Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 48 we spoke to the inspiring Ian Mills, the CEO and founding director of Transform Performance International, a global advisory firm offering solutions to business performance challenges.
Ian has over 20 years of industry experience. He has been known for successfully creating ‘distinctive customer experience’ strategies and developing world-class leadership teams in highly regulated complex international environments.
In this chat we spoke about the importance of staying curious and how to identify your purpose.
Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Ian Mills on YouTube, Spotify, Listen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.
Authored by Ian Mills the CEO and founding director of Transform Performance International.
Leadership discourse today tends to revolve around performance, when in fact, businesses perform better when their leaders focus less on performance and more on their people and mindsets. Through researching for The Leader’s Secret Code, my team and I found that the right mindset, along with insatiable curiosity, is the ultimate foundation a business owner needs to make the right decisions, and eventually get to where they want to be.
Regardless of whether your goal is to sell locally or to go global, it’s the beliefs you hold that determine whether or not you achieve it. Contrary to what you might think, banging on the door of a local prospect is no different to banging on the door of a global organisation. What is stopping you from calling a major company in California? Is it really different to speaking to someone in Sydney?
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”. Think big. Even though you might not be able to pull it off sometimes, if you think big, you will at least take the action you need to get closer.
Perhaps you do have a goal of procuring an international client. Having the right mindset will mean that even if it takes years, the journey of experimenting and learning along the way will be worth it. On the other hand, if your mind believes in your failure, you will be more likely to be sitting watching football every night, proving yourself correct.
From my research of successful entrepreneurs, a lot of leaders focus too much on their skills and knowledge at the expense of their underlying belief system, which is the wrong way to go. Your belief system is the foundation and backbone of everything, while your skills and knowledge come as a consequence. In order to become the best version of yourself, shift the focus from your behaviour to your beliefs and mindset.
Three-horizon thinking is a helpful tool for balancing your mindset and behaviour. Imagine you’re in a yacht sailing the ocean. Horizon one is the wave that’s in front of you and seconds away from hitting you. Horizon two is the oil tank you see in the distance that will approach in a day’s time. Horizon three is the unknown.
Any leader, whether for a big or small company, will spend most of their time at horizon one, tackling the wave of paying the bills and running the business day-to-day. A good leader, however, will also be thinking about horizon two (where they want to be by next year) and horizon three (what is unknown but infinitely possible). Thinking through these three horizons will create the time and space you need to plan how you might move towards your goal. It helps you gradually move towards that destination rather than jumping from one volatile place to another.
As a leader, stay curious
I have found that top-performing leaders tend to model themselves after someone who has done it before them. That is why the most powerful behaviour that anyone with a goal can have is insatiable curiosity. Have the desire to understand what people have done before, how they have done it and, most importantly, why.
This modelling technique works well for the whole ‘work smarter not harder’ mantra. If someone else has gotten to where you want to be, why not do what they’ve done in order to get there as well? However, it’s also difficult because it requires constant patience and curiosity that delves deeper than the superficial. You’re not just copying techniques and strategies, but mindsets and confidence.
Leadership is like golf; nobody has really perfected it, and nobody will. I only encourage people to think about how to get better and become the best version of themselves. Just like if you spend time with a golf coach, if you spend time listening to other successful leaders, you will learn the good, bad, and ugly, and how to make different outcomes for yourself. However, this goes back to the underlying belief system. You have to be open to learning from others in order to extract any value from them. If you believe the people before you have gotten lucky and therefore you can’t reach their level of success, then you won’t. However, if you walk into that meeting with the aim of extracting at least one lesson, then you’re already on your way.
I implore you to pick up the phone and call someone who has accomplished exactly what you dream to accomplish. Ask them about the foundations they set to allow them to break the mould or shift the paradigm. This means when you meet with them, instead of asking the boring old questions of who do you work for and what do you do, consider the following questions instead. Why do you do what you do? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Why do you do what you do?
When we researched successful entrepreneurs, the first six or so said they didn’t start with the purpose of making money. They started because they had a passion for whatever they were doing. In other words, they had answers to the question ‘why do you do what you do?’ Find your answer to this question and it will be what sets you apart from the rest. It gives customers the reason why they should come to you.
If you’re an SME looking for distinctiveness, the only person who can measure distinctiveness is the customer. Your customer defines, measures and rewards distinctiveness. Therefore, you also have to be curious as to what the customer wants and needs in order to set yourself apart. Many business owners make decisions based on good intentions and can’t understand why customers are still not buying their products or services. It is because, even though the intentions are good, they are not delivering what the customer wants.
Usually, when businesses articulate their unique selling point internally, they only list off their strengths, but your competitors are probably saying the same thing. We all do the job well, but we have to find an actual differentiating factor. What your clients tell you about your business will set you apart. Once again, you have to be curious and learn why your customer chooses you over all the other companies doing the same thing.
Once you have that, turn it into a story. Information is 20 times more likely to have a lasting impact on people when they are told through stories. Turn your value into a story in order to resonate with people in ways they’ll remember you forever.
Major James Knight MC once told me, “Be interested, not interesting”. This stuck with me, because as a leader in today’s society, it’s never about being the smartest person who gives all the directions, instead it’s about listening to others in order to collaborate and participate effectively. Become the most curious person you’ve ever met. Be almost like a child in the way you ask all sorts of questions all the time, to the point it might get annoying. Why do so many people apologise for asking a client or colleague a question? You should be asking them 20 more questions!
In an attempt to satisfy my curiosity, I always use the ‘crazy question technique’. This is when, as a leader, you pose an unexpected question to see the recipient’s reaction. For example, you might ask, “If I were to suggest you applied for a new position in a new branch in London, what would you like about that?” This specific line of questioning will uncover facts about your employee you might never have known. Then you can ask, “What would make that a better suggestion?” rather than, “What wouldn’t you like about it?” Through this, you have a conversation where you’ve uncovered new information about your team, which also helps in your decision-making process.
Staying curious and asking questions is the only way you can deliver true value to your clients and customers. Curiosity, when combined with listening and observation, uncovers vital decision-making information that will allow you to take your business to new levels.
Mindset is the foundation for building a business. If you don’t have the right mindset, you can’t expect your behaviours to work in your favour. The right optimistic mindset will set you up to stay curious, which leads you to learn more and make lucrative decisions. So, ask yourself, how can I utilise my curiosity every day?