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Leaving Positional Authority Behind with Jim Brown

Relying on nothing more than a title to get people to follow you is a dangerous approach.Leaving Positional Authority Behind with Jim Brown Podcast Interview

Jim Brown, the CEO and Co-Founder of Uncovered, encountered positional authority figures during his time in the Marines, and it taught him precisely how not to lead. Ever since, he’s led with empathy and worked to understand who people are and what they care about. Listen in as Jim explains how his style allows him to inspire people to do more than they thought they were capable of.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • When you lead with empathy and understanding, people find the own ‘why’ behind their work
  • Great leaders move people forward not by virtue of their positional authority but by inspiring people to do more than they thought they were capable of
  • If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together

Things to listen for:

[02:20] Lightning round with Jim

[03:56] The change leadership requires

[05:17] How not to lead

[07:30] A terrible lesson Jim had to unlearn

[10:11] Differences between leading Marines vs. employees

[12:14] Learning to rely on others

[14:06] Advice Jim would give to his younger self

[16:58] Craig’s takeaways


[00:00:00] Craig P Anderson: Welcome to the Accidental Leader Podcast, the only leadership podcast that shows how today’s successful leaders develop the competence, competence, and calm to lead their team and organization to success. I’m Craig Anderson and my career journey is a tale of accidental leadership. I started out with a degree in English and a growing comic book collection, and my plan was to be a high school teacher, but what we plan and what happens aren’t always the same thing.

A college job turned into a career in education finance. An entry level in my alma mater became over time increasing leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, including many national leadership roles. As that chapter closed, I spun off a business from a large operating not-for-profit, and grew that into successful business that was named a great place to work in Indianapolis.

Over my career, I learned a lot of leadership lessons the hard way I created this podcast so you don’t have. My guest today is Jim Brown. Jim is the founder of Uncovered. He is someone I have known for quite a few years and a lot of different iterations in his career, and I’m excited to have him on here today.

Jim, why don’t you take just a few minutes here and tell us a little bit about Uncovered and what your mission is with the company.

[00:01:22] Jim Brown: Absolutely, Craig, thanks for having me. So uncovered is today the largest public database of information about cold cases of murder or missing people in the world. We built that because one didn’t exist, and what was ironic to me is you got this juxtaposition that since 1980, more than 200,000 cases have gone cold, or either a murder took place or a missing person was considered of experience, serious bodily harm.

And at the same time, you’ve got this absolute explosion of what we call true crime content, right? Podcast documentaries. I’m sure everyone listening has someone in their life that won’t shut up about the latest content that they’ve been binging, but so when I looked at that, I was like, why do we have all these cold cases and all this public interest and not have them working together to try to bring peace to the families of these murder missing and people?

So that’s what we’re trying to build with uncovered, is that bridge to let the true crime enthusiasts actually have an. It’s an

[00:02:11] Craig P Anderson: amazing mission, and to have a mission driven company like this has to be an exciting leadership opportunity for you.

[00:02:17] Jim Brown: It’s been an interesting one. It’s been a fun ride, Jim. We always

[00:02:20] Craig P Anderson: like to kick things off with our lightning round to kinda get the energy up and get things moving forward.

So are you ready to jump in? I’m ready. Let’s go. All right. Question one. What is the best leadership book you have ever?

[00:02:34] Jim Brown: It’s hard to come up with one, so I have to give you two. But number one would be the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. And the second one is Great By Choice, by Jim Collins.

Jim Collins writes tons of great books, but Great By Choice was one of my favorites.

[00:02:48] Craig P Anderson: Fantastic. Question two, who is your leadership crush?

[00:02:53] Jim Brown: Elon Musk, no questions asked. I’m totally kidding. By the way, , I’m totally kidding. , I was gonna go with it, but go. Yeah, no, I would say Bob Iger from Disney, the things that he did to completely reshape that company, the acquisitions of Pixar and 21 Century Fox, Lucas Films, Marvel, he redid the whole park system.

Like he, he literally is an icon. And speaking of books, his book, the Rite of a Lifetime, is just an absolutely incredible one as.

[00:03:22] Craig P Anderson: That is in my pile currently. I am looking forward to reading it. And now finally, in 10 words or less, how would you define leadership?

[00:03:31] Jim Brown: I think I would say inspiring or influencing others to do more than they think they’re capable of.

Love it.

[00:03:37] Craig P Anderson: All right, well thank you for the lightning rounds. So Jim, I’ve known you for a while. I know you’ve been a serial entrepreneur. You’ve had other roles before that you have a military background, but you didn’t start out as the c e O of a company, but at some point you were in your first leadership role.

So tell me what was that very first leadership

[00:03:56] Jim Brown: role for you? Well, you, you mentioned previous military experience, you know, so I was a Marine and the Marine Marine Corps is all about leadership. But I would actually say that was my first true leadership experience was when I was meritoriously promoted to the rank of corporal.

And what was interesting about that is, You’re all kind of jockeying for position, right? But what ends up coming out of that is you end up having to lead your peers, your friends, and as you’re all sitting there as Lance corporals, you start to say like, you know, when I get promoted to corporal, like I’m not changing.

Like I’m still gonna be one of the boys. And for me, I never had that mentality. I was like, I 100% will change. I’m being given the role and the responsibility of leading Marines. Like I will do it. I will accept it. And it was an interesting experience so you said you knew you had to be a different person.

[00:04:43] Craig P Anderson: When you got into that role, how do you rate your performance? How did

[00:04:46] Jim Brown: you do? You know, I do think I did well. I was, I was a good marine. I wanted to be a good marine, and I, I figured out what that meant to lead one by example. I had a lot of deficiencies and I worked very hard to fix those deficiencies.

But I would say probably an eight outta 10 would be how I would rate my leadership. Definitely some things I could have done a lot better, but I did a good.

[00:05:06] Craig P Anderson: What was the hardest leadership lesson you learned from that experience? Because the military path is so unique from other leadership paths. What was the tough leadership lesson for you?


[00:05:17] Jim Brown: I, I, I’ve said this in a lot of conversations with folks since I got out the court, and the irony is not lost on me as I say this out loud, but, The biggest thing I learned from the Marine Corps is how not to be a leader. And what I mean by that is there, there’s multiple types of leadership and the Marine Corps, the military in general, but specifically the Marine Corps relies on positional authority.

You lead with the rank on your collar. And I remember very specifically when I was getting outta the Marine Corps, my master sergeant sent me down and said, corporal Brown, why are you leaving my corps? And I asked the permission to speak frankly. And he gave me that permission. I said, Maar, I’m leaving because of you.

Like you, none of these Marines respect you. They only respect the rank that’s on your collar. And just because you’ve been here for 25 years doesn’t make you a good person. They only follow you because that rank on your collar. But these Marines out there right now, they will do anything for me. Because I’ve shown them that I’ll be right there working alongside with them and that’s why they follow me.

So I think like that was the, just the biggest lesson I learned is how you need to lead people based on who they are.

[00:06:22] Craig P Anderson: When I think back to my early leadership experience, I had a title and I expected people to do what I told them to do because I had the title. And to an extent they did, but they also hated me cuz I was a jerk.

And it’s such an interesting transition to realize, yeah, you have the authority, but if you want the respect and you want people to really follow you when it’s tough, that’s when the leadership kicks in. And it sounds like that’s what you

[00:06:47] Jim Brown: found if you want to be a leader, like if you truly wanna be a leader in what it actually means, you have the people that are willing to follow you.

And it’s not always the case in the. Yeah, and people,

[00:06:59] Craig P Anderson: and outside that area, people have at least choices. They have flexibility. They can leave if they don’t like the leader in the military, you’re stuck. You are

[00:07:07] Jim Brown: stuck. And it’s interesting because you. I don’t wanna say misbehave, that’s not the right thing.

But if you disrespect authority or the chain of command or whatnot in the military, it can ruin your life. Like they can kick you out and now you have a dishonorable discharge and it’s crazy the influence they actually have over you. But I, I wanna go back, so you specifically said was the hardest lesson that I learned, so I, I, I talked about that notion of positional authority is one.

But I remember very specifically when I did get promoted to corporal, not everybody wanted me to get that rank. Sergeant Farmer was one of those people who did not want me to get promoted, but I did. I and I was mayor promoted, which we could talk about that another time, but like, he pulled me into his office afterwards and he said, all right, corporal Brown, you’re now gonna lead Marines.

Let me tell you what that’s gonna mean for you. He said, don’t you ever let these marines see you have problems and that. I want to say a, a word that starts with F right now, but that really messed with my mind at a young age. I was a 19 year old corporal and I was like, got it. I’m gonna prove you wrong that I can be a good leader.

But also like, okay, these marines will never see me have problems. So at that point, like I started bottling everything up inside of me so that my Marines didn’t see the issues that I had. Cause we all have issues. That was a hard lesson for me to have to go through and experience. Wow.

[00:08:25] Craig P Anderson: And I want to come back to that when we started talking about current roles because that is very different from how we talk about leadership today.

Maybe at, not in the military necessarily, but it is amazing that at 19 you were thrust into leadership in a very real way, and that’s not something you usually see outside of the military

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you, you have people’s lives that are truly in your hands, like actual. just a quick aside, my son is a young naval officer and I’m amazed at the amount of authority he has at 24, 25 years old.

[00:08:58] Craig P Anderson: It is amazing what we rely on and how you have to grow. So speaking of growth, let’s move forward Tell us about your leadership role today as the leader of a very entrepreneurial startup.

[00:09:13] Jim Brown: It’s interesting. So like I said, I’m, you know, founder and c e o now of uncovered and the technology that we’re building.

We are building a business, don’t get me wrong. Like it’s not a not-for-profit. We have to make money and sustain ourselves and, but we’re doing it in a very unique way that has a real public benefit. Our goal at the end of the day is to help bring peace to the families of murder, to missing people. Yes, we are business, we have to make money and we have to lean into that.

So that’s created some very interesting challenges. Both in the types of people that I attract to the business and to the mission, the types of partners that we bring on, the conversations that we have to have have been interesting, and I think that it has forced me into making some decisions that were not germane to maybe who I really am from an identity perspective, which has created other questions and things like that, but it’s been, it truly has been an interesting experience.

So it

[00:10:03] Craig P Anderson: sounds like there’s just been parts of you having to evolve into something you didn’t expect to be effective

[00:10:09] Jim Brown: in the. For sure. Like I said though, I think that my pendulum might have swung too far. So if you think about just that first leadership experience of the Marine Corps, you do have people’s lives in your hands and right, and so sometimes you do need instantaneous obedience to orders, right?

Like if I say duck, you don’t ask why you do it, because that could be a bullet coming down range and you could be gone at that point. But now, like. Not just in the current business world that we live in, but also just in the specific business that I chose to be in. I have to lead with a lot more empathy and understanding who individuals are and what they care about and why they would be inspired to do something that maybe asking them to do.

Now, I still. Struggle from time to time where I’m like, I know the answer. I know what I want you to actually do, but if I just give it to you, one, you’re not learning and growing, but two, you don’t actually take the thought process to get there to your own. Why You’re going to execute on that. And

[00:11:04] Craig P Anderson: speaking of the differences from that early role where it was choked down your emotions, don’t let him see his sweat.

You’ve gotta be strong, you’ve gotta be stoic. Today we talk so much in leadership about vulnerability. As a leader and showing some of that emotion, how has that transition been as you’re moving into leading people? Cuz they want to work for you versus they have to follow, as you said, the what’s on your uniform.

[00:11:31] Jim Brown: Vulnerability is a big thing and like I’ve kind of alluded to already, I think that there are pendulums to everything and sometimes we can go too far into it. And so yes, people want to see you be vulnerable. They wanna see the real side of you, but at the same time, you are their leader. And if you lean too far into that vulnerability side, they almost lose some respect for you as that leader because they can’t, that they don’t have the motivation, they don’t see that you can be the person that’s gonna lead them through a tough situation or through a crisis or something along those lines.

So it’s a very delicate balance, in my opinion.

[00:12:06] Craig P Anderson: What surprised you the most being in this c e O role that maybe you didn’t see coming with the t?

[00:12:14] Jim Brown: I think this one specifically, I’ve brought people on to this team that have skills that I absolutely don’t have. And previous roles or, or previous entrepreneurial endeavors.

I at least had enough just natural skills or natural talents that if, if need be, I can roll up my sleeves and I can just do that work. But what I know is there’s a, a misquoted ancient African proverb that says, if you want to go fast, go. If you want to go far, go together. And I, I’m saying that because again, I could just put my head down and previously just do all the work myself, but it.

It’s a grind, but now that I’m relying on others to do things that I legitimately cannot do myself, there’s no just demanding, commanding either one of those words. For them to do something, I have to inspire them to see a bigger picture of why they need to not think about just the thing that’s right in front of them, but the thing that’s coming two months from now, four months from now, a year from now, and why we have to do things a certain way.

So it’s. But a challenge to, to do that because sometimes I feel inadequate that I don’t know how to do what I’m asking them to do. Yeah,

[00:13:23] Craig P Anderson: and that is such a difference as your company grows and evolves, there’s just things you can’t do and there’s skillsets we don’t have, and there’s now we have to trust and we have to get really good at delegating and really moving people through that process.

That sounds like that’s been quite a.

[00:13:38] Jim Brown: Yeah, delegation is interesting cuz I’ve always been able to delegate but I was, I would do it because like I knew if they don’t get it right I can clean it up. But now it is exactly what you said. I gotta trust that they’re gonna get it right Because one, I’m not gonna know if it’s right on the other side, but two, I, I can’t, I can’t come back and clean it up cause I dunno how to do

[00:14:00] Craig P Anderson: it.

So we’ve talked a lot about some of the challenges and opportunities and growth you’ve had as a leader. If you could go back to that 19 year old corporal. What’s the one piece of advice you would give him on leadership?

[00:14:15] Jim Brown: If I go back, and, gosh, that’s been 21 years. If I were to go back there, I was 19 years old.

I was married, but I didn’t have kids or anything along those lines. I only saw things for what was right in front of me, and I didn’t think about the bigger picture of really. Anyone else other than myself, and you have to understand a person beyond just what is directly happening to them at work. Yes, you wanna know their interests and their motivations for sure, but you also need to know what their influences are outside of what you can see.

So when they take off the uniform and they go home, who’s in their. Is it girlfriend, boyfriend? Is it a spouse? Is it family? Is it bigger expectations? Like are they in crowds they shouldn’t be in? Who else is influencing them and to as to why they’re showing up the way they do at work. It’s something I had no interest in even considering at that point, but knowing that I’ve had my own external influences, I had to really start to understand what that is.

So that’s what I would tell that young 19 year old Corporal Brown.

[00:15:20] Craig P Anderson: And that’s such a thing that we do learn over time is that people are layered. People I used to when I was young say, well just come to work, work hard and go home. How hard is this? But over time you realize people have very complex lives.

We have the car that didn’t start. We have the fight with our kids. We have all these things that kind of feed into how we show up. And as you said, that’s what gets people to lead to follow is when you know they know you have an interest. And that sounds like something you’ve been able to key in over the years as a key leadership charact.

[00:15:54] Jim Brown: Absolutely. And even just their, their experiences that led them to the point of life of where they are in that moment, right? Like we all come from different aspects and all had different things happen to us growing up and all had the first boss that we either liked or didn’t like, and we bring all of that to, to the table.

And sometimes as individuals we say, well, gosh, everyone has had the same experience that I have to get them to where they’re, and that’s just not.

[00:16:19] Craig P Anderson: Yeah, there’s a thousand paths. Well, that’s awesome. Thanks Jim, for your insights as a leader on the Accidental Leader Podcast. If people wanna learn more about you, connect with you, or learn more about uncovered, how can they find you online to make those connections?


[00:16:34] Jim Brown: most active on Twitter, so I’m at Jim underscore Brown, so you can get all of my dribble from all different aspects of who my layers are, but some of that obviously includes uncovered and we’re there too.

[00:16:46] Craig P Anderson: Thanks again, Jim, for such a great interview. It’s really a pleasure to have someone on who’s got such a diverse leadership experience from his marine experience to business experience to leading his first company.

So as I always like to do here on the Accidental Leader Podcast,

[00:17:01] Jim Brown: I wanna give you three takeaways from

[00:17:03] Craig P Anderson: my conversation with Jim, and I want to. Frame them in the three leadership traits we always talk about here of confidence, confidence and calm. So when Jim was talking about making that transition, and this is something a lot of leaders face is I’m in with my peer group and I get promoted, and now those peers are now my direct reports.

Jim talked about a lot of times when you’re in that peer role, you think, oh, when I’m a leader, I’m gonna just be, I’m gonna be different, and I’m gonna treat people the way I treat them today. But part of leadership confidence is knowing that how you interact with people as a leader is different. It doesn’t mean that it’s less human.

But you do have to come at it from a leadership perspective and realize that you have a high level of responsibility for those people and setting the direction, and you have to change your approach into how you interact. And when you realize that, as Jim did, that builds your confidence as a leader in the area of competence.

Jim talked about in the Marine Corps you have a title, you. You have insignia on your shoulder that say, I am a leader. You have positional authority just by virtue of your title. And to an extent you always have that as a leader. But great leaders are the leaders who move people forward, not from positional authority.

But from authority of the relationship and authority of the vision and competence is about figuring out those tools and developing those tools within yourself that gets people to follow you cuz of the ideas and the vision you create because of the relationships you’ve built with that team. Getting away from positional authority is the long-term leadership position that we want to strive for and that builds competence.

And finally, In the area of calm, Jim talked about in many of his roles, he was able to do all the jobs, but when he was in his most current role, he couldn’t do all the jobs and he had to learn to delegate effectively. And one of the ways to build leadership calm is to delegate effectively. Realize there are things you, you can’t do because you either don’t have the skillset or you don’t have the time or your time is better spent elsewhere.

Learning to delegate effectively is something that’s very much going to help you develop that leadership comm. So there they are. Your three focus areas from our interview with Jim Brown of uncovered, are you an accidental leader looking to level up? A great place to start as by leading better team meeting.

If you’d like help with that, go to to download my 10 rules for better meetings. Your team will thank you and you will feel a lot more confidence, confidence and calm in your next leadership team meeting. Thanks for listening today, and remember that leaders aren’t born, they’re made.

You can go from accidental leader to the greatest of all time leader. It just takes confidence, confidence and confidence. We’ll see you next.