Leadership + People: Episode 39 - Marshall Paepke - Part 1 of 2

In this episode Marshall Paepke talks about his experience as an intern, and what he does today to encourage his employees to fulfill their greatest potential with demonstrations of trust and modeling work life balance.

Show Notes

  • How to encourage an intern striving to reach the C suite with hope and a dose of reality [01:10]
  • Acknowledging that the way we see the world is different than how everyone else sees it and learning how to remove those filters from our eyes [06:54}
  • Ask questions to seek increased understanding of others [08:26
  • Allowing others the time and experience to find their own answers and solutions [09:32]
  • Leaders support other leaders, they don’t direct [11:10]
  • Trust leading to increased creativity and occasional mistakes that develop future leaders prepared for greater roles in the organization [14:44]
  • Recognizing your impact on individuals in the organization as well as their families [17:45]

Show Audio


  • Goldsmith, Marshall., and Mark Reiter. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful. New York: Hyperion, 2007.
Marshall Paepke 1

This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: June 19th, 2018

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

JL: Today on the show, we’ve got Marshall Peake.

.Marshall Paepke “I think, probably the thing that I learned is that, we all think and we all see the world differently. So don’t assume that how high or how you see the world is how others see the world.”

00:44 JL: Thanks for making time.


00:46 JL: So how big is the organization asset wise now?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: So, we’re just over 7.6 billion in assets. We’re doing business in five states. And we have about 2200 employees in our branches and in our corporate offices.

01:06 JL: Yeah. So I imagine you’ve seen a few things. Cuz I understand that 22 years ago you started as an intern. Is that right?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: That’s right. Yep.

Intern to C Level

01:10 JL: Interested for folks who maybe started at the bottom in their organization. And maybe somebody’s a leader, listening to this, and they’ve got the new intern who’s saying, you know they’re a C level employee but they’ve got an intern saying ‘how do I get your job?’ [laugh] And they’re looking at the kid saying ‘Well, that’s a long road.’ You know. But having made that road what kind of advice would you have if you had to council some intern who wanted a C level position eventually?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Well I think, one of the number one things is to be driven for what you’re passionate about and what you believe in. So as an intern, I believe that you can make an impact on a company just like anyone else. Whether it be in a C level position or whether it be in a management or non management position. So believe in yourself. If you’re going to try to make an impact, make sure and do your homework. Make sure any proposal or recommendation that you’re putting forward has substance to it. So you’re not just throwing out ideas without any facts or without any real data or information or plan behind it. But I think; believe and hard work. I mean, some people want to have what others have taken years or a lifetime to earn. But are you willing to put in the hard work and the diligence to obtain what you want.

02:27 JL: So if I’m a C level leader, and I’ve got to give that message to an intern, where, like, I don’t want to just discourage ‘em..


02:35 JL: You know. I want to give them the hope. Be realistic. That balance beam between being realistic and giving them hope. Other people have done this, if you want it bad enough you can get it too. Any advice for somebody like me who has got to advise an intern? How do I get my head on straight of being realistic with the kid but also help them come to that conclusion; it’s hard work but it’s doable work, or something?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: You know, I think that’s a good and fair question. I would say this. We don’t know what other people are capable of. And so be careful in narrowing or funneling too small what they can or could achieve. But really giving people the freedom to go out and explore and become and to make the difference however they see fit. And I’ll tell you a little story real quick if that’s okay. So I began as an intern. And I went to my boss and I said ‘hey I have this idea’. And she’s like ‘yeah go for it’. So I put all this time and energy in to it. And I came back to her and I said ‘it’s not going to work’. And she said, ‘Oh yeah, we already knew that’. And I said ‘well why did you let me go through all the work?’ And she said, ‘Well, I believed if there’s anyone that could have solved the problem it was you. And so I didn’t want to get in your way of really solving a problem and finding the solution if there was one available’. And that taught me a really important lesson. And I think it’s addressing your question. Sometimes we already know an answer. But sometimes, at the appropriate time, it’s important to not get in the way of somebody else trying to find a solution that we haven’t been able to find. And I think interns or new employees or people in new positions have that opportunity to see something different than we’ve seen it for a long time. And they can sometimes break through and find a solution that we’re oblivious to because we’ve been in that role too long. Or we’ve decided to see things a certain way. So bring in some new ideas. Some new insight. People who are thinking out of the box that we’re stuck in maybe. So the balance of trying to encourage without discouraging I think it’s a good question. But I think what I would say to that is, you have to read the individual. There are some people who have pipedreams. And it’s ok to say ‘Hey, you know what? Is that realistic?’ And put it back on them to really reflect on it. But there are other people who are underselling themselves. And so we don’t want to, again, build a story that gets in their way of achieving the success that they’re capable of. So how you do that? I think it’s the individual. I’ve been able to coach and mentor a lot of different people. Each one has been mentored or coached differently because of what that individual needs. So I just say, know the individual that you’re coaching, the intern. Know what they’re passionate about. Ask them questions. Don’t try to give them all the information. Help them go through that discovery process. And maybe through that discovery process they’ll realize ‘Hey, maybe this is going to be a lot harder than I thought. Maybe I’m not willing to but the work in’. Or maybe they’ll say, ‘This is going to be a lot of hard work. How can I do it better ? And what can I learn from your mistakes or your successes so I can get there sooner?’ So just support them. Help them. I think… so one last thing. It’s much like children. If your child came to you and said ‘Dad I want to play in the NFL’. Would you say ‘You can’t do that’? No, probably not. You’d probably say ‘Okay. What do we need to do? How can I help you? What do you need to focus on if that’s going to become a reality?’ We don’t want to squash people’s dreams? How do we help embrace their dreams?

06:02 JL: Yeah. You know, as I understand it, with your role, you have completely different kind of coaching now, where you’ve got chief marketing officer, head of HR, that report to you.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Right and a couple others. Yeah.

06:14 JL: What are the other…?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: So I have the role of corporate real estate. So all of our acquisition of land as well as the buildings we build on ‘em.

06:22 JL: How many branches do you guys have about?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: So 92. And we’re building that 11 story building in Sandy right now. Right by the Hale Center Theater. And also RND, our research and development, our data warehouse, data analytics. So just some other roles and responsibilities.  

06:42 JL: Plus the individuals in charge of all the other 2200 for HR.


06:48 JL: Right. And the marketing of it.


06:49 JL: I hear financial services can be competitive. Is that? [laugh]

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Very competitive.

06:54 JL: So at this level, where you’re literally advising, you know, C level staff that report to you, what’s something that maybe you’ve learned, that maybe you wouldn’t have discovered if you hadn’t actually had the role yourself of helping C level leaders reach their potential? What’s the non obvious lesson?

Removing the Filters from our Eyes

MARSHALL PAEPKE: That’s a good question. I don’t know if this is obvious or not so you tell me. I think, probably the thing that I’ve learned is that we all think and we all see the world differently. So don’t assume that how high or how you see the world is how others see the world. So for me, seeing the future or a vision of what can happen or could happen is something that comes very easy for me. But something that I’ve learned working with some of the leaders I have had the opportunity to work with over the years, some people are not visionary. So even though they are in a higher role in an organization, that’s not a skill set that they have. So what are the individual skill sets that they have and how to maximize their skill set as opposed to assuming that they have similar skills sets that I do. So that may not be an ah ha, but I think sometimes our filters and how we see the world, we become so used to those filters that we may not understand that other people are seeing the world as we see it.

08:26 JL: So if I’m a senior leader and I want to reduce my filters, any advice of what I can be doing to get better at, you know, pulling down the filters?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Yes. And again I’m not going to say I’m good at this but it’s something I’m learning; is ask questions. Don’t- I mean in this interview I’m talking more. But I’d say take the time to ask questions and seek understanding. Because that understanding will help you and other people’s filters and how they’re seeing the world. So if you throw out an opportunity or a problem, and you say ‘hey what do you think about this?’ Or ‘how do you see this?’ Or ‘what opportunities or solutions do you see?’ Instead of giving what you think are the opportunities or solutions. And then all of sudden you’ll start seeing the world through their eyes instead of through your eyes.

Active Listening and Why We Keep Bring it Up

09:13 JL: You know this is a common thing when we talk to people. Why do you think it is, that as leaders, we get so used to telling. We all know that we should do more of that deeply curious listening instead of just waiting for our turn to talk.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Active listening.

09:32 JL: Yeah. Why do you think it’s a struggle? Why do you think we have to keep talking about it? Why, if we know better, why don’t we all do better?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Well, good question. Here’s the conclusion I’ve come for myself. Two things really. One is, we’re time sensitive. And if we have the answer, then we just want to give the answer and we’re ready to move on to the next thing. So, somewhat we are impatient. So we need more patience. And with that patience can come learning. And without that learning, of the other individual, they are going to be back in the same situation giving the answer as opposed to supporting them finding the solution. And guess what, most times they already have the solution. But because we’re so eager to share our wisdom and knowledge, that we get in the way of the them telling us. And then they own it even at a greater level. And they are passionate about it, than if we give our answer and they go execute our answer. So that’s critical. So that’s one. The second thing that I’ve got to remember now. But the second thing is… See, I’m getting old. You’re not old yet. When you get old your mind kind of goes away.

10:42 JL: We were just talking about the idea of letting them empty the cup first before we go filling it with any of our ideas.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Yeah. So. The one we talked about, that’s an important one, but this other one is really good. If I can remember it. [laughs]

10:56 JL: [laughs]

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Let’s keep talking. I’ll remember it. You can edit this.

11:03 JL: Yeah. If you remember it. We don’t need to edit. Just go for it. If you remember let’s go back to it though.


The Difference of Supporting versus Directing

11:10 JL: Well, when you think about this idea of leaders leading leaders, right? For someone who does have senior people under them, who are obviously accomplished, otherwise they wouldn’t be a chief marketing officer, head of HR, you know in charge of real estate for 92 locations and eleven story buildings right? How do you balance the role of directing versus the role of helping them progress.  Like helping them become even better at their job. Or how do you think about those two issues? Do they relate in your mind?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: They do. And I think it’s similar to the last question. It comes down to the role that you should be playing. And, I think normally… So I’ll share this answer and this answers the last question as well; is often times we, we really want to share our wisdom but we also want to… We talked about how efficient and saving time. I’m telling you what, age stinks. [laugh] But there’s a process by which, you know, we need to assess where they are in their learning and their experiences. Some people need a lot more guidance. Even though they are not new to a role, they need more hand holding. A new CEO isn’t going to know everything they need to do right. So the board of directors may spend more time with them, helping them understand. So if they are at that beginning stage than we need to give them more time and energy and probably more guidance. But as we see, we can trust them and as we see they have greater experience, then we need to loosen up the reigns. And give them the trust that they deserve. And allow them the opportunity to make mistakes and grow. So I think that that’s what we as leaders have to decide to do. So the book; you know you’ve heard the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  This is the answer to the last questions as well as this question. I think that most people grow in a company because of their ability to execute and get things done. And if you’re over a functional area, like marketing or HR, that’s really critical for you to have success and to be really closer to what’s going on in your organization with your team.  However, when you take on a role at a certain level of a company you no longer have a functional role. So my role, I’m not in charge of any of these things that I’m over. I have leaders that are in charge of all ot them. So then what’s my role? My role is to support. And my role is to look at the vision, their vision in support with them in collaboration, and then look at the organization at large from a larger standpoint or a more broad standpoint or even a longer standpoint in the future, and try and decide where do we need to be and go. But if we are in the weeds with our different functional areas, as opposed to an organizational view, that’s what I think gets us back to giving us more direction, instead of giving more support. So that’s going back to the last question. That I think is one of the fundamental mistakes we make. We tend to continue to do those things that helped us achieve the level of success we are at today. And then it hinders us from having the level of success we really could have if we are willing to let go of what got us here.

14:44 JL: Yeah. Do you have any stories of, as you were coming up, as your career was growing, you were getting to higher leadership, of somebody who modeled this really well for you or somebody that you feel like set the example for you?

The Value of Trusting in Your Employees for You and Them

MARSHALL PAEPKE: That’s a good question. Yes. Yes. I would say that one lady, her name was Lisa Tenny. She was over HR. And she was a senior VP and I was over HR at large. I reported to her. But she was really good about talking directionally where we wanted to go. And she had great trust in me. And so once we talked about where we wanted to go, she had trust that I would get us there. And I appreciated that trust because it gave me the freedom, the latitude to go and pursue things. To the degree that maybe we started going down the road left. And after a couple miles we decided, ‘Oh. This isn’t going to get us where we are going. I need to go more right.’  Well because of the trust I didn’t need to go back to Lisa and say, ‘we are going left but we need to be going right’. She knew that I was going to get us there in whatever time frame we set. So she really modeled that behavior of trust. And of the willingness and ability to let me learn and go down that pathway without being there constantly as guardrails. And saying ‘oh you’re too close to this side. You need to move over here’. Because with those guardrails we sometimes don’t learn as quickly as we would otherwise if we really understand that we’re driving the bus down that road and there’s a sheer cliff. And if I go off that cliff then it’s all on me. And that’s a whole different level of accountability which I appreciated her allowing me to have. And modeling the trust and the behavior to do that.

16:35 JL: What do you feel like the benefit was for her? Did she get better work out of you? Besides just the personal satisfaction of helping. What do you think is in it for her to have that trust and to maybe hold back, you know, give you the space to make some mistakes or be creative? What do you think the benefit is to her?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Well I think leaders like her, the benefit is they really are wanting success in planning and developing people so they are ready for the future. And so the projects that I was doing at that time wouldn’t have put our company at risk, right? But they were still big enough for me at that point in my career that it felt very risky for me. Because of the size of projects they were. And so for her I think there are a couple of benefits. One, she gets to do what she does very well. Which is to develop people. Number two, it allows her to spend her time focused on the areas that she really needs to spend the time and energy which are not the weeds. And three, I think she position the organization for the future. So that people are learning and developing the skill sets to take on greater roles in the future. So that’s the value I think that’s added back into her.

17:45 JL: Right now we’re closing in on the end of this episode. Everybody come back for part 2 of the interview. But thinking about what we have covered so far or something completely different. What do you think is one of the best pieces of advice you ever got leadership wise?

Modeling Work Life Balance

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Best advice. Well, I think I received this advice but maybe this is my advice. I think as leaders we don’t understand the impact that our example has. I know we hear about that, but I want to share this specifically to work life balance. Because as leaders part of the reason why we are where we are is because we’ve worked hard and generally we’ve worked long hours. And we’ve sometime neglected the things that are more important in life than work. And so I think the best advice that I could give is, and I think I have received this over my career is, you know, at the end of the day, when your career is over, what are you going to remember? And generally it’s going to be the time that you didn’t spend with those people that are the most important. And I think that’s really important to model that behavior. Work life balance. Because if you’re working 60-70 hours a week than other people are going to feel like they have to do the same thing. And your example will have an impact on families and people throughout your organization far more than you realize if you don’t model the behavior of having a good work life balance.

19:22 JL: That’s great. Well let’s end it there. And invite everybody to come back for part 2 of the interview.


Logan Wilkes: “Hi. My name is Logan Wilkes. And I’m the CEO of Corporate Alliance. A few years ago I moved to San Diego to build a new market for us there. The biggest deterrent I had to success was I didn’t know a soul. I often thought to myself, ‘If I just had a thriving network or influence this would go 100x faster’. To be honest with you I had never felt so alone in my life because A: I didn’t have an influence and B: I didn’t know anybody going through the same thing that I was. If you ever felt like this and you were looking to grow your influence join us at one of our upcoming events. You can check us out at corporatealliance.net and request an invite to one of our upcoming experiences.”

[END] 20:20