What does it take to be an effective leader? Haas School of Business Alumnus and Founder of Group Sixty, Darren Reinke talked with host Sean Li about his book The Savage Leader: 13 Principles to Become a Better Leader Inside Out. Their conversation covered how leaders can form a better bond with their tribe by being humble, showing their curiosity and eagerness to learn.
Darren tackled and shared his learnings over the years and how the willingness to put in hard work will eventually pay off. And his definition of perseverance means getting out of your comfort zone, even if you need to face your own fears.
But does facing your fears mean saying yes to everything? Tune in until the end of the show as they talk about how his experience taught him that great leaders are authentic and how reaching deep inside to know your values will help you prioritize which things to say yes to.
Find nuggets of wisdom in this episode as they talk about self-limiting beliefs and encouraging your team to face their fears and take risks with you.
How do you connect with your tribe better?
“People generally think of communication as voice inflection, how you frame a conversation, project, vision, but I think there’s something actually more fundamental than that. It’s about humility, curiosity, empathy, and being present. Accepting that other people have value to any conversation. You don’t know everything. You don’t know the answer to every question. There’s something that can be gained from even the rank and file in your organization. I think the same thing holds true for curiosity. The intrinsic curiosity that leaders should have about the world, around them, about the people around them. I think that connects back to humility.”
How do you become a great leader?
“The willingness to be introspective. So that gets to the points of being humble, being curious, being more self-aware of yourself and the people around you. You have to be willing to put in the hard work because growing and changing is definitely not easy. It requires two things, which is that desire to be great, which creates that North Star for yourself. The introspection, which allows people to get to who they are as a person. What they need to do to get better. Then they have to put in the work because we can’t just think about change.”
Thoughts on Surfing and Facing Fears:
“I think to me, the upside for surfing is just too valuable. It makes me think about life. We’re so anchored on things we can and can’t control. I think I started to have this moment, I don’t know if it was lucid or the opposite of that. I realized if I can just truly let go of the things that I can’t control, it’s like a superpower. In the same thing, it’s like when you’re surfing. All you can control is what’s above the surface.”
- Darren on LinkedIn
- His Book: The Savage Leader
- His Company: Group Sixty
- Their Podcast: The Savage Leader Podcast
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00:00] Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today I’m joined by Darren Reinke, full-time MBA class of 2003. Welcome to the podcast.
Darren: Thanks, happy to be here.
Sean: Darren, you are a published author, and before we go into that, I really want to hear about what you’ve been doing since you came out of Haas.
Darren: It’s been a bit of a meandering journey if you will. And I’ve done a lot of different things. Going into Haas, I thought I wanted to combine my experience with my science degree in business to do biotech business development. Realized pretty quickly I didn’t want to do that. I think many Haas people can relate to you during that two-year program. Did an internship during the summer in product marketing at Neutrogena, really enjoyed that, just kicked off a journey towards consumer brands and ended up coming out and working for Gap corporate. So, I had met a young lady at the time and I was motivated to stay in San Francisco versus postponing my eventual trip down to Southern California, but so stayed in San Francisco, worked for Gap corporate, and then moving to LA after a year, start doing sales and marketing, consulting.
Did that for a couple of years, moved to Brazil, started an inbound travel company focused on surf. Came back to LA and this is a little bit of a journey as you can see. Did consulting again and then eventually my wife and I realized, Hey, let’s – we want to relocate. We’re living by the beach in Marina Del Ray at a view from our home office of the Harbor is beautiful.
Could walk to surf for, to go for a jog or whatnot, is fantastic but it wasn’t a place that either of us wanted to settle down and we both always love San Diego. So, we ended up relocating to San Diego. I likewise kept doing consulting. Fall of ’08, the world is falling apart as we all remember. I took a job at Pro Flowers, doing partnership marketing, essentially. Did that for a couple of years.
The market rebounded, ended up going back to consulting. Started my own firm in 2010, it was called Group Sixty Marketing at the time, which I’ve rebranded a Group Sixty. But that’s a very high-level snapshot of what I did. So, a lot of bouncing around, a lot of exploration, a lot of introspection that drove me to where I am today.
Sean: I have to ask cause I’m really curious. What does Group Sixty stand for?
Darren: What’s the genesis or what does it stand for?
Darren: So, the genesis was essentially two things. One, the 60 is around 0 to 60 in terms of a speedometer, in terms of quick to get results. The group was more about leaning towards an organizational model that would be more driven from a contractor perspective, less round FTDs, more around agility, and be able to hire contractors on the spot for projects and just to adapt to the market moving forward. So, that combination of agility in an org model with that desire for speed and execution.
Sean: What do you guys do at Group Sixty? What kind of consulting?
Darren: We are actually, so, we’ve evolved. We started as a marketing consultancy in 2010. Realized pretty quickly that marketing was a tough place to compete and win. At least for me, it wasn’t my skill set. Things were increasingly going digital and we’ve seen that come to fruition. So quickly moved back and pivoted back to what I did more at Accenture.
So, more strategy consulting, more project management. And then over time realized that I’d seen so many projects go into the ditch over the years for a variety of reasons, mostly people related. So, either underdeveloped leaders, leadership teams, poor communication, lack of accountability. And so, I was turned onto the concept of coaching.
I’d always known what coaching was from a sports context as being a high school athlete and always loved professional and college sports throughout my life. And I found out about executive coaching. So, I went through a training program thinking, I don’t think I want to be a full-time coach on the back end, but I think it will be something I’ll learn from.
It turned out to be probably the six most important days of my professional career in terms of just I was so engaged, was loving what I was doing. And like I said, it didn’t decide that I wanted to do full-time 30, 40 hours of coaching per week after, but I learned so much about myself, but also just in terms of people, how you can transform them. And also, how you can use that as an inflection point to both drive more successful projects, but more successful teams and more successful organizations.
Sean: That’s amazing. You had mentioned before in our prior conversations about the influence from your work prior to Haas. I want to hear a little bit about where you’re from and where you grew up.
Darren: Yeah, so let’s rewind the tape even further. So, I grew up as a kid in Marin County. Larkspur to be specific. So, right across the Bay from Berkeley. My parents are both veterinarians and my sister’s a dermatologist. And it’s funny. I say she’s a human dermatologist, whichever one looks to me, kind of strange because my mom’s a veterinary dermatologist. My sister’s a human dermatologist, which is funny. And, what is interesting is I always wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. And I realized my dad was actually an orthopedic surgeon for pets. So, I would be a human orthopedic surgeon. So, that was the goal, at least, till midway through college. And I realized at that point, I didn’t want to go to med school for a whole host of reasons and decided that I was interested in this nebulous term business or this career of business.
Luckily, my two closest friends on the street, their dads, one worked for Wells Fargo in their finance group and the other one worked for what was Coopers and Lybrand. And so, I learned a bit about business, the Wells Fargo, Clyde Ostler. He was a great mentor of mine. He encouraged me, he said, Hey, Darren, he said, stick with your major.
He’s like, even at Wells Fargo, we hire hard science majors. I was a biological science major and he said, just take some business classes. So, I took some business classes. He also said do some internships. So, I did some internships that probably looked better on paper than in practice. I was at Lucasfilm and to my third year in college, basically, I was just someone to sub in, in the general store and the pool.
So, I was doing glamorous things like filing back before the internet really took hold, power sanding the softball benches on the softball fields at Skywalker ranch, a lot of glamorous stuff that lived up to a top hundred internships in the US or at least that was the book that it was in. Then coming out of college, he also recommended, he said, Hey, look to invest in banking. So, looked to Goldman, Morgan Stanley, different firms like that to do M and A banking. That just wasn’t a fit for me, culturally it wasn’t a fit. Then looked at a bunch of consulting companies. Accenture at the time was hiring a ton of Davis.
I think they took 10 or 15 people the year I graduated. So, started at Accenture and their process group was fantastic. It really gave me a broad understanding of business and just per my mentor’s advice, he said, Hey, consulting will give you the fastest exposure to a multitude of industries, functions of companies, different company sizes.
And so, I learned so much about business but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I also recognize that there are still some fundamentals that I really missed around accounting and finance and organizational design and different courses that I knew I would get from an MBA. And ultimately I was drawn to Haas.
It was a local school, obviously, a very reputable, top 10 MBA, top 5 in some polls, and just was really impressed by the caliber of people that went to the school.
Sean: I guess my question earlier was also kind of hinting at from your experiences prior to Haas, what drew you to wanting to help people, wanting to become an executive coach?
Darren: Yeah, no, it’s a great question and something I didn’t really realize until about, gosh, two years ago. And what I realized was one big reason why I wanted to become a physician or an orthopedic surgeon was to help people. And that was just something that I really struggled with when I went into the “business world”. I remember sitting at my first project at Kaiser Permanente. I was working with a guy named Andy who is also with Accenture. And I was just talking about just how something was missing, how I wasn’t giving back, I wasn’t helping people. At the time, I’d help my grandmother and grandfather start to use a product called WebTV from remember that it was a set-top box that allowed you to access the internet and do email? Just the horrible version of the internet and just not exactly the greatest UI or UX for that matter. And we started talking about how can we scale that up in terms of amplifying the impact, not to create a business per se, but to create a nonprofit to introduce more senior citizens to the benefits of the internet.
And because I’d seen my grandma who was a teacher up in Idaho, my grandparents, and I think they visited 150 countries and lived in three different countries in Africa. So, they just developed these friends over the years and just access to email allowed her to connect with people and just really brought you to sense of just vigor to her life to her later years.
And so, I realized, Hey, this is a great opportunity to create a non-profit around this. So, I had one of my good high school friends, one of the guys on my block also in Larkspur, we started this nonprofit. Luckily, we had a lot of Accenture do-gooders who are willing to volunteer their time. We’ve got some funding just to help us roll out in three or four facilities.
And so, that really allowed me to scratch that itch at that time. Later on, I ran it at a time, we moved out of the area, so I shut that down. But executive coaching allowed me to give back and to help people, but in obviously a very different context. So, it’s within a business context and people say, are you a life coach?
No, I’m definitely not a life coach but there are elements of executive coaching that, of course, we talk about things that are very personal, talk about values, self-limiting beliefs, things like that. But the executive coaching work allowed me to combine a lot of that business focus and desire to help businesses succeed, but also help people to succeed and to be better, to be the best versions of themselves, to be a great leader, and to impact their teams and their organizations, and ultimately, hopefully, their communities as well.
Sean: No. I do have a question. And this question may be, I imagine it’s maybe in the book, The Savage Leader that you recently published, but it’s the question around, many times leaders don’t know what they don’t know. And one of the things that I feel like they may not know is that they may not know they need help.
What kind of advice or what kind of tips can you give to executives who may not be aware that they need coaching?
Darren: Yeah, I think it almost goes back to even more fundamental than that. And that’s actually a good point. Actually, one of the chapters talks about how you connect with your tribe and so much of communication, people generally think about the skill sets of communication, they think about voice inflection, how you frame a conversation, project vision.
But I think there’s something actually more fundamental than that. It’s mindsets of communication. So, it’s about humility, curiosity, empathy, and then being present, which I guess could say is a skill set but I’ll call it a mindset. And I think that those, especially the humility and curiosity, get to your question about leaders not knowing what they know. And humility is not just, not thinking so highly of yourself. It’s actually just accepting that other people have value to any conversations It’s that you don’t know everything. You don’t know the answer to every question.
There’s something that can be gained from even the rank and file in your organization. I think the same thing holds true for curiosity. It is just that intrinsic curiosity that leaders should have about the world, around them, about the people around them. I think that connects back to humility.
Darren: And I think that those two things are really foundational in terms of becoming a great leader, but becoming a great communicator. But I think those things, I think when people have those will find themselves going, gosh, I could really benefit from executive coaching. But the three filters that we use in terms of people that we work with, which gets back to your point also, which is you have to have a desire to be great.
So, whatever that greatness is, whether it’s to create a billion or multi-billion dollar company or to do something that really drives change in the community, you have to have the willingness to be introspective. So, that gets to the points of being humble, being curious, being more self-aware of you and yourself and the people around you.
But also, the third thing is you have to be willing to put in the hard work because growing and changing is definitely not easy. And it requires us first two things, which is that desire to be great, which creates that North Star for yourself, the introspection which allows people to get to who they are as a person, what they need to do to get better, but then they have to put in the work because we can’t just think about change. We actually have to act into change.
Sean: When you wrote the book, what kind of impact did you want to have for the reader?
Darren: Well, honestly, I said to myself early on that if it impacts one person, it was worth it because so much of it going into it was something I almost did for myself. It was approved that I could actually do something I didn’t think was possible. It was a way to challenge my own self-limiting beliefs of my ability to write, especially to write a book.
So, I think that was a big impetus for writing the book. But what I hope to achieve was to help people. Yeah, of course, I say one, I hope it’s more than one, I don’t know how many people that would be, but that’s something that I wanted to do. Also, people ask me, you know, who’s this book written for?
And of course, the right answer is I have a specific buyer persona, et cetera, but it’s hard because I think these are 13 principles that are so foundational, whether you’re a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, aspiring entrepreneur, or a business executive, someone who’s out in the community trying to drive change or even a teacher. I’ve had friends respond to the book.
One’s a chef of a school up in Marine County. He also is involved in nutrition and he just sent me some messages about how much he gained from the book in terms of lessons. So, I think it’s so broadly applicable to people, but just walking away with something, there’s a lot of stories, there’s takeaways in each of the stories and just, hopefully, people can walk away with one or two different things that they can use and to do differently.
Just even in the last few days, some clients have talked about, one of the things I talked about freedom of time and space that became a mantra or a value for me based on living in Brazil and starting that business and spending each and every day with my girlfriend at the time, actually fiancé and now my wife, and to the use of proxy metrics around achieving things to help foster a greater sense of patience and perseverance. So, I think there’s so many little nuggets and my hope is that people would walk away with one or more of those things. I think also just a recognition that there’s as many different types of leaders.
And I think so many times people fall into the trap of best practices and Hey, I’m just going to copy what Elon Musk does or what Richard Branson or Steve Jobs, and just literally mirror that. And I think what people are going to fail if they do that if they don’t tailor it to their own style and preferences and strengths.
But also, I think that there’s so many different leadership styles that can be successful that I’ve seen. And I think being able to stand in that, in their confidence, and to really step up and be the leader that they want to be.
Sean: That’s a tall order.
Darren: I’m a total optimist, I believe everyone has a chance to be great if they’re willing to do those three things and Gallup will say 10% of people have management potential. I tend to think it’s a lot higher. I think that just in general about life, I think people can change, but they have to have that willingness to change.
Sean: Of the 13 principles, what are the top three that stand out to you?
Darren: Of course, I think they’re all relevant. I almost look at them in the way the book is structured is almost like a pyramid, not quite the Maslow’s pyramid per se, but at the foundational level values because values are just so core to who we are and really understanding what those values are.
Focusing on the ones that really resonate mostly with you, not necessarily what other people think or what you think they think or who you should be. I think that’s one of them, I think in terms of, yeah, I wrote a chapter about myself find what matters and that was about living in this beach outpost in the South of Brazil, starting this business.
And what I realized was that who I spent my time with was what really mattered most to me. Of course, I’m as ambitious as the next person and have great desires for my life and career, but for me, that’s what mattered. And so, I think being true to those values I think is really important lesson. I think the second one is around authenticity and I’ve been just wrestling with this term.
It’s either confident authenticity or authentic confidence. I think it’s the same thing, being so authentic and true to yourself. It actually really just gives you towering confidence or just being confident in your own authenticity. So, the chapter is really about how you can be more authentic.
It talks about not just copying and pasting best practices but tailoring them to your style. So, that’s the second one. So, authenticity. The first one, values. And I think the last piece and there were three chapters, but I’ll just call them one, which is one is about self-limiting beliefs. Those are those just nagging thoughts in our heads.
You’re not good enough. I’m not ready yet. I don’t have the right experience. Which, left unchecked, can turn into doubt. So, you start to doubt yourself, doubt your ability to execute, doubt your ability to start a business. And then that can ultimately lead to fear, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of biasing yourself in front of the court of internet opinion. Like for me, one of the things publishing a book is okay, now you’re out there in front of your highly curated business audience, your fellow alumni, the Amazon reviewers, et cetera. So, I think dealing with fear is another thing.
So, it’s self-limiting beliefs can become doubt and fear. So, those are three chapters. So, I guess I got five for the price of three, but those would be the three, I would say.
Sean: That’s amazing. By the way, I love how you organize the book. And how, at the end of the chapter, you have key takeaways. Speaking of fear I remember now one of the stories about Brazil. Can you tell us what happened in Brazil around fear?
Darren: This is the story I’m thinking of it as actually up here in San Diego, in Carlsbad. So, growing up in Northern California, I think people of my generation were overexposed to the Jaws movies.
Darren: Lot of surfing, a lot of beaches, so just had this nagging fear of sharks. So, I didn’t start surfing for a long time. I remember the first time I did up in the barrier with my good friend, Billy, is out there and panicked for the first five minutes, calm for about 10, and then just totally panicked and paddled in. So, something that was always in the back of my mind and then moving to LA and then to San Diego is like, yeah, there’s no sharks down here.
We’re good. it’s all about this stuff and the red triangle up in the Bay area. And so, I’m out surfing with a friend of mine and we start to paddle out, I was out there a little bit ahead of him. And so, I sit there on my boards like this pristine Southern California day, it was probably like 9 or 10 AM midweek.
So, a lot of people who don’t have flexibility in their jobs were stuck to their desks. And so, we’re out there and I look in the horizon waiting for the next wave to come and I see this just enormous creature, just launched out of the water and just does this absolutely classic, great wide breech. It’s rolling backward.
You can see the white underbelly, you can see this giant arch jawline, you see the gray skin on the back, the dorsal fin, all that. And so, it just splashes back in the water. And so, I turned to the guys next to me and said, Hey, that was a shark. And they go yeah, man. All right. See ya. And so, they stay out there and I just turn it and paddle in as fast as I can.
And surprisingly, I wasn’t more scared than I thought. And my buddy is paddle in and I said, shark, shark, shark, let’s go. And so, he immediately turns around as well. And so, as we paddle back in and you know, it’s always one of those scenes where it’s like going slower and slower. And like you’re paddling and you’re in 10 feet of water, actually, probably even 10 feet, but you’re getting 50 feet from shore or 20 feet from shore 10 feet.
And you make that move to jump off your board thinking you’re not totally safe, as in waist-deep water, and then walk out of the sand upon which you’re finally safe, it was just crazy. I’m like, that was crazy, man. He was like, yeah. I was like why don’t we, as he points down the beach about a hundred yards, like, why don’t we go surf down there?
And I’m like, yeah, no way, man. I’m like, I think this is a pretty good sign that I needed to pass in surfing today. I need to get back to work. So, that was a crazy experience. It’s one of those things that you always anticipate the worst possible scenario. Obviously, it could have been far worse than that.
And the thing was like 150 feet on the horizon. I should also note that it was a “baby” shark, a six to seven-foot great white shark, which doesn’t look too small when you’re out in the water, but much larger or much smaller than its mom or dad. So, it was a crazy experience.
It just made me realize the importance of planning for the worst-case scenario. And I think you can do a lot that prep work ahead of time. But it was something that I drew from an insane experience of something I would thought I would never experience, but in a way, it was almost helpful to actually see it and to experience it.
Now you kind of know what it looks like and what it could feel like. I feel like totally, but you have a sense for what it is. And so, after I’d met the first time surfing, of course, after that it was during COVID and it was right in that same spot, which was probably not a great idea.
We are underneath this insane red tide. So, the water was like this dark murky, reddish-brown. So, it was extra ominous in the same spot we surfed. During COVID such everyone’s a little bit nervous about people breathing near you. And at that time they were saying don’t even surf. If you can remember back in March and April, even they were saying don’t even surf.
Don’t get in the ocean. Don’t go to the beaches. All our beaches were closed down here. But a crazy experience and definitely nerve-wracking getting back in the water the first time, but definitely have blown through that. And I can’t say, I don’t think about it but definitely something I do think about at times.
Sean: I asked about the experience because I’ve always grown up with this fear of open water. I never learn how to swim properly and was self-taught to swim and I grew up in Michigan. So, we have these large bodies of water as well. And granted they’re just lakes, but there’s, it still feels like the ocean cause you don’t see the other side with great lakes. But when I moved out to LA I definitely challenged myself to push myself out there. I have this masochistic habit of if I know I don’t like something, I have to push myself towards it. Growing up I hate spiders, right? And in Michigan we have basements.
There are plenty of spiders in the basements and spider webs. But one day I just got fed up with my fear of and I just said, you know what, just going go down there and just going to walk through the basement, just freaking deal with it. And talking about overcoming fears, I found that to be a pretty effective way of overcoming fear because, after a while, you’re just like, what’s the big deal, right?
I still don’t like spiders, but definitely not afraid of them. And I see one I’m of squash it versus runaway. But when I read this shark story, was thinking to myself, I have this fear every time I go out to surf. So, I was overcoming one, open water, the fear of open water, but two, every time I go out there, I can’t see underneath the water.
And so, it always looms in my head but I don’t know why I’ve been trying to combat it in the sense that I know so many people die from deer because, you know, especially in the Midwest yeah. Deer and car accidents are so prevalent in the Midwest, in wooded areas. Whereas like shark attacks, the people would die from shark attacks, I think it’s like one a year across the world. It’s just something very statistically it’s very rare, but I was curious to hear how you kind of overcame it or how you through that fear, every time you go out there.
Darren: Yeah, I think the first thing is just the payoff for me for surfing is it’s the closest thing to a silver bullet for relaxation. It’s fun. You’re out there riding waves, it’s relaxing. You’re immersed in nature. I always knew I would love the part about riding waves. What will you stand up and ride waves, which is the end part, which is the easy part, actually, hits all the other things that are challenging as you know? So, I think for me, I said, there’s no way I’m giving up surfing. I’ll break through this fear because it’s too fun. It’s too relaxing. It’s such a natural high, just being in the water and just looking back and where I surf in Encinitas right by our house in Cardiff is you’re looking back on the shore.
And actually, one of my friends who, yeah, we talked about this in the past is as you know, there’s more land sharks and all the people and all the toxicity that’s onshore and you get out in nature and I have to do is worry about the actual sharks, which, I’m gonna get philosophical. But I think to me, the upside for surfing is just too valuable, but also, I think it makes me think about in life, you know, we’re so anchored on things we can and can’t control.
And I think I started to have this moment, I don’t know if it was lucid or the opposite of that, but realized, gosh, if I can just truly let go of the things that I can’t control, it’s like a superpower. In the same thing. It’s like when you’re surfing, all you can control is what’s above the surface.
What’s below is frightening to think about, this creature, the size of a VW van that could just come directly underneath. You’ll never see it. And it’ll launch you into the air, 10 feet or whatnot. So, if you think about that, that’s scary. But I think just trying to think about what the benefit is.
And I think in life, you know, it’s like, what do I do? Like, what happens if I don’t engage my fears? What do I miss out on? In this case, for me, it’s surfing. What about, what if it’s public speaking or taking a chance in a meeting with your manager? Starting a business, whatever it may be. I think if you don’t think about the other side of that coin which is what I miss out on, I think it really can help you push through some of those fears. And then just, it gets back to making me think about what I can and can’t control.
Sean: Again, I bring up the story because the funny moment in the book was around, you asking the question, should you tell your wife, or should you tell Melissa that this happened? And it makes me think about there’s so many things. Of course, my wife does not support my surfing. She definitely doesn’t want me to learn how to ride a motorcycle and that’s completely forbidden, but she worries every time I go skiing or snowboarding, does anything active where I can potentially get hurt.
And, this, to me, it felt like to me, it was also less than leadership and not only confronting your fears but helping your team, right, confront the fears together, really thinking ahead, how do we, basically, plow through these risks and take these risks as a team.
Darren: Yeah, I think sort of that what’s become cliche now fails forward, but I think it’s just encouraging people to take risks. And I think just the seeing the benefit of taking that risk if they’re successful because I think, but also thinking about if you don’t, what are you missing out on? Which I think is kind of interesting as well, because I think that’s important also because you are missing out on so much.
At the very least, you’re going to learn something for sure, but overcoming your fears is tough. It can be anchored so deeply within your subconscious and conscious. Just like I mentioned, the self-limiting beliefs, you know, those fears are really rooted in those limiting beliefs in so many different cases.
Not probably not an example of sharks, but in so many cases, you know, it’s, I’m not good enough. So, you’re afraid of looking stupid in front of your peers or through colleagues or whatnot. So, it’s a tough one. I think just trying to get people to see the benefits of embracing their fears and trying to overcome them because it’s getting to the other side.
And your example of going, challenging yourself with the spiders is great. It’s like now you’ve tackled one fear, like, all right, what’s next. And I think it can also be helpful is start small, do something that’s small, that’s less risky, that’s not putting your entire reputation at stake or something that’s a real risk.
Like I’m not going to dive headfirst off the Fairlawn islands and swim with sharks without a shark cage but it can be something where you take a baby step into something that sharks can have an extreme example of overcoming fears is like most likely it’s not going to come to fruition. Actually, most surfers I know have actually never seen a shark, even one of my good friends who surfs up in the Bay area all the time.
People are well, really solid. So, but I think something more realistic, which is fears of failure, fear of the unknown, and things like that.
Sean: It’s fascinating. So, I was down in Newport the other day and I saw a fin and I realized, Oh, that’s just a dolphin. Again, it’s one of these things where you just have to embrace it. Otherwise, at least one when I have my conversation with my wife and some friends about missing out on things in life, a lot of it is rooted in kind of the fear of death. And then I know there was this course that I took at Berkeley where we had to do deathbed exercise. And I think that was not only a good reminder, that like we’re all gonna die.
And at the end of the day, you have to weigh out what is important to you and what you want your life to be about. And that helped recenter me a bit in the decision that I make every day.
Darren: I think that’s a bigger point to make is what do you want to achieve in your life and your career? And if you don’t embrace those fears, you’re not going to get there. For me, one of the things early on, as I realized, gosh, getting out in front of audiences and speaking more frequently, like that’s directly in the path of where I am and where I want to go.
So, that’s one for it, started doing things to start to develop and joining Toastmasters, things like that, just to work on the craft and saying yes to things when the default answer would be to say no when something’s a little bit scary, but I think it’s important just to think about that arc, like your legacy, what do you want to achieve?
And then I think those fears, I think will seem small when given that context and just how little it is compared to that long-term thing you’re trying to achieve.
Sean: Imagine in your executive coaching experiences, one thing that might come up is over-committing. So, I wanted to counterbalance what you just said there in saying yes. Sometimes I find myself saying yes too much and not saying enough no. How do we find that good balance?
Darren: That’s a great question and why there’s probably a million books written about time management and prioritization. And something I try to do is prioritize a list or a set of tasks or activities, and then prioritize it again and try to get it down to something that’s finite. And then, of course, overachievers, I think are going to try to say yes to too many things, but honestly, I think the most successful people are doing a few things and doing them really well. My wife was giving me a bad time last night. She was like, you really are gonna try to do all that. It’s like, shit, there’s no way you’re going to do all of that. And I was listing all the different things from a marketing perspective. Like you need to focus, sounds like it’s easy to give people advice and coaching, but sometimes it can be harder to receive that advice.
But I was more saying, just say yes to things if it can allow you to take on your fears, but I think just saying yes to everything is a mistake. I think it’s really trying to send yourself on whether it’s what your values are, what the vision is you have for you and your team, your organization.
Just, I think those are the most important things and to say, is saying yes to this, does it line up with this? Does it help me achieve that? And if it’s outside of the scope of that, then I think definitely the answer is no. Which is very generic.
Sean: No, I think you hit on the nail and that making sure that the things you say yes to align with your vision and your values. And speaking of which, one of the things I do find difficult, at least for me, is re-evaluating my values. I’ve come up with a value system in the beginning.
And then I find that over time we should continually reevaluate it, not only for myself but for the businesses that I start or the organizations that I lead. What are some advice that you can give people who struggle with coming up with their values?
Darren: That’s a great question. It’s values, purpose, those are things that I struggle with has couldn’t quite wrap my arms around those things for a long time, because I think ultimately your values are going to inform your purpose and I think there are people, right? Do you see a lot of public speakers really successful, they’ve written books because they had this seminal moment in their life, whether it be a near-death experience or death of a loved one, or just some really transformational experience that led them to their purpose, to their values.
But I dunno how many, what percent of people that has point, 1% of people find their purpose or their values that way. And I really think it’s more about reflecting on the experiences that were so important in your life, the stories that people tell about you is great. So, I think I’ll ask a series of questions to people to help them better identify their values. So, you know, what are stories that your family and friends tell about you? What was like a really important moment in your life? This overlaps with a lot of the finding your purpose concept. And then identify a set of values or words that really, or themes that come out of that.
I think it’s also cool if you marry that with a list, we have this exercise where we have, I don’t know, 200 different words, different values, and circling those things, the ones that really resonate with you. I think if you find the intersection between those two and then really asking yourself, are these truly resonant with me?
Are they really authentic? Are these values that I think I should have about myself? Versus things that I think maybe other people might project on me, I think is really important. Just kind of almost like the idea of unaided and aided and from a marketing perspective, it’s saying, Hey, tell these stories, extract themes and words from those.
But then also start with this giant list of words and pick 10, narrow to 5, narrow down to 3. So, those are a couple of ways I think people can think about their values, but also, values do change every time. So, one of the people that I interviewed for the book is a therapist and volleyball coach, credibly insightful.
And she just talks about how values change over time and to really question them and challenge them and do these values really represent who I am now. And we have so much, that’s not always baggage but we have so much from our past, we’re informed by our families, by the communities we grow up in.
I think it’s about how do you emerge from those or slither out of some of those, in this case, self-limiting beliefs, but also values too, which don’t really hold true anymore. So, I think it’s important to assess those values over time. And I’m not advocating for doing it on an annual basis.
Maybe you revisit your values, but things definitely do change over time enough. For me, that whole concept of freedom of time and space, the Genesis was living in Brazil and we weren’t even married yet. And what I realized, later on, is how that played out and the value shifted slightly was around being able to be there for my kids, being able to coach pretty much all of their sports teams until recently, to be there for them, to be there with them, obviously, hopefully, to have a positive impact on other kids as well, but trying to have control over my schedule so I could say no to a trip to New York that overlap with my son’s performance in the holiday play in preschool.
And so, those values, I didn’t have that value until I was, however, old I was when I lived in Brazil and then it definitely evolved over time. So, I think it’s important to revisit those things. And as you get older too, you start thinking about legacy, right? So, that’s not something that I would have thought about when I’m 25, for sure.
I should have to think about it more now, but I think as you get older, I think it’s an important thing to think about which isn’t necessarily a value, but it could definitely shift the way you think about your values. Now towards giving back, towards helping people, towards mentorship. I mean, that’s just the way my head’s going and the way I’m thinking, but values definitely do shift over time. Obviously, they’re rooted in your childhood and in some of those past beliefs and experiences, but they definitely can change over time.
Sean: That’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, because with these two startups, right, that I launched a year ago. And things have definitely changed throughout the year in terms of our goals and priorities and just who we are as a business, what we want to stand for. And so, it’s actually been on my to-do list to revisit with the team just to make sure that, you know, we saw the same core values. Like you said, it’s just not easy. You would think it’s easy to come up with values, especially with the team that is cohesive and consistent with the business itself as well.
But what we normally do is have everyone list out their own personal values and what they think the business’s values should be. And like you said, there’s a list of 200 words that you can pick from. And yeah, it’s hard to sift it down, but for us, it’s being diverse, being proactive, being creative, having a growth mindset, and borrowing this one from a Haas question the status quo, because three of us are Haasies, experiment and embrace failures, you know, don’t be afraid to fail and be over communicative. I remember reading somewhere that you shouldn’t have more than seven. That should be like the max, but we try to max it out. Cause we really want to embody all these values.
Darren: Yeah, I think coming up with values and writing them down on a wall, that’s the easy part, it’s living up to them that’s really challenging. And I think also holding each other accountable to those values. So, I’ve worked with leadership teams and they’ll come up with values and I say, all right let’s talk about what happens when we actually violate those values.
What happens like, because not every environment is conducive to actually call people out and they do violate those values. So, it’s by talking about those things in advance, it really gives you permission to engage in a really safe way. So, like some people are conflict avoidance. I was very conflicted in the past.
We’ve gotten better over time, but having. So just giving yourself or finding a way to give yourself permission, to give the team permission, is really important. But it’s really living up to those values and acting them out on a day-to-day basis is really important. And of course, as I’m sure you all do as leaders of your organization is to make sure that you’re exemplifying those things.
Because if you’re not, your value is going to fall by the wayside and just some hollow set of words that are on a wall or on your email signature on your internet site.
Sean: That’s actually really pointed advice. Something that I had not thought about, making sure that it’s not just words on the wall like you’re saying, and that we keep each other accountable and actually create some kind of not punishment, but what would you call it? I guess, what is the advice around violating these values?
Darren: I don’t know about punishment per se, but I think what’s helpful is having a productive way to have that conversation. I mean, that’s the punitive part of but I don’t know. I mean, that’s what each organization has to decide if you’re exiting someone if they’re violating a value, I mean, if it’s something about really important that I think someone’s out of the company, out of the leadership team, if they’re violating those things around trust, for example. But I think the most important part is just to define what happens. Meaning how do you communicate it? Is it something you pull the person aside? Is it something you just throw in front of the group?
That’s tough. Most people, especially successful people, don’t exactly like being thrown under the bus in front of the group. So, it’s like figuring out a way of addressing them. I think just even saying in front of the group, look if we contradict our values or violate our values here’s what we do.
We approach the person we say, Hey, here is, here’s how you violated the value, here’s why it’s important, which is what ultimately matters because it’s not the fact that people contradict your valid value, it’s like why that really matters, which I think is good developmental anyway, telling someone not just how or what to do, but why it really matters.
Sean: How does that translate into your executive coaching when people violate their personal values?
Darren: Great question. I think it’s just something I try to point out. And I think when they make decisions or they’re considering choices that are in clear contradiction of their values, just something to be aware of. And I guess the question is, do those values really hold true? And if so, or why are you doing this thing, making this choice that’s in direct contradiction to your values. And I think the nice thing about values or having a purpose or really strong why, which I know is really helped me, which is it helps you to make better decisions. And also, to know when you’re out of alignment. I was considering something years ago that I thought directly was out of alignment with my purpose or my values and my wife, I usually coach her, actually, I don’t know if I coach her very well, but that’s a different story, but she was coaching me in the morning.
I realized that what I was thinking about actually totally did align with my purpose, with my values. And so, it was a nice aligning mechanism to get me back on track and to consider something I never would have thought about. But if you’re really solid on those values, it provides a way to stay in alignment and not to chase the lucrative opportunity or do the thing for ego or for profit, but to truly tap into what really matters most, maybe your value is to make as much money as possible when you’re on this earth and that’s great, but making sure that people are truly true to those values, doing what matters to them most because I think you’ll stay in alignment, but you just get so much more fulfillment and more joy in the long run or even in the short run, if you stay true to those values.
Which sounds super cliched and overly optimistic, but I definitely am overly optimistic about how I see the world.
Sean: That’s awesome. Any other things you want to share from the book before we conclude?
Darren: No, I think that’s it. I just hope that people walk away with some tips and it was written in a way because the way I see the world, I like to make connections between things that are otherwise obvious. I’m sure when people say, wait, you interviewed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, executives.
Okay. I get that. Okay. Navy seals, Ironman triathletes, NBA players, golf coaches, basketball coaches, therapists, all of these people, and what I tried to do is really motivated and inspired and guided by my editor was to say, Hey, provide a key takeaway. So it’s like, I get that interesting story, but actually, how can I apply this to my life and career?
So, I hope that the stories are interesting and that’s something that you can read on nights or a weekend or a vacation, but also that the takeaways are really practical so that you can go and apply them. Because what I want is people to actually be able to make a difference and to be better leaders in their careers and tap more fulfilling lives.
Sean: Awesome. For any listeners, you wanna check out Darren’s book. It’s titled The Savage Leader and I presume you can buy it anywhere.
Darren: You can buy it on Amazon. It’s in Kindle and in print, audiobook coming soon. If you want to learn more about the book, go to thesavageleader.com, which provides a description and then a link to buy the book on Amazon.
Sean: We’ll do that for sure. Will you be reading the audiobook?
Darren: I think I am. That’s another thing that I’m challenging myself. So, if you’ve heard my voice and you’re thinking, okay, I’m definitely not buying the audiobook. Maybe buy the print book.
Sean: No, actually I would really enjoy it, just to be able to have those 13 principles in my ear on the go. That’s why I love the podcast and that’s why I love audible books because I can listen to them while I drive. Right. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Darren, it’s been a real pleasure having you here.
Darren: Yeah. Thank you, Sean.