Episode: The 6 Biggest Lessons From the Past 10 Years

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’re celebrating our 10-year anniversary, and we thought we’d share with you what we’ve learned over 10 years. It was 10 years ago pretty much to the day that I left the big corporate world, big corporate job, to launch out on my own and start what has become Michael Hyatt & Company.

At the time I started, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. I just knew I had this creative itch I needed to scratch. I’d always dreamed of being an author and a speaker. I was working as the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. We sold the company to HarperCollins. It was the perfect time to make an exit, and I just decided I was going to go for it.

It has been a crazy, crazy, but really fun ride over the last 10 years, and Megan has been with me since almost the beginning. I’m not talking about the fact that I’ve known her since she was an embryo, which I have, but I’m really talking about the fact that she came on board as a contractor in 2012. Is that right, Megan?

Megan: Yeah. That’s right.

Michael: So it has been a while. Anyway, we just thought we’d share with you guys some of the lessons we’ve learned over the last 10 years. Occasionally, it’s really helpful to reflect on the past and try to distill from it what we can so we can use it in the future. We have some, I think, pretty exciting lessons. At least when I was looking back on it and reflecting on it, I thought, “Wow! We’ve come a long way, and we’ve learned so much,” and I’m sure we’ll say that 10 years from now.

Megan: Before we do that, I just have to go back in time for a minute and rewind to the day you left Thomas Nelson. You knew you were going to go out on your own. What did you imagine your life was going to look like 10 years after that?

Michael: Well, this is kind of funny, because I was tired. I’d been leading this company. I’d led it through the Great Recession. It’s a big responsibility being the CEO of a company that’s doing $250 million a year and 750 employees. I was kind of over corporate life. My life in those days was pretty much meetings all day every day, one meeting after the next. It was exhausting, so I was looking forward to the quiet life…the quiet life of a writer and a creator and thinking that I would occasionally interface with the public through public speaking. I was really looking forward to being a solopreneur.

Megan: That is so funny, because how long did that last?

Michael: About three months. Seriously.

Megan: I love that. That leads me to my first lesson, which is that your vision grows as you grow. You’re a great example of this, as somebody who has done a lot of thinking about vision, has spent a lot of time crafting your vision in various roles you’ve had, including your role at Thomas Nelson, yet even in this transition, you didn’t necessarily have a vision for the company we have today and the kind of impact we’ve been blessed to have. I hope that’s encouraging to other people. Another way to say that would be that God’s dreams for us are sometimes so much bigger than what ours are. What we think is possible evolves over time as life unfolds.

Michael: Yeah. I would say that left to my vision at the time as a solopreneur, the company wouldn’t have grown. We wouldn’t have had the impact. Nothing would have happened that has happened. I would say there’s room in your vision for it to change and shift over time. It’s an evolving thing. It’s a work in process.

You’re never done with your vision. You never reach the point of absolute clarity. Every time you get to the crest of one mountain, you realize there’s an entire mountain range that’s beyond that. I’ve never come to the place where I’ve said, “Oh! Well, I guess we’re on the Continental Divide and now it’s downhill to the coast.” No. It’s really not. For me, it has just gotten bigger over time.

There was a time when we started Platform University that I thought everything was going to be about building a platform. In fact, Megan, you were in the conversation I had with somebody over lunch where they said, “You need to get rid of everything else in the company that doesn’t have to do with platform and get a singular focus on platform.”

Honestly, if I had followed that advice, that would have been one of the biggest career mistakes I could have ever made. We sold Platform University last year. Certainly, that brand, that business, served a role and was an important role in the company for many years, and I’m grateful for every moment of it, but it ultimately wasn’t our destiny. It wasn’t the thing we were to camp on. We kept pressing beyond that. Even today, you and I had a conversation at lunch about the future.

Megan: As we often do.

Michael: And we’re shifting our thinking again on some things. So, it’s just an evolving thing, because we’re living people. It’s natural that our vision is a living thing too.

Megan: You know what I was also thinking about when you said that? As people are heading into the future… They have an idea for something, whether it’s a business or a book or something they want to speak about or a message, or whatever. We have to also be able to let things go. We can’t take everything into the future with us. It’s too heavy if we try to integrate it all and carry it all. It becomes too weighty after a while.

We have to be willing to not have any sacred cows, so to speak, and to be willing to be open-minded and in a place of possibility about the future so we don’t get attached to the wrong things that maybe were critically important at one phase of our journey but are not part of our future. I think people sometimes make the mistake of becoming overly attached to things in their past as though their best days were in their past, not in the future.

Michael: I really learned this concept for the first time when I read Henry Cloud’s book back in 2013 called Necessary Endings. He talks about the importance of pruning. And it’s true. It’s true if you’re gardening. I’m sitting here today in my studio, and I’m watching your mom, my wife, plant some flowers outside. She has had to prune all of these hydrangeas and all this stuff that’s out here growing. Without that, there’s no new life, there’s no new growth. So it’s an important point you made, and I think it’s necessary in our vision process that it evolves, that it shifts, and that we prune things out of it.

Megan: This practically for us every year looks like… When we go through our strategic planning process, the first thing we do is we look at our vision script, which is basically the vision document you talk about in your book The Vision Driven Leader. We look at that vision script, and we ask ourselves, “What’s still relevant? What has changed? What has grown? What’s bigger?” We update that every single year. It changes not a lot, necessarily…sometimes a lot. Mostly, there are just some tweaks here and there, but every year we’re making adjustments. We’re calibrating, because we can see the future more clearly the closer we get.

Michael: This is why you also need to not sweat getting it perfect. A lot of people really struggle with the vision script. They think they have to get it perfect. Here’s reality: I don’t care how hard you try. You’re not going to see the future exactly as it’s going to be anyway. What you need is something that will give you direction and will get you aligned with the possibilities of the future, but don’t get too overly concerned about the details. Do the best you can, but you have to hold it with open hands, realizing that it’s probably going to shift, it’s probably going to change over time.

Megan: Okay. Dad, what about you? What’s your first lesson?

Michael: First of all, the vision was a big one. That was on my list too, but I decided to let you take that one.

Megan: Thank you.

Michael: The first one on my official list is there’s no scaling without delegation.

Megan: Oh, so good.

Michael: The reason that three months after I got into this I realized I had to have a team was because… First of all, if I didn’t have a team, I was going to be forced to do everything myself, and as fate would have it, I’m not good at everything. In fact, I’m not good at many things. So I need to have a team that can enable me to do all of the things that need to be done in a successful company. The very first person I hired was a part-time executive assistant.

Megan: Virtually.

Michael: Virtually, and that was amazing. I did that through BELAY Solutions. That showed me the possibilities. I guess I took it for granted in the corporate world that I had all of these people to delegate to, but I had to learn it afresh, because as soon as I started trying to find the FedEx box and trying to fill out an expense report for the accountant and invoicing clients for the services I’d performed, I thought, “This is not something I’m good at. I don’t enjoy it. I need help.” If you’re going to scale, you have to increasingly focus on the things that you and only you can do, and you have to be willing and able to delegate the rest.

Megan: One of the things that’s interesting about this is that list of things only you can do and that you do best and that make the greatest contribution changes over time. One of the things that happens over time is you get more and more clarity about exactly where you add the most value, exactly what your highest-leverage activities are, exactly where your passion and proficiency intersect in what you call the Desire Zone in your book Free to Focus.

It’s interesting. What you probably would have answered as, “What are those things?” back when the company started would be very different than they are today. That’s certainly true for me too. I find that every time we go to a new level in our company, a new level of scaling, we have to ask that question again and be willing to hand off things that probably, at one time, would have been in our Desire Zone in order to free ourselves up for an even greater contribution.

Michael: The opposite of that is sometimes we have to do some things we’re not proficient at until we gain the proficiency, and then we discover suddenly that we love them. For example, one of the things that was required of me when I started this business, soon after I started it, was to appear in a lot of videos, to do a lot of videos. Man! I hated that. I didn’t feel like I was very good at it. I didn’t enjoy it. It was tedious.

But the more I developed proficiency at it, the better I got at it, the more I enjoyed it, so now, honestly, if I see on my calendar that it’s time for some video production, I’m like, “Great!” I feel like I’m good at this. I do it well. I enjoy it. Same thing with public speaking. Same thing with writing. There are a lot of things you have to keep in, what I call in my book Free to Focus, the Development Zone until you develop enough proficiency that you give yourself a chance to love it.

There will be those things, as you’re saying, that we might initially be very good at or even like, but they have to go by the wayside because, as we grow, we’re going to burrow into those things that are more narrowly focused that, again, we and only we can do. So, what about you? That kind of leads to your next one.

Megan: Yeah. My next lesson is that you can’t do it alone, and we sure haven’t. Our team is absolutely our greatest asset. You often say to our BusinessAccelerator coaching clients, “If your dream isn’t big enough to require a team, your dream is not big enough.” I love that, because that has certainly been true for us. There’s no way we could have accomplished what we have or had, most importantly, the impact we’ve had in the lives of our clients, in the lives of our customers, without this team. There are so many capabilities they have that we don’t.

It just gets me so excited to look around at our company and who we have on the bus, so to speak, because they’re so extraordinarily talented. Especially when you get everybody together, the sum is greater than the parts. I love that. Even this year, we’re hiring 25 or 27 people. I imagine we’ll probably do that again next year, and that’ll just continue into the future as our vision continues to accelerate and grow.

There would have been a time when that would have felt really intimidating to me to hire at that rate, to integrate that many people into our company, but now it just gets me excited, not the least of which is because our team we think of as being our best and most important clients. We want to take care of them in such a way that they get the double win, winning at work and succeeding at life, and that they have the most significant transformation of anybody, because they’re our ambassadors out to the world.

Michael: They are. One of the things I’ve said to our coaching clients, too, is “If you take care of your team, your team will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of you.” I think a lot of business owners and leaders get sort of myopically focused on the customers. You do need to have customer focus. No doubt about that. We’re going to be talking about that in just a minute. But I think it’s a question of priority. The team comes first.

If you take care of your team, if you really have a compelling vision and a compelling mission, everything else will work out. Increasingly, I see my job as the chairman now, not as the CEO, because you’re the CEO… I see myself as somebody who needs to pour into the team. Certainly, I know you see yourself as that. The future of the company is going to be dependent upon us maintaining that asset and really nurturing that asset and growing it over time.

Megan: Okay. What’s next for you?

Michael: Next one for me is… I said we’re going to talk about customers, so here we are. The key to success in business is helping your customers overcome the challenges they face in getting what they want. This is not that complicated. If you understand two things about your customers, you can build a successful business.

First, what do they want? What are their aspirations? What are their dreams? What do they desire? What do they want? That’s number one. Second, what’s in the way of them getting that? What’s standing in the way of them reaching their dreams? If you can solve that problem for them…Boom! You have a business. That’s essentially all we’ve done.

We have coaching clients, for example, who want to build a big business. They want to build a successful business. They want to build a thriving business, but at the same time, they don’t want to compromise their personal life or their most important relationships. That’s a problem, because they feel like they have this impossible choice, which is what we talk about in Win At Work and Succeed At Life, our new book.

If we can help them solve that problem and come up with a third option that gets them what we call the double win, we’ll be successful as a business, and, in fact, that’s what we’re doing now, that’s what we’ve done over the last several years, and that’s our foreseeable future.

Megan: That’s so important, because we can make this harder than it needs to be or more complicated than it needs to be. It really comes down to emotional intelligence and understanding our customers and dealing with the things they feel like they can’t deal with on their own. If we can do the heavy lifting for them and move these obstacles out of the way, then we become a hero to them and enable them to be the hero of their own story, most importantly, which is what we want.

Michael: This is true of everything we’ve talked about today, but this is an evolving thing too. Your understanding of your customer has to go deeper and deeper and deeper. I saw a presentation that you and your executive team were part of last week where you guys really dove into our customer avatars, or our ideal customer. Wasn’t it like 12 different archetypes, and you guys had a mix of two?

Megan: Yeah.

Michael: As I listened to that, I thought, “Wow! That’s deeper than we’ve ever gone in terms of understanding the customer.” I felt like you guys nailed it, and it was so fun to watch and to say, “Yeah. That’s exactly it.” It opened up all kinds of possibilities to me for how we can solve our ideal customer’s problems in new and innovative ways.

Megan: Absolutely.

Michael: All right. So far we’ve talked about four of six lessons we’ve learned. What’s the last lesson you’ve learned, Megan? Then I’ll share my last lesson. The last lesson you’ve learned in the last nine years you’ve been with the company.

Megan: That it’s possible to achieve the double win (again, that’s that idea of winning at work and succeeding at life) not only for yourself but also as a company. Here’s the key: it’s really worth the effort. When I think about the kind of company we have built and are actively building, nothing is more rewarding to me than the impact that has on our team.

Michael: Agreed.

Megan: That’s because those are the people who I know most intimately. I know their stories. I know their spouses, their kids, their challenges. Usually, I know those things more intimately than most people in the company. So I know what it means for them to be able to get this double win. We’re certainly not perfect at it. It’s always something we’re striving toward.

But oftentimes, people come to us from companies where they’ve had a toxic culture, where they haven’t been appreciated, where they’ve been workaholics, where they’ve suffered health consequences of that or relational consequences of that. Then they come to us, and we’re doing something totally different here. We’re forging ahead in this idea of the six-hour workday, which that alone is not essential to getting the double win, but to have constraints on your workday, which we talk a lot about in our new book Win At Work and Succeed At Life.

We really practice that at Michael Hyatt & Company. We want people to be getting adequate rest. We put our money where our mouth is on that on things like parental leave, medical leave, health insurance, paid sabbaticals, and PTO…all of those things. That’s not just a recruiting tool, although certainly it serves that function. It’s really about creating transformation in the lives of our team members.

It’s so rewarding to see people come back from parental leave and think, “Man! I could have never done this at any other job” or to be able to be with their kids at some event at school and know that’s something they might have previously missed or be able to get great healthcare and know that cost them almost nothing, that they don’t have to make those kinds of choices in their life anymore. It’s so rewarding, as a business owner and as a leader, to see what that means for people. So, that’s one of my absolute favorite parts of my job and what we’ve been able to do as a company.

Michael: I really like this lesson too. One of the things I would say to leaders is that if you want this for your company, if you want this for your team, if you want them to be able to simultaneously win at work and succeed at life, you have to be the model of that. You have to be the paragon of that. You have to demonstrate it. You have to prove it to yourself. You have to illustrate it to your team.

If you talk about this but you don’t practice it, people will not be able to hear you. If you’re working 12-hour days and you talk about work-life balance, people will not believe you. They just won’t buy into it. They have to see it modeled. Then you can talk about it, and you can have the moral high ground when you talk about it, because you’re practicing it. This isn’t exactly a lesson, at least it’s not one of the formal things I drew out over the last 10 years, but we really try not to export things we haven’t imported into our own lives.

In other words, we’re never just teaching theory. This is stuff we practice, that we use in our own lives, that we use in the business before we ever attempt to try to foist it onto the world or try to convince anybody else to do it. I think that’s a distinctive, frankly, of our company. I see a lot of influencers out there talking about things they’re not practicing, and I just think it undermines the message.

Megan: One of the things that’s cool, too… This is probably not apparent to everybody, especially if you’re more recently a new listener with us. When we’re talking about the double win, we’re not talking about compromising your operating results. We’re not talking about making a compromise around the kind of financial results you’re going to accept in order for your team to have work-life balance. We’re talking about this third option where people are able to create amazing results (that’s the “win at work” part), but also succeed in the rest of their life.

That’s really rewarding to me as I look back on our financial results. We’ve been one of Inc.’s fastest growing companies for several years in a row. We’ve been one of Inc.’s best places to work for several years in a row. That’s all happening while we’re creating this culture, which I love, because it’s kind of a check and balance sort of system. Both have to be true at the same time for it to be the kind of success we’re after.

Michael: Speaking of financial results, that’s really my lesson.

Megan: That was a great segue, wasn’t it?

Michael: Yeah. Good job. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the last 10 years (and I really learned this back in the Great Recession) is cash forecasting is essential for avoiding a cash crisis. I can handle a lot of stress. I can handle a lot of breakdowns, but one of the worst, one of the ones I always want to avoid is financial crisis. I just hate it.

There’s nothing worse than if you’re a business owner and you’re not sure you can meet next Friday’s payroll or you can’t pay your contractors or you have vendors calling, and they want to be paid, and you have no money, and you’re trying to stiff-arm and hold them off. That’s not a great place to be. Thankfully, I’ve never been there at Michael Hyatt & Company, but I have in previous situations.

The way to avoid that is not just hope against hope that you win the lottery or win that new client or something happens. No. It’s simple, and this is really the blocking and tackling of business. It’s cash forecasting. We advocate to our clients and we practice ourselves that we do a week-by-week, 16-week cash forecast, where we know exactly what’s coming in and what’s going out week by week for the next 16 weeks and then month by month thereafter for the remainder of the year. This gets updated every single week.

So, if we’re going to have a cash crisis, we see it well in advance while we still have runway and can solve the problem. That has kept us out of cash crisis. We’ve literally never had a cash crisis. To be honest, it has gotten thin at times, but we’ve never been in a cash crisis and never a situation where we couldn’t pay the bills simply because we’re looking out far enough ahead. With the right tool in place… This is a tool, again, we teach in our BusinessAccelerator coaching practice. This is a tool that will keep you out of trouble.

Megan: We got to learn this lesson all over again or learn the value of this lesson in the 2020…gosh, what do we even call it? You know, the pandemic, the economic crisis, as we were reforecasting and doing cash flow scenario planning and trying to figure all that out. Fortunately, we ended up having a really good year, but we also did some really proactive cash flow forecasting in various scenarios to see, “Okay. What happens if this happens? What happens if that happens?”

It gave us a lot of confidence to make bold moves during that time, which is one of the things that having this kind of intelligence does. It helps you know where you can afford to be more aggressive or where you maybe need to be more conservative. I think that confidence enabled us to make the right decisions at the right time to not only keep the business going but to have a fantastic year last year.

Michael: The key to this is if you’re a business owner or an executive, it’s important that you share this with your executive team or your leadership team. You don’t have to suffer all the financial stress on your own. If the team is seeing the cash flow forecast, if they know what the receipts are forecasted to be, if they know what the disbursements are forecasted to be, then their minds will go to work, and they’ll help you solve the problems.

We see that every week when we have an issue. If you see there’s going to be a cash crunch 12 weeks from now and you have your best minds in the company thinking about it, then it becomes something you shoulder together. You bear one another’s burdens, and you get through it. To me, that’s part of the fun of it.

It also gives people a sense of reality about the business. The worst thing is to be left in the dark and then to hit a crisis and go, “Gosh! If they had just told me, I could have given them some advice. I could have helped them solve the problem, but they kept it to themselves.” That’s a huge mistake that I see a lot of business owners make.

Megan: We actually share this with our executive team and our leadership team, which are our directors, every week. They get a little video where they can see our CFO explain that. Then if there are any questions we have…“Why was this slower than we thought?” or “How come we did so much better on that than we thought?”…then they can chime in and share those insights, or if we have any problems to solve, they can brainstorm with us about that. Certainly, we get to celebrate together. More often than anything, it’s awesome. But I love this. I think this is one of the most empowering and underestimated tools in a leader’s tool belt.

Michael: And it’s not that hard to set up. If you’re thinking about doing this… If you’re not doing this, you should be thinking about doing it. If you’re not doing it, the first time you do it is going to be the most difficult, but do it like this. First of all, take a spreadsheet and divide it into two sections. The columns are going to be the weeks, 16 weeks out, and then your rows are going to be the various cash expenditures or the receipts.

You’re going to start with receipts, all the money you expect to receive over the next 16 weeks by week. I put in the recurring, predictable stuff first and then the stuff that’s a little bit more speculative second. Then go to your disbursements. What are your recurring payments? You know, rent, payroll, all that stuff. You know when it happens. It’s no surprise. Then you can put in the things that are more discretionary that aren’t recurring. The first time you do this, it’s quite a bit of work, but after that, it’s just updating it and fine-tuning it, and it becomes easier and easier but even more necessary.

Megan: All right. That was a list of our top six lessons over the last 10 years. It’s really hard to believe, Dad, that 10 years have gone by so fast, and here we are, isn’t it?

Michael: It is amazing. I think it speaks to that old adage we’ve all heard that people tend to underestimate what they can accomplish in the long term and overestimate what they can accomplish in the short term. That has certainly been true for us. If you’re a business owner, if you’re a business leader, I would encourage you to go back to the first lesson. Dream big, because you can probably accomplish more over the next 10 years than you think you can. Try to get as clear on the vision as you can, and then work from there.

Megan: Dad, I could not agree more. It’s so fun to look back and not only talk about these lessons but just think about all we’ve been able to do together with our team and all we’ve been able to accomplish. I feel a lot of gratitude as I’m thinking through this.

Michael: Me too.

Megan: Well, thank you, guys, so much for joining us today. Hopefully you can take away some helpful points from these lessons. We look forward to being back with you again next week. Until then, lead to win.