Get Out of Their Way! – Adam Robinson (Founder, CEO of Hireology)

Adam Robinson - Hireology

Adam Robinson – Hireology

Adam Robinson is the co-founder and CEO of Hireology, which produces a web-based software platform that assists companies in the hiring process from end-to-end. Initially a self-described “accidental entrepreneur,” Adam has since developed an immense passion for entrepreneurship and he donates time to multiple leadership programs, including Entrepreneurs Organization. In addition, he serves on the Board of Advisors for DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center.

Drawing on experiences from previous entrepreneurial efforts, Adam developed the approach that serves as the basis for his Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Hire great people and then get the heck out of the way.” He says the biggest lesson he has learned to date in his career is that, if you hire great people, you have to let them be great and do the things that make them great. If you invest in “A” talent, you have to let “A” talent be “A” talent – not an extension of you.

This is a lesson learned hard for Adam. With his last company, he was surrounded by some great people but he tried to do everything. And, when the economy took a downturn, he realized the operation was a house of cards. People had no qualms about leaving because they had no ownership in the company.

Alternatively, Hireology was a business-by-design, built on the lessons learned earlier in Adam’s career. Before ever writing a business plan, he wrote his core values. He believes that, when a company is first getting started, before the processes are even in place, the core values are their operating system – their compass. Then, as the company progresses, if we, as leaders, coach core values, we don’t have to tell people how to do their jobs because they’ll figure out how to do their jobs while staying true to the core values.

A comparison of the first employees from each of his companies illustrates the difference in approaches. In Adam’s previous company, his first employee lasted about eighteen months. Adam had a very tactical approach – telling the employee what to do each week or each month. Ultimately, the employee saw no professional growth and everyone involved got burnt out. On the other hand, after four years with the company, Adam’s first hire at Hireology is now the VP of Sales, leading a team of twenty-two. He consistently beats his numbers, yet Adam has never told him how to do what he does. The employee has figured it out on his own.

But that is not to say that Adam’s approach is to provide no support or structure. He says, “I want to tell folks where we need to be but I don’t want to tell great people how to get there.” Adam fosters an environment of accountability by allowing his team to create their own plans. He believes that, psychologically, it creates a situation where people feel more invested than they would if they just had a plan handed down to them. He says to his employees, “This is your plan – do you believe in it? And, if so, are you prepared to own it?”

These days, Adam says his job description has changed from, “Do everything and make it happen,” to, “Help great people be successful.” In that way, he says, he has gone from being the rainmaker to helping others to be rainmakers.

Listen to the conversation with Adam here:

Brace For Impact! – Dave Sanderson (Author and Speaker)

Dave Sanderson - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Dave Sanderson – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Dave Sanderson is a name some may recognize. On 15 January 2009, international headlines were made when US Airways Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan. As the last passenger off the back of the plane, Dave Sanderson’s experiences on that day acted to shape the message he spreads as an author and motivational speaker.

The core of that message is found in his Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Being resourceful is the key skill to move from being good to being outstanding.” For Dave, “The Miracle on the Hudson” is a case study in resourcefulness. While he never could have known what was to happen, he believes it was more than coincidence that he was on that plane, citing the fact that he had given up his first class seat on another flight to be there. In the end, his resourcefulness and that of others, including the captain who drew on his training to glide the plane onto the river without colliding into the George Washington Bridge, saved lives.

But Dave notes that resourcefulness did not just begin in the moment of crisis. A lot of intentional work had gone into being resourceful. His time in the business world had provided him with valuable training and he had absorbed a number of skill sets. For a decade prior, he had had the opportunity to work with Anthony Robbins, who emphasized that being resourceful is a skill set. He learned that people often think they cannot do something if they do not have certain resources but, if there is a will, there is a way. Says Dave, “Resourcefulness is a mindset. It is, ‘You never take no for an answer.’”

Of course, saying we will not take no for an answer and actually doing it are different things. Dave offers insight as to how this philosophy can be applied. For him, a good leader focuses on the outcome and helps to guide others in that direction. When an obstacle presents itself, as will invariably happen in any venture, solutions may not always come readily. Dave believes a leader helps his team to break the trance that may be keeping them stuck behind that obstacle by asking better questions. For instance, rather than asking, “How can I solve this problem?” ask “If I could do it, how would I do it?”

And yet, as much as Dave values the training he had that prepared him for his role in helping passengers off the plane and onto safety, he is mindful that resourcefulness is more about applying what you know at that moment in time than it is about technique. For different people, that can mean different things. For some of the passengers on Flight 1549, simply knowing to take a step back while others led was their way of being resourceful. That was not Dave, though.

Dave believes the first thing a leader does to be resourceful is they put themselves in the right state of mind. When Dave heard the words, “This is the captain, brace for impact,” he knew he had to put himself in the state of mind to survive. Once the plane began to settle after impact and he saw the light, he knew he could take care of himself. He then looked around and asked, “Can other people?” Though he encountered obstacles, including a passenger who plead with him to be left on the plane, he did not exit the craft until everyone else had safely made their exit.

Listen to the conversation with Dave here:

Like Your Team – Sonny Vu (CEO & Founder Misfit Wearables)

Sonny Vu - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Sonny Vu – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Sonny Vu is the founder of the award-winning Misfit Wearables, who design highly wearable computing products. In addition, he is the founder and former CEO of AgaMatrix, makers of the world’s first iPhone-connected hardware medical device.

Sonny’s Paper Napkin Wisdom is very to-the-point: “Only work with people you like.” But is it realistic? When Sonny first heard this insight from former CEO of Apple and Pepsi, John Sculley, he liked the sound of it but did not think it was realistic for people like him: Entrepreneurs, young people, and those early in their careers. It was not until he began to reflect back on his own experiences that he started to realize how applicable “Only work with people you like” is at all levels.

It may seem like entrepreneurs, especially at the start-up level, have to work with the cards they are dealt but Sonny argues that, precisely because we are entrepreneurs, that is untrue. We always have the choice. “When we step back and test our assumptions, another path always seems to light up,” he says.

That is not to say that the application of this philosophy will always be easy, though. Sonny notes that first impressions can be misleading and, even if we hire from our gut, we may end up with someone on our team who does not align with our core values. In those instances, Sonny relies on the advice of former GE chairman and CEO, Jack Welch. Welch promotes actively seeking out and eliminating those who do not align. For him, it is better to invest in a person who aligns with our values but is not delivering numbers than a person who is delivering numbers but whom we do not like. The person who aligns can hopefully be trained to improve their performance, whereas keeping the unaligned around is likely to damage our company culture. Others will see that the unaligned is high-performing and assume that their behavior is okay. We do not want to waste our leadership energies undoing this kind of damage.

Sonny cites the experiences he had with his three start-ups as illustrations of how different hiring strategies can affect company culture. With his first company, he hired a lot of people with high IQs; however, their egos led to a great deal of social and communication issues. With his second company, he hired people with experience; yet, Sonny is quick to note the difference between experience and wisdom. There can be a correlation between the two – just like there can be a correlation between a high IQ and relevant skills – but not always. Sometimes, those with a lot of experience can be close-minded, which is not helpful when a start-up is trying to shake up assumptions.

It is only with his current company that Sonny began to apply the “Only work with people you like” philosophy and he praises the radical change. He stresses that it is especially important to surround ourselves with people we like early on, as the very survival of our company may depend on it. Lack of alignment can pull a team apart or, worse yet, have people actively working to undermine each other. On the other hand, Sonny insists, “If you are up against a fast, agile, hard-working, highly functional team that likes each other, that trusts each other to watch each other’s back, you better watch out, man, because that’s a force to be reckoned with!”

Listen to the conversation with Sonny here:



Is Your Business Your Message? – Jill Lublin (Speaker, Author)

Jill Lublin - Paper Napkin Wisdiom

Jill Lublin – Paper Napkin Wisdiom

Jill Lublin is a public relations specialist, international speaker, best-selling author, and self-described “messenger of messengers” passionate about helping others to create a footprint in the marketplace. Unsurprisingly, she has created a considerable footprint for herself through seminars, books, and countless appearances in print and broadcast media.

Jill’s thought-provoking Paper Napkin Wisdom speaks to the heart of her philosophy about publicity: “Start with a message about why your business is your message. And, if you were starting your business on a paper napkin, what would be the cause and reason for your business?” For Jill, the reality of any business is that people are influenced by the message – the cause and reason. We must still deliver a great product but our message is what attracts others to us. People want to buy into the passionate messenger.

Jill gives the example of a dentist who worked three blocks down the road from a competitor. While he tried to create a warm environment in his office, the other dentist had a “get-‘em-in, get-‘em-out” mentality. About that, the dentist once commented, “I know why certain people come to me and certain people come to him.” The two men conveyed very different messages and people chose to patronize the one with the message that resonated with them.

However, having a message is only part of the equation. It is another thing to get our message out there. Jill emphasizes “five-year-old language”. Tell people what problem you solve in the marketplace the way you would explain it to a five-year-old. She believes that we often have no more than thirty seconds to convey our message and that does not mean we should try to cram as much information as possible into that time. It means that we need to simplify. Says Jill, “If you can communicate your message in a clear, concise, and simple way, people respond better, resonate quicker, and frankly, you get more prospects and more profit.”

And if you have streamlined message, do not fear repeating it. It may seem boring but there is no telling who might be hearing it for the first time. “You’re repetitive to yourself but your listener, your prospect, your customer – they haven’t even gotten it yet,” Jill reminds us. Furthermore, she says, repetition has the benefit of keeping us on-track.

Jill believes that the key to having a footprint in the marketplace is publicity and publicity starts the moment you walk out the door. Our business is our message – there is no separation – and we must be its passionate messenger.

Go to for a free offer and listen to the conversation with Jill here:


A Gift to Yourself – Kathy Colace (Founder JBN & Associates)

Kathy Colace - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Kathy Colace – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Kathy Colace is the founder and managing partner of JBN & Associates, LLC, an executive search firm with the motto “Strengthening Companies. Building Careers.” She is also the mother of three adult children (after whom her company is named) and my classmate at MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters Program.

It was amid one of our classes that Kathy produced the following Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Life is a gift… the gift of choice who to spend it with!” I had asked everyone in the room to write down a Paper Napkin Wisdom, about which Kathy commented, “You would think I would come up with a nugget that was about business.” But, she says, after looking around the room, she realized it was her choice to be there among great people. And she emphasized choice, underlining it three times on her napkin.

As the fifth of five children, she felt torn in her younger years between wanting to be her own person and wanting to be perfect for her parents. Initially, her perception of being perfect for her parents was doing exactly as they would do. But, when she started to follow her own path, she realized that her parents loved her for the individual she was. She believes being honest about who we are is at the heart of choosing who we want to surround ourselves with. But that is not to say that making those choices will always be easy.

She notes that toxic relationships are easy to walk away from. It is when we have to let a perfectly kind or well-meaning friend or family member who we no longer have anything in common with out of our life that we begin to feel guilty. “Is that a cold statement?” Kathy questions. “I don’t want it to be.”

Kathy believes it is important that we be around people who add value to our lives and that we add value to their lives. Part of that is being open to the changing dynamic of relationships. Those who are important to us today might not be the same people who are beside us at our deathbeds. And that’s okay. There are benefits to being honest with ourselves about which relationships are important to us, says Kathy. “When you determine or define those quality relationships, they go deeper because you’re not trying to please everyone.”

Like many of the leaders I speak with, lessons Kathy has learned in her personal life have applications in her professional life. She approaches her business relationships with the same mindset that she approaches personal relationships. Not only does she encourage clients to be okay with taking opportunities, even if it means leaving a long-time employer who has been good to them, she says the same thing to her own employees. For her, it is a matter of respect – she respects that her employees have a choice and that it’s not personal. That type of approach, she says, empowers her employees and creates a more transparent workplace.

Listen to my conversation with Kathy here:

Out of the PODS Container and back to Podcasts …

Thanks for all your messages and notes over September! The Blog and Podcast were unexpectedly on a longer than planned hiatus as we dealt with the technical challenges associated with moving my home and office at the same time (more on that later).

Through that process, and challenge, I had to focus on my Personal Dashboard to ensure that I was able to provide my team with leadership and my family with support. Now, that’s done and, as planned, I have an amazing lineup of Podcasts and Blogs coming to you soon.

Even better, I can report that Jack Daly and I have put the final touches on the book outline, which I hope to have done VERY soon!

Keep up the conversation and I look forward to sharing with you some amazing stories of entrepreneurial and leadership wisdom in the weeks to come!

Make it a great day!

Digging Your Freedom – Erin Weed (Founder Evoso Inc, Author, Speaker)

Erin Weed - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Erin Weed – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Erin Weed is the founder and CEO of evoso, a consultancy firm that helps people to develop speeches. She has been an entrepreneur since college, when the murder of one of her sorority sisters motivated her to scrap plans to work in television production so she could teach young women about self-defense and personal safety in a way that was empowering rather than terrifying. She created a self-defense seminar program that she eventually sold before founding evoso.

Erin believes strongly that authenticity is the force that will move the world forward and that conviction is reflected in her Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Speak your truth, change the world.” Through personal and professional experience, she has recognized that attempting to maintain the façade of perfection builds walls between relationships while showing vulnerability fosters connections.

Some leaders may fear showing vulnerability to their team. We’ve learned, however, that there’s a strong impact of vulnerability. When leaders let go of that expectation energy and lead by example, the ripple effect will lead to others speaking their truths. It is then that a group is most prepared to adapt to changing dynamics.

Erin’s company uses a “Dig, Plant, Grow” approach to developing speeches for clients. The “Dig” portion often startles those accustomed to the impersonal business standard but it is here that much of the most important work is done. By taking an honest look at themselves, a person can begin to identify what it means for them to honor their life and live their truth.

This became apparent, perhaps more than ever, when evoso was helping a client named Ashley develop a speech about coming out of the closet. Through this process, they began to realize that we all have a “closet,” meaning a truth about who we really are that we do not want to share with the world for fear that others will freak out. What usually stands between us and this authenticity is a difficult conversation – a conversation that, in some cases, might hurt others. And yet, when people have these conversations, they quickly begin to see the benefits. Erin says, “If there’s so much fear before, there’s so much freedom on the other side.”

For Ashley, this conclusion resulted in a speech so successful the video of it went viral with five million views on YouTube. For Erin, this conclusion only reinforced the importance of speaking one’s truth. “A closet is no place to live,” she says. As to identifying one’s truth, Erin encourages others to identify their one-word mantra – their “Dig word,” as she calls it. By doing this, a person can turn to their “Dig word” when things around them shift and reevaluate their goals.

Erin’s “Dig-word?” Authenticity.

Listen to the conversation with Erin here:

Predictable Leadership, Predictable Success

Order Or Chaos Directions On A SignpostI remember having my mind rocked a few years ago while attending an elite entrepreneurs-only education program at MIT and Verne Harnish introduced the notion that Leadership, when done right, means that we are beating a drum like the heartbeat of the company. Part of that is consistency in our message, he said. Verne suggested that we’re doing it right when our teams can finish our sentences.

Sometimes this is also the case when the leader in question is disliked by their team. But if the leader is consistent, predictable in their message, it’s amazing how far they can go with their team. The team may dislike the leader, but the predictability and consistency is actually respected. Put simply, if the heartbeat is irregular, the organization has got big problems.

Think about the number of times you’ve heard something like: “so-and-so is a jerk, but at least I know where I stand all the time.”

Predictable Leadership is to the first ingredient in Predictive Success.

Here’s the harsh truth – the bottleneck is always at the TOP.

Leaders, that’s you … by being predictable you remove yourself as an obstacle (the bottleneck) to your team getting things done. Your team will get far more done as a result since their leader is not meddling, criticizing, or sabotaging your team’s confidence in themselves.

I know this flies in the face of what we imagine a great leader does; the traits that come to mind are almost those of a superhero. Dynamic, persuasive, compelling, and able to exert enough force on every situation to save the day. The reality is, however, that sometimes our need to be the hero is the very thing that holds our company back.

It’s time to shed the cape – let your team be the hero, give them the rope to save the day. Let’s face it, they’re great at what they do, which is why you had them join your team. Many of them have skills you simply don’t have. Others do stuff that you just don’t like or want to do, but they love it. So why do you get in their way? Get out of the way and let go of the superhero complex by becoming predictable from their perspective.

Perspective is the important word here. Leaders need to understand predictability from their team’s perspective, not just their own. In 2004 a couple psychologists researched employees and found that acknowledgment, encouragement, and structure around getting work done as determined by the team, not the manager/leader. In situations where all this existed the team exceeded performance standards and reported higher job satisfaction.

Predicable Leadership means consistent, clear articulation of goals and objectives, a shared set of core values that are brought to life by the actions of everyone in the organization every day. Repetition, consistency, and structure are the keys to establishing this kind of system of Predictive Leadership in the company.

In this structure, teams feel highly motivated because they have a great deal of ownership over the task, the outcome, and every point in-between. This is the most important distinction between delegation and empowerment. Here teams feel truly empowered, and they are powerful when they feel this way.

Teams that have Predictable Leadership are tight in tough times, they are responsive to challenges, they predict problems before they occur, they are nimble and able to shift toward opportunity, and most importantly they grow stronger over time.

Think about true teamwork and collaboration as a muscle, and like all muscles they need to be exercised. The only thing they need is a stable environment in which to accomplish this.

That’s the Leader’s job. Provide the consistency, structure, and Predictable Leadership your team needs and watch amazing things happen when you get out of their way.

When you’re doing it right, they’ll finish your sentences, and support the structure that you’ve created for them.

And this structure will set you free.

It did for me.

I used to come back from each new conference with a bunch of ideas to shift how the company worked. I would exercise my creativity and change processes with the motto “if it isn’t broke, I’m not trying hard enough.” I was the bottleneck in my company, no question.

Rules worked for everyone in the team, except me. I kept breaking them.

Amazingly, when I got more consistent – our results responded and became better and better. The more I resisted the need to fix every challenge that my team encountered, the more faith they KNEW I had in them – and they picked up the cape and became the superheroes.

I’m not saying that I don’t learn and grow, I spend time studying Leadership daily. That said, I can’t throw the systems and processes we have as a team out the window without the buy-in from the team. More importantly, I can’t keep shifting approach and direction relentlessly and expect my team to even know what I’m talking about. So, I don’t keep changing gears, direction, or messaging.

Setting a structure and becoming more consistent has paid off and given me a huge amount of freedom and leverage.

What do You Stand For? – Syed Sultan Ahmed (Founder, Edumedia India)

Syed Sultan Ahmed - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Syed Sultan Ahmed – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Syed Sultan Ahmed is a first generation entrepreneur and a real change maker. His organization, EDUMEDIA, is one that enriches the lives of children and works to educate and provide life skills to children all over India. He is a charismatic and passionate person who truly loves what he does.

In his Paper Napkin Wisdom, Sultan says: “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” It’s his belief that the purpose and rational behind what you do are extremely important. All the small steps you take on a daily basis, he says, are adding up to a very large goal. For him, that goal has been to help children and by keeping his focus there, he keeps himself grounded and gives himself a clear vision of where he’s headed.

[Tweet “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”]

Sultan feels that he picked up on the importance of focus at a very young age. He tells the story of how, as a child, he and his family had a family Doctor who would spend about half an hour with them when they were ill and charged roughly $50. He recalls that when he was younger they had to take his grandmother to a specialist for a heart ailment and though he only saw her for 5-10 minutes, the visit was far more expensive than their family Doctor. He asked his mother why the specialist cost so much when he only saw his grandmother for a small period of time and she explained that it was because he was a specialist. It was a lesson that would become an ingrained part of him. Sultan says that as a child he’s always asked himself what it was he would be a specialist at.

Sultan says that his biggest satisfaction comes from working with children, so it’s only natural that would be what he became a specialist at. The world values specialists, he says. In hindsight, Sultan thinks that he sounds like he was very strategic, but he says that he just followed his heart and that having his focus and following it in this way is what has gotten him to where he is. He loves working with children; it doesn’t feel like work to him. He loves what he does and feels blessed. He says that one of the best parts about working with kids is that when you look at their face, you immediately have feedback. You don’t need surveys or interviews, the look on a child’s face tells you what they’re feeling immediately.

Sultan says he’s a very hands-on person and likes to think that he leads by example. When he wants his team to be involved in a particular way, he leads by example and makes a conscious effort to show them the result of what they’re doing. He talks about an event he brought a colleague to a few days ago where children where painting pictures and he told her “For all you know, we have just created a painter,” He asked one of the kids if they enjoyed doing their painting and they lit up. He told his colleague that light in the child’s face was what they were working for. “The gratifications are there to be seen,” he says “If your eyes and ears are open to see it.”

[Tweet “The gratifications are there to be seen, if your eyes and ears are open to see it.”]

Past Paper Napkin guests like Brian Price have talked about the importance of focus, especially when it’s regarding something you love. It is through diligent focus and through making himself a specialist that allows Sultan to accomplish as much as he does. Add his extreme passion to that focus and you have a truly winning combination.

Listen to the conversation with Sultan here:

Three Pillars to Lead By – Chris Eldridge (Director – 4Impact Group)

Chris Eldridge - Paper Napkin Wisdom

Chris Eldridge – Paper Napkin Wisdom

Chris Eldridge is a man with almost twenty years of experience in a wide range of industries. He is the kind of person who constantly does his best to go above and beyond. As he joins us on Paper Napkin Wisdom, Chris shares the personal mantra he uses to push himself forward and explains why these elements are important to him.

The pictures Chris has drawn on his Paper Napkin all represent a different aspect of his mantra, the three pillars of how he works: Lofty Goals, Positive Impact on Others, Fun Along the Way. Each pillar is an essential part of how and why Chris works the way he does.

The first part of Chris’s napkin is represented by the snow-cap mountains he’s drawn. He says that by striving for the snow-cap mountains and looking over the horizons, you see what’s possible. Keep your eye on the snow cap mountains, he says, because that’s where the great view comes from. The idea behind this is that when you keep your eyes open and looking for opportunity, when you operate on a swivel perspective, you can see the possibilities around you.

The next aspect important to him is being a positive impact on others. Chris describes himself as a very people oriented person. He’s an extrovert, people feed into his creative process. Though he, of course, wants to be successful in business, he says that he also wants to be able to look back in future and see that his journey wasn’t just about him. He wants to “Do it with people, not just to people,” he says. If he makes sure that his journey is one that’s good for not just him, but the people around him, he feels he can be truly proud of how and what he did. It sounds like a simple idea, but it’s something you have to be deliberate about. Chris has regular reminders for himself to keep these things in mind and he says that you may find you have to reinforce and reinvent your business to keep it on track.

The last element of Chris’s mantra may seem a bit ‘whoo whoo’ but it’s an important one. Fun Along the Way: having fun through the working journey. Chris believes that in the modern world, we can take things way too seriously. You need to enjoy yourself along the way, he says. He’s spent 15 years in the corporate world and he feels it’s a pretty sterile environment. As we’ve talked about before on Paper Napkin Wisdom, we spend a large portion of our life at work, so it’s important that we try our best to enjoy it as much as possible. Chris believes it’s important we have a bit of fun in the office, not just on weekends.

The images Chris has drawn around the different pillars of his mantra are important because they’re a visualization of the aspects they represent. Chris is a very visual person and for that reason, he’s chosen to represent the things that are important to him in a way he can understand and take meaning from. There’s such a value to that. In taking the time to find out what his core values are and synthesize them in a way that makes sense to him, Chris has made his values into a solid mantra to live by.

If we each took the time to do that- to sit down and really discover what our core values are and turn them into a way of living, what might that do for us? How would it change the things you do? If you were to create that mantra today, a compass directing you to your true destination, where on the map might you find yourself?

What would your three pillars be?

Listen to the conversation with Chris here: