Event Leadership with Kris Lindahl

This week on Meeting Minds we are joined with Kris Lindahl. He shares with us the importance of core values and vision to each event and how it all starts with leadership.


What are the biggest problems you’ve noticed when you’ve been at events?


I think of our organization and how what we stand for and what our core values are and I try to translate that to events.  I never feel what an event stands for. There’s no vision or mission statement or values. You don’t even know why they are doing the event. It hasn’t been communicated, there are no takeaways for what the event stands for. It’s frustrating because you don’t know why they are even doing it.  Throw in a big event, you don’t even know where you are going to don’t have a target for what you are trying to accomplish, you’re never going to get to where you want to go. I go to these events and I ask, “what exactly are you trying to do?” and no one can answer that question.


I look at events like you’re running a business as well.  It’s different than my real estate business. When you start to lead a big organization of people you have to communicate what you stand for so everyone starts to go in the right direction. Whether  that’s the attendees that show up are clients and we need to experience this, whatever that is I’ve found out no one has it. What is key to success is having your core values that your company lives by, but you also need to communicate that to the consumer as well.  Really successful organizations, are ok with their core values being exposed to the public.


When you attend an event where you can feel the core values, how does it make you as a speaker and an audience member feel about being somewhere where it’s clear.


It’s no different from the RItz Carlton Four Seasons.  Really good service is really rare which creates the greatest opportunity.  When you get great service and you can feel it and it feels good, it’s memorable.  I remember those moments at those events where i could feel a difference in service and I could feel what they are trying to accomplish.


There’s a hotel in LA that has 4.9 on tripadvisor, the number 1 reason is they have red phones at the pool.  It’s the popsicle line, at any time you can call and they come with white gloves and deliver popsicles to the kids.  It’s not the nicest hotel. They realize when you are traveling with your family, the worst part is laundry. They do free laundry for you, they come back and wrap it up in twine and bring your laundry.  The popsicle line and the laundry are the two things that make the big difference and that’s what got them to 4.9 out of 5.


You could spend millions on the best rooms but if the service stinks you’re losing.


That’s the same thing in the events world, you could have all the right equipment and everything look super beautiful, but if you drop the ball on the human experience, we forget that we are actually leading humans, and when we start to remove that and focus on the technology, how things look and feel and we don’t focus on the actual connection, that’s the most important part.


That’s the part that signs or cancels deals.


It’s funny you bring that up, the best locker room wins everytime.  I think of the Las Vegas Knights, they were never picked to be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  They were 5000 to 1 odds to make it anywhere. They far surpassed any expectations. That’s the dangerous thing of any organization, when you pass what people expect of you, then you are playing nothing to lose.  That’s what we are focusing on, having the best locker room. You look at any organization, any sports team, the ones that win the championships aren’t the most talented, they have the best locker room. To your point, when you have someone in your organization that is trying to grandstand the place, it’s not effective for the organization, it can take the whole place down.


No greater lesson have I learned than putting my own team first. When you put your team first they will put the customer first.  Help me understand as a leader, how do I take the Chris Lindahl philosophy of leadership and apply it to my organization?


Really good culture you can’t talk about, you have to feel it and experience it.  For us it started with me, it starts with the leader. The amount of personal development and training I went through to become a better person is where it starts. You start to get transparent and vulnerable because anything that you’re thinking privately will show up publicly. If i don’t explains something to my company they know something is off. I need to go in front of my company whether good or bad and say, “here were our challenges, here were our success are.” And constantly communicate with the team because it’s not just about being up on top and leading.  We were talking beforehand about having bottom up leadership where everyone is at the same level. I didn’t have any experience when I first started in leading people. I look at people that have started companies around the same time and I look at the different progressions and mine’s been focused on personal development and theirs has been about money and growing the organization, we have surpassed everyone that has started around the same time. Not because I was driven by money, but because i was becoming a better person. Then when I started to become crystal clear on who I was, then I invested in growing my people and my organization.  I really started to shift how I think about every action every move I make, I don’t think as much about my team as much as I think about their families. Every move I make I think about their families and how everything Kris Lindahl does or says affects their families.


I have personally met the people on your team, it’s very rare you find people as passionate about what they are doing as the people on your team. It’s hard to build a culture around that.  What is the difference between top down and bottom up leadership?


Top down leadership is most of corporate America today.  You have this typically older CEO trying to lead a younger generation of people.  There is this huge disconnect, like “how do you do this, why do you do this?” Instead of walking along and helping them get better it’s dictatorship.  There’s this huge disconnect. I started asking questions to people at different corporations about their leaders. “How do you feel about your leadership, what do they do?” Rarely was it positive, rarely was it “Oh i love that person, I will do whatever that person does whether its this company or not!” more it’s “oh yeah they are rolling out more corporate initiative.  I go there till 5 and leave.”


When you have bottom up leadership people will work when they need to to get the job done.  When you have bottom up leadership you have people connected to the organization emotionally, at the heart. You won’t have turnover when they are connected at the heart.  There are always going to be better opportunities where people can leave for more money. But there’s so much to it, especially the younger generation, they want to be apart of something that’s bigger.  They don’t want to be in this individual cubicle or working from home when they have a CEO that’s barking orders down from the top down. What I’ve always found, you can learn a lot about leadership during bad times.  When everyone is having success and things are great, leadership can slip and things are still good. When things get bad and it’s all hands on deck, we’re losing money, things aren’t working, what we rolled out isn’t working, a key player left our organization, those moments are the pivotal moments.  That’s where true leadership shows up, when you’re willing to go boots on together and go through it as an organization. Most CEO and leaders are pointing down and giving orders, they aren’t actually doing it. It’s not the words, it’s the actions. It’s the actions the leaders take, people see what you are doing.  They are willing to do more if you’re willing to march alongside them.


It seems like a lot of people will blame that it’s a large organization, I don’t think the size has anything to do with it.


It’s very easy for me to see now when I speak at different organizations.  I can tell how long their company will stay intact. You can tell how people respect their leader, the type of culture the type of energy.  That’s emotional intelligence. Sometimes when I’m speaking at an event I’ll tell them, you better fix this leadership problem or you’re not going to any people not long from now.  And you know almost every single time.


As an event organizer, how do they make sure that vision and core values of the event or organization are being played through?


I’m not in that space but i’ve been on the other side of it.  I don’t think that most people that are planning the events plan for what the experience is going to be.  I walk in and I get this gift I don’t want to carry around. I get these things that are irrelevant from what I use or want and I have this bag to carry around.  They are giving things away because I don’t believe they have walked through their event from the otherside. There’s a huge difference [from hosting to attending]. When I walk into these events I’m always interested in what’s the plan?  What do you want people to experience and no one can answer them. It’s funny because the experience will build the event to the next level. The key players that you want to bring more people to your event are already there. It’s so rare that I’ll go to an event that’s super emotional, they look nice, but there’s an element missing, the service the connection.


A lot of these events i go to, they are so focused on the short game rather than building that long game, the audience that will come forever that will tell their friends that will organically grow.  They are not thinking about the brand they are building and what the vision is. Bringing in the wrong speakers is because they don’t know what they stand for. And when you don’t know what you stand for it’s hard to bring in the right speakers.


Let’s talk about leading people. How do you manage and lead people that do not know me?  


Number one is you have to assess the current people in your organization that are very successful at the positions you want to fill or add to.  Once you figure out what their personality is, you need to hire others that are just like that. You have to make sure that the assessment matches the type of people you want.  If they fit your core values and the assessment fit other people, hire that. Too often, it’s really hard to find good talent, it’s very difficult. We can get as leaders, a tendency to hire people or believe in them and don’t do any core value checks or assessments. If you bring people in that fit those two things, it’s rare you’ll have problems because they fit your organization and have the skill set to get it done.  When I look back to when I first started, I’d sit down and interview and make a decision right there. That’s how most people hire.


What I’m hearing you say is as long as you have the similar core values, you should be able to lead  and manage these people well.


There’s a couple parts to that.  There’s variables to the event. I think I would assess the company’s, who’s going to be on site from different companies.  We want to assess everyone that is coming into this place. Here are our core values, I would record a video that I would give to anyone on site saying here’s what we stand for this is what we want the experience to be at the event. I would have them sign off before they ever got on site.


The challenge is when you have people you haven’t met.  There needs to be an education process. A video is at least some sort of training.  When I go to these events I can tell that there is a disconnect and that they are from different companies and areas and no one knows anyone and nothings consistent.  The best is when I have a question for someone and they are 20 feet away and no one comes up. If you’re not doing it [a training video] you are relying on another company to do that for you. Their expectations may be completely different from what yours are.


A lot of people make the mistake of not introducing themselves when they should.  I always go and make a point of meeting people in my crew that I don’t know and thank them for being on the show.


Here’s another idea, survey the attendees but also survey the workers. When you get those surveys back, you go how was your experience working with our company.  It becomes a good recruiting tool because they care about the people working they care about the attendees. The biggest thing right now, Uber the company satisfaction, they started with tracking drivers, what’s the review what’s the consumer experience.  Then over time they have the rider reviews. They have both and that’s public information and helps them to figure out how we are doing. A lot of areas where there’s a lot of vehicles and you have a 4.8 you can’t have a black car.


The second part to what I would do is id’ have secret shoppers to attend the event and record what the experience is.  I’d hire them to figure out what’s happening and figure out what are the areas we have to get better. You’re never going to get it perfect it’s an ongoing journey but you’re going to try to get better and better. Having secret shoppers focusing on those events is important. I think a lot of people listening, the challenge is people will be scared to do it, scared of the feedback, but the feedback is going to make you better.


If we don’t have satisfaction in the work we are doing, you’re clearly doing something wrong.


We just rolled out another customer satisfaction dashboard and there were a few scores for a few of our more experienced agents that are amazing that had lower scores. There’s a tendency when you’ve been in an industry for a long time that you start going through the motions.  You don’t go back to what made you sharp. Those scores were good for those agents to see maybe their service isn’t as good as it was before. We now have that as public face to our organization. It makes such a huge difference having those scores because it shows who’s providing the best level of service, which to us i the most important thing.


I realize in our organization everything is my fault.  Everything that happens there is something that’s my fault whether it’s training or consumer expectation.  We’ve been talking a lot about taking accountability for things that has happened. That’s how you get good leadership.  We used to blame the customer, and now the analogy that comes to me is, you’re driving down the road and a car comes out and t-bones you, whose fault is it?  In our organization it’s always our fault because we were still driving. That’s how we look at everything that happens. Whether someone hits us or we hit them, it’s always our fault and it’s something to learn from.  Maybe we were going to fast, or didn’t stop at the yellow light, or should have stopped because we saw the car coming. I’ve found that most organizations want to blame someone else, mostly the customer.


I love when someone owns something.  That’s what most customers want to hear.  “We messed up.” correct it and move forward.  It’s ok to make a mistake once but don’t make it twice.  That becomes a problem. I want people to fail, we call that learning opportunities.  That’s where people grow. I look back as we’ve grown, the mistakes I’ve made, those were the pivotal moments in our growth where we became an elite company.


If you continue to ignore and blame others you are fostering more failure down the road.


Constructive feedback is the most important thing.


When you’re building and leading your team, how are you ensuring the core values are instilled in your team daily?


It’s not words, its the actions.  It is what people see me doing, where people see me commit my time. I’m on video all the time communicating what I’m doing why i;m doing it.  You mentioned earlier the podcast I am doing, Behind the Billboard, I did a video last night to our whole organization telling them why i’m doing this.  Our number one core value is to be generous. I say we have our time treasure and talents to give back. To continue to be a thought leader in our industry this was the natural thought progression for us, and this was going to benefit every family in our organization.  The doors have already opened up, from the podcast, that we wouldn’t have had before if I didn’t have a podcast. I’m always communicating to our company so they know what i’m doing. When you start to cast that vision, they start to feel apart of it. The problem is, leaders are working on these crazy ideas and don’t share the blueprint with anyone else. Then hey let’s go we’re going I’ve been thinking of this for 4 months.


Last night I got done with flag football, I returned from speaking at an event in Vegas, I was exhausted but I needed to launch this to facebook and social media but I need to go internal first and tell those in my organization why i’m doing this.  “I’m extremely exhausted but I want to get into here and tell you guys how I feel about this why i’m doing this.” Notice I said feel there because feel is important to culture, it’s the emotional heart connection. Most organizations the feminine energy is a huge part of it.  Super alpha males have been scared to get vulnerable and talk about feelings but that’s what people want to be apart of. They want to feel what’s going on, that’s where it grows. So I communicated to them, that’s why i’m doing this most people would be confused on why Kris Lindahl is opening his playbook and sharing it for free and I said I feel it’s important to give back our time treasure and talents. Yes some people will take the information and use it, but I don’t think anyone can beat our locker room.  The thing is, when you help others it helps you more. We are always students, by no means do I think i have it figured out. Even though in some moments I become a teacher, I can still learn just as much. It’s like becoming a mentor, giving feedback, you learn as much as they learn.


There are female leaders that really get it that sometimes we fall short, putting the emotion part of it as a true part of the equation.  I look at the emotional part and I think that’s how people are making decisions, and we have to be mindful of that. You have to lead with heart.


Here’s a super short story of something that happened at my organization a few years ago.  Our leadership team is almost all female. I had a conversation with one of our leaders. We were doing a review and trying to determine what the next level was for compensation.  I made a comment, “I think you deserve this number.” She said, “Kris you don’t understand, I’m not motivated by money.” It was the first time i realized there was more happening in my organization than money.  You think for high drivers the motivation is a pay increase, but when someone said that, it was one of those moments where I had this completely raw, it’s more than just money. If people come to your organization for money they will leave for money, every time.  If you really take your core values and what you stand for and communicate those to attendees and staff, it really starts to take a life of its own and that’s why people come to your organization, attend your event, things happen. They won’t leave because they want to help get that organization to the next level.


The right people, when you start to broadcast what you stand for the right people are attracted by that and the wrong people are scared away.


Final thoughts?


Leadership is a commitment to becoming a better person first.  If you can’t take care of yourself you can’t be a better leader.  I look at the early days of my organization and what really helped me was investing in personal development but it was doing video early on.  I’d do 100 videos everyday to improve my communication. Id do a video and it was so bad I’d run into the hallway to make sure no one heard it.  Then what I did, I started speaking. I was doing the boring powerpoints that every speaker does, then I’d do a little more. Then after that I did 30 minutes with just notes.  Then it was 40 minutes light notes, than an hour with nothing, two hours with nothing. Now I can speak 3, 4, 5, hours with nothing no notes, no plans, no powerpoints. It’s because of those videos speaking in those uncomfortable environments where I’ve continued to grow my brains so I can fire at the highest level, all of those things have helped me become a better leader.  Because I am a better communicator. Most people aren’t willing to do that.


None of us are natural born leaders, we have to invest and expand our brains to become better people and leaders.  Most people aren’t willing to do those things.


Find Kris at Kris Lindahl


Behind the Billboard Podcast


About the Author
Event and Video Production

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