The founder of Rooftop Leadership, Scott Mann talks about leading through human connection. Learn why true leadership starts with the clarity within you.
Human connection is important when running a business. This connection only happens when there is a true leader. In order to be a leader, you need to find clarity within yourself first, and no one will follow someone who is unsure of themselves. Learn how to achieve strategic results through human connection with your host Meny Hoffman and his guest, Scott Mann. Scott is the founder of Rooftop Leadership, and he believes that leadership starts with you. Learn how to find clarity, empathy, and trust so that you can lead your business to success.
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How To Achieve Strategic Results Through Human Connection―With Scott Mann
Our guest is Scott Mann. He spent 23 years in the United States Army, eighteen of that as a Green Beret. He specialized in unconventional high-impact missions where he forged bonds and solved problems using values and leadership skills that empowered people to have a strong voice. Since retiring, Scott has made it his mission to teach those same skills in communities and businesses, where trusted leadership is more valuable than ever. His goal is to empower leaders to restore trust and create human connections when it seems impossible. You’ll definitely want to share this episode with your family and friends.
We discussed Scott’s past as a soldier in the military to his current role in private sector business growth. He has incredible insight into how to overcome challenges, grow your team, lead with empathy, and still have accountability. We also discussed the three things that make a high-performance culture and so much more. Without further ado, here is my interview.
Scott, thank you so much for joining me on the show.
Thanks for letting me be here. It’s truly an honor.
It’s my pleasure. Every guest that came from a direct recommendation of somebody that’s reading this show has always been great on the show. You came very highly recommended by people that are reading the show on a weekly basis. I figured I’m going to reach out and do my best to try to get you, so thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you for that.
Let’s give a little bit of context. I know you were in the United States Army. You were over twenty years there. That’s where you started and learned. We have so much to learn from the leadership in that space. Tell us a little bit about your past history and what you do.
I spent about 23 years in the Army as a soldier, but I spent about eighteen of that in Special Forces or otherwise known as the Green Berets. That was why I joined the Army. I joined the Army, which is a massive organization, to become part of a 6,500-person organization. That’s extremely small. When I was fourteen years old, I met a Green Beret in a soda shop in the little town that I grew up in, in Mount Ida, Arkansas. Talking to that guy and how he explained to me that out of 1.4 million people in the US Military, only 6,500 are Green Berets. The reason is because they are something like a combination of John Wick, Lawrence of Arabia, and the Verizon guy.The best leaders are the ones who can inspire people to take action. Click To Tweet
In other words, they are these relationship-based connectors who can be lethal when they need to, but normally they build relationships, they work by, with and through, and they influence people to take actions they otherwise wouldn’t take in some of the most trust depleted places on Earth. I fell in love with that. At fourteen years old, that’s what I decided to do, and that’s what I did for eighteen years, to go into low-trust places, build relationships, and mobilize people to stand up on their own.
Did that lead to Rooftop Leadership?
As with anything else with a small business, there are a million way-point in between where you started and where you are now. Rooftop Leadership came to me when I got out of the Army and I retired. I had a different idea of what my life was going to be. It was not teaching human connection, but what happened was when I got back from service in 2013, I was astounded at the levels of low trust, disconnection and uncertainty that was permeating the United States. I thought the country I would go off to defend looked a lot more like Afghanistan in many ways in how we were treating each other and how people were leading.
I thought, “What if I could bring those old-school interpersonal skills that I learned as a Green Beret and help business leaders employ that in their life and business?” It started small with me speaking from the stage and talking about things like storytelling, active listening, and how you can build relationships as capital. It has blossomed into something very cool. It’s taken about five years but what Rooftop Leadership is based on is those human connection skills I learned as a Green Beret.
One of the things that the military is well-known and people like you could attest to is the training process. They put into somebody to get them from A to B and B to C, so on and so forth until they get to the different departments and divisions within the Army. How much would you say that translates into leadership? You sometimes speak to leaders and they say, “This is who I am. It’s very hard for me to change or to train to be a better leader because I’m this quiet person, or I’m not the person that’s outspoken and giving compliments to my team.” I want to get your opinion on how much we could learn from the military. How much training could do to a person and how does that apply to a leader?
There are a lot of myths surrounding leadership in the modern business world. There’s what we see in the movies and what we see brought forward from books, and frankly from a lot of former special operators is this myth of what leadership is supposed to look like. Where you throw your hands on your hips and you say, “Follow me because I said so.” I believe that leadership has become so top-down, transactional and coercive that frankly, a lot of people who are following, they’re only doing so to save their paycheck, to keep their job or to do what they have to do to get by. In a time of COVID and pandemic and all of the other issues that are plaguing our country, a small business is going to tank it.
My belief in Rooftop Leadership is that people follow you up onto a rooftop when it’s scary, ambiguous, volatile and uncertain, and they do it out of choice. The best leaders are the ones who can inspire people to take action, whose associates and employees tell your brand story better than you do when you’re not around. All of that has to come from inspiration and how people feel about you as a leader and as a person. A lot of times, when I see people leaning into leadership, it’s about how they can influence other people. Leadership starts with you getting clear on the tracks that you’re leaving in this world, on your purpose, on what you stand for, what you don’t, who you work with and won’t, and being clear on yourself.
Gino Wickman always talks about clarity. Humans follow clarity. We don’t follow someone who isn’t clear on their purpose and where they’re going because they look like they don’t trust themselves. We’re not going to follow someone or stick our jugular out when we can’t trust that person. To me, training is important, but Professor James Clawson from Darden University says, “Leadership is the management of energy. Yours first, and then those around you.” That’s right. To lead, you first, got to train yourself, and manage your own energy, regulate your own state, get clear on what you stand for and how you connect to people, and then you can start to train other people. That’s how I see leadership. It starts with you.
Let’s speak about that leader reading this. A lot of those leaders are born by coincidence. They start a small business and they’re owner-operators, then they hire the next person, so on and so forth. All of a sudden, they turn around and they have a whole bunch of people working for them and they’re the leader. What are the practical steps you would say for a leader to gain clarity? What are the practical steps they should start doing for themselves before being able to cast that clarity for their team?
First of all, the quest for clarity and purpose never ends. Simon Sinek says in his TED Talk that people don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. That is true. The brain assigns meaning to everything we do in life. We’re the only mammals that do that. We take action off meaning. Your clients take action off your why and your employees take action off your why. You want to take the time to do this and it never stops. You ought to do this at least once a quarter. Gino calls them clarity breaks.
Go somewhere sacred and quiet, take a sheet of paper, set your timer on your phone for five minutes and answer two basic questions, “Why do you show up and do what you do in your life and your business as a leader, and where does that come from in your life?” Move the pen for five minutes. Get on your feet and go share that with your integrator and with your spouse. Share it with somebody and get that thing out into the world. Share it with your senior leadership team, with your people, because you’ll be astounded at what that does to open people’s eyes.
Not too long ago, I did this with the president of a top ten bank. He realized that he came down hard on his people. His people had a hard time connecting to him. When he got to that question of where does it come from in your life, he realized he got very emotional about it. He’s like, “My mom had mental health issues. She almost took her life. I had to talk her out of taking a razor blade off her throat when I was sixteen years old. I became a victim from that point. At some point in my life, I decided never to become a victim again and I over-indexed on how I treated my people. I was just relentless in determining my own destiny. I see now that in doing that, I’m probably a hard person to connect with.”
He shared that story at an all-hands meeting, and it changed everything for him. It changed how people saw him. My point here is that clarity like that, there’s no telling what it can open up for you, but just two basic questions. Why do you show up and do what you do as a leader every day? Where does that come from in your life? For five minutes, look at it, stare at it, share it with somebody close to you, and it will help you get that clarity.
How much of that are the people that you surround yourself with?
A lot, because who you surround yourself with does have a lot to do with performance and with how you show up. I believe that leadership always starts with me. It always starts with you. It starts with the self and the beginning of clarity because people are drawn to clarity. If you’re going to surround yourself with people who are high caliber and high performing, you got to be clear on what you’re building. Another way to look at this is what am I building? If you can’t describe what you’re building, then you’re not clear. People are not going to surround you and you can’t surround yourself with quality people if you don’t pursue that clarity. One other thing I’ll throw out, and this gets to your question about surrounding yourself with quality people. Daniel Coyle in his book, The Culture Code, which is a fantastic book for any business owner, any C-Suite executive, any senior business leader to read. If you are building a culture, you need to read The Culture Code.True leadership starts with you. Click To Tweet
Coyle says that there are three things that every high-performing culture requires at an innate human level. The first one is psychological safety. The second one is human connection, and the third is a shared future. Let’s unpack that. Psychological safety by this definition is not the fear that somebody is going to take an ax handle to your head but rather, “Can I have my voice heard in this forum and know that you’re not going to land on me with all four feet? Do I have a voice in this forum and will I be heard?” That is psychological safety in the modern business environment. The leader has to create that if you’re going to surround yourself with quality people.
Next, they have to feel like they are connected to one another at a visceral, primal level. It needs to be as solid as an A-Team or a SEAL platoon. There needs to be a connection that is deeper than words, and that’s up to leaders to help build that and hold that space. Finally, every person around you needs to look and see that they have a shared future together with whatever this is that you’re building in your business. They need to feel that 3 or 5 years from now, they have a future in that. If they don’t, the amygdala, the primal part of their brain, will not allow them to commit very deeply. The final thing I’ll say for leaders is if you want people to feel safe, connected, and that they have a shared future, you need to be able to put a vision out there that everybody can rally around in the form of a personal story that becomes the vehicle for all those things.
It’s amazing that you’re saying that because sometimes we have leaders that somehow alienate a certain person or that level of clarity to a certain person. All of a sudden, at one point, they open up to the person and the best next idea for the company could come from that individual.
The danger in that is if you don’t build that environment of psychological safety, human connection, and shared future, the thing is that person, at a primal semi-conscious level, will now become a social insurgent to what you’re trying to build. Remember that the human terrain that we all navigate is much more distracted, disengaged and distrustful than it was five years ago. If, for example, you’re coercive, your top-down, your prescriptive, micro managerial or exclusive of certain people, and that’s how you lead or even inadvertently, you push someone off to the side, they are likely going to become a social insurgent. They are going to actively oppose what it is that you’re trying to build when you’re not looking. Nowadays, we can’t afford that.
For a long time, I’ve wrestled with a question, and I think you’re the perfect person to ask, especially with the military background. The military is all about discipline. That’s how people move up the ranks and they’re good at what they do. In the business world, it is called accountability to a certain extent. You speak a lot about empathy when it comes to your people. How do you bridge the gap or what’s the fine line between holding a person accountable versus still having empathy for the person? Maybe they’re not trained well or they need me to support them.
We talk about this all the time in my T-360 Mastermind. It’s mostly business owners and they ask that question all the time. It’s like, “How can I lead with empathy or how can I demonstrate empathy when I need to hold my people to account?” Frankly, these are complimentary of each other. They should never be seen as in competition. What I’ll do to that one, I’ll give an outside industry example. When I teach at the Green Berets Schoolhouse, I tell young Green Berets, “You need to be a combination of John Wick, Lawrence of Arabia, and the Verizon guy.” Every human being needs to be able to speak softly and carry a big stick. That is the nature of life. With John Wick, there are times when we have to be coercive. We have to enforce certain standards and have to be the bad guy or at least maintain the hard ride. The reality of that is that we over-index that way. Nowadays, it’s become the only tool in your kit bag is a hammer.
Every problem you approach looks like a nail, and that doesn’t work. Coercion as a default doesn’t work. Prescription as a default doesn’t work. What I tell folks in my Mastermind is to establish what your red lines are for your organization and for your values. You have values, ethos and principles. You have your VTO if you’re an EOS. What are your red lines? These are the lines that we will not cross under any circumstances. This is what we stand for, this is who we are, and that’s what you should defend viciously as a business owner or as a C-Suite executive. It should be dispassionate. It should be the non-negotiables. Everything else is a human engagement.
People are going to do their best work for you. I saw this in combat. If it works under fire, it works in cashflow. The reality is if you can make a human connection with the people that you lead, if they see you as two things, relatable to their pain and relevant to their goals, they will not fail you. It’s when leaders are operating from a place of fear, whether it’s around, “Am I going to have enough cashflow? Am I going to make payroll?” That fear permeates into your behavior and you start to exhibit fear-based behaviors, which means you over-control, overregulate, and they underperform. That is not going to get where you want to get.
If you can be relatable to people’s pain and demonstrate that relatability, and how you navigate the day and be relevant to their goals. Give them the space that they need to do what they’ve got to do and run top cover for them. I honestly believe that’s going to get you where you want to get. Have red lines that are non-negotiables, that if you cross that red line now, we’re having a different conversation. I’m going to engage with village elders in Afghanistan. I’m going to have hard conversations. We’re going to talk about things that I don’t necessarily agree with that I might make concessions on, but the second somebody makes an attack on one of my guys and it’s in the proximity of that village, that’s a red line and we’re now having a very different conversation that is going to be more coercive.
When you speak to leaders in your Mastermind and other places, how much effort does a leader need to put into an individual until they say, “It’s over, you’re not getting it.” What’s that practical piece, if you could share something?
I’ve always been a fan of the traction GWC filter. Does the person get it? Do they want it? Are they capable of doing it? We had different tools like that in the Army in SF, but essentially, do they get what it is you want them to do? Do they want to do it in the first place? Are they capable of doing it? To me, that is a wonderful filter to use. The problem that I see, though, is if that filter is used at a transactional level where you’re standing there with your hands on your hips and you have that conversation with that person. You don’t demonstrate at a visceral level, some level of relatability and relevance to the other party. In other words, if you don’t conduct yourself with a sense of authenticity and compassion as a leader when you’re having that GWC conversation, you do more harm than good.
I believe that you can have a hard conversation, you can relieve people of their duties, you can do whatever you have to do, and still be a decent human being using the Rooftop Leadership approach to connection. In doing so, they’ll leave that engagement, even if it’s one that didn’t go their way, in your corner. We don’t want to create more insurgents. We want people to be an accelerant to what we’re building, not an antibody. How people lead themselves in these moments because they’re either afraid or they’re nervous, or they didn’t prepare, that’s where we’re losing value. We’re leaving value on the tray on the table and how we treat our people in a GWC conversation, not in the actual mechanics of it.
As with every other process, people think that processes mean that we need to lose the human interaction or that human intelligence part of it. The answer is processes need to be there to support human engagement.
It does. Shared perspective and human connection, no one will ever convince me otherwise because it kept me alive in combat and it allowed me to achieve strategic results. We could go into a place with twelve people and we can ride out a month later with 12,000. The reason is because of shared perspective and human connection. We were outnumbered 100 to 1 in most cases. We did not have authority over those folks. Yet, we were able to build relationships that were very deep, very below the waterline, and resulted in people who would look us in the eyes weeks earlier going up on rooftops and fighting alongside us.Leadership is the management of energy. Yours first, and then those around you. Click To Tweet
I’m convinced and I’ve seen it in every industry and every discipline that I train in. You can mobilize people to take action that they would otherwise never take in the most left-brain, engineer, finance sector situations by understanding human nature, understanding how humans take action, and training yourself to be better at listening, storytelling and even non-verbal skills. That’s where we’re sucking. That’s where leaders are. They’re showing up so transactional that literally before the first conjugated verb comes out of their mouth, their folks have already written them off and they have their phones out under the table.
We’re living in a world where businesses will live or die by the people. The better you set up how you work with the people you have, the better chances you have to be able to overcome it when the challenge arises.
Every business owner and every C-Suite executive is the storyteller-in-chief. The brain is a metaphorical pattern-matching organ. The way the brain works is it uses metaphor to make sense of the world and it matches patterns, “This is like that.” The best way to do that, which is proven through neuroscience studies, is a story. The most influential business leaders are going to be storytellers. I’m not talking about Bedtime for Bonzo stories. I’m talking about purposeful stories that serve as strategic vehicles of your ideas and what you’re building. I’ll tell you something else too as a tip. The more that you can ask questions of your people and of your clients that allow them to respond in a story, that’s also a very powerful senior business technique. An appreciation and command of a narrative are super important in this day and age. It is one of the most essential pieces of business acumen out there.
You bring some experience from the military years, which is important now more than ever. We saw companies pivoting during the pandemic. Before the word pivoting, we used agility to grow, expand and move pieces around versus the old way of doing business, which was this bureaucratic type of operation within companies. I know the military is a large organization, and sometimes you need to make decisions on the fly, and make changes in where you are going in or how are you tackling a challenge over there. What could you say that you learned from there that could be applicable for business owners to have more agility when it comes to growing their business?
I wrote a little book called Leading Through Chaos that I would recommend that folks get their hands on, it’s on Amazon. If you can’t do that, if you go to my website, RooftopLeadership.com, I’ve also got a free video series on how to lead through the chaos that your people could watch. I suggest they do watch before the next crisis. Does anybody think that we’re not going to hit another one? Does anyone think that another event isn’t around the corner? That’s the world we live in. That’s the first thing that I would say to anybody reading this. The second you come out of a crisis, the most important thing to do is an after-action review, what did we learn, what went right, what went wrong, and what should we do differently and make those changes right then.
Humans are inherently forgetful creatures. We will strive to forget this thing as quickly as we can. People are going to run out of the bunker and pretend like it never happened. All of a sudden, you’re back in it again. If it happens to you again and you don’t learn those lessons and you don’t crystallize those lessons, and integrate them into your operations, then shame on you. That’s the first thing I would say. Use this re-emergence coming out of the crisis to crystallize lessons learned.
The second thing I would say is I believe veterans can be the canary in the coal mine for a lot of business owners right now. That old metaphor back in the day, “They would put canaries into the coal mine.” They would be the early warning for any mine collapsed. If you’re a business owner, a C-Suite executive, a business leader, now is the time. As we re-emerge from this crisis, I would suggest that you double down on looking your people in the eye and making sure they’re okay. When I came back from Afghanistan, nobody knew what I was carrying. Nobody knew that I had gone through my own share of deep grief and survivor’s guilt for men who died doing what I asked them to do. Nobody’s sure as hell knew that I was standing in a closet holding a 45-caliber pistol eighteen months after I left home.
I left the military when everything seemed great. Had my son not come home from school when he did, I wouldn’t be on this show for sure. Everything looked perfect in my life. Everything looked the way that it was supposed to look but it wasn’t. There was a cumulative effect that had occurred in my life because of a persistent crisis that when I walked into the sunlight, I was not the same man. I will tell you right now, your associates, employees, clients, maybe you if you’re reading this, you’ve endured over a year and a half of persistent fear, uncertainty, change and prolonged isolation that humans are not supposed to go through.
There are people that work for you that have lost relatives that they didn’t get to bury. There are people that went through a range of things. Just because we re-emerge, be very careful about how we reconnect. We got to make sure that we’re taking care of our people. The CDC has said that mental health issues have gone up 33% in adults in this pandemic. Our children are the same way. All I’m saying is that I do have advice on the crisis, but I would say at a human level, let’s look at people in the eyes and make sure that as we come out of the storm bunkers, that everybody’s okay. We’re there for them and they know we’re there for them.
I want to speak about one more topic. This conversation is great and I would love to go on as long as we can. I want to speak about the concept of trust, and you speak a lot about trust. We started the conversation with clarity, but you got to have clarity as much as you can but in order to be able to have the people rallying around you, they need to trust a leader. What are some practical and best practices or tactics that a person could do or have in his daily activities to build trust with their people?
The first thing is to get an appreciation for what trust looks like. I believe at Rooftop, we have a deeper language on trust than most people do. We have a grammar for it that is tied to the special operations world of going into low-trust places. Here’s what I would offer now. First of all, when you look at your company and when you look at your client base, you need to determine, is it bridging trust or is it bonding trust? Bonding trust is the oldest form of trust in the world. Bonding trust exists between all mammals. It’s the deep trust that you have for your kin and your neighbors to acquire and maintain resources in your life.
For example, wolf packs have bonding trust. Packs of dogs at bonding trust. Any mammal is going to have a level of trust that bonds them to their kin. My mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my neighbor, that’s bonding trust. It’s deep and it’s not wide and it revolves around two things. Scarcity of resources and status. I want to keep my status high so that I can survive and keep my clan connected to me. I want to be able to acquire and maintain resources. I bond with the people in my immediate arena to do that. We’ve been doing that for thousands of years.
There’s another form of trust called bridging trust. Bridging trust is a newer form of trust. It puts the individual above the group. If I said bonding trust is with my clan, my kin, my family, bridging trust is my ability to bridge beyond those people and connect with other ethnicities, other countries, people from other religions, and I can build these bass networks that bridge beyond my own in-group. If you think about it, if I only have trust within my marketing team, then it’s going to be very difficult for me to have interdepartmental success. In other words, we’re going to compete for resources against the operations crew. We’re going to talk about them like they are a rival tribe.
If I can bridge beyond that, there’s a vision that binds us all. We have psychological safety, human connection, and a shared vision for a shared future. I would say to leaders, assess your immediate environment. Do you have an environment that is in-groups and outgroups fighting over resources and status? If so, you are in a bonding trust environment, and it’s going to chew your organization up from the inside out in times of low trust.
If you have a bridging trust environment, you want to maintain that healthy, centralizing, galvanizing vision that encourages people to bridge beyond their own in-group. You as a leader should take actions that promote that bridging, and you should always be thinking, “What am I doing to bridge?” It should always feel a little bit uncomfortable and you’re getting outside your own comfort zone. In the short time that we have, that’s what I would say to it. There’s a lot more to it, but that’s how I train my Mastermind and my C-Suite executives on how to manage trust. First, you got to see, is it bridging or is it bonding, because each of them requires distinct actions.
Tell me more about what you’re up to and how people reading this could get ahold of you.People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Click To Tweet
We have a podcast as well, it’s called The Rooftop Podcast. It will be coming out. We took a one-month hiatus to get content together. It will be coming out again. You can also find us at RooftopLeadership.com. We’ve got a ton of cool programs going from corporate training to Mastermind. I do keynotes. On the nonprofit side, if you’re interested in help warriors and first responders and family members of them tell their story and transition, as an asset of transition, we have a film coming out called Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret.
I wrote it and I’m in it with other combat veterans and we’re using it to raise proceeds for a veteran performing arts center. It’s going to be out on streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, Hulu and some others. If you go to RooftopLeadership.com, you’ll see all that there. What we’re doing are a ton of cool stuff around storytelling, leadership and human connection. That’s the thing. I invite people to go to our website and be part of our journey.
We said it in the past as well, which is you can never stop learning those things. If you are a leader growing a company, the challenges will always be there. People challenges, business challenges, competition challenges, but how to overcome it is the more you’re armed with the proper information, the more you grow yourself, ultimately, you grow your company as well.
I would invite any leader reading this, look around right now and be honest with yourself. Look at Washington, DC under either administration, look at the 24-hour news cycle, look at social media, it’s pretty apparent. What I mean by that is it’s very obvious that the formal leaders have relegated their duties for bridging trust and they are instead fomenting bonding trust to achieve their own agenda. Nobody else is coming. If you’re going to lead your business, your community, or your family, we’ve got to get these purpose-based human connection skills in place because that’s who people are going to follow. The relatable relevant leader, not the one who necessarily has a title.
Let’s close with the four rapid-fire questions. Are you ready?
Number one, a book that changed your life?
Getting More by Stuart Diamond.
Number two, a piece of advice you got that you’ll never forget?
People hate to be told what to do, but they love to be reminded of what’s important.
Number three, is there anything you wish you could go back and do differently?
I would have spent more time with my kids.
Last and final question, what’s still on your bucket list to achieve?
I want ten million Rooftop Leaders in ten years.
Let’s celebrate the milestone. Come back on the show. Maybe we’re going to have to have you before that to get those Rooftop Leaders. Scott, thank you so much for joining us. I know your time is valuable. That is why in the name of our readers, we’ll forever be grateful for sharing some of your time with us.
Thank you, Meny. It’s my honor.
- Scott Mann
- The Culture Code
- T-360 Mastermind
- Leading Through Chaos
- The Rooftop Podcast
- Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret
- Getting More
About Scott Mann
Scott Mann spent 23 years in the United States Army, 18 of that as a Green Beret, where he specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions where he forged bonds and solved problems using values and leadership skills that moved people around the world to stand up for themselves.
Since retiring, Scott now teaches the same skills in communities and businesses where trusted leadership is more valuable and more vulnerable than ever, empowering local leaders to restore trust and create human connections in places where it doesn’t seem possible.