Our guest on this week’s episode is a PhD economist, certified speaking professional, retired US Navy Commander, internationally known leadership expert, and CEO of Productive Leaders. Mary Kelly has been helping companies and individuals in the fields of productivity, communication, profit growth, and leadership development since 1998. She is the author of 11 books combining the theory and practice of business and has been quoted in hundreds of periodicals like Forbes, Money Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal.

Mary works with companies to improve profit during times of crisis, challenge, and change and she joins us to share her deep understanding of economic strategy and lessons for leaders in all sorts of situations. The pandemic has shown a spotlight on the cracks in many businesses; leaders have to be better now. Through the lens of an economist and former naval officer, she sees things differently, including:

  • Why we need to flip the leadership pyramid
  • How to PIVOT into greater success and profit
  • Why veterans make great hires
  • And more

Her style is informative and entertaining, so listen in for the business and leadership advice and stick around for the orphaned kitten story, lessons from our pets, and why the Beatles got it wrong. Don’t miss it!

Mentioned in this episode:


Voiceover: You’re listening to the Conversational Selling podcast with Nancy Calabrese.

Nancy Calabrese: Hi, it’s Nancy Calabrese. And it’s time for Conversational Selling, the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today, and it always starts with the human conversation. Joining us today is Mary Kelly, CEO of Productive Leaders. She is a PhD, a certified speaking professional and commander, US Navy retired. 

Mary is an internationally known economist and leadership expert, specializing in the fields of leadership, productivity, communication and business profit growth, and has been doing virtual leadership development and business training since 1998. She has been quoted in hundreds of periodicals such as Forbes, Money Magazine, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, and more. And she is also the author of 11 books, and I’m sure soon to be more. A former University business and economics professor, Mary combines theory and practicality. Wow, we are in for one fascinating conversation, folks. Welcome to the show, Mary.

Mary Kelly: Nancy, thank you so much for having me with you today, I am excited to share some things with your audience that they can use right away to make their lives a little bit easier, reduce some stress, and help them have better sales.

Nancy: Love it. And you know, before I jump into it, I just want to congratulate you on being awarded one of the top 50 keynote speakers from Top Sales World in 2020. What a great honor. How do you feel?

Mary: Oh, Nancy, this was such an amazing year to be named as one of the top 50. And you know, some of the other people who are in that category, you know, Meredith Elliot Powell and Mark Hunter and Sam Richter, and just amazing people on this list. Colleen Stanley, just amazing people. And then I got to be on it. I was I couldn’t believe it. It was such an honor.

Nancy: Yeah, but I would say why not? Why not Mary Kelly? You guys know what I’m talking about by the end of our program. So let me start by asking how leadership ability has been impacted in the past year with COVID.

Mary: Leaders have to be better. Now. That’s the reality that before this, we had this 10 year period of economic growth, you know, my PhD is in economics. So I look at that. But we had this great 10 year period where it frankly, wasn’t that hard to do pretty well, in business by pretty well, it was okay, it was fine, it was good. And all of a sudden, when COVID hit, leaders had to step it up and be better, because it took it was like a big ol spotlight, putting right on our business. And it showed the cracks in the foundation. 

And if we as leaders didn’t fix those cracks, it threatened to destroy our entire business. So as leaders, we have to step up. And what that means is you have to reassure your people, you have to be a better communicator, you have to have a better strategic plan, you have to be looking at your HR department, like a funnel like you do with your sales funnel for talent. And you got to be looking to what you need to be doing now to respond to the needs of the market now.

Nancy: Yeah, I think it’s so true. I mean, a year ago, almost to the day, the world changed for all of us. And I think, you know, those of us that are still sat standing, yeah, we’re still standing Mary, you know, yeah, we had to make some pretty big changes in how we approach you know, the, the, the job of coaching and managing a team. You know, and I read that you believe that great leadership is an upside down pyramid. Talk to me about what that means.

Mary: It’s an upside down pyramid. And what I mean by that is, many people think that the job at the top is like a triangle, and you get to sit at the top of that triangle. And I would flip that, I would say that the triangle point is actually at the bottom, the bottom of the pyramid, and your job is to support your people so that they can help your other internal customers so that you can help your external customers so that you can be working with your partners, suppliers and customers. Your job is not to sit at the top of the heap and say, Wow, I’m doing such a great job. No, your job is to support every single person in your organization so that they can do an even better job.

Nancy: Yeah. So what are some leadership leadership strategies you would recommend to do that?

Mary: So a couple leadership strategies I like to use right right away. And you know, I love my acronyms. As an economist and a leadership expert, I tried to merge the focus of what most businesses, which is to make profit with their values, what they want to be doing in the community and their alignment. And that can be kind of a tricky thing, especially when people are feeling a sense of scarcity. And during a time of scarcity, leaders have to understand we become very myopic, we become very focused inward, it’s me, my job, my kids, my homeschooling life, my spouse, my partner, my community, very intro, looking very myopic. 

Circle the wagons protect yourself. As leaders, we have to get people out of that mindset. Most of my viewers, when we’re talking back in March, and April, my execs and they’re like, what do we do? I’m like, stop thinking about yourself, stop thinking about your family, they will be fine, you’ve got a good family, focus on how you are going to look externally, for others. You know, focusing on what your kids need, so that they can homeschool. What your customers need, so that they can be more effective. 

Stop looking at yourself, and look outward. Where are their needs in the marketplace, and then take your strategy, and pivot. And I know we’re all sick to death of that word. But I use pivot as an acronym, we’ll get into that. We’ve got to look externally. The first four stages of any crisis challenge or change or how it affects me, me, me, but the last two stages, five and six is all about how we help and serve others. And that has been a huge leadership shift for many people.

Nancy: Yeah, you you combine productivity, and developing leadership skills, and you make them attainable and entertaining. So the one word that jumped out to me was entertaining. Talk to me more about it. How do you how do you make it so so that we know what we have to do, but we enjoy doing it as we’re going along?

Mary: It’s so funny. You know, I taught school, I was a professor for over 30 years. And my students would walk in and my and I would have a different question every day, hey, what’s on your mind? What are you think about? And they would tell me, you know, we’re thinking about, you know, there’s a game this weekend or this, that whatever. And I was teaching economics and leadership. And I would say, so what do you think the leadership challenge is, you know, what do you think if you’re the football coach, you know, what do you think about this week, so the first 20 minutes of class would just be me getting them to talk about what was important to them. And then at the end of class, they’re like, well, that was such a fun class. I’m like, tricked into learning. 

And they’re like, what, and the last one isn’t like, we just covered this concept, and this concept, and this concept, and this concept. And there’re like, hey, you tricked us into learning by making it fun. I think that’s where a lot of training fails. Is we give people just this standard road workbook, things that I was taught, you know, in first grade and Catholic schools, and it was just repetitive and boring. And I think, I think development and training and learning needs to be fun. If we bring the fun back into what it is we get to do, then that translates into our workplace and what it is we get to do? Is that what we have to do for work, it’s what we get to do for work.

Nancy: Yeah, what an awesome idea. And frankly, I’ve never thought of it that way. So what you were saying is you get your people to address what you want them to learn in a conversational way. Is that correct? That they talk about their own personal interests? But that is a correlation to you’ve just learned this, this and this and this? Is that what I’m hearing?

Mary: Yes, it’s exactly your conversational method. It’s hey, you know what’s going on with this? And you know, and and tell me a little bit more about this. And, you know, what are you looking forward to, and just having a conversation with people so that you know, what’s important to them, and then you can serve them better.

Nancy: Awesome. I love it. I love it. Okay, so I ask a series of questions, each and every program that are pretty standard. And I want to start with our first one. What is your unique idea that sets you apart?

Mary: I am an economic leadership expert. Ideal in improving profit growth, particularly doing during times of crisis, challenge or change. That’s what I get to do. The military certainly trained me very well for crisis situations. Gulf War I, II, 911, all of that. And as an economist, I see things very differently than most leaders. And I am able to look at a situation and make recommendations that are based on improving profit growth that also align with your values and your and your core. And that’s where I think many people struggle either they are good at defining values, or they’re good at defining the profit growth, but not necessarily together. And I think that’s what makes me a little bit different.

Nancy: Yeah. But, uh, you’ve also talked to me about creating your own brain shortcuts.

Mary: Yes. Yes, your brain, everybody’s brain is different. I’m fascinated by neuroscience, I’m fascinated with how our brains make connections. And I, as you know, I use acronyms. I use acronyms all the time, like pivot and lost and chaff. Pivot is, during a time of crisis. I use this all the time, I see you have to as a leader, I want you to think about pivot. And to me, that is redefining your purpose, helping people see their purpose in the work they do. Part of that is the I bringing in the inspiration and your positive influence, so that they are motivated every single day to be engaged. 

To not waste time, you know, the average person at work wastes about 90 minutes a day. And that costs us just, and that’s just wage earners that cost almost $6,000 a year per employer. That’s just crazy. If we have our people engaged, they will do better. The V in pivot is assessing the volatility. And I try not to ask the basic questions. Hey, how you doing? Because everybody goes fine, good. Great. I asked a different question. I say, say, on a scale of one to 10, with one being absolutely terrible and 10 being fantastic. How are you doing with everything going on around you? Or how are your people doing on a scale of one to 10. And now my reaction is a leader is adjusted based on their response. Well, it’s a two. Things have been really bad. I’ve got people out sick, I’ve got the situation going on, you know, whatever. Or, you know what, we’re doing fine. 

Everything everybody has shown up, people are giving me 100%, I could not be more pleased. As a leader that tells me how to respond. Instead of just good, great, fine. We also as leaders have to define the O, the opportunity in the pivot word is what I use. And that is looking around and making sure that we are seeing the possible instead of the impossible. Many people during a difficult time, they go back into what they can’t do. I can’t do this, because I can’t do this because. Okay, well, what can you do? Where are the opportunities? Where can where do we need to be better in our industry, our business, and in our community? 

And then the T, of course, is tools, training and technology. What do you need in order to go forward? So it’s very short, but pivot, is purpose, influence, volatility assessment, and then find the opportunities and then provide those resources people need tools, technology training, in order to move forward. And all of a sudden, you’ve got that in your head, you go, I don’t need to reinvigorate my people with their purpose. I can be a positive influence. And it just goes from there.

Nancy: Wow. I hope everybody wrote that down. I know I took notes. I think that is inspirational. Talk to me about a story, share a story that you know, our listeners want to hear.

Mary: I okay, I love that. You asked that question that makes me laugh. Because, you know, many people think the military is just full of non emotional people just going through the motions every single day. We’re kind of like, you know, automatons or robots or something. So one funny thing, I was the chief of police. That’s one of the fun things that people think is sometimes interesting. And I was the chief of police. This was after I had before and after I had done some counterterrorism work. And as you know, Nancy, I am a big animal lover. And people are thinking, where’s the story going? 

So one morning, I’m getting ready for my nine o’clock meeting with all the grown ups. I called them the grown ups. They’re the really senior people on my military base. And I was in my camouflage outfit. So you know, the camouflage pants, camouflage hat, camouflage, you know, the shirt, we call it a blouse. And one of my people comes in about seven o’clock in the morning and says, Commander Kelly, we found a litter of kittens. And the mama kitten has been run over by a car and these kittens are just days old. What do we do with the litter of kittens? And I was like, where are the kittens now? I’m the Chief of Police. 

And they’re like, we’ve gotten in this box. I was like, okay, bring them in my office. So I look at these five little kittens who are sitting in my office, meow, meow. And you know, I mean, their kittens are used to being around mom. So I tuck them in my camouflage shirt pockets, and so on. They’re tiny. They’re tiny, wee little kittens. I mean, not even the size of a credit card. And so I tucked them in my pockets, why stuff to go to the morning meeting? So I’m going to a meeting and I’m thinking about, okay, how am I going to get milk to these kittens? And you know, if I take them to the humane society will there survive? You know, meanwhile, we’re doing this big strategy for this military exercise. 

And as I’m sitting in the morning meeting, and the kittens were quiet, because they’re next to me, and they’re warm, all of a sudden, one of the kittens meow and look around, and the guy next to me is like, what is that? And so I bumped him and I open my little pocket in my side pocket of my shirt, my blouse over the shirt, and he sees these kittens and he rolls his eyes. So every time the kittens would meow, like four of us now and we’re all trying to cover the fact that there’s these nice little kittens in my camouflage. 

Nancy: Wow. 

Mary: And so happy ending. I found somebody with a mama cat who had just had a litter have her own. And she took on these babies. And it took me about a half a day to figure this out. But sometimes that’s, that’s, I think, that’s our core values getting aligned with what we’re supposed to. We’re supposed to be the good guys, you know. And that was things that my boss really hammered into my head when I was a chief of police. He said, you know, when you you and your people show up, and you’re the police, I want people to think the good guys are here. They’re going to help me. And that was really great lesson.

Nancy: So the moral of the story is you can make it happen under any circumstances, right?

Mary: The moral of the story is, you know, our job is to help people and sometimes it extends to, you know, kittens.

Nancy: Yeah. Okay. When would you like me to spotlight on your behalf?

Mary: You know, one of the things that, you know, I am close to are the fact that many people don’t know how to hire our military veterans. And just so you know, my older brother spent over 25 years in the Marine Corps, he flew helicopters. His wife was Navy, as you know, my husband’s a marine. My younger sister was an Air Force officer, she married a Navy officer, my younger brother was a Navy pilot, as well. We, as a family of veterans, my parents were not military. But as a family of veterans, we have all experienced the fact that some people have a very interesting view of what veterans are like. 

And I think certainly Hollywood has not done us a whole lot of favors. Either we are all Rambo with a chip on our shoulder and a cause or we’re maybe you know, homeless living under a bridge or whatever. And I think for some people, they are afraid to hire veterans, they don’t know, what they bring to the table, and how military experience can translate into a terrific business hire. It’s what I try to talk to people about is I said, So? Does everybody in your organization? Do you wish people in your organization just had more of a sense of your common vision? Oh, yeah, I really do. Do you wish anybody in your organization ever had that sense of urgency that you have in fulfilling the mission guy, wish everybody had a better sense of urgency? Do you ever wish more people on your team are really good at achieving goals? 

They go, yeah, everybody needs me more achieving goals. I’m like, you know what, you might consider hiring military veterans. Because that’s what we do. We understand your vision, we understand the mission, we understand the goals, and we don’t stop working just because it’s five o’clock. When you’re on a navy ship in the middle of the ocean surprise, it doesn’t just stop because it’s five o’clock on Friday afternoon and is happy our time. This year, we’re used to working 24-7. We’re used to taking problems home with us. 

We are used to thinking about work when we’re not working. And that’s something that you can’t, you can’t really translate so well in in a resume. But when you hire the right person, and they think like the owner of the company, because they have taken ownership. That’s kind of what you want. So I just like to encourage people to think about hiring veterans.

Nancy: Yeah, I’m pro that. And I have been for a very long time. So moving on, talk about something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Mary: Well, the Beatles were wrong. It’s not all about love, love, love. Economics is what rules the world. And thank you for laughing and understanding what I what my reference was.

Nancy: I’m laughing because I’m a diehard Beatles fan, so you really got to me there.

Mary: Love. Yeah, yeah. All you need is love. Actually, you need economics. I would like to think that all you need is love. But that’s just not true. Economics rules the world. And when you look at why most wars are started, because people jumped into somebody else’s territory. Because somebody stole something from somebody else. And they want those economic resources back. Wars are almost never started because of some vague idea. It’s generally because of an economic factor. 

And I’m not, you know, a lot of people think that we got into the Gulf War because of oil. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was, people were killing other people and taking their land. And that’s what this really has to do with, I think economics rules the world. Most people don’t understand economics. They don’t understand fiscal policy that’s taxing and spending done by your elected officials. And they don’t understand monetary policy, which is the Federal Reserve and the Federal Reserve Chair is chairman Powell right now. And they deal with the money supply of the United States. 

A lot of your problems is that they when they became the EU, they joined forces on monetary policy, which means that they give up their control over money supply and interest rates, and the required reserve ratio, the amount of money banks have on cash that they need, because it’s required. And that is a huge part of autonomy. And so a couple bad decisions or a couple countries that are really suffering can bring everybody down. So I think economics rules the world and people don’t like to hear that they would much rather go back to the Beatles song.

Nancy: Yeah, well, hey, we’ll have a sidebar conversation. After like, all you said is is is good. And we have to kind of wrap up the show now. But what is the one takeaway you’d like to leave the audience with?

Mary: If you are an owner of a dog or a cat and part of the 100 billion dollar pet business in this country, good for you. Now, wouldn’t it be great if we treated more people the way we treat our very spoiled and rightly so, pets? Wouldn’t it be great if every time somebody did something, right, we rewarded them with something nice. Like every time my dog does something great. I’m like, what a good puppy you are, you’re such a good girl, you’re such a good girl, here’s a little treat. Wouldn’t it be great if we were kinder to people in the same way that most people are kinder to their dogs and cats? That’s kind of the thing I’d like to leave the audience with today. And also, I have a new book out, so there’s that.

Nancy: What is that?

Mary: The new book is called The Five Minute Leadership Guide. And it is specifically targeted toward people who are trying to accomplish more every day, help their leadership, their personal leadership, develop and strengthen their reactions to difficult situations in just two to three minutes a day. It’s called The Five Minute Leadership Guide.

Nancy: Okay, and you know, what? How can my audience find you?

Mary: I would love it if they would, I’m at productiveleaders.com. productiveleaders.com because who wants an unproductive leader. And if they want to contact me directly, I answer my own emails, it’s Mary@productiveleaders.com. And if they go to productive leaders.com/free, they’re going to find all kinds of amazing five minute templates and tools and the 12 month planning calendar. All kinds of really cool things that they can use to propel their business and their sales forward even better.

Nancy: You know, folks, listen to the energy. Mary is full of ideas and resources. I want to thank you, Mary, for all your great tips. And thank you all for listening in. Have a fantastic sales day everyone and remember, reach out and follow Mary because there’s going to be more leadership tips and more books coming soon. So you all have a great day and we’ll see you next time.

Voiceover: The Conversational Selling Podcast is sponsored by One of a Kind Sales. If you’re frustrated that you don’t have enough leads or your sales team complains that they just don’t have enough time to prospect, we can help. To work with Nancy and her team one on one to help you manage your sales team, install her proven outbound sales process and create more bottom line results, email her now at Nancy@oneofakindsales.com. To learn more about Nancy and her outbound sales secrets, grab your free copy of her book, The Inside Sales Solution at oneofakindsales.com/book.