Momentum Podcast: 587
Be Wrong More
by Alex Charfen
One of the greatest lessons that I learned in leading and growing teams is that it's okay to be wrong. I spent the first large percentage of my career trying never to be wrong and never let them see me sweat. It was when I finally realized that accepting where I was wrong is what was necessary for my company to grow that my life and my business both turned around.
On today’s podcast, I will show you what happens on the highest level of business, how I almost got killed trying to prove that I was always right, and how my clients are getting massive results by learning to be vulnerable and letting their team challenge them
Full Audio Transcript
This is The Momentum Podcast. One of the hardest lessons I ever learned in leading and growing teams is that it's okay to be wrong. And here's what I mean, it's okay to be wrong, to make a mistake, to admit it in front of your team, to tell them you were wrong, and to have them help you fix it. I spent the first large percentage of my career trying never be wrong and to never let them see me sweat.
It was when I finally realized that that was what was necessary in order for my company to grow, that my life and my business both turned around. I'm Alex Charfen and this is The Momentum Podcast made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers and creators of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to.
We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny. We define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate. There could be a better future and instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution and we always will be.
As an entrepreneur, I think you should be wrong more often. I actually think you should look for opportunities to be wrong if you manage a team. And especially when you're managing a team, you want to let them see that you're fallible, that you're not perfect, that you have faults, that you don't know everything that's going on. I think this is one of the biggest challenges we see with entrepreneurs coming into our programs. You know, we start working with people. Typically, when they've done as much as they can on their own, they feel like they're overwhelmed, they need help, they're not getting the right help from their team or they need help understanding how to build the team. They're just starting to build the team. And a lot of times, one of the biggest issues is that they haven't told anyone what's really happening for them.
They haven't really told anyone what's really going on. And so entrepreneurs often won't let their team challenge them. And when our teams aren't challenging us, I can tell you what happens. You become the emperors with the new clothes. Like you become the naked guy in the middle of the room. I know because not literally, but certainly figuratively I've been the naked guy in the middle of the room. Like I said in the intro, I spent the majority of the first part of my career trying not to be wrong. I always ran larger businesses, so I needed to get help from the very beginning. I was different from a lot of entrepreneurs that way that I got help from the beginning, but I tried to show up in a way that I thought a leader should look, which means never been wrong. Knowing everything that's going on, understanding what's happening for everyone, having all of the answers and it almost killed me.
I say that and I think people think, Oh yeah, it's like a turn of the phrase or a phrase of speech it almost killed me. It really did almost kill me. In my 20s I grew up business. It was responsible for over $250 million in sales. We are a huge multimillion dollar company. I had 14 offices in the U.S. and Latin America, over 60 people working with me and it, when I say it almost killed me when I was 32 I'd been running the business about 12 years and I had a doctor tell me I was his most likely candidate for a heart attack in South Florida where most people are geriatric and older and I was 32. And so it literally almost killed me because I tried to be the perfect CEO, the perfect entrepreneur, the know everything that do everything the can answer every question. And it just doesn't make sense to do it that way.
In fact, it took me a long time to notice this, but I was getting this example all the time when I would go out and call on accountant and like work with the bigger companies that I worked with. Here's what I can tell you happens at the highest levels the challenge is pretty serious. I can remember when I was younger being in a meeting with one of the senior buyers at one of the accounts we called on. It was called Promark in a actually CHS and then it became CHS Promark in Miami. It's a long time ago and I was with one of the senior buyers and we were pitching him on a product and another buyer came in and who worked for him and he said, "Hey, this would end up in your department. I think it looks pretty good. What do you think?"
And I remember the person who worked for him and looked at it and he got irritated. He's like, "I think this is BS." He didn't say BS. He actually used the forwards and like clearly got a little agitated and explained where he was and where all the planning he had done and how much review he had done. He really didn't want to look at the product I had brought in and I got the meeting with the senior buyer because he was a friend of mine and it was interesting watching that exchange. This was a wildly successful organization, a wildly successful company. At first you would think, man, this is going to be a fight. You can't talk to your boss that way. You can't talk to somebody who's senior to you that way. And the senior buyer was like, well, let's bring it on.
So let's talk it through. And then they got into this animated conversation in front of me, had this animated conversation where like they both got loud, they both got serious. Then they talked through it, and then it didn't take more than three or four minutes. And then they turned and said, okay, we'll review your product, but we're going to talk about it and we'll get back to you. And it took forever for me to see that, that is how incredible decisions get made in organizations when people are willing to challenge, when people are willing to have the person they report to, when they're willing to challenge them, when the person that is in charge is willing to be wrong, when the person that's in charge is willing to stand up and say, "Hey, I made a mistake." When the person in the room is willing to be challenged.
So this morning it happened in my company. I was on my leadership huddle this morning and Greg who runs our systems, I asked something or I brought something up and he was like a little reactive in the conversation and I could feel the reactivity. And I was like, I wonder what's happening here. And I didn't really know. And so Katie talked to him and we found out that there was like a lot of stuff going on and I had over the course of last week, sent him so many different messages.
I had created a bunch of priorities and then confuse things. Even though I teach people how not to do that, it's probably why I teach people how not to do that. And so I got on a call this afternoon with Greg. We went through the priorities, we got things cleared up and you know, I explained to him, "Hey, I want you to push back on me. I want you to tell me when stuff like this happens. I want you to tell me when I'm overwhelming you, even if it's in the moment, I want you to say, Hey, if I have to do this, there's this other thing."
And you know, Greg's an incredible team member. He's by far one of the most talented people I've ever had working with me. He started his career in the Navy and he wasn't just in the Navy, he was in quite possibly the most difficult position to earn in the Navy other than like admiral or start adding designations to admiral. And he was a nuclear submarine engineer. And it's literally the seals may be the hardest position physically and mentally. And this one is the hardest position, like mental stamina and stability and strength and toughness and he's an incredible human being.
And by being in the Navy, here's the analogy he used when we were on the call today, I said like, "Greg, I want you to challenge me. I want you to push back. I don't ever want you to think I have all the answers and if I'm overwhelming you, I need to know because I'm one of those people that will ask the same question that will overwhelm with the wrong type of questions." That's why I created the systems that we have in our business. That's why I use cadence. That's why I believe in what we do. Because even someone who like me, who could make people anxious, I can run wildly successful companies, the last one we had went to the Inc. 500 number 21 on the Inc. 500 list.
I can run wildly successful companies, even with all my communication shortcomings. And Greg said, here's the analogy, gave me, he said, "Well Alex, I look at it like you're the captain of the ship and when you're on a ship, what the captain says goes, so when you give me a direction, I want to just move forward with and get it done and it's hard to push back."
And I said, "Okay. I totally get it. Greg, we need to work on a new analogy. I don't want you to see me as the captain of the ship ever again. I want you to see me as like maybe a tour guide where I'm a tour guide and I know exactly I know a lot about where we're going and I got to have a lot of information and I have a decent plan, but as your tour guide, I start to go over a cliff, I want you to yell at me and tell me that I'm going over a cliff. Even if I'm your tour guide, I do not want to be the captain of the ship. In fact, I want you to be comfortable telling me when I'm wrong."
Because here's what I know about running a business for over 20 years is having a team that will challenge you is crucial to your success. The younger me couldn't deal with being wrong and it almost killed me. It was so stressful to run a business that way, to be perfect all the time, to be on, to not be able to be vulnerable, to not be able to ask for help, to not be able to tell people what was really happening. I mean, I'm dyslexic and I didn't tell my team in my entire 20s that I was dyslexic and that I consistently had an issue with like how stuff was printed and how we did stuff and if they put black on gray, I couldn't really read it.
And like cursive writing was really hard for me and I never even brought it up because I wanted to be perfect. But when you are vulnerable with your team, here's what's interesting about vulnerability. Gosh, I've learned so much about vulnerability in the past probably 5 to 10 years. Having two daughters and reading lot and understanding how to become a better leader, the path to better leadership, the path to a better business, the path to a better marriage is through creating vulnerability and telling people what's really going on. Because when you're vulnerable, it actually creates strength in the relationship that you're in. So by being vulnerable, we feel like we're showing weakness. But what we're actually doing is radically strengthening the relationship in which we are showing up and being vulnerable and asking for help and being who we really are.
And when you do that on a team, you strengthen your relationship with the entire team. My 20s I spent the entire time try never to be wrong. In my 30s and 40s I make more jokes about myself than anything else in the company because I want everybody to remember I am not perfect and I need help just like everybody else. And I have expertise in some things and in other things I shouldn't even be like allowed to touch it. And so that changes the way your team behaves around you. And here you know that one of the feelings we have as entrepreneurs, it's like I don't want to be exposed, but I want you to understand, you must expose where you need help. You must expose where you're uncomfortable. You must expose where you don't feel like there's a clear answer. And sometimes when I was younger I used to try and figure out the answer.
If I was uncomfortable, I used to try and figure out why, figure out the answer, figure out how we were going to effect and make the answer like happen. Try and do it myself and if I couldn't then I would get help. You know what I do now? I say, "Hey, I'm uncomfortable. Is anybody else uncomfortable?" I want to figure why I get help right away because if I can expose the issue faster, we will correct it faster and our team grows faster. And here's what I want you to also understand, challenge creates commitment. I'm going to say it again. Challenge creates commitment. When you allow someone on your team to challenge you and they can challenge you and you discuss what's going on and either they change your mind or you convince them of your position it creates commitment. Because if they talk through their objections and then you can show them how you've either thought through their objections or the two of you can talk through them and resolve them and then they still believe then they come around to your plan that creates massive commitment.
Of course, if they convince you, that also creates commitment. But here's what's interesting it creates commitment on their side and yours. If you go through their discussion, if you allow for vulnerability, if you have the discussion and if you talk about what the position is and then you come to consensus, that will create commitment and when you have commitment, things get done better and faster and clearer and in a way that moves your company forward and creates much more momentum. And so here's what you need to know, thank your team for challenging you. Like today, I brought it up with Greg because I wanted to make sure he realizes I am not the captain of the ship I'm a tour guide. And tour guides occasionally need help and sometimes they make a wrong term. But most of the time I will be guiding the tour but I want help. Discuss with your team anything where there's a disagreement until you reach consensus.
Like you know what, in the industry I used to work in and computer and consumer electronics animated conversations were normal. It was normal to raise your voice. It was normal to get a little over the top in a conversation to make your point. But with my team these days, most of the conversations are civil conversations where I'm really asking for help and trying to understand what's going on and that brings about consensus. Like you don't just have to be wrong. As an entrepreneur, you need to be able to let go of the fact that you are wrong. Let go the trigger, let go of why you're irritated and get to a place where you can actually agree that you're going to move forward together succeed. If you're leaving the meeting uncomfortable, you're probably not going to succeed. Just understand that, like if you're ever leaving a meeting uncomfortable with a member of your team, if you're ever leaving a meeting, questioning if you're ever leaving a meeting, doubting if you're ever leaving a meeting without full confidence that what you think is going to happen is going to happen, you're probably right.
Take a quick inventory in your head the last meetings that you left where you weren't confident, and then think about what actually happened. Sometimes you get lucky. Don't count on it though. And here's the last thing I want you to think about when it comes to being wrong more often, you're always in charge. So like you're going to be right anyway, like you're going to make the decisions. I think one of the reasons why a lot of entrepreneurs have a hard time being vulnerable and being wrong up front is because they feel like they're going lose control. And here's what you have to understand as an entrepreneur, especially as the one run running the business, you are always in control. You have ultimate control. You're in charge. You decide who works there and who doesn't. You decide who gets paid and who doesn't. You decide what the company does, so since you have all of the control and all of the power in the business, the more vulnerable you are, the more you can exercise that control, that power the more your team will step up to help you.
The more you're wrong, the more they realize you need help, the more you try and be perfect all the time you never show any type of challenge or weakness you're never vulnerable, the team won't even understand to help you. And here's what the results will be if you're willing to do this, if you're willing to start being wrong, if you're willing to start admitting when you need help. We hear this all the time in our programs. Here's what we do when somebody joins our program, we show them how to get clear on what they want by analyzing their company, put together a clear plan by prioritizing the right things, knowing that they're doing the right things in the business, feeling competent, committing to that plan, executing it, and then coming back and renewing it with their team.
And by getting a clear process like that, here's what happens. Your team and you start executing together at a much higher level. And if you're executing it at a much higher level and there's a clear plan and sometimes you're going to see the things go wrong. And here's what we hear all the time from our clients because there's a clear plan and it's visible that something's wrong they have to admit, "Hey, we tried and we've missed this didn't really work." And we get messages or I used to get when I was coaching directly and I know our coaches get messages from people like, "Hey, I'm going into a meeting I have to admit I screwed up. How do you do this." And I'm going to do a meeting and there's three things that we put on our plan that we missed and now I'm going to have to go tell my team we missed and they're going to think that I didn't know what I was doing and they're going to want to quit and go find someone else to work for that's better at this.
And so we hear all the insecurities upfront always. And then here's the messages that we always get. You're not going to believe this. I told my team we were wrong and we missed and that next month I needed more help understanding what the parameters were and how much work needed to be done. And they got into a whole discussion and it was really amazing because now I understand more of what I need to do next month and they all chipped in to talk about how we could create the plan better. And I feel like we're going to do so much better moving forward. We hear it constantly. You know, here's the punchline. This is like if I could summarize all the feedback, here's what it really is. Once I started admitting when I was wrong in front of my team, I got a lot more help. And if I could summarize it even further, once I started being vulnerable in front of my team and admitting there's places where I feel exposed and I'm uncomfortable, I got the real help I needed.
Really that's about as clear as a summary as I can give any entrepreneur. Because there's this weird condition in the entrepreneurial world where we lie all the time. You go to events and you can feel it. You're talking to somebody and you can feel like, I usually ask people the same question so I can get context on their business and understand where they are and one of the questions I ask is what's your revenue? And because of who I am, 99% of the time people answer it, 15 to 20% of the time they make it up and I can watch and I can feel that there's deception in the answer. And I always wonder why, why? If somebody tells me, they're at $8,000 a year in revenue, I'm like, hell yes, you got your business off the ground congratulations. That is so hard, so hard.
If somebody tells me they're at $8 million in revenue, I'm like, that's amazing. Do you know how hard it is to get into that level of revenue? And somebody tells me they're at 800 million. I'm like phenomenal. I have friends that are at that level and I know just how crazy it is because see, for me, every entrepreneur is on a journey and every entrepreneur deserves respect and every entrepreneur has the capability to change in the world. So I don't care where you start. So I'm always wonder why people make it up, it's because we can't be vulnerable. We feel like we have to be somebody who we aren't. And here's what I can tell you happens every time I have a conversation like that with somebody who I know they're making it up, I can't give them any input. I can't help him. I can't really relate to him because I have a hard time understanding where they're coming from and the conversation gets wonky and weird and I usually end it early.
A lot of the time in conversations where people are vulnerable and they tell me what's really going on, I can help them. I've gotten messages from people saying I've helped them solve a six month problem in a hallway conversation when they're real. Imagine what it would be like if every person on your team knew exactly what you really needed and could help you being wrong more often. If you'd like some help with putting the systems in place so that you can protect yourself and your team so that everyone knows what's going on and so you start executing at a high level so that you create the business you've always wanted, go to predictablebusinesssolutions.com answer a few questions for my team and you'll have an opportunity to set up a call.
We call it a momentum session, and on that call someone on our team will help you understand where you are in your business and get clear on what you need and how you can move forward with momentum and have a plan by the time you get off so that you're clear on what it is that's missing and understand what you need to do next. Go to predictablebusinesssolutions.com sign up for a momentum session. It is a one hour call that will help you understand your business better and move forward fast. And it's a call that you probably will never forget, predictablebusinesssolutions.com.