Tenacity, intelligence, charisma, or a host of other attributes could be your trademark. It is that part of yourself that is above the rest and what you bring to the equation — personally and professionally. But it is also our greatest weakness.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Todd Wilms.
Todd is the author of Beyond Product, a best-selling book helping entrepreneurs and leaders take their organizations through 5 stages of growth, and the founder of FoundersPlace.co, serving as Board and Startup Advisor for emerging brands. He builds off his 20-year experience leading brand strategies at organizations like PayPal, SAP, Verisign, and Neustar.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I 5loved psychology since I was a kid. I began reading the works of some of the greats even in middle school. Had nerds been “cool” in my early years I would have had a very different childhood. I loved the idea of understanding motivation. Through a series of events, I came across marketing and loved that you can create a connection between brand and customer. I have championed that connection for 20 years at some of the best-known brands on the planet, and a group of new brands that now aspire to be.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Learning that people “well above your paygrade” will connect with you and have real interactions. When I started writing for Forbes, I began reaching out to activists, authors, celebrities and movie stars. I had interactions with Pink, interviewed Mel Brooks (he totally controlled the interview, by the way, but I was laughing so hard I didn’t care), and a score of others. This emboldened me to reach out to people on a personal level when my kids were born. President Jimmy Carter and Jane Goodall wrote letters to them at their birth. People will connect with you — even famous people — often times by just asking and being curious.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I was working for my first real role at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly as a network technician. I have always been curious, so I was learning the structure of our networks. Unbeknownst to me, I had changed a few settings and locked out every single printer in the company — worldwide. It took 36 hours before they were back on-line, and 36 hours and 1 minute before I was called into the CTOs office. Instead of getting fired or yelled at, I was told to study with a mentor and learn the systems in a supervised manner. He was a great leader and understood the intent to make the systems better and that we all make mistakes.
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?
I have a great example here. Jonathan Becher, who was the CMO of SAP and now Co-President of the San Jose Sharks NHL team, was a person several layers above me when I started, but truly listened as I came to him to express some new ideas and new directions for the company. Many say they have an “open door policy,” but with him I truly felt he meant it. He challenged an idea of mine, I went out to prove it, and we started building a new (at the time) social media presence at the company that started at 2–3 of us and became a group of over 120 worldwide in a few years. As a leader, making yourself accessible can have a lasting impact that extends well beyond the people in your charge. Great man, great lesson.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Weare all eager and motivated in our early years and we want to achieve success, in whatever form we measure our goals. You feel like your body can handle long, burnout hours and total commitment to your craft. But what you are actually doing is damaging short and long term. You are creating little cracks in your foundation (your body) that you will pay for and have to address later, plus you are developing habits that are going to be ridiculously hard to break in a few years. Finding balance is key. Even at a young age try to realize that this is a long race and you are in it for 40–50 years.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Every leader I know was taught a style from a prior generation, who probably learned that from their previous generation. What you learn may not have been relevant for 20–30 years, but most people fall into what they know and what is comfortable. I have had more aggressive, my-way-or-the-highway leaders than I could possibly count.
As a leader today, think first about what the company stands for and for what real principles it aspires to. Think about the people you have brought into the organization and why they were motivated to join. Understand your business goals and objectives for your team. Once you have those answer, your leadership style should reinforce those goals and principles. You should adapt to it, instead of bringing your prior style with you.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
Don’t be so sure
I listened to gurus and speakers and similar for years at conferences or from friends who felt transformed from their ideas. But I always felt that I had a good sense of self and knew my issues. So, imagine my surprise when fear took hold of me late in life from issues 20 years ago. There is some flaw in all of us. Be open to the idea that you aren’t as immune as you believe.
Your greatest weakness = your greatest strength one step too far
Tenacity, intelligence, charisma, or a host of other attributes could be your trademark. It is that part of yourself that is above the rest and what you bring to the equation — personally and professionally. But it is also our greatest weakness. Tenacity yields to stubbornness, intelligence yields to insulation, charisma … well, you don’t want to meet those overly charismatic types. Yuck!
Beaware that you are often teetering on the brink of losing the best part of yourself if not kept in check.
If you “fight” or “battle,” you are thinking of it wrong
Like other diseases — say, Cancer — we see mental illness or similar impediments as something to “fight.” You want to “fight depression,” “battle your anxiety.” What is a better way to approach this is to think that your mind and body are sending you a signal that something is “off” and you need to start addressing it? This may now be a part of who you are and you should find solutions — like self-care, or medication, or yoga, or just having quiet time — to figure out how to best manage this part of your life.
Fear is an ally
I now embrace fear and, while I don’t consider it a friend, I certainly see it as an ally. In talking to over 110 entrepreneurs in the last year alone, all of them felt fear, but few admitted it. There are countless others who never seek their dream because fear hinders them. I often quip that the most miserable people are those with the entrepreneurial spirit but fear is too big a hurdle for them. They want to go on that journey, but they won’t take that step.
If you see fear as an ally, you give yourself the ability to look at why you feel fear at this stage and start addressing it. I found that the fear is likely irrational or you will find ways around what you thought was stopping you. Fear is a great signal to reevaluate.
They want you to feel alone
I am on a mission to “talk about it.” My new project starts in a few months, but it is about taking these issues out of the shadows. For instance, depression is the disease that wants you all to themselves. “Listen only me,” it says. The most jealous person you have ever known can’t hold a candle to the disease.
By talking about and admitting it, it takes the stigma out of it and starts to normalize it. It gives people the opportunity to examine and understand what gets in their way.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
How about teens and pre-teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre-teens to optimize their mental wellness?
We think about those years and every person I asked said “they suck.” No one had a great time, so we just assume that the next generation wont either. We get into a mindset that believes it is a rite of passage. This also allows us to miss signs and signals from the struggles at this young age. Most of the help can and should be delivered by adults who are looking for behaviors beyond just “teen angst.”
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I always go back to The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is over 30 years old now, but the story is timeless. I had read Joseph Campbell’s works on storytelling and so I love how Coelho told this tale as a myth. We explored the book’s journey, overcame obstacles, and found the buried treasure. But the journey changed us.
I go back to this book often and find that I see parallels in my own life. I have found that the book gives me a way to internalize what I am going through. It has become my framework for how I think about my growth and changes in my life over time.
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. 🙂
You are going to have to wait a few months for me to unveil it. (wink). I do believe that absolutely anyone can change the world. You just have to readjust your idea of the word “world.” I can easily see and capture change around me. That change can ripple to places I have no connection with or insight into. It helps me try to change the world without being awed by the hugeness of the task.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My All-Time-Favorite quote is:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
It has been my leadership style before I knew this quote or knew I had a leadership style. I read this and said “that’s me.” (but a much cooler way than I could have said it)
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Foundersplace.co for the website and the podcast
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!