David Dodson
Reality and Fiction Meet

Doing the hard work upfront makes all the work that follows run smoother.

David Dodson
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Show Notes

Dive into the world of business mastery with David Dodson (@DaveDodson), Wall Street Journal’s best-selling author and influential figure in finance. Uncover the invaluable lessons from his journey as an investor, entrepreneur, and CEO. As the maestro behind one of Stanford’s most coveted business courses, Dodson’s insights, featured on CNBC and Fox News, offer a rare glimpse into success strategies. Don’t miss out on the wisdom of a seasoned expert as he transforms how we work with his latest book, “The Manager’s Handbook.” Join us for a riveting exploration of triumphs and failures that will reshape your perspective on business and leadership.

“The act of doing ordinary things extraordinarily well is uncommon.”

– Navy SEALs Ethos

Key Takeaways:

  • Why We Learn From Failure: Understanding the essence of learning from failure lies in our tendency to dissect setbacks more meticulously than successes. Achievements often lead us to overlook the comprehensive details, whereas stumbling compels us to delve deep into the intricacies of what went awry. It is through the process of picking apart our missteps or wins that we can extract valuable insights and foster genuine growth.
  •  Skills vs. Intuition: Navigating the intricacies of a successful business is only sometimes intuitive; instead, it heavily relies on a foundation of skills. Highlighting this perspective in “The Manager’s Handbook,” where the identification of five universal skill areas underscores the critical role of aptitude for effective management. Recognizing and honing these skills becomes paramount for anyone seeking success in the dynamic world of business.
  • Mental Health in the Workplace: Destigmatizing mental illness in the workplace is vital for leaders. Brilliance often coexists with mental health challenges like bipolar disorder. Leaders must proactively equip themselves with tools to manage these issues, acknowledging their inevitability in the workplace.
  • Time Management: Mastering the use of your time is not just a skill; it’s a role of custodianship over one of our most precious resources. Recognizing the importance of being a custodian of time involves a strategic approach to prioritizing tasks, setting goals, and optimizing efficiency. By understanding the value of time, individuals can achieve greater productivity, reduce stress, and ultimately unlock their full potential in both personal and professional realms.

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Links for David Dodson:



The Manager’s Handbook

Mark Divine  0:00  

Hi, this is Mark Divine and welcome to the Mark Divine Show. On the show I explore what it’s like to be fearless through the lens of some of the most inspirational, courageous and compassionate leaders around the world: martial arts grandmasters, military leaders, SEALs, high power CEOs, and those who write books about their experiences. Such as my guest today, David Dodson, is on the faculty at the Stanford Graduate Business School. He guides students in tactical execution. Teaches one of the most sought after courses at Stanford, The Economists listed his course as one of the three hottest courses and he’s the recipient of the MSX Teaching Excellence Award. His success in the classroom follow his vast experience in the trenches beginning at McKinsey and Company. He’s a consultant, then as a serial entrepreneur where he started and or acquired six different companies and ran them as CEO or Executive Chairman. Since then, he’s served as a board member on more than 40 public and private companies and have been an active investor in over 150. Dave is a frequent commentator on CNBC and Fox News has been published in New York Times, Boston Globe, Fortune Magazine, Forbes, CNN, Business Insider, Denver Post, and others. And we’ll be talking today about his new book, The Manager’s Handbook. How to apply those lessons in real life will be the focus of our conversation. David, thanks so much for joining me today. 

Mark Divine 1:18

David, thanks so much for joining me on the Mark Divine Show. I’m super stoked to meet you. Appreciate your time today, sir.

David Dodson 1  1:22  

No, it’s an honor to be on your show. I’ve followed some of your podcasts and your, your program. And I think it’s fascinating what you’re doing just to bring in the whole experience from the military into the business and corporate world. So I found it fascinating. And I was thrilled to be on your show. 

Mark Divine  1:37  

Yeah, I appreciate that. I want to get into like the meat of your work. And the book that you’ve recently come out with The Manager’s Handbook. But before that I’m most interested in is like, who you are, like, what, where are you from? What were some of the driving forces in your life that kind of steered you in the direction that puts you where you are today,


 David Dodson  1:55  

I grew up in a really rural part of Colorado, the closest town to me had a population of 350. And kind of everybody was divided between farmers or ranchers. And my dad was in the farm equipment business. And he had a small manufacturing company that manufactured farm equipment. Being in an environment where most of the people are living off agriculture, whether it’s farming or ranching. And my dad in the manufacturing sector gave me a love for being in business and a love for being a business person. But also just kind of this sense of work ethic that I think is, at least at the time, I thought it was quite unique to people who live off the land. But then what happened, Mark is that in my junior year in high school, so I was couple years from going off to college. Two things happened that devastated my dad’s business, and I mean, devastated it. One was a spike in interest rates. And the second was changing federal policy, agricultural policy. And it effectively bankrupted my father. At one point, I mean, he had a pretty thriving business there. I left that experience, wanting to be in business like my dad. And I thought he was a terrific business person, but not wanting to have my destiny in the hands of somebody else. I understood that there’s that external forces that are going to you know, sometimes you got a little bit of a headwind, sometimes you got a little bit tailwind, but where external forces can really actually define whether you win or lose. 

The second was that when I went off to college, we didn’t have any money because of the situation I just described. So I would take my classes in the morning, and then I would borrow my roommates car and I would drive down to San Jose, I was goong to Stanford, and I would work at a slaughterhouse. And I worked in a slaughterhouse because it paid a lot of money. And I needed the money. And I realized later I didn’t realize at the time is that I needed to understand what it was like to have a job, and not a particularly good job, because you just need the money. And so that was probably the second thing that’s really influenced my life. 

And then the third is I’ve had some terrific mentors along the way, most notably, Herb Groesbeck, who wrote the introduction to the book, The Manager’s Handbook. So I would say that those are sort of the three kind of forces that propelled me and how they all kind of came together as I wrote a book about management that is not about the internet or anything fancy, it’s about basic skills that apply to anybody who’s managing. But also, there’s the sort of democratization in my book, which is that I wanted to be in businesses where I was in control, which meant that success or failure really dependent upon my ability to execute. And when I started on this three year research journey, to figure out why some people were just so much better getting things done than others. It wasn’t that they had X ray vision or they could, you know, see things that the rest of us couldn’t see. It was that they were incredible executors. In the first like big epiphany I had was Sam Walton, actually, in 1962. When he opened up that first store, he was literally surrounded by Kmart, JC Penney’s, Sears and Target and he annihilated them. He didn’t invent anything, but he consistently out actually killed him. And then I looked at people like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs and so forth. And over and over again, I realized, wait a minute, what really happened here? Is they just out executed their competitors. They didn’t invent anything. 


Mark Divine  5:10  

Do you think in today’s like, incredibly interconnected world that any company can be safe from external shocks? or external forces, like you described?


 David Dodson  5:20  

Oh, yeah, I really do. I mean, there are definitely companies that have big influences from government policy, for example. They’re businesses in the healthcare sector that live and die on what happens in Washington, DC, but for most businesses, that’s not the case. And and I don’t mean to imply that if you have a lumberyard and interest rates go up, that might affect your business a little bit, but that’s what happened to my dad’s business. My dad’s business was devastated by a stroke of the pen, interest rates and a stroke of a pen.


Mark Divine  5:47  

COVID. You know, that was a once in a lifetime exigency that probably is not what you’re talking about, where you have something that, you know, so rare that it takes out half the economy, a third of the economy. 


David Dodson  5:58 

Yeah, not at all. I don’t think you can solve for those kinds of Black Swan effects that are that are so unlikely to happen. But you can stay out of businesses that are deeply influenced by forces that just simply aren’t in your control.


Mark Divine  6:11  

Yeah, in particular, government policy and regulation.


David Dodson 6:14

And that is a big one, right? Yep.


Mark Divine 6:15

That’s yeah, that’s a big one. That’s fascinating. So you got your undergrad? Did you get your MBA in graduate work at Stanford as well?


 David Dodson  6:21  

What I did when I graduated, as I took a job at McKinsey and Company.


Mark Divine 6:25



​​David Dodson 6:25

And I worked in the energy sector in Texas for a couple of years. But always with a mind that I was going to go back and get my MBA at Stanford because I got at the time, they had a program called pre admits. So they would admit you in your final year in college, and you could defer, so I deferred for two years, but I always knew I was going to go back. And McKinsey was a really great boot camp for me and I feel insecure saying boot camp to a guy who actually went to boot camp. I never went to boot camp, but it’s in one respect it, I think there is a parallel, which is that it made me grow up.


Mark Divine  6:56  

I remember a lot of my friends, peers from Colgate did a similar thing, right? They would, their boot camp was like Morgan Stanley, you know, and I went to Coopers and Lybrand, I was in big a CPA before I joined the SEALs. 


David Dodson 7:08

Okay, all right.


Mark Divine 7:09

I think I’m the only weirdo who did it that way.


David Dodson  7:11  

Yeah, it does seem a little backwards.


Mark Divine  7:15  

I’m a backwards kind of guy, you know, you’re busting your butt. Those are long, long hours, and you’re seeing a lot of different industries. And they put you through the wringer in those two years. I can see that being a real growth, though. 


 David Dodson  7:24  

Well they do. And they also have had a I mean, the firm’s changed a lot in the last 40 years. But when I was there, the standard of excellence was extraordinary. The rules around ethics and how you behaved was so honorable. And I just got a lot of values there. But I never ever wanted to stay there and make a career there. And I always wanted to be back in business for myself. So when I went, when I went back to business school at Stanford, I was always towards being in business for myself, which is what I did for many, many, many years before I shifted over to investing and teaching at Stanford. And I went back, obviously at Stanford to teach.


Mark Divine  8:00  

So tell us about your entrepreneurial career, like what were some of the highs and lows and lessons from that?


David Dodson  8:05  

I had some huge successes, and I had some complete flops. First of all, it’s made me a much better investor, it might feel a little tongue in cheek when people say, oh, you know, you learn more from your failures, well you do you learn more from your failures then your successes, and there’s actually kind of a cognitive reason for that, which is that when you have a success, you tend to be less introspective on why that happened.


Mark Divine 8:28



David Dodson 8:28

You might modestly say you’re lucky or think it’s all about you. But when you have a failure, and you’re like really kicked in the jaw, if you’re smart, you undergo a very serious sort of deep refund, what happened or a post mortem? And so I think that’s one of the reasons why people do learn more from their failures, their successes, I certainly did. So I was CEO of five different companies. One that was a it continues to be a pretty large, thriving nonprofit that operates in seven countries. 


Mark Divine  8:56  

And these are companies that you were hired, or did you start any of them or?


David Dodson 9:00  

No actually not. Two were effectively startups. One was from the ground up. The other was we bought one teeny, teeny company and then built it from there, just for are told, and the other two were companies that I bought, I didn’t have any money. That was probably clear since I was still working in slaughterhouse, that I pulled a group of investors together to help buy the company. So they put the capital together. And then I did all the sweat equity. And I had the teamsters reporting to me at one point or not reporting to me, but I had Teamsters and I had the IBW so I deatl with unions. A lot of those companies were trucks and very kind of salt of the earth businesses, but one of them was, you know, internet enabled. So I had a little bit of everything. 


Mark Divine  9:39  

So in that leadership journey, how did you see yourself evolve as a leader? How were you different as a leader at the end of that journey than maybe at the beginning, stylistically, worldview, the way you dealt with teams?


 David Dodson  9:53  

I’ll give you a few places that I felt were really profound changes. One was, I was a very insecure leader at the beginning, which I don’t think is, is unique. But how I presented that was arrogance. Because I was afraid of people, I was afraid of my employees, I was afraid of what people thought I wanted to be liked, and so forth. And that manifested itself in a in a really sort of counterproductive way. And over time, I realized that I could sort of let go of that insecurity, that people did not expect me to be perfect. And that also that I could be more myself and I could relate more deeply to my employees, and they appreciated it more. So that was one. 

The second was I sort of alluded to this, but I really wanted to be liked. And I didn’t understand how destructive that is. Now, of course, I want to be liked by my kids and my wife and all that. But your employees, if you’re driven by being liked, then you’re going to make bad decisions, which, interestingly enough, Mark is going to make you less liked, if you will.


Mark Divine 10:53

I totally agree with you. 


David Dodson 10:54

Yeah, once I stopped worrying about whether people liked me or not. And instead, I said, I’m working with a bunch of professionals here. And what they want me to do is they want me to make really good decisions, even the hard ones, even the unpopular ones, I was actually more liked, if you will. So that was the second big area. The third was a really understanding that a lot of business is not intuitive. And in fact, it’s skill based. And as of course, what’s led to the book, The Manager’s Handbook, where I identified that there were these five skill areas that were universal among good managers. This is a little bit immodest to say, because I wrote the book, and I’m really making a point about how clumsy I was, was a manager early on, I wish I’d had the book that I wrote, now, in my 60s, when I was getting started in my 30s. You know, I went to a really, really great college and a really great MBA program. And nobody taught me how to hire, nobody taught me how to give a performance review. Nobody taught me how to set and adhere to priorities. So I had to learn all of that on the job. So by the time I kind of retired, if you will, as a CEO, I had learned all of those things the hard way. There’s the saying, you know, you can pay attention in class and learn today, or you can let life teach you. So I let life teach me a lot of those skills.


Mark Divine  12:07  

That’s cool. I’ve actually said the same thing about one of my books, Unbeatable Mind,  wrote it in 2011. But I was like, boy, sure wish I knew this back in 1990. 


David Dodson  12:18  

And you know to have that question that sometimes asked um, what we sometimes ask guests in class, you know, what would you tell your 30 year old self today? And it’s a little bit what happens when you write a book right, Mark? 


Mark Divine  12:29  

Right, exactly. You get to look back and be like, man, yeah, the power of time and just lessons, but you can’t shortcut that either. It’s more than just the lesson. It’s everything else that comes with it, the embodiment of the experiences and the emotional development, we’ll get into the five things that you I want to talk about from your book, the execution piece. But like my experience in working with clients, execution is really, really radically important. That’s like the, you know, the doing part. But if you haven’t dealt with your traumas, and you haven’t done some of the emotional work to show up authentically, and with respect, like you said, some of the early part of you same thing with me, I lacked so much confidence that it showed up as arrogance or, you know, as overcompensating for my own flaws. And so it wasn’t until I started to do my own therapeutic work and shadow work, and letting go of the trying to be perfect. And, you know, taking off the mask, there’s a whole different  a lot of different metaphors I could use. So what do you think is that other piece? Like, how important is that, from your perspective, for an individual to not just work on the execution, but their work on their very being? You know, how they show up?


 David Dodson  13:36  

I love that question. By the way, John Steinbeck wrote a line in his book, East of Eden. And it was from one character to the character named Cal. He said, now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good. 


Mark Divine 13:48

I love it. 


David Dodson 13:48

I really strongly embrace what you’re saying. And it’s one of the reasons why I have a whole chapter on finding an executive coach. Because an executive coach is not just about the nuts and bolts of how do you run a meeting, but it’s how are you showing up, and I address head on in the book, you know, if you’ve got issues about dependency on substance, you’ve got issues in your personal life with your marriage, things going on in the office, you have to find a coach that you can talk about those things with, because you can’t put them under the cover. We have a class that’s specifically devoted just for mental illness among entrepreneurs, which is rampant. I think, don’t hold me to the stat Mark, but I think it’s five times more prevalent among entrepreneurs and the general community. So I have a guest and he’s mentioned in the book not in this context, but in other contexts. Paul English, he was one of the couple of founders of kayak.com, the travel site. And his battles with bipolar disorder. And he comes in we talked to the class about not only how you think about your own struggles, but also how you help as a manager and a leader, when people are having struggles. You may not have any issues with mental illness. But there’s 100% chance that if you have any decent sized organization, there are people there that do, same thing with substance abuse, etc. So I know the scope of your question was more how to you kind of get your own act together, but it also bleeds into these other aspects. And I do think you have to have that kind of largely together before you can lead correctly. So you know, how you’re showing up.


Mark Divine  15:22  

Right. I think it’s really need to de-sigmitize mental illness, right? Because again, it just sounds so awful like, oh my god, I’m, I’m mentally ill, like I’m broken. You know, some of the most brilliant people and creative people are bipolar. The challenge is like that brilliance is incredible. But then on the other side of the roller coaster, it’s awful for them. And so to have the compassion, right, to be able to understand when someone’s you know, we’re there in that trough, you know, to help them through that. But it doesn’t make them broken, in my opinion. It’s just something’s you know, something’s off for their chemistry or, or whatnot. And without that, they wouldn’t have that genius. I mean, look at what Robin Williams brought to the world, just extraordinary. You know, in the comedic field, he was a bipolar. And now that, you know, post COVID, like mental illness is all over the place. I bet you half the population has something that be categorized in the DSM right, as a mental illness burnout, right, fatigue, anxiety, depression, I think it’s time to destigmatize that and for leaders, organizational leaders to like bring it right up to the forefront and say, hey, this is not bad, your job’s not on the line here, let’s everybody get healthy.


David Dodson  16:26  

You do a lot for that through your program and your podcasts and the other the other things that you do so, I mean, you’re really helping to get the message out that can be talked about openly, and it’s should not be stigmatized. And until you’re willing to do that you can’t actually deal with that. But there’s no but period.


Mark Divine 16:43



David Dodson 16:43

In addition, that leaders and managers not only need to think about their own world, but they also need to have the tools in place. So they can manage those issues. Not if they come up in the workplace, but when they come up in the workplace…


Mark Divine 16:55

Yeah, when.


David Dodson 16:56

…and not to run away from it, but run into the issue. And there are certain things you can and should do as a leader.


Mark Divine  17:03  

Right. I love your recommendation to have executive coaching. I know a lot of organizations are starting to employ, like internal executive coaches or bring in organizations. And I hired an executive coach in January to work with me, cause, you know, as you know, when you start a business, sometimes you you find yourself several years later, standing on an island going like, I don’t have anyone to talk to you. Like I don’t have a board of directors, I know you probably have all that because you’re wiser than I am when it comes to that. But so I’ve had to get really smart um, in last couple of years sort of surround myself with advisors and mentors, and now a direct executive coach who like holds that mirror up to me and says, Hey, Mark, this is what I see.


David Dodson  17:39  

You had a great podcast a while back on it specifically that, you know, the topic of executive coaching and so forth, which I thought was fantastic. 


Mark Divine  17:47  

Yeah. So what are best practices from your vantage point for either finding a coach or working with a coach or being a coach? I guess, the whole thing? 


David Dodson  17:55  

Yeah, the book is divided into five skill areas, which were not something I just kind of stared out of the window and thought about instead, I went the reverse. I studied really effective leaders that were just great at getting things done. And I look for commonalities. And I found these five things. And there were no exceptions, by the way.


Mark Divine 18:12



David Dodson 18:13

And one of them was an ability to seek and take advice. Well, if I said, if I were on your podcast right now, Mark, and I said, by the way, if you want to be good leader, you should be good at seeking and taking advice. Well, that’s not very particularly controversial. That’s where it gets interesting. But it’s also not useful. And I wanted a book that could be used, not could be read. And so I broke down well, what are the components of seeking and taking advice, and one of them is thinking about getting an executive coach, by the way, you know, when it got the whole notion of executive coaches, when it kind of got started, which they say that kind of Peter Drucker, that’s a half a century ago was kind of the first person to be executive coach. It’s increasingly it went from that to an executive coach you bring in when the CEO is stumbling. To what we have now today, which is executive coaches are definitely not because you’re stumbling, and definitely not just for the CEO. So that’s a huge positive breakthrough. So the book sort of explains what an executive coach does, explains why an executive coach is different than a mentor. And then it’s a how to manual, right? So it’s how do you find an executive coach? What questions should you ask them? What should you be looking for in an executive coach? In fact, at the end of the chapters, you know, it says, you know, 10 questions to ask an executive coach, when you’re interviewing them, different websites you can go to. And I can’t think of anything that would be more applicable to the average manager who’s beginning to learn to manage and having an executive coach to be a little bit like I want to, you know, I want to play for the NFL, but I don’t want to have a coach. 


Mark Divine  19:43  

So a lot of folks are in transition. I get a lot of people coming through our Unbeatable programs we have a coach certification is it’s not executive coaching. It’s more like integrated, holistic, more life coaching, but we’re kind of heading more into the OD work, so that’ll change but if you’re listening, if a listener is saying, hey, I’m interested in becoming an executive coach, what would you tell them? Like, what, where’s a good place to start investigating? To where I would I get the skills and the training, you know, is there best practices or is a particular program that you really like to become an executive coach?


David Dodson  20:16  

So the first thing is, being an executive coach, which is one of the things that differentiates an executive coach from a mentor, as an executive coach is not someone who brings their several decades of life experience and kind of sits back and offers wisdom. The good executive coaches, you know, for what you do in your own program, is being able to run a process in a certain way to try to bring out the best of that person’s talent. That is a process that in most cases needs to be taught. Few people might just figure it out intuitively. And in the book, I mentioned a number of schools and programs where you know, the books written from the context of a client who would be signing up for an executive coach. But if you’re interested in being an executive coach, those are listed right in the book, as well as I think this important differentiation between what is an executive coach versus what is a mentor, or advisor, and they’re very different.


Mark Divine  21:03  

Yeah, they are. I agree with that. Do you think it’s important just to put a pin in this conversation that and the ICF kind of certification to go with an executive coach, and I mean, most coaches that I’ve seen, really are trying to do as a career, they kind of want that. I don’t know if that’s important, from your perspective, or in the high end executive world.


 David Dodson  21:21  

I never had an executive coach. So this was one of those great chapters, where it’s purely my curation of the best practices of other people, which included coaches, and pretty much across the board, I heard very good things about that certification, that program. And there’s another element to it too, which is continuing education.


Mark Divine  21:41  

Yeah, the international, the ICF is the International Coaching Federation. I want to like double click, you mentioned throughout the 360 report, or review, which came out of the military. I gotta tell you, the first 360 that was administered on me, I got kicked in Jimmy, like, I was like, Holy crap, they actually perceive that, me that way. Like, I had no idea. And it led to a complete transformation of how I lead. And I still think a lot of people resist these, like they they kind of feel like they get forced into them sometimes. But man, what a valuable tool. And that’s something that normally a good executive coach would either facilitator or request that that get done. 


David Dodson  22:23  

Yeah, earlier in our conversation Mark, where you were asking about my own evolution. And I only did one thing that could even remotely be qualified as 360. And that was early in my career. And that’s where I got feedback on how I was sort of presenting myself. I mean, I didn’t walk into the office saying, oh, David, you know, you’re insecure, have a good day. But it was there, I was feeling that. And that’s where I realized that how it was presented, as it was being presented as arrogance and aloofness. And by the way, the phrase, ice water in your veins, I got kind of kicked pretty hard as well. However, since that time, the practice of 360s has really evolved and gotten much more sophisticated and much less painful. You don’t really have to be, you know, have that jolt, it’s not about shock therapy.


Mark Divine  23:10  

Yeah, the presentation is really important. And you’ve got to have the skill to present it properly. 


David Dodson  23:15  

Yes, so for example, the best 360 processes are not ones where you go online, and you download an app, and everybody puts in whatever they want. And maybe you’ve got, you know, you Google the 200, best 360 questions that has. And then you give that information to people, that uncurated information is generally not very useful, you can lose good people. And in the book, I talk about one in particular. And it can be very painful and destructive to the 360 process. And especially now, where we’ve got this world where people will go online, and they’ll say stuff they would never say to somebody face to face.

The 360 is not kind of an anonymous chat group. And what I describe is, first of all, how you formulate those few questions, because you really want to focus on a few questions. Let’s say, for example, that you and I have a company that we’re delivering something. And on time delivery is a very important component of it. So a good 360 program is, to what extent does Mark contribute to our goal of 27 minutes on time delivery, that’s a good 360. You’re gonna get really valuable information from that. So crafting your 360 questions around what the company’s goals and ambitions are is really critical. Otherwise, you’re gonna get these kind of like 10,000 foot answers. 

The second thing is that the manager, or, you know, you alluded to Mark where you can you have a coach do this, but let’s say it’s the person’s manager. They curate that information. And they take all this input. they repackage it in a way that they look for common themes and common themes that they think the person should be working with, and then they give that feedback to the person say, okay, Mark, here’s some general themes that we got. One is it, it seems like you’re very aspirational about the on time delivery, but because you’re not organized during the day….. And we heard that over and over again from drivers. Okay, now we’re starting to go into the 360 is not a judging you, but it’s about helping you to become a better performer. So that notion of sort of packaging and curation. And then I talk a little bit in the book about how when you’re doing a 360 review of the company doesn’t have them yet, you start by doing a 360 review on just yourself, you got to be patient, and then you model to the your staff, how you deal with feedback, so you got to feed back, it might not have been curated, you’re gonna have to put up with that, or you can use a coach. But then you go through a very simple steps, I would say, This is what I heard, these are the common themes that I heard, this is what I’m going to work on right away, this is what I want to work on, but I’m not gonna be able to work on it until fill in the blank. And this is where I’m not going to change, and let me explain why. And I know you’re a big fan of this having these frameworks and processes in place. So you’re not just out winging it, make it really very easy for you to execute well.


Mark Divine  25:55  

Right. Let’s pan out and just look at your book, The Managers Handbook, what are the five key areas? And we’ve already been talking a lot about coaching and development? What are the five key areas and then let’s like pull out a highlight or two. 


David Dodson  26:09  

Yeah, so the first one is the ability to build a team, I refer to it as a commitment to building a team. It’s I like it, because we talked about this a little bit earlier in our conversation. If I were teaching at Stanford, or I do teach at Stanford, what I teach at Stanford, if I said to my students, hey, you need to have a commitment to building a team, everybody’s gonna be like, they’d nod, but they’d say I paid tuition for this. Then I talk about seven particular steps that you go through in terms of building a team, and it starts with hiring. But then the very next chapter goes into how you onboard. And the next chapter on that is how you give feedback. The next one is being a fanatical custodian of your time, what I observed is that the best leaders recognize that I have any more time than you and I do more. But some people have hundreds of 1000s of employees working for them. So how do they do that? And again, it’s not, hey, be careful with your time. But what are very specific things that people do, that don’t require you to go to a three week seminar or a weekend seminar, they’ll require you to completely re engineer your day that allow you to be a good custodian of your time.


Mark Divine  27:05  

I think others would be interested as well. But like what was the top two or three things that the people you studied did to radically preserve their time, they say no to things that they didn’t need to do, or shouldn’t be doing. 


David Dodson  27:17  

The foundation of this was a study done at Harvard, where they looked at 27, high performing CEOs. And if you can imagine this Mark, they documented how they behaved in 15 minute increments, accumulating literally 60,000 hours of data. 


Mark Divine 27:34



David Dodson 27:34

What they saw is that while each of these 27, high performing CEOs may have done a few, you know, no two did manage their day exactly the same, there were some clear common themes. For example, they always plan out their day. Sounds simple, I plan out my day, every single day. But then nobody wants to fill out a seven page questionnaire with their filling out their day, my day planner takes 90 seconds, I described that one in the book, by way of example. A second one is how they manage their time. So I wanted to write a book that people could implement the next day, and could say, wow, I could do that. So one example would be take your 30 minute meetings and cut them down to 20 minutes, which you can do and take your hour long meetings and cut them down to 40 minutes. By the way, when I went back and looked at my own calendar, and I said, okay, what if I had done that over the last month, it was an extra 70 minutes per day of time, that was actually really powerful, because it was so easy to do. And also, if you schedule a meeting from one o’clock to 1:20, people assume that there’s a reason for it, and they know you got to get to business. So we actually hacked a lot of information in there. And the in the meetings ended at 1:20.


Mark Divine  28:42  

How do you determine which meetings can go into fit into 20 minutes in which ones need 40?


 David Dodson  28:47  

Well, we do that anyway. Right? We set our long meetings and half hour long meetings, it’s very hard to get a 60 minute slot on my calendar.


Mark Divine  28:54

I’m going to implement this one tomorrow, you just improved my life. Thank you very much.


David Dodson  28:57  

I saved you 70 minutes a day, which which…


Mark Divine 28:59

Send me an invoice, lol.


David Dodson 29:01

Which is it’s big, right? 


Mark Divine 29:03

It’s huge.


David Dodson 29:04

And so I’ll give you an interesting statistic. Before the internet, the typical executive had about 1000 pieces of communication per year. Okay, pre COVID, which is when this study was done. So it’s even worse now, went from 1000 to 30,000 pieces of communication, and it’s ever increasing. The irony is that most of these things were supposed to make us more efficient. All we’ll do email that’ll make us more efficient. And we’re going to have collaboration tools, that’ll make us more, but all it really did is it made it easier for people to waste our time.


Mark Divine 29:34



David Dodson 29:35

And so in the book, I’ve got a chapter on the digital disaster, what I call it . And marking off these 27 CEOs, how you manage this digital input or these 30,000 plus pieces of communication in a way that they don’t consume your time. I mean, we all have experienced those days where you go home and you think all I did was respond to email. That’s all I did all day long.


Mark Divine 29:59

That’s all I did.


David Dodson 30:00

That’s not where you add value. 


Mark Divine 30:01

Wow, that’s cool. That is very simple and powerful. 


David Dodson 30:04

So we had, you know, building a team. And then being a fanatical custodian of time, we talked about willingness to seek and take advice when we’re talking about executive coaches, then setting and adhering to priorities. And then the last one was obsession with quality, which, by the way, it was, you know, that was was the one that I would not have predicted. But it was universally true. And I hope that it’s obvious. Well, might not be obvious, because it wasn’t obvious to me. These all go together. Okay. So here’s the story, I want to tell you. 

Michael Porter is a pretty famous professor at Harvard, he had helped me and coached me with some of the writing and read most of the book, we were kind of done, or I was done, and I was in his kitchen, I said, here, I wrote the introduction of the book, I’d like you to read it. So he reads the introduction. He gets studies,  and a very, very blunt direct guide. He said, this is all wrong. I’m like, oh, my God, it’s hard. I had to rewrite the book. What he ended up telling me is he said, you’re thinking about this all wrong, you’re thinking about it, as if you’ve laid out sort of 35 things that somebody can do to be a more effective manager. And that people can kind of pick and choose which ones they want to do. Like, it’s a menu option. And he said, that’s not how it works. He said, what you’ve done, this was very nice of him to say this, he said, what you’ve done is you’ve created in his words, he said, a unifying theory of execution, as the guy who created the unified theory on strategy, so I was quite flattered that he said that, but he talked about how they how they go so well together. And so we’ve been talking about time management. The fourth part of the book is about adhering to priorities. And you can’t adhere to priorities, if you haven’t hired the right people. And if everybody’s not managing their time well, and so it goes. 

And so he was the one who really unlocked for me that you don’t get to pick and choose, you kind of got to do it all. If you really want to transform your organization, even the ones you don’t like to do, I’m sure that you many, many times in your in your career, because of the arc of your career. In order to succeed, you had to do some things that were not fun at all.


Mark Divine 32:01

Still doing some.


David Dodson 32:02

Right. But you can’t pick and choose. Okay, I’ll take a simple example, when you’re interviewing, the easiest thing to do is to glance at the resume and then go in there and effectively just visit with the person for an hour and decide whether you like them or not. And whether you click or not, that’s a miserable way to hire. The right way to hire requires hard work. But you have a huge payoff because your your hit rate on hiring the right people is so much higher. Same thing with running a meeting you and I could walk into a meeting and I could wing it. Or I could take six or seven minutes and prepare for the meeting. It’s a little bit more work. But that’s the difference between what Jeff Bezos did, and all of the carnage around the internet where people who tried to do exactly the same thing as Jeff Bezos, except they got slaughtered.


Mark Divine  32:44  

Right,  I see how all these tied together in a process. I’ve got a small organization, I can see how I mean, this is challenging to scale execution excellence. It’s easy. I’ve often said this, like in the SEAL teams, it’s easier to form a team from scratch than it is to change a team that’s been operating for years. 


David Dodson 33:01

I think that’s true. 


Mark Divine 33:02

If someone’s listening is like, Man, I love these ideas. And we haven’t really talked about the quality one, but like, they all make sense. But my organization, the culture is just stuck in a rut. And we know from Harvard, Keegan’s work that organizations have an immunity to change. So how do you get this implemented, and is there any kind of secret sauce to that?


David Dodson  33:19  

There is , it I’ve broken it into 18, effectively 18 months, if you read this book, and you go, okay, well, I like I don’t necessarily agree with every word in there. But boy, if my organization ran like this, it’d be so much better than we have today. And then you bought 10 copies and gave it to your managers and say, let’s all read this, and let’s all do this, you’re guaranteed to fail. And by the way, I’m not defining failure as no improvement, you’ll absolutely improve your meetings will get a little bit better, your hiring will look better, but you won’t transform your organization. If you want to transform your organization. After your team reads the book, then you say, I think we all have a lot of energy around this onboarding issue, because we’re losing a lot of people in the first 100 days. So let’s start focusing on the onboarding chapter. And you get every sign up, and you work on that. And then when that’s done, you go to the next one, and when that’s when you go the next one. And so you do it in a serial fashion. And if it takes you five months to get your onboarding process in place, that’s fine. But if you try to do everything in parallel, you’re most certainly going to fail, people are going to get discouraged. In my investment fund, it’s a small organization as well, in terms of number of people price very similar to yours, Mark. We said, well, we’re going to cut our meetings down to 40 minutes, we have these hour long meetings. Well, it took about three weeks for everybody to realize that stop sending the hour long calendar invites that for him it invites.


Mark Divine 34:38



David Dodson 34:39

Right. So you know, implementation does take a little bit of time. And then there’s a chapter on how to run an effective meeting. And the reason why you want to run an effective meeting is you don’t want to waste people’s time and you want to make better decisions. But reprogramming how you behave in a meeting takes a little bit of time. So then you say well, let’s let’s all work on how we run meetings. And then you do that. And you keep knocking these off one at a time. But the, the beauty is you don’t have to go back and do it again. Because you just talked about Keegan and how organizations resist change. Well, once you embed this, people don’t want to go backwards. So I’m on the board of 12 companies. And we’ve been really fanatical about how to run board meetings, which is very similar to how you would run a man, you know, any kind of management meeting. Nowhere have I seen that once people kind of got into habits and practices, they want to go back to the old way. They know the old way, you know, it takes you, you know, three hours to do an hour’s worth of work. Well, that’s not any good. I mean, high performers don’t want to be in that environment. And second, you’re making better decisions. So it’s more fun, you’re making better decisions, you’re using less time. Nobody wants to go backwards. You knock it off one piece at a time. 


Mark Divine  35:48  

It takes discipline. But there’s my friend Jocko Willink, the Navy SEAL says discipline equals freedom. Right, on the other side of disciplining yourself to have those shorter meetings and come prepared and to be authentic, is freedom.


 David Dodson  36:00  

And also that, you know, that comes with that freedom is, you know, having very clear frameworks on how to do things. So for example, when you give feedback, I could say, well, Mark, when you and I get feedback, let’s say that we work together, when you and I give feedback, we should be really direct with people. And we’d all nod and say, yeah, we should do that. And we should be more fluid with our feedback we’d nod and then we’d go back and do exactly the same thing we were doing before, or maybe a modest improvement. So I break it down and said, when you’re talking to an employee, giving them feedback, both positive and negative feedback or developmental feedback, do it in these in the six part framework. And you might hear that and you say, oh, I don’t know, that seems like hard to do. It’s actually way easier. It’s just becomes paint by numbers. And after you do it about 10 times, you don’t need to refer back to it, because you can’t imagine doing it any other way. Because it’s just easier.


Mark Divine  36:47  

Oh, that’s awesome. We’re coming to the end here. Wrap up pretty soon. But um,  talk about that last section a little bit, about quality. Like how do we what’s that about? It’s I mean, we all think we want quality, but usually a lot of times it gets kind of like missed or ignored?


David Dodson  37:02  

Well, I made it the last chapter because it a lot of ways that was my favorite chapter, or my favorite part of the book. And, partly it just surprised, I didn’t expect that to happen. I didn’t expect that to be one of the five skill areas. And secondly, because I just loved the fanaticism that people had about quality. So here was the first kind of epiphany that I had people like Steve Jobs, for example, who you know, we think about him in terms of quality, and so forth. These great leaders did not think about quality as a form of ethic or do right by the customer, or, or anything like that. It was about making more money. It was about beating your competition. 

And what they realized is that if you’re let me ask you this, which would you fear more a competitor that had a darn good product and an awesome sales and marketing team? Or an awesome product? And a darn good sales and marketing team? Of course the latter, right? 


Mark Divine 37:58

Yeah, for sure. 


David Dodson 37:59

The point is, we all know what a competitive weapon high quality is, it allows you first of all pricing power. And if you increase your price that goes straight to the bottom line. So pricing power. Second is we know from data in our own just common sense is that it’s harder to bring in a new customer than keep a customer. Well, the only reason you keep a customer is you’re delivering a quality product. So it closes the back door. So it drives sales. The second way it drive sales is it brings in more customers because word of mouth and and how people learn where they want to do business with is even more fluid now on the internet because you can type in anything and find out the best place to buy a lawnmower, or the best consulting company out there. So it drive sales. And the third is it makes it easier for you to recruit and retain the best people because the best people want to work for a company that has a high quality product. That’s why it’s, you know, one of the five components in the book, the recurring theme is okay, fine. David but like, how do I do it? And so I examined how people who deliver high quality products do it. And one is that they are really good at understanding where they stand in the marketplace. So there’s a thing called the Lake Wobegon effect. Do you ever listen to Garrison Keillor?


Mark Divine  39:12  

Oh yeah, I used to love that guy, he got canceled unfortunately, but…


David Dodson  39:15  

Yeah, he did. But he had a he had a good run there. 


Mark Divine 39:16

He did.


David Dodson 39:17

And he started the show, you might remember where he says in Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average. Well, of course that can’t be, half have to be above average half have to be below average. There was actually an interesting study where they asked drivers, American drivers and 90% of American drivers said they were above average. This is the best part about it, Mark, they ended up quoting that the Lake Wobegon effect. So Garrison Keillor will even though he got canceled on NPR, he will live in infamy in neurology or neuroscience. So that’s all sounds like a quaint little story. But they did this study, and they surveyed CEOs and 80% of the people surveyed said that they offered a superior customer experience. Guess what? Then they went and looked at what the customers thought only 8% of the customers agreed.


Mark Divine 40:07

What a disparity. Wow.


David Dodson 40:08

Huge disparity. So the book talks about how the really best companies and best leaders identify what, how their customers are identifying quality or what they look for quality, how you identify it, how you measure it, how you propagate that across the organization. And again, it’s very, very hands on, it is not quality is not about a poster in the lunchroom, or not about a speech that you give once a year, what’s in your ear. But quality is actually about doing nuts and bolts things in the same way of running a meeting or hiring well, or onboarding well, the same thing as tools that people use for quality. It was probably the most endearing chapter when I wrote it, because I really got into how well these people that are so focused on getting things done, how much they apply quality as a business weapon.


Mark Divine  40:53  

I believe it. My honor man certificate from SEAL training, said, the act of doing ordinary things extraordinarily well, is uncommon, something like that. I was like, that’s really cool. So that’s what quality is to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well.


David Dodson 41:07



Mark Divine 41:08

So the book is out. Where can people learn more about you your work? Do you have ways for people to connect with you?


David Dodson  41:14  

I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, that’s probably the best place that I try to post information material that I think might be useful to people. The books done, well, the Wall Street Journal bestseller lists at the USA Today bestseller list, so it’s getting out there. And I only say that because I wrote the book to try to help transform organizations. It was not a victory lap blaze in my career on how I did things, I really wanted to help people become better managers. And it goes back if we could just go full circle, it goes back to me growing up in rural Colorado, and I wanted to be in situations where you know, basic blocking and tackling and execution that I had control over, was going to determine whether I’m successful or not. 


Mark Divine  41:53  

Terrific, well done. Thanks for the contribution. I’m going to go buy a copy for my team. 


David Dodson 41:58



Mark Divine 41:59

And start saving some time. That’s for sure. Thank you so much for your time, David. I really appreciate it. It’s been a really cool conversation.

David Dodson  42:05  

Not at all, Mark. I enjoyed it. 


Mark Divine  42:06  

Yeah, likewise. All right. Take care now, Hooyah.

That was a fascinating conversation with David Dodson. Thanks so much for your time today, I loved the discussion about your book and learning how to focus and make better decisions and build teams and to lead by becoming an excellent manager. Really cool stuff. One of my most powerful takeaways is to cut my meetings to one hour means to 40 minutes and my half our means to 20 minutes, which will save me a significant amount of time every day. Show Notes are up on our website at Mark Divine.com. YouTube is on our YouTube channel. And if you want to reach me on social media on Twitter X, I’m at Mark Divine and on Instagram or Facebook. I’m @ Real Mark Divine. Or you can find me on LinkedIn. If you’re not on my newsletter distribution list, go to Mark Divine.com. To subscribe Divine inspiration will come to you every Tuesday morning where I share my recent blog show notes from the week’s podcast and book I’m reading some other interesting things that come across and a practice and weekly practice for you to try out, Divine Inspiration. Check it out, subscribe and share it please shout out to my incredible team, Catherine Divine and Jason Sanderson Geoff Haskell, who will produce the podcasts and the newsletter and bring this great content to you every week. Reviews and ratings are very helpful. So if you haven’t done so please consider rating or reviewing it wherever you listen, helps us stay at the top of the rankings, stay relevant, helps other people find it. So I appreciate that very much. 

Thanks very much for being part of the change you want to see in the world. We can do that now at scale with technologies like this podcast, but it all starts with us. It’s our world. So if we want things to change around us, you got to change from the inside out. So keep doing the work. Till next time, Hooyah, see you soon.


Transcribed by Catherine and https://otter.ai



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