EP 65 - John Ramstead - How a Leadership Coach Can Lead Your Business to Success

 Awesomers Origin - We'll talk to an Awesomer about where they came from, the triumphs and tribulations they have faced and how they are doing today. An Awesomer Origin story is the chance to hear the backstory about the journey our guest took on their road to become awesomer. These stories are incredibly varied and the takeaway is that awesomers come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, creeds, colors and every other variation possible. On your awesomer road you will face adversity. That’s just part of life. The question as always is how YOU choose to deal with it.

Leadership Beyond Influence: Ignite Your Life and Legacy!

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John is a certified executive coach, keynote speaker and trainer, former combat Navy fighter pilot, leadership coach and international podcast host. John was named by Inc. Magazine as one of “The Top 12 Podcasts Leaders Need to Listen To.” It is John’s purpose and joy to launch individuals, companies, and government organizations into their full potential.

John’s journey started when the U.S. Navy accepted him into flight school to become a Naval Aviator. The day he pinned on his Wings of Gold and received orders to fly the F- 14 was the culmination of a dream he held since childhood. He went on to fly combat missions in Iraq and was selected to attend TOPGUN.

After his Navy career, John became an entrepreneur. He was part of three tech startups, was on a Fortune 500 management team, board chair on two non-profits he founded and has held many other leadership positions.

John was at the peak of his professional career when his dreams were shattered by a freak accident. 25 surgeries later and with his life hanging in the balance, John emerged with a profound vision for how to live a life of significance. Since then, he has coached and mentored hundreds of individuals and companies. His “Beyond Influence” coaching will equip and inspire you to stop holding back and take action TODAY!


How a Leadership Coach Can Lead Your Business to Success

A leadership coach can be a great catalyst in helping people build the business and life of their dreams.

On today’s episode, Steve’s special guest is John Ramstead. John is a former Navy fighter pilot, a leadership coach and an international podcast host. He is also the author of the Top 100 Leadership Blog for Executives, Managers and CEOs. Some of the key points you will learn from this episode are:

  • The concept of a rising tide lifts all boats - a defining moment for John, something he learned from one of his lightning bolt experiences.

  • How John transformed himself from being a military man to an entrepreneur.

  • How having self-awareness can help you as an entrepreneur to get better results than what you’re getting right now.

So sit back and listen to this episode and let John help you discover your core values and increase your results through his life-changing experiences.  

05:03 (John Ramstead talks about his origin story.)

16:54 (A defining moment – the concept of a rising tide lifts all boats.)

20:54 (John talks about his transition from being a military man to being an entrepreneur.)

41:37 (Self-awareness is the first step of emotional intelligence.)

54:46 (John discusses how to be a purpose-driven leader.)

Welcome to the Awesomers.com podcast. If you love to learn and if you're motivated to expand your mind and heck if you desire to break through those traditional paradigms and find your own version of success, you are in the right place. Awesomers around the world are on a journey to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. We believe in paying it forward and we fundamentally try to live up to the great Zig Ziglar quote where he said, "You can have everything in your life you want if you help enough other people get what they want." It doesn't matter where you came from. It only matters where you're going. My name is Steve Simonson and I hope you will join me on this Awesomer journey.


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You’re listening to the Awesomers podcast.

Steve: You are listening to Episode Number 65 of the Awesomers.com podcast series, that's Episode 65 and all you have to do is go to Awesomers.com/65 to find all the show notes, transcripts, details, links, etc. Today, I'm joined by John Ramstead who's kind of like a virtual coach. He helps you discover your core values and kind of unleash the results and the ability to double your results from inside. Now, John is a former Navy fighter pilot. He's a current leadership coach and an international podcast host and author of the top 100 leadership blog for executives, managers and CEOs. One of the things I love about John is that you know he's like a lot of us. Growing up, he wanted to go into the military and get in the Top Gun and he's like, “Gosh, that'll never work for me. That's not going to happen.” So, he ended up you know taking a detour, which we'll talk about in today's episode. Later only to come back and say, “Yes, you know I do want to give it a go. I am going to take that risk.” And he was able to get into the Top Gun Academy and just the week before a lightning bolt strikes. So you know here we've got a guy who's an incredible, you know accomplished achiever yet had to face lightning bolts and John talks about you know kind of his stories and his origin story in gripping detail today. You're going to be thrilled that you're here because this is a very special episode and I think you're going to like it a lot. Thanks for joining us and let's dig in today's episode right now.

Welcome back Awesomers. It's Steve Simonson joining you again today on another Awesomers.com podcast. Today, I'm joined by John Ramstead. John, how are you?

John: I'm doing awesome Steve. How are you doing buddy?

Steve: I’m very well, even Awesomer I would say. Now, let me just check because the audience keeps track of how many times I screw up people's names. How'd I do on your name?

John: Perfect. You know, it's easy John Ramstead, so–

Steve: That's what I was thankful for, yes. I got another one coming up today. It's not going to go so well. I just know how it's going. So, the audience please put this one in the win column and prepare for a future day when I will not get it right. But John I've already read in your bio and kind of give a little history about you and so forth from the big picture, but tell us in your own words kind of what you do day to day right now, what takes up your time?

John: Oh, day-to-day 100% of our focus and our mission is actually equipping and inspiring leaders, entrepreneurs to actually launch into you know what, what they – what's been birthed inside of them, actually bring it into reality and make it happen right. There's so many people out there with these huge dreams and they have the skill sets, but there's something holding them back and that is what we do is we knock down the constraints and help people just build the business to life of their dreams and I love what I get to do.

Steve: Yes, that's a pretty inspiring way to go. I suppose you probably get to see some success stories along the way, yes?

John: Yes, that's the best part of what I do even if I’m as you know play a small part, a little bit of a role as a catalyst, man that is – and I get that feedback, that's what just keeps gassing the thing.

Steve: Yes. There's nothing at least for me more fulfilling than seeing just even a little sliver of hey I knew that guy and or gal and look at them now. They're getting it done. I take great pleasure in watching that happen. It sounds like you have a similar affinity towards other people's success.

John: Yes, absolutely.

Steve: So, John we're going to dive into what I like to call the origin story a little bit and we're going to go back to the very beginning, so maybe you could tell us where were you born?

05:03 (John Ramstead talks about his origin story.)

John: Well, I grew up in Minnesota and I'll never forget my brother was a crazy kid and got into drugs in the local high school, so my folks sent me to an all-boys Catholic military High School. My dad told me that if you hate it you know we'll put you back in the public school. So, after my first year I'm like “Dad, I hate this place.” He's like “Well, I was just kidding.” So, I ended up graduating from that school, but you know the – I always – my grandpa emigrated here from Norway, Steve, in 1911 and a few years later signed up to fight for his new country the U.S. in World War I and was in every nasty battle over there. I got to tell you that always really impressed me and then my dad enlisted in World War II when he was only 17. My grandpa signed the exception form for him to go in and fight, so since I was a kid I was just fascinated with military history and so I knew that that was going to be part of my future. So, I applied to the Naval Academy, Navy ROTC. I only wanted to go in the Navy because that's where my dad had been. It sound really cool and that's what how things ended up playing out.

Steve: Fascinating. So, that tells us what your dad did a little bit. It sounds like he was a military man when he was young, did he continue on with that or what did he do after the war?

John: No. After the war, he went to law school, went through night law school. He was working in an insurance company and became a litigator and worked crazy hours. He's just a great man and was providing for the family, but you know we didn't get to spend a lot of time with him when we were younger because of just how many hours he had to work, but that's what he did. So, he's now 93 years old and he's still alive and he and I talk almost every day.

Steve: Alright, lovely, that's excellent. How about your mom, what did she do back in the day?

John: You know, it's interesting, they met because she was my dad's client. She had – think about this, she was a single mom, she'd been divorced, this was in the middle 60s and she started a dress shop that was very successful right in downtown Minneapolis and so you know she is very much of an entrepreneur herself and then after me and my sister were born she stayed at home and she's also an artist, so she does a lot of different things. She's very creative, very creative lady.

Steve: Yes, that's fascinating, particularly the client-lawyer connection. That's a not an often heard love story honestly.

John: No. No, I've never heard that one before actually, but I'm glad they met.

Steve: Yes and I heard you say it sound like you have – did you say another brother?

John: Yes. I have an older brother. He's seven years older than me and then my sister is about two years younger than me.

Steve: I got you and are they entrepreneurial or what types of things do they find themselves in.

John: Yes. Well, my brother he's been an author and a writer, which is man that's a hard place to make a living and he's done it, you know not with a paycheck his whole career and he's done very well. He’s written a number of books and he's doing a documentary right now. My sister has worked in corporate America in marketing and now she actually – now that her kids are older, she just got certified in yoga. She's opening her own yoga studio instead of just going in and being a yoga instructor, so yes our family likes to I think kind of be the one in charge. How's that Steve?

Steve: Yes, yes. Well, I also suffer from the “don't nobody tell me what to do” syndrome. So, it's fascinating to me that you are able in the military and even your father in the military to kind of you know cope with some of that. So, you joined the Navy, how long were you in the Navy?

John: I was in the Navy seven years.

Steve: Now, did you do any university before or after that. Yes, I got a ROTC scholarship. I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic, got a degree in electrical engineering, got commissioned in the Navy the day before graduation and got accepted into flight school and, but I got to tell you here there's an interesting story there just about people and how important it is to actually really have some big dreams and goals. The summer of 1986, I graduated college in ‘88, the movie Top Gun came out and I'm sitting in the movie theater and I had a different reaction than the others because that's where I wanted to go. I saw all this and was thinking could I do that and my conclusion was I don't think I can do that and then because of the interest the Top Gun spurred somebody came in and told us that hey every 100,000 people who are applying right now one person is going to get to fly a fighter. So, I’m like that's not me and I punched out. I gave up and I was going to apply and just go on submarines, serve out my tour and I got to tell you man I was miserable Steve. I realized I've given up on myself like I’ve got to take a chance and I've missed all the deadlines and through just some amazing mentorship of my class officer who’s a – they’re  at the ROTC unit and I think God's intervention I ended up getting orders to go to flight school and you know that started an incredible journey and it was crazy competitive.

Steve: Oh man, I can imagine that – first of all, that movie was a great movie back in the day and it probably – now you said you had a different reaction, which I'm kind of interested, so your reaction was like this is so amazing and so cool this is beyond me, so I'm just going to back burner this dream and then your mentor encouraged you and you put the dream back on the front burner, is that how I understand it?

John: No. No, I didn't even talk to him about it. I'm like I could – I can't succeed at that level right. I was just kind of watching the flight scenes. I'm like “Wow, that's crazy stuff landing on an aircraft carrier kind of seeing it all in real life.” I'm like “I don't think I can do that” and then I went and spent my summer cruise between junior and senior year on a submarine. I'm like “Oh no, I could not do this as a career, man.” I was – we're supposed to be gone for five weeks. We ended up being gone from it's just over seven and I'm like “This is not for me.” I know other people that love it, so I'm not judging. I don't think it's a right or a wrong thing, but it just wasn't right for me.

Steve: Sure, sure. Well, it seems to be like the polar opposite of flying up in the clouds right, the idea of freedom and you know kind of you have a purvey of everything you could see and or a summary where you're just kind of in a cold dark environment.

John: Well, yes. The submarine felt like this giant simulator because when you're underwater you don't – there's no ocean movement or anything and yes, flying I ended up flying F-14s, so I flew the same jet that was in Top Gun and that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Steve: Yes, and so presumably then you were on aircraft carriers taking on and off and did all those things basically in the movie.

John: I was, yes. I have over 300 landings day and night on a aircraft carrier 20 foot pitching Cs, flew in combat in Iraq and you know since you got this awesome audience and a lot of entrepreneurs out there, can I have – here’s something I think that really served me well actually going through flight school.

Steve: Please.

John: I was heading down to Pensacola right and we knew how competitive it was, how many – how few people not only don't graduate but then get selected for jets. On my way down there Steve my dad pulled me aside and gave me some great advice. He said, “When you get down there there's going to be a student, somebody who's ahead of you in the program, somebody who you're not competing with because you only compete with your class right and there's a six training bases, so your class there’s a lot of people you don't even – aren't even aware of right because you're going through time, these different timeframes.” He said, “Figure out who he is, buy him a beer and ask him what he's doing because,” he said, “I'd guarantee he's doing something differently than everybody else.” And this guy's name was John and I got to know him and I bought him a beer, became great friends. His approach to flight training as a student was totally 180 degrees out from everybody else and what we were being taught. His mindset, how he was preparing, how he got ready for flights, how he studied everything and he shared with me what he was doing. So, I had a choice right, am I going to – it’s a lot of extra work. My wife came down once to – or she was my fiancée, we’ve been married 30 years, she surprised me on a Friday night. She went to the bar where everybody was – where we all hang out right and I wasn't there and everyone was like “Oh John never comes out on Friday. I'll guarantee he's at home.” And I was at home at 10:00 at night studying because I had this big dream. I was going to do it whatever it took and so I followed John's advice. I ended up graduating number one all the way through, was able to choose F-14s and here's the thing that struck me though because I've always been kind of wired this way everybody around me who I was competing with, my roommates and people in my class I shared with them what John told me and what I was doing and you know what Steve none of them actually did it or some of them started, but they didn't put in the work and follow through. And I actually have found that after I, you know, when I got into kind of my entrepreneurial phase, I found that oftentimes that is the difference between somebody that really succeeds and doesn't – they might have a brilliant idea, you got to get mentorship. You’ve got to be willing to honor that mentorship by putting in the work that somebody's telling you to do and you got to have a big dream that's going to help you persevere and you know what there's definitely some low moments in flight training and in business that I've been through and you have to know why you are willing to take that next step forward that maybe somebody else is not willing to take. That's what's going to set you apart.


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Steve: Well, I totally agree. I think that's a great lesson there and in particular this idea that – or at least shining the light on the fact that a lot of times people will hear advice, perhaps even they sought out the advice and then they kind of decide which piece of the advice they want to listen to right and it's almost like taking a recipe for you know some delicacy or something that somebody really love to have whether it's a dessert or a you know gourmet savory meal and then they just pick which ingredients that are important to them or that they feel are easiest and you end up with a completely different outcome and it sounds like your colleagues that you shared, so openly shared your techniques and what you learned from the other John they mostly ignored it. Yes?

John: Yes, for the most part, yes.

Steve: Yes. I think that's a pretty common thing and a good cautionary tale. So, first of all, very impressive that you got into flight school, got in the F-14s, flew so many missions and so forth, was there any defining moments from that experience beyond what you just shared that you think would be helpful to entrepreneurs or Awesomers out there?

16:54 (A defining moment – the concept of a rising tide lifts all boats.)

John: Well, you know when you – I guess I don't know, I don't want this to sound tongue-in-cheek, but you know when you're in a – first of all, when your life is risk often right you deal with the stress I think afterwards big meetings, deadlines, milestones, funding, growth you know differently, but I think from an entrepreneurial standpoint, inside of a fighter squadron there's an absolutely this culture of excellence right. Those guys that are in there right it's a very important mission. It's a very complex and demanding environment that you operate in, decisions that you make people's you know literally lives can depend on it and your life depends on the lives of others. But I think for me there was something I'll never forget. I went into my commanding – I wanted to make an aviator career Steve, so I went to one of my commanding officers, a guy I respected, we're still in touch, we still get together 30 years later and I said, “Hey, skipper one day I want to be a commanding officer, what advice would you give me?” And here's what he shared with me. He goes “Listen, everybody is trying to do something big and flashy to get noticed maybe you know in business right trying to get that big deal or write that – you know, you want to get that article in Inc magazine or whatever right, you're looking for that big kind of hit,” he said, “Listen, every single day if you just go find somebody else in this squadron senior to you junior, officer enlisted in your division or not and you help them do something that's useful to them and useful also to the mission of the squadron,” he goes “Trust,” and he goes “You might never get any feedback or kudos or awards because of it, but when we sit down and we're looking at what opportunities need, you know, need to go to people next,” he goes “You will you will hit anything you ever want to accomplish in your career if you help everybody else around you succeed before you worry about your own success.” So this whole concept of a rising tide lifts all boats and I saw it and then after that I had a commanding officer who did not have that approach and I saw all what that was like, so when I got in to starting you know companies or you know being in a executive level at a company and I can influence culture that was what we implemented and I think it's why we had – were so successful even in very challenging markets 2000, 2008, you know periods like this you know we got through and did well in the most part. One of my companies I started just got completely wiped out, I mean out of business when the dot-com crash hit in 2000, but what – who I'd met, what I've learned through that actually led to the next opportunity, which was actually pretty epic so.

Steve: Yes. Well, I think that's a part and parcel of any of those sorts of cycles that we see in the marketplace. You know, there's things that come in. There's you know things that go out, but as long as the lessons that we're learning are what I like to call knowledge equity, you know we're able to apply them and I actually appreciated the lesson from your commanding officer, which was basically you know I'll call the great Zig Ziglar into this the quote that I often refer to which is you can have everything you want in your life if you help enough other people get what they want in their life.

John: Absolutely.

Steve: The great Zig Ziglar, but that was a very tangible example how they're saying hey, help all the people around you, just one little thing just help them and don't look for any kind of obvious reciprocation, just carry on and do the thing and it'll work itself out and it sounds like that it was a contrast to subsequent leadership that you saw.

John: Yes, very much so. I'll leave it at that, very much so.

Steve: Yes. Well, I'm going to just do the inside baseball math and say the one that – the first one was better.

John: Yes, gooder. He was way gooder.

Steve: Gooder, yes I like that from the culture standpoint. So, at some point it sounds like you left the military and started entrepreneuring it up. Tell me about that transition.

20:54 (John talks about his transition from being a military man to being an entrepreneur.)

John: That was a tough transition because it was my dream to go to Top Gun and go through as a student just like the movie and I just been told I was going to go to Top Gun and I had my orders. I was going to head to Miramar in a couple weeks and I was playing softball with our squadron team, freak thing I got hit with a line drive in my right eye. I had an orbital blowout fracture. I had nerve damage, I had double vision and I was done. I lost my medical and I was – six months later, I was out of the Navy.

Steve: Wow, kind of Steve need eyes and your eye I got smacked with a softball line drive.

John: Line drive I was done, so I'm you know out in San – I was living in San – I got, I moved back to San Diego while I was at the hospital treatments, but I’ve got to tell you man I was the walking wounded. I was depressed. My dream had been ripped away from me. Steve, I think I literally had about seven jobs in six months. I was so used to a culture of excellence in integrity and honesty in character and even if you didn't like somebody that was in your squadron you know you respected their professionalism and how they did things right. You maybe don't hang out with them and have a beer, but you know you learn how to work with all kinds of different folks and so here I am you know my wife had come home and my car would be in the driveway and she'd be like “Again?” I'm like “Yes, don't worry about it. I'll find another job tomorrow.” But here I am you know–

Steve: That was your way of showing oh yes, that job is done.

John: That job is done. You know, people change the sales plan, make it retroactive, not honor their commitments and I’d just be like I'm out of here. You know, I'm not putting up with this. I'm going to go find an – you know, people I – I want to work with people I respect and that I can trust and you know here I am trying to you know whatever job it was at the time and here's the sounds of my dreams right the F-14s, F-18s are coming in over my head constantly, coming in to Miramar this constant reminder, but it was actually through that that I reached out, you know kind of followed my dad's advice again and I reached out in the community and found three different gentlemen that all knew each other. They were all very successful entrepreneurs and business owners and just started being mentored and these guys helped me kind of figure out what I was good at and what I should do next and that led me to leave San Diego to move to Minnesota to start my first company, which I would not have done with their mentorship and that actually kind of led from being an employee into being an entrepreneur.

Steve: Well, you wouldn't have done it without their mentorship.

John: I don't think so. I was just looking for a you know a job that I enjoyed with people I respected and the biggest paycheck. I mean that was my litmus test. I mean honestly I was kind of still kind of shell-shocked, so I wasn't thinking two, three, four or five years down the road. I'm like I got to pay my bills right now because I'm out of the Navy, I have no income coming in and I live in San Diego and it's not cheap. I mean that was kind of right I was very short-term you know focused at the time.

Steve: Yes. It's amazing you know to be able to within a 12-month span to go from yes I'm accepted at Top Gun, I'm out having a good time on the softball field and then 12 months later you know you've just gone through six or seven jobs, you know the culture is different, the expectations are weird and different and you know I'm sure for you you've mentioned depression. I'm sure it was just heartbreaking that whole time. You said–

John: I was in the dark spot. I wouldn't say I was suicidal, but Steve I was, man I was despondent. I was you know I was functional because I you know I didn't want to declare bankruptcy, but I got to tell you that you know that mentorship from those folks that helped me to connect to who I was, what I was good at. As they started to help me they invited me to start going to church with them, which was a huge thing for me because I hadn't been going to church forever, totally reconnected to my faith during that period of time and honestly that is the foundation on which that I built the rest was you know was my Christian faith. And so reconnecting with that for me was absolutely life-changing you know, but I would not – I don't think I would have got – I would have never gone to a church during that period of my time other than here's some guys that are sowing into me without any expectations and they just said hey if you ever want to join us you know come with us and we'll go to lunch afterwards and we did and you know that changed everything. So, it's amazing just when you meet people where their needs are at the influence that you can really have on their life whether it's somebody who's working in the cube next to you or somebody you meet at a networking event. I mean I think when we focus, when we do focus on others and maybe that's just how I'm wired man it's so rewarding.

Steve: I think more humans than not are wired that same way, but they don't always recognize it. They don't always know it. So, once you got to Minnesota tell us about how that progressed.

John: Well, do you remember the show Sanford and Sons?

Steve: Of course. Yes, I could probably get the tune out of this [makes sound], yes.

John: Yes, yes so–

Steve: Yes, I love it.

John: Your younger listeners kind of like what is he talking about. It was these guys in the inner city that had a – what, a junkyard right?

Steve: Yes.

John: Let me tell you, junkyard. So, we’re known as the Sanford and Sons of the computer industry. So, we started working with IBM RS/6000 and Sun mid-range and mainframe equipment. We would do take outs from companies as they upgraded and then we would part them out and sell them to companies that did you know repair and maintenance contracts and we were cranking with the cashflow, but there was really no upside. So, this is kind of like you know late 90s and all these people are making all this money and stock and you know going public, all these kind of things. That was not something that you could do in the industry we were in. A guy I met at another networking event saw something in me I did not see in myself. He asked me, it was a startup data mining and business intelligence software company and he asked me to come and be head of sales and operations. And I'm like “Are you sure you got the right guy?” And the company their biggest funder was based out of Barcelona, Spain. He was this chairman of the board for Siemens in Europe and so we had to go to Barcelona to meet him as part of this process. That was pretty awesome. You have to go there a few times, but that was an amazing experience. I had some huge epic failures there. I’ll tell you about one. I'll never forget this. I got – you know, my comfort zone was in the military, you know whether it was briefing admirals, supporting the Marines on the ground, the army. When I got out of the military though I got tell you anybody who was successful in business or had done well financially intimidated me because that's not where I had come from or not my comfort zone and we got a meeting with this company called Digital River, they were on the cover of all the Forbes and Inc and Fast Money at the time and the day before the meeting, our CEO looks at me and says, “You know, it's going to be your meeting. You're going to run it.” Like no, I was not like... I'm up to this. I'm like I need to go puke in the bathroom. So, I didn't even sleep that night. I prepared a pitch book. We're in this meeting. I can tell you every detail, the coffee smell, the wood walls, what – you know the weather, it was sunny outside, it was a cold fall day and I literally started to talk and started stuttering and the only thing I had in front of me was hot coffee so I drink that so then I started having a coughing spit fit and then I started and I'm literally stuttering. There's three guys in front of me that are on the cover of these magazines. They're looking at me like what the heck is going on. A couple minutes into this Tim just reaches over and closes kind of my pitch book, takes over the meeting and I'm sitting there thinking okay crap, I left you know my other company to do this, I'm going to have to – well, how am I going to tell my wife I need to go get another job. So, we ended up the meeting. It was so awkward. I wanted to die. We're walking out of there. I didn't even want to look at Tim, this guy Tim in the eyes and we're walking toward his car and he goes “Hey, what happened in there?” I don't even know what I said. So, we sit down in the car. I'm looking out the window on the passenger side trying to think of what I'm going to say that Don. I'm not even concerned at this point about Tim because he's going to just let me go and he looks over me and he goes “Let me tell you what happened in there. You were so concerned about looking good, talking about yourself and pitching our stuff to look maybe good to me that you didn't even focus at all on what their needs were, how we could add value to them, what their goals are and how we could help them get there.”  Okay, you know great lesson learned, thanks to him and then he goes “Next time, I know you're going to knock it out of the park.” I was like I look at him I'm like “What did you say?” He goes “Man, I think I just invested a million dollars in your training. Do you think I'm going to let you go now. We never got that deal. It would have been a seven-figure deal.” And that was the inflection point for me though where I said you know what, somebody sees something in me like some of the mentorship I had in the military that I didn't see in myself at the time and that it was like then I gave myself permission to excel, to see myself differently, to step into meetings with a different presence and confidence and I got to tell you that was the inflection point when my business career, sales career, leadership career absolutely took off and I definitely had some pretty big up and downs along the way, but that was that inflection point. So, I've got to tell you know just that power sometimes of taking that risk and trusting somebody that maybe not even be trustworthy yet, that's what he did for me and so I've always tried to do that for others is create such experiences not to that extent where I think you know leave somebody to walk into me like that completely unprepared. We did not plan it out, game board it, role play it beforehand, so I now do that with my folks, but you know that was huge for me Steve, that was a good moment.

Steve: Well, I can imagine. I'd like that in terms of a defining moment for, especially for your colleague at the time the CEO I suppose it was you know being able to break it down and say hey, first of all you got to put the customers’ needs you know on the agenda. Let's get that at the top of the list, but secondly you know after giving you all the feedback and so forth he doubled down on you and he's like you know next time you’ll hit out of the park, I think that the irony is you, even then you probably were still skeptical about his logic and finding so much faith in you that that was enough for you to build your house of you know confidence on I suppose.

John: Well, yes. Well, in the next 12 months we grew it to a million dollars a month in sales as a raw startup. I mean you know and then we got taken out by – when the Internet bubble popped because we were really focusing on you remember how they were you know building business based on clicks on websites?

Steve: I do, yes.

John: So, we made a tax – a strategic error to focus on dot-com companies. The other area that we had some success in was kind of traditional mainline manufacturing because they have massive data right that we can analyze, but we wanted to focus on kind of the sexy stuff. If we had focused actually on the mainline stuff, no doubt that company would have just absolutely rocked I mean in a good way through that period of time and come on the other end very successful, but that's not what had happened.

Steve: Yes. Sometimes things would be–

John: Yes, not by input.

Steve: Yes, beyond their – before their time or strategically in the wrong lane, but sometimes particularly in corrections like the dot-com correction or the housing correction or what have you, you know things get run over and we just try to get up after that and move on. So, tell me about any big lessons you've learned on your journey you know kind of from then to now along the way, anything that stands out in your mind right as we speak.

John: Well, you know I think – here's just one thought that comes to my mind is right we're all faced with adversity. I mean you could lose a job. I mean you know you get hit with a softball. I had another accident we'll probably talk about a few years ago that put me in the hospital for a couple years literally. We have a choice in those moments and also all the stuff that we've all lived through right, I'll guarantee people live it you know listening right now they've been victims of abuse, neglect. They've had financial tragedy they themselves or people around them, untimely deaths or health issues or things that have been said to us that are very cruel you know. So, we have all these things and I had to learn to actually go back through a lot of these highs and lows because I'm sharing a lot of the high points right, there's a lot of things that were difficult and hard to get through and I had to learn to kind of go back through those areas and actually learn how to get through adversity in a way that was not – I didn't look back at that memory and it was emotionally painful. I had to get some help with some of these areas and look at that as a place of learning more about you know who I was and also from the perspective that this prepares me to do better, help people in a different way, work with my, maybe my customers in a different way that I wouldn't be able to if that had not happened. So, I had to choose right am I going to be a victim because of that and let it define me or am I going to be a victor and some of the stuff in my past helps me to overcome to then become somebody different and better right I'm always trying to get a little bit better and every time I got a little bit better I was able to achieve more than I thought I could before, so in that – I got to tell you and then it was like you know rinse, wash, repeat right. So, this is just life right. There's you know I think if people went back and mapped all those high points they're kind of few and far between right and what happens in those valleys that we have to walk through that prepares us to that next peak and hopefully that next peak is just a little bit higher. It's not always has been, but I think that's a big lesson learned. There’s that stuff in your past is priceless assets that's going to absolutely equip you to do some things today that maybe you're not even aware that you're capable of.

Steve: Well, I definitely think that's a big lesson learned. You know, this general concept that  people have especially when you're going through the adversity is that this is going to last forever, this is a giant pain, you know it's hard to find hope when you're in those low spots as you described them, but the reality is you know this too shall pass as they say right. And so we have to really try to take the perspective and that applies to the high points as well as you, you know describe that up and down even when you're at the highest highs those will pass as well. So, it's about you know kind of reflecting and maybe flying back just a little bit or flying up to the 30,000 foot view as people talk about to remember that gosh you know learn from the lows, learn from the highs and then you know try to appreciate more of what you can, at least that's been a strategy that I've tried to use when I'm in those, the valley so to speak. Is that how you kind of cope with the valleys?

John: Yes. You know, my perspective is right, it really comes from my faith and you know it’s just you know in all things you know be joyful right, that all things work together for good. So, I actually just accepted that as face value that even some of the stuff that just makes absolutely no sense to me, God does not make sense in the moment right now, but for sometimes you know just hanging on and like you said hope right, just a little bit of hope that tomorrow, next month, next quarter, next year is going to be better was what got me through it and also it allowed me to look at it from a different perspective that this is something that's actually is purposeful and it's equipping me even though some of the things – I could share some of the things I've been through is like it makes absolutely no sense, but now that it might now. Some of the worst things I've ever gone through are some of the things people that I'm mentoring, coaching you know entrepreneurs that are – it's things that are it's messing up how they think and deal with situations, their relationships, how their interaction with their team, maybe their spouse and I can go back and say man I get it, I've been there. I've been through what you just talked about right, and here's how I was able to just make some steps forward. So, it's not just all about the business and the plans and the product launches right. It's about sowing and investing in people and they've done that to me. And so I got to tell you that you know it's been really rewarding sometimes to take some of that broken glass and turn it into something you know useful for somebody else, if that makes sense.

Steve: It does, yes. I think broken glass is a pretty good analogy right because it's certainly not comfortable to walk through, but when you're on the other side you try to save people some of those pain points.


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Steve: So, let me ask you this and maybe this is a time where you tell us about well only to the extent it's relevant, but was there a particular time you wanted to give up and you – I heard you say literally two years in the hospital and my mind is like wait a minute that's a potential nomination there, how was that experience and was that a time you ever wanted to give up and just kind of do something different or just check out of the deal?

John: Well, yes. So, after the data mining company I got recruited and went to a Fortune 100 tech company, rose into management at this company, but Steve I was working, doing all these startups for like a oh my gosh, what was it, a 10-, 12-year period. I was literally probably averaging 70, 80 hours a week. There was weeks where I was well over 100, you know I'll do whatever it take. I knew I wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, so I'm going to outwork you was kind of my motto or outwork my competitors, but I was – I remember sitting in my office and I got a call from an executive recruiter who'd found me some of my best people. It goes “Hey man, you know Jeff, why you calling?” He’s like “Hey, you know, hey John let me run something by you.” He goes “This is actually a call for you.” I'm like “Yes dude, I'm good.” He goes so he explained kind of an opportunity with a Wall Street firm and I'm like hmm, so I end up I make a pivot to work for a Wall Street firm in their Minneapolis office because I could make what was making before, not travel anymore and I’ve got to tell you I had a phenomenal career. And so I started in Minnesota, the CEO of our firm and it's a big public financial firm in New York City calls me and says “Hey, can we – we want to move you to Denver to help grow the office there.” I moved out here in July of 2008 so you know what happened in the fall of 2008, that was a pretty tough time to transition and do what I was tasked to do and we got through that. I was really happy with how our team rallied. So, 2011 comes around and I'm like I'm discontent again, so I need another change. I want to go build something again right. I'd been an employee for the last eight years and I'd been able to be very entrepreneurial and build organizations, build teams. So, anyway in the spring of 2011 I decided to leave and go start a company with a friend of mine. We’re going to buy an operating unit of a public bank and bring it private and rebuild it. They had bought it about eight years prior and I've been there for five months. I've gotten very active in the Denver community. I only been here a couple years at that point in politics and inner-city causes mostly education, mentoring youth, things like that. Anyway, I got invited on a retreat with Dr. James Dobson. He’d founded family – focused on the family. He had left that to start a new ministry called Family Talk and I got invited to go up to a retreat that he was hosting just a small group up in Montana. So, I get up there on a Thursday, Friday we're going to horseback to the back of this property. Remember, I was just five months in the middle of you know starting this whole new venture right. I've left a very successful track record at a big company–

Steve: Yes, pretty stable versus the startup world.

41:37 (Self-awareness is the first step of emotional intelligence.)

John: Very stable. And so anyway, we're going to go horseback riding and I get on a horse, it turns out this horse was a very highly trained horse. I've grown up you know doing some – a couple trail rides here and there and I'm on this horse and all of a sudden Steve this horse just bolts and he takes off and I'm laying flat on my back as he's accelerating in his rump had slapped me in the shoulder blades. I was scared to death I was going to flip off the back of this horse and get kicked in the head and get killed, so what do I do? I'm squeezing my legs as hard as I can. If anybody out there is listening knows anything about horses, I didn't know this because I didn't read the manual, I'm telling the horse to accelerate. So, he's going faster and faster and faster and I finally get my weight up on the saddle and I'm looking straight ahead in about 50 yards in front of me is a steel corral fencing like the 3-inch rolled bars right.

Steve: Yes.

John: And it was clear to the left, so all I had to do is get him to turn, no problem, I'll slow him down and come back and so I'm thinking and we're going really fast so it was uncomfortable for me and I've flown fighters. I did not feel comfortable on a horse at a gallop, but I grabbed his rein to get him to turn and he pulled his head straight back. He didn't break stride. I was like ro-ro.

Steve: Yes.

John: I've got the rein and I pull even harder and he pulls his head back even harder, does not even break stride and I just start to panic. I'm like I got to jump off this horse. If I jump off of this horse I'm going to die. I mean you're up – you know though the hooves are thundering. The winds in your face, you're up so high and we're getting closer and closer and closer to the fence. He did not – he was perpendicular to this fence and then all of a sudden – maybe you’ve had this right when you're in a panic and all of a sudden it's like everything slows down and you have that moment of clarity and I remember thinking to myself this is not going to end well, that's a last thing I remember. He goes into the fence, drops his button bucks and he flips over slams into the fence front first. When he did that, he launched me into the fence and I went face first into the top steel bar, so I lost eight teeth. I broke almost every bone in my skull except for my jaw and my right cheekbone. This whole side of my skull was crushed in. My neck was broken. It completely destroyed my right shoulder. The next bar down hit me in the ribs and I broke four ribs and punctured my left lung. We found out later that what happened to me was not survivable. It shouldn't have been. I ended up six weeks in ICU, had two brain surgeries, was transferred to a specialty hospital here in Denver with just a spinal cord and traumatic brain injury recovery. I was there for 20 months. During that whole period of time had 25 surgeries, had a severe traumatic brain injury, but I woke up on the ground and into more pain that I could even describe to you and people were holding me down. This is all cut open and so it wasn't pretty and all of a sudden what everybody around me saw was I just relaxed so completely. One of the guys says, “It looks like you’re sinking into the ground.” And in that moment Steve I was in God's presence and it was the most intense and powerful unconditional love that I've ever felt in my life because I remember the first thought that crossed my mind feeling this was I'm not worthy of somebody loving me like this, okay and at this point I wasn't going to church a lot right, but then I felt like this weight washing over me like waves in an ocean took away all the pain that I was in and then I heard God speak. A voice had came from everywhere and he said, “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord and John I'm going to heal you and use this for my glory.” Then he said, “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” And as soon as he said that I knew this left eye was completely blind. All the bones behind the eye sockets shattered and severed the optic nerve, so I opened my eyes and I said, “Everybody God is here. You don't have to worry. It's going to be okay.” But that started a very long recovery process and there's so many lessons learned there from a faith perspective and everything else, but there's – with your permission I like to just share–

Steve: Sure.

John: –maybe one story that kind of I think what motivates me today. I'll never forget this. It was I don't remember when because my first six weeks in ICU I had post-traumatic amnesia, so I only have literally three or four memories from that whole six-week trip, but one I'll never forget. I'm lying in bed looking down at myself, seven IVs in my arms. The neurosurgeon comes in. He looks very smart and I remember thinking to myself well that's good, he's a neurosurgeon he had a blue shirt on and a gold tie, I'm thinking you’d go Navy, I like this guy, but he’s there, he is talking to my wife about the first brain surgery they needed to do. They need to take off my, you know, half of my skull to fix everything because there's some really bad stuff going on. All this, all my whole left side of my skull and face been rebuilt with titanium underneath the skin. What he’s sharing with my wife though is – what I'm hearing is, “It doesn't look like John is going to you know survive this. It's a low probability and if he does, him being the person you remembered is not quite likely.” So, he leaves and then he asked Donna if we had a will. We had just redone our estate plan. We were supposed to sign it when I got back from this trip. And he said, “Listen, before we go into surgery I really would feel comfortable if your attorney had that sent up here and John signs it and a living will too, which is what happened. So, I'm lying in bed and here's what I'm convinced of Steve even though God just told me he had a plan, that next weekend was my funeral. So, I started kind of playing what everybody is going to say at the front of church, which is all the nice things and I started thinking hey, what would guys like Steve or you know anybody else say at the back of the church afterwards. What would you say if you were having – getting together for coffee six months later or a year later? And I started thinking of these two concepts: Inheritance, that's what you leave to people. In that perspective my wife and kids are going to be fine, but I started thinking about legacy and that's what you leave in people. I said, “What have I left in people so that the use of my life would outlive my life.” That's when I was convicted, so as I recovered I started thinking about what is next how do I – and I could not work full time, so coming out of the hospital after two years I could literally – I started a company with no money, everything had been wiped out because of the accident. No income for over two years. I could work literally 10 to 15 hours a week. I was in chronic pains, actually still am today and instead of going and get a job I decided I'm going to go start something. This is for me was totally stepping out on faith and it was one thing. I want to equip and inspire leaders to accomplish what's been inspired in them and out of that little start four years ago, today working with some of the most amazing men and women that are entrepreneurs, business leaders, we've been hired by the U.S. military to help them change their culture around. We're speaking on all different aspects of leadership, building you know creating outstanding cultures, getting the best out of your people, high-performing teams. It's been an amazing ride. We started a podcast like you're doing, Eternal Leadership, so out of that you know I think grounding myself in that, why.

Steve: Yes.

John: But here's the thing though, there was a precursor to that because I was really struggling with the why and the what and so I actually spent that two years on who, who I am, really getting to understand you know if you look at our emotional intelligence right. There was a study that Stanford did. They surveyed over a thousand leaders in business, government, you know religion, arts and entertainment, they looked at all kinds of folks right. You know, you look at Steve Jobs versus you know Donald Trump right, you have crazy differences in personalities across the spectrum and their question that they were positing was is there something in common that leaders have. What they found was and it's something teachable it’s self-awareness, which is the first step of emotional intelligence. So, I'm going to throw to everybody out there if you really want to step into a leadership role, you want to get better results than you’re getting now I think my opinion it starts with really understanding who you are, how you think, why you feel the certain way you do in certain situations, what are your attitudes towards something because our thoughts and our feelings lead to the actions that we take, repeated actions or habits and if it's not getting us the results that we want that gives us a way to kind of look back and say what is the reason that that is how I respond, think and feel to a certain event that then gives us the tools to actually start making some changes because I'm convinced that the inner game determines the outer game and I think that would be my biggest advice and encouragement to folks out there that want to get some different results is you got to sometimes just slow down even if it's for 10 or 15 minutes a day to kind of get a little bit more awareness about who you are and how you're showing up and how people are experiencing you, to really accelerate your results and it might sound a little counterintuitive, but that's me on my soapbox a bit.

Steve: No, no. I think it's quite appropriate. First of all, what a you know tragic, but also inspiring story to have you, you know have this extraordinary set of injuries, you know a series of breaks and bones and you know all of this that it takes you literally two years inside a hospital, you know various hospitals to recover from, that's remarkable on its own, the fact that apparently you're carrying on with business. You're you know back in the game and you did a startup after that, which is almost nuts honestly right because it's like you know with all of the constraints, that would have been enough to take almost anybody out of the equation you know from a mortality perspective, number one, that’s like–

John: Well, I've got an amazing wife Steve and you know–

Steve: Yes, that’s amazing.

John: I told her this is what I'm going to go do and she says, “All right. I got your back.”

Steve: Wow, that is good stuff. Yes. It's really inspiring stuff there. So, I definitely find you know so much in there that we could unpack and kind of dig into, but you know you did a good job of talking about self-awareness and this idea that if we don't understand you know how to you know how we are probably today and then maybe how we take steps towards improvement, it's difficult to have those you call them the in leads to the out, those external things, the things that were produced don't change if we don't change what's inside, that's your point, yes?

John: Yes, completely. I mean you look at like an extraordinary organization, it's built on a bunch of people that are really good at what they do right their technical part–

Steve: Yes.

John: –and they're also extraordinary at their relationships, their communication in building trust. If you don't have those, both of those pillars because without – you know there's something that's you know happening right now, entrepreneurs are definitely feeling it right. The rate of change has accelerated dramatically and without kind of that organizational health, that personal – some of those underlying foundational you know communication, trust, other things like that, somebody that's your competitor who doesn't have something as good as you have right now, but they have the ability to adapt to the change better than you do, they will pass you so fast and so I think it's you know some of this thing in real world hard ROI, KPI, anything you want to measure, a lot of these things when I work with organizations they're – I can tell you some of the case studies, but one of the organizations I worked with over the last two years they've grown over 500%. This is the stuff we worked on, so this – some of these what a lot of people have recently thought as soft skills they lead to doing the strategic planning, the product launches, responding to market shifts, harnessing the innovation and creativity of your people, retaining and developing your best people so they don't leave right because they want to be part of a great culture. So anyway, yes that is I mean that is kind of where I come from and it's not for everybody, but the people that have, that already think like that I'll guarantee this is resonating, but you know what it's something – I'm a simple guy so my whole thing is hey what is maybe that small step forward into some of these things that I can do today. So, I know it's kind of a rambling answer, but that’ just what popped up.

Steve: No, no. I think it's quite on point honestly. The reality is if we as a person, as an individual or as an organization don't take steps towards whether you know it's improvement and that could be skills, that could be personal awareness as you described, all of these things are additive towards you know the outcome we're trying to engineer and I definitely think that you know people they don't put enough emphasis on culture. They don't put enough emphasis on those things, but so we're running against the clock here John. Tell us a little bit about your coaching you know company and what you guys do on a day-to-day basis. You've alluded to some of the things in some of our prior conversation, but you know what are the – what's your number one customer type and what do you do for them?

54:46 (John discusses how to be a purpose-driven leader.)

John: Yes. I mean my – the person I love to work with Steve there's somebody who's just a high potential, high performer, maybe there's something holding them back, they're stuck, they’re on a plateau or maybe they're – it was just growth mode and they're just they're stressed, they feel alone and they just don't, you know they're not working in their strengths because you know as an entrepreneur I get it right. You have to do everything in the beginning. You have to learn how to transition to working in your strengths or you're not serving the organization. And the people that I'd love to work with though because I don't take on a lot of clients at this point because I do one-on-one coaching, I'm doing a lot of work in organizations from some small startups to Fortune 100 companies and also been doing a lot of work, we've been hired by the military and that is what I would call a purpose-driven leader, somebody that sees their business whether you want to use that you know their calling, their purpose, whatever it is to sow into the lives of the people around them to help them achieve greatness and through their company sow into or feed or achieve something in a cause that's making their city, their community, their state, their nation, something outside of this country better right. I want to say people not you know not only succeed at business, but see the business as the vehicle to also accomplish other things because all this stuff we're hearing about on the news every day, all these problems if business owners actually started focusing on that kind of stuff we could solve every one of those problems I think in a very short period of time. That's all it takes.

Steve: I quite agree with you we will put all of John's links and the links to his podcasts and his coaching service and so forth in the show notes everybody. I do believe that purpose-driven leadership is something that is just now up and coming. I think that more people should focus on it. Thank you John today for joining me on Awesomers. I appreciate it.

John: Yes, my pleasure and if anybody wants to reach out to me, they can just email me john@eternalleadership.com. I always keep appointments on my calendar every week open just to have conversations with people if I can help in any way.

Steve: I love it. Awesomers, we will be right back after this.


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Steve: Okay. Well, you know if you're not inspired by that kind of resilience and that kind of commitment to just bouncing back, I don't know how I could convince you otherwise. You know, John’s stories you know are not just instructive, but also inspiring. You know, this idea that you know more than one time he's faced with these just absolutely death-defying situations or at least life-changing situations right, the softball pitch was not necessarily death-defying, but it certainly wasn't ideal and it took him off of his vector to Top Gun and just imagine how devastating that would be to work so hard and to be so good and at such a high level to get accepted to the Top Gun school and then to have that lightning bolt strike to take him out of the mix and then just 6 months, 12 months later he's no longer even in the military, which he was really the life he understood and the career he was trying to make, so an extraordinary time and then to have the further lightning bolt that took him further you know two years in the hospital and to be able to bounce back and to continue to carry on not just in a yes I'm getting by way, but in an inspiring motivated and world-changing way, he's still out there changing the world. And I love the fact that John is so focused on you know kind of defining what your core values are, getting to the heart of that and taking those core values and making it a part of what makes you great and allows you to not just double but possibly even 10x your results going forward. That's super exciting stuff. I hope that you see it the same way. This has been Episode Number 65 of the Awesomers.com podcast series and I want you to go to Awesomers.com/65 to grab up all the show notes, details and links that we may have discussed today. Believe it or not going to the website Awesomers.com is helpful to us and spending some time there and learning and clicking around, it's not that we sell anything per se, it’s just getting traffic there and getting a little feedback on the site is helpful to us. So, we look forward to you guys participating in that part of our journey as well. Thank you

Well we've done it again everybody. We have another episode of the Awesomers podcast ready for the world. Thank you for joining us and we hope that you've enjoyed our program today. Now is a good time to take a moment to subscribe, like and share this podcast. Heck you can even leave a review if you wanted. Awesomers around you will appreciate your help. It's only with your participation and sharing that we'll be able to achieve our goals. Our success is literally in your hands. Thank you again for joining us. We are at your service. Find out more about me, Steve Simonson, our guest, team and all the other Awesomers involved at Awesomers.com. Thank you again.