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Becoming an Admired Leader with Anton Gunn

May 05, 2022

In todays episode we hear from former advisor to President Barack Obama - Anton Gunn. Anton is an International Speaker, best-selling author and the world’s leading expert on Socially Conscious Leadership.

Anton has a Masters Degree in Social Work and was a Resident Fellow at Harvard. He is the bestselling author of The Presidential Principles and has been featured in TIME magazine, the Wall Street Journal, BBC, NPR, and on Good Morning America.
From playing SEC football and being the first African American in history elected to the SC legislature from his district early in his career to now serving as the CEO of 937 Strategy Group and serving on multiple boards, he has spent his life helping people build diverse high performing teams and world-class leadership culture.

My Three Key take aways from the episode were:

  • There's never a wrong time to start doing the right thing. That could apply to your health, it could apply to your wealth, it could apply to your relationships. Are you doing something that you know you shouldn't be doing? Or is there something you know you should be doing but you aren't. Take some action today. 
  • The most admired leaders are the ones who do what ever it takes to make things right. Are you that leader? Do you take the time when you mess up and treat someone poorly? Do you take the time to make it right? Most of the time things are reparable. 
  • Diversify your peer group. This is so powerful. People who are different than you are, help you grow and become a better person and leader. They see your blindspots. We all need more diversity.
  • An added bonus point that Anton left - Whenever you have an interaction with a team member, that team member is subconsciously asking these 3 questions:
  1. Do you care about me?
  2. Will you help me?
  3. Can I trust you?

Make sure you show your team members through your actions that you do care about them and you are there to help them. That's how they begin to trust you and admire you as their leader. 


Full Transcription 


Anton Gunn, James Laughlin 


James Laughlin 00:00 

Welcome to lead on purpose. I'm James Laughlin, former seven-time world champion musician, and now an executive coach to global leaders and high performers. In every episode, I bring you an inspiring leader or expert to help you lead your life and business on purpose. Thanks for taking the time to connect today on investing in yourself. Enjoy the show. 


James Laughlin 00:39 

Anton Gunn was an adviser to President Barack Obama. He also was the bestselling author of the presidential principles and has been featured in Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, NPR, and Good Morning America. Anton Gunn and I sat down and we chatted about leadership, specifically how to become a more admired leader. Sit back and enjoy the show. 


James Laughlin 01:22 

Anton, a massive Welcome to The Lead on Purpose Podcast. 


Anton Gunn 01:26 

Thank you for having me. Excited to be with you.  


James Laughlin 01:28 

Yeah, it's so great to connect. I've been following your journey. And we've got an I've got a mutual friend, I guess to Rory Vaden. Who has connected us? 


Anton Gunn 01:35 

Yes, Rory is a great guy. He always puts great people together. So, I'm happy to be with you for sure.  


James Laughlin 01:41 

Oh, it's so great to connect. And look, I'd like to start a little bit just for those who are listening. To get a bit of a background on who you are. We're going to talk about being an admired executive and the need for developing an amazing culture in today's age. So, before we get into that, I'd love to know a little bit about your background, the thing that really sprung out to me was that you were an advisor to Barack Obama. So, I'd love to chat a bit about your journey to that point. 


Anton Gunn 02:06 

Yes, that's a great place to start. So, so I'm definitely going to talk about my time with Barack Obama. But I'll tell you where my story begins. So, my story begins with my family. I am a fourth-generation military brat. In the United States, we talk about if you're a child of a person who served in the military, they call you a military brat because you hang out. And my great grandfather served in both World Wars. He actually was unfortunately born at the wrong time, that he was old enough to serve in the First World War at 20 years old. And then at the age of 45. He was drafted into World War Two. At the same time that he was in World War Two, his oldest son, my grandfather, served in the United States Army during World War Two and he played baseball for the Army during the war. And they, my grandfather married a woman who was a welder in the shipyard women couldn't serve in the war. But my grandmother was a welder, and she helped to build three aircraft carriers. And they raised four boys. My uncle Clarence was a Marine, my uncle LG was a Vietnam veteran, my dad was in Vietnam and Desert Storm in the Navy, and my dad's baby brother, my Uncle Lucky, his name is not lucky. But they called him lucky in the family because he joined the Army in 1973, and the Vietnam War was over right before he finished boot camp. So, he never got a chance to see combat like his brothers. So, everybody in the family called him lucky. Now, the reason why I start with my family is because of the number one leadership skill, and the number one leadership trait that I learned from my family that I've taken with me everywhere that I go in my life, And I come from for generations of men who served. I didn't even mention that my brother Sharon, joined the United States Navy as my father did, and he served as well. So, I never put on a military uniform, but I came from a family who all served, they made a decision to, you know, sacrifice themselves to put themselves down to serve others and make a difference in the lives of other people. But where my story differentiates is that when I finished high school, instead of going into the military, I went to college to play American football. And so, I'm a former South Eastern Conference football player, and it literally is the biggest and the best Football Conference in the United States of America. And I would say arguably the best Football Conference on the planet if you're talking about American football. I played on the offensive line and I learned more lessons about leadership. And those lessons are If you don't know what the offensive line is, the offensive line is the five big fat guys up front, who blocked for all the superstars, I blocked for the Tom Brady types and the Peyton Manning types. They get all the glory and all the credit. But you'll never know an offensive lineman's name. You know why you'll never know our names. Because if you hear our names, that means we were doing our jobs wrong. And so, if you never hear our names, we're doing our jobs right. We work in a group of five, we have to have great communication, and we have to be on the same page. And we have to support each other and help each other, to block others. And those are lessons that I learned in leadership, that are not about being the person out front and getting all the glory. But what do you do to make everybody else on your team look good? And how do you communicate and help people to solve problems so they can be successful? Those are the lessons that I took with me into a life of what I call community service. So, after college, I spent the better part of 10 years doing grassroots work, helping poor people who didn't have health insurance coverage, and people who lived in underserved communities and needed support. And so, I was a servant. My job was to solve problems and serve people. But then I learned that serving them wasn't enough. And so, I needed to find a way to empower them. See, service is the prerequisite of leadership. But empowerment, in my mind, is the essence of leadership. How do you as a leader, give people the tools, the information, the resources, the skill set, to determine their own destiny. And it's not your job to choose their destiny, but to equip them with everything that they need, so they can be successful. So, after working in communities, I saw that I needed to help equip people more. So, I started helping to start organizations and incorporate nonprofit charities, helping board members to be better executives to build organizations, giving them the skills and the things that I've learned over time, and teaching them how to be better leaders. And that's what led me into American politics. And I found myself running for public office. So yes, I'm a former elected official, who literally ran for the state legislature. And the first time I ran, James I ran and thought I was going to win. But I ended up losing by 298 votes out of 14,000. It was the most humbling experience ever, to get that close for the first time. But here's what I learned from it, is that the most precious resource that we all have is time. And if you don't spend enough time, with people earning their trust, earning their respect, and understanding who they are and what matters to them, then you won't get the most important things you want in life. And it's not about how hard you work. It's not about you knowing how great you are. But how much time do you spend learning from other people getting to know them, and making sure that they trust that you are going to be there authentically with them? I brought all of those things with me into working for Barack Obama. And my time working for him was about three and a half years in his administration. And also on his campaign, I actually helped him to run for president because he was a leader, which I felt embodied a lot of the same traits that I had. And so, I was an advisor over healthcare. And so, we all know in the States, Obamacare is a big piece of conversation. Everybody's always talking about it. But people who live in other countries where health care is a right. They don't understand why we were arguing about health care. And I don't either, because I do believe that if you're not healthy in your mind, your body, and your community if you're not totally healthy, you can live out your God-given potential. And so, to me, as a leader, it's your responsibility to equip people with health insurance, medical care, treatment, and services. So, they can be whole and healthy, to live out their God-given potential. And for three and a half years, I help Brock Obama, figure that out, give him some advice and some strategy, and most importantly, to work hard to be one of the leaders they help make healthcare, a reality for all Americans. 


James Laughlin 09:36 

That's phenomenal. Thank you for sharing your story. And about your family, a family of servant leaders. Yes, phenomenal, and it says a lot about you and it's obviously shaped your filter of the world and how you look at leadership. And when you were working with Barack Obama, what were the things that you took away you over flacking on that experience. What were leadership principles that you took away from that time? 


Anton Gunn 10:06 

James, I will tell you, there are so many that I could share with you. You know, I was I tried to boil this down one time, I think I wrote a blog post, I've taken it down since then I probably need to put it back up. But I wrote about the lessons that I learned from Barack Obama, that are helping me every day to be a better leader for everyone that I come in contact with. And I'll give you a few of them. The first one is to always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. The thing that I've learned from Barack Obama is that he appreciates the diversity of ideas. So, he'll bring the brightest minds around him. And he'll ask the question, and let them share their perspective and their opinion, while he sits there and listens, and learns. And I had this great photo of me in the Oval Office with Barack Obama, where one day, he asked me my opinion about something. And he's a leader of the free world. He has all of the, you know, knowledge and expertise and all these experts around him. But as one lonely person on his team, he says Anton, what do you think we need to be doing better. And he sat down, and he listened to me for 20 minutes. Now, for those of you who don't know, 20 minutes of the President, the United States time is like four lifetimes over. You're blessed, they only get five minutes, but I got 20. And so, what I learned from him, is to surround yourself with smart people. And listen to them, understand their perspective, and understand what value proposition they're bringing to you. And then you make the best decision possible. So that's lesson number one. Lesson number two, which is a very important one that we sometimes don't talk about when we talk about leadership is to have unconditional love for your family, and never be afraid to share what they mean to you. And I saw that every day from Barack Obama, you could not doubt that he loved his wife, Michelle, or his daughter, Sasha and Malia. And he was happy to make them a part of his life. He lets you know that he was a whole person, that I'm not just an as big figurehead that got this important job. But I'm a husband and a father. And my daughters remind me how uncool I am. And my daughters, you know, let everybody know that I'm just a dumb old dad that does dad dancing. And so, I took a lesson away to always honor and respect your family, and don't be afraid to show them, love. And my wife, Tiffany, I've been married almost 22 years now. I got one daughter, her name is Ashley, she's 17. They are an important part of who I am as a leader. So that's lesson number two. So, love your family. The third lesson, is the one that we all should probably really, really take ownership of. And that is, he never let criticism and detractors ruffle his feathers, or make him get out of sorts or out of his way. I mean, he got criticism from everybody. And some of it was warranted, he listened and he reflected on it. And sometimes it was just frivolous, people just sniping at you, or just trying to, you know, find a reason to be upset at you. But I never ever saw him be bothered by he never let it bother him. And it kind of reminded me of something that a president in the past said, Theodore Roosevelt, when he talked about the Man in the Arena, is that when you're in the arena, in the heat of battle, there will always be people sitting on the sidelines, some cheering you on some finding way to criticize you and think that you're wrong for doing what you're doing. But most of them don't have the gumption, the mindset, or the skill set to get in the arena. And so, when you're in the arena, just recognize that you're doing a job that's not going to make everybody happy. And it's okay, whether you make them happy or not. If you're in the middle, and people are upset at you, and some people love you, then that means you're really doing it right. So those are three big takeaways. But I could probably give you another five more because it just kind of just, you know, it was so much I learned so much I took away the last one, I'll tell you this one is, never be afraid to do big things. I mean, when Barack Obama got elected president, we were in a recession. Our economy was in freefall, we were losing jobs. And, you know, we're in the midst of this 20-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, it was not a good time in the United States of America. The global recession was kind of hitting everybody in the middle of that dark hour, the president United States says in his first public address before Congress, we need to pass health care reform now. And some people were like, man, our economy is in freefall. And we got all these other problems. Why in the heck are you talking about healthcare in the middle of an economic reset recession? He said that this is a big hard thing that America hasn't tackled in nearly 50 years. But he also knew that health care was nearly 20% of our gross domestic product. And if you find a way to fix healthcare, you actually fix the economy. And the reason why we have so many people starting their own businesses and becoming entrepreneurs today is that they now no longer have to have health insurance tied to the job, that you can actually get it by being an entrepreneur and afforded and pay for it. So don't be afraid to take on tough challenges and to do big things. These are the greatest lessons that I learned from my time working for Barack Obama. 


James Laughlin 16:09 

That's amazing. Thank you so much, Anton. And the one thing I was reflecting on, as you're saying that, you know, great leaders make mistakes. Great. Yes, leaders have failed. So that is kind of a double-sided question. One, what was Brock's approach when he made a mistake? How did he own it? And two, how did he set the scene for you guys on his team to go, hey, it's okay to make a mistake. And here's how we're going to work with it? 


Anton Gunn 16:36 

Oh, great question. This is actually something that I teach in my keynote speeches. And so, these are lessons that I really have honed in on through my own personal experience, but also Barack Obama is that the first thing you have to do is you got to know that you made the mistake. So many people, what I call bumbled through leadership, because they make lots of mistakes, and they never have the self-awareness. Or they never allow the people around them to tell them that they screwed up. And one of the things that Barack Obama was totally transparent with, and was comfortable with, particularly with me is that I remember we were in a car one day, when he was running for president or thinking about running for president, he asked me to join his team, his campaign team, I told him that I'm going to be fiercely loyal to you. But the only way I'm fiercely loyal, is I need you to be comfortable, that if I tell you that you're screwing up, that you're going to be okay with that, and you're going to listen to me. He said to me, Anton, my wife tells me that I'm screwing up almost every day. And I'm comfortable with that. So, I'm definitely comfortable with you telling me that I'm screwing up. So, whenever he would make a mistake, he was comfortable with his team pointing out that we didn't do this right, or this went wrong. That's point number one. Point number two is to acknowledge the mistake. And Barack Obama was okay with acknowledging, that when he did something wrong, he did it from the press briefing room. He did it in speeches, he talked about it in meetings, and if things went wrong, he was happy to say, we screwed up or I screwed up. And then the third lesson is a big one is to apologize for the mistake that you made. And so many leaders don't know how to apologize, that's actually what I help most organizations with, is that mistakes happen in the workplace every day. That's how you build toxic workplace culture, people get mistreated, they get passed over for promotions, and maybe they get disrespected, downsized, or even discriminated against. It happens every day. But what makes it worse is when people don't know that it happens. Or when they do, they don't acknowledge it. And then the third thing that I never do is apologize for it. Those are three things that I learned from Barack Obama. And then the fourth one, if I had to put the fourth one on it, is don't dwell on the mistake, immediately do everything you can in your power to try to make it right. And sometimes you might have to bring outside expertise to make it right. Maybe you need to bring, you know somebody that disagrees with you in and tell you what you should be doing differently. But more importantly, you should get the work immediately and try to do what you can to correct the mistake. That's what I learned from him. And that's what gave us the privilege to do as a team. And these are lessons that I can continue to live and lead every day is that there's never a wrong time to start doing the right thing no matter who made the mistake. No matter how long the mistake was made ago. You got to do something to make it right. And as a matter of fact, the most admired people are the ones who do whatever it takes to make it right. 


James Laughlin 19:56 

And in terms of awareness, like that's the big one that stuck out for me, so for the leader out there who's rather unaware, like the self-awareness is not there, their emotional intelligence is maybe not really in tune. Yeah. How can a leader develop a better awareness of how they're treating people? How they're leading the decisions they're making? 


Anton Gunn 20:15 

Yeah. So that's a great, great question because you can't fix what was wrong until you know what's wrong. And so, the first lesson that I would say to anyone who doesn't have that self-awareness, my first point to you is to surround yourself with different people. Now, what do I mean surround yourself with different people, we all have blind spots, and every last one of us has blind spots. Or to put it in a more specific term, we all have biases. And biases can be positive and they can also be negative. And as human beings, we normally surround ourselves with people who are just like us who see the same things that we see, which means they don't see the same things that we don't see. So, the first way to raise your awareness, if you don't have emotional intelligence, is you got to find a way to diversify your peer group. So, if you spend all of your time with men who are your same age, well, it's time to bring some gender diversity and some age diversity into your core group of friends and leadership team. I mean, it's one of the things that I talk about in my keynotes, I talk about the diversity advantage and the advantage of having diversity around you as a leader. So, whether it's racial diversity, gender diversity, age diversity, or even if it is educational diversity. See, I have a master's degree in social work. And most of the companies that I've worked in as an employee, I was the only social worker, everybody else had a law degree, or they had a business degree. So, my perspective on the world was the opposite of someone who's focused on the bottom-line return to investors, I could care less about the bottom-line return to the investors, I care about the value of the people that work in the organization, because I know, if you don't have good people, then that means you don't have a good process, which means you're not going to be productive, and you're not going to have great profits. So, you're focused on the bottom line, but I'm focused on the people. And so, diversifying the people around you in their perspectives, is how you get greater awareness. That's the first thing. The second thing you do is you have to become incessantly committed to personal growth and development. That means I love to say, Leaders, are readers. I read about 60 books a year. And you gave me a great book, right before we started called Mandela's way, I will have it ordered on Amazon by the end of the night and in my hands in 48 hours. And I'll probably have it done by next week. Because I really read a lot of books. And I read from a diversity of authors I read from women CEOs, I read from young authors, I read from new entrepreneurs, I read books that came out 50 years ago, I try to have an eclectic palette of information that I take in because it helps me to see things that I don't see to hear it from a perspective that I don't know. And then the last thing that I do, which every leader should be doing, if they particularly if they lead a team in a large organization, is you have to create the space for your people that tell you when you're wrong and when you're blind. And if you haven't built the kind of culture, on your team, in your organization, where people can be honest with you, then you have an organization that is not going to be successful long term, you're going to find people who will leave you to go work for someone else that is honest, that they can be honest with because we got to stop trying to put on this perfect picture there. You know that leadership is perfect and leadership is messy. Okay, you're never going to get it right all the time. You're going to get it right many times and you're going to be entitled to the opportunity to make mistakes if you're honest and humble and transparent. And if you show people the human side of you, because everybody else on your team is going to make mistakes. And you got to create the kind of culture where people can be honest and transparent. And if you don't, you're never going to be that leader that everyone will admire. 


James Laughlin 24:38 

That's so powerful. Anton, I want to take a look at the cost of new poor leadership the cost of being disconnected from your team the cost and disregarding people before we then look at how to be an admired leader. Yes. What is the cost? What are the two or three major costs for the company that organization if the leader is not respecting, and regard his people? 


Anton Gunn 25:03 

Yeah, so there's so much and I will tell you this. There have been several studies he had done recently about the cost to an organization. And the cost really boils down to your turnover rate and the number of people who leave your organization. I literally just talked to a client on the phone earlier today, who's telling me that the number one problem is that they love to tout how great their culture is, right? So, for the organization, if you're there for five years, or longer, leaders literally stay for a decade or more. So, they said, they love to say, oh, we have great people who stay long term in our organization. But I asked them a key question. I say, what is your turnover rate for people that come to work for you, in the first 18 to 36 months? Everybody got quiet in the call, I mean, like deathly quiet. And they say, well, that's actually the biggest problem is that we lose 50% of the people in the first 18 months, and then over 36 months, it's still about 30%. But then they say, well, but if you get past 36, then it starts to go down real fast. And then once you get to five years, people stay their long term. And I asked the question, I say, well, how much does it cost you to replace a person? And how much time does it cost you? And they say it was anywhere from in this was normal times six to eight weeks to hire and replace a frontline team member and it costs us between 50 and $80,000 per person. And I said, is that pre-pandemic numbers? And they say yes, as I said, what is it taking you now. And they said, our time to fill now is four and a half months. So, think about how much productivity is being lost. When you have a team that's supposed to have 10 people, but you only have six people. And it's taking you four and a half months to find four people. And then you treat them so bad. Because you don't have a good leadership culture, you're going to lose 50% Of the four that you hired, within the first 18 months, and had to start the process all over again. So, there's a monumental cost in terms of productivity, in terms of morale, but their bottom-line financial costs of what you're losing when you don't have a fully capable team. Not to mention how you expose yourself to potential liability if you have a bad leader or a bad leadership culture. And that leader doesn't know how to respect people doesn't know how to talk to people, uses inappropriate language is uncivil in the workplace harasses people, and bullies people. I mean, we live in a litigious society today, where people can easily go file a lawsuit. And I can tell you in the United States of America, it was half a billion dollars of out-of-court settlements, for lawsuits due to harassment and discrimination claims. These didn't even go to court, you didn't even have to prove in court, that it was so bad that the company was willing to settle out of court to the tune of half a billion dollars. That's mind-blowing. So, it's a lot of cost to it. And then the last thing if I just break it down to an individual cost, the great resignation that we see happening all across the country right now and all across the world, if you will, people are just making the decision to they're sick and tired of being sick and tired. Nobody wants to work for a butthole anymore. Nobody wants to. Nobody wants to work for someone who doesn't value them, respect them, and treat them fairly. And let me be clear, I'm going to break it down for your audience because I want them to really take this from an esoteric concept of leadership. I'm going to break it down very simply. Every person that you lead is asking three questions every time that they see you. Every time they log into a meeting, every time they jump on zoom or teams or whatever platform you use. Every time you do a conference call. Every employee is asking the same three questions. You should imagine these questions are tattooed on their forehead every time you see them. Here are the three questions. Question number one is do you care about me? Question number two is will you help me? Question number three is can I trust you? And let me be clear, do you care about me? Is really do you show me that you care about me? They don't want to hear yes. To those questions, they want to see Yes. In your actions that you care about them. Do you know their spouse's name? Do you know their children's names? Do you know where they went to school, their favorite book, their favorite color? Their favorite candy bar, their favorite snack? Because if you don't know who I am, really, then you definitely can't care about me. You can't, you can try to motivate me at work. But if you don't know what's important to me, you can't really motivate me. 


Anton Gunn 30:45 

The second question, will you help me? It's really will you help me to be successful in my work? Because every person on your team wants to be successful. Nobody takes a job or a career path or joins a team to be a failure. Does everybody want to be successful? So, the question is, as a leader, what are you going to do every day? To help me to be successful? Have you given me the tools, the training the information? Have you given me the resources to do my job and to do it well? Because if you don't answer that you care about me, and you're willing to help me to be successful, then I'm never going to trust you. I'm never going to trust you. And the third question takes a long time to develop, like, you don't trust people immediately, you might know them, you might like them. But you don't trust them, they don't trust you. And trust is earned over time. But it only takes a second to break. Trust me, if you ever stop showing your team that you care about them, if you ever stop helping them to be successful, then you start to erode trust. So that's the basic level of what it costs you that people will quit on an organization and on a leader that doesn't care about them, that is not being helpful to them in their goals in their life. Not just be successful at the job that I'm doing, but be successful in life. And they don't want to work for people that they can't trust. And they'll stick around, stick around just as long as necessary. Until they can find somebody better, that does care about them, that is willing to help them, and who they believe that they can trust. That's the basics. 


James Laughlin 32:36 

Anton that was leadership at its finest, for those leaders that are listening, I hope you write that down. I hope you dwell on that. And those questions, look at all of your team and know that they are asking those subconsciously. So, you mentioned the word Leadership Culture, those two words together, what is a healthy leadership culture? 


Anton Gunn 32:56 

Yeah, so a healthy leadership culture, really involves a lot of things that we've literally had been talking about here, where you have created an organization where you have reciprocal, and routine processes to become aware of what's wrong in your culture. That's the first thing. So, you got ways to get feedback from frontline team members to middle management, to senior management, from your customers, from your vendors, from the community that you're in, and you maintain situational awareness because you built in a process that everybody talks that you have a learning culture in your organization, you don't have a punitive culture, but you have a learning culture in your organization. That's part one. The second thing is, is that you have leaders in your organization who mastered the fundamentals of leadership versus management. Management is, you know, you should you make sure people show up on time, you make sure they go to lunch on time, that they don't stay too long at lunch, and that they don't clock out early. That's management. You don't want management. You want a leadership culture, a leadership culture as a culture, where your job as a leader, is to answer those three questions for every person on your team. Do you teach your managers those three questions, and how to answer them in real-time? So, an example that I'll give you, as I was talking to an organization, and the assistant to a senior executive, was in my session, not as a participant, but she was sitting on a side to help manage the technology. And when we took a break from the workshop, she came up to me and she said to me, you know, that my boss doesn't care about me and doesn't help me. And I say, well, what do you mean? I thought you were happy? She said, for a year and a half, I've had a broken keyboard at my desk. And I've told him about the keyboard over and over again. And because the keyboard is broken is one of those little flip tabs at the top end of the keyboard. So, it now teeters back and forth. And it makes this horrible noise and she can't get a level hand. So, she's typing more errors, she's typing slower. And she said over and over again, I need a new keyboard. But because he was so cheap, it was like, we only order supplies one time a year or something along those lines, right? She went for months with a broken keyboard. And it just made her feel ineffective at her job, a broken keyboard, how easy was that to fix? But she said, Anton, you described to me in your workshop, that I'm actually looking for another job and don't want to stay here. Because my boss didn't care about me enough and didn't help me enough to fix a keyboard. And I never felt empowered to do anything about it. So, leadership is having leaders who answer those three questions in a team that feels empowered to solve problems, empowered to innovate, and empowered to develop new ways and processes to make what you do better. So, that's the second point, the third pillar of an organization that I think is a fantastic world-class, workplace culture is an organization that's full of justice. And when I say justice, every leader knows intellectually, emotionally, and systemically, that it's their responsibility to make things right when they go wrong. So think about it in this way. Most great businesses have a customer service department. And if ever a customer came in and said, my meal isn't right, or this product that I bought from you is defective. Well, we know the guarantee of our businesses is generally if you're not a satisfied customer, we're going to do whatever it takes to make it right. We're going to replace that object, we're going to refix your meal, or we're going to give you the meal for free because it was so bad, but we're going to make some kind of recompense for what's not right. 


Anton Gunn 37:24 

But the problem is James, is companies don't do that for their employees, that employees will experience wrong at work. It'll be years before anybody ever acknowledges that what happened to you, in the marketing department was wrong, that you get passed over for that promotion was not right. That you being yelled at because of something that somebody else did was wrong, that you not having a budget big enough to execute on the project that we told you to execute on was wrong. And so, we're going to acknowledge that it was wrong. And then we're going to do something to make it right. We're going to give you a bigger budget, or we're going to give you more team members, or we're going to put you on a new team in a better environment, or we're going to get rid of that bad leader who did that bad thing to you. Because you're more valuable to us than a person who perpetuates injustice and unfairness in our workplace. And so, the greatest organizations, in my opinion, are the ones who live out the Justice code. That's what I teach is how to make things right when they're wrong. And if you have that situation awareness, you're answering those three questions, you got empowered leaders, and everybody believes is their responsibility, that when things go wrong, don't let them fester. Don't let them hang, but actually do something to make them right. That's when we're winning. 


James Laughlin 38:57 

Beautiful. That's so beautiful. And it makes me think a little bit about organizational values. And, you know, clients that I've worked with organizations that work with have values, but often they're up on the wall and their words, but I struggle to see them actually be embodied in the organization. The staff knows them as words, but they don't know them as, you know, doing experiences that they're not things that they embody. So how do you go about with your clients helping them embody organizational values? 


Anton Gunn 39:29 

Yeah. So, I think that's a great question. Because, you know, one of the things that I'm really clear about is we put these value statements up on the wall, and we plaster them everywhere. But, you know, most frontline employees don't even know the organization's values. They don't. I mean, I've been inside organizations where they're, the senior executive team can tell you the values. The senior managers can tell you the values, but if you ask the person who's working in the parking lot works at a security desk works at customer service. What are the company's values? They have absolutely no idea what the values are, they just don't. And because they don't, what ends up happening is they don't live those values. And so, you have to get sold out of giving people operational bullet points or operational examples of what it means to live our values. So, for instance, if you value innovation, there are a lot of companies who love to say innovation is our number one value, right? Value and innovation mean that you have a process and a way for anyone in the organization to offer an idea to improve everything that you do in the organization, not just your product development division, but not just the tech team who does the technology. But again, if I'm the guy at the security desk, okay. And I'm frustrated, because I have a long line, trying to get people into the building every day because we have this archaic process that I have to scan every ID and print out a new badge. And it takes me twice as long as it would if we just allow people to register before they come to the building and put their own stuff in and then I just validate it by searching their name, and then printing out the name tag that will speed up our process about 40%. Well, in a lot of organizations, your job is secure, your job is not to innovate. And so, if you want to live in organizational value, you got to create the space and the processes for everybody to live their value. Now, especially if your value is diversity, if your values are compassion, if your values are teamwork, and these words that we love to throw around as buzzwords, but if teamwork is a value, does everybody really feel like they're on a team? Do you really create the space for them to be on a team? Do you give them all the same playbook and all of the same information in order for them to work together? Do you take time off? Do you have retreats and other things that allow teams to grow together? Because I've seen a lot of organizations say that teamwork is a value. But the executive team has never done an offsite retreat together. I mean, how do you literally say that you, you value teamwork, when you don't even value your senior team enough to do a one day or a two-day off-site, where you're not suited and booted, but you got on your shorts and your T-shirt and you flip flops. And you sit around learning about each other and how to have each other's back and help each other to solve problems. So, you really have to give people that operational example of what their value looks like in action, Values in Action. And then celebrate people who do it celebrate and reward people who literally live out those values. So, if Tom insecurity comes up with a new idea, then put Tom's face all over the website, all over the billboard, all over everything, and let everybody in the company know that we valued his frontline team member because he gave us an innovative idea that decreases our wait time for visitors to come into our buildings by 75%. All because we went to a web-based format and sent people that email that had an appointment before having them come to the front desk. You got to do that. That's how you build what I call a world-class culture. 


James Laughlin 43:43 

So good. And Anton when you were with the Obama team, were you really aware of what the values were? Were they clear within that team? 


Anton Gunn 43:53 

Yeah, so you know, it's really complicated when you're talking about the federal government that runs an entire nation of 300 million people, because different agencies have different values. So, for instance, if you're at immigration and naturalization services, your value proposition or your values as an organization, are totally different than the FBI's values. And they're totally different than the Department of the Interior which oversees our parks and our green spaces. And those values are different of a Small Business Administration. And those values are different of NASA or the Department of Energy. So, you may sometimes have some competing values depending on the entity in the organization. But the global value of our responsibility was to make our country safer, healthier, and better for the American people is something that we all knew every day, and you didn't become a part of the organization without doing the first thing, which is to take the oath of office, in the oath of office was the same for everyone, whether you're an FBI agent, whether you're a general in the military, whether you work at the Park Service, or whether you are a part of emergency management operations, we all took the exact same oath of office. And he gives us a centering and grounding of what our responsibility is for the American people, and for the Constitution of the United States. And so, once you have that, that centering and grounding of all in the same boat, then you at least have a North Star or the southern crosses, I would say, the people in another hemisphere, we all have something that is similar. To help us to see, we're all going into the same space. 


James Laughlin 45:50 

That's so powerful for those larger organizations. So, if somebody is listening right now, that runs a large organization, what can they do to create an oath of office something similar to that? 


Anton Gunn 46:02 

Yeah. So, I would say the first thing you should do is to really spend some time reflecting on what's the vision of your company or organization? And what do I mean by vision? Not what you will do. But I'm talking about if you are totally successful as an organization, and you were no longer needed on the planet Earth, meaning that you solve the problem that your business was trying to solve? What would that world look like? That's your vision statement. Your vision statement is, if we were totally successful if we had unlimited time, unlimited money, unlimited resources, and unlimited ability to accomplish what we're trying to do, how does the world look different? Because we were successful. That's the first thing. You come up with that vision. And then you start to walk out, okay. What do we need to do? Every day, every person, not just a different division, a different department. But what do we need to do every day, individually and collectively, to make that vision a reality? That becomes your mission statement. And you put that mission statement, not only in a prominent place, but you talk about that mission statement every day. And you remind people of the purpose, we are doing this to make that vision, a reality. And when you evaluate talent, when you're looking at bringing people into your organization, and bringing people onto your team, you ask them the question, this is our vision. This is our mission statement. Can you commit to this mission? Can you commit to playing a role to help make this mission operational to make that vision, a reality? That's what I was starting. 


James Laughlin 48:16 

So succinct and so pithy. Like that's absolutely amazing. And for that leader, who's just heard that right now, and he or she's listening, how can they develop the traits to be a more admired executive, a more admired leader? 


Anton Gunn 48:33 

Yeah. So very, very good question. And I will tell you, I want to help people with this. This is like very basic stuff. Many times, leaders just don't really know how to go about it. So, I've created a worksheet, if you will, that I'll make available to all of your listeners. And viewers if they're watching this the bottom line is, to go to antongunn.com/admired. antongunn.com/admired. If you give me an email address, I'm going to give you this free worksheet, where I'm going to share a couple of the principles of how you can become that executive that embodies these great traits. And when I mean great traits, I'm talking about Nelson Mandela type traits, Mother Teresa type traits, Martin Luther King, Jr. type traits that will make you one of the most admired leaders on planet Earth. That executive that everybody in the company looks up to, that will run through walls for that will work, not just 8 hours, but 12 hours for that won't quit until they help you to achieve the mission and make the vision a reality. The first trait is a simple one and it's a non-conventional one, which is you have to become more likable as a leader. As I said, in this day and age, nobody wants to work for a butthole. And we got a whole lot of leaders who are buttholes. And my grandmother used to have this phrase that she says, you can attract a lot more flies with honey than you can vinegar. And everybody knows that vinegar is sour, is bitter, it doesn't taste well. You can't drink vinegar and enjoy it. But everybody knows that honey is sweet, and has a great taste. And so, the context is, does your team like you as a leader? Do they like you? Do they even know you enough to like you? And if you haven't shared who you are, then you're never going to be likable. And I'm not saying being easy or soft? Is none of those things. It is Are you a person that your team will want to invite over to their home for dinner? Are you the kind of person that they would want to have a beer with, a cup of coffee with, and not talk about work, but just talk about you and each other? If you're not that leader, then you got to find ways to become more likable for the team that you lead. The second thing that you need to do is what I call becoming more respectful of the people that you lead. How do you have more deference for the people that you lead? We know you're the leader, we know you have the title, you have the corner office, you got the great business card, you got the great cushy leather chair, you got all of those things that make you a leader. But the real question is for your team that doesn't have any of that. What are you doing to show them the same respect that you expect people to show you because you have the title? You got to become more respectful to your team, respectful at a time, respectful of the challenges that they face, and respectful of what's going on in their lives. There's nothing worse than a leader who has a team member whose son is playing sports and is playing for a championship. And they miss their son's game or their match. Because the leader is saying, I need you here to finish this project by 9 pm tonight. That's not respectful. Respectful is recognizing that that's important. That's a moment in their life, but they will never be able to get back is watching their child play in a state championship. And yes, you have a deadline and stuff needs to get done. But you should have a team who should be able to pick them up and help them out when something important like that. That's what being respectful is all about. 


James Laughlin 53:01 

All on that front, before we look at the next trip, that's so powerful, you're talking about respecting others. Do you think when a leader lacks self-respect, it's much harder for them to respect the others around them? 


Anton Gunn 53:16 

Correct. Without a doubt, without a doubt. If you don't respect yourself, then you're not going to respect other people. And so, let's unpack that a little bit more. Because I think, you know, people will generally think that they respect themselves. So, here's what self-respect looks like. Are you taking care of your own personal, mental and physical health? So many leaders love to say that they're respectful. But they're not doing anything to take care of themselves. They don't get enough rest at night. They don't exercise. They don't eat well. They don't have great relationships with their own children. They don't have great relationships with their spouse, or their parents, they don't have great relationships with their friends in their life. They got friends that they haven't talked to in 20 years. That is not respecting yourself. Because you are a human being, you're a person you have people in your life that you should be caring about. And you need to show up for them. And it's hard to show it to the people in your personal life. Without that self-respect, without taking care of yourself. So if you don't do it in your personal life, you're not going to do it in your work life, not consistently. Maybe you might respect one person or two people on your team, but overall, people will see through that you're not taking care of yourself. Another example of a leader not taking care of themselves is a leader that loves to send 4 am emails, and text messages to your team at 3 am because you got an idea. So, you interrupt near sleep, because you interrupted your sleep. You want to be successful as a leader, you got to find a way to make sure that you have balance in your life. And it's hard to respect people when you don't respect yourself. 


James Laughlin 55:19 

So powerful. I love the way you paint that. And you're right, there are leaders who want to encroach across those boundaries, those personal boundaries in the evenings and in the early mornings. And I love that, would you encourage that leader to have somewhere to capture those ideas? And then come back to them at 9 am? 


Anton Gunn 55:34 

Yes, I will tell you this. I'm a prolific journal, writer, I collect journals, I got journals, all of the office. And when I complete a journal, I just put it on my bookcase. And I'm building a whole library of my personal journaling over the years about different things. If you're a leader, you should always have something that you keep by your bedside or are kept with you to write down those things, as you're thinking about, I mean, we all got smartphones today. I mean, you can get a note section in your iPhone, and you can put those notes in, but write them down. I'm not saying you know, pass on a miss on it, but write it down. And if you really do want to send that email, if you are still not respectful enough yourself, to get some sleep, and you want to send that email at 4 am, how about you write the email, and then schedule it to go out at 8:30 AM rather than at 4 AM. I mean, but the main point is that just write it down. If it's not an emergency, if it's not worth calling them on the phone and waking them up in the middle of the night, to do something about then is not worth sending the email at 4 AM. 


James Laughlin 56:43 

And Anton, what you're saying is so, so important. For the leader that's listening right now. It's like, hey, if I send an email at 4 AM, it tells my team, that these are the expectations if I do it at 4 AM, I expect you to do it at 4 am. So, it's not if you're saying to your team, hey, guys, I want you to clock off at five o'clock, but you send the 4 AM emails what you're saying, and what you're doing is totally incongruent. So, congruency sounds like congruent is a very important aspect. 


Anton Gunn 57:10 

It is a very important aspect. I mean, again, the most unfortunate leadership habits that we exhibit are the habits that we learn from the first leaders that we work for, or the person who we felt was the most successful. And so, we started to duplicate and replicate these bad habits. And so, you know, your leader sends you emails at 4 am, you get promoted to a senior role, you think you got to do the same thing to your team? And that's just not a good way to do business. 


James Laughlin 57:42 

I'm 100% with you. And how else can someone develop that admiration as a leader? 


Anton Gunn 57:50 

Yeah, so I would say the next one is one that we know this one the most as leaders, we, we hear this one the most, and we talk about it the most. And that is to become a motivator for your people. And when I say motivator, motivation is like oxygen. You need it every day. Some days are going to be harder than others. And you need a leader that is willing to motivate you to go to the next level. And so how do you motivate your team? Well, one, you got to show up. You got to be unafraid to get into the trenches and work alongside the people that you lead. Never, ever get to a position where you're too big to do a job on your team. Yes, maybe you don't have the time to do it all the time. But the greatest leaders are the ones that show up in the trenches with the people that they're leading. I mean, the greatest example that we have right now in the world is President Zelenskyy in Ukraine. I mean, he's the president of the country, and he has had on a suit or tie since the war started. And he's out on the streets with the soldiers that he's asked to put their lives on the line for the country. He's not hiding away from anybody. He's right beside them. And that's why he's inspiring his team, inspiring his country, men, and women to do everything in their power to defend themselves against the invasion, the assault that's happening with Russia right now. So, the main point is, to be a motivator is not about just what you say and telling people the big words, and come on guys, you can do it. It's time to step up. No. is what are you doing to show them to be alongside them every day. That you're there with them. That when the job is difficult, you're right there with them trying to make it easy, or you're experiencing difficulty with them. That's the greatest motivation is to see people doing the work with you. 


James Laughlin 1:00:00 

Hmm, powerful. And Anton's leadership is something that you and I are so passionate about. How do you and I and the person that's listening to this right now? How do we create more heroic leaders like Zelensky? And fewer tyrants? How do we do that? Because the future of our world relies on you, and that you lead and that you work with creating more Zelensky's and more heroes, how do we do that? 


Anton Gunn 1:00:32 

It's one simple word, it's four letters and is love. And I really mean that what all fibers in my body are that we need more love for the people that we lead. We need to show people that love drives out hate. Love is a bright light that can't be overcome by darkness. And the more people that we can show love to, and show them how to love and how love is manifested. In real-time in the workplace, more people will duplicate their great behavior. Now, how you show love is when you show people that you care about them. Two, you show people that you're here to help them to be successful and you build trust, and you don't break that trust. See those three questions that I gave you earlier in our conversation? Those are the questions that your children ask you. Those are the questions that you know; your customers ask you. Those are the same questions everybody is asking. And we have more people who are committed to answering those questions with their actions. And then when people say, what can I do to help you? The answer is, I want you to do the same thing for others that I've done for you. I want you to care about them. I want you to help them. And I want you to never break their trust. So, I think we get more Zelensky by encouraging more people to love and more leaders to show love and be human beings. I think that's the real thing, is this, be human. Be human, it has your emotions, and don't mind sharing those emotions. 


James Laughlin 1:02:40 

So, so good. I've got just a couple more questions for you. But before I'm sure, I want to remind the person that's listening right now, please do go to Anton Gunn with two n's on antongunn.com./admired and download this it's got all of the traits to be more admired as an executive. Yes. So, to just ask about your vision, Anton Gunn's vision. So, what is that vision? What when you leave this earth? What's that one thing you're going to leave behind? It's going to be solved? 


Anton Gunn 1:03:12 

Yeah. So, this is, you know, I have four values as a company and as a business. And I've shared three of them with you. And that is service is a value. Empowerment is a value. Injustice is a value, making things right. The fourth value is arguably the most important and that value is legacy. And I sum up legacy, in a quote from Dr. Myles Munroe. And the quote is, that success without a successor is a failure. Success without a successor is a failure. And that if you don't use your time, your talent, and your leadership position to leave the world a better place for those that come along after you. You might be successful, but you will never be significant. And the goal, vision for me and my company are to be significant in the lives of 10,000 leaders. No more than that. Not 100,000, not a million leaders, not a billion leaders, but just 10,000 leaders who live the values and the traits that I teach from the stage and in my workshops in the organizations that I consult with. See if I can identify 10,000 leaders who are willing to live the way that I live to teach the way that I teach to serve the way that I serve to empower the way that I empower and to work to make things right, the way I'm working to make things right, those 10,000 leaders will impact the lives of 1 million people. And I believe that just a million committed, authentic, and accountable, leaders can change the entire planet, solve every problem that we have before us, address every issue that we have, removed all the division to hate the discord that we have because we have a million mission-driven leaders who are focused on living those four values. 


James Laughlin 1:05:53 

It's the most beautiful vision. And for that person that's listening right now, I want to ask, you know, what's your vision? And Anton's vision is inspiring, and it inspires me to hear it. I'm on the other end Anton connecting with you, but it inspires me to hear it. And for the person that's trying to create their own vision, I want you to be able to inspire yourself when you write that vision down, it should inspire you, and the people around you. Now Anton just wraps up with one last question, I want to bring it way closer to home for you as a dad. So, if your daughter was to say, hey, Dad, I know your last breath is coming. One last question for you. Can you please tell me I really want to know this stuff? And that question was this, Dad, how do I lead a life of purpose? What would you answer to that? 


Anton Gunn 1:06:49 

You live a life of purpose by simply doing three things. Number one is to serve people before you try to lead them. Number two, help them to achieve whatever they want to achieve in life. Don't focus on your own goals focus on their goals. And a third thing to lead a life of purpose is to figure out what you're good at and become great at it. 


James Laughlin 1:07:27 

Stunning. I'm going to take that clip. I'm going to send it to you please pass it on to your daughter. That's just stunning. And leadership is not a word leadership is an action. So, for you, that's listening right now. Please do a couple of things. One, go follow Anton on Instagram and LinkedIn, Anton Gunn. Please go to antongunn.com/admired and download those traits of admired leaders. So, Anton, I just want to say a massive heartfelt thank you for connecting today. 


Anton Gunn 1:08:01 

Well, thank you for the opportunity. I really appreciate it's been a great time. 


James Laughlin 1:08:06 

It's been awesome. Thank you, mate. 


James Laughlin 1:08:24 

Thanks for tuning in today and investing in your own personal leadership. Please hit that subscribe button. And I'd love it if you'd leave me a rating and review. I've got some amazing guests lined up for you in the coming weeks. And leaders. It's that time to get out there and lead your life on purpose.