Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the podcast for and about realtors from the Canadian Real Estate Association. We’ve got a terrific guest for you today. I’m Erin Davis, and you’re going to be tempted to take notes or just listen again and again because our guest is an author, instructor, keynote speaker, certified professional coach, and the person you wish you had sitting next to you on a plane for four hours, Neil Thornton, President of the Thornton Group. Just some of his wisdom, your business will get better when your people get better, your people will get better when their management gets better.

As the workforce continues to evolve with some post-pandemic industries experiencing a labor shortfall, and others seeing an increase, creating a culture that employees value is critical to recruit and retain the right talent. Here we go. On episode 30 of REAL TIME, we are joined by Neil Thornton to help REALTORS® and brokers, regardless of your role on a team, strengthen your leadership, coaching, and engagement skills to build a strong team culture. Welcome to REAL TIME, Neil. It is such a pleasure to talk with you today.

Neil Thornton: Same here, Erin. Thanks. I’m so excited to do this.

Erin: You got to tell us a little bit about the Thornton Group. A lot of the people who are listening today are familiar with you. You did a talk recently for CREA in St. John’s, and of course, you’re well known for what you do, but why don’t you tell the few who don’t know just what the Thornton Group is?

Neil: It’s been a great ride, about 23 years. I often tell people it’s strategic doing that we do, and they look at me really odd. I’ll often say, “The strategic planning is easy, it’s the doing that’s the hard part.” Then, in part of that doing is leading change. I think that’s probably the most important business skill right now is our ability to lead change. I quote General Shinseki, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevancy even less.”

I think that’s our business reality because today, I honestly believe we are in the attention span economy where attention spans are shorter than ever before, so messaging, standing out in a crowded marketplace. Also, it’s dealing with change. We’re in exponentially changing times. I think what we’ve done before is not going to get the same results today or even beyond. I think that’s what organizations are looking for is the speed of change.

Erin: We will talk a little bit further on about this, but instead of looking in the rearview mirror, as you say, what used to work, be looking through the windshield because it’s much larger anyway. That’s going to be, I think the basis of a lot of what we talk about here today, which is why this forward-looking and being able to put behind the highs, and the lows, and the really unusual circumstances of the past few years and be able to try and see into the future just a little bit.

Neil: You remember the key word everybody used was pivot. Through the pandemic, it was pivot and pivot, but I really think the classic skills that we’ve learned to build our organizations to this point, there’s fundamental skills and then there’s some new skills. What the pandemic has done is it threw us into a virtual environment, but you still have the same personal cues, the speaking, the energy, the transferring the enthusiasm, which is so important in a virtual world if not even more.

In fairness, I teach at Niagara College here, and this will be the first year we’ve graduated students who have not stepped foot on campus, and most colleges, universities are saying that right now, but to that generation, they’re used to it. They get these changes. We can’t fight. We have to learn. It’s not what happens to us it matters, it’s how we react to it, really.

Erin: Of course, of course, Viktor Frankl said that the last human freedom is how we choose to react to whatever happens to us.

Neil: Man’s Search for Meaning.

Erin: What a great little book. Going back to the classroom a little bit, teaching via Zoom and the various different ways that you did that, how did that translate to how a businessperson conducts themselves? I understand that you were called upon by a very, very large company to help them to hold better meetings or to communicate better with their staff. I know that we are so far into this now that practically everybody has a pithy mug that says, “I’m on my Zoom call,” or whatever, but tell me if there’s any little nuggets that any of us has missed that we could put to use on Zoom or being more effective on our laptops or whatever camera happens to be in our house.

Neil: I wrote a report. It was very early in the pandemic. It was Elevate Your Virtual Meetings. I take it back to 2008 in the last recession, I was a managing partner of one of the largest training companies in the world. It was Dale Carnegie Business Group here in Canada. When the recession hit, it made us reinvent. What I did when the pandemic hit was go back to those lessons, but then I also started reading things like nonverbals, body language, improving my speaking ability, improving my vocabulary.

Executives who reached out to me during the pandemic, I took them back to not only the fundamentals, like don’t run a virtual meeting sitting down. Stand up, let them see your energy. Are you speaking to eyes or foreheads? Because if you’re speaking to foreheads, you’ve lost your audience. You have to change the delivery of your message.

Erin: What do you mean? One sec, Neil. Eyes or foreheads, are you talking about looking up into the lens on your laptop or what are you referring to there?

Neil: Right. You’re leading a group of people. Do you have people’s eyes looking into the camera because you have their attention or are you speaking to their foreheads? They’re busy on their phones or checking their emails.

Erin: Oh, oh, oh. Okay. All right. I get that.

Neil: That’s a concept I use when I teach public speakers is if you’re in a room full of people and people are checking their phones, you’ve lost the room. Stop the meeting. Go for a walk. Break it up. Get into a team exercise. It’s being spontaneous to lead and understand the influence you’re having on other people. I think that’s the greatest skill right now for any person in business, including REALTORS®, is learn to read a room.

Don’t forget, Erin, we’re working on the experience of any meeting or interaction. Even in this call for REALTORS®, it’s what people say about you when you leave the meeting, or are you having a meeting and then another meeting happens in the hallway after the meeting, then you have a culture problem.

Erin: What is the definition of leadership? Oh, this is good, but I’ll let Neil Thornton tell you, after all, he’s the expert. He’ll do that right after I remind you about CREA Café. You know it, right? It’s where you get the latest scoop on real estate news and industry developments, CREA Café. We hear a lot about workplace culture being a key driver for today’s workforce. How do you define workplace culture?

Neil: There’s a concept I use teaching marketing today is your brand now precedes you. That could be your personal brand or your organizational brand, but it’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room. I’ve been teaching leadership for 20 years; I finally came up with that definition. The definition of leadership is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

That’s reputation, it’s testimonials, it’s videos. A previous colleague of mine always said, “When you say it, it’s bragging. When others say it, it’s proof.” I think we have to look at what we’re known as in our market, and that’s often a reflection of our culture, which includes people who not only work with us now but maybe people who have decided to leave, and they’ve gone on to other opportunities, what would they say about their experience working with you?

Erin, this is so important because an organization today needs to attract talent. We all know how hard it is right now to attract talent. It’s because of the retiring baby boomers, now moving into Gen X, you’re seeing this huge exodus due to the pandemic from the workforce. We’re now looking at these younger generations, the Millennials, the Gen Zs, their attention spans are different, but they can multitask, they can communicate, they’re wired differently than any other generation. Does your organization, is it going to attract that future generation? I think that’s the number one thing most organizations need to work on right now is attracting future talent and being cool, being seen as a company that’s cool.

Erin: That’s positive. To turn it negative for just a second, what are some of the common mistakes that leaders make in trying to create a positive culture? Can you think of any?

Neil: It’s sending some people off to a retreat, and you do some wordsmithing, and we have a new vision, mission, values, and strategic plan, and then you stand there, and you jump up on a mount, and you give a speech and people in the room are like, “I don’t have any relationship to this.” I’ve often used the term that every person in your company should have a fingerprint on where you’re going, their vision and values.

Then another thing I see a lot of people do is they spend far too much time trying to fix or convince people. Have you ever tried to send an angry person anger management? It usually peeves them off because they don’t have a relationship. For years, I did human relations training. I had people in a room who were voluntold to be there, or they were there to get fixed. You know they’re not going to put anything in that program, so we very graciously let them leave on their own terms. They had to go back to their bosses and tell them why, but I think we need to work on and focus on the people who are contributing to our business.

Have you ever noticed it’s not the bad people who leave a company? It’s usually the good people. When they leave, they give you a resignation, everybody’s surprised. That is a reflection of your culture is you need people to stay. If you’ve got a turnover or an attrition issue in your organization, you have to look in the mirror and say, “What is it about me that people are leaving this organization? What is it about us and our leadership team? Are we focused on the right things?

Erin: That’s where the problems that are the biggest obstacles come in. You’ve spoken of them. There’s ego and–

Neil: Ego and fear. It’s the only two things that’ll ever get in the way of anybody’s success. Fear, I’m going to be optimistic. I don’t see a lot of ego in business anymore. In the body language we call it splaying or taking up a lot of space, raised chins means I’m raising kill points, you’re not a threat to me. I like the book, The Power of Now and Eckhart Tolley said, “Ego and awareness cannot coexist.” I think if ego’s in check in an organization, then you go to fear. I know a lot of really great leaders who really want to succeed, but they can’t get themselves out of the way. They spend too much time in their own brain.

Erin: The same talent that got them to where they are, the overthinking, the taking care of details, and all that can also turn into an internal weapon.

Neil: Look at the definition of insanity. I’m doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. In 2022, that will not work. Maybe 10 years ago, you could maybe get away with that thinking, but today, it just changes so fast. I’ve got students graduating from college. What they learned in first year is almost irrelevant by the time they graduate. That’s the speed of change in technology and data. That generation, they understand that is I have to learn to change.

Now, I get this a lot in groups of people. I often ask people, “Hey, raise your hand. If you feel people resist change.” Everybody probably on this call, their hands would go up. It’s actually not true. In fact, people resist the uncertainty of the change, that’s perceived forced on them. A great book that I often turn to is Start with Why by Simon Sinek where if you’re leading change, you have to explain the why of the change, then the how, but a lot of people just go to the how and the tactics. Then, that’s why you get that meeting in the hallway after the meeting because people don’t know why they’re doing. Then, that creates apathy.

Apathy is a cancer that will kill your organization. There’s a word. You had mentioned to me earlier, Erin, about measuring culture. There’s a word that if you hear in your organization, just stop the bus. It’s the word they. When you hear that, that elicits and us versus them conversation, an underlying pattern of mistrust. As soon as you hear the word they, stop and say, “I thought it was we. I thought this company was we.” It’s amazing how vocabulary and linguistics tie into all elements of business right now.

Erin: We hope you’re enjoying REAL TIME. I loved this conversation because so much of what Neil says is fascinating, truly. Next up, we’ll look at what your potential client is saying without using words. There’s so much more to explore here with us on REAL TIME month after month. Subscribe wherever you enjoy the best podcasts for episodes with newsmakers, insiders, designers, and great minds who share their wisdom with you. You can also go to for more details.

Now, we’re back to our chat with Neil Thornton. Before we get on any further, I need to hear some of those body language things that about that you can impart to people who are conducting meetings. I got to hear this. We all do well.

Neil: The whole essence of body language for me is not if somebody’s lying. That’s out of integrity. For me, I use body language to be able to read a room and read the influence I have on that room so that if I’m doing a keynote and I notice that there’s some closed gestures, people are closing up. Remember the classic arms cross in front of the chest. For some people, that’s comfort. That could be a self hug. You watch for changes in body language.

If somebody has open gestures to you their hands are out. Remember shaking hands. Your hand is neutral, and people are open, and their body language is open, and they’re comfortable, and they’re tapping their feet. That’s comfort signs, or their legs are out front that’s comfort. People are comfortable, their head’s nodding. Then, when you say something, they lean back, they cross their arms, they fold their legs. They almost start to take up less space. You’ve just insulted them. You’ve said something that’s told their brain to close up due to comfort.

If you see someone rubbing or pacifying or tugging on a piece of clothing, that’s the brain pacifying. Adults don’t suck thumbs, but my eight-month-old grandson sucks his thumb because babies do that to pacify. Now, we say, “Adults don’t pacify.” Go to a University during exam week, you’ll see a lot of pacifying and people rubbing. That’s the brain trying to comfort itself.

That’s how I use body language. If people are opened, or closed, or comfortable, or uncomfortable, you read the cues, and it gives you a better ammunition when dealing with people especially, say for today if you’re a REALTOR® and you’re walking up to a home, and you see some nonverbal gestures. That couple is giving you the cues of their relationship with you and what you can and can’t do.

Erin: Excellent. Earlier on, you mentioned the idea of going away to some sort of an inspiration camp or whatever. You brought to my mind a vision board, the thing where you put your vision there. Part of your message, if I understand it, has been to make the messages on the board actually come down and be part of your lives instead of just making the vision, and then just letting it be, making the vision a reality. How does one go about doing that?

Neil: I go bananas here. Here we go. Far too many companies have these vague platitudes. They’re called wallpaper. They’re in the lobby wall or a banner in a website. They say something like, “We will exceed client’s expectations by offering the highest level of service and quality.” Right now, my finger’s in my throat because I’m going to throw up. That is nonsense you. How can you exceed client’s expectations when I just mentioned how quickly they’re changing? Real vision is a very clear picture of where we’re going.

Think about Bill Gates. When Bill Gates said every home will own a personal computer. At the time, a microprocessor was as large as an apartment, and Bill Gates said, “Let’s make it happen.” When JFK said by the end of the 1960s, we’ll put someone on the moon and bring them back alive. Martin Luther king, “I have a dream.” Steve jobs, “All of human knowledge on a handheld device.” Now, those are visions. A vision is a very clear picture of where we’re going. An organization creates that vision. Everyone’s involved. They believe in it.

Now, comes the hard part. How do we not just check this off a strategic plan and put it in a binder somewhere? What I often coach organizations to do is number one, agree on the vision, everybody agrees, and core values, vision, mission, core values are strategic goals, everybody, agree. Next week, please come prepared to have your name pulled from a hat. If you are pulled, you will be asked to stand and in front of your colleagues, give a specific example, including a date and a time, of when either you have lived the vision, mission, values or noticed somebody else doing it. Have a great week.

People now leave that meeting with the tension knowing that they could be called upon the next week to give real examples. You agree, then you assign, you come back, and you record successes, you publish it for the company, and then you celebrate successes. At the heart of every culture, the heart of everything is Maslow, the hierarchy of needs, the number one human need, self-actualization, the feeling of importance. In business, it’s recognition of a job well done, appreciation.

That vision is creating future-based action, future-based conversations, future-based commitments, which pulls that organization to innovate. Most companies are mired in the status quo at best, the current reality, problem-solving, firefighting. You know if all you do all day is problem solve, firefight, and babysit, all you produce are more problems, fires, and babies. It’s so true. Company leaders are frustrated because that’s where they find themselves. We need to focus on where we’re going. I say start with listening.

Erin: You’ve said that it’s strategic. Tell me about that.

Neil: As human beings. Here’s what we tend to do. When someone says something in a room, think about a meeting room you’ve been in, and someone says something, and what you tend to observe is people often say, “That’s just like, or remember when, or oh, let me tell you why that’s not going to work.” What happens is we tend to listen for what we already know.

When people feel judged in that environment, it’s like going home and let’s say you have a spouse or a partner at home, and you say, “Honey, would you mind sitting down? I like to talk about your performance over the last year.” “Neil, that’s ridiculous.” We do it with our employees. We do it in meetings. We judge people based on what they say, based on what we already know. Listening is often from the past. It’s based on what’s probable. That’s why innovation’s hard.

When you coach listening for what’s possible, instead of probable, you’ll hear what you’ve never heard, but you used the word earlier, Erin, which is really important. I get it from a book called the Art of Possibility by Ben Zander. He’s the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. In the book, he ends one of his chapters, and it’s how I ended my book that I just wrote. It’s the two words, “How fascinating?”

It’s interesting, I just try it with groups. Guys, just say how fascinating. You listen from curiosity, not knowing. We tend to listen for what we already know from a right or wrong or should and shouldn’t be standpoint. Just admit we don’t know what we don’t know. That’s where innovation lies. I think that’s where every organization has to go now in 2022.

Erin: Listening from a place of I don’t know.

Neil: I don’t know. I admit I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m going to listen from curiosity, and I’m going to listen from innovation, not already knowing. That gets rid of the ego.

Erin: That’s coming back to Eckhart Tolle again.

Neil: How many meetings have we sat in where you just hear people justifying their opinions, they’re going around the room. They just justify themselves. Then, you leave the meeting going “That meeting was about as useless as an ashtray on a motorcycle. We didn’t advance anything. Far too many times, we do that.

Erin: When we return, building your team and what a strong team looks like. Are you a team player in your community as well, showing up and doing the work when volunteers and leaders alike are needed for great causes? Then why not share your story, using #realtorscare? REALTORS Care® is a national guiding principle, celebrating the great charitable work done by the Canadian REALTOR® community. Help raise awareness for those charities and causes you love. Again, use social media and the #realtorscare.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into specific team-building strategies and best practices. You’ve got so much wisdom and you’ve got great ideas. Let’s get the message through here. Some general characteristics of a strong team in your experience.

Neil: A lot of time, if not most of our time, is spent contributing to where we’re going, the vision. If you could picture a vision above your desk, and your desk is the current reality, the vision has an elastic. An elastic that anchors the vision to the current reality, and tension seeks resolution. What we put our attention to is what happens. If you hear language in your organization like, “I’m busy. I haven’t been able to do it.” Then, you hear weak words like, hope, try, maybe, I’d like to do it. Those are just weak languages.

Vision language is very strong. It’s, “I will. We are going to do this. Here’s what’s at risk if we don’t.” It’s amazing. One of the top things I get asked to do right now is how do I have robust and difficult conversations with people, the conversations we need to have that are honest. Again, there’s no conflict in reality. Check your premises. That was Ayn Rand that wrote that. Let’s get really honest with our dialogue. I’ve been going back to this a lot. It’s time to get human again, Erin.

Right behind me is a book from 1935. It’s an actual original copy of How to Win Friends & Influence People. It’s one of the most popular books in the world, and I’m seeing a lot of people picking that book up again. You’d mentioned earlier was Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning. When I work with people who are so stressed today, and they don’t know what they’re going to do, and they’re so worrisome, I pull that book out and say, “Read this book, and then you’ll know what stress really is.”

Erin: Tell me how it is that a nearly 100-year-old book from Dale Carnegie is still resonating.

Neil: It tells amazing stories of how people have built rapport, trust, respect with other people, how to gain willing and enthusiastic cooperation, how to change people’s minds without creating resentment, how to lead and inspire a team. I think those human skills, they just transcend the generations. They really do.

In dealing with a younger generation at the college right now, in the university world, it’s what a lot of students are looking for. They’re smart. They’re really smart students, but they want to strengthen their leadership and human relations. They also want to strengthen a relationship with failure and adversity. It’s a generational thing we’re dealing with right now, an entire generation that needs to understand failure.

Erin: What do we need to learn about the Gen Z?

Neil: You got to be careful. Just diversity right now is so prevalent. We live in a divisive society. We all know that. I think we have to stop. I often do this with a room full of people. I often say, “Hey, are we all committed here today? Please understand that all people are committed. We’re all here today. You all have a different worldview. I’d like everyone to close their eyes, put their right hand in the air, and point north. Everybody, open your eyes. You will see an entire room of committed people pointing in a different direction.”

You say, “Here we are. We all have a different interpretation of reality.” If somebody has number one, the courage to go to HR and say, “This is how I feel,” they’re saying that because they feel they can’t share it elsewhere. It’s a result of a number of interactions that have been unconscious by a number of people. Unfortunately, it’s the visit to HR that’s the end of the line, like, “Okay, we now have a complaint.” That brings us back down to if all we’re doing all day is solving people’s problems, we’re never going to advance.

I often say, as a leader of any organization, get really good at connecting what people’s commitments are and align the expectations. What do we expect of each other? If you feel you can’t approach your boss or you call them a boss or whatever, those aren’t modern organizations. Those are hierarchical organizations. You need to have flat equal organizations. Most CEOs I work with today, they don’t even have an office. They come in, they’ve got a tablet, they’ve got coffee areas, meeting rooms. They sit with people, and they coach and mentor. Those are great skill sets.

Erin: What’s the balance between coaching and knowing, Neil, when a team member just isn’t going to work out?

Neil: Let’s start with coaching. Coaching is a science. You and I have talked about it. It’s a certified science, but each person if they’re a business leader on this call has three skill sets. You have management skills, leadership skills, and coaching skills. All three are completely different. Coaching is about identifying people’s strengths that they might not realize they have. You ask great questions. People leave a coaching session with a heightened level of awareness and capacity to do more. That’s what a coach does. Leaders inspire a group, and managers manage things.

The rule of coaching is you never coach unless someone asks you. If you’ve got a progressive culture, going back to one of your first questions, what’s a sign of a great culture? You have a coaching organization. People have created their own business plans. They have their own visions. They know where they’re going. They see the value of being coached by an impartial person who’s there to help them, not to manage them. That’s the sign of a great organization.

Now, on the flip side of that, if we’re trying to maybe send ducks to eagle school, or we’re trying to fix problem people, one of the greatest pieces of business advice I ever got was hire slow, fire fast. If someone is just not prepared to go where the organization’s going, it’s okay to part ways. Help them with their career, move them to somewhere where they’re going to be happy. I think we spend far too much time trying to solve people. It’s just a complete waste of time today.

Erin: Coming up, choosing innovation through focusing on the future and when busy is not a good word in business. We live in a huge country, but brings everybody together. It’s the meeting place for buyers, sellers, and everyone in between. Right now, there’s like a quarter million listings there from trusted realtors. Of course, that number’s probably changed since I started talking with Neil. Check it out,, reliable real estate resources, all under one roof. Neil, how can leaders keep up with the speed of business today while maintaining strong human relationships with their teams?

Neil: I would say, the new speed of business actually means being aware of the impact you’re having on other people. I just wrote a book called Presence, Impact, and Influence. What I’m finding now, what I’m being asked is I’m approached by leaders, managers, owners, C-suite executives. This is what they’re saying to me, “Neil, I pretty much know everything about my job. I know everything about the academia, the tactics, all the strategies. I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing it for years. I now want to raise my awareness. I now want to know how memorable am I. How could I be a better speaker? How could I better understand the room? How could I better lead and inspire a team?”

I think that’s the conversation that’s happening with progressive companies right now is people are saying, “I don’t want to keep doing what I’ve always ever done. I want to innovate, and I want to grow.” If you want to attract future talent, you have to have that future focused in your organization.

The other thing I often say too is get really good at interrogating language. When someone comes in a room and they say, “I didn’t get to it. I was busy, or I just didn’t have time,” that’s a great opportunity. Just stop the meeting and say, “Just tell the truth.” Then, “What? “Just tell the truth. It wasn’t important to you. Just say it.” Now, in my business, I’ve lost my filter many, many years ago, but having someone in the room that just stops the room and interrogates the reality and says, “Just admit it. You had said you were going to do this, and you’ve come back and said that you didn’t do it, which means you’re out of integrity with your group. You have to build that integrity back up, but your language was I just got busy.”

Busy is not a good word in business anymore. There’s no room for busy. Instead of saying, “I made a commitment to do it, I didn’t know what to do, or I wasn’t aware how to do it.” Okay, no problem. That’s a coaching conversation, but we let too many conversations go across a room without someone interrogating them.

Erin: It sounds confrontational though, Neil. It would be very difficult to conduct without seeming like you’re picking at, or picking a fight, or picking on them. Wouldn’t you agree? How do you think people would perceive that? Why don’t you just tell the truth?

Neil: You’re talking to a classic Dale Carnegie person that builds that trust and rapport with the groups. Then, I often say things like, “I need to say something. Now, I’m saying this because I love you guys. I love my clients, and I care about them, but I need to say something that needs to be said, and I’m saying this so it advances us.”

You’d be amazed Erin, most people, I think, “Oh, I’m going to get punched in the parking lot.” I get a phone call, and it’s usually that person that says, “I want to thank you because no one in my company had the courage to tell me what you said and because you said that, it made me realize that yes, you know what, maybe I am using weak language. Maybe, I have fallen into a rut.” That’s the value of a great coach. A great coach isn’t loved. A great coach has respect and integrity, and they help people advance their language.

Erin: You prefaced it by saying, I’m going to say something that comes from a place of love or whatever else that it does. That totally makes sense. How do you balance equitable treatment for those who’ve been loyal to you with the need to attract new talent? This is another lane that a lot of people are finding themselves in.

Neil: We live in a time where seniority doesn’t mean what it used to. I worked with an organization once that was a government agency, and a gentleman walked in a room and said, “25 more years, and I’m out of here.” I’m like, “Okay.” That’s apathy kicking in. What I often find is the people who have more experience, they’re tenured. What I often do is let them be champions, let them mentor, let them create a legacy, let them work with some of the newer performers that are coming on board.

It’s not just you as the leader, you delegate some of that mentorship to other people. They feel valued. They’ll actually go home at night saying, “Hey, I know I’ve been in this organization for years, but I’m finally being asked for my opinion, and I’m finally being able to contribute my knowledge to younger people.” They get a bit of a kick in their step.

Erin: Then, it’s so important for younger or newer members to a team to know that they can go to someone, that they can be vulnerable, that they could say, “Look, I ran into this, and I don’t know what to do about it, or what would you have done?” or to be able to mine some of that wealth of information and wisdom that’s just there for the taking.

Neil: Then, in my work, I’m very digital. I’m very black and white. You have to be when you’re dealing with teams. When someone fails, it’s only because of two reasons. Number one, they don’t know what to do, they don’t have the knowledge, or number two, they know what they need to do, but they’re not willing to execute on that. As a manager, just ask them, which one is it? Have we not done a good enough job giving you the skills and the knowledge to do this, or you need to do it, but you’re not necessarily doing it? Let’s talk about what’s really getting in the way. Maybe, you’re fearful. Maybe, there’s some procrastination issues that we need to deal with.

That’s what really great managers do, is you get down to the facts, and you take the personalities out of conflicts, and personalities out of this. Like, “Oh, well, this person thinks this about you.” That’s not healthy at all. Just say, “Let’s hold a mirror up to you. Let’s look at who you’re being as a human being. Are you a human being or a human doing? Are you running around just being busy?” Because most people right now are just so focused on what’s in front of their face.

If you put your hand right in front of your nose, the focus doesn’t change until you pull your hand away and you start to have a different perspective. I often coach, really, it’s interesting, I coach executive leaders to walk around the building, start learning how to meditate, prayer. Just do something that pulls you away from this day-to-day, work on you, and not just be so buried in the business because you’re not building any integrity with your team if you’re not available for them.

Erin: We’ll be back to Neil Thornton with a phrase he’s used earlier that’s worth repeating and why it’s vital that it sinks in for each of us, but before we do let me remind you, don’t miss our next REAL TIME podcast as soon as it drops. Subscribe where you listen to your favorite podcasts or just go to for more. Your brand now precedes you is something that you have said. We will get the title of your book and where to find it coming up. I hope that this is a big part of the book but tell us what those words mean. Your brand now proceeds you, and why it’s so important today.

Neil: This is the world we live in where when I say your brand precedes you, it means that I know everything about you before I meet you. That’s digital feeds, social media. I’m a huge proponent of LinkedIn from a professional standpoint, I’ve got just over 6,200 connections. I’ve got 104 written recommendations. To me, people often call me because they see that. They see a website that has testimonial videos on the first page because of what I said earlier when you say it, it’s bragging, when others say it, it’s proof. I’m always collecting people’s impressions of what I do.

My goal is to walk in a room and people say, “I’ve heard about the great things that you do.” I think that’s what every businessperson wants. That now involves building content, being a thought leader, doing keynotes with your industries and your associations. I’m seeing REALTORS® doing that a lot now. They’re now doing real estate news and market updates, and they’re putting themselves out there by being seen as experts in their field. They’re the ones that are working on their brand and how they stand out. I think every organization needs to focus on that right now is brand of your own personal reputation, your team’s reputation, and your organization’s reputation.

Erin: Well, this is a great time to mention the book. Would you tell us about it, how it came to be, what it’s called, and where we can find it, Neil?

Neil: It was a pandemic project. I had planned it a couple of years ago, but it turned into this 390-page behemoth. It’s called Presence, Impact, and Influence. In the book, I talk about leading change, executive reinvention, speaking skills, body language. People love the body language stuff, but it was really meant to be a reference tool for executives, owners, and managers to really focus on themselves and the impact that they’re having, the influence they’re having on others, and then the presence when they walk into a room. That’s all the human stuff. That’s why I wrote it. I’m so proud. I have it on Amazon, woo. It’s your friend.

Erin: It is. The title again is PII.

Neil: Presence, Impact, and Influence by Neil Thornton.

Erin: Well done. Excellent. Okay, Neil, let’s end this on an actionable end note. When it comes to team building and workplace culture, what is your go-to piece of advice? First off, for leaders.

Neil: For leaders, understand that your culture will eat your strategy for breakfast. That’s from Peter Drucker. That is so true. We spend so much time on strategy and so little time on culture, and dialogue, and conversations.

Erin: For your employees.

Neil: In the absence of a vision, we’re each just driven by our own agendas. We’re inattentive to each other’s needs and we inadvertently pull the win from each other’s sales. That’s a quote from the Art of Possibility, but it’s so true that not only do I need to align to my organizational vision, but I need to have a vision of my own and where am I going, and it needs to be a very clear picture. Also, have a plan to deal with the critics and the cynics and the sidelines who want to tell you why you can’t succeed.

Erin: There, we go to Teddy Roosevelt and it is saying about it’s the ones who are in the arena getting dirty and bloody and not the ones who are sitting in the stands that matter. I think you and I read a lot of the same things.

Neil: Yes, we do.

Erin: I think so. I haven’t read your book yet though. Maybe, you’ll read mine and we’ll do a book club.

Neil: I’ve already ordered it.

Erin: Wonderful. Now, for those who get stuck in a holding pattern, not going forward, not going backward, who is coaching you to move, who is stretching you? Seems to be the question that needs to be asked, yes?

Neil: I’ve often said, the greatest athletes in the world use coaches. People are going to laugh, but let’s say the Toronto Maple Leafs, they win a game. Well, the next day, they’re being coached. They’re not celebrating. They’re in watching films. The greatest businesspeople realize that, “Hey, I’m a good person, and what I’ve done is got me to this point, but it might not necessarily get me to the next point. If I can find an outside, non-biased, professional advisor, a business coach, a real business coach who will be willing to listen and not just give me advice. That’s what consultants do. They come in and, “You’d be more successful if you’re more like me.” I just find that arrogant.

A real consultant, a real coach says, “Hey, you’d be more successful if you’re more like you. Let’s look at your patterns. Let’s look at your underlying patterns that maybe you’ve lost or become unaware of, like your language that’s getting you what you’re getting.” I often say to business leaders, “You’ve got great tools. My goal is to give you more tools. You can go back to the originals, but I’m going to give you more tools to get the job done quicker and faster. It’s going to be up to you if you want to use them.” Whenever you try something new, it takes a bit of practice at first, so a great coach gets people through that learning curve.

Erin: I really feel like you gave us a whole bunch of new tools, and some good advice, and good insight on perhaps how to start using them more effectively. Neil, we are so grateful for you joining us here today and sharing your wisdom, your humor, your insight. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Neil: I’m honored. Thank you, Erin.

Erin: Neil Thornton is President of the Thornton Group. If you’re looking for that book of his on Amazon, once again, it’s called Presence, Impact, and Influence. If it’s as great as this chat was, I am sure it’s worth a read. Thanks to Rob Whitehead for putting this together for Real Family Productions, to Alphabet® Creative for producing REAL TIME. I’m your host, Erin Davis, and we will talk with you again soon on REAL TIME. Bye for now.

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