Celebrate every step along the way — Whatever your endeavor, be sure to celebrate each incremental advance and make the journey a delight rather than drudgery — both for you and for the rest of your team.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Deitch.
Joseph Deitch has built billion-dollar businesses. He’s the Tony-award winning Broadway producer of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, a consummate entrepreneur, an enthusiastic philanthropist, and a man Financial Advisor magazine once selected (alongside Warren Buffett) as one of the 35 most influential leaders of the financial planning profession over the previous three-plus decades.
The first words Joe might use to describe himself, though? Endlessly curious.
Joseph is the author of #1 Amazon bestseller Elevate: An Essential Guide to Life and the founder of the Elevate Prize Foundation, which celebrates and empowers individuals and organizations whose ideas and endeavors elevate the human experience. In addition to other business pursuits, he is also the founder and chairman of Commonwealth Financial Network, the largest privately owned, independent investment broker/dealer in the United States which has been ranked JD POWER “Highest in Independent Advisor Satisfaction Among Financial Investment Firms” every year the award has been bestowed.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Igrew up in a blue-collar household in Boston and was instilled with a strong work ethic from an early age. By the time I was eight, I was earning money for myself by shoveling snow (very enthusiastically) or selling magazines door to door (I was terrible). Then, in the 7th grade, I was fortunate to enroll in Boston Latin School — the oldest public school in the United States — which was incredibly rigorous and provided me a strong educational foundation that has served me well ever since.
After high school, it was off to the University of Pennsylvania, followed by an idyllic summer on Cape Cod. I was then convinced to take a less-traveled road and moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a couple of years. My career became more conventional after that, as I went into investment sales, became an investment advisor, and started my own investment brokerage firm. Like any fledgling entrepreneur, there was a long list of lessons to be learned.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In the mid-eighties, my company was acknowledged as one of the fastest-growing private businesses in the country. I felt I had made it. But I also realized that my company was faltering, and I was in over my head.
It turned out I was the problem, which meant I had the power to fix it (i.e. Me). So I applied to Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program (OPM). At the end of this three-year program, I had gathered a treasure trove of valuable information, but there was so much of it that it wasn’t actionable. It needed to be distilled to be deployed. When I did, I realized it all came down to one word: Listen.
I thought I had been listening before, but in reality, I was just waiting to tell people why they were wrong. This insight represented a tectonic shift in my career. Open-minded listening has been essential to me ever since.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My firm had steadily increased our service level until we had achieved what I’d call “world class” service. But soon, that wasn’t enough for us. We wanted to take it to a whole new level, which we decided would be encapsulated in one word: Indispensable. Our service would be so incredible our clients would never even think of leaving us — it would be too painful.
Once we crystallized this vision, our enthusiasm and creativity skyrocketed. Indispensability became more than a goal: It infused everything we did and became our North Star. As a result, Commonwealth has been named best in our industry by JD Power every year that title has been bestowed. We’ve also won 41 “Best Place to Work” awards since then.
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’ve had so much help along the way, from countless coaches, teachers, mentors, friends and colleagues. It should be noted though, that I’ve learned from them because I was open to it. Unfortunately, that openness was often the result of a serious setback — something powerful enough to get my attention and convince me I needed to look at things differently.
Amongst all of these guides, the most helpful was my late wife, Robbie. She was my companion and coach for 25 years, and — more often than she probably would have liked — my involuntary therapist (she was a brilliant psychologist). She helped me open my head and (even more importantly) my heart in ways I could not have envisioned. Plus, she had the opportunity to be a bit more relentless than the others.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I think it’s essential to have the right mindset — in other words, how we frame the situations that arise.
When we approach life with the belief that we will ultimately succeed, any failures can be seen simply as lessons along the way. Consider Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that do not work.” It was all in the way he looked at it. And things turned out pretty well for him, to the tune of a record 1,093 patents that bear his name.
It’s also important to remember that resilient people are not only that — they’re resourcefulas well. The most resilient among us are also often the most innovative. So when you confront a big problem, you’re not limited to fight or flight response — you have another option: Getting creative.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
So many! Aside from Winston Churchill (and his famous “Never, ever, ever, ever give up” quote), I remember hiking along New Zealand’s stunning Milford Track with a man named Mark Inglis as a guide. It was a beautiful three-day journey, but the second day’s mountainous terrain made it particularly difficult. This was exacerbated by continuous rains that turned babbling brooks into raging rivers. It was on that day that Mark revealed a little secret: He had two prosthetic legs. Both legs had been amputated years before after he’d suffered extreme frostbite during an unsuccessful expedition on Mount Cook. He was wearing pants, so I hadn’t noticed before.
Rather than stopping him, Mark’s accident spurred him on. He was a silver-medal cyclist at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, had done research on leukemia, and is an accomplished winemaker. Oh, and he was the first double amputee to summit Mount Everest. So when he said to us “If I can do this, so can you,” I took it to heart — and had one of the most glorious days of my life.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
LOL, you think there was only one time? I actually used to hear that a lot and, sadly, those people were often right! For example: I’d probably be more likely to sing on Broadway than make money as a producer on the Great White Way. That was the case, just as people had predicted — though it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, nonetheless.
There were plenty of naysayers when I was starting a business, or even when I set out to write my book, Elevate: An Essential Guide to Life. And they were partially right. The trick is to pay close attention to what’s working, what’s not, and why — and to make the necessary course corrections.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Early in the life of Commonwealth, I was on the brink of bankruptcy. I was so stressed that it was causing me serious intestinal problems. My fantasy at that time was to be worth zero — i.e. no debt — and to have no stress from being underwater financially. I worked relentlessly every day to reach that goal.
And then one day, I made it: Absolute Zero. I was worth nothing… and it felt great. And I’d realized something powerful. All the mistakes I made were transformed into lessons and I now owned them. I had learned how to listen, how to manage, how to grow, and how to be a better leader.
Ten years later, my company surpassed $100 million in annual revenue (we were at $5 million when I took myself back to school), and then 15 years after that, we made it to a billion.
There’s an old English proverb that’s appropriate in this case: “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I’ll return to my Boston roots here. My father often had two or three jobs. My mother, who was a homemaker, was just as hard working. That certainly set an example for me about the value and necessity of working hard and creating something.
I was also relentless in my love of learning. When I was 10 years old, a local grocery store chain offered a new volume of encyclopedia (which were filled with pictures that captured the imagination of a young boy) each week to shoppers if they bought enough items. I was so excited to get those when my mother or father would return from the store! The combination of the work ethic that was instilled in me, along with that nurtured and unquenchable thirst for knowledge definitely helped me overcome the hurdles that were to come in every aspect of my life.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Practice –The more you practice, the better you get… and the more resilient you become in the process.
- Invest in loss — Attempting something and failing actually teaches us something — what worked, and more importantly what didn’t, and why. Conversely, staying in our comfort zone is safe but stagnant.
- Ask — No matter how resilient we are, we can’t always succeed on our own. The first step to achieving virtually anything we aspire to is to ask. Ask for answers, ask for directions, ask for help. It is one of the most powerful skills any person can have.
- Milestones — A marathon is extremely difficult; can you imagine how tough it would be if you couldn’t see the mile-markers along the way? Breaking your grand goal into smaller, achievable chunks will allow you to know where you are and orient yourself accordingly.
- Celebrate every step along the way — Whatever your endeavor, be sure to celebrate each incremental advance and make the journey a delight rather than drudgery — both for you and for the rest of your team.
You are a person of great 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. 🙂
I love that you asked that! This is the objective of the Elevate Prize Foundation, which I recently established, and which will be formally launched in 2020. We want to help the world see social entrepreneurs for what they are — world-changing, limitation-obliterating superstars who solve problems. In addition to identifying, assisting and celebrating these global heroes, we want to share their stories and help to create a massive fanbase for them. In this way, we want to lift up human consciousness and inspire a chain reaction of goodness and paying-it-forward. Essentially, we want people to get excited about making their world a better place to live, love and thrive.
We are blessed that some 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, especially if we tag them 🙂
Absolutely! Since we’re currently building a platform to raise the consciousness of the world, I would love to collaborate with like-minded people who have as much reach, resources, and influence as possible. Some of the first people who come to mind are Oprah, Ellen, Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Barack and Michelle Obama.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’ll admit: Social media has not been my biggest focus, but for Elevate Prize Foundation, it will be. For now, you can find more information about me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and www.guidetoelevate.com. Oh, and stay tuned for ElevatePrize.org which we’ll be debuting soon!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
My pleasure… Thank you!