Philip Cole is Redefining Leadership and Success

Philip Cole
Photo credit: Philip Cole / ReDefine Inc. 2020

Philip Cole is a management consultant, author, and student of leadership for nearly two decades. His first experience with the challenges of leadership development occurred on the fireline of a wildland crew. Since that time, he has pursued the possibility of leadership excellence across the globe and through every type of organization.

ReDefine, Inc. was founded to create innovative leadership solutions to shape the next generation of leaders. The company provides leadership development services including organizational consulting, coaching and mentoring, executive education, virtual and in-person classes, and training resources that build upon the foundation of a functional approach to leadership. All of ReDefine’s material is created to improve the real-world performance of practitioners.

What is ReDefine all about?

ReDefine is a leadership development consultancy of a different sort. We started as a group of consultants, program managers, and leaders who were frustrated with the lack of results for traditional approaches to leadership development. The real world speaks truth, and the truth is that leadership development is often a failure.

So we went back to the basics, to understand what leadership really is. From that, we build a framework and a set of innovative tools that replace the traditional, ego-driven approach with a functional approach. We help our clients and students see what groups need to achieve excellence, and then facilitate the leader’s learning process to deliver on those needs. This creates success for the group success, and creates a leadership practice – a set of skills and the mental model to apply them in a specific situation – within the leader.

Because we are values-driven, we give back a great deal. Corporate and government clients drive our profitability, but we spend at least 1/5 (and often 2/5) of our time working with non-profit, community, and academic groups. The earlier we start developing functional leadership skills, the more time that those skills turn into effective leadership practices. This is how we make the world a better place, and it is one of the most exciting things we do.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you started your company?

I got started in the field when I was 19 years old. I was working as a wildland firefighter, and I saw two emerging leaders have very different results on a deployment. One was a guy I liked and respected, and the other was a guy I found arrogant and overbearing. They each had one week as a crew boss, and the results were the opposite of what I expected. The guy I liked was a terrible leader, and the guy I didn’t like was much better.

That experience showed me how hard it is to understand leadership, and I’ve been working in the field ever since. I spent almost two decades building programs and teaching for international businesses, non-profits, and federal law enforcement. As I mentioned before, it felt like everything we showed our clients vanished the moment they walked out the door. There were days I read something in an email about a graduate’s actions and just hung my head.

What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur, and why?

  • First is the willingness to learn. You will never know all of the things you need to be successful in a new business, so you must be willing – eager, even – to add to your skillset. Moreover, you will never know exactly how your product or service fits into the market until you actually start delivering, so you need to see opportunities and be willing to change course. This flexibility will serve every aspect of your entrepreneurship.
  • Second is passion. People have to take a risk on you, and you need to show them that you believe and are taking a risk on yourself. Doing something by yourself is much more difficult than letting another person lead you, so you need a way to overcome the hard days.
  • Finally, the ability to build connections. Despite being alone, you are also dependent upon others. From your customers to your suppliers to your staff, you will not succeed if you do not build genuine connections. These are rooted in your ability to see the value and passion in others and their work, and to offer them genuine value in exchange for their support. Popular perception often has entrepreneurs as the individual go-get-‘em type, but the reality is that entrepreneurship shows how we are all in this together.

What are your plans for the future, how do you plan to grow this company?

One step at a time. Have big goals, big dreams – but don’t forget to work on what is next. It’s like building a railroad. You start at one place and lay the tracks in the direction you think you want to go. You might change that final destination along the way, as you learn and grow in your entrepreneurship, but you need both the long-term goal and the immediate next step to make any progress.

How have the pandemic and lockdown affected you or your new business?

We are fortunate that our business can be done remotely, so we just switched our model from in-person deliveries to online. I also wrote a book. All of the reflection and talk inspired us to revise some of our tools and models and create some new, really innovative resources. We also got to see leadership in action (or not) and that gave us energy. Any challenge becomes what you make it, so find the positives and the opportunities to grow.

Tell us a little bit about your marketing process, what has been the most successful form of marketing for you?

Get in front of people in person. The Internet is great, but it’s full of ads and people selling things. Most of them are not nearly as good as the ad. This has produced an environment where people tune out.

If you want to market your product, find a place where you can talk to real people. They get to see you as a real human being, which builds connections and trust. You get to show your passion and excitement for your product, which translates to sales. And because you are in person, people can tell you aren’t another scam or reseller. This is even more true for services instead of goods, where everyone online spins things to look like the biggest expert. In person, you can’t hide the truth. 

What’s a productivity tip you swear by?

Plan your day ahead of time. If you are a procrastinator, this is critical. This means planning the order of things to do: start with this task, then this one, then this one. Your plan can be as loose as a set of goals in order, or as firm as specific start and stop times. You will have to adjust because tasks never take the amount of time you expect, but that’s OK.

The reason you plan it ahead of time is so that you don’t have to both decide what to do next, and decide to start it. You already have a plan for what you will work on next, so you just have to decide to do it at the right time. This has been a life-saver for me.

If you only had $1000 dollars to start a new business, knowing everything you know now, how would you spend it?

A good website, branding, and promotional material templates. These are the framework for your content. More than likely, you are much better at your area of expertise than building these things, so pay someone else to do them and spend the time you save creating and sharing content. A coherent, unified visual appearance makes you look professional, which adds value to your content.

What helps you stay driven and motivated to keep going in your business?

Passion is critical in any self-directed business. You have to believe in your vision for what you make and sell, because this belief will carry you forward through the hard times and will be the foundation for the members of your company when you start hiring.

Money isn’t a good reason to do something, despite how attractive it seems. Business will be slow, it will feel disappointing, and you will question your competence. If you want money, go work for someone else. But if you believe in what you do, then starting a business of your own is rewarding in ways that are much greater than dollars – you get to see the fruits of your labor, and you get to build something that you personally believe in.

What valuable advice would you give new entrepreneurs starting out?

Do it. Take the risk, try it out. Have a safety net, something to fall back on, and be ready to sacrifice. Save your pennies, live the frugal life. But the rewards are so much more than anything else in life.

What is your definition of success?

  • Set two goals: one for money, the amount you need to survive. Make this reasonable, so that you can both achieve it but aren’t just chasing dollars.
  • Then set a second goal, which is the thing that you want to achieve in the world. As yourself, when you’re laying on your death bed, what do you want to remember and be proud of? What’s really going to matter, that is worth leaving behind?

If you work towards both of these, you’ll feel fulfilled each day. They can grow and change as you see how much you can accomplish, but they’ll show you want to do next. 

How can readers get in touch with you?

Check us our online at www.thedefinitionofleadership.com. We have lots of free resources, and we respond to emails at info@thedefinitionofleadership.com.

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