Episode: 3 Moves that Defied an Economic Downturn

Megan Hyatt Miller: Hi, I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael Hyatt: And I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life.

Michael: Megan, believe it or not, it has been a year since we released our first episode after the pandemic began. So, it has been slightly more than a year, but it was a year ago that we released sort of how to navigate through this crisis, and here we are a year later. Part of what we want to talk about in this episode is what we learned, what we achieved during this unprecedented year.

Megan: Yeah. It has felt like a year.

Michael: Definitely.

Megan: And then some. In some ways, it has felt so much faster than that, but I was just reviewing some notes I had, and, of course, the stock market crashed in the first two weeks of March, dropping nearly 3,000 points by March 12. I mean, I remember that day so vividly. I remember where I was. I remember what we were doing.

I think that same day is when the president declared a national emergency. Remember that big address? That’s really what precipitated the stock market crash. We had those whispers of a lockdown coming by the 13th. In our office, we had paused hiring and closed the office, and then by April 2, Tennessee was in a lockdown, as was most of the rest of the country. So, that’s what was happening at that time. It feels like a lifetime ago in so many ways.

Michael: We certainly can’t talk about everything we learned over the last year, but we want to talk about one specific thing we learned about setting big goals and actually exceeding our original expectations. So, today we’re going to talk about something that was really unique to us but I think will benefit you all as you think about the future for your own lives and company. We want to talk about what has happened during the recession to our business, because we got some extraordinary results.

We realize that maybe we’re an outlier. Not everybody fared well during the recession. There were winners and losers. Some people lost an extraordinary amount of ground during the recession…people losing their jobs, losing their homes, and all that. We don’t want to be tone deaf to that, but we also have a lot of businesses in our coaching practice that had extraordinary results. In fact, I would say the vast majority of our coaching clients had record years this last year.

It wasn’t just by accident. It wasn’t just that we happened to pick a business that would do well. Honestly, we had to pivot. We wondered in the midst of all this…Were we going to go down? Were we going to need the PPP money? All that stuff. We had all the same concerns everybody else did, but we did a few things that I think are instructive for any business going forward, and that’s what we want to talk about today. So, Megan, do you want to set this up?

Megan: Yeah. This is really interesting. We had an executive team celebration dinner, which we’re actually going to talk about in another episode, celebrating the accomplishment of this big goal. About a month into the pandemic, I decided to set a goal to exceed our profit goal by 50 percent.

Michael: Not 15.

Megan: Not 15…50, 5-0. We had already projected significant growth year over year from 2019 to 2020, and I really felt like we needed something else to rally around. So, I set this goal. I got the executive team aligned around it. As you can imagine, they were skeptical. They weren’t sure. It was the opposite of what you would have thought I would have done. We also set this goal while deciding it had to be accomplished while we respected our value of intentional margin.

If you kind of go back in time, which is one of the things I did as I was preparing for this conversation I had with our executive team at this celebration dinner we did, we had people who were… Really all of our people were overwhelmed. They were exhausted. They were anxious. They had kids crawling all over them.

We’d been working remotely for a long time in kind of a hybrid model, so that wasn’t particularly overwhelming, but what was different, besides the fact that it was absolutely 110 percent virtual, is that all of a sudden there was no day care. There was no school. The kids were just everywhere. That was a lot. Plus the incredible uncertainty that was going on around us. We didn’t know what was going to happen to the economy.

We didn’t know how safe or in danger we were with the virus itself, what we could and couldn’t do. We were in lockdowns. All of these things were happening. The stock market was crashing. I mean, it’s kind of amazing, actually, to go back and catalog the sequence of events that were happening in March and April that led up to, for us, this decision to set an even bigger goal.

We decided we were going to do an experiment and cut our workday down to six hours. We felt like that was just about as much as anybody could manage in the midst of all of these other challenges. So, we wanted to accomplish this big goal while working only six hours a day. We made a lot of progress toward that. Not every single person on our team is yet doing that all the time, though we’re really close. We will have that accomplished by about June of this year we think. But it was an intentional counterbalance there with that goal.

So, we set this goal, and lo and behold (this is always so easy to tell in hindsight), we got within $100,000 of accomplishing it. That was just amazing. We were almost all the way there. It was something I was so proud of to see that our team had accomplished. Really, one of the biggest reasons I knew it would be meaningful is the ability to look back on it and know we had accomplished something under such crazy circumstances. I’ll say more about that in a minute.

Michael: It was kind of a high-risk maneuver for you as a leader.

Megan: It was. More so than I realized at the time, by the way.

Michael: Yeah. When we had that celebration dinner, people kind of let their true feelings out and what they thought initially when you brought it up. It was a high-risk maneuver because whenever you go after a big goal, there’s obviously a risk that you don’t achieve it, and if you don’t achieve it, then that kind of dings everybody’s confidence. Then everybody is more reticent to set big goals. It kind of has a cascading effect in the wrong direction.

At the same time, if you don’t set big goals, then it’s really hard to get people to focus, to get people fully engaged, and to really find meaning in your work. I know you’re this way, Megan, and I think we have a team full of these people. To just set a goal that’s sort of an incremental improvement over last year… Nobody gets excited in our shop about that. It has to be something meaningful. Now, not crazy. We advise our clients and ourselves not to set goals in the delusional zone, but there needs to be some discomfort.

I would say you were right up against the pipes in terms of being right on the edge of being delusional. I literally thought that at the time. I thought, “Wow! I don’t know that I would be that bold to stretch it that far.” But I thought, “You know, this is good, because she’s going to learn something either way, and I think she has the leadership in her to pull this off.”

Megan: Well, speaking of that, it was probably the biggest leadership challenge I’ve had to date. Again, if we go back in time, all of the external forces say this is totally impossible. Right? It is literally the most counterintuitive thing I could have possibly done. There were times, especially as we were in September, October, November (for us, we’re on a calendar fiscal year, so the end of our year is December 31), where I hated this goal.

Michael: “What have I done?”

Megan: I was mad at it. Like, “What was I thinking? It’s too late to back out.” I’m, like, swimming the English Channel. I’m halfway across, and I can’t go back, and I feel like I can’t make it to the other side. We talk about this a lot in Your Best Year Ever, this messy middle idea. That’s how it felt. I was really in the messy middle. I didn’t have a clear path to that. We’d tried some things that didn’t work over the summer, and that was frustrating.

As it turns out… This is kind of an exaggerated example, but I think that’s how every goal goes. You always have the messy middle. You always have a period where you try stuff that doesn’t work. You always have a period where you’re just frustrated as all get out and you want to give up. If that doesn’t happen, you probably didn’t set a goal that’s high enough. So, that’s a good reminder for me and something I’ll look back on.

But as I look at this, there are really three reasons I think we were able to accomplish these extraordinary outcomes, and I think this will be helpful to our listeners to hear, because these are things you guys can take with you into your businesses and your teams. The first one is commitment. I give my executive team and our leadership team and the rest of our team the credit for this.

We were willing to commit to something we didn’t know how to accomplish. This is another counterintuitive idea. Normally, when we think about commitment, we want to commit to things we’re sure we can accomplish. Right? That risk component of it… We don’t really want to commit to things we’re not sure we can deliver on, because that could have all kinds of negative consequences.

But when we think about performance and high performance and the highest performers you think about in sports, or whatever, these people are doing things that they have no idea, until they do it, how they’re going to accomplish it. In that commitment, the ingenuity, the creativity, the innovation all of a sudden spring up.

Michael: Yeah, exactly. Even if you weren’t talking about increasing the goal, this is a major, major hack in terms of accomplishing anything. I can remember back when I was in corporate America and we’d want to set a big goal, so we would ask the sales team, for example… They’re not the only ones, but I’ll pick on them. You say, “Okay, could you commit to this bigger goal?” and they’re totally reticent, because they don’t have the certainty they can accomplish it, and they don’t want to commit to something they can’t accomplish.

Here’s the thing: you won’t accomplish what you don’t commit to. You have to get this order right. The commitment comes first, and then you accomplish it. This is what makes marriage work. It doesn’t always work. I get that. But when you commit to a relationship, not knowing what’s in front of you, not knowing the specific path it’s going to take… My life certainly turned out different than I thought. We had challenges I didn’t expect. There were downturns. There were rough patches.

There was all of that, but what got us through was the commitment. So, I think this is how the universe is set up. You make the commitment, and then you figure out how you’re going to fulfill the commitment. It’s true in relationships, and it’s definitely true with goal setting. So, even if this past year… And we had a lot of clients ask me on our… We do a client call with our BusinessAccelerator clients every Monday, and they get the opportunity to ask me questions.

Right after the pandemic hit, a lot of them were saying, “Oh my gosh! Should we go back in and revise the budget? Should we lower the numbers to accommodate what we know now?” which was “We’re in the middle of a pandemic.” I was quick to say… What I didn’t do was what you did, Megan. I didn’t say, “No! You want to raise it by 50 percent.”

Megan: Certainly, we would not have given that advice to all of our clients. As you said, it was a risky move, and it was situationally dependent.

Michael: What I did say to them was, “Don’t let go of the commitment until you absolutely have to.” Oftentimes, the commitment to that goal and taking a stand for that goal, you know, putting a stake in the ground and saying, “We’re going for this. We’re not giving up on it. I know we’ve had setbacks. I know it looks impossible right now, but we’re holding on to the goal…” That’s what usually gives you the breakthrough you need to keep moving forward. But if you don’t stay in that space, if you’re too quick to abandon it, the breakthroughs won’t show up, and then you start drifting backward, and then that also has a cascading effect.

Megan: And what you train your team to do is to say, “We’re just going to be reactive to what’s going on environmentally. We’re going to always take our cues for what’s possible from what we see around us and what other people tell us is true.” That’s a dangerous position to get into from a performance standpoint. It’s not going to yield good results.

Michael: I love that. So, making a commitment looks like taking a stand for that thing you want to accomplish, whether it’s the goal you originally had… As we’re recording this, we’re in March, so by now you’ve probably had some goals that have been a little bit derailed or some plans that haven’t turned out exactly like you wanted, and you might be tempted to just give up. You might think, “Goal setting doesn’t work” or “Maybe that was just a New Year’s resolution.” What we want to encourage you to do is keep playing full out until the whistle blows.

Megan: So, the first reason is making a commitment to something you don’t know how to accomplish. The second reason we were able to achieve this profit goal and, really, exceed our profit goal by 50 percent is courage. We chose to advance when others chose to retreat. That’s a big lesson of the pandemic in general. Again, caveat for all of the situations where this legitimately was not possible.

I listened to a podcast where the host was talking to a guest near the start of the pandemic. It was probably in April or May. They were discussing morale and culture and whether or not you should still expect your team to deliver on the financial results you set as the goal for the year, if they were supposed to deliver on the budget or not.

Either the host or the guest said they basically thought it was immoral to expect your team to accomplish their original budgets. I thought, “Wow!” I can remember right where I was. I was in the car going to get a car wash. I kind of sat back in my seat like, “Wow!” What does that mean for your team when the default response is that you take away their opportunity for agency?

You take away the one place in their life at this point during the pandemic where they probably still have a sense of agency and control, where they can make something happen, where they can be proactive, where they can be creative and have a positive outcome, and you basically just say, “We all need to be resigned to a much smaller story than we were expecting,” that the only logical outcome was that this was going to be worse and not better.

How debilitating. That’s what I thought. One of the biggest reasons I set this goal was I thought, “What will it mean for our team to be able to look back on this two years, five years, ten years from now and have this story be kind of a legend in our company that we did this in the midst of the pandemic? And if they can do this, what else can they do?” Just to have that as a feather in your cap as a professional is huge.

Michael: I think most people write the story after it happens, but one of the secrets to success is writing the story before it happens and then living out the story. This is a good example. You could say, “Well, this happened, so we’re going to write the story about how the pandemic came and we were swept away in all that happened, and of course we didn’t get good results because of these macro environmental factors.” That’s a story not worth remembering.

But you could say, and what you did was say, “Just imagine if we could look back on this and this could be a defining moment for us.” The defining moments, by the way, in all of our lives and in all of history are never the easy things. They’re not even the successes. It’s a very simple storyline. You have to overcome a big obstacle in the pursuit of a goal. That’s it. That’s basically every story that has ever been written.

We’ve learned this from Don Miller’s StoryBrand idea. You have a protagonist or a hero. That person wants something, but all of a sudden, there’s an obstacle. There’s something that’s keeping the hero from getting what they want. In this particular case, it happened to be a pandemic, and it happened to be occurring worldwide, so it was everybody’s situation. But some people chose to pre-write the story and then to live into that story, and that’s what I loved about how you led during this pandemic.

Megan: Thank you. I think it was just a collective choice to choose to act with courage and to advance when other people chose to retreat.

Michael: Let’s talk about courage just a little bit, because I think it’s often misunderstood. Here’s what I didn’t sense from you, and you can tell me… All I saw was what was happening on the outside. I’m on the outside looking in. What I saw was somebody who was confident, not arrogant; somebody who was poised, but somebody who was realistic and humble. I think sometimes we look at people we deem courageous and think, “Oh my god! They must have a lion’s heart, and they’re impervious to fear. The rest of us would cower in the corner, but Megan had the wherewithal to forge ahead and…” How did you feel on the inside?

Megan: Well, kind of like a duck on the top of a lake. On top, everything is smooth and I look like I’m gliding, and underneath my little feet are going a million miles an hour. It was kind of like that. The truth is courage is a way you act, not a way you feel.

Michael: Say that again.

Megan: Courage is a way you choose to act, not a way you feel. I mean, sometimes you get to feel brave or courageous, and that’s awesome, but usually that’s what happens after you’ve done the brave thing. It’s more like a reward than it is a prerequisite. What I have learned in my life… I feel like this is something, honestly… Every time I level up and do something I haven’t done before, like this goal, I have to remind myself of that, and by remind myself I mean that probably I’m having a series of meltdowns at night when I’m a little too tired and my husband is kind of talking me off the ledge. It’s probably a lot more like that.

I feel scared. I feel like I’m not sure I can do it. I have self-doubt. I have setbacks. I wonder if I should just give up. In the end, the defining moment is not that. I mean, that’s universally true. If you’re a leader, you probably have that experience every time you try to do anything that matters. It’s just that acting with courage means you choose to go ahead and charge the hill anyway. You feel all that stuff and you just move ahead.

It’s not like, magically, somehow you feel totally confident and you’re just ready to go. You know, didn’t feel all of the things everybody else felt. No. I felt all of that, and we just decided to go forward as a way of feeling empowered. That was the primary motivation. We just want to feel empowered. Acting with courage made us feel stronger than acting without courage.

Michael: Gail and I were just watching Ken Burns’ series on the Civil War. Have you seen that?

Megan: Yes, I have.

Michael: That’s one of the first documentaries he ever did. There’s one character who reoccurs during the story over and over again. It’s Joshua Chamberlain. I think he was part of the Massachusetts army or brigade or whatever it was. He was on the side of the Union. There was a scene at Gettysburg where they run out of ammunition, and they just fix their bayonets and charge the rebels with no ammunition.

Now, the rebels didn’t know it, and these guys were scared to death. They charged the rebels, and the rebels retreated because these guys appeared so ferocious. They acted with courage even though many of them were having all kinds of physical symptoms that I won’t go into. Basically, all but throwing up. I think that’s how it is for a lot of people. Did you have any conversations with your coach? I know you have an executive coach, and this was on the agenda, I’m sure.

Megan: A lot of conversations.

Michael: So, what was some of the advice she was giving to you? Or even what would be more interesting is what were some of the things you were sharing with her and what was she telling you?

Megan: Well, I mean, the things I was sharing with her were like, “I don’t know if I should keep going. I don’t know if I should give up. What’s going to happen if they don’t respect me on the other side of not accomplishing this goal? What’s that going to mean for my leadership?”

Michael: That’s the danger of being futuristic like you are. You are already past the point where you failed, and now you’re wondering what it’s like.

Megan: Exactly. And I could paint a very vivid picture if I need to. They were real, very human concerns I had. She just kept bringing me back to what was at stake and also encouraging me, like, “You cannot let this go. The only way you lose is to give up.” She said, “Accomplishing the goal is only part of the goal, the kind of larger goal, in a way. Really, what’s at stake here, what you’re fighting for, and why you’re not going to give up when you want to is because of who you’re going to become and who you know your team can become on the way to pursuing this goal.” That became a driving force for me.

I knew the team we started out as at the beginning of the year, you know, March and April of 2020, would not be the same team that finished the year. That is, in fact, very true. Every single person on my executive team, or the team that reports to me, has grown incredibly and become stronger, more capable, more willing to be courageous. In fact, that happened. When I look at my team and who they are now and the quality of their leadership, I’m so proud. How worth it was that? It’s like strength training. We started out lifting 5 pounds, and now we can lift 20. That means we can do all kinds of stuff. I’m so proud of that.

Michael: Who knows what else we’re capable of? I like something Tony Robbins says. He says, “If you think you can’t, then you must.” If you don’t follow through and do it, then you’re kind of yielding your agency, or your power, to something else and you end up, little by little, cordoning off certain sections of your life where you say… Megan, you had this happen, where you said, “Well, I’m not a public speaker. I can’t public speak, so that’s just an area I have to put away in a closet somewhere and I can never do that.”

If you keep doing that for all of the things you think you can’t do, then you end up with a very small life and a very small story. Whereas the opposite of that is to have the courage to act in spite of your fear, doing it when you’re scared, and just saying, “Okay. I don’t think I can do that; therefore, I must do that. I’m not the first person who has had to confront this, and this is mostly about me overcoming the mental obstacles that are between my ears.”

Megan: Absolutely. And that was the hardest part of it for sure. It’s always the hardest part of it. The story in my head about why I couldn’t do it versus the story in my head about why I could do it was really the battle to win.

Okay. The last reason we were able to accomplish this exceeding of our profit goal is collaboration. That’s really about how our team worked together. I was the one who initiated this goal, but I absolutely could not have accomplished it on my own. Not a doubt in my mind. In fact, it was critically important that my team was aligned around the goal, that they were bought into it, that they were ready to go execute on it, because I knew this was not a one-person job. This was a team-level job.

What I saw in our team is that people brought amazing creativity, innovation, ideas. One person would be at the end of their creativity or new ideas and somebody else would bring a fresh perspective. That happened all year long over and over and over again. It was really interesting. We had a meeting one time with our executives and our directors, what we call our leadership team.

The executives were kind of spent on this goal. We had tried some things that had worked, and we had tried some things that really did not work well, and we were behind relative to where we needed to be on pace with this goal. So we brought in the directors, and we asked them, “Hey, we’re pursuing this…” They knew that. They were already on board with it. “What ideas do you guys have?” They had a whole fresh group of ideas. There was a long list of things they saw as possibilities that the rest of us would not have been able to see.

That’s the value of a team. It takes everybody’s perspective. It takes the unique contribution of every single person to get where you want to go. You often say, “If your dream isn’t big enough to require a team, it’s just not big enough.” I learned that lesson in spades with this goal. It really required every single person. There’s nobody on your team who should be discounted. You would be surprised where the ideas come from. It’s amazing.

Michael: I’ve been in situations where, in the pursuit of a big goal, collaboration wasn’t part of it. Especially when you start missing the goal. Then all of a sudden there’s a competition or a blaming. Did you experience any of that or was that ever a temptation?

Megan: That’s a good question. I don’t think so. I don’t think we ever had competition or blaming. I think the challenge was to stay mentally engaged. The challenge for all of us was not to give up. I can remember conversations I had with some of my executives where they were like, “I just don’t think I have any more to give,” and I’m like, “I think you do.” In my mind I’m thinking, “I hope you do.” As it turned out, they did. Sometimes it was just the reenergizing that came from somebody else on the team who had an idea, and they were like, “Oh, okay.”

I remember Chad, our chief sales officer, talking about… At this celebration dinner we recently had for this, he was talking about having that infusion of new ideas from our directors and what that meant at a time when he was particularly drained and just that realization, like, “Oh! It doesn’t depend on me completely. I have a part to play, but the whole outcome is not on my shoulders.” I think that’s an important lesson for leaders to learn.

Michael: I do too, and I think it’s one that is a little bit counterintuitive to the myth of the self-made person. You think you have to come up with all this on your own, but the truth is teams can accomplish extraordinary things. It’s not like if you have six people on your team it’s one plus one plus one all the way to six. It gets exponentially squared. You begin to feed off one another and have ideas and build on other ideas.

If you’ve ever experienced collaboration like that, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s amazing when it happens, because you can definitely do more as a team than you could possibly do on your own. I mean, I accomplish things every week that I could never accomplish if I was just a solopreneur. I can focus on my unique gifting and make my unique contribution and stay in my own lane, and there are other people who can pick it up where I’m weak and take it to the next level in a way I couldn’t even dream about.

Megan: Thank goodness. That’s really encouraging and empowering to realize that.

Michael: So, once you’ve acted with, first, commitment; second, courage; and third, collaboration, one of the rewards of that is you end up, both personally and as a team, with a newfound sense of confidence.

Megan: Yeah. This is an idea that came from another of our coaches, Dan Sullivan, talking about this. We think about this like, “Oh, you’re going to start off with confidence.” Actually, confidence is the big present at the end with the bow wrapped around it. That’s what you get at the end if you’re fortunate, if you accomplish the big thing you’re after or make big progress toward it.

That’s a good reminder. As I’ve said, that was really my motivation. I knew what this would mean to our team once they did it. I knew this would be something we could look back on. And my gosh! If we could do something like this in a pandemic year, every challenge we face in the future will always be measured against that. To have that confidence of “If that’s possible, what else is possible?” I knew that would open up the future for us in a way that almost nothing else could.

What I didn’t want was to get to the end of last year and have our team feel like victims. I didn’t want them to feel less empowered, like they had less agency, like they were more at the mercy of the macro environment, as you said earlier, than they started out. That wasn’t an acceptable outcome to me. I don’t think we can get to the future we’ve envisioned in our company vision with that as the mindset.

So, it felt like what was ultimately at stake was the mindset it was going to take to get us into the future. If I didn’t win this battle, it would be at the cost of the future, and I couldn’t abide that. Now to have this confidence of “We’ve done this…” I don’t mean confidence like arrogance, like, “Oh, we can do anything. It’ll just be easy.” I don’t think it’ll be easy. It’s really the confidence that comes from knowing you can do hard things, and that’s one of the most important life lessons anybody can learn. I feel like I’m trying to teach that to my kids right now all over the place.

Michael: I agree. Well, look. Some of you listening to this today need to hear this message. You may be in the messy middle where you’re not sure whether you should give up on the goal or you should stick with it. We’re saying: keep playing full out until the whistle blows. Stay committed to the goal. Exercise courage even if you feel fear inside.

Collaborate with your team, with your key contractors, whoever it is who can resource you and help you to see the finish and to get there. It’s totally worth the journey, and it’s worth it because confidence, as Megan said, is the reward, and that’s an amazing thing to possess as a team, because then you can go on to even a higher level. Megan, do you have any final thoughts?

Megan: When I look back at the last year… At the time of this recording, as we said at the beginning, it’s just about exactly a year after the first recording we did in the midst of the pandemic. When we face challenges like this, so much of what we experience is about how we think about the challenges we’re facing.

For us, the pandemic, in many ways, was a gift. It was a hard gift, a gift I’m not excited to have again anytime soon, yet so many good things came out of it. I know that’s not true for everybody, and we have a great deal of empathy for people for whom that was not the case, but for us, really, it was a gift, and part of that gift is we get to take these lessons into the future to empower us to face new challenges.

Michael: Terrific. Guys, thank you so much for joining us for this episode. We hope it was helpful. Until next time, lead to win.