On this edition of the connected enterprise we interview Brandon Wilson on advancing business culture, improving communities, and impacting lives.
Carl Lewis: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Brandon Wilson. Brandon, welcome.
Brandon Wilson: Thank you, Carl.
Carl Lewis: Please tell us about your journey. Where are you, how did you get there, and what do you do?
Brandon Wilson: I’m a communication specialist/strategist. I help leaders unlock their maximum potential. I'm honored to be an award-winning communication strategist and an accredited public relations professional. My agency is called Wilbron, and Wilbron exists “for good.” That means all our projects do three things: 1) promote ethical business practices, 2) advance communities, and 3) uplift and advance the human condition. They help people become better. I've worked with incredible leaders, from CEOs to college presidents.
Brandon Wilson: We started as a higher education consultancy. I've consulted with 100+ colleges and universities. And as I assessed their organizations and met with leaders, I realized something: There are a lot of great mentors out there. A lot of what I’ll share today is the product of great mentorship—and access.
Brandon Wilson: These people offered access to their trials and triumphs along the way to doing bold things. And in discovering those things, I learned there was a common thread: sabotage. Sabotage is any act, activity, or force that seeks to limit, stop, or frustrate you along your journey to doing something incredible. I also benefited from a life well-lived, as I am a survivor of leadership sabotage.
Brandon Wilson: In seeing this common thread of limiting forces in my life and the lives of gifted leaders and others around me, I've learned many leaders are ill-prepared to deal with betrayal, theft, and deceit along their leadership journeys. Nobody wants to talk about it—we want to talk about how we built a great building or got a promotion. But leadership sabotage is everywhere success is. And it's important to protect our leadership journey from it.
Carl Lewis: I read your book. It seems that if you get to a certain level of experience, you’ll experience sabotage. And I like what you said about sabotage on our personal journeys—sometimes you sabotage yourself. But how do business owners protect themselves from sabotage?
Brandon Wilson: That’s deep. Because sometimes the most effective thieves are us. The cleverest saboteurs who create the most pain often stare at us when we look in the mirror. A whole portion of the book is dedicated to self-sabotage and what I call a spectrum of susceptibility to self-sabotage. If the anecdotes sound familiar to you, you've probably found where you are on the spectrum of susceptibility for self-sabotage.
Brandon Wilson: One is a fear of success. We must diagnose ourselves and ask, "Am I tripping myself up or robbing myself of opportunities because I’m afraid of the responsibility that comes with success?" That's a huge one—complacency. To move away from complacency, you must go to a place of discomfort. And many people want to stay comfortable, even if it’s in poverty or failure. We figured out a way to survive and be comfortable, so we shun innovation and advancement and sabotage opportunities to succeed.
Brandon Wilson: The book helps you identify things in your life that perpetually cause you to steal opportunities from yourself. I'm an author. I run a company. I help high-powered leaders achieve big things. But I'm no exception. I steal opportunities from myself. My favorite story to tell happened in 2014. I had a great idea to start a grocery delivery service.
Brandon Wilson: You would go online and say what you wanted. And moms would shop for other moms and bring groceries to your door. I thought it was a great idea, so I hired attorneys and consultants. I interviewed a research firm to see what the—no pun intended—appetite was for such a service. And that interview changed everything. As I left, the research chair said, "Brandon, are you sure you want to do this?" I said, "I’m sure." And she said, "There's another client with a similar business. And he’s struggling. I don't know if you want to do this."
Brandon Wilson: I thanked her, left, sat in the car, and guess what? I said, "Do I really want to do this?" I went home and talked to my wife. She talked about life. "You just got out of this bad business deal. We have obligations. Can you take on more?" Then I talked to myself again. "What do I know about the grocery store business? What do I know about technology? I'm out of my depth here. Maybe I should give up." And that's what I did.
Brandon Wilson: But there was Bill Smith, who lived literally a few neighborhoods away. He had the same idea, and he grew it. He saw himself as a winner, whereas I saw myself as incapable. He prevailed over the challenges, overcame the sabotage, and grew it into a company Target bought for $550 million. It's called Shipt—you probably know it. Maybe you even use it. And if that isn’t enough encouragement for you to take a step and not rob yourself of $550 million, I had the great fortune of meeting the chairman, president, and CEO of Target, Brian Cornell. When asked why he bought it, he said, "Because I thought it was revolutionary that there was a platform that would allow moms to shop for other moms."
Brandon Wilson: That was my idea. But I sabotaged myself. I tell you because I hope my experience and what I survived help you overcome the forces that may be leading you to sabotage your success.
Carl Lewis: You have a John Maxwell quote that says, "If your giftedness is greater than your character, then your character will hold down your giftedness."
Brandon Wilson: Yes.
Carl Lewis: And that perspective that character, integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness matter more than talent. You can know nothing about your dream, but if you have a dream and those other things, you can do a lot.
Brandon Wilson: I made up a quote yesterday: “Right is undefeated.” When you do things the wrong way, you depend on luck and grace that people won't see it or will bend the rules for you. But that's not undefeated. Your luck may run out. Someone may not bend the rules for you. But doing it the right way works every single time. Right is undefeated.
Brandon Wilson: Overcoming betrayal, theft, deceit, or any sabotage involves two things. One is having the courage to lead with integrity. That sounds easy, but consider how many of your coworkers would sacrifice integrity, sound judgment, and their moral compass for self-preservation or the next paycheck, raise, or bonus. They hope nobody will see it. They hope for luck and grace. More people like that exist than people leading with unyielding integrity.
Brandon Wilson: When you say, "I'm going lead with unyielding integrity," you become an audacious leader, and it takes courage for you to affect a culture that often rewards non-integrity. The second thing for overcoming sabotage is a positive self-identity. This is difficult too, because authority figures during your childhood may have said, “You can only be this. You cannot be better than this. You won’t amount to anything.” You may have been exposed to abusive relationships or be as successful as your mind and imagination say you are, but you can't see anybody who's ever achieved your dream.
Brandon Wilson: You must overcome those things to see yourself as a winner, a finisher, a fighter—someone who busts through the limiting forces that say, "Stop. Sabotage yourself."
Carl Lewis: A friend taught me the concept that trust is a precious commodity. You don't give it to anyone who hasn't earned it.
Brandon Wilson: That's right.
Carl Lewis: How important is trust in preventing employees and others from sabotaging the business?
Brandon Wilson: It’s critical. And it's the one resource we don’t give away freely enough. But let me back up. Protecting yourself from sabotage isn’t a matter of paranoia—it’s a matter of wisdom. But how do you know somebody is setting you up for sabotage or susceptible to forces that lead them to sabotage you or for you to sabotage yourself?
Brandon Wilson: One thing you could do is be a leader who believes in distributive leadership. Give people things to do, things to lead, and accountability, and they’ll show themselves. Because pressure has a way of revealing who we are.
Brandon Wilson: You must use trust and accountability to cut the proverbial grass and see where the snakes are. You'll also see who the responsibility dodgers are. Responsibility dodgers fall into the category of defiance, along with employee defiance and passive-aggressive defiers who just aren’t available when responsibility is there. They’re sick or on vacation during known busy times.
Brandon Wilson: You need to know those people, and the only way is to exercise trust, to extend responsibilities to people, so they show themselves for who they are as they seek to either avoid or accomplish the objectives.
Carl Lewis: Sometimes sabotaging employees don’t have a grand scheme. They're just being themselves. Some people do it purposefully because they get frustrated or don't think they're getting a fair shake, etc. So, they purposely set out to make something not work or make something less successful than it could be. How do they justify that in their minds?
Brandon Wilson: Eight motivations lead people to sabotage, and one is unmet personal needs. Some people see success in you they don't feel they could ever achieve on their own and may move to one of the horsemen of sabotage, which we'll discuss. Maybe they’ll move to jealousy and then act on that jealousy.
Brandon Wilson: Another motivation is a desire to build a life grander than what people know to be true for themselves. So, they build outsized personas, and instead of being honest about who they are, they want to keep up that persona. They want to look like the CEO or sound like the executive vice president, but they're ill-equipped. And instead of letting you give them responsibility or question them, they either build walls that keep you at bay or exercise other activities that lead to your failure, so you can't get close to their mist.
Brandon Wilson: Some motivations for sabotage even lead to saboteurs believing they’re committing an act of altruism—doing something good for the organization by stealing employees or clients. They tell themselves, "If I had these resources, I would do this and that. If I were leading this company, I would do it this way. I would give out more bonuses, etc." They convince themselves they can swoop down and save themselves and others and help an organization by keeping that organization frustrated and stagnated for their own selfish benefits.
Brandon Wilson: I mentioned the horsemen of sabotage. If you want a cheat sheet to see if sabotage is about to strike, there are the four horsemen of sabotage to look for in your network or within yourself. They’re jealousy, arrogance, lying, and seduction. Jealousy is the most well-known—and the most misunderstood. My book talks about the levels of jealousy. If you don’t catch it when it’s just a notion, it builds on itself to become covetousness and other variations that compel you to act a certain way.
Brandon Wilson: Next, arrogance. If you find yourself or someone in your midst who may be vulnerable/susceptible to arrogance, they’re positioned to act to preserve themselves. And to lack awareness of how their activities affect others. They can be overtaken by ambition.
Brandon Wilson: Next, lying. Lying is the most common weapon of saboteurs. There are two distinctions for lying. There's lying to distract, like, “Don't look at me, look over there so I can continue to be in my own bubble, content with my own responsibilities.” Then there's lying to intentionally harm others. “That person did X, arrest them. That person did Y, fire them.”
Brandon Wilson: Next, seduction. Seduction is convincing people to come along with them doing things that may skirt the line of ethics or legality. These folks are very charismatic, well-manicured, and appear to be upwardly mobile. When seducers choose who they want to go along with them, it’s, “If you join me and we succeed, I’ll let you celebrate in the spoils of my winnings so we can do it again.” But the end game for the seducers is to keep you close, so you become the fall guy when the gig is eventually up.
Carl Lewis: If you're a small-business person or sole proprietor in my audience, this is a topic worthy of investigation. If you haven't thought about it, been through it, or aren't currently experiencing it, get prepared. And I haven't seen a better resource than this book for helping business owners be on the alert and know themselves well in this process.
Carl Lewis: Have you seen the pandemic affect sabotage in business over the last two years?
Brandon Wilson: Absolutely. We could look at examples that started pre-pandemic, like Faranos. The Elizabeth Holmes story is classic. She sabotaged some incredible people, from General Mattis to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, by getting them to believe in something that wasn't and give her money.
Brandon Wilson: That’s common. We also saw the height of leadership in politics—the one that's anchored in bullying. Bullying is a classic exercise of sabotage. I’ll stay politically agnostic and not say Republicans or Democrats, but one thing that’s not debatable is that we’ve seen the effects of a leadership culture of bullying.
Brandon Wilson: And it's affecting every facet and leading what I call an era of meanness. We're living in a meaner society, so we must vigilantly look for the horsemen of sabotage to protect ourselves and have the maximum impact along our leadership journey.
Brandon Wilson: Here's why it's important. It's not to say, "Gotcha!" That's not what this book is about. It’s about clearing your leadership runway so your airplane can get maximum speed to get to the height it was built to go. If we allow our runway to be cluttered with defiance, bullying, and selfishness, we’ll never get up to the speed we need to take off. And you’re allowing those forces to rob the world of your leadership gifts.
Brandon Wilson: Had Steve Jobs allowed sabotage to affect his life, we wouldn’t have the iPhone or the MacBook Pro. Had Martin Luther King, Jr. allowed sabotage to affect his life, we wouldn’t have had a dream for what society could become if we allowed the forces of J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO to succeed.
Brandon Wilson: Those are just two examples. And for every Martin Luther King, Jr. and Steve Jobs, they were perhaps 200 more of them who never crossed the finish line because they didn't clear their leadership runway. You now have a tool to help you.
Carl Lewis: That’s great, Brandon. Thanks for spending time with us today. This is a great topic. We could laugh and cry about it for hours.
Carl Lewis: Folks, you can get Brandon’s book on Amazon. It’s called Sabotage: Leadership That Overcomes Betrayal, Theft, and Deceit by Brandon Wilson. You'll be thankful you looked at it. And until we meet again, please stay connected.