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Ryan Hawk: One Unexpected Conversation Away from Starting a Podcast

What do professional quarterbacks and C-suite executives of multibillion-dollar companies have in common? 99% of the time, either of these remarkable and sought-after roles requires a lifetime commitment of training to achieve. Ryan Hawk has been both, and more. 

Ryan Hawk has not only undertaken a remarkably diverse range of professional roles in his career, but also has excelled in each and every one. His notable career has spanned from the sports to corporate worlds.

Along the way, he’s taken up the mantle of leadership and gone on to excel at every turn. He’s applied a leadership mentality everywhere he goes, from playing as Ohio University’s quarterback to serving as the VP of Sales at a major enterprise-level business.

Currently, Ryan Hawk serves as the head of the Leadership Advisory at Brixey & Meyer. Outside his main role, he’s also a sought-after keynote speaker among Fortune 500 companies who leverage his inspiring talks to motivate their teams.  

“It’s so important to me that I show up for the people who have invested in what I do.”

Ryan Hawk

RYAN HAWK’S ONE AWAY MOMENT

In this episode, Ryan Hawk shared a very important memory with me. He told about how his One Away moment came about from a chance encounter on a flight to Lake Tahoe. Sitting in the exit row, he struck up a conversation with the fascinating individual who he would come to think of as a friend by the end of the flight.

That person ultimately introduced him to billionaire entrepreneur Todd Wagner, namely Mark Cuban’s business power. Meeting Todd was the catalyst that sparked Ryan’s inner passion and motivated him to pursue his true aspiration. 

Here’s what this was like in Ryan’s own words:

“Meeting Todd Wagner was the first time I’d ever met a billionaire in person. What I found especially cool was that he was a totally normal guy. He’s very smart, but he is also very humble and kind. He always spoke highly and kindly of other people. Todd didn’t use “I” when we talked. Instead, he usually used “we.”  His attitude taught me that this was the right way to be.”

The experience of seeing firsthand Todd’s unique combination of humility, kindness and generosity matched in equal measure with true grit, hustle, and remarkable success was something Ryan Hawk had never seen a single individual embody before. Meeting Todd Wagner – and even visiting his home after an intimate dinner with close friends– gave Ryan the courage to stand out and take a risk. He went on to create his own unprecedented version of a Leadership Ph.D. Today, we know this as The Learning Leader Show.

TOP 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM RYAN HAWK

1.    If you find yourself in a position where you must pivot from a nontraditional career to a professional business role, don’t panic. Just like Ryan Hawk learned about himself, you probably already have several applicable skills under your belt. All you need to do is…

2.     Figure out what job is truly right for you before you go all in. Don’t worry about how long this takes, or if you’re not on the same track as everyone around you. Hold onto your inner courage and stand out fearlessly.

3.     Before committing to the multiple years and expensive costs of an advanced degree, consider whether you could create a similar learning experience – for both yourself and others. Ryan Hawk seriously considered going back to school to earn a Ph.D. in Leadership. Instead, he had a light bulb moment of inspiration that showed him a new path to provide those skills to others while gaining that education himself.

4.     Identify your most transformative learning moments and the significance they hold. Then, look for a unique method to teach other people in your younger self’s shoes those key takeaways.

5.     No matter how much success you achieve, always stay humble. As Ryan observed in Todd Wagner’s descriptions of achievement and big wins, it’s never about “I” – it’s always about “we.” Give credit where credit is due, and others will return the favor.

Take a moment to think about this concept in your own life. Who are those people for you?

HOW RYAN HAWK EMPOWERS THE NEXT GENERATION OF SPORTS AND BUSINESS LEADERS

Ryan Hawk is passionate about empowering people who are just starting to follow similar paths as the one his life has led him down. He works with teams and players in several national sports organizations:

  • Football players and teams from the NFL
  • Basketball teams and players from the NBA
  • Student athletes, teams, and professionals in the NCAA

For aspiring business professionals, Ryan Hawk also provides mentorship, education, and resources.

Ryan also facilitates “Leadership Circles” that offer structured guidance and collaborative feedback. These experiences are incredibly valuable for both experienced business leaders and the leaders of the future who are just starting off their careers. 

Here’s how Ryan thought through the process of launching his unique platform:

“What if I created my own form of a leadership PhD, but built the curriculum on the fly? I could pick my own professors to be my guests. Then, I could publish it publicly […] Maybe others could even learn along with me.”

LEVERAGE IN-DEPTH LEARNINGS TO ACCELERATE YOUR OWN PROFESSIONAL GROWTH

A keynote speaker, author, and advisor, Ryan Hawk is a lifelong student of leadership who now shares his wealth of accumulated and proven knowledge with aspiring minds across several channels. He hosts The Learning Leader Show, a podcast with millions of listeners in more than 150 countries. 

If you’re more of a reader than a listener, you’re in luck. As of this past January 2020 when his first book was published, Ryan is also the author of Welcome to Management: How to Grow from Top Performer To Excellent Leader. Snag your copy today to have his extensive knowledge and expertise on-hand whenever you need it.

MY PERSONAL TAKE ON A ONE-AWAY CONVERSATION WITH RYAN HAWK:

Ryan Hawk inspires me with his commitment to constantly learning and improving. I’ve invested a lot of time and effort in pathfinding and self-discovery, and Ryan is living proof of the countless benefits these processes can yield.

If I had to describe Ryan in one sentence, I’d say he is a genuine and passionate person who cares deeply about both his personal work and humanity as a whole. He really emphasizes the human level of every part of his professional path. A unique skill he possesses is the ability to listen closely to conversations, pick up on the most important takeaways, and weave those insights directly into the threads that weave through the fabric of his own life. 

I can’t wait for you to check out the latest episode of the One Away Show, featuring Ryan Hawk, for yourself! Be sure to listen to his podcast and buy his book to learn more about his fascinating career. These resources are a great way to put his extensive insights to use in your own professional life. 

If you’ve been enjoying our podcast, subscribe to be the first to know about new episodes, and please consider taking a moment to leave us a review! Follow along on YouTube above, or listen on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify. A full transcript is provided below for your convenience.

TRANSCRIPT – THE ONE AWAY SHOW FEATURING RYAN HAWK:

BRYAN WISH:  Welcome to the One Away Show, Ryan! I would love to hear more about you and your One Away moment. 

RYAN HAWK:   Here’s how my One Away moment happened. In a stroke of good fortune during a flight out west to Lake Tahoe, I found myself sitting in an exit row seat. Normally, I either read a book or watch a movie to pass the time on an airplane. 

This flight was different, and it changed my life. The gentleman sitting next to me asked me some questions, and we started a conversation. Later on, I found out he worked with Todd Wagner, who is Mark Cuban’s business partner. 

Over the course of a 4+ hour flight, we found ourselves becoming friends. I showed him I was curious about studying people who have sustained excellence over an extended period of time. Based on this passion of mine, he said he would  be happy to introduce me. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with that introduction at the time. At minimum, I knew I definitely wanted to talk to somebody like Todd Wagner. 

Long story short, he set up a meeting for me. I flew down to where Todd was located at the time to meet him and a few others for dinner. He got to the hotel early, and we talked for a while beforehand. I had the unique opportunity to really ask him anything. 

Todd was gracious, kind, and humble. He answered all my questions about how he and Mark Cuban started broadcast.com. I heard about the entire process, from day one until they were eventually sitting across the table from the leaders at Yahoo (back when it was competitive to Google). 

The two of them were able to negotiate a sale for over $5 billion, making both of them billionaires. Todd has gone down more of the philanthropic route. Mark, on the other hand, went on to Shark Tank and bought the Dallas Mavericks among other endeavors. Despite the difference in the paths they chose, they are still business partners to this day. 

That initial conversation left me with this yearning desire and curiosity to learn even more. I so badly wished that 100 of my closest friends could have been in the room with me, listening to that conversation I had with Todd. 

Eventually, I decided to start a podcast called The Learning Leader Show because my favorite leaders seemed to be ones who were striving to learn all the time. In one of the first episodes, I “redid” that conversation with Todd Wagner. He was one of my earlier guests on the podcast. In the almost six years since then, I’ve released 380+ episodes. This experience has changed my life.

BRYAN WISH:  Take us back to before you met Todd Wagner. Why were you so excited to meet him?

RYAN HAWK:   My leadership started in the second grade when the coach had me play quarterback for my elementary school’s football team. As I grew up, I played several sports over the years:

  • Football
  • Baseball
  • Basketball

I ended up earning a college scholarship. I played quarterback in college; started at Miami University and eventually would finish my career at Ohio University. Then, my transitioned to the inevitable point when I was no longer good enough to play professional football afterwards. 

At some point in time, everybody gets told you’re no longer wanted to play sports anymore. That happened to me a couple years after my college career ended. I played briefly in the Canadian Football League, as well as in Birmingham, Alabama in the arena football league. 

After that, I was forced to do something else professionally for the first time since I could ever remember. This meant having to “get a real job,” since I could no longer play sports for a living. Essentially, that’s what I had done all through high school and college. I’d always say I was an athlete first and then a student second.

When I had to step into the professional world for the first time, I had to think carefully about what I should do. I got a job in sales as an inside sales professional working for a great company called Lexus Nexus. The business also paid for me to further my education. I got my MBA while working there. F

Fortunately, things had gone well. I’d tried really hard to learn from the people who were really good at my role. Here are some of the ways I did so:

  • Interviewing 
  • Shadowing
  • Spending weekends with more senior coworkers

Essentially, I was doing whatever I could in order to learn and get better at something I had never done before. This first job led to a couple promotions and so on. 

Before that fateful meeting with Todd Wagner, I’d already been promoted a few times. I was in a leadership position at that point. I’d just earned my MBA, which took me six years to get because I was going to school while working a full-time job. 

At that point, I had a decision to make.  I had to ask myself some tough questions:

“What should I do next?” 

Should I go back to school and get a PhD?

Honestly, I wasn’t really sure. 

The timing of that meeting was so fortuitous. I thought to myself,

“What if I created my own form of a leadership PhD, but built the curriculum on the fly? I could pick my own professors to be my guests. Then, I could publish it publicly so others can judge me as they listen to me making a fool of myself as I’m trying to learn. Maybe others could even learn along with me.”

Fortunately, this new kind of community has really flourished. I’m certainly proud of that part.

BRYAN WISH:  It sounds like even before you met Todd Wagner, before the development of The Learning Leaders Show, you were always curious about learning, bettering yourself, and furthering your education.

Take us back to the conversation with Todd. What was it like talking to someone who had achieved so much success? What did you learn from him? How did it transpire and lead you to go on to new endeavors after that conversation?

RYAN HAWK:  Meeting Todd Wagner was the first time I’d ever met a billionaire in person. What I found especially cool was that he was a totally normal guy. He’s very smart, but he is also very humble and kind. He always spoke highly and kindly of other people. 

Todd didn’t use “I” when we talked. Instead, he usually used “we.”  His attitude taught me that this was the right way to be. I ended up going to his house with a few other guys after our dinner that night. It was only one of his homes, but I’d never seen anything like it – and I still haven’t.  

Seeing this emblem of success taught me, 

“Wow, this guy who came from humble beginnings became a billionaire, but you would never really know that by how he dresses or acts.”

In fact, he seemed like other great leaders I’ve been around who aren’t billionaires. What all these people I admire have in common is the fact that they’re inquisitive, kind, and give credit to others.

Don’t get me wrong, Todd was definitely able to grind. Him and Mark worked really hard for years to put themselves in that position. That’s what I learned is the work ethic is there but also the humility and the willingness to give. He didn’t have any reason to meet with me. He was not benefiting at all. He was doing it as a favor and to be a good guy. He certainly didn’t have to invite us back to his house afterwards too. It was a moment to say hopefully things can go well.

I don’t ever intend to be a billionaire. Nonetheless, I hope I can always maintain that level of humility and curiosity and willingness to give to others. 

BRYAN WISH:  A friend of mine does a lot of investments on behalf of billionaires. She said to me, “The biggest difference I see between millionaires and billionaires is very clear to me. A lot of billionaires, they always are seeing so much. They’re always seeing so much possibility. They are so stretched out into how they see things and the way they cast the vision.” She said, “The millionaires I work with are much more risk averse.” From meeting Todd, how would you describe his mindset?

RYAN HAWK:   At the stage of his life, when I met him, and he’s still this way from what I know, he was thinking completely philanthropically. How could I give back and help others? He also wanted to use technology. He was partnering with companies who were using technology, using social media, and different tools in order to do that more effectively. He wasn’t just slowing down and saying, “Where can I get my money?” He was thinking, “How can I utilize technology?”

That’s how they came up with creating the website broadcast.com, back before it was normal to broadcast sports or live events on the internet. They were really the pioneers of that. I’d say he shifted to use the best of what he’s already learned and put it into the area that he’s most interested in doing which is helping other people. 

Finding a way to put his money to good use to support others. That’s the kind of the state I found him in. How can I use my skill set, use what I’ve learned, use what I’ve developed to now help in another way? I found that quite inspiring and still do. 

BRYAN WISH:  When you were together, what were you guys talking about? 

RYAN HAWK:   I was just asking questions about what was it like at the beginning when you’re trying to build something from nothing? How did you choose to partner with Mark? What was the process of building? What was it like, specifically at the end, when you’re sitting – this part was really gripping, I found, when he’s sitting at the table with the leaders at Yahoo.

He said, “Look, you’re either going to buy us or you’re going to have to compete with us. You decide.” Then, they walked away with the 5+ billion dollars which was incredible. I love books that are the inside stories of how something happened. For example, Shoe Dog is a fantastic book because Phil Knight – it’s written like a novel.

He takes you inside the building of one of the most iconic companies of all time, Nike. I love biographies, autobiographies. I love the oral histories. One of the podcasts I’m listening to is by a guy I’ve been fortunate to get to know, Brian Baumgartner from The Office, the oral history of the office. 

I love that stuff. I love hearing the oral histories of how something was built, how something was created because it’s inspiring to me because you go back to the beginning of those stories and they all are similar in the fact that it is such a long shot for the thing to work. 

They’re all like you and me; all of us are trying to build something. You always see the little moments along the way, the inflection points. These are the ways people are willing to grind and work towards the same goal, day after day after day.

With a little bit of luck, they make the most of it. When they run into some bad luck, they’re able to bounce back. All those parts of the entrepreneurial process are what I love to get inside. That’s why I love having a podcast. It gives me a unique chance to talk to people about these times. 

My favorite thing is to have long form one-on-one conversations with people and go deep quickly. I don’t like big crowds. I don’t like dinner parties. I like finding an interesting person and going deep with them for a long time. That’s what I got to do and that’s what I get to do now pretty much full-time. 

I still facilitate leadership teams and groups and help them out. I love also working one-on-one with people who are thoughtful, intentional leaders. I  push them a bit and ask them questions to make them think a little bit differently. I feel very grateful I get the opportunity to do that just about every day. 

BRYAN WISH:  That moment gave you a deep appreciation for long form conversations and maybe it reinvigorated that deep connection in you. You built a very successful podcast and leadership platform. How did that come about? Was that directly tied to Todd’s experience?

RYAN HAWK:   I would attribute a lot of it to my background working in sales. When you start a podcast, especially before podcasts were as en vogue as they are now; almost six years ago, and you ask people to be a guest on your show when you have no platform. You don’t even have a website or show yet. That’s hard. You’re going to get a ton of rejection. You’re going to get ignored a lot. Nobody is a good interviewer right away. It takes time. It takes repetition. 

I’ve yet to find one. I just spoke with Guy Raz from How I Built This; one of the best shows in the world. Guy said, “I’ve got 25,000 reps at this. That’s why I’ve gotten pretty good at it.” I thought that’s a great point. You combine all that but that thought of getting good at a skill that I think is very useful to develop which is interviewing and communicating in a succinct way, speaking into a microphone regularly. 

My dad told me, from a young age, work and develop your skills as a communicator. Be able to write well. Be able to get up in front of a group and give a 1-minute speech, a 5-minute speech, a 10-minute talk, a 60-minute talk. Work on developing those skills. 

Having a podcast, having long form conversations, especially as the interviewer, forces you to think what questions could I ask? How could I use my ability as a listener to ask even better follow-up questions that get us to go to a different place that perhaps that guest has never gone before?

I love that challenge. I love the willingness to put yourself out there to potentially look like a fool at times but then get back up and keep going. My first job in sales was a cold calling. I dialed around 80 numbers a day as a brand-new business sales professional. I was constantly calling people who don’t have our product. 

That experience got me used to getting rejected yet keep fighting until you were able to have some success. I try to do that with growing my podcast. The biggest hurdle is always to just keep at it. Just keep going day after day after day, when most people would quit. 

BRYAN WISH:  I think you have millions of downloads in. You have over 50 countries or a big global audience behind you. Did you envision that from the start when you set out to do this years ago?

RYAN HAWK:  No, I didn’t set goals. My main thought was I wanted to be good enough so I could build a platform so that I could keep doing it. The greatest reward for doing well is the opportunity to keep doing it. That’s truly what I believe. If it did well and people listened at a higher clip.

I figured that would build a bigger platform that could then enable me to reach out to more and more impressive people. That’s exactly what is happening now. A lot of them even come to me; that’s how it normally works now.

I have relationships with about 10-15 PR representatives of all of the people around the world who are doing big things. Usually these are good relationships that I’ve really built. 

Now, I have even more access to pick and choose the people I get to meet with. I get to say, “Who am I most curious to do 10-15 hours of research on prior to the interview?” because that’s what it takes. At that point, then have the conversation with those people. That’s really what I’d hoped. I never thought I’d be a business or anything. 

I never thought that I would be speaking on stages because of it. All I wanted to do was to keep doing it and I assumed I would keep my job and I’d keep doing this on the side and doing it on the side would make me better at my job because I’d be a better communicator, a better interviewer. 

I would build out the people and relationships that I had. That was my original intent, at least. That all changed three years ago when I was offered the opportunity to partner with some incredible people. Now, I do this for a living full-time. 

BRYAN WISH:  You said you wanted to build something that you could sustain and build upon so you could keep doing it. You’ve created a platform that can sustain you as you go and that’s been very intentional from the start. 

This has created compounding results. I was turned onto this show right around 2017 but it does such a good job interviewing people who, in your eyes, are leaders and they sustain excellence.

BRYAN WISH: What have you learned about being a leader? I know you wrote a book called Welcome to Management about transitioning from being a manager to a leader in that process. In your eyes, after all these interviews, what does that take to do well? 

RYAN HAWK: There’s a lot there. If I had to distill it down to two things, first, here are the main commonalities I’ve noticed among leaders who are sustaining excellence and the people I’ve been fortunate enough to speak with:

  • They’re all very thoughtful individuals. 
  • They don’t just haphazardly make decisions based on nothing. 
  • They think things through. 
  • They’re reflective.
  • They have high levels of awareness both spatial, of those around them, and of the self. That comes from being a thoughtful and reflective person. 
  • They’re measured, which is aquality most good quarterbacks have. They have that moxie about them because they can stay calm when the storm is happening all around them. I identify with that as a former quarterback. 

Secondly, they go from that thoughtful and reflective person and they’re very intentional with their actions and their behaviors. They’re not wandering around through life. They have thought things through. They’ve reflected on what they’ve learned. Most of them have the mind of an experimenter. They think, “I’m going to take action based upon what I’ve learned.”

That mentality leads them to more learning, opportunities, and probably to meeting some pretty cool people. Like Scott Belsky told me, he’s always interested in hiring people who are more interesting each time he meets with them. 

The only way to be that type of person is to intentionally put yourself in situations to live an interesting life. I try to be that type of person. I found that seems to be in common with the people I’m lucky enough to have on my show. 

BRYAN WISH:  If you had to pick 3-5 episodes, for someone from age 22-27, what direction would you point them right away?

RYAN HAWK:   You’re asking me to pick my favorite kid. Episode 78 with Kat Cole. Terrible audio but doesn’t matter. You’ll forget how bad the audio is. She called on a phone. I don’t normally do them on the phone. You’ll forget within five minutes because she is so good, so smart. That’s still one of the best episodes ever and it was 3-4 years ago. 

I really enjoyed episode 216 with Jim Collins – he was just fantastic. I also had Admiral William McRaven on earlier this year. I recorded that with hundreds of people watching us live. That one was great because McRaven is an incredible communicator and a great storyteller and also has lived an insanely interesting life:

  • He led the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden. 
  • He was in charge of monitoring the jail of Saddam Hussein for 30 days. 
  • He led the rescue of Captain Phillips… Among many other things he’s done

He gave one of the iconic graduation commencement speeches at University of Texas called Make Your Bed. This dude is incredible. Regardless of age, you’ll get a lot out of those three podcasts. I did one about my wife too, by the way. If anyone cares to know about me and my relationship and my struggles and how my wife was the true champion of our relationship; that’s 375. That one is completely different than the other ones but it’s more if you’re looking at interpersonal relationships with a spouse. 

BRYAN WISH: When you’re going into an interview, what are you doing to set yourself up for success?

RYAN HAWK: It could start in two different places. One, there are some guests that I have that I’ve been reading and studying their work for years. Good to Great by Jim Collins was like my management bible. It’s the first real substantive leadership book I’d ever read. I’ve been preparing for that episode, for that conversation for years.

Leading up to it, I would say I did the following:

  • Reread the book, Great by Choice, another one of his classics
  • Watched basically every video I could find online
  • Read articles written about him
  • Spoke with his team a number of times on the phone 

Leading up to the day-of, I had to say to myself, “Is there anything that is not found on the internet that I could potentially say to him?” 

That’s another thing I do with other guests if I know a friend of a friend or somebody that knows them pretty well. I will reach out to them. This is how if you read to the Ozan Varol episode, his buddy Shane Snow.

Another previous guest told me, “Ask him why he still gets DVDs from Netflix instead of watching it like all the rest of us do.” That encounter led me to this incredible conversation at the end. Little things like that. If you look at my notes, I’ll usually have 3-4 pages of ideas of thoughts and I’ll have a manilla envelope that I’ll script out a potential order based on highlights from my notes. 

Once it starts, you have to just let it go. It feels just like when I played football. We were super methodical about every last detail:

  • Preparation 
  • Scripting
  • What we were trying to attack
  • How we were going to take advantage of the deficiencies of a defense 

Despite all this planning, we still had to be willing and able to adapt based upon what showed up on game day. It wasn’t always what we saw on film. I take the same approach to interviewing. I’ve always got to be ready to go.

I don’t script the episodes, but I do have an idea of where I want to go. I always have a sense of what I’ll want to highlight, and then we see how it goes. Sometimes it goes pretty according to the outline and script, but other times, it ends up not even close. In those incidences, I always wonder “how did that even happen?”

That’s just part of getting the reps. It’s all about being agile and willing to adapt on the fly, which can even be fun. 

That’s why this is so fun, Bryan. You never know what’s going to happen. You had an idea of how this was going to go. You have an idea of what you’re going to ask but you don’t know exactly what I’m going to say. I might take it in a different direction and then you have to be willing to go with it and that’s the fun. You just don’t know. I love those nerves leading up to those conversations to say, “Am I going to be able to hang? Am I going to be able to hold my own?” I love that challenge. I need challenges.  

BRYAN WISH:  When we were in Minneapolis for the Final Four and you were about to interview John Calipari and I remember just watching. You were very peculiar in how you presented questions.

You did a ton of research beforehand, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell in the interview because it came across so natural and organic. You set yourself up for success because of the preparation.

RYAN HAWK: You know it’s going well when you make it look easy. I want all of that prep, when I get up on stage, whether I’m giving a talk or I’m doing an interview on stage in front of all these basketball coaches and athletic directors, with John Calipari, who has this air about him.

Even I was with him prior to us going on stage and seeing how everyone in the room deferred to his power. It really felt like a powerful person. I knew, when I got up on stage, before we went up, I was not going to defer to him. I was going to tell him we are equals here. 

Without saying that but by showing them from a confidence perspective, “I’m ready to go. Here are some things I want to talk about. What do you think?” It wasn’t like, “Oh, sir, what should I do?” No. I was letting him know this is what I’m thinking so that we could have a conversation and he’s not going to treat me like a media person but a regular person he’d be talking to.

My hope is to do the same thing. I talked a lot with Brian Koppelman about this. How to manage and handle powerful people is one, if I can show him that I’m prepared, I’m ready to go, and I’m not afraid; that’s going to lead to a better conversation. 

My prep is what helps me not be afraid. Was I afraid when Jason asked me to do it? Yeah, I was a little scared. What am I going to do? What am I going to say? I don’t know what to do. By the time it was game time for me, I was ready to go. 

I wasn’t scared. I was nervous, but I wasn’t really scared because I knew my prep had enabled me to have a free-flowing conversation with him without really even looking at my notes. I was happy with the way it went. 

BRYAN WISH:  Your podcast, your conversation with Todd, and everything you’ve built has led to more opportunities for you. Your platform is beginning to sustain itself more and more as a speaker and the book you just wrote. I’d love to understand how the book came about and why you thought it was important to write. There’s a sea of leadership books but you were really trying to pin a very specific topic and go very acute. 

RYAN HAWK:  About 75 episodes in, I started getting requests to speak on stages. Inevitably, at the end of every talk, people would ask about, “Do you have a book? Do you have something I could read?” 

That started planting seeds in my mind which I was thinking about 75 episodes in. I started talking a lot of notes and trying to get some sort of formulation of what a book could look like around that time just writing in a Google Doc. 

I got more serious about it as time went on because I kept getting that request. I wanted to do it because I thought it’d be a great challenge. I view myself as an average writer, not great. I want to be great at it. I knew the only way to do it would basically be to create some sort of forcing function that would make me write every day. I hired a writing coach. We put together a proposal. 

Then, I hired another writing coach and we redid the proposal. I was fortunate that one of the literary agents in the world, Jim Levine, after he read it, offered some notes and feedback. He agreed to represent me as my agent.

I wrote the book, put it up for bid, and it got a few offers. At that point, I decided, “Well, I’m going to do this thing.” I had committed to finishing 60,000 words within five months before my publisher, McGraw Hill, needed that book. I had written some of it in the proposal stage when you wrote some sample chapters that I could use and then I went hard at it. 

I’m a prompt, driven writer. I need to sit with people who ask me questions and we honed in on this leap from individual contributor to manager because I don’t think there’s a lot out there for that specific time in someone’s life. In my case, there’s a lot of sales professionals in the world that end up at the top of the sack rankings, as I was.

When you get promoted, it’s a completely different job. However, there is no training, no book, and no manual. There’s nothing there to help you. You usually have to do what I did, which is to make a ton of mistakes. 

You also have hope you get lucky, like I did, with a couple of really great hires. I also made a ton of mistakes. Many people I hired weren’t a good fit, and only stayed with the company for at most three years.

I really wrote the book for that person, for me, at that stage in my career. It’s a combination of what I’ve learned from the podcast. I’ve learned, from my own experiences meshed together with some additional research I’d done, that that’s what it is all about. 

“Welcome to Management” literally means that moment when you’re welcomed to management for the first time. 

Fortunately, the cool thing about it is how far it seems to have spread beyond that jump in your career. Many people who are senior managers or senior execs, and have been in that role for 20 years+ often say, “I’ve gotten a lot of value out of this book. My entire organization is going to read it.” It’s been cool to see that broadening beyond the smaller niche. 

BRYAN WISH:  What are some of the mistakes you’ve made? What are some of the pitfalls to avoid?

RYAN HAWK:  I thought I had to be the chief answer officer. When you get promoted at a young age and most of the people on my team are older than me, and they come to you with questions. When you don’t know, you often just make stuff up. 

That’s definitely a big mistake I made a lot when first hiring, I had no clue what I was doing. I had four open positions on my team. At one point, I literally told another manager, “I don’t even know what to say. I don’t know what to ask. I’ve never done this before.”

He forwarded me an email that had been forwarded to him by like four other managers down the chain. 

The email contained a set of about 25 questions. Some of them were fine questions, but they largely had no purpose. It wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s do an exercise. What are you actually looking for? What are the qualities or the attributes or the behaviors that lead to success in this specific role? Why don’t we do that exercise and then formulate the questions based up on that.” Something as simple as that type of exercise most of us are used to these days was never done. I felt stuck asking random, stupid questions, hoping to get lucky. I had to use this process with a few of those first hires, and the whole onboarding experience came down to pure luck. 

There were simply so many unknowns at first:

  • I didn’t know what I was looking for. 
  • I didn’t know how to hire. 
  • I didn’t really know how to run meetings

As a result, I followed what the person in my position before me had done. A lot of people fall into this pattern. Ultimately, you also end up copying all of their mistakes.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of struggling managers out there. Everyone listening to this has had a bad boss – unless they’re young, in which case they just haven’t yet.  Most listeners probably will relate to this type of manager: Someone who thinks they know everything, or at least acts like they know everything. Many of them, however, are not really sure how to run efficient meetings and really get stuff done. They certainly have no clue about how to hire anybody. Those are important things you need to learn. 

BRYAN WISH:  Why is the leadership aspect, when you’re put into a management position, so hard and there’s not much education around it?

RYAN HAWK:  There’s some imposter syndrome there. If you get promoted early, you have people who have more experience than you. You feel you have to know everything because you’re insecure. 

The secure leader easily says, “I don’t know but I’m committed to finding out.” 

That’s the right answer if you don’t know. If you’re insecure, lack confidence, or even have a little bit of imposter syndrome, you’re always going to come up with some random obstacle. Most of the time, it probably doesn’t even make any sense. Hiring wise, you simply can’t  know what you don’t know. 

If you’ve never hired someone before, the chances of you being good at it aren’t very high unless you’ve had incredible teachers and mentors that have taught you specifically their process and you’ve been able to take it in. 

You’re not going to become a quarterback by just watching a film and somebody else play. You’ve got to play and feel what it’s like to have the defensive lineman right in your face. You have to step into the middle of the action and make the throw on time. Even practice doesn’t fully help you feel what that’s truly like. 

From a management perspective, my hope is that I’m not going to be able to get them all the way with the book but I can get them a lot further along than I was so that when they are, with live bullets flying, as we say in football, they’re better prepared and in a better position than I was where I was literally doing it for the first time without anything there kind of help me out. 

BRYAN WISH: You live life with a lot of goals at the forefront. Your actions clearly back up the things you care about, too. When it’s all said and done, on the tombstone, take me there. What’s the legacy you want to leave behind personally and professionally?

RYAN HAWK:  I hope people know how grateful I am for my wife, Miranda, and our daughters. First and foremost, I hope people see that I tried hard to be a good dad and a great husband. 

Secondly, I want people to remember that I was in constant pursuit of excellence. I hope my work can positively impact other people’s lives, both at home and at work. 

Leadership is so important to me. That’s why it’s a topic I focus on so often. I love to study. I think valuing and striving for excellence is so important. This isn’t always the case. Even though this seems obvious, it’s not always the case  – especially if you look closer at some peoples’ actions, rather than just listening to their words.

At the end of my time, I hope people would say, “He’s the type of guy who strives for excellence and works really hard and consistently shows up and is thoughtful about things and is reliable.” 

I take a lot of pride in the fact that my show has never missed a Sunday at 7:00 EST. My Mindful Monday Series has never missed a single morning episode in 224 consecutive Mondays. Milestones like these are important to me. I want to be remembered as somehow who always showed up for the people who have invested in what I do. 

When you have millions of people who have invested hours and hours of their life, that’s important to me. I want to be there for those people, too. 

There’s a correct order for me, which is the one I said:

1.     My wife is first

2.     Our children are second

3.     Everybody else is third. 

That is what I’m striving to do. 

BRYAN WISH:  Tell us where to find you.

RYAN HAWK:  You can text the word “learners” to 44222 if you’re listening on your phone. Everything else about me is on learningleader.com, my website.

One Away Podcast
Catherine Kushan

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