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Having the Vision and The Drive To See It Through with Bryan Brenner

“If we can become inspired by someone and believe that we can do something, we probably can.”

Bryan Brenner, Managing Director of NFP and Founder and Managing Partner of The Performance Lab, was thrust into leadership unexpectedly. After meeting an optimistic sales leader, he found the inspiration he needed to drive transformation and challenge the status quo. Bryan took charge of the situation and eventually began his own business.

In this episode, Bryan shares his journey of being an unlikely hero of his own success story. Now he uses his experience to invest in others in the corporate world. Listen in to hear his story of finding the power of vision and drive and how to balance that with moments of relaxation and recalibration.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Find ways to stay driven to ensure your vision comes to fruition
  • Balance your ambitions with self-care to have a greater impact on others
  • If someone is offering help or inspiration, take it

Things to listen for:

  • [03:39] Bryan’s journey to leadership
  • [09:04] Investing in success
  • [14:44] What defines leadership
  • [21:17] Recognizing imposter syndrome and embracing vulnerability
  • [33:12] Advice Bryan would give to his younger sel
  • [34:43] Craig’s takeaways


[00:00:00] Craig: The life of a leader isn’t always an easy one between meeting strategic planning, getting in front of customers, getting in front of team members. Their life can get very full, very quickly. I’ve talked before on the podcast about the importance of a leader looking out into the future, but today we’re going to talk about another challenge.

Leaders faced finding the time to rest and re-calibrate. Welcome to Executive Evolution. I’m Craig Anderson. After spending 20 years in corporate America learning a lot of leadership lessons the hard way, I created this podcast so you don’t have to.

Great leaders have great self-awareness, and that self-awareness comes by setting aside time to really reflect on where they are in their leadership journey, where their company or their business is in its evolution as a business. but too often leaders don’t take the time to sit back and really focus on where they are as a leader. Where they are in their leadership journey is what’s working for them and has worked for them so far. Going to work for them in the future. It’s important for leaders to evaluate and then re-calibrate their leadership.

And today’s guest, Brian Brenner, who is the managing director of N F P and the founder and managing partner of the Performance Lab, found many times in his career the value in stopping and re-calibrating to really assess where he was at professionally, where he was at on his journey, and how he was interacting with his team as a leader.

He realized that if he didn’t do. He would not be able to continue to perform at a high level. So today we’re going to jump into our interview with Brian and learn about his leadership journey and the value of re-calibration.

So the best way for us to jump in, Brian, is three questions that are gonna help us get to know you better as a leader. So, are you ready to go deep on some questions?

[00:02:04] Bryan Brenner: ready. Let’s go.

[00:02:06] Craig: what is the best leadership book you have ever read?

[00:02:10] Bryan Brenner: You know, for me it was early in career, and this is a common one, so I I will not get, credit for creativity. But, um, the Jim Collins good to great and built to last, and I don’t remember which order I read them in. I think built to last first, and supposedly you’re supposed to read them in some order, but nonetheless, I fell in love with the idea of the hedgehog.

I fell in love with the idea. that kind of being good enough is okay for, for lots, but there’s a way to be great. And there, there are, sort of formulate proven things that you can do. That gave me a lot of comfort, frankly, Craig, cuz I, I became an entrepreneur, not even knowing what a p and l was.

really not even knowing what an entrepreneur was. And so for me, the way he kind of put together the science and the art of it all, gave me great hope. , figure it out.

[00:02:57] Craig: And do you find that you go back to those books quite often for refreshers on what’s going on?

[00:03:02] Bryan Brenner: I do, I do. And I, you know, he’s got articles. he’s written that, that support his more, updated work. And I just, I can picture those books and in my. Mine’s eye like it’s yesterday and it’s been 25 years since I first read them. I was actually able, fortunate enough to bring him into Indianapolis, about a year and a half ago for, for a Y P O event.

And I got to meet him, and spent a little time with him, and I got also got to share him with 900 of my closest friends, which was just a real treat. And he’s truly a remarkable human being. but I’m really grateful to have, have read those early.

I, I’m a big fan of those books. I quote them all the time. But I’m interested in what you said there that, you know, when you started in the entrepreneurial journey, you didn’t know what a p and l was. You barely knew what entrepreneur was. . What do you think from those books that made that difference where you said, well, it doesn’t matter if I know that because I have this com.

[00:03:53] Craig: Was it the commitment or the idea that really was what drove you early on?

[00:03:57] Bryan Brenner: Yeah, I think for me, it’s not like I created a completely unique business out of, out of the ground as, as some do these days. I mean, it was, it was in a, in a segment, in a genre. It was a variation on a theme. But what I felt very strongly about inside myself was a vision for what it meant to take care of clients and to do something quality and to. you know, I worked in corporate benefits from early on, and I felt like employers made really good decisions at the boardroom table because they would look at the finances and they would, you know, there was this process and then it would all kind of fall apart when it went out to the people, because there just wasn’t a whole lot around that back in the day.

And I thought, if we can do a good job here and land the planes, that could really add a lot of value, to business. And so, Jim Collins’s sense of vision is so, that’s where it always starts for him, right? And then he adds the other pieces. So I think I was encouraged by the idea that if you have a vision and a passion around something, you can be successful.

On the flip side, the thing that made me feel maybe less capable was that many of those CEOs in the research were not extroverts, they were not front out leaders. They were not, the people that everyone thinks of. They were maybe a little more introverted, a little more, you know, backroom focused, a little more clo.

And that kind of scared me cuz I viewed myself as someone that was out front and extroverted. Turns out almost 58 years old. Here I’m actually on the line of introvert and extrovert. I probably should have found some solace in all of that, but I actually was a little concerned that maybe I didn’t have what it took. but I made my way, you know?

[00:05:27] Craig: Yeah, it’s so weird because we think this definition of leaders. They’re bold and they’re strong and they’re outgoing and they’re charging ahead. But then we have also these leaders who are introverted and who are, SE on the disc and all those things. And it really shows that I don’t think your personality is what makes you win as a leader.

[00:05:46] Bryan Brenner: It seems like not, I do think we still in, in an American culture. We kind of applaud the extroverts and the ones who are out front cuz it’s easy to see them and it’s easy to get behind it. my wife is a pretty extreme, not, I won’t say extreme, she’s definitely introverted.

Can extrovert when needed and do a good job of connecting. But I remember reading the book Quiet and realizing that, the world really needs both, So building your team to respect everyone’s strengths really is how I kind of played those cards to be successful was never about me. I was a piece of the pie. Other people coming in and doing what they do really created the real wins. Yeah.

[00:06:23] Craig: Okay. Next question. Who is your leadership crush?

[00:06:27] Bryan Brenner: Okay, so I thought about this cuz you gave me some heads up, on questions and I have a great answer. It would’ve probably previously been somebody else completely different and, and a well-known name. This weekend I was in Arizona for Butler trustee meetings, and every about five years we try to kind of rethink what the university might become.

We brought in a speaker, his name, Fadi Shaha. I’ll have to get you the spelling of that so that you can look it up. He is a remarkable human being who immigrated at the age of 13. His parents sent him literally on a boat not knowing English. lands in America. Ends up, getting an incredible education at nyu.

later goes to work for Bell Labs where they invested in him, and they said, we’re gonna get you an educat. and we’re gonna send you to Stanford. And he said, I can’t do that. I have to have a job. I have to have money. I still support my parents back home. And they said, no, no, no. we’ll keep paying you, and you’ll go get your education.

[00:07:26] Bryan Brenner: He said, well, what’s the catch? And they said, there is no catch. We’re investing in talent. we believe in America. We’re investing in talent, and we want you to do this. He goes and does that. And literally, if you look up this guy’s profile, , the level of understanding he has of the internet, quote unquote, of how it all works and puts.

He actually ran for four years. the institution within the US government that gives out every IP address in the world, the only place you can get it, he now owns an investment firm called Ethos, where he is driven towards capitalism, but capitalism for good. And when you hear him talk, I became so inspired that maybe we’re all gonna be okay if people like him can stay focused on capitalism as a great tool for progress.

with the backdrop that everyone has to be able to get what they need, and they have, they have to be supported if we’re gonna have all boats rise. It was an amazing experience to hear him speak. I can’t even describe to you the number of things he did, the way he talked about ai. I still am like excited right now, Three or four days later,

[00:08:35] Craig: No kidding.

[00:08:36] Bryan Brenner: I encourage you to go, go deep with this guy. We gotta get him to Indian speak. Yeah, it’s.

[00:08:41] Craig: Yeah, maybe I need to get him on this podcast

[00:08:43] Bryan Brenner: what a story. Let’s, let’s make it happen. Yeah.

[00:08:46] Craig: that’s so, and, and to take that from that small seed of Bell Labs, being willing to invest in talent and pay for him to get that degree. You know, when you think about that with companies you work with, how often do you see that kind of, maybe not every company can send every employee to Stanford, but making that investment back, how important do you think that is in success from what you’ve seen?

[00:09:09] Bryan Brenner: you know, as I look back on, on my career and people that I’ve had the chance to invest in or who’ve invested in me, I do think it exists, probably not at the level that we’d all like, I think, I think there are big companies who can do this and have, you know, super high margins that can put in place.

super thoughtful formulaic programs that drive all that. But I think each of us as a leader, and Craig, I know you’ve done this from watching you, you, you can pick key people and you can really go deep. You can spend the extra time, you can get to know them, you can help them draw out their strengths.

You can have the hard conversations, you can spend the extra money, you can put ’em in a cohort, you can put ’em through a program. you can help. Get what they want in life so that their life is more dynamic. And that that’s really what turns on on creativity. Right? And so what I was reminded of is if we can become inspired by someone and believe that we can do something, we probably can. And if we don’t get that, we might, but we might not. So I love the increased chances of someone believing that they’re.

[00:10:17] Craig: Yeah. And that really taps into something I’ve been really focused on lately, is this idea of growth mindset and what that works for in leaders and just seeing so much potential in yourself and realizing that you know where you can make that investment in yourself and make that commitment and push that extra effort. Is so much more freeing for you as a leader to take your company and to have that kind of a leader versus just somebody who says, well, we’re stuck here and this is where we are,

[00:10:43] Bryan Brenner: I agree. And I, I think, you know, in my early days as a leader, I think I, I put a lot of pressure on myself and as a result, I put a lot of pressure on, on other people. Some of that I think was good and, and paid off. I think some of it wasn’t as balanced with the care that I, I think I now have hope, I now have, as I’ve sort of matured and become less anxious as a, as a but I do think there is something to be said for a leader that pushes for better and pushes for a future and has a vision, versus status quo, right? That’s just nothing really exciting happens out, out of that. But then I have learned to balance that with, um, a sense of care and being more intentional about the care.

[00:11:28] Bryan Brenner: Not that I didn’t care, but being more intentional about. How I make sure people are taken care of, themselves, and I’m taking care of myself so I can do that work.

[00:11:37] Craig: And you said that’s kind of been part of your evolution. What were the triggers that you said, Hey, you know, the driving piece has been successful, but if I want to get to the next level, the caring piece needs to start coming in. what was the the trigger for you?

[00:11:51] Bryan Brenner: I think two things. one is being married to Elaine. Elaine is, is is a governor in a lot of ways for me. as I think a lot of key relationships are for people, right? It’s like someone who knows you so well and, and is willing to say the truth and push on assumptions and, and not take bullshit or whatever. you know, the, whatever that brings. I think just that, that relationship and then being a father too, you know, you, you just have moments where you kind of have to step back and be like, what do I really want? What am I gonna get? What I want? how do I position myself with this child or with this relationship so that they get what they want and I do too.

So it’s reciprocal. So I think just moments like that, were definitely one. And then the other one was, you know, kind of getting older and feeling the, like, just realizing there was an h b article I was just looking at this morning that talked about, how to know when to stop doing something, which was super useful.

that does never occur to me in the early days like that. I should stop doing some things in order. I just kept piling on, adding more, adding more, run, run, run. You know, fast, fast, fast. And honestly, like physically and emotionally, I just couldn’t handle it. And there would be moments where I literally would sit at my desk and be like, I don’t know that I can keep doing this or that I should keep doing this, or that I’m going to or want to like, this is not, this doesn’t.

and there were probably four or five times over my career like that where I had to stop and say, okay, I probably gotta reinvent myself here and I need to let some stuff go so that I can embrace what I truly care about and I need to invite other people in to help me figure that out. Because clearly, if I could have figured this out on my own, I already would have, I probably need some help

[00:13:39] Craig: Yeah. that’s, that’s such a key piece for leaders to realize when they can’t do everything on their own

[00:13:45] Bryan Brenner: Boy, I thought I could, I thought I was good at it too, actually. I think I, I was really quite confident in myself, until I was,

[00:13:53] Craig: Well, we’re supposed to be, that’s the mythos, right? Is I can stand alone and, you know, I don’t need any help. My power is enough to get us through.but at a certain point that catches up and you can’t keep running at that pace. There’s a , there’s a Jimmy Buffett song, you know, forget what it’s, but it has a line that always resonates with me. It’s like I can’t run at this pace very long.

And you can go hard. And you can go hard, and that works, right? You do it cuz it works until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it’s like you run into a wall. And that’s what I found several times in my career and I see that with clients too. It’s just like, okay, I know that’s working for you, but what are you gonna do now? What are you gonna do when it doesn’t?

[00:14:29] Bryan Brenner: And we all know the context with which Jimmy Buffet said that, but it applies to business too.

[00:14:35] Craig: Yes, it does. Yeah, I just pick and choose song lyrics. I don’t, I try to stay out of the bigger narrative

[00:14:42] Bryan Brenner: That’s a great quote.

[00:14:44] Craig: so next one, last one is in 10 words or less, how would you define leadership?

[00:14:49] Bryan Brenner: Having the vision and the drive to see it through. that’s a key piece. Having the vision piece. I see this a lot with small business owners who’ve just kind of grown and they kind of lose track of the vision of it, why they started, you talked about you had this view to see this business in a different way of doing things, and they lose track of how much power there is in that vision to communicate that to their team and the energy it brings.

[00:15:14] Craig: So I love that you include vision in your leadership definition.

[00:15:18] Bryan Brenner: Yeah. And I think the, it is easy to lose that, but I think that, I don’t know, there’s a quote that says, you know, without, a vision, the people perish or, there’s different versions of that in, in lots of different writing. But, humans naturally are inspired by something that is ahead of them out on the horizon.

and then having the drive to just kind of keep going, even when you hit barriers or you have that moment, you have to sit back, not necessarily driving through every single wall, but. Enough tenacity to say, I’m gonna, figure this out. I’m gonna get to the next level E even now that I don’t own a company, I view my role here in that same way.

[00:15:53] Bryan Brenner: It’s my job to keep kind of pushing forward and make sure people feel like we’re headed somewhere.

[00:16:00] Craig: Love it. Love it. Well, let’s go back now, Brian. So sometime ago you had your very first leadership role. Mine was band president, and I was a petty little tyrant. What was your first leadership role?

I had just graduated from Butler. I got my, first job just a few months before graduation, was working for a healthcare third party administrator, which I still work with those organizations to this day.

[00:16:27] Bryan Brenner: And my manager who recruited. at the Arby’s, never showed up to work after that. had a family medical leave and, every morning she would call and say she wasn’t coming. And so we just dealt with it. I had somebody that took me under their wing. I became a manager within eight months.

the organization was bleeding quite a bit, so I’m not sure it was because of qualification. I just was there and available. And so I took this role and I literally had no idea what I was. , but I took it very seriously. I went and bought a whiteboard at the Walmart, put it on the wall, and started writing down projects and objectives and things we needed to do to better the department.

I kept doing the work cuz I felt like I, you know, I needed to keep learning and doing work. So I was doing it kind of alongside my team and I wanted them to feel like I was up here as well. Cause I was a little nervous about getting elevated.

[00:17:15] Bryan Brenner: I’m sure I was not a good leader at all. , other than I guess I was at least being thoughtful. I can remember the things I was doing on purpose. they did have a little bit of manager training, which I took advantage of. I did learn some things, right. So not a huge fan of those formal learning environments, but I think sometimes they can be pretty darn helpful.

I had to fire somebody. I had to work through discipline very early on with someone. Super not well and super anxious and terrible behaviors in the workplace. Lovely person. Just really troubled and um, man, I do not ever want to go back to those days.

[00:17:52] Craig: I can imagine there’s so much to unpack in that story. Just one, you got promoted above peers pretty quickly

[00:18:01] Bryan Brenner: I was 22.

[00:18:02] Craig: yeah. And how did you navigate that at 22? Because they were probably older than you.

yeah, absolutely. They were, some, a little older, some a lot older. and I always, I mean, honestly, until I was probably 35, I was usually the, you know, one of the youngest leaders in the room and I was always super uncomfortable with that. I don’t think I ever actually became comfortable with that.

[00:18:24] Bryan Brenner: As I think about it, I think I certainly got better at it. but I, I was always sort of aware, why would people follow me? what do I have to give? Really? why am I even in this role? Kind of imposter syndrome as we’ve all read about, I think everyone struggles with at some level.

but yeah, it was a wild experience. I wouldn’t trade it because I, I think it really was good for me to have that so early on. But people probably should not be managers at 22, maybe first job outta a college

[00:18:52] Craig: Maybe not. and not only that, but your boss was for whatever reason, not available to you. So from a mentor mentoring, you had no guidance. You were making it up.

[00:19:04] Bryan Brenner: I will say the good news is that, a new leader of sales showed up. I was kind of leading an analytics team that supported salespeople. So I was liaison between operations and sales to sort of help our existing clients and bring new clients in. And, and I still love that work to this day.

So I got lucky and, and found a spot, an area I liked, but we got a new boss he got brought in his VP of sales. I’ll never forget, Bob McClellan. Super nice guy. , he really took a liking to me and what he said to me was, we are gonna turn the corner and start writing new business.

And I said, please, that would be amazing. I’m so upset about we just keep losing clients and we keep, you know, like I built a termination process because we weren’t getting clients out the door efficiently. And I said, gosh, we just have gotta get him out the door. They just keep calling. They’re upset.

It’s negative, it’s not happy work, but at least like, let’s get ’em out the door and tidy that up and. shortly after that, when he joined, we did begin to write some business. So I got to write the, uh, implementation process. I kind of retrofitted the exit to the entrance, which was a really amazing thing to be able to do because I started to understand the entire business.

So I was really glad for him because he just really believed we were gonna turn the corner. He probably had no reason to believe that. Like it was not a good environment. They had merged an entrepreneurial group and a very sort of old school middle managers ruled the roost and don’t question ’em together, and it was bad changed systems.

I mean, everything you can imagine, Craig, all the things you’d walk into and be like, this is not good. , they had done it, but he just was an optimist and he believed and he just kept saying to me, this is what we’re gonna do and here’s what I need you to do. And so I did it. I was.

[00:20:45] Craig: And if you go back to what you talked about with Jim Collins, that’s a core tenet of those successful companies is never lose faith even though there’s problems that you face. Never lose faith that you’re gonna get there.

[00:20:56] Bryan Brenner: yeah, I had not made that connection, Craig, but I think you’re right. And I think I was so inspired by kind of how he led. . and he was not sort of the, you know, he was not a Harvard grad, come in turnaround guy. He just was an optimistic sales leader that really, really cared about people and built great relationships. so I do think he imprinted on me early and then he

[00:21:15] Craig: Mm-hmm. .Nice. I want to go back to something you said about that. 22 to 35 and 22 is young to be a leader to 35 and struggles with imposter syndrome. I hear a lot. Of young, new leaders struggling with that feeling. How were you able to get yourself over that during that window?

[00:21:35] Bryan Brenner: You know, I think it probably went on longer than was good for me and swaths of time, right where I would go for a long time and suffer the consequences of having feel that every day and then I would realize it and kind of recalibrate those recalibration moments. weren’t just getting back to Square.

I think each one was accretive. I think each time I did that, it kind of took me to a better place. But it was, it was people like you, Craig. It was people who were, my, my coaches, my mentors. I always had many of them. to this day, I have those people. I have a little less of it now at age 50, but I, I’ve, always valued those relationships because those were people who could say to me, , everybody feels that,

[00:22:18] Craig: Mm-hmm.

[00:22:18] Bryan Brenner: but why do you feel it?

Let’s talk about that. Like, let’s dig into that. what is it that creates that from your past? how do we kind of flip that around? and you only flip that around by dealing with what’s true, which is there are reasons I felt that way. and some were valid, I didn’t know what I was doing and I was pretending at times that I did because I thought that. Everyone was doing, and I, I would be dangerous not to. . turns out it

[00:22:42] Bryan Brenner: actually works really well when you are vulnerable with people of the right people. .

[00:22:46] Craig: Yeah. And that’s what I find in the people I coach who struggle with it is, you know, to figure out why, what are, what’s drawing that, and then try to get to the objective things that actually, you know, if everyone else is telling you’re doing a good job and you’re beating yourself up, what are the objective truths in this imposter syndrome?

Right. It doesn’t mean we can’t all be better, but that imposter syndrome just takes root and as you said, right, it, it goes. and then a year later you’re in something new and you’re like, oh my God, I’m an imposter again.

[00:23:14] Bryan Brenner: super upsetting. Fact

[00:23:16] Craig: It’s, like whack-a-mole.

[00:23:18] Bryan Brenner: It does come back.

[00:23:19] Craig: So out of that first leadership experience, what was your one single biggest lesson you took away?

[00:23:25] Bryan Brenner: I think it was probably a bit of a sobering thought, which is if, if you’re gonna choose to be in charge or allow yourself to be put in charge, you’re gonna deal with really hard stuff.

[00:23:37] Craig: Mm-hmm.


[00:23:39] Bryan Brenner: and all of life is hard. I now know, of course, I mean I’m, you know, I have four children and I’ve, you know, seen them go through all sorts of things and li life, life is, is hard at different ways.

At different moments and for every single person. But I think when you choose leadership or you’re chosen for and accept it, I think it is a different level of, weight that you carry to. , not let a long list build up, not let difficulties in relationships fester, because of the impact on so many other people.

So I, I feel a, I, I don’t want to have an over sense of responsibility cuz we each are responsible to ourselves and to care for ourselves. but I do, I do think it’s an extra level. sort of waking up with a mantle in the morning. In fact, I didn’t realize how much of a mantle I carried of responsibility until I was no longer a ceo.

and I just didn’t, I didn’t know it until it was gone and it’s like, wow, that was a lot .

[00:24:37] Craig: It’s

[00:24:38] Bryan Brenner: It was a whole lot for a long time. and so now I’m enjoying a different way of getting around, different way of leading. And, turns out sometimes when I thought my ideas were good, cuz people said they were, I think they. we’re saying it because I was the ceo.

[00:24:53] Craig: That’s always the question, isn’t it

[00:24:55] Bryan Brenner: I think sometimes I still had good ideas and people followed for good reason, but definitely, definitely have to lead differently when you’re not the top person in charge.

[00:25:03] Craig: Yes. Yeah. So let’s pivot now to, to where you are today. So you were the c e o of first person. You’ve recently gone through and, and did a transaction with that business. You’re now a managing partner. What’s your leadership role like today?

Uh, it’s amazing. I love it so much, because I really am able to operate mostly in my strengths. I really think people in a, to be happy in a job, I believe you have to be. , at least 60% of your work has to be in your natural strengths. And it’s best when it’s 80. and the higher you can get it good for you.

you’ll always have I think, the pieces that just, that doesn’t work. but I’m in the 80 plus percent now. I, I really am leading from a place of strength. I’m leading in the market. I’m leading people who are in the market. I’m leading processes for innovation. I don’t have to worry about finance, marketing.

[00:25:57] Bryan Brenner: It. Paying the bills, all those things. I did them. I’m glad I learned all that. I’m grateful for every moment. I don’t ever wish to do those things again, because it’s just not who I am and doesn’t give me energy. So . My leadership now, I would say, we created this transaction with NFP because we felt, there were four things for, for.

I was ready for a new experience. I kind of wanted a larger playing field, which, you know, NFP is a global company. I now have peers and colleagues across the globe, and I’m learning things I would never have learned otherwise and experienced. number two, my family. We were ready to, capitalize a bit on the business we’d built and have some freedom to do other things over time.

number three, our, our clients, uh, really felt that our customers needed, more and, and they deserved. And I was proud of what I could provide them over time I invested. but a lot more is needed to help with the people function these days, as you know. And then the fourth thing was, our best people.

[00:26:56] Bryan Brenner: And so now my opportunity is to lead. From where we were to where we might go within NFP and a larger system. so it’s helping my younger executive team take off and do their own thing with, without me being in charge, but mentoring, shepherding, supporting coaching, being a shoulder to cry on and having their back.

I mean, very practically being like, I’ll take that for you. Let me just take that and do that for you. So I was always so grateful as a leader when somebody just. , let me just have that. It’s like, ah, really? What’d you do that, that’s amazing. and then it’s leading in the market, which I naturally, this is what I, it’s what I was born doing.

I can’t see something at a restaurant or in, and, and thus thinking there’s a way to improve it, which mine tries to shut down at every turn because it’s unproductive in a social setting. But I can’t help it.

[00:27:45] Craig: Yeah. You just see the problem and you know, it can be.

[00:27:48] Bryan Brenner: And I know how to, I know how to orchestrate conversations with people to get them to see it and then do something about it. And I love that.

[00:27:58] Craig: And when you think about what you just said from the leadership perspective into the team, how do you get that to the team without them feeling like you’re telling them what to do?

[00:28:07] Bryan Brenner: Well, happily. , I haven’t had to work hard on that at all in this setting for a few reasons. Number one, we were a member firm of NFP for two decades, so we really knew what we were getting and they knew what they were getting. So there hasn’t been that posturing and capitulation and all the anxiety around a typical acquisi.

So I feel lucky about that. Number two, my young executive team, who’s actually, many of them been with me quite a while. Mark Minner, 10 years, Ali Isaacs, eight years. Others on my team. Long time. Mark and Ali really have led in such a way that they’ve invited me in. they continue to invite me in and want me there, which makes me feel really good.

And it’s been long enough now, I believe it’s legitimate and not just, pandering, at all. That’s just not the kind of people they are. And so I, I don’t have to ever shove my way in. Now, occasionally, I, I, I have to send a zinger in somewhere where I see something and no one’s paying attention.

That’s still, I still will do that occasionally. I used to do that a lot. but mostly it’s, you know, they invite me into their meetings. they want to. What I know about the business and they value that, which is really great place to be, Craig. I mean, I feel really lucky to be in a spot where I work with people with mutual respect.

That’s amazing. I want to go back to something you said it earlier about, try and get into a role where you’re leveraging 60% of your time and your strengths hopefully getting to 80%. And you also said earlier the value of building a team around you. So does someone who’s newer in leadership and maybe feels like.

[00:29:42] Craig: I’m maybe at 30 or 40% working in my strengths cause everything’s going around me. How do they start making that development? To start building a team around them that compliments those strengths? What are some good ways they can maybe get to that so they can really act out of their highest contribution?

[00:29:58] Bryan Brenner: that’s a really good question, Craig, because I, I think the reality is if I think back to early days, there was a lot of times when I was not to the 60 and I was maybe even in 20 or 30, and I probably had to go through some of that, right. to get to a new spot. So three things I, I, I think one, I think developing self-awareness, in any way you possibly can, through assessments, through coaching, through straight talk from people in your life, I think help you get more and more clear on what those strengths really are.

I, I’m a huge fan of Strengths Finder. I know there’s a whole bunch of other tools out there. I’ve used them all. I still think Strengths Finder is for me, one of the most empowering cuz it’s so simple. , it’s so easy to relate to, and I think the power is in the connection to the information and the reality.

number two, I think it is, asking people for feedback and exploring your strengths in relationship to other people and their strengths and, being better at kind of playing the puzzle game, you know, the matching game. there. And then number three, I think is being verbal and vocal with your peers, with leaders, with your people on what you believe your strengths are, so that you start to be seen for and, and, and really performing out of those.

I’m not a big one necessarily to say, you know, like, be performative, but I do think you have to, really let your light shine in as many places as possible so that the world starts to see. the true unique value you can bring. And then I think you, get the cooperation of the world, so you get your kind of own cooperation and the world’s cooperation and things start to

[00:31:32] Bryan Brenner: start to rise that

[00:31:33] Craig: Yeah. So even if you’re a 30 something leader, 35 year old leader in those early leadership roles in your bank, I am not working in my strengths. There is a path forward, and in fact, you’ve gotta go through the rough patch to get to the better place.

[00:31:47] Bryan Brenner: Yeah, I think you probably do. , unless you just have some unique ability to figure that out. I don’t know, through reading or the air osmosis. I do think it’s hard. I just think it’s hard work and it’s, you know, I think Colin talks about sharpen the saw. I think it’s in the interactions, it’s in the, it’s in the moments where you have an opportunity to experience, real life in a real way and take that moment and turn it into something that really does sharpen that. and gets you more and more clear on what you really want. and I think early on that self-awareness, you really, it’s hard to have really great self-awareness when you’re young and having people around you to help you develop that is the only way you start getting

[00:32:29] Craig: towards that 60%.

[00:32:31] Bryan Brenner: Yeah. We should probably figure out how to help kids with that earlier, but I guess they say your frontal lobe doesn’t fully form until you’re

25, maybe it just has, it just is what it is. Right. buckle buckle in and enjoy.

[00:32:45] Craig: That’s right. It’s a ride. It’s, and you know, but again, you know, going through that and then paying attention to it and being intentional about growing those people around you is how you get there. But you’ve gotta go through that process, so Brian, before we wrap up, we always like to put our interviewees in a time machine. We’re gonna send you back in time to that 22 year old Brian with his whiteboard from Walmart. What one piece of advice would you give him that would make it easier for him in those early leadership roles?

[00:33:16] Bryan Brenner: Well, first of all, you need a bigger whiteboard. It was really small. .

[00:33:20] Craig: get a big whiteboard check.

[00:33:22] Bryan Brenner: practically speaking, the more ethereal response might be, you should relax a lot. I would’ve done well to approach things with a more balanced. . I think my, one of my key weaknesses is I, I can see things in sort of very stark clarity.

[00:33:42] Bryan Brenner: Like I can see so clearly like where the puck is going. but life doesn’t really work like that, you know? So that’s great to have a vision like that, that’s really powerful. But in the day-to-day interactions and the, you know, what does it look like to win today or win this week, or do, it’s much more of a balance of. Wins and losses or gains in, in going backwards, right? So that there’s just this ebb and flow to life that is actually beautiful and good. I wish I had figured that out earlier. I don’t know if I could have or not, but I would. I would want my 22 year old self to see that sooner.

[00:34:19] Craig: Love it. Well, Brian, this has been great. Thanks for being part of Executive Evolution. If people want to see more about you, learn more about you, where can they find.

[00:34:29] Bryan Brenner: Couple places. Um, Brian Brenner on LinkedIn and also, newly launched, uh, version 2.0 is uh, brian and uh, you can link in from wherever you wanna go after that, but would love to hear from, from other leaders. And, um, I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity. It’s been really therapeutic and wonder.

[00:34:48] Craig: Bryan brought a lot of really solid insights into leadership during our interview today, but I always like to frame those key insights into the leadership competencies of confidence, competence, and calm. One of the lessons we brought out today was a key part of Good To Great that focuses on never Stop Believing we can accomplish the goal. He spoke of a leader who stayed positive, not what is now being called toxic positivity, but being positive in the confidence and faith that we will accomplish the goal despite the obstacles in front of us, and that ability to stay focused on that bright positive.

Is really a key to leadership confide. In the area of confidence, Bryan talked about how his leadership skills developed over time. Bryan started his business, not even knowing how to read balance sheets in a p and l, and it’s not really necessary early on in your business journey to have everything that you will ultimately learn over time.

So it’s really important to start developing that confidence, but also to acknowledge and realize that you don’t have to know everything on day one. And then finally he talked about calm and the way he spoke of Calm was the community around him, from his wife to his team, to mentors and supporters.

Bryan surrounded himself with the community of not just support, but also people who were willing to give him the real talk to help him grow and be successful, and to stay in that area of constant self-awareness. , which really also led into his ability to re-calibrate successfully over time.

So those three areas of confidence, confidence, and calm were very apparent as Bryan shared with us his leadership journey. And I just really loved his final point of what he would tell his younger self that sometimes you just need to relax everything early on in your leadership journey. And this happens quite a lot with the clients that I work with.

Is everything’s hitting them for the first time. And problems that hit you for the first time feel very overwhelming. And if you can relax over time, you will learn to gain perspective on challenges and realize they’re just one more hill or mountain to climb. so you will start to build the confidence that you can climb that mountain and the problems while challenging, don’t always seem so overwhelming.

Please join us next time on Executive Evolution. If you would like to learn more and see more of my content, please follow me on LinkedIn. We’ll drop the link in the show notes. Would love to have you engage and give me your insights and feedback on the postings there. Thanks so much.