Dr. James Kelley is a professor of marketing at the United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, Dubai, the host of the Executives After Hours podcast, and the author of The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity, which releases April 23.
In his new book, Dr. Kelley explores how to lead an extraordinary life from a leadership perspective, the power of self-awareness and reflection, and the concept of relatableness: how to build trust and loyalty by giving someone the power of feeling listened to.
Today, Dr. Kelley joins Jon Berghoff on the podcast to talk about the importance of diversity, challenging relationships, how to move negotiations in a mutually beneficial way, and more.
- Why Dr. James moved his family to Dubai – and why diversity is so important in our lives.
- How Jon and Dr. James’ relationships with women have been affected by the #metoo movement.
- Why challenged relationships with mothers impact how both Jon and Dr. James parent and show up in the world today.
- The deep insights Dr. James gained on leadership and adversity by interviewing over 170 executives.
- Lessons on compassion, integrity, relating with others, and the power of self-reflection.
- Dr. James pays Jon a legendary and well-deserved compliment.
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- Dr. James Kelley
- The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity
- Executives After Hours Podcast
- Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets
- Legends & Losers Podcast
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
- Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection
- Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be
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Jon: Achieve Your Goals Podcast listeners, Jon Berghoff here. Hey. Good morning, good afternoon, good night, wherever you’re at. By the way, if you and I have never met, I’m guest hosting today for Hal Elrod. If you want to know who I am or why I’m here, you can always go back and listen to Episode 152. Well, a couple of things. A little housekeeping. Just want to give a big shout out, huge shout out, biggest shout out I can possibly digitally give to the Quantum Leap Mastermind Community. There are about 70 members of a private entrepreneurial mastermind group that Hal and I lead together and about 55 of us were together in Austin last week and it was an incredible experience and as soon as I say this, I’m realizing we need to do an episode with Hal where we just kind of unpack what happened for the benefit of you this listener group so you can benefit from what goes on in the Quantum Leap Mastermind. So, a huge shout out to all of you in QLM. You know who you are. Lots of love and we will talk to many of you, see many of you soon in different places and spaces.
Now, today’s episode is a conversation, a one of a kind, unique, rare, authentically authentic conversation that I just had yesterday with Dr. James Kelley. And James and I met, oh, it was about six months ago, and we met in the most unusual circumstances. I had two of my kids with me. Ace was eight and Sierra who’s six and we were out in the Bay Area and we went to visit our friend, Christopher Lochhead, the co-author of Play Bigger, creator and host of the Legends & Losers Podcast. And Christopher has a beautiful home out in Santa Cruz and I wanted my kids to meet Christopher and I wanted to go to the beach. So, we go out there and we’re on the beach with Christopher, just playing by the waves and Christopher says, “Oh hey, by the way, Dr. James Kelley is in from Dubai and he gets here any moment and we’re going to walk back to the house and shoot an episode of Legends & Losers together.”
Well, we did that, and it was one of those situations where, and I don’t know how if any of you can relate to this in your own way but sometimes in life I feel like when we meet people and there’s a Buddhist word for this and I always mispronounce it. It’s something like Prajñā wisdom or something like that. And it’s a certain type of wisdom where in the moment we’re able to actually connect with the deeper meaning in that moment. So, for example, I don’t know if it’s easier, but we often talk about or think about making meaning out of our past, however making meaning in the present is its own unique thing and I remember meeting James. He actually walked down under the beach while we were playing with my kids and within just a matter of seconds, it was one of those things I realize, “Wow. There’s a connection that James and I have here,” and I think in life when we can be present enough and connected enough with what’s going on around us and with others around us, it’s a beautiful thing when we can recognize in the moment the depth of the meaning of a relationship and it causes me to stop and maybe some of you and think, “How often do I show up and I’m so distracted that I’m missing the deeper meaning, I’m missing the deeper connection with those around me?” And I guess my goal is to be connected and define that deeper meaning. And then where that leads my curiosity is I wonder if that’s available with every person I meet. There’s an interesting question.
Well, what happened next was definitely unexpected. So, we meet Dr. James on the beach. I sent my kids away actually to go play with some friends of theirs and then we proceeded to record a six-hour Legends & Losers Podcast episode that I’m guessing an entire team of electrical engineers or digital engineers had to work to cut it up to bring it down into an hour or two. Anyways, it’s fun when the first time you meet somebody you then sit down and record a conversation for six hours. Well, that’s not what happened in the conversation you’re about to listen to. We talked for, I don’t know how long, 45 minutes to an hour but here’s what you’re about to hear. First of all, it’s an authentic dialogue. This is hardly an interview, and this is something I’m exploring myself actually inspired a lot by Christopher Lochhead is the idea with this podcast, and Hal and I each have our own approach and that’s great. We approach this however we want and you the listener can decide what resonates with you but personally, I really question a lot of the interview format shows that are out there.
Now, let me be perfectly fair. I don’t really listen to any other podcast. So, you could argue I’m really not qualified. You could argue I’m sitting here talking about something that I’m not fully informed about, but I spent enough time to say that I really question the concept of the interview format. I shouldn’t say question it. What I wonder is what’s possible when we allow authentic dialogue to unfold and that’s kind of what happened here with Dr. James is we hit record and within a few minutes we were talking about some things that were very, very personal, our upbringing, with our relationship with our mothers, our relationship with women, how these things are evolving for us, how Dr. James just before the shooting of this show was on a run and he fizzled out, called his mom, and got in an argument with her because she didn’t want to buy one of his books that is being released. She wanted one for free. And I proceeded to share the story how I got out of bed pissed off, angry, and upset this morning and took me half a day just to recover.
But I share that with you because I feel like I’ve made a decision in the last year that I would rather I can just be exactly who I am everywhere I go and just really not worry too much or at all about filtering what’s going on and what I’m actually experiencing with what I share with the world. And so, pardon me for experimenting through this platform but you’ll notice with Dr. James we spend about half the time just having a very personal conversation, the kind of conversation that you might think two guys would have if nobody else was listening. But don’t worry. We then get to this book and I’m sitting here in the car outside the National Park so I don’t have like notes in front of me so forgive me if I don’t have the name of his book correctly, but I think it is The Crucible’s Gift: The 5 Lessons for Leaders Facing Adversity or something like that. And I will tell you, there’s a lot of books written on a lot of things, leadership included. I hope that you get the feel that I get just by who James is and the conversation around his book.
This is not another bullshit book that somebody chose to write because they had nothing better to do and they thought, “Let’s see if I could sell a lot of books.” This is a book that comes from a guy who is willing to explore really deeply with leaders through his podcast, Executives After Hours, and when you listen to the lessons that Dr. James is sharing, you realize right away that this is going to be a special book, this is going to be what I would consider almost a timeless classic so I consider it an honor that we got to bring James directly to you in this community. I hope you love this. Let us know what you think. You can always send me an email personally at [email protected] or you can find us on the intraweb via Facebook or however else you want to find us. All right. Hope you enjoy, everybody. Take care.
Jon: Well, hey, I’m here with my good buddy, Dr. James, Dr. Jim, Dr. Jimmy Jim Jim Jim. It’s Dr. James Kelley from just outside of Dubai and, James, what’s going on man?
Dr. James: Jon, listen, I am thrilled, honored, humbled, whatever other adjective I put into the place there that is about humility to be with you, to be on the show, and to chat about whatever the heck we’re going to chat about.
Jon: Well, let’s start with this. I want to talk about how we met because that was the day that I’ll always remember. We met on the beach at Santa Cruz. I had my two older kids with me. It was with our mutual friend, Christopher Lochhead, and then in the most authentic, authentic way that things can unfold when you’re in the universe of Christopher Lochhead, you and I recorded a six-hour, no exaggeration, six-hour podcast episode that I think got cut up into about 45 minutes. I think we had to take four intermissions from that episode.
Dr. James: Yes. Yes.
Jon: So, that was the day we met. We may or may not need to say anything further about that day.
Dr. James: No. I think it’s good.
Jon: But, hey, help us out. Where are you calling in from? You’re just outside of Dubai, right?
Dr. James: Correct. So, I’m in this little town, little 600,000 people called Al Ain and Al Ain is really if you were to describe it is probably the most conservative town in the UAE, United Arab Emirates. And so, I’ve been out here for almost two years teaching at a university called United Arab Emirates University as a marketing professor and I’ll be out here probably one more year, maybe two max but it’s been a cultural experience that I wanted my kids to have while they were young before they start to resent dad in their teenage years.
Jon: Wow. So, tell us about that. What is it that brought you out there? You say a cultural experience you wanted to have with or for your kids. Tell us more about that. That’s a bold move.
Dr. James: Yes. So, I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to live in Australia, to live in Japan. I grew up in the same tiny 900-square-foot house, six of us, and when I’m away to college I was like, “Get me the heck out of here. I need to go see the world,” and I never looked back. And so, having lived in a couple of different countries, Japan can’t be any more culturally different than the US, Australia is very culturally similar. And at the time that we decide to move out here, it was a very strong belief of mine that the culture in the United States was starting to prejudice against certain races and religions and I didn’t want that to be enforced upon my kids. I wanted my kids to come to their own journey, in their own conclusion without the noise around them. And so that was one of the biggest impetuses for moving out here for a few years.
Jon: Wow. It’s so interesting that you say that. Personally, I feel like my appreciation for diversity and diversity means so many things but my appreciation for diversity has grown tremendously in the past year of my life and part because I’ve been able to travel to some fascinating places. I’ve been able to be in some communities that are more diverse than others, and by the way, I stand here in a small town of Hudson, Ohio and diversity where I stand is we have white people and we have really white people and then we have really, really, really white people. And it’s not a strength in my opinion. I’d love your take on, so you’ve been in Australia, you’ve lived in Japan, you moved your family to Dubai. What do you go through when you live in different places? Like what does it do for you? Do you try and take a piece of every culture with you or does it open you up? What does it do for you to be in these different places?
Dr. James: I don’t think you have a choice. Well, that’s not true. You always have a choice and I think that when you do it, there is a cycle and a process. There’s the initial process is wonder, curiosity, then you move onto the frustrations of the differences between the cultures. Just even administratively getting things done, it can be really frustrating at times especially in this particular culture, it’s very bureaucratic, and you move on from there to acceptance of the differences. I can share with you a great story. My son is a huge soccer fan player, football is what they call it out here. When he decided to coordinate all of his friends from his school to come meet at this local pitch near our house, it’s an AstroTurf pitch, and what happens is that we meet out there there’s probably at any given time 8 to 10 of his friends but what always happens is, and this is the part I think is most amazing, is there’s between three to five local Afghanis and Pakistani boys that come out and play.
Jon: How cool.
Dr. James: And they don’t even speak the language. They speak totally different languages, but they love football. And so, I’m constantly pushing my son who is 10 to go talk to them, go interact with them, get them involved, and for me, I find a lot of joy in making them smile. And so, when you live in these cultures that are so diverse and different, you have a choice to stick with your own kind which is very common and safe, and I think it’s very normal to do. I think it’s a normal thing to do or you can kind of push outside those boundaries and explore the differences. And there are frustrations in these differences for sure, but I do believe that when you have children, it’s really important that you teach them the ability to accept those that are different from them, find the similarities between you two, and only in those moments are you able to actually move forward as a culture, society, group in general.
Jon: Yeah. And by the way, jump in if we start talking at about three hours to now. I forget to ask you about your book. Because you have some seminal moments in your life right now. You and I actually are going to be together for a week out here. You’re coming out for a LEAF Certification training and I want to hear about your book and the mission there but now I also want to go back to something you said which is that idea of how people we gravitate towards those that we are comfortable with. That’s something that you’ll see is prominent and when we teach leaders and facilitators about how do you accelerate the forming or the strengthening of a culture especially when you’ve got a group of people that have diverse opinions, perspectives, backgrounds, values, beliefs. And one of the things that we’ve learned that we’ve noticed is that what you just said is actually you could take any group, any community of any type, any organization of any type and everybody could be well-intentioned but the interesting thing about human systems which that’s our scientific word but everyone’s experience of a family is everyone has an experience of a given system, if they think about human system is we often will create collective outcomes that nobody individually intended on creating.
And what you just pointed out is very common and that we might all intend on creating a positive community, culture, society, company, organization, team, whatever it is but our human nature if there’s not the structure or somebody facilitating the right kind of connection and inclusion, our human nature is actually a – think about it. You go to a party. For a lot of people what will happen is they will gravitate towards those who are like them, those who are that they’re comfortable with, those who they are familiar with. Some people are wired to go outside of that comfort zone but what you just described is actually the norm. And I believe that like leaders today and in the future have to understand that when everybody walks under that soccer field with your son or into this learning community that you’re coming into in April, everyone’s asking one question consciously or unconsciously and that question is, “Can I be myself and at the same time fit in with this group?” Can I be myself and at the same time fit in? And I’m fascinated by the fact that you brought your family to Dubai just because you wanted them to be open to other cultures and other experiences and I have a lot of respect for that. I’m a dad and I think about that. It takes a lot of us.
Dr. James: Thank you. I think the reason is that being exposed to the other forced me to realize that I don’t know everything. I’m just as stubborn as the next person. I still hold on to certain beliefs that I probably need to let go off. I still have my fault and judgment at times I don’t need to have. I’m a human being at the end of the day but as a parent, it’s my belief and it’s my job to make my kids a better human being than I am and I’m hyper self-aware of where I’m lacking and I’m trying to grow to be a better person and then being here in this culture allows my kids to be a better human being than I am then great, I’ve done my job.
Jon: That’s awesome.
Dr. James: And I got to say that this lesson came to me when I was I want to say 10, 11, 12, 13 where I had a family that I go see all the time in the summer. My parents both worked, and they were the Guzmans and the Guzmans were my north star of diversity inclusion as a child. My parents did a great job and I could share with you a story in a second but the Guzmans, the mom was Irish Catholic, the dad was Hispanic Catholic, and their friends were Native Americans and Hispanics from Central America. And you would go there in the summer and you would just get this mix of everything and it was amazing and powerful and whether you know it or not at 10, you soak in these lessons of diversity and inclusion and that’s what happened and as you manifest and as you get older and my parents did a great job. At 13 my mom and dad belong to this bowling league. They were slightly white trash, this bowling league, and…
Jon: Only slightly.
Dr. James: Yeah. Especially in the 80s, it wasn’t as cool as maybe it is now, but they went out of their way to introduce me to a couple of gay men couple. And when you think about that in the 80s, that was very progressive to do then, and especially to expose your child who was 13. So, throughout my life, I’ve had these role models to say to me, “There are other people, other stripes, other religions, other beliefs, and you need to accept those because that only adds value to you and your tolerance as a human being.”
Jon: Yeah. For me personally, I’ve had a personal experience recently where the entire movement and to say there’s one movement, I guess there’s multiple, but especially around women taking a stand for how they’re treated by men. One of the things that that has allowed me to be more clear on is I’m fortunate that I work around some incredible women and at the same time I didn’t have a great relationship with my mom growing up. And in the last year that whole macrolevel movement has helped me as an individual to stop and realize how some of my beliefs or my opinions were very much unconscious and if someone would ask me, I would’ve said I view and treat everybody with the same respect and the same equality, but I think all of us are guided unconsciously by a lot of different things.
Dr. James: So, can I ask you a question on that?
Jon: You can ask me anything you want. Please. Let’s go deep. Let’s get out of control.
Dr. James: So, I feel like that will be easy.
Jon: It’s already started.
Dr. James: So, this unconscious thing, this is something I’d really, really been thinking about over the last probably 12 to 18 months and the way it manifests itself with me is my respect for the women closest to me, not women external to me. I respect plenty of women actually, but closest to me and I find that really confronting when I see my own faults in that process. And so, my question to you is did you or do you see your respect for your mom or your beliefs towards your mom manifest itself in your marriage sometimes? Because I know I do for sure in mine.
Jon: Oh, I think without a doubt I think definitely in my marriage, definitely with how I treat my daughter, and definitely how I treat any women like you said who were really close to me at work. I don’t know if easy is the right word but it’s easier to when you have people in your life that are at arm’s distance, you only see them every so often to superficially be polite regardless of whatever unconscious activity is going on. But then when you spend all day with somebody or you come home to them every night, the unconscious takes over, so I would say beyond the shadow of the doubt. And I’m in an interesting place where my mother, I was just with her this weekend, she was diagnosed with dementia recently and she and my wife and my daughter, I have three generations of women in my life who I’ve done a lot of reflecting lately on my relationship with my mom, my wife, and my daughter and how important those relationships are to me. And I’ve been trying to learn how is it that however I related with my mom, how it has that been affecting both of those relationships and it’s kind of like good news and bad news. Bad news is completely and unconditionally and if there’s good news, it’s that I’m actually thinking about it and care about it.
Dr. James: I think I’m in the same boat as you but ironically, my mom and I literally got in a fight today. I called her on a walk this morning. I went for a run. It wasn’t a good run, so I started walking and I decided I had to call my mom and it’s funny what you hold with your mom whatever resentment that is. We as human beings for some reason put our parents in a different pedestal than we do anyone else. And so, with this book coming out, my mom is like, “Oh, I can’t wait to get a free copy,” and I actually got upset about that and I’m like, “Don’t you want to support me?” And so, I try to explain this to her and she’s like, “Well, why wouldn’t you want to give me a book? I supported you your whole life.” And I’m like, “Well, you’re missing the point.” So, we had this huge discussion about it and then it escalated to where she goes, my dad passed away when I was 20 and it escalated where she was like, “Your dad would be disappointed with you,” and then I just kind of lost it at that point. I think the train tracks kind of just snapped and I wasn’t particularly happy at that point.
Jon: Your run went from bad to worse.
Dr. James: Yeah. And she ended up saying, “I got to go,” and she hung up on me and you never want to end a conversation like that, but my mom is a stubborn, old, Scottish woman who’s 75 and having those emotional conversations are not fun or easy for her where I try to push the boundary and have the conversation. And so, I think my point is that I see that behavior with my mom and I see it manifest itself in different ways with my wife and even my daughter. I’ve two daughters and I’ve got two sons and to your point, I treat the two of them totally different in terms of gender bias. I’ll say, “Let’s go kick a soccer ball,” to my son but I don’t say it to my daughter. I’m like, “What a jerk am I?” but I didn’t grow up with any sisters, so I don’t have that barometer of what normality is in that relationship and it’s something that I really struggle with and I pushed through and I try to be better at it but it’s really, really hard for me.
Jon: Yeah. I grew up to no sisters as well, so I can relate to that. Hey, well, on the topic of your mom supporting your book or not supporting, hey…
Dr. James: But she wants to support it. She just wants it for free so that’s where I’m like, “Err,” but I get it. Sorry. I’m being a bit of an ass.
Jon: Well, let’s talk about this book. Tell us about why this book was born. What led to the birth of this book? What is it that the world was calling for from James Kelley that led to this book which was published officially what date, please? Like yesterday?
Dr. James: So, pre-sales went up today, literally today. It will be delivered April 23 is the day it goes. So, two days later I’m in your shop in Cleveland on the 25th so I’m in Philadelphia for the book launch and then the next day I fly to Cleveland on the 24th to be with you guys there for the week.
Jon: That’s awesome.
Dr. James: So, to answer a question, as my bio says, I do believe that my life is still being built brick by brick and I think that this book is a brick that was probably laid 15 years ago and just kind of was developed over that time. But what helped pushed me over the nudge was my podcast, Executives After Hours, where I’ve been fortunate enough to interview you and Chris Lochhead and all sorts of people about their journey. And being a researcher, whatever that means, I was able to kind of go back and look at the data so I transcribe every single interview I’ve done and I look at threads and trends and comments and so I went through that and just kind of started finding not only through listening but through the words, phrases, and beliefs of the different leaders that I interviewed that supported my own personal thoughts, my own beliefs around what it means to be a leader.
And so, that’s how the book was born and I’m not a fast writer so the way I wrote the book helped facilitate it. So, over the last summer, I spent the summer in Portugal with my family. We lived in a little city called Peniche. We did Airbnb for 45 days, 500 meters from the beach and I go to this coffee shop every single day for seven hours a day, five days a week. So, I really did have fun. My kids did. I just wrote the book but what I did is that the book because it was inside me, I would write an outline then my wife would interview me and we would record it and I would transcribe the interviews and then I would just wordsmith it and then find a support literature in the interviews that I had and I wrote 170 pages in six weeks. And so, it was clearly inside me. It was there.
And yeah, I don’t know. It was a very, very – it’s surreal for me now just to see it on Amazon like I see it and I don’t know about you, Jon. I feel like maybe you’re better at this than I am. I’m not good at celebrating my wins so for me I’ve already moved on, “Okay. I have to do X, Y, and Z in the marketing capacity and I’ve got to do this, this, and this and here’s the longtail of the book and what do I have to do for this?” And I want to pause I guess in my mind but anyhow that’s how the book came about. It was in me. I found support talking to people like you, Chris, and many other people and that’s how it was born.
Jon: So, I love that, and the subtitle of the book is 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity. And why don’t you share with us any of those lessons that maybe were most meaningful, surprising, insightful? Love to hear some of them.
Dr. James: So, here’s the premise of the book at the end of the day is that we all have moments. We all have adversity. Yours was at 17 when you started with Cutco Knives. That was one of your first major crucible moments besides that and running back and forth to school 10 miles each way, whatever ridiculous amount it was that you did. But that was one of your crucible moments and in those moments whether it’s immediately after or six months, for some people it’s 10 years later, there’s a lesson in that and what I found out is so many leaders that I talked to had these moments in their life that help define that or put them on a different path or nudge if you will. And so, for me this book is really about saying, “Listen, we all have crucibles but the leaders that get it are the ones that reflected on those crucibles,” and that’s what that adversity, why it’s so important. I think adversity is critical.
I want to be clear that adversity isn’t always negative. There’s a gentleman I interviewed named The Very Reverend Richard Pengelley and he is a two-time Australian Olympian in water polo and he left the sport to become an Episcopalian priest. So, he was team captain and, I mean, in Australia water polo and swimming is like a god sport next to cricket and Australian rules football but he left it to be a priest. So, for him, that was a positive crucible. Many of us think of it as a negative but you have both, getting married, having kids, a death, divorce, bankruptcy. I mean they’re both polars.
And what I found is that the leaders who had them decided that it was more important to be self-reflective or grow their self-awareness than it was to ignore them and suppress them. Again, it wasn’t always in the moment. It could have been 10, 12, 15 years later. There was a guy that I interviewed named Joe Burden and he actually opens up the whole entire book. And Joe Burden at the age of 40 years old was the COO of McCann-Erickson World Group which is an interrepublic group. And so, McCann-Erickson World Group is a massive ad agency, huge and he’s COO at 40. I mean think about that at 40. That’s unbelievable. This is now almost $1 billion company.
He quits his job and when he starts unraveling what the problems were, he came from an abusive alcoholic family as a child, he had a sister commit suicide, one die of a heart attack, his dad died 12 years before, and all of it just came crashing down on him. He gained weight, he got asthma, herniated discs. His marriage was dissolving, his kids he didn’t know them, and he just realized like, “I have to change something.” And that’s when he pivoted, and it was that adversity, all the adversities in his life that led up to that moment put him on a different path and that path was enlightenment, self-awareness, more compassion, more integrity. And these are some of the main concepts that come out of the book but that’s one example of many that I found with these people who just lead an extraordinary life from a leadership perspective, not a financial perspective. And I think it’s really important as a leader and again, Jon, I think you would agree with this 100%, we can’t put leaders and financial success in the same category because they don’t go together.
Jon: Talk more about that.
Dr. James: Well, I think too often we think that if someone is a leader, that means they’re automatically going to be financially successful but there are plenty of jerks who are financially successful that are the worst leaders that you could find. They don’t go together. Now, I would argue that if you’re a great leader and a good human being and you’re doing what you’re passionate about, that financial rewards, success, however you define it, will eventually come for most people. But I don’t think that having financial success means you’re a good leader. I don’t think those two go together in that direction. That’s just my opinion. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that.
Jon: Yeah. Well, I think that the whole concept of leadership, I’m really interested in how the way that historically we have viewed the concept of leadership, how it might be shifting and what I love that you’re pointing attention to is one of those what I would consider very timeless and easy to overlook principles of leadership and the words you just used is how important it is to be self-reflective and self-aware. And I think you could call that timeless. However, I think historically we often look at leadership kind of the way you said that people get put into roles. A lot of organizations, people get put into roles because they performed well in one capacity and so they get escalated or elevated but not because of their ability to lead or inspire because they did well at something more the smaller individual level.
Dr. James: They’re able to get ROI on whatever they did. That ROI in the mind of the business, that’s a successful leader which is completely not right.
Jon: Yeah. I think people now today and moving into the future are going to be more and more interested in following others to exemplify more of that emotional intelligence than what someone would call executive intelligence. I love your point about self-reflection and just curious, anything else you could share around – and by the way, the word crucible, I like that word. It’s not a word I use often. How do you define crucible? What does that mean?
Dr. James: So, the technical definition I’m going to paraphrase this because I’m awful with my memory is basically…
Jon: Now that you said you are, you’re going to be really bad with it.
Dr. James: Is essentially putting something in hot heat temperature and reforming it as it comes out. It’s just some sort of metal. The way I’m using it is that those moments of adversity are your crucible, reforms you and transforms you if you let it and I think that’s the big thing. Going back to the [inaudible] words, it’s letting it happen and being aware enough to happen, but I don’t think it’s enough to be self-aware. I think that’s important but it’s what you do with that self-awareness which is the most important part and so many people I talk to and it is my personal belief as well and I would gather yours is too, Jon, is that not only the self-awareness really important and self-reflection, I think that’s a must, but it’s the outcome of that that’s really the powerful I guess ingredients if you will and it’s the ability to have compassion and not only compassion for others but compassion for yourself. I think there’s a huge movement around self-compassion because too often we’re our biggest critique. We’re hardest on ourselves and our failures. I think that our self-critical behavior as a society, I don’t think social media helps whatsoever in that process has allowed us to beret our own personal wellbeing.
And one of the fundamental arguments that I make is that until you’re okay with yourself, self-compassion wise, it’s really hard to be compassionate towards somebody else. I also want to kind of decouple this. I think empathy and compassion get wrapped together and I made a concerted effort to say that they are totally different. Empathy is I can feel how you feel, Jon, but compassion is I am compelled to try to relieve that suffering for you. And the word, suffering, again is a loaded term but suffering is such an easy thing to do in an organization. So, Jon, earlier you just wouldn’t grab some tea. So, if someone you work with comes by and you said, “Man, I would like some tea.” They say, “Let me grab that for you.” That’s a moment of relieving suffering. That’s compassion for you in that moment however that manifests in that person and if you magnify that in an organization, think about the goodwill and the humanity that you’re putting into that living, breathing organism in that organization. And so, for me, compassion is really important. The other thing that’s really important to me was integrity. Now, in the book, I deliberately don’t go deep in the moral integrity. I think part of that is because I don’t want to offend people probably in some ways, but I think moral integrity we all have our own guide.
Jon: Compass. Yeah.
Dr. James: Yeah. But I specifically talk about behavioral integrity and honesty as a really critical point for some of these leaders I spoke with and for me, I don’t do well with someone who I think is blowing smoke up my butt. And to our conversation early on, I don’t do well with that.
Jon: A pre-show.
Dr. James: Yeah. In the pre-show.
Jon: That was where Dr. James blew a lot of smoke up my butt but as we’ve determined authentically.
Dr. James: Yes. And so, I found that like it was really important to me as a human being, but it is important that other people in an organization that honesty plays a critical role. I mean think about the time, anytime in your life where someone comes to you and tell you the truth, the hard truth, the truth that you didn’t actually want to hear but at the end result of that, it actually moved your needle in a better direction. And so, it takes strength internally for someone to tell the hard truth to someone else and for me it’s that integrity that’s really important, showing up, being honest. I use Dr. Phil as an example which is awesome.
Jon: As you should.
Dr. James: Yes, of course. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and I think that is a very fundamental thing that if you want to trust somebody in an organization, you need to see that lead up of consistent behavior to trust that whatever information or action that they’re asking you to do, there’s a valid reason behind it and that you can trust it. And it actually brings down the cause to question and I don’t mean question like clarification. I mean question like direction. Why are we doing this? What’s going on? In a negative way, not a positive way. And then the last thing that really comes out, there are two other big things and one I know is you all the way around the bank but the next one is this concept called relatableness and it’s a totally made-up word. You can write it out. It’s going to have a red squiggly line underneath it every single time but the concept of relatableness is more about a philosophy and it comes out of this theory called self-determination theory. Self-determination theory is this idea of intrinsic motivation and what the theory says is that there are three major components that when a person has purpose, has mastery, has relatedness meaning they see the greater good with the community, they’re intrinsically motivated to act. You don’t need to give them money, days off, yes those are nice, but when those three components are put together, people are going to perform intrinsically which is the best for an organization.
And so, the idea of relatableness comes from the idea of saying, “Here’s a philosophy. Leaders who take the time to create what I call micro-moments of meaning whether it’s with the admin staff, senior-level, mid-level, they have the ability to move mountains.” And when I say micro-moments of meaning, I mean they sit and listen with intent with people they’re talking to. They’re not waiting to talk. They’re waiting to listen. And when you’re waiting to listen, that means that you’re actually present in the moment and you can actually create and have a real conversation. And at the end of the day, you have kids, I have kids, there’s so much power in giving someone a voice and having them feel like they’re being listened to and genuinely listening to it to them. And when you’re creating those micro-moments of meaning, you’re giving the other person the power to feel listened to. And that builds trust and that builds loyalty and I think those are really important when we’re talking about engagement in an organization.
And then the thing that actually bookends all of this and this is you, Jon, all the way is that the leaders that I found that were super authentic that got it had what I call learning mindset or growth mindset. All right. A little Carol Dweck for you. And Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, was 2006, it was a ground-breaking book that talked about leaders who had growth mindset and leaders who had fixed mindset and you know this. The leaders who have growth mindsets, the organizations, the organisms that have growth mindset, man, do they do amazing things because they question, they answer, they re-question, they re-answer, they re-question, they re-answer, they fail, they succeed, they fail, but they’re always moving forward with a greater good in their mind of what’s going to get us where we need to go. We’re not going to stop to be status quo and this whole book is written with some of my stories and a lot of stories from people I Interviewed that kind of supports these concepts that I’ve talked about.
Jon: Well, I was going to ask for a free copy but now I’m going to buy a copy because…
Dr. James: I’ll give you a free one.
Jon: And I’m going to buy more than one. James, this is – I’m sitting here just taking notes and enjoying what you’re sharing from compassion to integrity to feedback to relatableness. I mean, the whole train of thinking that you just shared, wow. On so many levels, I have so much appreciation for what you just shared that’s going to be in your book and again, for any of you who just tuned in, Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity and I’d love to react to a couple of things you just shared too.
Dr. James: Sure. Please.
Jon: Just from my experience, there’s things that you just shared that the world that I live in which is a world of being brought into organizations oftentimes where there’s a lot at stake and they need to accelerate the ability of a group of people to shape their future together, sometimes in the face of major challenges or major opportunities. And anyone who’s listening, I think there’s so much that you just shared that in my world it’s like what you just shared are some of the things that make or break the ability for teams to work together but if someone’s listening even as just as a solo entrepreneur or a mom or a dad, I mean, there’s so much value just as an individual leader even this last point about the growth mindset, we see that all the time and you said it, and, boy, is it way easier to say it than it is to do it.
Dr. James: Totally. What I said is always easier to say than to do for sure.
Jon: Exactly. So, I would just put it in a book and hope someone figures out how to make this stuff work, right? But I want to share an example about this because it doesn’t matter if you lead a 25,000-person organization like we were working with last week where you are trying to figure out how to get along with one other person. These are universal truths and, in my opinion, and yours, it’s just a growth mindset as an example and I’ll share with you. When we walk into a group, well, we’re working with large groups, 30, 50, 100, 200 people who are coming together in a day or two to just in an accelerated way, create a shared vision, solve a problem. And when we’re kind of setting things up at the beginning, we give it to people straight. We tell them. We say, “Look, this isn’t guaranteed to work. In fact, there’s a lot of times where what we’re doing does not work. But here’s what makes it. When it does work, here’s what’s happening.” And one of those things is people say, “That sounds great. We need a growth mindset. How do we do that? What does that actually look like? What does that look like when it’s actually happening?”
And what we’ve learned, and this applies when I’m just talking to one of my kids or my wife, not just the whole team but what we’ve learned is that growth mindset often comes from, and you said it in one way which is we’re willing to ask questions, listen for the answers, keep asking questions. The way we put it is, “Am I as open to being influenced as I am interested in influencing others? Am I as open to understanding what’s going on inside of my eight-year-old son’s head as I am in trying to get him off the video games?” Because if I skip that first part and I think, “Well, I know what’s best for him and I need to change his mind and get him to do something else,” if I bypass understanding him and letting him see that I want to understand what he’s interested in, what he’s doing, why he’s doing it and even participate, if I skip that then my ability to influence is pretty much gone and that’s true personally, professionally. Are we willing to open up our minds to different ways of thinking? Way easier to say that than it is to do. I find there are ways to do it. We got to be willing to ask questions. We got to be willing to change our mind. We got to be willing to let go of what we thought was the right way and even let others see us change our minds.
Dr. James: You know, and you can also do just a simple exercise of reflecting on a day all the things that you did, new, learn new. Just write every small tiny thing. The first time I did this or any successes that you had during the day, these are all ways to embed growth mindset. And I kind of want to dovetail something you just said because there’s another way to frame this is releasing judgment. Judgment that you know, judgment that they know.
Jon: I’ll have that figured out about three lifetimes from now.
Dr. James: Totally. Yeah. It’s not easy. Again, we could talk about it. It’s never easy.
Jon: But it’s a great intention. Yeah.
Dr. James: Correct. Totally. Yeah. I mean I find myself we talk about the kids, right, and I find myself even today having to debate with my 10-year-old which I know we’re only going to get more intense as he gets more closer to the teenage years is stopping myself from cutting him off and letting him be heard to express his full opinion. I may not agree with any of it but the fact that he’s able to express it gives them power in that conversation and again it makes the negotiations so much easier to move in a direction that’s beneficial for both of us. And I think an organization whether it’s with your spouse, someone you don’t like, someone who is pro-gun versus anti-gun like any of those conversation if we just start a conversation, A, putting judgment around the shelf, not easy to do but, B, looking at it through their lens. I use that phrase a lot in my book is start by putting on their glasses first and then you can start from their angle and this is a negotiation thing as well, right? If you can start from their position and understanding their position, it makes your compassion so much clearer in that conversation and your judgment is so much less in that conversation.
Jon: Yeah. When you bring up some of these examples like for example the gun control debate and you could just replace that with any debate where there are polarizing opinions. One of the things I have found that helps me personally is being okay with or comfortable with, “I don’t have an opinion on this right now. I’m still learning, I’m still understanding.” I find sometimes we feel compelled to have an opinion because we’ve given ourselves some identity whether it’s a political identity, a faith identity, an identity with a community with our circle of friends and so I need to decide, am I with my group or am I not? And I’ve come to be very comfortable and I tell our team where we work all the time and say, “Look, the words I don’t know or help me understand or I want to learn more,” that more often than not might be a lot healthier than needing to have an opinion.
Dr. James: Totally. I mean, that was one of the things that I think is really important to any leader is saying, “I don’t have an opinion. Tell me. I don’t know all the news.” I think that that’s a powerful or tool in your arsenal if you will is, “I don’t know.” I mean, listen, the more experience you have in life, the more I find there’s more gray area and this trying to find that nuance and the nuance that’s acceptable in the context and situation that you’re in, it’s hard but it’s necessary. If you start with a position and there’s no nuance, then what’s the point? For me, there’s always nuance for almost every – I mean, death, murder, sure. No nuance. We can go to the extremes. You can give me the straw man examples but in most business context, you only have 80% of the information any one time. You always have to figure out that nuance in that 20% to make a choice and that’s the challenge and that’s where I don’t know and that’s where get more information, ask more questions. I think it’s a powerful tool.
Jon: Yeah. We were sitting on our couch here in the office yesterday and I was with Laura and Scott who are members of our team and Laura brought something up. She said, “Hey, we need to make a decision about blank,” and as entrepreneurs, as people, we have to make decisions all day long. What was great is she was challenging us to make a decision on something that we needed to make a decision on and what I noticed is that we as a team, our temptation was to want to make a decision without exploring what’s all the complexity involved in this decision like sometimes we have this rush to decide and to oversimplify. And so, I play the role of I said, “Okay. Great. Before we come to a decision if that’s even what we should do right now, let’s look at this from like an infinite number of angles with all the complexity, all the people involved, everything that’s at stake.” So, I went on this like 10-minute monologue just to overwhelm ourselves with how much more there is to think about than just the decision. And at the end of it I said, “Hey, those are just 100 things to think about and it doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a simple decision that we make but I just wanted us to be willing to sit with how complicated it is versus just make a quick decision and overlook all of the different consequences.”
And I think a great balance like my good buddy, Hal, he and I are partners on different projects. This is his podcast. I co-host with him and he and I balance each other because if he and I were having a conversation and I were saying something like, “Yeah, you know, I think we probably need to have this conversation with so-and-so.” What could often happen is a minute later I’d be interrupting Hal to be like, “Hey, buddy, you got to get present to our conversation. Get off your phone,” and I’d be like, “What are you doing anyway?” He goes, “Oh, I just decided to text to that person that we’ve made a decision that we’re moving forward on something.” Like, he takes action faster than I could finish a sentence and I always joke with him. I’m like, “Hal, we need to learn how to have a discussion without a decision,” but then he turns to me and he says, “You know, JB, if we did everything your way, nothing would ever get done.” He’s like, “If we do things your way, I wouldn’t be selling 15,000 copies of my book online. We wouldn’t have 500,000 listeners to whatever,” and he’s right. One of the things that he and I have learned to appreciate is how to do both, how to try and be intentional and methodical and principle-driven and we’ve got to be willing to push a button and better to make a mess.
Dr. James: So, how do you balance that out when you guys work together like how do you decide when is time to go pump the breaks and time to hit the gas?
Jon: Yeah. In our case, I think we’re very fortunate and that he is so far on one side and I’m so far on the other side. We’re very fortunate that we hit an equilibrium almost unconsciously but I think he and I both would agree that if I was too much more like him that there’s a possibility we’d make messes that are so big that they could be irreversible in a bad way and if he was too much more like me, there’s a strong possibility we wouldn’t gain enough velocity for our certain businesses to grow at the pace they need to grow if that’s what needs to happen. So, we’re just lucky. We’ve got this equilibrium and part of what I’ve learned I tried to convey to others is when you’re looking for partners, key partners, don’t search for people that are just like you like you like you want value alignment but not necessarily capability or skillset alignment. Sometimes you almost want those to be polarizing so you can hopefully get lucky like I have with Hal if that makes sense.
Dr. James: That’s awesome. Yeah. I love that.
Jon: I want to go back to, there’s a couple of things you said that I just want to for my own experience just validate and one of those is you talk about micro-moments of positive meaning. We’ve done a lot of work in the space of what people would call well-being theory or some call it positive psychology and there’s one of the leaders in that space, the leading researcher Barbara Frederickson who’s been awarded recently for the work she’s done and how pioneering and how important it is. Her latest book called Love 2.0 is kind of her updated research on exactly what you said. And one of the things that she shared with us at a conference we held last year here in Cleveland, it’s almost the same work. She calls them micro-moments of positive resonance. Micro-moments of positive resonance which that sounds very much like relatableness.
One of the things that she shared with us is that what they are studying right now and they believe they’re seeing evidence for this is that in these micro-moments of positive resonance which can be as profoundly simple as two people making eye contact and shout out to Karen Pickles who on our Facebook chat here thing just posted a quote and she said, “The purity of our complete attention is the best gift we can give to others,” and I’m so glad you shared that Karen from North Carolina because there’s a lot of research that shows that, yeah, something as simple as pure presence, eye contact, in just in a moment, it actually changes us biologically, physiologically in ways that are not only instant but potentially permanent.
Dr. James: So, I talk about my book about that, that concept of in an organization there was some research done and didn’t use the individual he talks about but in the sense of like every single time it happens they found that within the day, it adds upon each other that positive moment. So, the more those positive moments across the organization both horizontally and vertically happens throughout the day, you are actually creating the permanence of positivity. And that’s what you’re talking about is that idea and that was so clear to me that if you can create multiple micro-moments in a day for yourself with someone else, various people in the organization, and they’re doing the same thing, think about the multiplication effect of that in an organization. And people who aren’t naturally inclined to be like that, one of the things that are going to happen, they’re going to self-select in or self-select out and they’ll leave the organization because they don’t feel like they’re a cultural fit at some point.
And that’s just, as cutthroat as that may be, you want to bring them along with you that some people – and maybe you disagree with this – innately just don’t want to be happy and there’s nothing you can do about it. I think in my podcast asking every single person how they define happiness. This is something I’m curious about. And what I find and it’s something I struggle with and I work on a daily basis is it’s a choice. It’s a choice that you make to be happy. It’s a choice to manage your expectations and never be disappointed and unhappy. And so, for me and in organizations, if you’re creating those micro-moments of meaning that have that multiplication effect of positivity, it’s allowing the organization to set the expectations of happiness, not pessimism, not anxiety and stress and all those other negativities that happen in a well-being of society. That’s negative well-being, not positive well-being. Because I mean, you know the engagement rate in the US is like 31% in an organization. It is so low.
Jon: It’s low and yet it’s actually still higher than most of the rest of the world.
Dr. James: Thirteen percent is the average.
Jon: Yeah. I think I love this conversation about positive emotions or happiness. What my experience has shown me is that for a lot of people what can help them is to explore a little bit more what can happiness or positive emotions actually mean. I think those words are actually as big of a barrier as they are a help. When we get brought in the situations, we’re facilitating what is literally a strength-based approach that’s just riddled with positivity but a lot of times we can’t even use those words because we realize it’s going to turn people off. And so, one of the things that we’ve learned is that we have to give ourselves kind of a wider palette of an understanding for what happiness can actually, how we can actually define it. Because like the word happiness even by itself I think would cause a lot of problems because I think a lot of people here that word and they immediately imagine well that means I’m supposed to wake up cheerful.
Do you want to know how I woke up today? This is really bad. I woke up today. My wife woke me up. She was upset about something because something had happened with our kids and I was so angry with how I got woken up that I jumped out of bed. There’s a pile of clothes on top of my dresser. I threw it across the room. I slammed open the door to our bathroom and I looked for something else that I could possibly slam or break with very little expense of consequence. I literally got out of bed today furious at life and I had to shake myself up. I had to go to yoga. I had to repair myself by noon. But I share that because I don’t get out of bed every day like that but I’m capable of it, but I share that because I think for some people they hear talk about happiness and they might be like me and they might think cheerfulness, smiling is really not my personal default. And so, I think for some people actually it becomes detrimental because they think there’s something wrong with them. When I think with Marty Seligman my interpretation of some of the things he shared in this research is that if you’re just looking at positive emotions, about half the world is wired to wake up with a smile and about the other half of the world is wired maybe to be closer to what I did today. Hopefully not that bad.
And that’s why there are recent researches on well-being which is a word you’ve used several times. I think it’s really helpful for us where if you look at Barbara Frederickson’s research on positive emotions, I think it can be helpful for all of us to realize that we might never use the word happiness and it might never be about how much we smile or how cheerful we are but there’s a whole array. There’s this rainbow, this palette of positive emotions that all have the same benefit. It might be contentment. It might be a sense of peace. It might be optimism. It might be hope. It might be courage. It might be gratitude. It might be, am I willing to look forward versus backwards? It might be, am I looking at solutions versus problems? It might be, am I willing to be curious versus frustrated? All of those can give us the full array of benefits of positive emotions but that expands what’s possible for us a lot more than I think how a lot of people think, I mean, they’re happy or I’m not. That’s my personal opinion that there’s more available if we can just broaden our vocabulary there around positive emotions.
Dr. James: Yeah. And I think that you’re absolutely correct. I think it’s the framing of the word, happiness. I think happiness does have this connotation of to your point, cheerfulness, smiley, but happiness is a state and that state can be optimism and it can be excitement. It can be love. It can be all sorts of different things that as long as you’re thinking about it from the framing of moving forward, positive, not looking back. For me, I try to in this context it’s going to be very black and white. I try to be you either a sunny disposition of positivity and what I mean by that is I don’t want to second guess my choices. I want to say my choices were made. Let’s move forward. I can’t change what’s done. I can only change what I do forward.
And so, for me, it’s that framing of everything I do in my life and that’s my form of happiness is that I can’t control what I’ve done 10 years ago. I can’t control I did this morning when I went for a run and my quad was cramping, I started walking, called my mom and get in a fight. That’s done with. Let’s just move on. What can I do different next time I have that engagement? For me, my wife would probably tell you I’m not the happiest person. I don’t think I’m the saddest person by any stretch of the imagination but I’m a human being and as a human being there are days where I thought about smashing the door open and throwing my clothes off the dresser and stuff like that.
Jon: It’s so liberating. You got to try it out.
Dr. James: You know what’s funny? Here’s the other thing about for me again. I think this is a personal choice for happiness and positivity and again, I’m not great. I think of my kids. I think that’s always my initial frame of mind of everything I do is can I leave my kids a little bit less scared than I was left when I grew up?
Jon: And they require a little bit less therapy than I need. Yeah.
Dr. James: I always joke that like my definition of excelling at parenting is how many years of therapy my kids need and if my kids need less than one year, I’ve done a great job. If they have 10 years, I screwed up someplace pretty significantly along the way and so I say it tongue and cheek but as a human being, we’re all going to, unfortunately, say or do something to our kids at some point in their life. Having daughters like I worry so hard because I had no sisters that I’m going to say something that’s going to just sit there and just when they’re 25 they’re just acting up back at me because of something I said. I’m like, “I didn’t mean it that way or whatever.”
Jon: Oh man. It’s so cool. Dr. James, hey, we’re going to be together in a few weeks. You’re coming out here for our LEAF training. We’re going to be hanging out. I can’t wait, man. Before we part ways here, anything else you want to offer, share, ask, extend to our collective community? And again, if you’re thinking about that, I want to encourage everyone to go check out Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity. And I didn’t articulate it earlier, the name of your podcast, please, so people can go find you.
Dr. James: Yeah. So, it’s Executives After Hours. As of next week, I’m taking my first season will come to a close and that first season was 250 episodes. So, it’s coming to a close and I’ll start back up in September. You can go to my website, www.DrJamesKelley.com and Kelley is K-E-L-L-E-Y and you can get the first chapter for free, the introductory chapter. So, go there, click on The Crucible’s Gift. Just give me your name and email so of course, that’s for no marketing reasons whatsoever. So, you can go there and get your free chapter and what I’ve been saying is that, listen, if you like it, great, go to Amazon and preorder. If you don’t like it, great. Tell me. I want feedback. What don’t you like? What would you want to see different? At the end of each chapter, major chapter, I have a list of anywhere between five to ten different activities you can do, and these activities come from two of my friends that are PhDs in Psychology. One is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy at Pen with Seligman. I can’t say his name.
Jon: Seligman, yeah.
Dr. James: The other one was trained in Columbia. So, two people way smarter than me came up with these activities that we kind of talked about, what was the aim and focus. So, there are some really tangible easy things to do. I think that when we talk about change and right now I’m reading Dr. Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers and he talks about the environment a lot in his book. And I think that’s a really critical thing is we make things complex for change and change is actually small incremental steps that have to be persistent and consistent to make for human being. And your environment, being aware of your environment is really a critical part in that whole entire puzzle. And in the book, I try to give you those little tiny activities that you can do, not overwhelm yourself, not think that it’s, “This isn’t me,” or, “I can’t do it,” and that’s why I give you a list because some of them I can’t do it. It’s not my personality and these other ones that I can is more of my personality. So, I try to give a smorgasbord if you will of options.
Jon: Awesome. James, hey buddy, this is so great.
Dr. James: Can I leave you with one thing about you and so I was on a podcast recently and they asked me, this is a complete compliment so I’m getting in by blowing smoke up your butt apparently.
Jon: I’ll embrace it authentically.
Dr. James: Please do. I was on a podcast recently and they asked me who is the most impactful leader that you know? And I actually said you.
Dr. James: And the reason why I say it is that you have this aura about you that for me at least I gravitate towards. Whatever you’re drinking, whatever you are taking, whatever you are thinking, I want to be a part of it and I think the people around you, you just get that sense about you and I think that your journey like mine is brick-by-brick and I can’t wait to see your goal and path 20 years from now, Jon, and I’m just so excited to be part of your world in some capacity. So, thank you for having me on the show.
Jon: James, that means the world to me, buddy. I appreciate it, man. Thank you.
Dr. James: Thank you.
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