On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly talks with Scott Jeffrey about internal development and self-awareness practices for agency owners. They discuss how the thoughts and behaviors of leaders impact agency culture, communication and more.
EP 26: How Self-Leadership Can Change Your Agency, with Scott Jeffrey
Kelly: Welcome to another episode of Thrive: Your Agency Resource. And today we’re talking about how changing your behavior as an agency owner can actually change your agency. Super interesting conversation; we’re going to dive into self-awareness and self-leadership. I have Scott Jeffrey with me, who’s the founder of CEOsage – Scott has actually gone from internet startup founder to diving into psychological development. It’s going to be a really, really interesting conversation. Scott, I’m so happy to have you here. I think if we run over a little bit, that’s okay. I totally anticipate it.
Scott: It’s great to be here, Kelly. Thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to the discussion.
Kelly: As you and I know, it’s really challenging to focus on self-awareness. But then, you add this layer of agency ownership and having to run this beast that has all of these moving parts. And that becomes exponentially harder, right? Being that you have some experience with creative agencies in your own background, I want to start out by talking a little bit about the difference between internal development and focusing on achievement.
Scott: Sure. I like to look at working – either an agency or business in general – working with entrepreneurs. It’s an awesome opportunity because you’re going to be working on external achievement regardless of what you do by default. You can’t avoid that. You can’t avoid interacting with other people.
The question is are you reflecting back afterwards, before, and during you conversations with other people? In a way, everyone you’re working with is essentially a mirror and you’re going to have a constant opportunity to see, “Okay, why is this person responding that way?” And, “Why am I feeling this way?”
But the biggest challenge we have is that we move so fast as entrepreneurs. We move so fast thinking that we have to do this, get this done right now. We have a schedule – this, this, and this. A lot of those things that help us with achievement somehow manage to hijack us with the development of self-awareness, because they are on two different time tracks; one is going hyper fast-forward, and another one is going super slow-motion.
And if we don’t learn how to toggle back and forth… we don’t have training in that, right? As soon as we enter school, everything is about system – do this, do that. What do we hear about? We hear about importance of morning routines, developing everything into routines, creating structure. All that is important for achievement.
Then the next thing we do is we try to schedule some time for self-awareness.
Kelly: Which is ironic?
Scott: Right. We schedule time; I’m going to meditate for five minutes or thirty minutes in the morning, and then I’m going to enter the whirlwind then I’m going to reset and start the Groundhog Day the next day and hope it works out better.
Kelly: Right. So you’re saying that we should take that thought process that we’ve always had about making these things a dichotomy, even though we didn’t really know that we’re doing that. All of the things that we’ve been fed for the most part about leading these two different lives – my spiritual, self-aware, calm, rational life – and then owning my agency, and then I’m going to live these two separate lives.
We’re talking now about true self-awareness which is a little different, internal development. Aside from selling their agencies (like I did), what can agency leaders do pretty immediately to start becoming more self-aware?
Scott: I want to build on what you just said, because I think that’s a really important point in terms of that dichotomy, in terms of the achiever that’s looking to grow externally, and then that person that’s wanting to develop spiritually, because that plays into what you can do to build self-awareness. If you look at it from spiral dynamics – which is a model of how we develop values – the achievement, or the orange mean comes before the green, or the spiritual mean.
What happens is we start out, achievement – our culture values more. There’s some that either push through to green or, what usually happens is we cut off the orange to go to green. That’s where this dichotomy comes in, of this split and the psyche between the achiever part and the spiritual part. And it’s very difficult to reconcile those.
The only way to do that is to go beyond both. The term they use in developmental psychology is to transcend and include; to include the achiever part without trying to vilify it, and then include the spiritual part, but also not identifying with that one, either.
In terms of building self-awareness in the moment, which is really the only thing we can do, because we can’t stop the ship. You’re not going to tell someone who’s driving at a hundred miles an hour, “You just need to go ten miles and everything is going to be fine.” It’s not possible. You have a momentum to everything you’re doing in your life.
The key is can you momentarily pause throughout the day? If you look in the context of meditation, we tend to think, like we said, “I’m going to meditate in the morning and go into the whirlwind.” But the whole point of having a morning practice was supposed to set the tone for entering a meditative state throughout the day. It’s great to be able to develop a practice in the morning, but if you get up right afterwards… it’s what happens right after, because if you get up and immediately go to your phone or go into whatever the next part of that routine is mindlessly, there’s really very little point in meditation.
Kelly: Talk about that from the realistic standpoint: I have to check my phone.
Kelly: When are you suggesting? How are you suggesting? Do I pick up the phone with a different mindset? Do I change the time frame that I look at it?
Scott: You watch the impulse that’s driving the action itself. For example, there’s the thought, “I have to check my phone.” You start to tune in, look inward, and say, “Alright, do I really need to check that phone right now? Is it because I don’t want to feel something right now? Is there something else that’s on my mind –?”
Kelly: So, it’s like a filter system?
Scott: Yeah. You’re just pausing long enough to reflect back and we tend to think that we do it for hours. Again, our culture’s so addictive. We have, one is good, ten is better. You can’t just do something for a minute. It’s not going to be valuable. Either do it for two hours or don’t do it at all. It could be literally a thirty-second pause to just see, “Do I really need to do this?” because the average person checks their phone over one hundred fifty times a day. There’s no way that we’re doing that because it’s important for achievement or for our business.
It’s just a neurotic behavior that’s going unchecked. It’s triggering a dopamine response. There’s something that we’re trying to avoid most of the time that we’re checking any of our devices or going online. So it’s just the function, can you pause long enough, not stop, but just pause long enough to say, “Alright, there’s something that I don’t want to deal with right now,” then you go and check it. But at least you’re taking one step in the right direction.
Kelly: At least, you’re doing that with mindfulness saying, “Okay, let me do my little self-check in. I’m not checking it because I think a client is going to feel that I’m incompetent if I don’t write them back right away. I’m not checking it because I’m bored.” You do these little filters – it’s what I think you’re saying. And if at the end of that it nets out to, “No, I really just need to or want to check my phone,” then go ahead and do it.
Scott: At the end you’re going to do it, right? What’s going to happen is that –
Kelly: Oh, so you know me?
Scott: We all do it. I do it, too. But you’ll do it less and less. That’s what’s going to happen. It’s a progressive thing where all of a sudden you’ll start to find that the pull isn’t there as much. It just becomes a tool as opposed to an addictive compulsive relationship.
Kelly: Other than observation and pause for reflection, what else can agency owners and leaders do?
Scott: One of the best hacks to develop self- awareness is to get into the body fast, because the whole reason why we lack self-awareness is because we’re floating around our energies in our heads all the time. We’re constantly trying to think and work things out.
The challenge is, that thinking function is only one of many different ways we have of taking in information. The more you’re able to route yourself up from the body – this is a great meditation hack, too – if you can get in your body fast you don’t have to meditate because your mind will immediately quiet down.
So how do we do that from a practical standpoint? One thing that I always teach my clients right away is to put both feet firmly on the ground and just place your awareness at the bottom of your feet. It sounds way too simple so our complex minds will discount the value of it, but if you do it for thirty seconds – sometimes you might need a minute if you’re really whirling fast in your head – you’ll begin to feel a tingling sensation. The Chinese call it Qi but it’s basically blood and oxygen mixing together. That tingling’s supposed to be there all the time but we’re so numb to it usually we don’t feel it.
But the more you’re putting your awareness lower into your body, the more it’s drawing the energy down and you’ll naturally reset your mind in that moment. As soon as you do you become, “Whoa, what was I just doing?” And then you’re, “Wake up.” Then you go back into the whirlwind and need to reset again, but it becomes easier and easier to get back.
Kelly: But the ultimate goal is to be able to throttle these things on a moment by moment basis. That’s the destination – if you will – right?
Scott: I would say yeah, to use the language from Dao’s thought, you have an original spirit which is present at all times, that’s untainted by the conditioning of this world we live in. And we have a conscious spirit, which is our mind that has all these layers of programming and mundane conditioning that we’ve been indoctrinated and programmed into from birth onward.
The goal is essentially to root yourself in the original spirit or what the Yin Yang call, the self. Sometimes in literature it’s called the higher self. The more that the higher self is operating – it’s like the way they explained our minds are like a house filled with rowdy guests and no host to bring order. That spiritual journey is about bringing the host in, or a benevolent leader.
That’s where the self-leadership piece comes in, because the more that you bring that organization internally, the more all the people under your care, everyone in your team also creates a space for them to develop their own self-leadership, because they’re always taking the behavioral cues not by what you say but by watching your behavior subconsciously.
Kelly: That’s the perfect lead into where I wanted to end up with the rest of our conversation: when we’re talking about changing our own behaviors as leaders of these agencies, how our own behaviors, and thoughts, and actions and all of that really influences the culture of the agency and directs it.
I want to talk about that a little bit because I think from the standpoint of agency owners that don’t really have a sense of why their agencies are so chaotic or why there are so many communication issues, it’s not just it’s coming from the top down necessarily, it could be just a reflection of how they’re behaving and how they’re acting. I want to touch on that a little bit.
Scott: For sure. Here you could bring in the research from Dan Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence that’s published in Harvard as well as Jim Collin’s Level Five Leadership in terms of how performing leaders have the two qualities of a level five leader: personal will and humility, which are also very much in line with Goleman’s research on the outperforming leaders have higher emotional intelligence, meaning they’re able to regulate their emotional flow. They’re able to understand the emotions that they have and the emotions of others, and then control them in a form of self-leadership where they can regulate them internally.
The most important thing for anyone in a leadership position is that whatever is happening around you is same with parenting. However the state of the people within your structure or your field are is a direct reflection of what you’re containing or what you’re not. If you’re, for example, manic and always having to move and can’t stop, you’re going to create a culture that reflects that. It doesn’t matter what you tell people, it doesn’t matter what you tell kids because they’re just going to absorb what your behavior is. It’s how mirror neurons work. It becomes the most important responsibility is this containment which is difficult because we think of achievement as external.
In the short term, you can get further than doing any of this stuff because there’s things you can do to push through, but eventually it catches up with you and that’s when you start to say, you start seeing these patterns, this is not working and you stop the game of projecting it outwards and saying it’s this person’s fault, it’s this person’s fault. There’s a saying in Lao Gong – a form of Tibetan mind training – saying, “drive all blame into one”. It means whatever is happening, you take it on. You take the poison yourself because it’s some ways you perform, it’s yours. Our egos hate that because it’s much easier to displace, disassociate it from us. But the more you bring it in, the more you start to see, “Okay, this person is responding this way because of some cues he’s getting from, he or she is getting from what I’m doing.” All of a sudden the power comes back into you and you start to see how it’s all on this very subtle level that our behaviors are influencing everybody.
Kelly: It’s just such a relevant conversation because a lot of the work that I do with agency owners, I tend to work with established agencies in the creative and tech space. A lot of them are agency owners that have been leading their agency for five to twenty-five years. And they’re in that exact space that you’re talking about where the achievement was the beginning. Now they’re at that place where they’re “I can’t keep doing this.” They might be forty, fifty years old, and they’re “I can’t keep going like this. Why is my agency not growing, and why are things chaotic? When is it going to get easier?” They don’t realize that most of it is because of them.
Scott: What happens is over time all those patterns got reinforced because there was some positive reinforcement for even checking your phone often. It’s a reinforced behavior that – those have to be examined again to see, “Is this really serving me? Is what got me here going to get me to that next place? Do I need to do everything different?
And if I do then who am I?” because we start to identify ourselves with, as soon as you identify with the high-paced achiever that’s fast moving and just going hard, it’s game over because then the other parts of you, there’s no space to bring them out. That’s why the observer mind is so important, because the more you access that original spirit of that observer mind within yourself, the more you start to see that, “Okay, I’m observing this achiever so I can’t be that. I have to something more than that.”
Kelly: That’s where you’re creating that space?
Kelly: That’s really interesting.
Scott: By drawing energy out of the self-identification with being whatever it is that the agency owner is identifying with, you’re immediately creating that space to allow something else to come in. Then you can evaluate. It’s like, “This is how I’m doing this work. If there was a better way, what might it be?” because when you’re in the motion, you can’t even ask that question in any thoughtful way.
Kelly: You can’t do anything when you’re in that space.
Scott: No, you’re just a machine.
Kelly: There was something that when we talked the last time that you mentioned: a common sense type of thing. The more that we slow down, the more that we realize how insane our behavior is, and that’s what we’re talking about here, is creating that space – not stopping – but those little pauses, and that’s what I mean even by slowing down. I’m not saying don’t hustle, don’t go and develop new business. The more that you slow down, even if it’s for the ten seconds, the thirty seconds, you realize, “This is crazy. Why am I trying to do twelve things at once?” You know what I mean? Let’s talk about that a little bit and we’ll wrap up.
Scott: Sure. The main thing is to start to see why we’re running in the first place. It all comes down to emotions and energy, really. In the sense of emotions, most of the feelings that keep us running are negative emotions that we don’t want to address. Almost all illnesses are a manifestation of all these emotions that build up and create stagnation in the body, and different diseases manifest.
Kelly: Just to give some examples there, are you talking about fear of not providing for your family, or being angry at the way that a client is treating you, those types of emotions?
Scott: Yeah, or how about you go more intense and stronger – could be rage at your spouse. It could be hatred towards your children. We have this idea of goodness, and we don’t allow the aspect of the shadow to come in. This comes down to critical piece for self-awareness and self-leadership, which is shadow work, which is essentially knowing all the things that we’ve been repressing since childhood, that we’ve been carrying around with us, which is the reason why we have to stimulate ourselves with caffeine and food and all these other things in the first place, because it’s tiring carrying all of these emotions with us.
When you have these ideas of just being goodness without having any kind of other dark impulses, we don’t allow certain emotions from just being expressed within ourselves. It doesn’t even mean we have to act on them or anything. We think, for example, in the case I was giving with parenting, that if you’re a parent, it’s totally unacceptable to hate your children. The truth is that if you can’t connect with the part of yourself that hates your children, you most likely don’t have any genuine love for them, too. You believe you love, you might talk about love, but actually feeling the true warmth will only come by having both of these sides, together.
In our culture we don’t permit that, so all of these different negative emotions which science shows, how anger for example passes through the body within ninety seconds, but that’s only if you allow it to express, to be, where you don’t tighten up and hold that tension. Just as an example, Dr. John Sarno, he healed thousands of patients of debilitating chronic back pain just by explaining that the source of their pain is not a degenerative disc or anything like that. It’s just repressed rage from different various reasons. He goes through what they are, and just by people understanding that, hearing it over and over again, their pain goes away.
That same mechanism, that’s more of an extreme case for agency owner that’s running, running, running… that stopping and pausing, you begin to see that we’re really just running away from our feelings, or our heart or soul, however you want to call it. The freedom that we’re looking for, we try to achieve, to create some sort of monetary freedom. But the real freedom that we’re looking for is just being okay with ourselves. Just a state of being, but that state of being can’t be experienced or reached when we’re running and when we’re cutting ourselves off from different things that have happened throughout our life.
Each day it’s just accumulating, and we can’t just stop everything – like you were saying – we just need to be able to pause. We don’t have to immerse ourselves in it, just enough to be able to connect with it like, “Oh, that’s how I felt on the bus going to school when I was fifteen.” All of those little things and we think, “Just leave the past in the past and move forward,” but it’s all of those things that we’re carrying with us, which is what self-awareness and self-leadership edge us in.
Once we start to see the game we’re playing doesn’t work, until then, everything we’re saying is completely meaningless. It’s like, “No, I’m just going to – I need another strategy to grow. I need another growth hack and then I’ll be fine.”
Eventually you start to see that even as you achieve – hopefully you achieve – you keep going, you keep growing externally, you start to see, “Alright, this still isn’t working and I’m still just as miserable.” If I’m honest, it doesn’t matter how much I make and how big my agency grows, if there’s still something… it’s an inner itch that can’t be scratched by whatever you’re doing in the external. And then a little bit of humility comes in like, “What am I not seeing here?”
Kelly: It’s not about the money. It’s not about how many vacations you’re taking or how few hours you’re working. A lot of this, when we’re talking about inner development, it really is first of all identifying the fact that there’ something internally that we need to talk about and we need to realize and start reflecting on, and how do those behaviors, based on that, how does that convey to the outside world, in this case, our employees. Really, really interesting. Scott, this is definitely one of the more profound conversations that we’ve had on the show, and I just really appreciate your time today.
Scott: Well, thank you for having me, it’s been fun.