Leaders Talk Last

(Episode 1 of 2 with Andy Goldstrom)

Leaders Talk Last

Andy Goldstrom is a business strategist, B2B growth expert, professor of entrepreneurship, and author. Over his career, he has built and sold fast-growing companies, including two that made it on the Inc. 500.

Today, Andy shares his entrepreneurial journey and what he has learned about being a good leader. Specifically, he’s going to teach us why leaders should always speak last. 

Andy’s Entrepreneurial Journey

After Andy finished his undergraduate degree in computer science, he started working at GTE, which is now Verizon, but eventually discovered it wasn’t the right for him.

“It just took a lot to make decisions and get things done and add value,” Andy explained. “There was a lot of reorganization going on outside of my span of control or purview at such a young age, and I realized early on that it wasn’t the ultimate fit for me.” He eventually learned through experience that he would excel in leadership positions. 

Around the time he left GTE, companies were starting to outsource a lot more, especially in real estate. Andy saw a window of opportunity there and became the managing director and partner at USI, where they made a company’s real estate an asset as opposed to a cost center through strategic planning, transaction management, designing the construction, legal review, and database administration, and then sold it to the chief financial officer (CFO). 

Eric explained success is a lot about timing with an entrepreneurial venture. “The timing was perfect. We actually were able to get a few customers who had very good interest and wanted to sign up with us before we even launched. So we were able to break even within six months,” he said.  

As the company grew they were able to expand with their clients and work for companies such as Delta Airlines and United Technologies. However, once he saw changes in the marketplace as more companies wanted to go global and asked for more facility management, he decided to monetize the company and sold it to Johnson Controls.

“After Johnson Controls bought us, I became the executive in charge of a big region for Johnson Controls, including the facility management business, and I learned a lot . . . The number of people and the amount of revenue grew substantially in terms of what I oversaw and was $50 million worth of business,” Andy said. 

Eventually, Andy left the company and searched for another business to help grow. He took over as the founder of a waste recycling company and helped their revenue grow 30% and their profit grows 70% within two years. 

Andy helped both USI and the waste management company achieve Inc. 500 status. 

Through his extensive journey in leadership and management roles, Andy continues to help businesses grow and adapt their business models as things change over the years.

Becoming a Leader

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Through Andy’s entrepreneurial journey, he learned a lot about what it takes to be a successful leader. When I asked him what his biggest home run was, he told me it was inspiring others. 

“It was an honor and a pleasant surprise when, more than once, people have said, ‘You’re the type of leader I want to work for,’” Andy said. “If you’re able to help others achieve their goals, and in turn, help yourself, there’s no better achievement than that.”

One key factor that makes Andy such a great leader is understanding that a leader is only as good as their team.

“[I understood] that if I wanted to sell something, I was only as good as the people who were working with me and that I was a servant to them,” Andy said. “I’m not the smoothest talker, but I am very trustworthy and I deliver what I say I’m going to do.”

In order for a business to succeed and effectively monetize, the entire team needs to be working together with the same goal in mind. An effective leader helps his team learn and encourages them to share ideas. 

“If you’re going to grow it, you have to have the right people who are incentivized and developed in the right way so that they can do the work, so you can grow and scale your company. I always tried to set a good example for that,” he said. 

Learning to Talk Last

A good leader should talk last. Let everyone share their point of view first, and then we can share ours. Not only does that allow us to listen before we talk, but it allows us to gather valuable feedback from our team members. It makes the feedback that we give much more effective when we fully listen to everyone’s ideas first. 

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When I asked Andy what his biggest mistake was, he told me it was speaking too soon in a conference meeting. 

There was a time he was leading a senior team in a conference reviewing financials. During the conference, the CFO was presenting, and Andy felt like he knew what the right plan of action was based on the presentation. He ended up cutting off the CFO and didn’t give him the time he deserved for the work he had put into the presentation. This mistake impacted their relationship, and it took time to rebuild their trust. 

“You have to be the last person in the room to talk,” Andy said. “You have to let everybody else have their say. That doesn’t mean that they’re the ultimate decision-maker. But everybody needs to have a contribution because that’s what allows a company to build. It was a tough lesson but a good lesson to learn.” 

One of the things I like best about speaking last is, if someone comes up with the idea you are going to say before you say it, you can give them credit for it. As a leader, this helps everyone on the team feel like a valuable player. The more comfortable and valuable everyone feels on our team, the more likely it will be that they will share other ideas in the future. A business should be run on collaboration, not a one-man-band. 

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In Andy’s consulting business, he works with many great people and leaders on the teams he is a part of. They all give great answers because they know the industry, but often they may have their own bias they are worried about sharing. If we can create an environment where everyone’s ideas will come to the forefront, we are doing it right. 

“I find that transparency, the ability to understand the goals of the company and how everybody’s contributing to it, and giving people [the opportunity] to bubble up ideas, creates innovation,” Andy said.

Once we create innovation and trust in our teams and businesses, we will have the confidence of knowing that when adversity hits, such as COVID-19, we don’t have to carry the weight of it by ourselves. We will have an incredible team to help us continue to operate in the toughest conditions. 

Another advantage to speaking last is that everyone will feel heard. Even when someone shares an idea we don’t agree with, at least we have shown them we are willing to hear their ideas. We can also take the opportunity of the disagreement and better explain to them why we are doing things the way we are. It’s a lot easier to swallow feedback if you know the person at least listened to what you had to say before they made that contrary decision.

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Andy for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

1. Success is a lot about timing and being prepared to seize the opportunity when the time comes.

2. Leaders need to know how to adapt to changes in the market, just as we are teaching with tectonic shifts.

3. Good leaders build trust by doing what they say they are going to do.

4, A leader is only as good as their team. 

5. A leader should talk last. Talking last builds trust, openness gives room for feedback and helps everyone feel heard. 

Connect with Andy

If you enjoyed this interview and want to learn more about Andy, listen to part two of this episode or connect with him on his LinkedIn. If you want to learn more about his company, Midcourse Advisors, you can visit his website at midcourseadvisors.com

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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