Steve Farber is the president of Extreme Leadership, Incorporated, and the founder of The Extreme Leadership Institute, organizations devoted to the cultivation and development of Extreme Leaders in the business community, non-profits and education.
In this episode, Steve talks about music, transparency, love and leadership in business. He explains what the Extreme Leader Institute is about and what they do. He also talks about authenticity, transparency, realness and how people respond to these things.
Today, we are talking to one of the members of the Clear Business Directory on what it means to operate a transparent business. Our guest today is Steve Farber of the Extreme Leader Institute. You are in for a treat. Steve is not only an all-around great guy, but he is a musician and he’s been in the business of leadership for the last twenty plus years. He is a best-selling author. This is a guy in business that gets it, who understands what leadership means and everything that he does is top-notch. I am honored to have him on the show today. Steve, thank you for joining for us.
Thank you, Justin. Those are very kind words. I appreciate it.
I got to be honest with you, Steve. You blew me away the last time we went when you broke out the guitar.
Thank you. I started playing guitar when I was thirteen years old. When I was in my late teens, early twenties, if you would have asked me what I’d be doing in my 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, I wouldn’t have said leadership development author, mentor. I would have said musician. I would have said I’d be on tour. I’d be writing songs. Let’s just say it didn’t turn out that way. It’s been really fun, it’s something that I’ve just started to do recently to bring music into my work as a speaker, an author, a coach, and all that. I feel like I’m on a little bit of a new journey by reaching back in the past and bringing forward something that I’ve been always passionate about, music.
It really gives people a good insight as to who you are. I thought I knew you and then, of course, boom, there you are. You break out the guitar and I am like, “Hang on a second. I didn’t know that piece about you.” It’s such an almost intimate knowingness of somebody when you connect through music. I love the fact that you are able to share that. Folks, not only did he play but he also sang. It was a version of Amazing Grace with another member at the forum that we were just at. It was absolutely beautiful. Steve, thank you for sharing that.
Steve, outside of being a contributor in Inc Magazine, can you share a little bit more about what the Extreme Leadership Institute is all about?
I’ve written three books: The Radical Leap, The Radical Edge, and Greater Than Yourself. The Radical Leap came out originally in 2004. It’s had a few additions since then. I have been doing the work of leadership development and started in the really late 80s early 90s. I have been doing this for quite some time. Over the years, I’ve developed my own point of view on what great leadership is and I described it as Extreme Leadership and I built my company around that.
The Extreme Leadership Institute, which is my main company, is really all about helping people to understand that leadership is not about your position. It’s not about your title. It’s not about where you sit on an org chart. It’s not about how much power you have over other people. It’s about your willingness, first of all, and then your ability to step up and change things for the better regardless of your position or title. This is what I help people do.
I help people in lots of different contexts. My primary playground, as it were, has been in the corporate world, in the world of business. I work with people in all different levels. I work with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and corporate executives. It just doesn’t matter to me. As long as they are human, that’s one prerequisite, and they are interested in changing things for the better, there’s something that I can do to help them.
Tonya’s completing your book and she was just blown away by it. Some of the points that you make and the concepts you bring to the leadership conversation is a breath of fresh air, because the old ways of doing business just aren’t effective anymore. Thought leaders such as yourself who bring new ideas around the concepts of leadership is really what people are craving. You and I have talked on a couple occasions on the concept of transparency in business and what that means from a leadership position. Is there something from a transparent perspective that you would want the audience to know about you, your business history, and some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Let me put it in a little bit of a broader context. If there’s one so-called fresh idea that I am bringing to the conversation about leadership, it’s by bringing in, ironically, something that’s not so fresh. It’s not so new. In fact, it’s rather timeless. It’s rather simply, love is the foundation of leadership. Love is the foundation of great business.
I get on my soap box and I try to get people to understand that love is not, and I can say this because I live here in California, it’s not California touchy-feely hoo-ha crap. Love is just damn good business really. We want our customers to love us. We want our customers to love our product or service that we offer because that’s where our competitive advantage comes from. If that’s the case, then the way to make that happen in a real sustainable and meaningful way over time is to create an environment that people love working in. I can’t create that environment unless I love this work and the people that I work with, myself first. That’s the logical path. Love is the foundation of great business, and that is maybe what sets me apart a little bit perhaps.
I’d say that sets you apart quite a bit, especially in the corporate world.
Of course, love and transparency, they go hand in hand so to speak because this is not about faking it. It’s not about pretending I love my customers or my team when I really don’t. It’s about tapping into an authentic emotion and very human experience. The more I love and trust somebody, the more transparent I am with them about who I am, what I am trying to do, where I come from and where we are trying to go together. Authenticity has become almost a buzz word in recent years. The reason things become buzz words is because there’s a fairly common agreement that it’s a good idea. The down side to being a buzz word, and that is that we think if we’re using the word then we are doing the thing. It’s the old adage that, “Authenticity is a great thing. If you can learn how to fake that, you got it made.” I don’t know who said that originally but it’s been a tribute to a lot of different people. That’s the idea. You can’t fake this stuff. You can’t fake transparency. Either you are transparent or you are not.
I’ll give you a very specific example from my own business. One of the things we do is certify people to teach our Extreme Leadership Workshop. They will come to San Diego. We do it twice a year. The next one is coming up on August 16th. We do a workshop on the first day that anybody can attend. It’s open to the public. Then the next three days is the Train the Trainer or certification process. When people are done with that, they’re licensed and certified to facilitate the Extreme Leadership Workshop. That’s the context for it. One of the things that we do is, at the end of the four days, we invite everybody to our house for a barbecue. To me, that just seems like the obvious thing to do. People are coming in from all over the world; they’re spending all these time and all this money with me to go deep into this body of work, which is my body of work, which is my life’s work. Why wouldn’t I want to hang out with them?
It’s just really interesting, Justin, because to me it just seems like an obvious thing. When I first started doing this, and we’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, I remember people were just absolutely gobsmacked that we invited them to our house. I guess it’s because they just don’t expect that level of intimacy and personal revealing of who you are. When somebody is standing around in your kitchen having a conversation, it’s just about as real as it gets. It’s that human to human interaction, and I love it. We’ve actually had people call the office and say, “When is the program with the barbecue coming up because I want to go to the barbecue?” There’s more to it than that, obviously. But I think that’s what people respond to, Justin. They respond to authenticity, transparency, and realness. We crave that in today’s world of fake news and weird stuff going on. We can’t separate dream from reality or illusion from fact. When we see somebody who’s actually real and is willing to let us in to their lives, we all respond to that.
I have to agree with you. What people I think are really missing in the business world is that connectedness. That tags right into your conversation of love. I get that all the time, “How do you guys do what you do? You just don’t trust anybody?” “No. It’s all about transparency and connecting with people.” By all means, we absolutely love people. It’s just a matter of helping bring that very similar message of, if you are going to connect with people, do it from a place of transparency. Do it from a place of authenticity.
It’s so funny, your story reminds me when I was in college and I had a professor that was teaching us concepts of ego, personal development, and understanding who you were and all these kinds of stuff. At the very end of the course, he invited us to his house for a barbecue. To me that was like, as far as everybody that I have been in front of, if I was going to be taking advice on who I was and what I was going to do with my life, here was a guy who’s telling me, “Here’s who I am. Come see how I live.” In the business world, for you to be able to do that for your clients is huge because that encompasses everything from a leadership perspective as to who you are. They get to see you there and connect with you there. It’s not just, “Thanks for coming to the event and I hope you can learn something.” But “I honor you. I see you. Come be a part of this inner circle and let’s really get a chance to connect.” In that space where you build lifelong clients, lifetime fans and where your business success really accelerates.
I think we also have to acknowledge the willingness to be transparent is scary for most people. We are always afraid that they are going to see something that they won’t like or something that’s even potentially shameful. I am sure you run into this all the time. I had that experience when we give you our information to go through your vetting process. “What are they going to find?” You run into that a lot when people start the process with you?
Absolutely. One of the biggest things that we come up against is just that, what are you going to find? How is it going to show up? Really where we come in and we help educate people on is like, “There is something out there in your background.” By coming from a place of transparency, it actually disarms any argument that somebody can use against you for not wanting to work with you.
Let’s take that for a second and look at it in the context of the leadership principle, because the same holds true every day. When I tell people, I coach and I write about this very thing, that human beings follow human beings. We don’t follow some idealized icon of unattainable perfection. We follow people and people are imperfect. It’s just the way we are. This is exactly the same advice that I give to leaders and aspiring leaders. Instead of trying to appear to be perfect, which none of us is, instead of trying to appear that way, how about instead just being really open and transparent and vulnerable with the things that you don’t do well, the areas where you’ve screwed up? It doesn’t mean necessarily revealing all the skeletons in your closet to everybody that you work with. Instead, just saying, “Listen, I tried this. Here’s what I did. It didn’t work. I screwed it up. Here’s what I learned from it. I am sharing this with you so you know that I don’t want to you make the same mistake that I did.” There are all kinds of opportunity just to be real, authentic and transparent.
We’ve been conditioned to believe on some level that when we are in a leadership role, that if we are seen as anything other than perfect, that damages our credibility .It doesn’t. If we are incompetent, that’s something else. I am not talking about, “Let’s all be transparently incompetent.” Even the most competent accomplished people screw things up occasionally. Our willingness to be able to use even our uncomfortable experience as a way to help other people to learn from is a great gift that we can give to people and actually creates a closer and tighter bond and actually increases my credibility, which is what you were saying. If you just come at it and say, “Look. Here is the issue. Here is what happened. Here is what I learned from it. Here’s how it’s shaping me into the person that I am today.” Then any negative charge on that just dissipates.
That’s one of the things I love about what we do, what the Clear Business Directory provides is it provides that safe space for people to share whatever there may be in their background. It’s not as if somebody just goes to the vetting process and then, boom, we populate the directory with whatever we find. Every member has got to review the report and then they actually have to actively choose to participate in the directory. What that really does is it really raises the bar and it’s not a complaint site. It’s not a place to get some fake rating on A+ business without really knowing who they are or what they do. It’s, “Look. I know this is what you are going to find on me. I want you to know about it and go read it. If you have any questions, let’s have a conversation. Outside of that, let’s go down to business.”
I guess what I am saying is it’s true in every context, whether you are leading a team or leading a company or you are in a relationship with somebody. Whenever more than one human being is involved, it’s a similar process. Our willingness to show our trust in other people by being trusting in our approach to them and to do that by being transparent.
Steve, with that, one of my favorite questions to ask people when they’re getting involved with somebody is, if there was one question or two that somebody should be asking you, what would that question be if they were deciding to come to one of your workshops or engage you in your business? About the work that you do, in order for them to do some additional due diligence on you, what would be a good question that would give us some insight as to whether or not it’s a good fit or not?
It would be something along the lines of, “Can you give me real live people to talk to whose lives and businesses have been changed and transformed for the better?” That’s the implication. I think that’s it. “Can you give me live people to talk to, real people, whose lives and businesses have been changed or transformed for the better by participating in your work?” Something like that.
Bringing it back to the people piece is good especially with what you do as far as how has your information impacted them, how has it impacted their business. That’s not something that you are necessarily going to feel from reading a positive review somewhere. It’s something you are going to feel by connecting with other people that have experienced what it is that you have to offer.
For me, I’ve had countless people really over the years that have responded to me via email to either response for reading one of my books or hearing me speak or attending my events, whatever it is. There has been a lot of different opportunities for that. What’s interesting about it is, it’s a very personal thing. The emails that I get, there are nice reviews on Amazon for the books and that sort of thing, but the emails that I get from people are really personal. They’re the kinds of things that you don’t go up on social media and post. Sometimes you do, “This book is great. It really changed my life.” I am paraphrasing, but I’ve gotten lots of emails similar to this. “It made me rethink the work that I have been doing and I realized that I am in the wrong place. I hate this job. I quit and I went out. I traveled around the country for a year to find myself. Now I decided to start a new business. It all started when I read your book.” That’s the kind of thing you’re not necessarily going to post on Facebook. Maybe you will. On the other hand, if somebody came to me and said, “Listen. I’d like to talk to some people to hear about their experience.” I’ve got probably dozens that would love to do that. They are just not going to do it publicly.
Steve, I know you mentioned that you’ve got an event coming up here in August. Is there a place that we can send listeners to to learn more about that?
Yes. My world lives at SteveFarber.com. I encourage people to go and spend some time there. If this sounds interesting to you, you are going to see on that site, there are lots of video. There are lots of content. There are lots of audios that you can sign up for. If you are interested in our Extreme Leadership Workshop, you will see a tab in the navigation called Workshops and Training. Then if you are interested in actually getting certified to teach that workshop, you will see a tab that says Certification.
Just spend some time there. Poke around. Watch the videos. Get a sense of who I am and what we do here. Then if you sign up for the audio series, and there’s a pretty obvious prompt to do that, it’s hard to miss, the audios are delivered to you from my email address. You can always just hit reply and if you have any questions, comments, concerns, emotional outbursts or whatever, I do respond to the emails that I get.
In addition, you can find more on Steve in his Clear Business Directory profile in ClearBusinessDirectory.com. If you attend one of his workshops, I am sure you are going to get blessed and graced with his music as well.
That is true. We are doing that more and more. I am not so sure about graced and blessed, but you will hear it.
Steve, thank you so much for taking the time to connect with us on the show today. I am so excited that I’ve gotten to know you more. I look forward to further conversations.
Thank you so much, Justin. I appreciate it.
Thank you so much. I’ll talk to you soon.
Learn more about Steve Farber.