Leadership is not just about results. Of course, you have to execute. You also have to put your heart in leadership to create a team that wants to join you on your mission. Putting your heart in leadership will allow you to build a connection and belonging across the team. My guest today is John Hightower, CEO of Arch and Tower. John shares what putting heart in leadership looks like in today’s modern workplace. We talk about vulnerability and authenticity. When you have a heart in leadership, you have a team that is more loyal too.
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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.
What I learned very quickly is you’ve got a pivot, and the pivots can look very differently. You could have a people pivot. And what I mean by that is, you’re gonna have people come and go in your organization, and some need to move on. And some are painful to lose. But there’s a pivot of people. And we found a practice pivot, like we’re trying to find what does that fit. And over time, we’ve done a lot of work with some really amazing brands that are known for their customer service. And doing some research, we have found that customer service, customer experience is a $75 billion issue. And that comes from PWC. If you dig deeper, the data supports that your customer experience is driven by your employee experience 88%. In states, folks feel that your customer experiences your environment experience. So then it’s almost like a root cause analysis, when you dig a little bit deeper, how do you connect with your employees who can connect with your employees, then they’re going to connect customers, and there’s the bottom line in a financial impact.
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 Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett [1:15]
When you think about leadership, do you think about heart, think about vulnerability, authenticity. Hopefully, you think about those things a lot. Because today’s world leadership is not just about executing and getting the work done and getting results. Those come as a part of the heart that you put into it. Today, we’re going to be talking about the heart of leadership. And really looking at what you bring to this. Our guest today is John Hightower, he’s the CEO of Arch and Tower, they were recently purchased by a bigger company. But when I think about heart and leadership, John really does have something that wants to share with you about what is necessary for you to lead a company and lead people so that they take care of your customers. Today, we unpack that and do this episode on the podcast. Now, let me pause here for a second. If you haven’t already downloaded the training about creating a team of A-players, make sure you go and do that. Now. It’s a little bit of your time investment, I will tell you that absolutely free. But in 30 minutes, you’ll have insight around broken leadership models around, you know, developing employees the right way and around what real team alignment looks like. So all you have to do is go to genehammett.com/training. Let’s jump right into the interview with my good friend, John Hightower.
Gene Hammett [2:30]
John, how are you?
John Hightower [2:32]
I’m well-doing today.
Gene Hammett [2:34]
I’m Fantastic. Well, we’re gonna talk about some of the things that are interesting about being a CEO in this age of Coronavirus and how you connect with people. But before we jump into that, we go way back. So I’m gonna let you kind of tell our audience how far back it is that you remember?
John Hightower [2:52]
Gene, this is coming full circle, remember you laying out your vision of you exiting and capturing this big vision. And we were just talking I’m trying to remember when that was, but it’s been about a decade. And I’m just so impressed by your grid and excited to come full circle, have a conversation today. And I’m looking forward to learning from you. And hopefully, we can find some vital listeners. But we met back in Atlanta, through our digital agency backgrounds got to know each other deeper at a social club. And over that time, we just built this relationship and you shared with me you’re going to go out and really engage leaders. And I was intrigued by that. And honestly, I was probably one jealous because I was like he’s doing his thing. And he’s really breathing life into people. And I admired that. And I think I was a bit scared to take that journey myself. And from there that admiration turned into action. And I would say it was people like you that when I decided to step away and start my own thing, I reflected back on multiple conversations. And I was able to found a company with some good friends recently. And it came back to those breadcrumbs of influence. So thank you for being an influence to me back in those early days and to see the success you’ve had Congratulations, sir. amazing job. And, again, it’s just an honor to be having a conversation with you in a very different environment in a very different season. But I felt the connection come right back. I know it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, but to connect.
Gene Hammett [4:23]
I didn’t pay to say those words, John, but I appreciate it. The journey I had after losing everything and rebuilding something that was meaningful to me and others hasn’t been easy. But it’s what I wanted to do. And I’m not done yet. So I think there’s still some more things to come. And I really enjoy having conversations with people like you that are on the front lines that are pushing boundaries in their own way. So I’m honored to have you here on the show.
John Hightower [4:51]
With Gene. Thank you, thank you for those kind words. And it’s interesting as we’re in this kind of the 2020 year I remember sitting at home at New Year’s around New Year’s and to my bride, I was like, babe, I want to go down to my basement, just think about what the next decade looks like that into the next decade into 2030. What I want to be as a man, professional father, husband, all those things, and then I came back upstairs and you kind of came in probably with some preset notions. But how does a leader Do you pivot and adjust and think about vision and where you’re going. So I’m incredibly fired up about our conversation today. And looking forward to digging deep?
Gene Hammett [5:30]
Well, we want to deliver value for this, you’ve had a chance to talk with the people in my team, I wanted to see where you were, over the years you’ve gone from, you know, being a key player in some good groups of people to leader cast, which is a big organization, you spent a few years there, and then also just going out on your own and then being acquired. You look back at your career and leading others, what would you say is the biggest kind of character trait that is necessary for you as a leader to get where you are today?
John Hightower [6:04]
It’s a great question. And I have had the amazing opportunity to partner with some great people throughout my career. And looking back through that, and it’s something I’ve realized even more, more deeply as CEO of the company we’re in. And I think it’s leading through authenticity and being open with challenges. I think for so long. Men specifically, I think a lot of folks have a mask on, or there’s this veneer of what’s really happening. And I think that’s the interesting thing around COVID is I think it’s really kind of broken down some of that stuff. And I believe leaders now have an amazing opportunity to kind of breath into that. I had some great leaders when they were really open and asked how I was doing. There’s an immediate opportunity to build trust there. I remember one of my bosses do chest how’s my heart doing? And I always thought that was an interesting question. And now that I’m sitting in the seat that he sat in a different organization, I was like, Man, that was a very insightful question because it broke down all this results-driven stuff. And it made it about relationships and results come with that.
John Hightower [7:06]
I mean, a documentary called talks about that, right? potential results or relationships. But it’s those momentary questions, it really helped me. And then since then really starting to evolve and build my own point of view on how do you lead with authenticity, vulnerability, and also the truth. And that’s just a common thread that I’ve seen. Either communicator talks about or experienced me. And I don’t know, Gene, I reverse the question to you, you’ve had an opportunity to interview some amazing leaders, what would be two or three topics that you’ve seen?
Gene Hammett [7:37]
It’s a good question. You know, it’s, there’s a lot of that it takes to be a great leader. It’s not one thing, it’s not empathy. It’s not the clarity of vision. It’s not just the ability to inspire people. So one of the things from my research, and I think working with my clients is how do you as a leader, get people to feel a sense of ownership of the work that they’re doing? And how do they feel a sense of belonging to this organization, that mission that you’re on? And, and if you can do that, as a leader, you have that skill, which takes a lot of different pieces, you have something that’s really special that you can create within a culture.
John Hightower [8:19]
The issue point makes me think we’ve done we’ve had an amazing opportunity to partner with Haushalter do the founder of the Ritz Carlton, he’s a dear partner of ours and just an amazing gentleman. And just learning what he’s done through the Ritz Carlton, building it up to what it was what it is. And then the Capella Hotel Group, which is a six-star hotel amazing chain. He talked about the rhythms of creating those moments and empowering your employees and empowering people in your organization. If you’re a nonprofit listening to this podcast, how do you empower people to take that vision down into the departments that are in and even to those frontline conversations? It’s very intriguing when you think about the rhythms of empowerment and rhythms of the business cycle. I totally agree with you. It is not one thing, I believe it’s like this cauldron or this mix, this mix of multiple things and pulling emotional quotient components I could talk about empathy, etc. Systems just to build that culture and build that leadership. backbone in I agrees with it. It’s there’s not a silver bullet. It takes multiple angles around the business to really drive forward for sure.
Now, John has mentioned horse shorts, you may not know the name, but you probably know the brand. He is one of the co-founders of the Ritz Carlton. Ritz Carlton is known for excellence. We had an interview with him previously on the podcast that I refer back to quite a bit. And when you think about taking your business to the next level, don’t you want to inspire excellence across the company. I would love for you to go back to that interview. If you want to go to genehammett.com/ritz, RITz, then you’ll be able to get directly to the interview with Horst Schultz at The co-founder of Ritz Carlton. Now back to the interview with John.
Gene Hammett [10:03]
You know, we’ve jumped into this because we’re all friends, I would love to give the audience a little bit of an understanding of the business. Sure. And so tell us about arc and tower. And, and then we’ll get back into this whole aspect of leadership and vulnerability.
John Hightower [10:16]
Yeah, so arson towers founded three years ago, with a goal of helping leaders solve problems, keep them keep themselves up at night. And, and that was our kind of our starting point. And what I learned very quickly is you’ve got to pivot, and the pivots can look very different. You could have a people pivot, and what I mean by that is, you’re gonna have people come and go in your organization, and some need to move on and some are painful to lose. But there’s, there’s a pivot of people and we found a practice pivot like we’re trying to find what is that fit. And over time, we’ve done a lot of work with some really amazing brands that are, are known for their customer service. And doing some research, we had found that customer service customer experience is a $75 billion issue. And that comes from PWC. And when you dig deeper, the data supports that your customer experience is driven by your employee experience 88%. In states, folks feel that your customer experience is driven by your employee experience.
John Hightower [11:12]
So then it’s almost like a root cause analysis when you dig a little bit deeper, how do you connect with your employees, because if you connect with your employees, then they’re going to connect with the customers. And there’s the bottom-line impact, a financial impact when you think of that. And then the other side of it is you get your customer experience, your employee experience. And then a third area, when you look at some of the best brands in the world, the Ritz Carlton’s the Southwest, the Chick fil A’s, all these groups, they really look at continuous improvement. So we call that operational excellence, we worked on some projects around supply chain and innovation. So that’s where we set up our, our consulting practice. So we help roll up the sleeves. We’re kind of a player-coach in the consulting space where we’ll come in and advise an organization, but also embed ourselves into the projects around four key components, the customer experience, the employee experience, and then operational excellence, and Capstone that is organizational strategy and health, which is so important in today’s world, where are you going? For the next five to 10 years?
John Hightower [12:08]
Do you have a leadership team aligned with that vision? And then, most importantly, how things are accelerating a much quicker pace than we ever thought especially COVID, digital acceleration, digital transformation, how are you using data, all those things, I believe, are on the back burner. Now those things are pushing too fast forward. So we built the company with that, that infrastructure. And it has been an honor, we’re acquired at the end of 2019 by Frazier Dieter, a national leading CPA firm to offer consultative services to more of the tax and audit kind of compliance space work. And it’s been a really unique environment and culture to merge things together. We’ve got six locations in the US and a footprint in London and we’ve got some sister companies that all together we’ve got 400 employees across 11 offices, and it has been a joy and definitely some challenges along the way. But it’s been an amazing ride. And again, I thank you for being part of the inspiration to take a leap, I remember when I looked at my wife and I said, Okay, babe, we’re going in, if I five, if you’re aligned with me, I’m gonna do this entrepreneurial jump, and you were one of the names I remember of taking a step and doing it. So thank you, again, for being an influence, you’re a part of the Archon tower story,
Gene Hammett [13:25]
You thought if he can do it, anybody can do it so.
John Hightower [13:28]
Well, I appreciate it. And in an interesting thing about the brand, just a brand is so important one and how its represented, but also the story behind it. arches span gaps in carry weight, we like to do that with our employees, employees, and our customers and our clients. So think about silos that may happen in an organization. So we help bridge gaps. And then towers give you a strategic vantage point. So that’s how we came up with the name Archon tower, are we want to be a bridge and then lift you up to see farther. And that’s a bit about us. But enough about us. Let’s get back to the listeners and make sure that we’re driving value for them. But I do appreciate you asking about what we’re doing here at Archon tower.
Gene Hammett [14:04]
So you know, creating a company that is able to make that kind of impact takes talented employees and they need to feel taken care of. You said words that customer experience is driven by employee experience. Just go a little bit deeper into why leadership is so important to create that employee experience if you want to grow your company.
John Hightower [14:28]
So, Gene, it’s interesting. When we started, people started asking us what’s right, the customer, the employee, and when you take a step back, we thought that may have been maybe a different question we asked differently. Because you’re putting a false binary, do they just one have to be right versus the other? And we said, well, what if you flip the org chart upside down and said the executive team is at the top they’re promoted to the bottom? And then they say how can I serve you? So if the executive team is asking, maybe your VPS How may I serve you? What are the hurdles get in the way of your job, you’re serving them as your customer from my internal customers, the people that report to me, and then if they’re asking their frontline managers, hey, how can I serve you? I have influence in authority, how can I remove those hurdles for you? And then it goes so forth to the top and the frontline employees are asking your customers, how may I serve you?
John Hightower [15:16]
What hurdles are creating challenges for what frictions are there, what you get is, you have one, and that’s the customer in front of you, it could be an internal employee, it could be a customer that pays you for your service, and maybe being a vendor or partner system. So for us helping organizations transform and maybe recalibrate around that is so important. That that we can dig a lot deeper there. But that’s just one of the frameworks that we help organizations think through and maybe a different way of even exploring how they think about their strategy, how they think about their leadership teams. And there’s a lot of things that flow out of that type of transformation.
Gene Hammett [15:53]
So it sounds like the servant leadership model. Is it different than that? Like there’s some new nuances to it that you’ve discovered through your work?
John Hightower [16:01]
Yeah, I think the nuances come and execution, I believe, at the 50,000-foot view, everyone says, Oh, it’s servant leadership. Absolutely. Common sense is not so common. So how do we execute that and rolling up the sleeves and executing as where, where it’s made? I mean, you know, Gene, I mean, you’ve been around so many different, amazing organizations, it’s where, where does execution? Where does execution fit in that conversation, some of the things that we’ve done, even in the selection process, we don’t recruit we select, we have a high degree of excellence in the way we want to serve our clients. So selection is incredibly important. Even thinking through, as we go through the selection process, our onboarding, is on point of we don’t we lead with engaging people where they are, what do they want in their career? Let’s not start with the job description in which they’re being hired to let’s talk about who they are as a person from day one.
John Hightower [16:54]
And then from there, how do we get to another personality profile is something that we’re big on. And it’s not necessarily the soft feely stuff, it’s to understand strengths and weaknesses on our leadership team. One of the leaders on the team has a very different personality profile than myself. I know my personality profile, I don’t see risk. Everything’s an opportunity we’re talking about there’s a risk there. And when I realized that about myself, I’m like, wow, let me be very thoughtful about this. Let me leverage my other team members in a very solid way that empowers them to speak into a project or a, or a relationship or a partnership or selection, and say, Well, what are you seeing here that I’m not seeing. And when you see differences, and you see various opinions as an asset, instead of a, maybe a thorn or a liability, it changes the game. And when you start seeing cascading communication downstream to your employees and those systems around that, you’ll start to see the game change for your organization from, from our perspective, and from what we’ve seen with our clients.
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Gene Hammett [18:14]
Want to go back to one of the questions that you got from one of your previous leaders? And how you’re maybe using that today? And I believe it was I don’t think I wrote it down specifically. But where’s your heart at? You would talk about how that is playing a role in your current leadership. Exactly. How are you using that today? And what does it mean for the organization when you’re talking about things that aren’t, you know, deadline-driven, they aren’t projects. They aren’t, you know, customer concerns and problems, but it’s really about what’s going on with the individual employee.
John Hightower [18:47]
So we have our Monday morning meetings with our leadership team. And just the past month, we started the meeting. And I usually have a moment where we tie back to a cultural point or cultural standard that we have an origin tower, we’ve got a list that we reflect on, rhythmically. And before we even started, I just tell my guys, I’m like, hey, one of my dear friends lost a loved one and happened over the weekend. And I’m not in the right place right now. And just asked for them to give me some grace. And we spent 15 minutes just check to check in on each other. And it was a very meaningful moment. And they understood where I’m coming from. And they said, what kinds of golfer play? How can I help you this week? And it says, it seems so common, but when you put that in the normal conversation, it just draws the different trust and a different vulnerability and I think effectiveness because now we’re able to say okay, this person is having this challenge, either on a project with a client or personally at home, how do we cover them off for this season?
John Hightower [19:56]
In a move, that’s something we’re reflecting back on someone asking where How’s my heart doing? It reminded me to think differently. And then with COVID, I have an amazing backdrop, I get to learn about you with the books that you have on your shelves. And if I was at home, I would have two little blonde heads poking up, my two little daughters love to get into a zoom. And for me, I use as an opportunity to engage people like I’ve gotten to know, one of my colleagues here at Frazier and Deeter, her, I got to learn something about her children, that I never would have known had it not been for COVID. So taking those opportunities, and what people are communicating on the other side of the zoom window is probably not 100% of who they are, they’re probably other challenges they have, they could be taking care of an ailing parent, they could be part of a dual-income family, it could be part of school systems that are changing the schedules, I mean, almost daily.
John Hightower [20:46]
And I believe COVID has presented an opportunity for authenticity that we’ve never had before as leaders. Now what I will say to leaders is this also creates moments of incredible transparency. Because of what people are getting from all the different outlets, no matter where they’re consuming data, people are questioning leadership and questioning how decisions came when it came to and what data was used and how you got there. So I actually appreciate this, this season run because it drives a deeper level of transparency. When transparency comes people understand how things, how and why decisions are made, and what that you get relational deposits, with your employees, your spouse, your friends, your family, whatever it may be. And this is just a unique season we’re in as leaders, from my point of view, I love your stream.
Now hold on for a second, john just talked about putting values in the meeting discussing them. Now, a lot of people resist taking up precious time in meetings that are already jam-packed, and not getting enough done to talk about the values of the company. But I call this honoring the core values. If you take 3,4,5 minutes even of getting everyone centered and grounded around the values that are important to the company, it has a really lasting effect. Well, for one, it allows you to make the values front and center that you actually are sharing stories are sharing examples of this. And people are participating across it’s not just a speech from you, people are actually doing this together, you’re just facilitating that through honoring the core values. Another behind the scenes on this is it really does give you a chance to live the values. sharing those stories is about how companies and individuals are living the values. And it’s not important for you to have values, it’s more important for you to actually live them day in and day out. I just want to share that with you. Because it really is a powerful way for you to create a connection with the people that you’re leading back to an interview with John.
Gene Hammett [22:42]
Well, I’ll wrap this up, as we’re kind of getting close to the end here. You know, you talked about transparency. And I think a lot of leaders missed the value of that. It’s not just the transparency of financials. those are important, and many people want to hide those, but really showing your real self, right, we talked about being authentic, being vulnerable. There was a time when I wasn’t ready to talk about losing everything in my life and my business, and the millions of dollars that went out the door because of a bad decision I made in the trust I gave. But you know what, being able to share those things with people in our lives, is what does connect us together, it’s more than just the work. And so I really appreciate you being here, sharing your heart around leadership. And I really appreciate you giving us that background and context around what it takes to be a great leader in today’s world.
John Hightower [23:35]
You know, I appreciate it. I encourage all the leaders out there, you’re not alone. And I want people to know that at the leadership level, it can be very lonely, where you sit and take care of yourself mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, this is these are some very challenging times. And for those that are scaling and hitting maybe a different level. Congratulations. And be wise about how you write that tension. balancing those and for the folks that are out there struggling, you’re not alone. Reach out to people because this is a unique season. And Jean, I appreciate you being authentic and sharing the challenges you’ve walked through. When people do that. It’s amazing when they’re like, oh, I really had a bad business dealing too. And you create this almost moment of saying let’s make new mistakes. But let’s just honor the mistakes we’ve made for what they are and let’s learn from them. Let’s move on. I know you and you and I have had multiple beverages talking about that ever cups of coffee and saying oh wow, I really, you know learn from this one. Let’s make new mistakes. That’s something that we will honor and celebrate here at Arch and Tower like okay, let’s learn from a move on personal professional, whatever it may be. So, Gene, it’s so good to reconnect, and thank you for having me. It’s been an honor.
Gene Hammett [24:45]
That was a great interview with John. One of the things he said right there at the end deserves a little bit of attention when he talked about taking care of yourself. It really is important for you as a leader to understand how to take care of yourself how to really take time to pause and reflect on A lot of the conversation I have with founders is they go, you know, somewhere along the way, focusing on the work and growing the company, I got lost. And I need to find myself in order for me to really reconnect and really be a stronger leader. I’ve got to be myself.
Gene Hammett [25:15]
Now, if you’ve ever felt like that, make sure that you can keep tuning in to these podcasts if they’re helping you. If you want to go a little bit further with me, I’d love to invite you to it. Let’s just have a conversation. My job is not to sell you something my job is to serve you. So if you allow me I would love to invite you into that conversation. So just email me gene a gene habit calm. When you think of leadership and you think of growth make sure you think up growth think 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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