READ ON TO DISCOVER:
- What you have to do to be a great leader
- How to live life like we’re running a marathon
- Why Gary Vaynerchuk is glad he wasn’t born an ant
Gary Vaynerchuk is an entrepreneur, investor, author, public speaker, and an internet personality with millions of followers across multiple social media platforms. He joined Ryan Hawk, host of The Learning Leader Show, to discuss how to lead with empathy, gratitude, and a huge amount of energy.
Ryan: You’ve spent time around a lot of successful people. If you had to distill it down to one common characteristic or trait that those successful people all share, what would it be?
Gary: There [are] really two traits that over-index for me. One is self esteem. You have to have the audacity to believe that you’re going to be great. I don’t think people stumble into it. There’s an emotional gear, whether it’s in athletics or performing or business, that you have to have.
The other one is self-awareness. I think I’ve been a successful businessman in a world where maybe I wouldn’t be, if I wasn’t so aware of what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. When I transitioned into the tech world, I didn’t take coding classes, I didn’t try to build apps. That’s not my strength. People ask me all the time, “Why don’t you build an app like Uber [or] Facebook, and then you could buy the Jets?” I say, “Because I’m not talented enough to do that.”
Those are two things that really stand out to me. Whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg or Tony Hsieh or Richard Branson or Jack Welch, they have enormous self-esteem, and I think they know themselves. A lot of people lack self-awareness [and] don’t have a good read on themselves, and that gets you into dreaming and hoping land, and those are places of complete loss.
Ryan: You have to have an understanding of what you know and do well, focus on your strengths, and leverage other resources for areas that you’re not particularly good at.
When you’re looking at a business partner or somebody to work with, or even somebody to work for you, what [are] the traits that you’re looking for?
Gary: [Self-esteem and self-awareness,] for sure. But the number one thing I’m trying to sniff out is “Are they capable of playing nice with the other boys and girls?” Do you have empathy, do you not just worry about yourself, do you see the bigger picture? That is absolutely what I’m most obsessed with in somebody who works for me or somebody I’m doing business with or investing in. Are you able to see above the trees?
There [are] too many people that are impatient, and then their behavior creates way too much risk, because they’re not thinking about how that action’s going to impact them in 24 months. Too many people are living life like it’s a 100-yard dash, but most of us are lucky enough to be [running] a marathon.
“Too many people are living life like it’s a 100-yard dash, but most of us are lucky enough to be [running] a marathon.”
Ryan: You have videos of what a typical day of your life is like, and it’s incredible. Do you step back and take moments where you say, “Am I going to slow down?” How do you prioritize your time? There [are] so many things that you could be doing, and you have to make decisions on a daily basis as to what’s most important. How do you do that?
Gary: It’s something I struggle with. I think I can do everything, and [I do] accomplish a lot of it through sheer will and intensity. 45 different 10-minute meetings a day, 7 AM to midnight work schedule. It’s hardcore. I don’t know if I’ve done it great yet. I’ve got an assistant, I’ve got people around me that are conscious that my time is a very valuable asset, and my brother and some of my senior people will sometimes say, “Do you really want to do that?” They try to keep me in check, but ultimately my intuition is the north star.
Ryan: You grew your dad’s wine business from $3 million to $65 million. I’m curious about a couple things. One, what [are] the best takeaways you learned from your dad, and two, how do you teach them to your children?
Gary: My dad and I are very different, but he taught me that word is bond. When I got to an age where I was allowed to buy wine for the store, he looked me dead in the face—my dad is a scary old Russian dude—and said, “If you say you bought it, you bought it, right? I don’t want to hear anybody say that you are lollygagging. If you say you’ll take 10 cases, you’ll [take 10 cases.] If you changed your mind as it came out of your mouth, too late. You have to drink it.”
When you’re as persuasive and charismatic as I was, you tend to grow up pretty full of shit. I would do anything that I needed to accomplish what I wanted. My dad changed the course of my life by really imposing the importance of your word and [doing] the honorable thing, and it really rounded me out.
“You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis.”
My kids are six and three, so they’re still very young, but I’m going to impose on them to be good human beings. That’s what matters. Whatever their shortcomings, where they need to be rounded out, I’ll be focusing on trying to help with that.
Ryan: You are obviously an extremely high-energy guy, and you’re not at all afraid to give your opinion—I think that’s a really admirable trait, because a lot of people have a fear [of] doing that. Anybody who’s willing to put their opinion out there on a number of different topics is going to be polarizing. There’s a ton of people who love you, but for the ones who don’t, how do you think about that?
“Whoever asks for something first is in second place.”
Gary: Well the truth is I’m affected by it. I really like being liked. For all my bravado, I’m very much more honey [than] vinegar. I’m actually stunningly non-confrontational off-stage, off-camera. What lets me get away with it and stay very happy is [that] I know what my intent is, and I know that I stick to my lanes. I talk about things that I know, and have confidence that I’ve been proven right historically time and time again, and I don’t see that going away.
I’ll paint you a picture—I want to build the biggest building in town. I think a lot of people like me who want to build the biggest building in town go about it by tearing the other buildings around them down. I believe that the way I want to do it ultimately gives me the air cover to do what I’m doing, if that makes sense.
Ryan: Part of [this is] building quality networks. I’m curious about your thought process and your deliberate actions and strategy on building a quality network all over the world.
Gary: It’s interesting to think about how everybody defines their network. I think about everything from a lifetime value standpoint. “How do I have leverage with the end user?” The best way to do that is to provide value first. I always say whoever asks for something first is in second place. I love paying forward first. I think about networks very simply. How do I provide value first, then let the chips fall where they may?
“I think about networks very simply. How do I provide value first, then let the chips fall where they may?”
Ryan: Okay, I’m curious—how do you bring your level of energy to the table every day? What are the actionable takeaways to be able to do [all the things you do] and have your type of energy?
Gary: It’s completely driven by gratitude. If you are able to put your mind in a place where you realize [that] in a second you could die, or that my six-year-old daughter could get hit by a car, or my mom could die of a heart attack, if you truly realize that to be true, you [can] contextualize the pressures of running a business. Spend your time to try to get your brain to really prioritize the important stuff.
I mean, you’re a human being. You know how pumped I am that I wasn’t born an ant? A lot of us are fortunate where we haven’t had massive tragedy around the people we love the most. If you could actually go there, it’s stunning how making $1 million or losing your business completely, how unbelievably secondary that gets to actually caring about the things you care about the most.
“I mean, you’re a human being. You know how pumped I am that I wasn’t born an ant?”
Ryan: This show is about leadership—it’s about constantly striving to improve, to get better at all times. I truly believe you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis. When you think of someone who’s constantly doing that, is there a person that pops in your mind?
Gary: For all my talking, the reason I think I’m a great leader, and I know I am, is because I’m unstoppable at listening. So, it’s not a person, it’s a thing. If you want to be great, you can say the most inspirational shit of all time, you could lead by example. But if you’re paying attention [and] listening to [people’s] actions, to their social media engagements, to the things they say to you, that’s what makes a great leader.
This conversation has been edited and condensed. To hear Gary and Ryan’s full conversation, click here.