Episode: Grateful: A Look Back at Our Story

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. This week we have a pretty special episode, something really different, and I’m going to let Nick Jaworski, our producer, introduce it. Nick?

Nick Jaworski: Hey, everybody. What do we call Lead to Win listeners? Do we call them Winners? Winheads?

Megan: Yeah, they’re totally winners.

Michael: Totally winners.

Nick: I’m so excited to be here on this show. We have something a little fun. It is Thanksgiving week, and it has been a rough year, so we want to talk about what gratitude is, and rather than just telling you that you should be grateful, Hannah, who writes these shows, had this lovely idea to just demonstrate gratitude by talking about the story of Michael Hyatt & Company, how it happened, and how perhaps you’ve internalized those experiences and what they mean to you.

So, that’s the idea. Maybe people can feel nice and warm, they can feel inspired, and then maybe you’ll feel good about it, maybe the things you’ve forgotten about. So, that’s what we’re doing today. Are there any questions?

Michael: No. I said to you before we started, “I want you to introduce this,” because it feels a little self-indulgent to talk about the company, and you gave me some rigamarole about why you thought it was a great idea, and Hannah had her own ideas.

Nick: Because Hannah is a genius.

Michael: I believe that, but I’m just kind of going with the flow here and complying with the request.

Megan: I think the real reason to do this is because, hopefully, for y’all listening, you start thinking about your own work, your personal life, and all of the things there really are to be grateful for even in the midst of a really, really hard year. We’re not dismissing that in any way, but I think gratitude is a survival skill now more than ever. It’s a strategy of resilience. Hopefully, you can kind of see yourself in our story and it’ll prompt you to have some of these conversations with the people you love in the days ahead.

Nick: Yeah. That is exactly what I said.

Michael: The more you talk, the more sold I’m getting, so let’s do it.

Megan: Done.

Nick: All right. We’re going to start off with some questions. You have not heard these questions. Some of them might be directed toward Michael to start with, for obvious reasons. Where did the idea for Michael Hyatt & Company come from?

Michael: Okay. I was at Thomas Nelson Publishers. I was the CEO, having a great time. I’d been in book publishing my entire career. I really loved that job, but I had started blogging in 2004, and I’d built an audience. It was quickly coming to the point where I was going to have to choose continuing to be a blogger and a speaker and an author or I was going to have to give that up and do the CEO thing, just give it my total focus.

We came to this point where we decided to sell the company. We ended up selling it to HarperCollins. Thomas Nelson is now a division of HarperCollins. So I said, “It’s now or never.” I’d always had this dream of writing and speaking full time. I thought that was kind of a romantic idea. I thought it would be really cool to do that. So I decided, “It’s now or never.” By that time, the kids were mostly out of the house, and I thought, “This is kind of a good season in life to do this, so let’s go for it.” Gail, my wife, said, “Absolutely. Let’s do it.” So, that was sort of the genesis of it.

Nick: It’s one thing to say, “Oh, I’m going to have a career where I speak and write, but how did you take it from the idea phase into the actual reality phase?”

Michael: There’s that little thing about having to produce income. You know, “How am I going to make a living doing this?”

Nick: I’ve heard.

Michael: Blogging doesn’t really pay that much. I was advertising on my site, so that was generating a couple thousand dollars a month in income. After I left my gig being the CEO of Thomas Nelson, I stayed on as the chairman for another year, which provided me much less income than I was making as the CEO, but it gave me enough of a bridge that I thought, “Okay. I can almost live on that, and I think I can generate enough speaking to be able to make up the difference, especially if I have my full-time focus on generating income. It’s a risk, but I think I can do it.”

So, my income initially was from consulting and speaking. Literally, within that first year, I made up what I had been making as the CEO, so that came a lot faster than I thought it would. It was going to the next level that was the challenge, but that first level came pretty quickly.

Nick: It sounds very scary. You don’t sound particularly scared in the retelling.

Michael: Well, because I have the benefit of knowing I survived. When you’re in the middle of it, I mean, literally, you wonder. If I’m honest, I have to say there were some sleepless nights. There were some times where I was second-guessing myself and wondering if I’d made the right decision or wondering if I could kind of crack the ceiling and go to the next level.

I got frustrated initially, because when I was in the big corporate environment, I had two full-time executive assistants. I had a team of executives around me. I was able to focus on the big picture, not get bogged down in the details. Suddenly, I’m in business for myself, and now I’m doing everything, including trying to find the FedEx box, which I’d never had to do before, to get an overnight letter in the mail or figuring out how to do my expense reports so my accountant could account for all of my expenses.

It was really challenging. I got bogged down in the nitty-gritty. Ultimately, I hired a part-time virtual executive assistant, Tricia, who, by the way, is now the CEO of BELAY Solutions, a big virtual assistant company. She was my assistant in those days. It made all the difference. But that was a real challenge. I was second-guessing myself and saying, “You know, I guess this isn’t quite as easy as people make it look on the front end.”

Nick: Okay. Now I’ll bring Megan into this story. I don’t know if I really know this story. How did you get roped into this Michael Hyatt & Company situation?

Michael: Yeah, how did we rope you into this?

Megan: How did I get roped in?

Michael: I groomed you since you were a baby.

Megan: That’s true. That is true. There was a lot of subliminal messaging happening for all of those years. Well, what happened is that in 2012, I adopted my two middle sons from Uganda, and I decided I was going to be a stay-at-home mom. That lasted for nine months, and I decided I was not going to be a stay-at-home mom, that that was not a great solution for me.

My kids, as I’ve shared publicly many, many times, have some special needs, and it was really demanding both financially and emotionally, so work was necessary for a lot of reasons and really helpful for me for a lot of reasons. It gave me fuel for taking care of them. So, I came to work initially part time. The first brand we ever created was Platform University. It was a membership community for people building personal brands online.

I helped launch that in late 2012/early 2013, along with our partner at the time, Stu McLaren, and a team of contractors. We didn’t have any full-time employees at that point. They were all contractors. Little by little, the management of Platform University became the management of more and more things, and ultimately, I ended up running the whole business.

Obviously, there’s a lot of story between the beginning and where I am now, but that was how it started: just the desire to have an outlet as a stay-at-home mom. Ultimately, as my responsibilities grew, I had to figure out how to make that work with the needs of my kids. I’m sure we’ll get into that a little bit later, Nick.

Michael: Can I just throw in something there too? In the spirit of thanksgiving, I’m so thankful for Megan. I could not do what I do without her. We complete each other’s sentences. It’s kind of weird. I guess you’d expect that for a daughter who grew up in our home. We have such fun doing this business together.

Megan: We really do.

Michael: People ask us all the time, “Is there any hidden drama? Are there any conflicts?” You know, certainly we’ve had conflict, but I literally couldn’t tell you a single one, because they’re usually quickly resolved and we move on to the next thing. I keep trying to have more conflict, but…

Megan: The biggest conflicts we ever have are the ones you try to make on the podcast, which usually don’t get very far. He always wants to fight on the podcast, but it doesn’t really happen.

Michael: We get along remarkably well. Essentially, Megan is running the entire company, and we’ve announced before… I think we’ve announced it on the podcast.

Megan: Yeah, we have.

Michael: Megan is going to become the CEO of the entire company on January 2 of 2021. I’m not retiring, but I’m taking a different role at that point. I’ll be the chairman. I’ll be more focused on content. I’ll essentially be reporting to Megan.

Megan: Which really won’t be that different than it is now. No, I’m just kidding.

Michael: Well, true fact.

Megan: Just kidding. In the spirit of gratitude on my side, this work has given me the opportunity to contribute in a way I never have before, to create at a level I never have before, and I love getting to do that with you. I love our partnership. I love the lives we’re able to affect through things like the podcast. That’s so rewarding.

The thing I like best is the culture we’ve been able to build together within Michael Hyatt & Company and the incredible team we have. I thank God every day for the work we get to do and the people we get to do it with and the people we get to serve, because it is an extraordinary privilege.

Nick: Okay. Let’s talk about the team. What is it about the team at Michael Hyatt, these people you have brought together and assembled, that you are most grateful for? What do you love about them?

Megan: Well, first of all, this probably needs to be a whole episode, because it’s going to be hard to cut us off from this. There are so many things to say. I mean, our team is the envy of so many people in our industry. When people encounter our team, we just hear these amazing reports about how service oriented they are, how much they over-deliver, how creative they are, how organized they are, how on top of things they are, how expert they are in their particular areas, and all of that is absolutely true.

The thing I enjoy the most is the kind of collaboration we have. We have a culture of collaboration. It’s not competitive. It’s not people out for their own best interests. Everybody is interested in getting the input of other people, of helping other people become their best. As a result, the things we’re able to create, the kind of innovation we’re able to do, is made possible by that level of teamwork. This is a low ego team. It’s a high ownership team. People take ownership of what they contribute, of how they contribute, of the outcome of what they contribute. I think all of those are really special.

I had a conversation with somebody this morning about a new team they’re working with (this is a client) and just how challenging that was, some of the normal things that are a part of change management and unhealthy culture and just how tough that can be. She was saying, “How do I bring the culture of Michael Hyatt & Company, what you guys teach, into this new company I’m working with?” We were just talking about that. I don’t ever take that for granted. I think it’s really special.

Michael: I would agree with that. Honestly, when I think back on how we created it, I’m not even sure. I don’t feel like we can take credit for it. I know we had an impact on it. We influenced it. I just feel blessed that we’ve assembled this group of people who are super smart, great hearted, share our mission, give each other the benefit of the doubt, very low drama, no complaining. That is one thing we’ve established in our culture. We don’t allow complaining, and we don’t let people speak ill of those who aren’t present.

We’ve never said that out loud, I don’t think. We’ve never made that a rule. We just make that true by our practice. Megan and I both have the habit of constantly (and it’s genuine) bragging on people, because we’re genuinely impressed by the people who work for us. So, to brag on them, to be kind of in a place of wonderment and awe… People tend to rise to the level of what you expect. If you expect them to do great work, they’ll surprise you. They’ll do great work. I’ve never been disappointed.

Nick: I would agree. Everybody I interact with at Michael Hyatt & Company is the best person I’ve ever interacted with. But let’s transition from the team, who are all lovely people, and how grateful you are for them to the clients you get to work with. What are some things you love about the work you do and the people you get to work for and with?

Michael: Oh man. The favorite part of what we do… Maybe I say this in different contexts about everything we do, because I do enjoy everything we do, and we wouldn’t have it if we didn’t enjoy it. But the crème de la crème, the cherry on top of the sundae, is our BusinessAccelerator coaching program. The thing I look forward to more than anything is our weekly calls with all of our clients. At the time we’re recording this, we have almost 600 BusinessAccelerator clients, and I jump on a Zoom call with them every morning at 9:00 a.m. Central for an hour.

Megan: Every Monday morning, not every morning.

Michael: Oh yeah. Sorry. I wish it were every morning. Seriously. But it’s once a week, so it’s on Monday morning, and it’s for an hour. We give that as an opportunity for anybody to come on. They have to raise their digital hand. Sometimes they share a win. Usually they share some thorny problem they’re facing, and they just want my advice or the community’s advice on it.

These are extraordinary people doing extraordinary work. If you think about it, the kind of people, typically, who get coaching are people who are very self-aware. They know they need to develop. They know they need to grow. They’re not different than anybody else, because the truth is everybody needs to develop and everybody else needs to grow. What differentiates them is they know it.

They’re willing to invest their own money and their own time, and they’re willing to admit in a public forum that they don’t know something, that they need help with some problem they’re facing. I find that extraordinarily inspiring. I always leave that call inspired. I get a ton of comments in the chat section of Zoom where they just leave inspired. That’s kind of my dream job, but to have clients like that is a gift, and I’m extremely thankful for it.

Megan: For me, one of the things I appreciate most about our clients is they’re not willing to settle for conventional success. We call that the double win, winning at work and succeeding at life. What we hope for our clients and what they resonate with, and then ultimately hope for themselves too, is not only that their businesses would be so much more successful after having been in the coaching program with us, but also that their personal lives would be more successful.

Some of the most rewarding aspects of our work with our clients has been seeing what has happened in their personal life…people who have turned their health around; people who have turned marriages around or found love, you know, prioritized that in their life; people who have prioritized their relationships with their kids or their friends or their community contribution.

I mean, we’re talking about leaders in every sense of the word who are contributing at an extraordinarily high level and who, by virtue of being business owners, have an exponential impact, because not only is their own life and their own family and their employees being impacted, but the families of their employees. It just goes on and on and on like a ripple effect.

That’s really rewarding to me. We aren’t just helping people, for example, make more money or build bigger businesses. We’re helping people build better lives as a part of that process. To me, that’s the kind of lasting success we want to be known for, that we care about. We want to have an impact in people’s lives.

Nick: Is there anything that is surprising in terms of what you derive value from in this work?

Michael: Yeah, I think so. My greatest fear before we started our coaching business was standing in front of a group of people and having them share a business problem and me on the spot having to help them solve that. To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. You remember, Megan, if you go back to our Inner Circle, which was the early prototype of our coaching program, and we had those 10 or 12 guys in that group, and they would share their problems, and I would be so anxious.

I probably didn’t even share it with you, but the night before… They’re going to be sharing their problems, and we had to make it worth their while. These guys, by the way, were paying a ton of money to be in that group. They were taking a day out of their life every quarter to be with us. I felt enormous pressure to add value. Now… And this has been so true for so many things in my life. Now it’s my absolute very favorite thing to do.

If you said to me, “Dad, when I become the CEO, all I want you to do is to be on Zoom calls with coaching clients all day long and solve problems,” I would be excited. I would be thrilled with that prospect. There are so many things like that that started out for me something I hated and is now something I enjoy. I hated writing; now I love it. I hated public speaking; now I love it. I hated doing video; now I love it. So many times, the difference between hating something and loving it is just practice.

Megan: That’s a really good lesson.

Michael: Like, I didn’t enjoy playing a musical instrument until I got good enough that I enjoyed it. I said that for you, Nick, because I know you used to be a music teacher.

Nick: I have an 11-year-old playing trumpet and piano right now, and it sucks.

Michael: For him and for you.

Nick: Well, you go, “You know what?” But then I sat down at the piano on Sunday. We had like an hour, and Ashley and I sang songs while I was playing. You go, “If I had not done that work many years ago, I wouldn’t get to have these…” That’s like our favorite thing to do is sit at the piano and sing together.

Megan: That’s so cool.

Michael: That is really cool. We’ve got to hear you play sometime.

Megan: I know. I didn’t know that. I think, for me, just the joy of developing my team, which are primarily the members of the executive team… Just seeing what their potential is and standing for that potential, and then investing in them to bring that potential out, and just the friendships that are a part of that, the comradery, the collaboration…

All of those things I love, and I feel like it’s my most important job, because they’re the people who make everything else possible. If I invest in them, then they’ll take care of all of the other things. There was a time when having a bunch of direct reports felt overwhelming or felt like a lot to manage, but really, those conversations are my favorite conversations and the most rewarding thing I do.

Nick: Sometimes when we ask this next question, to me it feels like a regret, but that’s not the intention. If you could go back to when you started the company, Michael, or, Megan, when you joined the company and you could tell yourself one thing, what would it be? I want to clarify that this is about the fact that you’ve learned something and you get to now look back. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the lesson. There could be something of value there.

Megan: Well, I would say, “Your vision is too small, both for yourself and for what this is going to become.” It’s probably tempting for anybody at the beginning of something… It’s sort of like you can only see so far. You can only imagine yourself growing so big. What has become possible with Michael Hyatt & Company for me, personally, in terms of how I’ve been able to grow and who I’ve been able to become, and then also what we’ve been able to do in the lives of our clients, our listeners, our customers, has been so far beyond what I would have thought way back in 2012, and I feel so grateful for that. I think that’s such an important lesson.

I’ve heard other people say it this way: we can’t outdream God. God’s plan for our lives and what’s possible are way bigger than what we would think for ourselves. Our temptation is usually to dream too small, to think about what’s possible as being far less than what’s really possible. So, I hope I take that into the future. If you’re kind of at the beginning of a journey yourself and you’re listening to us, take that to heart. Don’t be worried that you’re dreaming too big. Be concerned that you’re dreaming maybe too small.

Michael: So true. Just to hitchhike on that, I remember thinking when I started… Maybe I was six months into it, and I had a friend who had started a similar business to me, and I heard that his business was doing over a million dollars a year. I was just rocked back. I thought, “Whoa! I cannot believe that.” I said, “If I could do a million dollars a year in my business… I mean, that’s unbelievable. I can’t even imagine that.” Well, then we hit that marker.

Then I heard another guy who I was not friends with (we’ve since become friends, but I didn’t know him at the time) who said his business was over $10 million. I thought, “$10 million!” My eyes jumped out of my head. Then in a few years we passed that marker, and it has continued to develop since then. I think you’re exactly right, Megan. I’m just in a place of gratitude and wonder, knowing that some of the things I’ve had an impact in creating, and you’ve had an impact in creating, but some of it has just been the collective work of everybody and the grace of God and the goodness of God.

I’m extremely thankful for that, because I don’t think we could have engineered that. But I would say to most people, “You’re probably thinking too small.” This isn’t original with me, but somebody once said we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long term. That has been my consistent experience throughout my life, but particularly at Michael Hyatt & Company.

Nick: So, we have two more questions. They’re both easy, but one is very important. Do you want the very important one first or do you want it last?

Megan: Last.

Nick: Okay. 2020 has been, as the kids would say, a dumpster fire. We’ve made the most of it. We’ve learned our lessons. As we look ahead to 2021 and the future beyond that, what are you most excited about?

Michael: I’m always excited about the future because the future is full of possibility. It’s like a blank canvas. Nobody has painted on it yet, and anything can happen. I realize there are always things that are outside of our control, but I think we undersell the future to ourselves by thinking that not much is inside of our control.

So much of it is how you frame it to yourself, because there’s always what happens (Megan and I did a podcast episode on this, on the model of how things work), and then there’s the narrative you put on top of that. So, you could tell yourself a story that’s actually worse than what your experience was during this last year or you can decide to focus on the good things that happened and tell yourself a different story.

I can distinctly remember a couple of years ago saying to Gail when she asked me… She asked, “How was your day?” and I said, “Man, it was terrible.” She said, “Really? What was so bad about it?” When I finished telling her, she said to me, “I’m not trying to be harsh, but it sounds to me like you had a really bad 20 minutes, not a bad day.” I said, “Man, that’s pretty much right, because the rest of the day was pretty great.” I think the future is full of possibility, but even if we’ll focus on what was good that happened this last year, even the hard things, we can draw value out of it.

Megan: I’m excited to take what we’ve learned from 2020 into 2021. For example, we have developed an extraordinary level of resilience and mental flexibility and agility, and those are assets for the future. Whatever else is going to come in the future, we know there’s going to be a lot of change, a lot to respond to and react to and solutions to create, so that’s going to be a superpower. It’s kind of like if you’ve been training with a heavy backpack on, and then all of a sudden you take the backpack off. You have the strength but not the weight.

Someday we’re going to be past all the stuff with COVID, and we’ll have all the strength without the burden. What will that mean in normal times to have that kind of superhuman resilience we’ve built during this time? I also think one of the great things that happens in the midst of a crisis where there are unbelievable constraints… I mean, if you would have told us a year ago that some of the constraints we are living with as though it’s our new normal were going to be our new normal, our head would have exploded.

What that means is, all of a sudden, there’s a whole set of solutions and ways of thinking about things that were previously inaccessible to us that now just seem like, “Of course.” For example, virtual meetings. We are recording our podcast right now virtually where prior to that, Nick, you would have come into town, we would have sat in our conference room, and we would have recorded our podcast. I miss seeing you in person. That was really fun. But there are so many things that are possible now in terms of how we meet people virtually, and so forth, that were never something we would have considered possible.

So many companies are working remotely, are working with people all over the world in different time zones that thought that was impossible for them. So, I think what all of a sudden we now consider to be possible is much greater than what we thought before, certainly in a defined number of areas. That’s exciting to me. I want to see possibility where other people see obstacles, and I think this has been a great training ground for that.

Nick: All right, everybody.

Megan: Here’s the big one.

Nick: I feel better. This feels great. I’m feeling all the gratitude. The most important question, of course, is… It is Thanksgiving week. What’s the thing at Thanksgiving dinner you are going to eat too much of? And it’s only one.

Megan: What? Only one?

Nick: Look. You are free to do whatever you want, but if you have to choose the one thing you’re going to eat, like, four weeks of in one sitting, what is it?

Michael: I’m going to be very intentional about this. I’m glad you asked me, because now I can be very intentional about this. It’s obvious: dressing and gravy.

Megan: No. Really?

Michael: Yes!

Megan: That’s like the trash part of Thanksgiving.

Michael: Oh, you cannot talk like that on this show.

Megan: Oh my gosh.

Nick: Well, Megan, what about you?

Megan: Pie. Probably pumpkin pie.

Michael: That would be my second one.

Megan: To me, that qualifies as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s anytime, because it’s a vegetable and also kind of a fruit and also dessert. You really get it all anytime.

Michael: I may or may not have had it after Thanksgiving for breakfast.

Megan: Of course. That’s the best time to eat it.

Nick: By the way, no one asked me, but it’s my mother’s twice baked potatoes.

Michael: Oh, that sounds good too.

Megan: Nick, just tell us what time to be there.

Nick: All right. Thank you, guys, so much. I know we started off feeling perhaps this was self-indulgent, but for those of us who work on the show, those of us who are familiar with you two and the company, we knew there was stuff here, because we’re grateful that the company exists, and hopefully… Again, I feel better. That was really lovely to hear people talk about gratitude for 30 minutes. Right?

Michael: Well, I have to say that just the exercise of expressing it makes me feel more grateful. And for you guys listening to this, I want to encourage you, as you sit around that Thanksgiving table, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, take time to be thankful. It’s not all about the food, although it’s important, especially the dressing and the gravy.

Megan: Nope.

Michael: But make sure you give everybody a chance. In our family we practice the one conversation rule. We literally go around the table, and we have one person at a time talk about what they’re the most grateful for. It’s always a moving time that brings me to tears.

Megan: All right. Well, thank you guys for joining us. Thank you for listening to our stories. Hopefully this inspires you to consider what you have to be grateful for in 2020. Even though, of course, it has been a tough year, there are gems in there if you know where to look. So, happy Thanksgiving to everybody, and we’ll look forward to seeing you back next week on Lead to Win.