Part of being in a leadership position is that you cannot take a “woe is me, hide in the closet mentality”; you have to take a “we are going to get through this mentality” or you may ultimately struggle to be successful. The winners in life are not the ones who never get defeated or never fall on their face. It’s how you respond afterward — it’s about resiliency and persistence and bouncing back off of the mat. Today on the show, we welcome Kurt Wilkin, Co-Founder and Chief Evangelist of HireBetter, your strategic talent partner. During this episode, Kurt and I talk on the topic of resiliency and why it is something we all need to have the right mindset around. We are in a time where we are facing challenges that we have never seen before and Kurt shares some insightful thoughts on how to maintain a resilient mindset. As an entrepreneur, Kurt has experience growing, scaling, and exiting high-growth companies and now devotes his time to helping business leaders unlock their own success. His responsibilities include strategic client consultation, client satisfaction, recruiting, and practice development. His success as an entrepreneur stems from his ability to build long-term relationships with clients, attract a loyal team of dedicated leaders and associates, and consistently deliver on commitments. Kurt is an alumnus of the University of Arkansas, a Certified Public Accountant, and an active member and officer of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). He is passionate about entrepreneurship, is an active angel investor, and sits on the boards of several companies and nonprofits.
Key Points From This Episode:
- Kurt shares his general thoughts on resiliency.
- How Kurt maintains his resilient mentality while dealing with challenges: Leadership responsibility.
- What Kurt would recommend to someone who was crushed by COVID-19: Survival.
- Comfort zone versus growth zone: Growth requires discomfort.
- Failure is not an option: What does failure really mean?
- Kurt unpacks one of his most inspiring quotes.
- The way self-care ties into the concept of resiliency.
- Taking time for self-care will influence your productivity and effectiveness.
- Kurt shares his number one thing to do in order to remain resilient: Connecting with others.
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:22] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Branch Out. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is Kurt Wilkin, Co-Founder and Chief Evangelist for HireBetter, your strategic talent partner. Kurt and I talked on the topic of resiliency, and it’s something that I think we all need to have the right mindset around. We are in a time where we are facing challenges that we have never seen before. I really enjoyed the conversation and the thoughts that Kurt was able to share on how to maintain a resilient mindset. I hope you all enjoy.
[00:00:51] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.
[00:01:00] AD: Kurt, welcome to Branch Out. Excited to have you here today.
[00:01:02] KW: Alex, I am so excited to be here. I love what you’re doing with this podcast.
[00:01:06] AD: Thank you. Thank you very much. Talking to our listeners for a minute here. I’m really excited about the conversation that Kurt and I are about to have here. Our topic for today is resiliency, and I think, and now, in today’s world and at the time that this podcast comes out, we’ll be somewhere around nine months into be the post-COVID world here. Our world that has been affected by COVID. We’ve all had to live through our own version of resiliency, and I think we’ve all learned a lot about ourselves in the last few months here. But I would love just to start the conversation off, Kurt, if you could just share, what are some of your general thoughts in resiliency and then we’ll take it from there.
[00:01:42] KW: I’m a big believer that the mistakes that we make is what makes us who we are, and the winners in life are not the ones you never get defeated or never fall on their face. It’s how you respond afterwards. I’m a big fan of resiliency, persistence, getting your back up off the mat and fighting again.
[00:02:01] AD: That’s common, right? A lot of people will say that, and it’s very easy to say that. I don’t think anyone can argue that point. But when you’re living in the moment, it’s a lot harder, right? It can be a lot harder to keep that positive mental attitude. Now, you over the years have had your own series of challenges. What have you done to make sure that in the heat of the moment you’re keeping that mentality, you’re reminding yourself that yes, this is a challenge, but I am going to come out of this in a better place?
[00:02:26] KW: Well, I think part of it. As you said that, I reflected and I think it’s because of, in a leadership position, you can’t take a, well-it-was-me-hiding-in-the-closet mentality. You have to take a, we’re-going-to-get-through-this mentality or you’re not a leader and you’re never going to be successful. I think that may be part of it is, I realize people are watching me, my family is watching me, my team I s watching me, my clients are watching so it forces me to perhaps be more courageous than I really am.
[00:02:55] AD: Kurt, it’s a great word to bring behind this. There are many times that we have to be able to step up and do the challenging things. But again, I’ll go back to, especially now in COVID, everything’s changed and many people are hurt in a very negative way by this, and whether it’d be from a health standpoint, financial, emotionally. There are a lot of ripple effects and damage being done. What would you say to someone, for example, if you’re a CEO right now running a business that just got crushed by the COVID and everything that happened in this country? How would you reflect on that? What would you recommend someone in that role be thinking about?
[00:03:34] KW: Well, as anybody who followed any of the stuff that I’ve been doing on LinkedIn and whatnot, it’s first, it’s about survival, right? I don’t want to go back necessarily back to March, but it’s about survival. How can I survive the pandemic whether it’s personal, health-wise or business-wise? Then, once you’ve battened the hatches and made enough runway with cash to figure out how you’re going to extend the runway, now, I’m a big believer and starting to look – to go on the offensive.
How can I leverage this pandemic to make changes that perhaps I needed to make any way to come out of this stronger? Maybe it’s personnel decisions, maybe it’s a business model, maybe it’s a retail space that you want to get out of the lease. I mean, there’s different things that there are opportunities that are coming out of this to make yourself leaner and meaner if you will.
[00:04:25] AD: Listen, let’s just take it not just purely from a business standpoint, but I just think every aspect of life. You are so right there. There are opportunities to one, reflect. I think we’ve all found ourselves with at least a change in lifestyle that has offered an opportunity for some more downtime or some more reflection time built into our life that maybe we didn’t have before. And then to really question, okay, what was working before, what wasn’t and how can I improve upon that, right?
[00:04:53] KW: That’s a great point. A friend of mine, when this all first started, he made a comment that still resonates with me. He said, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-examine everything. Whether it’s your personal life, how you’re spend your time with your family, friends, or business or to re-examine your business.” That’s a great perspective. It’s sometimes easier said than done. I’m being honest.
In my own case, you mentioned last week. I stepped aside as CEO of HireBetter, and part of that is because, I’ve been contemplating that for years. I’m not the best CEO. I’m a good founder. I’m a pretty good evangelist and so that’s where — put me in that tole where I’m really good at what I do and I get out of the way. My partner, Cisco Sacasa is running the organization. It’s allowed me to make that shift if you will.
[00:05:44] AD: I think that’s a really good example here, where you sit back and say, COVID, while as much as that was something — it was not in your mind and you were thinking about doing it. COVID presented an opportunity for you to really do that, right? In COVID, again, whether it’s COVID or any other life impact or anything else that happens to you, those negative things many times present really big opportunities on the other side that you never seen coming, right?
[00:06:08] KW: That’s absolutely true and that probably gets to your point of resilience. We’re making the best out of really a challenging situation, and we’re going to come out of this better than before. In that same example, I’ve been talking about for years, taken this message from a — what I used to say a coffee table or lunch table, between me and you networking. I know that’s a big part of what you do is networking. How can I take that message from a one-to-one to one-to-many? To be candid, I’ve been too much of a wuss to really do much about it over the last, call it, five plus years. But COVID has got me out of my comfort zone.
You saw that I started doing LinkedIn lives, I started writing articles every week, I started doing things like this. You’re probably tired of seeing my face or hearing my voice out there on LinkedIn by this point. But it’s really gotten out of my comfort zone and allowed me to spread that message of what we’re doing at HireBetter.
[00:07:01] AD: I think there is a really key point I want to dive in there, your comfort zone. And talking to our listeners, when you think about your comfort zone, I’m a big believer, you are either in your comfort zone or you are in your growth zone because growth takes discomfort. If growth was easy, if moving forward and improving your life with something easy that just naturally happen, then everybody would be doing it. But that’s not the case, it does take discomfort. Sometimes that discomfort is self-decision, right?
I’m going to take these steps, and go into the discomfort, and put myself out there, be on stage talking or go to a client meeting, go to whatever it might be. Other times, it happens to you out of your own control, right? COVID is an example of that, but there are many other examples where that happens. Reflecting back in your life and in your career, do you ever see moments or can you think of any moments where maybe the time that something happened, you’re like, “Wow, this is awful.” Then when you really reflect on it, now fast forward a handful of years or whatever it might be afterwards you’re saying, “That’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
[00:08:07] KW: It’s usually the case that that happens. You’ve heard the stat that most very successful companies start during the time of economic downturn or turmoil, and that’s no different in my case. After the dot-com bubble burst, I worked for a dot-com and we went belly up, and I had a new baby and a new wife, and no job. I started consulting to make ends meet. My company that I started ended up turning into a $20 million professional service firm that we ended up selling a few years later to Tatum CFO. I’m a walking example of how you take a negative and somehow you turn into a positive. I didn’t know I was doing at the time, the time that was just about survival. If you reflect back, I probably look a lot smarter than I really was. I was just desperate at the time.
[00:08:50] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.
[00:09:01] AD: Let’s talk about some of the mindsets there, right? You’re in that moment and you and you’ll bring yourself back to that desperate moment, that time of challenge. What were the mentalities? What were the stories you are telling yourself internally to keep yourself going and moving through it?
[00:09:15] KW: Man, I had a brand-new baby, I had a wife you just basically given up her job at Ernst & Young, which is a pretty well-paying job and I had to make ends meet. Failure was not an option. That really, man, talk about — if you’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and you have no job, that’s the best time to live your dream and could be an entrepreneur. That’s for sure.
[00:09:39] AD: The failure is not an option. I think that’s a really good mantra for all of us to carry around, and recognizing that failure — what is failure, right? When we really ask ourselves, what does that mean to fail? I’m a true believer that no matter what, you can make all the mistakes in the world so long as you learn and grow and become a better person on the other side, it’s not a failure at all. Once you step back and tell yourself is, “I don’t have the options to quit. I don’t have the option to fail in the sense of, “I’m going to just throw it in and stop putting effort into this.” Rather, you just have to keep plugging forward, and you don’t know where that’s going to go, but you have to keep plugging forward on a constant basis.
[00:10:23] KW: That’s a great way to put it, Alex. But maybe failure is not an option, but quitting is not an option.
[00:10:29] AD: I like that.
[00:10:29] KW: Because I failed many times during that period and I just learned from it and made the right adjustments, and perhaps some wrong adjustments too. But at the end of the day, it ended up being a wild success, but quitting was not an option. Now, of course, maybe trying to find another job was an option, and trust me, I tried during that period, but it was in early 2000s in Austin, Texas, Dallas, Texas is not a great time to be looking for a job.
[00:10:55] AD: I like a lot of how you frame that there. It’s the, giving up is not an option and throwing the towel is not an option. To your point, maybe your path changes, maybe you thought you were going to do something and you ended up not being able to do that, because whatever happened. But as long as you are continuing to strive to that next level, I think it takes you a long way there.
Now, I want to shift here for a little and staying on the same topic though. I think there’s an article you put out that had a really great quote in it. This came from Jim Stockdale who was a US Navy, vice admiral who was a prisoner of the Vietnam War for seven years. The quote that he says is, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end, which you can never afford to lose with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Can you share some of your thoughts around that, and really unpack that a bit for our listeners?
[00:11:58] KW: Yeah, it’s a great concept. To be honest, I heard it several times early in the pandemic, but I didn’t put it all together until about two months ago. What that says to me is, you’ve got to be confident that you’re going to get through this. So people say, “Well, Kurt, you’re always so confident.” Well, you got to exhibit that confidence and be courageous. At the same time, I have no flipping clue how we’re going to get through it, right. But if I keep marching, ultimately, we’re going to get through it. That’s the faith that I have.
You have to balance that with the reality that you’re in a shit show. Man, this is a desperate time for a lot of people. The reason that’s important that you balance it, because as Jim Collins talks about in the book, Good to Great, he says that some of the prisoners of war were the optimist, and they were the worst affected. Here’s why. The optimists were, “Oh, we’re going to get out this thing by Christmas. Trust me. Bear with me, we’re going to get out of this thing by Christmas. They’re going to release this at Christmas.” Then they ended up being in there for six years.
The optimist, the way that Jim Stockdale makes it sounds, that the optimist started dying pretty soon there after Christmas, because they were just deflated. If you fast forward to today’s day with the pandemic, I think we all expected this to be three or four months, right? Let’s lock down, three or four months, we’re done. Let’s get going, and the optimist said, “Hey, let’s do it.” And we started sprinting because we’re going to bust your ass to make it happen. Then the three and four-month passes, and instead of 12 weeks, it’s 12 months or 12 years, then we started hitting a, “Oh crap, we hit a wall.”
The number of CEOs that I met with during that, let’s call it June, July time period where there was just a funk, a malaise, a depression, a — you call it what you will. These folks were hurting. Because they have been charging so hard for three or four months, now they realized, “This is not a sprint, it is a marathon.” It’s been a test for resilience, that’s for sure. It’s also been a test for self-care. I know that’s not the topic of today’s talk, but make sure you guys take care of yourself out there.
[00:14:09] AD: Let’s go into self-care for a minute, because I actually do think that ties into resiliency a lot, right? As part of resiliency, is being able to continue picking yourself up and moving forward in what you’re doing. And if you as yourself are not in a place to do that, you’re going to fail at that or it’s going to be that much more challenging for you. On the topic of self-care, what would you recommend? Everyone’s busy professional, everyone has a lot of things on their plate. There’s always — I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve talked to do that just said, “If there’s 20 hours in the day, I would be 5.” Right? I think we all feel that way in some level. But that’s not the fact. The reality is, we get 24 hours, we all get it and we all have demanding workloads. How do you bake in a level of self-care? How do you make sure that you, yourself are staying at a good place?
[00:15:00] KW: Before I hit the wall myself — I was redlining myself in June. Before I hit that wall, I also convinced myself if I just had 28 hours. Reality is, even if you had 28 hours, there’s always work to do. There’s always going to be more email to pound through, there’s always going to be another agreement or whatever. The approach I took right or wrong, the approach I took is, I’ve got to carve out a couple of hours a day. It might be during work hours — work hours if you’re in a —
[00:15:30] AD: Whatever those mean.
[00:15:31] KW: Exactly. It might be between 8:00 and 5:00 and it might be at 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening, but I’m going to carve out a couple of hours. So I might go take — I might go take a call while I’m walking, I might just go walk. It’s so easy in your own back-to-back-to- back Zoom calls to just go back-to-back-to back. But we’ve got to take some time to go be away. That work is going to be there whether you leave or not. My encouragement is, just go do it. Just go spend five minutes with a meditation app.
I started reading a couple of James Michener novels and I’m still working on it. It was a thousand pages, but it’s just a break from the monotony of this pandemic. I took up tennis. I started going to the creek with my dog and walking through the woods with her. I mean, anything to break up the stress of dealing with trying to run a business in this pandemic.
[00:16:22] AD: I think that’s such an important point. And talking to our listeners out there that just say, “I don’t know how I would ever do that.” I have way too much on my plate. There’s just no way I could find 15 minutes to meditate or find an hour to go for a walk whatever it might be.” For those listeners, if you are someone that find yourself in that position. And listen, I find myself in that same train of thought from time to time. And you have to pull yourself back to reality and realized that if you don’t change, if you don’t make those things happen in your life, there never going to naturally occur and all that you’re going to do is continue to deteriorate your own mental health your own self-condition, the way that you feel.
This goes a little bit talking on Stephen Covey on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the key themes coming out there is the P, PC balance. The production versus production capability balance in recognizing that we all, especially as a professional, we have a huge focus on the production side of that equation. Do more, get more done, get more work done.
To your exact point, Kurt, there is always an unlimited supply of work. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen the bottom of my Outlook inbox. I don’t even know if it exists anymore. That’s the reality. But if you don’t focus on that PC, the production capability side of things, you’re never going to be able to continue to improve your effectiveness and the impact that you can make. Part of that is taking care of yourself. I think tying it all back to resiliency here, part of being resilient is being able to keep yourself moving forward even when you’re not in a good place, even when things aren’t going really well. The way you do that is taking care of your own mental health.
[00:18:08] KW: That’s a great point. I had Kit Rich, who’s a fitness guru to the stars and important people in Hollywood on one of my LinkedIn lives a few months ago. She said, “Look, you want to take care of yourself long-term? The way you do that is taking care of yourself today. You can’t put that off.” So even if it’s just, again, the smallest thing that you can do today, use the pandemic as an excuse. That’s what I did. It’s a great excuse, right? You need a break. Your team, if you’re an employer and you have members of you team, they need time. Everybody needs self-care.
[00:18:43] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[00:18:52] AD: Another though that’s coming in my mind here, this idea that they need time or we all need time, we all need a break. One thing, and again, by the time the podcast is going live here, we’re going to be roughly nine months into COVID. So I think most people are going to be adjusting to what life looks like. But I also think for many of us, the work at home situation will still be in effect as we go into this fall. One of the things that I noticed very early on with the work from home environment, there weren’t boundaries and it was very, very easy to just keep working. To not have time, to not have transition between things. That’s something that you have to be intentional about and take control over and make sure that you are carving out and framing that time in your day.
As a leader of an organization, no matter what position you’re in, as a leader of people, you also need to make sure your people are carving that time out, and you are creating that environment that is conducive for that.
[00:19:51] KW: Part of that is being open and honest with them that it is something that they’re allowed to do. Give them a grace. The first three or four months we’re in this, everybody on my team and I’m sure most of your teams were balls in the walls making it happen. Everybody realized, we need to enforce breaks for them as well. We did some of that with fun Zoom games or whatever, but some of it is just telling people, “Take Friday off” and don’t call in type of thing.
[00:20:20] AD: In this, I would love to get your reaction to this. You as a CEO, and I would again say this to anyone who is a leader regardless of your title or position within the firm. If you have people that look up to you as a leader and that you have influence over, if you believe, if you truly believe, which I very much do that taking care of her mental health and finding that time is a fundamental aspect to not only your success, but to your resiliency, to every aspect of your life. If you believe that, you have to model it and demonstrate it. Because if you just say, “Hey, I want everyone to take time off,” but you’re burning the candle at both ends and you’re never taking time off, then what’s everyone else is going to do?
[00:20:58] KW: That’s a great point, and I’m not the best example there. But no, I do try to take time and I think it is — you’re right, you’re giving them license to take care of themselves by doing that. Going back on what we started this topic with around self-care. That 15 minutes to meditate, or to walk or Twitter is going to make you so much more productive, because it’s amazing what your mind can release during a meditation or a walk. But then you get to brainstorm the deep-thinking type things that come to you during those moments that you wouldn’t come to if you’re just pounding an email. There’s productivity that you’re going to get out of taking some time.
[00:21:37] AD: I couldn’t agree more. And listen, let’s tie this back to some of the resiliency, right? Put yourself, you’re in the middle of COVID here, we’re in a middle of a situation where our life has been changed. There’s always work to be done. Your busy, busy, busy. Your mind is spinning, you’re just having a hard time getting everything done. And listen, this is a feeling. I can say this with passion, because I feel this myself a lot. And what I recognize myself is, at some point, you get to this level of diminishing returns where my brain is just spinning. Whatever I’m trying to get done, my effectiveness has fallen off a cliff. I know I’m not getting things done, so now it just feels like I have more on my plate, I’m slowing down.
What I have personally found is, that’s the moment when it’s most important to go take that time. That’s when I need to get up and go for a walk or I need to go leave the office for a couple hours and do something else and I’ll jump back on later and knock it out, whatever it might be. Listen, I understand client demands, different cultures and different firms. That’s not always possible to drop what you’re doing in that moment. But when you find yourself having that internal dialogue where you’re just saying, “Oh my gosh! How am I ever going to get this all done?” and where your brain is spinning. That is the sign that you need to slow yourself down and bring yourself back to center.
[00:22:48] KW: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’d be inauthentic if I said that I was perfect. In number of times I’ve fallen asleep sending emails. I’m embarrassed to say. But no, you’re right. If you can wait until you’re fresher, you’re going to send a much better well thought out note to your client. That’s for sure.
[00:23:06] AD: No doubt there at all. Kurt, parting words here for our listeners. If you could step back and say, okay. You’ve been through dot-com, you’ve been through, ’08, ’09 and now you have been through COVID here and 9/11 as well in that pattern. What would you say is the number one lesson that you’ve learned as a leader to remain resilient? What is the one mindset or the one habit or the one thought that you would say every leader should be doing to remain resilient?
[00:23:38] KW: I’ll tell you where I was going to go and I may have to rethink this. Where I was going to go was, maybe because I’m a servant leader but connect with others. And that connection — I think that is my answer. Connect with others, and not in a way to sell. I know many of you folks are in the BizDev world, they’re there to sell, but they’re also there to develop relationships. You don’t sell without a relationship.
Reach out to others, care for them, check on them, serve them in a way — I did that and I was able to serve myself because I was with a peer group and with others, they were in a similar situation, so we were able to get through it together. Ultimately, sales come from that, but that’s not the initial goal. The initial goal is community.
[00:24:23] AD: I think that’s so well said. And when you talk about community, and connecting with others, and obviously, we at Connection Builders, we have a bias towards that. It’s a lot of what we do here. But I do very much believe that if you carve out that time, build that community and find ways to help others, that’s how you will succeed in the long run. It’s frankly selfish of yourself when you are doing that, because it’s self-serving in the long run. There’s no way around it, right? Now, you have to approach it from the mentality of, I genuinely want to help these other people. But all the way back to our topic of resiliency, if you’re in a position where you’re staying positive, you’re moving for it and you’re helping other people along the way, good things will come. It may not seem like it in the moment, life is hard, there’s no way around it, life is really challenging. But the more you continue to have that mindset and focus, the better things will get for you in the long run.
[00:25:14] KW: I love it along. Very well said, Alex.
[00:25:17] AD: Kurt, I really appreciate having you on here. I appreciate you sharing some of your thoughts here with our listeners and looking forward to doing more of this together in the future.
[00:25:23] KW: Appreciate it man. Truly my pleasure.
[00:25:27] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for tuning in this week. Share this podcast with your professional network to help others connect, grow and excel. Like what you hear? Leave us a review and don’t forget to subscribe now.