Welcome to the In the Clear podcast. I’m your host, Justin Recla. Today I have the honor of talking to one of my oldest business friends, somebody that I’ve known since we left government. Today we’re going to be talking about transparency in leadership and really what that looks like.
What’s awesome about this conversation is that Hugh Ballou is one of the leaders in the concept of leadership. His experience and mentorship for myself and my own business and everything that I’ve learned from him has just been invaluable. Some of the topics that we’re going to be talking today, you’ll definitely want to pay attention to. With that, Hugh, welcome to the show.
Justin. Happy to be here today. Transparency in leadership is absolutely essential for success.
Absolutely. Hugh, can you give our listeners a little bit of background. I know we’ve had you on the show before but I always like to revisit it. What’s your background, what’s your business and what are you doing now?
Well, Justin, I spent 40 years as a musical conductor and worked in major venues. My principal jobs were as a choral conductor requires but I hired major orchestras in major cities and did guest conducting in Europe. So 40 years … And I worked in mega-churches so I understand organizational development from the inside and large enough that it was like a corporate job.
My motto is, “If you can do it in a church, you can do it anywhere.” I birthed my transformational leadership methodology actually in the trenches. Then for 31 years I have worked with organizations, social entrepreneurs, mid-cap corporations, nonprofits. I help people develop their skill, develop their organization, develop their team, which then develops their profit.
I have a whole program of engagement that really is about figuring out where you want to be and how you going to get there, and then surrounding yourself with the people that now you know how to lead because you are an effective, transparent leader.
Awesome. I love that. What does that transparency in leadership look like for the businesses that you work with?
One of the conductors who are teachers of conductors that I studied with at the famous Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, he has this book, James Jordan, on “The Musician’s Soul” and he said until you’re willing to be vulnerable on the podium, you cannot make good music. Until a leader is willing to be transparent, like Renee Brown writes and talks about in her brilliant work, until we’re in that transparency where we’re willing to be vulnerable, we’re not as effective as we can be, as our potential is, as a leader.
I work with leaders on four continents. Very rarely do I find leaders that are tapping their full potential. That transparency is misconceived as a weakness in leadership when, in fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s a strength of character, a strength of leadership, and it empowers other people in a profound way.
It does. It has that trickle down effect because if the leader is operating in transparency then it’s going to trickle down all the way to them. One of the conversations I was having earlier today was about how that affects the culture. From that perspective, how big of an impact does transparent leadership have on the culture?
Well, the saying in conducting is, “What they see is what you get.” If we’re going to yell at the orchestra choir for not doing correctly, we need to look in the mirror because they’re following our direction. In corporate America, even in small business, we have teams, even if they’re informal teams where we got two people, we got a team. The team is, in fact, a reflection of the leader.
Let me give you a story. One of my friends, Cal Turner, went to his leadership team at Dollar General and he said, “I have got this job because I’m the son of the founder. I don’t have the skills to be president and CEO but I’ve got the vision, you’ve got the skill.” Right there, he was transparent. He didn’t give up his leadership, he said, “I’ve got the vision, you got the skill.” Everybody stepped up. They went public and they sold his company for, I think, 7.3 billion dollars later on, very successful move toward going public.
He said to me, “Hugh, leadership is about defining your gaps, it’s also about being transparent. If I had tried to pretend that I knew it all, they would say, ‘Ha, ha. I’m going to show him he doesn’t know it. I’m going to get him.'” Being transparent is a function of authenticity in leadership. That’s an example where a leader stepped up and was truly transparent and got the very best from a very good team.
That’s one that speaks volume to the leadership whenever you see a company like that because one of the themes that has been coming up a lot from a lot of people, and I think we’re seeing it and feeling this as entrepreneurs, as business owners is one, the old methodology of business no longer works.
The old just buy my stuff without knowing who or where you’re buying it from, no longer works. Employee engagement is down. People are looking and looking for new and better things and are supporting companies that just call it like it is and are open and operating in transparency. I think that as that energy continues, we’re going to see more and more of that. Because you’re still down in the trenches, what’s your view on that?
Well, we’ve learned leadership wrong. If it ever worked, it ain’t working, what we learned and we’ve inherited systems that don’t work. It’s imperative that we change. It’s imperative that we look at what’s going on in the marketplace. It’s imperative that we test our products, we test our assumptions before we go all out and say, “Oh, everybody needs this.” Well, maybe they don’t know they did need it. Maybe we haven’t told them why they need what we have.
I find that a lot of leaders can’t say why people need them. Why is my product important, my service important? Why do you need me for your keynote? Why should you buy my book or my online program? We don’t do that very well. As one of the people we know, Jeff Magee, says, “We suck. Suck is halfway to suck-cess.” That didn’t cut it. We cut ourselves short.
We don’t have the skills and really we’re not supposed to. The people I work with have brilliance. They have life-changing products and services. They are world-class coaches and speakers. They are just brilliant individuals. What they don’t have is all of the structure to monetize that brilliance.
When I worked in that 12,000 member mega-church, I was the music director. Had the who’s who of corporate leaders who valued what I did because I could influence people with no paycheck to get things done. When I said it’s the hardest to do in the church, and in the workplace you have a paycheck so you have influence plus a paycheck, you got some leverage.
I determined in that job, 10%, ten, one zero, 10% of my job was music as music director. Ninety percent made music possible. The Ballou 10/90 rule is that our brilliance is 10% of our business. All of that stuff underneath, that we call the business strategy, is stuff we’re not supposed to know.
That’s why people like me have a niche. We help those people with brilliance put in a system, build the team, build a system to go to profitability from your passion. That’s what I have developed in over 31 years of working with social entrepreneurs who really have important stuff but don’t know how to get it to the market and don’t know how to create that structure.
Really, once people were transparent and they’re able to say, “I don’t know,” which is very few people, I would say 3% of the population or of the leaders that say, “I don’t know that.” Those are the people who are going to succeed.
Yeah, I love the fact that you touch upon that because there’s the opposite side of that is that, and you hear a lot of people doing it, you hear business coaches talking about it, you hear motivational coaches talking about it and that’s the whole concept of “fake it till you make it” and, yeah, that works to a certain extent but ultimately if you want to have success, you have to be willing to call yourself out and say, “I don’t know,” because then that allows for the answers that you need to come through.
But the “fake it till you make it” piece will only get you so far. I love the fact that you highlight that because it is so important because as a leader, you can’t know everything. You shouldn’t know everything and it reminds me of the story of Ford. He got sued and taken to court and basically claiming that he was a fraud because he didn’t have a high school education so the claims that he was making about his automobiles being safe and all these kinds of things, there’s no way he could know that because he didn’t have a high school education.
When they put him on the stand and they questioned him about some of the claims that he had made and they asked him to recite some statistics and stuff, he said, “Well, I don’t know that.” The prosecution was like, “Aha.” He’s like, “No, no but hang on a sec. Bob, what were our numbers again?” And he had a team of people around him to get him that information. He wasn’t afraid of saying, “I don’t know.” Matter of fact, he leveraged the “I don’t know” to become a great business leader.
Absolutely. Einstein was famous for saying, “Why should I crowd my brain with things I could easily look up?”
Oh, my goodness. And the power of the internet nowadays. The power of the internet, you can find anything out there on the internet so leverage that. Leverage the power of “I don’t know.” We could probably do a whole show on the power of “I don’t know.”
Absolutely and that’s a great story with Henry Ford. There are lots of great stories. About the tenacity to succeed but he had a clear, as Napoleon Hill reports in his writings, he has a clear definite purpose. He surrounded himself with really good people, he brought goodness to the world, and he had this no fail attitude. This positive mental attitude, which I think there’s another slant on “fake it till you make it” because transparency is authenticity. You really can’t fake it. What you can do is put that positive mental attitude.
Thomas Edison took 10,000 tries to invent the light bulb. He reframed it, he didn’t fail, he said, “I found 9,999 things that didn’t work.” He’s almost like the kid that’s smiling and he’s digging in this big pile of manure and his buddy comes by and says, “How come you’re so happy digging in this manure?” He says, “Well, there must be a pony somewhere.”
I love it. Real quick can you share with the listeners where they can find some information about what you do?
Absolutely, hughballou.com, that’s my website. There’s lots of resources, my podcast, lots of things for leaders to learn, blog post. You can certainly Google my name, there’s an article in Forbes about what I do. Once of the programs in there is I have programs for leaders because I’ve worked for so many years with leaders who hit the wall or they run off a cliff because they want to fly an airplane and they don’t want to take lessons so they don’t crash first. I created some self-study courses that start at very little money and go higher. But there’s a program for people to plug into to find out what they don’t know.
I do coaching with people directly. I call it leadership strategy. It’s very different from coaching. It’s partly content and partly empowerment and partly performance. Because as a musician, we know how to take a piece of paper, which is your music, and integrate it into a great performance. That’s what we must do every day in the business world. Take our plan on paper, if you have one, if you don’t have one we need to rethink that one, and then move it into performance because that’s where we get paid. We bring value to people, therefore, we get paid. It’s hughballou.com. You can find me there and on the programs is a page from my leadership tools, it’s called.
Fantastic. When we get back from the break, we’re going to talk to Hugh specifically about what other programs he’s got out there that I know you’re going to learn more about. We’ve been talking to Hugh Ballou about transparency in leadership and when we get back from the break, we’re going to dive more into the unbound leader. We’ll dive into that right after this message.