Stop trying to get everyone to think you're an expert. You have to become a visionary. Andrew Davis chats with us about the importance of leaders focusing on big un-Googleable questions. (Episode 12)


Leaving a Leadership Legacy

Stop trying to get everyone to think you're an expert. You have to become a visionary. Andrew Davis chats with us about the importance of leaders focusing on big un-Googleable questions. (Episode 12)

Publish Date: November 6, 2019

Episode Length: 28 minutes

/ Resources / Podcasts / Leaving a Leadership Legacy

In this Episode

To leave a lasting leadership legacy, it's imperative to stop trying to get everyone to think you're an expert. Instead, you have to become a visionary. In this episode, Craig Irons interviews LeaderCon 2019 keynote speaker Andrew Davis on what leaders can do to create a legacy.


Craig Irons:  Hello and welcome to the Leadership 480 Podcast from DDI, the podcast that's all about making every moment of leadership count. My name is Craig Irons and I'll be your host for this episode. Today we're delving into a topic that's relevant to the 480 months that make up a leadership career, and that topic is about leaving a legacy, specifically why leaders should focus on building a lasting legacy by being a visionary as opposed to striving to be viewed as an expert. And to talk about this today, we have an amazing guest. Andrew Davis is a bestselling author and internationally acclaimed keynote speaker. 

Before building and selling a thriving digital marketing agency, Andrew produced for NBC's Today Show, worked for The Muppets in New York and wrote for Charles Kuralt. He's appeared in the New York Times, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and on NBC and the BBC. He has also crafted documentary films and award-winning content for tiny startups and Fortune 500 brands. 

Andrew's a highly acclaimed speaker on both marketing and leadership topics, and if you attended DDI's LeaderCon 2019, you had the treat of seeing Andrew deliver the opening keynote. His new book, The Loyalty Loop will be published in 2020 and we're really happy to have him with us today. Andrew Davis, welcome to the Leadership 480 Podcast.

Andrew Davis:  Hey, thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited about this. It was so much fun to be at LeaderCon. It was great.

Craig Irons:  It really, really was. So and, you were amazing as, as advertised. So let's let's get right to, you know, the question that all of our listeners certainly want to know. You know, after listening to, you know, me introduce you. You know, before you became a media and marketing strategist and author, a speaker, you had a career in television, so you worked for Charles Kuralt then on the Today Show and with the Muppets. So let's get right to it. The question every one of our listeners wants to know: Oscar the Grouch. Is that just a persona or is he really that grouchy and difficult on the set?

Andrew Davis:  Oscar the Grouch is really, really, really grouchy. That's, you're absolutely right. Yeah. Like, I mean, look for, for I, I worked on Sesame street starting with season 30. And you know, for the first 30 years, Oscar the grouch was grouchy. And for the last 15 years or 20 years has been just as grouchy, maybe even more so. But but there's, look, there's a leadership lesson in Oscar the Grouch. I mean, everybody has worked with an Oscar the Grouch, right? And I think at the end of the day you know, as a leader, a big part of your job is ensuring that the entire team is open to change. And, you know, Oscar the Grouch, while he's pretty grouchy and very difficult to work with, I would say, in the corporate sense, you know, he's changed slowly over time. But I, you know, if it was me, I'd have a real sit down with Oscar the Grouch to talk about if we can get him a little bit more open to change. And, and I should say, by the way, that the puppeteer who does Oscar the Grouch is a guy named Caroll Spinney. And, and for a lot of people, they don't know that. The same guy who does Big Bird also does Oscar the Grouch. So it's, it's like two polar opposite characters. And Caroll Spinney's a great guy.

Craig Irons:  And he just retired not long ago, didn't he?

Andrew Davis:  Yeah, he did. He's, I mean, I, you know what, I always thought Caroll Spinney was pretty old, but I worked with them. But the fact that he's kept going for so long and just retired as a true testament to I think his passion for making those characters such a staple that the kids for generations have identified with.

Craig Irons:  Yeah, I know they were part of my childhood, for sure. But there you have it folks. Inside scoop on, on Oscar the Grouch and what it was like to work with him.

Andrew Davis:  Yep, he's difficult.

Craig Irons:  So let's let's change gears here. So as a marketing thought leader, you deliver keynote speeches around the world, but of course not all of your speeches are on marketing topics, which is why we're talking to you now. And in a leadership keynote you deliver, like the one you delivered at LeaderCon, you encourage leaders not to strive to be experts, which really struck me as kind of interesting advice. Can you explain that?

Andrew Davis:  Yeah, sure. Look, I think the, the formula for becoming an expert is pretty simple. It's like you need some experience and you need a lot of time to become an expert and you've gotta be able to dive deep into a subject or a, a, you know, an area or a skill to become an expert. So yeah, that's great. But we live in a world where experts are essentially everywhere. You know, you can hire an expert, you can hire an advisor, you can hire a consultant, you can hire someone who worked within your organization that is an expert in whatever you need expertise in. And so I think we kind of have become a society that overvalues expertise. And what I think most organizations really need are visionary leaders who are, are are, are really embarking on a quest and bringing an entire organization along with them and relying on the experts to prescribe solutions. Well, the visionaries are asking really big questions that actually get people to apply their expertise to the right problems, the right opportunities, and, and build the right kind of legacy. So, so instead of, you know, thinking you have to be an expert in anything, I think you're gonna find yourself more fulfilled but also more valuable if you really focus on the vision and pointing the team in the right direction and letting the experts be experts while you really build something bigger.

Craig Irons:  So I understand, you know, a lot of what you talk about when it comes to being a visionary is asking bigger questions. So what are some of those bigger questions leaders should be asking?

Andrew Davis:  The the, here's the easiest benchmark. I think that the best questions are questions that Google cannot answer. So you know, use that as a benchmark. If you as a leader, are you asking your team questions that Google can answer? Those questions are too small. They're not big enough to help point the, the team in the right direction. They're too task oriented. Instead, I want to ask much bigger questions. And most of the questions that I think are really well suited for this kind of visionary exploration are big "What" and "How" questions. So questions like, "What if we did X, Y, and Z?" Or, "What if we envisioned the world like this instead of like that?" Or, or, "What should the world look like?" Or, "What should we be working on?" Or, "What would things look like?" So what, what should and what would? And then on the "How" side, it's like, "How can we do X, Y, and Z?" Or, "How can we become X, Y, and Z?" Or, "How do we see this playing out over time?" And those kinds of questions have forced the team to start using their curiosity to find answers. And you can't ask these questions every single day with a new question. You kind of have to focus on one version of the question for a long time to give the team times to really get the question, understand its implications, and start feeding you the kinds of ideas you're looking for. But you've got to beat the drum with big ideas, big questions that Google cannot answer.

Craig Irons:  So I would imagine part of that, you know, especially as you're thinking about asking these big questions toward, you know, creating a legacy for yourself as a leader. You know, it's something you kind of need to stay at. So, meaning it needs to be become a habit for you as a leader. So how can leaders make asking big questions a habit?q What does that take?

Andrew Davis:  So, okay, let's see. Let's use the 480 structure to kind of think through it, right? So I think the first question you have to ask yourself as a leader is if you've got 480 months in your career, the first question you need to ask yourself is a "What should" question. If something like, "What should my legacy look like at the end of my career? What kind of legacy do I want to leave?" Paint yourself a picture of that legacy. Ask yourself every day one big question until you've painted a picture of that legacy. So my, my first suggestion is spend some time every day painting the picture of your legacy until it's clear in your mind. Then if you, if you boil that down to the 480 days, the next few years, I think I want you to start asking yourself, "But what would I like my team to, to explore and solve in the next 480 days?" What would that be? As a, as a subset of that legacy question. And then every single day, once you've answered that question, the, the 480 minutes, I want you to find a few minutes in every day trying to, to ask one of the questions, one question that would actually challenge your team to find that answer and move towards your legacy longterm. So the question might be for that daily question until you come up with it would be, "What question maybe can I ask to challenge my team to accomplish you know, that vision I'd like to see in 480 days?" Does that make sense?

Craig Irons:  It definitely makes sense. Definitely makes sense.

Andrew Davis:  So, so start with, start, you know, just to reiterate, 480 months, you gotta define your legacy first, then 480 days. I want you to take one thing that's going to be a big step towards your legacy within this organization and, and, and commit yourself to seeing that change or that, that innovation or that new opportunity come to fruition. Even if you don't know exactly what it looks like, it should be a question, not a solution. And then the last one is every day, find that question you can just reiterate. And over and over and over again,

Craig Irons:  We're talking to Andrew Davis, a globally known and acclaimed keynote speaker on marketing and leadership and author of the forthcoming book, "The Loyalty Loop." Andrew, another point you make is the need for leaders to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. How does that differ or, or really even does it differ from the stress and ambiguity leaders are already feeling, you know, as they struggle with the accelerating pace of change, the uncertainty of the future. Yeah, there's a lot of, there's a lot sort of in the environment right now to make leaders feel uncomfortable as it is. So what's your twist on that, if you will?

Andrew Davis:  Well, I mean, I don't know if it differs directly but I think, look, I think part of being a leader is embracing the discomfort and leveraging the experts you've got around you to ask questions of them to help you either dissuade yourself from getting overwhelmed by the, you know, the pace of change or the uncertain future. So that they're actually working on solutions or contingency plans so that should something happen that you're worried about, they actually are solving. So for example, let's go back to the questions I was talking about. If you're worried about the market changing in the next 24 months, then instead of just worrying about it and being uncertain about it and straggling with that uncomfortableness, just embrace that, that uncomfortableness and get, just, just dive right in. Ask someone on your team, maybe the CFO a big question like, "Hey, what if there's a big market changes in the next few years? What would it look like if we had a plan to deal with that?" Ask that big question and ask them if you asked them that over and over again til you see something that helps you get get comfortable with the discomfort. The other thing is in a much bigger sense, I think leaders should get really, really more uncomfortable more often because that's where true innovation and true inspiration and new ideas come from. You know, one of the easiest things every executive should do is go to an event that makes them completely uncomfortable, where they know nothing about the industry. They, you know, look if for example, if you're in industrial manufacturing and you're the CEO of an industrial manufacturer, I challenge you to go to a mom and pop hardware store conference. The reason I want you to do that is because you will see things in a whole new light. You will hear things, you will embrace new problems and you'll hear different perspectives than you won't hear when you go to the industrial manufacturing events. And the more uncomfortable you get, the more aware you are of your surroundings and the, the other issues that the world is facing, that your team is facing, that people are facing. And you'll find new solutions by connecting the dots between the most dissimilar things and the opportunities in front of you and your team that you're serving. So let's spend some time to get comfortable with the uncomfortableness. The discomfort, if you will, and, and find a way to start asking questions that reduce the stress and strain those things can have and take it off your shoulders and help your team step up to the plate with new solutions that they found themselves.

Craig Irons:  Andrew, I'd like to talk a bit about your abilities, which are pretty considerable when it comes to, you know, to delivering keynote speeches and being a presenter, and anyone who has seen you speak knows that it's something you work very hard at and are also very good at. But I was just wondering what you could share with our listeners, you know, about the act of connecting with an audience. You know, you've mastered that it would seem, but you know, a great many leaders struggle with becoming an effective communicator. So what advice would you offer them?

Andrew Davis:  I think effective leaders just do three things. One I mean, I guess if I put it as advice, I'd say one is be humble. Whenever you're speaking, try to make it not about you. Right? You know, a lot of leaders have spent a lot of time getting to their position. And even when someone asks them a question that seems to be about them, the, the, the more a leader can spin the question or the answer to be not about them. And the, you know, the advice or insight or the, the opportunity is not their opportunity. You earn a huge amount of goodwill from an audience, no matter if it's two people, 10 people, a thousand people, or you know, the entire organization or even on a media interview. So, so number one is be humble. Number two is, is be real. And by that I just mean don't you, you don't have to try hard to be a great communicator. You just need to communicate in whatever style suits you, you know, even as a speaker, I'm someone that's pretty I mean, I guess manic maybe or hyperactive. It tends something that that I've always just been as a person. And when I started speaking, I, you know, in front of audiences, I thought, well, people want a speaker who stands at the podium and is kind of professorial, and I tried to be that and it just didn't work. It didn't connect. So instead I said, well, look, I'm manic. You know, I can get focused. But I, you know, don't try to be the professor, just be you and communicate the way you communicate. Just be real. Don't try to embody another leader's style or what you think should be a great leadership style to communicate. Just be real. And the last ones is to be relatable. And I think the key to being relatable is just telling stories that make your points for you. You know, think like your Aesop;s fables or you know, or, or children's book, how can you use stories that the, to help your, your audience, your team, embrace the ideas you're trying to get across and you'll be, people will fall in love with you, but they'll also be able to tell the story to others on the team or remind others about the stories you told. Those are the things that people remember. So be humble, be real, and be relatable and I think you'll be a much better communicator in any situation.

Craig Irons:  You know, one thing that is certainly an element of your presentations and I've seen you speak a a few times, but every time I've seen you speak, it's just fun. And you know, obviously every time a leader is up in front of an audience should not be an opportunity to have fun with the door to infuse, you know, what they are, are talking about with, you know, with some lightheartedness or some humor. But you really found that that works for you, haven't you?

Andrew Davis:  Yeah. So, I mean, the, the, the humor is again, part of just me being real. Like for me. One of the things I've always believed is that a great job should be fun, challenging, and rewarding. And that's what we build a great career. And no matter where I've worked, I've really believed that fun, challenging and rewarding are the keys. So you know, speaking for me it should be fun. And, and I, I think the same goes for, for, for most executives, most leaders should spend the time to have some fun with the team they're working with. And that doesn't mean you need a field trip. It means communicate in a fun way. You're, you don't always have to be serious. You know, and, and sometimes you have to work at that to remember that a big part of being at work is having fun. It is being challenged in the right ways with the right kinds of questions and it is being rewarded for the work you do. And sometimes rewarding doesn't just mean financially. It means actually being rewarded from the people that you expect to be rewarded from, which, which just can be an accolade from the CEO in a fun way.

Craig Irons:  That's awesome. That's really great advice. Let's talk about your new book, The Loyalty Loop. So what's it about then? You know, what, can you tell us that you're going to be covering in that book?

Andrew Davis:  Yes, sir. Well, The Loyalty Loop is really about building experiences that use micro moments to have the biggest impact. So a a good example on the, on the leadership side would be thinking, thinking through the moments in your team's life at your organization that mean the most, that make the biggest impact on their, you know, their wellbeing at the organization. And it, it has implications not just for you know, marketing, which is the perspective I come from. But even the experience of onboarding a new hire, you know, when, when they walk into the office and it's on their first day, they are so excited, a little bit anxious and ready to start this new job. And our experience is not necessarily the greatest because that is one of those micro moments that matter the most. And it's not the whole day that matters. It's even just the first few minutes of them arriving at your organization then will have the biggest impact. And funnily enough, it's not even those first few minutes they arrived. It's the moments before that. So how can you raise anticipation to create a great experience? So then when they walk in the door, they are excited. They don't feel overwhelmed. They're not as nervous as they might've been if you hadn't built up to this moment. How can you maximize their honeymoon phase so that you get the most out of them? They enjoy it and they're really proud to be there. And then how do you constantly re-inspire your team to keep working on new, big ideas and, and keep keep them engaged in a long-term way. So that's a loyalty loop. Kind of, you know, the, the leaders spin on it.

Craig Irons:  Right? And that book will be out the next year, 2020.

Andrew Davis:  Yeah. Next year. It'll be out in 2020. Yeah, exactly. And if anybody is listening to the podcast and made it this far, you can shoot me an email at And just use 480 in the subject line and I'll send you a free book when it comes out.

Craig Irons:  Oh, that's a very generous offer and I think people should, should take you up on that because I'm sure the books could be terrific.

Andrew Davis:  Oh, I'm very excited about it. I'm very excited about it. And, and as I said before, I'm impatient. I really wish it was out today.

Craig Irons:  Yeah, well anytime I know I take on a big writing project, I'm always anxious to get to the part where I can look back on it and know that it's done. So I can only imagine what the process has been like. Andrew, I want to close with one last question. This is a question we ask all of our guests. Can you share a moment of leadership that had an impact on you?

Andrew Davis:  Yes, I can. I'll just tell you, the very first boss I ever had was a guy named Claude Pelon. And he was the executive producer at a local television station in Boston, Massachusetts, where I worked. And I was very excited to be starting my career right out of college at a television station where I was producing two live shows. I mean, I thought, wow, this is, it cannot get any better. And I worked there for about two years when one day Claude Pelon called me into his office. And Claude is a very stern leader, you know, he was a Vietnam war veteran and he kind of ran the operation like, like it was a military organization precisely on time and very stern and closed the door. And I thought, Oh, no. Like, I mean, must be letting me go for some reason. I was really nervous. And he closed the door and he said, "Look, you've been here for two years. You've been a great employee. But I just heard about a tremendous opportunity that I think you should, you know, go and apply for. And it's with a company that I know the CEO of, and I think you'd be a great fit for this company." I thought, "Why would the leader of the team that I worked for, be giving away an employee that he just admitted, was one of the best team members he had to someone else?" And Claude told me years later that one of his, one of the, the, the fundamental principles of his management style was ensuring that that he was always looking for the next opportunity for every one of the employees he had. And his goal was to actually build those employee employees to make them ready to leave. And he should be excited and thrilled to usher any employee out the door because they've outgrown the experience he could provide. And I thought, what an amazing lesson for any leader, even in a, you know, a, a tough job economy where it might be hard to replace employees. Claude was the kind of leader who was willing to, to, to help people grow. And I think the best leaders leave that kind of legacy. So Claude's leadership style has always stuck with me. And anytime I had someone walk into my office and say, "Hey, I think I'm going to give my two weeks notice. I've got a great opportunity," the first thing I did was I high five of them and, and ask them how I can help them and, you know, what can I do to make this more successful and, and then share with the team how thrilled I was that somebody had outgrown us. And I think that's something we can all learn from.

Craig Irons:  What a great story. I love that. And I have loved this conversation. Andrew Davis, thank you so much for joining us.

Andrew Davis:  So much fun. Thanks for having me.

Craig Irons:  Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And best of luck with the new book and everything else that you're a, you're involved with.

Andrew Davis:  Well, I hope if you didn't make it to LeaderCon this year -- everybody listening should go next year. It's an awesome event.

Craig Irons:  I could not agree more. Could not agree more. So thank you for the plug on that. And hopefully you won't be fielding any any you know, calls or emails from Oscar the Grouch, his attorney.

Andrew Davis:  He's so grumpy. You never know, man. Never know.

Craig Irons:  Andrew, thank you so much. And thank you, our loyal listeners for sharing some of your valuable time with us today. I'm Craig Irons reminding you to make every moment of leadership count.

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