By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth
Today’s interview is with noted turnaround specialist Rebel Brown (@rebelbrown). Rebel has more than 25 turnaround engagements under her belt - she knows what it takes to be a successful leader in not just the good times, but in the toughest of times. I can tell you from personal experience, few things test your metal as a leader more than leading a turnaround. Today also happens to be the launch day for Rebel’s new book “Defying Gravity.” As a bonus to our readers, I have included a link at the end of this interview that will allow you to purchase Rebel’s book and receive an 80 page workbook for free (today only) on how to defy gravity in your own company. On with the interview…
Mike Myatt: For our readers not familiar with your background, could you give us a brief Bio?
Rebel Brown: I’ve been a consultant for over 20 years now, focused on helping international clients in areas of business and market strategy, positioning and market launches. My clients range from early stage start-ups to corporate turnarounds to small businesses. I started out as a sales rep selling big systems against IBM- which provided me with an early, first-hand perspective on Gravity. No one wanted to change the IBM status quo.
Mike Myatt: Today is the launch day of your new book Defying Gravity, what motivated you to write the book and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Rebel Brown: I began to realize that regardless of my client’s size or market focus, from early stage to small business to enterprise, I was constantly having to deal with the same challenges in thinking and planning, before we could focus on the project objectives. Most of the issues I was seeing were caused by status quo thinking, the Gravity that holds us in the past. As humans we are Natural Born Gravity Machines. We get stuck in seeing things the way we’ve always seen them, doing things the way we’ve always done it – because it’s safe and comfortable and we like that. But that’s what gets us in a mess over time.
That’s why I wrote Defy Gravity. I wanted to be able to take the same principles and processes that I used to help my own clients, packaging them to help everyone think differently about their business beliefs and knowns – to find and capitalize on new opportunities for growth. The book helps readers learn to release their Gravity – those beliefs that hold them down. Once we release Gravity, we focus on finding our true value, mapping that to realistic market opportunities, create a flight plan (including waypoints to manage progress) and away we go!
Defy Gravity is every person’s guide to challenging their status quo. Once we challenge our beliefs and knowns –the sky is the limit.
Mike Myatt: I love the title of your book and am curious to know what was your first recollection of experiencing defying gravity?
Rebel Brown: I catch myself in Gravity all the time, especially since I wrote the book. I’m the biggest Gravity machine I know!
I’ll share a story that relates to the book itself. I initially wanted to self publish Defy Gravity, so that I could keep control of my content. But then I listened to everyone around me who said I needed a New York agent and publisher to have a successful first book. So I listened to their advice and secured both – only to find that they wanted to change a lot of things about Defy Gravity that I didn’t like. They didn’t want this book – they wanted a tactical book on sales and marketing. I could write that but, it wasn’t my passion. So I drew the line – and they fired me. Wow, that was a shock.
After the shock wore off, I realized it was the best thing that could have happened. I was stuck in the status quo, following the past rules – instead of challenging that same status quo that I wanted to write about. A friend of mine, Scott McKain, introduced me to Clint Greenleaf and Greenleaf Book Group and the rest is history. I loved my editorial experience with them and the book is the book I wanted to write. I had the chance to challenge the publishing dinosaurs and deliver a different kind of strategy book that offers applicable value to any business today – large or small.
Mike Myatt: What has been the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?
Rebel Brown: As a turnaround specialist – I have to make some tough calls about business futures and people’s lives. Sometimes they aren’t happy calls – and that’s when it gets really hard. For me businesses are as much or more about the people than they are about the products and markets …so those tough restructuring calls (or sometimes the shut it down calls) are the hardest things ever. I don’t sleep a lot when we’re doing that – and even after twenty-five or more turnaround assignments, I still get sick to my stomach thinking about having to let people go.
Mike Myatt: What’s been most rewarding to you in your work in the leadership field?
Rebel Brown: Ah – when the light goes on! When I see a client’s executive team start to let go of the Gravity and embrace the dynamic methods I’ve developed to help them think differently about their business. It’s like watching a spark turn into a flame and I love it more every time it happens. It’s amazing what we can do when we ditch the past and think out-of-the- status quo-box. That’s the best time of all – seeing people light up and get excited about seeing things differently – other than we reach the successful growth that follows that inflection point.
Mike Myatt: What do you see as the primary role of a leader?
Rebel Brown: I see myself as a coach and facilitator. After working through over 100 client scenarios there’s not much I haven’t seen. My role is to share my applicable experiences and the dynamic processes I’ve developed to help people find their own ways of thinking differently. I don’t use rote processes – those paint by numbers approaches. I don’t think they work. Every business is unique, so the way we think about our business must be unique as well.
I help people learn to think objectively and dynamically about their business, and I help them keep rethinking their business to avoid Gravity as they move forward. Along the way – I also help them find their value, their markets, their best market entry strategy and then help them power into the market.
Mike Myatt: What do you see as the single biggest stumbling block for leaders?
Rebel Brown: Getting stuck in Gravity is by far the biggest – that is, continuing to think and act based on the past. Another one I see often is when leaders want to be popular – and won’t make the tough calls. You wouldn’t believe how many companies I work with that are in a mess because the leaders wouldn’t make the tough calls – for example to lose a person, a division or a product. That’s a specific form of Gravity that will send you into a tailspin every time.
Mike Myatt: Is it more difficult to be a leader today, why or why not?
Rebel Brown: I think it’s easier. Think about the status quo of 20 years ago. No open doors, no interactions between employees and executives – the Ivory Tower was a big barrier to communication AND collaboration. We’ve broken down so many walls in that area. Plus, with the advent of the internet and social media , we have so many tools available to us to be better leaders. We can listen to our teams, listen to our customers, our markets. What an amazing time to be able to evolve and adapt in the moment- based on the real needs we hear directly from those we are leading.
Mike Myatt: What’s the best and worst example of leadership you’ve observed in recent times?
Rebel Brown: Best examples would be any of the Zero Gravity Companies I profile on my website. From NetFlix, Nu Skin and Jet Blue to Southwest, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and more. The leaders of these companies are all flying in the face of the status quo and changing the way they think about their markets and their businesses – and they are being successful doing so.
The worst? I’m gonna pick Mark Hurd’s decision to move to HP’s competitor – Oracle. Every business has huge amounts of Intellectual Property and Trade Secrets that are private to that business. And guess what? The CEO has all of that intellectual property and those secrets in his arsenal to guide the business forward.
If a CEO (or Board Member, senior executive etc) is able to leave a business and move to a competitor immediately – even if he or she was asked to leave by the previous business – then all bets are off. Forget corporate secrets, forget Intellectual Property, forget business as we knew it forever more.
I have an even bigger issue than the business side. I believe that this kind of behavior demonstrates low integrity – way low. How can a CEO who took a leadership responsibility with one business (and in this case falsified company documents and was fired) move to a competitor and believe in any way that there is a shred of integrity in his actions?
Without integrity – there is no leadership.
Mike Myatt: What should leaders today be focused on with regard to the future?
Rebel Brown: Ditching Gravity every chance they get, focusing forward and listening to the real Keepers of the Truth – their customers, prospects, partners and market visionaries. What we think internally about our markets really doesn’t matter a hill of beans. Value is in the eye of the beholder and our beholders are NOT inside our companies.
So often we get stuck inside the walls – holding meetings, listening to our experts tell us what the market (our customers) want. That’s a sure invitation for Gravity. Get out, get your executives out and learn from your markets. And don’t just chat with the same old comfortable customers. They’re stuck in Gravity right along with you. Learn from the new blood – that emerging space. They hold the key to your future success.
Mike Myatt: If you could give our readers one piece of advice on leadership, what would that be?
Rebel Brown: Question everything you believe is true. Some of your knowns will in fact be valid – so hold onto them. But ditch the beliefs whose time has come. Be open, constantly think out of the box – look for ways to do things differently and better. And above all else – outlaw two phrases:
“But that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
“But we can’t.”
Ditch those and you’ve taken a huge step forward out of Gravity!
Mike Myatt: What’s next for Rebel Brown?
Rebel Brown: So many exciting things are happening. Now that the book is available, I’m back to helping consulting clients apply my strategies and dynamic processes to their own businesses. I’m also creating a broad range of turnkey systems for small business and entrepreneurial endeavors to help them apply the lessons on their own. I’m delivering a series of webinars and training solutions for Defy Gravity, plus a series of eBooks that will drill down into specific focus areas. These eBooks apply the lessons of Defy Gravity to specific business situations, for example, turn-arounds, small businesses and mature companies that have leveled off. I’m starting two communities that will also serve small businesses and entrepreneurs – The Rebel Nation rises! Of course, there’s the speaking engagements and the next book, and a book on the side that’ s more personal in nature. Plus I’m focusing on showing my working cow horse, Pearli Girl and then ski season is coming up. I love my life!
You can purchase Rebel’s book here: