those areas, you will never give and feeling in this organization of being able to measure up.”

Perry, Chris, profoundly impacted me. And so if I want to model, it goes beyond just saying, well, if we get you to let us come in and do a Maxwell Leadership Assessment for you, I got to do that. That’s one way that I tell our people all the time, be a product of the product, model it. But another modeling is, is if it’s going to be effective for my team, I better let it be effective to me.

And as a CEO of a multi-million dollar organization, in fact, as a CEO of seven multi-million dollar companies, that’s now becoming one, one thing that I realize you have got to model the behavior at every level of the organization. Because I’m going to tell you if you’re good at most, and you’re not good at a couple, and you don’t demonstrate a coachable, teachable, hunger to get better at those two, you lose the credibility of the most because of your unwillingness to focus on the few.

And as a leader, you’re not good at everything. Let me tell you something. I’m staring in this studio at people that are a lot better at me at a lot of things. You guys are incredible. My ability to understand that and to empower you is the effectiveness not as a CEO, not to become better than you because I have the responsibility of being better than you.

No way. John says, if you’re the smartest person in the class, you’re in the wrong class, guess what? I’ve never been in the wrong class. I qualify to be in the studio today because I’m standing here with people that at a lot of areas in our business is better than I. CEOs to model great behavior needs to understand how to celebrate excellence in others and quit trying to think I got to be excellent at everything.

Chris Goede:     And with that Maxwell Leadership Assessment you were talking about, when you talk about modeling the behavior, leaders, I would challenge you as you grow and as things are, brought to your attention that our learning and aha moments share them with your team, right?

Mark notoriously comes in and models his behavior of growth and we know that because he’s sharing with us what he’s learning both the good and the bad. And so if you want to model that type of behavior then make sure that you’re communicating to those that quote-unquote, we started today about leading down, right? That you are leading the things you’re learning from, and it will become contagious, right?

They’re like, “Man, Mark’s talking about his faults or Mark’s talking about growing. I better get on it.” And so we begin to model that behavior. So Mark, thanks so much for joining us and just being transparent and talking about-

Perry Holley:    Yes, that was good.

Chris Goede:     … leading down in John’s world, the principles that you have learned from John, and now you are living out as a CEO and the owner. And so I just would encourage all of you if you didn’t hear last week’s podcast, go back, listen to that.

But as I wrap up, let me just review the principles real quick that we had Mark speak into, okay? These are all leading down principles that John has developed. Number one, walk slowly through the crowd, right? We talked about that. Man, that’s a huge lesson. And we can talk about that. John does that better than anybody, and he’s always smiling. I think that’s just something you should always be thinking about doing, even if you don’t like people, try it, it works.

Leading down principle number two, see everyone as a 10. Number three, develop each team member as a person personally and professionally, don’t miss that. Do both sides of that. Number four was placing people in their strength zone and then finally model the behavior that you desire in people.

One last thing Mark talked about the Maxwell Leadership Assessment. We’ve talked about getting to understand your people from a strength zone. One of the ways we do that is with our behavioral profile and a personality assessment. We get to understand the wiring of our people. And that’s just part of the resources that allow you to find the strengths. So Mark gave you some other, but then we have this Maxwell Leadership Assessment.

We like to talk about the personality behavior as hey, these are the cards you were dealt. This is how you’re made. When you get backed into corners is how you’re coming out swinging. The Maxwell Leadership Assessment leaders is how you’re playing your cards.

You want to know how effectively you’re leading down. I’m not going to tell you who that coach was that gave it to Mark. But if you want some of that feedback, just let me know. We’ll take care of that. If you don’t want that, we’ll let Perry handle the call. And Perry also handles that for us.

But if that’s something that you’re interested in and you want to get an assessment done on you and your leadership and how you’re playing your cards, make sure that you visit And there you can fill out a form, and we’ll get somebody in touch with you about taking the Maxwell Leadership Assessment. So thanks again, Mark. Perry, why don’t you go ahead and close this out.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, very good. You gave that web address, You can learn more about the five levels, about 360° leader. And of course, leave us a question, a comment, or ask for more resources. We’d be glad to hear from you there. We’re always grateful that you would spend these minutes with us each week and that’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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