Your Brand Marketing

Leading Your Team In The New Normal With Chris Luecke, Ray Ziganto, Allison DeFord, Mark Mitchell, And Mark Roberts

LBL P4 | Leading In New Normal


The new environment that we’re thrust into has forced us to make adjustments and rethink the way we handle our business. Not only that, but it has also opened up so many things to look forward to in the future, some we didn’t know possible had it not been for the pandemic. Moving forward, Ben Baker and his co-pilots in this Game Changers series—Chris LueckeRay ZigantoAllison DeFordMark Mitchell, and Mark Roberts—are now landing with this fourth and final part. Appropriately so, they take you into a discussion about leading your team in the new normal, sharing their collective experiences, strategies, tools, and tactics to take your business’ growth to the next level in 2020 and beyond. Join the crew for the last time as they answer what leadership is before and the onset of COVID-19, what a team needs to be successful, and what leaders need to embody and do to succeed in the new normal. 

Listen to the podcast here:

Leading Your Team In The New Normal With Chris Luecke, Ray Ziganto, Allison DeFord, Mark Mitchell, And Mark Roberts

Welcome to the fourth of the four-part series of Sales & Marketing Game Changers. If you haven’t read this four-part series, go back and read them. It is well worth your time. My co-pilots on this journey are Ray Ziganto, Allison DeFord, Mark Mitchell, Chris Luecke, and Mark Roberts. What we’re talking about is where we are as businesses. Where are we going and how we’re going to get there? This is probably my favorite of the four-part series, leading your team in the new normal. You’re going to want to take notes on this because there are some incredible thoughts that are coming through this. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Everyone, we have made it. We have reached the fourth and final installment of our Sales & Marketing Game Changers web series. We’ve been showing up every week to share the lessons from our own collective experiences to give you the strategies, tools, and tactics you need to take your business’s growth to the next level in 2020 and beyond. This is all about leading your team in the new normal. This is a big topic, one that is certainly open to a range of perspectives. I can’t think of a more appropriate subject to end our series with.

If you’re joining us for the first time or you need a quick refresher, in week one, we discussed marketing that’s seen, heard, and felt, covering misconceptions around marketing, what effective marketing looks like, and actions that you can take to make your sales and marketing more impactful. In week two, we talked about leveraging data to stop selling naked. We dove more to the sales side of things covering the importance of listening, customer centricity, and tracking outcomes. In week three, we discussed reducing risk to make sales easier. We shared our thoughts on roadblocks to sales and marketing and some pointed tactics to reducing those barricades.

We’re here to discuss leadership. Strong leadership is more important than ever as we navigate uncharted waters. Whether you refer to it as wartime leadership or leading through uncertainty, the reality is we need to lead through change. How do you do that? Fortunately, I’m joined by five awesome sales and marketing leaders to provide some perspectives on this topic. I’ll be your host. My name is Chris Luecke. I’m an account manager by day at Rockwell Automation. By night, I am the host of Manufacturing Happy Hour, the industrial show where we focus on the biggest trends in manufacturing and technologies and dissect those in a simplified fashion. In the spirit of Manufacturing Happy Hour, for our intro, I’d like to put a little twist on it. Ben, we’re going to start with you. Let’s say we’re kicking it over a beer at the bar. How do you describe what you do in the simplest terms, as if we’re grabbing a drink?

I will do the one-minute introduction. Thanks for introducing me, Chris. My company is Your Brand Marketing, my name is Ben Baker. What we do is we do two things and we do them extremely well, but they all come down to telling your story. Part of our company is called Podcast Host for Hire where we create custom podcasts for our clients. The other part of it is teaching leaders how to lead more effectively. It’s about building better leadership teams and getting them to understand how to influence people, how to gain trust, and how to communicate effectively. People want to be engaged and people want to move forward with you.

Mark Roberts, let’s go next. Let’s say we’re kicking it over a scotch. How do you introduce yourself?

I’m Mark Roberts. I’ve been in sales and marketing for years. I don’t claim to know it all but I’ve seen quite a bit. My company is OTB Solutions, and that stands for Out of The Box Solutions. What I’m known for is fixing sales problems. Usually, if we’re sitting at a bar, I ask you to get out your cell phone and Google the term fixed sales problems because I’m number one in the world.

You don't just want to be seen and heard. You want to be felt. Click To Tweet

Always good to be number one on that list. Let’s keep moving through. Ray, let’s say we’re kicking it over a bourbon. How do you introduce yourself and describe what you do?

I’m assuming you’re buying. If that’s the case, I’m going to say, “Thanks for that drink. I’m Ray Ziganto.” I’m the manufacturing unicorn of a company called Linara International. I help do three things. I help manufacturing companies with growth that’s both strategies and tactics, whether that’s looking at diversifying the industries, you’re already in and going after new ones or doing some things internationally. I help with change management. Companies like Rockwell Automation that come in and bring all this awesome technology those companies can take advantage of, I help them translate that onto their factory floors.

As it impacts their workers, they get the most out of that technology. The third area I help companies with is overall performance management. Once you’ve got data, you better bring some transparency and you better drive some accountability. That’s how you get some results. That’s my day job. When I’m not doing that, my passion project is the MFG Out Loud podcast with my good friend and mentor, Allison DeFord. We rock it every week talking about having courageous conversations for manufacturers to help them grow. I’m about ready for another bourbon. Do you have more money?

We might need to do a round two. We’re going to be here for an hour talking leadership. It is a couple of rounds long. It’s funny that you bring up Allison because she’s next. Allison, let’s say we’re hanging out on the back patio of the bar and we’re sipping on Tito’s and soda and someone comes up and asks, “What do you do?” How do you describe that?

First of all, I’m with Ray. I hope you’re buying, thanks.

I’m running up a tab, that’s for sure.

I’m Allison DeFord, the resident trailblazer and Founder at Felt Marketing. We’re the only marketing retrofit company for manufacturers. In our world, manufacturers are the hero of our story. We love them. We love to support them. We do that by helping them retrofit their traditional marketing system. Most of our customers are over 50 years old. We help them add digital components and modernize so that they can get to the heart of their ideal customer. The best way to do that is through emotional engagement. You don’t just want to be seen and heard. You want to be felt.

Last on our list. Let’s say we’re popping open that bottle of wine and you’re sharing your story with the table. Mark Mitchell, how do you describe who you are and what you do when we’re sipping on some wine?

LBL P4 | Leading In New Normal
Leading In New Normal: Once you’ve got data, you better bring some transparency and drive some accountability. That’s how you get some results.


I’m Mark Mitchell of Whizard Strategy. I’m a consultant to the building materials industry and author of the book Building Materials Channel Marketing which has become the industry Bible, mainly because there is no other book that does it. You get to be the leader when you don’t have any competition, in terms of at least my book. If I’ve got a building material company and their business is either not growing fast enough, sales have plateaued, they have a new product that has failed to gain traction, maybe they have a new competitor and they’re seeing sales decline. If they’re happy with their results, they don’t come to me. They come to me when there’s a challenge. The challenge almost always is a new strategy for them designed around, are you calling on the right person? Many times, who they think is the right person, they think it’s the builder but it should be the contractor or they think it’s the architect and maybe, in their case, it should be the owner. They always have the wrong message.

When I sit in on sales calls, go along on sales calls or I try to sell the product to a customer, I’m amazed how the message that they’re touting out is so much about them and their product and not about the customer. They don’t understand the customer. The building materials industry is slow and stubborn and resistant to change, their customers are not. Their customers are changing like crazy. They need to understand how the customer they have is different from the one, years ago, their needs and what they’re interested in. They frequently use old school marketing efforts like trade shows and brochures. They’re not comfortable and up to date with the world of digital marketing, social media, SEO content, all that stuff, which is much more cost-effective than something like spending on a$400,000 trade show exhibit for two and a half days. That’s what I do.

For those of you reading, we have a range of experience on this. It’s great to be with you guys. It’s a little sad that it’s ending like this, but hopefully not forever. Before we get too nostalgic, let’s dive into the conversation. We’re going to set some baseline. Ben, I’m going to have you lead us off on this one. Question number one, what did leadership mean to you before the pandemic? How is leadership changed with the onset of COVID-19 or has it changed?

Leadership has changed pre-COVID to COVID. Going back to a comment that we had a long time ago about selling naked, there are a bunch of leaders out there leading naked. You had a lot of people out there that thought they were leaders that were managers and still are. The challenge is that these people don’t have the skills to lead properly. They don’t have the skills to lead rope teams. They don’t have the skills they need to be able to communicate effectively to influence to give people the trust that they need to be able to do their jobs effectively. There’s been too much micromanaging. There are not enough people sitting there going, “This is where we were, this is where we are.”

As a team, what do you need to be successful? Let me listen to you to find out what your challenges are. Let me, as a leader be out there going, “I need to be the advocate for this team.” Let me be the person who can go out there and get them what the team needs to be successful. Also, let the team know, “This is what the objectives of the company are. This is where we’re going.” This is what we’re trying to achieve. These are our challenges in an organization. This is what we need from this team in order for everybody to meet their objectives. It’s a matter of being able to be that communicator. The biggest skill gap for leadership is that we have a bunch of people out there that think that they manage people but you only manage processes and you lead people. Leadership is a mindset, it’s not a job title.

I love that early differentiation between leadership and management it’s an important thing to throw out. As we keep rolling through this, Allison, what are your thoughts?

The characteristics of a leader before and now are the same. The thing that is different now is being resilient, it’s critical, being able to adapt quickly and remain focused at the same time. A lot of people in manufacturing, for example, it’s like building materials, it’s resistant to change in many cases. A lot of people got caught with their digital pants down, playing off of marks, selling naked people or marketing naked. If you’re not a creative leader, which you need to be, you’re ignoring this fact and you’re waiting for normal to come back and it’s never going to. You’ve definitely got to be creative. One of the biggest things that I’ve seen is you need to be vulnerable. That may surprise some people reading. Brené Brown, who is an author and a person that I dearly love, has the best quote, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” The leaders that I admire and respect the most aren’t afraid to admit, “I don’t understand or I don’t know.” Together we’ll figure it out.

Leadership is a mindset; it's not a job title. Click To Tweet

Great theme with vulnerability bringing that in as we keep going. Mark Roberts, what are your thoughts on this question?

I’d like to continue on with what Ben was sharing. When business was good, I heard a lot of people saying, “I know we have a bunch of micromanagers and we need to make them leaders but business is busy right now we don’t have the time.” It reminds me of digital marketing. It reminds me of eCommerce even. People wanted to invest in all these things. Business was good but then the tide went out. From now on and forever, Ben will be known as the leading naked guy. What we’re seeing is you got to move from being a manager to being a leader. Ben did a great job of explaining that. I’d like to add one more thing, which is coaching. We need to develop. It’s a skill. Don’t assume because somebody has a manager or a leadership role that they understand the principles of coaching and how to coach. People are hungry for coaching. There was a stat, 60% of salespeople said that they would leave their organization if their manager was a poor coach. What we’ve seen is people who’ve adapted they’ve become good at communicating. They’ve become good at coaching. Maybe to echo a little bit of what Allison said, they’re being a little more vulnerable and transparent.

Let’s move to Mark Mitchell next on this one.

I look at cameras and phones and companies like Yamaha and so forth, they have to be constantly developing new products, constantly cannibalizing their sales, eliminating their past model. In the building materials industry, it tends to be about managing the status quo. We have a big expensive factory. Our main thing is capacity utilization. Let’s keep selling the same stuff like Henry Ford, in the same color or whatever. That’s how we optimize our income lower and manage expenses better and so forth. Maybe 95% manage the status quo and 5% let’s look at something new. They’re extremely risk-averse. No one gets rewarded for trying something that doesn’t work. They keep doing the same thing. They may talk or act like they’re doing something innovative, but they don’t. I read an article about how the Coronavirus has forced us to change faster. I thought it would take years for building material companies to embrace eCommerce, to embrace virtual selling. They’re now forced to deal with it. The leader needs to move from 5% innovation to maybe 20%. They’re not going to go all-in but they need to up their game. That’s the biggest change I see in leadership.

I love that, sticking with the theme of being open to change in a lot of ways that we’re hearing. We got one more. Ray, do you want to put a bow on this one for us?

I love the comments and I agree with what everybody has said so far. The key thing with leadership is the qualities that make you a good leader before versus now are the same. Everybody alluded to their own favorite mixture that’s in there. There’s an interesting dynamic out there. There’s a need for managers in organizations. I’ve argued for a while that anybody that spent time on a manufacturing floor will recognize that if you’re managing to optimize your silo, you’re sub-optimizing the organization. Where the slippage occurs is in the handoffs to that next department.

If you read anything by Andy Grove from Intel, managers need to be the ones breaking the ties in between other departments, so those handoffs happen more smoothly. Leaders are the ones that need that level of vulnerability. We need a level of consistency. My favorite, a view on willingness to embrace change. Those types of things fall into a category called adaptive capacity. That’s not something that you break out during a crisis. That’s something that even when times are relatively stable, those are the people that are out looking over the horizon. Business might be good and things are humming along but they’re looking, “What are the best practices? How could I apply those to do even better?” That doesn’t mean at the expense of your company culture or your relationship with your people or how you support and serve your clients. There are a lot of foundational rocks that are part of leadership and there are some nuanced aspects of it that get highlighted in times of crisis.

Great answers all around. I’m impressed with not only focusing on some things of leadership that have remained the same but that adaptability to change, being vulnerable, consistent theme as well as the fact that everyone seemed to answer with people not having their clothes on or leading naked, selling naked, whatever it may be. Evidently, our industry needs to throw a few more garments on. What’s one characteristic or one word that a leader must embody to be successful in the new normal and why? Allison, I’d love it if you’d lead us off on this one.

LBL P4 | Leading In New Normal
Leading In New Normal: The biggest skill gap for leadership is that we have a bunch of people out there who think they manage people. However, you only manage processes, and you lead people.


This answer might surprise people reading and maybe even some of you. It’s being empathetic. It’s been thrown around a lot, but I’ve been a fan of it and in tune with it for many years. A lot of people confuse what empathy is. It’s the ability to understand and feel what others are feeling. A lot of leaders may say or are saying now, “We’re empathetic. We’re an empathetic company.” We feel you. Demonstrating it is a whole another thing.

If it’s just lip service, don’t bother. Empathy leads to creativity and resilience and it has a trickle-down effect. It affects your culture, which affects your employees, which affects your customers. You can see if a company or leader is empathetic because it starts at the top and rolls downhill. It’s more important now than ever and it requires four things because I thought about this. It requires awareness. You have to see what’s going on around you and give a crap.

Listening more than you talk. You got to ask the right questions and let people know that you hear them and you see them. It takes creativity and then it takes action. I say this all the time and you are probably tired of hearing it, but connecting with people on that deeper, more emotional level, that’s how they make decisions anyway. By being empathetic, you go straight there to the heart and connect on that more meaningful level. Don’t just say we understand you. Show it.

That’s a great differentiator there because empathy does have that buzzwordy aspect to it. You’re hearing it a lot but showing it in action versus just saying it is a huge point. It’s a great way to start. Our next word is going to come from Mark Roberts. What do you have for us?

I would say trust. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the book Speed of Trust by Covey, but I turned that into a course at one point. Most businesses don’t even realize they have a trust tax. Prior to COVID, the average was about 65% of most teams weren’t engaged. They were just doing enough to get by. Imagine what COVID has done, as some teams raced to downsize to help their bottom lines. If you focus on trust, you can improve your overall results and it falls right in line with Allison shared which is creativity and being a strategic problem solver. All those things don’t happen if you live in an environment of fear.

Trust is huge. I’m glad you brought it up. Ray, you’re up next.

I vigorously agree with what Mark and Allison have shared. This is a tough one for one word because in my mind, what I struggle with is yes, you have to have that connection with your workforce that’s beyond what the org chart says or any of those types of things. Maybe this is just the operations guy in me. There has to be empathy and trust those things going back and forth. On the part of the leader, there has to be a fundamental understanding of, “There’s an outcome or goal we are aiming for.”

The leader needs to move from 5% innovation to maybe 20%. They're not going to go all-in, but they need to up their game. Click To Tweet

The current change in the environment hasn’t created a deer in the headlights moment because the most empathetic or trustworthy leader in the world that is choosing to go hide under a rock at this moment isn’t doing his team or the shareholders or the customers any good. Maybe this is a training thing as well. The original thing that jumped into mind was my favorite word, the adaptive capacity thing. You’ve got to be able to cope with the environment. There are plenty of examples around there in building products.

I’m in Willis Tower, Chicago at one point. It’s one of the biggest and tallest buildings in the world. That building is designed to flex three feet in any direction off of the centerline. Why? There was an expectation that the environment was going to change of sufficient magnitude and it must still stand and keep the people safe. There’s an element of, within leadership, implied or otherwise, that you have an ability to adapt to your environment and keep your organization safe and moving in the right direction.

Ben, what are your thoughts? What’s your one word for leadership?

Amazingly enough, nobody checked it. It’s humility. One of our books is called Leading Beyond A Crisis: A Conversation About What’s Next. One of the big things we talked about humility. As a leader, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you have two choices. You either got to go find a better room or you got to find smarter people to fill it. Anybody who thinks is a leader that they know everything is kidding themselves.

We are in a situation come February, March, call the date, whatever you want. When we sent everybody home, everybody was scrambling. Everybody was shaking their heads and nobody had a real plan. We haul at guesses. There might have been strategic plans that were saying, “In crisis mode, what do you do?” Everything needed to be adapted and everybody was sitting there going, “That didn’t work. What do we do now?”

I heard that time and time again from the same people who tried things and this didn’t work. That’s okay. We need leaders to realize that we’re not perfect human beings and we’re not all-seeing and we’re not all-knowing. We need to look at the people that we lead and get their wisdom. We need to sit there and say, “We hired these people for a reason. We brought them on board for a reason. They all have skillsets, knowledge, and experience that they’re coming to the table with.”

It’s not a horrible thing to sit there and say, “What do you think?” You then shut up and let them talk. We need to be able to aggregate that joint wisdom to be able to sit there and say, “Let’s take these 10, 15, 20, 100, or 1,000 people in a room and find out what do they think.” You may not agree with some of them. You may think that other people are out to lunch. You may think that there’s one brilliant thought but it’s aggregating all those thoughts together. Being able to sit there and say, “I have a better idea of what other people are thinking and what other people think is strategic.”

I’ve got to take my own experience and be able to say, “This is what we’re going to do moving forward.” If we don’t listen to people and we don’t have a sense of humility and humanity, and think that we can dictate and say, “We’re going this way that’s because,” and not have to explain why. That’s when we get disengagement. That’s when we get people who don’t trust us and are not going to follow us. We’re not true leaders because all we’re doing is trying to manage a situation from our best guests’ situation instead of leading a team, and sit there going, “Let’s work and figure this out together.”

LBL P4 | Leading In New Normal
Leading In New Normal: The building materials industry is slow and stubborn and resistant to change, but their customers are not.


I still see in that parallel or that difference between management and leadership there. I love that’s getting emphasized. Humility is a great one. I’ve heard it from a lot of the leaders that I’ve been having on the Manufacturing Happy Hour podcast. Namely in terms of that ability to listen and not necessarily have all the answers but take the feedback from the team and figure out where to go from there and why. Mark Mitchell, you have the last word of the crew. What do you have?

I’ve taken the totally opposite point of view of many of the things that I’ve heard here. The single word is confidence. When I saw the Coronavirus back in March, we first started to realize how big it could be locking down, things like that. This is the fourth recession I’ve been through and each one is different. People in early March of 2020 went, “This plus this, equals a recession.” We have to start laying off people and cutting back. Things are going to get horrible and all that stuff.

It was all about assuming the worst. The 2009 recession did affect the construction industry but in this one, I was amazed that in April, I talked to people and they said March was better than they expected, then they had a slow April and May. Most of them are ahead of their sales plans. We went to them last November 2019 and said, “What do you plan to do in 2021?” I talked to a debt company one time with 38% of the sales plan. They said, “Mark, we want to work with you but the last thing we need is more business right now.”

I’m going to pick a number and say, 50% of people went, “This is going to be terrible. We need to hunker down.” Those companies are playing catch up because they’re getting more orders than they expected. Whatever happens in a recession, you need to pivot to where the opportunity is. If people stop buying new houses, they fix up their old ones. If they stop building hotels, they remodel the old ones. If you may be focused on new construction, you may need to shift to remodeling or home improvement.

I see people, particularly companies that the CEO used to be the CFO, or they’re owned by an investment company that wants to flip them in a couple of years, they’re only driven by looking at spreadsheets. They don’t care about the customer. They care about how we are doing, dollars and cents. That word confidence says, “I’m confident that we will come through this well.” I find most companies can grow because their competitors have hunkered down and they can get business from them.

I’ve got several examples of that where companies are taking business from their competition because they’ve adapted quicker and faster. The leader had confidence, “We can do this. It’s going to make the difference.” Where I see a lot of people are risk-averse and don’t have confidence. Control your destiny or someone else will. They’re perfectly willing to let the marketplace determine, “The marketplace can be down so we’ll be down.” This is stupid thinking.

I’m glad you added that to the mix because I feel like we have a perfect cornucopia of leadership qualities. A quick recap, we’ve got empathy, trust, being adaptive, humility, and confidence. I’ll add one to the mix as well. I don’t know if it’s a real word. I couldn’t look it up. I would say titleless. One of my biggest things around leadership is you don’t need a title to lead. Anyone can step up in moments like these and it goes back to the humility comment as well when you can look at a team and say, “Who is stepping up to the plate right now?”

If you're managing to optimize your silo, you're sub-optimizing the organization. Click To Tweet

That’s my call to action to anyone out there that might not have the title but certainly has the capacity to pull it off. One thing I love to do is take these words and lessons and put them in the context of stories so that our audience can take away what this looks like in action. The next question, I’d love folks to share a story about a leader you’ve interacted with that illustrates what leadership looks like. Ray, I’m going to have you lead us off.

This was a great topic because it did give me an opportunity to reflect back and look at examples of who’s been doing it right, consistently, confidently, with humility and those things. There’s this guy I’ve known in the Chicago area. I admire his family and what they’ve done with their business. Aaron Legal is third generation. The Legal family owns a business in the Chicago area called Legal Tool Works. We were friendly competitors that didn’t know each other when I was running another business nearby and we would throw intermediaries and barbs at each other until we started talking to one another.

I got to respect what Aaron and his family are doing with their company in particular. They’re a business that has consistently lived their culture and they’ve lived it through not a sign on the wall, but how they acted. Aaron as a leader in the organization didn’t show up one day and all of a sudden, meet the new Vice President and the son of the owner. He started as a CNC operator as his brother and sister did. They’re all part of the business but they grew up understanding where and how the money was made and who the customers were.

I’ve always admired Aaron’s ability to constantly look out in front of the business and understand, what the trends that are influencing the customer base that I’m serving are? How do I need to adapt that to be where the puck is going to be? There has always been a willingness to invest in technology. I found out that these guys were having a custom made stamping presses built because they needed them to do something that you couldn’t get off the shelf but because of that, it created a competitive advantage for them. Who thinks of that?

They’re doing those types of things. Diversifying their customer base and forming alliances in collaboration with other organizations. Long story short, what it did was put them in a remarkable position when COVID did occur that the pivot that they had to make was small. In fact, he is still on pace to have a strong year and continuing to invest in the business. From a leadership standpoint, someone that does keep an eye on all the levers, the people, customers, technology, environment, and how do you optimize that equation at all times. I admire what he does and that’s best in class.

As a hockey fan, looking for where the puck is going, seeing what’s happened in the market, looking at the trends, and adapting accordingly is huge. Mark Mitchell, you’re up next. What do you got for us in a story that you’ve seen?

I’m always looking for these qualities in a leader. I had the pleasure and I enjoy working with leaders like this because we can get stuff done. The first thing is the leader is connected personally to customers. They’re not reading research reports and not being told by the VP of sales. They have relationships with not only their biggest customers. He went to a trade show, stood in the booth for CEO, looking to talk to an average smoke customer. They didn’t have to be big, important, and didn’t have to buy the product from them. “Hi. I’m the CEO of this company and I’d like to know about what’s going on with your business. What are your issues? What do you think of our products? How could we do better? Who’s doing the best job?” He’s getting first-hand knowledge that then he can use to validate what he’s being told. It’s not that he’s trying to know more than a VP of sales, but he is trying to check the bullcrap. I might hear the same thing or directionally going the same way. The other thing is they have a great team of people and they’re thinkers rather than doers.

LBL P4 | Leading In New Normal
Leading In New Normal: The characteristics of a leader before and now are the same. The thing that is different now is being resilient, being able to adapt quickly and remain focused at the same time.


I see marketing people go, “I know Photoshop.” I go, “That’s too bad. Don’t tell anybody.” If you’re the marketing director and you’re photoshopping photos for the company, you should have an outside resource that is doing that for you who will do it better. They surround themselves with thinkers who they’re not afraid to have disagreements with. The other thing they’re good at is all companies have this generation of people at 60 years old, the senior person, who is more interested in, “I got five more years and I’m out of here,” than they are in changing anything.

They’re good at recognizing, “I should give this guy a nice package and move on.” The larger the company gets, there’s a term called empty suits. I learned the term peacocks from this guy. I have seniority, I have a big title, I show up at a meeting, and I listened in just enough to throw a monkey wrench into it that will stop it or delay it. There’s a fear of like, “If this goes through, that guy will get credit and I won’t.” They’re good at spotting those people and getting them out of there. It sends a signal to the whole team, “I have high expectations of you, but I don’t want to put things in your way to enable you to do that.”

The final thing they do is say, “He encouraged failure.” He would ask his sales and marketing people, “What did you learn this week? How did you fail and learn.” Not just tell me like, “We’re number one on Facebook.” Whatever the story is and say, “Did you have the guts to try something that didn’t work out and what was that?” You may have four of those and then the fifth one is going to be, “Change to your business.” If you’re afraid of the four, you’re never going to find the fifth. That’s what I love about this guy.

Good, full diverse answer. I love the tie into being comfortable with failure, being humble enough to learn from failure, and then tying it back to where you started with the leader hanging out in the tradeshow booth hearing from not only the big customers but the little ones. The importance of listening and customer-centricity in this process. Ben, I give a shout out to your word humility. You’re the next one that gets to share a story.

I was wanting to take this from a different angle. Technology is a wonderful thing. Come March, there were a bunch of us sitting online on different Zoom chats playing tradeshow bingo, where all of us are professional speakers and we’re all sitting there looking and going, “How many of us are going to lose opportunities over the next few months?” Within twelve hours, we’re all looking and going. “I hope we have some actual opportunities coming up in the next nine months.” Twelve hours later, the same is going as, “God, I hope that everything that we have coming up in the next nine months gets canceled.”

Sure enough within 72 hours, 9 to 12 months of my worldwide speaking engagements and everybody I know around me were gone. There is a guy out in Toronto that is a world-class speaker and he is in the Hall of Fame that has a phenomenal mastermind. It only speaks to speakers on how to be better. What he did is he took the mastermind and turned it into a session and said, “Where do we go from here?” He took the bull by the horns and spent far more time listening to people sitting there going, “Where do we go?”

These are people whose entire income and livelihood is probably gone for the next 24 months. I don’t expect to be on live stage until 2022. I don’t think much anybody who speaks at a decent-sized stage doesn’t feel that they’re going to be on the stage until 2022. The question is, “What do we do?” It came down to building a community that got together and said, “Where do we go from here? How do we level up our virtual speaking? How do we diversify our skillset? How do we move into different types of things that we can do? How do we pivot in order to build a new lifestyle for ourselves, when we know that our main lifestyle, things that pay us extremely well is gone and may not come back?”

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what others are feeling. Click To Tweet

The question is, “How did everybody get to reinvent themselves?” This guy stood up and wasn’t thinking about himself. This is the guy that makes a lot of money, far more money than I ever will on stage. It wasn’t thinking about himself, he said, “I’ve got my five kids, but I’ve got my house and my wife works, and we’re going to do okay. We may have to cut back a little bit, but we’re going to be fine.” His thought was, “How do I take care of the people around me? How do I make the community better? How do I enable people to work together to be able to be successful both in the short-term in the long term?” To me, that’s the definition of leadership.

The definition of leadership is that they’re going, “How do I make everybody around me more successful?” Not just focus on yourself because when you focus on others, when you wake up every morning, you say, “How do I make the people around me better? How do I give the people around me the opportunity to succeed?” One way or another, you will succeed. You don’t have to worry about that next promotion, that title bump, and pay raise. It will come and there are too few people out there that think that way. They’re always angling for that next promotion and title bump. If you’re focused and you take care of the people around you and make them better, people will recognize that and great things will come for you. That’s my story of leadership.

It brought up another word that we didn’t bring up before, but we’ll put it into the cornucopia of leadership qualities. Selflessness was the thing that was sticking out during that conversation, putting others first. Mark Roberts, do you have a tale for us?

When COVID hit, I was in conversations with someone that’s a leader and owns a manufacturing company. As COVID progressed, she took a hard look at it, and I refer to it as doing an MRI on your business. She looked at every one of the main business drivers and did an analysis quickly. “How are you doing? What’s the current state? What do we need to do?” As you can tell, I’m a Covey fan and one of the things Covey talks about is, “What are the big rocks? What’s the gravel? What’s the sand?” She quickly identified the big rocks for every one of the drivers and then trusted her leaders in each one of those business segments to come up with a plan.

If you needed her help, she was there for you. If you needed to hire somebody because you didn’t have the skills, for example, their sales leader reached out to me and we assessed all their people and we talked to all their customers, she doubled down on finding information. She created a plan with everybody’s input and now, we monitor the plan. When COVID hit, their business dropped about 42%. They’re on pace to have the best September in the history of their business. It was fun to watch because it takes a lot of courage to do what she did, and I have a lot of respect for her.

Mark, I love how you always put the numbers to it. I was excited about that metric when they dropped by 42% and then on track to have the best September six months after the fact. That’s huge. It’s an excellent example. Allison, take us home on this one. What’s the story that you’ve seen or heard?

I’m living it because my answer is the five of you. The reason that I say that is I feel like each of you embodies several characteristics that are terribly important. First of all, you’ve shown up. That matters to the people who will care. You’re also empathetic, transparent, creative, resilient, and vulnerable, and you all go the extra mile. Ben started doing podcasts with Claire and then wrote a book during a pandemic. That’s leadership. Mark Roberts created numerous webinars, talks, and videos for his audience to support them. He’s a content machine.

Same with Chris. He has his extra podcast. He has two more. He volunteered to tag along with my crazy idea to do this so that we could all come together and bring information and inspiration to all the people in all of our tribes. Ray and Mark are both pulling out the stops, trying all new things, and are always teaching me something new. My answer may be cheesy, but I thought about all the leaders that I know and all the stories that I’ve heard. All of a sudden, you popped into my head. I have to say with humility and gratitude, for me, you five have been a tremendous support and tremendous leader.

LBL P4 | Leading In New Normal
Leading In New Normal: Do what scares you. You will experience more growth by doing the things that scare you the most, wading through it, and learning to become unafraid of it.


Thank you. I love how we’re throwing a little tear-jerker element to all of us. It’s getting us to tear up at the end of it.

I have bourbon in my eye.

Way to bring it back to Manufacturing Happy Hour theme there, Ray. First, for everyone that’s been reading, whether you just showed up or whether you’ve been reading the whole series, thank you to all of you out there that have been reading. Hopefully, we’ve helped you in some way, shape, or form. To give you some final pieces of action, I always like ending on some action content. The last question is regardless of a person’s title, what’s one thing anyone can do to step up and be a leader in the new normal? Mark Mitchell, I’m going to have you lead us off on this one.

I see leadership, where we are, is about change. You find everyone in an organization is for change as long as it doesn’t affect them and as long as their job doesn’t change or they have to do something different. You have to expect resistance. If you’re going to be a leader, you can have this great idea and everybody’s going to give you awards, clap, and high five you. You’re going to have a number of people that are overtly going to object and they smile at your face but they’re behind your back undoing what you’re doing. That can be a lot in corporate America.

I’ve got two stories. One is salespeople. I see the best salespeople now are not asking permission to do something. They’ll ask forgiveness if they get busted. I’ve got one salesman who recognized how the industry is moving toward building buildings, houses, and factories. He sees that as a small business, but it’s rapidly growing and everything makes sense that it’s going to grow rapidly. He is making a point of being a thought leader in off-site housing factory building. He did ask his boss for permission. He started his own podcast and he writes good content.

He goes ahead and somehow gets permission to go. If they had an event, he would be there. He’s doing it and they’re always part of their virtual events in addition to what he’s supposed to be doing. It’s not supposed to be doing this. They didn’t say no, but they didn’t say this is a target. When they discovered what’s happening and they started to see some business, they went, “Where? This is amazing. Great.” He didn’t wait for someone to assign him, “This is what you go do.” He saw it and dove in.

The other thing is this is the marketing people. In the building materials industry, too often, the marketing department is viewed as people that produce pretty pictures. They are doers, not thinkers. They don’t add value and you don’t go to them with a problem like, “How do I increase my architectural sales? I love marketing thoughts on this.” They go, “I need a new brochure and new PowerPoint.” They give them tasks to do.

Control your destiny or someone else will. Click To Tweet

I have coached a number of frustrated marketing people and I say to them, “That’s where you are. Every time they give you a task, you think of a better way to do it. When you go back into them, you bring them, ‘Here’s what you asked for but I thought about this and a better and more effective way is digital that you may not be as comfortable with or understand. Let me talk about why I’ve worked better.’” If you get a rejection, don’t worry about it. The next time, keep coming back to the person that gives you a task with a better idea.

What you’re learning is you have to sell your ideas. Many marketing people go in and expect, “If I show a pretty picture, people go, ‘How creative.’” They’re looking for it thinking, “What is it going to take to make this customer pay attention to us?” It’s about that idea of whatever position you are, you can improve it. After so much time, if you don’t make any progress, you’re probably at the wrong company. The leader doesn’t want to hear it. The leader is stuck in the past and status quo and you need to make a decision to stop torturing yourself and do what you’re told. Maybe it’s time to move on to another company that will appreciate what you offer. That’s my recommendation.

It certainly touched a personal note there because the whole ask for forgiveness later, I wouldn’t be here today had I asked for permission to do any of this podcasting stuff from the get-go. Allison, I want to know what your parting actionable advice is.

My parting actionable advice is to do what scares you. I have personally experienced more growth by doing the things that scare me the most, wading through it, and learning and becoming unafraid of it. That goes along with what Mark was talking about. “Don’t wait for the light to appear at the end of the tunnel. Stroll down there and light the bloody thing yourself.” I can’t remember the person that said that but I love that. It goes with, “Don’t ask for permission but put yourself out there.”

One of my favorite moments ever in 30 years with a manufacturing leader, we’re sitting there and talking about marketing and all the tactics because we’d already done all the foundational thinking work. He leaned forward and he whispered, “I don’t understand all this. It’s confusing.” I looked at him and I said, “Thank you for saying that and being vulnerable.” That couldn’t have been easy for him but because he did something simple that scared him and admit that he’s afraid, it opened up conversations for me to educate him in a kind and non-threatening way. Our work together was better because of it. Do what scares you.

Give the best piece of advice you can give in leading in the new normal. Ben, I’m going to have you lead us off on that one.

It’s simple. Embrace mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t be afraid to have the team below you make mistakes. Learn from it, embrace it and celebrate it all. Light bulbs were made because 1,000 mistakes happened, and we have light because of it. Be able to embrace mistakes and learn from them.

Ray, what is your best piece of actionable advice?

Speaking to the CEO, president, division VP, or whatever it happens to be because change is what this conversation is about and everybody’s going to look at what’s being supported. Be honest about the challenges that you’re confronting, be confident in the ability of the team to see it through to a conclusion, and be humble enough to ask for ideas and quiet enough in the back of the room. Be the last one to speak in a meeting where others are providing ideas.

Mark Roberts, what’s something people can do to lead in the new normal?

In the new normal, we’re going to have leaders emerge and we’re going to have people that are going to struggle and probably either sell their businesses or go under. I shared that I had a coffee mug in one of the companies I worked at and it said, “Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.” The most important opinion is the opinion of your customers. Understand the business of their business and build your company, structure and processes around serving them. If you take the time to get out there and understand what they’re dealing with, you’re going to be one of the leaders that come out of this strong.

Awesome, way to put a bow on it. Thank you to everyone that’s been reading. Mark, Mark, Ray, Allison, and Ben, this has been a lot of fun. Thank you. That is it for our four-part game-changers miniseries. Thank you, everyone.

Important Links:

About Ray Ziganto 

LBL P4 | Leading In New NormalRay Ziganto is the Founder & CEO of Linara International, a strategic advisory firm that helps domestic and international companies do BIG THINGS, HAVE FUN, & MAKE IT LOOK EASY! Ray is known for his ability to see patterns and trends and translate those into innovative opportunities and meaningful business results. Ziganto has successfully led facility start-ups, technology additions/transfers, and customer diversification efforts for multiple firms. He most recently served as President of an integrated global manufacturing firm that employed more than 1500 employees in the U.S., China and Mexico.

Other key results include the establishment of global regional offices to provide technical support; creating & deploying a first of it’s kind ‘collaboration’ space for customers and targets in remote locations; securing new business in medical device and telecom; and, deploying innovation process training in the US & China. Ray is passionate about manufacturing, innovation and people. His leadership style is collaborative, inclusive and embraces people of all cultures, talents and abilities– from the shop floor to the board room. 

About Allison DeFord

LBL P4 | Leading In New NormalOn a mission to strengthen the heart and soul of manufacturing for generations, by helping 8-10 manufacturers each year keep their legacy brand relevant and profitable in a digital world. Marketing exists to support sales. Sales exists to support customers. Customers are the people who make all this possible. How they research, communicate and purchase is changing. How we retrofit our systems and adapt will determine our success. [ The slightly longer and more personal back-story ] What began as endless hours creating with Spiro-graph on my grandmothers living room floor, morphed into a career in graphic design and marketing. (and a lifelong affinity for colored pens and problem-solving) The ability to create something from nothing that changes minds, habits, and outcomes has always intrigued me. It isn’t surprising then that this is the story of every manufacturing client I work with.

I grew up a child of manufacturing in Anderson, Indiana. The town’s growth and families dinner tables were affected by the success or failure of General Motors. Traffic lights were set to align with shift changes to avoid “traffic” congestion. (living in California, this now makes me chuckle) I decided that working for someone else wasn’t hard enough and I started my own agency in 1994. Felt was built on the premise that successful brands aren’t just seen and heard, they’re felt on a deeper, more emotional level. (how 90% of decisions are made) I lead a devoted and talented team (six degrees of Midwest roots) who believe wholeheartedly in keeping manufacturing alive, relevant, and profitable. Bared out, not only by the numbers and brands we’ve worked with but by the strong relationships we’ve built. True blue! Fueled by Starbucks, my team and I never settle for lukewarm and admittedly geek out over gears, tools, wood, and really nice pens. 

About Mark Mitchell

LBL P4 | Leading In New NormalAuthor of Building Materialsl Channel Marketing and the lead strategist behind Whizard Strategy, helping the building materials industry solve tough sales and marketing problems. Whizard Strategy is changing the way building materials companies market their products and services—it’s less about the checkbook and more about the strategy.

As a dynamic speaker, business strategist and marketing expert, I bring ideas that create change, increase sales and stop spending for the sake of spending. Your marketing should support your business and drive revenue, not deplete your resources! Recognized as Top 10 Thought Leader in Building Material Channel Marketing by Channel Instincts 

About Chris Luecke 

LBL P4 | Leading In New NormalProgressive, results-oriented business professional with diverse sales & marketing, project management, and manufacturing experiences in corporate, industrial, and academic settings. Lead and influence multifaceted teams utilizing a disciplined sales process to drive sustainable business growth of a diverse portfolio of automation solutions and services across a wide customer base. Develop and execute short- and long-term business plans for growing market share at strategic accounts, while managing customer and distributor relationships to ensure all needs are understood and met. Value innovative ideas and creative approaches to problem-solving and business planning, with a strong interest in disruptive technologies and game-changing marketing strategies.

Goals: Help equipment manufacturers in the high-tech sector achieve their business and production objectives by implementing automation solutions, in turn driving Bay Area and global sales growth in alignment with Rockwell Automation’s strategic growth initiatives Work and develop in a variety of leadership roles throughout the US and internationally; future career goals include business management, and global sales & marketing leadership, with a concentration in marketing and international business Continue to constructively pursue my interests and add to my experiences in entrepreneurship, content marketing, travel & outdoors, and event management

About Mark Roberts

LBL P4 | Leading In New NormalFor over 35 years I have helped organizations drive profitable sales growth implementing my no smoke and mirrors framework. We leverage three data sets to ensure your sales team is structured, trained and coached to delivers value to your customers and shareholders. Proven aptitude for supporting companies in identifying market opportunities, shaping strategic plans and sales processes, and building sales teams that consistently outperform objectives. Skilled communicator and hands-on leader able to recruit, hire, train,develop, coach and motivate sales teams as well as build collaborative relationships with peers and clients.

Sales Strategy, Strategic Planning, Strategic Analysis, Executive Leadership, Market Positioning, Competitive Intelligence, Market Expansion Planning, New Product Development, B2B Sales, B2C Sales, Consultative Sales, Product Pricing, Product Promotions, Relationship Building, P&L Management, International Expansion, Training & Development, Client Relations, New Account Acquisition, Sales Coaching.
Looking to connect on topics of strategic business development, Sales enablement, Social Selling, Fixing Sales Problems and Value based sales training best practices.

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