Mark Villareal is a speaker, business coach, consultant and trainer, and international bestselling author. He helps businesses develop their employees, create strong leadership teams, and build a positive culture. Villareal is the author of the popular books Leadership Lessons From Mom and The Millennial Factor.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in southern California, in the suburbs of Los Angeles County. Lakewood, and then Cerritos in California.

I had a good childhood, being the youngest. My brothers and sisters were all loving, and I treasure each memory. My brother Bob is 18-months older than me, so I would hang around Bob a lot, and had a good group of friends. Bob seemed to be the leader of our neighborhood group of friends. We would play a lot of hide and go seek, and it just seemed like those times were so innocent. We had good family vacations and enjoyed the holidays.

In High School I had a friend die suddenly that had a profound effect on me. He was more an acquaintance who wanted to be a closer friend, but I never had the time for us to become better friends. I believed that there would be time in the future, and his passing showed me differently. I went to his service with another friend and when I arrived home my mother knew something was wrong. We talked about it and she taught me the lesson “It’s not about you,” which is in my book. She was always quick with a lesson. My character was important to my mother, as I am certain it is with all mothers and their children. At this moment, she wanted me to know and develop the mindset that life is not about me. I believe this is why I embrace and teach servant leadership, which has been instrumental in my success.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

This is a great question, as it is more than one thing. Once again, I circle back to something my mother would quote as she would tell me that I needed to “learn to be still.” She witnessed and observed how I would race from one thing to another and as I grew older from one relationship to the next. She would tell me to slow down, and to take in each moment and the experience that comes with each. She would also state that I needed to “stop, look, and listen,” based upon the moment. Stop and realize the moment. Look, and understand my surroundings, and listen to what others have to say to the point of full comprehension.

I could certainly name a list of things I would do over again. But the one thing I would do is treasure every moment with my parents and cherish them. My mother passed away in 2005 and my father in 2007 and you can never have those moments again. I had awesome parents and for that I am grateful. But I always long for one more moment, one more hug.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

There are many. I teach leadership and the topics that come with leadership and business consulting and training. I believe leaders need to engage and confront issues as quickly as possible. So, when I hear, or I see training or statements that teach management by committee I see a disaster in the making. Leaders need to lead and create an environment where others will provide opinions and know that it is okay to disagree. However, the leader still needs to lead and ultimately make decisions that are best for the organization. This is exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. meant by stating that a leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. This means he values the feedback and opinions but that he makes the decision and then molds consensus with his leadership staff, and they must own the decision like it was their own. This is a First Team environment. There is a quote that states, “a camel is just a horse designed by committee.” This is what happens when you manage by committee.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

The first that comes to mind is when I was terminated from employment as a manager of a fast-food chain when I was 20-years old. The experience was heartbreaking at the time. However, it was at this time that I discovered the book The One Minute Manager, and the lessons were inspiring, yet so simple. I made a commitment to model my style of management after that book’s teachings. With my next employer, I started at an entry-level sales position and was quickly promoted to the management training program and was well respected. Soon I was assigned my own team and location within that industry and set records. The One Minute Manager teachings helped me build confidence as I learned the importance of culture and building the success of others. This led to servant leadership as I discovered that the more, I focused on others success mine would blossom. I was awarded Manager of the Year and promoted to a higher volume location.

There are several things I learned. One, life will have many setbacks, so this taught me perseverance. Next, it pushed me to be hungry to always learn, from experience, books, and others. I quote that the moment I stop learning is the moment I die. I certainly hope to learn each day. As the years would pass, I would always seek mentors, as my mom would preach this, but she would then say to pay it forward and mentor others. She would teach me that through this experience I would realize how much I learn from those I am mentoring. One of my favorite quotes of hers I did not mention earlier is, “humility is a strength, and not a weakness,” which allowed me to learn from anyone and not think I know it all. Finally, as I am a man of faith each experience has taught me to trust in the Lord as He has brought me through each experience and hardship.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

I mentioned that great leaders pay it forward, and they learn from others as they do. Certainly, I look for mentors and have had several who have made a great impact. But the experience of paying it forward, looking for others to help and teach. There are so many ways to pay it forward, yet you only realize this as you put forth effort. However, there is so much reward in helping others succeed. That is the joy in what I do. I was once asked by the CEO I reported to what I would do if salary were not an issue. I stated I would sit next to people and coach them all day. There is nothing like helping and seeing others grow and develop. Paying it forward has built a passion for what I do, so therefore it is the biggest contributor to what I do.

What is your morning routine?

For the last three years, I have lived in a cabin, off a lake, in the Great Smoky Mountains. I wake up at 6:00 am and spend time in the bible, in prayer, and in a daily lesson from Charles Stanley. This gets my day ready and my mindset. I then make it a point to enjoy the view from where we live. I had to add this in, as when we first moved here, I found myself so caught up in business items that I had not looked outside for three days. I need to make a point to appreciate where we live and why we live here. It is beautiful.

I start my workday at 8 am and I review my daily To-Do list to review what rolled over, and what items make the best impact. My To-Do list has the 4-time management quadrants for each item so I can observe where I spend my time and if I am avoiding the items that can make the most impact and substituting them with the task. Each Friday I make a Weekly Top 5 List for the next week, so I will peruse that list daily. The Weekly Top 5 are only items that are strategy-oriented and are things that I am working ‘on’ the business, not in the business. This is important and it can be less than 5 items. On the business defines items that grow the business and moves it forward.

After these items, I check email and clear out what is not necessary and prioritize any items that need priority. Then I attack the day.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

The habit of looking at the view from our cabin each morning has made me so thankful to the Lord and appreciate our surroundings. It brings peace.

Of the 7-habits, Seek first to understand, then be understood has been instrumental in my improvement in all aspects personally and professionally. I have learned to even add this statement to my vocabulary, as I will address a conversation by stating I need to seek first to understand, and then ask for clarity. Prior to this, I would, at times, jump to conclusions and create issues where they did not need to be created. If I had sought first, to understand then that comprehension would have moved the situation forward with no issues. This has been the most impactful habit to put forth effort in, to where now it is more automatic. Others respond well and view it as respectful.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

As mentioned earlier, I have a consistent morning, and the daily To-Do List and Weekly Top 5 are good methods to stay consistent. A strategy that I teach in leadership is to have a mindset to “touch it once.” This means to confront issues immediately when they arise and work to touch work items quickly, and once to get them off of your plate. As a leader, I was known for not letting things build on my plate, and for confronting issues quickly. I would make decisions, work on problems, and teach others to do the same. One of the best and most effective things I always implemented with my leadership staff was to teach them how to problem-solve and make decisions. I would educate them on my method of problem-solving, and how I made decisions. But I would also encourage them to define other methods, but to have a consistent method. As a leader, if you build a leadership staff of problem-solvers and decision-makers, your job then becomes much easier.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

I have many. The first that comes to mind is The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, which changed my mindset and helped me develop into a leader. The book teaches how to inspire through proactive leadership. Catching individuals doing something right, and how that inspires morale. There are many others. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. Everything we do is based upon habits, good or bad. Good habits help drive good results. The 7-Habits can be broken down for any profession, and any business industry. The habits work personally and professionally. The 7-habits work for any role, sales, operations, marketing, accounting, etc.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni has been another driver and influence, as it demonstrates how a dysfunctional team has a lack of trust, which prohibits the best results. A functioning team allows for vulnerability due to the establishment of trust. Disagreements and other opinions are welcomed when done professionally. The phrase “First Team” brings relevance and defines peer-to-peer accountability that is developed. The Speed of Trust is another book that I embrace, as trust is something that must be earned, can be earned quickly, but can also be destroyed in a moment. I preach how the book teaches that trust is like a bank account. One can make many deposits, but one withdrawal can destroy it all. Finally, the Blue Ocean Strategy is a book that has taught me that great organizations reinvent themselves with new products, services, and strategies. I have seen many organizations that were at the top of their field yet did not keep up with a strategy and were surpassed. The successful ones like Microsoft, Apple, and others have many times reinvented themselves.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

Yes, I have many. I quote my mother a lot, as she was a big influence. I state that she was the best leadership coach who chose to be a housewife. This is what drove my second book, Leadership Lessons From Mom. A few quotes from my mother.

“Bad news does not get better with time.”

“The moment you allow yourself to walk on eggshells there will be eggs at every turn.”

“Do something that matters each day.”

“Values are what you live by and principles are what you stand on.”

There are many quotes from other individuals that I cherish and work to live by them.

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“Until your people start mocking you, you haven’t said your message enough.” – Verne Harnish, The Rockefeller Habits.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John Maxwell

“Individuals have an innate hunger to be led.” – Mark Villareal