Rethinking Success: Laura Gassner Otting’s Quest for Impact, Freedom, and Profit

Episode Transcription

Glenn Harper [00:00:00]:

Hello, everyone. Welcome to another edition of Empowering Entrepreneurs podcast. This is Glenn Harper, Julie Smith. What’s going on, Julie?

Julie Smith [00:00:06]:

You know, I do want to talk about how beautiful the weather finally is here.

Glenn Harper [00:00:09]:

It’s been horrible. It’s been arctic temperatures until today.

Julie Smith [00:00:13]:

Yeah. Finally, some sunshine.

Glenn Harper [00:00:14]:

Good news. We got a real treat today. We’ve got Laura Gastner Otting, a fellow entrepreneur who is a keynote speaker, bestselling author, executive coach, and we’ll gladly give a kick in the arse while wrapping you in a hug. She is the founder and the catalyst of Limitless Possibility. I believe that means she takes people’s chaos and helps them separate the noise from the opportunity and ensures that they execute on the goals they have set. Did I say that right?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:00:39]:

Yeah, why not? That’s pretty good.

Glenn Harper [00:00:41]:

Well, thanks, Laura, for being on our show. I appreciate it.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:00:45]:

So I’m excited to be here today. There’s no audience I love talking to more than entrepreneurs.

Glenn Harper [00:00:50]:

They’re the best I found on near Bow. You have a phonetically way of saying your name, and I’m not sure if it’s the Gaelic transition or not, but it says Nah sten. Is that still applicable?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:01:05]:

I am a proud, nasty woman.

Glenn Harper [00:01:06]:

Absolutely. I just want to make sure I was saying that right because it was really long.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:01:12]:

Very funny.

Julie Smith [00:01:13]:

Phonetics aren’t his thing.

Glenn Harper [00:01:15]:

That’s how I learned to read. It was a big deal.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:01:17]:

As long as nasty women are your.

Glenn Harper [00:01:19]:

Thing, we’ll be well, it depends. Right? I think there’s a positive and a negative to that. Well, I detect a slight either a Texas twang or a Boston slur. I’m not sure which one you’re running from or going with on your voice. Which one have you adopted? Because you’re originally from Miami, right?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:01:38]:

I was born in New York City in Brooklyn, to be exact, and I was raised in Miami. I went to University of Texas, found my way by way of Gainesville to DC. Then New Haven and now Boston. So I don’t even know what my accent is, but I’m raising kids in Boston, and they don’t have Boston accents.

Glenn Harper [00:01:57]:

How is that possible?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:01:58]:

Well, my husband’s from Ohio, and, you know, Ohio is like every TV show where they’re supposed to have no accent. They have Ohio accents because it’s sort of the middle of the country, and it’s where everything comes together. So I don’t know. I’ve been working with a voice coach for years to learn how to enunciate my words when I’m on stage. I’m not doing a good job of it right now.

Glenn Harper [00:02:19]:

That sounds horrible.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:02:20]:

It’s horrible. Yeah. It turns out that your mouth has a lot of parts to it, and it’s really hard to access all of them, and it’s hard. Yeah, it’s tough.

Glenn Harper [00:02:30]:

What part of Ohio is your husband from?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:02:33]:


Glenn Harper [00:02:34]:

Cincinnati. So there’s a definite Cincinnati draw that happens there. And how did you for sure it’s different than Cleveland, for sure. It’s basically Kentucky yeah, they want to say that, but yes, it’s very close.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:02:45]:

To I mean, you fly into Kentucky to go to Cleveland, to go to Cincinnati, so yeah. We met in a bar in Washington, DC. Though.

Glenn Harper [00:02:54]:

So he tricked you. All right. How’d you convince him to go to Boston?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:02:58]:

He convinced me, actually. Yeah. So I spent 20 years in executive search, and what I came to learn, in addition to a lot of other things we’ll talk about today, is that it’s either love or money. Those are the only two reasons why people move. It’s love or money. Sometimes it’s the love of money, but it’s love or money. So you either move because a significant other has a job, because you fall in love with somebody because you have a job opportunity, it usually boils down to love or money. And in this case, he had a job, money, and I loved him, so I moved.

Glenn Harper [00:03:30]:

So match made.

Julie Smith [00:03:31]:

Simple enough.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:03:32]:

Yeah, he had a move, so I moved with him.

Glenn Harper [00:03:34]:

And you guys are in Boston. Have you seen Jason Bourne yet? Or is he not show himself?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:03:40]:

Every once in a while, you will see Matt Damon wandering around town. You’ll see Ben Affleck wandering around town. But usually it’s Markey Mark, one of the Wahlberg brothers, usually. We actually went to the Celtics game last Friday night, one of the Eastern Conference finals games that they lost, and I think Donnie Wahlberg maybe was there. There’s always one of them. They always sort of pan the camera to one of them, and you’re like, Which Wahlberg brother is that?

Glenn Harper [00:04:03]:

Everybody just hangs out. It’s the coolest thing. They know how to roll.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:04:07]:


Glenn Harper [00:04:08]:

So how did you decide to pick the University of Texas? We’re always trying to figure out how people decide that. First step out of home, and they want to go do something. How did you pick Texas? I mean, why’d you want to be a longhorn?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:04:21]:

Well, I don’t know that I wanted to be a longhorn, but as you mentioned, I grew up in Miami, and my parents and their infinite wisdom took me to visit Michigan, Northwestern, and Texas, all in February.

Glenn Harper [00:04:35]:

I got it. That’s what I said.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:04:36]:


Julie Smith [00:04:36]:

You don’t have to say anything else to us.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:04:38]:

Yeah, we went in that order, and by the time we got to Texas, I walked onto the quad and I saw all of these gorgeous young men playing Frisbee without shirts on and the beautiful Texas sun, and I was like, Think I’m going to go to school here. Yeah. But broadly speaking, I wanted to go to a big school. I wanted sort of like big sports, rah rah, cheer for football. I wanted a party scene. Right. I wanted somewhere that had a big social life, and I was interested in politics and journalism, and all three of those schools had good programs in both of those things. So that’s sort of how I narrowed the choices. But, yeah, I picked my job. I picked my college because of weather and boys.

Glenn Harper [00:05:22]:

I think all the beautiful people seem to be in Arizona, Southern California and Austin, Texas. I don’t know why that is, but yes, they’re not in Ohio.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:05:32]:

Well, it’s funny because my older son, who has now just finished a sophomore year at Rice in Houston, when he was applying for colleges, the first two schools he heard from were Ohio State and University of Miami. And I was like, not for nothing, but the girls are going to be University of Miami. Sorry, Buckeyes. I know I’m going to get a lot of hate for that comment, but, you know, facts, man.

Glenn Harper [00:05:52]:

Well, spring break at the Oval, Ohio State, everybody gets all their pasty white skin out. It’s great. And everybody’s just excited to be out. So we embrace those three days a year. That it’s awesome. The rest of the time, we’re all cavemen.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:06:05]:

Well, we feel the same way here in Boston. The very first day, it’s nice out. You need two things. You need your shorts and you need a pair of really good sunglasses because everybody is so pale. You’re just like, oh, my God.

Glenn Harper [00:06:17]:

Horrible thing. So when you came out of college, I mean, at that point, were you already being an entrepreneur? You’re working somewhere or when did you decide? Because when you go into politics and those types of things and government service, that’s a different mindset. And to go into there and then switch. When you talk a little bit about what you learned in that experience, when you got out of college and did the little political thing, how did that impact you? Or did you already know that you were just using that as a stepping stone?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:06:45]:

No, I actually had no idea that I was an entrepreneur until much later. I had no idea. I’m 52. So when I was growing up, you went to college to become a doctor, a lawyer, a dental hygienist, an accountant, a teacher, like a blank, like insert a thing here. There was no you’re going to become an entrepreneur. Like, maybe you’d be a small business owner if your parents were small business owners and you were inheriting them. But there was no I’m going to invent Facebook from my dorm room feeling going on back then. So I didn’t really know entrepreneur was a thing somebody could be. So I graduated early from college and I went to law school and like, 15 days later and I was part of the January class. I graduated semester early. The January class does sort of the fall semester in the spring and then the spring semester in the summer, and then you catch up. And I was 20 years old. I couldn’t even drink legally yet. And I thought my whole life I was going to be a lawyer. I was going to go to college, I was going to go to law school. I was going to become a public prosecutor. I was going to put the bad guys away. I was going to become famous for that. I’d get recruited to run for Senate. I’d become the first female senator from the great state of Florida. Yay. And then I got to law school, and I was like, I don’t want to be here. I’ve made a huge mistake. Most of the January class were people coming back to school having had another career. So I was, like, five or seven years younger than most of them, and I was like, this is just organ failure right now. Like I don’t belong here. I got to go. So I did what most people do in those moments where they find themselves in miserable situations. I dated the world’s worst boyfriend, and the world’s worst boyfriend, I like to say, had great taste in precisely two things. The first being, obviously, girlfriends, and the second being unknown presidential hopefuls from tiny Southern states. And one day, he offered to give me a ride home from campus, and I was like, sure, whatever. I’m going to break up with you anyway. I’ll take a ride home. And on the way home, he said, I want to stop at this guy’s campaign office. He’s running for president. And I was like, Governor? Who? From where? Arkansas? Like, not a chance in hell. Like. Not a chance, governor. President George H. W. Bush had just one Desert Storm. He had a 91% approval rating. The Democrats are putting up a sacrificial lamb. And I was like, sure, whatever. I walk into the office, and there’s a little teeny tiny TV in the corner with then Governor Bill Clinton giving this impassioned plea about service. There’s nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed with what’s right with America, which I still believe today. And he offered as a solution service in exchange for college tuition. Change yourself while you’re changing your community. And in that moment, I was like, that needs to happen. So I broke up with a boyfriend. I dropped out of law school. I joined the campaign, and I ended up in the White House helping Bill Clinton create AmeriCorps, which now more than one and a half million young people have served in. I’m exceptionally proud of that. Fast forward. I’m dating the world’s best boyfriend, who is now that husband from Cincinnati. We’ve been married for 25 years. I wanted to go back on the campaign trail three years into being in the White House, and I went to go talk to my boss, who had been a lifelong entrepreneur, and he said, look, you’re too old to get back on a campaign bus and eat cold pizza and sleep on the high school gymnasium floors. At that point, I’m all of 24, which is like, dog ears in the political world, campaign world, but you’re too young to be the domestic policy advisor, so go talk to my friend Arnie Miller. He runs Isaacson Miller, one of the biggest search firms in the country that does specifically nonprofit university foundation advocacy work. You’ll hide out for four years and then come do something big on Al Gore’s presidential campaign. And I was like, great, sounds terrific. I sit down with Arnie Miller, and five minutes into the conversation, Arnie I realized that Arnie lives in Boston. And I know the world’s best boyfriend is about to move to Boston to get his PhD and in economics. And I said to him, I should come work for you. And he goes, you should come work for me. And I was like, great, I’ll take the job. What do you do? And I became a headhunter. Four years into working for him, I had this moment of rage where I realized there was a better way to do the work that would serve our clients better. And I walked into Arnie’s office, and I was like, there’s a better way. And he was like, there’s the door. And I could either keep doing things the way he wanted to do them, which was fine and was working. He was like, we love you. You’re great. Keep stay here. Or I could leave and do it my way. And in that moment of rage, when I realized there was a better way, a more authentic way, with more integrity, with more profits for me, with less costs for our clients, I realized that I wasn’t part of my client’s solution, which left me in only one place, which is that I was part of their problem. And that was untenable. I couldn’t stay. And so I left. And I started my own firm. A few years into that, I ran into that old boss from the White House who was the serial entrepreneur. And he was like, did you always know you’re an entrepreneur? Because I did. And in that moment, I thought to myself, is he telling me that I was just unmanageable? Probably see something in me. So my friend Scott Stratton likes to say that entrepreneur is Latin for bad employee. But it was in that moment that I was like, oh, all of these things, all were there because I was an entrepreneur at heart, and I was trying to sandwich myself into somebody else’s way of thinking. So leaving law school, starting that AmeriCorps program, leaving the White House, going to that firm, realizing it was wrong, starting my own thing, like, at each moment, the spark inside of me pushed me to move to the next thing. And looking back on it, I was always an entrepreneur. But it took several years for me to find that part of me to get there.

Glenn Harper [00:12:31]:

Question for you and those four years you’re at that firm, I’m going to call BS, because I don’t think it took you four years to figure that out. I think you probably knew it a lot sooner than that. But what was the final trigger that said, okay, I can do this better on my own? I know you felt that way earlier. I know you did, because.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:12:54]:

I think I spent the first year there just figuring out what the hell I was doing. Like, I was just young. I was dumb, I was naive. I didn’t even know how to do the work. And I was scared. I was scared of everyone around me. There was this one woman who worked there who was a vice president who was mean. She was just I think that she thought that I was maybe like the CEO’s pet, and she did not like that. So we were doing very, very high level executive search work for civic minded organizations. And one of the first reference checks I had to do and they taught us how to do, like, 45 minutes, hour long conversations for reference checks on these candidates that we were placing because they were pretty public people, was with Norman Schwarzkoff, like General Norman.

Glenn Harper [00:13:40]:


Laura Gassner Otting [00:13:41]:

Norman. Norman. Right? Talk about terrifying. So I do this reference check, and I write up the whole conversation. It’s like a 14 page here’s the question, here’s his answer, like capturing him word for word as much as I can. And I hand it to this woman for her to proofread it, and she walks into my office 20 minutes later, and she goes, there’s a dangling participle in here. And walks away. That’s it. Doesn’t say good job, doesn’t say the rest is good, but just like, there’s this one tiny little grammatical error somewhere in this 14 page document. Goodbye.

Glenn Harper [00:14:12]:

First of all, I don’t even know what a dangling participle is. I would be upset at that because I have to go look that up.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:14:18]:

Well, it’s when you end a sentence on a preposition. So you say, what are you proud of? As opposed to, what is the thing about which you are most proud? Right? What is the thing about which you are most proud? Is proper grammar, but what are you proudest of? Is how we talk. And so somewhere in there, I had a preposition at the end. I mean, it’s just the stupidest thing ever. But that was sort of the environment there, so I already knew it felt bad. But outside of working in the White House, which was really my first grown up job, like, the previous job I’d had before that was like a job in high school where I was changing bedpans in a hospital. Like, literally, I didn’t really have any experience in, one might say, a normal, healthy work environment. I didn’t have that. Here’s how you learn how to be somebody. But as I started to get my legs under me and realize that that kind of behavior from management was a little abusive, then I started to look around and think, okay, well, if we’re here to serve our clients, well, should we be abusing each other by dangling participles, or should we actually be helping build each other up? We should be helping build each other up. And so I started spending some time making sure that the people who were coming up behind me were getting built up in that way. And what I realized was that that behavior wasn’t rewarded, right. The building other people up wasn’t rewarded. In executive search, the way that you get paid is one third of the first year’s cash compensation of anybody that you place in a position. So if I’m doing a search for the Kellogg Foundation, for the chief strategy Officer, for example, that person’s getting paid $300,000. My fee is $100,000. If I’m doing a search for an executive director for a local domestic violence organization, that person is getting paid $60,000. So my fee is $20,000. $100,000 fee, $20,000 fee. Who do you think I’m incentivized to spend more time on the big fee, right?

Glenn Harper [00:16:13]:

If you’re a capitalist, yes, absolutely.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:16:16]:

But who do you think needs that position better? Who do you think needs that help? Who do you think the 100 people that work at the Kellogg Foundation or the three people working at the domestic violence shelter that are literally helping men and women and children in need? Who do you think needs the help more? Who do you think misses the money more? And so I just felt very uncomfortable with the fact that I was being incentivized to spend 95% of my time on the bigger and frankly, easier search and the last 5% of my time on the ones who needed us most. And I just thought there needed to be a better model that allowed us to spend the same amount of time on everybody so that everybody, in reaction to the complexity of their work, got the help that they needed. And by the way, if we left capacity within them, at the end of the day, we could get the Kellogg Foundation to make a grant to pay for the work of the domestic violence shelter. It just seemed to me that the problem that I was trying to solve in the world was helping people live better, more fruitful, more fulfilling lives. But that wasn’t what the business model of this search firm was doing. And I just knew that if we changed the way that we incentivize behavior internally, everybody could do better by it. And when I brought this up to my boss, he didn’t have the same drivers as me. I was 25, 26. At this point, I wasn’t worried about making payroll. I wasn’t married. I was just barely getting engaged. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have a mortgage. I didn’t have the same drivers as him. Even though he wanted to make the world a better place, he had a different set of drivers. And I thought if I could build a business that allowed me not to have those drivers, we were all virtual. When I started my firm, we were remote for it was COVID cool, right? It was 2002, and I built a company to 30 people that were all virtual. We didn’t have to make the same nut. I didn’t have the same drivers. So I could actually have much more expansiveness in the way that I built the business model. And it just seemed to me that as entrepreneurs, we have options to build prisons in which we find ourselves trapped or not. And a lot of times, entrepreneurs build things because it’s the way that they’ve seen it built before, and then they find trapped in these moments where they have to sort of keep running and doing things they don’t actually care about because they’re stuck because of the model they created.

Glenn Harper [00:18:35]:

I think that goes back to what one of Julie’s favorite thing is. How do you get out of what your own way?

Julie Smith [00:18:41]:

And I think one of the things that people get hung up on is and I tease Glenn about this all the time is, well, what did we do last year? Because that’s the same thing we should continue to do.

Glenn Harper [00:18:50]:

Well, that’s just accountants. That’s how we roll.

Julie Smith [00:18:52]:

Well, I think a lot of times that’s just people and entrepreneurs, accountants, whoever you want to put into that bucket. And I think what that does is just breed this constant thing instead of changing or pivoting or listening, right? Because good leaders listen to what you have to say and think about what’s your why behind that, and then how can we create a solution that just doesn’t happen?

Glenn Harper [00:19:12]:

Well, I think that’s the exciting part about being alive in America at this time with the access to all this information. I’m telling you, 25 years ago, your boss had no clue that there’s another way to build a mousetrap. They only knew what they inherited, and that’s what they do, because that seems to work for whatever reason. It pays the bills, their stability, their structure, all those things that, well, change is scary, right? Well, yeah, but they don’t even know how to make the change. So you get somebody that’s coming in there free thinking a little bit and wants to upset the apple cart. That’s terrifying for somebody who’s done it the same way. But when you don’t know anything, you don’t have to be scared, and you’re just like, well, let’s go try it this way. I mean, that’s the essence of entrepreneurialism, in my opinion, right?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:19:58]:

Yeah, for sure. People used to ask me, they’re like, so you dropped out of law school and you joined this campaign and you were in the White House. What would have happened if they didn’t pass the legislation? And I was like, I don’t know. I was so young and naive. I just assumed it was a good idea. I was like, Why wouldn’t they pass the legislation? It didn’t even occur to me. It didn’t even occur to me that we would fail. It was just like, okay, this is what we’ll do. So I think that what did we do last year is a real trap. And I think a lot of times you couple that with this sort of what I call success hustle porn, right? Which is the, like, bigger, better, faster, more like, you did 500,000 last year, you got to do a million this year. You did a million this year. This year, next year, we’re doing 5 million, right? We keep upping the ante because we think that’s the only way to measure success, because we’ve been told that unless you’re crushing it and leaning in and ten xing, you’re not doing anything. It’s garbage. And I think one of the great things that I was able to do as an entrepreneur because I had a business coach who asked me these questions, not because I knew, but I happened to be lucky enough to have a business coach asking these questions is, how do you measure success? How do you measure what does success look like for you? And over time, I really was able to boil it down to three things. I want to maximize impact, I want to maximize personal freedom and flexibility, and I want to maximize profit. I think as an entrepreneur, at any given time, you can make all of your decisions based on one, maybe two of them, and if you’re steady on those two, the third always comes. So when I founded my company, it was 2002, my youngest son was six weeks old. I wanted to maximize impact in the world, but I wanted to maximize personal freedom and flexibility. I wanted to be around for my kids. At that point, I was like, I just need to make enough to sort of keep this as a going concern until kid number one and eventually kid number two are in elementary school. And then I’ll go back and do a full time job in a big corporation. I just need to have this be a thing that’s good enough for now. And what I realized was by maximizing the impact I wanted to make in the world and making sure that I was maximizing my own personal freedom of flexibility, I was doing really good work, and good work begets more good work. So the profits eventually came over time. After 15 years of running that company and selling it to the women who helped me build it, I ended up making more money than I would have if I had stayed at that big firm all of those years. And I ended up selling it for much more than I would have if I was just trying to run it for profit all the time. And we can talk a little bit about that if you want, but there was a moment about ten years into the company where we brought all 30 people together. Again, we were remote, so we brought all 30 people together. We were in a beautiful, like, penthouse conference room in Boston overlooking the harbor, the haba, and we brought in a professor from Harvard, business professor from Harvard. And she, as an icebreaker, asked us to all go around the room, and each of us say how many people we think are the ideal number of people in this company. Like, how many? What do we want this company to look like? And again, we had 30 people, so some people were like 30. Some people were pretty cheeky, and they were like 29. Some people said 150. And by the time they got to me at the end, I said, I don’t think that’s the right question. Tell me what we’re trying to do here. Tell me what success looks like, and then I’ll tell you how many people we need. If we want to maximize impact in the world, we need 300 people. We can do all the searches. We’re going to help all the nonprofits. If we want to maximize personal freedom and flexibility, well, I don’t know, maybe that’s one because then I can decide what I do, when I do it, who I do it for, but I’m not worrying about everybody else’s headaches, right? If we want to maximize profit, it may be that we need 17 or we need 37 or like, whatever the number is, where we get to the next level of all of our systems and they’re all firing, but we have maximum profitability before we need to build new systems. So what are we trying to solve for? And if I know what we’re trying to solve for, then I can tell you what kind of company we want to build. But I think a lot of times as entrepreneurs, we do a little bit of work and we do it well. So somebody gives us more money and then we do more work and we do it well, and somebody gives us more money and suddenly we’re like, oh, no, I need an employee. So we bring on an employee and then we have more work and we just kind of grow in this sort of hodgepodge way that we’re solving for whatever the market whim is that’s coming at us? And we’re not thinking strategically about where am I right now at this age and at this life stage and what am I trying to solve for? And I think that’s where we get trapped because then the only thing we have to lean on is what did we do last year? As opposed to what do I really want from this year and next year and five years from now.

Glenn Harper [00:24:44]:

I think we see that a lot, where you always start off, you’re going to do some business. I’m going to hang up my shingle and do some business. And you’re doing the work. You’re doing the work. And if I could just have somebody help me with this and this you don’t realize. That you’re on the track to building a business, but you’re not ready to make that choice because now all of a sudden, you need more commitment, you need more time, you need more resources. So you hodgepodge it till you finally figured out that, hey, maybe I can build something great. And to build something great is hard because it’s a whole different mindset, because you have to do what Julie?

Julie Smith [00:25:16]:

Get out of your own way.

Glenn Harper [00:25:17]:

That’s it. And you got to empower other people and trust them to help you do that. And nobody who is doing work, who’s doing business has the time to think clearly of what their vision looks like because they’re so busy grinding out the work. It’s just impossible. You can’t do it. So it’s hard when you have those times where you can pause and reflect and think back. But which entrepreneurs have time to do that? You got kids, you got spouses, you got work, you got employees, you got clients who’s got time to do that. So I think what you’re basically saying is you had that moment where you’re like, what am I really trying to do here? And then it clicks.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:25:49]:

Yes. I do a lot of executive coaching. I work with a lot of entrepreneurs, and I give them homework in between. And I had this one guy come to me. He was interviewing me whether or not he wanted me to be his business coach. And he was like, what do you mean, homework? He’s like, I don’t have time for homework. He’s like, I ride my bike to the office because that’s where I get my exercise in. He’s like, I go to the office, I do my work. Arriving back home, I’m with my family. I don’t have any time for anything else. And I was like, well, if you’re not making time, then how are you going to get better? We cannot get better if we don’t, actually. So I said to him, like, look, I’m not the coach for you because you’re going to get out of this, what you’re going to put into it. And if what you think is we’re going to talk for 45 minutes once a week and suddenly your business is going to ten X, it’s not. It’s just not because I can’t want it more than you want it.

Glenn Harper [00:26:43]:

That hamster wheel is a really hard thing to get off of. But once you take that first step off and fall out of it again, it seems like all of a sudden you see the matrix and everything slows down. You see the zeros and ones, but when you’re in the hamster wheel, you can’t see anything other than just the next work, the next work. And you come out here and you’re like, oh, now I see how this works.

Julie Smith [00:27:00]:

Well, and don’t, you probably find with a lot of the people you’re coaching is their heads down. Like Glenn said, they’re just doing business. They forgot that they’ve built something, but they forgot their purpose.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:27:11]:


Julie Smith [00:27:12]:

And they forget all of that and it’s like you got to get back to that foundation.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:27:16]:

Yeah. And a lot of times what happens is because they realize they needed a person, they hire somebody. They usually make the wrong hire because often they’ll hire somebody who is more senior. They’ll hire somebody who they need to be more senior because they need that person to be interchangeable for clients with them. But really they’re cheap because they’re first growing a business. So they hire somebody who’s too junior, give them a more senior title, and then they have to undo all the stuff that the person thinks that they know how to do because they have the senior title, right? So they’re sort of in this sort of trap place. Then they sort of start building systems. They end up hiring the wrong database vendor, they end up hiring the wrong marketing. And so we have to make those mistakes and then undo them and the cost of the mistakes and the undoing and all of that. A lot of entrepreneurs are just like, I can’t do it. I’m not going to make any more decisions. I’m just going to stay where I am because I don’t want to make the mistake again. So then they’re trapped there. So there are all these moments where they need somebody to sort of pull them out and say, what is the highest and best use of your time? What is the highest and best use of your time? So if you’re walking into your clients, you’re doing all of the business, you’re doing all of the pitching, you’re writing all the proposals, you’re doing all of the work. Is that the highest and best use of your time or is the highest and best use of your time thinking strategically about who the right people are on the team who can be doing some of that work to alleviate you so you can get back to the thing that you love best, which is the building and the pitching and the strategy and the growth. Often I think that that comes from asking the wrong question. When some of those staff members come into our office, they’ll come in with the problem and the first thing we’ll say is, how can I help? How can I help? They have a problem, right? We have this client issue or somebody is going to fire us. The report didn’t go well or we’re at a toilet paper in the bathroom, like whatever. The thing is, how can I help? And when we ask how can I help? The person then tells us how to help, right? They tell us the thing that we can do. So suddenly we have a new job. Now we have to change the toilet paper, we have to redo the report. We have to get on the phone with the client. Often what that does is it makes us the hero of the story. We end up solving the problem, but if we often solve our own egos need to help. And what I coach my coaching clients to do is to not ask how can I help anymore? But to say what needs to happen. What needs to happen for this problem to go away? Well, what needs to happen is we need to have a better system of doing these proposals so that we don’t end up in this crunch time every single time. Okay, that’s a different answer than we got to get this proposal done. What needs to happen is we have to assign ordering toilet paper to somebody on this team. Can we put that in the intern’s job description? What needs to happen ends up usually becoming the employee, telling you what the solution long term can be. And then you can put your CEO hat back on and actually put in place a strategy or a process that gets it off of your desk, which then gives you more time to be able to do some of that work that you need to be doing on the business instead of in the business.

Glenn Harper [00:30:20]:

It’s one of the funniest things like my real job on the side, consulting with clients and such is you get stuck in this whirlwind as an entrepreneur America, we’re great. We spend more than what we make and we’re good at it, and we will leverage ourselves to get to that level. Yes, you can do that a certain level if you have, quote, a real job because you have the regularity of income. When you’re an entrepreneur and you don’t have that regularity of income, does success of your company is directly attributable to the financial demands you put on it. If you’re going to rape and pillage your company out of cash every month, you can’t get there so as you raise your standard of living because you’re like, hey, we’re making as an entrepreneur and you take that cash out, you don’t want it because it always goes down, right? And it seems like then you never have the resources available for the tough times or to make that special hire or to bring in the consultant or the coach. And I try to train clients to live like you’re just out of college, like you have no money and you pay the government first. The tax side. You said only take out what you need and let that thing build up a little bit. So you now have freedom, opportunity, capital. And that’s what nobody teaches entrepreneurs until your point. If you don’t have the capital and you don’t have the ability to hire somebody, you’re just not because your financial demands. Your old boss, he had these needs and he had no way to not to make the $100,000 client and do the 20,000. There’s no way he could do it, couldn’t afford it. It’s a sad state of affairs, but once you learn it, it’s not that bad.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:31:53]:

Yeah. This business coach that I mentioned earlier, he asked me such a fundamentally profound question that had changed everything that I did in my business. I sat down with him. So this guy used to be like a direct report to Jack Welsh at at GE. He knew business. Like, he knew how to grow billion dollar businesses. And I had breakfast in one day, just as a favor to a friend of his who was a mentor of mine. He had breakfast with me, and by the end of the breakfast, he was like, you know, you’re interesting. I want to help you. And I was like, Dude, I can’t afford you. I can’t afford he was like, I owe Dave, like, ten years of favor, so let’s just have breakfast every six weeks, and this all I’ll consider my debt washed for free. This was it. I was like, Merry Christmas. Here’s your manner from heaven. So the next time we meet for breakfast a couple of weeks later, I show up, and I have my marketing materials, I have my budgets, I have my cash flow announced, I have my perspectives. Like, you name it. I brought all of the prettiest fanciest, like, everything I had, and he takes all the papers that I’d spread out, waiting to get, like, the big gold star, like, Good for you. And he pushes them across the table, and he looks at me, he goes, Laura, how do you pay yourself? And I was like, what do you mean? I mean, I get my money from my clients, and then I pay my people, and I put away a little bit for a rainy day. I put some into our improving systems fund, and then I give myself what’s left over. And he looked at me and he said, and I quote, stop being such a girl. First of all, offensive. And he said, Lori, what kind of lifestyle do you want? What do you want your life to look like? What does that life cost you? He said, when you come back six weeks from now, I want a list from you. I want to know what your life looks like in ten years. I want to know not just that you’re going on vacation three times a year, but are you staying in the Four Seasons or at the Motel Six? Are you driving a Mercedes? Are you driving a Hyundai? What does your life look like? Are you cleaning up the park on the weekends? Or are you creating a foundation to donate money to build a park? What is your life going to look like in five years and ten years and 15 years? And I want granularity because I want to know what does that life cost? Then you’re going to build a business that throws off that amount of money. And I was like, oh, that is fundamentally, profoundly, completely backwards from the way that I had been doing it, which is, I’m going to bring in as much work as I can, and then I’ll have what’s left over. And what I didn’t understand at the time, which I understood later, by the time we had that business professor come into our retreat, is that there are different sizes of business that throw off more or less profit. So you can have a huge business and you can have a huge revenue line. But revenue ain’t profit, my friend. Right. That is not the same thing. And I didn’t understand that until I sat down and I said, Wait a minute. I am kind of a princess. And if I do want to stay at the Four Seasons and I do want to drive from Mercedes, then I need to maybe not be running a $5 million business. Maybe I need to be running a $3 million business. Or an $8 million business. But the $5 million business gave me only headaches. Right. So I had to understand that difference.

Glenn Harper [00:35:13]:

Yeah, it’s like the bigger is not better. Better is better. And you got to kind of first. Reverse engineer, what are your needs? What do you want? Where do you want to be? And then you can go build it. But everybody starts the opposite way. It’s the darnedest thing. I think that’s the whole point of this podcast is to try to let entrepreneurs know that, hey, whatever way you’re probably doing it, you need to rethink that. And there’s other options. There’s resources out there’s, a community that wants to help you. And that’s really The Whole goal of this, is to help entrepreneurs go, who, they’re Struggling and Beating Their head against the Wall every Day. Go. Oh, my God. They mean there’s a better way. And this is all you have to do. And it’s life changing for them. I mean, it’s crazy.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:35:57]:

It’s so simple when somebody just kind of goes, like they take your head and they just turn it three degrees to the right, and you’re like, oh, that’s where the Grand Canyon is. I was looking at the porta potties. The problem with entrepreneurship is that it is all too often a solo sport. And lonely we never get better when we play alone.

Julie Smith [00:36:20]:

So I have a question because I think team is so important, and I think we kind of moved quickly over how you built a team. You built a Virtual team in An Environment that didn’t necessarily wasn’t normal, wasn’t cool before COVID and Then How you decided to sell your business to that team. I mean, I think that’s just got to be a wonderful story.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:36:41]:

Yeah. I mean, it’s sort of a painful and difficult story. Also, of course, these things often are. So I did the thing that all entrepreneurs do, which is that I just started cobbling together bodies. I just needed bodies. And I brought on the wrong bodies. Which is a great irony, since my business was executive search. Right. Like, the Cobbler’s children have no shoes. I hired all the wrong people. And I hired this one person who we’ll call Jane because I don’t want to use her real name. And Jane was I brought her in as a vice president, but Jane was, at best, like a senior associate. But Jane thought she was a vice president, and she thought so much she was a vice president that she didn’t listen to me when I needed to teach her how to actually be a good senior associate. That was living in vice president clothes so that she could return a call to my client and I could actually go pick up my kids from school once a month. It it I’d made the wrong decision. And one day, I was in New York City where where she lived, and she said she wanted to go have coffee with me. And Jane was doing a terrible job. At this point. I was trying to figure out, like, how on earth do I fire this person? I’d never fired anyone before. I didn’t know how to do it. So we go out for coffee, and Jane leans over, and she grabs hold of my forearm. Now, I am not a super touchy feely person. She grabs onto my forearm, and she says and she uses exactly this tone of voice, I’m a Gen X, or she’s a millennial. And she says, laura, I’d like to teach you how to manage people of my generation. Okay? Here’s what I learned in my MBA program. Okay, great. Have you heard of this thing called a compliment sandwich? Now, I’m sitting there thinking, it’s not a compliment sandwich. Like, nobody goes to the deli and orders a rye bread sandwich. They order a pastrami sandwich. Like, it’s not a compliment sandwich. It’s a garbage sandwich. Right? Let’s talk about this. So I was like, no, tell me. So she says, Laura, well, first you have to bring me in and tell me something very good about me or my work so that I am open to anything that you have to say next. Then you need to give me some criticism. And she wags her finger at me, but it needs to be constructive. Then the other side of the sandwich, you have to tell me a second nice thing about my work. So I leave wanting to put into practice the criticism you’ve just given me. Do you understand the compliment sandwich? And I look at her, and I’m not proud of this moment. This may be the most abusive I’ve ever been in my entire life. This is like dangling participle level abuse drumroll. And I said, you see, Jane, the problem with that is that I can’t think of a second nice thing to say about your work.

Glenn Harper [00:39:20]:

Mic drop.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:39:22]:

The truth is, I couldn’t think of a first nice thing. So I’m not proud of that moment. And as I walked out of that coffee feeling like the worst sludge of a human being ever. By the way, she did quit like, three days later. I can’t believe it took her that long. I called the mentor who had actually connected me to that business coach and I was like, I need a COO, I need help. I am so good at going out and singing from the rooftops about the different way executive search can be done. I am so good at selling ice to eskimos. I am good at being a leader. I’m good at shining sunshine on my people and making them feel like a million bucks. But I am garbage. Crap. Horrible, toxic, hot garbage. At actually developing people, like, managing them every single day, growing them, quality, like, training. Like, I am not patient, I am not good at it. I need help. And he was like, well, there’s this woman who’s at our firm now who’s about to move to Moscow with her husband because he’s in the foreign service and she’s going to get screwed. She’s got a PhD in psychology and she’s really into management. You should meet her. And a couple of weeks later, we had lunch and I brought her in as my COO and partner. So I was four or five years into the business when I brought her in and that was such a huge shift because it allowed me to do the thing I love most, which is be the champion of my people, but not have to be the policeman and the teacher of my people. She hated being the champion. She was like all that BS cheerleader crap.

Julie Smith [00:40:49]:

But she loved cop, right?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:40:51]:

Yeah. I could not give a crap if little Johnny has an ear infection and you can’t get your work done. My kid, I did it. Figure it out, figure it out. She was like, oh, little Johnny has an ear infection. Tell me, what are you doing? Erythromycin penicillin. How is he feeling? I’m like, garbage killing up. Yeah. We worked very well together and it was really interesting because I was always like the gut punch thinker. And she was always the sort of brainy data. And every time she started getting emotional or every time I started looking at data, we were like, okay, something’s wrong here. We’ve got to figure it out. So as I grew the team, it really came to me understanding not just what don’t I do well, but what skills don’t I want to develop? I actually didn’t want to get better at managing people. I know how to do it. I can do it when I have to. I can sit people down and I can mentor them and I can grow them. And obviously I spend a lot of time as a coach, but I knew that the time that I spent doing that was going to take away time of bringing in the sunshine, which was also so valuable to the work. So I think a lot of times as entrepreneurs, we think we have to get good at everything. And the truth is we have to figure out a, what we’re naturally good at, b, what we hate doing, what we have to do anyway. Yes, but then what are the things like, I can’t add a column of numbers to save my life. So when I was doing my invoices at two in the morning, I was exhausted. They were wrong. I was losing trust with my clients because they were getting invoices where the math didn’t add up. Sorry, I know this hurts your account and hearts to hear that.

Julie Smith [00:42:24]:

No, I’m with you on that.

Glenn Harper [00:42:26]:

This is very upsetting.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:42:27]:

Finally, one day, my husband walks into my home office at two in the morning. He’s like, what are you doing? He was like, how much is it going to cost you to hire someone to do this for you? And what do you charge your clients? And if that number is like, one dollars less than you charge your clients, come to bed and go hire CPA tomorrow to do all your stuff. And I did, and it was liberating. So when I grew my team, a lot of it was thinking about not just like, what warm bodies do I need, but what will this alleviate from my burden and what will it allow me to do instead? Sort of how I thought about all of that. We could talk about the sale thing, but we can talk about the first.

Glenn Harper [00:43:05]:

You know, what you talk about. And again, an entrepreneur, it’s a lonely place. You feel like you can’t trust anybody. You feel like you have to know it all. You feel like you have to do everything. And the fact of trying to lose control on one little thing is it’s paralyzing for most people. But one of those things when you just go, Jesus, take the wheel, it’s the greatest thing ever. Because now you’ve empowered and trusted someone else to do it, either going to success or fail. They’re probably going to do it better than you were going to do it. And if they fail, it’s not going to be as bad as you were doing it.

Julie Smith [00:43:36]:

Unless they’re Jane.

Glenn Harper [00:43:37]:

Well, this is true. Well, I don’t even know. You had to feel like a million bucks when you told her the line, because you can’t really grow as an owner till you have to fire somebody, because it’s such a paralyzing emotional thing for the entrepreneur owner. But once you do it, you’re like, all right, this is easy. Now I know what I need to do. And you’d rip off that Band Aid. Off you go.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:43:58]:

Well, I was lucky because she quit. I mean, after that, she was like, I’m out of here. Like, peace out, you abuse of a horrible witch of a boss. But about seven months later, I did have to fire my first person and I had to fire somebody because she was lying. She was lying to a client. She was lying to us. She would say that she did reference checks on a candidate, that she had it. She put us in legal trouble if things had gone wrong. And I called a friend of mine who is a venture capitalist who hires and fires all day long, and I was like, Dude, how do I do this? And he walked me through how to do it. First of all, he said, when you bring them in and you say to them, how do you think it’s going? The answer is usually, I think it’s going pretty badly, right? Like, they know it’s usually not a surprise if they think it’s going great, they’re just delusional, and you’re good to be rid of them. So the first time I ended up actually really for real firing somebody, he walked me through the whole thing, and I fired this guy. And then I threw up. I went to the bathroom, and I yuked. I was just so nauseated. I was so emotionally drained by this. It was horrible because he wasn’t doing well, and he knew he wasn’t doing well, which is why he was lying, to try to cover it up. And there was, like, nothing we could do to help him. And I was like, we got to part ways. You’re, like, endangering the entire company. You’re endangering their organizations, their clients, their missions. We got to go. It was hard because he knew it, and he was sad. It might have been easier if he was angry and he fought back, but it was like he it was just, like the sadness of it. And so I called my friend back, and I was like, okay, I did it. And then I puked. And he was like, welcome to the club. He’s like, you’re not a real entrepreneur until you puked it.

Glenn Harper [00:45:46]:

Well, I think to that point, it’s one of those things where you, as an entrepreneur, have to recognize and realize it’s not about you anymore. It’s about your organization, your company.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:46:00]:

He made a bad decision when he was lying to our clients. If we had placed CEOs and executive directors, c suite people in these nonprofits, these universities, these foundations, who had criminal records or who were incompetent, those were front page news stories for these organizations. It would damage the organization. It would ruin their fundraising. It would eviscerate their board. There’d be legal action. Like, the very people who are being helped by these organizations would lose a lifeline. It’s not just, oh, sorry, our stock only went up 5% and not 6%. That matters also. But we took this work very seriously because there were literally lives at stake if we did the work wrong. And so I knew that I had not just a fiduciary responsibility to my company, but also I had just a moral responsibility to the planet.

Glenn Harper [00:46:52]:

Well, but see most entrepreneurs, you were able to see that clarity that this has to happen. Most entrepreneurs, they think it’s about them, and they can’t do that because they still think it’s about them. It’s not about the company. If the company doesn’t exist, nobody exists. And we have to change that mindset as an entrepreneur that it’s not what’s best for Glenn, it’s not what’s best for Julie, it’s not what’s best for Laura. It’s what’s best for the company that we’re part of. And if you’re not helping, you’re hurting, and that affects everybody and got to go, right?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:47:22]:

I mean, you owe it to all the other staff members that you have. When I ran my company, I sort of wrote a manifesto. When I started, I wrote this manifesto, and I actually wrote it on the beach in St. Martin. It was like the moment where this all sort of came. So it was sort of known in the company as a St. Martin manifesto. And it was just like, this is what we believe as a company. This is what quality means. This is why we do our work. This is why we take it seriously. This is the price of getting it wrong. We need to do it right, not because we need to do it right, because getting it wrong is a real the damage is real. And so we could point that it was very clear we also had sort of, like, quote, unquote, citizenship guidelines in our company. I would not brook the bullshit of this person selling something so that they could get a sales commission by screwing their colleague. We gave sales commissions. Like, if we did well, everybody did well. If I sold something, and then you did the work, and then they hired us for more work, you got the sales commission because it then became your relationship, because you did the good work that brought in the next work. And so we had a very specifically outlined sort of guidelines for how we operate as a culture within our company. And at the end of the year, we would get bonuses both for performance, but also citizenship. Like, how good of a citizenship were you? How much did you uphold the community? Or were you just a bystander of our community? So I always thought it was very important to make sure that we were incentivizing the right behavior inside, because the right behavior inside is part and parcel of what begets good work on the outside. And so in order to it became very clear for me, if this person wasn’t upholding our community guidelines, they got to get gone, because even if they are our best salesperson, and I had to fire our best salesperson, once again, that was a tough, tough decision to make. And this business coach helped me. He was like, look, she might be bringing in a ton of revenue, but you are losing culture, you are losing clients. You. Are losing great employees. You are losing your own sanity. Is it worth it? And again, we could be an $8 million company with her. We could be a $7 million company without her. But we were making more money because people were working harder and happier. So we had to figure that out. It was very clear she was not upholding those guidelines. And we would point to them and we’d be like, come on, let’s go. I think entrepreneurs really have to think about not just am I building this company, but what kind of a community am I building around me? And I owe it to all the people in that community to make sure that these guidelines fit. And everyone’s guidelines are going to be different, right? Like, your guidelines might be like, everybody, be a shark and kill for yourself. Fine. I got no judgment. But I think we have to decide, because then everybody knows the playbook.

Glenn Harper [00:50:17]:

It’s so hard as an entrepreneur, what goes on in our heads of what we’re responsible to and for. And again, non entrepreneur people cannot even begin to comprehend what that burden is. But we don’t share it. We don’t communicate it to our team because we don’t think they can handle it. So you got to figure out who needs to know what and how so they can somehow relate to where you’re coming from, because if not, again, you’re even more isolated. And how do you get anything done?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:50:49]:

It’s tough because, as you said, leaders are expected to talk a lot. The closer you get to the head of the table, the more you’re expected to talk. And the more expected to talk, the more you’re expected to have the answers. And I think a lot of times, entrepreneurs feel like we have to have all the answers all the time. We don’t. We are making it up as we go along. And until we say to people, I don’t know, I’m not sure. Let’s figure that out. I have a ten page Google document called how to Manage Your LGO. My name is Laura Gastnerotting. My friends call me LGO. How to manage your LGO. And this comes from my political days, right? Like, you have, like, a whole document about how you manage the principal I have in there very specifically, this is the seat I like to sit on the airplane. If the aisle seat is not available, I’ll take a window. Do not put me in the bulkhead. I don’t even want an aisle on the bulkhead. It is very clear how I want things in my calendar, how I want my time to be managed, when I will take certain pick your brain calls, what time of day. I want to make sure that those are my protected, creative blocks of time, like all of that stuff. But in there also are certain things like, don’t ever lie to me. Like, if you lie to me, I’m going to know, right? There are things like, I’ve never heard a better thing come out of anybody who’s worked for me’s mouth. Then I think I have a better idea, right? Like, don’t just come to me the problem. I’ll take the problem if that’s all you got. But if you also have a solution, even if it’s a flyer, let’s give it a try. But if you come to me and you say, laura, I know we’ve been doing it this way for all this time, and we’re going to plan for next year based on what did we do last year, and you say, I think I have a better idea. It might be amazing. It might be dare, but there’s nothing that I love hearing more that I think I have a better idea. And I think as entrepreneurs, we can’t just say, yeah, I would love for my people to do it. We have to signal that we’re open to it. We have to be actually, like, verbally open to it. Alan Malally, who saved Ford Motor Company one of the first things that he did when he got there is he got rid of all of the side load, all of the side load parts where each division met with themselves. And progress, lack of progress could be hidden. Mistakes could be hidden. People’s egos could be inflated. He brought them all into the Thunderbird Room in Detroit, the historic Thunderbird Room, and he put up all of their tasks on the wall, and he said, I’m going to give you three stickers. Green, yellow, and red. Code them. Green means everything is great. Yellow means I’m having a little trouble. And red is like danger. Will Robinson. Like, we’re having trouble here. I need help. And for the first meeting, everything was green. Next meeting, everything’s green. Third meeting, everything’s green. And he was like, we’re losing $17 billion a year. Like, everything cannot be all green. One of the executives raises his hand, is like, I have a problem. And Alan said to me I interviewed him for my most recent book, he said to me, because I was so excited. I was so excited. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to be like, yes, tell us your problem. I needed to love on him, like, overboard love on him, get his problem solved. And in the next meeting, I needed to move his chair right next to me so that everybody could see that my Ford was going to be a Ford of transparency and openness and teamwork. And wouldn’t you know, at the next meeting, that board was a sea of yellows and reds, because he had to not just say, this is what I think, as a leader. He had to signal it. He had to act on it. He had to be fully involved in making sure that everybody knew that what he said was what he meant. So that behavior wasn’t just okay, it was actually rewarded.

Julie Smith [00:54:25]:

He definitely cultivated that culture by showing that action, right. Instead of just letting it all go.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:54:31]:

I mean, lots of leaders will say, I want people to come to me with different ideas and then they don’t ever do anything when people come to them or they ignore them or they tell them they’re wrong, right. So we have to make sure that we’re doing the thing that we’re saying and that we’re going overboard. Something that surprised me so much when I ran this virtual search firm is how much over communication everybody needed. People needed so much more structure than I thought. They needed so much more communication. And this business coach said to me one day, I was like, I don’t understand. They’re all working. It’s an entrepreneurial place. Why aren’t they more entrepreneurial? Why aren’t they self starters? Why don’t they take the initiative? And he said, Lori goes, if they were entrepreneurs, they wouldn’t be working for you. They’d be doing their own thing. Just because they’re working in an entrepreneurial startup magical Mystery tour, we don’t know what’s going to happen next month kind of environment doesn’t make them entrepreneurs. They’re still getting a paycheck. You’re the entrepreneur. Don’t confuse entrepreneurship like an entrepreneurial employee. As an entrepreneur, that was a big lesson.

Glenn Harper [00:55:37]:

So one of the things we always like to talk about as we’re getting to the probably the end of this thing is how as we’re running out of time, which sucks. We could talk for days on this. This has been great. If you can look back and go, man, if I’d have just known that, then who knows what could have happened. Not judging good or bad or whatever, but just like, wow, if I could have known that little nugget sometime prior to today, how would that would have impacted your career, your businesses, your lifestyle, everything? What is that thing? You’re like, man, I wish you’d have known that. It’s not a regret thing, but just what would you wish you’d have known?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:56:15]:

Oh, yeah, I wish I would have known that we create the speed or our own hamster wheel. So when I go in and I pitch a client, the client says, great, we want to hire you. And I say, terrific, I’ll have a proposal on your desk or I’ll have a contract on your desk by the afternoon. I’ve now created an expectation. If I say, fantastic, we’ll have a contract on your desk tomorrow morning, that’s a different expectation. Fantastic, I’ll get you a contract by the end of the week. We’re so looking forward to working with you. They’re not going to say, oh, the end of the week, no thank you, it’s done. But what I was doing was I was speeding up the treadmill, the hamster wheel for no reason other than the fact that I felt like I had to continue to overperform over perform, over perform even when the deal was done. And once I did that, I’ll get you the contract this afternoon, that meant every single other interaction with the client. They were expecting the same speed of response, which I wanted to do, but if I said, I’ll get it to you by the end of the week, and then I got to them by the afternoon, they were thrilled. I’d overperformed. I realized that I was the one, because I felt like I had to keep showing up in this over delivery way that I was speeding up the treadmill unnecessarily. And once I started slowing it down a little bit and realizing that it didn’t actually make any difference and nobody cared. And by the way, the contract that you get to them by the afternoon, they don’t sign till the end of the week anyway. That was so liberating.

Glenn Harper [00:57:36]:

It’s like that under promise and over deliver. It seems to work most of the time.

Julie Smith [00:57:43]:

Well, and I think once you, as the leader, decide that that’s your speed that gives I don’t want to say grace to your whole team as that this is how we handle it. This is the expectation we set. It’s okay to communicate it. It doesn’t mean it’s this 24 hours, turnaround driven society.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:58:00]:

It’s okay.

Julie Smith [00:58:01]:

And I think once you give that grace and you’ve decided to implement that, your team is like, yes, okay, we can perform at this level. Like, yes, and you can watch a team just totally take that down. So I give you so much kudos for that.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:58:14]:

Yeah, well, and look, I mean, the speed of business is fast. Like, we need to return the calls. We need to like, you got to go. You’ve got to go quickly. But once the deal is done, we don’t have to keep speeding up. You could stay at the speed you’ve been at. And what that allowed my team to do was actually write the better contract, make sure we didn’t have some other client’s name and the thing to copy and paste and the template that we had again. Right. So it allowed us to make fewer mistakes. So we were still fast. We just weren’t unnecessarily speeding up every single time. Faster, faster, faster, faster, faster.

Julie Smith [00:58:47]:

So we have one trick question that we love to ask at the end.

Laura Gassner Otting [00:58:51]:


Julie Smith [00:58:52]:

What is your end game?

Laura Gassner Otting [00:58:55]:

What is my end game? Yeah. It’s interesting. I was asked this question yesterday, not this question, but I was asked a question about whether or not I’m tying my success to outcomes like Wall Street Journal best selling author. Are you happy? Because of and what I said was my end game is that I want to build a platform and a followership as an author and as a speaker and as a coach where if I on my massive social media or media platform. Say I care about this issue. Donate money to this cause or go vote or get off your ass and go do this thing. I want to be able to move people. I want to have enough people that listen to me that I can influence, that I can move people to do something that I think helps the world as a better place. And The Wall Street Journal bestselling author from my last book that just came out isn’t my goal. That’s not my end game. That was the end game for book launch, but it was a micro goal that gets me to a place where if I have that, then I could build more of the thing I want to get to so that eventually I can have the followership that allows me to create movements.

Julie Smith [01:00:00]:

And so I love your answer because the trick is there’s no end game. Usually your endgame was the book for a moment in time, right? And that just defines that moment in time. But it’s going to continue to process. And I know that no one can see her hand movements as you’re listening, but it was in an upward motion, rolling upward motion, and so it depicted the answer perfectly.

Laura Gassner Otting [01:00:23]:

Again, well, we didn’t even talk about my book, actually, which is called Wonder Hell. And I would encourage your listeners to go check out my talk that’s on It’s got like a million and a half views already. It’s on Wonder Hell, and it’s why success doesn’t equal happiness. And it’s because on the other side of this, WonderHill is just the next one and the next one and the next one. So it’s all like the trick question is Wonder Hell. So, yeah, welcome to WonderHill. Perfect.

Julie Smith [01:00:46]:

And we’ll put that in the show notes so everyone can go find it.

Glenn Harper [01:00:49]:

Well, Laura, it was an absolute joy talking. I could have talked to you for another six months on this. We’re having a hood here. I really appreciate you being on the.

Julie Smith [01:00:56]:

Show, but can you give our listeners a plug as to where they could find you? Obviously, we’ll note the book in the show notes as well.

Laura Gassner Otting [01:01:05]:

Yeah. So as I mentioned, my name is Laura Gasner Otting. The book is WonderHill why success doesn’t feel like it should and what to do about it. All my good friends call me LGO. So you can find me on all the social that, hey LGO. And if you want to check out the book, it’s at There’s even a fun little quiz there. If you want to figure out sort of where you are stuck and how to get unstuck, the quiz is the thing you should take.

Glenn Harper [01:01:30]:

Awesome. Well, thanks again for being with us, Julian. Another great show.

Julie Smith [01:01:34]:

Yes, thank you. You were a fabulous guest and I’m sure there was many nuggets that our listeners could take and learn from and.

Glenn Harper [01:01:40]:

Be able to pivot the billions of listeners on this podcast are going to be impactful. It’s going to be awesome. Thanks again. We’ll see you later.

Julie Smith [01:01:48]:

Thank you.

Laura Gassner Otting [01:01:48]:

Thank you. Bye.

Episode Show Notes

WSJ Best Selling Author of Wonderhell. Motivator. Instigator. Provocateur. As she says, “I get people unstuck.”

Laura Gassner Otting spent two decades working in executive search, where she discovered an important truth – people only move for two reasons: love or money. Whether it’s the love of someone or the potential for financial gain, these are the driving forces behind relocation. And it was no different for Laura when she made a life-changing decision based on both love and money. Lured by an opportunity and with her partner having a job, Laura made a bold move towards a new chapter in her life.

In this episode, Laura dives deep into her journey as an entrepreneur, sharing valuable lessons and insights that every business owner should hear. Here are three key takeaways to get you inspired:

  1. Envision Your Ideal Life: Laura reminds us of the importance of envisioning the lifestyle we want and creating a business that supports it. By determining the cost of our desired lifestyle, we can reevaluate our business size and prioritize our goals accordingly.
  2. Building a Purpose-Driven Culture: Laura’s “St. Martin manifesto” emphasizes the need for clear guidelines and values that dictate company culture. By incentivizing the right behavior and nurturing a supportive community, entrepreneurs can create a happier and more productive work environment.
  3. Leveraging Strategic Thinking: As entrepreneurs, we must identify the highest and best use of our time. Delegating tasks and empowering our team to suggest solutions allows us to focus on strategic thinking and growth, ultimately driving long-term success.

You may also be interested in