The Best Way To Filter Advice with Tiffany Sauder

1,000 Stories


Tiffany Sauder: I don’t know if I’m right, but I’m just like, I just don’t believe that can be true. There’s no possible way. Maybe we haven’t figured it out yet. And it took us a long time to figure it out. It wasn’t simple. It took hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment. It took going through different people just to figure it out, but I was committed to solving it.

Joe Mills: What we’re here to answer this season is how do business leaders navigate these major points of change, these inflection points in their businesses? And then what are the tools and practices they use to make sure that those big moments are successful?

Reid Morris: I’m Reid Morris.

Joe Mills: And I’m Joe Mills. And we’re embarking on an investigation this season to answer that exact question.

Reid Morris: Then we’re taking our learnings and we’re sharing them with you to help you navigate your own inflection points.

Joe Mills: This is 1000 Stories, an original show from Element Three.

Reid Morris: Okay Joe, so we are coming in on what feels like nearing the conclusion of the season. We still have a little bit more to explore. But following our interview with Kelly, there was some really interesting stuff that we felt like we needed to dive into, which is why we’re going to circle back with Tiffany. So I would love for you to set a bit of context as to why Tiffany, again on the show. For context, she was on the show previously.

Joe Mills: Our very first episode.

Reid Morris: Very first episode. So it’s kind of a coming-around point for us. So provide a little bit of context as to what stood out from that Kelly conversation that said we need to talk to Tiffany again.

Joe Mills: Yeah, there was a little bit of a meta moment where we are creating content that gives advice. And Kelly was talking about essentially how to filter advice in a lot of different ways or parts of that conversation. And so there was this moment where I was talking to her and she was talking about that widely societally accepted thing about work doesn’t apply to us or it doesn’t work here. And I was like, wow, we’re about to go put out content that essentially gives advice. And I’ve never thought about how we help people filter if the advice is good for them or not. And that sat on me really hard.

And I think the last question I asked her in the conversation or near the end was something like, “Hey, I live in a world of constant information. I’m on my smartphone all the time. I have a mini computer with me. There’s computers everywhere I go, it’s constant information influx. How do I filter it out?” And we beat that around for a few minutes and I left feeling like that is an area that needs to be explored.

So then I started thinking through when have I experienced people not taking the advice, being counter-cultural and having it work out well? And I remembered a very specific moment in my time at Element Three, which we’ll talk about with Tiffany that really highlighted a leader being like, “Everybody told me to do this and I’m doing it the other way.”

And in the moment when this happened, I think I was 24, maybe 25 years old, and I didn’t recognize that was what had happened and how hard that is. But now five or six years on, I recognize that when a lot of people who I respect tell me to do something, in what environment would I just say no? I don’t know the answer to that. And I think that there are many people who likely have that same question. And I would imagine that many of the leaders that we have talked to throughout this season and throughout our show have likely gone against the grain at different points in time, but I’ve never asked them when, how, why at all. So this conversation with Tiffany is about how do you filter it? You’ve been doing this for 20 years, you’ve been successful, you’re successful in other endeavors, you likely get lots of advice, you likely take in a lot of advice.

Reid Morris: I think that’s part of it because Tiffany is not only the head of Element Three, but she sits in the seat of owner and CEO and board member and all these other things. So you’re getting different types of information and advice the more seats that you sit in. So she’s someone who is getting tons of information because of all these different roles, which I think creates kind of a unique experience there.

Joe Mills: Exactly. So I want to hear from her and she’s also somebody who I’ve watched at various points go against advice and have success with it. Which means she must have some inclination of when do I trust the information and when do I not? And that is really what I want to uncover with her.

Reid Morris: Looking forward to it.

Joe Mills: Yeah, me too.

Awesome. Well Tiff, thanks for hopping back on. We previewed a little bit of what we’re going to talk about today. But to give the audience a bit of a background on it outside of the pre-show that Reid and I recorded. As we’ve gone through this season and we’ve really been intentionally trying to provide listeners with a playbook or a toolkit of sorts for managing big inflection points of change, it struck us in the last conversation that we had that man, there’s a lot of advice out there. And it gets really difficult to navigate whose advice do I take? And how do I allow somebody who I don’t already know or trust or have been referred to or worked with in some capacity to give me advice and know that it know might be strong, but feel confident in its applicability to my setting?

And so we were talking about who would have good perspective on that? We thought of you because of the various hats that you wear professionally now in your experience running this place for 20 years and being in charge of other businesses as well and sitting on boards. And so today I’d love to hear and just discuss with you how you think about filtering information. And when you’re running up against something that doesn’t have a playbook of sorts, how do you start navigating those challenges? So that’s where we want to go. And it might be helpful just to orient people who don’t totally know the Tiffany Sauder story, just like a 30-second overview on what you’re focusing on right now and the different hats that you are wearing.

Tiffany Sauder: Well, I think what’s maybe the most relevant as far as my story goes is that I was the president of Element Three for 18 years. The very beginning of that, that wasn’t what I was at all. It was a very small agency and I was 25 years old. And so I think that it’s probably as much a leadership journey from when you’re in your twenties, you’re like, what’s the right answer? For me, I just wanted somebody to tell me. Tell me. I’ll read a book, I’ll go to a conference, I’ll pay the money, I’ll like, who’s the smart person? Just tell me what to do because I want to get it right.

And I think that as you go on in your career, as you run different kinds of organizations, as you take on different kinds of projects, as you’re in different organization types like boards or for-profit companies or whatever that looks like, you start to realize that right is a very opaque thing. Then you kind of have to wrestle with that reality. That right is a very opaque thing. And then I think you have to go through the process of discerning for yourself what do you want and how are you going to get there? And I think that’s really where this decision-making and discernment and all of that starts to really get interesting. So I think that’s from my background, I think that’s the probably growth process that is the most relevant.

Joe Mills: Well, you brought up something very interesting that spoke to me. I’m just into my thirties. And somehow in the last year my desire to consume more information took a real hard turn towards maybe not. Whereas also in my twenties it was like every book that came out, any piece of content that would contribute to my thought process, just like all of it, like a fire hose. So it was interesting for you to reference, yeah, when I was in my twenties, I just wanted somebody to tell me the answer. Where do you think that changed at for you? Do you remember a point in time where you started switching to, I’m going to ask myself the right answer, or?

Tiffany Sauder: I’m reflecting on this but I think at some point in your twenties you realize how you grew up and the things you saw and what you’ve been exposed to is a very finite sliver of the world. And so then maybe we’d start going on this exposure quest which becomes consuming podcasts and content. And just like for me, it was opening the door of possible. I don’t know, who are these people, what have they been doing? What have they been thinking about? Watching extreme documentaries of people that are, oh, you’ve spent your whole life rock climbing, you’ve spent your whole, like whoa. And I think it just becomes this exposure game of how do people think? How do different people behave? How do they operate under stress? What did they decide? How did that turn out? It’s like watching a fast-forward of somebody’s life over and over and over again.

And I read an article once, I wish I’d have saved it because I’ve retold this story so many times. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, was presented with this market research. They were getting ready to move into South America, I believe was the market at the time. And they were expanding and they hired all these really smart people to go into this great big market research survey. And it came back definitively, if you’re going to move into this market, you have to allow smoking. These are ubiquitous actions, smoking and drinking coffee culturally, this is what people do socially. You’re not going to be able to sell a cup of coffee if you don’t allow people to smoke. And Howard Schultz looked at that research and said, “We’re going into this market and we’re not going to allow smoking.”

And I remember just being obsessed with how do you get so clear on your own personal values that you’re willing to make a choice, a leadership choice that trumps what all of the “experts” are saying that you should do? And I think it was those little nuggets that for me started to file away. There’s a lot of ways to do right, and what you believe actually matters in this pursuit of growth.

Joe Mills: I was just having a conversation with Josh on our team today over lunch about how difficult it is to have the feedback loops that athletics provide where I know I did well, I know I did poorly, I got worse today or I got better today or whatever inside of business that has really long-term horizons of success in it. And to use the example from Starbucks, they might’ve opened up their first store in Buenos Aires and had a bad first month. Oh, was Howard wrong? But then they might’ve had a really big uptick 14 months later like, oh, maybe he was right. And it’s really hard to define even knowing when success or failure happens because is it near term, is it long term. There’s an infinite number of variables.

Tiffany Sauder: I think sort of. It’s true business, culture, success, all of those are long tail things you don’t really know. But you do have to have the discipline to put a measurement stick in the water at some defined interval to be able to tell are we making progress towards or away from where it is that we’re going?

So in business, while you don’t have a scorecard, you don’t play a game you do every month with financials. You know whether you’re moving towards or away from where you’re going. Even in the sales process, we might not be hitting the close rate that we wanted every single month, but if we’re going into a new market, you could say, okay, is our awareness, is our top line velocity going up? And while it’s not maybe converting yet.

I think about my daughter who’s 12 and wanting to become the world’s most amazing volleyball player. At the beginning, her mechanics were pretty crappy, but she was long, she could jump. There were some things that coaches were like, “I mean I’ll play her because this’ll be interesting to see if she can put it together.” And I think those same things happen in business. Or I think about a choice we’ve made open book financials. That’s something you can test into if you want to and then you can fully commit to a culturally if you want to. I don’t know if that comparison and makes sense.

Joe Mills: Yeah. Well actually let’s use that as a microcosm maybe a story. What was the trigger point that you were like, I want to do open book financials? Where did that come from?

Tiffany Sauder: I read a book called The Great Game of Business, so this is going out and curating wisdom. And there was a quote, a little vignette that stuck so deeply in my brain. And it said, “Well-meaning people given the same set of information will almost always make the same decision.” And the issue is that people in executive leadership and the rest, whoever that is, have different sets of information. And so that’s part of what leads to the tension of why did you cut my benefits package? Why do we do these layoffs, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And I was like, yeah, if I understand something, I’m fine with eating a shit sandwich. It’s when I don’t understand it and you’re throwing it down my throat that we have problems. And I was like, that’s the greatest act of respect if to give people the whole story. I want it, why wouldn’t other people? And so literally it was that simple in my head of if you want to be respectful to people, if you want them to follow you through hard times, which if you’re going to lead anything long enough, you’re going to have to ask people to follow you through something difficult. The greatest act of respect is giving them the whole story.

Joe Mills: Did you get any pushback from not even just the internal team but from your larger network of mentorship?

Tiffany Sauder: Yeah, there’s people who are real scared of the idea of open book financials. And some of the things that you’ll hear is, “Well, what if the company makes $2 million or $20 million? Everybody’s going to assume that’s just going into your pocket as an owner.” It’s like, okay, let’s play that out. My dad drives nice cars and there’s some people who won’t drive a nice car because they don’t want other people to know how much money they make. That’s like a thing.

And my dad’s like, “Would you rather work for somebody who’s shown they can make money or would you rather work for somebody who has shown they can’t make money?” Which would you pick? Again, everybody gets it. But that’s one thing is employees aren’t sophisticated enough to understand that you’ve got to pay taxes and you’ve got to invest in growth. And it’s like that’s just education. Sure they are.

Joe Mills: If you trust them enough to hire them for your organization, why would you think they couldn’t understand those things?

Tiffany Sauder: That’s one pushback. One is people assume right away that you’re just publishing everybody’s salaries and sending out a spreadsheet of this is how much everybody makes.

Joe Mills: It’s actually on the wall. We keep a ranking order.

Tiffany Sauder: Totally. Yeah, exactly. When everybody gets a raise, we all clap for them.

Joe Mills: That number one, Reid.

Tiffany Sauder: Yeah. So people have the caricatures in their brain of what that means and it’s like, well, that’s not productive culturally at all. And I think people are afraid of, what do you say when there’s a bad month? And it’s like, I mean-

Joe Mills: It’s a bad month.

Tiffany Sauder: Yeah. But then they’re also like, well, what if you’re making a lot of money? What do you say? And it’s like, well, I mean it’s a good month.

Joe Mills: It’s a good month.

Tiffany Sauder: You can’t. And so it just takes education, it takes sticking with it. I mean when new employees join, they’re sometimes, what are all these words and what is EBITDA and all that stuff, but I think it’s the greatest sign of respect is to give people the whole story.

Joe Mills: When you’ve made that decision, I want to roll this out to the company and now I have to go through my own layers of buy-in not so much approval because you run the company. But when you’re getting buy-in across the board and you’re fielding some pushback or things, how are you starting to filter between that feedback is legitimate and I should consider it versus that feedback might be legitimate to them but is not in the context of my consideration set?

Tiffany Sauder: I’m going to play back an scenario because I think the biggest example of this is when we implemented EOS, it’s like the same idea where you’ve got some type of systematic change that you want to create. I was having lunch with somebody earlier, today’s Monday, must’ve been last week. And he was asking me about implementing EOS. And I said, “Are you clear enough on your decision and choice to implement EOS that you will lose any employee who comes to you and says, ‘It’s that or me’?” Because it’s a systematic choice. And if one of your key lieutenants says, “I’m never getting on board with this, I’m never going to do this.” What I find in these big choices is that deciding to do open book management, deciding to do EOS, those choices had to be very clear.

The how we did it. So when we did EOS, I said, we’re going to do this where we start, how fast we go, some of those choices I need to listen well to the team because the rate of change is only as fast as it can be absorbed by the organization. So there were those things I needed to listen to.

Or you implement open book financials to a group of people who didn’t go to college for these words and I did go to college for these words. You start to realize, oh, there’s a gap in our understanding. These words are intimidating. We need to be sure that we’re educating. Just because people didn’t understand it didn’t make it wrong, it meant that I needed to implement it differently.

So I can be pretty clear in my convictions of like, this is where we’re going. The vehicle we take, the miles per hour that we run on the road, all those kinds of things I’m willing to collaborate on. But I think leaders quit way too early on their choices. And then the organization starts to realize, wow, we have a lot of effect on what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do. And that’s not bad that they have a lot of effect, but what starts to happen is nothing ever actually gets implemented because you’re going to have resistance in any change.

Joe Mills: I’m going to share a thing with you that might feel sort of strange, but I’m just realizing that I’ve always had this perception. And it actually comes back to your commentary around when you were reading the article on Howard Schultz and you’re like, wow, how do you get so clear on your values and what you believe in?

Whenever I read things like that or I observe the sort of influence that you have in a room with people or that Kyler might have in the room with people or anybody who I respect professionally, Brian Kaviki. Where my brain goes is how do you get so good or how do you prove that you’re so good that you can make some choices that are counterculture, that are maybe counter to what the experts are telling you to say? And following you for as long as I have and also directly reporting to you for, what was it, five years I think? That was always my perception. It was like, Tiffany is just so good that people just say yes. So if my head’s always been in prove your value, then you can make the choice where yours was like get clear on what you believe and then you can make the choices. And I’m curious how you think about just that difference, that view because I’ve never thought about it before.

Tiffany Sauder: Well, you don’t suddenly earn the right to become something that you weren’t on the way to getting there. I was just talking to one of my business owner friends and it’s kind of a tough economy and he’s thinking about pulling the trigger on a really strategic, gutsy move. He’s a strategic gutsy leader, and so when the moment calls for it, he can call that up. Does that make sense? It’s not because he’s been successful for 15 years doing other things. You know what I’m saying? That he can make a strategic gutsy move.

I think another bold choice that we made early as an agency that some people would’ve said we’re premature to our size is our big investment in our brand and in sales and you being here. And it not being founder led until the end of the world. I probably could have signed a petition with 100 names that said, you cannot use marketing to drive demand for an agency. Can’t do it. It’s a relationship business. You need to serve on every board you can. It’s a referral business. You cannot use marketing to build an agency’s top line. And I was like, I just refuse to believe that. I realize some really smart people think that. I realize, but they are not in a 20X situation for me. And so I just don’t think it’s true.

Your outcomes suck. You have a small agency that you’re handcuffed to. You don’t have a choice to do anything else with your time and you’re telling me that’s true to make your choice feel better. But you have crappy outcomes, so I’m good. And I don’t know if I’m right, but I’m just like, I just don’t believe that can be true. There’s no possible way. Maybe we haven’t figured it out yet. And it took us a long time to figure it out. It wasn’t simple. It took hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment. It took going through different people that just figuring it out, but I was committed to solving it.

Joe Mills: Yeah. What’s interesting, there’s two things. I think a little bit of a framework that you almost gave there. Which is, oh, I look at the outcomes of this thought or this individual or whatever, this group, and the outcome might not be like failure. They own a business, it still operates. They probably take home a good salary, et cetera, whatever. But what it takes to operate in that outcome is not actually what I want so why would I go and follow that advice? And I think that can be pulled out and extrapolated to somebody else or to another situation where you’re like, does their business model match mine? Was their history the same or close to mine? Was the environment relevant et cetera, et cetera? And then start to walk your way back into does that piece of technology, does that advice, does that situation apply to me? So that’s one thing that’s really interesting.

The thing I’ll ask you is, because I would struggle with this. So if you were to say, if the business was to say, Joe, we need you to transition from an individual contributor in sales to running a BDR team. Just imagine for whatever reason. And now you get to go watch people who don’t know as much as you and don’t have experience as much as you fail and mess it up. But I need you to do that, teach them, manage them, and get them to be good, which is essentially what you did with me. It’s like I’m going to hand off responsibilities to somebody who has nowhere near my skill in this room. He’s going to mess it up. I know that right now that would be a struggle for me. Like, oh, just watching it go poorly. Was it hard for you to watch the bumps along the road and the mistakes that you’re like, if I was there I’d solve that problem, no problem.

Tiffany Sauder: Yeah, you have to learn it. I would say Brian Kaviki probably taught me the formula to it. One is that 80% as good as you can do it is 100% done. Anybody who’s learning something, if they can do it 80% as good as the person who’s been doing it a long time, that’s kind of the marker. And they’ll get there or they’ll figure out kind of what their 100% looks like.

I would say in the early innings of Element Three, every client, every project, every conversation, every email was so connected to my own identity and ego and sense of wanting to be ingested and accepted by the Indianapolis business community. I felt like I had a reputation to build, and so I obsessed like a psychopath in the way that you’re saying about all that stuff being perfect. And then you start to realize you have to pick between perfect and scale. And I could have had an agency 25% of the size where I was able to touch all of those things and it would be perfectly curated. Of course, I’d still have failure. You get my point. But if you choose scale, you’re going to have to figure out how to gracefully let your clients know we were training that person how to make some things right, and it’s just like that starts to become what you have to figure out.

Reid Morris: Okay, so a quick aside here. We just had a name mentioned Brian Kaviki, and for those of you who have joined or started listening more recently, he’s someone who has come up a few times over the course of 1000 Stories as a business coach, a sales mentor for Element Three worked with Tiffany for a long time. If you want to go a little bit deeper, get to know a little bit more about Brian, we highly encourage you to go to Scared Confident. There’s an episode from the First 17 Years series that goes really in depth with him. It’s a great story, so if you’re looking for another resource to get the full context, you’re highly encourage you to go listen.

Joe Mills: It’s interesting that you brought up identity and role. Where did the transition point happen where you stopped letting it wrap up, so much of your identity was wrapped up in the outcomes that were happening here?

Tiffany Sauder: Well, I think when everything broke.

Joe Mills: That’d be ’18?

Tiffany Sauder: Yeah. I mean I think in 2018 everything broke. Everything broke, everything broke. And so I had built a mountain that I was carrying on my back and either the mountain had to be broken into 1,000 pieces and I was going to continue sort of in my current form or I had to figure out how to change so that the mountain could still be moved. I think when you’re at the end of yourself, when you see the reality of everything you’ve worked for going away, you start to reconcile things like who would care? And you start to see the world would literally go on the next day and it would be 15 minutes of, holy shit, did you see that email we got? And then literally people would go on with their lives.

Joe Mills: Yeah.

Tiffany Sauder: That would just be what it was. And so I think I started to see, man, I got to figure this out. It’s really important, but it’s not the only thing.

Joe Mills: I didn’t know we were going to go to ’18 right here, but it’s a good time. Because as we were prepping for this conversation, one of the reasons I thought of you immediately was because of ’18 and an interaction that we had in the old kitchen at the Element Three offices in the Pyramids. I was what, 24 maybe?

Tiffany Sauder: 17?

Joe Mills: Effectively zero-age-old. And I think I’d been working for you for a year and a half, and I was like just finding my legs enough to not be bad at my job. And we had a major client leave, things were breaking. I was too siloed to recognize that things were really breaking, but I knew that the revenue was a problem. And I remember going home, I think it was maybe a Monday, we had a biz review on Wednesday. And I remember saying to Katie, to my wife, “Hey, I don’t know, but I think there’s not a 0% chance that I get let go on Wednesday.” Protecting my ego with the word fired. Then Wednesday rolled around and I did not get let go.

And I remember, so we were down in the basement doing the whole company thing and I mean, this is how naive I am now. Now I would know that was a really hard day for our leadership team. Then I was just like, “Wow, that was just a weird day.” And so we’re in the kitchen and we’re standing there and I was like, “Can I ask you something?” And you started giving me the eyes of like, “Sure.” And I was like, “So why didn’t you fire me?” And your response lives in my head rent free ever since and it was like, “Should I have?” And I was like, deer in the headlights, “Uh, I don’t think so. “

Tiffany Sauder: That’s so funny.

Joe Mills: And then you’re like, “No, most of the advice I got was to let go of my sales marketing team.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“It didn’t make any sense to let go of the people who are in charge of revenue when I need more revenue.” And it only was very recently that it came to my brain that was a bit of a bet to go against the grain in that moment. Were you doing that on value? Were you doing that on logic?

Tiffany Sauder: Well, I think we’ve always had the luxury of playing the long game. And I say the luxury, it’s always been my vantage point. I grew up, my dad was building a company when I was young and at home, and it was like for generations was his viewpoint. And I think I always just knew if we build the long-term stability, we’re going to solve problems forever. If you just try to get yourself through another 30 days, it just becomes a game of treading water.

I’m particularly in a unique situation because we’re a dual career income home and we’ve not constructed the expenses of our lives such that I can’t take some shots here and it doesn’t have to be pitch perfect from a financial perspective though we need to make money and do well. So I think I’ve always been able to play with a little looser hands because of that. I’m comfortable in risk. I grew up around a lot of it and I think it’s a natural wiring for me.

I knew this is not to like, you were still forming. But I also knew you were worth betting on. And if I wouldn’t have been as sure about that, I might’ve made a different choice. But I knew it was really important for us to have somebody who could play that role. My strategy was, I’m talking about this very specifically, but I think it speaks to broader when you’ve got a bigger picture of it. It’s like my strategy was to have you follow me around for a year and not everybody’s willing to make that investment of you’re paying somebody literally to listen to your words. You set some meetings, but it was literally, hey, you don’t know marketing. My options are find somebody who doesn’t really know it, that can learn it or find somebody who knows it but knows it differently than the way I want them to see it. Both of them take investment. This is an example of a problem. It just has a long strategic solve.

And today people look at us and like, “Oh my word, you’re so lucky. You’re so smart. You’re so grateful to have Joe.” I’m not talking, but just anything you’ve solved strategically, I’m using this as an example. And it’s like, well, yeah, but you weren’t willing to put the three years into making a Joe. We found a Joe. You had a ton of raw materials. You invested like a maniac in the process. Those are things I can’t control. Those were bets be made on you. But a lot of people aren’t willing to create an environment for somebody to really learn. And you put all these expectations of a big quota and you need to sell as good as me. It would’ve just buried you. It was not a practical outcome. And I think that, again, solving for the longterm, you can put any different kind of problem inside of there. We’re just not willing to invest in it often.

Joe Mills: 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.

Reid Morris: And 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. So that’s the reason that we’re really excited to be sponsored by Better Help.

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You know what came to my brain when you were talking about, oh, people say, oh, you’re lucky. And you’re like, yeah, they didn’t sit through the crap with us of me literally following you around and being like a puppy for a year and a half of doing really nothing of value for that long, trying to just learn. The place my head went was it’s your home life too. You guys have four kids. You have a dual income household and there will be a point in time, it maybe already happens, I don’t know where people are like, “Oh, you have such an awesome family and you have such a great group to go home to every day and all these things.” It’s like, “Yeah, I’ve also been changing diapers for 14 years straight and we will have somebody in the house until we’re-

Tiffany Sauder: Like 60.

Joe Mills: It’s like, yeah, but we made the choice at 20 … You had Aubrey at 24?

Tiffany Sauder: 29.

Joe Mills: 29. We made the choice to have one and have another one and have another one. It’s like we did all of that hard work so that in 20 years we have a Christmas with 14 people instead of two. It’s like that’s the thing,

Tiffany Sauder: But even that choice, Joe goes back to what we started this with is I had lunch with an attorney in town. I think I’d had one, maybe two of my daughters. And she said to me, with the most urgent eyes, “I wish I would not have let my career take kids from me.” And I never forgot that. You talk about just curating the wisdom you want in your life. And her just story of regret that she wished she would’ve had more kids. She wished that she would’ve not believed that it had to be either or. I think maybe that’s where the original germination of some of the seed of life of and. At was like, what do I decide if I say I want both? What if that’s the imperative? How do you choose differently? And I think it’s not always picking up everybody’s playbook, but finding those things that speak to your soul. I knew I wanted to be a mom. I grew up in a big family and I was wrestling with this teeter-totter of success and family size and kind of-

Joe Mills: Am I allowed to want both of these things?

Tiffany Sauder: For sure. I mean, we’re in Indiana, so I’m an old mom, and so that was also a very unusual choice.

Joe Mills: Were people like, “Are you going to ever have a kid?” Because you’re in Indiana and most people have their kids at like 25 and 28 years old.

Tiffany Sauder: Yeah, I think so. I think my friends were kind of, I’d say, well, on their way. I probably felt a little bit more pressure on the getting married part, but yeah, I think-

Joe Mills: It’s both Indiana things.

Tiffany Sauder: It’s in Indiana, it’s where we are regionally. I mean, yeah, and I would joke if I got off the plane in Boston, I was a young mom. If I was here, I was an old mom. And again, I think that’s part of just curating experiences like oh my word, there’s places where people don’t start their family until 35.

Joe Mills: I think it’s interesting how you think about tackling all of them. And how you got past the point of it’s okay to want both. It’s okay to want it all, not just both. Not just two things, but three things and four things and five things. And because I think sometimes people make decisions out of line with what they actually want because they think it is “correct” or the right way to do it. I’m like, but right way to who? What you were talking about earlier. Right can be done a lot of different ways.

Tiffany Sauder: There’s this crap people say, this is an example. Last night I was at a swim meet and this very well-meaning individual comes up to me and my girls look a lot like me. And so people comment like, “Oh, they’re clearly yours. And how many do you have? And they’re all girls. Oh wow, girls. Oh, it’s got to be drama.” And they’re like, “Just wait until they’re teenagers and they’ll hate you.” This is literally what people say to me over and over again.

And internally, I’m raging because what you believe is what you create. If I believed I was not going to have a relationship with my daughters when they’re teenagers, then I will let everything go by that shows me evidence that my relationship is deteriorating with them because my expectation is that I’m not going to have relationship with them, they’re teenagers. When they’re in their twenties, they’re going to come back around and they’re going to think I’m great and realize how good I am.

No, I’m like, that is not going to be our story. I’m going to be close to my girls. We are going to have a relationship. I’m going to learn how to be a great mom to teenage girls, and we are going to do this as elegantly as we can. It’s not going to be perfect. I know there’s going to be times when people have spaces they need to take up and things that we need to figure out. But no, that is not my expectation.

And I think we stop having expectations of things being excellent because we don’t know how to get it if we want it. I mean, I am determined that if I am going to do something, I’m going to figure out how to be the best at it. That does not mean that all of that will happen on the exact same timeline. We had to figure out how to be excellent as an agency and I had to find an excellent leader to be able to perpetuate that. And I had to figure out how I was going to support that so that I could support it in its excellence. That was a project.

Joe Mills: Yeah, like years.

Tiffany Sauder: That was years of work. You know what I mean? And now I have other things that I can go put my energy towards and I have to figure out what does it mean to be excellent at those things? I’ve been on the podcast microphone for three years. I pretty much sucked at the beginning. I really did. We still pushed submit. We still published the thing, and I’m committed to figuring out how to be excellent at that.

I’ve started doing more speaking. I practiced my face off for that huge keynote. And I learn new ways to put it together and new ways to tell stories and new ways to engage the audience and how to move my body in ways that engage. I’m committed to being excellent at that.

You’ve talked about being satisfied with. I can be satisfied with the fact that I have one amazing successful business as part of my career and then I can go dabble in other things. And I’ve decided I’m not a dabbler. I’m going to figure out how to be excellent at those things, and that is what gives me energy. That is what fuels my learning. It’s the standard that I care the most about. You know what I mean?

Joe Mills: Yeah, no, I mean I’m smiling because it’s the reminder of the energy around here that keeps me happy here. I remember somebody asked me, “They’re like, oh, do you play pickup soccer?” And I was like, “No.” And they’re like, “Why?”

Tiffany Sauder: Solidly no. That’s somebody.

Joe Mills: I got to tell you, I spent 18 years trying to be literally the best ever. Because when you’re a kid, you’re like, “I’m going to be the best ever.” And it’s the best thing about being that age. You just world of possibility. And to go from that to being a pickup player, nothing wrong being a pickup player, I will not be able to turn that off and let me tell you, I’ll be miserable. I’ll be miserable out there. So it’s like, no, I’ve decidedly not. I’ll be excellent somewhere else, but it’s like that sort of energy.

Tiffany Sauder: To me, the pursuit is not about me being the best. And maybe this is what’s changed as I’ve aged. It’s not about people saying, “Tiffany is the best speaker I’ve ever seen.” It’s not about people saying, “That’s the best podcast I’ve ever listened to.” It’s not about people saying, “That’s the best company I’ve ever worked at.” Those will be outcomes. To me, the pursuit of the best is what keeps me focused on the growth, and that is where I feel the most alive in the tension of the gap of, okay, we did this. What if we ratcheted up and do this instead? And that growth is what makes me feel so incredibly alive, and I think it fuels my just inventor idea brain into perpetuity.

Joe Mills: There’s a really important nuance of maturity that I need to go through in that commentary right there. There is still a large aspect of me that’s like I want to be the best, literally the best. And while that is a lot of intrinsic motivation, it also, it hints at a need for external validation. And you and I have almost the exact same DISC profile. We likely have a similar technical need for approval. But the maturation process that you have gone through, it’s a huge jump. It does feel better with age. I wish there was a supercharge button.

Tiffany Sauder: Yeah, I don’t know that there is. And I think that, I don’t know. I think you hear the story over and over and over again that we’re talking about. Of at the beginning I was doing it for my own just need and ego and need to be able to experience success, which that’s important. I think now I look at those success moments as clues that I’m on the right path and less about I’m good, I’m bad. It’s like, hey, this is a clue that I’m built for this. This is a clue that I can have impact here. This is a clue that I can contribute at a really high level in this way.

Reid Morris: Okay, so Joe and Tiffany had a quick aside here about DISC profiles. And to add a little bit more context for you all because I don’t think they mentioned it in the show is they are both DI’s on the DISC spectrum, dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance. It’s something that Element Three uses as a great tool. Everybody that enters the organization gets their DISC profile because it establishes some really helpful tools for person to person communication. So just as an aside, if that’s something that you’re struggling with in your company or you’re looking for some tools you could arm people with, the DISC profile is a great one to go to.

Joe Mills: The last thing I want to talk about before we wrap is about the less of a sign that I am good or bad, which is identity. We’re talking IR theory a little bit here. But one thing that’s always struck me about you and also that you’ve highlighted today a few different times is the need to know yourself.

Because if you were insecure in who you were, you would still be looking for the business to tell you that you’re good or you’re bad whether it’s this business or another one. You’d be on stage, I hope Tiffany is good, not I hope I have a good message. Not, oh, I’m learning how to do this better. This is too broad, so I’m going to try to narrow it. But the question I want to ask is how do you practice the self-awareness piece or do you have any things that you do that help you with that? But that might be too big. I’m just curious about knowing yourself. Is that something that was always really natural to you or did you have a place where you looked around and you’re like, “I need to figure out who Tiffany is,” and then acted on that?

Tiffany Sauder: I’ll say this statement that’s coming to my brain and then I’ll react to that a little bit. I think it moves to how does who I am help other people. I think that’s the stage of my career that I’m in right now is how does who I am help other people?

So the who I am part is about claiming and understanding what are the things that I just do well?And when we can claim those things, then we can put ourselves in situations intentionally that is helpful to other people. So I know I’m a great synthesizer. I know that I’m a great communicator. I know that I’m able to get energy into the room. I know that I connect quickly with people. I know that I’m good in a room of strangers. I know I’m good at those things. And so how do I put myself in situations where I’m doing that for the people that I want to help be successful and the organizations that I’m trying to get to be the best in the world.

I think that you have to sit in a lot of different seats to experience some of that. But again, I think in the same way that I look for clues and if I went and did this and I was good at it, that’s a clue to me that I should keep doing that. I listen well to the things people say to me of, “This was super helpful. We loved you on this team. Your brain was so helpful here.” I just file that away. I’m like, I’m good at this. I’m going to own that. I’m going to claim that and I’m going to put myself in more opportunities where I can do that and be that to help the people that I care a lot about get success and have impact.

I’m 43. But I think you start to see your most lasting impact is on being able to materially impact the trajectory of another human being. And we’re just in business, we’re just doing the best we can to orchestrate the talents and attention and energy of people to be able to do something great in the world. That’s just what we want to do.

And so to the extent that I’ve told Kyler, I want to turn into an exponent. If you guys are X, Y plus T equals this, I want to be an exponent. I want to be an accelerant to everything that’s happening. And so I got to figure out how do I be an exponent? What does that mean? What does that mean? How do I do that? I don’t totally know yet, but that’s my kind of mission for myself.

Joe Mills: I feel like one of your biggest strengths and maybe the piece that allows you maintain this openness to the unknown and to trial and error and clues and did I like that? Was I good at it? Did it give me energy? Is just your comfort in being wrong. And comfort in trying again, like falling on your face and I’ll go first because I don’t care if I look stupid.

I was talking to somebody this weekend and Reid gives me this feedback a lot. He’s like, “You are so hot with your takes.” And I’m like, “I know, but I’m so happy to be wrong.” He’s like, “No one thinks that.” It’s true because I bring so much that it’s like that is projected as truth. Versus this is what I think, but I’m here to see where I’m wrong. And it’s something that I really appreciate and try to emulate from you. So I just want to say thank you for the example of, I’ll go first and I’ll say the thing, but, I’m super open to somebody else’s perspective and learning inside of this. I think that’s a superpower of yours that allows you to also do all that you do and get as energized as I watch you get talking about how do I be an exponent and how do I do that? And it’s the newness. The I have to learn a new skill is not a, I have to learn a new skill. It’s like, oh boy, something else to go and do, which is just exciting to experience.

Tiffany Sauder: Well, you’ve probably heard me talk about my, I know I’ve got people in my world that have heard me talk about this. But when you first start out, those watching on video, I have my hands in this very tiny circle. The stuff inside of here is what you know how to do and everything on the outside you don’t know how to do.

And so I would literally picture every time I did something I didn’t know how to do, I would picture taking the thing on the outside of the circle and putting it inside the circle, and then my arms got to get a little bigger. And I’d be like, oh, I’d never laid people off before. This sucks real bad. Don’t want to do it. But you know what I get to do? I get to pick something from I’ve never done it before and put it in my, I’ve done it before box. And so then my experience is getting bigger. I’ve never closed a million dollar deal before. I’m super scared. I want to pee my pants a little. Well, I got to move it from the, I’ve never done it box into the I’ve done it before box.

And so I literally think about my life like that and everything inside of my arms, everything inside of the circle is an experience, a gift, a learning that I get to share. And the bigger the circle, the bigger my impact. And my job is to go do stuff people have never done before so that we can teach them how to do the thing. So it’s very simple in my head and I do get energy from the unknown because there’s no rules. You can’t tell me I did it wrong.

Joe Mills: I love that. It’s just so good.

Tiffany Sauder: Selfishly. Selfishly, I’m stacking the deck in my favor.

Joe Mills: I love it. I love it. Yeah, change the rules so you win. Best thing about business. Awesome.

Tiffany Sauder: That’s right.

Joe Mills: Well, TIFF, thanks for coming back on. It’s always a pleasure. I appreciate it.

Tiffany Sauder: Awesome, thank you.

Reid Morris: Okay, Joe, so we just wrapped up with Tiffany, which as always is a great conversation.

Joe Mills: Totally selfish. It’s just the best.

Reid Morris: Just the best. But you had some very specific questions coming into this following our conversation with Kelly that you wanted to dive into with Tiffany. So if you could bring us back to what you took away from this conversation through the lens of what we’re trying to investigate here.

Joe Mills: We had this sort of meta moment of recognizing that we are out here giving advice in a world of tons of advice. And there’s a new challenge that exists in the modern day, which is you have access to every piece of information ever made. How do you know what to follow?

Reid Morris: There used to be a world where I was like, I need to make a business decision. Do I talk to my peers or whatever? Now, yeah.

Joe Mills: Do I talk to my peers or do I just make a choice? So now there’s an expert for everything. Every expert’s got awesome credentials. They all give you a bunch of advice. There’s tons of businesses based on advice, how do I filter it? And that’s what we wanted to come in to talk to Tiffany about, which is I had been on the receiving end, the beneficiary of some counter advice following. She was like, “I got this piece of advice. I’m not going to do it.” It was good for me individually and I think good for the business in the long run. And so I wanted to talk to her about how’d you make that choice and how do you consider outside influence into your decisions? And that was what we came to talk about.

And one of the places that she made it really clear, she just starts at like, what is this person’s, this company’s individual’s outcome? And does that outcome match what I’m seeking? And then does that map to the process that they’re telling me to follow? So if I want the outcome, then yeah, I probably should follow their playbook or their general advice or that environment matches my environment and et cetera. But I thought that was interesting to basically reverse engineer from the back end of it, does this person actually get out what they’re telling me to do? Or are they living in a world that doesn’t match my environment or they’re living in an outcome that I don’t want? So now I need to not to follow. That advice might be good to somebody else, but to me it is not applicable.

Reid Morris: Because there’s a couple of ways you can frame that. One is just take advice from people who are more successful from you is the black and white version of that. Of have the people that are giving you advice achieved great outcomes, period? But that’s a little too black and white. There are lots of different great outcomes. And so which of those potential great outcomes most aligns with what you want?

Joe Mills: That’s exactly it. Because otherwise it would be simple. You’d be like, I’m just going to follow the advice of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey and that’s it. Pick your poison. I’m just going to follow their advice, blanket, good, done.

Reid Morris: And some of those people do have good general advice that there’s stuff with mindset and work ethic and whatever. But with specific context of business decisions based on your model and so on, it gets a little more complex.

Joe Mills: They might even have great outcomes and advice for you. But you need to investigate, does my perception of their success mirror reality or am I seen in some sort of romanticized light? Good example of this just from my own personal life is like I have friends who play professional soccer. I kind of like my outcomes more. I don’t have any friends who played in the EPL or for Barcelona.

Reid Morris: Playing for Man City might be pretty good.

Joe Mills: Yeah, I’m sure it’s great. But inside of my purview of what I had gotten to and the level that I was at, I’m sure they had great experiences as well. But from my perception of what that would be versus the reality that I watched, I’m like, I made the right choice.

Reid Morris: And then one of the other things that I think is really interesting here that you all got to was great outcomes aside filtering the information you take in the things that you act on based on your values. Right? Because again, there can be lots of things that are great outcomes, but if they’re not aligned with who you are and what you’re striving towards as an individual, and therefore the leader of the company, it’s a whole different thing.

Joe Mills: Yeah, that’s actually a good point. And it brings me to the point that I think our investigation into this question of how do leaders navigate some major inflection points change is really wrapping up nicely. Because we walked in here with the question about how do you filter advice? And then we went back to, at the end, we got right back into identity conversation, which is where we started. When we first brought this to mark, that whole conversation was about identity, knowing who you are, finding what you believe in, understanding your own purpose. So if we were to continue this conversation, we’d go right back into that viewpoint.

And while this is not a topic that you can just summarize with a, and here’s the checklist, redoing the identity conversations would not add a ton. So I think that we’re at a point where we can wrap that nicely and start to hopefully give people some real actionable insights from all the conversations.

Reid Morris: Yeah, so I’m looking forward to spending some time. We’ll talk more about what we’ve actually learned over the course of everything here, but definitely a really good conversation to tie up on the subject.

Joe Mills: Totally. It was fun.

Reid Morris: 1000 Stories is brought to you by Element Three, a 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

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