#001: Mike Keller Transcript – Leadership Lessons

Download pdf HERE

Leadership Compass

Host: Tim Martin
Guests: Mike Keller, Moe Sullivan
Episode 1: Leadership Lessons – Mike Keller Interview
February 14, 2014

Welcome to Success is Voluntary, a podcast devoted to helping you become the salesperson you were always meant to be, where it’s all about helping you learn the techniques and tools that will enable you to win in the increasingly competitive world of voluntary benefits. Welcome your host, a guy who has hired and trained over 2,000 voluntary benefit salespeople in his career, Tim Martin. Success is Voluntary, selling voluntary benefits.

Tim Martin: Yes, my name is Tim Martin, and you are listening to podcast episode number 001 of Success is Voluntary. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to interview Mr. Mike Keller. I’ll let Mike introduce himself in just a moment, but I want to tell you that in my 16 my years of working in the voluntary benefits arena, I have worked for some great leaders, and of course, I have worked for some not-so-great leaders.

I would consider Mike to be one of the finest leaders I’ve had the privilege to work for. After the interview, I spent a few minutes talking with my good friend, Moe Sullivan, unpacking some of the gems Mike had just given us. You definitely will want to stick around until the end of the episode. Moe and I have an exciting contest to make, and we will give you a sneak peek into next week’s episode, as well. Without further ado, let’s get right into the interview.

I’m interviewing Mike Keller who is vice president of sales for Colonial Life. Mike, I know your background, but for the rest of my team, tell us a little bit about your 25 years of experience in this industry and how you got into leadership and management in the first place, would you?

Mike Keller: Sure. Colonial is part of Unum Corporation, and I have been with the Unum Corporation, it will be 26 years in February.

Tim: Yeah.

Mike: The Unum Corporation is an insurance corporation that is four merged companies that were all standalone insurance companies. Over the last 25 years, they’ve merged together, and how I came to be part of the Unum Corporation and how actually I started in the insurance business was, well, like I said, almost 26 years ago, I had a friend of mine that was in the insurance business, was working for a company called Paul Revere. Paul Revere, at the time, was an underwriter of individual disability policies that were primarily sold to doctors. It was doctors, lawyers. It was a very high-end policy.

They hired me as a broker rep to be the subject-matter expert on the policies and to work with agents (and then, ultimately, doctors) to explain them, kind of this sophisticated disability policy and how it worked. I worked with them for a number of years, probably six or seven years. Then they merged with Provident (Provident Life and Accident), which was a company that did life and disability out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Paul Revere was out of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Then those two companies went under the Provident name, and then Provident merged with Unum, which was out of Portland, Maine, and was a writer of similar-type products but really on a group chassis, where Provident and Paul Revere were primarily individual product companies. Unum had acquired Colonial sometime in the mid to late 80s, and so I’ve had the opportunity to be a regional sales vice president over seven states for Paul Revere, Provident, Unum, and now Colonial, as they were all, initially, standalone companies and then merged companies.

Tim: Right. Okay. Well, fantastic, and as you started in your career, did you plan on being in a leadership or management position, or did that just kind of happen for you?

Mike: I would say that when I started, I was in my late 20s, and the most important thing…I was married and had one child at the time…was doing well and providing for my family. I didn’t immediately launch into the career assuming I would get into management, but I would say shortly thereafter that the management path became something that was very attractive to me. I liked the corporate side. I liked the leadership side, the mentoring side, the training side.

I really liked, I would say, having the opportunity to have some input in how products were developed and how we went to market. The way to have influence in those was to get into management, so after about three years, I applied for an assistant manager job and then a manager job and then a regional job. Over the course of probably eight years, I became a regional sales vice president for Paul Revere, at the time.

Tim: Nice. Okay. Well, what is your opinion as how management differs from leadership? I know in your current role, you have to do both. You have to manage, and you also have to lead, so what would you say is the biggest difference? How do the two differ?

Mike: Hmm. That’s an interesting question. I would say management and leadership are both important. They’re both intertwined, and you need both, but for my career and what I’ve seen, I would have to say I tend to look at management as more tactical and more day-to-day operations, you know, what it takes to make the machine run. I tend to see leadership as more strategic.

Now again, you can’t have one without the other, and one is not more important than the other to me, but I see leadership as more strategic. That doesn’t mean that for someone who is a frontline manager that leadership is not required of that person. It certainly is, but I think that the further you get up into management the more you deal with the strategic versus the tactical and the more the leadership is required and really an important expectation, like I said, the further you move up the management chain.

Tim: Yeah, I agree with that. I think what you’re saying also is, as you want to move up, as you continue to increase your influence inside an organization, the leadership has to develop. The only way you’re going to move to the next level is really developing the leadership side of it. Management and the tactical things, obviously, some people do them very well, and some people don’t do them very well. If they don’t do that well, I don’t think they’re going to stay in position period, but if you’re going to move up, is that kind of what you’re saying there? You have to develop the leadership side, too?

Mike: Yeah, yeah, well, like you said, the leadership side is what begins to separate you from other people, and part of moving up into management is you’re being evaluated against other people.

Tim: Sure.

Mike: Usually, there is a single slot, and usually everybody who is being evaluated is pretty sound from a tactical standpoint. What tends to separate you, I believe (or the leadership qualities which get much fuzzier), what I really think some of that is and how they quantify it is they look for people who are levelheaded, people who make good decisions.

A lot of it is simple emotional maturity to me, but you’d be surprised how that will separate people and how quickly those decisions that you make, when the pressure is on and there’s a lot of emotion involved, how those decisions become defining moments, I think, in what is defined as leadership.

Tim: You bet. That heat of the battle. What gets said and what gets done in the heat of the battle isn’t forgotten easily sometimes, so…

Mike: No.

Tim: Absolutely. Okay. Other than being able to influence kind of how you go to market and the products themselves, what are some of the other positive aspects of being in a leadership position?

Mike: Well, I think one of the things that is important me and is something that I enjoy is having the opportunity to work with people and see people develop. A manager is usually over a number of people and has influence in helping those people and helping those people develop, and some people are eager for that development and will seek it out. Others, that’s not necessarily what they’re interested in, which is fine too.

Tim: Sure.

Mike: It’s a lot of fun to see people develop and to feel like you had some type of input and support in helping them become managers and helping them grow in their careers. Whether their career, what they want to do is grow in management, or what they want to do is grow in sales, or what they want to do is grow in other leadership capacities, you can have influence and support in helping them go whichever path they choose.

Tim: That’s great. You bet. You know they did the work, but just knowing you had a little bit to do with that success is awesome. You bet.

Mike: Yeah. Right.

Tim: Okay, so what is difficult? What are some of the things that are negative or difficult aspects of being in leadership?

Mike: I think one of the things that is usually the toughest part of leadership is, very often, you’re being asked to make a call. In fact, I say constantly I’m being asked to make a call where one side is going to be very unhappy with the decision. We would like to be able to manage people and make everybody happy, but that’s just not reality. Having to do that day in and day out with people who you work with, you trust, and respect and make those calls is tough.

Tim: Yeah. You bet. Yeah, it can’t always be win-win. Sometimes somebody is going to lose in a situation, and that’s tough.

Mike: Well, and you know you always look for the win-win, and many times there are those situations, but again, in the heat of the battle and when money and ego and important positions are all there, and you’re the person who decides which way the ball is going to bounce and “Was it in, or was it out?” it’s one of the tougher things. At the same time, it’s what the job is.

Tim: You bet. Obviously, some people are never going to be happy, and it can appear that somebody is playing favorites occasionally. Even if you’re not, as long as you have a track record of doing the right thing and being as fair possible over a long period of time, I think you sometimes get a little bit of a benefit of the doubt inside your organization.

Mike: Well, I’ll tell you two things. One is very important, and that is making decisions in a consistent way, in a consistent fashion so that people, to some degree, know. Like you said, you’ve earned their respect for being fair, and they almost know before they go to you kind of where things are going to end up because you have done things on a consistent basis. Consistency in decision-making is very important.

The other thing to me that is very important is you have to do a lot of homework. You have to do more homework than they have done, because when you know the situation and the case better than they do, then you earn their respect also. They feel like you’ve given it a fair judgment. If you go in half-cocked, don’t know the case that well and don’t know the situation that well, then you’re not going to maintain their respect. You have to do your homework.

Tim: That’s great advice. I think the other thing I would add to that is, at least early in my career, I tended to believe the first person who got to me, and it’s really one of those things where you have to reserve judgment until you’ve heard all sides. It just is natural, when that first person comes to you, to want to side with them because you get swept up in it sometimes too.

All right. What recommendations would you give a person to help them prepare for a career in management or leadership? What are some of the things they can do to get ready for that?

Mike: One thing I would suggest is, early in your career, look for people who are respected leaders and respected managers. You need a mentor. It’s great. I think it’s a great asset. You’re going to, I think, just by nature, decide that some people are good managers and leaders and some people are not. Quite frankly, you’ll probably learn as much from the people who aren’t as the people who are because you learn things that you don’t want to do and ways that you don’t want to approach things.

Really having somebody who you do respect and someone who you do think has done it the right way, to have them to be able to talk through some issues with and to seek their advice, I just think is invaluable because you are constantly asked, even very early on, to make a lot of tough calls. They’re not black and white. They’re not even close, and you need someone who has been through it and learned from experience to give you some guidance. I think it’s a great asset.

Tim: You bet. I know we don’t have any politics inside of this company, but if we did, how did you kind of effectively deal with the politics inside of your organization?

Mike: Well, it’s funny because every company (and I’ve worked in some) has its own personality, and some companies have a lot of politics, and some companies have very little. I’m proud to say (and feel very fortunate) that the company that you and I work at has very little. I would say, first off, if you work at a place where there are a lot of politics, don’t get caught up in it. Typically what politics means is talking to other people about other people, and usually not saying very positive things.

Tim: Right.

Mike: And trying to decide whose team you’re on and supporting that team while tearing down the other team. It’s just not productive. It’s not good for anybody, and in my experience of seeing it happen over 25 years, it really doesn’t work. You think it does, but it doesn’t. My suggestion would be, be honest, be fair to everyone, and just refuse to be part of talking behind the back and supporting one team while attempting to sabotage another. It just doesn’t get you anywhere.

Tim: You bet.

Mike: I’ll tell you where it does get you. It gets you someplace you don’t want to be, which is someone with a poor reputation and someone who is not trusted.

Tim: Absolutely. A couple of things… If you’ll talk about somebody when they’re not in the room, other people are worried what you’re saying when they’re not in the room. That’s the first thing, I think.

The second one is you just have to be careful, I have found over the years, because you never know who your next boss might be. Again, back to that heat-of-the-battle kind of a thing, if you kind of draw your line in the sand and that person ends up being promoted to be a position above you, that could be a very delicate, uncomfortable situation at that point, so…

Mike: Absolutely.

Tim: I’m sure you’ve seen that, as well.

Mike: I have.

Tim: Absolutely.

Mike: I have.

Tim: Ethics, let’s talk a little bit about ethical standards for a second. Obviously, again, I think we’re very fortunate that we work for a company that has a big emphasis on ethics. You and I, we have to take all sorts of online classes and trainings and things like that, but kind of break it down to…What are Mike Keller’s basic ethics? What are the things that are just absolutely non-negotiable for you?

Mike: Well, ethics is a broad subject.

Tim: Sure.

Mike: But I think it kind of boils down to the story that I’ve heard, and I’m sure you’ve heard told. If you would be not comfortable having all your family read about it on the front page of the newspaper, then it’s probably a good thing not to do. If it’s something that makes you uncomfortable… I often feel like sometimes that very big issues, very big deals will get pushed at you very hard, very fast. If you’re being asked to make an extremely important decision with very few facts in a very tight timeframe, stop and walk away from it.

Tim: Yeah.

Mike: Stop and walk away from it, because something is not right.

Tim: Yeah.

Mike: That’s kind of broad statement, but anybody who gets in management or leadership position is going to understand that and is going to have to deal with that early on and fairly quickly. If somebody is trying to shove you into something and it doesn’t feel right…

Tim: You bet.

Mike: Another thing you’ve heard is that everything you’ve learned that was really important you learned in kindergarten. Management, leadership, and ethics are really pretty much the same. You know what is right and what is wrong, and stay away from those things that you know are not right.

Tim: Good. Yeah. Absolutely. All right, a couple of more. I know you have to get on a call, and maybe I’ll have to call you, or you can call you back on any number you want after your call because I know you’re going to run out of time, so a couple of more questions. What management resource materials would you suggest? What is your favorite book, or is there a series of classes, anything that you have taken that you would really recommend for a manager?

Mike: I’ll tell you what I would recommend for a manager, and that is constantly looking for books, tapes, if you’re more comfortable with CDs, listening to them in the car, periodicals that are in your industry. I would say if you’re not reading or you’re not listening to stuff about your business and about management and about your industry constantly, things are going to get stale, and things are going to pass you by.

I, personally, like to read, and I read all the time. I’ll always say, “Well, I just read 200 pages, and I got one or two good ideas out of that. It was definitely worth it.” All the pages are not going to have jewels on them, but you will get one or two good ideas, and those one or two good ideas, you’ll be able to exchange and use to build your business and build yourself and build your team.

Those things are invaluable. I don’t have any particular one book or one periodical that I would say, other than I would say read, listen, and continue to grow, or you won’t be able to stay fresh and current in any business.

Tim: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit of a cliché, but most clichés are clichés because they work, and that is, “Leaders are readers,” and I really believe that you have to continue to do that. All right, last thing here, and I’ll let you go. What kind of strategies do you use to motivate your team? I mean, obviously, a company has awards and prizes. I’m not necessarily talking about monetary kinds of things. I’m just talking about what have you found that kind of keeps people engaged and motivated?

Mike: Well, I would say a couple of things. The guy who wrote Good to Great…

Tim: Jim Collins.

Mike: Yes, Jim Collins. I heard Jim Collins speak, and he was speaking at an industry convention. He was talking about some technical things, but at the end, somebody raised their hand and said, “How would you keep your teams motivated? What do you think the best thing to keep your teams engaged and motivated is?”

He stopped, and he said, “You know, that’s a very interesting question. I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked that exactly that way,” and he said, “But in all the years that we’ve looked at the businesses and all the years that we’ve looked at how managers keep people engaged and motivated and all that…” He said, “It’s a simple tool.” He said, “But I really believe it’s the most effective or one of the most effective.”

He said, “Line them up. Rank them high to low in whatever is important, whether it’s production, whether it’s…” You know, whatever industry you’re in, line the people up and rank them high to low. He said, “The people who are truly engaged, the people who are truly your leaders, it’s going to matter to them, and they’re going to fight to be at the top of the list.”

He said, “At the same time, the people at the bottom of the list who are comfortable there, who are complacent there…” He says, “That tells you a lot about where they fit also.” It’s a simple thing, but I believe it’s an important thing.

Then one other thing that I’ve always felt that was important to me was asking people who you work with, especially direct reports, what their best ideas are. You know, engaging them in a decision process about how they do their work or how their team should do their work. Solicit their input. Solicit their best ideas. I found that that’s an amazing thing, because you’re a lot more supportive of something if you felt like you had some input in it. Plus, I learn a lot by doing it.

Tim: Yeah. You bet. In fact, the professor that teaches this class, he gave me a statement that I think I heard before, but it didn’t really stick. He said that, “People will not burn down that which they helped to build.”

Mike: That’s true.

Tim: That’s a good point. All right. Well, Mike, that’s really it. I know you have to get on your call. Thank you again, Mike.

Mike: Okay. Thanks, Tim.

Tim: Bye.


Tim: Wow, Moe, I can understand why Mike is in this position. That was a great interview. It’s a privilege to work for that guy. Did you notice? How did Mike get into this business?

Moe Sullivan: He was talking that a friend brought him into this business, and it’s always interesting to see that some of the most successful people in this business are ones who were brought in by people who already knew them and liked them. That way, they had someone to work with when they came aboard.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: It doesn’t mean that you have to have that to be successful in this business, but some of the most successful people in this business came from that.

Tim: Yeah, I agree. I know that you were hired from an email type of a solicitation. I was hired by a friend of mine from church. Like you said, you don’t have to be hired by somebody who you know to be successful, but it certainly gives them an advantage, I think. You bet. Also, what did he say about his motivation once he got started?

Moe: What I really liked about that is, when he first came into this business, he came into it not to make a buck, not to get rich in it, but just to provide for his family. Then when he went into leadership, it wasn’t going into leadership for leadership’s sake. He wanted to get into that because he wanted to influence how things were done.

Tim: So he wasn’t chasing a title, in other words.

Moe: No, it’s not about his ego. It was about seeing if he could help get things done the way he thought they should get done.

Tim: Yeah, he wanted to have influence. John Maxwell says leadership is influence; nothing more, nothing less, and Mike kind of went at it backwards. He wanted to have the influence, so he knew he needed to be in the leadership and the management position. That’s important, I think.

Moe: That’s definitely it. Maxwell also talks about leadership being about developing people. It is influence, but it’s developing people.

Tim: Sure.

Moe: Mike brought that up as well, that one of the things he really enjoyed about the leadership role was to see people develop.

Tim: Right.

Moe: I know you’ve been in a role, and I’ve heard you talk about the same thing. Can you expand on that and how that has impacted your leadership positions?

Tim: Yeah. You bet. I started off in a management position with Domino’s Pizza. I was a store manager and then ended up moving up in that company and ended up franchising eventually, but when I was a manager, it was really on a tactical basis.

As a manager, I was worried about making sure the schedule was right, we had enough drivers to handle a Friday-night rush; we had enough food in the store, cost control, all those kinds of things. It was very, very tactical, very day to day. Long-range planning for us was two weeks out or maybe even a month out. I mean that was really long-range planning for us. As I moved into working in this industry and became a leader, fortunately, I was very blessed. I had a gentleman who gave me a John Maxwell tape about back when we actually had tape clubs.

Moe: What is a tape?

Tim: Yeah, tape, cassette tape. Yeah, those kinds of things. At any rate… I really started to understand more long-range thinking and leadership being different than management. Both are important, obviously. If you’re going to be in a leadership role, you have to have some good management skills, obviously, but I liked what Mike said about that: what really starts to separate you is the leadership side of it.

A lot of the people going for that next position, they are all pretty decent tactically, but it’s those people who have better leadership skills who kind of rise to the top. That’s something that I think doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s something you have to develop, and I think that’s one of the things I’ve really worked on over the years, to develop as a leader, not just as a manager.

Moe: I also liked how he said it was the emotional maturity that you have.

Tim: Oh, yeah.

Moe: That’s one of the things that’s really separates people out on that, and to me, it’s also about taking the ego out of it.

Tim: Yeah. Absolutely.

Moe: Have you seen how that can impact your role and that has impacted your role?

Tim: Sure. As far as ego goes?

Moe: As far as ego goes.

Tim: Yeah, I think I’ve worked for good leaders, and I’ve worked for bad leaders over the years. I know you have, as well. In fact, we were having the discussion the other day about that. You said that the thing that you thought was the biggest difference between a good leader and a bad leader is how their ego got in the way.

Moe: Yeah, and it’s definitely on that side of it, especially coming from my background in the car business, where it’s all about the money.

Tim: Sure.

Moe: You run into a lot of different leaders out there who are just all about what they can get out it. The best leaders I have seen have been the ones who have been more about how they can help you grow and how they can help others improve. If you’re out there and you look at the differences of the leaders that you’ve had in your background (or anybody listening to this that they’ve had), they can see the ones who it was all about them. It was all about what that leader was going to get out of it. How fun was it to go into the office? How fun was it to go into work?

Tim: Yeah, it’s horrible. I worked for a gentleman. I won’t name any names to protect the guilty, but whenever I got a call from him, I knew there was a challenge. He never called to tell me I was doing a good job. He never called to give me good news. It was always there was a challenge.

Even when you talked to him, he just had this air about him that when he would ask about your family, he really didn’t care. All he cared about was himself, and he was just doing that because it was kind of expected. If I ran into him today, I don’t think he could remember my kids’ names or my wife’s name, and I worked for the guy for almost five years, so…

Moe: Wow.

Tim: Yeah, so it really makes it very uncomfortable when you look at your cell phone, you see the caller ID, and you go, “Oh, no. What’s wrong? Why is this guy calling me again?

Moe: Right. Tim, you’ve been in a leadership role for quite some time.

Tim: Mm-hmm.

Moe: Several different leadership roles.

Tim: Mm-hmm.

Moe: Just a question for you. Mike had mentioned about some of the challenges that he faced, and one of the biggest challenges for him was making those tough calls, making those win-lose calls, when you know someone is not going to like the outcome and knowing the repercussions that you’re going to have to face from that.

Tim: Sure.

Moe: What are some of the other challenges that you have faced as a leader?

Tim: Well, that’s a great question, and Mike is absolutely right. I think that is one of the bigger challenges, that you’re called on to make calls like that all the time, and people who you respect are going to lose. That can be really challenging.

I think the other thing is (I don’t know if it’s a challenge as much as it’s frustrating), the thing I think is most frustrating for me in leadership is when you see somebody who has all the potential in the world and they won’t do the work or they don’t see themselves in that role. I had a gentleman who worked for me. He did a great job, two years in a row hit his quota, and thought he was a poor leader, and he really was a pretty decent leader. He just always second-guessed himself.

It’s just frustrating when you see more potential in somebody than they see in themselves. I think that’s what leadership is about, though…helping people rise up to the level that they should be at, but when they don’t get there, when they self-sabotage, when they don’t go to work, or whatever it is, it’s very frustrating. You see so much potential, and you can’t want it more than they do. You can’t drag people to success in this business.

Moe: The thing is you still do.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: We’ve both faced that with the different people that we see, and it’s a daily struggle. How do you handle that struggle?

Tim: Yeah, that’s a great question. You pull your hair out. You lose sleep, all those things. I think the thing that makes it all worth it, though, is when the people do get it. The people who do get it make up for the people who don’t.

My wife’s grandmother told us, when we were getting ready to get married, that 90 percent of marriage is frustration and 10 percent is good, but the 10 percent makes up for the 90 percent. I know that’s probably the way my wife thinks. It’s probably more 99-1, with that being 99 percent frustration with me and 1 percent good, but hopefully, that 1 percent makes up for it.

I mean when you see somebody like that, again, you have to remember that this is a business. You help them as much as you can, but at the end of the day, I can’t get them out of bed. I can’t make them put on their tie, go to work, those kinds of things, and it’s frustrating, but it’s just the reality.

Moe: The other part about that is it’s always nice to know that there are really no secrets to success. The secret is just keep doing it.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: Mike also talked about finding mentors and always wanting to learn. Never stop growing.

Tim: Mm-hmm.

Moe: That means you’re never going to know everything.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: One of the best ways to learn is to find a good mentor. Who are some of the mentors you have found, and what are the impacts they have had on your leadership?

Tim: Well, I’ll get to the mentors in just half a second, but he also said something I thought was really interesting. He also said you learn as much from poor leaders as you do from good leaders sometimes, and I think that that’s very true. The challenge is sometimes you get into a mindset that they’re such a poor leader you can’t learn anything from them and you tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Have you ever heard that expression?

Moe: Well, he also says you can learn from what not to do.

Tim: You can learn what not to do, but you can also learn things to do, because that person is probably there for a reason. They didn’t just wake up one day and be thrown into that leadership position. Well, it could happen in certain organizations where it’s just political. They’re the son of the director of sales or something like that, but usually, they got there for a reason. Even though they’re not a great leader, you can still learn a lot from them.

I worked for a gentleman, like I said, for five years that I really didn’t respect a lot, but when I look back, a lot of the things I do are things that he taught me. You just have to be careful. Keep your ego out of it and not throw out that baby with the bathwater.

Now back to mentors, I’ve had some phenomenal mentors, and the thing is that you have to be intentional about it. You have to seek them out, and you have to ask them. Literally, I called up a gentleman. He is kind of a legend in our business out of LA. I won’t give his last name, but his first name is Joe. I said, “Joe, I would really like to be able to call you about once a month, sit down on the phone, and just ask you some questions. I know your time is valuable.” The guy made a 7-figure income, over $1 million a year. His time is very valuable.

Moe: Time is money.

Tim: Time is money. I said, “I want to respect your time, and so here are two promises I’ll make. First of all, the first promise is I’ll get you the questions I’m going to ask you in advance so that you can think about them, and we can get through our call very quickly. The second thing is I’ll implement what you tell me to do so you know you’re not wasting your time by talking to me. If it’s something that I can do at all, I will try it if you tell me to do it.”

He was very generous with his time. We did that for almost two years. I called him once a month. We spent about 20 to 30 minutes on the phone, and he made a huge impact on my career. I’ll forever be grateful for him.

Another guy who I learned a ton from was a vice president, and I learned from him the selflessness of leadership. Just observing his life was amazing. I was invited to go to a conference. We had done really, really well as a team that year, and so I was recognized. I got to sit in the head table right up front, right by the stage. His name is Les. I won’t give his last name again, but his name is Les.

When we got to the table, I noticed Les and his wife had picked the chairs with their back to the stage. He got there early, staked out his chairs, and made sure that he got the two worst chairs at the table so that everybody else at the table, who were his guests, could see the stage better. He and his wife were at a disadvantage all night, had to crane their necks around, and the whole thing, but I learned a lot from that.

It was just one little simple example of being a servant leader. He got there first and made sure he staked out the worst seats and made sure his team got the preferential seats. I thought that was incredible.

Moe: How have you implemented that in your own leadership?

Tim: Well, you know, I take the best seats and want to sit on… No, no, just I really do try and do those kinds of things. You talked about ego before. Sometimes it’s easy to let your ego run astray, and fortunately, my wife helps me with that a little bit. She keeps me in check, but you have to. You have to put your team first.

I can’t remember who said it, but he said that one of the challenges of leadership is you always go slower as a leader than you could go on your own so other people can keep up, and so you have to slow down and take people by the hand sometimes and walk with them, and you’re going to go slower. Again, that’s just a good example. I’ve had some great leaders, but again, I was really intentional in my interactions with those mentors over the course of the time.

I would encourage anybody who is listening, go find a mentor, and it doesn’t have to be inside of your organization. This Joe guy I was talking about, he had zero to gain. If I implemented the things, it wasn’t going to impact his paycheck. If I didn’t implement them, it wasn’t going to impact his paycheck.

He was a disinterested party, financially. He had nothing to gain from helping me other than just helping. I think that’s important sometimes because if you’re asking somebody inside your organization, they have a vested interested in what they’re telling you, and sometimes that can impact their judgment.

Moe: Of course, the other thing I heard you say when you were talking about that is it wasn’t just a one-time phone call. It was a two-year relationship.

Tim: It was.

Moe: I assume you probably have had several different mentors over your life.

Tim: I have.

Moe: Did they also help with your accountability and helping you keep on track?

Tim: Oh, absolutely. In fact, like I said, one of the things I promised Joe was that I would actually implement it, and then we would talk about it the following month. In fact, it had been almost three years since our last formal conversation when I took this position that I’m in now, and he was the first person to call me and congratulate me.

Moe: Oh, that’s awesome.

Tim: Yeah, he had heard through the grapevine, and he was the first person. I thought that was really classy. In fact, I still have the voicemail on my cell phone.

Moe: How long are you going to be able to keep that there?

Tim: I renew every time.

Moe: The other thing you talked about, Mike talked about, was constantly learning.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: Always getting better.

Tim: You bet.

Moe: You never know everything.

Tim: Mm-hmm.

Moe: He was talking about resources: Read. Learn. Find all the different ways out. I look at your bookshelf, and I see that you do a lot of reading.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: Who are some of the best authors you like to read? Where are some of the places you like to go to find information?

Tim: That’s a great question. There are so many good authors. I try and read a business book a week. Three weeks out of the month, I’ll read a business book. The other week, I’ll read just something for fun, some just cheap detective novel or something like that, but I do try and read a business book a week.

I have great admiration for a lot of authors. John Maxwell, we’ve already talked about a couple of times. Anything by him, pretty much, is gold. Jim Collins. You know, Mike mentioned that, as well, Good to Great. He has a couple of things. Stephen Covey, I think, has probably been very influential on my life.

You know, that’s another thing about mentors. You don’t even have to have a relationship with them. You can have a mentor just by reading or being part of their podcast or their tape club, those kinds of things. They can mentor you that way, so I do. I consider John Maxwell to be a mentor because I’ve been listening to him every month now for, literally, 15 years, and I’ve been part of the Maximum Impact Club.

You know what I’ll do. On the show notes for this, I’ll put up a list of recommended reading. I’m reading a book right now, and I might mess up the title, but it’s really good. It really appeals to me as a sales manager, but it really is geared towards salespeople, and it’s called Quit Whining and Start Selling! It’s really actually pretty good.

But I read constantly. Mike is right. The whole book doesn’t have to be gold. To get one or two good ideas is still worth it. In fact, I wish most business books would be about 100 pages because usually what they really want to get out, they can get out in 100 pages. They feel like they have to fill 250, but it could be 100 pages.

Moe: That’s probably because we wouldn’t buy a book that was just 100 pages.

Tim: Right. We wouldn’t pay $15 or $25 or whatever that…

Moe: I do have a question for you.

Tim: What?

Moe: You mentioned that you read a book a week.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: For those people who don’t read a lot, that can sound daunting.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: How do you do it?

Tim: Well, it’s so funny. Everybody gets the same amount of time. It’s really what your priorities are. First of all, I don’t watch anything live on TV. That’s why God invented DVR and TiVo, so you don’t have to watch things live and watch commercials. In fact, I watched some bowl games over the holidays here, and it was painful because I didn’t record them first, and then I actually had to watch commercials. I broke my own rule there.

Even when I’m watching ASU play football, I won’t watch it live usually. I’ll record it and start about an hour in. It saves me quite a bit of time. I don’t watch a lot of TV period. I love what Zig Ziglar said. He said that if you go into a rich person’s house and a poor person’s house, there is one room that is different in a rich person’s house that a poor person doesn’t have, and that’s a library. He said a poor person goes out and buys the biggest TV they can find and afford, and a rich person spends time reading.

You just have to make it a priority, and the more you read, the faster you read, and those kinds of things. I also take four college classes at the same time, as well, so it’s not like I don’t have to do some reading for that, as well. You just have to calendar it. I mean everything else that we do is… You know, the name of this podcast, the name of the website is Success is Voluntary.

You don’t have to exercise. You don’t have to eat right. You don’t have to read. You don’t have to do anything. It’s all voluntary, and so is success. You just have to prioritize it. I’ve struggled with weight throughout my life, and when I make time to go to the gym and I eat right, it’s amazing. I lose weight. When I don’t, I gain weight, so… Weird how that works.

Moe: I also assume that you don’t wait until Saturday afternoon to make sure you read that book. You probably read a little bit every day.

Tim: That’s a great point, yeah, and I try not to read dead tired either. If I want to really understand it and get something from it, I can’t start reading at 10:30 at night and expect to get something out of it.

Moe: Well, one of the things I like about reading, and I’ll be honest, I don’t read a book a week. I might get to two or three a year, but the times that I’m reading those business books are the times that my mind really fires up.

Tim: It does, and it’s amazing because it seems like (at least for me) that technique or that thing that I just learned in that book, I get to put into practice almost immediately.

Moe: Right.

Tim: I’m not a big believer in the metaphysical, The Secret, and all that kind of stuff, but it does seem to attract almost. When you’re learning stuff, it attracts an opportunity to use it right away almost. It’s kind of weird how that works.

Moe: Well, that and the different ideas that you can implement into your business.

Tim: Sure.

Moe: Tomorrow, next week, next day, even ideas that aren’t even in the book start to come alive, and you can just imagine all the different ways that you can improve your business the more you read.

Tim: Sure. You bet. Great. Well, you know what, Moe. We really need to wrap it up, and in the intro to this episode I talked about a couple of things. I had said we would give them a little teaser for next week. Our show next week is called The Formula for Success. It’s really…What does it take to be successful in this industry? You know the formula. Would you say, in your experience, people who violate that formula have a problem?

Moe: Definitely.

Tim: Yeah, and people who actually…

Moe: People who follow it are the ones who succeed, and it’s just there’s no secret to it, but there is a formula to it.

Tim: There is a formula, and so we’re going to talk about that next week. You definitely want to tune in. Subscribe via iTunes, or you can subscribe through the RSS feed off the website, Success is Voluntary. Either way, you can subscribe to the show.

The other thing we talked about in the intro was also we’re going to announce a contest, so why don’t you go over that. I think this is a great contest. I think people will get really excited about it. And just as a little warning or disclaimer here. You actually have to work for Colonial Life to participate in this contest, and you have to be in the Arizona-New Mexico-El Paso team. If somebody is listening to this outside of the organization or outside of the territory, we’re not paying on this contest for them.

Moe: We will help you succeed. We just won’t pay you for it unless you work for Colonial, so…

Tim: You bet.

Moe: This is actually a contest that’s geared towards growing your own individual Colonial business. The way you do that is by getting your own book of business, increasing your accounts, and we won’t pay for mediocrity.

Tim: No.

Moe: You’re going to have to work to win this.

Tim: Absolutely.

Moe: This is actually called the “Coin Contest,” and what this does is if you open up two accounts in a quarter, for every two accounts per quarter that you open up, Tim has graciously agreed to give you a one-ounce silver coin.

Tim: A one-ounce silver coin. What is silver going for these days?

Moe: You know, I think that’s…

Tim: About $18 an ounce?

Moe: Is it $18, or is it up $20?

Tim: It might be $20. Around $18 to $20 an ounce.

Moe: So not only are you going to get paid for opening those 2 accounts, you’re going to get another $20 for every 2 accounts in a quarter that you open up.

Tim: Nice.

Moe: If you open up nine accounts in the quarter, you will get four coins.

Tim: Four coins. Right. Four coins.

Moe: All right. However, if you excel in that and you work to open up one account every single week for the quarter…

Tim: That would be 13 accounts.

Moe: Thirteen accounts. We’ll give you a half-ounce gold coin.

Tim: Woo! A half-ounce gold coin. Gold is going about…

Moe: That’s usually trading right around $1,500 an ounce, so that’s $750.

Tim: That’s a nice prize.

Moe: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah.

Moe: That’s an awesome prize.

Tim: You bet. What would happen if somebody let’s say got 52 in a year? Because right now, we’re talking about quarterly, but let’s talk about for the whole year. If they got 52 accounts, they could get 30 of them in one quarter, right?

Moe: Right.

Tim: They don’t have to get one per week. It could be just 52.

Moe: This is 52 total accounts for the year. For those people who want to really excel, really succeed in this business and push their efforts, we’re going to give them a Rolex watch.

Tim: A Rolex watch? Nice!

Moe: A Rolex watch.

Tim: Nice!

Moe: Now that’s 52 accounts. Here are some disclaimers on that.

Tim: Okay.

Moe: That has to be 52 separate individual accounts. So if Joe’s Shoe Shop owns two different shoe shops under two different tax ID numbers, that’s only going to count as one account.

Tim: Okay. Good, good, good. So 52 real separate accounts, and we’re counting them just the way Colonial does, $2,500 for 2014.

Moe: Right.

Tim: So it’s a pretty low entry to get an account, but 52 is a Rolex; 13 in a quarter is a half-ounce gold coin; and for every 2 accounts, they get a one-ounce silver coin, and you get paid at the highest level. If you get 13 accounts, you get the half-ounce gold. You don’t get six silver coins as well, but you will get the silver and/or gold coins and the Rolex, because the Rolex is on an annual basis. It’s not on a quarterly basis.

Moe: Right. Those will be given out at the end of every quarter.

Tim: Right.

Moe: That is the nice thing, and of course, the Rolex will be at TKO next year for 2015.

Tim: TKO 2015. I can’t believe we’re talking about 2015 already. All right, Moe, well, hey, thanks so much for hanging out with us today. Again, like we say in the beginning, success is voluntary. Everything in this business is voluntary, including success.

Moe: We look forward to being with you next week.

Tim: All right. Thanks, Moe.

Remember everything is voluntary, including success. Take it in your hands now. Head over to www.successisvoluntary.com/iTunes/, and stay up to date with all the latest tips, news, and techniques in the world of selling voluntary benefits.