Developing Great Leaders

In this, The Faces of Business, Jeffrey Custer, Director of Content Development, Level Up Courses, shares his thirty-year experience in leadership roles and talks about his work helping develop great leaders by teaching effective leadership techniques and his mission to rid the world of toxic leaders.

In this, The Faces of Business, Jeffrey Custer, Director of Content Development, Level Up Courses, shares his thirty-year experience in leadership roles and talks about his work helping develop great leaders by teaching effective leadership techniques and his mission to rid the world of toxic leaders.

We discuss leadership styles and techniques to lead better.

Jeff’s vision is to rid the world of toxic leaders. Toxic workplaces, Damon adds, toxic leaders make businesses harder to run and maintain high performance.

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Working under a toxic boss is hard. In a survey, if we ask people why they quit jobs, many will suggest that it is because of a toxic leader. A gap created by any such quitter will be a costly one. Toxicity drives the good workers away and pushes other workers to slackness. According to Jeff, this domino effect has other costs, too.

While shedding light on his background, Jeff says that he has studied human development and education. He ran a small business with a few employees. Later he sold it and moved to Fortune 500. His new work was more dynamic than a small firm. Its business was spread in many US states and he had to lead more than six hundred employees. There he realized that he was the “Leader of the Leaders” because the people that had been reporting to him were supervisors or managers, they were in turn leading frontline employees. His passion for developing great leaders started at this point. “People come and go, and I need to be preparing.” He realized the need for successive leaders for his organization.

Jeff recalls his life before the Covid-19 pandemic. He was always busy with seminars and the like. During the pandemic, he decided to benefit himself from the technology and included his sons in the program. All of his three sons have unique skill sets and they add fairly valuable perspectives to Jeff’s approach. Jeff is proud for he has instilled leadership in his sons. Currently, Jeff, along with his sons, started a weekly podcast for 45 minutes each. Although his sons are from a different generation, they bring him a lot of wisdom and insight.

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Damon invites Jeff’s analysis of changes in the concept of leadership in these twenty years. Jeff says that twenty years ago, companies preferred an autocratic leadership style. Employees just followed orders. He thinks this style has evolved because it was not effective. The second change is the demographics of the workforce. Now coupled with the baby boomer impact and pandemic, there is a shortage of workers. The third change is education. Twenty years ago, an employee was required to bring their educational credentials for jobs. Some companies even patronized scholarships for their employees. This is not the case now. Many businesses cannot afford scholarships or paid internships. The fourth change is automation. It is getting competitive. Furthermore, the emergence of the corporate sector is another change.

Damon gives an account of his daughter’s experience in a toxic workplace. To which Jeff adds that offering perks cannot overcome bad leadership.

Jeff’s take on toxic leadership is as follows.

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i) pride—they want their subordinates to follow their lead, come what may.

ii) selfishness—ignoring the majority, they take decisions to benefit only themselves.

iii) fear—toxic leaders are insecure about star performers. Hence, the former get the latter kicked out of teams.

Talking about aspiring leaders, Jeff says leadership is pure skill. They need to give and receive honest feedback. They must be good at asking questions. They must know how to pose open-ended questions and closed-ended questions.

To be an effective leader, Jeff has a piece of advice: “No matter how long you’ve been in leadership, you just have to continue practicing these things. But make a point of practicing to try to get better at them.” He concludes this discussion with these remarks.

The discussion ends with Damon thanking Jeff for his time and valuable words.

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Damon Pistulka, Jeff Custer


Damon Pistulka  00:05

All right, everyone, welcome once again to the faces of business. I’m your host, Damon Pistulka. And I am excited for our guests today, because we are going to be talking with Jeff Koster, from Level Up courses about developing great leaders. Jeff, welcome, my friend.


Jeff Custer  00:23

David, it’s super exciting to be on with you today. You said it, I am passionate about having good leaders in place.


Damon Pistulka  00:34

Well, you know, the one thing that I always when I look at your profile, I don’t know if people if you want to tech check out Jeff Custer on LinkedIn ridding the world of toxic leaders. I love your back and your background image there. Yeah, I love the image. Because I mean, it says at all,


Jeff Custer  00:54

we came up with that tagline back probably six or eight months ago, and, and, you know, companies have visions, and I think that really is our vision, and it’s probably something we never really will achieve. But that’s really what we what we’re all about is how do we get rid of toxic leaders? So that organizations are just better places to be?


Damon Pistulka  01:21

Yeah, yep. Because boy, you know it now. And what are people calling the great resignation, you know, these toxic workplaces? Its, it’s people are jumping ship faster than ever. And it makes your business harder to run makes your performance harder to keep maintain, and all kinds of things


Jeff Custer  01:41

hit you. If you look at surveys. It asked people why did they leave a job? What they’ll say it’s not because of what they got paid or a lot of other things. But two thirds of them will typically say they left because they had a toxic or a bad leader? Two thirds? And if any, if you think of that. It costs a lot of money for one for Geez. Yeah. You know, I think people watching people listening probably know, you know, the cost to replace somebody is, I don’t know, several 1002, maybe even at some levels $100,000. It’s expensive cash out of pocket to replace people. But I think that’s only a small part of what it costs.

There’s all these other hidden costs. When you’re short staffed, somebody’s going to pick up the slack. And there’s just a whole kind of domino effect that happens in organizations when you have toxic leadership and, and a lot of those costs. I think one of the things I see Daymond in organizations, is the movie discount those things that they can’t put their finger on the cost. It’s not a line on their other income statement. But there’s a cost there, but it’s hidden.


Damon Pistulka  03:02

Yeah. Yep. And I, someone told me a while back, and I don’t remember who it was, I was talking with them. And they were they talking with a client of theirs. And the client was saying, Well, man, we’ve had, we’ve had trouble with people for five years now. It’s just we just can’t get over it. And they said, Well, how long have you been in the company? And they said five years? You know, sometimes you got to look in the mirror.


Jeff Custer  03:32

Exactly. You know, one of the things I like talking to people about your panic when you talk about toxic leaders, a lot of us mentally jump to maybe that leader that yells and screams or really is bite off or kind of off the deep end of toxicity. I think toxicity there’s probably more of a more of kind of a range to it. And I would suspect all people probably display some of these behaviors sometimes. But you’re so you’re right. I think all of us need to look in the mirror. Yeah. But yeah, those toxic behaviors drive people away, and it is so expensive and costly to organizations.


Damon Pistulka  04:13

Yeah, that’s for sure. Well, Jeff, tell us a little bit about your background. I mean, you’ve been leading some fairly large teams for a bit now in in kind of challenging environments. Yeah, it’s interesting. So tell us about your background and how you got interested in in leadership.


Jeff Custer  04:33

Yeah, when I first started, I actually owned a small business and had a few employees in that small business. So I’ve managed and led people in that small entrepreneur business environment. We sold that business and actually moved to a fortune 500 company and spent a couple of decades at a fortune 500 company, dealing with it was such a different dynamic than running your own small business, and lead teams anywhere from, you know, seven, eight people up to groups of up to like 600. Across multiple states in the United States, and one of the things or probably for about the last 15 years or so I found myself as a leader of leaders.

So the people that had reported to me, were supervisors were managers, they were in turn leading frontline employees. And one of the things that, that I learned probably fairly quickly was, I always need to be on the lookout for who that next leader is, because people come and go, and I need to be preparing.

So I have that next person ready to plug into my organization to be a leader, for me. And that’s really where my passion for developing leaders came from, was, I knew I was going to be better off if I would develop great leaders to work for me. And I just really, I’ve got a background in human development and education. And so I’ve always enjoyed working on developing people and teaching. And this was just kind of like a perfect marriage for me. I have this real need in the organization. And I love doing this stuff. And so it makes it pretty easy for me.


Damon Pistulka  06:30

Yeah, yeah. Cool. So what I mean, what was the seed because there’s a lot of difference between, you know, being in a Fortune company running teams of leading leaders and things like that to say, Okay, now I’m ready to start teaching leadership and showing you leaders how to how to be good leaders.


Jeff Custer  06:49

Yeah, you I think, where it really started clicking with me, I still have a picture on my desk that I really liked. And it was that it was a team I led that I always kept Perlier, like my personal dream team. We had elite we had, I had a group of leaders working for me that just had a great skill set, they were a great set of leaders, we were able to do things that people in our organization said couldn’t be done.

And it was the kind of group where it was just that high performing, the more you told us that you couldn’t do it, the harder we work to get it done. And I think that was really where I started seeing the importance of trying to make sure that I when somebody left out of there, so maybe somebody retired or somebody got promoted or something.

I wanted to keep that going because it was a lot of fun. And I just, I think that was the start. And then what evolved to David, for me was really about legacy. And if you think about your leadership legacy, when you’re done. And people think of you What do they think of and what I want to be remembered as is that type of leader who left the organization in great hands because of the leaders that I developed and hired. And always get a joke around your for like the two weeks if they remember that you work there, that’s gonna be remembered. And then they forget who you were.


Damon Pistulka  08:26

Yeah. For those two weeks, it’s a good thing.


Jeff Custer  08:29

Yeah. I mean, and I think that was kind of my progression was, it was a necessity. And then it was fun. And then it turned into legacy.


Damon Pistulka  08:39

Yeah, yeah. Well, in you, you are working with your sons and level up as well, aren’t you?


Jeff Custer  08:46

Yeah. So just kind of the story I like telling about this, you’ll have had this idea of, of doing leadership development for a long time. And it mentally for me, I always ended up on an airplane flying somewhere doing a bunch of seminars, which I think is fine. But I was like, Well, I’m not really sure that’s what I really want to do. So I kind of put that idea back on the shelf. And usually between Christmas and New Year’s every year I sit down for that I take that week of vacation, sit down and kind of ponder how last year wet what I want to get done this next year, and I’d pull that idea off the shelf. It’s like I don’t know how I’d make that work.

And about a year and a half ago, pulled that idea off the shelf. I thought what would happen if I took this and in leverage technology that we really learned through the pandemic leverages technology to share my expertise not only around the US but around the world.

And it’s like yeah, I think we can do that and certain tie of three sons and start talking to a one by one. So here’s this idea I have what do you think would you like to join me in this effort and ask For the three conversations, they all said yes. And though, for me, the two things really stand out having done that. One is they bring skill sets that I don’t have. I’ve got one son that lives pretty close to you, I believe. And he’s a marketing guy. I’m not a marketing guy, an operations guy. And so when we start saying, What color do you want the logo to be?

It’s like, I don’t care. Just get it done. Yeah. But he’s got that skill set that I don’t I’ve got another son, that’s he’s an operations guy, but he’s an IT operations guy. So if you want a website done, if you want to figure out how you pay with a credit card, I don’t know how to do all that. But he does. And then my youngest son, is he really is just an excellent teacher brings an excellent teaching perspective. So it’s been pretty neat to take the skill sets that I didn’t have, and kind of handy that I’ve got them in the family to plug holes that, that I don’t have. I mean, that was that was kind of the initial thing.

But now as we’ve been on this journey together, kind of this hidden benefit that I’ve really found when I started when I talked about legacy, I was talking about your leadership legacy, maybe mostly in a business organizational context. But I also really think personal legacy is important to me. Yeah. And this has turned into a personal legacy that I never even thought of, yeah, that every week, multiple times a week, I’ve got the opportunity to teach my son’s leadership very intentionally. And if we weren’t doing this business together, we wouldn’t have those kinds of conversations. It’s like talking about it is worth talking about that stuff. You talk about it. Thanks. Yeah.


Damon Pistulka  11:53

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s in its time spent with them, too. Yes.


Jeff Custer  12:02

And so one of the things it just makes me smile, I was actually talking a little bit this morning. And maybe just smile, because, you know, you kind of develop the lingo that you start, yo, I’m sure you’ve got the same thing. You own your business, you kind of develop these you buzzwords that you use. And I always smile when I start hearing them use the words that I usually use. Yeah, it’s like, oh, I can tell I’m rubbing off on them, and having an impact on him. And so while the business is important, it’s almost become as important to me to have them be somewhat of an audience for me.


Damon Pistulka  12:38

Yeah, that’s awesome. But just take a minute here. We got the chips and evening. Great to see you and Steve, Steve galley. Hi, Steve. He’s a coach out of Utah. Good guy. So, yeah, that’s awesome. Because there’s not many times that you can do something like that. Were actually teaching your children really valuable life skills. Yeah. Because otherwise he’s just doesn’t come up right. Or they think you’re preaching to them or something like that. Different setting it just, so that’s really cool. Yeah, let


Jeff Custer  13:15

me sit you down at the table, and I’m going to tell you about the great resignation. You know, there’s like, I don’t want to hear that. But when we have this common purpose, you’ll one of the other things that we started in February is we actually started a weekly podcast, in two out of the three boys are on the podcast. And so the three of us every week, are sitting down for 45 minutes going through these kinds of discussions. It’s fun to hear their take on things. They’re a different generation, of course than me. But they bring so much insight and wisdom. It’s just exciting for me.


Damon Pistulka  13:52

Well, that’s a great point. So as you’ve gone through this with your sons, how much do you think what you need to do as a leader today is changed from say 1520 years ago?


Jeff Custer  14:07

I think it just to me, I’d go back to my word legacy. And I think it brings so much more purpose to that than I would have thought 15 years ago, because I think 15 years ago, like I said, I was looking for people to plug and play so we could you know, make all our scorecard metrics green, and we could impress people at the office. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But that was kind of a why Yeah.

And I think what has happened with me over the years is really that why has changed to I want to leave a legacy and it’s not so much about I’m making gold stars for myself. It’s really about leaving that lasting mark. I had the chance last two weeks ago to sit down with a young lady who was looking who’s an aspiring leader, and had about a two hour conversation with her and got a got a text from her, she got offered a supervisory position.

So she got offered a leadership position. And it was so much fun to sit there and just help her kind of understand, as a supervisor, if you’re going to take this leadership role, here’s the things you’re going to have to overcome, here’s the things you’re going to look out for. And if she’s not even going to work for me, she’s not going to work in my organization. But it’s very satisfying to me to know that she’s going to get where she wants to go. And I was able to help her do it.


Damon Pistulka  15:45

Yeah, yeah, that’s really something. That’s something and, and leaving that legacy is so important, because you know, as we as we want to be able to leave things better than when we came in. It’s yeah, it is just part of it. So do you think from the leadership that we need today in business? Do you think that’s a lot different than it was 20 years ago? Or do you think that it’s basically the same? It’s just we’re talking about things a little bit differently?


Jeff Custer  16:18

Well, how about some of each of my kids? My boys always accused me of choosing both. Okay. Oh, yes, I would say this. I mean, I think if you go back and maybe a little bit longer than 20 years ago, I think the style in organizations was pride tended to be a lot more autocratic. You know, you know, the boss told you what to do, and you just follow orders. And I think we’ve, I think that’s evolved where that style in most settings probably isn’t the most effective. And so I think that’s something that’s really changed that that leaders that have had that strong, autocratic style, probably are going to struggle more today than they did a couple of decades ago.

You know, there’s still places for that autocratic style. And I think even in organizations where day to day, there’s not room for that autocratic style, there may be times in that organization with autocratic style makes sense. When you get into a crisis, you probably need a leader that can adapt that article, hey, we just this we need to get this done. We don’t have time for a committee meeting. We just need to respond to a crisis.

So you’re there’s still that need for autocratic style, but probably not as prevalent as it once was. And so I think that’s, I think that’s one big change that you probably see. Another thing that you probably see that, that I think has changed just the demographics of the workforce. I was talking with some people this morning about this, you know, the 1010 years ago, you had all these organizations saying, Oh, we got to prepare for this big exodus of the baby boomers. And my observation was organizations kept talking about that and kept talking about it like it was something in the future.


Damon Pistulka  18:09

happening. Yes. Exactly. didn’t


Jeff Custer  18:13

respond to it. They kept talking like it was going to happen tomorrow. And then we run into this two year pandemic, that just accelerated all that. So you had already baby boomers going out the door not being replaced by younger generation. Yeah. And then you accelerate that with a pandemic, and all of a sudden, you have a worker shortage. And now, now, you’re in a different market than where you were 567 years ago, where employees, employers can be fairly picky.

Hey, Damon, you got to have a four year degree and you got to have this thing, that that’s no longer the case today. You know, you have, you know, you have employees that really earn a lot more of the driver’s seat, because there’s just a shortage. You’ll want to one of the neatest things I was involved in this a couple years ago. There’s a county here, I live in Minnesota, there was a county in, in Minnesota that hired social workers kind of entry level social workers.

And they had forever a four year degree requirement for that position was an entry level position. And they were struggling to fill those jobs. And so they took a hard look at their requirements and said, Do we think we could do a two year degree requirement, partner with a local community college and work on an internship for those people, and instead, we can get two year degree people instead of foreign and while I was working with that group, they hired about 200 people in that area.

And so all of a sudden you have you think about the cost of going to college. And if you say I want this professional track, that was so neat how they how that got put together is we can get people on a professional track for almost really low to minimal costs, get them into a professional thing.

And then the county would pay their tuition to get their four year degree. Yeah, yeah. I think that was a great lesson that Oregon more organizations should really take a look at is, what do you really need from somebody to get the job done? And if you want to track workers, I think it gets a serious consideration for organizations, you know, does that entry level job truly need a four year degree and five years of experience? Are you see those things?


Damon Pistulka  20:44

Yeah, you know, and that’s, that’s a great point, because there are so many jobs that we’ll use to hopefully people are doing what you’re saying is really rethinking this that said, college degree required college degree required. Now, if I’m a big company, and I have the old ATS scanner, that says, if Damon doesn’t have a college degree he gets kicked out. Damon might be the most well qualified for that.

And your physician may not need that. Yeah, but I’m getting kicked out because I don’t have that college degree. And in a job situation like today. They might have been, you know, one of a handful of candidates. Yeah, and probably better, better candidate today than any other time and in some cases, and that’s really cool.


Jeff Custer  21:32

Yes, it kind of gets us a little off track of the leadership topic. But I still think for organizations looking trying to attract employees, that’s a thing. I think they really have to look at that, you know, is, are you making the barriers to entry so high, that you’re excluding great candidates?


Damon Pistulka  21:48

Yes, yes. And then two, we talk about diversity and inclusion in and I mean, I hope that the, the employee shortage helps us to accelerate that as well, too, because we got to figure out, we there’s, there’s industries where if we don’t get, if we don’t hire, every person that wants to come to them, like construction is one of them, right?

If we don’t hire every person that wants to be in construction in construction, because they want to be in they’re gonna work hard and be there, irregardless of what the heck, they look like, how they speak, whatever the heck it is, we’re gonna have enough people. That’s right. Yeah. And we’re gonna have better companies because of


Jeff Custer  22:33

Like, so I was talking with a couple guys this morning about that. And you I mean, certainly, there are some tasks you can automate. But, you know, I mean, if you need somebody out there swinging a hammer, building the house, there’s only so much of it, you can automate, you still have to have people to do stuff.

And it’s gonna be, I think, pretty competitive. For a long time for workers, like one of the I’m on the, I participate in a Workforce Board in southeast Minnesota, we work and help doing job training and things like that we were talking with a State Demographer a couple years ago, in our region, where you look at population, like the job growth expected, there was going to be about 40,000 new jobs created or over 20 years, and the net population growth was predicted to be 10.

Oh, my. And, you know, you’re gonna have to be a great mathematician to figure out that’s not going to work. So it’s imperative, you know, that that regents, when they look at their economies, that they retain people, we got to get people to stay here. And we got to figure out how to get somebody else to come here. Otherwise, those jobs are not going to there. They’ll never get filled.


Damon Pistulka  23:50

Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s, that’s awesome. And, you know, I think it’s interesting. And we talked about diversity and inclusion and other things. I was talking to a gentleman that was an owner of a large construction company in the southeast this morning, and they’re building a new corporate office, while their new corporate offices are going to have a gym, it’s gonna have a daycare, and it’s gonna have a cafeteria.

So it’s not just tech companies anymore, that are doing these kinds of things. I mean, this is a he said it’s available for all employees. And the other thing is, he says, he said, they just got back from a vacation where they took the entire company on a three day vacation paid vacation for all the employees. Yeah,


Jeff Custer  24:33

I mean, that sounds like a great culture. So one of the things I’ve written about that some here over the last few months is and argued with a few people about this is I, if here’s an organization has toxic leadership, they can put it all the taco bars and gyms they want. It’s not going to work. So it was fun to hear you talk about an organization that sounds like They’ve got some really good leadership in place with a great culture. If you’ve got a bad culture with bad leadership, letting people ride their bike down the hallway isn’t gonna do it for you.


Damon Pistulka  25:12

Yep. And I’ll tell you a great example. My daughter, her first grad school out of college, she thought it was great because this company, they went kayaking, and they did all this stuff. And they had, you know, beer on Friday, and you know, just all that stuff. And you go, she was in there about six months, and it was a horrible place to work. Yeah.

And it was funny because she moved into an engineering firm after that, and they were a little more as engineers, they’re, we’re here to get things done. We’re gonna have fun when we have fun. And they treated the employees really well. She was there for three years. She loved it. Absolutely loved it. And it’s, it’s you’re right. All the all the free tacos in the world. Don’t make up for that toxic leadership.


Jeff Custer  25:58

Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think I’ve summed it up, I wrote before your HR gimmicks aren’t going to overcome bad leadership.


Damon Pistulka  26:05

There you go. HR gimmicks are not going to overcome bad leadership. Well, this is cool. I mean, I know we need we talked about hiring people a bit. But what I want to get into now, and Finn, Finn here has a question, he said, a great discussion about the autocratic style, do you think the pendulum will swing back? Or do you think this is permanent?


Jeff Custer  26:35

That’s, that’s a good question. That’s my initial reaction is, I have a hard time seeing it swing back. Yes, you’re inside even this gets maybe a little abstract. But if you look at global population growth, and you look at a lot of Western economies, and what the global population is doing, this worker shortage isn’t unique to the United States.

Yeah. You know, Japan’s ahead of us on this Europe’s kind of maybe a little bit ahead of us. If world population growth continues slowing, and you want economies to keep growing, without some kind of way to fill that gap, I don’t know. So it’s kind of a little abstract way to answer the question, maybe, but I think it’s hard. It’s gonna be hard for autocrats to come back when you have employees in the driver’s seat.


Damon Pistulka  27:34

I think that’s true. I think that’s true. And I think also, honestly, I think good leaders run higher performing companies. Yeah. And that is because you can’t beat the you can’t beat the power of a lot of mines working together, compared to a few mines trying to control


Jeff Custer  27:56

exactly, you know, just the you know, I think you would talk about that it’s kind of to me, it’s like the your one plus one plus one equals four. Yes. I mean, I think that’s how I look at that is that you’re that autocratic leaders trying to make all the decisions. And like I said, there are times and places for it, but day to day and most organizations, you’re be better off to try to tap into the creativeness and the ideas of all the people in your organization.


Damon Pistulka  28:29

Yeah, yep, it helps. I mean, heck, even in the companies that I used to run, we would do design reviews on products that would have the accounting, have someone from accounting come out and look at it. And people in beginning thought, why would you do that? Why would you do that? And it’s always they will come up with good ideas. They’re gonna Why? Why do we do why? Why are you building that like that? Couldn’t you just you know, and you Oh, yep, we could.


Jeff Custer  28:57

You I think, when you tell me that, I think one of one of the risks we run into we’re in that situation is we kind of fall in love with our own thing, ideas and our things. Yes, yes. And it’s good to have somebody that’s not in love with them to come in and say, What did you think about doing this different? Because I think we you know, we’re pretty good at talking ourselves into things.


Damon Pistulka  29:19

Mm hmm. That’s a great point. That’s a great point. So you, you really liked developing aspiring leaders. I want to take a few minutes here as we’re talking about this. First of all, let’s talk about some of briefly talk about some of the toxic characteristics you see in bad leadership situations.


Jeff Custer  29:46

Yeah, I really boil it down. He’s kind of the I love digging into root causes. And what is the root cause? I think to me, there’s three things really that are root causes till almost every toxic behavior, pride, selfishness, and fear. I think pretty much every toxic behavior, you could dig back in that one of those would be the root cause.


Damon Pistulka  30:14

That’s cool.


Jeff Custer  30:15

People want it right? People want it to be about them that pride. I want to be right. You know, that kind of ties into that autocratic style is I want to be right. So I’m going to, I’m going to tell you what to do.

Because I know I’m right. You know, selfish, I’m going to do what’s in my best interest all the time, instead of me what’s in the group’s best interest, or even I think, the greatest leaders and say, I’m going to do what’s not in my best interest, but as in yours, excuse me, like those are the best leaders. And I think the third one, I’d say is fear I think you run into, yeah, like, I think a lot of toxic behaviors come out of fear leaders, toxic leaders are scared that people are going to know more than them. And that’s a threat, they may perceive that as a threat.

They don’t want superstars working on their team, because they perceive that as a threat. You know, I talked about my dream team a little earlier, a lot of toxic leaders would be really scared of having a dream team because they were all better than me. Yep. And if you’re if you have those bad, toxic behaviors, you don’t want a team like that, because you’re feeling like your jobs at risk wise organization need me if they got all these other people. Ultimately, it’s a bad choice. But those are the things I think, Damon that when I look at toxicity, it’s those three things.


Damon Pistulka  31:43

Yes. Yes. And I think this is a great segue. Because the transition that somebody has to make, and I want to I want to hit a few comments up first, because yeah, Steve said, Steve’s, it’s great when you’re talking about legacy. And, and, and that, and that’s, that’s cool. Thanks, Steve, for the comment there. Yeah. And Thea talked about diverse point of view as important, which I really think, and then Steve talks about this, because he came from an educational background. You’ve seen it in education. So that’s good. Yeah.


Jeff Custer  32:18

Yeah. But yeah, those three things yo, Damon, it’s not unique to business. You know, that’s one of the things I’ve I’ve tried to discipline myself in, when I write and talk as I like to talk about organizations rather than businesses. Because these concepts aren’t limited to business. They’re true of organizations, regardless of what kind of organization they are.


Damon Pistulka  32:43

Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. And, yeah, because it just doesn’t really matter. That could be a nonprofit, could be a church could be a school. Yes, it’d be whatever. It’s all it all happens in organizations when people are together. Yes. Yeah. So the thing that you were talked about, in the end, at the end there, I think it really hits to the aspiring or the new leader, because those new leaders are typically people that were pretty good at what they were doing before.

Now they’re going to be moving into this leadership role. And you said, you said something about in the end about fear and not in everybody else being better than them or them not being the best. And I remember what, but I’ve got to imagine that that’s one of the things that you have to help these aspiring leaders understand that they don’t have to be the smartest person in the room anymore. Yeah, I


Jeff Custer  33:35

think that yeah, that’s definitely an interesting thing that I learned. Early in my career. I was also in the construction world. But I didn’t come from I’ve got a finance background. And so you saw one fun story I like to tell the first day I was a construction manager. So managing all these construction crews. The first day I show up the first employee, the first thing anybody says to me in my new job, just what we need a pencil pusher. And it was like, Oh, wow, thanks for that word, welcome. Because they knew I didn’t know. And so one of the things I didn’t try to pretend to know, things I didn’t know. I asked a lot of questions.

And, and, and one of the, I think, most gratifying things for me, I was in that role for about two and a half years and I left at a different employee set tip say to me, you’re the best boss we ever had. Nice, and it wasn’t because I was a great construction worker, that they didn’t need a great construction worker leading they needed somebody that could lead them. And I think that’s one of the things you know, new and aspiring leaders need to need to you know, they the use of they might feel like they got to know everything.

You can’t know everything you’ll never know everything. Don’t try to know Everything, ask good questions and listen. And I think you’re gonna be doing very well without knowing all the technical details of everything that you do. You I think the other things that I think about with new leaders that they really can struggle with, you said this. They were stars, you know, when they were individual contributors, they were the star. And the things that made them a star when they move into leadership won’t work for him anymore. The skills that they need, how they use their time, the kind of things that are important to them are all different.

So if they try to rely on those things that worked for him before they’re going to fail. And one of the ones, every time I work with a new leader, we end up having this conversation, as new leaders will always give you feedback that they feel like they’re not working. Yeah. And I say like this, I mentioned, that young lady I talked to, and this is how I explained it to her, I said, you know, when you’re an individual contributor, you come into work, you have this pile of stuff on the left side of your desk, your work all day.

And then at the end of the day, it’s all on the right side is done, you go. And you’ve got this sense of accomplishment of completion of doing something. And I said, when you’re in a leader role, there’s not going to be a pile on your desk. And if there is, you’re gonna have to think up what it is. And a lot of days, you’re going to feel like you’re not doing anything. And you’re going to struggle, because you’re going to feel like I’m not working.

But work is different. The work you’re doing now is you’re mentoring other people, you’re deciding what the work should be, you’re listening, you’re giving feedback, but for a new leader, it doesn’t feel like work. And if they don’t grasp those concepts, I think they’re just really going to struggle. And one example I have of this, I had a supervisor working for me a long time ago, he led a small team and, and we had one of the ladies on his team went out on maternity leave.

And I kept telling us to you, oh, you’re gonna have to reshuffle the work amongst your team till she’s back from maternity leave. He didn’t do that his solution was he came in on Saturday and Sunday and did the work himself. And I kept telling him, that’s not your role, you have to work at the right level. And that’s not the leader level, you need to figure this out a different way. And he couldn’t do it. And he actually ended up going back to being an individual contributor, great employee, a great guy, but he could not make I always talked about this, he couldn’t make that leap into leadership. He just do it.


Damon Pistulka  37:46

Well, and you know, that’s, let’s, let’s bring that up briefly. Because there’s some people that just it hey, it’s not their bag, it’s not their thing. It’s not the thing. And you should be happy about that. Because there’s, there are people that choose that technical track to get really good at what you’re doing.

And boom, it’s a wonderful career. And, and I think a lot of times, people are really good technically, and they get promoted into leadership, even if that’s not where they really shadow or think. But they think that’s what I have to do. I’m, I’m the greatest machinist in the building now or in the company. And so I must be the leader now. And that’s, if you really want to be the best machinist not only in the building, but in the world. Maybe that’s where you just need to be working on being a better machinist.


Jeff Custer  38:30

Yeah, exactly. You know, and it’s, it’s, um, you know, when I have career aspirations, discussions with people, you know, that sometimes people say, I’m just happy being that machinist. Yep. And, you know, so then, you know, my, my advice to them is great. We need great machines here at organism that my challenge to you is to be the very best one you can be. Because you, you’re for the leader role.


Damon Pistulka  39:05

Yeah, those technical roles are really hitting. Yeah, last year, for a second, last year for a second there. But you’re gone through that and that you said, Be the best machine as you can be. And give us what you said after that, because I know it was good.


Jeff Custer  39:20

Yeah, be the, you know, be the best machinist you can be because, you know, not everybody wants to or is cut out for leadership. It’s just, it’s just another great question. I like asking everybody I like asked myself this question, probably more than anything else.

What do you really want? And I asked myself that question all the time. I think it’s a good question for people to ask is do they really want that leadership role? And if they do, they should call me and I’d love to help him transition to that. But it’s not going to be for everybody. And, but there are some things we can do to help them that do choose to go that path to be really successful.


Damon Pistulka  40:04

Yeah. Well, I think when you look at the other side of this now, right to where people that want to be leaders, and I remember back to when I went to school for engineering, and I was an engineer, and you know, so I was real technical, and I liked building things and, and doing I could do that.

But when I figured out that I was, I was okay, engineer was much better. And I will say this myself, and there’s a lot of people, I’ll probably disagree, but I’m a much better leader. Yeah. And, and it’s because I realized that, for me, personally, those interactions with people, and helping them grow, and helping see them get better. And really, when I found out that my job as a leader was to ask the really smart people, what the questions are, help them get what they needed to get them to do the really great things.

That was a lot of fun for me. Yeah. I mean, because once like you said, you had your dream team. When you have a dream team, your job as a leader is how the heck do I challenge these people? I’m not the smartest one in the room. But what is the biggest hairiest goal that we can tackle that I know they can that they don’t think they don’t even realize we can? And we’re going to go out and do it and then do it. Yeah, I mean, and give them the tools. And that’s just so much fun.


Jeff Custer  41:28

And one of the things I found in that particular position, it freed me up to really focus on the next crop of leaders. Because the day to day stuff, I didn’t have to worry about it. Because I had the dream team that was taken care of and knocking it out of the park and the day to day stuff. We were able to start some leadership development programs that normally it’s hard to find time to do those things. Yeah, we found time and built a pretty neat program to build into that. So we were ready for the next group to be on the Dream Team.


Damon Pistulka  42:01

Yeah, yeah, that’s awesome. So when, let’s get back to the aspiring leaders, I’m just got put into my into my new leadership position your we talked about them not having to be the smartest in the room having to communicate work through others. So what are a few things that they should be thinking about? As we wind up here today, and you can give them a few things to be thinking about?


Jeff Custer  42:25

Your we talked about kind of that definition of work, so they need to they need to really cement in their head that list of new skills that they need to work on? You know, and it’s feedback, you know, that two way feedback, giving and receiving feedback, they need to be good at that. They need to practice being good at asking questions. Kind of just Damon basic stuff like, can you? Can you ask good open ended question versus closed-ended questions. Just simple thing like that, that you can practice? It sounds so simple, and yet, Oh, no. It’s something people need to practice.


Damon Pistulka  43:11

Yeah. The best question I ever used. Whenever I lead people with, what do you think? Yeah.


Jeff Custer  43:18

What do you Yes?


Damon Pistulka  43:20

Just what do you think? Because when you’re put in that leadership position, everybody looks the even the first time leaders they’re ever going to look at you for to make a decision. And if you turn around and you go, Well, Jeff, what do you think, yet? If it’s a good idea, and you just say, well, that’s a great idea, Jeff, let’s do that.


Jeff Custer  43:39

Yeah. And the other ones I like, they’re probably, they’re really questions, but it’s like, you’ll tell me more. Or tell me about that. And just a simple phrase like that. So I think those are those are things that new leaders can practice. You know, just you think about giving employees feedback.

You know, one of the things that, that I probably made mistake on as a new leader is, you don’t really give a lot of positive feedback. But then you get into those situations where something happens, and you don’t have a choice and you have to give negative feedback. And you as a leader to aren’t very comfortable with it, and it’s not comfortable for the employee.

My experience has been a lot of times those things go bad really fast on you. If you are in the habit of I like this thumb rule, five positive feedbacks to every one negative. That’s just my thumb rule, act use. But that’s another thing new leaders can practice is how do you practice giving good feedback so your employees are used to getting feedback from you? And then once in a while when you have to give him some feedback for something you need to improve on or there’s a problem. It’s not like the first time he ever came talk to us.


Damon Pistulka  44:57

Yeah. So I think there’s Yeah,


Jeff Custer  44:59

again I think you saw a lot of this, I just didn’t even think about this. I mean, you get the new title, you get promoted. Now you get the new fancy name on your door. You don’t just automatically have all these skills. No, I think they’re things that you just have to work in practice. And I think all of us, no matter how long you’ve been in leadership, you just have to continue practicing these things. But make a point of practicing to try to get better at them. And you’re going to be pretty effective as a leader.


Damon Pistulka  45:31

Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. Jeff, it’s been awesome talking to you about developing great leaders today. And I just thanks for spending the time and get your being able to talk because I think he shared a lot of awesome information and just appreciate you stopping by today.


Jeff Custer  45:50

Yeah, yeah. So


Damon Pistulka  45:54

in what, you know what we’ll, what we’ll do here, from here on out as well. We’ll tell people if they want to contact you, is LinkedIn a good place? Or what’s it? Where’s a great place to get a hold of you?


Jeff Custer  46:07

Yeah, look, I’m on LinkedIn, probably too much. So they can contact me at LinkedIn. If they want to take a look at our website. It’s level up courses, all one word, dot C Oh, not Colm dot c And they can get some background on our family. We’ve got some if you like goats take a look. That’d be the teaser to get people to go take a look. So they can find out more about kind of what we’re all about there and kind of the things that we have to offer.


Damon Pistulka  46:41

So awesome. So awesome. Jeff, for you to be here. And I just wanted to say one more time. We have Jeff Custer here from Level Up courses. We’re talking about developing great leaders and Jeff is on a mission to rid the world of toxic leaders. So thanks, everyone. Thanks, Steve, the chef Finn for stopping by today. Thanks to the other all the other listeners. We’ll be back again later this week with another great desk. Thanks, everyone. Thanks, Jeff.


Jeff Custer  47:11


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