This week we’re joined by Chris Lema. Chris is a Product Strategist, a people manager, a speaker, and a blogger. He also works with companies to help them build better software products.
Note: This episode originally aired October 26, 2016.
In this episode Brian Gardner, Lauren Mancke, and Chris Lema discuss:
- Aligning your work with your areas of expertise
- Making a course correction in your career
- Defining leadership by difficult decisions
- Leveraging WordPress in your business
- Leadership that requires a move beyond good
- Taking the leap to achieving success
- Being sold on yourself to become the leader you were meant to be
The Show Notes
- Follow Chris on Twitter
- Visit ChrisLema.com
- Chris’ Online Courses
- Chris’ Books and Products
- Beyond Good
How to Be a Great Community Leader, with Chris Lema
Lauren Mancke: On this week’s episode, we’re joined by Chris Lema to discuss how to be a good and effective community leader.
Brian Gardner: Hey, everyone. Welcome to StudioPress FM. I am your host, Brian Gardner, and I’m joined, as always, with the vice president of StudioPress, Lauren Mancke.
Lauren Mancke: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us this week. We are continuing our series on talking to members of the WordPress community.
Brian Gardner: Now, when we refer to them as ‘members,’ we also refer to them as ‘experts’ because, in fact, these people are. I’m very happy today. We are joined by Chris Lema. Chris is a product strategist, people manager, a speaker, and a blogger. He also works with companies to help them build better software products, run better software development teams, improve their marketing messages, and bring their products to market.
Chris, it’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Welcome.
Chris Lema: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Brian Gardner: You’re one of those guys who I knew for a fact, even back when we were first talking about StudioPress FM, I said, “We have to have Chris on the show.” It was just a matter of trying to figure out what topic in particular. There’s probably about 10 that I could’ve approached you with. I’m glad that you decided to talk to us. We are talking about leadership and how to be a good and effective community leader.
We oversee a pretty big community ourselves in our little world here at StudioPress. We are close to 200,000 strong. A lot of them are active in the community as developers, designers, and users. I thought it would be a great fit to have you on the show, so let’s kick this off.
I know you’re a humble guy, right? From what I’ve seen on your website and the experiences I’ve personally had with you, you don’t love to talk about yourself. In fact, we had an email exchange just over the weekend, and you made a joke and said, “Oh, gosh. This is all about me.” I know you were sort of kidding. This is our interview and our show, so I’m calling the shots here. Give us the skinny on who you are, what you do, and how you came about.
The Skinny on Chris
Chris Lema: I am a guy who’s had the privilege of doing, roughly speaking, the same thing for more than 20 years. If you are a travel agent or a photographer and your world got pulled out from under you, through no fault of your own, because technology changed, then that’s a bummer, right? For me, I started working with the web in ’94 and started building applications, websites that were functional verses just kind of brochure-ware, back then. That has taken off, and we’ve changed the name of what those applications are from ASP to SaaS. That has also gone up and to the right.
I’m a guy who’s just been in a really lucky place where there’s been just tremendous growth, and I’ve been given the opportunity to build software, lead people, and do that for a whole bunch of years. In the midst of that, about 10 years ago, 11 years ago, I started working with WordPress and about five and a half years ago started trying to get involved in the community.
Lauren Mancke: On the front page of your website you have a section that says, “I speak. I coach. I write.” Such a simple, great breakdown. Which of those, though, is your favorite and why? Also, touch on which one of those is maybe your least favorite.
Public Speaking vs. Writing
Chris Lema: My favorite is public speaking. When I get to stand on a stage, when I get to speak and tell stories, and watch people engage, watch the aha moment when they realize you’re telling a story, but the story has a point — “I’m trying to predict what the point is. Then I’m trying to figure out how it relates to me, and then, aha, now I saw it. I get it, and this means so many things for me” — that’s my all-time favorite.
Probably the hardest one for me is writing. When I first started writing, it was hard to figure out how to use my everyday voice and my storytelling voice in writing. I felt like, “Okay, I am not a writer,” and so you’d sit down to write and feel like, “Okay. That’s probably not the right words, or that’s not the right sentence structure.” Writing is harder. Public speaking is a lot easier for me. I love doing it. Thankfully, I get the opportunity to do it. It’s a lot of fun.
Brian Gardner: Now, it’s funny … and, Lauren, I think you can probably side with me on this one. You know where I’m going with this one. It’s funny, Chris, to hear you say, “I love public speaking. It comes easy to me. I enjoy that, but the writing thing … ” As a person who much prefers to write over public speak, and I’m sure Lauren’s the same way, it’s interesting. It shows two different types of minds, skillsets, and all of that.
In my mind, I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, my gosh. You put me on stage. I’m going to freeze,” but I can control the mood, control what I say and how I say it when I write. I can prepare it all ahead of time, and then I can kind of caress it. Yes, I don’t get the aha moment, necessarily, that you might get, and there are people like you who I have envy for, sure, who can go up on stage and speak. Jerod Morris from our company is another one of those guys where I just want to walk out of the room when I see him talk. It’s funny because I’m sure Lauren and I resonate. I’m sure others resonate as well with that. It’s just interesting to hear you say that.
Chris Lema: Well, part of it is I’m just very comfortable adjusting and connecting as I’m speaking. I’m doing this constant calculus of where to take it, how far to go — do I veer off course or not — based on the feedback I’m getting from an audience, or at least the first set of rows of an audience.
In writing, that feedback is only in your head. There’s no one reading it as you’re writing and giving you the, “Yeah. I’m with you,” or, “I think you lost me,” or, “Go deeper into that.” It’s harder for me to do that.
Brian Gardner: Well, different strokes for different folks, right? We’re all wired differently. If we were all writers and no one could speak, we’d live in a pretty bad world.
All right. Speaking of speaking — ha-ha, pun intended — I think of you as a guy who’s all over the place all the time. About five years ago, there was this movie that came out. My wife dragged me to it. It was with Sarah Jessica Parker. I think it was called something like I Don’t Know How She Does it. It was about this mom who had a job, kids, and all of these responsibilities. She was everywhere, all over the place. It was fine. We got through the movie and all that, but it makes me think of you.
Before we go any further, I have to just ask, Chris. As a person who writes, speaks, blogs, coaches, and travels almost as much as Brian and Jennifer Bourn seem to, although they’re more local, but you fly everywhere, man. How do you do it? How do you do all the things that you do? — and you do them well. You’re always traveling, whether it be at conferences, vacations with your family, or combinations of the two. You’re blogging. You’re teaching. You’re consulting. You’re everywhere. How do you do it?
Aligning Your Work with Your Areas of Expertise
Chris Lema: I think it goes back to I try and do a few things, and then do them more often than not and try and leverage the benefit of them a lot. Let me explain what I’m talking about. I gave a talk this last week in Fargo, North Dakota, but the talk that I gave to a group, the Association of Advertising, that talk I gave had a lot of material that is going into a new book. I’m re-purposing both bits of that, but it comes out of having spent three years consulting and coaching people on some of the same material.
I think part of the issue is because I don’t have to change what I do over and over again. Because my industry, what I do, and the way I work is consistent and constant, I get the benefit of being able to just leverage a lot of what I’m doing in a lot of different ways. If I had to come up with brand-new research for every talk I was giving, brand-new research for every post I was writing, and brand-new research for every bit of coaching or consulting I was doing, it would blow up the amount of work I had to do.
I try and keep everything … maybe the word we’re talking about here is ‘alignment.’ By keeping strong alignment around two or three areas that I focus on, I get to benefit from that when I go to do all the different stuff I’m doing.
Brian Gardner: That’s interesting. You’re speaking to something that we talk about a lot on the blog at Copyblogger and us as a company at Rainmaker Digital, which is re-purposing content — whether it be taking podcast interviews and re-purposing that into blog posts or, in your case, experience with consulting and then taking that and putting it into blog posts, but maybe extracting some of that and using that in keynote speeches and stuff like that.
From a content standpoint, re-purposing would be the way that you move efficiently, right? Is that what you’re saying?
Chris Lema: Yup.
Brian Gardner: Interesting.
Lauren Mancke: Yeah. That sounds really smart. Let’s talk a little bit about WordPress specifically. You touched on it a little bit earlier. Let’s talk about how it pertains to you and what you’re doing. How did you get involved with WordPress, and where do you see your current role in the community?
Making a Course Correction in Your Career
Chris Lema: I started using the product 11 years ago. It was mostly to save work. In those days, either you were using pure HTML or … I was playing with both websites that were pure HTML and others that were CMSs like PHP-Nuke or other solutions. The whole point was to try and give a website to a client and let them manage their content without calling you back — again, to make your life far more efficient and aligned.
I chanced upon WordPress one weekend, and that changed it up for me. I just started doing everything with WordPress. I was coaching a lot of startups in the time. Mostly, I was doing product strategy, but every now and then startups would need a website. I would help them get that site up, so WordPress was really great.
About five and a half years ago, we moved from Northern California in Silicon Valley. We moved to San Diego, and I had no coaching clients down here. I had no consulting gigs down here. I had no places that asked me to speak because I was a non-known entity down here. I said, “Oh. Why don’t I blog?” I thought, “What would I blog about?” It took a couple weeks and months to figure out. I said, “You know what? Maybe I can help in the WordPress space, but with something different.”
I’m constantly someone who says, “Try and take a corner that isn’t congested and doesn’t have someone taking it because it’s a lot easier to take that corner than if you’re writing the same posts that 40 other people are writing.”
For me, the business side of WordPress was an easy corner to take. Other than Bill Erickson giving a talk here or there, which always was fantastic and phenomenal, nobody else was really talking about the business side. I said, “Well, I have a lot of business expertise in the software space. Maybe I can help there.” I started writing about that and started writing about some of the more complex notions of WordPress that people weren’t spending a lot of time on. It blossomed from there.
Brian Gardner: It’s funny you say that ¬– there weren’t a lot of people writing about business and WordPress. From my perspective, there’s probably a degree of fear, fear of, “I don’t want to share my secrets,” the trade secrets that brought me from a guy sitting at a desk job to making six figures a month in selling WordPress themes. There’s a lot of business expertise I could have shared, but of course, there’s a part of me that was like, “Why would I want to share that?” As un-open source as that might seem, that’s just the reality of it.
It’s nice to see that you come in at it from the perspective of a guy with business knowledge and bringing it to the WordPress community — rather than just someone who’s talking about their success within WordPress.
What took you so long, though? You said that you started WordPress 10 or 11 years ago, but you only got into the community five or six years. What happened in that first five or six years, and then what changed? What made you decide now it’s time to jump in and really just become ultimately what you are now, which is a leader?
Chris Lema: I don’t ever really predict where it’s going to end up. I want to be clear about that. A lot of people I think try and be the next ______, the next Brian Gardner, the next Brian Clark, the next whoever — whatever name you put in there. You’re like, “I want to be the next Carrie Dils.” You’re like, “Hold on, I can’t be those things. I can be me.”
I think part of the transition was figuring out what I knew, what I liked, what I felt like I could give, and what was comfortable and easy in that context. Part of it was moving to a new place, not knowing anyone, and saying, “I’m going to have to resort to a different skill,” which is writing versus public speaking.
Part of it was saying, “I have a prediction about this WordPress thing. I have a feeling that, over the course of time, marketing companies will stop wanting to use their IT departments and want to do it themselves. I think I found a tool that they will like, but as they do that big companies will start using WordPress. Currently, the ecosystem that’s here is not mature enough to understand how to work with big companies, but I have that background. Maybe I can help them start thinking through what they’re doing and also in the long run help WordPress grow into something that can be adopted and worked with in the enterprise level. That’s where I bring some value.”
I think it’s a lot of those things coming together and saying, “All right. Let’s give this a shot.” You take little risks, you invest in little bits, and then you see, “Am I getting any positive feedback?” The feedback takes a little while. Then, over time, it starts building on. Then you go, “Oh. Hey, look. It’s all working out.”
Defining Leadership by Difficult Decisions
Brian Gardner: That’s great perspective. I like that, a lot actually. That’s really good food for thought, even for me, just moving forward in what I want to continue to do and thinking about just the legacy I want to leave and so forth.
So a few years ago, you were invited by the folks and some of your friends over at Crowd Favorite, a big WordPress company, to serve on their board of directors. Not even two years later — I think it was, what, 19 months I think your bog post said — 19 months later you stepped down.
In your words, you said, “I love WordPress. Nothing about that is changing. I love all of my friends at Crowd Favorite. That’s not changing either, but professionally, it’s time to make a course correction.” Interesting phrase that you used there. I think a good leader really shines when he or she has to make a difficult decision. It’s easy to be a leader when things are going great, but when it’s time to say, “We have to shift, to adjust, or what not,” and to then have to communicate that to the people who are in your world at that point, and that was a difficult decision for you. That I know.
With so many people looking up to you in the community and the risk of letting some of them down, walk us through the decision and how you made that. It just seems like it would have been easier to just stay on. You disrupted your life and, in a way, probably much more beneficially than I can imagine, by making the decision, but I think it’s just helpful to know, hey, what do people think of when they make these bigger decisions?
Chris Lema: I had been on the board for about a year before I joined the company. I joined the company for about 18 months, a year and a half, 19 months, I think. Then it was time to go. It was probably two or three months before that where several different things came to a head.
When I first joined Crowd Favorite, one of the things we talked about was, “Let’s clean this up and tighten it up, and get it really running full steam ahead,” which is the stuff that I know how to do professionally. The blogging and those things are all nice. They’ve been on the side. My day job has been managing software engineers.
They’re like, “Come in. Let’s clean this up and tighten it up. Then we can look at building a product side.” My background is in products, not in services, not consulting. I’ve worked with and helped lead consulting organizations, but only in the context that they are consultants for our product. I’m a product guy. I went in, and I started doing it. The first six months, we did a lot of stuff. At the 12-month mark, we had a lot more done, and everything was going really well.
Somewhere after that, we were more shifting into what I call for my life ‘maintenance mode,’ where you’re just keeping things running. That’s not really my style. I’m not that guy, and it was a service company. I didn’t wake up in the morning going, “Oh, my god. This is going to be amazing because I’m building a product.” It was, “Okay. Let’s lead these people well.” I think there was a part of me that was itching.
But I’ll be honest. Maybe there are other folks like me. After 10 months of doing anything, I get an itch. Like, “Oh. I should go do something else.” I’ve had to develop the discipline to not jump when that itch comes because staying power teaches you something else about yourself. It helps you go deeper in certain areas that you wouldn’t if you just keep jumping. I recognize, “Oh, yeah. It’s a little after 12, 13 months. I’m getting a little itch, but you know what? That’s not something we act on, and just focus in, get some stuff done, and lead well.”
On top of that, we get to this point where my wife had some emergency surgery. It was very scary. I sat there … I’m a kind of person who can think in a lot of different directions and then think through what happens after that and what happens after that. But in this particular case, as she went into surgery, I couldn’t think past the next step. Like, “What happens if this doesn’t work out?” I fell asleep. It was four or five in the morning, and I fell asleep. By seven, they were waking me up and telling me she was okay, which was great news, but I was sitting in the spot where I went, “What am I … ?”
I think everyone goes through that. You go through some hard part, and then you go, “What am I doing in life? Am I just sitting in a mode where I’m just doing all the same routine without focus, without drive, without energy, and without alignment to the rest of my life?” We sat down. We talked about it a little. She’s like, “Well, don’t make any rash decisions,” because we were literally right at January one. She’s like, “Don’t make any rash decisions.” I said, “No. I’m going to just work this through.”
It took a little bit of time. Then, finally, in April I said, “Okay. It really is time to move on.” Part of the lesson out of that is you should always be willing to sit, even when you get fidgety, for a little bit because you don’t know what is there for you to grow and develop by not jumping every time something doesn’t work out or something is a little boring. When hard times come, I think it’s important to figure out what’s really important.
I think ultimately even when you know you’re going to make a decision, timing is critical. If you just bolt and you just walk out … I could have left a lot of damage at Crowd Favorite by stepping out at the wrong time. You wait a few months. You try and get some things in place. You try and make sure that when you leave it will be better than when you got there and that you leave in a way that leaves that community whole, leaves that company fine, and allows you to step out.
I did all that and have spent the last several months doing some consulting and other things, but hoping to hold off making the next major choice through the rest of this year. Then in 2017, you start looking at, “Okay, what’s the next big thing?”
Lauren Mancke: Anyone who’s heard you speak knows you’re a leader. You just have that way about you. You’ve got that power to compel people to follow you. Have you always felt this? Have you always felt that you were a leader? When you were younger, did you know it? Are there any examples of when you were a kid maybe where you led or you had an instance where you took the reins? Maybe not. Maybe it was when you were older. At what point in your life did you realize you had this gift?
Chris Lema: I was horrible in junior high — like you’d try out for ASB. You run a campaign, and I lost, badly. I don’t even think I was trying for VP or president. I was I think maybe for treasurer. There was definitely not one of those things where you realize at a young age, “I’m a leader.” You’re like, “I suck.” Part of that was, I think, the way I thought about leadership. I thought about it as an important title that makes you important, and that is not leadership at all.
It wasn’t until probably in the middle of high school, as I started learning to serve and take care of others, that I felt like, “Okay. The leadership is happening without me wanting it. It’s happening because I’m developing trust and rapport with people who want my say — but it’s because I’m in their corner.”
I leaned into that in college and spent a lot of time figuring out what kind of leader and how I led. By that point in college, it was a really clear juxtaposition when you see someone who’s leading for the title versus someone who’s leading for the impact. Those two people look different. They act different.
For me, I think it was somewhere around being 20 and middle of college. I felt like, “Okay. I have a couple tools in my tool belt. I can align both public speaking with some one-on-one coaching, with some professional empathy, with a vision, being able to see for other people where they could go, see what’s best for them, or see things in them that was there, but they weren’t willing to own or accept themselves simply out of insecurity.”
So I lean into it, and I’ve leaned into it ever since. I actually have a master’s degree in leadership because I, in the middle of working at Emphasis, I was a little bored. Instead of jumping ship I said, “I think I want to go back and study.” The company said, “Hey, we’ll pay for your masters if you stick around longer.” I said, “Okay.” I went back and studied even more about leadership.
Brian Gardner: There you go. Chris Lema definitely has the right to say he’s a leader. He’s got the master’s degree in leadership, so we certainly chose the right person to have on the show.
Okay. We’ve talked about you and your experience in the business world. We’ve talked about you and your experience in WordPress a little bit. As we all know, there’s many types of leaders all over the place. Let’s talk about WordPress specifically. Who would you consider to be some of the best leaders in the WordPress community?
I’m not talking specifically about financially successful and things like that, but just things that you’ve seen people do either that you resonate with or you do that, “Yes. I’m so glad they did that,” type of thing.” Give us a few names and maybe just a sentence or two on why you think each of those people are demonstrations of a good leader.
Good Leadership Exemplified
Chris Lema: Sure. Steve Zehngut is a friend of mine down here in Orange County. He runs a company called Zeek. They do a bunch of WordPress and mobile stuff. He started a meetup so that he could build this community of WordPress people. Then he started showing other people how he did it and giving them the opportunity to use his physical space for their own meetups. I think Steve’s meetup has birthed something like 12 other meetups in the whole area. They all start by using his space, and then they eventually branch out into other spaces. That is a leader — someone who says, “I can have an impact here. Let me help out. Let me help other people. Then let me give them the space to grow into themselves.” I think he’s a fantastic example.
Jennifer Bourn is a good friend of mine who is up in Sacramento. Her ability to connect and help people around branding in the WordPress ecosystem is fantastic. Where most people get up and they do a talk at a conference, and they rattle off stories, like I do — rattle off stories, have a main point, get off stage. You go, “Hey, that was entertaining.” Jennifer shows up with a whole packet of worksheets, hands it to you, and walks you through how to get yourself better. Anyone who’s committing their time, without necessarily getting paid, to help you be a better you, they’re my idol. I think they’re fantastic.
Another guy, Jason Cohen, is the CTO over at WP Engine. He’s a guy that is consistently helping people think better about what they’re doing. He does that at work. He does that in WP Engine, but he does that outside of it. You hang out and talk with him, and every conversation I walk away with something additional.
All of these people are leading in a way that helps the other people they interact with get better. Some people do it through writing, obviously. You guys know Brian Clark. These are some of the people that I’ve invited to my own conference that I run for WordPress businesses, products, and service companies, an event called CaboPress. I go to these leaders, and I say, “Come join me in Cabo and have these discussions with other people who want to get better.” They say, “Yes.” Those are the people that I look up to and say, “These are great people. I want to hang out with them.”
Being Sold on Yourself to Become the Leader You Were Meant to Be
Brian Gardner: I’m going to jump ahead to the question I had for you a little bit further on because it piggy backs on exactly what you were just talking about. When I go to your website, the first thing I see at the top of it is a quote or a testimonial. It says, “Chris Lema doesn’t sell you on himself. He sells you on yourself.” Now, basically everything you’ve said up to this point on our interview — talking about leadership by serving, leadership by example, and leadership in the form of putting the emphasis on teaching people, enabling people, all of that other stuff.
Your form of leadership, which I really, really love and appreciate, is not about building yourself up, but building others up, and maybe, as a byproduct of that, that helps with your brand and all that kind of stuff. I actually remember our conversation. We sat down and had breakfast last summer in Denver. I wanted to pick your brain about some things. I came away from that conversation almost feeling selfish and saying, “Man, this was all about me.”
Then I realized, to some degree, that was what you wanted that conversation to be about, right? It’s not about Chris. It’s about those that he’s with. Just speak to that just in general. My guess is that you do the same sort of thing when you lead your family. It’s always about your wife, your kids, or stuff like that. Is that just who you are?
Chris Lema: I think it’s who I’m trying to be. I think that quote on my website is as much to center and ground me as it is to share that with others. I really appreciate Mika’s statement. I wasn’t even in the room when she shared it in Chicago several years ago, but I got all the Tweets and heard about it. I went, “That is amazing and wonderful. I’m going to cherish that.”
At the core of it, I think you need to constantly ground yourself — especially if you’re getting any level of popularity. At least for me, I have consistently tried to take action that says, “Remind yourself that you put your pants on the same way every day.”
When Silicon Valley was getting hot, startups were growing, and I was selling companies, I moved out to the East Bay to say, “I’m going to live in a normal town with normal people, drive a normal car, so that I am grounded in the fact that I don’t need the very next thing.” The same thing happens to the WordPress community. I think it’s a tactic, a habit I use to say, “You stay grounded by remembering that you’re here to help other people, not just to aggrandize yourself,” but I think what I’ve discovered over the years is, it works.
When you focus on someone else and you help them get better, especially if what’s holding them back is just insecurity. It’s not a certain skillset they’re missing. It’s not something they can’t do anything about. It’s really just the fact that they are insecure — and so many of us walk around with that insecurity that holds people back — and you just go, “Let me just break that open for you a little bit. Let me just show you that, no, you actually have what you need. You can take this next step,” or, “Let me show you a step you didn’t know you could take and take it.” I think it ends up being incredibly helpful.
The phrase that runs in my head all the time is “comfort, come alongside.” Leading for me is, how do you come alongside someone in their journey — not the journey you have for them, but the journey they have for themselves? Then how do you comfort them when they have the insecurity to encourage them to take next steps? Most of us, we have a special puzzle piece in our pocket, and we think, “Yeah. I found this puzzle piece. This is mine,” and we stick it in our pocket. You’re like, “No, no, no. The piece has to go on the broad. That’s what makes it awesome is when the whole picture comes together.” That’s what I spend my time doing.
Lauren Mancke: Speaking of helping others, let’s talk a little bit more about your website, ChrisLema.com. You’ve got a tagline on there, “Helping businesses leverage WordPress, and helping WordPress businesses find leverage.” How are you writing on your blog to successfully do that? What else would you write about that also helps with this?
Leveraging WordPress in Your Business
Chris Lema: Part of the thing is I bring companies to WordPress. Companies that are like, “I don’t know if WordPress can do this,” I write posts that say, “WordPress can. You can use WordPress to do these things you want to do.” That’s bringing small businesses and big businesses who are trying to figure out, “Can this really work this way?”
Then, I work with WordPress companies, products and service companies to help them with their marketing and to get their message out better. Often, I am writing posts about them and redirecting some sunlight to them, or I am highlighting what they’re doing in a way that causes people to go, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Then, of course, consulting and coaching is to help them with their segmentation, their marketing strategy, their communication, and all that kind of stuff.
The blog is a key part of it, so yes, I think it’s successful in doing what I want it to do. I think just so I don’t get bored, I write about a couple other things here and there. There are some posts on public speaking. There’s a couple other posts in there that are personal, but predominantly, that blog is about WordPress and that attempt to help different groups of people connect to it on the site.
Lauren Mancke: Speaking of connecting people, what is your favorite part of leading and community building?
Leadership That Requires a Move Beyond Good
Chris Lema: I think my all-time favorite part is shining a light on someone that you didn’t know or a product that you had never heard of, a company that you weren’t aware of, and what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. When I get to do that and when it works, it’s a wonderful component and incredibly exciting for me to see the result when that happens.
It doesn’t always happen, but if I can say, “Hey, check out this company. Look what they’re doing, or look at what they just released in a product.” Then they contact me a couple weeks later and they go, “Oh my god. You don’t even know what just happened over here,” I’m like, “That’s awesome.” That’s my favorite part.
Brian Gardner: All right. ChrisLema.com is all about WordPress and business. Just recently you just launched a blog called Beyond Good. It’s on one of our themes, which of course we’re thankful that you’re using. You use that one specifically to teach about leadership and how you can encourage folks and teach them how to take their leadership to a new level.
You say, “Leadership is hard. Most of the time we settle for good enough. Leading people requires more, requires that we move beyond good.” That reminds me a lot about the book Jim Collins wrote called Good to Great, where he writes about why some companies make the leap and others don’t. What do you think stands in the way — whether it be individuals as entrepreneurs, small businesses, or even bigger businesses — from taking the leap to achieving that success from good to great?
Taking the Leap to Achieving Success
Chris Lema: Insecurity. Insecurity I think everything boils down to. When a person doesn’t have the courage to take a step that is different than what they’ve done before, when a company doesn’t have the courage to hire someone that is different than what they’ve hired before — whatever it is that they’re doing — and they don’t have the temerity or the courage to step into it, more often than not, when you dig into, it’s not the numbers. It’s not the prediction. It is insecurity. It is a fear of, “What if I do this wrong? What if this turns out wrong? What will other people think of me?”
A lot of what holds people back is that insecurity. I spend a lot of time personally, one-on-one, doing the work of trying to mitigate that. Now, that said, there’s a lot of little reasons why companies just don’t lead well, that it’s just because they don’t know better. The blog tries to solve that problem.
I can’t really solve insecurity just on a blog. When I’m coaching, I will work that through, but when I’m writing, I’m mostly trying to give some of the other tips, the other ways to think about things, the other questions to answer on the blog Beyond Good.
Lauren Mancke: Let’s get into a little bit of recommendations. Do you have any favorite blogs or books that you can recommend to the StudioPress FM audience?
Chris’ Reading Recommendations
Chris Lema: I always have book recommendations because I’m always reading. There’s a meaty book that I like called Learn or Die. I find that it’s quite good. There’s another one called Peak, which is focusing on the new science of expertise, which I’m also reading. There’s another book called Strategic Storytelling, which I would recommend only because my storytelling book isn’t done yet. All of those I’d say are really great.
Brian Gardner: Does that go along with your ‘cool story, bro’ thing?
Chris Lema: Yeah. Exactly. I love stories and the power of stories.
Brian Gardner: Okay. What about blogs? You gave us a few books. Just people that digest better reading individual blog posts or what not, whether it be on leadership, WordPress-type stuff, who’s blogs do you frequent that you just get a lot out of and like to share from?
Chris Lema: Well, let me caveat that for one quick second to say, if you’re not reading books, you should. The reality is, when you’re writing a blog post, normally that’s a five-minute investment. When you read a book, it may be several hours of investment. Part of the dynamic is, if you’re not making the investment to read depth, I think your leadership thoughts and your leadership understanding are all still pretty shallow. That’s not to say you can’t read good blogs. I’m just saying you should make time and build the habit of reading books because they’re worth doing.
Now, that said, Michael Hyatt is a fantastic guy to read if you want to read a blog. John Maxwell is another guy whose blog is awesome. Dan Rockwell, who I’m pretty sure Dan’s writing a WordPress blog. Actually, I think Michael Hyatt’s is well. Dan’s is Something.WordPress.com I think, Leadership Freak. Those are definitely ones that I would point to and say, “Hey, check those out because I think you’ll dig them.”
Brian Gardner: As we wrap this up, if we were to give you the opportunity to do a 60-second speech right here on the show, what is the one piece of advice to anyone listening regarding the topic of leadership that you would want to give?
Chris’ Epic Advice on Leadership: Lead As Only You Can Lead
Chris Lema: Sixty seconds on leadership. Asking me to do anything in 60 seconds is hard.
Brian Gardner: Loaded question.
Chris Lema: Let’s try it. Here we go. In your pursuit to lead others well, in your pursuit to be someone who is considered a leader, never make the mistake of looking to someone else to determine who you are. Never look at someone else to tell you who you should be. Never look at someone else’s journey and say, “That’s the journey I need to have,” because the reality is, you’re unique. You are completely unique. To that end, your journey will be unique, and the way you lead and help others will be unique. So figure out you.
My one piece of advice is, figure out what motivates you. Figure out how you work best. Figure out what is easy for you and, at the same time, aligns with your passion, your interest in helping others. When you figure all that out, when you figure out how to be you, then find the leadership route that works best for that. In that way, you’re leading as only you can lead.
Brian Gardner: That was brilliance in 48 seconds.
Lauren Mancke: Wow.
Brian Gardner: Man, we got to clip that out and use that or put it in a blog. I’m going to re-purpose that. Chris, do I have your permission?
Chris Lema: You totally have my permission.
Brian Gardner: Of course, we will link to you. I will link to you when I do that. I’m almost speechless. I honestly don’t know what I should say next — other than the call to action, which I have here on my script. This is great. It’s a great segue. If you are convinced that Chris is the right guy for you, whether it be to hire — I know you make available yourself via phone calls, also various ways to be consulted with and so on — or if you just want to read Chris’ stuff. All of it’s good.
Do you want to be sold on yourself or become the leader you were meant to be? Chris obviously has a ton of knowledge, shares his wealth with that knowledge in the form of articles, books, courses, videos. Pretty much any media you can imagine, he’s done it. For more of that information, you can check him out at ChrisLema.com and his leadership blog at BeyondGood.com.
Lauren Mancke: If you liked what you heard on today’s show, you can find more episodes of StudioPress FM at StudioPress.FM. You can also help Brian and I hit the main stage by subscribing to the show in iTunes. It’s a great way to never ever miss an episode. We want to thank Chris for coming on the show. It’s been great.
Chris Lema: Thanks, guys.