Had an incredibly insightful conversation with U.S. Marine veteran Chip Neidigh about the challenges of setting up a consulting business. From sales to operations, to wasting time or opportunities, to all the lessons learned, Chip helps explain a bit of the journey with clarity!
#44: The challenges of consulting with Chip Neidigh
I’m Aaron Spatz. And this is The Veterans Business Podcast. A podcast centered around the stories of US military veterans and their adventures in the business world following their time in service, its stories of challenges and obstacles and an inside look at how veterans find their life’s work, their purpose, and their post-military lives.
Welcome to another edition of The Veterans Business Podcast. I’m Aaron Spatz. I just want to thank you so much for tuning in. I’d love to hear from you. If there’s episodes, if there’s interviews that really resonate with you, drop me a line at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you. And I’d love it if you were to share. Share stories, share some of these impactful interviews with those in your circle. I continue to get feedback on just different types of interviews and different conversations that’s been had on the show and just what it’s meant to certain people. And so I welcome a conversation.
I’m incredibly excited to share with you and to welcome this week’s guest. This week we have Chip Neidigh. Chip is a veteran US Marine. He served seven years in armor before transitioning out and working in the private sector before he founded Kairos Consulting. Chip, thank you so much for joining the show.
Aaron, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, man. It’s always dangerous when you get a couple of Marines together. If people go back and look at the roster of the lineup of the show, it is predominantly USMC. I can’t help myself. But no, I’m really glad we connected but I’d love to learn more about your background. What was your upbringing like? What inspired you to join the military?
I grew up in a pretty white-bred, vanilla suburban home in Indianapolis, Indiana. My dad is a consulting civil engineer. So roads and bridges kind of guy. My mom was a church secretary and ended up becoming a Christian counselor. Have one older brother who’s two years older than me, who’s a lawyer living in Chicago. And it was just a pretty basic, idyllic place to grow up. You know, I remember riding the big wheel down the street and spinning out, like grabbing that right brake and spinning out and trying to catch up with the big kids riding their bicycles down the street. We had a creek, played in the creek and messing with crawdads, crawling through drainage culverts and tunnels. And then parents warning us that if a flash flood came, we would all die, but we knew we weren’t going to die. We knew we could get out.
So it was a really pleasant way to grow up and a really safe place to grow and learn and explore. Went to high school in Indianapolis. I had a brief stint in South Bend, Indiana before that. I don’t know that anybody enjoys middle school, but those were not my most fun years. But then I came back to Indianapolis for high school. And my junior year in high school, I went to see a career counselor, a guy named Jack Fadely, who’s sort of a legend in these parts. And he gave me a battery of tests and some interviews. And he said, “Well, I think you should either be a bus driver or an optometrist or a military officer.” And he goes, “I’m not sure you’d really enjoy being a bus driver, an optometrist. Have you considered one of the service academies?” And I said, “What’s a service academy?”
So he explained it and I said, “Oh, I’ve heard of those Annapolis and West Point and Air Force Academy.” And I visited the Air Force Academy. And man, that place felt so sterile and cold, and no offense to some of your other listeners, but unprofessional, unmilitary. And I thought, ah, this is not for me. And I set one foot on the yard in Annapolis, didn’t have a clue what I was getting into, but it just had this intuitive feel to it. I said, “This is where I’m supposed to be.” And I applied to one school and that was the Naval academy and thank God was accepted. Because I don’t know what I would have done if they had said no. And that’s how I ended up going to the Naval Academy. And I was in for a fairly rude awakening because I knew it was going to be tough, but I did not really have a clue what induction day and plebe year and all that kind of stuff was about.
So I won’t say it was fun, but it was certainly educational.
Yeah. Well, no, I mean, I’m thinking back to the to the test you took. It was bus driver, optometrist or military officer. I’m like, dude, I’m not seeing the connection there. I mean, what’s with that?
I don’t know. Look, he was a genius. I mean, I’m sure that if I had chosen to become a bus driver, it would have worked out great too.
I’m sure. I’m sure, man. That’s hilarious. So then share with us a little bit then about your time at the academy, your selection, and then what you end up doing.
Well, they say the Naval Academy is a $200,000 education shoved up your ass one nickel at a time. And I found that to be pretty true. Especially the first year was a fairly challenging experience for me. I seemed to attract a lot of attention. I don’t conceal or at least certainly as the 17 and 18-year-old, I didn’t conceal my contempt very well. So when I had upperclassmen were hazing me and I was not appreciative of their methods, I think they could sense that. And that just irked them on or inspired them to haze all the more brutally. I promised myself I wasn’t going to quit that first year. I thought, no matter what, I’m not going to quit. I’ll make it through to my youngster third class or sophomore year. And if I decide at that point I want to quit, no big deal, but I’m not going to quit my first year.
And there were three times in particular where I remember walking to the phone banks. If you remember what phone banks were at college before cell phones, even before bag phones, I guess. And I was thinking, I’m going to call my dad and I’m going to tell him, you can buy me a ticket or I’m hitchhiking, but I’m getting the hell out of dodge. I’m not staying here anymore. This is insane. And three times before I got there, I just kind of turned around, went back to my room and I thought, all right, I’ll stick it out. We’ll see another day. We’ll see what happens.
Then after my freshmen or plebe year, I thought I wanted to be a submariner. And so I spent 19 days underway on a fast attack submarine. And that disabused me of the notion that I wanted to be a submariner. I had envisioned somehow that submarine warfare was going to be like underwater chess, you know, strategic. But it didn’t really feel like that. It was a lot of scrubbing toilets and kind of crazy people that I worked with.
I remember there was this one guy who I thought he was pretty insane on the sub and he’s an enlisted sailor. And I thought, and I asked some of the other sailors, I’m like, “What is that dude’s deal?” And they’re like, “Oh, he’s a little weird. The other day, he got naked and got in his bunk and was rubbing saltine crackers all over his body and growling at people.” And I said, “Huh.” I’m like, “And what happened?” He’s like, “Oh, he’s fine. Doc cleared him. He’s good to go.” I’m like, “How long ago was this?” He’s like, “Ah, a couple of weeks.” I thought, well, I’m going to sleep with one eye open because I don’t really want that guy around me as I’m sleeping. So I didn’t want to become a submariner. I thought that wasn’t it.
So I was kind of lost for about a year. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure. Nothing appealed to me in particular. And I was just feeling, I was kind of keeping my options open. And then after my second year, sophomore year, there was what they call a smorgasbord cruise where you sample different warfare specialties. And I got to spend some time with Marines in Quantico and I just thought, this is amazing, you know, running with boots and mutes, obstacle course, firing 40mm grenades off of Mk 19 and out of M203s. I mean, it was just I thought, huh, everything that I like about the Navy officers that I see around me – esprit de corps, professionalism, clear mission, it seems like the Marine Corps just has that and more of it. This feels like home. And after that, I was in. And then when I had a chance to service select my senior year, I chose Marine crown and then went to the Basic School and the rest is history.
Man, that’s awesome. And you know, I don’t typically share a whole lot about my background, but I can relate to you in your service selection process. Because when I was going through – I didn’t go through service academy, I went through ROTC and it’s kind of very similar thing. Like I grew up in a Navy family. I was all I knew. And then I got a taste of the Marine Corps one of those summers. And is it kind of the same thing. Like you just kind of lit a fire and I really, really wanted to jump over to that. So, no, that’s pretty cool. What did you end up doing then? You know, you go through TBS, you know, and that mental process, what did you end up doing in the fleet?
I’ll answer that in a second, but you just triggered something for me with your own story, which is my dad served in the Navy. His dad served as an enlisted sailor in the Navy. My brother was ROTC, started out in Marine option, decided he really wanted to be Navy option. He said once he was running down the streets of Evanston, Illinois with boots that were two sides too small, you know, yelling Jody’s at the top of his lung and they were flaps and pf peeling off of his heels. And he thought, how much would I pay somebody else to do this? He realized he didn’t want to be a Marine. So funny. He thought he was going to be Marine and he ended up Navy option. I thought I wanted to go and be a submariner and end up becoming a Marine.
And my mom’s dad was a Marine general, you know, so Nicaragua, World War II and Korea. But those stories, I didn’t pay attention to those growing up. It was only after I joined the corps that I started asking my grandpa, tell me more about the stories. And what’s funny of course with combat is they tend to be a little tight-lipped about those of things. So I didn’t get a whole lot of stories, but I gleaned quite a few, especially from my grandma who said, “Well, let me tell you some of the things you shared with me over the years.” So I’m glad that I was able to access that part of my family’s history because I did not really appreciate it before. I had some of my own experiences in the corps.
But to answer your question, I served in 29 Palms as a tank platoon commander then tank company XO. And those were really good informative experiences. Worked for one officer in particular whom I really enjoyed was at the time Captain Ishioka, who was… I think he thought of himself sort of as a samurai warlord. And he was a tactical genius. And so to have him as a company commander when I was a brand new, you know, shape the lieutenant coming in and trying to learn tank tactics was really good. And then I had an XO named John Mosser. I think he ended up going into the FBI, could still be in. I don’t know. Maybe he’s in the CIA by now. And he was an extraordinary XO, took me under his wing and just showed me the ropes as a tank platoon commander. So some phenomenal officers in that respect.
I then had the opportunity to go to Auburn University Naval ROTC unit and be the Marine officer instructor there, which was incredible duty. So I got to be a full-time professor of Naval science or assistant professor of Naval science and a full-time MBA student. And I had another master’s degree by this point. So I had a master’s in electrical engineering, which I think allowed me as a first lieutenant to get that job, which was actually a major’s billet. But it was fun duty, great to be in a college town. My wife had a biochemistry lab job in the university and that’s where we had our first child. So very good memories about Auburn. Phenomenal food in Alabama, I will say. Great barbecue. Great chicken fingers.
Man, that’s cool. That’s a great story. And really neat how you’re able to kind of go full circle and kind of come back and help guide the next wave of folks going through the whole pipeline. So, no, that’s awesome.
I found that incredibly fulfilling. One thing that was surprising to me, and this is – so let’s say ’97 when I went to NROTC Auburn. It was surprising to me that kids coming out of high school didn’t have much of a fully formed moral compass, even those who were, you know, Marine option midshipmen, Navy option midshipmen in the unit. I remember having conversations where I’d say, “Well, we’re going to do this because it’s the right thing to do.” And they’re like, “What do you mean?” Huh. I didn’t expect to have this conversation. It wasn’t that I had this great moral compass and I had it figured out. But they just seemed to have this… like it was such a formative time for them. And the privilege of being in a place to say, “Let me guide you in some things that maybe you just never got growing up that are going to be really important for you as you have a career as a Naval officer, either Navy or Marine Corps.”
No, I mean, I distinctly remember sometimes going through and there would be either group punishment or group tongue lashings related to whatever had happened, but it was, yeah. But I do remember the whole notion of like, you know, you’re going to do the right thing. And kind of somewhere, I’d always laughed at that. One, I mean, it’s always a great reminder, but two, it’s like are we really having this conversation? Are there people here that wouldn’t do the right thing? And again, not trying to elevate myself whatsoever. I mean, I screwed up plenty just like everybody else did, but it is interesting. I think the point we’re getting at is it is interesting how you’re still developing, you’re still learning, you’re still growing and you’re still super impressionable at that age and you’re trying to make all these major decisions related to your degree and related to service selection, related to so many other things. And sometimes it can be a bit much.
Not only that, I was 27 when I started.
Our cortex was only recently fully formed. I wasn’t that far ahead of those guys.
Yeah, that’s crazy.
So when I look back and realize how young that was. I didn’t feel young at the time, but I was just a very young officer.
Yeah. Well, that’s crazy. Well, then walk us through then your decision to leave. What was your transition? What did you go do after you got out?
Yeah. As I said, we had our first child, my daughter. And that was in 2000. And my wife and I just thought, you know, the threat of instant deployment worldwide for combat operations and having a family are not fully compatible in the way we want to live our lives. And I had this notion that somehow Corporate America was going to be a meritocracy. And I thought, I don’t want to have to wait, you know, timing great, timing service for a promotion. I want to be promoted based on my abilities. So that’s kind of funny in retrospect, naive, but that was what was going through my mind. It was simultaneously arrogant and naive, which is a potent combination.
And then I went with a junior military officer recruiting firm named Cameron-Brooks and had a career conference with a bunch of companies. And there was mutual interest between five of them all around the nation. And the company that really attracted my attention the most was a company called Guidant Corporation. And this is a manufacturer of cardiovascular medical devices. So pacemakers, defibrillators, stents, guidewires, guide catheters. And the interview was with an Air Force Academy grad named Brigham Briggs, who ended up being my boss later in a different job with Guidant. And he had an implantable defibrillator that was cut in half with the components open. I’m an electrical engineer. He’s like, “Yeah, this is one of our devices.” And I think we spent 20 minutes just talking about the device. And I’m like, “Is this a capacitor?” He’s like, “Yeah, that’s a capacitor.” And I’m like, “Okay. And this is a battery.” “Yep. And this is the control circuit.” “And tell me about this.” “Oh, that’s medical adhesive.”
So I was fascinated by the technology and also the way that that organization treated me in the interview process, communicated a level of like we value you as a human being. And I felt like in some of the other companies, they were trying to attract but nothing felt special. So there was just this intuitive click and connection. And the community of junior military officers in that organization just felt great. So I moved to the twin cities, the Saint Paul-Minnesota, with our six-month-old baby girl and my wife and spent two years in the twin cities and then moved within that company back down to Indianapolis, which was the world headquarters because it was Eli Lily and Company spinoff. Eli Lily’s major pharmaceutical manufacturer.
And then I spent another probably about four and a half years here in Indianapolis. And while I was in the twin cities, I had a project management role in R&D and I had a business process reengineering role where we were also within the engineering world. And when I came down here, I had a finance role where I was supporting the sales organization, the US sales organization. And the way I would describe that is trying to teach salespeople to think like business people, which maybe was a lost cause and maybe always will be. I don’t know, but that was the job.
I found that I got kind of bored with the work. I had automated everything I wanted to automate within the first six months or so. And within six months, I could spend about a third of my time doing what they were paying me to do and I could spend the other two thirds of my time wandering around talking to people and effectively doing what turned out to be, I guess we would call coaching. I think I also thought of myself at that time as sort an unofficial corporate chaplain, where I just wander around and hear people’s problems and talk through it with them. And, you know, people were busy. They didn’t want to talk. Or if people didn’t like me, they didn’t want to talk. But there was a pretty significant chunk of people who I would spend a lot of time in their cube or their office just sitting down listening to what they were going through.
And the last job I had at Guidant was as we were acquired, I got to be the right-hand man for an executive named John Sieberg. A very talented leader who was in charge of tearing apart our US sales organization and reintegrating it with two different companies that had acquired us at a lab in Boston Scientific. So I got to do some strategy work and some change management work. Worked with a couple of consultants from McKinsey, David Lindenmeyer, John Schilling, who are extraordinarily talented consultants. I saw what they did. And I thought, you know, this looks kind of fun. Maybe I have a knack for this and maybe somebody would pay me to do it. And that’s when I decided to hang out a shingle.
Wow. Yeah. Well, I mean, you took the next question right out of my mouth. But I’d love to go back there for a second and just talk about some of your informal counseling and workplace ministry. So I mean, that just comes about through building relationships, right? I mean, it’s sitting down and really listening to people.
It does. I think I’m trained as an engineer, and in some ways, I think like an engineer, but the things that really fascinate me are things that go on human hearts and souls. And, you know, Napoleon said the moral is the physical as three is to one. And I think that the people leadership aspect of time in the Marine Corps, time in the business world, corporate world, time as a consultant, those are the things that have always attracted me more. And what I get excited about is my own personal journey of maturation. You know, I can look back at 27-year-old me and say, gosh, that’s just silly some of the things that you did. I don’t know what I’m right now in 49. I don’t know what I’m going to say ten years from now or five or even one year from now and say, and that’s silly what you did at that point when you were 49. But I know there’s going to be plenty of stuff. I just don’t know what it is yet.
And I’ve been pleased with as I mature, the capacity I have to help people more seems to increase, the ability to help people with deeper and more important problems, the ability to tackle the thornier issues and help people increase their own capacity and maturity through those difficult times seems to increase. So I’m hopeful that I’m not at my peak and that I continue to grow and mature myself so that I can continue to have a greater impact. I love the work that I’m doing. I even loved just talking to people in their cubes at Guidant. That was great. But if I had had some of the tools then that I have now, I’m certain some of those would be significantly more impactful conversations.
Well, we’ll just say you’re just getting started, man. You’re just getting started. So I mean, you really didn’t answer my question, which was I was going to ask you what inspired you, what motivated you to go down the entrepreneurial journey. And it sounds like you’d basically kind of work yourself out of a job, kind of getting bored, feel like you’re kind of at a dead end. And you know, has it just been a fascination or curiosity? Where did that really come from?
The honest truth is the reason I started my own business is because I did not want to have a boss. That is not the most mature reason in the world. And there are some very bad things that happened to us in terms of our character development when we don’t have a boss. And I wasn’t aware of all of that at the time, but I also knew – so after I maybe a year or two, after I was out of Corporate America, having started my business, my wife said, “Hey, you seem a lot happier now.” I’m like, “Yeah.” She goes, “Yeah. You were kind of miserable when you were working a corporate job.” I’m like, “I was?” She’s like, “Oh, yeah, you were.” She said, “I think it was like a jagged crystal being jammed through a too small rubber hose.” Not good for you and not good for the crystal. Or not good for you, not good for the hose. And I thought, huh. I was like, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She’s like, “I thought you knew. I thought you knew you were miserable.” I’m like, “I didn’t know. I thought this is what you do. You have to go to the military, you get a corporate job. That’s what you do.”
And you know, I don’t know how long it takes most people, but I found for me, by the time I was in my mid-30s, I could look at the various jobs I had and say, “I’d like that about that one. I didn’t like that one about that one. I liked that one about that one. I didn’t like that one about that one.” When you start compiling this list of here’s what I really would like to have in my vocation and here’s what I don’t want to have, my satisfiers and dissatisfiers. And I cannot say that when I started out those first couple of years running Kairos that I had it wired in a way that hit all my satisfiers and excluded all the dissatisfiers. But I will say that over the past 13 years, it’s certainly gotten awfully close to ideal situation.
So it’s been a long journey to get there, but I have the opportunity to say, I will or will not work with that client. I will or will not provide that service. This is the culture that I want to create and promulgate within Kairos. These are the type of people I want to work with on the Kairos team and the kind of folks we’re going to hire. And all of that, those things were, I had very, very little control of those in a corporate environment. I can control how I show up. I can control my attitude but didn’t have an opportunity to build much of an organization in the roles that I had. So for me, the initial motivation was maybe a little shallow. And I would say, thankfully, I think I’ve kind of grown into it. Maybe it was serendipitous that that was the catalyst to make it happen, but I’m glad I did.
Yeah, no, that’s cool. And I I’d like to take a minute here and just kind of go a little bit deeper with you then. So I mean, you’re just getting things started, getting things off the ground. You found out that you were miserable after the fact and then you have this newfound freedom. But you know, take us through then the journey of just getting things off the ground. What were those initial – I don’t know, how long did it take? Was it a year or was it three years? Was it six months? What was the process for you in just getting the thing off the ground so you could live off of it?
Yeah, I would say first 18 months were very rough. I looked at my calendar like a few years later and I looked back in my iCal and I was like, I had a lot of white space in that counter. What did I do? And my wife said, “Well, I think you spend a lot of time in designing your logo.” I was like, “Maybe I did.” You know, the first thing you need to do when you’re a brand new entrepreneur consultant is sell stuff. And I was not very good at that. And so it took me a while to get off the ground and find some sure-footedness in understanding what I had to offer and what people were willing to pay for. I had a business plan that some folks at Right Management helped me create. And, you know, a year in, 90% of it was all thrown out the window because the market teaches us what it values. We have a “I think this is what I will do and what people will pay me for.” But then you learn very quick. That’s not necessarily what they want. They want this.
So there was a lot of the market teaching me and my initial thought was I wanted to do change management, organizational change management consulting. I wanted to do it in healthcare. And ideally, I’d do it in Central Indiana. So pretty narrow geographic area. And that’s three pretty narrow criteria. My first client was a blower fan manufacturer in Northern Illinois. And I did Excel modeling for blower fans power curves to put in their marketing materials, had nothing to do with what I thought, but their money was green and I was very happy to receive that first check.
So I would say it was very hard to get off the ground. I found so many people that were very helpful in giving advice, but there’s some things that people can’t advice you into it. You just got to have the will to do it and the courage to go out and try to make it happen. And I will say probably wasted – squandered maybe is a better word – a lot of time talking to who were about being about partnerships. Hey, let’s be referral partners. I’ll look for people who need your service. You look for people who need my service. And I found that was a colossal waste of time. And the only time that those types of partnerships and relationships in my experience work is when somebody has something they’ve sold and they need some help digesting it. And they say, “Hey, I’ve already sold this. Can you help me do this work?” Then it becomes a very interesting and energetic conversation. Other than that, it’s just people talk.
So I wish I had spent a lot less time talking to other consultants, which was a safe conversation, right? They’re not going to say no to me. Of course, I’ll be a referral partner. Of course, I’ll look for things and you can look for things from me. Of course. But to get in front of somebody and say, “This is what I have to offer. Is this interesting to you?” Well, there’s the risk of rejection and I wish that I had built up that risk of rejection a lot quicker or that tolerance for rejection a lot quicker.
Wow. No, that’s a great self-reflection item there in terms of just, you know, I mean, because now you’ve been several years down this journey and so it kind of looking back. It was kind of like to your point earlier about as you’re continuing to mature and grow, you’ve continually look back and see things about yourself. Like, man, I would have tightened this up. I would have done this maybe a little bit differently. And so it’s a fascinating study. What then was the turning point? When did you know you had something?
There were two events that felt pretty significant to me. One was I found a strategic partner. Her name is Kris Taylor. She also did change management consulting and still does. And she was maybe three or four years down the pike before me. She started a company earlier. So we were still both pretty new in doing consulting, but she had more experience than I did. And we jointly sold a project where I had the lead. So I was the lead on the sale, but she was very helpful at putting together the proposal. She said, “I think this is worth $84,000.” And I was like, “Really?” She’s like, “Yeah, I’ve kind of done the math. This is what I would bid it out.” I’m like, “Okay.” So we bid at $84,000 and the client said yes. And I’m like, okay, well, that’s cool. Because I would’ve thought, you know, number of hours times what my wage should be, yada yada. And that was just helped me understand the value that could be unlocked by the work that we would do.
The second thing that happened is I was working for another consultant who hired me to do a project. And so I was leading this project of a few consultants and I remember, I think I was getting paid $95 an hour for a hundred hours of work. Something like that. So $9,500. And that’s not a bad chunk of change when you’re starting out. I was happy with that. It ended up taking me 400 hours. So I ended up getting paid less than 25 bucks an hour to do the project. And I went to the client. I kind of explained that. And they’re like, “Yeah. But you know, your boss bid the work at that. We’re not going to pay more just because you’re out of scope.” And I thought, okay. And they’re like, “But quite frankly, he’s not adding any value and you are. So if there’s more work to do, we want you to do it. We don’t care if he’s involved in it.” And I thought, huh. Well, that’s interesting. Because I know how much he sold this project for. And I know how much of the value I delivered and how much of it I captured. And I thought, okay, that’s a good confidence booster.
So I think there’s little things like that where you just read the signals and if you’re paying attention to what clients are saying, they’re telling you the things that are important to them and that have gone well. And if you’re paying attention, you’ll find that the things that haven’t gone well and where you’re not adding value and you’re just wasting time. And those are both important.
No, you just hit a topic for me that I’m just like, man, I just want to jump up and down there on that point with you. Because it’s listening to what clients say, listening to what people say, I think is so important because they will express their pain points and I mean, I’ve learned this the hard way several times.
Just with my own ventures, right? But you’ll have people express a need but you want to sell them the need solution but everything else. Or you kind of gloss over what their need is and you kind of capture it in the middle of a whole bunch of other stuff rather than focusing on and addressing that pain point specifically and doing what you can to kind of uncover, you know, maybe there’s some systemic issues there. Maybe there’s some other things that need to be taken care of. And then just kind of start to understand.
But what does that accomplishing? You’re building common ground and they know that they’re being heard. They know that you are listening to them. And so I’m sure there’s some kind of interaction in there on that project for you where they’re like, “You know what, Chip is the guy that we want to be able to partner with on the future. Because we understand what the value like. He just gets us or he kind of understands what’s happening.” And so it’s just observation. I think it’s fascinating.
And to your earlier point, I was the one that built the relationship. So the guy who hired me, he had the sales relationship through the project. I was the one that built the trust with them. And that was, as you pointed out earlier, the relationship is the key.
I was going to say – no, no, ask your question. I have another point I want to make.
Yeah, no. You made a really important point here. And I’ve seen this in tons of organizations. I think is kind of the standard, right? And you got the sales guys then you got the operations guys. And the sales guys in theory are the ones that are building the relationship with the customer and they kind of have this long standing relationship and where they’re doing proposals and bids and all that stuff. And then handing off to a PM or to some other delivery team. And they’re the ones actually executing the work.
But so often the guys that are actually the ones executing the work that are shoulder to shoulder with a client sitting across the conference table with them as you’re going over something, you end up being the guy that builds the relationship. And so have you seen a way to fix that? Maybe it’s just isolated to my experience. Maybe my experience is unique, but I’ve always experienced that. It’s been you have a sales team then you have an operations team, but the operations team are really the ones that actually build a meaningful relationship. The sales guys make great relationships too. I mean, there is that as well, but there’s something different when it’s the guy delivering the actual thing, right?
So I’ve got a few thoughts. One is the way we solve that is the one who sells it, delivers it. Because we’re a small team. So that’s one thing. But as we grow, that may change. The other thing that I’ve found is if you have a level of damaged trust between your operations and your sales folks, they tend not to trust each other, right? And they tend not to trust each other in individual deals and with individual clients. And I have clients where the sales guy will swoop in to fix operational problems instead of trusting that the operations folks can fix those problems or instead of shepherding them through fixing the problems. And it creates a bunch of dysfunction in the team because that’s an operations job, not a sales job. So being a liaison after the sale is great but coming in and trying to do operations when you’re a sales guy, that’s not good.
And I think the other thing that is a way to head that off at the pass is your salespeople need to be brutally honest about what can be delivered and what can’t. So the tendency is to say yes if you’re a sales person. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the sell and then we’ll figure out how to do it later. But the operations people are stuck holding the bag. And so, you know, one thing that I have the luxury of doing is being able to say, “Hey, I don’t think this is a good fit with the prospect. I don’t know. There are certain factors that are not aligned here.” And I know this is going to be a train wreck and I’m going to be left holding the bag because I also have to do delivery so I can say no.
When you separate out sales and operations, if the accountability doesn’t somehow come back to the salesperson to sell things that are completely aligned with the scope and keep it in capacity of the team, that also creates some dysfunction. So I think there’s probably ways to build in mechanisms to get feedback from the operations team in postmortems or after action reviews as we say in the corps to understand how high quality was this sale, how good a job did the salespeople do. Not just did they close the deal, but did they set us up for success in the way that they close the deal manage expectations with that customer?
Yeah, no, I think that’s great. And I think has been a fun topic. And, you know, back when I had just gotten out and I was working in the oil and gas space, I mean, this is a subject of passionate, passionate debate. A sales guy screwed us over. We got to go fix this, make it work, and then flip the tables, right? But you weren’t supposed to do this. You’re only supposed to do this and this is what I bid, you know? So it creates a big mess. And I’d always wonder like, man, how can you fix that? And so it’s just fascinating. It’s just fascinating perspective.
I have one more thought on it if you don’t mind.
Go for it, please.
I find with some of our clients, there are unclear accountabilities between the sales and operations folks. And so in a well-run, especially if it’s a highly technical or complex sale, there’s going to be back and forth where you’re going to bring in some of the delivery folks during the sale because there’s things that only they understand because of the complexity. And if you don’t have clear swim lanes and understand where those handoffs are, it can get very messy. And I’ve got a phrase which is: I’m furious at you for failing to meet my expectations, which I have not articulated to you. And I think that happens a lot in those kinds of relationships. So taking things that have gone wrong and saying, “Let’s run that again and let’s all decide how it should have gone. So the next time we know where the handoffs are and who’s accountable for what.” That can clean up some of that mess as well.
That’s great. That’s some great insight there. What’s a major obstacle or major hurdle that you’ve had to overcome? And it could have been in the last couple of years. It could have been several years ago. But you know, what’s a big business challenge that you had to face? How did you get through it?
Well, I will say it is a challenge that I am getting through and expect to continue to be getting through for the rest of my life. So this isn’t a “I’ve got it figured out and here’s the answer.” This is a “I think I understand some aspects of this and I’m getting better at it, but there’s a whole lot of mountain left to climb. I don’t know that I ever get to the top of it.” And that is, for me, the challenge of letting go. Not trying to control things that are not mine to control. Not trying to dominate in spaces where I shouldn’t be dominating. And especially as it relates to my team, giving them space to operate, letting them fail, not taking charge of things that I should let them take charge of.
And the way I am trying to overcome that is by loosening my grip. But the way I describe it is has a little bit of a theological bent, which is, I feel like I’m grabbing something so tightly and I let go with my pinky finger. Like I kind of just loosen my grip and I say, “God, look, see there. I let go.” And then my other three fingers and my thumb are just still grabbing on so tightly. And I can envision God being like, “Hey, good job. You let go with your pinky. That’s not bad. But there’s a lot more to let go of.”
And so lately my mantra has been a prayer, which I stole from John Eldredge, and the prayer is: God, I give everything to you. I give everyone to you. And I find when I do let go and I do try not to control things that I’m not supposed to control, I find that I have a lot more peace and centeredness in my life and I’m much more pleasant to be around and I lead more effectively from a place of solid foundation instead of compulsively and impulsively and anxiously.
Yeah, yeah. Because the idea is to not be anxious because that’s not from him, right? And I know we’re heading down. For those watching, listening, we just made a hard right turn talking about theological and faith related topics. But I mean, these are some real topics especially those that are, you know, you’re going through a journey, right? I mean, we’re all on this life journey and we’re all trying to figure this thing out. And I can still relate to Chip on trying to let go of things and trying to rest and yield my will. And instead of being intent on having a firm grip and having complete control over everything, realizing how futile that is, and knowing that God is trustworthy and loosening that grip and allowing him to lead.
Can I go a little deeper on you?
Go for it.
Can I take an even harder right turn?
Go, man, do it.
So I would say this has been a really exciting time for me in my own spiritual growth and that I’ve always had a bit of a disconnected and intellectual relationship with God. And I’ve had some dissatisfaction with that, but I’ve always felt it felt elusive to me. Like I don’t know what to do about that. I have a spiritual mentor, a gentleman named Rob Lone. And he’s told me for almost a decade now that any time there’s a compulsiveness, I should pay attention to the woundedness that’s driving that compulsion. So anytime it feels like I’m not driving the bus and I’m just behaving in a certain way. And I’m like, well, where’d that come from? Or not even an alert that it happened like just sleep walking and I’m behaving in a particular way because there’s woundedness that drives that.
And I’ve been paying attention to some of my woundedness actually for the past few years, but what I’ve come to learn, and I think I’m just scratching the surface of it, is that being aware of your woundedness is very different than receiving healing. So I’m in a process now of actively – that’s a funny word to use there, of intentionally asking God, like just saying, “Please heal me.” I don’t even know all the areas where I need healing, but I’m just trying to open myself to that instead of trying to control even that. And what I’ve found is that as I am focused on healing and open to healing, one, I’m paying much less attention to who did the wounding in the first place. It seems less relevant. Like even the need to forgive those people or that person kind of fades away because it just doesn’t matter that much. And it feels like that in and of itself is the letting go.
So yeah, that seems pretty important to me. And in my compulsiveness related to dominating, taking charge, I’m realizing it comes from woundedness where when I was a kid, I learned somehow even though I grew up in this idyllic perfect suburban neighborhood environment with very loving parents, great brother, I learned the lesson that I had to be self-reliant. I had to take care of myself. No one was going to take care of me. And that was not a good lesson for me to learn at a young and tender age and I’ve carried it with me for decades and I’m trying to unravel that and unloosen it so that it doesn’t choke me anymore. Like it was a survival mechanism. I think I needed it at the time to help me grow up and navigate spaces, but it’s the place now where I’m like I don’t need that anymore. Like it has done its duty and it probably was done maybe a couple of decades ago with what it needs to do. It’s kind of let it go, time to discharge that loyal soldier that was trying to serve me well. So should I say loyal Marine?
But that’s a piece of this where I’ve for so long thought letting go is mostly an act of will. It’s like controlling the letting go and paradoxically that doesn’t work. You can’t control a letting go. A letting go, as you say, is a submission. It’s not a process you control. In fact, I don’t think I’m even the prime mover in that equation. So I don’t know if that triggers for you, but I just thought that’s what’s really going on in my life and in my heart right now.
I love that. And I mean, I could speak on some of these spiritual topics for days. Because I absolutely love this stuff because it’s a journey. And again, this took a totally different direction than people are used to hearing and I’m not sorry. So this is the way the conversation is going down. But, you know, I have found that letting go, I mean, the way you said that was just really, really cool. So I mean just letting go not being something that you will. I mean, I can’t tell you, Chip, how many times in my life I have given – and I’m quoting this, right? I’m throwing this in air quotes. I’ve given it to God, right?
How many of us have done that? But then it’s not until three months later, 12 months later, three years later, you hit something else going on and then that’s when you actually let it go. And you actually, you know, you’re yielding, you’re submitting, you’re giving that up. And so what you said, understand that letting go is not from the will, then I would propose then that perhaps letting go is from the heart or someplace else. But you’re simply just completely not focused on maintaining control because, I mean, that’s what we are. We want to control every aspect of our lives that we possibly can. And when things don’t work, we want to fix it. Geez, there are so many different directions I could go with this right now and my head is blown up.
Well, so the thing for me is I don’t fully understand it. I’m not even in the middle of it. I’m at the very beginning of this part of my journey. And it’s a little bit disorienting, but incredibly energizing. And the way I’m thinking about it is when I was a kid, my dad used to tell me, this is great advice. He’d say, “Chip, be still” And I think it’s because I was hyperkinetic and annoying. And he was just like, “Be still. Just chill.“ But what great advice. Be still. So for me, it’s not even trying to do anything, it’s just being. It’s just being still and being open to the healing and the healing somehow is what enables the letting go.
So maybe it’s a paradox I don’t fully understand yet. Maybe there’s a transcendent view of it that in my human understanding I can never understand. I don’t know, but I’m just trying to live into this new dynamic in a way that I think I’ve accessed some new power and some new relational intimacy with God that I’d never had before. And I’m finding the ability to trust God’s reliability. Yeah. Trusting God’s reliability in a way that I never had before.
This will be one of those things that you look back on a year from now, three years from now, ten years from now, and be like, ah, this is where things were really changing for me in my life. This is where I could identify things start. I mean, because it’s a healing journey. And so anyway, that’s fantastic. I appreciate you going there, going deep on these topics. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
I’ll take it back to the professional. I’ll come back to center a little bit if I may.
Sure. Yeah, go for it.
Which is what I find with a lot of the executives that I work with is individuals who get into middle age find themselves in this transition from the first half of life to second half of life. And David Brooks and Richard Rohr and a bunch of other people will say the tools that worked for you in the first half of life, you start finding that those tools are inadequate for the second part of the journey. And that’s a really disorienting, disordered time of life. I think it probably counts for a lot of red Porsches and mistresses. It hasn’t been my personal reaction to it. But I find a lot of my clients are also in this space that I find myself in, where I’ve got one foot in first half of life, one foot in second half of life, and trying to figure it out and navigate all of that.
So I’m not shocked that I’m having insights around big and important things because I see my clients doing it. What I’m shocked is that I’m in a profession where I am called to help people heal as an executive coach and I’m just scratching the surface of what healing looks like in my own life. That’s kind of ironic. So I’m hoping this opens up great possibilities in terms of my ability to be a better guide, a better sherpa for the folks that I’m serving as a coach.
Sure. No, I’m sure, man. It’s all usable, right? There’s nothing wasted.
Just like the American Indians eating a Buffalo.
Yeah. That’s good. I mean, I realize we’re starting to get to the end of our time here. But what advice would you have for those that are either a) they have an idea, they’re thinking about starting a business or b) they have started a business but they’re still really early on in their journey. What’s some words of advice that you’d have?
Figure out what problem in the world you are passionate about solving. So many entrepreneurs make the mistake of falling in love with their solution instead of falling in love with the problem. And if you fall in love with the problem, you’ll always keep innovating to find a better way to do it. But if you fall in love with your solution, you get stuck. And if you understand the problem in the world that you’re passionate about solving, that sure sounds an awful lot like mission. And once you’re clear on what the mission is, you can align an awful lot of things around it. When all you’re doing is scrapping and trying to make a buck and trying to figure out what people are willing to pay you to do, it becomes very scattered, and in the end, you’re not the one driving the train where it needs to go. So there’s a measure of centeredness and alignment that comes from being clear on what you’re trying to accomplish as an entrepreneur and what your organization is trying to accomplish in the world.
That’s so good. And I mean, it’s so, so simple like you think it’s simple, but that takes some serious self-reflection, takes some serious stock of your situation and what you are made for, what problem you’re built to solve, what problem your company therefore then is built to solve. Because now the problem is bigger than you so you need to grab some other teammates to help solve the problem. So no, that’s phenomenal. What problem are you passionate about solving? Not falling in love with the solution. I mean, I absolutely love that. Tell us a little bit then more about Kairos. How can people get in touch with you?
Sure. We are an executive coaching firm. We focus on CEOs and C-suites and we help them build capacity as leaders so they can tackle the most difficult challenges they face as individuals and as a team. We start engagements by working with CEOs. And one of us on the Kairos team will serve as an executive coach with that CEO. And the reason we do that is because we know that a high trust relationship with that CEO is essential to anything we would ever do with the executive team. And so we’ll coach the CEO for a couple three months, maybe longer. And then if there’s any desire to move beyond that and continue work with it or do more work with the executive team, we can say, “Well, here’s what’s going to be required to do that.”
We’re going to need to go into tough conversations and tough situations together and we’re going to need to know that we have each other’s backs because any culture change that we make in the organization has to be top down. And we don’t need a CEO who says, “Yeah, great, go do that stuff.” We need a CEO who says, “This is where I’m going. I want you guys to come with me. Kairos, can you help me get here?” And if we don’t have that level of passion from the CEO, it just doesn’t work. And the number one consulting sin is wanting something for a client worse than the client wants it for themselves. And so we’ve learned to discern pretty early on is this the type of CEO who’s passionate about building the type of team that we also want to help them build. And if they’re not, we just realize it’s not going to be a fit.
So the work that we do with teams is largely about trust, relationships, building their own capacity. We leverage a tool called the Enneagram, which is a personality model to help them gain some deeper self-awareness about areas where they self-sabotage and how they might be able to overcome that. We have a phrase that we call being in on the joke, which is when you’ve got a team where everybody else is in on your joke and can call you out on the stuff. That’s kind of funny. You’re like, “Yeah, it’s true. I did it again.” When you’re in on their jokes, it creates a context where feedback can be offered and received as a gift.
We also do a lot of productive conflict. We see conflict as a resource. It’s not good or bad; it’s just a neutral resource like wealth or power. It can be stewarded well or poorly. And when it’s stewarded well, it’s incredible competitive advantage and it makes places fulfilling to work and much more effective. And then lastly, we work with clients to help them do deep coaching within their organizations. So that executives don’t just swim on the surface in their coaching conversations with other people, they get beneath the surface to say, “Hey, there’s a behavior that needs to change.” And there’s an outcome we’ll get if this behavior change, but let’s dig deeper and understand what value or perspective or attitude or a part of your identity needs to shift so that can become a sustainable change. So all that’s the type of work that we do. And we find it very fulfilling to help them create that kind of culture of leadership development, where they are continually building leaders who have high character and have the ability to build leaders themselves.
Yeah, that’s terrific. Thanks for sharing a little bit about that. And seriously, I really do want to thank you for spending some time with me. Thanks for taking us along with you on this journey. And that’s what it is, right? It’s a journey. We haven’t arrived. We’re still in process. But no, I really do want to thank you just for opening up and sharing some of your personal experiences. Thank you.
It’s been a joy. Thanks for having me, Aaron.
Well, what a fun conversation. I thoroughly enjoy getting to go through some pretty deep topics. And so for those of you that know me, if you didn’t know already, but you know how important faith is to me and just that whole story. And I don’t know if I’ve ever shared it in its entirety. And perhaps at some point, I will. That’s not the point of the podcast, but it was a tremendous honor and it was really enjoyable to go through some of those topics with Chip.
So I would encourage you. I think it’d be tremendous resource to you and your organization, it’d be worth looking into. I mean, there’s several really good soundbites that you could pull out of this, but one that jumped out at me obviously was what problem are you passionate about solving. And so, you know, coming up with the answer to that rather than having to chase your tail and really chasing dollars is really what he was getting at, how there’s such a difference in mindset. And so I think that is incredibly, incredibly powerful. And so that was just one of several, several big takeaways. So anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. And I just want to, again, thank you so much for tuning in and see you next week.