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Mike Thorne: One Layoff Away From Realizing Life is a Team Sport

Mike Thorne is a chairman at the Vistage Peer Advisory Group, a safe forum for business leaders to work out issues and explore opportunities. Guided by his mission, vision, and business experience, Mike’s superpower is the ability to elevate business leaders so they can further their success. His mission is to restore human dignity and unleash greatness in people, and create a world where people recognize that they’re worthy of self-esteem and are celebrated for exactly who they are.

After being let go from his dream job as a young professional, Mike had to face many hard truths about himself. Working through his fear of abandonment, Mike became a strong leader who helps others see their own potential. Mike is a triathlete, Ironman competitor, and self-driven leader who believes life is a team sport.

Transcript:

Bryan Wish: Mike, welcome to The One Away Show.

Mike Thorne: Thank you, Bryan. Excited to be here and look forward to talking to you.

Bryan Wish: Yes. And for those that don’t know, Mike, Mike and I met last year right around this time in first week of November, I’ll never forget. Just interesting time of life. And so it’s the one year anniversary and he had listened to a podcast or two and reached out off an article and we are here. So Mike, it’s been an honor to get to know you. You’re a stand up guy and I know today’s going to be great. What is the one away moment that you want to share with us today?

Mike Thorne: Yeah. I have lots of times in my life that things transform, but if I had to pick one, I would say it was November, I’m sorry, December 19th, 2005, late morning. Was called into my boss’s office and he told my job was eliminated as president of Russel Athletic team sports and to go see HR. And that was it.

Bryan Wish: Okay. Just start us out with a dagger here.

Mike Thorne: Yeah.

Bryan Wish: Must have been extremely defeating and shocking and traumatic. So give the audience and me some perspective now, how long were you with Russell? What were some of your main roles? Did you see this coming? I mean, I would love some context.

Mike Thorne: Yeah. So Russell’s was about a $1.5 billion corporation. They were involved in many businesses, apparel being the biggest one. They had acquired a company called Spalding Sports about a year and a half, two years before I took this job and I had been working as VP of sales of Spalding Sports for about a year. And Jon Letzler who was the chief operating officer of Russel Athletic called me in the office one day, he was in Georgia, I was in Massachusetts. And he said to me, “I really love what I see out of you.” And he goes, “I’m going to create a position called president of Russel Athletic team sports. And you are the right guy to take it on.” It was about $120 million business at the time.

And I said, “Jon, I have no idea how to run a company. I have no idea to run a business, manufacturing, operations. I appreciate the opportunity, but I’ll rather just stay here. I love living in my Massachusetts, where I was born. I love being VP of sales. I love the team. I love the people I work with.” And in essence, he made us to the point there wasn’t a lot of choices. It was either you’re going to go do this because we need you to go do this because the team sports division was the most high profile division within the corporation and the feeling was that in order to enhance the stock of the company and the performance was we need to get this thing turned around and head in the right direction. He thought I was the right guy to do it.

The short story was I flew down there to interview, which they asked me to go do. They asked me what I wanted to get paid for the job. And for the audience out here, don’t do what I did. I gave the corporate answer, which was you pay me whatever you think this job is worth and I’ll do it. All I asked for was that my family was taken care of. And if something wasn’t to work out because the business was troubled, that they would take care of my family because we didn’t want to move. And so we made the move. My daughters were eighth, sixth and fourth grade at the time, not super happy [inaudible 00:03:28] to move, but my wife knew that sports and a job like this was my dream job. So we did it.

Bryan Wish: Wow. Mike, I am just blown away. Sometimes you’re put in positions of leadership and you don’t understand maybe why or what people see in you to say you are the guy to be in charge. And so you said that he said to you, you’re the guy to do it. And I know it maybe didn’t have the end outcome maybe you were expecting because of the way you started the call. But what was it do you think about you in particular where he saw the value in saying, “You know what? Mike can really be someone to lead and take such an ownership”? You said was a $100 million plus line of the company. Why you, Mike? What do you think he saw?

Mike Thorne: It’s an interesting question because I was 41 at the time and I did not have the self-awareness to even think about those things. But I did talk to Jon a few months back about the situation and he just said to me, said, “I could tell you had the tenacity, the drive,” and what I referred to as intellectual curiosity to take on a role like this and rally the troops. And that was his feeling as he felt I could really rally the troops to start thinking about a different way to reimagine the business versus a way it had been done.

And because there were a lot of legacy people working there, he felt he needed somewhat some fresh eyes to go in there. And I’m not sure exactly what he observed that year other than that, that’s what he felt he needed. And he said to me that, “I’m going to send you to the Wharton School of business to learn how to be a CEO. So you’ll be trained when you go into this role, which is a hard thing to do when you get training in four weeks at Wharton School of business, I got to tell you, but I took the idea and since it sounds great, let’s do it.

Bryan Wish: Wow. So you went to Wharton for four weeks. Sounds like you had four weeks of military training to become a CEO of a division and went head first. So I would love to ask you a little bit more about the Wharton or if there’s any ways to tie that in, I’d love that, but I’m more curious about this job, from what you were thrusted into, right? And it’s probably another reason you and our mutual friend, Steven now get along so well. He probably saw the admiration for your path. Curious though, Mike, when you took over this role, you said that, “I wasn’t qualified. I wasn’t ready.” There was a bit of, “I don’t know if I can do this well.” When you look back on this experience and I know you’ve had a very beautiful career in my opinion, you’ve had a lot of impact on others, but in this experience particularly, what were some of the learning lessons that you have taken with you through the rest of your career and why did it not work out?

Mike Thorne: Well, first and for most, if you were to look at my life story, I would say I spent most of my life trying to prove that I was worthy. And I think it stems from being put up for adoption at birth and learning at age nine that I was adopted. And I just didn’t feel like I belonged. And I also felt like if I ever stepped out of line and wasn’t perfect, I’d be abandoned and I didn’t trust very easily. So if you look at my career arc, even through college when I had a successful baseball career, was the captain, my career in business was pretty much from sales to the key account, so on. So I had a successful climb, but I realized when this happened, I started to over time to start to figure out what went wrong. And I realized the one thing is that life is a team sport.

And because I was so focused on proving people wrong and trying to belong, that I was trying to do it all myself and I thought I could just muscle my way through it because that had been working for me my whole life. But when you’re running a business like this with a lot of complexity and you have a lot of people that you’re accountable to, you have to step back and ask yourself, “How do I have the team get aligned with me and go on the journey with me,” because if you don’t, they comply with you, but they’re not committed to you into the destiny you’re trying to take them. That was a very, very, very hard and painful lesson for me. And so the big takeaway from me was I’m going to have to pay a lot more attention about that.

And I think the blessing out of all this was I was told at that time, which was hard to hear, but I reached out to people because I believe in this idea of trust communities. And there were some people I reached out to that I knew would give me honest feedback and I wouldn’t take it in any way other than it was to help me. And that was, “Mike your emotional intelligence wasn’t where it needs to be, to be a president of a business. Your capacity to handle the issues in a non-emotional way wasn’t there.” And so there was just feedback like that that was super, super hard to hear. It was like getting hit by a two by four. And I had to process that quite a bit, because that’s the first time I’ve ever really failed, I guess if you could call failing and it hurt.

And because I have this abandonment issue that always crops up and I get my nine-year-old coming back at me in this lack of trust, I think it really was super painful to have to acknowledge the fact that I’ve failed, but people’s still cared about me and wanted to see me be successful. On the flip side of this, the other feedback I got from people in the organization was that what they were going to miss from the leadership was the personal work I did to help them play a bigger game of life. And I didn’t realize how important and powerful that was. I did it very naturally because I needed it. I valued that in myself and people did that for me.

So as a leader I was so focused on delivering the financial obligations, the operational commitments we had, very goal-oriented. And although I knew I had to get people to come with me, I didn’t understand the power of all that because I was so focused on people just doing what I needed them to go do to deliver the results. So on the one hand, very difficult to hear the pain of the things that probably caused me to… Although they said the job’s limit, let’s face it, I got fired. And part of that was the way I behaved and performed obviously, although that never got said. And so that was painful because that was first time that really had ever happened. And to go back to my house and tell my wife and my kids what happened was extremely hard. But the fact that they still loved me and still cared about me and supported me was really the transition time for me to realize that life isn’t a straight line to team sport and it’s time to think about how you adapt and transform going forward.

Bryan Wish: Wow. Mike, that is so humbling to hear. I love what you said about life being a team sport, right? You maybe perhaps losing this role of a major business due to the fact of your abandonment growing up and trying to prove your worthiness, I mean, incredibly insightful, right? Because it was clearly shaping your behavior and decisions. The question I have for you, were you consciously aware of how maybe these abandonment triggers were showing up in your family or your job at the time?

Mike Thorne: No, I didn’t know exactly what it was. It was really the first time that I had to address. Like I said, for the longest time, my whole life I’ve been able to just get through every different stage and transformation. So when you get promoted through your career and all the people come and try to hire you, it reinforces that the way you’re going about things is the right way to go. And same thing in your marriage, in your marriage if your spouse or people close to you don’t address things with you and they just let you continue to behave the way you are, then you believe what you’re doing is absolutely the appropriate thing to go do.

And because I was so afraid of making a mistake, this perfection thing which is very common in people who have been adopted, this fear that if you ever stray off perfectionism, then people are going to value you less or they’ll just abandon you is real. It was for me, may not be for everybody adopted, but it is a real thing. And so I didn’t understand at the time and I was just very blessed that the next step I took was a risky one, but it then transformed my life where I was able to meet with people and talk to people that got me there. I can get into that if you want, but I had to really get to another phase in my career and be with the right people around me to help me start to understand what was actually driving, what was underneath the behavior because sometimes you deal with the symptoms, not the disease and I had to really deal with it.

Bryan Wish: So it sounds like you built this maybe idea of a personal trust community without even knowing it to get to the root of these behaviors. For the audience listening, because this seems like it’s been so impactful in every area of your life, how did you know to maybe go about building that personal board of advisors, those people around you who could really steer you and not just treat the symptom, but then actually get to the root of the disease. What was that process for you?

Mike Thorne: Well, when you go through something, I’ll describe it as traumatic, it was for me when you lose your job, it’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating. And what I realized though, that all my career and my life I was a very good connector, so I have a lot of people in my “network”, but I realized many of those people, it was very transactional or it was on a needed basis, so to speak. Somebody will help you out if you need them, you do it the same for them, but it wasn’t deep. Yet when I went through this process, there were three, four, five, six, eight people in my business life that reached out to me that I’ve known and they were just so supportive emotionally, but they also tried to help me transition from a business standpoint and really think my way through things.

And those are the people I was like, “Wow, these people really view this relationship very, very different.” And I started to ask myself, “Am I surrounding myself with the kind of people that can help me be a better human being along with a better business leader, a better father, better husband, better son, or am I surrounding people that could help me get ahead in life?” And that was really something I had to really wrestle with in that four or five month period when I left Russell and before I went to Yankee Candle. And so I was able to during that timeframe start getting connected with people that I had known for a long time.

I just didn’t realize the difference between the people that were going to be there for you no matter what versus the people that were there for you on a needed basis, whether you needed them or they needed you. And to me, that was the first time I started saying, “Boy, I got to really start thinking about this trust community of people and I started to frame it up in my head in mind at that time and really realize that there’s going to be some people in my life that I’m going to need and I’m going to want to help them all along. And they’re there for the right reasons. And that’s how I started building it. So that’s been 15, 16 years in the making.

Bryan Wish: Mike, to hear where you are today and then 15 years ago where you… It sounds like really you had to dive into your past. And that’s a very painful experience, especially at the root level and not just through behavioral symptom fixes. I’m just curious and then… Was there anyone along this journey as you built, were building your own, let’s just say personal trust community, which we’ll touch on later, that helped you realize things and create insights or any moments during this personal journey that you went down for yourself that just really stand out, conversations or individuals or specific experiences? I’m just curious what that process for you is getting to the root of… With these individuals who are helping you.

Mike Thorne: Right. So the first step was for me to take a very, very hard look about the kind of company I wanted to work with and the people I wanted to work for. That was a really important step and so Russell owned several brands as I mentioned earlier, and I could have probably gone back and worked on a different division. I was offered an opportunity to do that. That would’ve been on one hand the safe route. My wife would’ve loved me to have done that, but I realized that who I worked for and the purpose of the company and the people and all that, really were going to matter going forward if I was ever going to transform with the kind of human that I felt I needed to be based on the work I had done from the feedback I got.

So that was a really, really important step because going to Yankee Candle where I had no experience or understanding of an industry and taking on a business that was three times bigger and working for people that had been very, very successful and high-end branded performance-oriented companies, but also very caring human beings was a big deal. And so I was patiently waiting for that to play out. And fortunately for me, it did. And so when I went to go work for them, that was the first major thing I did because it would force me to really take a hard look of who I was, because I was now operating in a industry that obviously emotional connections in the candle home fragrance space is really essential.

And in the sporting space, it was more about win, lose, and just rough and tumble guys attacking the business so to speak. So that was step one. Step two was about a year into my role a lady named [Don Exvad 00:17:57] who I had met when I started. She was director of learning development. She changed my life in so many ways. She came my office and said, “Have you got a minute?” And I said, “Yes.” And she said, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” She said, “Which do you want to hear first?” And I said, “I’ll take the good news.” And she said, “Well, in your short time here, I would say the group of people here think you’re in a very approachable executive and probably the most approachable one-on-one leaders we have here. So you’ve done a very good job from that perspective.”

I said, “Okay, what’s the bad news?” She said, “Your standards are way too high.” Now from someone who’s an athlete working in the sports industry and my whole life was really geared towards that industry, that was really an interesting insight. The short part of that was that she said to me, she said, “Mike, do you remember on your birthday in September your team gave you this beautiful frame picture. It was a boat out in the middle of the lake. And it was just sitting out in the lake. It was very pretty. And it was something about teamwork.” And I said, “Yeah.” And she said, “They joked that they gave this to you because they know they’re on a journey. And then I know you want them to come in this journey with you, but they don’t know how they’re going to get there and whether they can actually do what you need them to go do.”

And I said, “Why is that?” And she said, “Because they don’t know that they can actually achieve what you wanted to achieve.” She said, “You’re going to have to figure out how to be more vulnerable.” Now this is back in 2007-ish, 2008, probably. And that word was not as prominent as it is today. But in essence, she said to me in the couple hours, we actually said, “Just start walking the floor on Mondays and Fridays telling people about your weekend, letting them know some funny stories that might have happened about your daughters or you or something. Just let them get some insight into your life.”

And Bryan, from that moment on just doing that in slow pieces and getting used to that and meeting with groups and talking, it really gave people more comfort level around me. And they moved from being compliant to what I needed to do and what we needed to do as a business, to being committed because they understood the journey and they felt comfortable and started trusting me as a human being. Unbelievable. It didn’t happen overnight, but it was an unbelievable step for me that really started me on a journey of starting to let go. And she had other things down the road that she worked me on, but she was a game changer for sure. She definitely is still on my trust unit. I talk to her today.

Bryan Wish: Mike, it’s I think really rewarding for me… I mean, I try not to talk much during this. I had a similar conversation with Richie who you also know, and he said something to me this summer and he is like, “You need to be more present with your team and check in and see how they’re doing.” Similar to you, it’s completely changed the maybe dynamic and the connection that I’ve been able to have with the team. And when you’re running, I mean at a corporate level, Yankee Candle, big division, and you have a lot of responsibility, it seems like for the first time you really started to let people into your world. And then also you were starting to get feedback, yeah, maybe much earlier in the process, opposed to at the end when it was too late.

And it sounds like just those conversations that you started having with the team really were able to help the companies, like you said, be committed. From a tangible perspective or that commitment level, when you started seeking advice and then also building that kind of community internally at the business, what were some of the things that you started to notice that changed in a very tangible way, whether that was… You can speak to the numbers or you could speak to the comradery and the culture. I’m just curious what you saw.

Mike Thorne: Yeah. There was a gentleman that worked for me and he was responsible for a tremendous amount of our ability to execute and deliver the financial obligations we had. So we were a public company and then owned by private equity and he didn’t have the same passion or drive that I did to deliver on the results. And didn’t always appreciate why we had to deliver on them. To him it was like, “Hey, we didn’t ship it out. Not a big deal. We’ll get it next month.” And he and I ended up having a very hard to heart conversation. And I went back to some of the work I had done on myself during this time, which was just tell me your story, which I always loved, just tell me your story. And I learned so much about him personally, and I realized that he had grown up in an environment where he did not have a lot of support.

His dad was much older, died when he was very young. His brothers are much older, so he didn’t have that father figure in his life. And unbeknownst to me, he found that in me, thought that I was someone that could deliver that for him. And he felt the way I was raising my kids and the way I was dealing with stuff was something he admired. And I did not know that. Well, over time, we started to learn more and more about each other. And what I noticed, which is the answer to your question was I used to have to really push and fight to get the numbers out and the stuff shipped. He was a very, very big Tom Brady fan. And I could now walk into his office. I could just knock on the door and say, “Hey, it’s Brady time.”

I no longer had to spend two hours explaining why it’s so important. He just knew what that meant and he did whatever he could to get it out. I didn’t have to worry about whether he was going to do it. And after seven years at the company and I was transitioned to a new division, he said to me, he goes, “Mike, before you came here, we always kicked the field goals.” He said, “But since you’ve been here, we go for the touchdowns. I want to thank you for that.”

Bryan Wish: Wow. You Mike, you really started to have an enormous impact on people. And when you had that conversation with that woman, you [inaudible 00:24:02] personal trust community, who said you need to be more vulnerable. Our mutual friend Richie always says, “You can’t give away what you don’t have,” but it’s like, you learn the power of maybe being vulnerable for yourself. And then you’re able to give that away to create a culture and an environment for somebody else. Like you said, didn’t have a lot of support and change the narrative. And just a simple phrase, it’s Brady time and it’s beautiful the way you painted that picture of we’re not going for field goals anymore, we’re going for touchdowns.

And I have to imagine that Brady time, that was connective tissue that whether it was phrased differently in other areas of the people you impacted, but that connective tissue was multiplied in the entire environment in which you impacted. Is that fair? I mean, did you notice that as well?

Mike Thorne: Yes, there’s multiple things. When you meet people, you meet them where they are. And the only way you can really do that is to understand them. There was a lady who worked for us who was really in a critical role. She didn’t report directly to me, but she was in a very critical role, making sure all the systems tied together and short story was she was frustrated with how she was not getting support. Obviously Yankee is a very complex, big corporation with a fundraising division, a retail division, international online. I mean, we had multiple people using similar resources. But she and I spent some time in our office and I really started to get to know her, understand her background, understand her passions and what she was really all about.

And like most people, I think we’ve all had some sort of lived experience, something that is holding us back in life. Mine obviously is with the adoption connection, but I feel like most people have something that they’re not bringing their full self to work. And so when I spent a lot of time with her, I realized that her biggest passion was pottery and she got away from it. And so long story short, she got back into pottery and one Christmas, so maybe two years after this, we really started to build a business and gave her some more clarity in her role. And she started to really grow in the role while she dropped off a Christmas, was a dish that she had made for me out of pottery and with a nice note with it. In essence, it was thank me for the time that we had given and giving her clarity and giving opportunity to go back to something she was very passionate about.

And she said, “I noticed that you have oatmeal in the mornings and I’m giving you this so it can keep it warm when you have it in the mornings,” because what I was bringing in wasn’t going to keep it warm. And I just thought, “Boy, just those little things that you don’t realize the impact you have,” but her performance certainly had elevated not because her skills got any better, not because she got training or anything, just because she felt valued. She felt like she belonged, that she had her dignity back. And I feel like that is such a big deal that gets missed by leaders. And I just started seeing more and more of that kind activity. I wasn’t the best at it. I made my mistakes, but there was a lot of that that I saw that was very valuable.

Bryan Wish: Absolutely, Mike. I mean, just the stories, the impact. I mean, just what you described about that woman. I mean, she’ll remember you. I’m sure you still talk, maybe I’m wrong, but those are moments in her life that she’ll remember for the rest of her life. And, well, the impact is monumental. It’s not just a one time thing. It carries through because you’re able to help her see something about herself that maybe she couldn’t see before. And that’s just really special.

Mike Thorne: It’s funny you say that because when I was doing the Ironman event, she made a comment in there and just said, “You are our iron man.” Just something I haven’t really talked for a long time. So it’s just interesting. You’re right, you just don’t realize not just the impact of the moment, but just over time what happens. So it took me a while to figure this stuff out and it’s always a work in progress, but it’s nice to see that some of the impact continues.

Bryan Wish: Yeah, no doubt. Absolutely. Mike, just to transition here and continue to build this story, you were let go to bring us back to the center of the show. You were let go and this moment, it led you down this path of discovery and building this trust community for yourself. And then you’re able to bring that into your work with Yankee Candle. Since Yankee Candle, how has the career, your path, how have things progressed for you and what are you doing today, right? As a way that’s threaded all these experiences together.

Because I know you’re working on some really meaningful work, but I want to understand from you and have the audience understand, what has all this experience added up to? Because I think you’re doing some pretty incredible things that are in the foundation building mode that are going to continue to touch people, but through your voice and what you’re doing with your brand. So I would love for you to share with us what that looks like in what you’re doing right now.

Mike Thorne: Yeah. So first the one other step that’s really critical was the final step. I was not feeling very well. I was very stressed. This is back in 2012, 2013. So six, seven years into Yankee, making a lot of progress, but still not feeling like I was myself. Three beautiful daughters, my wife, we just had what appeared to be a very good life, but I still wasn’t myself. My doctor at the time said, “I think you need to go see Christine Payne.” And I said, “Who’s Christine Payne?” She said, “She’s a specialist in dealing with children who have been adopted at a very young age.” And spending time with her was the last piece of the puzzle for me, which was validation, may use the wrong word, but it validated the fact that the reason I’m struggling with abandonment and the reason I struggle with trust and the reason I’m always worried about not being perfect is because of all the things that happened to a child who’s put up for adoption right at birth and then is in a home for five months and then gets adopted.

So all those things that the baby doesn’t get had impact on me that I didn’t understand. And it really helped me start to say, “There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s what happened to me that I need to understand so that I can move forward.” And that was the final piece that really helped me move forward. So then as that started to transition, I still made the decision, Bryan, to try to be someone who could run a company. So there’s a friend of mine, Tim Dixon told me, he said, “Mike, are you doing what you want to do or what you need to do?” So to answer your question, I still spent the next four plus years trying to do what I need to do versus what I want to do. And that is you feel like you need to validate yourself by having a title and making money versus doing what you really, really want to do.

So I bring that into context because it’s taken until before you and I met that I started to realize working with Tim, who’s someone else in my trust community, Tim has really, really been a big help to me from a mindset standpoint. And I’ve started to realize that how do I go about restoring human dignity to really unleash greatness in people and help them by creating these personal trust communities, I think is really the power that is missing. In other words, people go to work today. They have a job, but they’re never giving their full self to the work. And I believe it’s mostly because they don’t believe they have human dignity and they don’t believe the people they work for care about them in a meaningful way. And so they show up, they’re compliant, they do their job, they get their paycheck.

If you could ever sit down with these people and understand where they came from in their story, I’m completely convinced you can unleash greatness in them. And I’m currently right now, Bryan, as you know working as a chair for Vistage Worldwide. I’m very, very concerned about the social and economic status in this country. I think the fabric is tearing and has been for probably 20 plus years, if not more. And this win lose environment that we teach in leadership is wrong. It needs to be much more others focused. And so the work I’m doing now is how do I have more impact on leaders in communities, businesses and teach them how powerful it would be if you would invest quality time trying to understand the people that work for you at a human level and how that could accelerate the growth in the business. And at the same time, start paying attention to the community around you and the people around you.

And I believe that’ll elevate a lot of things in this country. And unfortunately, I believe most people look at the pillars of society and say, “Well, we’re okay because the government’s all right, the Boy Scouts are showing you that you can’t have good leadership, the church, the Catholic Church, the Olympics. Unfortunately in the last several years you’re starting to see, lack of word, the corruption in all those particular areas that I mentioned, all those pillars that we all look to, to make sure we’re safe. And so I feel like it’s really high time we start to really invest back into how we teach leadership and it starts with the person. That’s my belief.

Bryan Wish: Interesting. It’s very holistic and it’s also… You’re saying, okay, at a macro level with social and economic injustice, that’s wrong. There’s a lot of change that needs to happen within companies in communities, but it starts with the individuals. And so by the nature of the work that you’re doing, if you can fix the person in a sense, and the people behind who are leading, it can help to unearth some of the fabric that you’re talking about that might be unjust right now. Now I want to back up for one quick second, and then I want to leap forward to everything you just said.

You talked about the one step that you were missing and the work that you wanted to do versus what you needed to do. It sounds like you realized maybe internally that there was still some work needed to be done to see that person, adoption specialist who could really maybe unlock some things for you. You had already done so much work it sounded like. How did you know there was still maybe work to be done on yourself before you could go and do what you truly wanted to do? Because I think that’s a really interesting insight that led you to where you are right now.

Mike Thorne: I think, Bryan, you could only do so much yourself. I mean, you got to need people. I was beyond the point of just being able to manage this myself. And I really realized that I’ve got this on paper, everybody say, “What a wonderful life you have. You have friends, you have a family, you have a nice house. You have all the resources and all the support you would need. How could you be unhappy?” And that’s what really struck me was “Why am I unhappy? Why am I still feeling like I… Why am I so stressed? What is going on?” And so I think seeking the professional help I did, it wasn’t a year long thing, but it was enough to give me that insight to say, “Okay, there’s a root cause of all this and now I need to make sure I build all the tools to help me be able to go forward because it won’t go away. I think it’s like anything, the trauma that’s in there.”

And an older lady said to me one day, she said, “Mike, if your thumb hurts, your thumb hurts. It’s okay to complain about it.” So my trauma may not be someone else’s obviously, and the trauma doesn’t leave you. And there’s still those moments when you’re stressed or feeling worried and that abandonment comes back. The question is, how do you manage it? And knowing where it came from and why it’s there and knowing it’s probably going to stay there and knowing I got to work on managing it was why that step was so critical. And then the second piece was once I realized I need to figure out to manage it.

And I realized when I’m around the right kind of people where I work, where I spend time, who I talk to on the phone, when I realize that those are the people that I spend most of my time with, I feel much happier, more fulfilled and I feel like I can accomplish almost anything that I need to, and I can be a resource for others versus hanging around people that are very successful and I’m trying to compete with them or be worthy to them. And that just doesn’t work for me. I don’t do well in those environments. So I think that was one of the big steps. Unfortunately for me, it took me a few more years and a few more steps to realize, “Why do you keep doing this?” And I have to give a lady I got to know, Sheila, she said to me, she said, “Why are you going to work for these companies? You know that’s not who you are.”

So I think I started having people, Bryan, around me and that trust me that would even recognize in myself saying, “Why are you chasing these jobs? That yes, you’re very capable of and yes, you’re very qualified to do. Instead of doing the work that you’re really good at, which is getting people to elevate and helping them build their own trust communities and unleash their greatness. How come you’re not spending time on that? And it just took me a few more times before I realized, “Yes, I got to go do that.”

Bryan Wish: Wow. I just have the utmost amount of respect for you, Mike, because you had a family and competing priorities. Working and taking the time for yourself to be able to bring your fullest energy into this next chapter required you to solicit the help of others so you could show up to unleash greatness for yourself in a way, so that now you can help others unleash it for themselves, which I think it is just so special and it’s so aligned in… You have so much credibility in the story and now that work you’re doing today, because you have that lived experience yourself.

So let’s get a little tactical here. I’m just hyper curious. So if I’m a executive, or let’s just say I’m a every day… Let’s say I’m a 27-year-old entrepreneur or aspiring leader, how would you… You shared some steps earlier, but how do you help other people now go build these trust communities for themselves individually, within organizations? What does that look like?

Mike Thorne: Well, the first step is people have to be ready. A lot of people say they want to change or get better, or what have you, but they’ve really got to be ready. There’s a lot in our heads and then you have your heart and you have your gut and the distance between your heart and your head is only 12 inches, but it’s the hardest and longest 12 inches you could ever try to climb. So you got to be ready. And so anybody that calls that ask about… They really want to really change or get better is the typical way they come at it, I just first and foremost, try to understand their story, because if I don’t know where they’re coming from or where they started. So getting on their side is really, really important.

So I just say, “Tell me your story.” And if somebody’s ready and they really want to do this, they’ll tell you things that they may not have shared with anybody in their whole life ever before or very few people. And once that happens, you start to realize, okay, this is where they’re coming from. This is what may be holding them back. That is really the key to unlocking anything because that tells you that A, the person is ready because they’re sharing that and B you have a pretty good sense of what might be at the root cause of what’s going on. And then from there, you start to what I call, you can take a piece of paper, it’s pretty route of entry and turn it horizontally on the left side, just put a rectangle together on the right side of the rectangle and leave space in the middle.

And I ask people to draw where they are today. “Both personally and professionally, where are you and how you doing? What’s going on?” Most people have a very good sense of that answer that obviously you can write it down pretty quickly. And on the other side is your North Star. And there are surprisingly many, many people… I had a young lady I was working one time and I asked her that question to lay out her North Star and she said to me, she goes, “Mr. Thorne, I’ve never said this out loud, but my dream is to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.” And I was going to say, “Great,” and then she said, “But I can’t because I’m a female.”

Bryan Wish: Wow.

Mike Thorne: And so just by laying out those two and then the middle you leave open because typically what happens is people do that. They say, “Here’s what my dream is. Here’s what I want to do personally and professionally,” but they then go right back to why they can’t. And we refer to that as head trash. That’s just stuff in your head that you’ve told stories about yourself, but getting that clarity on those two things, the only way to get from the left to the right is to do work. And as I mentioned earlier, life’s a team sport. And my belief is having this personal trust community allows you to have the people to help you navigate as you’re going down that path, because it’s not easy.

And so I use this analogy. It’s like, you got to trampoline and you’re in the middle bouncing up down the trampoline. All your network, your trust community’s around you and they’re making sure you stay in the center so you don’t fall off because there’s risk when you start moving down this road. And so that’s why I’m so passionate about building this trust community because those are the people, all walks of your life, books you read, people you aspire to, people you’re connected to. And I focus in on what I call the five areas of your life. And that is what are you doing physically to help yourself? What are you doing socially? Actually I should say physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Those are the five things, pies as I refer to it.

If you can focus on those five areas and make sure you got people in those areas that are helping you, I believe you can get through anything in life. And the only trick, Bryan, is, and this is where I find a lot of leaders or people that are considered gurus is they tell you, “This is the magic potion to make you successful in life.” And what gets missed in my view is not everybody starts in the same place. I’ve worked with people that are in some very, very difficult circumstances financially. They don’t have housing, what have you, all the way to people that are very wealthy. And so you can’t just say go do these five things and you’ll be successful.

I think it depends on where you start and people start in different places. And we don’t always take that into consideration when we’re offering suggestions about how to get ahead in life and how to make the dream come true. And so by building a trust community, I think anybody can do it and anybody can start there. And I believe that is the foundation that helps you start to move down the road to success in life.

Bryan Wish: Mike, the process seems so intentional and guided and thought through. And I love how you ask people to open up with their story and share their North Star and then realize, “Okay, what’s holding you back from getting there?” And then, “Okay, how do I go find the people to help me get through this?” My question for you and I just find… Similar to you, Mike, I think relationships are the most important thing and you should hold them close and take care of them. How do you know who to put in a trust community? How do you know the people who put your inner circle around? When you’re working with individuals, how do you advise them on building that for themselves?

Mike Thorne: The first thing is I believe when you declare where you’re going, and that’s why I think that North Star is so important and it may take three or four steps. You’re going to laugh, my youngest daughter, we work with her on it and I don’t care if it’s crayons or pencils she did, it took her three renditions and she keeps it handy by her. So really once you declare where you’re going, I believe people start showing up in your life. They just do. The three most powerful words in life besides I love you are I need help. So to answer your question, that is really critical, that North Star done. And when I lay this picture of these five circles, in the middle it says personal trust community, and then the five circles around it, my experience has been people look at that and they start pointing to one or two of the circles.

I had a person the day say to me, “Mike, I’ve got this college friend of mine.” And he said, “I’m looking at that intellectual circle,” and he’s a business owner. And he said, “Look at that circle there. And I’m thinking I got a college friend of mine, very good friend. We get together fairly often. We joke about life in college and have a few beers and I go home. And he said, “But when I’m listening to you what I’m realizing is he could actually be someone that I could share some concerns about my business. And he may have some very good ideas because he’s a very successful business person and he probably could help me navigate some of the personal challenges I’m dealing with in my family business. I just never thought of him that way.”

Or another lady said to me, “Mike, I think that I’ve got to figure out socially what I’m doing.” And I said, “Tell me more.” And she said, “Well, I have a lot of social friends, but I’m wondering as I think about them, are they really serving me well?” And she shared a story with me about experience she had with them. And she said, “I think by being around them, I can get the behaviors I want and I can’t have that social connection I’m looking for. And I wonder if I ought to reconsider who I invest my time with.” Right? Doesn’t mean you still can’t be friends with them. Doesn’t mean you’re still not going to be friends like that. You can have all kinds of friends, but the people that are in this trust community got to be those people that when you go to them, they drop everything and they’re listening to hear you. Not just listening to say, “Yeah, it sounds good. You’re going to be fine. Don’t worry about it. You got to go.”Because that’s not what you need to hear in that situation.

So I think A, once you declare where you’re going, people start showing up in your life and then you have to slowly, because it’s not easy for people because they haven’t done it before and they’re afraid and nervous, just to think about in which of those circles do you feel like you have the best opportunity to find someone who will be most likely to be a resource for you so you can get comfortable with it? So I would pick that area. Like that gentleman said to me, “I’m going to go find my friend that I went to college with, was a great business. I’m going to go there first.” And then he had a second one he thought [inaudible 00:47:34]. He’s got two. And I would bet you over time, once he gets comfortable, he’s going to start realizing how powerful it is, going to start finding other people. And I believe over time, he’ll start elevating his business. Does that answer your question?

Bryan Wish: Yeah, it really does. And I think what’s so interesting, Mike, is just the fact that… The thread I’m hearing is, and maybe the implicit that it wasn’t explicit is really making people question the relationships in their own life and if they’re serving them. And I think sometimes we go through life so quick and there’s just people in our world and we never take stock of who’s around us and why and if it’s maybe mutually beneficial. Not that relationships should be transactional, but the fact that are the people in my life serving highest and best use of my goals and aspirations and am I doing that for them too?

And I think it’s so easy to get blinded and go through life and not realize the people in your life who aren’t maybe showing up in the same way you’re showing up for them and keeping them in your world. And I just think there’s a lot of value in the process of just going through what you outlined and designed and are helping very incredible people do for themselves. And it’s such a level of intentionality that I’ve never heard about. It’s so special to me.

Mike Thorne: Think about, Bryan, how much time people spend to get their wedding together and all the details they do, or you work at a company, you spend all this time putting the strategy together and the prep work for the board meeting and the big sales event and all this detail and intentional work on it yet when you come to your own personal self, which is the most important thing, because if you can’t show up for yourself and you can’t bring your best self to them, what are you doing? And I didn’t do a very good job of this very early. My wife and I were challenged one time in our relationship and we ended up spending time with someone who really helped me understand that I may see things a certain way and I may feel like, “Hey, we’re fine. We’re going to be safe. Everything’s great,” but I have to understand that my wife sees things very differently and her risk tolerance is different.

So I have to get on her side and say, “Okay, how is she viewing the world and how I make sure I’m there for her.” So I think both personal and profession, we spend so little time thinking about all this and yet everything else we plan is so organized and so detailed. And yet the one that’s so important is our own selves and our personal relationships. And yet those are the two areas, yourself and your personal relationships, which can drive your energy down. And so I really took a long road to get there, Bryan, and I chose to get my MBA in life versus getting an MBA in college in business. And I feel very blessed to had the opportunity to be around some amazing people. And I wouldn’t be here without all their support and help and advice. And it’s now time for me to be even more intentional and give back as much as I can while I’m here on earth because I’ve still got a lot of years left ahead of me and I want to leave the world in a better place than it is today.

Bryan Wish: And I have no doubt that you’re at the just very beginning of the massive amount of impact you’ll have through your own voice, but you’ve been doing it for years already. And you’re just doing it maybe a little more scalably right now. And I’m excited for you, Mike. I’m excited to see you out there and just keep hearing the stories that you share with me directly about how you feel on certain days or about what’s going on and how you feel you’re doing things in alignment and it’s special. It’s special to see and be a part of in certain ways and just proud of you. Mike, I want to do one more question here and then we’ll let you go. When you think about legacy or you say at your funeral, what is the thing that either you want to have left behind or that you would love for someone to stand up and say about you?

Mike Thorne: I’ve never thought about this question, but just thinking about it out loud now I actually have this vision in my head, believe it or not. And I’d like it when people would be talking and they’re meeting people they don’t know, but they all have similar stories about me, because that speaks to my consistency as a human being and my genuineness as a person. So I’d like to think over time the people that don’t know me, but obviously… They knew me, but they don’t know other people at this funeral and they get introduced to all these people. And when they share their stories of my life or whatever, they’re consistently talking about how I was always willing to share and give whatever I had whenever they needed it. And it’s just consistently across a lot of people.

There’s probably some funny stories about things I’m not very good at, which is a long list obviously. But again, just a consistency of points of view because I’m an acquired taste, Bryan. I’m not always the easiest guy to figure out, but I would just want the consistency of point of view, because that means I was authentic throughout my life as best I could. I guess, I’d feel good that people saw that.

Bryan Wish: Wow, Mike, I think that is a way to end and such a treasured interview that I got so much out of. And I know the people listening, the people in your world, Mike, will be impacted, I think and touched. Just the heart that you brought to the conversation, what you’re doing, just how your career shaped you in a way it’s not just… What we didn’t talk as much about is how you care as a husband and a father and who you are on the personal side. It might be a round two for us, but it’s just really, really cool, Mike, and it’s been such a pleasure. So thank you. Where can people find you if they’re interested?

Mike Thorne: Right now LinkedIn is the best place to find me. I’m in the process of working on a website and other social media activities as you well know. Right now LinkedIn’s where I spend the majority of my time. So feel free to look me up at LinkedIn and ask me any questions. One, I’ll do the best I can to help wherever I can here. And thank you for all you do, Bryan, and for the work you’ve done on my behalf and for the work you guys do for people. So thank you.

Bryan Wish: Absolutely. Well, thank you.

One Away Podcast
Bryan Wish

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