Manage Smarter 157 — Kevin Harris: Servant Leadership and Radical Mentoring

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In 2002, Kevin Harris underwent a dramatic change as husband, father, and believer through his experience as a mentee in a Radical Mentoring group and servant leadership. He is now the President of Radical Mentoring, a non-​profit focused on encouraging and equipping churches and mentors to use Jesus-​style relational mentoring to create environments for people to be real and develop authentic relationships. 

Before joining Radical Mentoring, Kevin led a sales team at Wells Real Estate Funds and served in sales positions at CNL and Atlas Energy. 

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Kevin discuss servant leadership:

  • What is radical mentoring and how does it work
  • Harnessing the full power of servant leadership to boost your business and personal results
  • Identifying your authentic self and applying it to your work life/​Leading with authenticity

"I'm privileged to connect my life purpose with Radical Mentoring’s purpose: encouraging and equipping churches to build better men through small group mentoring."

Kevin Harris

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Servant Leadership and Radical Mentoring

Manage Smarter 157 Length: [0:22:26]

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Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast with hosts C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire, develop and retain talent, improve results and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Manage Smarter Podcast.

Audrey: Today we were going to talk about a couple different subjects. We're going to talk about servant leadership. We've talked a little bit about that in the past, but I'd like to get this guest's take on it, and also radical mentoring, those two things, I think it's going to be a great conversation.

C. Lee: I think so too. And we're even going to touch a little bit on spirituality. So I don't care, you know, how you practice that, whether you're just one with nature or whether it's something bigger than yourself. We're going to talk a little bit about that and how that factors in then into mentoring and management, and looks like it's going to be a great day.

Audrey: It is, welcome to Manage Smarter everyone. I'm Audrey Strong, Vice President of Communications at SalesFuel.

C. Lee: And I'm C. Lee Smith, the President and CEO of SalesFuel.

Audrey: So in 2002, Kevin Harris, who is our guest today, underwent a dramatic change as a husband, father and Jesus follower through his experience as a mentee in a radical mentoring group. He's now the president of Radical Mentoring, boy, that made quite an impression on him. And that's a nonprofit that is focused on encouraging and equipping churches and mentors to use Jesus-​style relational mentoring to create environments for people to be real and be authentic. And that's so important as a leader, to be authentic. We've talked about that. Before joining Radical Mentoring, Kevin led a sales team at Wells Real Estate Funds and served in sales positions at CNL, Atlas Energy. He and his wife, Susan, two boys, coming live to us from Atlanta, Georgia. Kevin, thank you for coming to the show.

Kevin: Audrey and Lee, thank you for having me. This is going to be fun. 

Audrey: It is. So what happened in 2002? Tell us the story. 

Kevin: Yeah. So in 2002, I was a kind of newly married, no, nothing hot shot in my own mind business guy who thought he was ready to take on the world. And I was introduced to a guy by the name of Reggie Campbell, who is the late founder of Radical Mentoring. What happened to me during that year, he took his life story and his experience, he was an entrepreneurial business guy, had some success in the entrepreneurial space, was sort of known in and around the Atlanta community as sort of an entrepreneur that had the Midas touch, which oftentimes means they just ignored the stories where things didn't work out quite as well. But I met him and I was naively thinking that that year would be spent with Reggie and eight other guys sort of just networking with each other and bouncing business ideas off of each other. I was a Christian in my head, but I wasn't a Christian in my heart. And what Reggie did is both led us through a journey of understanding our faith, but also led us into a journey of understanding how that faith should impact all the areas of our life. A lot of times we put faith in a simple little sliver of the pie. But Reggie's premise was, and I think the right premise is face should be the really the crust that holds it all together. And so how did that impact my marriage, the way I led and managed people, how did that impact what — at the time I didn't have any kids, now I've got these two knucklehead boys that I get to hang out with all the time. So how did that sort of impact all those areas in my life? Reggie was a change agent for good in that regard. 

Audrey: Yeah.

C. Lee: You mentioned the Midas touch, and that reminds me of one of my favorite quotes is from a pastor, oddly enough, Steve [inaudible 00:04:15] who said that the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else's highlight reel.

Kevin: You got it.

C. Lee: So whenever someone's got the Midas touch or something like that, you're just seeing their highlight reel, you're hearing their greatest hit.

Audrey: The sizzle reel.

C. Lee: Yeah. You're not hearing all the B‑sides and all the failures, like that. You're just getting the humble brag.

Kevin: You got it. And what Reggie did was sort of said, "Hey, here's the good, the bad and the ugly, and I want you to learn from all three." And it was really just a real dynamic year that we got to hang out with a guy like him. So it was really powerful.

Audrey: So how do you coach people to being more authentic? I mean, some people may not have an awareness that they're being inauthentic, and I guess what is the definition of inauthentic, because that's almost like inside the person in and of themselves. How would you know that they're — unless they're kind of talking in a fake way.

C. Lee: [inaudible 00:05:12] times are lying to themselves. They think they're being–

Audrey: That's another good point, too. Yeah.

Kevin: That's a big one. I can speak more to the male side of the equation, but I think we are somewhat taught from an early age that don't ever let them see you sweat, don't ever let them see you cry, pick yourself up by the bootstraps sort of thing. And I think that gets so ingrained in us that we don't know what it's like to be our authentic selves. And so we oftentimes, we've carried that mentality into the workplace and into our homes. And I think what it really mean, the way I typically coach people to that is I lead with it. What I realized made my management and coaching effective was that I didn't know who else to be but myself, and I got to a place where it was just really tired trying to be somebody else. And so when I would lead with authenticity, it would bring the walls down to the people around me, and we'd just be able to have — we created a base level, a foundational level of trust by which we could then build both our friendships and our relationships, but also our business relationships from there. So I think you got to lead with it first before you can teach it.

Audrey: That makes sense. Yeah, I always just think of office space with Gary Cohen. We need you to work Saturday, that would be great. 

C. Lee: That'd be great. 

Audrey: That'd be great. 

Kevin: I love it. I love it.

Audrey: Is it harder to keep up, to stay true to yourself in the current work situation in COVID-​19, or do you find that working in this new style that we all are and meeting like we are today, the walls come down more easily, which is it?

Kevin: I think it's a both end. I mean, I think the research tells you that we are more isolated and alone than ever before. And I think we're seeing the ramifications of that sort of in the mental health arena. So in one regard, I think we're more isolated and we've pulled ourselves further back. But I do think, to your point, I've listened to several podcasts and been on a few. And when I hear sort of this theme of now, we sort of have no choice but to intersect our family and our work. So if I'm on a conference call with somebody having a conversation, I mean, this happened to me Monday night, I was home, I was leading my mentoring group, we were meeting on Zoom because one of the guys had been to a wedding and had some exposure to COVID and didn't want to expose the rest of us. And so my guys, my 14 and 11 year old boys walk in the front door, and they kick open the door to the office, and they walk in very naturally, and they start to just talk to me about — now they knew, I said, "Hey, guys, I'm going to be on a call tonight." And one of them came in and said, "You're not going to believe this dad, my baseball tournament this next weekend is at this certain park and I'm so excited to play there." And then my other son comes in and goes, "Daddy, you won't believe how great basketball went tonight." I'm modeling to these guys that I'm mentoring, I didn't tell my kids, I didn't wave my hand and tell them to get the heck out of there. I just brought them over to the computer, these guys have met them. And so it just sort of became this beautiful intersection of what my real world is like, not the sort of sterile environment that we may be used to in the office space. So I do think there's that blend of isolation and loneliness, but also you can't separate the two because you never know who's going to kick the door and show up in your office when you're in the middle of a call. 

C. Lee: Most of us are in organizations that are very diverse when it when it comes to matters of faith. So my question to you is like do you have to be a Christian to mentor like Jesus?

Kevin: I think the principles that Jesus modeled for us are very much applicable. I think that servant-​leadership idea is one that Jesus specifically modeled for us. And so I think if you're a man or a woman of integrity, and you care for people around you, you will probably be leading like Jesus, and may not know you're leading like Jesus. And I don't think it matters from a faith perspective. Obviously, I do a lot of work with churches, and a lot of the leaders that I work with are followers of Jesus, but I do think those principles really, really hold true despite whatever you're bearing, places of faith may be.

Audrey: So that leads into servant leadership, which is, I guess, at this time if you don't have that lens and that approach, you might want to adopt it where we have to check in on each other more often and have more empathy and try to be more caring of each other. Don't you think? That's a good place to start.

Kevin: Absolutely.

Audrey: So how can you do that? I mean, more check-​ins, more on-​camera? We are more connected technologically than in all of human history, and yet we are more isolated than ever.

C. Lee: More lonely than ever. Yeah, crazy.

Audrey: Yes.

Kevin: No doubt. I mean, I do think it requires, as a leader, I think it does require more check-​ins. But it also means you have to check-​in more with your ears and your heart than you have to do with checking in with a spreadsheet. And I think right now you will have opportunities, as we just talked about, to sort of see into what the worlds of some of your at-​home employees are like, you can probably see — I know I can tell with my own employees difference when a good day and a bad day really just by listening to them, seeing their faces, sort of looking, panning the background of their office space, and I can get a sense of what really is going on. And I think that idea of a servant leader is you really, you have to disown — you put your agenda to side and just learn to love and care for people, still hold them fully accountable. I mean, I think the fallacy we oftentimes say is, well, if you're a servant leader and you're trying to lead in a certain way, that means that you can't do that and hold people to account for the results. Because those two things live in an automatic tension and I think that if you are caring for somebody and wanting the best for them, the natural output of that is still holding them to the standard by which you and your company or your organization think is the right standard. Because if you care, people will rise to that standard, not in a manipulative way, people will work harder for you as a leader, and they'll hit those targets and hit those results because they sense the heart of the leader and they want to honor that. And I think that you got to kind of throw the myth to the side.

Audrey: Right into my next question, what is the definition of other centered selling, and is other centered selling more successful in the pandemic as an approach in making sales?

Kevin: Great question. In my mind, the way I define other centered selling is putting the needs of your customer above your needs. And so I've spent some work with some sales leaders, and they really talk about this whole idea of taking the trip, meaning you're asking questions of your customer, you're understanding the context of both who they are, what the workplace looks like, you're trying to sort of get a sense of what their needs are. So many of us as salespeople had that training of I don't really care much about you, all I care is how in the world you're going to fit my solution into your context. And I think the idea of other centered selling is sort of that idea of flipping the script and saying, look, I'm going to invest my time and energy in who you are. I'm going to do a lot of research before I get on the phone with you. Today, we've got so much access to Facebook and LinkedIn, and we can understand, really, we can understand our prospects and honor them by doing the amount of research we can to know who they are before we even get on the phone with them. And so some of that other centered selling is just really looking at the person first before thinking about your product.

C. Lee: Yeah. It's amazing to me how many companies and teams don't do that. And I asked myself, why is this so hard? I want to ask you, is this indicative of something bigger? Is that we're not caring enough for other people as human beings to begin with so therefore, we're not carrying that over into our business?

Kevin: I think it is. I think there is a level of we are, as you said, we are so connected that in turn, so much of that connection means we don't create enough capacity, we don't create enough margin in our time and space before we jump on the phone with somebody, because we're sort of going from phone call to email to phone call to email, to check social media back to our email to flip over here. Then the alarm goes off and says, oh, my goodness, you got a call with Audrey and Lee in two minutes. Oh, no. And then you don’t have a chance to figure out who in the world Audrey and Lee are, and so you just jump right into that phone call. And so the 24-​hour accessibility has I think the unintended consequence of that as it has completely bombarded our schedules in our lives over that 24-​hour period of time. And so I don't think other centered selling means you sort of have to stop before each phone call and give yourself 30 minutes of prep time, but just giving yourself enough space to know I've got to create space on the front end to understand this person before I jump on the phone with them, and I need to create some space on the back end before I just jump into the next thing so that I'm doing a better job of taking a note, sending an email, jotting down a quick handwritten note, throwing out in the mail to them. Whatever those little extra touches you might want to do, maybe you learn something about them in the call, I think you got to create space on the front and back end to be really effective in that other centered selling approach.

C. Lee: So let me throw this theory out at you, I think going back to seeing other people's highlight reel is that we have all these connections but they're fake. I mean, you go and you look at someone's LinkedIn profile, whatever, and you see jobs missing, where they failed, or you see humble bragging on Facebook, because no one's posting all the time that they made a really bad decision or they let their family down or they pissed somebody off, you don’t do that. And so the thing is, is that we think we know the other person, but it's like we don't take the time to actually get real and really, truly have heartfelt conversations to really get to know each other anymore, because we just think that we know them because we have these connections, and they're fake. That's my theory, what do you think?

Kevin: You got it. I think you're spot on. And I think, you know, my wife and I always tell our boys comparison is the robber of joy. Meaning somebody's car, somebody's house might be nicer than my house, but you don't know what exactly is happening inside the four walls of that house. And so, as I tell my kids, if they think that their buddy's life is better than theirs, we'll say something like, you can go, go live with them. You can have their last name, but you have to have everything that goes with it, whether that's the good, the bad, and the ugly. And so I do think there is that tension around you can do so much research to feel bad about yourself, or you can create space for you to ask some questions. So if I look at a profile and I see somebody who's got a picture, even if they're all happy and smiling and their kids got the homerun ball, I know that their son plays baseball, and I know my sons play baseball, and that creates a very soft entry point in for me to at least ask a couple of more personal questions that will then open up the dialogue I think in a much more rich way. 

Audrey: That was going to be my next question. We've got just a few of those left.

Kevin: How come I keep answering your next question? 

C. Lee: It's amazing, isn’t it?

Audrey: Well, this is beautiful. This is going exactly where–

C. Lee: It's called flow, we have flow.

Audrey: Yeah, flow. I'm in the zone. So in discovery for your other centered selling, what is like third really getting too personal on your discovery questions, like where's the line for that, where you can make a discovery that you can then be helpful and consultative and a solution person for them, but it's not too personal?

Kevin: Yeah, no, I think I would never lead with, "Hey, I was stalking you on your Facebook page and saw your kid got the homerun ball last weekend." But I do think as you're having those questions around will tell me who you are, and what's your story, and where have you been, and what got you to where you are today? You sort of ask those questions knowing underneath that you know a little bit about where their kids are going, what schools their kids are in. And so as that conversation comes up, more than likely, it will come into you'll talk about some of those things that you've already figured out. So you're really trying to almost, you're almost trying to paint a picture, paint a narrative of who that person is, so that as you're going through your natural discovery process, they're going to start to reveal some of the things that you may have already silently figured out about them just by spending a little time with them, whether it's what college they went to. "Hey, what'd you do this weekend?" They may say, "Man, I watched the Duke North Carolina." "You mentioned somebody in Raleigh earlier. I grew up in Durham, and I watched the Duke North Carolina basketball game." "Oh, really?" Well, in the back of your mind, you're like, check, I know that you either grew up there. I know you went to college at UNC. And so then you have a connection where you can sort of pull things from the narrative that you've already painted about them, if that makes sense.

Audrey: That totally makes sense. Well, your websites are — oh, go ahead, Lee.

C. Lee: I was going to say what do we need to do next? I mean, it's like as we look at it in the future, as we look at 2021, 2022, everything like that, we know where we're at now, as we record this, we're still battling COVID-​19. What's next would you say? If you had to offer one piece of advice for all the listeners out there today, what would it be?

Kevin: I would say now is a great time to work on some of those soft skill habits, and the temptation will be that at some point we know the economy opens back up and the airlines are filled. I used to be in an airplane — for many years I'd be at the airport once a week and I know that world is going to open back up again. My hope for people would be that you really set deep roots right now and really anchor yourselves in some of those fundamental things whether that is anchoring yourself in at home and getting to know your wife and kids better so that when the temptation is to come back and go on that airplane, you now have a better sense of what it's like to honor your family, not sacrifice your family on the altar of your work. And this really build good strong connections, deep connections in your community and at home that you can hold on to when the temptation will come to jump back out on the treadmill and go back out there to try to take on the world again.

Audrey: I love that, get your support system built up. And it can be different going forward. It doesn't have to be how it was. You can make choices structured in a whole new way, that's a win-​win all the way around. I love that.

C. Lee: I hope that we've all learned things and we've all come to appreciate certain things that we're missing right now–

Kevin: Yeah. I talk to a lot of people who think, man, I'm as good salesperson on Zoom. I'm great at connecting with people on these conference calls that I don't know if I will need to be out as much as I was in the past, because now I've sort of developed this skill set that allows me to accelerate the process so I don't have to spend as much time doing the face-​to-​face back and forth stuff, that it has a tendency to wear us out as oftentimes as salespeople we feel like we don't have a choice but to be face-​to-​face. I think we're all learning you can be just as effective up to a point just doing these kinds of things on the call, looking at each other eyeball-​to-​eyeball on a computer still works.

Audrey: It does. So radicalmentoring​.com, your website kevinharris​.im, Kevin Harris on Twitter and on Facebook, and then For Radical Mentors is the Facebook address as well. Kevin, this has been a joy. 

Kevin: Man, you guys are great. Thanks for letting me join you.

Thanks for listening to our episode on servant leadership. If you enjoyed the show, please rate and recommend on iTunes, Overcast or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also get more great information at salesfuel​.com.

This podcast on servant leadership is a part of the C‑Suite Radio Network. For more top business podcasts, visit c‑