Henry Ford once said: “I am not the smartest, but I surround myself with competent people.”
This is a long article — over 4,500 words. It’s an updated version of something I wrote a few months ago. And it’s worth the investment of your time to read this, if you are ready to take your business to the next level of success with a team of extraordinary high-performers (or even if you’re just ready to hire your first high-performer):
My imagination was sparked when I read the words of Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, in THE ORGANIZED MIND: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload…
You see, he wrote that “highly successful persons” – from rock stars to Fortune 500 CEOs – tend to have remarkable organizational systems. “They have many of the daily distractions of life handled for them,” so they can “devote all of their attention to whatever is immediately before them. They seem to live completely in the moment.”
And that sounded simply incredible.
But I’m not a rock star or a Fortune 500 CEO and even though I’ve been practicing surrounding myself by extraordinary people for a while now, what I wanted to create next seemed truly outrageous.
I want an Epic Personal Assistant. Someone who allows me to live like a ‘Rock Star’. And I speak as a dad in the thick of parenting a one year old and a three year old!
Intuitively I got that it won’t be by waiting until I – hopefully, one far off day – when I finally arrive at the highest levels of success that I’ll hire an epic PA. It is by hiring one now that I’ll take my life and my business to epic levels.
So I want to share some insights from my journey.
1. MAKE A COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE. NOTHING LESS.
Almost 3 years ago I hired the first member of my team to help design the layout of my book.
I found out that I’d met a real Visionary. And we set out on a mission to create a book as high quality as a New York Times bestseller.
The publisher got more and more frustrated with us as we pushed back deadline after deadline so that we could ensure every tiny detail was world-class.
I know we did a great job because we’ve sold thousands and thousands of copies without any marketing at all. All of our marketing for the book has been by word of mouth.
And I have a team member even more committed to excellence than I am, helping me set the bar that high.
2. CRAFT A HUGE VISION. THEN STEP OUT OF THE WAY.
I had a secret and outrageous goal for this book – that it would be million dollar book. Not that I’d sell a million copies – the book is aimed at a particular field only. But that it would create the relationships and the clients that would lead to a million dollars of business.
It did that in less than eighteen months.
And I saw something special in my first team member so that after the book was complete, I asked her if she’d stay on and be my Director of Creativity.
I had no clue what this would involve but it was so great to have someone even more creative than me on the team that I wasn’t ready to let her go!
Plus, I figured that this was a freelance role and that she’d either create something extraordinary and build more and more success and opportunities for herself, or the job would fade away.
It was the former, and over the next two years, she brought her creativity into everything from helping me to plan, fill and run 100 people events, to designing materials for my high-performing clients, to setting up back end tech systems to support the business as it’s grown. I even paid for her to fly to London with me, where almost single-handed she helped me put on two extraordinary events!
3. HIDE NOTHING. HOLD NOTHING BACK
That’s the name of the ‘honesty policy’ I have for everyone who works for me.
I make it my practice to tell everyone who works for me that once I’ve hired them that their job is not to impress me or to say yes to me.
They’ve already impressed me – that’s why I hired them. And why would I want to surround myself with a bunch of yes people?
So I encourage them to take risks, to make mistakes, to take action and seek permission, later. I encourage them to challenge me, too.
One of my team members once wrote me a letter that was so powerful and edgy and scary for her to write that it moved her to tears as she wrote it. She was recommending that I pull out of a business opportunity that was making me thousands of dollars a year because she didn’t think it fit with the integrity of my brand.
I sent her a gift to thank her for such honesty and I shared her letter with hundreds of people in my community to publicly acknowledge her.
She’s pushed me to raise my rates, set the bar higher than I’d dreamed for ideal clients and consistently held for the highest quality in everything we produce.
4. PROACTIVE VS REACTIVE.
I’ve hired Virtual Assistants over the years and never been able to put my finger on what frustrated me about them.
Until I met Sarah Neumann, that is.
Sarah called herself an Online Business Manager. And as I spoke to her for the first time, she helped me understand a distinction that shifted everything for me.
I finally understood my frustration over the years with even the best virtual assistants – they were task-oriented, reactive and needed a great deal of guidance and hand-holding. They got the job done. So what was I missing?
I found my answer as I discovered what Sarah brought to the table – an ability to anticipate my future needs whilst still handling every task to the letter, being proactive rather than reactive and needing minimal guidance and no hand-holding whatsoever.
I hired Sarah almost immediately as my Director of Client Astonishment (I have a strong preference for word of mouth marketing – far more important to me than “trying to get the word out” is ASTONISHING your current customers and clients).
And Sarah astonished me, in return.
After an event I ran, she created a 75 point checklist that she’d turn into a spreadsheet to ensure every detail was handled at every future event.
She created a task management system for the team that had every task tracked and every detail handled. Nothing was missed any longer.
I had her lock me out of my own email account (kick me out was more like it!). But now she handles all incoming inquiries and I only get to see the ones that truly need my personal attention.
And I meet her by phone every day – which is more for her to help me stay on top of things than the other way around!
5. PUT YOUR DEEPEST VALUES FIRST. ALWAYS.
I hold a team meeting by phone each week. And we begin every meeting by checking in with something fun we’ve each done that week.
You see, I have 3 top values: FAMILY, FREEDOM & FUN. And I know that if I don’t put them front and center, week after week, I can go off track.
A few months back, we’d just pulled off our biggest event yet and we’d run straight into launching a new program. So without noticing, we dived straight into logistics at the start of the meeting. Fifteen minutes in, I caught it. And I stopped the meeting.
Despite a desire to handle every pressing issue, I had us each share a story of something fun we’d done that week. I reminded the team that we’re here to live a fun life and that has to start here, not be fitted in around the edges.
6. INVEST IN THE VERY BEST.
Two years ago I hired as my coach an extraordinary man who charges $150,000 a year, you have to pay him in advance, up front, and there are no refunds.
Oh, and I had to fly to Phoenix, AZ every two weeks for my coaching sessions.
Last year I hired as my coach a man who was 23 – far younger than me.
He told me he’s a Productivity Coach. But I told him I didn’t want to be more productive. I’m already one of the most productive people you’ll ever meet. Instead, I wanted his help to be more CREATIVE.
So I called him my Creativity Coach. He helped me slow down and practice ‘Less. But Better”. I now even have an ‘Avoid At All Costs’ list.
This year I have a business coach who’s helped me craft a vision that inspires me more than anything else in my life. We’re mobilizing $100Million dollars for Charity through my connections. We’ve already raised the funds to build three schools in Africa and I’ve created 4PC — the Four Percent Club — a mastermind of the top 4% of coaches on the planet.
7. HIRE ONLY EXTRAORDINARY TEAM MEMBERS
This one has been a steep learning curve for me, I won’t deny.
a) NOTHING BEATS A GREAT REFERRAL:
I hired my last three coaches based on referrals. I hired team members, bookkeepers, accountants and lawyers based on referrals from close friends and colleagues I know and trust.
b) ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. PRECISELY. BE BOLD IN YOUR REQUESTS. DON’T ACCEPT ANYTHING LESS.
I crafted an ad for a personal assistant that I put on craigslist. I thought I’d been really clever and asked for what I really want.
Initially, I was really proud of my first ad for an assistant. But it didn’t work and I learned a lot from it.
c) DON’T BE AFRAID TO READJUST:
I was far too task-focused in my initial advert. I didn’t stress enough the highest values that I’m looking for in this role.
I hired a woman who impressed me by responding to almost every paragraph of this ad. I was so excited to start with her that I didn’t really test her out.
And within days, I discovered that I was feeling more stressed now that I had an assistant than before. It took a few more days to catch what was happening.
She was trying to ‘please’ me. Instead of watching and trying to anticipate my needs, she’d text me in the morning and say, “How can I support you today?”
Sounds great but it actually felt like the very person who was there to support me was now just putting another task on my plate.
So I crafted a document to help her understand how to be more proactive, with several specific examples:
HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF HOW YOU CAN BE MORE PROACTIVE:
• I’m going to deliver the food today. I need access to your kitchen for 30 minutes and I need to meet you for 10 mins to explain everything to you. I see from your calendar you have some time at 9.30am and 4pm. Which would be best?
• Your office must need tidying after the decorator finished. I’d like to come along tomorrow. I can be there at 8.30am. Please leave the office unlocked.
• I’d like to order an office chair for you. It’s $600 on Amazon. Here’s the link. May I purchase? It’s $12 extra for next day delivery. I suggest we do that to get you comfortable as soon as possible. Let me know.
• On Thursday afternoon, there’s nothing on your calendar after 3pm. What if you block out 2 hours to go for a walk on the beach or Runyon canyon. Creativity time. Would you like me to put it on your calendar?
• I see you are flying to London in February. Would you like me to reschedule your appointments or to move the appointments to the correct time zone?
And then I had a call with my coach who said, simply, “A HIGH-PERFORMER WOULDN’T NEED THIS. THEY’D ALREADY BE DOING THIS.”
He was right. I just knew it.
And came across a line by a friend of mine, Dr. Mark Goulston (he’s a psychologist who used to be an FBI hostage negotiator and the author of the book, Just Listen):
“Often the greatest regret after you fire someone is that you didn’t do it earlier — sometimes it’s just better to fire sooner than later.”
And I let her go the next day.
And then I tried again. And I really went for it:
d) ASK FOR THE OUTRAGEOUS. YOU JUST MIGHT GET IT.
Here’s the text of my second advert:
You are not an ordinary person. This is not an ordinary job.
You are a high performer with a yearning to perform at the highest of levels. And a track record of doing so. I’m a success coach to world leaders, a husband and a dad.
This is not an ordinary job. But that’s perfect because you are not an ordinary person.
Start by reading my Letter to You — dated January 20th, 2016 (A year from now)
MY LETTER TO YOU
January 20th, 2016
I hired YOU as my kick ass Personal Assistant a year ago, and it was the best thing I ever did.
You talk through my priorities with me on a daily basis, and you help me batch them into actionable chunks. I need to talk things through out loud in order to make sense of them.
You handle most of the daily distractions of life for me and allow me to devote all of my attention to whatever is immediately before me.
I seem to live completely in the moment.
You handle correspondence, organize my calendar, make appointments, alter appointments when something more important comes up, and help to plan my days for maximum efficiency (including naps!).
You helped me create an office space and a home that I love.
You keep me off social media by scheduling my facebook posts and you help me handle email so that I can focus mainly on being creative and big picture thinking.
My bills are paid on time, my car is serviced when required, I’m given reminders of projects due and great gifts are sent to my clients and even loved ones on birthdays and anniversaries.
Date nights, family time, vacations, workouts and travel are all organized for me.
My work is handled so efficiently that I have more quality time than ever before for my relationship with my wife and my two little boys.
And I am so effective when I do work that my business has achieved success at a level beyond what I could have imagined a year ago.
Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.”
YOU help me to say NO to almost everything–which gives me the time to accomplish so much and have a life dedicated to my three top values of FUN, FAMILY and FREEDOM.
Now here’s the ‘Job Description’
THE MAIN COMPONENTS OF THE WORK ARE:
1. HELPING TO ORGANIZE ‘ME’.
This is the KEY element of your role.
I like to talk through my priorities on a daily basis and it helps me to be able to batch them into actionable chunks. I need to talk things through out loud in order to make sense of them.
* PARADOX #1: I’m not looking for someone to hold me ‘accountable’. (You don’t need to be my mother or my nanny–that would not serve either of us).
I do want someone to help me to do what I say I’ll do.
* PARADOX #2: I’m not looking for help to be more ‘productive’. I’m already more productive than most people. I have an extremely successful business. I’m in a committed marriage. I’m a dad to two lovely boys (3 yrs and 1yr). I take 2-3 months off a year and I only speak to my clients 3 days a week and 3 weeks a month.
I do want support to be more CREATIVE.
For example, I’ve had my executive assistant ‘lock’ me out of email so that she can handle all the basic inquiries. By the end of this year I want to be locked out of facebook, other than for one or two afternoons a week.
I’m looking for you to help me talk through my priorities on a daily/weekly basis.
* PARADOX #3: I am extremely good at helping my high-performing clients take more time for vacations, time-out and things that nurture their spirit.
I’m not so good at this for myself.
I want you to help me schedule massages, walks in nature, runs, date nights, time with friends, calling people I love and having healthy meals ready for me each day.
Basically I want you to help me do the things that nurture my spirit. Because this more than anything else will help me create an extraordinary business, relationship and family.
THE 80:20 RULE
Your mission is to help me to focus on the 20% of activities that only I can do–the 20% of activities that generate 80% of the results–so that you or someone on my team can handle everything else.
2. OTHER TASKS INCLUDE:
• Helping me create an office space that I love to be in.
• Ensuring I eat healthy food–especially lunches as I tend to work through without taking care of my own needs. Ensuring I work out–from scheduling appointments with my trainer to driving me to and from Runyon Canyon for a quick hike. This is extremely important for me and my health.
• Scheduling regular doctor, dentist, optometrist appointments.
• Booking flights, rental cars, travel, etc for me and my family. We travel a lot and I need you to be able to look at my calendar, anticipate my needs and say something like this–BEFORE I even ask: “You’re going to London in August, here is a list of flights with dates/prices; here’s a list of possible accommodations; here’s some fun trips you could go on. . .”
• Some errands, including mailing packages, returning parcels to amazon, etc.
3. KEY QUALITIES
You are a High Performer, committed to your personal and professional growth. These are the qualities I am looking for in my Kick-Ass Personal Assistant:
ANTICIPATION — you watch for what I do consistently enough that you can get a good idea of what I will need or ask for–before I need or ask for it. This is an extremely valuable skill to master.
PROACTIVE — you scan and think ahead to prepare for what may be needed down the road, from trips to England twice a year, to events I am running, to weekly date nights, vacations and even my naps and daily workouts.
SYSTEMS — you help create systems to ensure that I am focused and organized and know what to do in each and every moment. Eg. A daily morning and evening check-in.
CREATIVITY — you don’t need to wait for instructions. You use your creativity to support me in everything from research to client astonishment to planning gifts for my loved ones.
AGREEMENTS vs EXPECTATIONS — I live in a world of agreements. I create clear agreements in my world and if I notice I have an unmet expectation about our coaching I understand that it is time to create a clear agreement.
INTEGRITY — You are impeccable with your word. Which means you keep your word or you clean up where you haven’t kept my word.
YOU DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY — Let’s discuss something immediately if you have a concern. Don’t let things simmer.
YOU DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS — You have the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with me as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. You are clear about what you want or do not want.
YOU ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST — Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. But under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. Doing your best means enjoying the action without expecting a reward. The pleasure comes from doing what you love to the best of your ability. Have patience with yourself. Take action. Practice forgiveness.
CONFIDENTIALITY — I expect and require complete confidentiality. No posts on social media about this role. No photos to be taken or posted online of my home, office, me or my family.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT — I am a believer in ongoing Professional Development and I’ll do my best to support you in this. My goal is to support you in becoming EXTRAORDINARY in what you do.
I WANT TO BE ABLE TO RELY ON YOU. . .
a) IMPORTANT vs URGENT
The most important role that you have is to set aside specific blocks of time for me in my calendar–creative writing, planning, for lunch breaks, naps, workouts, dental/optical/medical appointments, date nights, vacations, etc.
This bears repeating: Your mission is to help me to focus on the 20% of activities that only I can do—the 20% of activities that generate 80% of the results–so that you or someone on my team can handle everything else.
b) SOMETIMES THERE’S THE URGENT STUFF, TOO
My ability to meet deadlines while producing high quality work will be a defining factor in your success. I like to be reminded of pending deadlines and meetings I have to attend. I want to be advised of any urgent email requiring a response. I want to rely on you to keep me on track–to allow me to focus on the other responsibilities of my work.
I no longer have time to schedule/reschedule meetings in my calendar. This is now your role. You’ll need to liaise with my team members, as well as my personal clients.
d) DETAIL ORIENTED vs BIG PICTURE
I am a big picture person, so I require you to have a highly tuned attention to detail. To achieve the best results as a team, I need you to do much of the more detailed work for me on a regular basis.
e) DAILY CATCH UPS
At the end of the day (to get ready for the next day) we’ll discuss the day’s priorities–so that I am ready to begin the day knowing precisely what I need to do. These meetings will also ensure that my priorities and your priorities are aligned.
f) A YEARNING TO BE CHALLENGED
I am looking for someone who yearns to be challenged and desires to add value to the partnership. Whilst I’ll have an idea of how to support you in this, I’ll also look to you to let me know when you want and need more.
At the same time, I don’t want you to have an overflowing to do list or be working late every night. Let’s discuss immediately if there are any workload issues.
g) YOU LIVE IN OR CLOSE TO SANTA MONICA, CA
I need to be able to rely on you when I need you. (I don’t work on an urgency basis – so I don’t mean calls late at night and rarely on weekends). Sometimes you’ll work from my home office. Sometimes you’ll work from your home. Sometimes you’ll just be available when I need you.
h) TEAM WORK
Working well as a team will be the key to a fulfilling and productive working relationship for the two of us.
YOUR NEXT STEP:
Send me a message.
MY INSIGHTS: I knew this ad hit home because I had over 60 responses.
A few really poor ones—like the person who clearly hadn’t read a word I’d written and who started their message to me, “Dear hiring manager…”
Three people who seemed really angry and wrote something asking the lines, “Working for you would be a nightmare!”
(I have a sense that when you’re willing to really ask for – and really go for – what you truly want in life, it’s going to trigger some people because it’s a reminder that there’s nothing stopping them either…)
About 40 average replies where I could really see that people ‘needed’ me more than I needed them. Starting an email with “This is my dream job…” was a real turn off for me.
And then there was one that stood out because she so clearly did NOT ‘need’ me.
This woman was older than me. She runs three businesses, including two that bring in over a million dollars a year. But she’s bored. And as she’s able to run these businesses with just a little attention a week she was craving something more.
e) THE POWER OF QUESTIONS. *THEIR* QUESTIONS.
Based on an article about the consulting firm, IDEO, instead of interviewing her and asking a bunch of questions, I emailed her this:
“Will you please take the time to look at my websites. Google me. Look me up on facebook. And then send me 10 questions.
Challenge my thinking. Ask about what you see and that I don’t. Hold nothing back.”
She sent back a dozen powerful questions that had me really pause and reflect.
Here’s what she wrote that I loved the most, “I should tell you what I would like in my next career path. I’d like it not to feel like a job. I make very good money but I’m over it and searching for something else. I’ll know what that something is when I meet it.”
When we met in person, later that week, we had a powerful conversation and she had a score more questions for me.
And that was it. I was in.
And so was she.
EPILOGUE: DON’T CALL ME…
“Very successful people are absurdly selective.” – Greg McKeown
I’d love to end this post by saying email or call and ask me any questions you like about creating an extraordinary team.
But I now have my new EA (Epic Assistant) working with me…
And I’ve told her that me spending too much time on email and facebook has to move to my Avoid At All Costs list so I can create a life and a business that makes an even bigger impact… 😉
In her first few weeks she’s already been worth her weight in gold by helping me do the things I struggle to do, from hiring a new accountant and attorney, to booking my travel, to creating a calendar of ideas and events that runs all the way to 2017, to scheduling my personal training sessions, to helping me with my taxes and organizing my home office.
Recovering from a recent illness, a friend of hers asked, Why are you still working for that guy, Rich?
She responded with the words of my big vision: “Because he’s mobilizing $100Million dollars for Charity through his connections. And that’s a mission I want to be part of.”