The company was worth millions, but its CEO was sleepless, stressed and refusing to delegate any work to his staff.
When leadership consultant Kevin DeShazo pressed him on the logic of this approach, the executive offered a short but deeply-rooted explanation.
“He had built a great life, great marriage, great family, great companies,” DeShazo said.
“But he was overdoing it because he wanted his dad to be proud. He was desperate to prove himself.”
For more than a decade, DeShazo has served as a mental performance mastery coach — helping leaders, coaches and teams find clarity in their missions, “understand the demons they’re facing,” and improve their overall performance.
DeShazo has worked with Nike, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the UCLA Bruins, among several others, and has penned three books.
The Daily Coach spoke to him about keys to overcoming our fears, why success doesn’t mean a team has a good culture, and the common factors of the great coaches he’s been around.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kevin, thanks a lot for doing this. Tell us a little about your childhood and some key lessons from it.
I grew up in Missouri and lived there until seventh grade. My mom has been a legal secretary for as long as I’ve been alive. My dad was in the food industry for a number of years, then he went into financial services. We lived in the town of Ozark, not the Ozarks like in the show, but the town just outside of Springfield. My whole grade was 90 kids. Without sounding arrogant, I was one of the cool ones.
Then, my dad took a new job and we moved to Tulsa, Okla., where my class had 1,000 kids. It was horrible at first. It was a very different world where I went from being one of the best athletes and having supreme confidence to knowing nobody. Everybody was a bigger deal, faster, bigger, stronger than I was.
It helped give me perspective, though. I learned how to navigate change and not be overwhelmed. I learned things happen in life. The better attitude you have in the midst of it, the faster that situation is going to get better.
You end up going to Oklahoma State for college. What drew you to writing and public speaking?
Out of college, I worked in healthcare doing recruiting. But the economy was crashing, the company I was at was taking our resources away, and we were using Facebook to recruit. I realized social media could be used for more than seeing photos of my aunt’s cat.
I was also always obsessed with sports. I kept complaining about student-athletes getting in trouble with social media and coaches banning them from it and thought someone needed to talk to student-athletes about this. I had legitimately zero connections in the field, but I used Twitter to find sports information directors, athletic directors, whoever I could connect with in college sports.
I just started tweeting and writing and talking about social media, and eventually, some athletic directors asked me if I’d go talk to their student-athletes. My first public speaking engagement was at a conference with 800 collegiate athletics administrators. I had no clue what I was doing. But I also didn’t have a fear of it.
That’s the thing. Nobody’s actually afraid of public speaking. They’re afraid of looking like an idiot in front of a bunch of people. For whatever reason, I didn’t have the fear of looking like an idiot.
You write a lot about fear and think that many people are held back by concerns over what others may think of them. How do you overcome that?
I think everyone was made to have an impact, but most are terrified to figure out what that looks like because it’s risky, and you can fail, and people will think things about you.
You have to realize most people aren’t thinking about you. People are very consumed with their own frustrations and worries. Nobody’s thinking about you as much as you think they are.
It’s easier said than done. I know when I wake up in the morning, most of the thoughts I have aren’t good. They’re not healthy or positive. People would probably be shocked, but I battle those every day so I can do the work and make an impact.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what people think of me, good or bad. if people think terrible things about me, that’s O.K. I’m willing to let them be wrong. I don’t need to prove something to them. I don’t need to get my validation, or identity, or peace from what someone else thinks of me. That’s an exhausting way to live.
You shared an interesting thought recently that winning can lead to more issues for teams down the road. Can you elaborate on that?
I think we assume if a team is winning, they must have a great culture, that nothing must be going wrong. But I’d say bad cultures win all the time. Bad leaders win all the time. They don’t win over the long run, but they can win for a season, just not five, 10 or 20 seasons.
I found a lot of teams that start to win start avoiding accountability. When people are falling short of the standards, (leaders) don’t want to rock the boat or screw anything up. But those little cracks you ignore… can become massive fractures, and we could’ve just dealt with those a month ago when it wasn’t that big of a deal. Now, it’s a major deal.
The standard always has to be the standard, whether you’re winning or losing. We have to live, and practice, and communicate, and lead the way that we’ve committed to, not just base it on a result.
You also feel leaders can easily overreact to what the scoreboard says — particularly in defeat — and that losing teams can still have great cultures.
I’ve seen losing teams with great cultures that are maximizing the talent they do have. Over the long run, that great culture will attract better talent. But that’s where leaders freak out. They think, “If we’re losing, then everything must be going wrong.” No, things actually could be exactly as they need to be.
No. 1, you may not have the right talent. No. 2, you may be early on in building. Those early years in sports or business can be ugly. If you can have patience and have a long-term vision, you can keep doing the work and not break everything.
What coaches and leaders tend to do is think they need to fix everything. No, 95 percent of things may be good. You may just need to fix one thing.
I think a lot of young leaders can be control freaks and are too tied to the outcome and may feel the pressure of not performing as they want to or should be. That’s where you have to have the connections with your staff and players. If you can have leaders on your team or organization who you can rely on and ask, “Hey, what am I missing? Is that real?” They may tell you, “No, Coach. That’s not at all what’s happening.”
If I can make sure that relationship is good, then we’ll get to where we want to go.
You’ve been around a lot of great teams and coaches. What are the hallmarks of the truly elite you’ve seen?
The best know exactly who they are. They know exactly where they’re great, exactly where they struggle. They put people around them who complement those weaknesses.
If you’re a two out of 10 at a skill, you don’t need to be a 10. But if you can take it from a two to a four, you can make it a little less of a liability.
I think humility is an overused term, but it’s so critical because once you get in that leadership chair, you feel like you’re supposed to know everything and have all the answers. That causes us to be insecure and not take coaching. Coaches need to have the humility to say, “I’m confident in what I can do, but I know I need to get better.”
Self-awareness, being secure in who they are, having that level of humility.
You mention knowing who you are, which can be a challenge for a lot of inexperienced leaders. How do you learn who you are beyond just experience?
In our work with coaches, we’re trying to go at self-preservation. “What are you afraid of losing? What are you trying to hide? What are you trying to prove?”
I try to help people understand the demons they’re facing, what’s holding them back, and what their competitive advantages are. Is it the way you think? The way you communicate? The way you scheme?
Also, what are the things you do that drain you of energy? You have to do a strengths and weaknesses inventory — because everyone has superpowers. What are your superpowers and how can we get you spending 70 to 80 percent of your time doing those things? All of a sudden, the burnout for leaders, the drama, the frustration starts to go down.
If a leader can get healthy physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, then the burnout doesn’t happen. The best leaders multiply.
Kevin DeShazo ― Website | Twitter | Newsletter: Keep Chopping Wood | Instagram | LinkedIn | Book: Keep Chopping Wood | YouTube | Company: Better
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