How to Define Your Identity with Mark Caswell

1,000 Stories


Reid: Okay Joe, so, first interview of this next season of 1000 Stories, and we’re bringing back a previous guest, Mark Caswell. And as we talked about in the opening episode of the season, we’re changing our format a little bit and we’re focusing on a more specific moment of time in somebody’s professional experience, entrepreneurial journey, and so on.

Give the audience and share with me a little bit of perspective on where you’re planning to go with Mark, knowing that narrowed scope of discussion, and what types of questions you’re hoping to get answered. 

Joe: Well, the reason that we had Mark come back on relatively quickly in comparison to when we recorded and published his last episode with us, he happened to go through one of these inflection points in the last couple of months.

So he just transitioned out of being the CEO at Resultant and that was like a perfect moment to actually go back and be like, oh you just lived this. Let’s unpack what’s going on. Both where you’ve been, where you think you might go next, what was your process like. Really about bringing Mark back in was just it happened to be such a perfect moment in time to line up with what we’re trying to investigate on this season of the show.

Yeah, I think there’s a 

Reid: great benefit from this. I was actually talking to somebody off the show around When people are going through these transitions, you can hit them at a point where it’s very recent and so they can speak to it very articulately, but they’ve had enough time to reflect on it. It’s not like you caught them the day after the decision was made.

And so, getting Mark at that point I think is a really interesting opportunity for us. 

Joe: Well, and I think you just highlighted something I want to ask him. I’m curious about when was the decision made or how long ago did you start the process? So did you decide a month ago that it was time to transition out?

Or did you decide 24 months ago, 36 months ago? How does that process look like? And let’s just imagine for a second the differences between those two. If it’s a month ago, all of the change management internally is probably crazy. If it’s. Two or three years ago. Is it hard to stay engaged during that process?

How do you both be in and out of the organization? I’m curious about what was his process like what was their process like, you know resultants a 500 person company or something along those lines They have private equity ownership and they’ve acquired multiple brands and like it’s not just mark in a silo Making decisions like this.

So how do you get the team on board? How long does it take all those kinds of things? So I think you hit on that right there We might have noticed it a month ago, but did he know it a long time ago? And I think that 

Reid: we can walk in with some hypotheses is the wrong word, but you can make some assumptions that somebody who’s making this big of a.

Functional decision for the organization has been thinking about it for some time. You wouldn’t think that somebody is walking in one day and says, yeah, I need to make this change and goes and does it. But one of the benefits of this season is that we can have that proven wrong. There’s lots of assumptions that we can test.

So another thing that we’ve talked about going to over the course of the season is beyond their experience, Mark’s experience, other people’s experiences during these inflection points. Is some of the tools, mechanisms, where do they go, who do they ask? Of course we have a little bit more context to his broader journey from previous discussion, but are there any specific areas that you want to go in terms of the tools, tactics, anything like that around this specific 

Joe: point?

Probably somewhere around identity. Or change management types of tools. My perception, having never been one, is that when you have CEO next to your name, that becomes a lot of what you do and how you show up and who you are. If you were to rip that out, theoretically, there could be a bit of a gaping hole.

So how do you manage that? Do you manage it ahead of time? I imagine that’s the best idea, but do you even realize it ahead of time? And got his perspective 

Reid: on that, but how 

Joe: does that perspective change? And he said to us like, well, it’s funny you ask that because in other cultures, they would not.

Correlate what you do with who you are. I think you’ll have an interesting perspective on that. So I think identity is one spot Potentially depending on where the conversation goes could talk about how do you determine like what’s next for yourself if there’s tools there? All said, 

Reid: it should set a really nice foundation as to what we’re trying to achieve over the next series of episodes of talking about a very specific point in time and going in a lot more depth and preparing us to have conversations, figuring out what are these other circumstances, variables that play into these inflection points.

Joe: Yeah, exactly. It should be great. I’m looking forward to it.

Mark: So, Mark, welcome back. Thank you. 

Joe: I’m excited to have you back on. We were talking about this before recording and it was like, didn’t actually anticipate having anybody repeat? As quickly as we’re having you repeat, but I think to set the context up for the conversation for people, can you just describe what’s been happening in your world over the last two months?

That’s been like just a huge 

Mark: change. We’ll end up talking a lot about the kind of recent transition, but. Recent is a bit of the wrong term because over the last really year and a half, maybe even two years after a decade at resultant started when we were 18 people, we’re now almost 500 spent the last four years in the CEO role a couple of years as president before that over the last year or so I’ve been transitioning out of the CEO role and so it’s been this.

Interesting, challenging, and ultimately phenomenal transition out of the role of leading the company, handing the reins to Greg Layock, who is now our CEO and is doing a great job. He’s only 45 days in, but he already feels like the CEO. He’s doing a great job. And then beginning this transition to whatever might be next, which I don’t know actually what is next.

In my head, it’s been like this two year ish kind of thing with more to come still. But yeah, the last two months, it’s just been moving out of that role. First question that 

Joe: came to my mind to ask you, when… You start planning for that transition. And so you already answered that a couple of years in 

Mark: advance.

No, when I say a couple of years, so ultimately the conclusion I came to, and this will be a simplified version of it, but this is the best summary of a whole lot of thinking the conclusion I came to is while I was, I believe the right leader for the last decade had been an absolute blast building what we built and going from 18 to 500 people, moving the company across the nation.

We sold the business twice. We did four acquisitions. It was so much fun. I mean, it was hard, but it was fun. The conclusion I ultimately came to was I was the right guy for that. I’m not the right person for the next decade. Now that didn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t the right person for the next year or two years.

There’s some flexibility on that, but it was really probably not quite a year ago that I came to the board and said what I just said. How did 

Joe: you get there? I’m anticipating didn’t wake up one Sunday morning and go, I don’t think I’m the right guy for the next decade. I’m going to go to the board tomorrow morning and tell them that I’m not the right guy.

That thought must have been going through your mind. Earlier than that, in some capacity. 

Mark: Well, not too much earlier than that. I was a mechanical engineer. I thought it’d be highly technical. I’d never had visions of being a CEO. Now I’ve loved it. And as I grew my career and kind of tried different things, I’ve navigated towards that, but I didn’t know that was where I would end up.

I didn’t necessarily tie my identity. To that, but it was great and I love the company. And I honestly thought I would do it for a long, long time. I really, really did. Now we’re growing at 37 percent on average per year, which is fun and hard. And so there’s a lot of stress that comes with it. There’s these amazing moments.

There’s these really hard moments. between. And for me, what happened is we had just acquired our fourth company. It was amazing. People at this company, it was strategically a good thing. It financially worked out for everyone in a really, really good way. I was super proud of the work. And I knew from having done previous acquisitions, both selling our company and buying companies that there was this kind of six to eight week period afterwards.

Where your mind knows that the stress, even the good stress, your mind knows that the stress is over, but your emotions and your body don’t quite catch up. And so I knew it. You had to take this six to eight week period and just methodically walk yourself down from running at that level for so long. What was interesting is at the end of that eight week period, I hadn’t come down.


Joe: were the things that you did to 

Mark: come down? Mostly it’s time and space when you’re buying or selling a company, you’re often working a hundred hours a week. 

Joe: Is that just because it’s so much additive on top of the usual work? Yeah. You still have to do your job. You can’t sell a company that starts failing because you’re not working in it anymore.

Nobody want to buy it. 

Mark: I say consulting is not necessarily hard because of the hours. It’s hard because of the mental challenge. You’re just on thinking deeply all day, every day. And so when you’re selling your company, it’s kind of the same thing. So it’s a lot of time and it’s a lot of just mental energy and weight.

So you walk yourself down through time and space. You give yourself time to just go walk in the woods. You give yourself a day off, walk your calendar back to where it needs to be. Yeah. If you’re just thoughtful about it, it’s not too hard to walk yourself down. Is it about walking back 

Joe: down to your baseline?

Like you find like, okay, before I started this process, I was, I’m just going to say 40 hours, maybe not a realistic thing, but let’s say it’s 40 hours a week now I’ve been operating at a hundred. But if I just like tomorrow went back to 40, would that feel like a really big chasm? And so would you rather stare that in terms of time and effort and 

Mark: energy?

The tactical side is fairly easy to get back to quickly. It’s the mental side. It’s the fact that your brain has been used to running 100 percent from 5am to 11pm all day for a few months. How do you just turn your brain off? You don’t 

Joe: have to be feeling this level of pressure and intensity all the time.


Mark: The way I learned this was not through wisdom, it was through failure. The first time we sold our company, one of my best friends in the company, Mary Catherine, came to me, it was probably about eight weeks after, and she just said, Hey, are you okay? I said, I’m fine. My stress level had come down some.

She said, I don’t think you’re okay. And I kind of realized I hadn’t walked all the way back down. I’d walked maybe 10 percent down. That’s when I discovered this idea that part of your job post difficulty, post great events is to get yourself back down to a sustainable level. I think 

Joe: that right there is very interesting to me.

I hadn’t really thought about that or I imagine does it feel like you’re doing less? There’s 

Mark: absolutely guilt that comes with it. You have to talk to people. You have to walk yourself back from it and you don’t get back to 40 hours. You get back to 50 or 60 probably, but it’s more the mental space that you got to go create space for the other things.

Part of your job as a leader. It’s to make sure you’re a sustainable leader. No one wants to work for a burned out jerk. That is not fun. You make bad decisions. You don’t motivate people in the right way. Just literally part of the job description as a leader, there should be a line. Manage yourself. Make sure you are the good leader because no one else will manage you, especially as a CEO.

Who’s going to tell you to knock it off? Luckily, I had 

Joe: a friend. It was partially, I think, due to you creating an environment there where she felt safe to come say that to you. Like that’s a reality. Well, there’s been days where I’m like, I just be like, Hey man, you good? And he’s like, yeah. And he’ll be like, this is what I’m stressed about.

But it’s like, if we lived in an environment where as our president, I didn’t feel comfortable enough being able to say to him, I’m perceiving this in you. Are you good? Because I was scared because I felt like he wasn’t vulnerable ever open then that wouldn’t exist So I think part of that too is a testament to the kind of company that you built I got us down a rabbit hole you were saying you had gotten through your eight week period Transitioning 

Mark: I had done the things that I knew works for me to get myself back to this lower state I would say a lot of the stress came off and at the time I had no idea how to describe it I felt like the person and leader I was didn’t quite fit happening.

Keep in mind, I couldn’t have put a words around that at that time at all. Can you put words around it now? Well, I just tried and it wasn’t great. I’ll tell you what I walked through that summer that kind of got me there and my wife actually said something to me too. Like she noticed something was off a little bit and it wasn’t that I didn’t.

Like things or like the people I was working with, it was actually great people I was working with all the way from the board down through the company and the clients, just something was a little off. So I sat out on this summer discovery session, call it to figure out what the challenge was in it fundamentally came down to two things.

So one, I still had a little bit of work to do to figure out who the heck I actually was. I think we all discover that. Probably up until the day we die and it shifts a little over time as well. So I spent some time with an executive coach this summer. Like what are my core values? What am I good at? I probably have some superpowers.

What do I feel like those are? Where are my gifts, my strengths? There’s these different books and words we use around that. And frankly, what am I terrible at? What am I not good? Where am I not fulfilled? Just understand a bit more about myself. And I talked to friends, worked with my coach, read some books, all those things.

They’re super helpful. 

Joe: Were there any books in particular that you found to be really useful? 

Mark: No. Okay. Not that summer. 

Joe: Were there any that looking back, not even just that summer, but some that you think helped set you up for that? 

Mark: So when I say figure out who you are, I don’t mean figure out who you are at work.

I mean, figure out who you are. And that’s a very holistic statement and a difficult thing to answer. And I read three different books. So one was called Outlive. It’s basically a book about long term health. It focuses on not just lifespan, but health span. Is this a Tears book? Yes. Peter Attea. It served to open up yourself to a bigger picture of what life is and how to stay healthy and how to enjoy things and all that.

That was pretty helpful. I’ve dropped 30 pounds in the last year since reading that book. Has 

Joe: that felt particularly 

Mark: difficult? No. The great irony? For the most part. It’s a way better way to live. I’m working out five or six times a week, doing things that I enjoy. I’m eating good food instead of trash.

I’m like a little bit watching calories. Like, you don’t have to pick up a book that tells you a bunch of stuff about keto. Like, just don’t eat crap. I’m just curious 

Joe: from your perspective, has fixing some of that stuff, literally health, has it impacted the work side of your life? 100%. Cause I think the normal thing people say is, I got busy, so I ate.

Uh, I just, I didn’t have time to make food. McDonald’s was the only option I had, or I was traveling all the time. 

Mark: The standard American diet is a direct reflection of the American lifestyle of busyness. We’re busy. We stuff as much stuff into our life as we possibly can. Therefore, we need cheap and easy food that’s fast.

Turns out cheap and easy food that’s fast is Pretty much poison. It’s just awful for you, right? It’s highly processed stuff. I’m an old farm kid I’m not like over the moon on crazy healthy diet 

Joe: stuff But you ate food that you knew where it came from. So you read outlive anything else? I 

Mark: cannot for the life of me remember their titles But they were two books that kind of outlined how to get back to your identity It was helpful to me as like a thought exercise if someone asks you who are you?

What do you say your first reaction all of us know? This is a bad idea and yet most of us do it Sometimes verbally when asked, and often do it through the actions, which reveal what we actually think, right? We would say, well, I’m my stuff. I’m the things that I have. I’m my car. I’m my house. I’m my educational degrees.

I’m my relationships. That’s the first answer. It’s like the easy, quote unquote, worldly answer to say. And, almost all of us, if you thought about it for about three seconds, you’d say like, well, that’s a bad answer. Of course I’m not my stuff. Even if you might act like you’re your stuff. Spend your money as if your identity is your stuff, right?

So then you go the next level up, but still external. You’d say, well, I’m the role I play in the world and I’m a CEO, I’m a dad, I’m a coach, I’m a husband, I’m a father, all those kinds of things. And that feels a little better. It’s probably more true than the first answer, but also it’s not like if you.

Stop being a C E O. You’re not you, even if something bad happens. So you get a divorce, you lose a child, you’re still you. So that can’t be right. So then you kind of turn in internally, you look inside and kind of the equivalent external answer to the first one was like, I’m my thoughts and feelings. I’m this jumble of emotions and the things that I think about, and that’s what forms me.

And again, we act like that quite often, but if you think about it for three seconds, you’d say like, well, Good Lord, I hope that’s not me because my thoughts and my feelings and emotions, they’re all over the place and they change all the time. So that can’t be me because one day is not equivalent to another and I’m still me every day.

So then you move up in your mind again, you say like, okay, well what forms my thoughts and my feelings? My brain, my brain must be what I am in a lot of.

It feels like the right scientific answer to stop there. Like I must be my brain. The problem is that’s very deterministic in its outcomes because your brain, yes, genetically is formed, which is that’s deterministic. It’s just your two parents equal your brain’s genetics, but also all the things that get kind of nurtured or that happen inside your brain structurally change it based on your experiences.

Those are all external forcing functions. Really, you’re just a product of your environment. Well, if you’re just a product of in your environment, then frankly, you have no willpower nor responsibility. You’re just a machine. Now, it’s a very philosophical and scientific answer to come to in almost no one I know actually thinks that’s true.

Everyone says there’s something else. I feel like I do have willpower. What did he call it? Self or spirit or mind. You know, there’s different kinds of words for it. There’s something else above that. That was a super useful exercise because it allowed me to not identify with any of those layers. First of all, the stress of the day to day things that I’m doing, whether or not I buy a car or don’t buy a car, like none of that actually matters.

The role that I play, that’s not me. What I do for a moment and responsibilities I have and then you kind of walk up from there the thoughts and feelings that I was having in this kind of odd stressful moment of my life That’s not me And so it allowed me to like get above all that and actually think about what I really am And where my skills are and all those kind of things.


Joe: it’s very interesting I think the natural thing that I just did and I imagine people when they listen to this might be doing is They might just be doing that for themselves. In the moment, I was like, Which one do I say I am, and Oh, what do I think about that, and That little process right there, To be candid with you, As I think about that is, I don’t know the answer to the question, then.

Is that what you came to? How long did it take you to get to an answer? 

Mark: This will sound very esoteric. I am me, is the question I came to. I am this thing that sits above. Well, it’s sort of 

Joe: like the biblical, I am who I am. 

Mark: Well, yeah, you look at every religious and philosophical text and it eventually comes to this concept.

You don’t necessarily have to subscribe to the theology of Christianity or Buddhism or whatever to recognize that something in there works because societies have formed around them intended to thrive. Something in there works. One of the core concepts to a lot of them is this idea of something that sits above.

There’s something there. 

Joe: It’s one of the places that. I believe all world religions agree on, even though they might not look at each other and say, yeah, we agree on that. It’s like, you just see it. It’s in the text. It says it right there. I think in that sense, do you see identity as just constantly evolving?

There’s more that becomes me as I go or less that comes 

Mark: out of it maybe. Okay. Maybe this is a better answer to your previous question as well. Once you make that distinction that, okay, I do think there’s something that’s me that’s above all that stuff we talked about. One way to say that, like that’s your willpower.

Now you can separate what you are and what you want to do, where your gifts are from the externalities and the current state of how you feel and all that kind of stuff. And so it actually gives you a lot more power to define for yourself. So yeah, in a sense it can evolve and you have power to make it evolve.

Joe: Tell me if I’m wrong or I’m right here, but I could imagine in that moment, as you’re going through that process, going at some level, your identity. Is I’m a CEO and I’m a dad and I’m a coach and I’m a husband and like all these things and so pulling out any one of those roles would feel like an identity gap remains, but if you get to this point, you’re like, I have the freedom and the power to change those as I am and not lose who I am in my head that makes it free to start even making the idea of transitioning out feel safer.


Mark: that true? Yeah. That’s a good way to put it. Perhaps the only truly difficult part for me of transitioning, I wouldn’t say I had wrapped my identity much around the three little letters CEO. I’m not sure I had done that, but I did have responsibilities to people and commitments to people. That was the hardest part.

So pulling back a little bit allowed me to see, just think of it this way. The other half of what I discovered is what does the business need in the next 10 years? So, I had a business coach that summer, Joe Higgins, phenomenal human being. Gosh, I like this guy. And he helped me figure out, okay, here’s what the last 10 years look like.

You knew that. Here’s what the next 10 years look like when we go from 500 people to 2, 500 or something through these two parallel Discovery what I realized was that’s not me 

Joe: So that’s what I was gonna ask right away is the version of resultant that gets to 2, 500 people That is the one that you are not the right leader for What tells you that you’re not the right leader for that you’ve been the right leader for the rest of it You’ve been great throughout this period What makes you think you’re not the right leader for the next 

Mark: part?

Well, let’s not pretend it’s black and white. So when I went to talk to the board about this, I didn’t say, I’m out. What I said was, I think this transition is happening. I think we will be able to find someone who’s better for the next phase than me. But I also said, I might be wrong. And if I am the right person, but I think we owe it to ourselves to go look, I’d kind of detected this discontinuity between what I felt.

So I feel like I’m really good at what I call entrepreneurial scale. There’s this pure entrepreneur thing that happens at the beginning of a company where you start it from scratch and those people are amazing and it is so hard to start a company from nothing. I’ve not done that, but I picked up at around 25 people.

So there’s this structure that happens from there up to 250 to 500, where it’s like a little bit of structure in the right way. The first thing you do is. You kind of realize not everybody can be involved in everything. And so you have a little bit of definition of roles and responsibilities, just a little bit of segmenting of things, but everybody’s still involved in every crisis.

Everybody’s still mostly involved in every important thing. And then you get to, I call these my entrepreneurial valleys, by the way, at around a hundred people. You can’t even be involved in every crisis anymore. This next level of trust and accountability and empowerment has to go out to people leading different areas of the business.

And then somewhere around 250 people, and this is probably the transition that started to get me. If you’ve heard of Dunbar’s law, I think maybe we’ve talked about this before, but one part of Dunbar’s law says any person can have approximately 150 good acquaintances. And somebody, you remember something about their kids.

If you saw them in a restaurant, you’d go up and say, hi, you’re not vacationing together necessarily, but you know them, you have a few of those in your personal life, but a lot of them come from work and what happens in around 250 people is for every single person in the company, Dunbar’s law says at least half the people are at least two relationships away and you don’t even know you’re doing it as a leader.

Because you have put in place structures and processes and they are good and right, but you’ve also been managing the business through relationships and all of a sudden you can’t do it anymore. And so now to scale to the next level, I think everybody thinks of structure and process like some sort of corporate bureaucracy nonsense.

That’s not it at all. Good structure and good process actually accelerates your ability to be successful. It eliminates noise, eliminates ambiguity. It allows speed 

Joe: of decision making because people know what they’re actually 

Mark: able to decide. It enables trust because I know you got this over here and I’m going to get this over here kind of stuff.

But I think for me, what I discovered is the amount of kind of structure and process that’s needed in the next phase. My brain just doesn’t really work that way. I’m a very relational. I’m actually a terrible manager. I kind of fundamentally believe if you get great people in a room and you give them the right, why, and you point them generally at the right mountaintop, they’ll go figure it out from there.

No, that works for a while. 

Joe: And then it doesn’t. Well, it’s interesting that framework people write seats. We hear it a lot in the U S and EOS talks about stopping about 250 people. They’re like, we are built for people until the organization hits two 50. So it’s an interesting overlap right there just 

Mark: to bring up.

I’ll give you another example of that 250 plus barrier that I think is interesting. So again, a consequence of the Dunbar’s law and being two relationships away. So you think about collaboration inside a company. Most of us, when we think about collaboration, we think about our team, we think about getting in a room and a whiteboard.

It’s like the quintessential example. I know that’s changed during COVID and in our businesses, we have employees in 38 states now, right? So you can’t always do that. But you think of it as a very personal thing in a large company. And if you just imagine an enterprise company, this will become obvious to you.

You might put a number in a system or follow a process that kicks off something to the next person and never meet that person or even know their name. But it is deeply important that you collaborate with that person that you may never meet. By doing a diligent and good job at your portion of the thing, where a lot of large businesses fall apart, is they just completely miss that.

They’re like, I don’t have to do a good job at this, there’s three people down the line that’ll catch it. Or this data that I put in our CRM system, it doesn’t matter to me, like, or I know the 

Joe: nuance in this data, so it doesn’t matter. I see that in our own CRM. There’s stuff that only I would be able to tell people.

A deal source came from a partner. Well, which partner did it come from? Not just partner. Well, I’m the only person who knows which partner 

Mark: it comes from. And so what you do today is you would walk out in the office, you’d go find you and you’d say like, Hey, tell me about this right here. And you would just tell them and they’d be fine.

At some point you can’t do that. I worked at Rolls Royce, 50, 000 person global aerospace company. I can’t just pop over to Germany and ask somebody what this field means.

Joe: The people we talk with on this show are ambitious, driven individuals who feel called to create positive outcomes in all aspects of their lives. And 

Reid: as we all know, with that drive comes pressure and stress, and in order to show up and be your best self… It’s extremely important to have a professional at your side who can help you navigate that journey.

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So, okay, I’m not much of a black and white thinker, I think there’s a lot of nuance in general, but I think in my head, I had assumed when you went to the board you were like, we need to transition, I’m out, in the future. So it’s even very interesting right there for you to say, I don’t know, but I think we should explore.

It’s weird. Yeah, it is. I don’t know why to even describe it as weird to me, I’m not sure why I think it’s weird. 

Mark: It doesn’t tend to happen that way. Usually somebody’s mad. Either the CEO is mic dropping and he’s like, I’m ticked, I’m out of here. The board is, or the owner is mad and here’s your box, put your stuff in it.

What’s your hurry? That’s quite often what happens. For me going through this process, like I’m very calm talking about it now and I can say some of this stuff in a very articulated way. It was messy and it was hard for a while. Can we talk about the messy? Well, I didn’t understand any of what I just said to you.

I had a feeling that there was some sort of discontinuity and I had no idea what it was. I’d sit down at the table to do something that I’d previously liked to do, create a presentation and it wouldn’t feel good about it. And it’d be weird, right? Or part of the business that needed to be driven forward.

And I just couldn’t make a decision on what to do. 

Joe: Did you notice motivation being low? Was it that too? Was it lack of interest? Lack of fun? 

Mark: Like, I wouldn’t say motivation was low. Maybe it became harder. It was always hard. Consulting is a hard gig. Brilliant people often go into it because of the challenge.

It always been a hard job, but the task itself became mentally more fatiguing. It’s hard, but that almost motivates you forward. It’s like, oh 

Joe: good, I’m solving something hard. So this is what I signed up for, and this is what I want. 

Mark: You know how some people can go out and run a marathon, and they love it?

His name’s Nick Smorelli. And then some people, you ask them to go run a mile, and they’re just like, oh my gosh, I’m tired before I even start. There was a little bit of that creeping in. But I also don’t want to be too dramatic. No, 

Joe: it was just like there, like you could feel it a little bit. You mentioned that your wife noticed a difference.

And one of the things I’m interested in is like, what the personal life impact of these times are. What did she notice? 

Mark: I think it was the fatigue. I’ve actually never used that word before right now. I think it was that. And it’s just the whole 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. Well, the person you love and live with is most likely to pick up on that stuff.

I think she just probably noticed a shift. Would you say looking 

Joe: back, or if you were to coach somebody else who was starting to have these same inklings, would you say to them like, Hey, are you more fatigued than usual? 

Mark: So I would have one giant asterisk on this whole conversation. I wouldn’t want anyone to listen to this and say, Oh, I should transition out of my job.

I executive coach a handful of folks and the worst coaches in the world convince you that it’s time to leave your job because it’s like the easy thing to do. Why did so many people quit their job in COVID? It’s because it was the one thing you could control. So much of your life was out of your control during COVID and lots of change and difficulty.

But the one thing you could control. And so a lot of people changed for the wrong reasons. Like, you get paid to go to work because it’s at least somewhat hard. They need to pay you to be there, it turns out. You have to provide 

Joe: some element of value to the thing and value doesn’t get created for nothing.

Yeah, so there’s no 

Mark: such thing as a job that doesn’t have some difficulty in it and some days that you’re like, oh man, I don’t know if I can do this. But I think for me, What it came down to is I think I figured out who I really was and what I was good at, and where my passion was. And I figured out what the business really needed out of my role in the next decade.

And I just realized. Those things were starting to mismatch. And by the way, I also spent some time trying to redirect myself at the end of that summer back into what the business needed because I had this better awareness. I finally just figured out, yeah, that’s not going to happen. I remember seven years ago now when I became president, I had this month where I guess I better wear better clothes and say smarter things.

And I just. weird. And after a month, I’m like, okay, if that’s what a president is, I’m just going to get fired because I can’t be me. So I think that’s what people should look for is do I have a hard day or a hard job or am I in a hard season? Is it fundamentally what I am and what the business needs for me?

Like you should have feel a responsibility. To deliver what the business needs from you, especially if you’re leading a team or a company. I mean, there are dozens or hundreds of people that depend on you. You damn well better know that you’re the right person for the job and try your best 

Joe: at it. What you’re describing in my head sounds like IR theory, individual enroll.

Which is a theory they talk about in sales a lot, because you get so much rejection. And if you start taking on the responsibility of the role as who you are, you will die. So in the same sort of framework, you’re saying like, who I am and what the role needs. Okay, I want to take 

Reid: a brief moment to call out this thread of IR theory.

For those of you who need a little bit of context, it’s the idea of identity and role and how are you able to separate those things. So at a high level, if somebody were to ask you who you are, what you do, do you start with, I am a CEO, I am a president versus the less tangible roles that you play in your world.

If you want another place to go reference the scared confident podcast has an episode called I am a 10 no matter what with. Frank Vicki, linked in the show notes for you, as another place to go deeper, but just wanted to call that out as a thread to watch for as we go into the rest of this episode and the rest of the season.

Joe: Is there a space where you look at it and go, oh, I’m not there yet, but I can grow into 

Mark: it. Oh yeah. Yeah. Lord, I spent most of my career there. That’s 

Joe: what I was gonna say. Like, I imagine you only get better if that’s the case. So like. How do you think about separating that environment where it’s like, I can grow into that versus that’s 

Mark: not who I am.

Maybe we’re mixing up what I can do versus who I am. It is more difficult to change who you are. Usually, if it happens, it usually happens for negative reasons through trauma and things. It’s hard to be who you’re not, but you can absolutely learn new skills and you can channel who you are into things that you don’t know how to do today.

I think most of us, when we take promotions or take on new roles, have that little voice that’s like, Man, I don’t know how to do 25 percent of this job. Well, if you knew how to do 

Joe: it, you’d already be there, right? I guess the thing where I’m just not understanding it as clearly, and which tells me where the work I need to do on my own, like, who am I questioning?

Who you are is not who the business needs in the future. Are you backcasting from that role into, like, the person? 

Mark: Yeah. So the conversation we had was not, as you’ve mentioned earlier, I’m out. That was not it. The conversation was, I’m starting to sense a discontinuity in what the business is going to need for me in the future and what I feel like I am as a leader.

Okay. I’m starting to sense it. And so I said, what I think we should do is we should go try to find the next CEO. And if we find someone that’s clearly better, we should hire them as soon as possible. And if we don’t, that’s just okay. We’ll keep going. I’m not upset. I don’t have another job. I don’t want another job.

I’m sensing this discontinuity. I have a responsibility to raise my hand and say it so that if we can go find somebody that’s better for the next phase, we have the chance to do it in a safe and productive way. So the thing 

Joe: that I find lightly terrifying about that is all of a sudden not knowing. Like a good bet on the future.

And that sounds slightly terrifying. Because you’re like, well, the future could go either of these two ways. And we’re just going to find the truth. Is it freeing? Yeah, 

Mark: it’s freeing. A whole bunch of stress went away. I’d made that comment because I’d said out loud the thing. I think a lot of us are taught accidentally to pretend a lot along the way.

Like why does imposter theory exist or the imposter feeling exists because you’re over your skis a little bit and usually you get your skis back on you. But a lot of us are taught to pretend. Like, I’m somehow disappointing people if I can’t be what they expect me to be instead of who I am. It’s really freeing to say, well, I am who I am and it may or may not be good enough.

And that’s just okay. That does actually sound quite freeing. I mean, ironically, as soon as I said that, we then had the best year as a company we’ve ever had. Right? And so a lot of people asked me, so we finished this first half of the year and then Greg came in as the new CEO. And a lot of people are like, well, do you not want to leave now?

Because we had the best half year we’ve ever had. And actually the opposite was true. I knew at that point it wasn’t about some sort of egocentric, I want to achieve business results. That’s what makes me feel fulfilled and I’m gonna wrap my identity around that. It was really freeing actually because we had some hard times as a business, we had some great times as a business, and at the end of the greatest time that we’ve had, it was still the right answer.

Joe: That was pretty cool. There is something that I’ve experienced in my life, all 30 years of it, where it’s so weird experience where the more I want something, the more I end up fighting against it myself, unintentionally. So the best example of this is my whole world was soccer and I played it at a really high level for the United States played at a really high level and then I went to college and it was like, I can taste professional on my lips.

It’s right there. If I just have a really good next four years, I can do the thing I’ve always dreamed about doing. And I got really tight. And the best representation of this was that Joe at practice and Joe in games were completely different individuals. It really started happening. So I intentionally redshirted my freshman year and I was super free.

And I was great and then the brakes came off and it was like, all right, now go win your space, go win your spot on the team, go win the starting role and then go be the guy. And I got really closed up the way my coach described to me. He’s like, dude, it’s like you’re squeezing the bunny so tight you’re going to kill it.

Like you love it so much that you’re going to kill it. So I’ve experienced that and then I’ve seen it come up in my professional life too. But now I have to be like, you’re squeezing the bunny too tight. I sometimes can stop myself from doing it. So I think there’s reality to this. Oh, I’m just free. It like, comes easier.

It’s like flow. It 

Mark: sounds like you had created this predetermined future for yourself, and you had tied your identity so closely to that. That the fear of not achieving it, and you at least subconsciously knew that that’s a really hard thing to do, and you were not guaranteed. You could taste it on your lips, but it was still across the room.

I’m guessing that was a fear based response to the threat to a future identity of yourself. Were you ever like 

Joe: that? Oh yeah. So it feels like part of the transition is getting away from the predetermined future. 

Mark: You hold the future more loosely. Let’s just be a little honest, like, especially in this country, in, I’m a farm kid that’s been terribly blessed.

Can’t believe it sometimes when I sort of think about it. So I probably have the freedom to be free more than some people. I think a lot 

Joe: of people, the more they get, the 

Mark: more tight they get. Oh, that’s true. That is a psychological thing. The great irony is people with lots of money don’t want to risk it.

People with no money are perfectly happy to take risks. Going back to your story, I think if it is true that you at that time in your life tied your identity to, I am going to be a professional soccer player. You likely thought inside your head a successful life looks like that to me. Then all of the other options that were not that are by necessity excluded.

That path wasn’t guaranteed. And so that creates a tremendous amount of stress. If you’d have opened it up a little more loosely and said a path for me. It’s professional soccer player and I actually see a path where that could happen and that’s cool. Most people would never get that opportunity, but there’s also other paths that could be interesting.

Some of which I don’t know yet. Think of like the weight you would carry into practice and into games that would be a little bit different. The 

Joe: best season I had was my senior year where it had all gone and that was awesome. Kind of pisses me off to think about it, right? I feel like, why couldn’t you just act like that for the other years 

Mark: and well, wisdom takes time, man.

Part of why we live long lives. So you can learn some of these lessons. 

Joe: In this conversation you were talking about going to the board and being like I might not be the right guy. I’m starting to see that maybe I’m not the right guy. Let’s go explore if I am or am not the right guy. You were already holding the future loosely.

These are terms I really like. When you first said that, my reaction to it was like, that sounds terrifying. And now as you’ve broken it out, it’s like, that sounds like everybody should act like that all the time. Sort of gone to the complete other end of the spectrum. Is that something that you believe you were able to come to as a result of that sort of three month period of working through who am I?

Mark: Yeah. Let me take it to the ultimate conclusion. So that kind of hierarchy of the answer to the question, who am I? So the ultimate of that I would say is you end up as a monk in the mountains in the Himalayas where you completely detached from life completely. And you just sit there and contemplate your place in the universe and that’s kind of it.

Don’t go that way. Yeah. That’s not what I’m saying. Right. But that little bit of detachment that you get from saying, like, I am this thing here and the externalities and even my day to day ups and downs inside my mind are not me. It allows you some freedom. To hold the future loosely, to actually be excited about possibility and openness.

I just think a lot of things in our life encourage us actually in the opposite direction. Now if you hold this concept in your head and you go, so I’m reading through the Bible right now. It is shocking to me how many times this idea pops up around. This idea of where you actually sit, who you actually are, what it means to look at the world in a more loose way.

And then you read other things. It’s weaved throughout all these things that humans have learned over thousands of years. It’s not a new idea. I didn’t come up with it last summer. 

Joe: Well, I think you brought up an interesting point, which is like a lot of our life is built around not having uncertain futures, even down to we take 30 year mortgages.

We like set roots in places we anticipate that will be there forever. Every, like, major life decision feels very final in a sense. It’s hard to break free of that type of thinking. 

Mark: As you say that, I’m also thinking the opposite could be just as toxic. If you never committed to anything or never leaned in when things got hard to try to make it work, that is also a terrible 

Joe: life.

What I anticipate is that during the year when you were going through, should I be the CEO in the future or is there somebody better? I don’t imagine that you were any less committed to the work than usual. So it’s about holding those two things at the same time. Like I will be fully committed to where I’m at and do a great job to the best of my ability.

And I will keep in mind that the future could be that I’m not still the right person. These are 

Mark: actually separate. That’s a great way to phrase it. I like it. I struggle 

Joe: with that. The moment I think that something is no longer the right use of my time, attention, resources, gifts. It’s out. And I think that’s a very good lesson for me personally.

I hope for other people too that around like those two things can be true. They can live together and that’s fine. If we can fast forward a little bit, make the decision. There’s somebody better to do this role. How do you go about managing that transition period? Also for the organization and yours is particularly interesting.

You’ve got the best six month period in the company’s history. Was there any trepidation around, I want to set up this next CEO for success and they’re going to have to walk into an environment where people are like, man, Mark was just leading us through this crazy growth. Like, how do you set them up for success in that transition moment?

Mark: Telling the truth is a pretty good idea. I just told them the exact story I just told you. It happens to be true. So I think people understood that. People had questions, of course, and we kind of worked through it. But the fact is, Greg is the right guy for the next 10 years. So, I think just telling people the truth of where I got to and like why we made the decision that we did, I fundamentally believe it’s the right thing and so people will come to the same conclusion.

And I think largely people have. I think the other thing on the other side, there could be a snapback effect I’ve had to be careful of. You act like the role that you’ve played for a while, gotta make sure you don’t keep doing that. I have a new role when I sit in executive team meetings. I’m not running the executive team meeting and making decisions.

Those kind of things, right? I have a new role that I play in that meeting and just being careful about that new role. Now, if you just leave immediately, that’s probably, that helps that problem, but you do also have to be thoughtful on the other side about how you conduct yourself. 

Joe: Was that hard to like walk into that same room and act in a different way because the environment is the same, but now there’s somebody different running it?

Mark: Not for me. I mean, it was my idea. So 

Joe: like if you haven’t decoupled your identity from those three letters of CEO, I could imagine it being tougher. 

Mark: Yeah, that’s probably true. Yep. You probably ought to ask. Is there anything I regret about it? 95 percent of it? I would say no. There’s one thing I regret. In that, I wish I would have brought our entire executive team in a little earlier.

And the ultimate conclusion I came to is like, what if I bring him in and then it doesn’t actually happen? What if we don’t find the next person? That would be weird. Then people would think, Oh, Mark must have one foot out the door or something like that. And so ultimately we decided not to, but we’re a really high trust organization.

We have phenomenal executives, both as executives and as human beings. I would have liked to bring them in at least earlier than 

Joe: I did. Do you think that because you’ve come to find that fear was unfounded or was there something that indicated to you that Your fear about them thinking you have one foot out 

Mark: the door.

I don’t think I needed to protect them from the situation. I think I was trying to protect them and I don’t think I needed to. I think we had the level of trust and respects to act like the exact same team we had been through that as we did when we were running the company. It’s not the end of the world.

It’s working out just fine. But that was probably one thing I may be able to changed. It’s like the only place in this whole thing that I wasn’t. Transparent with the people directly impacted and for good reasons. The intent was pure. I 

Joe: remember asking Tiffany a question a long time ago. I was still owning my gym at the time and working here and there was some transition and ownership going on at the gym, my business partner.

And I was talking with Tiff one day about how to communicate that with our membership. I said the words of like, well, maybe I just leave it alone. Like they’re not really going to know anyway. Maybe I don’t need to scare them with it. And she was like, in the absence of information, people will write their own stories.

And I was like, noted. And that’s come up in my head like, that was maybe three, four years ago now. And I think about that at least once a month, where it’s like, if I don’t tell them, somebody else will think about it anyway. And now I don’t get to tell the narrative the way that it’s supposed to be told.

Mark: Isn’t it ironic how much we create stories around our own good intent and we create stories around the bad intent of others? It is 

Joe: interesting. It’s actually funny. I was driving this morning. There’s a local bagel shop next to my house called Bagel Fair that I just adore. I go every morning and pick up a couple bagels for my wife and I.

And I saw somebody doing something that was sort of odd on the way. And you’re right, my immediate reaction was like, judge and tell a story that’s bad about them. And then I was like, you know what, it could be any of these 25 other things. Good, good, good, good, good, good, legitimate reason. And I was like, why do I go there?

Something to work on. Because I think you’re right, we always tell ourselves like, oh, I have all the best of intentions, but then we tend to project outwards, like they must be doing something that I would disapprove of or is against me or something like that. You know why you go there. Well, actually, I have a thing jumped my head, but I would love your perspective on it.

Mark: This will be a very blanket statement that I may get in trouble for. We tend to cut other people down to build ourselves up, because we can’t build ourselves up. I don’t remember what the movie was, but never look in someone else’s bowl unless to see if they have enough. Why do we do that? Why do we do the comparison game?

It doesn’t actually bring us joy. 

Joe: It does the inverse. It’s sort of like complaining. Oh, this is making you complain more. You see the worst. I think the other thing Um, with me in particular and where I think where my head went, be curious about your perspective on this is I think we tend to judge others the more we judge ourselves and vice versa.

So if we walk around constantly judging ourselves, we will project that energy outward. The less I do that, the less I’ve judged other people. That’s a really good point. Mark, that was great. I appreciate the depth of conversation around the transition time and the freedom of the future. Holding the future less tightly is something that I’m going to be thinking on and looking into more.

So. Thank you. Thank you for that. I appreciate the lessons. 

Mark: Happy to be here. I will look back on this period of life is probably one of the hardest and one of the best parts of my life. I couldn’t be happier with how things have gone and where the company’s going. And gosh, I sure do like all the people at Resultants and our board and Greg and yeah, it’s really good.

So it’s. It’s a pleasure to get to talk about it. Hopefully it helps some folks. Awesome. Thanks, man.

Reid: Okay, Joe. So, first conversation in this new season, coming back with Mark Caswell, and we knew that we wanted to go deep on this specific moment in time in his experience of this recent transition for him. And we knew that we wanted to go just a bit deeper, more detail. We had some ideas, but where do you feel like you We’re able to get to what stood out to you in that conversation with Mark as we think about building the narrative for the rest of the season.

Joe: When I looked back on the episode and went and re listened to the conversation, the thing that stood out to me was, I think walking in, I anticipated there being some sort of… Toolbox he was dipping into that would have been businessy. I go. Here’s how we do transitions And here’s how we think about who the next leader would be and here’s how blah blah blah blah blah I followed 

Reid: the ad car model to make sure 

Joe: that I like yeah Exactly what stood out to me was that the decision was intensely internal for him before it was ever External and I think doing it successfully came down to his ability to navigate his internal Emotional state about it.

Well, you 

Reid: asked the question when he went to the board and said that this was the decision that let’s start moving in this direction. You’re like, had you been thinking about it years beforehand? And he was like, no, like there wasn’t a lot of process that led up to it. It was like he had to get the internal clarity and then, all right, I have that decision.

Joe: You’ve touched on the thing that stood out to me the most in this conversation that was probably the most instructive for me. And it’s been the thing that’s replayed in my mind since we stopped talking. And it’s this idea of holding the future less tightly. I think he might’ve used the exactly that term later on in the show.

What he didn’t do was, and he mentioned this, he’s like, this was not black and white. He was like, I went to the board and I said, I might not be the person for the future. There may be someone better than me to run this company. In our next wave of growth, it’s really hard to be that up in the air about being in or being out, 

Reid: especially in such a position.

I mean, you’re leading the company to be able to live in that space of I might not be right and let’s figure it out 

Joe: the amount of self awareness he brings in that moment and also the amount of security in contrast to insecurity about being able to put his hand up in the air and saying, maybe I’m not right for the future.

And not having that be something that takes away who you are is a lesson from this. Like, he talked a lot about identity. That was the lesson from this episode was… Being very secure in who you are. He talked about like the stages of identity, right? He talked about, I am my things, I am my positions. And then you continually asking the question of who am I?

And if you’re tied up in your titles, it’s going to be very, very hard to do what he did and transition well. Yeah. 

Reid: It’s something that I called out in our mid episode break of is this IR theory, this identity role relationship, it’s something that. Previously on the podcast has come up inexplicably, right?

It’s been sort of a thread, but now that we have captured that, how can we further figure out, is that a common trend among people? Did they have to get their IR in order to make the decisions they needed to make? And I think that that also relates to this general self awareness that we’ve experienced from a lot of leaders experienced in this, of how important is that for people as they navigate these inflection points that they’re going through?

the self focus to be able to make the decisions for 

Joe: everybody else in the picture. Well, it’s interesting too, in keeping with the self awareness piece, Mark was self aware enough to know like, look, I might be more free than other people to have that freedom. I already have resources. I’m not in a spot where this is my like, quote unquote, big break.

So I have the ability not to feel that pressure. My hunch is that regardless, he probably would have done the same thing. And I think the trick is acting like that regardless of What is your current financial situation, or what are the stressors in your life, or oh, I’ve got a kid going to college next year.

You can’t let these outside pressures dictate how you show up. There’s a 

Reid: layer of that abundance and scarcity mindset in there. You’ll 

Joe: be okay even if this isn’t you anymore. Boiling it down is like, you are still you, and back to your IR theory, like you are still you regardless of this role that you have.

And so I think, as I consider you started to touch on this, like where do we go next? I want to talk to somebody Who helps people with identity conversations that felt really important inside of that conversation. And I believe that having a conversation with whether it’s technically an executive coach or.

I’m not exactly positive what like their title would be, but somebody who helps leaders navigate who they are, how their identity and their career, their role relate to each other. All of those questions felt like really central to this transition. And so I think as we unpack what does it take to do that well, I think that’s the right place to go next for some of the questions that have come up.

And I think also 

Reid: as we look forward to future conversations. There’s naturally this level of who am I, what is my identity, what is my role for the leadership transition inflection, because it’s stepping out of a thing that you have been tied to for so long. into either the unknown or something new that you know what it is, but in these other inflection points that we need to dig into over the course of the season, how important is identity and role when it’s not actually transitioning from a seat into something else in those other business environments that these leaders have to operate 

Joe: in?

Mark made a point that when he became president he started wearing nicer clothes and trying to sound smarter And it was funny to hear him talk about it, but I think potentially the next next conversation So let’s go talk about building identity I would not be surprised if the next right spot to go is somebody who’s just come into A presidential seat or a CEO seat or like COO, whatever the role of operating leading the company is inside of their company.

I think that might be the right place to go. Like what happened to you when you did it? Did you start to have these weird things where you didn’t feel like yourself? And start to understand if they also went back into, I gotta figure out who I am moment or not. I think we see a couple lines already coming outta this one.

Sounds like we’re primed to go 

Reid: hunt for some interesting conversation. Yeah, for sure. Love it.

Joe: 1000 Stories is brought to you by Element three with production by Share Your Genius. This show is part of our company mission to foster growth in people and business so they can change the world if you’re finding the show helpful or inspiring. Please help us by leaving a review on Apple or Spotify.

If you’d like to stay in the loop for more updates from our show and to hear other stories of growth, please head to element3. com forward slash podcast.

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