Being a good communicator is more about listening than talking. In many situations in life, it is not what we say but how we say it — tone, body language, and follow-through matter a lot more than what you say. Ultimately, people want to feel heard, valued, and understood. Pursue being a great communicator and, even more importantly, the best listener you can be.
As a part of my series called “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Consulting Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Sipple, Jr., President of third-generation boutique executive search firm Centennial, and Co-Founder and CEO of a global leadership platform and consultancy, Talent Magnet Institute®. His weekly podcast averages 46,000 listeners world-wide, where he interviews leaders from all over the world. He is an advisor, writer, and public speaker on holistic leadership, inclusive and equitable workplaces, how to become a “talent magnet.” He has supported executive teams for more than two decades to grow and change their organizations through people.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I went to college with one goal in mind: to start my landscaping and turfgrass management company and to do so debt-free. I worked my way through school at my “parents’” business (not intending on staying for the next 20 years). I fell in love with the work of supporting organizations and individuals in achieving their visions and plans. Today, I support the design and implementation of companies’ strategies, growth, and business landscape. The experience taught me that it is more important to respect and understand why individuals decide what they do than to expect a straight line. We should never judge education and career decisions if they aren’t our own. What we should do is encourage and support others to maximize their fullest potential.
Can you share the most exciting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
It would be impossible to pinpoint just one exciting moment in my career. I grew up in a work environment that fostered creativity, an entrepreneurial spirit, calculated risk, and customer-centric innovation. My own experience, witnessing what makes other companies unique and vibrant, showed me that when team members feel valued, heard, and understood, a higher level of trust is built and maintained. Those kinds of organizations build trust enough to take risks. They have empowered groups of people who feel encouraged to think creatively and innovatively, push back for a good reason, are data-driven, and raise strategic questions. Innovative companies are not filled with leaders who just go along, nodding their heads to avoid conflict. I have observed incredible leaders who build trust by being transparent and creating tension amongst their people to maximize outcomes and results. I have personally experienced, first-hand, the power of creating a trusted work culture. One where people feel that disagreement, contention, and push back warrants better outcomes, better end results, and a more cutting-edge company. I was told just last year, “Mike, in this work environment, I feel I can take risks, challenges, and make mistakes. Because of this, I am willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone.” This is our role as leaders.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
No one gets to where they are by themselves. We all need to carry that with us every day. We are the ones who can provide the same inspiration that others have provided us. I had a high school teacher, Ms. Joan Gregory, who was always hard on me. She would push me, challenge me, and hold me accountable, not just for her class but all of my classes. This frustrated me at times because I felt an unfair level of accountability. However, more than 20 years later, it is something that still resonates with me. Her persistence in asking questions, challenging me, and not accepting excuses made me push harder and never accept that “good” was good enough. I was very fortunate to have teachers like Ms. Gregory throughout my early education. All of us need to recognize the long-term, lasting effect we can have on others. Typically, we do not see it in real-time, but our impact will be felt for decades to come. Make it count!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A quote that I live with at the forefront of my mind is by the courageous leader Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except for the impact it has on others.” Our words, actions, and intentions impact those immediately around us and have a ripple effect that will reach others for decades to come. Legacy is not something you see but something others experience, and I am thankful for courageous leaders who knew that their impact would go beyond themselves. Jackie was willing to do things that others were not, so future generations could.
I hope, while reading this, you decide to live boldly to create a positive impact for generations to come. Think of how your work impacts the lives of others. How will your decisions, extra effort, boldness, and WHY influence those who watch or experience your work? Those reading your publication are striving to lead boldly, and I hope this inspires someone to take a step because they know it’s the right thing to do, not because it is easy and safe.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
In a recent proprietary research study that my organization conducted, it was reported that 68% of leaders surveyed said their most significant frustration today is people-related matters. The topics included in the study ranged from finding talent, developing their people, creating greater alignment among their employees, creating a positive work culture, and managing retention and accountability during times of uncertainty.
Our organizations focus on attracting and retaining talent, aligning people strategies to business strategies, building high-performing teams, and developing leaders who lead more holistically to bring out the greatest good in all of their people.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’m in a unique position in running two businesses. Talent Magnet Institute® was launched in direct response to the feedback we were receiving through our executive search firm work at Centennial.
A friend of mine (and client) Mehmet Yuksek, President of Reily Foods Company, spoke with me candidly about what it was like to work with our teams. He shared that our leadership development approach is different from other platforms and consultancies because of our unmatched authenticity, passion, and care. He also pointed out that digitized leadership programs often fall flat because they aren’t tailored to each industry’s unique needs and its members. We are emotionally invested in the wellbeing of every organization and individual we serve, and I feel that’s where we really stand out in our industry.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
Talent Magnet Institute® has always had a strong desire and mission to help people to succeed in life. I lost a very dear friend, and a tremendously successful executive, to suicide in early 2019. This was a leader who was on top of his game, who people looked to and admired but felt lonely inside and fighting something that many of those close to him did not know about. He kept it inside because of a sense of pride and not wanting to show his vulnerability. I remember sitting with him for coffee just months before he passed when he said, “Mike I am turning to you because I feel like everyone around me looks to me to have all the answers for them. I don’t have the answers for myself, and I have questions but am afraid if I share that, it will impact my brand and business.”
The morning I learned that he had committed suicide, I sat on the phone with tears running down my cheeks and I vowed to further commit my life to creating a space where leaders could be vulnerable and human.
My team at Centennial and Talent Magnet has a statement we live by: “Leadership is a journey, and you don’t have to walk it alone.” Relationships matter deeply to us. We remain committed to walking with leaders through the real challenges and opportunities that leading and living presents. We care about those we serve as much or more than their business. People leaders and business owners need authentic, trusted advisors, friends, and accountability partners to turn to as they navigate their leadership journey and the journey of investing and developing their people. Organizations and leaders we serve are enlightened that helping their employees succeed is a competitive advantage to helping their companies succeed.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
I want to partner with and support leaders and people at all levels who understand the impact of leading well. We only have so much time, and there are billions of people in the world. Our goal is to find organizations that want to create cultures that enable employees to navigate and achieve their best life now. Organizations that care for their employees, like loving family and friends, during their employment. Those who know they have the power to create equitable and inclusive workplaces where ALL humans feel valued, heard, and understood. We want to help further build and raise leaders who wish to have fully aligned organizations. Companies have an incredible opportunity to create an impact on their success.
This hasn’t necessarily changed, but it has become more focused for me. I always wanted to create an impact and support people. I just realize now how limited our greatest resource, time, is in this world, and I want to stay focused on creating as much impact as possible while on this earth.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In 2020, Talent Magnet Institute® launched a global, digital leadership-platform that includes one-on-one and one-to-many accountabilities. We focus on real-time learning and leading while being the partner that people-focused leaders want and need with them as they teach and influence people, organizations, and their community.
Leadership is a physical, emotional, mental, and for many, spiritual experience. Responsibility can be lonely and challenging for most of us. Our goal is to work with and support those who know that the right partners, advisors, and resources enable their ability to reach levels of impact and success that they won’t get independently. We’re doing this by designing a SaaS that gains knowledge of each member, how they operate, what they need, what their team needs, their daily, weekly, and quarterly rhythms, where they are, and where they want to be or go. Then, we deliver the appropriate content, resources, actions, reminders, and prompts to advance and create more significance each day.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
We have a sales and business development strategy and accountability team. However, we have found in an entrepreneurial business; we are all in sales and relationship development. Most connections we make or receive are referred, recommended, or brought to us by other clients, advisors, or colleagues.
We focus on business development as an organization. Every person who interacts with others has to have a sales and relationship mindset. Creating ‘Raving Fan’-worthy experiences happens at every level and role of our organization. My encouragement is to hire people who fully believe in who you are as an organization and why you do what you do. Then be sure to provide an environment where people can be their best. When all employees see and understand how their role impacts the organization’s purpose and mission it creates organizational accountability and commitment. If you haven’t felt that before, it might be time, but you cannot shift overnight.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Understanding your ideal clients’ psychographics, how they think, what motivates them, why they do what they do, and what keeps them up at night, enables you to find the right clients to serve. Every year we evaluate any questions, behaviors, or motivations that have changed amidst our ideal client profile. Seek clarity, and when you think you are clear, ask more questions to get more precise. Demographics are not enough. You need data if you want to remain focused on the proper ‘who’ to ensure you are serving and being referred to the right customers.
Also, because most of our clients and members/subscribers are referrals, the clearer we are with our mission to those we currently serve, the higher quality referrals we receive. The more often we get directed to the kind of leaders we serve most effectively.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Know your customers and members — personally and professionally. We must continuously ask ourselves: What do our clients and members need to succeed? What expectations do they have that have been missed in past experiences? How do they evaluate success, and what would turn them to help them become organic spokespeople among their organizations’ circles? Also, what do they need not just professionally but personally relating to resources, connections, problem-solving, and what does real holistic success look like for them.
We motivate our team to create repeat customer experiences, and it works. We reduce churn, maximize focus, and enable each member to develop deep and connected relationships with their customers. Our team focuses on enhancing the user experience. We must provide what our clients and members desire, or expect, around every corner and process. The only way to do this well is to ask. Therefore, we set metrics and goals around Voice of Customer and Membership Retention. We also know that no matter how high those two numbers are, they can change rapidly, so we must remain focused on providing the best experience possible.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Consulting Business.” Please share a story or an example for each.
- For your mental and emotional health, you must open up and be vulnerable.
Fight the urge to put up walls. The more influence and success you have, the fewer people you will feel safe to open up and be vulnerable. It will take work to be vulnerable, but it is necessary. We all need accountability partners with who we can be real and authentic. The longer it takes you to accept this, the more lonely and challenging leadership and life will become.
I often talk about the power of 3 a.m. friends. My Vistage Chair told me this one year before becoming the president and majority owner of my family business. I am so thankful that she educated me on this often-unspoken aspect of leadership that is learned through experience. What relationships and friends do you have that you could pick up the phone in a dark moment or emergency, even if it was 3 a.m.? Ask yourself this. Write the names down. Call them right now and thank them for the relationship you have and how much you value them. But remember that relationships are a two-way street. You have to be the kind of friend who does the same.
2. Time is your most precious asset.
What you spend your time on and invest your time in should be strategically calculated. You cannot create more time personally. We all have 168 hours a week; the earlier you acknowledge, accept, and become more intentional with your time, the better you will feel about your relationships, work, community, and life.
My grandfather, Pa Pete, worked for a trucking company while remodeling and flipping houses on nights and weekends. His goal was to retire and begin traveling anywhere he and my grandmother desired, with the ultimate dream of visiting Hawaii together. By the time he retired, my grandmother was a few years into her Alzheimer’s, and he ultimately had to face the reality that they would never be able to see that dream come to fruition. To this day, I still think of the regret that came along with delaying turning their dream into reality. It motivates me to enjoy my life with my family and friends now, for tomorrow may never come.
Create your bucket list now. Do it for yourself, with your partner/spouse, with your family and friends. Create the action plan and do not wait.
3. Discover what you need in life to be at your best and focus all of your energy, time, and effort on those few things.
In one of my favorite books, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, author Scott Eblin asks a series of questions to help you identify how you operate at your best. He shares his journey of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which stopped his running career and changed his life forever. While time stopped for Scott and made him reflect on everything, the outcome was re-evaluating how he operated when at his best.
Life GPS® model by The Eblin Group, lays out the steps to define a statement relating to how and what you need in your life to show up at your best at home, work, and community. “What are the routines that make it more likely that you show up at your best?” When you ask this of yourself, ask it in relation to four areas; mental, spiritual, physical, and relational. Also, the gifts of feedback and self-awareness make a powerful combination when going through this exercise. Ask your family, friends, colleagues, and mentors to share with you what they see when they see you excel. If you focus on the routine that gets you to your best, it will come more naturally.
4. Being a good communicator is more about listening than talking.
In many situations in life, it is not what we say but how we say it — tone, body language, and follow-through matter a lot more than what you say. Ultimately, people want to feel heard, valued, and understood. Pursue being a great communicator and, even more importantly, the best listener you can be.
My father, Mike Sipple, Sr., is a legend to many, including me, in the executive search and leadership coaching industry. He is one of the most soft-spoken, understated humans I know, yet he is held in tremendous regard by people of all walks of life, at every age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. I had one friend tell me, “Your father is a man of few words, but his few words are the words I will carry with me for the rest of my career.”
Many organizations pride themselves on having excellent communication with their employees and those around them. However, most of the time, what we define as communication is about output. Very rarely is communication defined by how those receive input. Very rarely are we asking great questions to get at the heart of what those around us are thinking or feeling. Very rarely are we still enough to intently listen to what is being said and seek understanding and deeper clarity. You want to be great and create an impact? Study and invest heavily in being a great listener. People will give you feedback that they have never felt so valued, heard, or understood in any organization they served throughout their career.
5. Your personal life and relationships need to be actively invested in.
Throughout our careers, we spend money, time, and resources on professionally investing in ourselves.
- Document how much time you have spent the last five years attending workshops, events, forums, reading, or listening to work-related material.
- Now do the same thing for those critical areas and relationships in your personal life.
Notice a difference? Often, when I ask this question on our podcast, in facilitation, with a client or an audience, the majority do not invest nearly the same time, energy, and effort they desire in some of the things that matter the most.
I was reading “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” by Peter Scazzero at the end of 2015. I recognized my own discrepancies while tackling each chapter. Since then, I have attended marriage retreats with my spouse, enjoyed parenting retreats, and spent time learning about physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental health. I only wish someone had told me to keep focused on personal growth 15 years earlier.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. 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. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement to bring the most amount of good to the most people, I would focus on inspiring and enabling people leaders to accept that they have the ability within themselves to wake up each-and-every day to lead and love ALL people well. Every human being is worthy of respect, appreciation, acceptance, and love. As people leaders, we can respect and support all people to the fullest, and through that support, bring out their greatest good.
I want to see each human being go above and beyond and not think small in anything they do. We should strive every day to be a difference-maker in the world we reside in and the life we live. I have another quote in my office that my parents instilled in me, “Always go the extra mile. It’s never crowded.”
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. His career pivots and ability to maximize his time, talent, and treasures are something I admire. He appears to have such a high level of passion for his family, his work, the message he delivers, and the world he is striving to create. You can tell he has an innate purpose for everything he does and everything he puts his brand and license on. He uses his platform to advance equality, family values, appreciation, love, and the power of living your best life now. It would be incredible to learn what it is like to walk in his shoes and what he would do if he walked in mine. How has he used trials and challenges to stay motivated? What does he do to stay positive, disciplined, and encouraged? What is the legacy he most desires for his family and the world he has an opportunity to have such a great influence on?
He is focused on using his gifts and stories to make an impact. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson doesn’t play small in any area that we can observe from afar. It would be an honor to be inspired directly by him.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!