Dare to be Different. Conforming to “the crowd” will rarely allow you to shine. When everyone else “zigs”, you need to “zag.” If everyone is doing it, you can be sure that there is not a lot of money in it. Pick your moments to go against the grain. That is the fastest way to be noticed. To clarify, I’m not saying “be different” to just be “difficult”. I am saying, when you get that feeling there is a “better way”, pursue it. I have numerous examples of this in my personal and professional life, especially when co-founding three technology start-ups.
Jack Siney is an entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in government sales and procurement. He began his career as a contract negotiator for the U.S. Navy on the Blue Angels F/A-18 fighter jet program. He then went to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in their Government Consulting Practice in Washington, D.C. In 2001, he co-founded Advanced Public Safety (APS) — a software company providing technology solutions to public safety agencies. Several years later, APS was acquired by Trimble Navigation, Inc. (a $10 billion public company). Jack then co-founded his current company, GovSpend, Inc., that aggregates the purchase order data from government agencies at the federal, state, & local levels. He has led the sale of over $150 million in government technology solutions. Jack has earned an MBA from The Anderson School at UCLA, a Masters in Legislative Affairs from George Washington University, and a BA in Business from Salisbury University. His companies have been featured on numerous news outlets, including: MSNBC, Associated Press, Entrepreneur Magazine, Dallas Morning News, and The Chicago Tribune. Jack Siney has had a vast array of experiences that have contributed to his unique leadership perspectives. Recently, he was named one of the Top 25 Sales Leaders in the country by Comparably. Jack is a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded 3 technology start-ups: GovSpend (his current company), Advanced Public Safety, and eRIDE. In addition, he has worked for two of the largest organizations in the country — the U.S. Navy & PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has worked for the government and has spent the past 20+ years selling technology solutions to the government. Jack has also attained three college degrees: an MBA from The Anderson School at UCLA, a Masters in Legislative Affairs from George Washington University, and a BA in Business from Salisbury University. These wide array of experiences enable him to offer unique leadership perspectives specifically in the areas of: business, sales, government sales, entrepreneurship, and personal development.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Jack! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Yes. Here are two:
My first day of work at my first “real job” after college was with the U.S. Navy as a contract negotiator on the Blue Angels F/A-18 fighter jet program.
I was dressed in a suit and tie and just finished the requisite orientation session. When I arrived at my office, they told me there was “Program Management Review” that I should attend.
I walked into the conference room where the meeting was taking place and saw an enormous table with about 20 military and civilian representatives of the U.S. Government sitting across from 20 representatives from the Government of Kuwait. During this time, Kuwait was at war with Iraq and the U.S. government was in the process of selling them a set of F/A-18 fighter jets.
I found a seat as far away from the table as possible and watched with the interactions with amazement. (Again, this was my first day in the professional workforce.)
Everything was fine, until there was a break during the meeting. During the break, a General from the Kuwaiti Army approached me (I assumed because I was a “representative of the U.S. Government”) and started sharing pictures and stories of how Iraq had “blown-up his military base.”
Overwhelmed and intimidated, I tried not to say anything to this General that would start an “international incident.” Thankfully, the meeting re-adjourned quickly and the General went back to the main table.
I sat down thinking, “What a sheltered life I have led.”
That’s how my professional career began.
How about one more?
About two years into building my second company Advanced Public Safety (APS), where we provided technology solutions to public safety agencies, the City of El Paso, Texas released an RFP for several hundred handheld devices with an electronic ticketing solution for their police department.
My company offered the best electronic ticketing solution for the laptops installed in the police vehicles, but we had not yet developed a solution to work on a handheld (mobile phone) device.
Responding to any government RFP takes a significant amount of time and effort (1–2 months), and the size of this RFP made it even more complicated, but I decided we would submit a proposal.
I started putting together a proposal that would eventually be well over 200 pages. After several weeks, my co-founder actually told me to stop working on the proposal.
Again, at this time in our company’s growth, we had not developed a solution yet to work on handheld devices, so my proposal described a “vaporware” product that did NOT exist.
Well, my description of this vaporware product must have been pretty good because the City of El Paso asked us to come present and “show them” our solution.
The following several days were very hectic as we pieced-together some minimal functionality on an actual handheld device and used proto-type screenshots in Powerpoint to supplement our presentation.
Somehow, some way, we actually ended up winning that RFP for over $1MM and it funded the full development of our company’s new electronic ticketing solution for mobile devices and completely transformed the future growth of the company.
This is proof that, “If there is a will, there is a way.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was a presenter at a major fundraising conference that was attended by several hundred potential investors. The format of the conference was that each presenter had 30 minutes to tell the story of their company in the hope that a few of the attendees would invest in their company. My speaking slot was designated at 11:30am.
Right as I was taking the stage, the emcee of the event made an announcement that the keynote speaker (who is a very well-known business executive) would begin his speech at noon (sharp!) and if anyone needed to use the restroom “they should do so now.”
With that announcement, about half of the attendees stood up and left the conference room. It was an amazing sight watching folks continue leaving as I started my presentation, and there was nothing I could do.
- Never be “the presenter” right before “the best presenter”
- Never let another person control the actions of your audience
- Don’t be the presenter right before or right after a break
This (very true) story always makes me laugh.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is? How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
In my opinion, a “Thought Leader” is someone who is able to inject a new, unique, or different perspective into a situation that assists in improving or altering the normal course of events in a much more positive direction.
There are a wide array of “leaders” in the world. There are military leaders, leaders of business teams, political leaders, organizational leaders, etc., but just because someone is the leader or manager of a group does not mean they are a “thought leader.”
Again, a thought leader is able to provide a new viewpoint or opinion to a situation that results in a markedly better outcome. The best thought leaders are able to do this on a regular basis.
In addition, a thought leader can be different than an influencer because an influencer (particularly in today’s social media culture) may have a large number of individuals that “follow them” or listen to their guidance, but it does not mean they are a thought leader.
Kim Kardashian is certainly an “influencer” but I don’t think many folks consider a “thought leader.”
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Over the long-term, being a thought leader can allow you access to opportunities available that most individuals would normally not have access to — similar to graduating from an elite college. Graduates from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. are often provided access to opportunities that the graduates from “regular colleges” are not.
Similarly, when an individual is recognized as a thought leader, they are typically provided access to job promotions, speaking engagements, and other unique opportunities. The impact to a person’s career and earning potential can be enormous.
However, I would add that I believe most thought leaders evolve into that role. They don’t purposefully set out to be a thought leader. It is something that normally occurs as a person’s career progresses and they have continued success.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
I would argue that “thought leadership” is probably the key element in most highly successful business ventures.
It doesn’t take much creative thought to start an unoriginal or average business or to accept an ordinary or average job.
Significant success and wealth are achieved on the “fringes” where thought leadership is required to try new things and to do things differently.
On a national scale, the most obvious example of this is Steve Jobs and how he revolutionized several entire industries with his thought leadership, including the computer, music, cell phone, and entertainment industries. Steve’s thought leadership challenged so many of the accepted “norms” in each of these industries that it led to the development of new products, solutions, and the creation of enormous wealth. He is clearly one of the most revolutionary thought leaders of all-time.
Personally, my current company (GovSpend) has been recognized as one of the Top 25 Sales Teams in the country through us implementing several innovative managerial ideas.
We align all of our sales representatives on teams with a collective sales goal for the overall team. We also utilize a unique commission structure that levels-out a sales person’s monthly commissions while also continually increasing commission levels over time. These innovative ideas have also allowed us to experience month-over-month continual growth for more than six years.
Again, I believe thought leadership is a requirement for innovative, long-lasting, profitable businesses. Without it, the idea, company, and/or solution would be “easy” and typically “easy things” are not very lucrative or long-lasting.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry? Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Dare to be Different. Conforming to “the crowd” will rarely allow you to shine. When everyone else “zigs”, you need to “zag.” If everyone is doing it, you can be sure that there is not a lot of money in it. Pick your moments to go against the grain. That is the fastest way to be noticed. To clarify, I’m not saying “be different” to just be “difficult”. I am saying, when you get that feeling there is a “better way”, pursue it. I have numerous examples of this in my personal and professional life, especially when co-founding three technology start-ups.
- Question Everything. Never accept the response of, “That’s the way it’s done” or “It has always been done that way.” As you continue to grow in your career, question all assumptions and all established norms. Ask where the data is to support each idea and/or proposal. Be known as someone who is thorough and that folks need to “be prepared” when they talk to you. Don’t accept the easy answer. Keep asking, “Why? Why this? Why that?” I try to do this in all situations. It leads to the most lively discussions and debates and causes everyone associated with the topic or discussion to truly evaluate and back-up their position. Warning: it will bother some folks and you will get some occasionally push-back, but continue to ask “why?” In my life, this occurs on a regular basis with the topics of business strategies, corporate investments, social issues, politics, and faith.
- Find a Good Support Team (Mentors). Business is hard, and life is hard. We all need a good support network that: Speak-into-our-lives when we need honest and direct feedback, Pick us up when we are down and need encouragement, and We can relax & be ourselves with. Having a set of smart, well-rounded individuals to help mentor you is invaluable. And this group should include individuals with differing views and opinions than you. Hearing dissenting views from folks who will challenge you and ask you “Why?” over and over again will sharpen you. To be a thought leader, you need individuals who help build your intellectual foundation and challenge your general assumptions. Personally, throughout my life, I have a group of 6–10 individuals that I rely on for advice and guidance. Over time, the members of this group have changed based upon my age, where I am in my career, and the type of advice or support I believe I need at specific times.
- Take Risks. No risk, no reward. As a thought leader, you have to be okay with taking risks… and being wrong. We all make mistakes. It’s okay! That is typically when we learn the most. The ability to take calculated risks and be comfortable with the results (whether they are good or bad) will assist you in becoming a thought leader.In the middle of the dot-com craze of the late-1990’s/early-2000’s, I was living in Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to take a job transfer to California to be in the middle of Silicon Valley. Within two weeks, I interviewed for the position, accepted the job, sold all of my major personal belongings (car, furniture, etc.), and moved to a small, furnished studio apartment in California. That move did not turn-out great, and I eventually moved back to the east coast, but the experiences I had over those several years were invaluable for my long-term success.
- Try New Things. In order to be a thought leader, you need to expand your mind and experiences. Trying new things, traveling to new places, and learning new things is critical. For example. Steve Jobs once took a calligraphy course and the things he learned while studying calligraphy resulted in the numerous fonts that were available with the early Mac computers.I want to encourage thought leaders to continually try and experience new things because you don’t know which “new experience” will trigger a thought or idea that will create exponential results… or sometimes it is the impact of connecting-the-dots from several different “new experiences” that will generate success. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. That is where all of the big ideas are. For me, there were two trips I took that have continued to impact me. I traveled to the Dominican Republic and took an ATV ride through some of the under-developed areas of the country. The images of these communities with individuals literally living day-to-day gave me great appreciation of the incredible blessings we experience in America. The second trip was a business trip to India where I had the opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal. Although the Taj Mahal was amazing, seeing and experiencing the dramatically different Indian culture was equally impactful. Keep trying new things.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach?
I believe one of the best thought leaders in our current business culture is Gary Vaynerchuk. He curses way too much for me, but he continually provides his perspective on some of the most cutting-edge current topics, and he’s also not “politically correct” with his feedback. He seems to “call it like he see’s it” and often he does it in front of large audiences and/or on video.
I think the attraction to Gary is that he comes across very authentic. He seems very real and sincere, and he’s rarely (if ever) dressed-up in fancy clothes nor perfectly groomed. He’s real… and it’s apparent that he’s super smart.
He has well thought out opinions on topics he lives through on a day-to-day basis. Folks relate to him and he helps people think about their lives and problems/issues differently.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
It depends. If you are calling yourself a thought-leader and promoting yourself as such, that can be trite and annoying.
But if those around you, those who work with you day-to-day call you a thought leader and they come to you for advice and feedback, it’s invaluable… and awesome.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
First, you need to continually evaluate and assess what is important to you and what makes-you-tick. Desires and goals can change over time, so ensure you check-in with yourself and are continually pursuing things that are exciting and drive you.
You won’t burnout if you follow the burn and fire within you.
Second, you need to take breaks and unplug on a regular basis. Maybe daily, weekly, or monthly, but you need to find time to unplug and let your brain relax.
Specifically — plan downtime. You need to give yourself “free-time” to be able to relax and think. New, fresh, reinvigorating ideas occur during these times. Ensure you unplug regularly.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Our society has grown to lack the ability to truly “understand” and “relate to” one another. Just because someone has a different opinion from you, it does NOT mean they are wrong and you are right — or vice versa.
With most things in life, the best (ideal) answer is somewhere in the “middle.” But in today’s society, the media and our political culture put folks against one another.
The movement I would love to inspire is for individuals to have the desire to relate and understand one another better, because in my experience, once you get to truly know someone, you immediately give them more grace, understanding, and patience.
As an example, an individual could be totally against “gay rights” but then they learn their closest friend in the entire world is gay. If they are true friends, the individual that was/is against gay rights will have their perspective altered. I’m not saying their position will change 180 degrees, but typically, it will be altered to be more “understanding.”
With more “understanding” comes less conflict. With less conflict, all of our lives become more peaceful and that’s what we are in search of — “true peace” (on a daily basis).
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Phil 4:6–7
The verse is so important in my life for two reasons:
1. I did not achieve any significant success in my life until I got the priorities of my life in the right order, beginning with being “saved” in October 2001 and putting God first (above all things).
2. As I mentioned earlier, I believe we are all in search of “peace” — true peace in our lives. We want to be able to get up in the morning, live each day, and go to bed at night with a deep sense of peace in our soul. Peace with who we are, what we are doing, who is around us, and about our future.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Set of folks I would love to meet and talk to:
- Gary Vaynerchuk
- Steve Ballmer
- Grant Cardone
- Tony Robbins
- Eric Thomas
- Colin Powell
- Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson
- Will Smith
- P. Diddy
- Toby Mac
- Rob Dyrdek
- Lewis Howes
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.