The Primitive Podcast: Finding Balance as a Leader

Posted by Buffy the Bison | June 21, 2021

Finding Balance as A Leader with Annie Gilbert and Kade Wilcox

Humans crave balance.

Whether you’re a young entrepreneur, a blossoming small business owner, or seasoned leader, the idea of achieving balance is the ultimate goal.


But is it possible or are you doomed to be lonely at the top?


In this episode, Kade chats with Primitive’s Chief of Staff, Annie, to explore the idea of balance and steps necessary to get there. 


Listen now only on The Primitive Podcast.

Connect with the folks behind the episode: Kade Wilcox and Annie Gilbert

Kade Wilcox: Hey, everybody. Welcome to The Primitive Podcast. For the next several weeks we're going to really kind of switch it up. We're going to have some conversations with Annie, our chief of staff, on all things leadership, different things we're learning, different things we're experiencing at Primitive. Also, we're going to have another episode where Annie interviews another kind of the equivalent of a chief of staff in another local company. And so we're excited to hear from him and just continue to give you insight into how organizations utilize the chief of staff role or roles of its equivalent. And so it's really changed our company. And so anytime we meet someone who's doing similar work, we really want to feature that as a way to help you kind of think through different ideas of how you could implement a similar strategy in your own company. So that's kind of what you can expect over the next four to five weeks. As always, thanks for listening to the podcast.

I think to some degree, every single vocation out there is difficult and there are moments where that thing is very challenging or that thing is very lonely. And so I think sometimes leaders, what — really it's just humans, right? Just humans can have a heightened sense of importance. And when we have a heightened sense of importance, it can create these little conversations in our head that's like, kind of, woe is me and I really despise that. I don't see how it's helpful.

Hey guys, welcome to The Primitive Podcast. I'm Kade Wilcox, your host, and I'm joined again this week by Annie Gilbert, our chief of staff, who's graciously decided to kindly host the podcast this last several weeks. The last two weeks, I mentioned in the intro that she was going to be interviewing another chief of staff who was male. That is going to happen, but not yet. I guess I jumped the gun.

She did interview a chief of staff named Renee who's remarkable at a company called Gravy out of Atlanta, who Annie and I both very much admire and have learned a lot from. And so I'm not for sure when that's going to be posted, I think here in the next couple of weeks but really excited to share that episode with you. But as usual, thanks for listening — really appreciate your time and attention. I think this week, we're going to talk about finding balance as a leader and managing priorities. I was thinking as I spent a few minutes preparing for this, Annie, you should have asked someone else to be on this podcast. No one has ever accused me of being balanced. So I'm not entirely sure how much value we're going to add today, but we will give it a go.

What Does Balance Look Like?

Annie Gilbert: Sounds good. I think this is a topic that is talked about so often among leaders, among everyone, who's trying to find balance, trying to figure out what works for them. And I think one of the challenges is that it's different for everyone because we all have different needs and different — we need balance in different ways. And so I think it's a good conversation to have. Sometimes we forget that leaders have lives outside of their leadership responsibilities and it can be tough at times to prioritize and manage all of the different hats we wear. And so Kade, what advice would you give to a young entrepreneur who's just starting out when it comes to pursuing dreams, but also having a life outside of their work?

Kade Wilcox: I love this question and I love this topic. And something you said already, I completely agree with, which is it's different for everybody. And that's like, totally okay, totally okay. I have a twin brother and we are totally different and what he wants out of life and how he pursues life and how he pursues work, it's totally different than how I do it. His way is not right or wrong. My way is not right or wrong. It's personalized. And then I think in this case, it truly is okay for it to be kind of like a personalized approach to how you find balance. And so I think that's exactly where I would start with my advice. I love this question Bob Goff asked in his book Dream Big, which I would encourage for everyone. But he says — I love how he says it in the audio book, it's so good.

He says, "What do you want?" And I think that would be my advice to whether it be an entrepreneur or not an entrepreneur. It doesn't matter who you are when you're considering pursuing something that you're passionate about, or maybe you're an entrepreneur and you want to start a new business, and you're trying to wrestle with how do you do these things, I think it's totally okay to ask the question, "What do you want?" But when you ask that question and you answer that question, your actions and what you do from that moment forward have to align with what it is that you say you want. I see this all the time, not just in business, but in life where people will say they aspire to something and they want something, but their actions do not align around that thing they say they want. And I think that that is really critical.

The same is true for people who say they want to start a business and they complain about having to work all the time, right? That's like, "Wait a second. You said you wanted to start a business." And when you start a business, when you start this new endeavor, there's the season that you're going to go through. And it may be a long season where you have to work really hard hours and long hours. And so I don't think there's a right or wrong answer for everyone. But I think you have to ask what you want and then you have to be okay with, you know, the results of that question, right? They have to be congruent. They have to be aligned. You can't say you want something and then complain about the journey you're going through to get there. The same is true for someone who doesn't want the fruits of maybe owning their own business or starting their own thing or whatever the case might be. The same is true.

You can't say, you know, and complain and be disgruntled and be bitter about not having autonomy or not having financial freedom or not having the result of whatever it is of that thing, that you're not willing to do all the necessary things to accomplish, but then you complain about not having it, right?

And so it's really a matter of — sorry, I'm really distracted. This is going to be a fun podcast, and here's why. I'm sitting on some huge body of water in Michigan, currently. And there is a massive, I mean massive boat of some sort out on the river or lake or whatever that beautiful body of water I'm staring at is. And coming from Lubbock, Texas, you just don't see four deck, you know, four-level deck boats floating by you when you're having a podcast recording. So sorry about that.

So back to the podcast here. I think the things that I'm advising is what you want, like your action and your expectations and your aspirations have to align with that thing you want on both sides. If you're going all in on something, then you have to weigh the cost. Or if you're not going all in on something and you want that eight to five job, there's nothing wrong with that, but you have to be okay with the consequences of that in the same way. You have to be okay with the consequences of going all in. So asking that question, "What do you want?" And then being okay with that. And then the other two things that I thought of when I read this question is you have to make a plan. So your question specifically was targeting entrepreneurs. So I'll focus on that.

You Can’t Just Have an Idea

If you're someone who's thinking about starting a new endeavor, and this can be a business, a nonprofit, maybe running for political office, maybe starting some huge project at home, maybe starting a wellness or fitness plan. Like you have to have a plan. If you do not have a plan, you will go nowhere. You cannot just simply have an idea and then, walla! Poof! You know, it happened. Like you have to have a plan. And so the first thing I do is ask, "What do I want?" So I really have thought through thoroughly, the reality and the consequences of the things that I want and I'm comfortable with those things.

Number two is I would make a plan. And I would always be going back to that plan. It's going to change. It's going to adjust, but you have to have a plan.

The One Characteristic You MUST Nurture

And then third, you have to nurture discipline. You know, because discipline is the thing that creates action. And without action, you've got nothing. So you can ask this great question, what I want out of my life. You can have clarity there. You can have conviction there. You can have excitement there. You can have a great plan. You can document it. You can define your journey. You can create all these important benchmarks, you know, that you want to hit as you go through it. But then if you don't nurture the discipline of action of doing then what do you have? You have this pretty little shiny object that sounds good when you talk about it out loud, or when you think about it, but it's going nowhere because you're not doing anything with it. So what do you want, making a plan, and then nurturing discipline. And nurturing that discipline creates action and moves you towards that aspiration or that vision. So those are the things I would advise, plus a little free nugget about the beauty of recording a podcast on a big river.

Annie Gilbert: I love it. I love what you said about aligning your goals with action. And also I think sometimes the struggle is that initial identifying what you want and assessing the cost, if you're willing to do what it's going to take to get there and then committing, which is that discipline aspect. And I think sometimes people need to be given permission to try different things, to try different ways of pursuing that balance and knowing you're probably not going to get it right the first time. And that's okay. Try it. Try different things. Make adjustments until you get to where you need to be. And I think that that can be just sort of a difficult process that we have to be patient with. And we have to realize that it's gonna take some time to figure it out.

Failure is Rich

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. You say something there — really, really critical and really important. And that is, you know, evaluating the — you know, it's going to go through left turns and right turns and ebbs and flows and ups and downs. And some things are going to work and some things aren't, and you have to have a certain degree of flexibility, right? And I think that's really critical. I also think you have to be really intentional about evaluating, you know, what you're doing and how it's going and adjusting the course. It's okay to fail.

So I have had a lot of ideas and those ideas have flopped, and then I have some ideas and they go really well. And not taking yourself so seriously that the flops are like, you know, mortal, you know, like they, they, they wound you so, so deeply that it creates inaction or prevents you from moving forward. Failure is really one of the richest gifts that we have if we're willing to learn from it and be intentional. And so I appreciate you saying that and I think you're spot on.

Annie Gilbert: Absolutely. So you, Kade, have a lot of different things that you manage all of the time, and you're really high capacity. Your Achievers strength is high. And so that's not everybody, but that's, that's definitely you in taking on all these different roles. So how does — how do you, as a leader of multiple entities — husband, father, friend, son, brother — you have all of these different hats that you wear and roles that you engage in. How do you do it all without dropping the ball in some area?

“I’m Not That Remarkable.”

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, I'm not that remarkable. I, and here's why we have remarkable, remarkable people. And so I don't have to be a great manager for example, because we have great managers. I don't have to be, you know, really good at spinning a whole lot of plates because we have people who are spinning those plates, right? And they're doing it in a way that is far greater and far more effective and far better at it than I am. You're a great example of that. You know, I'm not the one primarily leading out on our culture. I would hope that I have a huge impact on our culture and speak into our culture and have a significant role in defining our culture and modeling our culture. But you're really stewarding that, cultivating it, nurturing it, and protecting it, and advocating for it. And you're doing that in a way that is literally a hundred times better than I could ever do.

And so I get this a lot. Like, just because I'm involved in a lot of different things, you know, doesn't even mean that I'm really that busy or, or too stretched thin. And the primary reason is because we have an amazing team. And that's not just, like, that's not just like me saying that. Like, if you don't have a great team and you're trying to do too much, it will be really obvious by the quality of your work or lack thereof. And so it is by far the greatest gift to my leadership and my life and the things I aspire to. I like doing a lot of things. I don't want to do one thing. I have a lot of aspirations. I have a lot of things that I would like to accomplish. I love starting new things. It's one of my gifts, I think, and the only way I can do that and get to do that is that we have remarkable people. And I'm very grateful for that, but that is the single greatest reason I get to do those things.

I think of a couple of other things I immediately think of for those that are like me and like doing lots of things, and then I think these things are important. One is people. You're only good as the people you're surrounding yourself with. And I got super lucky and hit the jackpot there. Second would be operating out of your strengths and not your weaknesses. And so I would say the first, you know, really several years of Primitive, I wore too many hats and it wasn't intentional. It's just like, you're learning as you're going, right? And there were a lot of things I was doing that were not my strengths.

Clarity of Strengths =  Confidence

And so the more clear I've become on my strengths, the more confident I've become in saying, "You know what? I shouldn't run point here." You know, it's not an — it's not like a leader can ever abdicate responsibility somewhere, but they absolutely can defer to someone who is really strong in a particular area. And it makes everybody better, including the leader. And so I've learned to operate in my strengths. And so by operating in my strengths, that gives me great capacity to leverage that strength in a natural way. So I'm not really exerting a lot of effort to be futuristic, for example or to use my Focus strength, or use my Achiever strength, or my Competition strength. And so I've identified my areas of strength, and I try really hard just to run in those lanes. And I feel real quick when I start to veer out of them and I get right back to hopefully where I should be.

And then the third thing I think of when you ask this question is plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, and then plan some more. And I think you can do this in such a way that doesn't marry you to the plan so much that you don't recognize when you should adjust that plan or tweak it or alternate it, right? Because it's not working in the way that it's supposed to. But always have a plan. Like literally I have a plan for everything. I always tease my wife that, you know, if we ever get fired from our jobs, you know, that I have like 10 plans, you know? Like there are 10 different things that I want to do and would do to provide for our family. I have plans when we're traveling. If something doesn't go the way I want, I have backup plans to that. I just always have a plan. And I find that this serves me really well when you're doing a lot of things and it allows you to keep the train on the train tracks. So I don't know if that's helpful, but those are very real things that I try to do and have seemed to really benefit, you know, me and the things that we've tried to pursue.

Is Leadership a Lonely Pursuit?

Annie Gilbert: I really love that you talked about people because that quote comes to mind that I hear so often that leadership is lonely and I think it can be, but it doesn't always have to be. And I think part of what you're saying is to surround yourself with really great people, but people who are different from you, people who have strengths that compliment your strengths so that all of the gaps are filled and it's not all completely on you. It's just on you to do what you're really great at. And then there's someone else to lead in what they're really good at.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's good. And you just said something that triggers a strong emotion in me, and that is that leadership is lonely. I disagree. I think all of life can be lonely. I think single moms can be lonely. I think nurses can be lonely. I think bankers can be lonely. I think being in agriculture is hard. I think being an elected official is hard. I mean, I think to some degree, every single vocation out there is difficult and there are moments where that thing is very challenging or that thing is very lonely. And so I think sometimes leaders — well, really it's just humans, right? Just humans can have a heightened sense of importance. And when we have a heightened sense of importance, it can create these little conversations in our head that's like, kind of, woe is me. And I really despise that.

I don't see how it's helpful. I don't see how it's helpful for serving the people that you're entrusted to serve. You know, I don't see how it's helpful for your own soul. You know, sometimes you'll hear it with pastors, you know, old pastors have a really hard job, you know, caring for people. I know it. I think they do. I think they do have a hard job, but I think doctors have a hard job, too. I think divorce attorneys have a really hard job, too. I think Annie, our chief of staff, has a really hard job, too. She's counseling and encouraging and equipping people, you know, in things that have nothing to do with their actual work, but in their personal life. So I would challenge, you know, leaders of all sorts to not have such a heightened sense of importance that, you know, oh, my job is so lonely or my job is so difficult.

It will be at times but such is life. So is being a dad. So is being a husband. So is being a spouse. I mean, everything in life has a certain degree of difficulty and challenge. And I think recognizing that is fine and important, but the moment you start thinking that like all of a sudden you're unique and how challenging your thing is, I just think it puts you behind the eight ball and you start operating out of that emotion or that feeling or that narrative you're creating. And it's really positioning you in a place to not lead very well. And so I don't think leadership is lonely. I think it can be challenging just like anything else. But you know, it's really no different than, you know, anything else. So sorry for that little rabbit trail. But I do think people struggle with that and that would be my perspective on that.

Annie Gilbert: No, I agree. I think that's spot on. I think you're right. It can be lonely, but we — only if we're choosing to make it that way and we can make different choices. So what is the best way to establish priorities for how you want to work and do life based on your personal values?

Establishing Priorities Isn’t Optional

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. I love this question. And again, I think this is applicable to anyone listening, regardless of what it is you want and what your role is. I think you have to be honest. Going back to where we started our conversation. Maybe we can end it in the same way. I feel like you have to ask yourself what you want and then your actions and the things that you do in terms of prioritization have to align with that desire. And I think the reason I keep bemoaning this question of like, “What do you want?” is because it serves as an anchor. It serves as something that's solid to hold onto. So, too, this season of questioning and doubting, you know, what you're doing, right? And again, this is for anybody, but when you really understand what you want, then it has a way of shaping your priorities — your priorities of how you spend your time, your priorities of who you spend your time with, your priorities around your finances, your priorities around your physical and emotional and spiritual health.

And so I think that, you know, really understanding what you want in this life will serve you really well as you pursue, you know, these aspirations and pursue these things that you want. And again, there's no right or wrong, necessarily, in terms of choosing what you want. You know, your vocational path, for example, can take a lot of different — it can take a lot of different paths. It can look like a lot of different things. I have friends and family members that are totally content, for lack of a better word, in their 8 to 5 job. And that's okay. You know, that's what they want. And choosing that path allows you to set your priorities and things of that nature. I also think that as you think about your priorities and you set them, it's going to shape that thing, that you know, that you're pursuing in terms of what you want.

And so having really clear expectations and intentions around that is not only going to help you pursue that thing you want, but it's also going to define your principles and your character and your priorities around your life, your whole life. Not just your work life or your money life, or your physical life, your spiritual life, but your whole life. And I think that's a really, really big deal. And so I think that's the insight I would share there.

Identifying Expectations and Setting Boundaries

What do you think? Like, when you think of this question and you think of this, what advice, or what input, would you give?

Annie Gilbert: You know, when I think about establishing priorities, I agree that it goes back to that root desire. What are you trying to accomplish? And that has to be identified before you can then plan out and plan based on what's important to you. And so I think our values — that's another important thing to identify is what is most important to me as I make these decisions. And then that has to be the lens through which I'm looking as I make decisions about what I'm going to say no to and what I'm going to say yes to with my time and my resources and my energy. Because we all have a limited amount, right? And we're all deciding how we are going to budget our time, our emotions, all of those things. It will run out. And so we have to be willing to see what is most important to me, and that's where I'm going to first give my time and energy and then prioritize from there.

And so whether we realize it or not, we're constantly making decisions based on our values. I think it can be really helpful to specifically identify what our values are and give language to it, so we can do it more intentionally rather than sort of passively and just by default. So I agree with what you said, and that's all I would add to that. Which leads in really nicely to our last question here.

I can't talk about balance without addressing boundaries. Like anyone who knows me at all knows that I talk about boundaries a lot. Healthy boundaries. So as far as just managing expectations you know, most leaders are gonna have really high expectations for themselves, but they also are managing expectations that others have on them. So how do you manage expectations appropriately, both for others and for yourself, in a way that allows you to be healthy and realistic in your approach?

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. You know, I've never thought about other people's expectations of me. I don't know if that's my personality or what, but I think next to nothing, honestly, about other people's expectations of me. So I might answer this a little differently. I certainly have expectations for myself, which I can speak into, but then I struggle with the expectation of other people. So my expectation for our team, for example, is something if I were just being honest, I really struggle with having fair expectations. And so the first thing I think of when I'm struggling with my expectations of other people, is that I'm not even upholding my own expectations. So for example, when I think of work ethic, there's no way I'm upholding, you know, the expectation I have of other people from a work ethic standpoint. There's no way I'm doing that perfectly.

There's no way, like, there's no way that what I expect of other people I'm upholding perfectly. And that's a real humbling thing. You know, when you realize you're projecting expectation onto other people and you yourself are not even upholding that expectation, and that has a way of humbling you, and I think maybe repositioning some of those expectations. And so that's the biggest thing that I try to think of when I'm frustrated or when, you know, when I feel myself, you know, casting my expectations of myself onto other people is that I remind myself, "Wait, so you're not even upholding your own expectations perfectly. So why would you place this on, on someone else?" And it does help me a lot. And it challenges me and kind of makes me look in the mirror and go, "Okay, you know, it's not really fair to put your expectations on people ever. But it's certainly like, we can all agree, it's not fair when you yourself are not performing, you know, in a way you're expecting someone else to perform."

Identifying Projection

And so that helps me. I think the other thing that I try really hard to do when I'm projecting my expectations onto others — and again, these are all things that are about managing expectations, right? — and trying to manage them fairly is reminding myself that I signed up for something entirely different than what almost everyone I work with signed up for. Like I signed up for high risk. You did not. I signed up, you know, by the very nature of the businesses I've started and the life I've chosen for myself, for long hours. You did not, right? And so reminding myself that what I expect of myself oftentimes is entirely unfair to expect of other people, because what they signed up for is entirely different than what I signed up for.

And I think sometimes it's easy for all of us as humans to do this. But I sometimes, you know, think what's important to me is important to everybody, right? Or what I want to accomplish with our businesses is what everyone else wants to accomplish. And it's simply not true. Someone on our team may simply have the desire to have a job that is dependable and stable and allows them to provide for their family. And that's it. Like that's as conducted to my vision as their job is to them. And there's nothing wrong with that if they're performing, you know, in the way that we've asked them to do that. Even saying that out loud, I have to check myself. Because I'm just like, how will — you know, how could they? And so it's a constant, constant battle. I'm not very good at this, Annie, but these are the things that I try to think of when I'm in my worst state that's projecting my expectations onto other people. And it's a constant battle.

What advice would you give? I feel like you're far more gifted at this. And so what advice would you give, maybe a leader like me, or someone like me, who struggles with fair expectations and balancing all that?

Annie Gilbert: You know, I'm sort of on the other end of the spectrum from you. I probably focus too much on other people's expectations of me and don't spend enough time on my expectations for myself, or even my expectations of others. And what it really reminds me of is we do a lot of premarital counseling and education, and we spend a lot of time talking about expectations in marriage and how to communicate about those well. And I think it's important in any type of, you know, business or relationship that expectations are discussed, that they're discussed often, that they're made clear. One of the things that we know about expectations is that they can be hidden from us even. So I might have expectations that I don't realize I have until it goes unmet. And then that's this trigger to be like, “Oh, I was expecting this.” And I didn't even realize it until I felt that kind of dab of, “Oh, I don't like that feeling that it's going unmet. It's not being taken care of. I just sort of assumed that they knew that was my expectation.”

Clear Identification and Clear Communication

So it's really important to have clear — clearly identified and then clearly communicated — expectations which take a little bit of time and intentionality to really reflect on those. And what I heard you say over and over again, was, "I have to remember. I have to remember this." And that's what you're doing is you're just thinking about it. And then making sure that those expectations are, like you said, fair, that they're reasonable. And that there's a discussion about that, so that if they're unfair or unreasonable, then you can shift and adjust them to a place that makes more sense. And there's such freedom in that, at that point, to be on the same page with someone else about what you're expecting of them or vice versa. And so I think it all goes back to this communication of understanding our own expectations and then clearly communicating those to others that really just doesn't allow for as much misunderstanding and miscommunication. But I do think it's something that we have to be intentional about. So that would be my advice.

Kade Wilcox: Can really high expectations make people better? Like, is there a way to utilize aggressive, robust, big thinking expectations to help elevate, you know, everyone that you're around while maintaining good relationships and good culture? You know, because it can become toxic, obviously, really quickly. But what would you say to that? Is that possible?

Zone of Proximal Development

Annie Gilbert: I think so. So there's this — I'm going to pull from my education background a little bit when we were talking about students in a classroom and to what point can you challenge them without just frustrating them and overwhelming them. And there's this thing called the zone of proximal development. And so teachers really aim to instruct in that zone of proximal development. It means that you're not expecting beyond what they're able to do, because then that's just really frustrating. You're setting them up to fail. You're also challenging them enough that it engages them. They're not bored. It's not so easy that they just aren't even interested. And so really just finding that zone. And there's wiggle room within that zone. It's not just this one thin line. But finding where you're challenging people to grow and then — and to learn and to expand their skillset the way that they think about things, whatever it may be.

But you're also being reasonable. It goes back to those realistic expectations. You're not expecting them to do something they are not capable of doing because then they're going to fail and it's going to be bad. So that's how you have the most engagement is when you find, "Okay, how can I challenge and push this person?" But also recognizing, "Okay, this person's on the edge of burnout. I need to help them get back to this healthy place." So really just identifying what they need. And it's hard because it's different for every person. So it's a lot of individualized care and just that awareness of knowing what people need in their role and at their stage of development.

Kade Wilcox: Man, that's really good. Yeah, what a great way to wrap up this podcast. Annie, thanks again for doing this with me. I sure appreciate it. For those listening, thank you. I hope this has been encouraging to you and there's been a few things that challenge you and help you in your own leadership. And so thanks for joining The Primitive Podcast.

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