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Leading Through the Turn, with Elise Mitchell [Episode 463]

Elise Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group, and CEO of Dentsu Aegis Public Relations Network, as well as the author of a very interesting book, Leading Through the Turn: How a Journey Mindset Can Help Leaders Find Success and Significance, joins me on this episode. Sales is a profession in need of leadership. In this episode, we filter through the noise to uncover true leadership skills.

Key Takeaways

  •  Leading Through the Turn looks at leadership as though riding a motorcycle. She started riding with her husband 10 years ago, and never looked back. She was hooked. Today she rides a Honda CBR300R — sleek, red, and fast.
  • Key concepts are a destination philosophy and a journey perspective. The journey matters as much as the destination. Elise is naturally a destination person. She says her strength of entrepreneurship became a weakness as she hit extremes.
  • Elise had to rethink how she was sacrificing important aspects of life to reach the destination of success. Motorcycling became the catalyst to make her rethink her journey. Now she savors it.
  • Elise explains her drive was pushing her to burnout. She was missing many experiences. She wasn’t investing in living.
  • Elise learned to ‘scrap the map,’ when the family moved away from her large corporate job. She had to decide if she would go, and be bitter, or go, and let change make her better.
  • We can’t, and shouldn’t, control everything. Elise discusses adaptive leadership, about learning to solve new problems in real time, where there is no clear answer.
  • Elise warns against building a company around a leader. She illustrates with a personal anecdote about letting go of control, and delegating — the entrepreneur’s challenge!
  • Every step of leadership feels a little scary if you are ambitious, and want to grow and challenge yourself as a leader, and broaden your impact. Don’t let fear hold you back.
  • A spirit of reciprocity is thinking outside yourself. Elise has a personal professional anecdote. She asked other leaders, “What can I do for you?” She cites Give and Take.
  • The Go-Giver is in the same vein. Help first.
  • The called leader vs. the accidental leader. Elise has strived for leadership since her childhood. Accidental leaders have circumstances thrust upon them. If you have the heart of an explorer, it doesn’t matter how you got there. Go with it.
  • The higher calling of leadership is to determine what good can you do as a leader. Can you create significance in the lives of others? You have so much potential to open doors.
  • Leadership and significance starts with the individual. Elise discards the grandiosity of philanthropism for doing the right things, one at a time — changing that one person’s life for good; helping that customer further their opportunities.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul  1:06  

Hey friends, this is Andy. Welcome to Episode 463. Joining me on the show today is Elise Mitchell. She’s the CEO of Mitchell Communications Group. So let’s jump into it. Elise Mitchell, welcome to the podcast.


Elise Mitchell  2:49  

Thank you, Andy. I’m excited to be here.


Andy Paul  4:41  

So in the book, let’s dive into the book. So you talk about leaving with a destination philosophy and a journey perspective. And this was our two key concepts you explore throughout the book. So tell us what that means.


Elise Mitchell  4:53  

Well, it’s interesting. I’ve often had people tell me and your listeners might resonate with this phrase, the journey matters as much as the destination.


Andy Paul  5:05  

Journey has its own reward.


Elise Mitchell  5:06  

Right? I’ve always heard that. And you know what, I never bought it. Because I am a destination person by nature. You know, in business, family life, you name it. I’m one of those folks that I like to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. And the rest is just scenery. And that’s what I used to think. That’s how I lived my life. And I’ve certainly reached a lot of destinations that I’ve set my sights on. I’ve built a company and I’ve then sold it and then today, I’m part of a global organization, and we’ve reaped a lot of great rewards from that. And entrepreneurship has definitely been the ride of my life, but it almost cost me far more. Because when you have a strength like that, and being very driven when it goes to an extreme, it can become your weakness. And for me, I became so focused on building my business and wanting to be successful, that everything around me began to suffer my relationships with my family and my friends. My own health, my own spiritual, social life, all those things that really make life so rewarding. They were really suffering. And I had to really stop and rethink my whole, as you say, the journey mindset, the whole mindset of how I wanted to approach striving to reach my goals, but not missing the whole ride of my life along the way, which is what I was doing. And so today, and motorcycling was sort of the catalyst for making me rethink the value of the journey itself. And so did I consider myself very much a destination leader, still very driven, but with a journey mindset, which means I’ve learned how to really savor the experience of the journey.


Andy Paul  6:41  

There’s the noun traveling, you know, on a journey traveling from one place to another. And I think you’re using it really as the verb is to travel somewhere and I like sort of the ambiguity of the somewhere right because you can have the destination but you know, the wrong It’s not necessarily laid out. And I think that’s something that people, people are oftentimes missed on. They do set goals for themselves. They think that it has to be this step and then the next step and the next step, and there’s lots of ways to reach your goals.


Elise Mitchell  7:11  

Absolutely. And you know, and often our destination changes all together as we move along in our personal and professional lives are there is different, you know, so when you say I asked you Where’s your they’re in different stage of my life, I would have told you one thing at this stage of my life, I might tell you something completely different. And the point is, as you just said, is fully experiencing the journey of your life and the unfolding of it all because you don’t really know how it’s all going to turn out. But that’s okay. Because if you’re really living in the moment, and you’re making the most of what is happening in your life today, the ride becomes the joy itself, as opposed to I can’t reach the destination. It just doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful or it doesn’t mean anything to me. I’ve learned to find joy in the journey.


Andy Paul  8:01  

Well, so if let’s say you have a destination, that’s a common destination, let’s say, well, you and I each have the same destination. You know, excuse me, I have a destination philosophy. I’ll just head down, drive, drive, drive drive drive, and you know you’re on your journey. When we both reach it is, are we more effective than the other once we reach that destination?


Elise Mitchell  8:24  

Well, it’s a good question. In my case, I felt like I was on the path to burnout. And I think that’s the way most leaders are when they are oppressed so hard into achieving their goals, that they just kind of look up and say, I can’t do it anymore. I mean, I’m running as fast as I can. And is this all there is really this is it, it becomes less meaningful. And that was part of when I realized I had been missing all of this experience of my life, raising my children, having friends and close family. I mean, I had those things a bit. I wasn’t really investing in them like I should, I certainly wasn’t investing in myself. And you just kind of get to the point. I don’t know if I keep doing this. So it’s something about having more sustainable experience and having a more joyful experience. And also this idea, I think a lot of leaders face this sense of, I want to be able to control everything, not only everything that’s happening around me, but the outcome. Right, and you begin to realize, you know, what, I can’t, I can’t control everything. So how do I still embrace what’s happening to me and learn to go with the detours that are happening in my life and become opportunistic, about the things that are maybe unplanned that are happening to me and still make the experience a great one?


Andy Paul  9:43  

Yeah, well, I think the risk and you bring this out and I think that’s it’s a good insight for people that don’t want to read the book and learn about leadership and because you know, individual contributors, you’re you’re leading is that you know, if you are just head down looking at your destination, then You really risk becoming very dogmatic. And I think this is really a problem for people in business in general, you know, you think this is the way it has to be. This is what I have to do. And the consequences, I mean, to me, it’s sort of like, having beliefs without education, right? I mean, it’s, it’s, you’re just not ever aware of the fact that there’s another way to do it, that could be better. 


Elise Mitchell  10:23  

There, you know, one of the early lessons I learned that I share in one of the first chapters of the book is called scrap the map. And it’s a story of something that happened to me that is exactly that point that you’re bringing out.


Andy Paul  10:34  

You’re relocating from one part of the country to the other, right?


Elise Mitchell  10:37  

That’s right. I had dreams of I’m in the field of public relations. I had dreams of building my own agency or climbing the corporate ladder, which I was doing in the early stages of my career in a big boom, yeah, my husband had an opportunity to take a job, and we moved to a different part of the country to a very small market and I just remember being sold angry about that, like, this is not the plan. You know how I don’t want that kind of a detour, I want to stay where we are or I want to do something better. And there’s a real question that you have to ask yourself because we all face these detours, whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, am I going to go with this detour and be bitter about it? Or am I going to go and let change make me better. I mean, all we all know this in life, we cannot always control what’s happening to us, but we can control our response to it. And so when you learn to go with the detours in life, as I describe it, you become much more open to Okay, this is where I am now. Wonder what there is around me to do or to take advantage of or to leverage in my case, I was a first mover into a market and I was able to build my company very successfully. And I often look back and say, I don’t think I could have been that successful had I not gone to the place that we won and had the opportunities to take a job in that market. So on the front end where I did see the advantage on the back end, I see all the wisdom of how great that turned out for me. And I think it’s a powerful lesson for us to remember in life.


Andy Paul  12:13  

Well, yeah, I’m in control, as we get into this idea of control, you know, it’s a static concept. I mean, it’s dangerous, right? I mean, is, is I think any leadership Bernie bidding leadership position that tries to be too controlling. You start reinforcing the status quo, which is his death too many organizations


Elise Mitchell  12:34  

agree, and we can’t control everything and in more and more of the world today things are dramatically changing. There’s a type of leadership that I’m very taken with called adaptive leadership, and adaptive leadership. It’s a theory of leadership that basically is saying that leaders today learn to solve problems in real time. And they’re often problems that they’ve never faced before that there’s no apparent solution. So you as a leader try to lead your team in the moment through a significant change, which there is no clear answer. And how do you rally your team to do that? How do you have the vision to get there when you don’t have the answer? And so you have absolutely no control in this situation, except that you become sort of the cause that drives us a new solution forward. And that moves a team forward into finding and discovering a new solution. I think it’s a powerful concept that I strive for, and I think is much more relevant to leaders in the world today.


Andy Paul  13:34  

Well, yeah, because what it’s saying is that the expectation can’t be that the leaders have all the answers, because that’s unrealistic. And B, if you have an organization where everybody’s looking to the top person to say, what do we do now? Again, you’re an organization that’s in crisis at that point.


Elise Mitchell  13:49  

Yeah. And you do not want a company that’s built around you. I remember we, about 10 years into building my company, we hit this rapid stage of growth. It was really odd. It was right. It started In 2008, believe it or not right when the recession hit, but over the next five years, we grew by more than 500%. And I went through another crisis of a different kind at that point and there was quite a crisis in leadership when I realized, well, I was the founder, and the leader of the company, well, I could do everything in the company. But should I be doing everything in the company? Gosh, no, I needed to build a leadership team around me. I needed to empower and equip them. And I need to give all that good stuff away to them, give them responsibility and authority and credit. And boy, that was hard. That was probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever been through as a leader was moving myself to another level as a leader, but that meant letting go. And that’s very hard for most leaders to do, particularly entrepreneurs.


Andy Paul  14:45  

Well, you talk about that in the book about you know, the moment of fear, which I thought was an interesting thing. You talked about his first trip on the motorcycle, getting on the back of the bike with your husband, and you said that it generated something inside you that was that you’d come to know well as a CEO Which was fear? So I thought I’m so I think people don’t think about that. And honestly, I think that their female CEOs are frightened of something. But is that a sort of common feeling?


Elise Mitchell  15:12  

Oh, you know, I had a reporter once ask me right when I released the book about two months ago, and she said at least Are you fearless? And I almost wanted to laugh out loud because I thought, well, I think she sees our track record of success. And she might assume that I have no fear. And I said, I wish I could tell you that that was true. But nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, I have fears we all do. And it’s funny though, how my fears have changed. years ago, when I was building the company, my biggest fear was fear of failure, and even worse, fear of public failure, which is not necessarily a bad motivator, right? I think a lot of us have that experience. I want to be successful. So it keeps you pushing maybe a little bit harder when you have that fear, but having been through different failures in my career, and also realizing that If that was the worst thing I was afraid of, I really was not shooting high enough. I realized that now you know what my biggest fear is: my loss of self respect. I worry that I, I would, I don’t want to do anything that I would ever feel like I lost my own integrity. And I actually like that fear a lot better, because it makes me stop and think about the decisions that I make all the time to make sure that, you know now it’s not that that something would fail, but it was that I would do something that I would believe to be wrong, and that I couldn’t live with myself. So it’s a good question for leaders to ask them. So what am I afraid of? And how can I tackle that fear? How can I stare down that tiger and feel like that fear does not own me anymore?


Andy Paul  16:43  

Well, as you point out in the book, do so that you’ve learned not to let a lack of knowledge or fear of failure hold you back from taking the next step. I mean, is that saying, hey, fake it till you make it?


Elise Mitchell  16:54  

Well, I would say that every step of leadership feels a bit like that, in my view it especially if you’re moving up, if you’re ambitious, and you want to grow and challenge yourself as a leader, then it’s not a parallel move, you may have a few of those, of course. But ultimately you’re you’re striving to grow and you’re striving to improve your skills, your knowledge, your expertise, your want to broaden your impact. And so it should be a bit of a stretch, and there are going to be plenty of things that you will not know, as you step into that role and that responsibility as a leader and you can’t let it hold you back. Because I think that the fear of failure, if it holds you back and paralyzes you, that’s when that fear has won. It’s okay to have a healthy sense of fear of failure, but you can’t let it hold you back. You just grit your teeth and you say, you know, there’s a reason I’ve been given this opportunity right? So perhaps you have the knowledge and the skills that got you the job or gotcha this particular project or opportunity, but yet I am smart enough to figure it out. I go, and I have smart enough people around me that will help me whether that’s mentors or allies or a network that you can turn to when you need some help that you don’t can’t, can’t pull on your own data.


Andy Paul  18:15  

Well, another interesting part that you talked about in your book, when you’re talking about the journey from the drain perspective, is you say that throughout your career, you’ve always asked other people, what can I do for you? And, you know, the implication is that in the book, and certainly from my own experience, this is hard for people to do. Why is this so hard?


Elise Mitchell  18:34  

Well, having a spirit of reciprocity means you have to think outside yourself. And I just think that goes against our human nature. He will be the most important and most important person in all of our lives is ourselves just the way we’re made. And we have to work against that natural instinct to think about how to further myself, and I remember when I learned that lesson powerfully, it was stepping into a new leadership position, where I felt a bit overwhelmed. Head. But after just a bit of time on the job, I realized that I actually had a lot I could bring to the job. But it was also more important for me to begin building a strong network inside this new Corporation. And so what I did was I went on a listening tour, where I went and sat and talked with different leaders throughout the company. And I asked them to tell me what they knew about the organization, what, what they thought our area could bring to what they were doing. That was our public relations team. And then I asked the last question, which made all the difference, which was, what can I do for you? And it was always such a, I think people were always so surprised that I was asking them that question, I was willing to do something for them. But from the very getgo, it established a spirit of reciprocity that I think carried me far further than I ever could have gotten on my own. And there’s a great book out there by Adam Grant called give and take, and it is a whole book about leaders givers are far more successful. than those who are takers. And he even does research on it, I mentioned it in my book because I thought it was such a nod to just out of the box thinking on leadership style, and I really loved it.


Andy Paul  20:11  

Yeah, man, another book in the same vein as the go giver by Bob Berg. Same thing. Yeah, it’s you received by giving initially. And it builds relationships in a way that that’s way more authentic than it would be if you’re starting on some other basis. Absolutely. And so Benefield, the thing that’s really important about it is that you do this not with the intent that there is a quid pro quo, but just that you’re sincerely interested in what you can do to help them.


Elise Mitchell  20:37  

That’s right. And building trust based relationships like that will carry you through the worst of times. If you can look across the the pod or the aisle or down the hall, or even across the country to a colleague of yours and know that you’ve got each other’s back, and you will do whatever it takes to help them succeed, and they were willing to do the same for you. You Can’t hold a company like that back. There’s so much power in the team because it’s exponential at that point. It’s not one plus one equals two, it’s one plus one is three, or five or 10, or whatever you think you can do, because you’ve drawn on a much deeper power of that team than you ever would have gotten on your own. And it’s something great leaders instill in their teams is a spirit of reciprocity. So why don’t they do that? Hmm. Well, first you got a role model if you have to be the leader who can demonstrate that I am here for you. And that and you know, I do think this to me, something I have thought about, and I mentioned it toward the end of the book, that the higher calling of leadership is when you realize it’s not about you, it’s about everybody else. And I think leadership takes on a very different level of significance in your life. When you realize what a privilege it is to be a leader because of your ability to impact and change the lives of those you lead. And so you approach leaders in a very different way. And I think that style, a very selfless leader, a coaching leader, a giving leader, there’s just nothing that people won’t do for that kind of leader, they will follow you to the ends of the earth. I’ve seen that with our team. At times I’m sure I did not desert deserve their loyalty or their commitment. But I’ve seen the power of that. And I think it’s far more authentic and compelling for people to want to work for leaders who are like that than those who are takers.


Andy Paul  22:30  

So how does that fit that into the paradigm you talked about the called leader versus the accidental leader? Excuse me, no. frog in my throat to the called leader versus accidental leader?


Elise Mitchell  22:41  

Well, the call leader I guess I in the book I described myself as I thought I was a cult leader, which for me was it was in my DNA to become a leader and all throughout my young life, I sought out leadership opportunities, and so it was no surprise I think, to anybody who knew me, in my youth that I would strike To be a leader, accidental leaders are those who find themselves in leadership and they didn’t really have any intention of it. Whether it’s maybe it’s a family business, they had to take over, or they’re in a company where somebody unexpectedly stepped out of leadership and people turn to them and ask them to become a leader. And so it’s almost what is what is your mindset as you approach leadership, and I’m in the book, I tell people, I don’t care whether you’re a cold leader, or a an accidental leader, the opportunity for you to lead in a powerful way is there if you want it and it’s sort of up to you at that point, if you have the heart of an explorer, you know, what kind of thing the destination journey theme, if you’re willing to be an explorer and step out into the journey of leadership, even though you don’t know how it’s gonna turn out? There’s a lot of things you don’t know. You feel ill prepared. We all do. Are you willing to be the Explorer and go anyway and that is actually I think part of the spirit of reciprocity is because you realize at that point that you’re giving your life into something that is probably going to be more about helping those around you than it is about helping yourself.


Andy Paul  24:15  

Well, something interesting demonstrating separately is you really support what you’re talking about you said you know, the unpredictability is part of the fun if your journey mind and you talk about your trip to or your relocation, excuse me from East Coast to to Arkansas, and are you finding in your own work now that people are less willing to serve subject themselves to this unpredictability? Because there’s a lot of data I’ve been reading recently in reports about how people just are staying still, you know, not moving or not as mobile as workforces were before not taking some of the risks that cash I’d read something recently that since 1990, the percentage of Americans moving from one state to another in a given year has fallen by half. Wow, the percentage of people leaving jobs within a certain period of time have fallen dramatically. What do you think of the implications of that? I mean, as there are less people willing to art in your mind, you see less people willing to step up and take these risks, especially if it involves some sort of big change.


Elise Mitchell  25:21  

Perhaps, you know, and maybe it sort of depends again on the individual and their propensity to to accept change, or to be the Explorer to go on the journey. How much stability and certainty do they think they need? I’ve often heard it said about the millennial generation and that they are much more willing to move about, you know, they will change jobs more frequently, they’re willing to step out and try different things. Whereas I think my generation was a little more rigid. So it probably depends more on the individual. And also then as leader, it’s up to us to create a compelling destiny. A nation for people to want to come to, for example, I write in the book quite a bit about I think the power of a compelling culture is an example, if you’re an entrepreneur or a leader, you have the ability to create an environment that is empowering to people. It’s an environment that encourages innovative thinking, what I call creating a culture of try, which allows people to experiment and try new things and not be afraid to fail. You know, these are things that are definitely within our ability to change and impact an organization as a leader. And I think that those maybe that’s part of the challenge end is that we need to do a better job of creating something compelling that draws people to us. So that doesn’t matter if they’re picking up and moving around the world, or they’re having to take on a different role or switch. I’ve seen people switch careers and industries, which I think is very taking a lot of risk. But again, the question is, do they see something compelling on the other side? That means that they’re willing to walk across the fiery coals of fear in order to get there. So maybe that’s really more on us as leaders to create that compelling destination for people to want to come.


Andy Paul  27:12  

Okay. That’s a good point. I think. Yeah. Well, one thing that I want to foster a follow up on is that we don’t want leadership’s where this destination is. And I see this, unfortunately, a fair amount in some companies I work with is that, that some people think that leadership is sort of its own reward like it is sort of the pinnacle. And as you point out, it’s really just the beginning.


Elise Mitchell  27:37  

Yes, indeed. And again, thinking about the higher calling of leadership, which was something that was sort of my turning point in life, the time that I got on the back of the motorcycle when I was asking the burning question, Is this all there is, it was trying to determine what good I could do as a leader? You’re just beginning to think about things like, you know, can you actually create a signal ? If it cuts into the lives of others, it means you’re in business. For me if you build a company like that’s not i’m not saying anybody’s life, I don’t, I wasn’t feeling like I was doing something significant with my time. And I do think people today are very oriented toward cause and wanting to do something good for others for their community, not just for themselves. And they asked that question, what good is what am I doing? What good is it, what good am I doing in my work? What is the purpose of my work? And that was when I began to realize that indeed, in fact, leadership is one of the highest callings you can have, because of your ability to impact other people’s lives. We have so much potential to make decisions, open doors, change the entire trajectory of a person’s career or their life. I mean, how many times can we sit back and think about people who did that for us? We have that ability to do that. Still today there are leaders and I think it begins to give me a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction about what I felt like I’d been called to do. And that leadership was a great calling, if I chose to think of it in that way.


Andy Paul  29:10  

And I think exploring that further, because we’ve taught this concept of significance comes up increasingly, as you especially as I talked in, talk to guests, like yourself, they’ve written about leadership that are in leadership positions, and reading books about it. You know, this living a life of significance, you know, comes up more and more frequently. I mean, are you defining it, you know, too narrowly or too broadly. I mean, when someone’s sort of an individual contributor, because I look at leadership and sales, for instance, we have a big sales audience that listens, this is I think that sales leadership starts with individual you know, in terms of how they work with their customers, how they work with their peers, and so on within the company is so what what role of significance in that?


Elise Mitchell  29:52  

Well, significance Okay, that was that’s an excellent question. I have thought about that quite a bit actually. is, to me, significance is less than about this idea of sort of this grandiose idea of being a philanthropist, or, you know, changing the entire world, which is sort of what you think about when you’re young, you know, is I’m gonna have this big impact. And instead, today, I think much more about significance as doing the right things. One thing at a time, it’s doing what’s directly in front of me today, changing that one person’s life for good, helping that customer with that very unexpected need or request that they have furthering their business, in their opportunities as a professional. These are all the seemingly small things, but when you string your entire career together with all of the different small things that you have been able to do to help others around you in one way in one way, in one day. This idea of significance I think, becomes very palatable and very believable because you begin to see Wow, I’ve really been able to do a lot and I didn’t do it by seat significance for myself, I did it by creating significance for others, one person, one opportunity one day at a time. And that became much more believable to me to think that maybe my leadership could have the potential for significance. Because when I thought about all the people that I’ve touched in my life, I realized, well, that was a lot. Hmm. So I think it becomes a more empowering idea as I can do something important today that can change the lives of others. And all I have to do is what’s right in front of me. 


Andy Paul  31:33  

Well, Elise I want to thank you for taking the time to join us on the show today. Until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling everyone.