In this week’s episode, Doug C. Brown talks leadership with retired U.S. Army Major General and founder of Level Five Associates, Robert Mixon. Doug and Robert discuss the “Three You’s”, what they are, and why each one matters. They also discuss traits of the best leaders, why you need others to help you succeed, and strategies for how to reach the Top 1% of earners.
Robert W. Mixon, Jr. is a retired U.S. Army Major General, former President of a manufacturing company, EVP of a diverse, innovative not-for-profit company, and Leadership Consultant. Robert served his country for over three decades in various military leadership roles before deciding to bring his high-caliber leadership style and values to the corporate world in 2007. He co-authored the best-selling book, “Cows in the Living Room: Developing an Effective Strategic Plan and Sustaining It”, and founded Level Five Associates, a change management consulting company that helps organizations develop strong leaders and unique cultures through the use of their trademarked The Big Six Leadership Principles. He is a five-time recipient of the Business Leadership Teaching Excellence Award from the Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business.
Visit his website: www.levelfiveassociates.com
I’ve got a great guest. His name is Mr. Robert Mixon. He owns a company called Level Five Associates. Robert and I are going to talk about what he calls The Three You’s. It’s about how we see ourselves, how others see us, how our real self is real and how these interrelate for getting into the top 1% of earners and for leadership. Robert is a very interesting man. He served 30 years in the military. He was a general in the United States Army. He brings a lot of that learning into the business world and the leadership capacity of the business world.
He’s got brilliant things that he’s talking about in this show. I can’t wait for you to learn these concepts, how they apply, how we break them down and how these three basic concepts of how you see yourself, how others see you and who you are translate into your daily life, in your business and your personal life. Also, how they grow or detract from your business, how they grow or detract from you as the person and the people around you. When you apply the principles positively, how they shape and grow things to levels that some people go, “That’s magical.” Without further ado, let’s go talk to Robert.
Robert, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for being here.
Thanks for having me, Doug. I’m glad we could spend a few minutes and chat.
Firstly, I want to say thank you for all the years of military service that you put in, over 30 years in the United States Army. Let’s talk about what you call the three you’s, how you see yourself, how others see you and this unique concept. Would you explain it and how it applies to leadership?
I’m glad to. What I found in my journey of mistakes in leadership along the way, for the most part, is that one of the challenges I face and I’ve seen other senior leaders face is the resolving of the three you’s. There are three you’s. There’s the you that you think you are. There’s the you that others think you are and there’s the real you. Reconciling that real you is a very difficult challenge for most of us. It was for me for many years. I have my moments now. The people I know who are in senior leadership positions in the military and the corporate world struggle at points in time with finding the real you.
It’s an important concept. This embodies what true happiness is when we are in that place. For people who are growing the revenues in their company and people who want to be in the top 1%, I believe it’s extremely important to understand that to have longevity in the process.
I believe that discovering the real you and then rediscovering the real you regularly are essential for senior leaders to have the type of balance in their organizations. When they look in the mirror, that’s healthy. That creates the conditions for longevity and profitability and for being at a level of excellence that I call Level Five Leadership. That excellence wasn’t my original thought. I don’t know if I’ve ever had one.
If you think about Jim Collins, John C. Maxwell and other thinkers who created the terminology of Level Five Leadership and the journey along those levels to get from a junior initial leader to one that is among the rarest of rare as a level-five leader, you must understand who you are and what you represent. One of my favorite tools for doing that is a daily audit. Every day for 10 or 15 minutes, I isolate myself from electronics and all the digital noise, my radio in the car. I’m not driving the car when I’m doing this.
I know some executives who, if they are driving home and it’s time for their daily audit, they would pull into a rest stop and turn off the vehicle. They would put the phone down where they can’t hear or see it. They ask themselves a couple of critical questions. One is, “What did I do today to see myself effectively? What did I plan to do that I didn’t do? How did I help grow other leaders to see themselves effectively? What am I going to do tomorrow to move the needle a little bit more to the right?” I’m facilitating this process of reconciling the three you’s, holistically seeing yourself and having others holistically see themselves.
We then interact together in a more open, transparent and honest relationship. That’s where the value is here. If you and I can be genuine with each other in our relationship as leaders together in a high-performing company, that gives us the ability to have tough conversations, disagree respectfully, think outside the proverbial box and not have to worry about impression management being our dominant form of thinking. The three you’s for me have been a very powerful tool in being able to work with exceptional leaders, learn from them and realize more of my potential and theirs.
Suppose you and I can be genuine in our relationship as leaders in a high-performing company. It allows us to have tough conversations, disagree respectfully, think outside the proverbial box and not worry about impression management being our dominant… Click To Tweet
It also sounds like a great lesson for a marriage.
My wife Ruth and I will celebrate our anniversary in June. I would say a candidate for sainthood would probably be an understatement if I’ll have my description of her. Certainly, that ability to be genuine with each other has gotten us through a lot of tough spots.
You said this being genuine creates conditions. Is it because we’re authentic that the conditions are created? How does it manifest itself into that?
I think so. What we’re talking about is that intellectual and emotional honesty opens communication lines. Impression management tends to put up, create and reinforce barriers in communication skills individually and collectively. Yet we all have to realize that they’re out there. People don’t want to look ignorant so they don’t ask questions. That’s a part of our human nature that we’ve evolved into. We have to be aware of that and work hard at not allowing impression management to dominate our interactions.
There’s some trust you have to build up with each other. To reconcile the three you’s, you got to be able to trust some of the inputs you get from other people that you may not like. The first you is whom you think you are. I can look in the mirror and convince myself that I’m a pretty cool guy. When you ask others to give you input as to who you are, you may not like what you hear. In some cases, people discount it because they didn’t like to hear it. They don’t learn from it. The third part is that reconciliation. You don’t want to be all things to all people. You don’t want to spend all your day discarding your ego because people want to be around leaders who are driven, focused and have a high degree of personal will. The ego is not to be discarded here.
We’re talking about balancing it with the input you get from others, reconciling it and having that daily audit saying, “Am I maintaining my balance and focus here? Am I going to begin to believe the press clippings that are favorable about me and my company and drink the Kool-Aid? Am I taking it with a proverbial grain of salt and seeking input from others?” I’m taking it in, processing it, reconciling it, learning and growing a little more every day, doing the same thing with the leaders around me and helping them grow a little every day by understanding more of who they are and what they represent.
There are so many notes I have written down already. You were originally a general in the United States Army. When you were speaking about impression management, I was thinking, how did this apply to you to be able to climb up the leadership ladders in the military? Is that very similar to climbing up the corporate ladder or different?
Some characteristics are unique in the military culture, just as there are characteristics that are unique in the corporate culture in terms of impression management and reconciling who we are and what we represent. The military is far more collegial than some people believe it to be. Part of the challenge is we got 96% of adult Americans have never served in the military. With that small percentage or a large percentage of those who don’t have practical experience in the military, they tend to develop some biases that are based on anecdotal information.
I’m not discouraging the fact that it is what it is. I’m just saying that some people formulate ideas and notions about military personalities that are a little bit jaded. They think that we are not entirely genuine and open with one another because we have an image to protect and convey as a captain, a colonel and a general. Some imagery is important because soldiers are putting their lives in the hands of the people who have senior authority, the non-commissioned officer ranks and the officer ranks of the military. That’s an enormous amount of trust. That’s when you’re putting it all on the line.
We need to project an image as military leaders of confidence and competence, as well as empathy. The majority of my colleagues who set the example for me along the way and served with me when we were senior officers together did that. They projected the image and walked the talk of that image. In the corporate environment that I’ve been in as a senior leader in companies, as well as advising senior leaders, which is what I do now, I feel as though some of the methodologies are not as well understood. We don’t have uniforms, rank insignia, flags outside the door and these kinds of things. I don’t know if we necessarily need that.
It’s more important perhaps in the corporate leadership framework that we become very effective listeners to garner respect. I’m not saying we don’t need to listen in the military. I am saying that you don’t have that obvious separation or identification sometimes. For corporate leaders, it’s more important to set the conditions via your personality, given that you’re not going to have on a uniform.
That’s what I’m talking about in terms of demonstrating and modeling curiosity as a senior leader. That’s where the most powerful leadership qualities emerge in those civilian people that I’ve been privileged to be around who have been extraordinary. I have had that privilege.
It’s being one of those who are in the 4% in the same entity that you were in. I was a non-commissioned officer and you’re a general. I always found that the people whom I listened to were far more into comradery and the mission, whether it was positive or negative. They respect it as well as an officer. They were also the same way. Those people who are truthful and transparent about this, which goes back to impression management and what you’re speaking about, are the most respected leaders in the military.
Going back to modeling curiosity, which is a very powerful leadership skill, those military leaders I was surrounded with who modeled that curiosity, I knew they cared. The old saying is, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” You could be a caring leader and still have tough conversations. You could still give difficult orders. Face hardships and adversity and understand and acknowledge that we are in a dangerous environment and that not all of us are going to get through this.
You can collectively buy into that kind of leadership when you know that person truly believes what they’re telling you. It’s the truth as they know it. That’s what I found in many of the military leaders and the outstanding leaders that I was around that resonated with me. I knew that they cared. I knew that they were telling me the truth as they knew it. I knew that we were taking on difficult missions together.
There’s an old cartoon I saw once on Facebook or somewhere where they have a guy sitting on a throne directing people who are pulling a rope. He’s called the boss. There’s a picture below it where he’s at the lead of the people pulling the rope and he’s called the leader. You have the boss at the top and the leader at the bottom. There’s a big difference there.
Directing activity in time and space is not leadership. Leadership is the art of getting one or more people to accomplish difficult tasks under trying circumstances. How do you do that? You do that by leading from the front intellectually, physically and emotionally. You have to be genuine to do that for people to accept you, whether you’re in uniform or not in uniform. I want to be around somebody who tells us the truth as they know it, who gives it their all and who is willing to grab the rope and pull it with us every day if necessary so that we all accomplish the mission.
I have found that the people who are in the top 1% of earners in selling are employing exactly what you said. They recognize that when they go in to speak with somebody about selling or sales, they are putting themselves in a difficult position with this person. They’re aligning with this person and understanding that this decision is important not only to the person making the decision in the organization.
They align themselves in part of that as peers, like a peer-to-peer process. They’re the first to disengage if it’s not the right thing for the clientele. That goes back to your impression management because they know who they are, who others are and how others see them. If they don’t know them originally, they’re coming in and they’re a salesperson so they are negatively stereotyped immediately, “That’s a liar walking through my door.”
People tend to think everybody in the military is Rambo and that type of ridiculous stuff. What you said was so invaluable about outside influences. Be careful of whom you listen to. I guess that’s the message I was getting, how we take that internal impression and how that affects the real you or the real us.
You can be vulnerable to being a pleaser, depending on that second you, what others think of you. If you’re overdependent on it, then you miss an opportunity to trust your instincts and be willing to underwrite some mistakes in others and help them grow while you help yourself grow. One of my favorite stories about a senior general that I’ve had the privilege of serving with and experienced a lot with is General Crosbie Saint. He was the commander of US forces in Europe when I was his aide-de-camp, which was a very challenging job but very rewarding too as a young Major. We were flying somewhere as we typically did every day. We flew somewhere in the world.
He was having a conversation with another senior officer and it was not good news. This was not a good news conversation. He said, “I’ll call you back in a few minutes and we’ll talk some more,” because the first report is usually wrong anyway. You get the first report. The wiser leaders let things process a little bit and then they get a second report before you make a sudden decision unless it’s critical in time. He said to me, “Robert, there are two ways we could approach this. I could ask the question, ‘Robert, what were you thinking,’ or ‘Robert, what did we learn here?’”
To me, that was a very powerful story because there were two questions here. One implied trust and the other implied distrust. The three you’s were being subjugated in one of better terms in that first question. You were suppressing the genuine conversation, getting an honest report or answer. You were trying to figure out, “Whom do we blame for this?”
The second part of the question says, “People know who did what to whom and why. What did we learn here? What’s our opportunity to learn?” That’s where great leadership lives. General Saint demonstrated that day to me a leadership lesson that I’ve never forgotten. Those of us who are around those kinds of leaders are fortunate more often than not.
In leadership, what I’ve witnessed in entrepreneurship and business with owners, CEOs, senior leaders and anybody in the ranks, if they ask that question more often, “What did we learn here,” they come up with way better answers.
They sure do. They get a lot more buy-in. We are in an environment where the culture of commitment is far more important than it ever was. For a long time in my early life, I lived in a culture of compliance, where we were directed to do things and do them right now. We didn’t have a lot of conversations about the why. We were to follow orders. In the world that we’re in, it’s more important to commit to the culture, buy-in and say, “I’m all in,” and believe that you’re in.
Senior leaders have to nurture that buy-in among their team members. The ones who are going to be in the top 1% have to nurture the hell out of it. They’ve got to foster that culture of commitment 24/7. It’s art, not science. If it was science, anybody could do it. We could get a recipe book and download it. This is an art and there are times when obtaining the buy-in is going to be more difficult than other times.
In that daily audit tool that I talked about earlier and using it, there are some times when I remember my conversations with myself not being pleasant because I realized that I had not been fostering learning. I had been directing activity or being more negative than positive. Positive leadership is essential if you’re going to be the best of the best in a highly competitive world in a global marketplace.
When we talk about selling, we have to create a bond very early on with those people we are providing a product and/or service to. Create that bond by not only the genuine part but by getting the buy-in you were talking about earlier, Doug. What problem are we trying to solve? If I’m trying to sell you something, I’m not solving your problem. I’m solving mine. If I seek to understand what your problem is and what service or product I got can make a real difference in helping you solve that problem, I turned the conversation into meeting and exceeding your needs, not meeting or exceeding mine.
I love this concept of positive leadership. Correct me if you think I’m incorrect but the person we think we are and the real you, I have found over my life’s experience that a lot of the discord between those two or the lack of understanding comes from childhood, how we’re brought up and through childhood wounds. When people make peace with that, they understand who the real you is far more than they did in the past. Is this an accurate statement in your estimation? You find people act one way but they’re another way. Where does that come from?
Some of that Jekyll and Hide stuff comes from probably adolescents or early times. Going back to impression management again, you’re trying to impress people, make friends and things like that. As young people and teenagers, how important it is to belong and to fit in. Some of that cascades right into our adult life and our leadership. It’s hard to divest ourselves of some of those tendencies. It’s part of our human nature. The impression management construct is part of our human nature. A lot of us developed it earlier in life and carried it on into adult life.
It’s important once we become adults that we learn about the three you’s and the importance of reconciling them. We get through and get past some of the baggage of those younger years. That’s part of maturity. You got to get some help. Remember in the Army, you and I had battle buddies. Every rifle squad and crew section had a battle buddy. That person was in charge of taking care of you and you of them.
It wasn’t something you could divest yourself of at points in time during the day or you could become a jerk from noon until 6:00 PM and then go back to being a decent human being. That transparency was pretty absolute in those days. I encourage corporate leaders to seek out a battle buddy. All of us CEOs, CIOs, CFOs or whatever our position is, need someone who can be our trusted advisor whom we can have frank conversations with, that we don’t feel threatened and that they are going to give us honest feedback this week, next week, next month and next quarter.
Whatever our position, we need someone who can be our trusted advisor, have frank conversations, and not feel threatened when they give us honest feedback this week, next week, next month, or next quarter. Click To Tweet
Sometimes we don’t seek out that person and we go to it alone. The three you’s are the bill payer where the first you becomes dominant because you don’t have that second you person there who can help you reconcile who you are and what you represent. That tool is powerful. If organizations will take it on, I don’t think you should mandate it, send people out a message and tell them to go find one.
Your one-on-one conversations, which are the most important meeting you can have as a leader and as an executive, are developmental in nature. You can coach people in your chain of command to seek out those battle buddies. That could be a huge benefactor or I would say a positive in your journey going forward to have that trusted advisor or have that battle buddy.
Sales managers, hear that loud and clear. Your number one job is to be the battle buddy of your team and grow revenue. When you said that, Robert, I wrote it down. I forgot because I’ve been out of the military for so long. Running a sales team is about that sales leader being the battle buddy until they find another battle buddy or they have 2 or 3 battle buddies. The reality is that’s creating a huge bond as we did in the military. With that bond, anyone who wants to be in the top 10% of sales, I can tell you concretely, I’ve measured this over decades – rapport will sell more than anything else.
That huge bond that you’re talking about, Robert, will sell more than any other experts out there in most cases because all expertise being equal, the person is going to want to go with the sales entity that they have that bond with because that builds that trust and respect. We all like to be around people who are giving us positive leadership throughout the day. That battle buddy concept, if you don’t mind, I’m going to use that going forward in the training that I do.
It wasn’t my first original thought as you know.
I had a mentor who at the time was worth about $350 million. He said something to me regarding what you keep repeating, which is there’s not a lot of wow thought out there. There’s a lot of good thinking and most of the thinking has been thought.
The last two new ideas were fire and the wheel. We might add the internet or have three new ideas. Those are the last three new ideas.
I appreciate our conversation. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you were maybe like, “I hope we talk about this or impart this upon somebody?”
We’ve covered a broad range of topics. I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts with you and your team of sales professionals out there. I believe that leadership and sales have inherent characteristics or mutual characteristics. They are very closely integrated but we can learn from both skillsets. The idea here that crosses all those topics we’ve talked about is having the ability to empathize with the people around you.
Empathy gets a lot of press as a key component of emotional intelligence. I don’t think it’s been appreciated and practically applied as well as we could do it. We transmit some of it into sympathy, which is much different from empathy. Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. If we did more of that, then we’d be able to reconcile the three you’s far more effectively and help other people do the same thing. That’d be the other thought I would pass on to, Doug.
That’s a wonderful thought. I remember when I was a child, people used to say, “Don’t judge a man until you walked in his shoes or a woman until you walked in her shoes.” I can’t walk in high heels, though.
I’m not sure I’ve tried that but it’s an interesting thought.
I don’t know how women do it. I tried it once, believe it or not, and I was falling over because I wanted to understand how they could do it. I want to touch on one point, which you’re great at because you’ve been doing that throughout this episode together with me. You’ve been imparting positive leadership but you’ve been using a lot of stories and coalescing holistic points and stories. Is this another trait of a great leader?
I believe it is. We should be effective storytellers and work at it. It’s not something that you just roll in hot and do that way. You got to think about stories as a way of conveying ideas. People love stories. Young people, old people, everybody likes a good story. That’s why we read novels and watch series that go on for years and things like that. As professionals in serving others, which we do as leaders and sales strategists, we got to think about using stories to convey ideas and help people relate. If they can relate to the story, then they can relate to your idea.
Are the best stories the ones that are emotionally driven and that emotionally move someone?
I think so. We go back to the emotional intelligence conversation. We’re emotionally influenced to become motivated. I don’t know if you can motivate somebody else. There’s scientific discord about this but you can influence somebody else to become motivated. It positively influences others through stories that convey a positive message and people can say, “I want to be more like that person. I want to have more of these characteristics and qualities. I’m going to work harder at leading myself.” That’s the first person you got to lead. That’s why I talked about the three you’s when you and I first got together. First of all, what we got to do is figure out how do I lead myself. Once I lead myself more effectively, I can probably do a better job at helping lead others more effectively.
We all do this throughout life when we look at somebody and go, “I want to be like him or her. I want those qualities.” They motivate us to move in a direction. This is why ongoing education is such an important role in being in the top leadership of the top 1% of earners because those who constantly and consistently learning are opening up new possibilities to be motivated to aspire to.
You’re never too old to learn. Being a lifelong learner is going to enable you to perhaps reach your potential but certainly, be more aware of what your potential is and be more capable and sensitive to help others identify where their potential is. It’s a win-win in my view when you’re a lifelong learner.
You're always young enough to learn. And being a lifelong learner is going to enable you to reach your potential, and certainly, be more aware of what your potential is and be more capable and sensitive to help others identify where their potential is. Click To Tweet
I’m going to hit that point again because that was brilliant.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been brilliant but thanks a lot. I have to get that three you’s back.
It helps us be more aware of what it is. You softly put that in there. It was like a lightning bolt came out of the sky like, “Pay attention.” That was awesome. Robert, I appreciate you being here on the show. Thanks for bringing your A-game as I knew you would. How do people get ahold of you or learn more? Where should they go?
Thanks, Doug. I have a website and I guess a lot of us do but my website is www.LevelFiveAssociates.com. There, I have the description of some of the work that I do on behalf of individuals and organizations, a library of the blogs I’ve written over the past years on different topics, particularly around my big six leadership principles and a professional reading list if you want to embark on that lifelong learner journey. I’ve got a list of books that I find most powerful and appealing. That’s where I would commend your attention if you want to learn more about me and our Level Five work.
I highly implore people to go check it out. The information is great. It’s top-notch. Thank you. Robert, thanks again for being here. I am grateful. Everybody else here, I suspect they’ve got pages of notes like I do. Thanks again.
Thanks. I wish you well in your journey, all of you.
I’ve got pages of notes here. I hope you do too. If you don’t, I’m going to ask, please go back to this episode again. There were so many brilliant things that came out of this. The person you are, how others see you, the real you and how you handle impressions like impression management so you don’t let your ego get too far in or far out. It’s important when you’re dealing with people to understand where they’re coming from, as well as how to bond with them and use those outside influences to your advantage in a win-win fashion so that they win and you win.
Battle buddy, what a great concept. I forgot about battle buddies but the reality is that the battle buddy concept is what people do in coaching a lot of times. They’ll get a coach to have a battle buddy. What’s a battle buddy? It’s somebody who understands you and gives you direct, honest and truthful objective feedback from their perspective so that we can gain awareness of what’s going on. It’s like having outside influences who are on your side looking for you to win and drive to the next level.
Certainly, if you are leading sales teams or you’re leading your company, your people need battle buddies. The reason behind those battle buddies is we all need that outside influence to look in and say, “Maybe you shouldn’t do this that way. How about this? Your thinking in this capacity is great. What about this?” One of the greatest questions we can ask no matter what even when things go right or don’t go right is, “What did I learn here? What can I learn here?” If you’re like, “I don’t know what I learned here,” what do you think you could learn here? What are some ideas? Write them down.
I also love the idea of doing a daily audit on ourselves to keep the three you’s in check and be able to not only keep them in check, but to utilize them and harness the power of them. I highly recommend checking out Robert at LevelFiveAssociates.com. He’s a super nice guy and very smart. Every time I talk to him, he has so much wisdom to impart.
If you love the content of this episode and you think you have content that other people would be interested in that you could be the expert or you know somebody else who’s the expert, then reach out to us and let us know. We’ll review it and if they fit the show, we’ll invite them on. Send an email to YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com. If someone you know is looking to get yourself into the top 1% of earners in your field through selling or if you’re looking to train teams of people like that, reach out to me at Doug@CEOSalesStrategies.com. If you’re looking to train your leadership team or executive team, then Robert would be the guy to go to on that particular one.
On the sales side, I’ll be happy to help you. As always, if you love the show, please give it a five-star review. Please tell others. The more people that come here, the more people we help. I get people who tell me that this has changed the way they do business and changed the way of their life for the positive. That’s one of the reasons we keep doing this over and over again, bringing high-quality guests. As always, go out and sell something. Sell a lot of it. Do it ethically in a win-win fashion. Make someone happy. Make yourself happy. To your success.
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