The Work Seminar

Ep. 32: Jesan Sorrells - MA in Conflict Resolution Turned Entrepreneur & CEO

September 14, 2022 Jesse Butts Season 3 Episode 2
The Work Seminar
Ep. 32: Jesan Sorrells - MA in Conflict Resolution Turned Entrepreneur & CEO
Show Notes Transcript

Jesan pivoted from student affairs leadership to entrepreneurship in a novel fashion: He started with revisiting his grad school curriculum. 

After combing through the syllabi from his master’s program, Jesan thought, “I could take that topic and turn it into a product.” And so he did, marketing his conflict resolution and reconciliation skills to business audiences willing to pay for them.

From his early solopreneur days of consulting and speaking engagements to founding HSCT Publishing, creating training programs, writing books, and hosting podcasts, Jesan centers his businesses on the idea of intentional leadership. 

And it’s in no small part thanks to capitalizing on his MA work, adjuncting, and previous career in higher ed. 

Jesan’s books & podcast

12 Rules for Leaders: The Foundation of Intentional Leadership

My Boss Doesn't Care: 100 Essays on Disrupting Your Work By Disrupting Your Boss

Marketing for Peace Builders: How to Market Your Value to a World in Conflict

Leadership Lessons from the Great Books podcast

Where to find Jesan & HSCT Publishing

Jesan on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram

HSCT’s website and HSCT LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram profiles

The Leadership Toolbox website

The Leading Keys platform

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Jesse Butts:

Hey everyone. Thanks for joining me for another episode. I'm your host, Jesse Butts. Today, I'm chatting with Jesan Sorrells, an MA in conflict resolution and reconciliation from Abilene Christian University turned entrepreneur. Jesan is the founder and CEO of HSCT Publishing, the host of the Leadership Lessons from the Great Books podcast, the author of 12 Rules for Leaders, and much more. Jesan, welcome to the show. Thanks for, for joining us.

Jesan Sorrells:

Hi, Jesse. Thank you for having me on. I really am gonna enjoy this today. And I look forward to talking with you and your listeners.

Jesse Butts:

Absolutely. Thank you for, for reaching out to me originally. Sometimes people are curious how I find guests. A lot of times they're old connections or, or people that I've found. Jesan was actually one who reached out to me. So always glad for people to reach out to the show.

Jesan Sorrells:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I do love what you're doing here. I love what you're putting together, the project you were putting together and love to support folks when they are in not only the podcasting space, but also the... well, just in general, the space of trying to help people become better people. So, and of course , one of our missions here is helping leaders become better leaders.

Jesse Butts:

So, so Jesan, before we dive into how you found your way from that MA in conflict resolution and reconciliation to life as an entrepreneur, can you tell us a little bit about all of the things you're doing now? I, I mean, I mentioned the publishing company, one of your podcasts, and your, your book. Maybe you could kind of tie it all together for us? Like, like what is the, the output that you are you're producing as an entrepreneur?

Jesan Sorrells:

Absolutely. So, the output that I'm producing as an entrepreneur really focuses around this idea of leadership. In particular, intentional leadership. We fundamentally believe here at HSCT Publishing that all problems in all organizations can be resolved through the effective application of intentional leadership practices. Now, I said a number of different things there. And I made a bold statement, and I realize that it's bold. But it is that idea of intentional application. We want people to lead with their brains on. Right? And leading with your brain on whether you're at work, whether you're at home, or whether you are in the community really requires you to engage and engage emotionally, engage spiritually, engage psychologically. It requires you to engage. And so the books are about engagement. 12 Rules for Leaders is our most recent book, as you have mentioned. But we also had a book that came out about six years ago, which is timely for now called My Boss Doesn't Care, 100 Essays on Disrupting Your Workplace by Disrupting Your Boss. Everybody laughs at that title. Everybody loves that title.

Jesse Butts:

Yeah, it's a good one. Yeah.

Jesan Sorrells:

It is. And then of course, the Leadership Lessons from the Great Books podcast, where we read a great book for you, so that you don't have to do it as a leader. Or we read a great piece of literature and then we pull lessons from that great book or from that great piece of literature that leaders can apply to their lived lives. It is about practicality. It is about intentionality. And of course I host another podcast called the Jesan Sorrell's Audio Experience, which is a wide ranging podcast where we talk to entrepreneurs. We talk to business leaders, we talk to pastors and theologians. We talk to psychologists. And we try to figure out what exactly it is that unites all of these folks in common. So we're doing a lot of work here. We're producing a lot of content, and this is in addition to blog posts. We have a couple of Facebook groups. We've just got a lot of things going on over here.

Jesse Butts:

I wanted to ask about that, a little bit more about the intentional leadership, but first I was, uh, just a little curious for your great books podcast is great books like in the sense of, now I'm drawing a blank on the university in Annapolis and New Mexico, that's, you know, famous for like the great books of the Western canon. Is it... that canon or is it kind of ... what qualifies as a great book for, for your podcast?

Jesan Sorrells:

Sure, sure. And this is a great question because

Jesse Butts:

St. John's University? That

Jesan Sorrells:

John's

Jesse Butts:

what I was trying, trying to think of. Yeah.

Jesan Sorrells:

It is. Yes. Well, not only St John's university, but Cambridge University or, or even Columbia University has still has a great books program, which is kind of amazing. When we talk about great books in the Western canon, we are really talking about those classics that are usually, , lambasted very often as being, you know, about being written by dead white males. Right? Now, there were a lot of white individuals and this, they were, a lot of them were male and a lot of them are dead. so we can't get away from that, but it is about reading the books that have really stood the test of time as foundational books for Western thought. Right? So I'll give you an example. We read St. Augustine's City of God on the podcast and broke that down. Almost nobody reads City of God now outside of a theological program. Right? But we're also reading Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra. And we are bringing a couple of folks on to talk about Nietzche. Most recently, we recorded an episode which will be coming out in September, on, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, , which, , Apocalypse Now, the movie Apocalypse Now, was based off of that, off of that book back in the 1970s. But we also read books by, you know, Virginia Woolf or by W. E. B. Du Bois or Chinua Achebe. Right? So we're expanding the canon. Our longest podcast episode, which was a four hour one, featured Miyamoto Musashi's A Book of Five Rings. And so we talked about a book of five rings. We talked about how martial arts and sales, how jujitsu and jeet kun do all meet together in Miyamoto Musashi's understanding of What does it mean to actually be a warrior? What does it actually mean to be a focused sales leader? And have you apply that those lessons to your real lived life? So a lot of content there and I read about four heavy duty books a month to make sure that this happens.

Jesse Butts:

For those of you who love reading and love reading the thicker denser books, there are other opportunities besides professorships to, to engage with these things. You were talking about unintentional versus intentional leadership. What are a few things an unintentional leader does versus an intentional leader, just to get a better sense of, of what you're doing there?

Jesan Sorrells:

Sure. Sure. So an unintentional leader does all of the things that we identify as bad leadership, right? So an unintentional leader is tone deaf to their people. An unintentional leader lacks emotional intelligence. An unintentional leader makes decisions that are more reactive than they are proactive. An unintentional leader doesn't often care about their people because they don't know how to care about their people, because they're not paid very often to care about their people. An unintentional leader may be a bureaucrat merely following the rules, collecting a paycheck and then going home and not really leading their people, sitting in a position, holding a, here's an old school word from literature, holding a sinecure. Right? And not really moving forward. And it's not as if anybody intentionally becomes an unintentional leader. Usually it is through circumstances. Usually it is through position and status, and usually it is through habit. And so breaking those habitual behaviors, making, helping people, not making, helping people recognize what those habitual behaviors are, is a key piece of the work that we do here.

Jesse Butts:

So I'm, I'm pretty fascinated by how you went from grad school to, to this. And if we could just go back a little bit in time, I know that you have a BFA, was it in design of...?

Jesan Sorrells:

So, yeah, so my, my bachelor of fine arts degree is actually in printmaking, with a minor in drawing. And I almost got a minor in painting.

Jesse Butts:

So when you were wrapping up that BFA, what were you, what were you thinking in terms of why you wanted to go to grad school, what you were hoping to do? I mean, just in general, but also that shift from BFA to this, you know, conflict resolution, reconciliation. Not, not exactly a linear path that that most of us would assume, uh, someone would take after finishing your undergrad degree.

Jesan Sorrells:

Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Jesse, if, if your listeners go and look at my LinkedIn profile, and please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn if you're listening to this podcast, but, if you go and look at my LinkedIn profile, it is a winding road through many different, uh, through many different areas. And so coming out of the BFA program, I'll be honest, Jesse, my first thought was, How do I get a job and feed myself. And I applied to, , a number of different printmaking studios to be a printmaking assistant. You know, I did the hard work, right? But at the same time, while I had been in college, pursuing my artistic endeavors, I had also at the same time been trying to learn business. And so I had taken a couple of business classes, , which I wasn't really impressed with. And then I had also wound up working in the administrative end of higher education as a residence director and basically a jumped up RA. And if any of your listeners have ever lived on campus, you'll know what that is. That invariably led me down the path towards conflict resolution and reconciliation and entrepreneurship, because the work that you do with students in a highly administrative environment, the work that you do with 18 and 19 year olds really does involve leadership. It involves team building. It involves conflict, it involves managing a budget, it involves making hard decisions financially about what can be done in a particular year. And what can't. It also involves listening to a lot of wild, crazy, hair-brained ideas and saying No to some of them saying Yes to others and being in the gray area with many of them and just seeing if they are going to work. And so all of the elements of creativity that you would think would be in the arts are also in the space of working with students. So over the long course of years, I wound up working at the University of Minnesota. And while working at the University of Minnesota, I was able to pursue, the degree with Abilene Christian University, through a partnership there. And pursued that degree, and literally every day that I showed up to, to work on that degree, I was experiencing something similar in, in higher education in my, in my administrative work. That invariably led me to entrepreneurship because after I got done with higher education, once again, I was looking around saying, How do I eat here? And at the time I was married. I had a few kids. And, you know, they, they do like to eat and they, they do continue to grow. And so you do have to do something, you gotta live in the world. And so, really looked around and I said, What are all the skill sets that I have here? And this is a critical question for your listeners as well. When they're thinking about their path, What are the critical skills I have that other people don't and that they are willing to pay for? Now, that's an important intersection because we all have skills that other people don't have for sure. We all have that. But we all might not have skills, that other people don't have that other people are willing to pay for. That's an important distinction. And so we have to recognize that. And we had to put, I had to put those, the intersection of those two things together. And then I thought, this is my second thought, Where can I go with this? And what's the number one place where people spend most of their time? And the number one people, number one place where people spend most of their time is at work.

Jesse Butts:

I'm curious about the, the program itself. , is it a bit of psychology, philosophy, political science, like, like what were you reading and studying in that program?

Jesan Sorrells:

So there's three different tracks in the program. There's a theological track. There's a school track, which I did not go down because it's mostly K through 12. There's a, a divorce and family track. And so out of those three tracks, that was the one that I picked. I went down the divorce and family mediation track. And so I learned a lot about mediation. I learned a lot about how people's emotions work in the mediation space. We studied a lot of, as you mentioned, psychology, , but also a lot of philosophy. A lot of thinking about how do you structure the mediation table? And what does an act of mediation do for people? Or what does it not do for people? Why do people in the United States maybe favor mediation a little bit less, whereas people in Europe and in Australia favor it a little bit more. And by the way, there are fundamental differences in the ways in which the cultures of Europe, the culture of Australia differs in, in the face of mediation in comparison to the culture of America. And of course, we looked at the law. Now that doesn't mean I read for the law or that I'm a lawyer. Don't get, don't get wrong. I'm not, don't get it confused. I'm not a lawyer. And I do not give out legal advice. But we did learn how to read certain pieces of the law. And how to examine those in light of what was happening at the mediation table. This allowed me to become a Texas state certified mediator, which I am by virtue of having my, my master's degree. It also allowed me in various other states in the union to do mediation work at a very high level, higher than a usual volunteer would be. And most of the volunteers at community community mediation centers are great. It allowed me to do that work that a much higher level than, than what they were doing. And it certified me to be able to train other mediators in how to do this work.

Jesse Butts:

Were you planning on, maybe not a full career, but were you planning to, to work in marriage, family therapy services of some sort? What did you end up doing right after that?

Jesan Sorrells:

Yes. I was planning on working in that space. That was the initial, that was the initial thought. And I found out very quickly that people in America don't really want to pay for that. What we like in America is we like litigation. We enjoy, and we are structurally and culturally oriented towards litigation. And that's not a knock on America. That's just a, a state, , a statement of fact, you know, about where we are. We would prefer if we're in a car accident to sue somebody or have our insurance companies sue each other, right? Whereas if you're in a car accident in Australia and I'm sure your Australia listeners can confirm this, you go directly into mediation or your insurance companies go to mediation, right? And here's the other dynamic that almost no one talks about, when you're dealing with divorces, when you're dealing with family mediations, you're seeing other people's trauma. And you're seeing it in a very raw, very real way. You are seeing abuse. You are seeing drug abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, and of course, sexual abuse, sometimes. You are experiencing and dealing with other people's... not only other people's trauma, but the trauma of people around the people who are involved in the mediation. Right? So it's not just the two parties who are involved. It's also their kids. It's also their neighbors. It's also their in-laws. It's, it's anybody who the trauma touches. Right? After doing a few few, a few hundred hours of practice mediations, you know, I, I, I decided that I didn't wanna bring that trauma home to my children. Right? I wanted it to be a little bit more removed from me. I have known many mediators in my time who have gotten divorced themselves after being divorce and family mediators. And so I thought that's not really something that I want to go through, either unintentionally or intentionally. I don't wanna get caught by someone else's trauma, at least not at that level. So switching over to workplaces for me was very easy because workplaces are a place where we bring all of this stuff, but we put a sheen over it and we hide it. And we put on a good show. Now post COVID that's a little bit different because everything has collapsed. All the boxes that we use to use to separate ourselves, have all collapsed together. But back then 10 years ago now, , that was a dynamic that I didn't, I didn't want to deal with.

Jesse Butts:

So, you know, you did your few hundred hours and you decided it wasn't for you. What type of roles did you have after that before you ventured into entrepreneurship?

Jesan Sorrells:

Yep. So I had stayed in higher education. And I had kind of, sort of advanced through there. But I'd wound up moving along from the work that I was doing at the University of Minnesota to doing the same work at Ithaca College, which is the other college in Ithaca, New York, that is on the other hill. So, I went there and was tasked with, with building a program, for first year students, which I did somewhat successfully, I think. I think the program's still going on there... and built relationships and engaged with folks and eventually through a whole series of somewhat unforeseen events, which would take too long to go into on this podcast, but, you know, through a series of unforeseen events basically quit that role, you know. And I, and I didn't have anything, on the horizon. And so entrepreneurship looked really good because the area that I was moving into was an area where there weren't a lot of opportunities for a guy with my particular skill sets, coming in from the outside.

Jesse Butts:

So after you, you left that role and you said entrepreneurship looked like one of the better things on the horizon, did you have this idea of leadership? Where did you start? What was your focus initially?

Jesan Sorrells:

Yeah. So initially my focus was in conflict because I thought, and I was, and, and I still think this today, conflict gets you into everything, kind of like The Godfather, right? The Godfather used to tell his sons, you know, If you become a lawyer, you can steal more money with a briefcase than a gun. Back in that old school movie. And so the the, the flip on that is you can get into everything if you're willing to go and engage with other people's conflicts, even if they're conflicts at work. Most people are afraid of conflict. Most people are afraid of confrontation. They confuse those two things. They think that confrontation and conflict are the same thing. And by the way, just as a side note, they're not. Right? Confrontation is just saying, Jesse, you and I are at a crossroads here, because there is some issue about which we disagree. That's all confrontation is. It's saying that there's a disagreement. It's recognizing that there's a problem, right? Conflict is everything that happens after that statement. Whether you agree, whether I agree, whether we disagree... how does that path go? What the escalation looks like, what the deescalation looks like. How do we negotiate? Do we bring in a third party? Do we appeal to rules and regulations? All of those things come after confrontation. Most people, however, don't recognize that confrontation and conflict have a gap in between them. And most people can make intentional decisions inside of that gap and choose to have a conflict.

Jesse Butts:

What did your, your first venture in entrepreneurship look like?

Jesan Sorrells:

Yeah, the first venture entrepreneurship looked like me literally pulling my grad school syllabus, looking at all the topics that were covered on my grad school syllabus, and saying to myself, Okay that topic, I could take that topic and turn it into a product. And I think the topic was, just conflict, Conflict Management 101, something like that. Because again, around those, the intersection of those two questions, what skillsets do I have that people will pay me for? So I think people will pay me for conflict. I'm gonna take a bet and make ...and not take a bet, I'm gonna make a bet, right? People will pay me for resolving conflict or they'll pay me for teaching them how to resolve conflict. Teach me how to fish or fish for the man. Which one do you want to do? Right. And so I was gonna do a combination of both of those. And so I started out as just a, a jumped up trainer. Right. A jumped up consultant. And running around. And literally I was running around going to networking events, doing speaking engagements for free back in the day. This was 2013, 2012, 2013. Podcasting was not the thing that it is now. Although if it had been, I would've gone on podcasts. A lot of self-promotion. I wrote a lot of blog posts, back in 2013. To date, I think I've written close to 500 blog posts around conflict leadership, dealing with difficult people, dealing with dysfunctional behavior, confrontation, all these ...entrepreneurship, marketing, all these kinds of areas. Right? And I built a plan for how to market myself fairly aggressively. And I will say this, you know, I blogged for nine months straight into the void and distributed that on LinkedIn and thought no one was looking at it. And then did find out that someone was looking at it and they gave me my first big break. And I wound up working, working with them in partnership with our, our local community college in the area that I was in at the time. Wound up getting into a partnership with them where they basically sourced leads for me, sent them to me. And then I went out and did the work. And then after that, the business exploded.

Jesse Butts:

So, so the first product was essentially you, you and your services. I mean, you were doing the, the, the blog posts and the appearances in hopes that people would contract with you to help their organization understand and solve and remediate some type of conflict. Is...

Jesan Sorrells:

correct. Yeah. Oh Yeah. absolutely. Yep.

Jesse Butts:

How long were you a solo consultant before building a, I'm not sure how to phrase this, but a product that wasn't...

Jesan Sorrells:

Me?

Jesse Butts:

You, yeah, yeah.

Jesan Sorrells:

Yeah , that's a great question. And so I did, I did everything backwards, so from 2013 to about 2016, 2017, , you know, I was solo, I had people come to work with me on projects, things like that. And, and as, as we were going along, or as I was going along, the training content became a product in and of itself. I began to see that the manuals that I was developing and the approaches that I was developing were a product in and of themselves, which is great, except it's a product that really still focuses around Jesan showing up and being Jesan. And I thought, Well, okay, that doesn't scale, but I don't know how to crack that nut. So maybe I need to get more people. And so from about 2016, 2017 to right here on the right on the back end of COVID. So 2020, we built a crew. And so, you know, wound up having 25 people working for me. And we began to develop more solid product based thinking, right? And so our thinking began to shift away from services and towards products. This is where we began to develop the Leading Keys platform, which we currently have at LeadingKeys.com, which is an asynchronous platform that's a subscription as a service, a SaaS product basically, that we developed over the course of time, initially targeting towards long term care, the long term care industry. And now it's targeted much more towards a general market. And then after that, right on the heels of that, we began to put our training content together and we developed what we call now The Leadership Toolbox, which you can check that out at LeadershipToolbox.us. It took me a long time to figure that out, and to figure out how to do that and how to architect all of that together. And the biggest challenge was figuring out how to talk about the architecture of that because I'm inside the journey. So it makes sense to me, but anybody outside the journey, it may not make sense to them. Over the course of time, we also took some of the training content, the insights, the blog posts, the ideas, and we began to put together books. So the first book was Marketing for Peace Builders, How to Market Your Value to a World in Conflict. That book was incredibly niche and self-published, incredibly niche. That was, it was my first self-published venture. I'd never done anything like that before. I didn't even know if it was going to sell. And it sold in the mediation world like hot cakes. As a matter of fact, it still sells a couple of different copies every month, you know, still, still floating around out there. And then my second book came out, My Boss Doesn't Care, and got a little bit better in production. We hired a graphics, hire graphic designers. We worked with, professional editors. We worked with copy editors, developmental editors. We began to mold together the underlying again, architecture for having a publishing company. And then on the other side of COVID, we relaunched as a publishing company. And so, we published training content. We published our books. We work with authors on refining their scripts and refining their content. And of course we still do training and development work, but it is inside of that leadership toolbox construct. And so the Leadership Toolbox product is the product that we sell. The Leading Keys platform is the, is the product that we sell.

Jesse Butts:

And just to clarify with your, your publishing company, are you seeking authors or are authors who have a specialty in the leadership space coming to you? Just, just kind of curious. I mean, cause it sounds like the majority is, is content that you and your team are producing. I'm just kind of curious about what else you're publishing.

Jesan Sorrells:

Yeah, we have authors that are coming to us. We also have organizations that want to work with us. And so that's an untapped market where organizations have content that they would like to have either edited, or published internally to their own folks, or even facilitated to their own, to their own people. And so we have a couple of, we have a couple of clients that we're doing that work for right now. And so there's some definite space there, particularly as you think of brands that are moving in the direction of having their own podcasts and doing their own and, and I mean, brands have been doing internal blog posting for years. For a long, long time. But how do you bring that together? How do you create PDF content? How do you create eB ook content? How do you unite that with podcast content and who produces that? And so that's a lot of work that can be outsourced. And we're the service that can take that on and does take that on for clients.

Jesse Butts:

You've, You've described yourself as an entrepreneur and you're, you're starting new businesses and, and things like that. To you, what is the difference between a business owner and an entrepreneur? Thinking of listeners who, who might think about going on their own and, you know, the, the kind of different paths that they could consider, entrepreneurship versus business owner.

Jesan Sorrells:

Depending upon what I am doing on any given day, I'm in one of three roles, right? And I could even shift roles during the day. So there are some projects I work on during the day where I am a freelancer. I'm doing work, I'm getting paid the money. Done. Right? That's freelance work, right? That kind of work doesn't scale. I don't wanna frame it as small potatoes cause every project matters, but it's projects that I care about that are personal or that are passionate to me. Those are typically freelance projects. That makes me a freelancer. Then there are projects that can scale. So anytime I work on a book, anytime I'm working on a book with a team or a crew, anytime I'm working on publishing a piece of internal content for a client. That's entrepreneurship, right? Because that's a product that can scale, right? And so your listeners should think of entrepreneurship in terms of, We are growing a particular thing. Right? We're growing a book or we're growing an audience or we're growing a community or we're growing a platform. Leading keys is an entrepreneurial product. Leadership toolbox is an entrepreneurial product. The books are entrepreneurial products, right? When you look at a product, you can think of 10,000 more ideas that go along with that particular thing. That makes you an entrepreneur. A business owner, however, and I can be a business owner during the day too. A business owner is in that third space where they are looking at the overall scaling of the business as an entity, right? They're working on the business, not necessarily in the business. Right? So working on the business means figuring out what are the processes and procedures that need to be improved? What are the gaps or holes in our strategy? Who needs help on our team, and how do we increase our team? What does the actual vision and mission, goals and values look like of this organization? That's what a small business owner does. Right? Now don't get me wrong, very often a small business owner will work in the business. The challenge with being a small business owner is knowing the line between working in the business and working on the business. And being able to walk that line very carefully. And I'm gonna go back to this word again, intentionally.

Jesse Butts:

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Jesan Sorrells:

What I enjoy most about my work is the fact that I get to get up every morning and do things like having this podcast conversation. Every day I get up is something different, something new, something engaging and exciting. I'm also fairly, I'm gonna use a, a broad word here. I'm also fairly parapatetic. So I have wandering interests and I've built a model of work, a model of making an impact in the world where I can dump all those interests in that, in that bucket. And I can shake it and then something will fall out that will get me paid. Now there's many things I've dumped in that bucket that don't get me paid at all. And there's some things I've dumped in that bucket that are just wild and crazy. For example, some of your listeners may be familiar with the actor William Shatner famously enough on Star Trek.

Jesse Butts:

I, I would guess so. Yeah.

Jesan Sorrells:

Some of them may be, I, I don't know. I don't know who watches TV or who doesn't. I'm a big fan of William Shatner's spoken word albums. I think they're hilarious. I think they're great. And I would love to do a spoken word album. And so I have a project that I'm working on with some friends of mine. That's inside the bucket of this work. And I spend a couple hours a week moving that project forward. That's an entrepreneurial project. Cause at the end of it, there's going to be a product that can then be sold in a bunch of other different places. And eventually I'm gonna have a spoken word album and my wife thinks I'm crazy. My kids roll their eyes. And it's something that I've been wanting to work on for quite some time.

Jesse Butts:

I'm sure. When I was a kid, I had heard of like... Rocket Man was his first big one? Yeah. I actually remember kind of discovering it in reverse. It was, he was on like a Ben Fold's side project

Jesan Sorrells:

Yes.

Jesse Butts:

and, I can't I can't remember the, I think it was maybe one or two tracks on... Fear of Pop? I think was the, the album. So I, I discovered him then, then I kind of discovered that, oh, He'd done this, you know, half a dozen times before this. I was... you know, it's interesting how we discover those things, but yeah, I, I found those pretty entertaining too.

Jesan Sorrells:

I, I love, his version of Common People. And I, I listened to a lot of that stuff in college with my buddies and we all thought it was, you know, hilariously funny. And at the same time, there's a little seed that was planted there. Sort of of, Hey, you know, if you build a structure, you could maybe do this too. And that's, that's what entrepreneurship allows you to do. It allows you to build a structure that again, you can dump a bunch of different things in, and then you can do some exciting stuff.

Jesse Butts:

We've talked pretty extensively about how, when you started your business, you went back to your, you know, master's syllabus and how so much of what you see in the business world relates to the conflict resolution and reconciliation and leadership. I'm curious, are there any other skills that you picked up in grad school or working in higher ed that we, we might not have discussed yet that have helped you in your life as an entrepreneur?

Jesan Sorrells:

Yes, so, and this is a big one. And it's one that gets overlooked. It's the skillset of caring. C A R I N G. Caring. Caring. One of the challenges that we have in our world today is that there's a lot of talk about empathy. And we've, we, we've raised at least the conversation around empathy to its highest possible form. But if you go out and deal with real people in the real world, you find out that there's actually two different kinds of empathy floating around in the world today. There's empathy you see in marketing, where empathy is marketed to us as a way to sell products or goods or to get us to care about a social cause. And then there's the empathy that you actually have in your real life. Most of the empathy that people have in their real lives, most of the empathy that leaders have in their real lives is very narrowcasted. It is to family, it's to friends. It might be to people that they work with or that they are leading, but very often they're not... Leaders, particularly positional leaders, , managers and supervisors usually may not feel as though they are paid to be empathetic because emotional labor is hard. It's hard to care. It's hard to care about your employees when you may not have liked them from the jump. It's hard to care about your employees when you're stressed or you're burned out. And no one seems to be caring about you. It's hard to care about your employees when change, like what we're going through right now with COVID seems to be hitting you left and right, and you are asked, and you're being demanded, to be reactive rather than proactive. And so what I learned in higher education was that you have to care. You have to make yourself care. And it's not in terms of, I'm gonna hold your hand or I'm gonna give you a hug or you're gonna come over to my house for a barbecue. What we talk about very often, and what I've talked about for years is this concept of hard headed empathy. And it's making a hard headed intellectual decision to care. No emotion involved. You don't have to involve your emotions if you don't want to. Just decide to care. Today, I'm going care about that employee who's gonna talk about that thing that I don't care about. I'm just gonna care. And here's how I'm going to care. I'm gonna actually listen to that person.

Jesse Butts:

Would you say you love what you do?

Jesan Sorrells:

Absolutely. If I didn't love it, I would be doing something else. Are there days when I wake up and it's hard? Yes, for sure. Do I like all those days? No, I don't. But overall, or I've been doing this work for almost 10 years now. , I wouldn't do anything else. I put, I put, I've put in my Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours. I, I don't think I'm capable of doing anything else. I don't think I would be a good employee at this point. And that's not because I couldn't follow the directions or do the, do the things that are required. It's because I know something fundamental that Seth Godin said many years ago, the marketer and writer Seth Godin, said many years ago, If you have one more dollar in your checking account as an entrepreneur on the day that you end your work and you earned that dollar, then no one gets to tell you that you can't play again tomorrow . And you've lived long enough to play the game again.

Jesse Butts:

Using one of the words that I'm sure, if I ran an analysis has probably been said, one of the most times in this podcast, was there an intentional decision in your life that you had to love your work? That you had to do something that you loved?

Jesan Sorrells:

Yes. There have been many moments where I've had to decide. The most recent moment was with COVID. March of 2020 our business was shut down as being not ,was deemed non-essential by the state of New York, and was shut down. At that point around 90% of our clients abandoned us. We, we saw a massive revenue drop, right, within two weeks. And I remember driving in my car down the road to file some piece of paperwork somewhere that didn't really matter. And I just remember yelling in my car and hitting the roof of the inside of my car and saying, No, this is not how this ends. We're not stopping here. I haven't done all the things that I need to do yet. And this is the vehicle that I'm going to do them in. Not literally my vehicle, but like the, the business is the vehicle that I'm going to do them in. And I do. I remember driving down the road, just hitting the roof of my car, just yelling in my car. Making intentional decisions isn't always pretty. People have this idea that somehow it'll be beautiful and very intellectual. No, there's, sometimes there's emotion involved in it and it's visceral. But it's a visceral decision that still is at the front of our brains. We're still actively thinking about it. And by the way, what that means is we're also still responsible for the outcomes that come about because of those decisions. And we have to be okay with that as a leader, too. We have to be okay with that as followers too. We very rarely talk about responsibilities. And too often we talk about rights. And so the responsibilities of intentional leadership mean that when you make the decision, as I did in the car, driving down the road in March of 2020, when you make the decision to just say No, and just continue going, regardless of how bad it will be, you are also saying Yes to whatever those consequences are going to be. And you have to be willing to admit to that and be willing to be okay with that, to be an intentional leader.

Jesse Butts:

How do you describe your relationship to work? Or, or maybe said a bit, a little bit differently, how large of a role does in your life?

Jesan Sorrells:

I have worked very hard to put it in its appropriate space. To put it in its appropriate box. Right? So I work from home. Right? Now we have employees all across the country. Matter of fact, we just recently onboarded a new person. She's in Kentucky, but we recently onboarded a new person, which is great. But we have employees all over the country, but I work out of my home in Texas. And so, you know, I come to my office in the morning, I work, you know, a regular day, you know, eight to four or eight to five or whatever. And then I leave. And the work stays in the office. Right? But I've been very intentional about that because I'm a person who can work all the time. It doesn't bother me. There's always more work to be done. There's always another project to be taken on. There's always a new challenge to face. And so to put boundaries around that means now I can do other stuff with my family. Now I can, take up other hobbies, right? And have other interests. It means that I have the space to go and do things that I enjoy. Or go and do things for other people that they might want me to do for them, that they enjoy. I have the time to have friends, so work stays in its, in its box. And again, it's something where I've had to be intentional about that. For other folks who are listening, your mileage may vary. You know, but I will say this, I have advised entrepreneurs before. And one of the key questions I ask them is, How good is your relationship with your significant other or your partner? Do they understand that you are probably going to in the first couple of years of this devote 80 to a hundred hours a week of your life to this? Do they understand that? Because if they're not on board, if that's a negotiation you haven't had yet, stop your idea and go have that negotiation. Now, fortunately I married a woman who, , whose family was in business for two or three generations. She understands how business works. She's owned her own business. You know, and did, did, did that kind of work in her own area. So she kind of understood that already, but most people who haven't, who are, who are focused on work as a thing that I do for an organization and then I collect the check and go home, that's a different mindset shift. It's different between an employee mindset and an entrepreneur mindset, right? And it's not bad. It's just different. Right? It's a different kind of mindset. An employee puts work in a box, whereas an employee has, an entrepreneur, sorry, has to construct the box around the work and has to keep it contained.

Jesse Butts:

I, I know You, you mentioned earlier, What can you do that no one else can that people wi ll be willing to pay for? as kind of a central question, if not the central question. I'm curious if there's anything else you would add to that?

Jesan Sorrells:

Well, step number one, or step number one, if you're gonna pull out a piece of paper, so you're gonna whip out a piece of paper, right? And you're gonna write this down. You're gonna write down all the things you know that other people don't know. That's hugely important. Most of us underestimate what we know and we overestimate what other people or what we think other people know. One of the things that this work has taught me is that there is a vast wealth of things that I know a ton of things about, but there's also a vast wealth of things that other people know a ton of things about that I don't know anything about. Right? So in the era that we live in, where what we know can then create a service or a product, because that's where our skill sets lie. We've gotta write those things down. All the experiences that you've had from, you know, when you were in high school, and you thought it didn't matter all the way to whatever point it as you're at now. Write those things down. Step number two, go and talk, not to family and friends, but go and talk to strangers. Talk to people who have no skin in your game, who will give you honest feedback about whatever's on that list, who will say Yes, I would pay for that. Or, No, I wouldn't pay for that. What I learned after having more of those types of conversations is how to market myself. Yes. How to frame the architecture of what it was I was doing in a different kind of way. But I also learned that sometimes for some people, it just won't work. And those are not your customers. Those are not your clients. And that is OK. Sometimes you have to go very far afield to find your customers and your clients. And that's okay too. And then the third thing is, How long do you want to do this? Look? 99% of all business projects fail in the first year. They fail because people run out of money? Yes, that's usually primarily the, the answer that's given, you know, I ran out money and I had to go back to work. But that's not the real answer. The real answer is you ran out of will. You ran out of persistence. You ran out of family support from your significant other or from your family. You ran out of ideas for how to market yourself. You ran out of courage to ask other people for help. You ran out of all of those intangible things. The money, and I don't wanna be flip here, however money is not your biggest problem as an entrepreneur. It's not your biggest problem if you're in grad school or out of grad school, asking yourself, How do I want to go and where do I... money is not your biggest problem. You think it is, but it's not your biggest problem. All of those other intangible things weigh far more into the equation than money does.

Jesse Butts:

This has been a really, really wonderful conversation, Jesan. If you'd like to share where, where people can find your resources, particularly if anyone, you know, is kind of thinking about something in leadership or something entrepreneurship, anything that you're doing in those areas would be great to, to hear a little bit more about as we wrap up.

Jesan Sorrells:

Absolutely. Well, first off, thank you Jesse, for having me on The Work Seminar. I appreciate you offering me a space on your platform. And I wanna encourage you to keep going forward and doing the work that you are doing and to keep persisting, because we need more folks like you, you know, doing this work in this space. So thank you. As far as places where people can find me. So you can of course find me on LinkedIn. You can go search my name, Jesan Sorrells. I'm, I'm there. I'm also on Facebook and I'm on Instagram, you can find me there, both our personal profiles and you can find the HSCT publishing profiles everywhere all over the internet. You can direct message me again on LinkedIn or on Facebook or on Instagram, reach out to me and mention that you heard me here on The Work Seminar podcast with Jesse Butts. If you would like to find out more about how The Leadership Toolbox can help people in your organization become better, or if you'd like to just take advantage of some of those webinars, you could check us out at TheLeadershipToolbox.us. You can also check out our leading keys platform. Check that out at LeadingKeys.com. If you'd like to pick up a copy of my newest book, 12 Rules for Leaders, the Foundation of Intentional Leadership, co-written with contributions from Bradley Madigan, it's, it's available everywhere. Finally, the podcast. The podcast and the book are really the easiest accessible ways to get ahold of me. If you don't have a whole lot of money or you want to get something like coaching for me without paying my full coaching rate. And so you're gonna wanna check out the Leadership Lessons from the Great Books podcast. We're on all the major podcast platforms.

Jesse Butts:

All right. Well, thank you again for joining us. This was really, really a treat, Jesan.

Jesan Sorrells:

Thank you, Jesse, for having me on. I appreciate it.