What’s an EPIC conversation? I suppose it’s open to interpretation, so I’ll start with my definition. I consider an EPIC conversation to be one that requires the presence of trust, transparency, honesty, and security. It’s the place where teams can thrive. Where relationships can grow and deepen sending roots so far below the surface so virtually any storm can be withstood. This is where growth and success occur at astonishing rates. All of that from some conversations? No, not exactly. All of that from conversations with people who have earned the freedom to speak truth into your life. Where the motivation is pure and the desire is for your greatest good. It’s where light exposes the pitfalls on the darkest paths. Where you are kept from falling off the cliff when you stumble.
As you can tell, these conversations occur with a very select group of people. Infrequent social media posts with your “friends” could never drive this level of authentic relationship. The bond develops only by spending time together. I recognize face-to-face isn’t always possible, and there might be other equally effective ways to connect, but that hasn’t been my experience. A significant investment of time and energy is a precursor to deep discussion.
And it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful to behold – in some ways, I can’t even describe what it looks like or how it feels to have those conversations, but I can tell you that you absolutely will know it when you are in the middle of one. When hearts are opened and souls are bared, it’s deep, it’s emotional and it changes lives – it sounds like an exaggeration, right?! I mean really, it changes lives? These do. These are some of the most moving and meaningful words you will share or hear.
I mentioned in the previous episode that prepping for this place requires confronting that sickening feeling deep in your gut that results from being in an uncomfortable situation. The irony? The people who appear most comfortable in front of strangers, party guests, boardroom execs or co-workers are just as petrified as you are, but they have learned how to act in spite of their fear. So how do you create an environment for these conversations to occur?
You already know that Mike Kim’s Pivot Course and the subsequent participation in a mastermind resulted in the birth of this podcast. But what preceded the podcast was something FAR more valuable. You know how I feel about this podcast. I’m passionate about the medium, and even more about the message. I know the value it brings as several of you have said as much. If I could open my brain and download my 30+ years of work experience, all of the examples of good and bad leadership, I would do it. This model delivers massive value at times which are convenient for you. But no matter how much I love the results from podcasting, it’s primarily a one-sided conversation. You comment or send a note or email. You share your thoughts, but it’s not real time.
I told you that I had participated in a mastermind formed by participants of Mike Kim’s Pivot Course and how that has lasted for almost three years now. I also participated in a paid mastermind with Mike after the Pivot Course was done. In that paid mastermind, I learned about a way of creating an environment for these super deep conversations to occur. When Mike would travel to different locations around the world, he would host a breakfast and bring his connections together to meet him and each other. He called it EPIC breakfast.
Engage A Mentor
Here is critical point #1: listen to a mentor who has been there, done that. The trail had been blazed. My connections would be different than Mike’s and certainly, the context of the work I was doing was different. But regardless of all the differences, at the core, the principles would transcend. His guidance made me confident that it could work for me in Salt Lake City.
When I heard it, I knew immediately that I wanted to give it a try. Once Mike knew I was keen, he was persistent and pushed me until I committed to taking action. It started this simply: make a list of the people you know and think about where they are at in their career. What is it about them that makes them a desirable connection, someone that you would want to emulate or learn from?
I knew who I wanted to target: executives and senior leaders in organizations who were so busy leading, they weren’t taking time to connect with other leaders in a meaningful way. There are many things that I don’t do well. One thing I can do though: I can commit to a decision and take action. Mike pressed until I committed a date to have my list. Once the list was created, I was going to have to narrow it. No more than 8-10 invitees. If you know anything about small groups, when you get more than 10 in a room, it gets really difficult for everyone to have time, or feel comfortable, to share. The ideal is 6-8 folks. The benefit of having 10-12 invitees is that you are assured of having eight show up every time.
Avoid Common And Comfortable Connections
Once I had the list, and here’s critical point #2, I purposely included people who I didn’t talk to every day. Why? I love my coworkers. Many of them are people that I feel like I have deep, authentic relationships with – I value them and their opinions. In this instance, I knew that I needed to connect with people who were not influenced by, or coming from, the same industry. Similar roles/responsibilities made me concerned that I would fall into “groupthink” and I didn’t want that for them or for me! I wanted engagement outside of my norm. With people who saw the local and global economy differently than I did. People who looked at their work and their teams through a different lens.
Over the course of a couple days, the easy part was done. I had the list of people I wanted to approach first. Accomplishment, right?! Wrong. At the next mastermind, Mike wanted my commitment for when I would contact the people on the list. Thinking about it would cause that familiar knot in my stomach. What do I have to offer these people? I respect and admire them. I wasn’t at all embarrassed about where I was/am in my career; rather, I felt a bit of an imposter when compared to what many of them had achieved.
Again, the value of the mentor/coach. Mike reminded me that each one of those people on that list was not always in their current position. The thing that was critical: I had to stay focused on the benefit for the attendees. I was creating an environment where they could share their unique challenges in complete confidence and get the insight from those in the room who had been through similar or identical circumstances. We would learn together.
Take Uncomfortable Action
Here’s critical point #3: you’ve heard me say it before, action leads to answers
It’s one thing to say you’re interested, another to get after it and put your reputation on the line with people and risk any credibility you have. Do you know what’s worse than that knot in your stomach that comes with entering the room of unknowns? It’s the rapidly growing apprehension that results from the knowledge that everyone in that room is there because you opened your big mouth! A situation that YOU created on purpose. Sure, it worked for Mike, but maybe it’s more about him than I think. More doubts, more second thoughts.
It gets even better though. The potential for embarrassment ratchets up considerably. You could almost vomit knowing that now you have to deliver on a promise that you made to that room full of people. You said they would benefit by investing time with you and the others in that room. That, THAT is the worst, my friend.
The first two people I contacted were the ones that I knew would be able to help me assess whether EPIC breakfasts would be a massive success or a miserable failure. I reached out to Harvey Scott and Tom Jackson. I knew that I would get an honest assessment from them and I knew that if they didn’t think it would fly, then I would have to reassess.
Get Input From Trusted Advisors
And that’s critical point #4: get the input of trusted advisors
I vividly recall the conversation with Harvey. Harvey was the Director of International Trade and Diplomacy at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for the state of UT. I met Harvey on a trade mission to Brazil. By all accounts, he’s an accomplished individual. Not only has had a stellar corporate career, he has started a couple of entrepreneurial ventures and had even sold some of his early startups. He was not only a business development executive with his current employer but was also onto the launch of two additional businesses of his own.
But beyond all of that, I knew that I could align with the values that Harvey holds. There was much that I could learn from him and I was genuinely nervous to call him but knew I had to. Without his honest assessment, I wouldn’t know if this could fly.
And I knew from the moment he picked up that call that I had done the right thing. How did I know? He pushed back. Harvey’s a busy guy. He didn’t need another social event on his calendar. Where was the value? His previous employer had paid 10s of thousands of dollars per year to belong to networking groups that guaranteed results for the executives they served. No one missed – in part because they paid lots of money so they were going to be sure to be present – but more because they knew they were going to walk out with more value than they paid in.
It caused me to fall back on my heels a bit. But I knew the vision: provide a place for senior leaders to connect and share, develop relationships, and help each other with difficulty they never imagined, but others had likely experienced. As sure as I’m sitting here, the conversation immediately shifted. All I can say is that somehow, I managed to sufficiently communicate a vision that Harvey latched onto. It was a palpable change in his level of interest and I was beyond excited.
The next call was to Tom Jackson. Tom was a bigger risk for me. I knew Harvey, but I was friends with Tom. Our relationship spanned more than 10 years. I did not want to do anything that would damage our friendship. He was equally successful and I admired what Tom has achieved. Listen to my two-part interview with Tom on episode 49 and episode 50 to hear how he started his own business and eventually became the President of Steel Encounters. It’s a fascinating story that will tell you everything you need to know about the caliber of Tom and his team.
Tom was supportive when I described what I wanted to achieve with the EPIC breakfast. Not supportive like a friend, but supportive like Harvey. Tom had spent considerable time in executive coaching programs and could assess what would be beneficial. Once again, I felt like the bar was set pretty high and I couldn’t let them either of them down.
This critical point #5 might surprise you. I was picky about who we would invite to join. As you can imagine, not everyone I reached out to jumped on the bandwagon. There were many who weren’t interested and didn’t respond. You can’t take that personally. There is a myriad of reasons why people make the choices they do at a given moment, but hear me on this: DO NOT GET DESPERATE.
Remember, you are creating an environment that meets the needs of the people you are bringing together. That’s far more important than filling the room!
Critical point #6 Exceed expectations
If you want to knock it out of the park, figure out how to exceed the expectations of the attendees. There are so many ways to do this. Get creative – here are five off the top of my head:
- always have great content/questions ready for the group that indicates you have spent more than five minutes preparing
- be prompt in your responses to group members
- write a thank you note to each attendee and be specific about their contribution that you value/appreciate
- pick articles from magazines or links to websites that are relevant to topics discussed or of interest to group members
- share book recommendations connected to topics recently discussed
- connect group members with those you know that have similar interests or are facing similar concerns
You can create an environment that is conducive to generating EPIC conversations. Use these pointers and go engage with someone who has already done it, avoid common/comfortable connections, take uncomfortable action, get input from trusted advisors, be picky about who you invite and exceed expectations. The only question that remains is who are you going to go connect with?
Great Quotes From This Episode:
“Action leads to answers.” – Mark Slemons
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
Mike Kim’s website
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