Brad Szollose is the foremost expert on cross-generational leadership development strategies and the award-winning author of Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia. Brad is a former C-level executive of a publicly traded company that he co-founded which went from entrepreneurial start-up to IPO in less than three years.
What was your childhood like? Any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
My father was the first generation of Hungarian immigrants born here in the United States. So that meant my father was rough on me. He was also very disciplined having achieved a bachelors degree in chemistry and a doctorate in chiropractic medicine.
I was the opposite of dad. I was artistic. So, he tried his best to get me to be disciplined as well. He obviously succeeded because it has helped me immensely throughout my life.
On top of that, my entire family were entrepreneurs. My grandparents owned a restaurant, my mother had a hair salon, and my father was a chiropractor who also owned a successful accounting firm. So, when I tell people I started my first business at 16, those who know me, are not surprised.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I broke my ankle my senior year of high school, right in the middle of band camp. It sounds funny now, but I had to sit out most of my senior year as captain of my drum line and almost missed playing the solo at state championships.
That bit of humble pie forced me to question how my thoughts may have affected my reality. I had been with a group of guys who were bragging about different bones they had broken in their life. I bragged about never breaking a single bone in my body.
Ten minutes later I broke my ankle. Once I figured out that our thoughts create our reality, and that our belief in ourselves creates limitations, I started to think bigger and go for things just because I started to believe in myself.
I’ve started 8 companies with that thinking. One of which I took public on NASDAQ in an IPO.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I work with companies to create a peak-performing workforce culture by design, and that requires a deep understanding of what each generation expects from a company and their own personal work-life balance. I remind them that what motivates a Baby Boomer will not motivate a Millennial.
At the end of a full day workshop, when someone asks me “why do we need to accommodate Millennial thinking into our organization,” I realize they just don’t “get it.” The power of any organization is found within their people. Your job is to unlock it.
Now, somethings in business are never going to change, ever,…but we live in a day and age where speed is paramount to success. John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco flattened his organization to accommodate this need for speed, trusting that his workforce knew what they were doing. If he understands WHY an organization like Cisco needs to be flatter, shouldn’t you?
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Slow down. Success will come. Find a mentor. Get a haircut.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I never do anything halfway. I am either 100% in, or not at all. And I didn’t know I was like this until my wife Norma pointed it out while we were dating. She actually stated while I was in the middle of a project: “You put your heart and soul into everything you do.”
And my response was simple…”I don’t know any other way.”
What is your morning routine?
I don’t have a set morning routine but a have some habits I stick to. One of which is to program myself to awaken on my own without an alarm clock. I almost always awaken 5 minutes before I need to get up. I wake up at the same time on weekends. For an entrepreneur, weekends do not really exist.
Second, I meditate. When I am writing a new book or working on a project, I program myself before I go to bed to work on the project while I sleep. It took me years to learn how to do this, but it works.
After programming myself, upon awakening in the morning to meditate, suddenly all this content flows out of me. I make sure I have a pen and a notebook handy, because once it starts, I can fill 6 pages worth of notes.
As a matter of fact, I wrote 90% of Liquid Leadership this way. It’s won several intentional business awards and was published in S.Korea and India, been reviewed in the HinduBusinessLine, and is proudly displayed in libraries as far east as New Zealand, and Japan…so I would have to say, my technique works.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I started training in the mixed martial art of Kempo Jujitsu at the age of 45. I trained 3x a week religiously with my nephew as one of my teachers. I did this for 7 years. During that time period, I broke three ribs (two in tournament competitions), a broken toe, broken knuckle, multiple bruises, sprained ankle, and even volunteered to be knocked out once by my sensei.
I finally earned my black belt in five and a half years culminating in a four-hour test 2 weeks before my 51st birthday.
It shifted my health, improved my body and gave me mental clarity like no other. 10 belt tests through the years taught me that mind, body and spirit are ONE. And that the only competition is inside my head.
It also made me realize that anything was possible.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I take a break. Spend time with my wife, Norma. Meditate. Go to the movies or a walk in the woods. I also call my best friend of 40 years for his perspective on the matter. Anything to shift my perspective.
What’s a book(s) that have influenced your life the most? Why?
- The Pursuit of Wow by Tom Peters – This was the book I handed to every employee on their first day of work. It set the tone for what we expected from everyone. I don’t expect mediocrity and neither should you, and the Pursuit of Wow shows you the way.
- Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson – Today’s work is not always something that fits neatly into a 5-year business plan. Sometimes it’s “We need to create software that solves this problem” and then build it over the weekend. Rework proves just that while breaking the mold of the traditional business book as well.
- The Way of The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman – This is the true story of gold medalist Dan Millman who was on the path to a world gymnastics title when he was derailed by a career-ending motorcycle accident. He puts the pieces of his life back together through a stranger nicknamed Socrates who helps Dan awaken the spiritual side and the true warrior within.
- The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger – When chat rooms where first introduced, the interaction was angry and in your face. Outsiders where not welcome. The authors point out that where there is a conversation there is a fire. And when corporations try to market to people on the Internet, instilling themselves into the conversation, a.k.a. marketing, it is seen as arson. This book has been reprinted for it’s 10th anniversary. A must-read for those who want to read mind-blowing content.
- Adversaries Into Allies by Bob Burg – Bob is not only a colleague and a friend, he wrote a book that gets you to flip that competitive paradigm we’ve all been trained to follow and turn those adversaries into allies. A powerful idea whose time has come.
- Outwitting The Devil by Napoleon Hill – This starts where Thing and Grow Rich ends. This book was suppressed for over 75 years and for good reason; it dares to question everything society stands on and the beliefs of the common man. In the first couple of chapters of Outwitting The Devil, Napoleon Hill bears his life; from being broke to being on the run from organized crime, to building his self-help empire. Hill uses a writer’s trick, pretending to bind the Devil and cross examine him like a lawyer would during a trial. THIS IS A MUST READ for Napoleon Hill fans.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
- “My presence speaks volumes before I say a word.” — Mos Def
- “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso
- “You See things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’” – George Bernard Shaw