Building Badass Leaders With Michelle Reines

AL 20 | Building Badass Leaders

It’s one thing to learn lessons from your own journey; it’s another to impart them to help others with theirs. Michelle Reines, author, speaker, and ever-evolving badass leader, is doing the latter. Through her book, From Bad to Badass Leader, she inspires people to become powerful leaders and impact others’ lives through her stories. She joins host Alicia Dunams to share some of them with us, taking us through the moments where she considered herself a bad leader and eventually turned it all around by being a badass at what she does. Michelle moves us across the steps of her own evolution and how she has positively impacted not only herself but also her team in the process. What is more, she then discusses the book writing process and how it made her a better leader.

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Building Badass Leaders With Michelle Reines

I’m excited to announce one of my favorite people, Michelle Reines. She is an author, a speaker, and an ever-evolving badass leader. She is the author of From Bad to Badass Leader: 12 Leadership Lessons. In this episode, we will be talking about building badass leaders and why we get to do that. Michelle, I want you to jump in. Why did you write From Bad to Badass Leader?
Thank you. It’s great to be here, Alicia. I thought about it for years. It mainly has to do with the fact that I struggled as a leader, especially in the beginning. I felt that I owed it to the team and all of the pain points, bumps and bruises along the way to be able to give back, to contribute, and share my lessons learned. It was a vulnerable write. I’m hoping that somehow, I’ve managed to inspire other leaders who may be struggling and feeling perhaps hopeless or discouraged, who was feeling, “You suck and there’s no hope for you.” The reality is that there is and the people parts are challenging. If you take time to connect, to setback, and understand yourself and others, you can become very powerful as a leader. You’ll be able to impact people’s lives in a magnificent, awesome, and badass way. I felt that I owed it to my previous teams to do some good with some of the challenges and lessons I had.
I know when you were writing this book, you were wrestling and grappling with being a “bad leader.” You’re seeing some things from your past that maybe you weren’t so proud of. Through the vulnerability of it, you’re modeling what’s possible for all leaders out there.
That’s very kind.
That’s what I’m excited about. For anything in life, there’s an evolution, as you’re saying. Let’s talk about those moments when you’re like, “I was a bad leader.”
I was a bad leader. How do I characterize that? I have a benchmark. The moment in time or what you would call the wake-up call that occurred back in the early 1990s. It was where a lot of people may or may not be familiar with the term, the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle quite simply is when you get promoted to your level of incompetence. That’s exactly what happened to me. I was young and ambitious. I was an excellent sales associate. Therefore, I was privileged to have the opportunity to earn a promotion. That promotion landed me in a situation where I was a leader. I didn’t have any leadership skills whatsoever. I had never led a team. I had worked with a team of three people for about six months and I was one of the three. I don’t know if that constitutes any type of leadership competencies.
If your team doesn't trust you, they're going to tell you what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear. Click To Tweet
I ended up suddenly in charge of this team of somewhere between 14 and 18 people. I was relocated from Atlanta to Chicago. Within the first year, it was definitely under twelve months, I blew up my team. It resulted in several associates resigning on the spot. I never saw it coming. I was colorfully described by them as what I could do with it, where I could stick it, and exactly how horrible I was as a boss. The mortifying part about it now that I have the beauty of hindsight is looking back on that, I didn’t have any clue. I lacked complete self-awareness.
I thought I was doing all the right things. I thought you’re supposed to constantly check on your people and that you can’t show weakness as a leader. I had it hard wired incorrectly and it had me drive off some valuable team players. To this day, I regret that and I owe them a debt of gratitude. Honestly, this book is for them. As I’ve said in the past, it’s a reparation for me. It’s an opportunity for me to pay it forward or clean up the mess I made. What I refer to in the book as my #BullRide was the cataclysmic event that had me step back and say, “I’m the problem. I need to figure this leadership thing out if anybody’s going to ever want to get out of bed and come and play on my team. I need to figure out how to inspire and motivate them. I need to take this leadership thing seriously.”
The other part of that is we’re talking 1991-ish and there was not a whole heck of a lot of leadership books out there. Certainly, not like now where we have a tremendous amount of resources and tools at our disposal that I didn’t have back then. It was still very top-down. I was young. I was 25 going on 26 or had turned 26. I was a female in a Downtown Chicago guys’ market. My ego got the best of me. I went to my head. I was a bitch quite frankly and it doesn’t resonate well when it comes to people and performance.
I love how you had that, recognizing and talking about the reparation because that’s what we do. When we made harm in the past, we get to fix that. A part of being a leader is being vulnerable and being able to say, “This is what I did. I am taking full responsibility in cleaning it up and moving forward.” I love how this book almost says, it’s a reckoning piece for the Michelle of the past and that you went through this evolution. What I would love for you to share with our readers is, what takes you from being a bad boss to being a leader? What are some of the steps? Self-awareness was something you’ve spoken to.
It is huge. In the book, lesson two is called, “Stop. Drop. Take a Selfie!” The idea there is quite simple. It’s all about your mirror. This is my story and this is my formula for success and what ultimately worked for me, which again was a long-term evolution, but I didn’t have a recipe or a roadmap. I had to go through trial and error. The first step is being honest and understanding yourself, no BS. That involves engaging with people that you trust that will give you absolutely sugar-free feedback and tell you what’s working and what’s not working. It’s asking those questions often within that trusted advisory relationships that you are encouraged to cultivate, asking your team for feedback, being willing to be vulnerable, which can be quite uncomfortable, but it’s important and taking an honest self-assessment.
Since I said the word assessment, there are tons of tools that help you do that now that weren’t at my disposal back then. There’s no reason or excuse why any leader out there shouldn’t take some type of assessment, learn about themselves, understanding how they communicate, what their behavioral tendencies are, and in particular, how they show up as a leader with teams. Feedback is your friend and ask for it often.
Our people are our results. Click To Tweet
What are some of the assessment tools? What are some that you recommend leaders take?
There are many, but I do have my favorites. One of the reasons why my traditional corporate brand MDR Coaching and Consulting Inc. has invested in becoming a partner with Wiley is because we are huge fans of the Everything DiSC product line. The reason for that is because it’s easy to understand and immediately implement. At the end of the day, you can take all the sexy, amazing assessments and tools that are out there. If comprehension is a challenge because it’s scientific or mathematical and there are many layers to it and it feels like you’re reading a book, the possibility of executing and sustaining that learning starts to diminish.
The reason why I’m a huge fan of Everything DiSC is because you can translate it immediately. That very day, that very afternoon, you can practice it. It’s easy to remember. If you can remember it, then the likelihood of using it and leveraging it to help understand yourself and help communicate with others, helps you handle that lesson two on, “Stop. Drop. Take a Selfie!” It accelerates your outcomes and makes it easier to take that feedback.
What are some other steps from going from boss to a badass leader?
After you’ve examined your selfie and we understand what’s working, what’s not working and what needs to be different, then it’s all about, how can we start to establish trust? Setting that foundation of trust with your team is vitally important. If they don’t trust you, they’re going to tell you what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear. You’re not going to understand what their gaps are or where their opportunities are in learning and development in coaching, their preferred style of receiving feedback, recognition, or any type of redirection. You have to establish trust in leaders. Unfortunately, we struggle with this and they don’t take enough time to invest in trust. They get frustrated because there are people who are resisting. A lot of leaders, speaking of myself, I made these mistakes where I felt like they should trust me because I’m the boss. It’s an arrogance that I had.
When they don’t trust, they don’t tell you and you don’t trust them. There’s this tension. They’re struggling and they’re underperforming because they fear you. They’re not telling you where they need support. For me, I started taking corrective action. I’ve got one writeup for them, then two writeups. In some cases, I ended up terminating employees. At the end of the day, as I say in the book, our people are our results. That’s our scorecard on how we’re doing. If I’m terminating somebody, there are a lot of different reasons. Sometimes we have a bad hire, but for the most part, at least in my history, it was more on the part of me. I wasn’t doing the right things as their leader to help them become the best version of themselves, but that doesn’t excuse some bad apples. We all have them. When you start to notice that pattern, it’s time to pick up the mirror and spend some time figuring out what it is that you need to do differently as a leader.

AL 20 | Building Badass Leaders
From Bad to Badass Leader: 12 Leadership Lessons

I know that you specialize in the corporate world. I want to take this out the 30,000-foot view, global look at the world. Who are some examples of badass leaders other than yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts.
I like to start by referencing people that I’ve worked with that were my inspiration. I have mentioned them in the book. I used hashtags. One of them is Max Factor. He is an amazing badass leader. He’s smart and also a man of great heart. He’s going to put you to task with respect to meeting goals and objectives, but you know that you’re cared about. You can trust that you can share the good, the bad, and the ugly. He is curious, hungry, ready, willing, and able to learn and to support. He also is going to make sure that you follow through with your commitments and are held accountable. Hopefully, you hold yourself accountable. That’s the bigger goal.
We have Professor MG, Troy Montgomery. She was a vice president with me and she is like Oprah Winfrey. Everyone can relate to Oprah. She was very warm, welcoming and committed to your development, to having you win and giving you feedback. She was an absolute groupie for her team and her people. She’s the inspiration for lesson ten in my book, which is be a groupie for your people and that’s critically important. As far as public image leaders, Oprah Winfrey is a fantastic leader and a great communicator. It’s important for us as leaders to know how to communicate. Those are a couple of my favorites.
I have one more favorite that I’ll share with you. His name is Kevin Baldrige. I mentioned in the book that I had what was called a superfecta. That’s where you have all the stars aligned when it comes to leadership. This was later in my career with an amazing company here in Southern California and Max Factor was the big boss. We had who I refer to the book as KB King of Hearts because I love hashtags and that’s Kevin Baldridge, and then reporting to Kevin was Troy Montgomery, Professor MG.
When you have the stars aligned for you as a leader and you have someone who is your number one groupie that’s invested in your success, passionate about giving you feedback, that’s good, better, ugly. It’s not all sunshine. You need to be able to trust that your leaders are going to tell you what’s working and not working, but it’s truly vested and committed to your success, which then translates to their success, which then translates organizational success, it’s amazing. I skipped out of bed in the morning. I look forward to going to work. I didn’t dread Mondays when I worked with them. There were challenges when I was there, but when you have the right leaders in place, you can overcome those challenges and you work through those challenges together as a team.
Let’s talk about the book writing process. You started this process with a Bestseller in a Weekend, writing your book. How did the process of book writing make you a better leader?
Everybody loves to be recognized and know that they matter. Click To Tweet
I love the process. I’ve had this on my radar, probably like many of your readers, for a long time like, “I need to write this book.” I was watching you on social media and getting your amazing emails, inspirational notes, and letters. One day I said, “I need to pick a date.” I went to your website and picked a date. It was January of 2019 and I said, “I’m going to prepay. I’m going to book my hotel, and I’m going to do it.” My personality type is that I need to have that out there. I need to be committed to it and then go. The book writing process was fantastic. I learned a lot about myself through the process of writing the book because I was revealing so much. To me, the book is mainly bumps and bruises, not so much of the thrills of victory. Although there are a few minor moments of victory, then in of itself makes me a better leader, a better coach, and consultant for my clients because I have many years of a career that I can look back on as an operator.
I am someone who was groomed from the bottom up through the organization. I started out as a salesperson and made it all the way up into a role as a vice president. I then worked in and continue to evolve with large teams and in very dynamic and high demanding settings. To write all of that through the book writing process, it does instill a greater peace, confidence, self-assurance, and knowing that I have walked this journey. I get to share it and I get to continue to pay it forward and help invest and build other badass leaders. As a matter of fact, the title of the book being a badass leader, it’s called From Bad to Badass, but it’s about me being bad and striving to become badass. The inspiration I hope in the book is to build badass leaders because at the end of the day, it goes back to lesson two, “Stop. Drop. Take a Selfie!” It starts there.
You can’t build or ever get to the day where you’re going to have a badass team if you’re not a badass leader. It doesn’t equate. My passion is helping badass leaders help themselves so that they can ultimately build that badass team, which then builds badass customer experiences, badass revenues, badass organizations and communities. It translates from the top down when we get it right as leaders. That process helped me feel grounded in my mission.
I love how you share that because you shared the ripple effect by stopping, dropping, and taking a selfie. We’re taking a good look at ourselves and maybe that’s how you change the world is first changing yourself. You’re a great model of that and that’s what you’re sharing with your clients. Thank you for sharing about your book writing process. I know it also included Bestseller in a Weekend and also going to Hawaii and locking yourself in a condo. I know people do that in a hotel room or a condo to get it done. You wrote the book on your own. You start off on Bestseller in a Weekend and you finished it up. You were even doing the audiobook and creating this whole brand in terms of a badass leader. I know that you have twelve lessons in terms of living to lead. I want you to share with our readers, what are some of your favorites? We talked about, “Stop. Drop. Take a Selfie!” What are some other ones?
I like, “Suck It Up, Buttercup!” It’s perfect for what’s going on right now with COVID-19. All of us, in some capacity or another, it’s either we are having to suck it up because maybe our business is going crazy. It’s scaling quickly that we are drinking from the fire hose because we are in a position or in an industry that is high demand or high support for a need right now with COVID-19. We have to suck it up and figure out how to navigate ourselves first. It goes back to your selfie, and then how do we navigate our teams? How do we navigate our organizations? How do we navigate our clients, meet their needs in a huge way, and not be caught up in the vortex or become a victim to being overwhelmed? As leaders, we need to remain calm in the eye of the storm.
The same holds true when it comes to non-crisis items. There’s no way that we’re going to be able to get our teams to help support us in our objectives for being a victim to a circumstance. One of the examples I shared in the book was I was managing a massive new construction development where we were filling up residences in the process of what would they call lease-up and the 2008 real estate collapse occurred. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. I had my moments where I went home and cried my pillow and said, “This sucks.” When I go into the office and I’m around my team, and face-to-face with our clients, it’s critically important that I hold my head up high, that I care about my people and that I rally them. We look for the diamonds in the rough and figure out how do we solve this? How can you rally your team to say, “We can do this?” How can we still deliver our brand promise? How can we still take care of our customers who are losing jobs, turning in keys, and losing family members due to suicide? It was a crazy time.
Leadership is not rocket science, but it is people science. It's all about building connections and rapport. Click To Tweet
There’s a lot of parallels between then and what’s happening with COVID-19. I’m spending time now in the, “Suck It Up, Buttercup!” mode and then pivoting my business. I’m moving from an in-person delivery as a coach and consultant to pivoting to be virtual and developing online content. I could sit back, bitch, moan and whine about the circumstances or I can move to putting a plan together, prioritizing that plan, deciding what I’m going to do first, what it’s going to impact, having actions that I can take and suck it up and focus on the end game. That is a very empowered state. It’s something that I am excited about. I like the nervousness, butterflies, and anxiety that it gives me. I reframe it. Instead of saying, “This is bad and I’m worried,” I say, “This is invigorating and it’s an opportunity.” It’s that self-talk that’s critically important for us as leaders to keep it in a healthy way so that it serves us personally because then we can serve others.
That’s beautifully said, coming from a place of empowerment and creation. Where do we go from here versus being a balled up little piece of stress in the corner, in the fetal position?
They’re both contagious. Choose the one that serves you and serves your people.
Even now, making a conscious decision of I get to not look at the news and social media and I get to focus on how can I serve people. If it brings me down, what kind of impact am I going to create in the world? Even monitoring what we’re feeding ourselves is such an important concept as well as leaders. Is there anything else you want to share, a hot tip from your book to help our readers?
A hot tip would be to be a groupie for your people. I was very delinquent in figuring that out. I had a lot of things wired incorrectly for a very long time. These twelve lessons happened over time so I continued to evolve and hopefully, to do better this year than I did last year, this month than I did last month. One of the things that I sucked at in the beginning that created a lot of unnecessary collateral damage was I had it in my head that if I was giving praise, praising progress, attaboys, giving authentic and regular timely feedback to my teams that they would take advantage of that or they get lazy and take their foot off the gas pedal. That would be a sign of weakness or they might try and get away with something.
Low trust behaviors and insecure leader behaviors are not something that will serve your team. It’s the contrary. Giving both types of feedback, but being a groupie for your people and recognizing those wins, that incremental progress that they’re making is an absolute kick-ass accelerator to outcomes. Everybody loves to be recognized and loves to know that they matter. I’m not talking hugging it out in a touchy-feely kind of way. It can be high fives. It needs to be specific, consistent, and authentic. What does that require from us as leaders? We need to pay attention. We need to look not just what I was doing, which is in lesson one which is called, “Don’t Be an Ass!” when I was being an ass.

AL 20 | Building Badass Leaders
Building Badass Leaders: If you take time to connect and really understand yourself and others, you can become very powerful as a leader and be able to impact people’s lives in a magnificent, awesome, and bad-ass way.

I was looking for the needle in the haystack, the one little thing that wasn’t right. I pointed that out because that made me look smart. I caught it. I was all very self-serving, approval-seeking, and egotistical in an unhealthy way. It was terrible. It was not fun working on my team in those days. I look back on that now and it makes me cringe. I said, “I don’t know how I could do that, but I did.” It comes from a place of being an insecure leader, an unsure leader, and a leader that fosters and erode trust. Erode trust doesn’t foster trust. Being a groupie is important in having the confidence to be able to be specific about it, pay attention and give that recognition. It’s an absolute maximizer. As I’ve said in the past, leadership is not rocket science, but it is people science. It’s all about building connections and rapport. It goes back to starting with yourself.
Thank you, Michelle. I want to acknowledge you for taking the journey inward to take a look at yourself from a perspective of, “How can I look at how I lead, analyze it, be vulnerable, share with others so I can inspire others and people can learn from my mishaps, and go from being bad to a badass leader?” That takes vulnerability, courage, and excitement. It takes many things. From this experience of working with you on your book, I have always seen you as someone who sucks it up, makes it happen, and get things done. I know that you impact the world through your leadership and leading teams.
I care a lot about teams so I appreciate that. The leader in me honors the leader in you. I do want to add one last thing. It’s important to share that this book isn’t for everybody. This brand isn’t for everyone. I was very intentional about that. First off, it’s important that I’m authentic as a leader. This is me on the weekends. This is also how I lead with my teams. I don’t come in with a Harley shirt on. I love Harley-Davidson. I love all motorcycles, but it’s authentic, real and raw. It has a lot of heart. I wrote this book and designed this brand for leaders like me back when I was struggling with what I call on the bull ride.
I felt like those books that were out there and there were a few that I picked up and used. Even now, when I traveled throughout the country and I work with leaders and teams throughout the US, I find that there are many leaders who share with me like, “I read the book, but it didn’t feel like me.” A lot of the tools and resources that are in the marketplace, at least the ones that I’m familiar with, for a lot of my customers who have shared with me seem to say that it’s not for them. It doesn’t feel relatable. I crafted this book and this brand to be approachable, edgy and fun. I want people to be inspired and to get excited about leading and feel like, “This brand is for me. I get this and I can do this. She screwed it up. I’ve made a few mistakes so I’m going to be okay too.”
They’ll come to this brand and they’ll find a way to have their imagination, their enthusiasm, their possibilities be ignited because they now say, “I hashtag. I’m going to live to lead. I can be a badass leader. I’m going to be a groupie. I’m going to wear the t-shirt. I’m going to learn how to lead. I’m going to understand myself and be the mechanic of their own leadership journey.” That’s my invitation for readers. If you’re in a position and the people parts that’s keeping you up at night, come visit our brand. Hopefully, we can offer you some tools and resources that can help get you on your way and cruising to being a badass leader versus cruising for a bruising.
Where can people find more about you, Michelle?
Please visit our website at and check us out on Amazon, From Bad to Badass Leader: 12 Leadership Lessons. I appreciate the opportunity to share and more importantly, Alicia, I want to say that this journey and going to Bestseller in the Weekend was the best decision I ever made. The whole book writing process was a thrill. Once I figured out the way I write, which is interesting for those of you who are reading that are new authors, trust your instincts. When I started writing the book, I had a different name that I was encouraged to use other than Badass Leader or From Bad to Badass. When I put the votes out there, I got a lot of feedback that said, “Don’t do it. You should write something else like, How To Be An Extraordinary or a Great Leader?”
That’s great, but that’s not me. That’s not what gets my juices flowing in. It’s important that whatever you’re writing, that it aligns with who you are, your true identity because then I suddenly hit the flow. It came out of me and then it was fun. I said, “I’m going to do me and I’m going to share.” Hopefully, if there’s one person out there that’s excited about the book and I can impact the way they lead themselves and others, then that’s a win for me. I’m not doing this to get rich quick. I’m doing this to make an impact and more in an altruistic way of trying to make a difference. Thanks for the opportunity. It’s been a great journey. I love talking and working with you. A lot of kudos for the work that you helped me do and to produce.
I received that from one authentic leader to the next. It’s all about authenticity. It comes out and oozes from the pages from you that you are an authentic leader. That’s the only way it can be done. Otherwise, it always feels like we’re walking in someone else’s shoes and that’s no fun. Michelle, thank you so much for being on the show.
It is my pleasure. Thanks again, Alicia. Take care, everyone.

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About Michelle Reines

AL 20 | Building Badass Leaders

Michelle is an author, speaker, facilitator, coach, and founder of MDR Coaching & Consulting, Inc.
She is also the creator of the unconventional leadership brand Badass Leader. Michelle has a coveted reputation of exceeding expectations in a highly competitive, distressed or volatile business climate. Her strengths encompass extensive people aptitudes in leading and developing large, diverse teams.
She possesses over 34 years of intense hands-on leadership, mentorship, organizational and operational expertise. She has an impressive resume of start-ups and turnaround successes and a flair for building cohesive high-performance teams. Michelle is passionate about building Badass Leaders.

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