I just lost the best friend I ever had. His name was Mick, and he passed away in my arms a month ago. He was 14-years-old and a pit bull rescue dog.
When I think about Mick (which I do every day), I think about all of the leadership skills he unknowingly taught me. For example:
1.) Sixth sense. Mick had it in spades and knew when I was sky high or lower than Hillary Clinton on November 9th.
I’ve developed my listening skills to the point that I can sense when something’s amiss with a key player.
I just reached out to one erstwhile star and told him I was available any time he needed to talk. Hopefully, together, we can get him through a terribly difficult time.
2.) Speed. I always walked Mick some three miles to his favorite park which was absolutely infested with ground hogs. Mick would stand perfectly still, evaluate the options and then sprint at Mach One speed to try and nail one. Happily he never did.
I do the same when it comes to evaluating the variety of shiny new objects of the moment or ways in which we can differentiate ourselves. Then, I pounce on the one I think will provide the quickest ROI.
3.) Humility. Mick was an alpha male, but he was always deferential to my family, friends, and me. He knew when to be aggressive (e.g. scaring away deer from the flower bed) and when to play second fiddle.
No one would ever call me humble, but I know my place. When I attend my industry’s major events, you can be sure I pay homage to the truly great leaders in our field. I often invite them to lunch and listen to their wisdom. Conversely, I morph into my “It’s good to be the king” mode when it comes to making the hard decisions on firing an abusive client, chastising an underperforming employee, or simply saying no to a new strategy I think is off-base.
4.) Companionship. Mick followed me everywhere I went, and when we sat down on the couch to catch up on the latest episode of Homeland, he would literally curve his body to match whatever position I might assume. It was companionship on steroids.
Likewise, in business, I’m big on having drinks or dinner with various employees at every level. I pay for our interns to attend my comedy shows. I’ve even “adopted” the four executives who sit directly outside my office and the five of us have become a workplace Delta Force. We call ourselves Da Pod, and I’m the Pod father. Our dinners are called poutings (Pod + Outing) and, believe it or not, we have each others’ backs.
5.) Loyalty. Mick would have fallen on a grenade for me. He’d always stand in front of me whenever I opened the front door to greet the pizza delivery guy. Once he sensed there was no danger, Mick world cease and desist.
I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing array of senior and middle-level executives. Scores have been with us for 15 of our 21 years. Even more began five years ago and are still with us. I’d like to think that’s because my co-founder and I have always believed in a meritocracy that rewards the best and brightest. That mindset engenders loyalty and a turnover rate far below the industry average.
6.) Vulnerability. Mick was one tough dude who wouldn’t take sh*t from anyone, human, canine, or otherwise. But, he’d also somehow communicate to me that something wasn’t quite right in his world. Instinctive or otherwise, he knew when to let down his guard and ask for help.
I’m all about admitting what I don’t know. In fact, you could fill a book with what I don’t know about emerging technologies. So, when our agency began a lightning-fast transformation from being a traditional PR firm to a fully integrated one that provided everything from data analytics to back-end web infrastructures, I cried out for help. I set up a program called, “The education of Steve Cody” and arranged hourlong sessions with newly hired researchers, measurement experts, and direct sales mavens. I told them to just assume I was a second grader and to teach me what they did and how they did it. After about three months of many such meetings, I knew more than enough to be dangerous in client and prospect meetings.
My best friend taught me countless other lessons that I’ve applied to the person I am.
Entrepreneurs can learn new tricks from the least likely sources. The key is to do what Mick excelled at: constantly keeping your eyes and ears open for what’s next.