Many of my clients say they need to be themselves to continue growing their companies. However, over the years, the work and pressure have caused them to lose sight of who they are. Getting what you want is likely a focus on you being you. Today, we look at the art of authentic leadership. When you embrace authentic leadership, you have to strip away all the beliefs that have gotten in your way. My guest today is Scott Webb, CEO at Avionos. Avionos ranked #2333 and #739 on the Inc 5000 list in 2020 and 2019, respectively. Scott leads the team at Avionos in creating and implementing marketing campaigns for businesses of all sizes. We talk about the art of authentic leadership and what gets in the way. Discover ways you can connect to your true self in this interview.
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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.
You have to focus not on solving a challenge, but on finding the next challenge. And the difference in the mindset. You know, Jeff Bezos talks about being a day one company at Amazon. And it’s this notion that if all you’re trying to do is get past the point, you’re going to solve all the world’s problems and wind up at this perfect spot in the future, then you’re missing all of the gains that you get from the process of discovery that comes from solving those challenges in front of you. And inevitably, once you get to the point that you think you solve those problems. That’s when you start to get because you take your eye off the ball of what’s actually challenging you and moving forward, and you start looking back and that’s when people catch up next.
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 [1:06]
In leadership you know, you have to be you. In fact, being someone else is probably the most ineffective way to lead others, because they can see right through it. And many times, we feel like we have to show up as someone other than ourselves. Today, we’re going to be looking at authentic leadership. What do I mean by that? Well, when you have the courage to tune into exactly who you are, let go of what others say you have to do or the style of leadership, even me, I want you to be who you are. I help my leaders really see who they are, and be the best versions of themselves. I know that sounds a little hokey, but that’s the work I do. I help them create more time I help them create space for them to think and to lead people and not just manage work. There’s so much many things and aspects to that. But today we’re going to look at authentic leadership. How do you do that? When the company is growing fast? Well, our guest is Scott Webb, he’s the co-founder of Avionos, and they are a digital marketing company. They work with a lot of e-commerce companies. They’re really on the cutting edge of helping brands get their message out there and navigate change solve problems that can’t be solved by those companies. Scott and I talk about authentic leadership, he shares a story about where he realized that he had to be himself. I know that sounds so obvious, but when you tune into this, make sure you’re willing to look at your own style of leadership, the way you’re showing up, and ask yourself, are you really being yourself? Are you really authentic? If you haven’t already gotten the training, I want to make sure that you have another chance to get training on, you know, creating a team of A-players avoiding the three mistakes that leaders often face, and get it absolutely free. It’s going to Gene habit.com for slash training here Interview with Scott.
Gene Hammett [3:01]
Scott, how are you?
Scott Webb [3:03]
I do very well.
Gene Hammett [3:05]
Excited to have you on the podcast. I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you. But tell us about the company that you work in and what were, you know, give us some context?
Scott Webb [3:16]
Yeah, thank you. appreciate being here and have Gene, talk to your audience. So I’m the CEO of Avionos. So we’re a digital consultancy headquartered here in Chicago that really operates on a national scale. And, you know, our business is helping organizations through rapid change. You know, I tell my team all the time, you know, we’re in business because our clients have challenges that they can’t solve themselves. And so we face every day as an opportunity to look at what’s changing and how customers are expecting the brands and the organizations they work with to engage with them digitally and solve the gap that the organizations aren’t there yet. And how do we help them mature and how do we help them actually deliver have a really engaging experience to their customers.
Gene Hammett [4:03]
You’ve made the Incmultiple times accurate? Am I correct?
Scott Webb [4:07]
Yes. We’re very proud.
Gene Hammett [4:10]
And you’ve got about 90 employees. Is that research about right?
Scott Webb [4:15]
That’s correct. Yeah. Mostly in Chicago, although we have a kind of coast to coast from New York to Seattle.
Gene Hammett [4:21]
Well, when we were doing some research around, you know, what makes fast companies tick, what makes them really grow fast. What came back was leadership and culture were the primary elements that can be we can learn from across industries. One of the things that that you’ve been talking about with me before we come on the recorder is about loving the journey. So what is exactly loving the journey mean to you?
Scott Webb [4:45]
Yeah, you know, I talk with my team about this, and I still interview every single person that we hire, and I meet with them all on the first day, so that we can have a real honest conversation and one of the things that I talk about is that you know, in our business, although I think this is true for most businesses, you have to focus not on solving a challenge, but on finding the next challenge. And the difference in the mindset. You know, Jeff Bezos talks about being a day one company at Amazon. And it’s this notion that if all you’re trying to do is get past the point you’re in, to solve all the world’s problems and wind up at this perfect spot in the future, then you’re missing all of the gains that you get from the process of discovery that comes from solving those challenges that are in front of you. And inevitably, once you get to the point that you think you’ve solved those problems, that’s when you start to fail. Because you take your eye off the ball of what’s actually challenging you and moving you forward, and you start looking back and that’s when you know, people catch up and pass you.
Gene Hammett [5:51]
Can you give us a good example of that so that we really tune into what you’re saying?
Scott Webb [5:56]
Yeah, so, you know, in our organization, we’re always helping clients. with, you know, what feels like some really similar challenges. So they have a digital experience not effective, they have technology that’s outdated. One of the easiest things is to step into that thinking that it’s going to be the exact same situation, we had a client that, you know, was dealing with internal communication issues. And we’ve seen that 1000 times, what you have to do is appreciate and particularly client, you know, the root of that problem was not the technology, it was not the time gap. It wasn’t the experience gap. It was literally that they had incentive systems that were misaligned. So one organization was charging to one number, the other organization was charging to another to a different number. And, you know, for us, it’s very easy to step into that thinking, Well, we know the answer because we’ve seen this, but you have to be able to step in and say be vulnerable enough to say, I don’t actually know what the answer is yet. I have an idea of how we’re going to get there. And let’s figure out this answer together.
Gene Hammett [6:58]
I love that because it’s probably very similar. To my work as an executive coach helping leaders, what they see as the problem is usually not the real problem.
Scott Webb [7:08]
That’s right. And the hardest part sometimes is acknowledging that you that the answer you have in your mind might not be the right one, and being willing to embrace discovering, you know what the right answer might be.
Gene Hammett [7:23]
So that’s really good for you. But you’ve now risen to a level where you can’t be involved in all the projects you. You even told me you’re going to take a week’s vacation and you’re truly unplugging, which is so rare for many CEOs. How do you make sure that the team is living by that standard of looking for the core problem, not just looking at everything as a systematized answer?
Scott Webb [7:51]
Right. Well, you know, this also goes to kind of living a daily truth and I and I tell my team regularly when we see something Developing, that is going to be a problem. It is incumbent upon us to talk about that and to raise that earlier, you know, we deal in projects, right. And so projects have a red, yellow-green status, right? We tend to always think in terms of what we’re in green until we do something or see something and then we go yellow, and then we go red, we flipped it. And I say we start everything in red. We start everything with an assumption that there is going to be a problem because guess what there usually is, right? And so what we do is we come with a philosophy of let’s think about the problems before they occur, let’s assume that there’s going to be some problems and start mitigating a Merlot. So that we’re not surprised when the problems arise, and we’re actually expecting it. And what we’ve done is we’ve come up with the plans and the mitigations before they happen, whether and we do that, whether we’re talking about internal programs, or whether we’re talking about the work that we do with our clients. So when you take that approach, then you know I’m stepping out next week. Knowing that there are a dozen things that could go wrong, but we’ve already talked about what would happen if they did. And I trust the fact that you know, we have plans in place. And if something truly unique comes up, we probably have a way to handle that as well.
Gene Hammett [9:14]
So you’ve been building this team for a few years now. What’s one of the defining moments of your own leadership as you’ve created this team?
Scott Webb [9:25]
Yeah. You know, we talk about transparency and authenticity all the time. And we have core values that really aligned to that. It was a really important lesson for me early on, we were having a tough quarter and things you know, we were we hold ourselves to a high growth standard, and we were having a quarter where we were not growing hard. And I have investors and I have a board and, you know, I came out of a pretty tough board meeting where we weren’t delivering the numbers that were expected. And you know, one of the things that the board members that is you better make sure that your team knows how precarious the situation how real this is, and I, you know, I came out and I thought about that. And I’m like, Well, I’m not being tough enough. I’m not being, you know, so I came out I laid into him, and I just I let them all know exactly what I thought and how we weren’t going.
Scott Webb [10:13]
You know, I stepped out of it feeling really awful. And I thought about it because I’d had those managers before who just, you know, when things aren’t going and you just get laid into it, it just, you know, and I realized what the real problem was that that wasn’t who I was. And they knew that wasn’t who I was. It wasn’t authentic. So when I was, you know, kind of yelling around them, they weren’t seeing somebody who was motivating them. What they saw was somebody who wasn’t proud of his own performance, and who wasn’t happy about what he was doing. And that’s not motivated.
Scott Webb [10:49]
So I actually took the same team the next day and I apologized to him. And I said You know what, what I said yesterday, I meant, but what the way I said in the way I delivered to you wasn’t really And that wasn’t for you, that was me trying to be somebody else. And I told him, I said, Look, I’m going to be honest with you when we’re not doing well enough, and we have to do better. And I’m gonna be honest with you when I think that we’re doing really well. But I’m not going to fake and I’m not going to pretend to be some other type of leader. And, you know, that was important to me that there’s a time to kind of get up on and bang the drum. And there’s a time to kind of support everybody. But if you’re doing it, because you think you should, as opposed to doing it, because it is authentically how you feel and authentically how you’re going to communicate. You’re just not going to get the results. And so I know, ever since that, I’ve known I’m only going to be the type of person that I really am and for good and for bad.
Hold on for a second. Scott just talked about the values of transparency and being authentic and we spend a lot of time talking about being authentic. But let’s look at transparency for a second. A lot of leaders think they have a very transparent culture. And what I would ask you is how do you take it to the next level? One of the things that I talk about a lot of times with leaders is they want to avoid conflict. And by avoiding conflict or not having the conversations they need to, with the individual players among the team. And maybe some of these conversations are trivial in your mind, or maybe they’re big either way, don’t you owe it to them to actually talk about these things, be transparent, your job as a leader is to lead them and coach them, so they see it so they can see it for themselves. That is powerful leadership. I just want to remind you how important transparency is, it goes both ways. Their ability to be transparent with you, your ability to be transparent with them. And remember that back to Scott.
Gene Hammett [12:48]
That reminds me of a question I asked a lot of my clients I want to kind of explore this with you is, you know, what would it be like to be more you before and It’s a really odd question, right? But yeah, I said that to you what would that’s is a story of you being more you than ever before. Right? You discovered it as you did something that was not you.
Scott Webb [13:14]
You’re absolutely right. Yeah. And I think that’s, that’s probably the real. I think we all have these boundaries that we’re constantly pushing and trying to find. But when you really step out of that, and you feel it, and I mean, and that’s not something that is as easy for other people to perceive about you, I think then you, but you immediately perceive it yourself. When you’re being disengaged when you’re being fake when you’re trying to be somebody that you’re not. And that’s different from challenging yourself and pushing yourself because that’s organic growth, and you feel like you’re taking a step in a new direction that you that’s different from stepping to the side and knowing that, you know, it’s not sustainable. And yeah, I think sometimes you do that and it really corrects you back into who you need. To be, because if you stay outside that lane, it’s just you’re gonna fail.
Gene Hammett [14:05]
I’m kind of curious if going through that kind of story, an example of you apologizing the next day? How did that shift the culture and for the long term?
Scott Webb [14:17]
Well, you know, I mean, people have been around me, No, it didn’t make me any less fiery. You know, there are times and it’s still when authentically, I’m going to let people know that I’m not happy with what’s happened or that it’s not what I expected of them. But they also know that it’s really genuinely coming from me. And I’ve never had anyone come up to me after the fact. And be anything other than Yeah, yeah, that was, that was really that’s what I deserved. Because you have to create opportunities for people to come to you with bad news.
Scott Webb [14:54]
You have to create opportunities for people to celebrate with you and to be rewarded for that and to be corrected for the And if you’re lacking in either of those and with me, you know, I’ve got kind of a loud personality. And the joke is you don’t want to sit right outside my office, because if I’m laughing, you’re going to hear that. And if I’m, if I’m dressing someone down, you’re going to hear that. But they, you know, I think the biggest thing is that people know that when I tell them something, I mean it. When I can’t tell them something. I’m honest about that, too. And, you know, if there’s something that someone has a question on, and I don’t have an answer that I can share with everyone, I’m going to tell them, I can’t tell them. And they, you know, they know that that’s because of not holding anything back. But because in the nature of the business that we have, sometimes not everyone gets every piece of information they want.
Gene Hammett [15:40]
When you talk to me about this, loving the journey, and part of my mind goes into all the things that we have to do as CEOs that aren’t comfortable. But yet we do them anyway because it’s part of the entire, you know, organization, the entire system that works together. Is that the right feeling that you have to do things that you don’t want to do? I could still today.
Scott Webb [16:06]
You know, it’s funny because there were certain things that I felt early on, I don’t want to have to let this person go, oh, I don’t want to have to, you know, tell this person that they’re not doing, you know, I like to be a motivator in chief right? I like to kind of really get people excited. And what I thought about differently with that is, I owe it to them, to help them find the place where they’re going to be successful. And everyone that we hire, we hire for a reason. And every project that we take on for reason, and if we’re struggling, that thing that initially is a difficult conversation. When you turn it you realize it’s actually something that you really owe to that other person to have an honest conversation with them.
Scott Webb [16:56]
Or you owe it to them to tell them that they’re not living up to your ex affectations or you know, you, they deserve to understand that their performance isn’t meeting a standard that you hold them to. And so then it makes even those tough conversations very different because now it’s about delivering on my promise to them, which is to be an authentic leader. And authentically, if I have bad news, they need to hear it. And if I sugarcoat and I pretend that it’s not, or I pretend that we’re not in a challenging economic period, right? If I act like everything is great, then I’m not. I’m not delivering to them the value as the CEO that they deserve out of me as a leader. And so, you know, there are very few things that I feel like I don’t want to do things that are fun, right? But my job isn’t to be isn’t for everything to be fun. And so it changes the mindset of approaching some of those what otherwise might be difficult conversations.
Scott just said something very interesting. I owe it to them. And he’s absolutely right. If you’re going to give feedback to someone, they deserve to get it, you owe it to them. But think about this too. Don’t you owe it to the entire organization to help someone who’s out of alignment with the values or the work that’s being done? The promises that have been made to help them back? Because many times I find leaders are, you’re avoiding conflicts, so they don’t have these little conversations that they need to do. Are you really sitting back and saying, you know, just hoping it gets better? Or are you willing to put your courage on the line and really do things and say, have conversations that people are necessary to move the business forward? Maybe some of those are difficult, maybe there’s some that are not so difficult, but I encourage you, not just to do it for them, not just to do it for you, but do it for the many people in the organization. They’re counting on you and want to create a culture and a safe space to work without judgment. That’s extremely important. You want to create a culture that’s going to continue to grow Back to Scott.
Gene Hammett [19:01]
Authentic Leadership is is something I think is extremely powerful. It allows you to lead by example allows you to have some empathy where necessary, but I think some people might get it wrong. Maybe they’re trying to be too vulnerable in certain places. Is there any place where you’ve thought Have you gotten it wrong? Like, maybe you’ve gone too far with this authentic leadership?
Scott Webb [19:26]
Yeah, you know, it’s funny because we were in an environment where we’re all working, you know, in our industry, we work crazy hours, you know, and so one of the things I realized early on was I was sending messages you know, I follow the philosophy of leaving loudly so I when I leave the office, I don’t sneak out I leave I say goodbye, everybody. They know exactly when I’m leaving. Because we have a results-oriented business. The results are going to be there whether you’re in the office till five till seven till nine, or you leave at three o’clock if you’re getting things done. They’re getting done. One of the mistakes that I made early was sending all these messages to people at all these odd hours. And in my mind, I was just communicating with them.
Scott Webb [20:11]
Okay, well, here’s something to think about. Here’s something. And I was getting all these responses, like immediate responses. And I remember having a conversation, this was on our internal collaborations. 10 o’clock at night, I was getting some work done, I sent a little chat message, she immediately responds. And I wrote back to her, and I was like, Well, why are you working so late? She says, Well, I got a message from my boss at 10 o’clock at night. And it made me step back and realize, yeah, my role in communicating to them is very different in their role in communicating back to me. And I have to think about what response I’m really implicitly asking for when I start to share information or when I start to ask questions. So it didn’t really change how I think about my role in terms of communicating to the organization communicating to individuals and being much more aware of what expectations I’m setting on them. And whether that’s an expectation that I want, or whether it’s something that I just need to be more cognizant about how they’ll respond.
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Gene Hammett [21:36]
I think it takes a lot of leaders a while to get that and sometimes they never get it. One of the things that I’ve seen really powerful is a company like slack has written on the walls, big pink letters, it says work hard and go home. And what that really means is when you go home that doesn’t mean check slack again means literally we don’t check it out like go home. don’t check it on the weekends, like they really do want to have the separation. And many times if you’re responding at [10:30] at night, or 12 o’clock or whatever it may be, or 5 am, they feel like they have to respond right away, it can be a negative to the culture. So thanks for sharing that. Scott. You’ve, we haven’t talked about this much, but I want to kind of like just look at it a little bit. Marketing is, you know, surrounded by constant change, and you’ve learned to embrace that change. But yet, you’ve got some interesting thoughts around change. Well, how could that help our leaders today?
Scott Webb [22:36]
Well, one of the things that that we’ve done is really build the organization around a very dynamic role. And what that means is we you know, we’re a delivery company, right? We’re constantly delivering so rather than having people come in and really look at them as specialists in the field, I like to call you to know, what we’re doing is the new digital Renaissance. And because our field changes so rapidly, if we were focused on building practitioners of an individual tactic, or, you know, this is someone who really understands email marketing, and this is someone who really understands, you know, digital commerce, what we’re doing is setting them on features or setting them on a path that has an immediate shelf life. Because we know that the nature of the industry is constantly evolving and changing.
Scott Webb [23:21]
So what we do is we have this notion of core philosophy. And the first thing about a core is being curious. We say, you know, no one does everything, but everyone does more than one thing. And what that means is, whatever your spec, your particular expertise is, a part of your job is to develop new expertise. So we expect everyone and we have to support them in immediately cross-training, multiple domains, multiple technologies, and the the the result is you have individuals who feel that they are constantly on a career progression.
Scott Webb [23:55]
So in developing those new skills, they’re constantly facing new trends. They have to, you know, reassess how well they really understand a particular domain or particular technology. And since we do that in our own internal development, that translates into how we approach the challenges that we’re facing in the market and with our clients. Because we never allow ourselves to feel stable. We never want someone to feel like I’ve reached this point in my career where I’ve learned everything I need to learn, because we know then, that we’re shutting ourselves down to the things that are changing around us. So you know, this notion of the constant evolution of the role is really central and critical to how we approach our work our business, and as a company, how we approach the market and our clients.
Gene Hammett [24:40]
Love that. Well, we’ve run out of time here, Scott, really appreciate you being here sharing your wisdom with us on the podcast.
Scott Webb [24:48]
And thank you so much. Really appreciate the conversation and enjoy the time.
Gene Hammett [24:52]
I just love talking about things like authentic leadership. I don’t think we take enough time to sit down and talk about what does it mean to be Do what does it mean to be the best version of you? How do you play at a higher level than you are right now? By being yourself? Well, that’s the work I do as a coach. I love working with successful leaders, founder CEOs of these companies to help them truly go beyond where they are today. These people are successful in their own right, but they understand that they must evolve. If you’re tuning into these episodes, if you’re listening to my voice right now, ask yourself, you know, where do you really want to be with your own leadership and your culture? Where do you want to take the company from a growth standpoint? If you’re not hitting on all of those factors, and very clear about what is next for you, and maybe we should have a conversation. I’m not trying to sell you but I would love to connect with you because if you’re listening in, it means you want to be a better leader. No, I say that. I’d love for you to connect with me. Reach out and find me firstname.lastname@example.org. When you think about leadership and you think about growth, make sure you think of Growth, Think Tank, as always be 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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