The younger generation is the future of leadership. And it’s our responsibility to equip them with the right tools and knowledge to succeed in their leadership roles.

In this episode, professor, advisor, and performance coach, Nick Smarrelli, dives into the big challenges faced by young leaders and how to overcome them. He also discusses the the evolution of leadership in the workplace and the importance of understanding individual team members’ unique traits rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all approach.

Join us as we share actionable advice for nurturing the next generation of leaders and how to develop them to become successful.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Developing a mindful and present mindset as a leader will significantly enhance decision-making and team productivity
  • It’s crucial to recognize and support the individuality of team members while creating collective identity and team norms for a high-performing team
  • Investing in coaching for leaders leads to significant financial and performance improvements within the organization

Things to listen for:

  • [02:23] Challenges people face when they step into their first leadership role
  • [05:32] Gen Z is on the path to creating effective leaders
  • [10:11] Encourage social learning and emotional intelligence
  • [13:57] Invest in coaching for all leadership tiers
  • [21:05] Set achievable goals and meet people where they are
  • [23:42] Craig’s takeaways

Nick’s Transcript:


This has been generated by AI and optimized by a human. 

[00:00:00] Craig P. Anderson: You know what you need to do. Now just go do it.

[00:00:06] Craig P. Anderson: Welcome to Executive Evolution. I’m Craig Anderson. After spending 25 plus years in corporate America, I learned a lot of leadership lessons the hard way. I created this podcast so you don’t have to

[00:00:20] Craig P. Anderson: As I think back through my career, I’m shocked to realize how Few of my leaders really worked to develop me as a leader. They many of them gave me opportunities and opened doors and did a lot of things to help my career progress, but how much help I actually got as a young leader in developing my leadership skills.

It’s so much less than I would have hoped at the time. And I recall one conversation when I brought in a sales trainer who probably was the greatest mentor I had in sales leadership, a gentleman by the name of Skip Miller. [00:01:00] And we had a long conversation about some difficult decisions I had to make with the sales team.

And over the course of our conversation, he said to me, you’re in charge. You are the leader of this organization. You already know what you need to do. Just go do it. And just having that guidance and, and a lot more that was behind the scenes of that conversation really helped me become a better leader.

today on the executive evolution podcast, I am speaking with Nick Smerelli. He has a tremendous amount of business experience and is currently a professor at Butler university, where he teaches organizational management and finance.

Let’s dive right in to this episode of executive evolution.

Nick, welcome to the executive evolution podcast. I’m so glad you could join us today.

[00:01:47] Nick Smarrelli: Yeah, thanks, Craig. Good to be here.

[00:01:49] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah, it’s, you’ve got such a diverse background in both academia and running businesses and coaching and consulting all around leadership. And I’m really excited to have you on as a guest today, because our [00:02:00] goal here is always to help younger leaders benefit from the experience of those of us who’ve been doing it for a while.

So maybe I should just stop here and say, all right, Nick tells everything that they need to know in 20 minutes. Would that be the best way to go?

[00:02:13] Nick Smarrelli: Gosh, I feel like that would be doing a disservice your guests. And also, I don’t think I’ve ever had a message that was concise enough to ever fit into 20 minutes. So, I’m gonna let you guide this conversation.

[00:02:23] Craig P. Anderson: Excellent. you know, I’ve had the opportunity through the podcast and through my work to talk to a lot of young leaders and there’s so many things. That they struggle with in those first early leadership roles. And, you’re teaching business students and you’re teaching them some of the things to think about for organizational behavior, but where do you see big challenges for people as they step into that first level of leadership, what are the things that really start to weigh in on them as they’re trying to figure out, how do I go?

Who am I as a leader?

[00:02:53] Nick Smarrelli: I’ll kind of answer that in 2 different ways. But 1st challenge I feel like, and I’m experiencing it more and more and now being in [00:03:00] academics is such a long period of time, the way that we’ve rewarded and acknowledged success is on a very individual level. It is a scarcity mindset of someone’s got to be valedictorian and somebody has to be second and third and fourth.

And again, I was from a school of 600. So there’s a 600th rank student and there’s got to be an a, and then there’s probably some B’s and then there’s C’s and it’s all truly related to this idea of individual performance. And so your identity forms around being an individual what you’re capable of.

And then all of a sudden you’re thrust into a leadership role where it’s no longer reliant on you and the skills that you have. And it becomes this level of understanding other people and understanding the way that they operate and your success is not predicated on other people. And that’s a scary shift when you’ve had two decades. Of reinforcement of, individualized outcomes.

[00:03:56] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. A lot of leaders that I talked to, and we’ve talked about on [00:04:00] this podcast are, successful high individual contributors Why did we promote this? Well, they were great at that. They’re bound to be great at this, right? And now so much of it is coaching.

And so much of it is casting a vision, even in the middle layers of management, there’s a piece of that to be considered. So You know, when you see them at their most successful, what are some of the key things that they usually either are unconscious competent, figuring out how to be a good leader, what are the things that maybe make those people it triggers for versus the ones who have to kind of go up that hill, pushing up the rock to figure out how it works.

[00:04:37] Nick Smarrelli: Yeah. I think somebody who is good, especially in the the younger phases is wonderful at doing 2 things One is acknowledging the. Individuality of each person on their team, that there is no behavioral technique or goal setting technique or way to talk to them or way to give feedback that is universally perfect for every single person.

So [00:05:00] a great leader to me acknowledges that and takes the amount of time and effort and listening. In order to understand this unique bias of each individual based on their values and the way that they grew up and how they were talked to and how their parents talked to them and understanding that part of it, but then while still acknowledging these individual players managing to create a collective identity.

That a team is, proud to work for the team. They have team norms that they can live up to and balancing both of those is a challenge.

[00:05:31] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah, yeah, it really is. And I wonder it You know, I’m sitting here as generation X, we kind of grew up the way we did.

[00:05:38] Nick Smarrelli: Yeah.

[00:05:38] Craig P. Anderson: a lot of people in my generation kind of scratch their heads as to how to motivate and recognize that individuality as you’re working with. I guess, what is a Gen Z at this point in training those leaders through your program, what are some of the things they’re going to bring to the table that are going to make them more effective leaders for their own generation?

[00:05:58] Nick Smarrelli: One of the cool things that I’ve [00:06:00] seen so far is I would say emotional intelligence and like just general, like ability to be empathetic to other people’s experiences. I mean, I feel like that generation has. Had just a considerably more focused understanding how people show up and how people are unique.

I mean, if you think about all constructs of individuals, like they’re growing up in a time where, there’s a lot more acceptance. And I think that generally comes from curiosity about how everybody approaches it, that there’s not, this singular as I’m a male or I’m a female, or I believe this, or I believe that, like, there’s a lot of this spectrum of things.

And I feel like individuals at that age group are really good at acknowledging and understanding that part. And I kind of applaud them for seeing this. ability to understand that not everybody fits into like one category or another. And I feel like that that is a really cool skill that they inherently know so that they’re not putting, call it like a, stereotype around this type of person. you’re 25, of course you’re hungry and you [00:07:00] want to get paid the most. Like that’s assumption being made about somebody, but perhaps they have different motivations. And so I just feel like there’s, this is like awareness around. Individuality that is, I think, far better than even my generation. I told the line millennial Gen X. So I, I was like kind of awkward, sitting on both sides of those generations,

[00:07:17] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. And, you know, sometimes I think about the way that, as I was coming up through, you know, influenced by kind of that Jack Welch. we rack and stack everybody and we whack the bottom 10 and, everybody’s going to fit into the way we want them to fit in, which I suppose work to an extent, although it probably caused a lot of damage along the way, at some point you end up at the bottom of that stack.

but it seems like today we’re looking at more of a, everybody’s contributing, let’s figure out what the value is of the contribution and almost get them into the right place rather than saying, Hey. this is your job. This is what you do. You’re stuck in this. And if you stink at this, you got to go. So that, generational piece that you’re talking about of seeing people’s value, getting in the place where in the business they can bring the most value is really going to [00:08:00] change the way we’re looking at the workplace and then layering on remote work because I would imagine a lot of the students today don’t ever expect to work in a corporate office, which used to be an aspiration.

[00:08:09] Nick Smarrelli: I think it’s actually interesting. I can, I agree with that. But I’ll challenge one part of it in the sense of like, especially the workers coming out of school now is they had two years of COVID during the most like formative part of their like social identity, they were at home. And so I have found a higher degree of interest in coming back again in a way that like, I was very surprised by, there’s an enthusiasm for.

In class, conversation, not always again, that’s, that’s, the spirit of not blanket statementing, an entire generation. but I think there’s a lot more interest in some of that connection. So I don’t think it’s going to obviously look the same way as was. for my last 2 decades of working, but I think there is.

An inherent interest in coming back in some capacity together and having some of those, personalized experiences.

[00:08:56] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. So I guess, so we won’t short commercial real estate. [00:09:00] Definitely.

[00:09:00] Nick Smarrelli: Not yet, keep an eye on it, but don’t think just yet. There’s still hope for anybody listening. That’s in the real estate side of business.

[00:09:07] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. so now let’s contrast this because you talked about, you’re kind of right on that border of Gen X and the millennial space, which is a lot of where leadership is today, as much as we look to the boomers to finally retire, we’re kind of in that space of that Gen X and millennials running. And so now we’re looking at this next generation of leaders. Coming up into the workplace. What are things that we should be thinking about of how we’re going to mentor and coach these new leaders? Because one of the Cardinal sins, I think that happened was we would promote people into leadership roles and say, go and just figure it out. And I feel like this generation may be looking for more of that guidance, looking for more of that mentorship. How do more senior leaders start to better develop the next generation of leaders in their businesses?

[00:09:53] Nick Smarrelli: Yeah. Great question. I think there’s, a few ways. I think you said one of them, which is getting away [00:10:00] from the, good luck. I mean, that’s the way my first leadership job was, he seems smart at this. we talked about in class, this idea of the halo effect, Oh, he’s a great salesperson.

He’s going to be an amazing sales director. And so I was not, but there was this belief, like he’s always done well. He could always work on his own. He can continue to work on his own. So breaking that number one, just recognizing that that’s there again, putting people in there. Life, there’s a lot of learning that really comes around just being in the space of other people that are doing it well.

just giving. access to other leaders to socially mimic behaviors and just watching them engage in one-on-ones watching them engage in team meetings, watching them engage in just not necessarily like you’re not teaching them and they’re like this, I have that figured out you do not, I teach you, but just mirroring some of those, Behaviors. because again, as human beings, we’re just good at that. And I would say second that there is a little bit of like cognitive learning. Like reading is a phenomenal way to understand yourself and others. again, I think training is underutilized. I think just, emotional intelligence, something that, you [00:11:00] know, I said that there’s a degree that these individuals have, especially some of the younger individuals have naturally, but that’s a learnable skill to continue to like create.

Momentum around that making sure that their goals are not just outcome based performance goals that there’s goals set around their leadership journey. And what are they doing? And how do you measure continued success and stretching their comfort zone around leadership? So their goal setting represents.

A focus around, yes, you have to perform for the business, of course, but we’re going to carve out some time and we’re going to measure you on this ability with which to engage with different mechanisms to learn and grow in this a leader. And I think that that helps as well. It’s giving some space and time and resources around that too. It holds both sides of the equation accountable for that.

[00:11:45] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. And that’s a big mindset shift for more senior leaders because we all came up and we just figured it out. At least in my experience, most of the people I coach in that space, we’re just thrust into it and left alone. And we thought that was maybe the way, and that’s a difficult [00:12:00] thing now for us to turn around and model it.

Right. Cause we never had it modeled for us. So it’s just a very interesting dynamic that I think we’re entering into because you’ve got this great big generation of, 30 year old leaders that are growing up in businesses right now. And in your experience, both in your own businesses and in your consulting work, Do you see a lot of companies doing those very intentional efforts?

How are companies actually really trying to do this versus aspirationally trying to do it?

[00:12:27] Nick Smarrelli: I would say I’m encouraging it more and more. I’m seeing. A bigger focus around providing external coaching in the form of a few key things. first form is traditional, like, you are a new leader.

I’m going to get you some sort of coaching service in some capacity. It’s incredible to me that if you’re a CEO or you’re in an executive and you do not have a. Personal coach that people would be like, well, that’s so strange. And yet the people that are actually doing the work, we’re like, well, that’s absurd.

That’s a huge cost for you. don’t be silly. And for me, like I look [00:13:00] at my life, like I’m surrounded by. Incoming information on how to become a better leader. Like that is just, all the circles that I’m in, but most of these leaders are not in those circles. They’re not hanging out with other CEOs all the time.

So how do you create that exposure? And so good companies are just creating opportunities for exposure.

Whether it’s still like listen to a podcast or see a great speaker, go to the conferences. So that’s the second one. I’ve seen a lot of, really great companies doing peer circles in some capacity where either across companies of people that are similar jobs or even within the company is having these.

Little forums for discussing, Hey, this is a challenge I’m having with this employee, or, Hey, have you done in the past? And it has mixed generation, mixed teams, all working together. to build community as a leader. and I’m seeing a lot more of that than I’ve ever seen before of, organization is really kind of focusing on that. those are kind of like the three key areas that I’ve seen overall that seem to be working really well.

[00:13:55] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah, I, I have the fortune of working with one company that is really investing in [00:14:00] coaching across all their leadership tiers from or entry level leaders up to senior level leaders and. for them, it’s a company value that we want these people to be successful.

And we know we’re all very busy. And even with the best of intentions, it’s hard to say, yes, I’m going to carve out a week or an hour every week to coach young, Susan or young Bob, and somehow make that work consistently. And it’s really hard. I think a lot of Kind of more senior leaders struggle with so many things pulling at them to sit there and say, well, I’m going to spend an hour intentionally every week and one on ones with all my leaders and grow them. They’re just struggling to find the time because we’ve all shrunk down our workforces or whatever. So the coaching

becomes a huge asset to that. And I would even say, especially for young leaders to have access to kind of that group coaching model or that group discussion model about what’s going on. One of the things I think I’ve talked about a lot with young leaders is. These problems seem very huge because it’s the first time you’ve ever dealt with them. So of course it seems difficult, but [00:15:00] it’s not new to you. Everybody’s dealt with it. So where do you start getting to that point where, Oh man, it’s not just me. Right. And that group coaching experience can be a huge part of that.

[00:15:09] Nick Smarrelli: No question. I’ll dive into the first thing you said, which is I don’t have time. again, I, teach.

A few classes, I teach more of the psych stuff, but then I also teach finance. So I tend to, scorecard and metric everything that I do on the psychology side to say like, how does this actually create tangible financial value for the organization? So to me, simple math is I can work as a leader, 10 percent harder.

I am one, I can work at 110%. If I’m awesome, I’m doing my meditation. I’m doing my morning routine. I’m working at maybe 150%. My mindset is dialed in, right? Or I can mentor four people who are taking care of 50 people and I can have them increase by 10%. And all of a sudden now we’re at five, six, seven, a thousand percent increases in performance.

For a very low amount of time from a leadership perspective. the math doesn’t check [00:16:00] out that me sitting in this silly meeting has more tangible value than helping somebody who’s going to help 20 other people improve their outcomes, but it’s just the math that doesn’t work to me.

So That’s my like reminder there is just making sure to see the implications of, yeah, I can work that extra hour and miss some family time or miss some personal time, or you can help somebody else become 70 hours more efficient. the ratio is pretty solid the favor of the business.

[00:16:24] Craig P. Anderson: no. And it’s a great point, but that’s a mindset shift for them.

[00:16:27] Nick Smarrelli: No question.

[00:16:28] Craig P. Anderson: know, and I’d love how you’ve broken it down to that level because yeah, you’ve got the, what would be perceived as the soft stuff, the coaching, the mentoring, the development, but there’s a real financial tangible benefit to that, that, can bring the company along faster when you don’t train your low level leaders, your entry level leaders, Every mistake is magnified, And it’s just suddenly now, gosh, I didn’t have an hour to spend, but because of something they did, because I didn’t mentor them correctly. Now he’s spending six hours fixing the mess that got created as a [00:17:00] result.

[00:17:00] Nick Smarrelli: Yeah. you’re finishing out the equation. I I only think I did variable a, but the downstream effects of the stuff that you’re stuck doing. Cause he didn’t do variable a. So it’s not even like. creating output or optimization. It’s also bringing you back to baseline of mistakes that were made.

So yeah, the implications are huge.

[00:17:16] Craig P. Anderson: Yeah. And just to touch on what you talked about there about the mindset coaching to improve performance at any level of leadership, what are some of the things that you can do tangibly and without maybe you having to spend 20 minutes talking about it, what are some things people can do that can just on the margins start to help them drive a better mindset every day?

[00:17:37] Nick Smarrelli: I would say the most like fundamental things is coming back to this idea of mindfulness, which is kind of a strange concept, but I’m going to dive into it a little bit more in the sense of it’s not as nebulous as I think people make it.

really what mindfulness is, is the ability with which to be present. if you think about us as perhaps like a computer, you’ve got, hundred gigs of Ram to process. If you’re spending 20 of your brain capacity, thinking about all the [00:18:00] mistakes that you made, you’RE spending 50 worried about what’s happening in the future.

You have 30 with which to make good decisions. And so I think whatever creates the ability to be present in the moment helps. And so to many, that’s a lot of things around breathwork, a lot of things around meditation. to practice the skill of bringing all those outside aspects and narrowing that lens to what can I control right now?

I can’t control what happens in the past and I certainly cannot control the future, but I can control what happens now. And bringing that magnitude of brain power to the present is amazing. I do it through journaling to like, remember how I want to become intentional for my meetings happening the next day.

have a journal article about this. Conversation things like focus and presence for huge. I have notifications bleeping all around me and it’s, I know I’m focused on this conversation. It’s intentionality. And then it’s giving is one of my words that I wanted to do is, you know, the point of this is taking an hour out of a day to try and give knowledge.

But I think about that for every single meeting because it [00:19:00] forces me to be intentional versus casually walking in. With the mindset baggage that I have, so there’s a ton of ways to do that. But, that’s probably the most important is can I really be present in the moment? And it’s only a gift to the person that you’re with, but it’s also just a gift of like your brain.

Like you’re just harnessing all that skillset and bringing it to the current moment. That’s power, in my opinion, and that’s power that not a lot of people have.

[00:19:24] Craig P. Anderson: no. And it’s, so much more difficult now. And I think you know, we complain about meetings and meeting culture and long meetings, but if we were all mindful and present in the meeting, you left everything at the door, what could you actually do in 30 minutes in a meeting if everybody was engaged in that 30 minutes?

So there’s, lessons upon lessons through this approach for leaders.

[00:19:41] Nick Smarrelli: Yeah. I mean, to your point, it’s like you have to start thinking through, okay, I’m going to be adding 20 minutes of behavioral activities every day really work on my mindset, but that hopefully creates, significant output longer time horizon. So it’s a hard mathematics.

Again, I struggle with it too. And I do mindset coaching. But the math has always checked [00:20:00] out so far. So it reinforces the behavior.

[00:20:02] Craig P. Anderson: Perfect. Well, so Nick, to wrap this up and close, you know, you have your own great leadership experience in your leadership journey. You’re doing all this work and teaching and training and mindset coaching. If you could go back in time, pick your time machine, whichever one you like. I always prefer the DeLorean, but that’s me

[00:20:20] Nick Smarrelli: that’s my jam too.

[00:20:21] Craig P. Anderson: All right, go back to young Nick. In that very first leadership role, what is the one piece of advice you would take back to him that would make the journey easier

[00:20:32] Nick Smarrelli: Ooh. Okay. Well, I’ll give context to my first leadership role. So I became director of sales at the age of 25, for a big organization. It was the coolest thing ever because I was the youngest director. So it’s like, my ego is through the freaking roof. It was a position that I did not earn. had nothing to do with my performance necessarily.

Certainly had something to do with it, but it was pure luck that I got into this, role. I had 12 people and we moved into an under performing team. And so the first thing I naturally did was assume that everything I have ever done to get to the point that I have had, which is three and a half years [00:21:00] of wisdom and experience, was to assume that everybody else in the team needed to follow the way that I operated.

So they were put on like a behavioral plan, a goal setting plan, and the way that even I set goals were huge, because that’s the way I live my life. Like, we’re going to create a big goal, it’s going to be scary, and we’re going to go chase it. And I essentially forced 12 people to work in the way that I did, which meant within about six months, half the team quit, and then created goals that were so uninspiringly large that nobody followed me.

So I’d say first and foremost is to realize that the way that you do things is not the way that others should do things. when you’re moving into that leadership role is taking the time to understand. How to create again, a team environment so that we’re collectively working towards a common vision, but maximizing the potential of every person.

In the unique way that they approach things, some people didn’t need to have significant amount of sales training because they had 20 years of experience, but they needed clarity in their role. [00:22:00] Some people needed sales training, but they didn’t need any clarity because they knew what they were supposed to be doing and meeting people where they were.

And instead of assuming that. Because this is the way that I did it, that’s the way that they should as well. Because that was highly detrimental to anybody that was in my sphere.

[00:22:15] Craig P. Anderson: that,

[00:22:16] Nick Smarrelli: not create a high performing team, as well, surprisingly, to no one.

[00:22:20] Craig P. Anderson: yeah, I resonate with that. It’s almost mimics when I had my first sales leadership role. Well, here’s how I was successful. If you guys would just get on board and act just like me. We could crush it. We’ll set aside. You’re not like me at all.

[00:22:32] Nick Smarrelli: not at all. Thankfully, to me, again, as I’ve gone deeper into my self concept, I’m so thankful that people are not like me. You need one. Kind of Nick Cimarelli in an organization or Craig Anderson in an organization, but man, too many of us, you need diversity of thinking and talent.

Like I’m so thankful no one’s like me, but 25, I think my thing was if everybody could act the way I do and have my discipline and my way of approaching it, we would be really successful. And that is a terrible way to lead.

[00:22:57] Craig P. Anderson: Very good. Well, Nick, if people want to [00:23:00] find you online or follow anything that you’re doing, what’s the best places for them to do that?

[00:23:04] Nick Smarrelli: I am on LinkedIn. I don’t post a ton anymore, but I am working on a special project that in theory may manifest itself in a little bit more of an opportunity to hear from me and others. But that’s TBD at this point. But for right now, LinkedIn is always the best way to get in touch with me.

one of the biggest changes I made in my life was creating space and opportunity to help other people on their journey, less so than be the one in the journey themselves. And so always happy to have conversations.

[00:23:29] Craig P. Anderson: Great. And we’ll drop the links to your LinkedIn right in the show notes. Nick, thanks so much for being part of executive evolution. I really appreciate the time.

[00:23:36] Nick Smarrelli: Yeah, this is fun. Thanks Greg.

[00:23:38] Craig P. Anderson: I really appreciate the insights that Nick shared with us today. He has such a unique perspective being both a person who has grown and developed businesses and led large teams and now is working with the next generation of leaders, helping them prepare for the challenges and opportunities they are going to face [00:24:00] in their career.

As always, I like to break down the episode into the three key leadership areas of confidence, confidence and calm. In the area of confidence, what I think Nick talked about the most was about how finding a coach or a mentor is really going to help you develop and put things in perspective. Just like the story I shared at the opening of the podcast, where you find that mentor or hire that coach, that’s where you can really get somebody who is invested in you for the purpose of you.

So that’s a great way to develop your leadership confidence in the area of competence. We talked about. How by actually intentionally developing the people around you as a leader, you actually supersize your capacity as a leader because while you may be able to give 110% or 150%, if you can develop the people around you to give above a hundred percent and to really contribute at a high level, you’re getting far more done.

By investing that time in them. And then finally, I really appreciated what he [00:25:00] talked about in the areas of developing your calm as a leader, ideas like meditation and journaling, things that we might say, well, I don’t have time to do those things, but as we talked about in training people around you, this is an investment in your time.

When you have clarity, when your presence and your focus is sharpened, you actually are more productive and more in tune as a leader. Thanks for being part of this episode of Executive Evolution, Nick. As always, remember, you can go from being the accidental leader to the greatest leader of all time. All it takes is developing your confidence, competence, and calm.

See you next time on Executive Evolution