In today’s episode, Lee Benson joins us to utterly change our vision on education, positive reinforcement’s true potential, and how we conduct ourselves as leaders. Lee is a Best-selling Author, Founder, and CEO of Execute to Win and EXECUTE™ MasterMINDs, a serial entrepreneur who founded over 7 companies in the last 25 years, and the Creator of the MIND Methodology.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we have a terrific guest with us today. What if you could give your children or grandchildren a superpower to ensure their success outside the home? Well, our guest today is the business-scaling master who grew his first company, Able Aerospace, from three to 500 employees, with 15 consecutive years of 20% compound growth average, before his exit in that company where he did great. So, welcome, Lee Benson.
Lee Benson: Steve, it’s great to be here. Thank you.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, you bet! And we’ve had a fun time visiting before we started today. I’d like to just tell you a little bit more about him. Before we jump into it, he is definitely on a mission to equip parents and grandparents with a simple roadmap to help their posterity, friends, associates—whoever it may be—children, and grandchildren, to understand finances and value. And in his brand-new book, Value of Creation Kid, Lee is also a Wall Street Journal, Amazon, and USA Today best-selling author of “Your Most Important Number,” which is another book that he has written, more aimed at the organizational, team, and corporate world. So, Lee, with that, tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you. We’d love to learn more about you.
Lee Benson: Well, it’s all had an impact. And it’s this giant journey that still has a long ways to go for me. But what I’ve realized I’m really here to do is just spread this message and develop organizations, as well as families, to learn how to create value. And it gives me a lot of purpose. And I think back early, six years old, I’m asked—unsolicited—by a neighbor, “Hey, would you pull weeds in my garden for 25 cents an hour?” I’m like, “Sure, I’ll do that.” And back then, you could buy two candy bars and have change. So that was a pretty good deal. “This is hard work. I wonder what else could I do?” So, I started knocking on doors and asking if I could shovel snow. And so, I got 50 cents; that took me about 30 minutes to do the driveway and sidewalk. Why? Just four folding my money. And then, I got a couple of paper routes, and then it was a dishwasher, a busboy, a cook. In the 1980s, I had a rock’n’roll band; I played well over 1,000 nights in the ’80s. That’s how I made most of my money. And I call it this “value creation cycle.” So, I struggled to get a capability; it would build my confidence. And I would use that to create value. And then, I would keep going on this. And I learned really early to trust the struggle, like really trust it. “This is not great right now, this isn’t a lot of fun. But I know when I come out the other side, it’s going to be better.” And that led to seven companies that I’ve started from scratch—exits from a few million to well into nine figures. And so, as I went along, this whole journey is about creating value. And I talked about it in the book, “The Value Creation Kid: The Healthy Struggles Your Children Need to Succeed,” is that value creation is really in three macro buckets: It’s material value; it’s emotional energy value; and it’s spiritual value. And everybody plays in all three. It’s super unfortunate when people think about value creation, “Oh, all you care about is money.” No. There are three buckets, and I think the scarcest commodity in the world, Steve, is emotional energy—positive emotional energy value. When it’s on nine or 10, no matter what happens, you can get through it, and you remain positive. When it’s on one or zero, you get a flat tire and it ruins your week. So, this is a very short version of this journey that I’ve been on. And it’s all about value creation, which is so much more than money. How does that resonate with you, Steve?
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great. What was the first one? So, I caught the emotional and the spiritual. The first was?
Lee Benson: Material value. So, money, things, whatever that happens to be, emotional energy. That’s really interesting. We talked about it in the book, my co-author and I, that every kid has a “value creation superpower,” and most of them, it’s yet to be discovered. And unfortunately, in our education system, it’s all about, “Hey, get a good grade, get a diploma, get a degree, get a job.” And when that happens, the vast majority of kids are doing what they think they’re supposed to, instead of what they’re meant to. So, imagine if we made the whole purpose—and we’re clear about it—to fully connect the dots. The whole purpose of an education is to create value in the world. So now, when the kids come in, they start in kindergarten, they come in, and, “Hey, this is what education is all about. How would you like to create value in the world?” And how we talk about it in those three buckets? Now, all of a sudden, what to learn, they can guide it more and more as they get closer to being a senior and launching into adulthood. How to learn becomes really important. So, the why, what, and the how are so much more powerful with that.
Steve Shallenberger: So, how do you describe what the superpowers are?
Lee Benson: What I think is really important—and with your background, Steve, you totally get this, for sure—is having a goal and outcome that we’re looking for. And so, the outcome that I think about is: What does an ideal, launched high school senior graduating into adulthood look like? Well, they’re self-reliant; they can think critically; they want to create value in the world; they’re financially competent. And if they can do those things, so much of what’s going on right now in the United States, and around the world, wouldn’t be happening because people, in general, wouldn’t be falling for a lot of stuff that’s going on. So, with that in mind, this is the ideal, launched high school senior into adulthood; we back all the way up. And when you look at material value creation, some kids, as they advance even in high school, start a business. They’ve learned how to make money and actually even employ people and do all that. They may have a value creation superpower around building material value with a business or anything that they’re doing. On the emotional energy side, this is sort of a hidden superpower that most don’t really talk about. Some kids have a real superpower; maybe they’re a musician. I’m actually on this call with you today from my home music studio. And let’s say they write a song, they perform it in front of a group of people, and it uplifts them; their emotional energy rises. So, they created more positive emotional energy in the room. Let’s say they take it all the way, and they write a song that a billion people listen to, and it lifts their emotional energy. Oh my gosh, that’s incredible!
Lee Benson: And I’ve met some kids that have an emotional energy superpower, to where, when they walk in a room, I rarely see anybody light the room up like they can. But they can also take it all the way down. But once you make them aware that, “Hey, this is your superpower, and when you come into a room, you have the ability to do this,” I’m seeing kids change their career track and everything, and intentionally elevate emotional energy because they’ve been made aware of this and they realize it’s their superpower. I actually think, if I’ve got one in any of the three buckets, it’s the emotional energy piece; it’s energizing team members and influencing where you don’t have control to make amazing value creation happen. I’ve done well, materially; that’s fine. But I think, without the emotional energy piece of it, that never would have happened to the degree it has with me. And then, the spiritual side, some people are deeply religious; some are spiritual; some just love their family and friends and the connectedness in their community. It’s so individual, but whatever that is for you. So, those are the three buckets, and it’s really been enjoyable working with a number of families, helping them operationalize this, if you will, inside the family so kids can discover their value-creation superpower.
Steve Shallenberger: How have you discovered all of us, as we look back on our lives, maybe not all of us, but hopefully most of us, anyhow. I’ve had somebody that’s really just turned on the light. They’ve helped us see what could happen in our lives. And how do you help a young person, regardless of where you’re at, in being an influencer, a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, coach, teacher, whatever it might be? How can you help someone see a vision to open up the magic of a vision of what a superpower might look like? What have you discovered that are good ways to do that?
Lee Benson: First, and we talked about this in the book, we call it the “Gravy Stack Method.” There are four components to this value-creation methodology that can be easily deployed within a family. I’m following a number of low-income and middle-income families right now that are doing this, and it is working literally in 100% of the families. First is talking about value creation: you can’t discover something if you don’t even understand what it is. Second is house rules. What are the expectations? i.e., what’s your job for the family? What are the expenses, as a child, that you pick up more and more of as you get older? And how do you earn extra money? So, that’s in the “House Rules” piece of it. Third is financial competency. It’s not about being literate; it’s about whether you can apply this stuff in a very useful, productive way. And then fourth is healthy struggle. All struggle does not equal trauma; we have to struggle. It’s like going to the gym to get stronger. Struggle builds capabilities that build confidence, which you can use to create value. This is a very necessary part. And we’ve taken this away from a lot of kids with the best of intentions; that’s why they’re not ready for adulthood when they get there. So, a couple of things here. You and I have a pretty extensive leadership journey that we’re on, and we’re helping others develop all that. I believe that one of the best ways to kind of do this, once you’re talking about those four components and you understand the “Gravy Stack Method,” is to be passionately talking about what’s possible and productive ways to get there. In a world today where so many are talking about what’s wrong with people and things, and why stuff won’t work, it’s so refreshing to hear people talking about what’s possible from a win-win value-creation standpoint, and productive ways to get there.
Lee Benson: And then, as you asked the question, I had another thought. This was asked to me last week, and I find it fascinating that there were, so far in my life, only three people who had this wildly huge impact on me to make me believe in myself and what I could do. And I can’t wait to get your take on this, Steve. One, it’s a sixth-grade teacher. He would take all the kids out to his farm and have bonfires and do stuff. But the way he talked to me, it felt like he connected with me and really wanted me to be successful in life. And then my first real manager, with a dishwasher job—this guy, Jim Fletcher—he said, “I hope we stay in touch really forever because I know you’re going to do amazing things.” And the way he was around me and the way he talked to me, it stuck with me and always will. And then third was Jack Welch, the guy who was “Manager of the Century,” CEO of General Electric. He grew it from when he took over as CEO from around a $14 billion market cap to over $400 billion. Same thing. And I’ve met probably 50-plus people that Jack has interacted with, before he passed, and you would think all he did was spend all day with each one of those folks. So, what is it about those? Because most leaders, they’re trying to do a great job, and they’re managing resources and training people, and they give them what they need to be successful in their jobs. But what’s different about the very few that just get into your bones and make you feel like you can do anything? I’ve only had three. What do you say about that, Steve? This is interesting.
Steve Shallenberger: No, I’m glad we’re talking about it. Because, for all of our listeners who have this desire, this inspiration, to become their best. It’s a drive; it’s something within that they feel. But what’s really awesome—and the reason we’re talking about it—is that every single one of us has the opportunity to lift, build, and inspire people, and give them ideas of what they can become. And the very same thing happens, like these three mentors that Lee is talking about. So, it’s so often—sometimes especially with people close to us—to notice the faults, the messy room or whatever it may be. And then, the other thing I’d like to get into: see if you’ve found any good ideas, Lee, on job charts. I know with our children, we probably had 10 different sets of job charts as we experimented, or whatever it took to keep them focused so that they learn this kind of structure. And how can they be part of the solution? And I look back on mine, I’ve had people who have done the same thing. And it is inspiring when they take time to say, “You can do it.” In other words, that’s the feel: “You can do it.” And here are some ideas; here are some things. If you try this, and that’s why I like your value creation, I can’t wait to get the book and go through it. And I know you have some audible resources as well; that’s going to be fun. In my case, we’re thinking—all of our listeners are thinking—right now of influence. Well, what is my level of influence in a young person’s life? And this can even apply, I’m sure, as you and I study these things, at any age. So, I think the message—thanks for asking me—is to realize we all have an enormous potential. My personal belief is that we have a creator above who designed us to succeed. And I look around, Lee, and maybe you see the same thing: so many people don’t have someone in their life thinking this way. So, I think what you’re talking about—and that’s exactly what you’re talking about—is the light of the possibilities, both in material things, emotional things, spiritual things. These are components that ultimately help us make a difference as we mature and grow older.
Lee Benson: And Steve, to take this a little bit further, we need to be thinking, I believe, more about how we are with kids, with co-workers, with family members, community members, etc. It’s not just showing up with ideas and saying, “Hey, I’m here to support you if you need it.” How are we around them? So, over the last seven, eight years, I’ve spoken to thousands of high school students about the virtues of entrepreneurship. And I tell them—and I fully believe this—anybody that creates a job is a hero of mine. Because it’s one more person that can contribute to supporting their family and causes, and in creating value in the world. And I go to competitions, and I watch a lot of stuff happening around entrepreneurship with high school kids. And I observe the parents talking down to them; I observe the teachers talking down to them. It’s like a constant scolding: “Everybody, get into this corral and do this.” And the kids just sit back and they kind of roll their eyes. And then I’ll get on stage and talk to large groups. And I’m right there with them, like, “What are we going to do?” Or I’ll be in small groups and classrooms—could be 25 to 50 high school seniors—and we’re talking about what it means to have a business and create value. And we talk about a number of things. Usually, they start out acting like victims: “I’ll never go anywhere because nobody in my family ever has a degree. I’ll never have a chance. We don’t come from money,” blah, blah, blah. And by the end of it, they’re saying their version of, “We can start anywhere and go everywhere.” Well, what’s different about that? It’s how we are when we’re with them. We’re not lecturing them. I would ask, “Well, what would you do in this situation? We’re starting a business.” “I don’t know, what do you think?” So, being right there with them, on this whole value-creation journey, and the energizing isn’t in this example of me saying, “Oh, I’m gonna come in and energize everybody.” I can’t help myself but to talk passionately about what’s possible and productive ways to get there. And I bring as many people into that conversation as I can.
Lee Benson: So that’s my whole point: How are we when we’re with them? Are we the lecturing, all-knowing, all-seeing adult? Or are we right there with them, discovering the value that we could actually create? Because we can’t explain this stuff to kids and go, “I explained it to them; they didn’t understand it. So, I guess they don’t get it.” Wait a minute, it took you 30 years to figure it out? Can we give them at least 30 minutes? So, this whole concept of operationalizing value creation in the family is so important. Because motivational nudges just don’t work: “Read this book, take this class, watch this video.” No, we need to create an environment with a set of rules of engagement that allow kids to discover their value-creation superpower and it always helps the parents as well. So, here’s a super-short, three-part story. I’m following a number of families. There’s a family back in Boston. The book “Value Creation Kid” came out back in April. And the father texts me, and this is probably two and a half months ago. And he says, “Here’s what my daughter, Mia, told me. She’s nine: ‘Daddy, thank you for saving the dirty dishes for me to help me with my value-creation work.'” I thought, “Oh, well, that’s fantastic. And it’s got to make you feel good.” And then he calls me about three weeks ago and he says, “Let me tell you how ‘Value Creation Summer’ is going.” And I said, “Okay.” And he goes, “It used to be that my two daughters, one’s 9 and one’s 16, would argue over who has to do the work. Now they’re arguing over who gets to do the work. And the six-year-old is getting up extra early to walk the dog and get extra points and do all of this, and it’s become a fun competition.” So, the last part of this story is, I’m on the phone with him for about an hour a few days ago and he says, “So, my nine-year-old goes into middle school on day one; they meet with a counselor, it’s part of what they do. And on day two, the counselor calls me and says, ‘Tell me about Value Creation Summer.’ And apparently, the nine-year-old was just kept talking about this. And the counselor said, ‘I’m going to talk to all the kids about this, the parents that I work with about this. This is amazing language.'”
Lee Benson: What’s cool about it is it’s resonating. Steve, you and I can have amazing ideas, but if it doesn’t work in the real world, with real people, it doesn’t add value; it doesn’t matter. And so, my co-author, Scott Dahl, and I have done a really careful job with a lot of just studying what works and doesn’t work with our “Gravy Stack” method—the four components that I went through—to make sure that it actually resonates with kids. And this is really resonating with kids.
Steve Shallenberger: Good. I’m glad you touched on points and things like that. In your book, do you have templates for org charts, job duties, sharing responsibilities in a home? Did you talk about it? Or how do you deal with that?
Lee Benson: Oh, yeah, we have, I believe, probably close to 100 gigs, if you will, inside there. And some are—we call them “action gigs.” So, you’re doing something above and beyond your job for the family; it could be washing the car, whatever it is. And then we have others called “Brain gigs.” So, you learn something, and you apply it. And you can earn extra money for these things. And again, it’s not just about the money; it’s about total value creation and discovering it and ultimately being launched into this wildly successful adult. But all of that’s in the book; you can actually go to a website called gravy stack.com and get lots of downloadable PDFs and everything else. Parents all over the country have these things on their refrigerators with magnets, and it’s just working. It’s so cool. And it’s uncovering a lot of capacity for parents; it’s saving money. One of the gigs is scour through and find all of the things that we’re paying for— all the apps—it could be Disney Plus or anything. Do we really need all of these things that we’re paying for to watch television? Do we need all these apps on the phone that we’re paying for? And the kids, on average, are saving $300, $500, or $1000 a year, helping the parents go through and scour and get rid of all the stuff they forgot about that was just automatically being paid for on credit cards. That’s pretty darn cool.
Steve Shallenberger: That is cool. I’ve just been thinking, while we’ve been talking, about being able to see what’s possible and believe in yourself and find these superpowers. I know we have listeners, and we’re so grateful and privileged to have these listeners from all over the world. I think one of the blessings of being in the United States of America is it’s kind of a culture that we can become our best. There’s opportunity; so many opportunities today and in the future. And I love that when I sit in different countries and hearts, regardless of where you are, don’t let people push you down or think you’re totally constrained by a system. The greatest last freedom we have in the world is how we think. And that’s what Lee is talking about today: what are the possibilities? And I was thinking, we have this certainly everywhere. And that is, when kids can participate in sports, or dance, or performing musically, whatever it might be, it’s such a healthy thing because they learn how to have successes, but they also have failures. They get beat; they have to deal with loss and setbacks. So, you talk about healthy struggles. Can you take just a moment on that and why it’s so important to develop a healthy attitude there?
Lee Benson: Yeah, this goes back to something I said early in our discussion that it’s important to learn to trust the struggle. So, to build a capability, there’s going to be some struggle. It could be you want a license to do a particular kind of work, or whatever it is. Well, you’re going to go through having to study and take tests and go through that. That’s a form of struggle. And so, struggle is necessary to build any capability—to build a stronger body, and all of it. And once you define something that you would like—some capability you’d like to have—so you can use it to create value, then you struggle to build that capability. That builds self-esteem and confidence in all of us when we do that. Now, we intentionally use it to create value. Now, what’s the next thing that you would like to add—the next capability? Now, let’s go through the struggle to make that happen and use that to build confidence and create value. And again, once you get on this value creation cycle, it’s really hard to ever really get off; you’ll believe you can do anything. Even though I had a very, I would say, challenging childhood—I got kicked out of the house at the beginning of my senior year in high school—and it was a dangerous and toxic environment in a lot of ways. I had already bought into, from six years old, this healthy struggle cycle. And there was nothing that I thought I couldn’t do when I launched out of high school. I finished my senior year on my own, went to college on my own, built businesses on my own, and I never, ever thought I would fail. There’s always a way through, even if I can’t think of it right now. Why did I develop that mindset? And it’s because of this healthy struggle, and trusting the struggle—this process to build capability, and confidence, and use it to create value.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, we’re getting towards the end of our show today. Lee, what is the best way to show that you have found to introduce value creation within a home?
Lee Benson: Well, first, I would suggest: read the book “Value Creation Kid: The Healthy Struggles Your Children Need to Succeed.” And you can find it on Amazon and 40,000 other channels where books are sold. There’s also an audiobook version of it. My co-author and I joined interviews after each section in the book. Then, you can also go to GravyStack.com, and you can get these free downloadable PDFs to do this. But step one would be, read the book or listen to the book. I know a lot of folks are super busy; maybe listen to it when you’re driving around with errands, etc. That’s the best place to start.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, we’re at the end of our interview already. It’s been great. I’ve loved it—really good ideas. The book will provide more ideas. Any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners today?
Lee Benson: I just want to re-emphasize, if at all possible, let’s talk about, again, passionately, what can happen in the future for our kids and productive ways to get there. And be really mindful of how we are when we’re with them. Whether it’s your own kids, or you’re speaking to groups of kids, how do we become super present in those interactions and be there with them and help them on their journey of it? And remember, again, if it took us 10, 20, 30 years to figure something out, we need to give them a little bit of time to do that, too. So, Steve, thank you for your discussion with me here today. This was fantastic. I think it’s so important for the future of the country that kids today are going to be running the world that we age out in. I want it to be amazing; I don’t want it to be a dystopian future. And I’m very hopeful that it will be amazing.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thanks. I love that vision that you have—spot on. You’ve mentioned once how people can learn more about what you’re doing. Can you repeat that one more time?
Lee Benson: GravyStack.com is the website where you can get these free downloadable PDFs; you can purchase the book on that site, or you can go to Amazon. If you want to learn more about just my philosophy and value creation in general, I have another book titled “Your Most Important Number.” And you can go to ETW.com and learn all about that and how we help organizations create value because my journey really started with let’s help organizations of any type or size, for-profit and non-profit, create value faster. Now let’s go all the way back and let’s help the kids figure this out early so they launch into these amazing, self-reliant, incredible adults.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you, Lee, for joining us today. It’s been a delight.
Lee Benson: Thank you, Steve.
Steve Shallenberger: What a great and productive visit to think about these things. We wish you, our listeners, all the best as you’re making a difference in the world literally, every day. You radiate a light; you do what we’ve been talking about. And that is an inspiration. We wish you a great day today and forever. This is Steve, signing off.
CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, and Community Leader
Best-selling Author, Speaker, Value Creation Expert