Helping people is one thing. Committing your life to inspire others to help more people succeed is another. Nancy J. Spotton is someone who is living what her heart is singing for—helping people succeed by building champion teams that build future leaders who will change the world. In this episode, Ben Baker sits down with Nancy to talk about how she started on her inspiring journey and how she goes about instilling people the belief that they too can be a leader. She goes deeper into what makes a good leadership training program, what makes a good leader, and what makes a team better. Putting that into the business context, Nancy then shares what companies and CEOs need to do to enable the cultural changes that allow leaders to become true leaders and not just managers of process.
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Building Future Leaders Who Will Change The World With Nancy J. Spotton
We have a special treat coming to you from Toronto. Nancy Spotton has decided to join me. We have been talking online for it seems like forever. Nancy, welcome to the show.
Ben, it’s nice to be with you.
We talk all the time over LinkedIn and we never get to see each other. I’ve been a passionate follower of yours for a long time. I love how you elevate people. I love how the fact that you reach down, rise up, give people that hand, elevate them, and inspire people to be better than they understand that they can be. Why don’t we start by letting people know a little bit about who you are, what you do, what are the things that you’re passionate about, and then we can get into where you’re going.
I had a luxury and privilege of working inside some of Canada’s best companies with some of Canada’s best leaders. That was many years of my career. During that career, what I did was at the same time on the side of the corner of my desk, I would always use the privilege that I had access to and help other people. Whether it was Laura who cleaned the bathroom mirrors or whether it was a kid who was an intern, it would always be something that I would actively proactively do. If people would lean in and ask for my help, I’d always help.
What I realized was that many years into my career, I got diagnosed with cancer. I came out the other end after 2.5 years of fighting. I’m standing there out of the hospital, I turned my face to the sun and I asked myself my own question, “What makes my heart sing?” I said, “Helping people,” so I made this whole commitment to helping other people succeed. I set a goal to help 100 people succeed. That’s where the journey started. I went back and I got my Master’s. I tried all of these little tests and how can I do it and do it effectively? My vision comes down to this. I like to build what I call HOPS communities. That’s Helping Other People Succeed.
I work and invest my time, effort, and money into a generation of new leaders, that are people both from a profile but also from their values and their beliefs. Those people actively proactively turn around and help another person. That’s where I put time and effort. We’ll commit forever to do this because it makes my heart sing. I was lucky enough to have a generous career where I learned a ton from good people and good companies. It’s my opportunity to give back and I call them the network that I’ve built to help me help other people. It’s like this live learning ecosystem where I help you, you help me, and we help one another. It’s like this Avon calling multi-marketing, but it’s a learning and leadership development process. That’s what good leaders do. They help each other succeed.
I love the Avon analogy and that’s phenomenal. Using the in-sync attitude about the leadership I do. Leadership is an attitude. It’s not a title. It is that leaders can be built at every single level. It doesn’t matter if you’re an intern within a company or the CEO. I want to get you into that thought process. How do you go about instilling people that believe that you, too, can be a leader? Because there are few people out there that believe enough in themselves. They say, “Leadership is for somebody else. It’s not for me.” How do you get people beyond that point? Because it’s important, especially youth nowadays, to say, “Your opinion matters and what you do matters. You can do great things, too.”
This is how I’m going to answer that question. It is a structured program thinking process that I use, but I am a leader who CARES. I intentionally say the word CARES because that’s the framework that I work in. C stands for Coaching, A stands for Accountability, R stands for Respect, E stands for Expectations, and S stands for Strengths. I’ll use teaching as an example. I’ll walk into a room with 50 grad students and I am the teacher or the leader who CARES. What I do is provide clarity through coaching. I set out what my level of accountability is personally as their teacher. I set out their level of accountability. I extend respect immediately. I set their expectations, I set my expectations, and then I always see the strengths.Good leaders help each other succeed. Click To Tweet
It’s a thinking process and what it enables me to do is extend warmth first. That’s what Dr. Amy Cuddy talks about, “Work hard as a leader to extend warmth first.” There are two things happening here, Ben. One is I am modeling the way of what good leadership sounds like and looks like for these impressionable minds. The second part of this process is I extend belief in them immediately and there are no biases. I have no biases. I extend the same amount of belief to every single person in the room, and then I systematically work through every single person to share what I see in them from a strength’s perspective.
It’s like how I see your strengths. You’re smart, curious, happy, and an excellent communicator. In four seconds, I can elevate your belief in you, and that is where I’m consistent with that type of feedback. It’s genuine. I can see this, and that’s a gift that I’ve been given. I can see people’s strengths and I share with them what their strengths are. We are together for sixteen weeks in the classroom and if by the end of that, they have not burrowed my belief that I have in them and put it all inside in a concrete foundation in themselves, then they probably need a counselor, not a coach.
You’re with them. It’s not a one and done type of thing. It’s not walking into a room. You’re there for an hour, you have a conversation and it’s one and done. It’s the fact that you’re there for sixteen weeks and modeling it day after day, week after week, and if they’re seeing you emulate this, not only with them but consistently across all 40 or 50 people or whoever in the room, that’s where the modeling occurs. It’s showing up. I’m a big believer that it’s a leader’s job to show up every single morning and say, “How can I make my team better? How can I give people the tools to be better themselves?” You and I were talking that we train our leaders to lead the way too late. I want to let you talk about that because we need to be training our leaders to lead sooner.
I completely agree that you have to be present. You believe that leaders should show up and ask, “How can I help?” If you look at Dupri’s work, it’s extending your hand. How can I help? That’s the leader’s role to be present to ask to support a coach. What I hear from many different leaders is that they will say, “I don’t have time.” Let’s zag over to the conversation that you and I are having about when do we train leaders? I’m a great salesperson and I’m selling. I’m a great writer and I move all the way up to be the VP of communications. Lo and behold, as the VP of communications after 10 to 12 years, I am good at a functional skill, but nobody taught me how to be good at a foundational skill, but because I’m good at writing press releases, I’m now the VP of communications.
Back to what we talked about, I am now the person who needs to be coaching for writers or coaching the salespeople. Not writing the press releases or making the sales. That’s where we take too long to build leaders. We should be building a leader at their intern stage and that’s we talked about how. Teach them how to talk, how to think strategically, and how to be self-aware, but we are teaching leaders to lead too late. Ten to twelve years, the way the limbic system works is it’s too late. You’ve codified habits that are the wrong habits. The habits of me, the habits on the functional skill, but they’re not the foundational leadership habits that you need to lead. You end up writing the press releases and that ultimately comes down to the comment, “I’m too busy.”
That’s the scariest thing in any company. I’m too busy is a terrifying thing because your job, as far as I’m concerned and hopefully, you’ll agree with me, is to make your team better. It’s not to manage the process. It’s not to do the actual things. It’s to inspire people to be better at what they do. Your job is to take care of your people as a leader. It doesn’t matter if you’re a frontline manager, director, vice president, and executive vice president, or whatever. Your job is to make your team better. If you’re not taking time to make sure they have the training, coaching, mentoring, modeling the skills, giving them the room to fail, learn from it, and get better, what else are you doing? That’s a question that always fails to get a great answer from people. Maybe you’ve got a good answer from somebody. What else are they doing if they’re not inspiring their people to do better?
They’re writing press releases and they’re selling, but understand that when you get promoted to a leadership position, but nobody taught you how to leave. What are you going to do? Your natural inclination is to protect and hide. I work for a guy who spent more time in the cake bar. There could have been a cardboard cutout in his office and I could have gotten more of a cardboard cutout but it wasn’t his fault. It was that nobody taught him how to lead this entire gigantic team. What he did was he hid. The next thing you know, he’s drinking too much, losing his hair, gaining weight, and feels terrible about himself. What happens is we teach people to protect, hide, not open up, and ask the questions, “How can I learn? How do I do this? How do I grow?”
Until they’ve made multiple mistakes, then all of a sudden, we throw a coach in there to start to train them. Ultimately, that’s the root cause of the problem. We got to take those people earlier before those bad habits sit in or the habits of me or habits of getting the job done at the functional skill level. We’ve got to take that all the way back to training them early and training them with the right habits. How can I help by extending my offer to my teammates around me? The people that you should be promoting are the people that help each other. Not the people that are the best at the functional skill because you’ve got an army of functional skill experts, but you don’t have an army of leaders.
It’s interesting that you say that because never is that more important than in sales. I have seen many salespeople that have become sales managers and are miserable. They’re miserable because they want to be out selling. They want to be out doing what they do best. They want to be talking to the customer. They want to be creative and innovative. They want to bring that job in and they want to do what they do best. They said, “I’ve been here long enough. I should be the sales manager.” Somebody else says, “I’ve been good, so I should be the sales manager,” but they don’t have the skills to do that.
What they do is they go out and they micromanage. They go ahead and usurp the leadership of the people below them. They make the people below them feel inadequate where those are the wrong people to have in the sales. If you’ve got a great salesperson, let them sell. The person you want to be promoting is the person that goes out to the other salespeople and says, “How can I support you?” Companies need to change their culture. My question to you is, what do you think are the things that we need to be thinking about as companies and as CEOs to enable those cultural changes? Also, to be able to make that shift to enable leaders to become true leaders and not just managers of the process?
That’s where I am clear in what I have tested and what I have done personally in four different organizations, that it’s about informed intuition. What we’re doing is we’re saying, “Ben Baker, you’re the best guy. You made us bonuses. You sell and you’re an awesome guy. I’m going to pluck you and put you into a VP manager’s role.” That’s not the right decision. If you look at the profile of somebody who is an exceptionally strong sales guy, they are high control, high physically competitive, high self-confidence, and low self-critical. Those combinations are awesome. They will plow through to get the job done.
They’re motivated by the thrill of the chase by the million-dollar goal. They are proud and strut around like peacocks when they win the game. That type of person, high control, what does that mean? They strangle the people on their team by micromanaging them if you don’t train them on how to lead. In fact, I would question whether or not that profile is the profile that we want to take as a leader of the sales team. I was watching The Last Dance, Ben, and they had a reference in there, something about Dennis Rodman. There was a coach that said something about Dennis Rodman like, “You can’t put a donkey coaching a stallion.”
Dennis Rodman is an amazing, strong, talented player, but you needed to personalize how you were going to bring the best out in them. What you would see in a typical sales guy is you don’t have a lot of intuitiveness and empathy. What you ultimately need to do is you need to be able to personalize how you’re going to lead a Ben Baker and personalize how you’re going to lead a Nancy Spotton. They have to be strong enough to lead the stallions. Phil Jackson was strong enough to figure out the enormous profiles and personalities of Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman.
Those are three enormous personalities but different.
That’s the type of leader that you need to be intentional about when you put them in a leadership role. When you decide who that person is that you’re going to move up to lead those stallions, they too need to have a specific profile that has that ability to see and pull out in a personalized way the best of the people on your team. Those stallions unite and don’t compete against each other. They come together to win the war.
Where do you think the challenges are? The challenges are huge in terms of communication and listening as a leader because those are the two skills that are going to make a good leader great or point out how poor a leader is.The most important thing that you can do as a leader is to learn how to listen. Click To Tweet
Communication skills are the most undertrained area within our communities, our businesses, and within the world. That’s what I see. People think they can talk and I say that because I am 98% expression of ideas, which means I talk too much and listen too little. It was back in 2015 when the college called me and asked me if I wanted to teach in this grad program. It’s the sport and event marketing program with George Brown and I was laughing, “Me? Communication prof?” I swear all the time I worked in sports and I honestly then I’ve learned so much about communication teaching this program.
One of the areas that I learned so much about was how to listen with the intent of hearing. When I teach this course back to what you do, I teach it from a personalization perspective and I teach it that you are a personal brand. You are a brand, Ben Baker, Inc. and Nancy Spotton, Inc. What does that brand look like and sound like? When you’re communicating, what does communication look like? You bring it all the way back, even the body language, how communication is important, and how you project your brand forward with how you stand and what your face looks like.
The most important thing that you can do as a leader to your point, Ben, you got to learn how to listen. There are people out there that do not know how to listen. I do this in the first class. I say, “Everybody, stand up. Who is an extrovert and who is an introvert? Extrovert over here and introverts over here.” The purpose of that Ben is easy, but it’s important. I say, “Extroverts, you’re going to learn how to listen. Introverts, you’re going to learn how to talk. Here are the three questions you’re going to ask each other. Get together in pairs. You have 30 minutes.”
What do you do? You get one introvert to talk to one extrovert?
They ask specific questions that are heart-centered. They’re like, “What did you love to do as a kid?” There’s a structured questioning system that I put up so that you don’t get into a diatribe like, “I grew up in Toronto and I had a dog.” All that stuff is neat but I want to get to the meat right away and faster. The introvert needs to learn how to speak and the extrovert needs to learn how to talk because often we talk about communication and listening. In fact, if I looked at my class in a semester, 40% of them were introverts. We’re getting gamers coming up. We’re getting single-family kids coming up, and they’re more of an introverted. They have to learn communication, how to talk. Extroverted athletes need to learn communication, how to listen. Putting them together is game-changing.
That’s from a psychological point of view. I love that because we need to understand that people think, act, and react differently than we do. It’s because I’m an extrovert doesn’t mean that everybody’s an extrovert. It’s because I think this way, it doesn’t mean that everybody thinks that way. It doesn’t mean that everybody on my team thinks in a homogeneous way at all. There could be different viewpoints, stresses, and challenges. As a leader, our job is to understand people, not a team.
We have a team and our job is to make sure the team functions as a team, but we need to understand the people inside the team to be able to make them better. It’s Dennis Rodman versus Michael Jordan. Two different people, one more offense and one more defense, but together they were magic with Pippen. It was understanding each one’s nuance to be able to make them work together as a team. That’s a skillset that many leaders and people that call themselves leaders don’t have and they need to up their game. It’s being able to sit there and ask, “Why?”
If you’ve spent 10 to 15 years in the junior levels of your career, fighting for yourself, making your dollar, writing the press releases, getting it in on time, and being the hero and win, all sudden you’re supposed to turn around, lift your head, and realize that you’ve got a team. Also, you need to learn how to understand what other people are like, you don’t think like that. Those aren’t habits. Unless we build an understanding of what other people are, who they are, what they look and sound like, I see many people coming into these programs. It’s a great example within a school system because they’re there and they’re nervous, uncomfortable, and lacking a little bit of confidence. They’re in an environment that they’re not sure about.
Instead of getting them to protect, I get them to turn around, open up, and listen with the intent of hearing. Hearing who Ben Baker is and not making judgments, not saying and thinking with stories in your head that maybe the wrong stories in your head, but asking the right question so that you understand the person. That level of emotional connectivity by asking the right questions is game-changing. Kristen Stewart, I had her on this little thing that I’m doing. Kristen Stewart said it well. She was like, “You’re scary to some people.”
I get that. People say, “Ben, you’re scary.” I’m like, “Really? I’m a pussy cat.”
Sometimes, you scare people and that applies to everybody. I married an introvert and he’s awkward to take to a party because I’m the one who’s talking and he’s the one who’s quiet. People make judgments because he scares them and they don’t understand him. What do good leaders do? They turn around without bias and they help people that are different from them. They help people that are coming up the ladder, regardless of what they look like, who they are, what they sound like, and where they’re from. That, for me, is imperative. When you can turn around and help people who don’t look and sound like you and if we look at soccer, every single senior-level soccer position or every senior leader looks and sounds the same.
Sixty-two percent of most people in senior-level positions were hired because they are strapping extroverts, good-looking dudes. How can we learn who looks different than us, who sounds different than us, and who came from a different background? We don’t, as leaders, have a bias. We don’t have that lens. We extend our hand to everybody and help everybody. It’s a game-changer and a stake in the ground. I will not be biased and I will extend my belief in everybody. It makes it richer and funnier. I learned more as a result.
One of the things that I learned most from is 3 or 4 times a year, I go up to Simon Fraser University and they have a third-year marketing program. They do a day where they bring professionals in to help the students network and interview. We’re put in a room. There are 200 of them and maybe there are 10 or 12 of us. They have to approach us and it’s usually in groups. They have to ask questions, respond, and negotiate their way in and out of conversations. If we feel that they’ve done a great job, they get a sticker. They have to have three stickers or else they’ll not have a particular thing.
It’s always fun to watch the room and say, “Who are the ones that want to gain everybody’s attention? Who are the ones that are a little standoffish? Who are the ones that are confident and the ones who aren’t confident?” I said, “I want to talk to this person.” I try to bring everybody into the conversation. It’s interesting to watch people all of a sudden stand a little brighter and stand a little taller. They get that little self-confidence because somebody is paying attention to them and somebody is listening to them. It’s neat when I get them to listen to each other. All of a sudden, the conversation elevates. I find that fun because it’s never about me and I do everything I can to make sure it’s not about me.
I want to make sure it’s about them because when they learn that they get the confidence and skills that they need, learn how to articulate better and how to tell people who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Those are skills we all need to be teaching to help the next generation become better leaders. If we wait until they’re 12 or 14 years into their career, we’re in trouble as a country, let alone everything else. Nevermind individual businesses. As a country, we’re in trouble because we need to be building the next generation of leaders now. It’s not twelve years from now, when they reach a senior position.
Your last statement summarizes everything that we’ve had this beautiful conversation together well. It’s not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about how we can help other people succeed. That is a game-changer and it’s extremely important. It’s nice to meet you, Ben. You are a person with a good heart, soul, and mind.
Nancy, thank you for being on the show. I appreciate it. Take care.
About Nancy J. Spotton
I build champion teams that build future leaders.
Teams that win are teams that unite. All kinds of teams. Young teams & Old teams. New teams & Cold teams. Inside those teams, I build champions. Champions who inspire others. The real leaders. Leaders who lead. Leaders who WILL change this world.
Runner, dog lover, alpine skier, water skier, mystery solver, friend, engaged parent, 2x cancer survivor, scotch drinker and someone who learns everyday.
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