Leadership + People: Episode 40 - Marshall Paepke - Part 2 of 2

Marshall Paepke, the Chief Administrative Officer at Mountain America Credit Union, discusses the importance of a leader’s ability to create engagement through positive thinking. Although success does not come without work, Paepke says there is something to be said about writing down your personal and professional goals.

Show Notes

  • Developing your career bucket list and executing the items on it [01:30]
  • Taking your aspirations beyond “wish status” by writing them down [04:22]
  • A constant process of refining your goals [06:03]
  • When Marshall Paepke started his personal bucket list [07:50]
  • Allowing the universe to play a part in achieving our goals [08:45]
  • The Synergy Effect [11:06]
  • Outthinking problems versus outworking them [12:46]
  • Adjusting and reevaluating the value of impact [13:18]
  • Becoming Your Best, Work-Life Balance [14:06]
  • Planning ahead and prioritizing people [15:33]
  • Do we really get too busy, or are we not prioritizing appropriately? [17:06]
  • “Wherever we spend our time thinking, that really is going to predict what we become.” [17:46]

Show Audio


Becoming Your Best by Steve Shallenberger


This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: June 26th, 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.

HOST – JESS LARSEN: This is part two of our interview with Marshall Paepke, the CAO at Mountain America Credit Union.

GUEST – MARSHALL PAEPKE: But what ends up happening at work is we talk about things like IDPs — Individual Development Plans — and it becomes so myopic that people are like, “Well, what should I do?” I’ll take that course, or I’ll do this. And so, it becomes very granular and people are not real passionate about it.

00:47 JL: If you missed part one, please go back. It’s good. You’ll get some really solid advice. I made him a job offer [laughs] that he should come teach our consulting programs at Myelin. But, I want to talk about the people side of it. You know we talked about leadership in the first part of the interview, and this one, I want to talk more about senior leaders — whether they’re running an organization, whether a senior executive — and just your approach to both professional development, like getting ideas from your peers or networking to grow an organization of — the stuff that doesn’t show up on the checklist of my job — and just being a part of the community and what that can do for the organization.

Developing Your Career Bucket Lists

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Okay. Can I take this — I’ll probably take this in a different direction than you’re thinking. But, so, I’m really passionate about people, ok? So, when I started in HR, I actually started because it was the mid-90s, and there was a lot of law coming out of HR and I wanted to be a lawyer, and then I decided not to be a lawyer, so I just went into HR. After I got into HR, I found the real passion I had was people and engagement. And that’s what really drove me is how do we create a work environment – to be an employer of choice – and to drive things through people’s passion and engagement, engaging individuals? And we’ve been able to do that here. We’ve won national, we’ve won local awards in all different categories. So, I feel very satisfied that we’ve been able to accomplish that as a company.

So here’s an idea that I came up with the other day. And it’s not a new idea, but I don’t think people think about their development in this context. Ok, you ready? This is going to blow your mind. So, you know a bucket list, right? We’ve all seen the movie and it’s a great movie, and we get a bucket list. Like, I want to travel to all over the world. Or, I want to climb Mt. Everest — which I don’t — but, if you do, that’s great. But what ends up happening at work is we talk about things like IDPs — Individual Development Plans — and it becomes so myopic that people are like, “Well, what should I do?” I’ll take that course, or I’ll do this. And so, it becomes very granular and people are not real passionate about it. So one day, I like to ride my bike – I’m a cyclist. So, I’m out riding my bike and I’m trying to figure out how to solve this problem about development — like you’re talking about — how do we keep ourselves developed? And I guess what hit me was, what we are really talking about is we’re talking about our career bucket list. I want you to think about this idea. So let’s say that in your career — so I’m going to ask you — if I say to you, not what are you going to develop yourself at. But I say, “What are your goals for your career? Share with me one of your goals.” Your career bucket list — what’s something you want to do?

03:27 JL: You know, so I’m running this consulting firm, a media company, now. But, I really like the Warren Buffett Richard Branson model of owning companies, instead of running them day-to-day. And so, personally, I really like the idea of — I used to run a private equity fund. I really like the idea of running an internal venture capital fund, recycling my own money, but having professional management run the companies.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Great. So let’s say that you now write that down on your career bucket list. You don’t know if that’s going to happen tomorrow. You may come across an opportunity where that actually crosses your path. Or, you don’t know if that’s going to happen 10 years from now, or 20 years from now. But, by having it written down on your career bucket list, it will happen when you put your energy into it. And also, when you open up that idea to the universe. And I know that’s kind of like, “Oh, we’re getting out here into La La Land of Leadership,” but, I really do believe that as we put things down and write them, and take them from a wish status and put them down on paper, all the sudden we invite other people to become a part of our success of achieving these things.

As I’ve shared this idea in our company, and just with a few people, just changing those words slightly from “Individual Development Plan,” to “Career Bucket List,” all the sudden people started saying, “Well, I’d like to do this and I’d like to do that, but that’s not really my job.” It doesn’t matter if it’s in your job. If you’re developing yourself as an individual, you’re developing. And it’s going to impact you in ways that you don’t understand. So, I talk to my boss — our CEO — and said, “Hey, I have a simple one. I’d like to just go to breakfast with you and the chairman of the board because every time you guys meet before board meeting, I’d just like to sit there and listen.” So that’s not a huge career bucket list item. But what I could gain from watching that interaction and hearing the topics they’re talking about for me and my career where I’m at, would be wonderful. So they can be little. They can be big. But I just would really encourage people, from a professional development standpoint, not to look at the next class you can take or the next meeting, or whatever it might be. But just explore what do you want to do in your career. If you want to be a CEO, you never know. You may have an opportunity within your company to run a subsidiary. So put it down on your bucket list.

05:39 JL: You know, I’m just laughing because… So my mentor, it’s this guy named John Rusin who mentored me for five years, ended up becoming my business partner, ran that fund. You know, we owned these businesses together for like 12 years. And, he got me to start writing down these goals. But, every month, editing them. You know, it’s like a constant process of refining. So, I carried these little 3 X 5 moleskin books with me, right? Basically during church [laughs], is I’m pulling them out, which probably isn’t the best thing to admit on a podcast, right? But, basically every week, I flipped to the back of these moleskins and you can look at years of them, and you can see this list of what’s my personal, family, spiritual goals? What’s my career goals, right? And, it’s just… what’s funny is I pulled one up from when I was like a 21-year-old. I pulled it up maybe 10 years later. I hadn’t thought about this in years, but I had physical — I had little drawings of I wanted snowmobiles, I wanted my skateboard ramp, I wanted my black, big four-wheel-drive truck, you know. It’s this pretty good list, right, and I was just laughing that I had almost per item, exactly what was in this little drawing from a book from 10 years earlier that I hadn’t opened in 10 years. You know? [laughs] So it’s funny that you say La La Land and I get it because people often confuse wishing with something like that, right? But from my own life, it almost feels like magic that — that intention about it and talking about it.

I used to be on a mergers and acquisitions team with CitiGroup and I thought, “I want to run a private equity fund instead of just sell companies to them.” And, by 28, I was a CEO of a private equity fund. It sounds too simple to be true. And, it does discount all the work and everything else in between those things, but I feel like… anyways, I’m just laughing because I feel like I’ve experienced that.

Allowing the Universe to Play a Part in Our Achievements

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Well, I think you’re a great example and I think your stories go to underline the importance of it. So, can I tell you one more story real quick? So, this is a personal. But, I think it relates. So, in 2004, I started my personal bucket list and the first item on there was to take my wife to China because both of us had spent some time in Taiwan. About two months later, it was an early morning, and my wife was sleeping still. I was getting the kids ready, which is unusual, because I was up, she was asleep. And, I had the radio on, which I never have on. And all the sudden, they came on – there was a contest – and so I picked up the phone and I started dialing. And it was ringing through, my wife walked in, and she said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Calling. They have a contest.” And she said, “Well, I never win.” So being the good husband I’m not — I’m just kidding, I’m a pretty good husband — but, I handed her the phone and she walked in the other room and all the sudden, we hear her voice on the radio and she’s won!

08:36 JL: [laughs]

MARSHALL PAEPKE: And guess what she’s won…

08:39 JL: A trip to Taiwan.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: A trip to China.

08:41 JL: Really?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: For two — all expenses paid.

08:43 JL: That’s pretty awesome.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: That was the first thing on my bucket list and that’s what I talk about — when we put these things down, how does the universe play this role in helping us achieve that? Because it will happen. Like you said, it’s kind of magical. All of a sudden, if we put our energy towards the things and we’re willing to work — because this doesn’t come without work; I had to pick up the phone, I had to dial, right? I had to do something — but anyway that, in 2004, started my bucket list of the things that I want to accomplish. Just yesterday, I was going through it. I just got back from Spain — took my son to Spain — and that was on my bucket list. And so, I think we’ll achieve more in this life — the things we want to achieve and we’re passionate about — if we’ll list those. And like I mentioned earlier, my bucket list isn’t to go to climb Mt. Everest, so I’m not going to put it on my bucket list just because it’s somebody else’s wish.

In business, I think this concept applies too, right. So when we go and we think, and we try to envision the future of our businesses, if we can envision our business becoming something, we can make it happen. But as leaders, we go back to the topic earlier, if we are spending our time making other people’s decisions or getting too much in the weeds, or not trusting, then we won’t have the time, or the energy, or the effort to really step back and be able to see what we can become as an organization.

10:03 JL: You know, it’s interesting to think what a simple concept this is. And, it seems like well, you’re a big job, you’re at an organization with $8 billion in assets, life should be more complicated than writing it down and talking about it, right?


10:20 JL: And of course, it is. But, I wonder if — because I think about this idea of me writing it in these moleskins all these years over and over — there’s certain things I’ve written, I don’t know how many times I’ve written them. You know? And I wonder if it’s something about you know, the brain is latching on to things. You know, we get so much information today, the brain span filters most of it and latches on to things we’ve told it’s important. Right? I wonder if the nature of writing a list is signaling to our brain that’s important. If there’s anything like that, latch on to it. You know, and the nature of the list keeps it front and center for the brain. And then the other side of it is — it does seem uncanny how much I work hard at something and then I get an extra piece I didn’t deserve.


The Synergy Effect

11:06 JL: And it’s like there is something to this — I’m focused on it, I’m working at it, and it does seem like I often get that little extra that you couldn’t just have put on a math equation: Do this and you’ll get that. You know?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: 1 + 1 = 2. It’s that synergy effect, right? So, 1 + 1 = 4. But it’s because you’re doing more than just the work. Does that make sense? I mean, I don’t know what you did growing up, but I dug a lot of ditches, right? And a lot of hard, manual labor. I got more out of that hard work than just the paycheck. I learned to work hard, and I learned to be willing to do what it takes to get the output I wanted. Now, later in life, I think I’ve benefited and helped with my career because I was willing to work hard when others may not have been willing to work as hard. Or think as hard. Because sometimes I think that’s more important today is how hard are we willing to think, as opposed to work?

12:07 JL: Yeah, I’d actually love to talk about this. You know, you think about how easy it is if we’re skilled at a certain job function or something, we’ve now been promoted, we’re in charge of people, whatever. It’s like — maybe earlier in the career, putting in the harder, you know, working 20 percent harder than the other guys and whatever so it makes the difference, right? But, it does seem like later on, the problem comes up and immediately getting to work on it doesn’t always feel as helpful and I get frustrated and then I have to go back and realize, “Oh, I need to outthink this problem, not outwork it.”


12:46 JL: Why do you think people like me — why do you think that’s harder to stop and think harder, instead of just nose down and work harder?

MARSHALL PAEPKE: I think it comes to how our society is developed that we want to see output and so, you know, solving one major problem doesn’t seem like shifting a stack of email, or a stack of paper on our desk. But, the real trickle effect or ripple effect is much greater than the emails or the to-do lists. So, I think we need to value things probably differently — put a different value on the impact. And I think part of that is how fast we’re running because we’re running from meeting to meeting, we’re running from assignment to assignment. Do we take the time — and this is where I go back to my other sentiments about work-life balance — do we have the time and are we taking the time to think and ponder? And I can tell you this has been a challenge for me. I have in no way mastered this. When I do it, I’m much more effective in life and when I don’t do it, I’m much less effective. And again, I don’t know if I can talk about a product here on your show or not.

13:54 JL: Yeah, yeah, go for it.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Ok. So one of the best books I’ve ever read is called, “Becoming Your Best” by Steve Shallenberger. Have you read that?

14:03 JL: No. I’m a real book nerd. I’m excited.

Becoming Your Best, Work-Life Balance

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Ok, I’ll give you one before we leave. This book has 12 principles and I am a big believer if people will follow those 12 principles, they will change the way and the who they are, because it’s really about becoming. So, who we are today may not be who we want to be tomorrow. But, are we willing to become the person we could and can become?

14:32 JL: I love that idea. I always love stories. Can you think of somebody that you feel like has set the example for that or times you’ve seen that in a coworker or a boss, or just somebody else you’ve observed of — they’ve lived that more than maybe the average? Advice, it’s easy to hear advice. But sometimes, seeing when somebody else did it makes it stick in for me.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Yeah, so for me, I’ve had the chance to meet Steve Shallenberger and go to lunch with him and whatnot, and just hearing his stories about his life, and starting businesses at a very young age, and these principles — and these principles aren’t new principles. I mean, when people look at the 12 principles, like pre-week planning, right? So at the end of the week, are you ready and planning for the previous week? Like writing down and looking at your next week’s schedule and making sure the things on your calendar that you have prioritized are really important. And, if they’re not, then remove them! Right? It makes sense. But, how many of us are willing to do it?

15:31 JL: Yeah. It’s like simple, but hard.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Yeah. And so, watching Steve Shallenberger and talking to him through his life and how he prioritizes things. And, guess what? The number one thing I see Steve prioritize are people.

15:44 JL: Tell me about that.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Well, just like me. He came and he spoke to us. We brought him up and he spoke to our whole leadership team and with his son, Rob. And I said to Rob, “Hey, I’d love to go and meet your dad more,” and this is the first time he’d ever presented to our company, and they said, “Well, he doesn’t necessarily always do that,” and I was like, “Alright.” Because he’s kind of a big deal. Then, all of a sudden, I get a call from Steve and he’s like, “Hey, when do you want to go to lunch? I heard you want to go to lunch with me.” And so, here’s a guy running multi-million-dollar companies and whatnot, and now he’s going to lunch with me. And so, I was important enough to him for him to prioritize that time and he told me his life story. And I learned from his experience of seeing, not only how he applied these principles, but how he lives his life. So, he’s been a phenomenal example to me of some of these principles.

And, I could tell you — a couple years ago, I really practiced this pre-week planning, just as one of the principles, and it changed me. It changed my time. It changed my energy. It changed my passion because what was on my calendar and my schedule were the things that were really important. When I became after that a little bit more lackluster about continuing that habit, guess what happened? I kind of got back into the grind. And so, doing it and doing it effectively and well ongoing, consistency and consistently, are really critical to us. Sometimes we get busy, “Oh, I don’t have time for that.” Do you really not have time for that? Or, do you really not have time not to have time for that? And I think that’s a critical thing for all of us. Like, what’s our morning routine? You’ve read books. Some of the most successful people have routines, and those routines are what they follow all the time. Why? Because it’s what helps them be effective or successful.

17:30 JL: I love it.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: And, one last thought — So, you asked this, but — I really do believe in this idea and it kind of just ties all of this together, I think. You know, there’s scriptural references to stuff like this, but I think you could find it probably in anything. But basically, as someone thinketh, they become. And so, wherever we spend our time thinking, that really is going to predict what we become. If we spend our time thinking doubtfully, then we probably aren’t going to have success. If we spend our time thinking about how we are going to accomplish something, or how that person can be successful, or how that person is good and focus on their qualities — their positive qualities, we’re going to have a whole different life experience as a leader than if we spend our time thinking in a negative way. So, how do we create positivity? You know, how do we create engagement? People want to be around that person that’s positive. People want to be around the people who can see the future and see it in a positive way. They don’t want to be around the person who’s always seeing things in a negative light. So, anyway, just a thought.

18:31 JL: No, I love it. I actually think that’s a great place to end. I think that’s something we could all do better at.

MARSHALL PAEPKE: Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity to visit with you!

18:41 JL: Yeah, it’s been great.

18:42 Music Begins. 18:44

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[ENDS] 19:33