The First 17 Years: A life of fierce accountability and discipline with Mike Keleher

In this episode of The First 17 Years, Tiffany reflects on how retired President and CEO of Royal United, Mike Keleher, impacted both Element Three and her personally. Dive into Mike’s “fanatic discipline,” and learn how you can harness the power of your own discipline to create a sustainable life you love, no matter your circumstances.

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2018 was a critical year in Element Three’s business, and Tiffany was stuck. She needed someone who could help her scale the company in a way that was sustainable for everyone—herself included.

Chapter 8: Dedicated to Mike Keleher

In this episode of The First 17 Years, Tiffany reflects on how retired President and CEO of Royal United, Mike Keleher, impacted both Element Three and her personally. Dive into Mike’s “fanatic discipline,” and learn how you can harness the power of your own discipline to create a sustainable life you love, no matter your circumstances.

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Tiffany Sauder: When you decide to do something big or feel called to do something big, there's an expense that you don't understand that other people have to pay to. She didn't know what it was yet, but she was really trying to build something meaningful. She just always had these big ideas. There was no fear,

Mike Keleher: no hesitation at all. It was like, this is my moment. And I'm gonna take it. I don't know how long it can stay this bad, but it can't really get worse.

Tiffany Sauder: These people, these voices, these experiences, they were my mentors. They are the people who help build and refine and grow me into the leader that I have the opportunity to sort of be today.

This is the first 17 years. Chapter eight, Mike Keleher. Mike Keleher is fanatic discipline. He is the recently retired president and CEO of Royal United. He's sort of like goals for everybody around him because he's not even 50 and is beginning to live life on his own terms.

Mike Keleher: So I see her as probably one of the most amazing ladies I've ever met in business for the simple fact that to be able to start a business and grow it from the ground up the way she's done it, you know, she started it from scratch.

She learned from individuals in our business community, how to do it. And she just jumped feet first into it and built and developed people around her to grow it. That's very similar to what I did with Royal United and businesses I've worked with in the past. And I just appreciate people who can grow things from nothing, start, something that didn't exist and help it grow and thrive.

Tiffany Sauder: I am a sales and marketing first leader. Like it's my first thought is how to sell something, how to market it. And it's also the world I live in. So it's not only like a natural propensity of mine. Like if I was running a manufacturing company, I still think I would be best at a sales and marketing role, but not only do I love sales and marketing, but I work in marketing.

So it's like, I don't know, all forces are really pushing me into that mindset. And, you know, Had not worked in a business that was operations first. That was first, how do we do this predictably the same over and over again. And then once we've done that we've earned the right to grow. I just always believed we earned the right to grow and I'd led us really to our breaking point.

And. Could juxtapose that with Mike who spent two or three years, really, I mean, they grew the company, but not in the way that he could not, until he had the precision of process down, did they really hit the gas on growth and scale? And I just saw a counterbalance of wisdom to the way that I had originally thought about the world.

And I was experiencing the brick wall that comes when. You grow before really the infrastructure, the people, the processes, the data, the systems are ready and Mike had done it differently and he was getting different outcomes. And I had to pay attention to that

Mike Keleher: when I joined YPO I was interested in being part of a forum.

So Tiffany and I had breakfast, we sat down and it's like, we kind of instantly connected. We connected because we have a lot of shared beliefs in terms of how you should run and grow a company and that it all starts and stops with the development of your people. So we talked and we got to know each other and we just decided very early on that it would be best if we worked together and built a forum team and we wanted to do it for the same reasons.

And I think we built one hell of a team. One of the biggest things that I've appreciated as it relates to my relationship with Tiffany through our Y P O forum is we learn a lot from one another, how to run our businesses, how to be better leaders, you know, all those good things. You know, one of the things that I've really taken away from th that I've used in my personal life, as well as in leadership is just the whole importance of using storytelling as part of your communication process.

Look, if you wanna engage, people relate to people, empower people, move people to. It's pretty important that you use storytelling as component to your communication process. And I didn't really understand how impactful that was until I started interacting with Tiffany at some of our forum meetings. This started over six years ago and just watching her use stories with our group to speak to real life and business related challenges.

It kind of turned the light bulb on for me and really ever since I've made it a conscious effort. You storytelling is really part of my life and part of my business, just to engage people, relate to people, move people to action, empower people. That is a skill that Tiffany has helped me with. And again, I make it part of my conscious process now that if I have to go into a media with someone, or if I have to coach my kids on something, or I'm gonna think of a story in a situation that I've run up against to share it with them, because it gives a lot of people, confidence that they can, when examples come up where others.

Tiffany Sauder: Mike came into my life, really at the moment, coming out of like 2018 where I had thought I knew what I was doing in business, but I couldn't deny I wasn't getting the results in the business that I needed financially. We weren't as successful as we needed to my clients. Weren't as happy as I wanted them to be.

My employees were not as engaged as I wanted them to be. And so empirically. I had to admit there were pieces. I didn't know what I was doing. And Mike is a fanatic operator and being able to be in a group beside him, where I got to see how his mind worked with the precision, with the way that he just looked at like accountability, the way that he thought about discipline, what he expected of his people.

It was completely paradigm shifting for me. And so I was in a place where I. Ah, like I got a lot of blanks in my head. I needed somebody that I could observe and see that was doing it differently to like break open the cartilage and like how I wanted to rebuild element three. And Mike really filled a huge vacuum for me.

Mike Keleher: She's also taught me to take time to process what I hear. Before I immediately respond in really tough situations. As an example, if I get bad news about something before you immediately jump in and respond, even if you're right, just cool for a minute, think about it, think about how you're gonna respond and then go make it happen.

Just be a better listener and just, don't always fire back because that's just not in my nature. So she's helped me with that. Cuz she leads by example on that front. She's not been afraid to call me out on it from time to time, which is a good. I would say, it's not that I haven't always had this, but Tiffany's very sincere when it comes to the things that she talks about, the things that she's trying to make a point about.

She's very articulate and very sincere. Whereas me in my whole life, I'm just more absolute. It's just more cut and dry for me so she can see a problem or she can see something that's happening and she can look at it from every single angle that's out. And she cares about all those angles. Whereas Mike Keleher has always been one that is just full steam ahead thousand mile an hour all the time.

I know exactly what the problem is and I'm gonna fix this problem right now and everything else around it doesn't necessarily matter because I know this is the problem. Helping me learn to look at things on a piece by piece basis. As I think about some of our experiences we have in life and issues that we've talked through, especially in our forum, she has taught me that and it's been very helpful on a personal level.

I think she's made me a little better husband on a personal level. I think she's made me a little better father on a personal level. I think she's made me a little better coach simply because I think she's helped me get a perspective about life and what we're working towards and for maybe different than I saw things or not as clear as I was able to see things back before I met Tiffany at the.

Mike

Tiffany Sauder: first and foremost just impacted my decision, making the things I was willing to fund the people I was willing to put over things, the stuff I knew I had to get out of the way. Mike definitely impacted my leadership and decision making and resourcing in that way. And he's just like ultimately generous.

There's nothing that somebody on my team couldn't have called him with that he wouldn't have said, yeah, I know somebody here's mine. Look at my handbook, come sit through one of our, you know, employee onboarding classes, like anything. He was just extremely generous with what they had already solved and.

Has this just like perpetually abundant mindset. And so he's not only changed me, but my team, I mean, I'm an external processor, so they always know what book I've read, who I've met, where I've gone, all the things. And so I would be like, well, Mike said, or I think if Mike was sitting here, it was a way for me to practice an operational mindset.

My people started, probably, I feel like they had more permission to think in that way to resource in that way. And Mike was really a kind of first sounding board for us as we were beginning to get more maturity in those areas of our business.

Mike Keleher: Tiffany is highly process oriented, has to have a plan, has to stick to the plan, has to measure her success and failure against the plan.

I think by teaching and just her life experiences, she's kind of told herself that that's the way the world works. Examples are like budgets. One thing I always used to talk to Tiffany about and challenger on was the fact that I don't really care what the budget says. Yes, you have to have a plan, but you have to also understand that if that plan is going to be successful, it is going to evolve and evolve quickly.

So you have to be really open to change and that change could be good. That change could be bad. You just don't know. So I feel like I have helped her. See the world in a way that don't limit or define your success or your potential based on what the plan says, define your success and your potential based on what's happening right now.

And do you know with absolute certainty that all the things that you're responsible for are operating at the highest level right now. And if they're not, what are you doing to change right now? Because that ultimately could alter the whole damn plan. One of the things that I use to help my team members when I was leading my company, understand that I want out of them it's about today.

So I always used to use a phrase called win your day. And to me is our plan yesterday may have been to do a, B and C and. We may have not done a, B and C yesterday, which means we would've lost that day. But today we know based on what we learned yesterday, we have to do X, Y, and Z, and we have to do it like our life depends on it.

And we'll define our success today. If X, Y, and Z happen. And as a result of that, that's gonna change the plan tomorrow and the expectations may change. So I think I've helped. Tiffany, just maybe move away. Plan based leadership. And you know, maybe not looking at budgets and giving 'em too much credibility because they shouldn't have much credibility because you can always exceed or you can always miss your budget based on circumstances you can't control.

I think I've probably brought a level of challenge to her and her life. And as a businesswoman to just maybe. The influence. She has more so than maybe she once did. And just through subtle remindings about how powerful that gal really is when she wants to put her mind to it and how much influence she can have on people and how many great things she has the potential to do with her platform.

And just her God given skills of being able to speak to people, inspire people, lead people, and she's not afraid of much. And I think she has to use that more. When I first got to know Tiffany, she very idealistic. When it came to people, she just always would tend to believe that people will persevere and they'll get it right.

They'll make it happen. I think that's an area she's grown tremendously because she now knows and understands that if you don't have the right people in the right positions, your organization is screwed. And I think she's very. Of people. And I think she has learned to make sure she has people in the right positions to make sure they can be the best they can be and to make sure the organization can be the best it can be.

So I would say it once was just that idealistic mindset that human beings will find a way. And I think she's realized over time that human beings do have limitations and she can't control those limitations and being idealistic that one day a human may wake up and just totally change course after they've been in a respective role for a certain period of time.

And they just, for whatever reason, can't get it done. I don't think she has much tolerance for that anymore. It's so. Incredible to me that somebody can do all of that and do all of that. Well, I don't know how you do both grow and run a business as a CEO, do what she does outside of her business on a day to day basis and take care of that family.

Well, my grandmother was an incredible business lady. Okay. The one common thing about my grandmother was. She didn't pay much attention to her kids. It's just a fact, you know, we didn't see her much. She didn't pay much attention to her kids. Now she did, after she retired, but as she was growing her business, it was her business, her business, her business, and she was awesome machine.

Tiffany has time for her girls and her family, and she runs a successful business. That's that's impressive to me. I

Tiffany Sauder: knew my development plan was surrounding myself with people who were bigger, better, faster, more successful than me. And I knew Mike was ahead of me. Like he had hundreds of employees, he had locations all over the place.

And so. I felt like the DNA of the way that we looked at things was very similar, but he was beyond me. My insecurity in the meeting was that like, what do I have to teach him? And I have since learned that we're different and our minds are different. And I think it's very much an equal relationship where there's things I can teach him and vice versa.

But at the beginning I was like, I don't know. I'm smaller. You've already crossed this chasm of complexity. And so what can I bring to the party? And so I knew I had a lot and at the time scaling culture in different locations and different complexities of leadership structures, I just knew he'd done all that before.

And so I knew getting into orbit was really important. Here's the conversation between Mike and me. Mike's taught me a lot of things, but thinking about the, just structure of this podcast and wanting to like synthesize who Mike is, you don't like meet Mike you've experienced Mike O is oftentimes what it sort of feels like in that whirling dervish of doing life by him for the last five, six years.

There's a lot I've learned, but there's four things as I was just reflecting on our relationship that really have become anchor points in the way that I think, and in my leadership, one of them is that you have an uncommon audacity in that you tell people exactly what you think about them. Meaning like I see potential in you.

You had an amazing day and I hope you go home today and you tell your spouse that you crushed it. Like people think those things, but they. I don't know if they don't have the courage to say 'em out loud if they don't remember to, but just like you say it, and I feel like I have a boldness. In my leadership today, where I say the things I observe about people more readily than I did.

And I don't know if there's a vulnerability or what it is, but people don't say it. And I think as a young business owner, I have always asked, like wondered to the world, like, am I special? And you have the courage to tell people you're special. This is what I see in you. These are your talents. You need to step into those.

You're gonna be great. There's excellence ahead for you. Like keep doing those things and it's gonna serve you well, and people are walking the. Wondering am I doing it right? And I think you just have a really uncommon audacity to give people immediacy of feedback. You don't wait for one to ones. You don't wait for quarterly reviews.

You don't wait for the formality to export. And whether it be in our forum or even when our team did work for you, you just make everybody better. Because you export what you see.

Mike Keleher: Yes. See, and I think you have always had that in you. And I don't think you give yourself enough credit on that front because you know, I was drawn to you to be one of your business partners, because I believe you do have that.

I think maybe you've gotten away from the process around communicating that. And now it's just more on the fly. I think you've grown tremendously in that you've moved away from your process. Mm-hmm. I mean, you have process. Everybody has to have process mm-hmm , but there are things you do outside of your process.

Now that there's value in Uhhuh and the whole recognition piece is significant and the accountability piece is significant mm-hmm and the follow up piece on an ad hoc basis is significant

Tiffany Sauder: Uhhuh. Yeah, that's right. My process was my crutch. Yeah. And if I checked, you had it boxes

Mike Keleher: , Uhhuh, give yourself more credit.

Tiffany Sauder: You always had it. Yeah, that's true. That's true. I promise you, you did. But I think it just the freedom by which you were like, no, right now we're doing this. Yeah. it was like startling. I like right now, right now we're doing this. Yeah. Yeah. It was

great.

Mike Keleher: Don't wait, don't wait.

Tiffany Sauder: It's great. So the second one is your fanatical discipline in your life.

I am not naturally disciplined. And so people who. Are, or at least have practiced it very hard. It's like going to a zoo and seeing an animal that has just different stripes than you. Like, I just watch it. Mm-hmm like what in the world? And Jim Collins talks about discipline people engaging in discipline thought, engaging in discipline action.

It's one thing to read about it. I'm such a laboratory learner. It's another to like, see it. And I actually didn't read those words of Jim Collins until years after meeting you. But it was like that. It naturally came into focus for you earlier in your career. That if I have a discipline person and I put discipline thought and I take discipline action, I can't help, but get the outcomes I'm going after.

It's a foregone conclusion because my actions are aligned to it, such a simple concept, but people allow a lot of noise to come into their life. To have that not be the way they actually spend their adult life. Yeah. And so I've seen that in you, so I'd love yeah. Just like color commentary on how you got to that.

And you do fanatically say no to things that distract you from that. Well,

Mike Keleher: yeah. So I've had the luxury as a business person to be able to lead and execute that way because I have a support system around me with my wife and with my family that allow me to do that. You know, look, my job was to go grow a business and make it as successful as it could possibly be and do it as fast as I could possibly do it in and make it as sustainable as I possibly could.

And if you don't have extreme discipline around everything that you do, none of those things are gonna happen. So it's not complicated to lead and execute that way where it's hard is you have to have people around you that will support you in doing.

Tiffany Sauder: I think that's right. You have a very different set of ingredients than I do because your wife stayed home.

She took care of the home front. Yeah. Yep. Dentist appointments, picking kids up from school. I need some new soccer shoes cuz my Don fit anymore. All of that chaos was outta your life. Yep. All that chaos is in my life. Yeah. And I think it's important. That people who don't have the same ingredients as you don't let themselves off the hook, the discipline is still possible.

It takes different tools to know how you get back to your discipline. Your disciplines may have to be, I will say like my minimums were probably lower than yours because of the other things I've chosen to accommodate into my life. Mm-hmm, like four kids and all of that, but I think. Important people listening.

It's not binary. Like if you get to live your life in an island, then you can live a disciplined life. If you have a lot of chaos, then you must live an undisciplined life. That is not true. Yeah. It's not binary like that. It does take different tools, different strategies, and it might take you longer. Yeah.

I suspect if you would've run element three from day one, this is not a slam on me, but if your time would've put into element three, it would probably be further. You had more. Yeah. You had to say what I don't that's it I've chosen different things. Correct. My business is at a different place that doesn't make it wrong.

Correct. That doesn't mean it didn't reach its potential. Correct. It's just different. Right. And so I think it's important. People understand those aren't binary and there's still a lot of discipline in my space. Sure. But it looks different than

Mike Keleher: yours. Yeah. So, and you know, here's the other thing I obsess.

Winning. So I hate to lose more than anything and if I'm gonna do something and I'm responsible for something, I mean, it's just, I'm gonna go at it. Like my life depends on it. And I know you can't succeed at anything unless you have a very specific set of rules of engagement in terms of how you're gonna run things every single day of your life.

And then set of rules of engagement on how you're gonna make adjustments the next day, because every day's not gonna be perfect. Mm-hmm and that's the process and that's how you. That's a

Tiffany Sauder: good transition to my third one. My third one is that I would say your advice is actually to sweat the small. That the details are what everybody gets wrong.

That's what matters. But that was a profound difference. And I feel like anything I'd ever been told about what it meant to lead at a high level, you know

Mike Keleher: what I'm saying? Simple things are the most important things. The simple things in every aspect of business in life are the most important things. So give an example of

Tiffany Sauder: the

Mike Keleher: simple things.

I'll give you an example of something I observed yesterday. When I was at an audit committee at my company, we have a leader who's at a very high. He's incredible, more potential than you can shake a leg at some of the feedback that he has been getting right now is that he is not as engaged as he needs to be with the teams, the team members he's working too high at a too high level and not down on the ground enough.

I was in an audit committee meeting, talking about regulatory compliance and he was in that room right next to that room. There was a reward and recognition ceremony that was going on recognizing a third of the people in this operation for all the great things that they're doing. This guy's in charge of the whole thing.

Why is he not in this room? Part of the reward and recognition process? As opposed to being in the regulatory meeting because his schedule said he had to be in the regulatory meeting. The simple thing would've been to adjust my schedule and be in front of my people, recognizing them to help them be successful.

That's a very simple concept using the time that you have making the adjustments that you need to make so that you can be with your people. That's an example of a detail and just a simple thing that drives me crazy. And I see things like that, that go on all the time. If there's a change in something that you're doing organization.

And that change isn't communicated for a week. People in the company know the change took place. Why are we not communicating 24 hours later? What we're doing, why we're doing, how it's gonna benefit the organization and what we need from our human beings, leaders, miss on those simple things all the time, it drives me crazy.

Tiffany Sauder: One of the things I would point to is like a lot of companies have processes, but you don't actually know if your people are complying with the process. And so a detail is you've done the work to understand the process, write down the process, teach the process, but are you actually checking to see if people are using the

Mike Keleher: process, you better have an audit process in place to make sure that.

They're doing ABC and X, Y, Z, effectively. And those are not things that Dawn on. You've seen our leadership processes in terms of how we run our organization. It's all inspect based. And it has to be that way, because if you don't validate that people are doing what you need 'em to do guess who suffers your customer suffer, guess who suffers your employee suffer?

Guess what? Ultimately suffers your revenue stream suffers. It's just, if you're not inspecting the details, you're in.

Tiffany Sauder: So the fourth one is that tough and mean are not the same thing? No, they are not. You're tough, but you're not mean, I appreciate you saying that as

Mike Keleher: somebody who there's a lot of people that would not say that, but really?

Yeah. Yeah.

Tiffany Sauder: Well, I appreciate you saying that in my experience, they're not the same thing. My natural DNA, my high eye in the disc profile is to be a people pleaser. And when you're in that mode, nobody gets served very well. And it can be, to me being tough was being mean. And those were like the same thing and experiencing you, you're driven to profound clarity and ultimately you want fairness, and that doesn't mean that you get what you want every time, but getting to a place where everybody can leave the table and say, that feels fair in experiencing your like relentlessness in committing to the goals at hand, there's a toughness to that and staying in the heat long enough to be able to like refine and get better.

But I've never experienced you. And there's a real, I don't know. It's just really interesting to experience cuz I think those of us who can be people pleasers, when you do hold people accountable, there's a way to do it where that toughness is serving actually every party in a really productive way.

Mike Keleher: Yeah. Well obviously the only reason you do it and the only reason you give people feedback and the only reason you tell 'em what they need to hear, as opposed to what they want to hear is you care about them being successful. Right? And I think most people know that. The last thing

Tiffany Sauder: I love that you say is that results are.

Mike Keleher: I do say to our people all the time, take your results personal because they are, your results are personal and you're the one who made 'em. So you better take 'em person.

Tiffany Sauder: I think that there's seasons on the journey of being a leader and an entrepreneur where you don't know where to find your energy for the next leg of the race, because you're just like tired, just like made my brain open up in a way that it didn't know how to before.

So I'll never be an excellent creator of it. But I feel like I have a model to look at and say like, I know what really good looks like.

Mike Keleher: I mean, you look at how you've structured your business over the last five years and the leaders that you've developed around you and what you've empowered them to do, and the level of accountability they now have to do.

And you're getting some damn good folks around you. Mm-hmm to run things. It's now your job to inspect that they're doing it the right way. And it's, it's pretty impressive. Mm-hmm , it's exciting. It's very exciting.

Tiffany Sauder: It's liberating. yeah, it's exciting. It's very liberating. I think when you start out on the adventure of starting a business, you wonder if you'll ever see like five year anniversary, 10 year anniversary, 15 anniversary, like, will these be milestones that I will be able to see?

And the thing that's inside of me and this thing I have to birth. And so there's this liberation that comes with developing people. Love and care for this thing that you've seen for so long and trusting them with it. There's this liberation that comes from, I think not having to be the only one that loves it so hard and also this sense of like, I can.

Let go with both hands to make room for others, to be able to hold onto it creates growth opportunities for them. And then it gives you another hand to be able to go and like grow and explore and do more things. And I've recently been made aware of like my own flywheel for learning is I put myself immersively into a thing.

I know nothing. And then I like, as a dry sponge can soak it up. And then I have more to ring out and to give the people that are like wanting to learn from me, wanting to go on these crazy adventures with me and that unknown doesn't scare me. It like gives me energy and knowing that that's part of my, one of the just benefits I bring to a team is that like, if somebody needs to jump off the high dive, I'm like, I'll go first.

what could happen. And then I know, and I can tell 'em, here's what it's gonna feel like. Here's how you should prepare. This is how you, like, don't smash your face in the water, but I'm okay with like the wreck of it all. And I can kind of like holler back and say like, don't mess up quite as hard as I did.

And there's this liberation that comes from like helping people move quickly through the things that you've tumbled through. And. It's an exciting flywheel of learning and sharing and giving people a chance to grow.

Mike Keleher: You know, how hard that was for me, like we talked about it, a.

Tiffany Sauder: Chapter nine, my E3 exec team.

I went into Tiffany's office and I distinctly remember like a Barbie Playhouse. And there are like toys all over the

Mike Keleher: floor. It's kind of been a roller coaster where sometimes it's better than others. I

Tiffany Sauder: said to her, Tiffany, the strainer is our business. As fast as you sell things in and they come into the strainer.

Half of it is coming out the bottom. I wasn't understanding her. And she wasn't understanding me. And there was just like this level of tension there. We have to fix our performance in the.

I hope each of these conversations are a reminder to stop and thank the mentors in your own life. The people who have helped us each unpack life and just live the journey much more fully. If you want more of this content, please subscribe to Scared Confident, please, please, and share it with a friend.

And if you want more sort of inside track follow along on Instagram, we share a lot there. Thanks for listening. This has been an And Network production.

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