Episode: 5 Steps to Avoid Investing in the Wrong People

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. In this episode, we’re asking a tough question. Are you investing your resources in the wrong people? If so, we’re going to show you how to fix it.

Megan: This is one of those things that plagues every business, where if you’re not careful, you get these demanding customers who never end up placing a large order or becoming financially significant, but you get your whole team trying to help them solve their problems or deal with their complaints. It can suck you absolutely dry with, by the way, no return on the investment.

Michael: That’s exactly right.

Megan: So, today, we actually have five steps that are going to help you put an end to this for good, which is exciting.

Michael: And we have our pal Larry Wilson with us to guide us through this conversation.

Megan: Awesome. Hey, Larry.

Larry Wilson: Hey, hey. I’m not that person, am I?

Michael: No! I want you to tell a story from your background, because you used to be a pastor, and you said before we started this you love this content because you found yourself in this situation as a pastor a lot.

Megan: This is so bad in a church or a nonprofit context.

Larry: Oh, it can be murder. Do I have to narrow it down to just one story?

Michael: Get to the one that’s the most egregious.

Larry: In my very first pastorate, which was many years ago, I had a young man in the church who was going through some difficult family things. He was a father of three kids and going through a divorce. His wife was initiating the divorce, and he was distraught about that. I spent hours coaching, counseling, driving him to therapy appointments, because he was partially disabled and was unable to drive for himself.

I poured countless hours into trying to help the guy and help him get his life together, get his marriage together. Finally, I realized, after months of doing this (I don’t know how many hours spent), he simply was unwilling to take any action that would better his circumstances or move him ahead. He went through counselors and therapists and pastors, because he just wouldn’t respond to any help but was always calling out, “I need. I need. I need.”

Megan: This is kind of like people who are addicted to their problems.

Larry: Yes. And in the meantime, I had countless opportunities, I’m sure, that I passed up to minister to people and to help people and bring people into the faith or into the church, but I was too tied up with this one guy who I just thought I had to save, and it just wasn’t going to happen.

Megan: That’s the thing. I’ve had this happen at live events, where somebody will come up and talk to me, and they’ll want to tell me about their problem. My natural inclination is to offer some solution. That’s what they’re asking for. Then sometimes you get the person who will disagree with every solution you propose. “Oh, no. That could never work for me, because you don’t understand. I have [fill in the blank].”

I had a situation like this happen not too long ago, and I went through probably five iterations of, you know, “Here are the solutions.” It took me a minute to catch on, and then I finally just said, “I don’t think I can help you. I honestly don’t think I can help you. It sounds like you may have to find another solution.” But, man, it’s frustrating.

Michael: Yeah. It could be a profound lack of awareness on their part. I have to tell my story too. This goes back to my book publishing days. We had a very prominent author who we could never seem to satisfy with his book covers. He was one of those people who could never give us clear direction about what he wanted, but whatever we proposed he said, “That’s not it. It doesn’t pop.” He’d use language like that.

Megan: Designers hate that word. What does it even mean?

Michael: So, we had a meeting with him, and he kind of just ragged on our competence and said, “I don’t know why you guys can’t design better covers. Maybe you’re just not spending enough or you’re not applying the resources.” I had a little bit of a messianic complex, in retrospect, and I said, “Well, I’ll fix this. I’ll take personal responsibility for your next book cover, and we’ll get something you’re going to love.” I literally… I am not making this up. We went through 32 different covers.

Megan: What?

Michael: Until he finally said, “You know what? I guess I’m going to have to have my own designer do it.” His designer did it, and this is exactly what had happened on all of his previous books. They gave us a cover that was very average. All that time I was using to try to make this guy happy, there was no way to make him happy.

That was time I could have been spending with other authors who would have been grateful for my involvement and for whom we could have actually made a difference. So, this is a problem in organizational life you have to be aware of. You have to be self-aware enough to know where you’re spending your resources and where you’re not spending them to a good end.

Larry: Megan, you said the magic words: “I don’t think I can help you.”

Michael: I love that.

Larry: Those are words I couldn’t quite get to too often in the past, but you can’t save every puppy in the pound. You have to invest your energy in the people who are willing to grow or willing to contribute. We have some steps for helping you do that. Step one: acknowledge that your resources are limited.

Megan: Your time, energy, and money are finite. When you spend an hour, for example, with one person, that’s an hour you can’t spend with somebody else. We see this with coaching, because that’s part of what we do. There are just some people who don’t want to grow. You almost need to pre-qualify people.

You need to think about your customers or your clients or even your team members. Ask yourself the question, “Do they have the capacity to receive and implement this advice?” because if they don’t, you’re just going to throw your best effort after a situation that has no hope of turning around. It starts with the humility that, first of all, your resources are limited, and second of all, you can’t save everybody and you need to invest wisely.

Michael: I totally agree with that. This does take some humility, because I have certainly struggled… For those of you who know the Enneagram, I’m an Enneagram Three, but I also have a very strong Two wing, so I like to help people and I think I can fix people. I have proven empirically, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I cannot help everybody. In fact, I can only help a narrow range of people.

I think that’s my calling, it’s my skill set, and to think I can fix everybody I come across… There are some people I just need to say, “You know what? I can’t help you.” Like you said, and I’m so proud of you, Megan, for saying that, to be able to say to that woman, “I don’t think I can help you.” Most of us need to say that more often. Why? Not because we don’t want to help that person but because it’s taking away from the people we can help.

It’s a little bit analogous to the whole StrengthsFinder methodology, that you can get greater performance gains by focusing on your strengths than focusing on your weaknesses. You can build a team faster and you can build a more competent team faster if you focus on the people you can help, not the people who don’t want the help or you’re just not able to help.

Megan: You are never going to convince someone to grow when they don’t want to grow. If someone doesn’t have the desire or inclination to be different than they are, you can’t want it for them more than they want it.

Michael: That’s the key right there. You can’t want it more than they want it. That’s kind of the measure I use to see if I can help somebody. If they really want it, then I’m happy to help. If they don’t really want it, I’m not going to try to sell them on why they should.

Megan: For example, if a customer does not want to have a great customer experience… And there are these customers. They go from organization and company and retailer to retailer, looking for a bad experience, and they have terrible experiences wherever they go. If they don’t want to have a good experience, there is no way you’re going to turn it around, and thinking you’re going to be the hero… It’s not going to go well.

Larry: What you’ve just been describing (not to go all theological, but we just talked about my church experience) is set forth by Brother Lawrence. You maybe know that name, Michael. The monk who was a great spiritual teacher, author of The Practice of the Presence of God. He had people come to him all the time asking for his help and his spiritual direction, and his first question was, “Are you really going to do this? Don’t waste my time. If you’re not going to be serious about this, then I’m not going to coach you, but if you are, then I will.”

Michael: That’s good.

Larry: Step one in investing your resources in the right people is acknowledge that your resource are limited. Step two: become aware of where your resources are going.

Megan: Yeah, because without knowing it, just like with your money, if you’re not paying attention, you can overspend your time and energy and tell yourself these conversations or ways you’re helping your customers are just kind of one-offs and just this time you need to do it, and before you know it, it becomes a really unhealthy pattern. One of the things that can help you get clarity is to do a calendar review, where you look at where you’ve spent your time, being honest with yourself about how much these non-productive relationships cost.

If you’re servicing customers or clients, how much time do you spend with the customers who are producing the greatest results in your company compared with the ones who aren’t? There usually is an inverse relationship between how high-maintenance a client or customer is and how profitable they are. It behooves us all to get really honest and really clear about where we’re investing our resources, because it might not be where we’re ever going to get a return.

Michael: I think this is very deceptive, because we think, “Well, if I just have this one conversation” or “If I just take these few meetings, then I can fix this situation,” but it’s like the proverbial frog in the kettle. You just get boiled a couple degrees at a time. Over time, this can be significant. Again, it’s taking away your time and your resources, which are limited. It keeps you from investing those in the right people, whether that’s in teammates or whether that’s customers or clients. You only have limited resources, and you want to make sure you’re getting the biggest return for your investment.

Larry: So, step one is acknowledge your resources are limited. Step two is become aware of where your resources are going. Now it gets a little dicey after this, because step three is to end unproductive or unhealthy relationships.

Michael: I think this is important to get clear on. There are some relationships (this is going to happen in your life from now until the time you die) that are going to require termination. You’re just going to have to end the relationship. Sometimes this is because every relationship has sort of a seasonality to it, a life cycle to it. It may be that you’re friends with people because you’re in close proximity, but you move or go on to another company and you’re no longer close.

I think there are some of these relationships like this where you’re investing a lot of resources in somebody where you have to take the initiative. They won’t go away unless you take the initiative. Once you wake up and realize you’re investing all this time in the wrong people, then you have to take action. One of the best resources we could offer on this is a book by Henry Cloud called Necessary Endings. I love the subtitle of this book. We’ll have a link in the show notes. The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward.

Megan: That’s so good.

Michael: It’s such a great subtitle, and it’s a wonderful book, because he really helps you think through it. Depending on your background or maybe even your faith tradition, you may think it’s wrong to end or terminate these relationships, but I’m going to tell you something. There were even relationships Jesus terminated. There were people that he just said, “You know, I’m not going to help everybody in the world. I can only help a limited number of people,” so that’s what he focused on. I think that’s true for us as well.

Larry: When you say “end the relationship,” does that always have to be a definitive action on your part or can you simply let it wither by not putting additional energy into it?

Megan: Yeah, I think so. It depends on the circumstances. Part of it is you can just stop feeding the beast. You can stop being available. You can stop bending over backward to accommodate people. You can put people through proper channels in your organization, if they’re customers, rather than handling those things directly by yourself. Some people, when those things start happening, will terminate you, and that’s okay too. It just depends on the situation.

What you want to do is pay attention to your tendencies to be codependent, where they need a rescuer and you want to jump in and be the rescuer, because that gives you some sort of charge or you get something out of it, and start to disentangle yourself from the kinds of behaviors that would be a savior complex or overly accommodating or where you’re over-functioning. Sometimes that means it’s going to build to a head when you do that, because the person is going to be so resentful of it, and that will result in a termination, and sometimes it’ll kind of die off on its own. So you just exercise judgment to know.

Michael: I would say with friends, because there are times you need to terminate a relationship with a friend, because they’re such a negative influence and are sucking up all your time and creating a lot of drama in your life… Those are the kinds where you can move away from it and just not invest the resources. If it’s in your company, if it’s an employee, or particularly if it’s a customer or a client, I don’t want there to be any ambiguity or for them to misunderstand.

I also don’t want to put my reputation at risk by them saying, “Well, they just stopped servicing me” or “They weren’t doing the job I hired them to do.” I’d rather go to them… I’ve done this on probably six or seven occasions. I’ve said something like, “Look. We need to end this relationship” or “It’s clear that we’re not able to service you in the way you want to be served,” but I want to take the initiative. I always want to be in control of that. I don’t want to be the one who’s acted upon; I want to be the one who’s acting upon them.

Megan: Very often in that situation, how we’ll handle it, like if it’s a client, for example, is we’ll provide a generous refund at the time that we terminate the relationship, more than what we would be obligated to on a prorated basis or it might be outside of the refund window for a product. We’re just saying, “We’re done, and here’s your refund,” and that’s just the end of it.

Larry: Believe it or not, you can fire clients, customers, as well as employees, and you might even have to fire some friends. Step three was end unproductive or unhealthy relationships, and step four is identify the people you should be investing in.

Megan: This is so important, because if you don’t know what you’re shooting for, it’s very hard to get more of it, and that’s what you want. What you want are more people in your life who make for rewarding and healthy investments on your part. So, when you think about what characteristics those people would have…

For example, they put into practice the advice you give, if you have a coaching relationship. Or when provided excellent customer experience, they’re satisfied and tell their friends. Those are the kinds of people you want more of in your life. Or friends…people who believe the best about you and you don’t have to initiate everything. Those are the things you want to be focusing on and be clear about so that you recognize the people who are different than that in a negative way and you can get more of these people in your life.

Michael: Somebody once said to me, “Don’t spend so much time trying to heal the sick that you forget to nourish the healthy.” I think that’s what we’re talking about here: identifying, specifically, those people who we’re going to invest in, specific kinds of customers who could be highly profitable and low maintenance, and all we need to do is invest some time so we create some leverage for them.

That’s what we don’t have when we invest in the wrong people. So, it’s important, I think, to be able to move forward to identify the people we should be investing in. When I say identify, I mean literally list them out. “Here’s where we’re going to apply our resources. These are the people we think have the potential to become very high-growth clients, very serious clients, and this is where we’re choosing to invest our resources.”

Larry: We have five steps to investing your resources in the right people. Step five is to schedule time on your calendar to serve these people.

Megan: Dad, like you always say, what gets scheduled gets done. You want to make sure the people who are the most important in your life, in your business, in your personal life, make it on your calendar. The great thing about that is when your calendar is filled up with positive and healthy investments like this, there’s not that much room for the unhealthy ones.

When that person who always wants to pick your brain calls you again for more free business advice, you can legitimately say, “Oh, unfortunately, my schedule is completely full,” or whatever. You have a legitimate reason to say no that you can feel confident in because you’ve chosen to align your calendar with your most important priorities and most important relationships professionally and personally.

Michael: If nothing else, it puts a big pause in their drama. So much of what these kinds of people feed off of is they want your instant attention, so if you can say… I’ve even said this to my own pastor. He gets those calls at dinnertime when he’s with his young family. I said, “Don’t forget that emergency didn’t just happen since yesterday. That marriage that’s falling apart has been years in the making, and it doesn’t have to interrupt your most important relationships or your most important time.”

So, just saying to them, “I can’t talk to you right now; I’m having dinner” (or better yet, don’t even answer the phone) “but I could see you next Tuesday.” Now, there are legitimate emergencies. I get that, but I’m saying what looks like an emergency or what is an emergency to somebody else doesn’t necessarily mean an emergency for you.

I don’t mean to make this a Bible study, but one of the things we have to keep in mind… Jesus did heal the sick, and he gave his time to those in need, but he spent the bulk of his time with the twelve apostles who would carry on his mission. That was being future focused, and those twelve guys, by all accounts, turned the world upside down.

Larry: Okay, guys. We have a surprise for you, because we’re going to introduce a little feature here. I’m not even sure what to call it, but it’s basically team productivity tips or team tech tips. It’s not just Michael and Megan who have great ideas. Some of the team get them once in a while too. Nick, our producer for Lead to Win, is here today, and, Nick, you have a productivity hack to share with us.

Nick: I do. I’ve already mentioned it to Michael and Megan before, so you don’t have to pretend you’re surprised by this, but I’m going to force you to listen to it for a little bit longer.

Michael: Unless we forgot it.

Nick: It’s possible. It’s very possible. It’s very rare that I feel so excited about something related to productivity, because I am somebody who gives up on a lot of… You get bogged down by so many things you have to do that this nice idea is so much work to get started on you never quite are able to get over the hill where it’s ingrained as part of your practice.

But I am an evangelist, I am all in for a website called Focusmate, which is a website you sign up for. It’s free right now. I would totally pay for it, but it’s free right now. You sign up for a time. Let’s say it’s 10:00 a.m., and at that time you are matched with a stranger anywhere on the planet, and you go, “Hi. I’m Nick. I’m here. I’m going to work on this edit and these three emails, and that’s what I’m going to do these next 50 minutes,” and they tell you what they’re going to work on for 50 minutes.

Megan: Is this on Zoom or something?

Nick: It’s a camera. You’re looking at each other. It’s their own thing. Then you just sit there and do your work together. It seems weird, but I cannot stress to you… Not just me, but the people I meet on there. At the end you’re like, “Thanks for working with me. Thanks for helping me focus.”

There’s something about visually telling someone, “I’m not doing anything else right now. I’m not going to go over to that tab over there in my browser. I’m not leaving.” If you leave, you need to tell them, “I’ll be back.” You know, if you have to go to the bathroom or a child needs you, you say, “I’ll be back in three minutes,” or whatever. It’s a way to have accountability, and I will say it’s one of the most impactful changes I’ve made in my productivity as an adult. I am all in.

Megan: It’s like a study buddy but for grown-ups.

Nick: Yeah. You just set up times, and I’ve never not had a partner at the time I’ve wanted.

Michael: How is that different than… Like, if you had a boss who was hovering over you like that, it would make you crazy. So why does this work and that doesn’t?

Nick: They’re not looking at what I’m doing. They just know I am there.

Megan: Plus it’s elective.

Nick: You run into people who are finishing up proposals. You run into college kids working on finals or on papers. I once watched a guy paint. He’s like, “I’m just working on this painting for the next 50 minutes.” I was like, “Can I see?” and he was like, “Yeah.” So I just looked at him paint while I did my work. It was awesome.

Michael: But you’re not talking.

Nick: Nope. Then last week, I had a guy in a Starbucks. You can agree to turn your mics off if you want. Usually if people are out in public you ask them to turn their mic off, but I really miss being able to work in coffee shops. Because of my technical setup, I don’t get to do it anymore, so I was like, “Can you just leave it on?” and I was so productive for those 50 minutes.

Michael: You had the ambience of a coffee shop, but you weren’t even there.

Megan: I think that is so cool.

Nick: Right now it’s free. I cannot stress enough. If you’re working from home like me all the time, Focusmate is the way to go.

Michael: Very cool.

Megan: You’re not an affiliate. You’re not getting any cut of this, just to be clear.

Nick: No. I mean, there’s no money.

Michael: But we should check into that.

Megan: You get 50 percent of free.

Nick: No, I am not? So, That’s what I have, Larry.

Larry: Well, today we’ve learned that every leader can multiply their effectiveness by pouring their limited resources into the relationships that really make a difference and the five steps to doing that. First, acknowledge that your resources are limited. Second, become aware of where your resources are actually going. Third, end unproductive or unhealthy relationships. Fourth, identify the people you should be investing in. Fifth, schedule time on your calendar to serve these people. Final thoughts today, guys?

Megan: As you were talking, Larry, I was thinking the issue that really is at the heart of this whole conversation is stewardship, that our time and our energy and our financial resources, from our perspective, are not our own. We are stewarding them, and we are obligated to invest them in a way that would produce a return. When we think about our time and energy and financial resources like that, we make better decisions and invest in relationships that are more productive, not just for us but for other people. I think that’s what we’re called to do, and that helps to bring this into clarity, at least for me.

Michael: I think so too, and I think if we thought of this more like we do about money, we probably wouldn’t get into trouble as much. Time and energy are things that, for some reason, we think aren’t as worth as much as money or we can just do this and continue to do more, but I would argue that time is even more valuable than money, because you have a finite amount of it. You can’t go earn more time; you can only earn more money.

Larry: Well, guys, this has been a great episode. I only have one regret: that we didn’t record this about 20 years ago so I could have applied these lessons sooner. Thank you so much for really practical advice today.

Michael: Thanks, Larry. Thanks for leading us through this. And thank you guys for joining us on Lead to Win. We invite you to join us next week for a new episode. Until then, lead