Apr 23, 2020 • Podcast

How do I lead in uncertain times? with Dirk Beveridge

In this inspiring episode, Dirk Beveridge shares his perspective on leadership in these uncertain times. 

Show Notes:

Health is the big difference about this crisis. There is an entire generation of professionals who are experiencing their first crisis. “Life’s been pretty damn good the past ten years. I know we’re going to make it through this but …”

Leaders need to understand the depth of concern from the younger professionals. This is their first crisis.

Dirk is creating content in motion. On Sunday afternoons, Dirk is tapping into leaders throughout distribution. I asked Dirk, “What’s the general response from leaders?”

“I’ve been inspired with what they have to say … They’re doing all of this with heart.”

This tough time creates an opportunity for organizations to get back to their purpose. To focus on their values. Organizations need to realign with their true north. 

During these tough times, it’s important that new leaders don’t try to “do it all alone … Now is not the time to shelter in place.” It’s also important to think longer term. Don’t succumb to the pressure of short-term panic. 

Check out Dirk’s open letter.



Our show is updated weekly with the questions you ask. So, please go to the home page, subscribe, share it with your friends, but most importantly, ask the question that you want answered. 

The Q and A Sales Podcast is edited by The Creative Impostor Studios. Book a complimentary consultation about your show at http://www.thecreativeimpostor.com/qanda

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Check out this episode!

How do I lead in uncertain times? With Dirk Beveridge

(Transcribed from podcast interview)

So, what do I see? I see that there’s a lot of darn good leaders and managers throughout distribution who have acted quickly from a business perspective. And I think equally as important, if not more important, they’ve done it with their heart, and with empathy, and with care, and with real love for their employees.
— Dirk Beveridge

On today’s show, we have a special guest, Dirk Beveridge. Dirk Beveridge and I cross paths on the speaking circuit occasionally. I’ll see him at conferences, and I’ve got to tell you, his enthusiasm is contagious. His energy is off the charts. I’m thrilled to have him on the show today and talk to us about leadership in these uncertain times.

I know many of you have heard of Dirk. He really needs no introduction, but just to give you a little background … Dirk’s an entrepreneur, a researcher, an author, a strategist, consultant. He does a ton of work in wholesale distribution. When companies are looking to redefine their future in the age of rapid change, they look to Dirk and his leadership and his help. He really is an expert in all things distribution. That’s an industry that’s facing a lot of disruption. Also, Dirk just has a certain energy and passion for life that I look forward to hearing on this interview, but also sharing with the sales community. With that being said, I want to kick off today’s show.

One quick word about our sponsor. When I first started the podcast, the reason we did this is to help the sales community—to put together information that we know they needed. To clarify that and to put that into a show, it took a lot of work. I’ve got to say, Andrea’s team over at The Creative Impostor Studios do a wonderful job. She really partners with you. During these tough times that we’re facing right now, podcasting is one way to stay connected to your customers, to your colleagues. So, if you’re ever thinking about starting a podcast, visit The Creative Impostor Studios. Check out the website. We’ve got all the links set up. With that being said, let’s get started with the interview.

Paul Reilly: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Q and A Sales Podcast. I’ve got my friend, Dirk Beveridge, here on today’s episode. Dirk, to say things have changed since I saw you last March at UID [University of Innovative Distribution] would be the understatement of the century, wouldn’t it?

Dirk Beveridge: Absolutely. Paul, a real quick story on that. I saw you at UID and that was a five-day road trip. I usually fly everywhere, but that was a five-day road trip where I spent two days doing some planning with clients down in Nashville, drove up to Indianapolis to be at UID with you and everybody else, then I drove over to Champaign, IL the next day to work on the Innovation Lab for the American Supply Association. Got home at 2:00 AM. That’s Thursday night. Friday, got in the office at 8:00 AM and realized something was wrong—something was different. At 10:00 AM that next day after we saw each other, Friday, March 13, is when I concluded that the world was going to change overnight—over the weekend. That’s when we decided to pivot and do everything we’re doing now. It is timely, to your point.

PR: It’s crazy how much has changed. And, the road trip. You mentioned that. That reminds me of… who was it… John Madden, who did the NFL [inaudible]?
DB: Yeah—
PR: He wouldn’t fly [inaudible].

DB: Yeah. Good thing he’s not in the NFL right now. Going down to Mexico or [inaudible], or whatever, right?


PR: Absolutely. You know, Dirk, we’ve crossed paths before. I remember we were down in Costa Rica one time speaking at a conference. I’m well aware of just how much you’ve done in this industry and with your business. As a business owner and leader yourself, you’ve experienced tough times—uncertain times—whether it’s the Great Recession, 9/11, those historical events. Maybe you could just provide a little context of what makes this different.

DB: The easy answer is this is more than an economic issue, this is a health issue, right? I think we all realize that right now where there is a fear of our health, our family’s health, our employees’ health. Paul, let me pivot on that just for a second, because literally, in the last twelve hours, this has come to light. I’m 58. I think a difference that people like me need to really understand and stop and pause, is that this is the first crisis that our young employees have experienced. If you think about the twenty-somethings, maybe even the early thirty-somethings in our business… You know what? Life’s been pretty damn good.
PR: Yeah.
DB: Life’s been pretty good and now all of a sudden, my daughter, at 29, is stuck in her condo in Chicago and can only go out with a mask on. I was on the phone two days ago with a client, and his employee, who is a twenty-something individual living in Austin. Paul, she caught me off guard because we had a conversation before the boss got on, and the worry in her voice and demeanor was real.

I know we’re going to get through this, I just know it. I’m not sure my daughter, or this young individual, does [know this]. She told the story where down in Austin, the grocery stores are closed. You can only get food with the drive-up, or curbside. But, you go online for that order, it’s a two-to-three-week wait. She was—. Did you ever think there would be a moment, in our country, where some of your employees were worried if they’d be able to eat? She’s living with her mom and dad, and she’s living with her younger high school sister. She literally was worried if they were going to run out of food. So, I think the biggest difference here is—we could talk about the health—but, there’s something deeper that we all are experiencing.

Again, I know we’re going to get through this. I know my daughter… I know this young individual’s going to be okay. I know it. I’m not sure they do. And I think we have to pause, think. I don’t know what the answer to this is, Paul, but I really believe we, as leaders, have to stop and pause and be sure we’re understanding the depth of the concern that our employees, my daughter, our family, our loved ones, our neighbors, are experiencing.

PR: You know, there’s a lot going on. And there is no doubt, for many of the listeners of this show, salespeople everywhere, business professionals… This is the first crisis, right? This is real. I forgot who said it… Tough times don’t create your character, they reveal it in some ways. I think it’s interesting in some ways. Maybe the generational divide that is happening… Maybe this is something that’s going to unify the generational gap, [unify] different people. And unity like we’ve never seen knowing that we will make it through this together.

DB: We could go a lot of different paths on that, right? And, Paul, I hope to goodness—I really believe as an optimist, that’s one of the “goods” that’s going to come out of this is the humanity in all of this, and the care and the concern. I just wish the sons of [bleep]. Pardon me. I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear on your show. I just wish the sons of [bleep] in Washington would get their heads out of their butt and understand that this is not a political issue, and they need to move for the good of the people that brought them to Washington. Anyway… Sorry to go there.

PR: No. No. We’re keeping it real.

DB: Alright.

PR: Speaking of keeping it real… You know, I’ve been following what you’ve been doing on LinkedIn, and the collection of leaders that you have brought together from wholesale distribution, from other industries. I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you could generalize maybe what the feeling is among those leaders, and maybe some of the things they’re doing to help their teams right now.

DB: Yeah. Let’s talk about within distribution to start. On Wednesday, I published an open letter to wholesalers and distributors called Shift to Tomorrow. Your listeners can go to Shift-To-Tomorrow to read the letter. In there, what I talk about is the amazing response that I see. I’ve been really inspired by the business leaders throughout distribution, what they’ve been doing in the last three-four to six weeks—from a business and a management and a leadership perspective—the things they’ve done to, as I say, establish the facts. Stress testing their business. (I learned how to do that from Mike Martz from the [inaudible] Sunday conversations I had). They’ve applied for the government loans. They’ve developed scenario plans. They’ve forecasted. They’ve made some of the tough decisions about furloughing their employees. Sometimes they’ve had to fire or eliminate some jobs.

But, at the same time, going back to what we just talked about—some of the big changes here—what else inspires me, even more so, is that they’ve done all that with art. They’ve done that putting their employees and their customers first. And they really are thinking about their employees and they’re acting with that. The communication that I see between employer and employee is absolutely stellar. The investments in the sanitation and the disinfecting of facilities… They’re doing that for the goodness of their people. The remote working, helping people learn how to work remotely. All these things – they’re doing all these things. So, what do I see? I see that there’s a lot of darn good leaders and managers throughout distribution who have acted quickly from a business perspective. And, I think equally as important if not more important, they’ve done it with their heart, and with empathy, and with care and real love for their employees.

PR: You said it right there. Real love. I think these are the times where that shows. That it’s something that you can’t fake. It’s something—
DB: Yeah. That’s well said.
PR: What tough times do is they will call on skill sets that maybe you didn’t know you had. Different levels of empathy, and that is all unearthed under this.

DB: So, if you don’t mind… Behind me [pointing to whiteboard], Paul, is what I call my Easter pivot. We pivoted on March 13th and that pivot brought us the four weeks up to Easter. Then, we saw things changing some more and we said, “Alright. We’ve got to pivot again.” What you see behind me is that pivot. What you see over on the left hand side, I have an article there about John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco. I love his leadership he’s shown—how to get through inflection points like this. Two things… There’s a whole bunch there, Paul. He starts off by saying, “Companies are going to be running out of cash in the second quarter and it’s going to be ugly.” So, what does that mean to you and me is that, in our roles… And, by the way… leaders throughout business are going to need to be hugged, inspired, provide insight how to get through this. They’re going to need to be connected because it gets lonely. So, it’s going to be tough, and I think we all play a role to help people get through this. Truly, we’re all in this together. That’s not a platitude, it’s real.

The second thing he says is this (and I think this is important), he says, “Companies are either going to be destroyed by this, or they’re going to break away if they follow their North Star.” They’ll go back to what you just said, if they follow their North Star… If we go back to our purpose, if we go back to our values, if we go back to who we are as human beings, as to why we started this business in the first place—there’s goodness in all of that. And, if we find that and if we tap that (This is hard. Don’t get me wrong. People are suffering right now) good will come from this if we follow our North Star.

PR: That’s right. I always get energized when I hear you speak. These tough moments are going to be defining moments. I’ve often shared one of my favorite quotes on the show, from Walt Disney, when he talks about all the tough things he’s had in his life and how that’s led to where he was. He said, “Sometimes a kick in the teeth is the best thing for you.” I think, right now, this is a kick in the teeth that we didn’t ask for, that we would have never hoped for by any stretch. But, maybe it’s what we really needed. I think that’s the attitude—the one we hold on to.
DB: Yeah.
PR: Dirk, one thing I’d love to hear your thoughts on. We talk about some of the twenty-somethings, early thirty-somethings going through this for the first time. What about some of the leaders that are maybe facing their first crisis. Maybe you could speak a little bit about some of the pitfalls during a crisis. Things just to avoid, but things also that we can embrace that we can share with the community.

DB: Yeah. So, I’ll riff here a little bit. I think the first pitfall that comes to my mind is trying to do it alone. I mean, now is not the time to shelter in place. It just isn’t. We need the support of each other. We need the help of each other. We need the insight, the wisdom. Hell yeah, we need to hear good stories from other people. So, don’t shelter in place.

I think number two is, yes-yes-yes, let’s right this ship, but keep a long-term view. There will be another side. I think a potential mistake is… Hell, we all get worried, and we have to do what we have to do, right? We have to do what we have to do to keep the plane flying. I was just on a webinar earlier today, and somebody was talking about up in Michigan where they’re expecting up to 70 percent of their business dissipating. Two of the distributors in the area have just closed down for the next two weeks. I hope to God they open up again, you know. But, to the degree we can, there is a reality that is crashing down on all of our business. But to the degree that we can keep that long-term view—know that we’ll get out the other side, do what we have to do to keep the plane flying. But then, also really understand that this is an opportunity to align people around the purpose of the business, the values, your customers… Why you do what it is you do and to come out of this stronger.

If you don’t mind, Paul, in my letter to distributors, Shifttotomorrow.com, when I talk about the premise of shifting to tomorrow, I use the model of the innovative distributor that we have, to stimulate thinking in terms of “what are some premises that I have that we can use to reshape our business coming out of this.” That would be the third thing. Let’s think about how we can reshape our business coming out of this. And all of that, with an innovative mindset, start with some premises (some hypotheses) that we either prove or disprove. Now is the time to start that conversation internally. I think I have twelve or fifteen premises? There’s probably 150, right? I don’t have them all. But, hopefully, it’s a way to start the conversation within the business.

PR: Right now, with all the time people have on their hands, and, I know that we’re all working. We’re staying productive. I tell salespeople, “Look, you can only watch Tiger King on Netflix so many times [inaudible].”
DB: [Laughing] I never have. I won’t.
PR: If you watch one you’re going to be addicted. It’s like a bag of potato chips.


PR: Now is the time to invest in yourself. If I’m a salesperson out there right now, I’m reading what I can. I just finished Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game, and absolutely loved it. I felt it was one of the best business books I’ve read lately. What’s on your reading list right now? What do you think people should have in arm’s length to either gather inspiration, knowledge?

DB: Well, first, generally speaking, I think you can learn from both business and non-fiction books, and I think you can also learn from fiction books. I think there’s an opportunity to pick up some good fiction books that get your mind thinking about possibilities. One that I was turned on to a couple of years ago got me thinking about possibilities from a really negative perspective. It was recommended to me by General James Stavridis. It’s called The Circle [by Dave Eggers]. It’s about a Google-type company and it says what happens if technology moves in this direction. There are books like that that absolutely get you thinking.

PR: It’s good to hit both sides of the brain.
DB: Yeah.
PR: The left/right side and all that. You end up creating some connectivity there that sparks new creativity.

DB: Yeah. Exactly. I love it. Well said. Another book is by John Chambers, Connecting the Dots. It was just really timed well for this. That’s the book that I’m going to each night right now. Then, I do a lot of journaling and just writing right now.

PR: I know people want to hear more. Maybe to close out, you can share a little bit more about what you’ve been doing. I’ve been following your webinars on Sunday evenings. How can people get in touch with you, Dirk?

DB: I appreciate that, Paul. A. Our website. Our company website is UnleashWD.com. But, what I really encourage people to do right now is go to ShiftToTomorrow.com. As I mentioned a little bit ago. I really think it’s time for us to pick our heads up and look to the horizon. Sometimes I riff and I published a somewhat lengthy letter to wholesale distributors, but I’m getting a lot of great feedback on it. Go to ShiftToTomorrow.com and take in that letter and see if you can utilize that to rally your troops about coming out of this stronger. I think you’ll be able to.

Second thing. When you go to ShiftToTomorrow.com, you’re also going to see another path you can go down to some programming. In the very near future, Paul, we’re going to be opening up a new offering, Unleash WD University. Part of that is our first six weeks of free programming which includes the Sunday conversations. You go to ShiftToTomorrow.com, register once, and you’ll be signed up for the next six weeks of these live conversations I have with wicked-smart individuals. They’re going to help us think about shifting to tomorrow. Then, each Wednesday through the first Wednesday in June, we’re going to do a deep-dive class on one of those premises that I have in the letter. I’m bringing in individuals that are a hell of a lot smarter than me, that know things that I don’t know, and they’re going to teach us how to think differently and move differently to come out of this stronger.

I’ve got to tell you something real quick. You have to–have to-have to see our first one. It’s with Brendan Deely, the CEO of Banner Solutions. He was the CEO of L & W Supply during the housing crisis. They are a building materials distributor, and he led his team to do three things: come out of this stronger, think bigger than they ever have, and change the rules of the industry. And they did it. This is a case study that every single distributor has to understand and learn from. He’s going to share that with us. Every Wednesday after that is going to be as powerful.

PR: Awesome. Dirk, I really appreciate it. You’re always energizing. Also, very insightful in sharing your thoughts. Keep up the great work. We’ll, hopefully, see you soon, maybe at another conference when that gets back to it. But, until then, we thank you for your time.

DB: Paul, thank you. I love what you’re doing, and I love the work you do for your customers. Keep it up, okay?

PR: Alright. Thanks, Dirk. Have a good one.

Alright everyone. A big thank you to Dirk for coming on and sharing his thoughts. Many of the items he mentioned, the websites, the webinars, things like that, we’re going to have links to all that information on this episode’s web page.

If you find this information helpful, please share it with your colleagues.

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