As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Anderson.
Matthew Anderson’s passion is to be of service to others — His mission is to help others to do the same! After a COVID-influenced layoff, he thought a lot about what he wanted to do next. With the opportunity to do anything, he decided to combine his skills, abilities, passions, education, and experiences to build a company he wished he had available to him earlier in his leadership journey. And with that, Leadership Coaching for Results was born.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I appreciate the invitation! It’s an honor to have the opportunity to share my experiences. It’s my hope that each reader is inspired to trust themselves, be bold, and behave like a leader.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve a failing restaurant as my first management role. I was part of the 5th team of new managers in a 10-year period to turn the location around. My bar was ranked #45 out of 45 in the national brand — There was nowhere to go but up! We were told that if we failed, the restaurant would be closed. Within a year, the bar was ranked #1 for five consecutive months, and the restaurant was approved for a $2M expansion, all without sacrificing quality or unnecessarily reducing headcount.
The lesson I learned was critical to my future success: I was a jerk.
I was REALLY good at managing and getting results, but I wasn’t treating people like people. I earned the nickname “The Hammer,” because I was the chief disciplinarian in the restaurant. I wasn’t focused on the humans on the team — They were all just cogs in a machine to me. It wasn’t until the Executive Chef called me out one day that I realized I needed to change my behavior. I knew I had been a leader in college, and I also knew I wasn’t acting like one anymore — I was just a really good manager who everyone hated.
A couple of years later, I had the opportunity to rebrand and grow the market share of a 70+-year-old professional trade organization. Each year I was there the sales grew 19%, and I coached the first person in the company’s history to sell over $2M in a single year. I had a problem though; one of the salespeople was very toxic, and he sold so effectively, and at such a large volume, that I couldn’t just replace him. For the first time, I had to figure out how to work with someone instead of just firing them for their poor behavior.
One evening I stumbled across the Dale Carnegie Course online and enrolled to learn how to be a better leader. During that program, I had an epiphany about my behavior — I didn’t need to learn how to be a leader, I needed to change how I communicated with others. I realized in a flood of memories that I made my mom cry, and my wife, and my brother, and virtually every single person who had ever worked for me. It wasn’t that I was intentionally a bully, but I had no regard for other people’s feelings. I operated under the old management mentality of, “leave your baggage at the door,” and drove people to get results. When I realized that I could get results while also being considerate of the feelings and emotions of others, it changed everything for me.
I knew that mastery of any topic could be achieved once a person has the capacity to teach a subject to others, so I became a Dale Carnegie Trainer. I had a four-year residency as the in-house trainer for a national Fortune 400 insurance company, served as the executive coach to the C-suite of a statewide insurance firm, and in 2019 was ranked by Dale Carnegie & Associates as the #1 Corporate Trainer in the World, out of over 3,000 global trainers.
In 2018 and 2019, I completed an MS in Conflict Management and an MBA. I was also successful in closing a 5-year contract on behalf of a mental health nonprofit I was representing as an education consultant. At the end of 2019, the nonprofit asked me to become their 1st Executive Director, a role that I started serving full time in January of 2020. After countless meetings with politicians advocating for a statewide pilot of the program I had previously implemented at a smaller scale, I received verbal approval from a key legislator that we were approved for a $3M budget line item. COVID hit two days later, immediately derailing that initiative.
I then started working with Washington D.C. and our Congressperson’s office. It was an even heavier lift, but we got a new $3M included in the CARES Act! Unfortunately, the money took forever to move from the Federal government to the State level to the Local level for distribution, and in the meantime, the nonprofit had all but run out of money. In July, after twice securing $3M in government funding, I was left with no option but to lay myself off.
After 19 years of working without a hiccup, at the absolute peak of my career, I found myself unemployed not because of any mistake or failure to deliver results, but because of a germ. It was a dizzying and frustrating experience. It was also an opportunity to reflect on what I wanted to do, which I decided is to be of service to others and help them live the life they want to live. As a result, I started Leadership Coaching for Results.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I’ve always loved conflict. Conflict is often confused in Western Society as a negative and something to be avoided at all costs. I believe it is a vehicle to move things forward and an opportunity to make things better. I also enjoy the emotion and the mental sparring that is required for the activity. It can be very visceral, passionate, and trivial. It can also be methodical, deliberate, and important. In the end, conflict is born out of two differing points of view that are entirely justified in the minds of each party. My interest in the topic is in navigating win-win outcomes where both parties collaborate to a middle ground that serves as many people as possible, while creating minimal loss.
I was homeschooled from 4th-12th grade, so I spent an exorbitant amount of time with my family. Combine that with an affinity for conflict, and I was arguing with my parents quite a bit as a teenager. There was one argument where I felt particularly justified in my stance, and to emphasize a point, I punched the wall as I was standing on the stairs. What I didn’t know was how stairwells are constructed, and I punched straight into the header board behind the drywall. I immediately believed my hand to be broken — Fortunately, it wasn’t. That was the first and last time I ever punched a wall. Out of a desire to not consistently injure myself in future bouts of conflict, I started learning new ways to get my point across and be more persuasive.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In college, I had the opportunity to serve as the Vice President of my church. It was a campus ministry with a pastor who spent the entirety of his career working with college students and the community members around Michigan State University. His name is Pastor Dave.
As Vice President, I was inspired to create a project that would survive beyond my tenure, and enrich those who engaged with it. I started a new student-led church service for the unchurched and de-churched. Pastor Dave did not share a sermon — Students shared stories of their faith journeys. There was no organ or hymns — We had a student rock band. All these years later, the Wednesday ON FIRE continues to be one of three weekly church services offered.
Starting a church service isn’t easy. It requires the time, energy, and effort of countless volunteers. My responsibility was to coordinate all of these individuals, and ensure that the service wasn’t a cheap alternative to Sunday mornings, but a real worship experience for the target market. What I needed to learn was how to lead those who owed me nothing. They weren’t paid, and could come and go as they pleased, and yet, I needed some form of consistency in order to provide the service we had committed to.
Pastor Dave was the first person to walk alongside me and teach me how to be a leader. He was counsel when I made my frequent mistakes, and he was the tough-love coach I needed when things weren’t going well. He checked me when I got too full of myself, and he supported me when I needed it. He owed me nothing, yet he invested so much into me. I wouldn’t be who I am today without him.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Leadership Coaching for Results was fully inspired by the desire to be of service. The goal is to help people who are damn good managers go to the next level and become the leader that they need and want to be. Essentially, it’s the company I wish I had available to me back when I was “The Hammer.”
When I laid myself off, I wasn’t sure what I would do next. After a lot of processing and being offered roles that didn’t feel right, I finally decided to think about what I wanted to do. If I could do anything I wanted, and that was exactly the position I was in, what did I want to do?
When I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I had the opportunity to be my class’ student commencement speaker. Before 5,000 people, I shared a message that was essentially, “we’ve been given so much by our family, friends, and this University — Let’s get to work serving others.”
I was reminded of that message, and how it has always been a core element of who I am. I knew I wanted to be of service — The how was less important, so I asked some of my old students and clients to share with me the biggest impact I made on them. Thirty-five people sent me 2-minute videos talking about the difference I had made in their lives. It was incredibly inspiring and confidence-boosting. The videos also all fell into similar thematic buckets, focusing on things like “discover yourself,” “feel empowered,” “positive accountability,” and “achieving goals.” I decided to build a company around these themes, honoring the success of my past students.
Leadership Coaching for Results is a virtual coaching company that helps cohorts of strong managers and professional individual contributors (think doctors, lawyers, engineers, and politicians) to bridge from being just a good manager to becoming the leader that they need and want to be. The ultimate goal is to help them Leave Their Mark on their organization and those around them.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to share a message of hope and inspiration on a virtual speaking tour all over the country. The message is simply to “Trust Yourself.”
I had countless experiences throughout my career where I had to trust myself, like managing a last-ranked bar in a failing restaurant as my first management experience, or being brought on to rebrand a company in an industry I knew nothing about, or selling to clients as an education consultant with zero formal education experience…but two experiences in particular were formative in framing the importance of trusting yourself.
In 2019 I was halfway through a 12-month project working with the executive team of a statewide insurance agency. The first 6 months were dedicated to diagnostics, and the second 6 months were dedicated to executing a solution to improve the organization’s highly toxic culture. I was reporting results and next steps to the CEO, who had refused to participate in anything up until that point (guess where the culture issue stemmed from…). With just the two of us in a large and beautiful conference room on the top floor of the building, I was gently introducing the need for one-on-one work to serve his individual needs when he suddenly stood up and shouted, “how much do we still owe you?! $40,000?! I’ll pay you $40,000 to get out of my office!”
It was a stunning moment; unlike anything I had ever experienced. And to be honest, I actually entertained the idea for a moment. This guy was offering me more money than he paid his average employee in a year just to avoid improving himself. That isn’t the type of person that is particularly enjoyable to spend time coaching. I remember thinking, “what the hell is going on?” followed immediately by, “He’s emotional because he cares — You can work with that. Just trust yourself.”
After a few moments of intentionally not allowing myself to react, the CEO looked at me, confused, as I continued to sit calmly in my chair. “You’re not leaving?” he asked. “I don’t believe you really want me to. Am I wrong?” He invited me to breakfast the next day, and we finished the project with dramatic success.
So to answer your question about leading through difficult times, my message is simply this: Trust yourself. Every single person, including you, the reader, has been challenged with insurmountable odds. Every single person has overcome adversity. Every single person has been successful lots of times. And every single person has had instances where they were less successful than they hoped to be, and learned from it. All of those experiences are like Lego blocks in your mind. You have the ability to take all of your successes and learned lessons and put them together to solve any problem that you are currently facing. Regardless of the issue, concern, insecurity, or challenge, you have it within you to be successful, if only you trust yourself.
So when you feel like you’re standing on the edge of that proverbial cliff worried that you’re going to fall, if you trust yourself, you’ll find that you aren’t falling but you’re flying.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Absolutely. I almost committed suicide twice in my life. Once, when I was 19 and felt completely and utterly trapped in a toxic and manipulative relationship, and again when my wife and I experienced a miscarriage during our first pregnancy.
Life is really f*cking hard. It sucks. It’s painful. I’ve wanted to call it quits so many times and just go live a life doing something that I perceive to be easier. Then I realized one day, as I had the opportunity to work with and coach thousands of people, no one’s life is easy. Not a single person. That’s also part of the beauty of life.
Think of a time where everything just fell in line and everyone held you up for success. It feels great to have a really easy and impactful win, but it also feels completely empty. As humans, particularly in Western society, we place a high value on hard work and earning our wins. When things just fall in our lap, we don’t value them, and we don’t appreciate them. Without challenges, we’d feel empty, aimless, and lost. With challenges, we have the opportunity to focus on a goal, drive towards its completion, and feel fulfilled with accomplishing the objective.
I’m not ashamed to talk about my personal struggles with mental health because I know it normalizes it for others, and lets them know that they aren’t alone. As a result of my struggles, I live a life where I very intentionally refuse to live with regrets. This has made my life rich, full, and exciting. It also makes me appreciate my three beautiful children so much more than I may have otherwise appreciated them. They’re a blessing, and I know it.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to maintain the behavior of a leader, which to me is: Motivate, Inspire, and Empower those around them. When we’re talking about a leader with these priorities, I capitalize the word to set it apart.
Managers are not automatically leaders — This isn’t the era of Peter Drucker anymore. “Management” and “leadership” are not interchangeable words. Management is a job with the primary function to manage people, process, goals, and deliver results. Leadership is a behavior. It’s a choice. It doesn’t require a title; it just requires the decision to be of service to others. It requires being empathic, respecting others, and creating environments where trust is formed.
As social animals, humans have an ability few other animals have — The ability to demonstrate empathy. Elephants, whales, dolphins, monkeys, and some would argue dogs, all share this ability. It’s a highly evolved function in our brains that resides in the same location that gets overwhelmed with an electrical storm when we are subjected to stress. What happens when we’re facing challenging times or times of crisis is that our brains lose the ability to demonstrate empathy.
Without empathy, we become situational dictators, which in some cases is exactly what is needed in that brief moment. The challenge comes from long-term and persistent stress, like the shared experience of COVID-19. When our brains are overwhelmed with stress and we lose empathy, we cease to be leaders. So, to me, the most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to control one’s response to stressors and maintain the ability to be empathic, which allows one to continue to behave as a leader.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
In all of our businesses, we want results. To achieve results, we need collaboration. To get collaboration, we need engagement. To get engagement, we need trust. To build trust, leaders need to recognize the actions of others and demonstrate empathy in their time of need. What’s interesting, though, is that getting results and boosting morale can happen simultaneously with this understanding.
The consistent demonstration of empathy, which is two humans sharing with each other and exchanging intimate moments as humans, creates an environment where trust is built. Recognition of one’s actions makes people feel seen, and like their boss actually cares about them. With repetition, that also builds trust. What’s interesting about trust is that it also boosts morale. When we don’t trust our boss, our morale is low. When we trust and believe that the leader we follow cares about us, our morale goes up, even when times are hard.
Building trust is also critical to achieving results, because it’s the very beginning of the process to get results. With trust, research has shown that individuals become more engaged in their work. As engagement increases, individuals are more likely to collaborate with one another, even in the face of differing opinions and perspectives. Then finally collaboration allows those teams to achieve results, which benefit our organizations.
In The Leadership Mastery Program, which is my mainline product offering at Leadership Coaching for Results, I work with cohorts of 12 individuals from all over the country. During the program, I introduce The Results Equation, which is simply what I just described:
Recognition and/or Empathy = Trust = Engagement = Collaboration = Results
So if you want to boost morale, go back to the basics and start recognizing people for their contributions, and act like a human instead of a boss.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Honesty is crucial to maintaining trust, which ultimately leads to results. When we are in the position to have to deliver difficult news, hiding details or sugar-coating it leaves opportunities for others to later learn that we weren’t entirely honest. If that happens, trust is damaged or lost, which directly impacts our ability to get results down the road.
After working with and coaching thousands of individuals, I’ve learned that virtually everyone would rather know the truth of a situation than find out that the bad news just keeps getting worse because of omissions made at the beginning. So be honest. If you make a mistake, own it. Act like a Leader, and bring solutions to the table. Lastly, be open and honest about your commitment to seeing everyone through the issue. By expressing that you’re going to be “with them” throughout the process, trust is further built.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
On our honeymoon, my wife and I had the opportunity to snorkel with manta rays at night. It was a magical experience. The guide was clear that we shouldn’t touch the 10’ wide animals, for risk of removing a film that protects their skin, but the guide also said, “if they touch you, you are blessed.”
I was blessed twice by a back-flipping manta ray that lifted me out of the water. I really believe I was blessed, because I have this lesson that I’ve shared with leaders all over the country.
On the way back, I decided to sit on the front of the boat, which was a stupid decision. It was a miserably cold and soaking wet experience. And the waves were too strong to move to the back of the boat, so I caught every single wave right in the face.
It was supposed to be a two-hour ride back in the middle of the pitch-black moonless night. After what seemed to be five hours, I let my mind wander to the worst-case scenario and started to wonder if the captain was lost. I wondered if he was new and didn’t know the route, and the GPS was out, and we were lost at sea. I wondered what would happen if that were true, knowing that it probably wasn’t, but what if?
Just then, another wave crashed into my face and we started to crest up the next wave. As we reached the top, I saw a pinprick of light on the horizon. We went back down, I got soaked, and we went back up again. Once again the light was on the horizon. This went on a few times before I realized that the light was the lighthouse, and we were aiming for the port.
That lighthouse is a vision for leaders. I didn’t know what was between us, or how long it would take to get there, but I knew we were pointing in the right direction. The boat may have to navigate around obstacles, or stop to refuel, or could change ports entirely if necessary, but at that moment, I knew exactly where we were going.
When a leader has a vision of success, it doesn’t matter how unpredictable the world becomes — you just keep moving every day toward the goal, and arrive when it’s time.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
As I’ve coached individuals and executives realigning their organizations, I’ve learned that people and companies aren’t all that different, because people are leading the organizations. That means that what works for people will also work for companies, and the biggest thing any person needs to know in order to stay true to themselves is what their mission is.
Whenever I start coaching a person, we start with their vision for their life and career. With that, we can identify the root motivator and goals to achieve success. I then work with them to develop a “Leadership Statement,” which is essentially their mission as a leader. For example, mine is, “I am a leader who develops other leaders.” This means that if I do anything that doesn’t include developing leaders, I’m not living my mission. Now, I could be having fun by side-questing in my own life, but that activity is not in alignment with my purpose. That incongruity can cause unnecessary conflict, stress, and wasted time.
So, for any company navigating turbulent times, I suggest refocusing on the organization’s core purpose. When that is clearly in mind, everything else will be put into context, and the solutions necessary for success will become apparent.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I’ve seen lots of common accidental mistakes, and a handful of plain stupid mistakes that are unfortunately too common. The biggest one I see companies make is losing sight of the organization’s purpose in the name of dollars. When times get hard, or sales slump, or regulations change, or a pandemic screws up the whole damn world, good managers act like good managers — not like leaders. They cut costs like marketing and talent development that are short-sighted with long-term negative impacts; they reduce headcount that will permanently impact culture, psychological safety, and institutional knowledge; and they forget that their customers are probably experiencing hardship, too. They allow the stress to override their brains and resort to the basics, instead of behaving like a leader and focusing on being empathic, motivational, and inspirational.
Leadership isn’t easy. It’s actually really hard. That’s why we have so few real leaders in our world today — It’s easier to get rich and powerful by focusing entirely on yourself (like a manager) than it is to contribute to the greater good and be of service (like a leader). When times are tough, real leaders step up, hold themselves accountable to their personal mission, and make things happen. Businesses can do the same thing, but it’s a choice. They have to choose to not allow fear and management-style decision-making to rule the day.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
It has been said that cash flow is the lifeblood of an organization. It has also been said that clients are the lifeblood of an organization. The reality is that both statements are true, and are intimately intertwined. One of the things I do when times get tough is to weigh all of my decisions against the ultimate goal. In my company, Leadership Coaching for Results, the ultimate goal is to help individuals become the leader that they need and want to be. It’s a great business that I enjoy and can make a happy life running, but the outcome is bigger and more important than the financial returns — This business makes good managers into leaders who are others-focused. With every person we develop, the world has one more person who is committed to giving respect freely, demonstrating empathy to those around them, being of service, and building trusting relationships. What we really do is make the world a better place, one leader at a time.
With this in mind, I make sure that each decision has a contribution margin toward that end. If it doesn’t, it gets cut. If it does, I do everything in my power to keep it going. All companies have this ability. It just takes focus and an unyielding commitment to the organization’s purpose.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
These are five things I do, and coach others to do, when times get hard:
Navy SEALs who are about to conduct physically and mentally overwhelming feats use a tool called “Square Breathing.” It’s simple — Close your eyes, breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, and hold your breath for 4 seconds. Repeat this four times, and you’ll find that you have successfully calmed your body and mind enough to start thinking logically and intentionally, instead of emotionally and reactively.
2. Take Stock
You know what is important to you. You know if you’re doing it or not. If you are in alignment, move on to the next step. If your life purpose and actions are not currently in alignment, it’s time to change things to make sure that they are. Think about your personal vision for your life. If you don’t have one, now is the time to invest that time and energy. Think about what you want to achieve personally and professionally and make plans to put yourself on that course.
3. Trust Yourself
You’ve been successful LOTS of times in the past, and you’ve learned from the times that you were less successful than you hoped to be. Like Legos, you can use those experiences and lessons to build the solutions you need and want, for the challenges you are currently facing. Burnout is real, and scary. When you feel like you’re standing on the proverbial edge of the cliff, if you trust yourself, you’ll find that you aren’t falling, but you’re flying.
There’s a story about Warren Buffet and Bill Gates being together with others at a dinner party. After the meal, everyone played a game that included a series of questions. One of the questions was, “What personal attribute do you credit with your success?” Both of the former richest men in the world wrote on a slip of paper the word “focus.” If it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for us, too.
When you’re thinking clearly, know your purpose, and trust yourself to make the right decisions informed by past successes. It’s far easier to focus on what’s in front of you.
In all things, there is always something to be thankful for. When it’s raining, we can pout about the inconvenience, or we can appreciate the fact that our flowers are being watered. When a pandemic throws the world in disarray, we can become angry and depressed, or we can appreciate the opportunity we have to reflect, take stock, and reinvest in loved ones.
Appreciation, recognition, gratitude, love…these are all shades of the same positive mental attitude. When we adopt these mentalities, we see opportunities instead of dead ends. With an open and appreciative mindset, we can conquer any challenge that lays before us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I’m coaching people, or holding them accountable to themselves for not living up to their own standards, there’s a quote that I love to use: “You either Pay, or you Pay.”
The idea is, you can take advantage of the opportunity that’s being presented to you, which invariably costs something (time, money, energy, etc.), or you can choose to ignore it, which also costs something (lost time, money, energy, opportunity…). The point is, you’re going to pay either way.
In my coaching business, the biggest objection I get in 2021 is, “Because of 2020, we don’t have the money to invest into our people.” I hear that argument every single day. And the reality is, it’s not a lie. It’s also not visionary thinking, and it’s short-sighted.
Microsoft just proved that previous research was correct — 40% of employees are planning to leave their employer this year. We also know that the best retention tool is loyalty. Employees are dramatically more loyal when they feel like their employer cares about and prioritizes their development. You can invest financial resources to make your team better and get them to lock in with you while they complete a development program, or you can spend an unknown amount of time, energy, frustration, and money exceeding that investment cost to replace them. As a decision-maker, you either pay, or you pay.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I welcome connections directly via email at [email protected].
I invite everyone to check out my website at LeadershipCoachingForResults.com
Leadership Coaching for Results has a Facebook page at Facebook.com/LeadershipCoachingForResults
I’ve recorded 100 short Leadership lessons from my experiences coaching others. They all have an actionable take-away, and are 3–5 minutes long. You are invited to enjoy them and encouraged to share them with others. You can find them at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_Tl0fmWg9J9EQgcqCMvrow
You can also find me on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/en/andermd