Creating a Culture of a Learning Organization with Mike Gentile at Ciscoshare

Do you want your people to be continually improving? Well, you want to create a learning organization that is ingrained in your culture. It starts with hiring people that are confident enough to share their skills and expertise with others. It also takes a committed leadership that appreciates learning in everything you do. My guest today is Mike Gentile, Founder, and CEO of Cisco share. His company was ranked #88 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Discover how why he wanted a learning organization. We talk about the importance of the culture of learning to be a central part of their fast growth. We also talk about being a socially conscious organization and how they uniquely give back to their community with their capability of being a learning organization.

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Mike Gentile: The Transcript

Target Audience: Mike Gentile is the President & CEO at CiscoShare. Mike has contributed to numerous publications and has delivered more than 100 presentations on information technology and information security. He’s served on the program committee and advisory boards for multiple technology companies, including the RSA conference.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

– Mike Gentile
I think in today’s market where everything is moving in really days where where everything is moving so quickly you have to find a way especially when you’re growing rapidly like we are to get people on the same page in the quickest manner possible. And this has been a great way for us to connect everyone both our customers our clients our partners as well as internally together with kind of what learning and teaching means in a tangible way.

– Gene Hammett
Welcome to growth think tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

– Gene Hammett
Do you want a learning organization? You want an organization where everyone is participating together and growing as individuals. They’re sharing their skills they’re sharing their expertise across the organization. A lot of companies are struggling in this area because they want something like that but they’re not sure how to get there. Well, I’m going to share with you a special story today that really will blow your mind because I’m blown because I didn’t think this would be possible. My first inclination was absolutely this can’t be done. Now what I’m talking about is an organization that has a very technical feel for it the technical application the skills to it and to do this good call it out cybersecurity very technical but if they can do it you probably can too.

– Gene Hammett
I reached out to someone of my network that is growing a fast-growing company but doing something unique and creating this learning organization and I found Mike’s until Mike is the founder of CiscoShare and they grew at over 3000 percent. They were number eighty-eight on the 2000 19 Inc list. And it really is impressive to see what they’ve done just inside their organization impact are making. Well, the reason why they’ve gotten there is that they’ve brought in a lot of experts and those experts are training and cross-training everyone else.

– Gene Hammett
Everyone’s becoming teachers. Now I say that with a smile because it really is a very different aspect because most people have this is your area state of your role state of your city your lane and they taken that and really you’ve turned it sideways and they’ve gone to a next level because they’ve done something really unique this learning organization has been amplified because they took their frameworks and their methodologies and all the training and the foundations and they decided to open that up to people that wouldn’t have access to it. They had no technical background no certifications in cybersecurity. And these people were actually homeless. Yep, homeless. And so they talked about and this interview about how you can create a learning organization within the company and what that means but also how do you expand it out to the community and how does that actually feed the company and allow the company to see new areas for growth. That’s what’s happening inside today’s interview with Mike Gentile at CiscoShare. Now here’s the interview with Mike.

– Gene Hammett
Hi Mike, How are you?

– Mike Gentile
I’m great. How are you doing today?

– Gene Hammett
I’m doing fantastic. I love what I do and I’m excited to have you. We just talked last week about a very interesting model you have your business is really changing things for the industry probably for you as well inside the company and I want to get the audience up to speed. I told them a little bit about the growth of the company but tell us about what this company does see so share.

– Mike Gentile
Awesome. So what we do is help organizations build security programs so essentially that’s the security team that operates within an organization and takes on cybersecurity-related issues and every organization whether they’re 20 people or 500 billion people they really have to have four capabilities from a security program perspective. The first is the ability to actually define security within the organization. And that’s really done through policies procedures and the like. The second capability is the ability to measure against that definition on an ongoing basis in order to get information about what’s going on within the organization from a cybersecurity perspective. The third capability is the ability to give that information from those measurement activities against that definition to stakeholders and the powers that be in a way in which they can make informed decisions about what to do.

– Mike Gentile
And the final thing is the ability to execute against those decisions. And really there are two ways we look at execution. One is the ability to pay. You need to implement those firewalls team go do it and then doing it and supporting that execution. The second is just the ongoing management and performance of all those processes in those different areas that I talked about so that you can create a system. So all those capabilities working together are what make a security program and what we do is help organizations with professional services to build those pieces or we help people with managed services. That’s on an ongoing basis.

– Mike Gentile
Performing those tasks instead of hiring internally and then the final thing we have is a progress based application that looks at that program system that you have and provides you insight on how to improve it over time in an positive based way like to be really negative in cybersecurity a lot of times and our focus is really leaning towards that progress based approach.

– Gene Hammett
What we’re not going to get into the technical aspects of this but I’m just gonna say from it from an I’m somewhat technical. Cybersecurity seems like it’s really technical.

– Mike Gentile
Yeah. And the thing is really since cybersecurity touches everything in an organization. Cybersecurity is in the eye of the beholder. If your experience with cybersecurity is antivirus it’s perfect definition for it it’s adequate. If you’re someone that actually thinks it’s walking through the security checkpoints at the airport. It’s also that and in fact really we do exercises all the time or we work with boards or we work with executive teams and we ask everyone to define security what they believe it is within their own organization and I’ve never had the same group of people give me the same definition even within the own organization and that’s really the the the the opportunity and the Achilles heel of cybersecurity is that if you don’t even have it well-defined or you’re not on the same page it becomes really hard to then execute and implement and really make it better within your organization.

– Gene Hammett
Well, my mind was going into there’s that same definition thing getting people on the same page you could say the same thing about leadership and culture security is definitely one of those things where everyone has their own little flavor to it if you will because it’s the way they see it.

– Gene Hammett
Mike, when you created this organization to grow fast you really thought about some foundational elements. And we just talked about these other days. What was the core foundational elements to creating a fast-growth company for you?

– Mike Gentile
For us, it was all about really building on that lack of understanding and getting people on the same page with a definition. This is my third cybersecurity company and we really wanted to build it with a learning and teaching Foundation and mentality in everything we do from how we bring people into the organization and get them up to speed as well as you know in the early goings and even really to this day when someone joins Cesar share and we ask them from the during the interview process how are you going to prepare your replacement and organize the day to day job that you’re doing so that when someone comes in you’re going to be able to teach them how to do what you’re about to do.

– Mike Gentile
And it really kind of that answer really gives us some insight into whether there are going to be a fit in the organization. But the biggest reason that we really did that was that we found that there are so much confusion and lack of transparent parents.

– Mike Gentile
And being on the same page and because of the nature of security how it touches everything you constantly even if you’re the most senior person and I’ve been doing this for a really long time you constantly have to be learning quickly and then teaching and bringing other people along with ideas both understanding other people’s ideas and maybe teaching others about what what their idea ideas as well as you know vice versa just being able to learn and hear people on their idea. And it really it’s the spirit of what makes a successful effort. So our undertaking from the beginning was to really try from day one let’s try and have that be the primary model that drives.

– Commentary
Let’s pause for a second Mike just talked about that when you come into this organization you must prepare for your replacement. Now I hear this a lot but a lot of companies fall down in this area because they would really love to have an organization where everyone is rising up. But when Mike talked about creating a learning organization where everyone is sharing their knowledge and skills and expertise across the organization in different ways and they’ve created the different methodologies and frameworks that make this happen that this is really possible because they really are training others for the replacement they’re not worried about you know keeping that expertise for their own or creating these experts out there so that the company can grow. This is the kind of teamwork that I think you really want to encourage and you want people to really want to have the replacements come in right behind them so that they can step up to the next role come back to the interview.

– Gene Hammett
Well, let’s get real specific here. You’ve created a few different things within the organization that really do embody this. This we are a learning organization principle. Give us a couple of examples of those and let’s dive deep into the special one the unique one that I’m so excited to share with the audience.

– Mike Gentile
Yeah. So when we you know over 50 percent of the people that start at Cisco share this is their first cybersecurity job. And it really is my third cybersecurity company. But I really thought that if in going with this learning and teaching model we would be able to prove it from the beginning. Right. Bye-bye. Kind of just bringing anyone in that had that aptitude that really wanted to work and and and and learn and teach.

– Mike Gentile
So in the early goings, we brought in people and that had the energy and fire to do it. And some of the opportunities were we just put them right into the fire. Right. They were really hungry and we would basically like just in either sink or swim. Very very quickly. And we were also still growing because of the needs and security and we learned that what we needed to do was to really start to create not just bringing them on from one hungry perspective but surround them from the beginning with what they needed in order to be successful both in ongoing procedures of what we’re doing that are accurate supportive mentors just supportive people to help them along the way and then to test them and in that sink or swim model. And we continue to do that more and more and more.

– Mike Gentile
And we found the best way to implement that structure was to actually start having our people be teachers not just within our organization but outside of our organization and in explaining those models just to anyone that that learned ends. And it really helped the senior folks start to understand OK you know in the order you really don’t know something until you can teach it right. So it really helped them in doing that but it also really helped. It helped when we rolled out these types of programs the team started working with each other even for the teacher on what that teacher was going to teach. So it just spawned off of itself in terms of really building getting everyone on the on the same page.

– Commentary
Now let’s pause for his second. One two three. Hold on for a minute. You really want your employees to be teachers. Well I think you do. I think you want them to have the kind of aptitude for what they’re doing that they can train other people to do it very easily. This whole concept of everyone becoming a teacher gives them the knowledge that they’ve got to go into deep mastery of their practice or their craft. You don’t want people that are surface level you want people they’re great at their jobs right. Well if they can’t teach someone else they’re probably not that good because they haven’t thought of the different angles. And if they prepared for it this will increase their sense of ownership into their work. Now this company says so share is using it uniquely because they are going creating socially conscious programs inside the community for the homeless. Now you may not have any idea to do that but what about the power of creating teachers inside the organization. Back to the interview with Mike.

– Gene Hammett
And you also had some some specific things when you’re bringing on new people that this is part of the requirement for them to actually teach others their own their own areas of expertise.

– Mike Gentile
Absolutely. So so essentially we look for aptitudes right. We look for aptitudes in people that will lead them to be able to learn or teach quickly. So some of the biggest things are how well they they right. You know many people even at a at a that that have graduated gone through high school and have graduated even college. They can probably write a paper but they might not be able to write a politically charged e-mail in a way in which they can effectively convey their idea which is like everything in cybersecurity right now when when you’re moving. So when we started looking at people that could actually one organize their thoughts in a way in which they could be clearly understood by the people that they’re talking with and then to the vehicles that they had to actually deliver those items.

– Mike Gentile
So that would be their their writing skills. It would be the accuracy of their writing in terms of how well again they could convey that idea as well as their their ability to present ideas in a way in which they could both present the idea but also that they could do it in a way in which it doesn’t stoke emotion in people and it can handle kind of the energy behind many cybersecurity conversations.

– Gene Hammett
So aptitudes become a big part of your business. I don’t think this is new to those that are hiring because there’s a saying in leadership and culture that I think it’s very common. I don’t think it’s very commonly actually implemented but they say hire for fit instead of roll out or hire for the culture fit instead of the skills that they have.

– Mike Gentile
Yeah. And you know I think a lot of the problem there is associated with job descriptions. So job descriptions today are written in a way in which they just basically are are have all these technical certs and things that people are looking for. So that the recruiting A.I. interfaces can pick those up and try and connect people.

– Mike Gentile
It’s really hard in security because like I said it touches everything. So there’s job descriptions are usually a complete and utter they’re all over the place. There’s not one human that I know that can do the majority of of job descriptions that are out there further. The most important thing as we kind of talked about is understanding what someone’s definition and how where they understand the whole security as it relates to them in a in a specific situation.

– Mike Gentile
And all of that is understood by your ability to learn that and teach quickly as well as how you communicate with people and what you find in every job description is you must have good communication skills. We’re looking for someone with great communication skills and that anger that is going to get it done on the job description side further. Many people that have those aptitudes that make you just unbelievably successful you know somebody somebody that works in a restaurant and can hear that basically take an order and understand based on what you’re saying kind of what you really want and then lead you that way.

– Mike Gentile
Those types of things can make you really effective in security. Talking with people and understanding emotional elements that come into play in security all the time. Those are really great but our job descriptions will say something like you need you know three years of cybersecurity experience and all these technical certifications in order for us to even let you come into play. And that’s what’s led to aside from attacks getting crazy in the cyber security world. But there’s not enough people that meet that requirement and then they get eliminated before they can even get get in get going in in a job. It’s just really it’s kind of a bummer and that’s a lot of what we’ve been trying to break down.

– Gene Hammett
So Mike I want to let the cat out of the bag here because you’re doing something really unique and this started I would say back in June. Is that right.

– Mike Gentile
Yes.

– Gene Hammett
Where you were really creating a very different way to create employees. I’m going to let you share what that is and kind of where it came from.

– Mike Gentile
Sure, So we were sponsoring an event at United Way for a soccer a sort of corporate soccer cup. And so as a as a part of that we got invited to a United Way event where they were talking about overall overall goals in Orange County and one of the big goals in Orange County California was to bring more people to a livable wage within the environment.

– Mike Gentile
So United Way had created an up skills program they called up skills which was designed at taking people that were were displaced most of the time from a financial perspective or we’re going through issues that had at least a high school diploma and often university degrees and seeing and establishing a training program that could get them into higher wage jobs in a quicker and a quicker fashion. And so I was at the event and I’m like literally I talked in her or some of our team was there and I’m like This is us because what they had mentioned was that you know it was just more technology and health care and no mention of cybersecurity at all.

– Mike Gentile
And I literally walking out I’m like we have got to we have got this is this is us like let’s create a program and really test what we’ve already been doing in in our environment already. Let’s see if we could really do it. And and what was so amazing is how open to the idea United Way was you know they they’ve really enabled us as partners from the beginning and you know it’s been pretty unbelievable. But they said OK let’s give it a try. What does it look like. So we went back in for me.

– Mike Gentile
What was important is not just that we treated a training class but I wanted to remove all of the roadblocks that I’d seen out there from getting people from getting them to where they had no work into working jobs in a sustainable type of approach. And that’s what we did from from day one with that with that program.

– Gene Hammett
I want to I want to get really clear with this. You worked with people that were previously homeless but had the aptitude that you had identified and you were training them and then they were getting jobs?

– Mike Gentile
yeah. So essentially it’s a four phase program. So what we what we did in Phase 1 is we worked with United Way and they’re upscale program which tied into a lot of different social programs that had different people that you know needed needed a hand and many of them were often homeless. And we worked with them on what the attitudes were like that we were looking for. And and what was interesting is we found everyone thought it just as you mentioned at the beginning of this call you know I don’t think this is going to work because cybersecurity is just technical stuff you know it’s just technical stuff and you know these people are really really intimidated.

– Mike Gentile
So we broke that down and said these are the aptitudes we’re looking for. If you’re willing to work hard and give it a shot come to the class and see how how it would go. So we did that and we source people and then we had a four week class where we transition people in and just gave them an understanding of like where the bathroom is in cybersecurity. Like if I walked into an organization and I was doing a cyber Street job like what it looks like what the team looks like what it really is.

– Mike Gentile
And then also many of the nonsecurity related items that drive the security problem things like massive technology sprawl the value of data right. As data is now worth more than the price of oil and gold I believe they just recently were saying well securing that is is the next piece to enabling that. So there’s there’s a lot of money. So we walk through those things and train them on what that was. And then the other thing we did is we we started to guide them very quickly in specific roles that were in high demand.

– Mike Gentile
And we did that to break down one of the other real problems in cybersecurity right now is there’s a lot of great certification programs but the certification programs give you foundational high level knowledge. They teach you about how to fight a battle and in great battles of the past and things to do. They don’t teach you about specific jobs and how to do those jobs first. And what we did is we just flipped it we flipped it. So we teach them how to connect the dots quickly. We select people that have the app learning and teaching aptitudes from the beginning so they can actually connect the dots in a quick way.

– Mike Gentile
And then we start to guide them very quickly into roles that they can start performing and then we start giving them the foundation knowledge. So after the four week class also along the way we’re making sure that they’re showing up and we work with them on other roadblocks that keep many of these folks from getting forward child care transportation. Simple things like Internet access. It’s something that’s you know I just haven’t thought about right. You know I have my my my my five little device I can connect from anywhere. But we didn’t realize that you know some people don’t have access to a computer where they often have a computer but Internet access is as expensive as a car payment these days.

– Mike Gentile
So we broke that down. We broke down ways to actually get to the class. All these things that they’re big problems to solve but they’re not big problems. From a business perspective like fixing them financially was not that difficult. So we move move those out of the way and then we also didn’t charge for the class. So we worked on all those things and then made sure they showed up and we taught them the foundation. And then we gave them homework assignments that tested whether they could communicate their ideas well in written form and video form.

– Mike Gentile
And when we did the first class like I literally I I’m not I don’t get nervous that much talking anymore like I don’t know that I have ever been so scared showing up that first day like really knowing what I was kind of getting into and showed up and we got all the way through and then the next phase of the class after they make it through that is a paid intern. So we start giving them a paid intern and then we start further training them on how to do those specific roles that they select towards the end of the class moving into.

– Mike Gentile
And these are super high demand roles in in cybersecurity right now that organizations they can’t fill. And if anyone has even a little bit of experience people are charging just insane amounts of money with any type of real world experience. So it creates a real opportunity for this program to kind of bring people through and then that was the final phase is after they get in the intern. We worked with organizations and we’re giving them a give them a discounted rate of basically the livable wage in Orange County plus a small just the tax burden and everything and we give them that rate for three to six three to six months and we give them these organizations the option of a they can hire people at the end and bring them in and then they’ll pay a 30 percent commission which I always have in my master service agreements today.

– Mike Gentile
No one ever pays right because we normally are giving services but in this instance if you take them the pay that goes all the way back to the program or we’ve just created a second option which is you can actually pay that commission and add on to the rate ongoing and we’ll put all that back into the program. So on average the rate’s about thirty eight dollars an hour if we just do the livable wage and burden and all that goes to the people who moved from being homeless and into a livable wage in and work in Orange County organizations are generally used to paying at least probably about 90 to 100 dollars an hour up to two hundred dollars an hour in today’s market for those rates.

– Mike Gentile
So there is a huge spread for them to actually do this. So with some we’re now saying well if you actually pay a little bit more of that on the hourly rate going forward we’ll roll that back into the program as well. And with that you actually all the people that we put through the first class have been engaged in that model and so they’re actually now over three months will generate one point eight people going back through the program and moving into it into a little way. So it’s it’s pretty unbelievable what ends up happening all the way through and it becomes a repeatable system.

– Gene Hammett
So I want to dive into this a little bit. I know we’re running out of time so you’re going to ask you to keep your answers pretty quick. A big part of this is to create a socially conscious business. And your so why is that important to you And what you’re doing?

– Mike Gentile
The first reason when we originally started as an online entrepreneur is it enables. I’ve always told people you know we could not make it but we’ve done a lot of good along the way. And they won’t be able to take that away from us. So in the beginning when we started socially conscious programs I always was bigger on those programs that tell me hey you know maybe we’ll make it because we’re a risky startup but hey we’ve done a lot of good. That’s how we’ve that’s how we started.

– Mike Gentile
What we found in the realm of cybersecurity is that it just makes sense. It makes sense because of the staffing problem. It also makes sense in that you know getting people to a livable wage in the homeless issues especially here in California is a major issue and we can solve it because of the nature of cybersecurity the demand of it and and how to make that happen. The second reason that we really chose to be socially conscious provider of cybersecurity at So here is because we’re in cybersecurity so we’re always bumming out leaders like Kim giving on bad news.

– Mike Gentile
Do you have high risk here. You need to fix that there. You need to do all these things in and we want to give people that information and we offer those services but we also are really moving to this progress model and positive messaging to actually get people to improve quicker. And that just ties in better with the social socially conscious model. If you look at somebody you know that goes to work out like the way most cybersecurity works is like they go. They basically just have an instructor telling them how fat they are.

– Mike Gentile
Over and over and over and over and over again that’s the nature of cyber security in many places you’re risk you’re you’re that what we’re doing is we’re starting to move to a positive based messaging where we focus on you know great you know you’re a little overweight we’re going to stop there but these are the things you can do to start losing weight quicker and making progress faster. And we actually think that in that model that this side effect to that is risk reduction which is the big thing in cybersecurity but it’s a completely different way of doing it.

– Mike Gentile
And we do believe we’re the only cybersecurity company going that way but it’s another thing that has really kind of driven the company and as it relates to many social programs it’s all about not where you are now it’s about how you can make progress to get to where you need to be and the good that that can create. And that’s why this program just is really worked out well.

– Gene Hammett
So I say this jokingly you don’t have a short answer and you do.

– Mike Gentile
I know I’m sorry I know I haven’t got to land the plane and you do it exit only two in terms of giving the feedback and I still sucked and so much apologize I’m highly passionate about this issue.

– Gene Hammett
We’re going to land a plane here. One thing that I want to connect the dots on for you to do this for the audience is you’ve created a learning organization and you know from an outside world training homeless people doesn’t seem like there’s that much connection but your people are actually doing the training right. So yes taking your frameworks you’re taking your methodologies and you’re training these homeless people is that that makes sure that’s correct right.

– Mike Gentile
Yes absolutely. And a great shorthand answer for it. We got there.

– Gene Hammett
And the the real benefit behind this is it goes back to what you first started is like you know if we really believe in creating a learning organization we’re bringing in these experts with different domains of expertise they’re teaching us to raise the bar and now we’re teaching others outside the company that are feeding into your business and a very socially conscious way and everything is rising up. Is that fair to say.

– Mike Gentile
Absolutely yes.

– Gene Hammett
Well I really appreciate you walking us through this model because I think a lot of people would originally go this is outside my budget that’s outside my abilities and capabilities as an organization. But you didn’t make those excuses you look for areas to jump in. So I really congratulate you. I’m thinking of creating this learning organization I think is a real different perspective. There are a lot of people think they have it but they really aren’t doing the work and you’re actually doing it not only inside the organization but externally to create raise this for your community and hopefully other people will follow suit.

– Mike Gentile
Yeah I hope so. Yeah. It’s definitely been pretty life changing for me and I know a lot of the people on our team it’s been it’s been a great time and really kind of driven us driven us forward and site. We’re really excited to see see where it goes.

– Gene Hammett
I want to give you a chance to just like add one little bit into it. Like what’s the importance of having a learning organization that other leaders are listening in today should take away from from this interview.

– Mike Gentile
I think in today’s market where everything is moving really to is where everything is moving so quickly you have to find a way especially when you’re going rapidly like we are to get people on the same page in the quickest manner possible. And this has been a great way for us to connect everyone both our customers our clients our partners as well as internally together with kind of what learning and teaching means in a tangible and tangible way. And so I think that that’s been the best element of the program you know and it really helped us moving forward and I think the more ways that an organization can create something that people can look at it from their own perspective.

– Mike Gentile
But it’s kind of the same thing. It connects everyone and everyone gets a good understanding of the overall direction of what you’re trying to accomplish. And so it’s kind of like the stone soup right. You know we’ve kind of created a stone’s assume it’s gotten everyone on the same page understanding everyone’s pieces and it’s really needed for us because we’re growing so rapidly and in a complex discipline like cyber security.

– Gene Hammett
Well I think a lot of companies are facing the same problems. You’ve addressing it in a very unique way which is what I’m excited to share this story with the audience growth think tank. So Mike thank you for being here. Cisco shares is really impressive what you’re doing and I can’t wait to hear more of the stories of homeless people learning cybersecurity and and really proving out this model.

– Mike Gentile
Awesome thanks Gene. It’s been fun.

– Gene Hammett
Really love this interview because it really breaks some patterns that are normal to learning organizations creating training across the company and really is exciting to share these different kinds of stories because you may be struggling with the silos in your company you may be struggling with not enough people know all the aspects they need to really create the kind of impact you want and grow at the speed you want. So maybe you found this interview as helpful as I think it is. I think a really important thing there is creating this socially conscious business proving that your own training is so good and so impactful that in four weeks it could actually impact a homeless person to get a job really would be impressive to me if I was a hiring manager or hiring leader of this kind of services that they offer. So I really appreciate your listening to today’s interview. Hopefully, you found it helpful and hopefully it challenges you to step up your game in the area of leadership as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

 

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

 

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