Maturing a Family Business with Shayne Hughes

This is going to be a very interesting conversation. I’m very excited about it. You’re going to love the guest we have on today. This program has been so interesting in the way that it’s developed. I think this is our 31st episode. The Unshackled Owner sprang from an old podcast I had called The Lookout where I was just trying to tell my stories of business and how those might benefit listeners. Then we morphed over to The Unshackled Owner so we could get more specific and more intentional about how are you doing developing your business and are there best practices? Are there tips? Are there ways of avoiding mistakes that you could learn so that your business could be stronger? It could be more intentionally driven and grown. It could be developed into something that you could pass down to the next generation or you could sell or that you could at least enjoy the fruits of your labor and have the time you need to go out and do other things in life that stir your soul, whether that’s service or starting another business or going to hang out in the south of France for a month. Whatever it is, we want to make sure that you have the business structure set up and the systems in place and the team in place so that you’re not so critical to the everyday operation of the business. You’re an owner more than an operator.

We’re going to talk today with a fellow who really goes to the heart of several of those issues in his business. I’m really excited for you to hear his words of wisdom.


Listen To The Episode Here


Maturing a Family Business with Shayne Hughes


Today, we’re going to be talking with Shayne Hughes. Shayne is the president of a business called Learning as Leadership, about a 30-year old business that has a roster of clients that’s a dream roster. If you go to their website and you look at who they’ve worked with, it’s the who’s who of what seems like every industry. Yet, like so many of us, they are absolutely a small business, less than 100 employees. They still have close relationships working together and yet they’ve been able to achieve tremendous success by really understanding what they want to be focused on and how to be the best in their industry at doing what they do. Shayne, I’m so glad to have you on here. Welcome to The Unshackled Owner.

It’s great to be here. Thank you, Aaron.

I have a friend who is also Shayne’s friend or somebody that he’s working with. Her name is Karen Leland. Karen has worked with me on book proposals and all kinds of stuff that I’ve used Karen for in the past. I’ve also helped her go through some hard times in her life. We’re friends. My wife and I have stayed in her apartment in New York City. Karen reached out and said, “I have this man. His name is Shayne. He’s got a new book out and you’ve got to meet him. I really think he’d be great for The Unshackled Owner podcast.” Unlike some of the other guests that we’ve had in the past, Shayne and I are just getting to know each other right now. We talked for about 30 minutes before we started just so we can get to know each other a little bit. I was super impressed by what he told me and I thought, “This is going to be a really interesting chat we’re going to have.” Shayne, do me a favor. Before we get talking about the book or about Learning as Leadership, tell us a little bit about you. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? Are you married? Do you have kids? Tell us a little bit about you.

I’m 47. I was born in the Boston area. My parents divorced when I was two. I spent a lot of my childhood living with my mom bouncing around from town to town and state to state. I did my undergraduate at UC Berkeley. At that time, externally, if you looked at my life, you would have thought everything was fine. I was going to a fairly prestigious school and I was getting decent grades. I think the truth was on the inside. There were as a lot of unresolved and unhappy feelings. There was a lot of partying going on. I was partying in a way that felt normal in my social contacts, but looking back, it was really pretty out of control. I had a lot of anger, a lot of recklessness. I was a pathological procrastinator so getting my work done was awful because it always happened between 11:00 PM and 3:00 AM, the night before it was due.

Are you attributing this youthful frustration and angst and anger back to the divorce or to bouncing around, or was it something else?

There’s definitely a connection. At that time, I didn’t think about it. It just seemed normal. The company that I help run today and the work that I still teach today, I actually encountered my freshman year at UC Berkeley. I had hit bottom, I got arrested for DUI. I was trying to get clean and I couldn’t. My dad said, “You should come do this program.” I was like, “I’m so desperate right now, I’ll do anything,” so I went.

I’m just trying to figure out, we talked about your mom and dad divorcing and you lived with your mom. Your dad somehow is involved with Learning as Leadership?

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Family Business: It really rattled my cage in a way that was very uncomfortable and very beneficial.

My dad remarried, this was 1989. My stepmom had travelled around the world seven or eight years before. She went back to visit some friends of hers in France. When she was over there, at this point in time, the founders of my company were French and they were developing this program. That’s a whole another story that’s even more interesting. She’s like, “You guys need to come to California to do a seminar.” They’re like, “There’s enough seminars in California, we don’t need anymore.” She’s like, “No, I think what you’re doing is different.” She organized their first workshop with my dad’s help. They did the first one and I met them when they came over. I was nineteen, I knew everything. Honestly, I was not in my right mind all the time. Then soon after they left, I hit this spot of bottom and there was another one coming in October. My dad said, “You got to come to this.” I said, “I’ll do anything right now. I got to make a change.” I came into this first workshop. I didn’t know anything about it. There was nobody my age there. I didn’t know what to expect. It really rattled my cage in a way that was very uncomfortable and very beneficial. In essence, it helped me peel the lid off of all of these anger and rage and self-medication that was going on and I started to look back.

That comes back to the question you asked. Yes, my parents divorced and played a role on this but also my mom had remarried a man who had terminal leukemia, who himself came from a pretty abusive home. While he never abused me physically, there was a lot of toxic content in the house while I lived with him. Moving a lot, I was often the new kid. I had a funny name, I was skinny, I got picked on. I just accumulated and then stuffed down a lot of pains that I didn’t really know what to do so I just tried to make it go away. The problem with that is the more I stuffed it, it’s not like it went away. It just went underground and then it started coming up the side. I was really distraught without knowing it. This methodology helped me to start make sense of it in a way that really was tangible, pragmatic and allowed me to move through it. That’s how I got started on this path.

Then afterwards, when I graduated, I moved to France. I worked there with the founder for four years. Then in the late 90s, when we started focusing on the corporate market here, I moved back to the US. Today, we do leadership development and culture change but for me it’s really anchored in something much deeper around healing ourselves so that our past pains don’t hijack our current relationships and endeavors.

I don’t know if you’ve just done this so many times before that you’re super in-depth at it or if it just turned out this way but the way you laid that all out, it was very enticing without saying, “Here’s what it was.” You’re saying, “This is what happened and this is how it took over. I committed my life to it from a young man and it started to help me heal these feelings that I had.” Who doesn’t want that? Who doesn’t want to feel better? Who hasn’t ever felt that angst or that pain or that disappointment? There’s got to be some better way and wanted to feel that.

First of all, I’d love that you went to France because I love France. As a young guy in his twenties and go over to France and work with the founders of this healing methodology was pretty cool. When I looked at your website there was everybody from major corporations to NASA to others that you’ve worked with them on a holistic level or a department level or an individual level. When you were over there in France or when you were going to these seminars in California as a nineteen-year-old, were you mostly focused on communication? Your website doesn’t look anything like woo-woo at all. It seems very, very practical leadership development, team development, communication systems or processes for breaking down walls and being able to have more efficient communication amongst teams or individuals. It was at least what I thought I saw.

When you were there going to the original workshops, you’re going to France in your twenties, what was the main thrust then? What was the genesis of this business?

Are you ready for more backstory?

Yeah, because the people that are listening feel like they’ve got something big inside of them or inside of their business. Even if they’re successful, even if they’re making money or whatever, most people are still playing smaller even though they feel this tug that there’s something else there. It’s really helpful to hear that something is doing really well like you guys are now, it started somewhere. It gives people hope for their idea. I love the backstory. Believe me, we can go to your website and hear the best version of your company right now. We can read your book and hear the most pristine version of your thesis. But what really matters is how we started and how we turned it into something and why that matters that we exist.

In 1982, our work was founded by a couple. A woman named Claire Nuer and Sami Cohen. They were living in France. She ran a couple of optical stores. They are both business people. He imported Nikon eyeglass lenses for all of France. In 1982, she was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in her right eye. It was 12 millimeters long, so pretty big for the eye. Because of what was available at that time in terms of technology and treatments, they couldn’t do chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Basically, they saw a number of different doctors who all told her, “I’m sorry. You’ve got two or three months to live.” Some of them wanted to take her eye out but her husband who was an engineer did a bunch of research, and basically, whether you took the eye out or you didn’t, statistically it made no difference, people died. There was almost no point. She had two young children, a fourteen and nine, young enough that it was too early for her to leave them. Her name was Claire, which means clear in French. They were both in the eyeglass business and she got cancer in her eye. She asked herself, “Is there something I’m not looking at here? What’s up with this?”

She and her husband really out of no other choice started trying to explore whether or not there was a mind-body connection in her illness and what they can learn from this. They travelled to the US, saw a number of different oncologists and doctors. As they begin to explore this, they realized that for her, there were a whole bunch of emotional dynamics in their relationship between Claire and her daughter that were really having an emotional impact on her, and that she felt were connected to the fact that she got ill. She didn’t say that this was true for all people, she just felt it for her. There was more than a coincidence going on.

They begin to try to work with different researchers and pioneers in this mind-body connection and searching for tools that could help them. This brings us to one aspect of what I like about the work is that from the beginning it was always been based on as it work. Like something pretty that didn’t help her shift moment by moment when she was facing the wall of death wasn’t useful. The measuring stick of whether or not something stayed in the toolbox they were building was pretty high. Progressively, they began to understand what was going on. The husband was an engineer. He started using systems thinking and flowcharts to map out some of the insights that they had because they realized it wasn’t just true for her. These are things that happen for a lot of people. Then they turned around and they realized, “We both run businesses. All of these same things are going on in our business with our teams and our people. This is half of what’s stressful at work is that all these same things are happening there,” so they began to teach seminars.

You said there are some dynamics. Are we talking about challenges with interpersonal relationships? Are we talking about guilt? Are we talking about, “I’m working too much. I’m not taking care of my kids?” I don’t want to invade in your family or these people’s families but I’m just saying, these things are happening for her, for their relationship, in their companies. Without going deep, give me just a couple of words of the kind of things that could be going on in a company that would be creating stress so much that it creates a cancer in the business?

This was one of the things that was most shocking to her in this whole moment, is that she realized, when she got sick that all of a sudden, her husband who was travelling all the time and was never around and was preoccupied was at her back and around her all the time. All of a sudden, they had this new connection and this sense of focus together that she felt they had lost for years. One of the most startling insights that she had about all of this that we continue to see happen is this concept of benefits, that our unproductive behaviors have benefits. The benefit of her getting sick was that all of a sudden, they were reengaged in their relationship. In fact, as she got better, he started to detach. Then, all she felt, “Wait, hold on. I’m feeling in conflict because if I stay sick, he stays engaged. If I get better, we go back to normal. I don’t want to go back to normal.”

This is a type of unspoken pains and issues that we don’t know how to talk about or resolve in a certain way. When we’re in a couple and we express something that’s going on for us, half the time, we express our hurt or our need as an accusation that the person is not doing. Three quarters of the time, the other person, even if we say it right feels like, “You’re criticizing me.” When I’m out of town and my son gets sick and my wife tells me, “He was up all night throwing up,” I feel defensive because I’m feeling like I let her down. She’s just saying, “He was sick.” You can see how hard it is for us to actually talk about what’s going on because it feels vulnerable to say what I really feel. It feels vulnerable to hear what the other person is saying so we have a tendency to bounce away from what really needs to be said.

This is what she was discovering was alive in her relationship with her husband and with her daughter. When she turned around and looked at her business, she realized, “We’re having all these same issues while we’re not really talking about conflicts in relationships. We’re not really sorting through strategy questions where we disagree. People are holding back and then being resentful later.” She didn’t feel that what was going on in the business contributed to her cancer. She felt that all of these things that were going on in her relationship did affect her health, and that these things also existed in her business.

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Family Business: It’s much more business-oriented but I think at its heart, it really goes to these fundamental human issues that we were having.

To answer your question which is how we got here, when I came to this, we weren’t focused on the business world. The original seminars were more general public and also actually it was an orientation towards people that had health issues. There was a lot of cancer patients and other people because this whole thing came to be for her at the age of 49 when she was diagnosed with cancer. What’s extraordinary about her story is that this was a woman who lost her father to Auschwitz. She was a hidden child. She had all these different roles and careers in her 30’s and 40’s in how to become a successful person. In fact the greatest work of her life happened after she turned 49 and was diagnosed with the descents and lived another seventeen years. Everything that she most had to contribute came out of this very unwanted experience. That’s how our methodology was founded. I came in seven or years after she was diagnosed when the non-profit have already been established and came in for very personal reasons. It was only more in the mid-90s that we really began focusing on the business world. Today, it’s much more business-oriented but I think at its heart, it really goes to these fundamental human issues that we were having.

Thank you for sharing that story because I think it’s a really phenomenal story for one thing, and very interesting. It goes right to a whole bunch of things. You ended with something that I have to follow up on. You just said the non-profit was founded back in the ‘90s. You started out as a non-profit, are you still a non-profit today?

Now we’re full profit.

So many people come to me at these events I go speak at. They come in and say, “Aaron, I want to start a non-profit.” I hear all these stories that are heart-wrenching stories. They were sexually abused. They lost a baby. They lost a limb as a kid. They were bullied. Something happened that was horrible to deal with. Now, they want to start a non-profit to deal with helping other people heal or having other people not have to feel as bad and alone as they did or as they do, and they say, “I want to start a non-profit.” My typical response is, “Is there a way that you could take all that energy and focus into a for-profit business and then out of your abundance, either support organizations that you want done or out of that profit scholarship or do work to help people.” It is tough to make money as a non-profit. It’s tough to get donations. It’s very, very difficult. There’s a lot of people out there who want you to make a donation. The fact that you guys morphed from a non-profit to a for-profit but you’re actually probably in a bigger way, you’re probably affecting many more people either directly or as a multiplier effect than you could as when you were a small or non-profit. Is that true or not true?

We’re definitely impacting more people. I think we’re doing deeper work. I think we’re probably having a broader impact on society. I do think however that we’re probably not interacting with the same socioeconomic strata of society. Before, we’re more working with individuals who were looking for personal development and there might be two zeroes on the backend of a program. Today, we’re more oriented towards the business world and there’s three zeroes on the backend of the program. That’s a little different. It certainly has worked better for us. Since it’ s a business podcast, it works better certainly for us as employees and for me as a head of household in terms of the stability of our life. Working with corporations has allowed us to be much more oriented towards people that are already pretty functional and helping them grow in ways that are having a broader cascade effect around society.

I don’t know your clients, I would not argue with you. My experience has been that when a human who’s suffering in some way would come to you in the past, and when you said two zeroes, I’m just going to say it was a $500 program or a $900 program. Now, it would be a $5,000 or a $9,000 program. The difference may be that the corporation is paying for it instead of the person’s individual bank account. The fact that you can get in front of so many people, at least as is indicated by your website, and you can get people training that they can take back and they can teach their spouse, they can teach their kids, they can implement in their home. Even though my guess is you’re not understanding the financial needs of that person so much, my guess is that maybe there are more functional, better educated person. My guess is that the fact that they might not have every gotten the training before and now they’re getting it, my bet is that the multiplier is dramatic and bigger even into that lower socioeconomic level.

It’s almost never good to aim low with your pricing. That doesn’t mean you want to only work with the elite, but what you do want to find is an underserved market that is affluent enough to buy your service. If you’re selling marbles or chewing gum, it doesn’t have to be a high level of affluence. You want to find a way to work on the broadest scale that you can to give you the financial success that you need to live as changes that as head of household, he’s got a responsibility there. If you quit aiming low and you just aim a little higher as Learning as Leadership did, your work can touch a lot more people. I’m not going to ask you to say yes or no, Shayne. I’m just going to make an assumption. As you, as the head of household or you, as the president of the company, have more discretionary profits that’s not cashflow, this is your money to choose what you do with. My guess is that you as a company or as an individual do things that you wouldn’t be able to do to help people if you were barely scraping by.

Never think that just because you’re charging for your service, you’re not making a giant impact in the world. It’s super important to be financially stable if you’re going to really do things. I think about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the work they’re doing. They’re solving malaria. Just think about that. The number one killer in the world is malaria and they’re taking this thing on on a global basis and they’re making giant strides. You can do that when you’re the richest person in the world. You can do things that help the poorest people because you have so much overflow beyond what you need to live on that you finally go, “I don’t need another card, another watch, another bigger house. I can make a difference with some of these money.” I want to go to your book because you’ve got a brand new book. Tell me what’s it called and why did you feel a need to write this book?

It’s called the Ego Free Leadership. Since we’re in a conversation here where you’re asking me to share not just the content of what I do but also maybe what’s unfolded in our business. The founder that I’ve been talking about, she passed away in 1999. Her son took over and ran the firm ultimately until 2009. We began having some delayed succession leadership crisis in 2006 that unfolded slowly and were challenging for us to work through. He stepped down and I began running the company day-to-day for the next four years or so. I think we didn’t know what we didn’t know in the running of the business.

We were working through a lot of the difficult conversations using our toolset, but I think there were certain things around the governance structure, the ownership structure. Even broader family dynamics that were not necessarily our specific training. On top of it, we had a number of really long-term employees who weren’t part of the family but felt like they should be part of the family because they’ve been around for so long. There was a lot of moving parts. I think that there was a broader community of people that were in the company as full-time employees and then there were family members that weren’t full-time employees. There were different perceptions around who had how much what equity in the game and what that look like, what does it translate to. Then some people wanting to potentially go out and start their own business. When you’re together for 25 years, there’s a lot of things that happened and unfold and people change and evolve. I think we were still trying to navigate our way through that.

At some point, there was one person that I was very close to that I’ve been connected with for a long time who told me that she wanted to leave. It was my perception that there was a house of cards unfolding. This happened during the time that was probably the most distressing time of my professional career. That was maybe the two years leading up to this event that were really very challenging. I was progressively feeling like too much of my energy is going down and into this business like running and managing and dealing with. The reason I got into this and the reason why I love it is because I really feel like it has an ability to have a broader impact. I don’t feel like there’s enough of my energy going out. I don’t feel like I’m really being met internally in terms of what we’re doing.

I decided that I didn’t want to be in the role of leading the company anymore. I more or less fired myself. In that moment, it wasn’t clear for me that typically, once you reach the top and you walk away, you got to go do something else. I was really in his moment of, I’ve been doing this basically since college and there was this abyss in front of me when I thought, “I guess this is it. I’ve poured my life into this. Where am I going to go?” I was there in my office thinking, “Even if I left and I went back to school to get a PhD, I would still be oriented around the work we do because it’s so deep in my DNA right now. It’s really how I see the world. What would that look like?”

It was in this moment that all of a sudden I thought, I should write a book with Brandon who is our client at that time. He ran a company called Encore Capital, which is in debt collection. It’s not a glamorous industry by any means but they’ve been a client of ours for seven years. He had really gone through an incredible journey as a first time CEO. We had worked with his executive team. We had done culture change work with the top 150 leaders or so of their company. During that time, they had grown from a small player in this industry to the biggest player in the industry. In fact, during the financial crisis of 2009, 2010, 90% of their competitors went bankrupt. That’s how devastating it was in the industry. During that time, they were actually having year-over-year growth and a lot of it, he’ll tell you, was because we had done all this work to clean out all of the wasted energy and in fighting that goes on in the organizations that cause most companies for the most part to not really be spending the majority of their energy actually on moving the business forward. It’s wasted energy that gets churned up and spit out and sucked into avoidance and resentment and Turf wars.

In addition to that, this comes back a little bit to the question about how to impact change. This is a much maligned industry. At some point in our work together, he’d actually come under fire by a non-profit that was accusing him of certain predatory practices. The report they published had a lot of errors in it. He had all the information to basically blast them. Instead he said, “Let’s get together and let’s have a meeting.” He met with these people a number of times and really understood where they were coming from and how consumers were suffering in the debt collection system. They ended up making a lot of changes in how they operated, developing the industry’s first Consumer Bill of Rights and really bringing a noble goal. Having an intention for something larger into their business where it seems very unthinkable in this industry. I also really felt that his personal story was one that was very relatable. The performance that this organization had is really possible. Also this desire to not just make a profit but have a positive impact on the broader context in the world around us was also really captured in the story. I proposed to him, “Let’s try to write this book together because I think this is going to speak to people in terms of what we’re all craving for.” He was crazy enough to come along with me. We spent the next three years writing the book and it just came out this spring.

We had a really sharp guy on a few weeks ago who had made a fortune in the check cashing business, another maligned industry working with people who don’t have bank accounts and they’re paying a high interest rate. He talked about the reason they went for $4 million to $50 million was because they trained their staff that every time somebody came to the window, they would have these human moments of dignity with this person. This individual typically doesn’t get treated very well wherever they go. When they come up to our window, they’re going to be a cherished customer. That got them people swamping them with business because they got treated differently there than they did somewhere else.

Somebody owes money, of course it’s okay to try to collect the money that’s due, but nobody likes it because when you’re in collections, usually you’re struggling. It’s just like insult to injury but building something out that can both empower the employees and give dignity to the customer, the one who’s being pursued changes the conversation. I’ve been to collections before. Almost any small business, I’ve had times when there were bills that I couldn’t pay or just lost track of. Having the right attitude on my side with them and them having a good attitude made it into just a transaction, and not predatory. Don’t ever forget that your attitude will dramatically worsen a situation if you come into it defensively. It sounds like you teach a lot of that in the book and in your day-to-day work? Is that true? How to not be a victim but how to just maybe more factual, more realistic in the conversation and not being accusatory?

Yes. It’s challenging to describe because the ways in which our ego hijacks us is really so varied and so subtle. You were saying, “Don’t be a victim.” I think there’s people who are going to relate to how they can be in a victim mindset and other people who are like, “I’m not ever a victim.” We have a tendency to perceive and react to other people through filters and hot buttons in our perceptions. We draw conclusions. We prescribe intentions. That happens seamlessly. I always think that I’m fair and balance to my point of view, and I never am. I’m reacting as if it were the truth. I’m missing the other person’s context, I’m missing what their experience is. I’m missing how I’m hijacking the situation to my own reactions in a way they’re not seen. It’s amazing we’re not a warmer off with each other with all the ways in which we bounce off each other. Our process is really about learning to recognize the sensation that we have when we’re reacting to someone else when we’re not in a centered state, but when we’re more in a state of either withdrawal or aggression. Learning how to step out of that so that we have an opportunity to create a different type of interaction.

In the work that you do with CEOs, owners, you described that you had resolved this within your company during the succession. What are two or three little tips you can give now? We want people to get the book. What are two or three things you can just tell people now that are just quick ideas for them, just let them be introspective for a moment and think, “I wonder if I’m doing that or I should start to do that.”

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Ego Free Leadership by Brandon Black & Shayne Hughes

These are questions they can be asking themselves or more of an example of the type of things that they might consider?

My wife is a wildly successful life coach. Something that I hear her say often to people is, “Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.” Become present, like if you’re in a battle with somebody, if you’re starting to feel the hair go up on the back of your neck, “Why am I feeling that? What’s going on right now that’s getting me so riled up?” She says this to me often when I drive. I’m the happiest guy everywhere else but put me behind the wheel, I’m all of a sudden judging everybody. Are there a few things that are overarching ideas that we can just plant seeds in people’s mind that are listening right now that they could maybe become a little bit more aware of their perspective or the lenses through which they are viewing the world are not necessarily true? They may be true for them but they’re not going to be true for the other people that are on the other side of the issue.

One thing I can say is part of the problem is for a lot of us, when we’re reacting unproductively to a situation, we don’t even realize it. When we do, sometimes we feel like we can’t help ourselves. The biggest problem is when I think I’m acting from a place of clarity and the fact that I’m acting from a place of reaction. One of the concepts we talk about is the idea of being in the state of reaction or feeling at the mercy. By that, we define it as notice when you feel like external circumstances or other people or even aspects of yourself are dictating how you feel in an unwanted way. You feel trapped or so and so is doing this. You’ll just notice that you have an uncomfortable feeling in your body. Maybe your ears get hot or your stomach turns over. You have a sense of butterflies or anxiety or even you feel anger and a lot of people feel numb because we stuff those feelings. Numb is different than calm and peaceful. Numb is, “I’m shutting off this feeling. I’m trying not to feel anything.”

The first thing I would say is to learn how to pay attention and notice when in fact something is going on for me that feels uncomfortable and unwanted. That we have attention and you just wish it would go away. I sense that that’s the thing to embrace because your path of growth, whatever is most generative and creative that’s able to be invented in that moment between you and other people, is on the other side of that discomfort if we can find a way to bring it to play in a productive sense. That’s why we want to know when we feel bad on the inside because it’s actually an opportunity. The thing is then to look at, if I’m feeling this way usually, and this is for you to think about for example with the driving is if I’m having this, the first layer almost all the time is that my self-worth is feeling threatened in some way. I’m feeling criticized. I’m feeling in danger. I’m feeling a sense of mistrust. I think they might hurt me. I’m feeling like my wellbeing or my competence or my intelligence is being threatened in some way, what you think of me.

The first that you could already do then is just pay attention to these moments like jot them down and try to ask yourself, “What actually is the part of my worth that’s most threatened here that I’m taking personally?” I think if you do that over several weeks and you look back at your list, you’ll notice that it’s probably the same two or three things all the time. That’s interesting because that means that each of these situations that you’re experiencing as unique is in fact you’re just projecting your shit into it. When we notice that then we’re like, “Ah.” You have the information, “That’s a hot button.”

I mentioned earlier how I grew up feeling picked on and bullied. I really have a thing around being strong and being competent and being liked. In general, I can be reserved with people. If I sense that maybe my competence is being questioned or the other person has judged in some way, I can withdraw and get stoic and avoid the conflict or if it feels a little bit too much, I can get aggressive and a little attacking or abrasive. In those moments, it always feels like the right response. I had to do it because the other person is being this way. I’m not noticing in that moment, the other person was saying I wasn’t competent, I was stupid and so I was reacting to that. That’s my stuff. If I can learn to see that overtime, I begin to have an idea of what my leverage is actually identifying that ego threat, as we call it. Not in trying to change other people, nor even in trying to control my own behavior. You’ve got to go back to the source.

Is a lot of this covered in the book?

A lot of this is covered in the book. It’s a great introduction. We do this work through seminars. The way I describe that is I just gave you the theory and then the book is going to give you a really relatable example and some diagrams are going to help you think about it for yourself and I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “I’ve got notes all over the margins,” because they are taking notes for themselves. In the end, why I react when I feel like you’re crushing to my competence is deeply anchored in my own personal experiences growing up. What you react to, there’s not a theoretical explanation for that. There’s a personal explanation. How the system works is the same for everybody, but how it works for you is very personal for you. The challenge is to really go back and peel your own onion because that’s the only piece that’s really going to matter to you.

Shayne, I want to ask you what we call the golden keys here. We want to talk to you a little bit about just a few quick answers of things. You’ve got two books out. I think we’ll go ahead and highlight especially the new book that you’re promoting right now, Ego Free Leadership. Is there any other book that’s been influential on you whether it’s specifically on this topic or that’s been super influential on you growing in this leadership role with this business since you’re a young man that you would recommend to the listeners?

This is probably not a helpful answer because I don’t read a lot of leadership books. Maybe I can just throw you a curveball from the field. The most interesting book I read in the last decade that had an impact on me on a personal level, in the space of what I think about on what we’re talking about, is actually a book by Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat Pray Love. She wrote a book called Big Magic. Big Magic is really an interesting book in very simple, engaging language. She oriented around our creativity but she’s very broad around creativity. I would imagine most people that are in the business that they’ve started like this. It came from a spark of something in them where they thought, “This is an idea. I could do something with this. I could create something with this.” Like Seth Godin talks about the artist, “Being creative is about stepping outside of our comfort zone and bringing something to life that didn’t exist before.” We just happen to be doing it in a business world. I think that Elizabeth Gilbert really talks in interesting ways about how our attachment to being smart or being a genius or being good, how we project our self-worth on the thing we’re creating, actually causes us to be less creative and less in touch with our intuition, less able to follow and be inventive in certain ways. I found that it’s a funny little book with short chapters. I was able to read three pages at a time, and then I had to stop because I felt like there were so much to absorb there that was meaningful for me as an adult trying to continue to be creative going forward.

Is there a quote that you love? Is there a song lyric that just drives you that you could share?

The quote that I come back to is the Teddy Roosevelt quote about the man in the arena: It’s not about who wins or who lose, but the person who gets up. I think about that because when we get older in life, there’s so much pressure we put on our capacity and whether or not we’re succeeding or failing that I think it really narrows what we go after in life. The ego doesn’t like to fail. The ego really wants to succeed. We cut ourselves off from a lot of exploration creativity, dead ends that might be really meaningful. I think about my children when they were young. When they were face down on the carpet at the age of four months trying to learn how to roll over on to their back and it goes on forever. They’re not down there thinking, “Damn, this is taking a long time. My big brother did it already four days before me. This isn’t good enough. There’s somebody judging me that I’m not doing a good enough job.” They are tapped in to this profound energy we have to walk down the path of life and to create. They are not yet caught up by this inner critic and all the noise in their head that cuts us off in possibility. I like that man in the arena quote because it reminds me of the baby on the carpet, which is just to be with the practice of moving forward on my next step in life and really accepting that sometimes I’m going to struggle, I’m going to fail and I’m thinking I’m not going to get there. Then all of a sudden I’m going to realize that the journey was that much more amazing because there were so many obstacles that I struggled with and that I moved through.

Is there anything that you would warn people against or something if you look back, you think, “I wish I had done that differently or hadn’t done it at all?”

The thing probably I have the most regret about was there was a period of time where our business was very stable and it was successful on the outside. There were people on the inside who were wanting change and wanting movement. I felt threatened by that. I felt threatened by how things could evolve. I couldn’t see what things would look like without them or without the set up the way it was there. The pieces were too big to be removed. I think also they were scared of moving on and taking a leap to be on their own. That we hung out in that space too long, I hung out in that space too long and I wasn’t as open or able to engage in dialogues about scenarios that I felt very threatened by. I think that I was very slow to embrace those changes. I went a little bit into them finally kicking and screaming. As I mentioned earlier, in some ways it was good because that kicking and screaming produced the idea of this book. I think to do it over again, I just needed to open the door even though I had no idea what is on the inside.

Thank you for sharing that. That is a real problem. We can get very complacent and very stuck with people who you think, “I can’t grow with them and I can’t live without them.” I don’t know what we’ll do without them but I know we’re not going to progress pass this. Maybe that was years but I’ve seen that in a lot of businesses before. Shayne, any final words of counsel to the people? How can they reach you and how can they find your book?

We’re on the web at or Learning as Leadership. The book is on all the major retailers. You can look for it in airports these days, by the way. It’s Ego Free Leadership, Ending the Unconscious Habits That Hijack Your Business. I ended up in this podcast talking a lot about some of my personal story. I actually wrote a memoir called When the Running Began, which is more about my formative years and how I came to this work. I think that people of all ages relate to that. That’s much more of a personal story than it is a business book. Those are things to look for.

In terms of counsel, my father just passed away. It really just has struck me how much I’ve understood about how he lived his life in the path he was on only just in this last weeks and even after he left us. I think that the lesson I’m taking away from that is just noticing again how much I can impose what I want or what I’d like to see on other people or on a situation. Sometimes I’m able to force that through but often, it’s not in the way necessary that’s allowing other people to bring their greatest value and their strengths and their desires to play in a situation. I just think that there is something to be said about opening that door and stepping through it when we don’t know what’s on the other side and inviting other people to do the same. Trusting that something is going to come out of that that’s not actually what you were planning or expecting, but it’s going to be all the more wonderful because of that.

We’re sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing that very personal poignant thing. Shayne, let me thank you for being on the podcast today. Really grateful for your story, for your wisdom, for the work that you’re doing that’s impacting somebody. Thanks so much. As I’ve been listening to Shayne’s story, the takeaway for me, and hopefully you’ll find the right takeaway for you, the overarching thing that I’ve heard is value your relationships in an authentic way. Don’t let difficult conversations, don’t let things that are going to be awkward stop you from getting to the root of a problem, of a misunderstanding, of a solution to a problem. Don’t let competition and ego get in the way of progress, whether that’s with your family or with your co-workers or with your vendors or even with the other people that you’re trying to collect money from. If we can just have enough confidence that if we do the right thing, the right things will work out in our favor, then we will end up having those slightly awkward conversations. We’ll take on these awkward challenges. We’ll make progress on our business. It’s being honest with ourselves. It’s being truthful and progressive as we work towards our goals that are going to put us in a position to become unshackled and to live the life that we want to live.

Go out there, make it a great day. Figure out how you can have one meaningful conversation with somebody that you’ve been putting off and see how that feels. We’d love to hear back from you on how you felt about this conversation today. More important, how you’ve put it into play in your own life. That’s it today for The Unshackled Owner. This is Aaron Young and I look forward seeing you again next week.

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