Episode: 491 |
Kyle McDowell:
Best-selling Author of Begin with We:


Kyle McDowell

Best-selling Author of Begin with We

Show Notes

Kyle McDowell is an author, speaker, and leadership coach. Kyle started his career in a regional bank as a front-line customer service representative. He has nearly three decades of experience leading tens of thousands of employees for some of the biggest companies in the US, and he has recently launched his best-selling book, Begin with We, which he talks about in this episode. 

Kyle can be reached on his social platforms as Kyle McDowell Inc. and his website KyleMcDowellInc.com.


Key points include:

  • 09:47: Dealing with mistakes
  • 18:31: Measuring ourselves by activities or outcomes
  • 25:42: Challenging with diplomacy

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Ep. 491 Kyle McDowell


Kyle McDowell, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:02

Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m pleased to be here today with Kyle McDowell, who’s the author of begin with WWE. Kyle, welcome to the show.


Kyle McDowell  00:16

It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me. Well, to begin


Will Bachman  00:19

with, we tell me what’s the what’s the message of your book call?


Kyle McDowell  00:24

Well, that’s, that’s a lot longer answer than it is question. So the book is the kind of the output of 10 principles that I kind of created called the 10 wheeze. And they are guiding principles for how we internally those behind the curtain in the organization on the team, how we govern, how we govern governance, how we treat one another. And more importantly, it governs how we approach those that we serve externally. So these principles I created back in gosh, probably been 2017. And and was witness to a massive cultural turnaround. When there once was, I would say, a toxic environment, some silos lots of kind of undercurrent of unhappiness and unease. And even what I would describe as as really a fear of kind of being ourselves and not being able to express and kind of be our best. So I deployed those principles several years ago, and I was at a crossroads, gosh, about two years ago, where I had an opportunity to take another take another role and as a as a back in corporate America leading a big organization. And I thought to myself, I can either go into this transformation phase again, or I can take these principles and evangelize this message more broadly. And I chose path B. And that is, and that was what prompted me to write the book. So the full title of the book is begin with we 10 principles for building and sustaining a culture of excellence. And then of course, throughout the book, I highlight each of those 10 wheeze with real stories of kind of proof positive of why those principles have been so successful in my leadership journey. And And if folks were to pick up that leadership journey, from where I’ve left off using those principles, I think you’ll be better off for it.


Will Bachman  02:25

Why don’t you just quickly walk us through the 10 principles to anchor us?


Kyle McDowell  02:31

You bet. So as I mentioned, each principle starts with the word we and there, you know, as you as I walk through these, I’m the first to admit, well, you may hear these and go Well, yeah, of course, that makes sense. But what’s what’s most valuable, and most important when we talk about these principles is you know, by definition, a principle is a foundation or belief that we hold true. And I say that very purposeful, because if the team can align around a series of principles that we hold to be true, there are foundational beliefs, I believe we’re much more, we’re better positioned for success, we’re better positioned for dealing with adversity, or whatever external challenges might come our way. So as I walk through these, I’ll point out how they kind of build upon one another. And it starts very, very fundamental, the ends much more kind of tangible. The first way is we do the right thing, always. And again, I imagine your listeners might say, well, of course, we’re gonna do the right thing. But the right thing is, is different to different people in different situations. So I lay out a kind of a framework for deciding on what is the right thing. But what’s most important there, I think in the first week is that word always, because in times of stress, or in times of struggle, I’ve seen leaders kind of waver and not necessarily do the right thing, for a myriad of reasons. But so if we, if we lead off by saying, we’re going to do the right thing, always, in my mind, the very best thing any leader can do. And by the way, as I talk about leaders throughout our conversation, that doesn’t mean those with tons of direct reports, you may not have any direct reports, but you can still be a leader. But in my mind, the primary way to lead by doing the right thing is what lead by example. So if you’re known as a leader that has a high standard of doing the right thing, always, and you lead by example, your followship is much more authentic, and usually even easier to increase.



Kyle McDowell  06:32

Right on. Okay. So if we are committed to doing the right thing, always, I’m a firm believer that the best way to do that right out of the gate is to lead by example. And, and, by the way, when I use the word lead or refer to leaders throughout our conversation, it doesn’t mean someone with a bunch of direct reports, it doesn’t mean, you lead a big organization, you can have zero reports and be a very effective leader. So if we’re aligned around doing the right thing, always, which is the foundational principle of the 10 ways. Leading by example, is the best way to prove that you’re doing the right thing. So when we lead by example, we established a set of criteria, and we establish expectations, and we establish a level of quality that others will follow. And I think that’s an important one. But then, if we’re going to lead by example, to get a little more tactical we number three is we say what we’re going to do, then we do it, because the truth is will and you know this, if you’re anyone on a team, there are others that are counting on you. It could be the customer, it could be a team member, it could be anyone in your sphere. But the point is, when you make a commitment, it is a reflection of your brand. And it is a reflection of how much you care or don’t care. By hitting that commitment or not. If we can’t keep our commitments internally, we sure as heck aren’t going to be in a position to keep our commitments for those we serve externally. So if we’re aligned around those first three, now we’re getting to the point where we’ve got to be a little more tangible, and what these weeds represent. And number four, is the beginning of that. And that is we take action, taking action. And making a mistake is okay. But being idle is not. And the spirit of this week is is is pretty obvious. But I think I’ll go a little bit deeper. And that is, basically if you see something, do something, we’ve all been in that scenario where we recognize there’s an opportunity to be more efficient, to deliver better quality, maybe to improve turnaround time, or just improve anything from the customer’s perspective. But we don’t necessarily take action on that. And when we’re building a culture of excellence, when we see something that needs, that has an opportunity to be better, we’ve got to we’ve got to chase that. And that’s really about to be very specific. If it’s in the domain in which you have oversight, or your leader within the company that has, you know, you pick an operation that that reports up into you, you’ve got to recognize the opportunities and chase them down. What we can’t do is be idle, we can’t recognize their opportunities to improve, but not seize those opportunities, that’s complacency. And that’s a slippery slope to really kind of being replaced. But if you’re gonna take action, you got to expect mistakes. I mean, you can’t expect and encourage people to go out on a limb be innovative, and not expect mistakes. So we number five is we own our mistakes. We’re not judged by our mistakes, we’re judged by how quickly we remedy them. And if we repeat them, I really believe that if you as a consumer, if I’m in a position where where someone has let me down, I rarely judge them by the mistake and more often judged them by how quickly they fix it. And if it happens again. So in this culture of excellence, if we’re going to push people to take action, we’ve got to be ready and be very overt about expecting mistakes.


Will Bachman  09:43

Mistakes are okay but let’s let’s try to make different mistakes.


Kyle McDowell  09:47

That’s exactly right. That’s the tagline we’re judged if we repeat them not at the mistake happens, how quickly we fix it and does it happen again. I’ve very little tolerance for multiple mistakes on the same page. Topic. So, you know, once we own our mistakes, the logical thing in my mind is the next week, and that is we pick each other up. So when someone on the team struggles, they stumble, they’re in a bad way. Maybe results weren’t where they wanted them to be. A we oriented leader picks up that person, but not only because they pick them up and help them through kind of whatever that struggle is, we oriented leader is also keen to make sure that they lift people to new heights. And let me be a little more specific. As a leader. If I am known for picking up someone on my team who has struggled or who is in a bad way, I can’t possibly be taken seriously as their leader, if I’m not also adamant and trying to help them get to their new heights. So even your highest performers, if they have a plan or desire to move on and do something different in the organization, I think it’s incumbent on the leader to help them reach that new height. I think it’s incumbent on that leader to be there when they stumble, but also there to elevate them to new heights. So we’ve got to pick them up after the mistake happens. And that’s we six, we pick each other up. So now we’re getting a little bit more, I would say gnarly is the word I would use, because the next few weeks can make folks uncomfortable. There’s some of the more challenging ways, but they also happen to be my favorite. And we seven is we measure ourselves by outcomes, not activity. Corporate America, at least in my nearly 30 years is notorious for rewarding activity, notorious for rewarding busy work, that don’t necessarily or worst case don’t at all, connect to an outcome. So and I’m sure you’ve seen this throughout your your career, and that is people, in many instances, assess their value, or assign their value to the organization by how busy they are. You know, it’s triple booked four times today, I had 13 meetings today, whatever the case is, but I’m of the opinion that that doesn’t impress me, tell me about your outcomes. Now, I’m not saying activity is not important, because activity certainly leads into outcomes. But we need to have a conspicuous connection between the two, if the activity doesn’t conspicuously connect to an outcome, it should be challenged. I think meetings are probably the biggest corporate, you know, corporate America, we’re very, very excited to schedule meeting after meeting because it creates what we think is to be value. But I’m adamant we seven is the right one. And that’s we measure ourselves by outcomes, not activity. But if we’re gonna measure ourselves by outcomes, it’s important for the team to be in a position where they are challenging one another. So we ate is we challenge each other. And there’s a one word follow on to that. And that word is diplomatically. And a challenge must be grounded in one of two, if not both of these areas that gotta be grounded in data, or experience. So what does that mean? Right? So if I’m going to walk into the office one day, and you’re my peer, well, and I say, Well, I really think you can do better on last week’s performance scorecard. There’s a couple items here that I feel like you can do better, I must follow that challenge up with data to say, Okay, you were at 65, we need to get you to 70. And here’s how I think you can get their point here, point there, whatever the scenario is, but data needs to not opinion based in other words, and experiences right behind data. So will if you are responsible for leading a rollout of let’s pretend that you lead a CRM implementation. And I am now leading a CRM implementation and you’re on my team. Well, the experience that you have in your in a previous life, I should listen to, that’s something that’s very, very important, because we don’t wanna make the same mistakes you had. And if you found a better mousetrap than I want to copy that. So we’ve got to challenge each other. But we ate, if not followed by we nine is anarchy. And that is we embrace challenge, the team just simply must be in a position, everyone on the team must be in a position to be open minded and accept a challenge. You know what, as well as I do, there is nothing gained in this life that doesn’t come after challenge, we’ve got to see those challenges, embrace those challenges, and be better off for those challenges. If we deny a challenge, that’s essentially denying an opportunity to improve. So if we embrace those challenges, we made it all the way to number 10. And number 10, is the bow on the present. And that is we obsess over details. Details matter a lot. And it was purposeful to lead that at number 10. Because if you lead off with a set of principles that says we’re gonna obsess over details, it’s like well, okay, yeah, but that sounds good, but give me the real meat. But when we close with it, it takes on a different context in my mind, and that is we’ve we have established that we’re doing the right thing. We’re leading by example, where we’re doing what we say we’re going to do, we’re taking action, we’re owning our mistakes, we pick each other up all the way to number 10. That’s really obsess over details. Now, some people push back in this one and say well, details Are you know that just don’t don’t sweat the details. And I couldn’t be further from the truth, I think, you know, being obsessed with details, really is indicative of the care that you put into your brand. And more importantly, the care that you put into those that you serve either internally or externally. You know, I use this scenario a lot, and I think it’s appropriate, the manager of a Motel Six, right, most likely would probably like to have 1000 thread count sheets for their guests, their budget doesn’t allow for it, right. But what their budget does allow for is them to take the same care when they fold a 200 thread count sheet, when they make the bed of that 200. With that 200 Count thread sheet. The point there is obsess over the details that you have control over. Right, we have to manage to that to our budgets, expectations are the level that our budget will allow. So obsessing over details is a way to round out kind of the principles that will lead us to a culture of excellence. I do


Will Bachman  16:01

think you did great, I’d say the the one principle of those that I think probably in spirit, you and I are aligned, I’d say the one that I have slight difference of perspective on is number seven, which is we measure ourselves by outcomes, not by activity. So I think, you know, eventually, at some point, the team has to be, you know, creating outcomes. That makes sense. But there are some areas where I guess my own personal philosophy is the focus is to focus more on process with a belief that if you’re doing the right activities, it’s eventually going to play out well. So for example, on business development, right. And so, you know, in some, in some industries with a shorter sales cycle, you can kind of measure outcomes quickly. But like in the consulting world, you if you are consistently making, you know, five outbound calls per week, to check in on people and build relationships, then eventually, that will probably pay off. Right. So that’s activity well spent? Absolutely. So those are activities, where if you said, hey, you know, I didn’t get any new leads this week, oh, I’m failing, then I would say your time frame is too short. So over the over the right timeframe, you got it, you know, you want to have outcomes. But it’s it for some things like business development, a, if you’re consistently making outbound calls, if you’re consistently building relationships, checking in, if you’re like sending a nice thank you note, once a week or something, if you’re going to visit people and have lunches like that activity for me would be good. Same thing almost with your health, like, Hey, if you’re working out every day, or if you’re running five times a week, that’s a process metric. And that’s, you know, don’t worry, like, if you’re doing if you’re doing the right process, you’re gonna get outcomes eventually. So I mean, that’s maybe one area where I’m thinking, there’s some areas where, if you’re doing the right process, and you’re convinced that you’re doing the right activity, then don’t stress too much about the outcomes, because they’re, so they’re so irregular, or unpredictable. But you can have faith. And if they if you’re getting the activities, right, the outcomes will follow.


Kyle McDowell  18:31

Believe it or not, well, we’re saying the same thing. We’re saying the same thing, I am trying to remove the non value add activity, because at the end, and I love your scenario, and I touch on in the book, by the way, the longer the runway of the activity, using the same CRM implementation, as an example, if that’s an 18 to 24 month roadmap, there’s going to be tons of activity that lead up to that outcome. You know, I’ll use the other example that you mentioned. And that’s, that’s healthy, and I tried to stay reasonably fit. activities important. Sure. But if it doesn’t lower my cholesterol, if it doesn’t reduce my weight, if it does, I’m doing the wrong activity. So I’ve got to identify the right activity to lead to that outcome. Because at the end of the day, we’re paid for outcomes. Right? So using your sales cycle as an example, someone in the BD world who spends, you know, they spend every waking hour on activity but have not closed the deal in 36 months. I don’t think they’re going to be employed very long. So the outcome must be the point of this weekend spirit, is this connecting value add activity to those outcomes? You know, for example, I’m thrilled that my Uber driver picks me up with a full tank of gas. I appreciate him taking that activity, but I didn’t pay him for that. I paid him from taking me to point A to point B. So I believe I think we’re saying the same thing. It’s it’s aligning around the right activities, and not giving credit when an activity doesn’t lead all went through an outcome. And I think and by the way, I think it’s even worse. It’s the it’s the, it’s most visible in larger companies. In the meeting, Cadence is usually the best indication of people focus more on activity versus outcome. Because how many times have you sat in a meeting? Scope creep kind of enters, enters the room, and by by five or 10 minutes has gone by, we’re like, What the heck are we here for to begin with? And you leave that meeting? wondering, did I add value? Do we add value that we change anything? So I’m just encouraging folks to be much more purposeful on the activity and be able to draw a conspicuous lines that output?


Will Bachman  20:35

Yeah, fair enough. I saw a quote that Jeff Bezos said Amazon said something like internal communication is a sign of dysfunction. So he actually said, interesting, yeah, he actually said, I don’t want to have internal communication. If two teams are communicating with each other, then that means that we have a broken process. And they should have basically each have an API and not need to communicate to one another at all. So


Kyle McDowell  21:05

I would love to hear more about the context of that quote, because that’s a hard one to get behind on the surface, to be honest.


Will Bachman  21:10

Yeah. So he’s basically saying, like, you know, far flung teams should not be having a meeting and communicating, we should set up the system so that they have an API, so that there’s no need to communicate in the first place. Yeah, and so Okay, so, so you got these 10 ways. So talk to me a bit about an organization can nod their heads? Uh, yeah, that those all makes sense. Right. Those are, those are pretty good ideas. How do you go from people saying, Yeah, okay, I, I’m bought, and I agree to actually implementing these in an organization. So how would an organization take these and actually translate them into action and change the way they run the company to make these come alive?


Kyle McDowell  21:56

Yeah, I think the first component is it must be delivered with authenticity and be genuine. You know, putting these words on a wall, or on a screensaver, it might make someone feel good, but the first time, the leader that has taken that action ends up not doing the right thing not leading by example, missing his or her commitments, the entire set of principles is the house of cards. So first and foremost, those that are responsible for kind of evangelizing this message for for making sure that people are aware of it, they’ve got to lead by example, they must live these ways every single day, day in day out without fail. And I’ll say, PACE matters a lot. This is not the kind of thing you can walk in one morning and say, Hey, everybody, we’re gonna challenge each other, that just doesn’t go over well, it has to be done diplomatically. It has to be done kind of with, with grace. And most importantly, it’s got to be done in a way that allows everyone on the team to see and feel that it’s being done. You know, after I wrote the principles outlined at the company I was with back in 17. Maximus, I was very purposeful, not not to demand that these principles be adhered to, I was very purposeful to say, these are the rules by which I will treat you. And I hope that you treat me and lead me and manage me in that same way instead of just like that, because it’s in my mind this leadership gap that we’ve all seen where the leader has a different set of rules than those on the team. It just creates all kinds of distrust, and we’re left with an org chart, not a team. So living the principles every day, watching my team, live them, but more importantly, having them watch me. And I’ll get a really quick example, when I first rolled these out, I had a direct report, a young woman who was she wasn’t on board, I could see it from the very beginning. In every interaction, literally, for the first probably 60 days, every interaction I had with her was contentious. She didn’t believe in me, she thought I was full of it. She felt like it was just another starts shirt, leading a message that wouldn’t last. She’s one of my best friends today. And the reason for that is if I had reacted in a way to her to her kind of obstinance and her not really buying in, if I had reacted in a way that was anything contrary to those 10 principles. It’s hollow, it carries no weight. It’s just words on a wall, like most mission statements we’ve been that we’ve seen. So living them as most important, and and then actually applying them and aligning them. So for example, will the day would not go by where I’d be on a call or in a meeting and I wouldn’t hear someone say to someone else. Hey, Laurie, we challenge each other. Right? Which does a fascinating thing. The person on the receiving end of that challenge. They know Wait, wait, this is the foundational belief that we’ve all agreed to. I need to hear this challenge out because I know it’s not going to be personal. Because the two rules that apply to data or experience must be must accompany that challenge. It disarms people. It aligns people around the same set of principles. goals which enable those mission statements purpose and value. So I think it’s being really purposeful about it overt and consistently communicating the message and not wavering from it when it’s easy to waver, because those times will come?


Will Bachman  25:12

Yeah. Do you think that are there some of these that requires some training, so some of these you could be, you could understand it, and you could be bought into it. But some of these might actually require some training, I’m thinking maybe number number eight, have we challenged each other automatically, that might require some roleplay training to help people get the hang of challenging someone diplomatically


Kyle McDowell  25:42

100%. And when I’m asked my favorite, we are the toughest way to implement, I always point to eight, because it’s both. And it does take time. And you’ve got to be disciplined to make sure that the challenges that you offer, and the challenges that you observe others offer are grounded in either experience or data. And when they’re not, you are free, at least in my organization, and my teams, you are free to say well, we’ll hang on we’ll that that challenge was 100%. Based on your opinion, you don’t like the shirt I’m wearing today, or you know, whatever the scenario is, and being simple for illustrative, illustrative sake. But the point is, is to be very overt and say this is how we operate. And in something when you observe or quote, unquote, catch someone not behaving that way, gets called out for it. But more importantly, and what I’m selling something I’ve witnessed, and it’s still in practice that Maximus years after I left is when you observe someone really living one of the ways acknowledged that as well. And at maximum is, for example, they have a twice a year award ceremony, where they acknowledge and reward people that work, quote, unquote, caught Living One of the ways it’s the celebration twice a year. So being being overt when people stray, but also rewarding when people demonstrate those principles is really critical.


Will Bachman  27:00

Yeah. Tell us a little bit about now that you’ve written the book, and I understand it’s getting some real good sales launched a couple weeks ago. What are your kind of goals for the next few years? Are you planning to do some speaking? Are you focused on executive coaching? Are you trying to do more of consulting? Or what’s what’s your kind of near term gameplan? Here now that the book is launched?


Kyle McDowell  27:29

Yeah, well, first of all, thank you for acknowledging that the book is really found its place in the world, man, I, I’m just so thrilled with the response. It’s gotten, we hit Wall Street Journal, USA Today bestseller list, as well as Amazon, we had Amazon like 24 hours, we’re number one in nine categories on Amazon. So you know, as cliche as it might sound, it is the Absolute Truth, I will I will follow this mission. And these principles, wherever they take me. And by that I mean, I am, I am convinced now that this is my life’s purpose. And I know that sounds cliche, but it’s a fact. It’s my life’s purpose. So if that if that is that manifests itself through public speaking through executive coaching, through through online courses, whatever the medium may be, I’m convinced because I’ve seen it. This is not theoretical. I’ve seen people I’ve seen bosses become leaders, I’ve seen organizations change and cultures thrive, where they were once toxic. So I think it’s incumbent on me to continue to, to evangelize the message. And whatever medium that takes, I’m happy to, I’ve already been on the speaking circuit, obviously, doing a bunch of podcasts to promote the book, The reception has been overwhelming. So I’m gonna continue that for the for the very foreseeable future. But ultimately, you know, Kyle metalink, the company I founded to help evangelize these messages and continue to get the word out. We’re gonna be focused on building training. For organizations, we’re going to be focused on some certifications that allow teams to kind of strive to be a we oriented culture. But most importantly, just getting the message out there by any medium possible.


Will Bachman  29:10

Tell listeners a bit about your executive background before you wrote this book. You were running large organizations just give us a quick sketch of that.


Kyle McDowell  29:19

Yeah, you bet. So I’ll save you the early years, but the bumper sticker is nearly nearly 30 years, 2829 years in corporate America. Almost every role had a had a flavor of transformation or turnaround to it. And all roles were operations in nature. So my last gig before exiting to write the book was leading a national international pharmacy benefit management organization had 15,000 employees oversaw a $2 billion op X 40 Something locations. You know, one of the things that’s kind of cool about that role is I lead the world’s largest mail order pharmacy. We’ve have filled north of 15 million prescriptions a year. So big operation prior to that, where the 10 wheeze were were birthed was at Maximus, as I mentioned earlier. And that role involves me overseeing all the enrollment centers for the Affordable Care Act as well as 100, Medicare, very purpose driven work, had north of 14,000 employees that peak across the country. So I’ve always led big operations. A lot of the a lot of the experience comes from the healthcare space. Prior to that I ran operations for two Medicare Advantage plans, I spent a bunch of time inside of the largest health insurer in the US doing some transformation and government work there. So that’s, that’s that’s the, I guess that’s the 62nd summary of where I’ve spent the last 30 years.


Will Bachman  30:50

And Kyle, if people want to check out your firm and find out what you’re doing, or maybe book a speaking engagement, or hire you as an executive coach, where would you point them online?


Kyle McDowell  31:01

Very easy. All social platforms are Kyle McDowell Inc. and my website is Kyle McDowell inc.com.


Will Bachman  31:09

We will include those links in the shownotes. Thanks. Well, thank you. Thank you, Kyle, congratulations on the book and the message, which is resonates and is powerful. And we will include those links in the show notes. Thanks so much for joining today.


Kyle McDowell  31:24

Thank you. Well, it’s my pleasure.

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