Be kind. People are all doing the best they can with the information they have. It can be a tough world. Open doors for them. Say hello. Pass along a smile. It has an impact. It matters. It helps.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lee Burns.
With a voracious curiosity, fueled in part by an IQ in the top .03% of the planet, this rough and tumble Texan was riding horses solo by the time he was 5, calling the cattle home with his grandfather. In his early twenties, finally a full-grown cowboy, he switched to riding bulls. Raised in a very strict religious home, Lee felt much of his reach for life being greatly restricted. And when those bonds were broken, he rode for the hills and all that life had to offer — on both the good and bad sides of the road.
From drug addict and dealer, to adrenaline junkie (jumping from airplanes and topping out motorcycles at over 165mph), to spiritual seeker — the former firefighter/paramedic and rookie firefighter of the year has faced the heat of the inferno and learned the true value of life through sobering experiences with traumatic injuries and loss of life.
He has known the fame of appearing in Jockey underwear’s most successful campaign, which landed him repeatedly on Entertainment Tonight. And he has shared the screen and stage with Oscar/Golden Globe winners and Hollywood legends alike while living and working in showbiz. During that season he also taught at a top acting school and developed The 7 Steps to Getting on Set, to help actors understand the business of Hollywood and their own tools to succeed.
Amidst all of these games, Lee’s search for spiritual answers to the riddle of himself and all he encountered never ceased. He went on journeys with Native American shamans, learned and practiced a number of types of meditation. All while studying New Age Christianity, the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, quantum physics, and everything in between.
In 2012, caring for his wife’s ailing mother brought Lee and his family back home to Texas. After remodeling and flipping houses, and penning his first successful novel, Lee ventured into two fields of no previous knowledge, GPS and franchise car dealers. Having previously embraced the teachings of the philosopher L. Ron Hubbard, (the founder of Scientology), where he found the practical application of spirituality to life’s games, Lee applied what he had learned and quickly rose to national director at one GPS company. Soon after, he was a VP/Partner at a new one he helped launch, before also taking on the title of COO/Advisor to the Board and Shareholder of yet another, all while starting more companies in other industries as far afield as social media and on-line selling.
Inspired by the success he was experiencing in business, spirit, and family life alike (and as he will tell you, “All the damn fun I’m having!”), Lee began delivering seminars on the Game of Life and How to Win It. Now a renowned international speaker — with accolades that extend around the globe — there’s nowhere that he has more fun than in bringing tips and insight from his own games to yours.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was experiencing a lot of success from a new approach to life as a game. I saw people around me struggling with that and with communication in general. I started passing on some of the knowledge and insight I had gained and saw others benefitting from it in their own lives, from their own reporting of it. And then I attended a series of seminars, delivered by one speaker, over a three-day period. I got a chance to talk to him afterward and that was enough to inspire me to start in a similar direction.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I recall one event that I delivered a six-hour seminar at. It was a last-minute gig where I had been asked by a friend to come and help her inspire this group. It was an incredible day overall, but there were only about 6 or 8 people in the audience because of the lack of promotion. And I did it all on my own dime. It was hard when the seminar started, to confront that only a few people had turned out. But ultimately, it became an intimate setting. I was able to impact some lives directly, in very positive ways. So, even a hard time wasn’t really a hard time.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Honestly, I think people are extraordinary. I’ve led a very full life. I’ve been to dark places and dug myself out of them with the help and support of others. I’ve seen life through the eyes of so many characters during my 20 years as an actor and had the pleasure of working with Oscar winners and Hollywood legends alike. I’ve been poor and I’ve had money. All these things have allowed me to see life from so many angles. And the one consistent thing above all else is the inner goodness of almost all that I have encountered. Even those where we might say there isn’t apparent inner goodness, it’s still there. It’s just buried under more damage than most.
When I launched Your True Game and entered the speaking circuit, I got a chance to inspire that goodness, to help others see it in themselves, to recognize what they are capable of. And when the stories come back from them about how excited they are about their life or how parts of it make more sense to them now or how they can better do this or that, it just makes me happy. I think ultimately, I like to see people win at their games. And knowing that I helped in some way with that is something that continues to drive me forward.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are amazing today. I have a number of companies that I have founded or co-founded at this point. And even during this lockdown, I have expanded delivery across the world with my webinars. Plus, I had the time to write the book that I have had percolating around in my mind for some time, How to Talk to Someone…And Not Die, A Handbook for Superheroes. It became a #1 Best Seller on Amazon. It was a validation of the persistence it has taken to keep pushing forward, no matter what life might be throwing at me.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It depends on which company we are talking about. I think that with each of the companies what might make us stand out is that we are really talking to our customers instead of at them. We do our best to be there for them, to understand them, and to help them. And from the top down, we also are working to do the same for our employees. Life is more than just making money. I love having it. But I love helping and seeing others become happy and successful even more.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think that burnout most often can be attributed to getting stuck on focusing on what’s wrong instead of celebrating what’s right. And it actually keeps us from the present moment. When we walk around finding what’s wrong, we’re very often comparing the present to past failures. So there are past failures — and I say, so what! It’s in the past, leave it there. Find the good in the present. It will help you be in the present. I have exercises in my book to help people accomplish this.
The only thing I would add is that once you are more present, remember why you are doing what you are doing. What’s the bigger picture? What impact are you trying to have on your life and the lives of those around you? Remember and reassign those purposes to your activities. Look at how doing what you are doing is accomplishing that and write it down somewhere so that you don’t forget it.
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?
I have a friend who has helped me over and over again. His name is Cliff Woods. He’s a life/business advisor. I call him my Yoda. I remember one time, right after launching a new company that I was the COO at, I had gotten attacked in a very demeaning way by someone that we partnered with. I went for a walk and called him. I was livid. He calmly listened to me rant about how I wasn’t going to take this, etc. Then he asked me, “Whose game are you playing?” It made me laugh. Obviously, I had gotten sucked into playing this other person’s game of seeing who could dominate who. I was able to go back to my game of helping others, and by the end of the week, we accomplished what needed to be accomplished and that other person actually called and apologized to me. We became friends afterward.
Just because you are in an environment with another, doesn’t mean that you have to be playing their game. You always have the power of choice over what game you are choosing to play.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Well, hopefully with my new book. The initial feedback has been really gratifying. But also by delivery of seminars and workshops. And by financially and personally getting in and helping organizations like www.thewaytohappiness.org. It’s really fulfilling to just help for the sake of helping.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Be kind. People are all doing the best they can with the information they have. It can be a tough world. Open doors for them. Say hello. Pass along a smile. It has an impact. It matters. It helps.
- Have a better reason than money for what you are doing. Money is a terrific tool. You can do things with it. But it’s the things that you do with it that really matter, not the money itself. It is an empty commodity without use. It is what you use it on that matters.
The other side, as nearly every successful person will tell you, is that there will be times when the going gets hard. You will need more than more money as a motivation to push through those hard times to rise to the top.
- Be kind. Yes, I’ve listed it twice. But this time, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up mercilessly over the little mistakes. We ALL make them. Give yourself a break when you don’t live up to your best ideas of who you envision yourself as or aspire to be. Take a moment sometimes to sit down and write up what you got right. And if you’re having trouble, this truly isn’t meant as a plug for my book, but really go get it and read it and do the exercises in it. I honestly think it can help you begin to find again some of the things that are right about you.
- Find time to step away. Life is best lived balanced. I’ve missed out on things that I can’t get back by being too focused on success. There are some things that success and money just can’t buy back. Take the time to explore and share in other parts of life that have nothing to do with your business. Ride a bike or a motorcycle. Go on a road trip with friends or family. Learn to paint or to play an instrument. It doesn’t matter if you are any good. It only matters that you are exploring life, expanding your view of it. In the end, it will give you new perspectives to understand better. And it will help you succeed more in your business, as well.
- Talk to people, not at them. Sometimes, especially as the boss, it can be easy to succumb to just delivering orders to your employees. Don’t do that. Just don’t do it. Think of a time when you were the customer somewhere and you were being talked at instead of talked to. They weren’t really listening to you. You could tell they didn’t really care. Don’t do that to your own employees or customers. Every person matters. Every person has value. If you take the time to really be there with them, to find something you admire about them, to speak to them with kindness, they will start to see their own value. And they will improve as an employee.
And when you screw that up, as we all do (myself most definitely included), see #3 again.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. I’m hoping it will be the new social media platform that I am building. We are currently in Phase II of our build and beta testing. It is intended to be a platform that focuses on the good. It’s called PlusComm or +comm, for short. We hope it can be a place where people can connect and focus on what’s right in their lives and in our world. And don’t worry, we don’t have our heads stuck in the sand and do realize that we all get frustrated. So, we do have areas where one can blow off some steam, without spreading it across the rest of the site and everyone else’s communication lines.
We all know that we get what we put our attention on. So we are working to provide a safe place where people can focus on the good and positive. We’re targeting a wide release of the platform toward the end of the second quarter of 2021.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!