The Primitive Podcast: Rodney Madsen

Posted by Buffy the Bison | February 1, 2021

The Primitive Podcast with Rodney Madsen

Many people might assume an introverted researcher would never gain traction amongst the ranks of high-stakes leaders. But with both an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a desire to change the world through disease prevention, the CEO of GermBlast, Rodney Madsen, has found his calling. 


And still finds time to share a leadership lesson or two.

Connect with the folks behind the episode:Keith Mann and Kade Wilcox

Kade Wilcox: Hey guys, Kade Wilcox here, host of The Primitive Podcast. Thanks for joining us for today's episode. We have Rodney Madsen on. Rodney is the founder and CEO of GermBlast, a really cool company, and they've been building it over the last 10 to 15 years. It's a really fascinating time for them as they're scientists and this whole time of COVID and serving businesses. So it's really fun to hear about his journey, where they identified a problem years ago and then created an entire business around solving that problem. I really appreciated his insights on leadership. And one of the things I probably enjoyed the most about this episode was Rodney's a really great dad. So he has 15 and 18-year-old sons, and it was fun for me to hear his story and the way he talks about his family. You're going to enjoy this episode. Thank you for listening to The Primitive Podcast. Share the episode with your friends; help us grow the podcast. We really appreciate it.

Rodney Madsen: One of the things is this mantra that I say to my boys all the time is do the hard stuff first. Whether it's talking about homework or we're talking about working out for football, do the hard stuff first; that by itself will make you unique because people are trying to get the easy stuff out of the way, just to knock something out. Do the hard stuff first, and everything else seems very easy.

Kade Wilcox:  Rodney, thanks for joining The Primitive Podcast. I really, really appreciate it. It's been really fun. I think I met you probably four or five years ago, and both of our businesses were starting to take off. What you do at GermBlast obviously is relevant and pertinent to where we're at in this cultural and societal moment. So it's really fun to have you on the podcast. I really appreciate you joining us and can't wait to learn from you.

Rodney Madsen: Yeah. It's my pleasure being here. Thanks for having me. I appreciate that.

Who is Rodney Madsen and What is GermBlast?

Kade Wilcox: Why don't we start by telling people who Rodney Madsen is, what GermBlast is, and what you do. Let's start there.

Rodney Madsen: My name is Rodney Mattson and  I'm the CEO of GermBlast. I have two boys and a wife I've been married to for 24 years. My boys are 15 and 18 years old. The oldest is about to graduate this year.

Kade Wilcox: What does that feel like?

Rodney Madsen: Oh my gosh. Yeah. People tell you, but you can't know until you experience it. I will tell you that the hardest thing is probably what everyone would imagine. It's that he won't be at home, and he won't be there just to have a conversation, but it's fun. We've been doing a lot of college trips, and he's been evaluating where he wants to go. I think he's narrowed it down to two or three, and they're all great places, and I'm looking forward to living that experience with him.

Kade Wilcox: The 15 year old is probably saying, “I am about to be an only child.”

Rodney Madsen: He is, but over Christmas, we had this conversation; it was just the three of us. We went to Jackie's family's house, and they went out for a walk. And so the boys and I are at the house together. Tyler said this is kind of our last Christmas as one unit, a family. Which is not necessarily true, but that's how he felt.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, exactly. Not to go down a rabbit hole here, but I have a twin brother, and his son is about to graduate from Lubbock Cooper. He's not even my son, but we've been around each other since he was born. He's about to hopefully play college football, and I feel the emotion of it all. It's weird. It's like, that's a long way away; what if he gets homesick? And my family are all collaborating like, I'll go one week, and you go one week, and the mom and dad can go one week. It's a weird feeling, and he's not even mine. So I told my wife, I'm in huge trouble when Selah turns 18. I'm going to be a mess. I'm a control freak. I'm gonna have to figure this out.

Rodney Madsen: Well I'll spare you. You already know how those things are gonna work, but it is exciting, while also a bit depressing.

Kade Wilcox: Sure. Yeah, I get it. So tell us about GermBlast.

Rodney Madsen: Josh Underwood is a partner of mine in GermBlast. We started a company back in 2006 called DermaCare, and DermaCare was a wound care company. We had a unique technology that we were utilizing that helped heal chronic wounds. And through that process, we kept hearing these things when we were in hospitals about healthcare-associated infections. 

We were asking, "Why did all these infections happen?" They were pretty horrible. So we were hearing this term healthcare-associated infections, or back then, they said hospital-acquired infections. So we started looking into that, and what we learned was at the time, there were about 1.7 million infections like that every year. You go to a hospital for some procedure, and you leave with an infection.

And then of those 1.7 million people, 99,000 people die from those infections. That number, that statistic was pretty steady for as far back as you can look at it, maybe ten years. And we're thinking, "Why isn't the problem better? Why is it happening?"

So going down that road, Josh and I literally flew all over the country, and we went to different infection preventionists at hospitals. A lot of them, obviously, were busy or they couldn't talk to us. But of those we spoke to, we saw some similar issues, some similar problems that reared their ugly heads. We also learned that it's unfair to call them hospital acquired infections because the inference is the hospital did something wrong.

But what we learned was there were a multitude of things, including patient things, that actually made that happen. So we said, "Why isn't there a fix?" But at the same time, there was some legislation that was proposed that would incentivize hospitals to do better. It really would penalize hospitals for doing poorly. And there were hospitals that believed that wouldn't happen, and it wouldn't come to fruition. And there were others that were being proactive. If this happens, we need to do something about it. 

Ultimately it did happen, and so hospitals, for not just this, but many other things, get penalized in their revenue. And that hurts. Hospitals don't make a big profit margin as people think.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, it's actually very small.

Rodney Madsen: And so we said, “What if we came up with some program based on all this knowledge?” We now have the studies that we've done and provide a program that can help them reduce this issue. Before that, hospitals weren't derelict. But it wasn't a focus because infections happen. They happened for a multitude of reasons, and when they happen, we just address it; we fix it. But when that pendulum swings the other direction, you're going to be penalized. Some people, especially rural and community hospitals that don't have resources, said, "How do we do this?" So we felt like we had enough information to produce this thing. And we did.

I was so confident, based on our research, that this would be beneficial to hospitals (any healthcare facility, really) but especially hospitals where you would stay overnight. We put this thing together, and we launched it, and the first year, nothing. We put a lot of effort into it. We build software, and we came up with all this. The second year was better, but it was still close to nothing. And we looked at each other, Josh and I, and we said, "Is this gonna work? Is this really something that the market's ready for?"

Perhaps we're just crazy, and this is not something that worked, but I told him we need to press forward if, for nothing else, we've got way too much money invested in this; too much time. I feel like it's going to work. It's something that people are going to need. 

And there was at some point, this awakening, where hospitals said, "We get it." There were some big ones right here in Lubbock. As a matter of fact, one, in particular, took a leap of faith and said, "I think that you guys are onto something; let's try it out." And we did it. There were some significant results. 

So the thing ultimately became GermBlast. Our company is actually called Infection Controls, but we're best known by our process name. Fast forward to today, I can't even tell you how many healthcare facilities we're in across Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. We have about 150 school districts, including Dallas, Houston, Austin, and El Paso. But the key for us is prevention, right? It's not something that you just react to. You should look into, "How can I prevent this from happening in the beginning?" And the challenges are great. We started this as Infection Controls back in 2009 and look where we're at today. So the story that we've been telling people about being preventative is now very, very applicable.

GermBlast in the Time of COVID-19

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. Have you found that a lot of what you've developed over the last 15 or 20 years as it relates to prevention is applicable to the current situation we're in with COVID?

Rodney Madsen: Absolutely. It depends on what your belief system is. When you hear GermBlast, a lot of people have this impression that these are glorified janitors, or we blast germs. And to some degree, that's true, but there are so many pieces to the program that people don't know or see until you actually hear what it is that we have to offer. In a lot of ways, GermBlast is a cool name, but it actually hurts us because it doesn't give the full gamut of what it is that we provide. But if you think about today's situation, what were we being told to do in an effort to reduce this transmission?

Kade Wilcox: Prevention.

Rodney Madsen: Right. So we were being told to engage in certain behaviors, "Wash your hands. Clean your environment. Wear a mask." And that's one of the very things that we teach our clients. Based on research, these are the behaviors that you can engage in that will reduce the likelihood of infection. But before we came into the picture, when you think about it from a prevention standpoint, what did people do? If you had a staph outbreak in your locker room, you just threw bleach all over the place. But you didn't do anything until there was a problem. 

But what if we said you don't have to have that kind of a problem, at least when you look at the number, the quantity, the volume, the prevalence of infection. So maybe staph is not that scary to you because you've never had it. But if you have MRSA, which is antibiotic-resistant staph, it can be scary. And people can die. So if I started giving you numbers of what that looks like, I'm not a fear monger, but if it was your child, what would you do? What would you want to do to prevent that likelihood? 

So there are a lot of things that are happening today that you can circle back to and say everything that we do, from gathering data in the environment to providing a public health campaign for our clients on ways they can reduce infection, also systematically and routinely disinfecting the environment to keep levels low, providing education — those are all applicable to today. Suppose we're doing things that were preventative in nature from the very beginning. In that case, we might see less prevalence, which obviously would translate into less severe injury, less time in the hospital, and less fatality. And so we just bring to the table what other people are not necessarily thinking about day to day. It just so happens it's an emergent issue right now.

Kade Wilcox: So a couple of questions on this for you. First of all, I love when you hear an origin story of a business born out of need and necessity. You saw a problem, and you sought out to fix that problem. With a lot of great businesses, that's how they were born. So it's a really cool story about how you and Josh saw a need, and you met the need. It's also really cool to hear about your perseverance and tenacity because it's easy to quit things after a couple of months of difficulty, much less a couple of years. Props to you on your tenacity that no doubt has contributed to your success. 

I don't mean to be too broad or too generalist, but most of us want quick fixes, not behavioral changes. What I hear you saying that really makes what you guys do unique is like you're not just killing a germ, although you can do that. You're trying to change behavior and create solutions on the front end to be proactive versus reactive. Do you find that really difficult to deal with? I don't know if it's American culture or society or the way people think, whatever you want to call it, but does that make your job really difficult? Because it's not microwaveable? It's a behavioral change.

Rodney Madsen: Yeah. And actually, there's behavioral theory. Coming from the public health sector and studying public health, there's this theory called the Health Belief Model. It's basically when you're talking about an event, and COVID is a good example before it spread as it did. What people here in the United States were thinking when it was in Wuhan was, "How susceptible is our country to that, really?" Or, "If I were to get it, is it going to be bad?" because we have amazing healthcare. 

If you think about a third world country getting an outbreak like that, versus the United States, people in the US say, "If I do get sick, I have a healthcare system that can support me." And that affects the way that we behave. 

So like washing hands. We talked about that a minute ago. If I do get sick, then somebody can fix me. So I'm not so worried about washing my hands. But the opposite of that is if I were in Africa, in an area where I have a huge Ebola outbreak and I have an opportunity to wash my hands or bleach my hands, I'm going to do it because I know that it's life or death. In the early days, we're out there really selling something that people didn't really know they needed. It made sense in concept, but they've never done it before. So with this idea, I think that they need based on the research that we did and they look, and they say, "Sounds like a good idea, but where does that go on the budget? What do I take away from to put this in? What can I replace it with?" And there wasn't anything because it's not something that they've ever done or considered. It's what we fight with every day. It's the reason why people don't wash their hands. Why wouldn't you wash your hands? Why would you walk into a restroom and walk straight out? It only takes you 20 seconds, so why wouldn't you simply wash your hands? It's the health belief model. Right. So I promise you, if you were certain that there would be a negative consequence for not washing your hands, you would do it. But we have this thing inside of us that says, ”Don't worry about it.”

Kade Wilcox: It's a fascinating psychological thing. Again now I'm going down a rabbit hole, but I guess it's my podcast, I can do what I want, but it's this idea of preventing heart disease. I'm not a doctor. Everyone, I'm not a doctor. But to prevent heart disease, walk four or five times a week, eat real food, get good sleep, or just pop a pill and live however the heck you want. Behavioral change is really difficult; it's complex. And then you go back to COVID and have all the information flying at you. You have the characteristics of an independent spirit and having your own opinions; you have all the things you're talking about. What a gigantic mess it is.

Rodney Madsen: It is. And the information that's coming at people is fraught with bias. One day, we hear an organization say, "Wear a mask," and another organization says, "Don't wear a mask." There's not really a consensus on things. Everyone has an opinion, and they can all say it's based on science. We can argue two different opinions based on the same evidence. It's just really confusing for people. We try to eliminate some of that confusion so we can make a decision a little bit easier to make.

Balancing Science and Leadership

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. All of a sudden, I've seen a lot of companies pop up, trying to take advantage of the moment. They have this new application, and they're just going to come in and spray it on everything. And maybe some of that works, but what's really fascinating about your model is that it's really much more in-depth than that. It's based on research, it's based on analysis, it's based on behavioral change, not just a microwaveable approach of just spraying a bunch of stuff down. It's pretty fascinating what you've done. Your real background and skillset sound heavy in research, science, analysis and all the things that that means. So, I asked you this question a little bit before we started recording, but how do you balance your skills with research and analysis and science and all that with leading an organization and building a company because they're really different things. How have you tried to balance that as your company's grown and you wear this role of both leader and CEO, but clearly someone who knows the science, who does the research (and I assume enjoys it, or else you wouldn't be doing it).

Rodney Madsen: Exactly. I can tell you this, being a researcher or being the lead researcher doesn't necessarily make you the best leader. So you can be one and not the other, it doesn't mean just because I have this idea I should be the one leading the team. So being a researcher as well, I also research leadership, and in a lot of ways, throughout my life, I've had some people who have modeled this for me or maybe model the way not to do it. It just so happens that I'm lucky enough to be that guy that can be both. I'm not saying that I can do it perfectly. There's probably a limit to what it is I can or can't do. But I have been able to so far. 

A long time ago, when I started my first company and we started looking at some legal issues, a lot of people go online and do a legal document online. Well, I realized I'm not a legal guy, and I'm not an accountant, and finance things are not my cup of tea. So I have to bring people on board who can do that for me, whether they were my team or whether it was somebody we outsourced that to, I'm not going to try to be a lawyer, nor am I going to try to be an accountant. As an entrepreneur, you have to do this in a measured way. You can't just go out there and hire everybody that you think you may need five years from now, but I do look at in the future tense.

So I know where we're going, and I operate from the perspective that we're going to get there. If I know we're going to get there, I'll take a little more risk in hiring people in advance to accomplish the goal and satisfy the need at the time. Instead of getting to that moment and saying, "Oh my goodness, we need a Chief Science Officer. What are we going to do?" Early on, I started bringing those types of people on. It's provided me the ability to create a research team, even though I'm a researcher, so that I have people helping me in that regard. And, likewise bringing on other leaders who are awesome at leading so that they can help me with that.

I don't have to be the absolute expert. We bring people on who are great at something and allow them to be great. So it's not me. It's the team. Just like you with your businesses here. You have a lot of great people, a lot of amazing thinkers here, and creative people. Without them, you couldn't do it. It's the same thing. And it's not luck. You have to be purposeful about your deficits and fill those deficits with great people and just let them do their thing.

Self-Accountability vs Accountability

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's really good. When you think about your role as leader and CEO, what things do you really focus on in terms of contributing your strength? I absolutely 100% agree with you; building a team is the single greatest thing a leader can do because they're more talented and better and more effective at certain things than you are. So aside from that, what are the two or three things that are really critical in your mind for your leadership role, specifically vision? Or is it the details in the organization? What are your focuses as a leader?

Rodney Madsen: You mentioned so many things right there that really encompass what it is that I do. First of all, this is not a new concept and not unique. It's not something that we discovered on our own with our people. Locally there's a great company called ROI Talent. But I was thinking about – prior to having met them through somebody in our company – creating an environment and a culture in your company that allows people to flourish. Don't ask somebody to do something that they're not good at, right? And that's what a lot of companies do when you're evaluating an employee. You say these are your deficits, and this is what you need to do better. And accountability. Well, the word accountability, by the way, is our term this year.

Self-accountability. Not accountability, but self-accountability. Accountability is just a way for leaders to shift blame. You didn't do X great, but if you were having them do a job that meets their strengths, they're going to be awesome. They're going to love what they do. And there's nothing that you can do or say to them that will make them better than they can make themselves. That's what we allow to happen in our company. Likewise, I'm the same way. I'm an introvert, and eight of my top 10 strengths in the Gallup are all strategic. I'm not the guy that's out there as the face of GermBlast. I just am not that guy. I do well in presenting, but when I do it, I am spent. I will do that, though. We have lots of clients that I need to visit for our sales team and clinical stuff, so I'll present to a hundred people. But when I'm done, I just need to chill out. I recognize that about me. I try not to do that a lot because when I do things I'm not great at, it takes away from my ability to do things I'm really good at. If you look at it like a scrum board, where you have all of these tasks that a company is supposed to do, and more specifically, that GermBlast is supposed to do, instead of saying, “Here's your job description; do these ten things,” we say, “Who is best suited based on those strengths to do this thing right and would love it?” I believe, and this is my own biased opinion, people will tell you that they love what they do.

And when they wake up in the morning, if you have to go to work, they say, “At least I get to go work at GermBlast.” We've identified – and we're not experts at this, it's an evolving thing – but they say, “I feel like I'm getting out of work, what I'd expect to get out of work.” That has worked very well for us. But it's not easy to get there because it's a whole different way to think. And I think there's a trend moving in that direction.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, Leanne and Joy are amazing. If you're listening to this podcast and you're a leader, explore and contextualize it for your own business, but you really should explore strengths-based leadership and let Leanne and Joy help you get there. We're so committed to it. Now we have Annie, who's our Chief of Staff. That's what she does. I always say she was our best business decision we ever made. It really is worth it. And it's exciting to hear. I didn't know y'all had done that. I didn't know you had worked with them and had been focusing on that. 

Rodney Madsen: And we even have someone that's now certified.

Kade Wilcox: That's awesome.

Rodney Madsen: Yeah. Amanda Bullen and she's certified now. She's doing that with all of our team;  everybody on every level. You want to see how much you don't know as a leader in your company, talk to Leanne and Joy.

Kade Wilcox: That's right. They're so gifted. It's so exciting. I did not know y'all are doing that. And frankly, there are not a lot of companies I interact with that are doing it. There are a lot of companies that say culture is important. There's a lot of companies who really do seek the well-being of their people. So it's not like there's a lot of bad companies at it. But I have not met very many companies that are really intentional about it, that they have someone on their team like you do and like we do who say, "This is so critical to our people and their good and their well-being and therefore the ultimate success of the company," that they would allocate resources and energy to set it up.

Rodney Madsen: Absolutely. I will say it's a detriment to you, if you don't look at that.

Kade Wilcox: I agree.

Rodney Madsen: You will never recognize your full potential. By the way, I'm not saying that we have, and I'm not saying we will. But I do know just based on our experiences so far.

Kade Wilcox: You're reaping the benefits.

Rodney Madsen: Oh, absolutely.

Kade Wilcox: A hundred percent.

Rodney Madsen: It's certainly prepared us for 300% growth last year.

A Culture That Fills in the Deficits

Kade Wilcox: Have you found that it's changed your entire approach to the practical way that you hire? Even your process of hiring?

Rodney Madsen: You know, it's so funny because I brought this up with Leanne and Joy. When we first talked, I said, I would love to say, "These are the things that we need. These are our deficits. And then, based on that, what strengths do we need in somebody in order to hire for that position?” I think logically, you can do that, but you can't do it that way. I don't think you fully recognize somebody's potential, nor do they recognize their potential for your specific business until they're working. So what we've done is we've said when we find somebody amazing, when we find somebody who exudes excellence, bring them on, and figure it out later. I know that sounds crazy because I have these deficits. I don't know if that person's going to fit, so I might be hiring somebody for nothing. But that's not true because if you think about a standard organization and bring in these folks, how efficacious are they at doing something that they really don't like or love? But somebody who's excellent, you can't train that.

When you find that character, you need to bring it on board. I've done it so many times. I've told people, in fact, you know who you are, I just talked to a lady recently, and I said, “We're talking because I know you're excellent.” She asked, "What am I going to do?" “I don't know. I don't know what you're going to do. We're going to find that out together, but I know you're excellent. I want you here.” And so we do that a lot. And you have been up to our corporate office, but go there now, because everybody has that similarity about them in our organization.

Kade Wilcox: People listening to this are going to go, "That's a huge risk not to know what their role is going to be." But I think it's a greater risk to hire someone that's not fit for the role that you think is. And then they get there, and it's not life-giving. Their strengths do not align well with what the role was intended to do. So I love what you're saying. If it were up to me, we'd hire a hundred people a month, whether we had the money or not, because great people make great things happen. So this is super exciting. I've just not met a lot of people who have really taken it seriously in terms of implementation. It's really cool to hear you really experiencing the same fruits we are striving to do. It's not ever going to be perfect, but it has been the single greatest impact on our success by a large margin. And I really believe that to be true of any organization if you take it seriously.

Rodney Madsen: Yeah. And you said it best. It seems like a huge risk. It seems like a big investment upfront. It seems like you're chasing a dream that may or may not ever happen, but like you said, I think that it's a greater risk not doing it. And that's hindsight, you know what I mean? I'm sure I probably pushed back on it for years, and finally, once you make that leap, you realize this is the only way to go.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. It's really great. How do you view failure? When you think back on your 10 to 15 years of business, how do you approach failure personally?

Enduring “temporary problems”

Rodney Madsen: Yeah. You know this is going to sound odd coming from somebody who is a science-based person, but I'm a huge believer in mindset. Early on, when I first became an entrepreneur, I think, what I worried about back then, I wish I had those problems today. I have an MBA, and all MBAs think we know it all coming out of school. So I started this business, and I thought I was well-prepared, and things are going great. We could sell anything and everything, but there's this magical thing called cash flow, you know? And so we got in a tight spot. We were a medical equipment company and relied heavily on Medicare.

And everyone who's hearing this, when I say Medicare, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I didn't prepare for that. I didn't know about that. I didn't have that knowledge when I came into it. So there was a couple of months where I'd find myself, like, "What have I done?" I put my family's life on the line, and the people who were working with me, their livelihood is on the line. I've been in the closet at 2:00 AM, praying because I don't want my wife to know how stressed out I am - major depression. But that all came to an end. Things finally worked out, and I have a good friend who was telling me  for a long time, especially back at that time, he said, “All the problems we have, they're just temporary, and most businesses fail because of a temporary problem.”

I credit that, by the way, to Jerry Vance for anybody who wants to know. It's a temporary problem. I didn't feel that at the beginning, but I will tell you, having come through on the other side of that and experiencing that stress and that depression and just the business experience, looking back on that failure during that time. I felt like a failure. It changes you. It makes you better. Not in a callous way, but I've been there. I felt it. And not only can I endure it again, but I can help others as well. And help them understand about this problem being temporary, and that's not just in business, that's a life lesson.

Most problems are temporary. And so I look at failure, and I say, what an opportunity. I'm not saying that I don't get angry, or I don't get upset, or it doesn't bother me, or I don't stress about it. Sure, I do those things. But I think my perspective or the lens I look through now when I see failure is way different now than it was back then. And as an entrepreneur, it has to be that way. And I feel like probably that's the reason why we see a lot of businesses that don't make it through. Those statistics you hear about all the time. And I really feel like it's the reason why. Believe me, I was there, and I was seeking help from everybody. Wisdom and knowledge, and how can I fix this? And then it was was just a moment that God used in my life to really make some sense.

Kade Wilcox: I've never thought of that; all problems are temporary problems. When you talk about mindset, it seems like that would really put things into perspective. That instead of freaking out at the chaos, you go, okay, this is chaotic, this is difficult, calling it what it is, but having a perspective that it will pass. So we have to embrace it. We have to learn from it. We have to adjust where we need to, but this isn't a forever thing.

Rodney Madsen: Right. Occasionally I'll teach a class at Wayland on leadership. And one of the topics that I teach on is the Inverse Law of Sanity. Have you heard of this?

Kade Wilcox: No.

Rodney Madsen: So basically leadership is easy when things are good.

Kade Wilcox: Right.

Rodney Madsen: When you're growing like crazy, and everybody loves your company, things are good. When things get tough, the inverse law of sanity says that people who have been immersed in chaos have been through troubling times, that even are borderline psychopaths, that they are the better leaders. And if you think of that, you could probably come up with half a dozen people that you've known from history that are just like that. Patton, Churchill, Lincoln, Martin Luther. So I would say to you to be the best leader you can, you have to experience that kind of stuff. So that in the hard times, you are seemingly calm, right? When things are tough, and people are going crazy, the people you're leading seek your confidence. You can be that because you're not freaking out. And sometimes it means experiencing it first. So you can see what it looks like.

Kade Wilcox: That's really good. I've never heard that phrase. Even those leaders you just mentioned, it's unequivocally true. It's not that all people who have served in the military are great leaders, but a lot of them are, and it seems to align with that idea. You think of Jocko Willink or Tim Kennedy, a Green Beret. They're high functioning leaders, and they've been tested in ways that us normal folks will never be.

Rodney Madsen: Run toward the bullets.

Investing In Yourself

Kade Wilcox: Right. Exactly. That's great. I'm glad you shared that. How do you view your approach to your own personal growth? As a leader, you're constantly thinking about your people. You're thinking about their growth. You're thinking about the organization's growth. You're solving problems for clients. All things that are natural to being the leader, but how do you put that aside and focus on Rodney? How do you approach your own personal growth?

Rodney Madsen: Well, I mentioned to you that I'm getting my doctorate, right? I don't know if I'll ever finish, it's just one of those things that keeps on going, but you have to invest in yourself. And so busyness could stand in the way and be an obstacle for you to do that. It's so easy to say, you know, I got too much to do today to do X. And so you have to invest in that. It could be listening to podcasts. It could be reading a book or watching something on YouTube. I try to do all of that. I'll hear something during the day that I'm just not that knowledgeable about, and I say, "I need to know more about that." I'm just crazy like that.

But in terms of leadership, we mentioned earlier, I am a scientist who is also a leader, so it's so easy just to default back to the science side of things. But I have to invest in myself to be the leader that the people around me need me to be. There's a lot of surrounding yourself with mentors or people who can provide you with a perspective that you didn't have on your own. I do that. I do all of that. I have coffee once a week with somebody and share thoughts and ideas. And those are the things you just have to do now. Sometimes that may mean waking up at five o'clock in the morning to get it done, but you have to do it.

Kade Wilcox: That's good. So what's your go-to learning source? You mentioned podcasts, and you mentioned YouTube. Do you have a preference? Do you like reading? Do you like audiobooks? Are you a podcast guy? Practically speaking, what are some of the things you enjoy?

Rodney Madsen: Well, I do have coffee every week with folks, and I get information from them. I love doing that face to face. In addition to that, I do listen to podcasts. I'll occasionally listen to something that's a leadership podcast, like Simon Sinek and Seth Godin and Jocko. I like all those things, and I'll listen, but the ones that really jazz me up are the science ones. My favorites are ZdoggMD Dr. Damania. He's awesome. And then This Podcast Can Kill You. It's just a couple of ladies that go deep into different diseases. I know it's crazy.

Kade Wilcox: I'm laughing because I have to admit that those are not in my queue. I'm probably not going to be listening to them.

Rodney Madsen: And it's really obscure information that nobody would probably care to hear, but I think it’s great.

Kade Wilcox: That's really cool. My last question for you, and it's often my favorite, is if you could go back 15 or 20 years ago knowing what you know now and speak to your younger self, what advice would you give him?

Rodney Madsen: Well I think I already do that. Honestly, I do that daily because I've got two boys, and I'm trying to provide them the lessons that I've had growing up. So I want them to have more, do more, know more before they get to certain ages, whether or not they can decipher that information. We have these conversations all the time. One of the things I think resonates, just a topic that keeps coming up for me to them is to think of yourself as your own manager. I always tell my boys, you control your thoughts, control the things you do day to day. Only you can make yourself feel bad.

So how do you talk to yourself? You're your own manager. And so if your manager talked to you this way, he would probably be fired. That's not leadership. If you spend all of your time doing nothing, what would you say to an employee who did that? Or if you were that employee, what would you say to yourself? So the thing for me that I didn't have, and I'm still learning, I'm scratching the surface, is this awareness. Looking at yourself and saying, how can I be a better me? If these are the things that I've done today, or if this is the situation I'm in, is this beneficial, or did I do something noteworthy or positive?

Just thinking from that perspective, as opposed to letting life happen to you, that's really good.

Kade Wilcox: Do they listen?

“Do the Hard Stuff First”

Rodney Madsen:  Sometimes. It's funny because, in the moment, I would probably say no, but then I see glimpses of it. In fact, a mantra  I say to my boys all the time is, "Do the hard stuff first." Whether it's talking about homework, or we're talking about working out for football; do the hard stuff first. That by itself will make you unique. Because seemingly, people are trying to get the easy stuff out of the way just to knock something out. Do the hard stuff first, and everything else seems very easy. And one day, I heard my younger son say, "Do the hard stuff first."

And in addition to that (it was so awesome), but I didn't know this about my oldest son. This is something he's been doing for a long time, and I had no idea. He didn't tell me. I don't know that he would have told me, except that it accidentally came up one day. He has a note in his phone that is a running list of things that he thinks are wise that he heard from somebody or that he read. And so whether it was from his Papa or whether it was from me, he'll quote it, and then he'll put next to it who said it. And he was telling me this because one of his friends wanted to go to coffee with him one day, and he had all of these issues and things. And so he went to his notes and started telling his friend these things. I thought that was awesome, that he was astute enough to say, “I need to note that and actually make a note of that.” And I think that's awesome. And so I see things working, but I may not see it in the moment. It's an investment.

Kade Wilcox: It is. And for me, it's one of the harder parts of parenting. It's like you're not seeing the fruits of your labor. You see the fruits when they're respectful, and there are all kinds of ways you can know whether or not you have good kids. It's pretty clear. But you said something earlier that, on a parenting level, I really resonate with, and that's really wanting more for them. I find that really is true of my teammates too. I just want more for them. I want them to experience – whatever it is for them – I want them to experience more of that. And I want that for my kids so bad. It's ironic that we're talking about this because yesterday I was on the road for like eight hours. And I'm on the phone the whole time to make it go by faster. But I had this really great 45-minute conversation with my mom, just remembering back on all these great memories and some challenging memories from growing up. It made me think about my own children's experience and how badly I want them to know self-discipline and how badly I want them to know what you just said, "Do the hard thing first." I want them to know the benefits of them working hard and learning how to work. It took me forever to learn how to work. And I don't want that for them, but you can't want something more for someone than they want it for themselves.

Rodney Madsen: That's true.

Kade Wilcox: What I appreciate about something you were saying is to just make these little daily deposits. Consistently invest in them. Consistently invest in them. You probably didn't think when your 18-year-old was six that you'd find out when he was 18, he was absorbing wisdom from you and others; what a proud moment. But all you can do is make these daily deposits. Just one step in front of the other, every day, investing in them, loving them, speaking into them. And then trusting God's providence that in the end, it's all going to shake out.

Rodney Madsen: Exactly. That's leadership, to be honest with you. You could sum it all up with this: a leader wants more for their people. That's why you stretch them. You make them feel uncomfortable so that they can be better. I take solace in the fact that if my children don't learn from all of my mistakes in life, the failures will make them better because they made me better. As a parent, you can't not want them to fail. You just want to minimize the risks. Sometimes it means falling flat on your face and, just like you said, trusting in God's providence. And so that happens, and then all you can trust is that it will be good. Something good will come from that. And just be there and be present, be aware.

Kade Wilcox: You're a great dad. So if I run into any troubles, I'm just sending my two over to your house for a month.

Rodney Madsen: Shoot, I have my own faults. Trust me. I'm sure my kids can list them for you.

Kade Wilcox: Thanks for your time. This was a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing all that. I appreciate it. It's fun to learn from someone, so thanks for sharing all your insight.

Rodney Madsen: I appreciate you inviting me. Thank you very much.

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