The Sharpest Tool™

Dan Dowdy | How to Lead With a Servant’s Heart and a Backbone

Cheryl McRae
Josh Smith
Dan Dowdy is the Founder of Built for the Trades and former General Manager of his family’s second-generation plumbing company S & D Plumbing. He shares how his passion for servant leadership and building relationships has led him to launch his new business to support home services business owners.

Josh Smith (00:00):

Hello everyone. This is Josh Smith host of the sharpest tool podcast. Today, we're going to be airing an episode that was recorded before the coronavirus pandemic. It's fantastic information to support you home service businesses. So I hope you enjoy it. Hello and welcome back to the sharpest tool. My name is Josh. I am your host, and this is the place where we take the sting out of marketing with everything that we're bringing to the table. I have a repeat guest in the booth, and I'm always excited when we get a repeat guest in the booth because we get to learn more about them. And that's one of my favorite parts about doing this show. We have Dan Dowdy in the booth and our guest today. He's a certified John Maxwell coach trainer and speaker. He's a second-generation master plumber with 10 years of experience running his own service truck. And 10 years of experience leading a multimillion dollar plumbing service company. He's also an avid outdoors man and a family man. So Dan, welcome to the podcast. Thank you to,

Dan Dowdy (00:55):

Yeah. Yeah. Really excited to be here and can't wait to dive in. Awesome.

Josh Smith (00:59):

So Dan, you have obviously quite the credentials and experience. Do you mind summarizing your journey for the listeners? So they have a sense of where you're coming from?

Dan Dowdy (01:07):

I definitely can. Yeah. And some of the listeners out there have already heard my previous podcast possibly. So I know a little bit about me, but my journey started 20 years ago. I started in the trades second generation. I grew up really, all I really knew was just working with my hands plumbing with my dad and that just 10 years of that working out of a truck, we came to a point where he pulled me out and said, Dan, it's time for you to start running the company and learning the ways. And so that's when I started, you know, leading my company, I made a ton of mistakes in the process. It was an amazing experience. I was really taught to lead by Phil. That's the way my dad taught a lot and kind of the old school way of leading a company. But I guess about the past seven years, I've hired my own business coaches and my own consultants coming in and teach me how to run a profitable service company.

Dan Dowdy (01:54):

And that's really where my eyes started to open up and see that, wow, there is a better way than just killing yourself, trying to run a company. There's a way to actually operate it to where it can be profitable and you can still have a good work-life balance. And that's really where my love for the coaching and the consulting kind of started. And so my journey kind of took me from there to where I'm sitting today, now owning built for the trades and just able to share my gifting with other people and be able to encourage them and coach them through their own business journey.

Josh Smith (02:25):

Awesome. So your most recent endeavor is built for the trades. It's this new coaching business. Give me a brief summary of what that is and what you're hoping to accomplish with them.

Dan Dowdy (02:34):

Yeah, so my vision for built for the trades is really to develop a network of coaches that come in and work in their specific niche. Like mine is leadership. Somebody else may be financial and somebody else may be building systems or operations. And so they come in and they're able to serve the clients and whatever that niche is to where they're getting the best value. So I'm really just creating a coaching network. And on top of that, I'm also creating some other trusted resources in the home service industries, people who can build websites, who can rap trucks, who can do all these different things. So that way they have a similar vision, mission and values as built for the trades. And the customer knows they're going to get a quality product and they're going to get a quality service out of who they're working with

Josh Smith (03:14):

That. I think that's something that's so needed in a lot of business owners lives today. And in reality, we don't take coaching kind of seriously enough. And obviously being the owner, when you took over, uh, you know, S and D in the plumbing business, there was a lot that you were learning. What were some of the kind of Keystone lessons thinking back that you learned that it was really beneficial for you to get a coach in there to help you with?

Dan Dowdy (03:40):

I think they're really the Keystone lessons are you have to have some accountability. I think as a business owner is not only a lonely space, but it can also be a, an overwhelming space to where if you have nobody there to hold you accountable and to encourage you and to kind of break the steps down clearly for you, it's hard to accomplish that because you're in the weeds. And so when you hire a great business coach, you have that relationship, somebody who can come in and look at your business and give you that outside perspective and hold you accountable to your vision, holds you accountable to your goals, and really just encourage you along the way. And the whole point is, is to kind of stretch you further than you ever thought you could go. Because a lot of times people have to operate in their comfort zone and a part of it having a great coach is they kind of push you outside of that.

Josh Smith (04:22):

Awesome. You're a John Maxwell certified coach. What's that process look like? How does one become a John Maxwell certified coach and who is John Maxwell to you? Just in general? Just so our listeners have some context here.

Dan Dowdy (04:34):

Yeah. So John Maxwell to me is really a great mentor to me. I love all of this material since I've been following him probably the past five years. It's really kind of put the dream in my heart to be a leadership coach. And so part of the process is, you know, once you sign up and go through all the courses online for the John Maxwell certification, you go to Orlando and you do a certification class. You spend the week there getting certified, whether you're in the coaching speaking or training lane. And that's really where I started to see, you know, what is the difference between a great coach versus a great consultant versus somebody who's just doing training or speaking. It really defined those roles. And I found my passion in the coaching because I enjoy the relationship side of things. I enjoy not only working with the business owner to determine what the journey is and the steps along the way, but actually being there and working alongside with them to encourage them, hold them accountable to their vision. Can you tell me

Josh Smith (05:23):

A little bit more about when you knew you wanted to make this shift to coaching from the business? Was it a life event, a interaction and encounter with someone? What, what led to this decision for built for the trade?

Dan Dowdy (05:35):

You know, I mean, obviously when I'm not getting any, any younger and I've spent 20 years in an amazing business with an amazing family, uh, learning a ton of great things. And it really got to a point where I started thinking about what are my dreams in life and started pushing my own self. And I remember I was on a run one morning and I was probably listening to the one irrefutable laws of leadership and my ears. And I heard John Maxwell talking about his equip program, how he goes around the world and equips leaders. And I started to thinking like, what is my dream? Like, what's my dream outside of just Dan working at S and D and growing a successful plumbing business. And that's really the first day I really started thinking like, well, if he can do this, why can't I do it?

Dan Dowdy (06:19):

I know he had, he had to start somewhere and take action. And that's what I love about it is it's really just taking action. And so I've made a lot of big life changes in my life, taking a lot of risks to build built for the trades, but I truly believe in it, you know, I truly believe in my purpose and what I'm doing. I truly believe that this is a need for the industries. I call it built for the trades because I personally am built for the trades. And I also love working with other business owners who have built trade specific businesses. It's just a different type of person. I think they have a different set of values, and I really love that about it. And so I find myself kind of giving back, you know, if I, myself stepping out of a front seat role and owning a successful business to kind of taking a backseat role and serving others that own a business.

Dan Dowdy (07:07):

And I love every single minute of it. That's awesome. Were there any indicators that helped you make that decision? Uh, let's see. So 10 years of running my own business, I made a lot of mistakes. I probably talked about in previous podcasts. I let pride and arrogance really get in the way of a lot of success. And I soon found myself with a very toxic culture. So once I was able to realize where I was and start to change that I started realizing that, you know, the way to lead a team is actually serving your team and being humble and realizing that your team is who got you there. And, you know, at S and D plumbing, that was the same way. I don't think I ever gave my team enough credit for where I was in life. And it was because of them that I was able to be successful.

Dan Dowdy (07:49):

And so I guess the specific event was really just, I don't know, I got to think back a little bit, but I think it was just that I think I listened to too many podcasts. That's the truth. Um, you know, it was, what do you want for your life? And what I would do with my teams, that's sitting on a one to one with them every other month that I connect with everybody really through the company. And I always took the approach with my team is that if you're not happy here and you're not pursuing your dreams, I want you to leave and pursue your dream. So that starting your own company, I'm gonna help you get there. If that's going to work somewhere else, I'm going to help you get there. Yeah. But I took that loving giving, serving approach, and it, it allowed them to actually want to stay and work harder for the company.

Dan Dowdy (08:29):

And so I really had to walk the walk, you know, I was good at talking like follow your dreams and all these different things. And obviously loved to listen to a lot of podcasts and hearing them encourage people to go after the dreams. But really, it was just a point where I realized that I wasn't following my dream anymore and I needed to take action. And it was just that courage. You know, I don't know if this is 2020 and just sounded so good. Totally clear. Exactly. So, you know, it was interesting. So the last year, really at S and D I was, you know, my ego telling me right away that, oh, I'm gonna leave S and D and then this is just going to fall apart because I was the greatest thing ever, right. Leading the company. That's what I thought. I'm just being honest here. And really, I started to learn that great leadership is, is kind of what you leave behind. What happens once you leave your company. And once I realized that I was able to spend the last six months really investing in the next person to take the reins and run the company. And so it's a cool place to be. Whenever you realize that it's not all about you, it's

Josh Smith (09:28):

Not all about

Dan Dowdy (09:29):

You. I don't know. I mean, I've, I've just personally, always has struggled with that.

Josh Smith (09:33):

It's a humbling thought. And, you know, Maxwell for those who are not familiar, Maxwell is a internationally renowned leadership expert. And he's got several, several books. I personally am a fan of, of Maxwell as well. And, you know, he, he talks a lot about leadership principles, core principles that are intended to transform. And I find it always to be just like what you're talking about, Dan and others focused mentality. And when you're focused on building other people up, people, it resonates with people and it makes them want to give more than they currently give. You know, you talk a lot about vision kind of on your website and some of the podcasts and everything. What does it mean to have a vision as a business owner?

Dan Dowdy (10:13):

Gosh, I, you know, working with a lot of different businesses, I've seen that people have what they call vision statement or they'll have their mission statement, or, you know, and they think that tells their team where they want to go. But I think really having a vision as a business owner is looking out five or 10 years and being able to write that into one or two sentences to where when your team sees that they see kind of the destination of where the company's going. So the way I see the vision as the destination, I see the mission as why we show up to work every day. And I see our values as a principles of really our character, you know, how do we act? How do we hire? Who do we hire all those different things? And so I think once you finally get the owner to share their vision, not only is it eye opening for me, but for them as well, they're like, wow, I've never said that before. And then really where my gifting comes in to help them is really just breaking down and simplifying the process to get to that vision. So

Josh Smith (11:08):

What's been your experience in dealing with business owners in this area. Do you find that many of them don't have this stuff already laid out this groundwork of mission, vision, core values, things like that already laid out, and that's something that's a big piece of assistance that you can provide them.

Dan Dowdy (11:25):

Yeah. So there's really two answers for that. So the first one is yes, a lot of companies don't have that laid out and if they do, they're not following it, it's nowhere to be seen. Sure. The team members that know nothing of it. And so I think that's one aspect is I work with companies who just need to kind of freshen it up, get it posted on their wall and learn how to start communicating that vision to their team. And the other aspect is some companies just never have it. And so what really, what you see in both aspects is that, uh, it really the culture when those things, aren't front and center of what you do every day, because as a business owner and as a leader of the company, really who we are is a direct reflection of our culture and our business. So for good or for bad, you know, like for me, when I was going through that very selfish phase of my life, all my technicians, everybody, my company was also kind of going through their own selfish phase. And so I think if you see your business, you don't like what you see, you just look in the mirror.

Josh Smith (12:21):

Yeah. You know, it's funny, there's a, um, something that our CEO made a comment to me. Uh, one time it always resonated with me and, uh, I find it to be very, very true. And it's that if you take any team, any business organization and you look at them a year from now, their team is going to be a direct reflection of the leader. And so whatever the leader embodying, that's what the team embodies. So if the leader is somebody who's very, life-giving into the team, the team tends to be more life-giving towards each other and vice versa on the other side of the coin.

Dan Dowdy (12:49):

Yeah. I mean, that's a a hundred percent correct. And really it's, there's nowhere to hide. Whenever you realize that you realize that your team's never going to grow beyond your leadership capacity in what you're doing. And so that's, the other thing is I see there's a ton of tools out there for companies where I'll go visit a company and they'll have hundreds of different processes and procedures, but they really don't know how to implement them when to implement them and all these different things. But on top of that, it all starts with your leadership. You can have great tools in your company, but what you see when you lack the leadership is you see high turnover, you see lower profits, you see just craziness happening, you know? And so it really, if you're listening in the us and you don't have those foundational principles in your company, you really are missing it. But the good thing is it's never too late to add those to your company.

Josh Smith (13:35):

Totally. You know, a lot of business owners often think maybe potentially they don't have time to develop a, a vision, a mission, all these core values. And obviously we would say that it's important to have. Why is it so important? What does a vision really do for your business? And why is it important to have it called out explicitly what that is? W what does it do for an organization in your experience?

Dan Dowdy (13:59):

Ultimately it empowers your team to have a vision, because if we all show up to work every day, and we don't know where we're going, then we just felt like it's a, the monotony of day to day showing up to work. But if we hear the vision and see the vision of what you're wanting to accomplish, and then you're able to break that down into goals where people can start seeing what they're doing is accomplishing the goals for the company and ultimately the vision. Then you start to create that traction and that excitement that you get in a culture where people know where they're going, and they're a part of it.

Josh Smith (14:28):

Awesome. You mentioned leadership. I know that's a pillar on your website. I want to dive into that a little bit. What do I need to know about leadership as a home service professional? Okay.

Dan Dowdy (14:36):

Well, really there's four stages of leadership and interacting with any person. And really it starts with position. I think a lot of people out there, if they aren't now have been in the past, including me as a very positional leader to where, Hey, my name's Dan, I'm the owner S and D plumbing, and you're going to do what I say. You're going to do a type mentality. And it's funny how that was at a certain point in certain generation. That was the way things happened. And really you move from that first stage to really realizing that it's about relationships. So you shifted that second stage of leadership where you start to build relationships with people and people listening out there may think, well, this is a little too soft, or maybe I already do relationships. But what I also see is that business owners, especially in the home services, they tend to have personalities of their relationships come easy.

Dan Dowdy (15:22):

They're kind of like people pleasing personalities to a certain extent, but they don't really have a backbone behind it. And so what I really see is that there's a lot of giving, giving, giving, but not a lot of receiving from their team members. It almost becomes an entitlement game with a lot of home service companies out there. So when you're kind of working that relationship stage, it's important to not only have some kind of a position agreement, but some kind of scorecard to hold your team accountable to the goals you're trying to accomplish and to their position. And it's also good to give them clarity. Cause I hear that a lot as team members. I don't know if I'm doing a good job. I don't really know what my job is. And as a business owner, you're kind of like banging your head against the desk.

Dan Dowdy (16:00):

You're like, wow, I've told them a thousand times, but it's amazing the clarity you need. So you go from position to relationship. And I really think from there you go into, uh, producing results. And the reason why I have it in that order is because you have to have clarity and your job to be able to produce results. And really, so that, that goes back to having some kind of written position agreements, some kind of scoring system to tell you how good of a job you're doing. And then from there, you kind of go into reproducing that. So the biggest difference is a lot of home service business owners take their top producing tech and they make them a service manager, right? And that's one of the biggest mistakes we've all made. I've personally made that mistake. And, and really what I've realized is that, you know, you can be a great producer, but it doesn't make you a leader because it goes from selfish to selfless. Once you make that transition. And once you're working in that fourth stage of leadership where you're reproducing yourself, then about 80% of your job is actually reinvesting in your team. You know, spending time, one-on-one doing some coaching, giving them clarity on what is the vision, you know, and what are their expectations and their job.

Josh Smith (17:04):

You mentioned something really kind of interesting taking a top performer and making them a leader and how, how big of a mistake that can be. Uh, I think it's something that I've personally witnessed too. If I'm curious from your perspective, what do you look for in an employee or somebody who has a, is an aspiring leader that makes you move them into leadership? If it not for the performance, what qualities do you teach

Dan Dowdy (17:29):

Typically look for? Well, I think number one is character, right? You have to have somebody with character. Number two is really initiative. Yeah. I think that's huge. You know, I think somebody who's taking initiative to serve in different areas of your company, who's willing to do it without any kind of selfish agenda behind it. I think that's your leader. So, you know, watching your team and seeing who is able to go out and actually serve without wanting just another extra money in their paycheck or something. An example of that is if you wanting to look for a technician that you see some leadership qualities, it's like who's willing to go above and beyond selflessly to help with some training on younger technicians or to help, you know, stop by a job late in the evening and help finish a job for another technician and not even asking for pay and return, just doing it out of a servant's heart. I think that's where you start to see your leaders grow and your company. And so, yeah,

Josh Smith (18:21):

And I want to explore a concept that I've heard. I'm curious of your thoughts on it, lead where you are lead, where you are, explore that concept with me a little bit. What does that mean to you?

Dan Dowdy (18:32):

Josh? Whenever I really started diving into leadership and teaching and training and coaching this, I realized that even in my own team, that apprentices and younger customer service reps and people who were kind of just coming into the company really found themselves feeling like they were just positional leaders. Like they are at the very lowest level of leadership. And so I really wanted to start coaching and teaching this as no matter what position you're in. You can start leading where you're at. So when you go to the fourth stage of the leadership, really that's an interaction you have with every person. And it varies between the relationship with every person. So what I would encourage is that even if you are a first day apprentice, you can start building the relationship. He may be at the lowest position in your company, but you can start building relationships. You can start producing, you start reinvesting yourself and the people. And what happens is, is then your boss or the owner of the company will see that. And that will, and you will start naturally getting moved up through progression and what you're doing, and, you know, leading where you're at is, is a hundred percent not about position. You know, it needs to be about serving. Okay,

Josh Smith (19:38):

Absolutely. You know, that moved from position one, you know, level one, as you described it to level two, I think is so crucial getting that personal buy-in and that developing that personal relationship. So in the trades, I know that you're no stranger to this. We have a lot of very rough personalities that you're dealing with. Um, from a technician side, I've turned a wrench. I'm not a plumber, but I've turned a wrench under my sink and it's frustrating sometimes. Right? So I get a sense of why it can be really challenging. What are some of the tools and techniques that you've found success in, in overcoming that personal relationship barrier with some of those rough personalities?

Dan Dowdy (20:17):

Yeah. Josh, I think really it just asking questions. You know, what I've realized is a lot of times what people tell you, like I want to raise, right. Sometimes they'll come out and just say that in front of everybody and catch you off guard is not usually, you know, that's the result they're going for. That's what they're telling you. But a lot of times when you sit down and one-on-one with them and you start asking them questions in private, you realize it's not about the money. It's not about the race. It could be about something else that you can fix, you know, in the process. So I would encourage, you know, people out there to actually sit down with their team and not just dive into their KPIs. Like this is not a dive into what you're doing wrong at the company session. This is a dive into, Hey, let me learn more about your family.

Dan Dowdy (20:58):

Let me learn more about, you know, what are your kids' names? What do you enjoy doing? What are your dreams? What are your goals? Because ultimately that's the way you empower people is when you actually sit down and give them the time of day and you listen and you write things down and then you encourage them that, you know, towards those goals. Cause a lot of times that, Hey, I want to raise really meant that, Hey, I just really need a day off to spend time with the kid. And really what happens is, is with the generation we're in, it's really about having that relationship and being heard and feeling like you're appreciated. Cause that's the biggest thing I see when people leave the company they're leaving because they feel unappreciated.

Josh Smith (21:34):

Yeah. Communication. It's one of the pillars that you have listed on your website. And I know Kevin Good is pretty universally accepted, but what are some of the aspects of communication that we might overlook as busy?

Dan Dowdy (21:46):

You know, some of the aspects is really well, first of all, sharing your vision, you know, how often are you doing that? What does that look like? You know, is that just sharing a vision statement? Is that sharing goals is that sharing a mission? What is a, so I would encourage people out there to incorporate that into your daily activities. You know, like maybe not sharing it all at once, but sharing pieces and parts and different meetings you have in your company, the first part is verbally communicating your vision. Then the second part is actually acting it out and doing what you say you're going to do. And leading by example is huge. And so that's the second part of communication, but ultimately it's sitting down and giving your team the time of day to encourage them and to show them that you do care.

Dan Dowdy (22:23):

There's really so many. We could go really deep and the different apps and different things you can do for communication with your team. But I think ultimately it's, it's stepping outside of that shallow communication. We have, it's easy to say, you know, Hey Josh, how you doing? How's your family doing? Right? That's a typical communication. But when you start to know the spouse's name and you start to know their kids' names and what they do and how old they are, and you start to know the activities that are happening in their lives. I think it just naturally makes people feel like, wow, my boss kind of cares about me. You know, he actually knows what's going on outside of just, hi, how you doing?

Josh Smith (23:00):

Awesome. Well, Dan, this has been super informative. I feel like we need to get you back in here for another round of this. I think there's a lot more that we could potentially dive into. Where can people find out more about you about belt for the trades?

Dan Dowdy (23:12):

Yeah. So it's built for the is definitely a place to go and check it out. Once again, my mission alive is to work with business owners, to help them achieve their vision and what they're wanting to accomplish, but ultimately built for the trades. This it's going to become a network for business coaching. And so if you're out there and you're wanting to learn more, go to the website, just fill out your contact information in there. I'd love to chat with you. Ultimately I'm there to serve customers or potential customers. And so, yeah. However I can help.

Josh Smith (23:38):

Awesome. I appreciate it, Dan. Thanks so much for your time. All right. Thanks Josh. And for all of you listening, definitely hit that subscribe button wherever you might be listening at. So you can get more of this awesome content from the sharpest tool and from all of us here, we'll catch you next time. Thanks.

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