“Be prepared. ” With John Piester & Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Be prepared. Make sure you are well informed before going into a high stress situation. Understand what you need to get out of the situation to be successful or happy with the results. Be well-rested. Staying up all night worrying compounds stress the next day. If you are prepared, well informed, and have end goals […]

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Be prepared. Make sure you are well informed before going into a high stress situation. Understand what you need to get out of the situation to be successful or happy with the results. Be well-rested. Staying up all night worrying compounds stress the next day. If you are prepared, well informed, and have end goals in mind, it will help you sleep the night before.

Asa part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Piester.

John Piester graduated from Ithaca college with a Bachelor of Science in Sports Management in 1995. During his time at Ithaca John was a member of the Ithaca College football team for 2 years as well as an active participant in intramural sports. As a Junior John interned with the National Basketball Association (NBA) in New York City.

After graduating John fueled his love of basketball working with the Charlotte Hornets. From there he started a career in experiential marketing with Momentum Worldwide where he helped build the Coca-Cola Racing Family program. In 2000 John landed in Salt Lake City, UT with the 2002 Winter Olympics Committee where he acted as Operations Manager for the Ice Hockey venues. John returned to the agency world in 2002 with ignition where he would enjoy 14 years getting to work with brands such as Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson, Delta Airlines, and ESPN. John accepted the position as President of Alexandria, VA based agency RedPeg Marketing in 2015.

John and his wife Kate have been married for 21 years. They have 3 children (Adam 19, Michael 18, and Linnea 14).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Igrew up the oldest of two brothers in Endicott, a small town in upstate New York known for being the birthplace of IBM. Both my mom and dad were teachers for 30+ years. My dad’s passion was coaching football and basketball, so sports became a part of my life early on. I played football, basketball, and baseball at Union Endicott High School, and continued playing football at Ithaca College.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

When I give my 19 year old son career advice, I honestly tell him from experience to start at the bottom and have a solid work ethic, learn everything you can at every level, take in lessons from every manager and colleague you encounter, and continue to take on more responsibility when the opportunity arises. I don’t have one specific “who” that inspired me to be a leader. The sum total of my experiences working my way up the ladder — and the people I’ve met along the way — have been my inspiration. From starting as an intern with the Charlotte Hornets, to being a tour manager driving dune buggies on the beach handing out Mellow Yellow, to account coordinator for the new Burger King French Fry, to operations manager for the 2002 Winter Salt lake Olympics, to Senior VP at Ignition, Inc. and all the projects and clients and roles in between led me to have the confidence to reach for the opportunity to be President of RedPeg.

The mentors I had along the way and their different styles of leadership built the framework I have as a leader today. My dad, with his coaching style and pride in me gave me my base. Mark “Dill” Driscoll, owner of Ignition, Inc., with his boundless energy and motivation, gave me confidence. Mikey Hersom, President of Ignition, Inc., with his determination and passion gave me fire. Allen Brooks, General Manager of the Ice Hockey Venue at the Salt lake Olympics, with his thoughtful, calm approach and respect for his team gave me the ability to be mindful of building relationships. Brad Nierenberg, owner of RedPeg, with his belief in me, his innovative nature, his contagious spirit, and his focus on constant growth continues to inspire me every day to stretch and push boundaries. Brad gave me the incredible opportunity to be president of RedPeg, and his belief in me as a leader is the ultimate inspiration.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Allen Brooks, who I mentioned in the last question, is someone I met as a colleague who later hired me to be an Operations Manager at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The decision to move my family to Utah and go work for him over two intense and fast-paced years taught me valuable lessons on leadership. Allen’s thoughtful way of encouraging me, the respect and intelligence he brought to the job, and his friendship helped me become who I am today. Nineteen years later, he continues to be one of my closest friends and mentors. If you can believe it, Allen was there in Utah with me when my first son Adam was born, giving me support as a new father, and today, he joins me in mentoring Adam, now 19, through the beginning of his own career.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Probably the biggest mistake that sticks out in my mind was traveling to Atlanta, GA from our home in Vermont for an event we were kicking off with ESPN at the start of the 2006 College Football season. My wife was pregnant with our third child that was due to be born in a few weeks, and I thought I had plenty of time to travel, kick off the event, and get back. While setting up for the event I got a call saying the baby was in distress and they were going to do an emergency c-section. My heart dropped. There was nothing I could do from Atlanta, but worry. My team looked into every option imaginable to try to get me back home, from our team calling our Delta client to get me on a flight, to the owner of Ignition trying to book a private plane, my colleagues pulled together to help get me home. Unfortunately, I missed my daughter’s birth. If I could go back in time, I would have asked someone else to cover the event, and been present with my family as we welcomed our daughter into the world.

This experience reinforced several things for me. Most importantly, family comes first. A leader needs to acknowledge this and remember that everyone has a family and a personal life that sometimes needs to take precedence. That being said, it is important to have a great team around you that are not only colleagues, but caring people who are willing to step up in times of need. Waiting in that Atlanta airport for the phone call that the surgery went well, all I could do was breathe. There are certain high-pressure situations and stresses that you can’t do anything about and sometimes you just have to breathe and let things play out. Now I tell anyone who is expecting a baby to not go anywhere once you’re within 30 days of that delivery date!

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Surround yourself with people who are smart, thoughtful, and share your values. Be observant. Learn from your mistakes, but also other’s mistakes. You can learn something from everyone you meet.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“Extreme Ownership,” by former Navy Seals Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, showcases the importance of leadership in extreme pressure situations and how to employ leadership skills in business. The book stresses that there’s no place for pointing fingers and placing blame. Extreme Ownership is about being accountable and holding others accountable to work together as a team toward common goals.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur.

I’ve always felt that effective leaders listen first, then evaluate the situation and make firm decisions as quickly as they can. Sometimes, leaders feel like they are more effective if their voices are the first to speak or if they’re the loudest in the room. That doesn’t allow for different viewpoints or the strength of the team to shine. Everyone needs to be heard in order to make smart and informed decisions.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

During this crazy 2020 year of Covid-19, we’ve had to quickly change course and focus on how we engage consumers, brands, and employees without having the ability to be face to face and have that one-on-one personal experience. It has forced us to look at the digital experience and how to actively engage through different tactics. This sudden shift has made us a better agency and given us alternate avenues to provide memorable experiences that will last well beyond this global pandemic. We would have been on this path at some point, but the pandemic has gotten us there a lot quicker. It’s a reminder that you have to continually evolve and be ready for the unexpected.

As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?

Focus on what you can control and make the best out of what you can’t. Keep things in perspective. Life is going to happen and we are all going to have difficult situations to face. You can either face difficulties with grace or you can let them consume you. Remember that you aren’t in it alone. If you’re a good leader, you’ve hired intelligent people with good intentions. Work together as a team to get through tough times.

Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

Be prepared. Make sure you are well informed before going into a high stress situation. Understand what you need to get out of the situation to be successful or happy with the results. Be well-rested. Staying up all night worrying compounds stress the next day. If you are prepared, well informed, and have end goals in mind, it will help you sleep the night before.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

No, nothing in particular, although my Apple Watch likes to remind me to breathe from time to time.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

I like to go for a morning run to clear my mind and get focused to start the day.

We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

The best success habit I have is my work ethic. I show up, I listen, I learn. I’m all in…every day.

What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

I don’t think there is a one size fits all approach. Do what works for you and motivates you to be your best. Watch other people who you admire and adopt some of their best habits. If something isn’t working for you, try something else until you find your stride.

As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

I’ve found that this feeling comes when I am at my busiest. When there is so much going on, I have to get laser focused to deliver at a high level. I tend to find flow when I am challenged beyond the normal limit.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The fight for racial and gender equality continues to be a movement that I support. I would encourage leaders to find ways to actively make a difference within their companies, listen to their employees, ask questions, and actively pursue ways to improve policies, recruitment of underrepresented groups, and workplace culture.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Barack Obama. I admire his leadership skills, his intelligence, and his ability to perform under pressure. The way he connects with people is unsurpassed. I am impressed with the loyalty that anyone who has worked with/for him has and the way they speak about him with respect and compassion as a leader. For the same reasons, I’d also be thrilled to meet with Michelle Obama if Barack is busy.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Our company website is www.redpeg.com and I’m also on LInkedIn.

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