Interview: Dakota and Prodromos CEO to CEO Leadership

During this interview, Gui Costin sits down with Jim Stagnitta and JC Glick, the co-founders of Prodromos. These two individuals are truly some of the most innovative leaders as it relates to coaching and coaching leadership.

Prodromos is a coaching company that is all about leadership. They have worked with NFL teams and Fortune 500 Companies, among others, and have come to be true leaders in the industry. 

This interview will cover the background on both Jim Stagnitta, JC Glick, and Prodromos, as well as actionable takeaways you can use within your own firm. 

About JC Glick

JC retired from 20 years of service in the army, primarily Special Operations, about seven years ago. He was fortunate enough to do 11 combat tours and served with the Rangers and a group called the Asymmetric Warfare Group.

He left the army after leading their training and doctrine leadership school, resiliency school, and fitness school. What he was trying to do there was become more innovative in how they teach their leaders to lead, and how to get people to think about developing as opposed to meeting a standard. 

He did what all Special Operations guys do when they get out of the military, write a book. JC wrote a couple of books, but linked up with Jim through La Crosse and realized that there was more of an impact they could make together. Specifically in the sports world, but also in corporations in taking what Jim Stagnitta learned from all his years on the sports field combining that with his knowledge from the battlefield.

It can be difficult to take what a sports coach engrains into you, and put it to work in a cubicle. More so, it can be difficult to take what an Army Ranger does and take action on it if you're working in a warehouse. This is exactly what JC and Jim try to help people do. 

About Jim Stagnitta

Jim Stagnitta’s background is sports; he was a college coach for upwards of 30 years coaching in the professional league and continues to coach professionally now in the PLL. He has coached at the Division III level and the Division I level.

He was an assistant here in Philadelphia at his elementary school, which is where he started at the University of Pennsylvania. He left college coaching about seven years ago, when his son went on to college to play himself. At that point, Jim had put a team together that would be able to work with corporations, organizations, and teams in all areas of development from the mind to the body, to the leadership piece. JC was his leadership head at that point. 

The start of Prodromos

A few months into it the two of them had a conversation. JC told Jim he felt that he could take Jim’s 30 years of coaching experience and share that to help other people in ways that are sustainable. Jim was really drawn in from his experience as a young coach. He was maybe the youngest head coach in the country when he was first hired at Washington Lee. He was aware that he needed some development, and there was still a lot for him to learn, and other people could provide for his players.

During that time he found very little of it to be sustainable, he found it to be a quick hit. If he found someone to show up for a day or two, they tended to assume they knew what their challenges were before they got there. So, Jim brought in consultants. Most of the programming that we did was templated and he found at the end of the day none of it was sustainable, and they weren't there when I really needed them in real-time. 

This is when JC and Jim focused on their approach: becoming part of a team, embedding yourself with an organization, embedding yourself with a team - which is what they did in their professional lives, JC as a Ranger and leader and Jim as a coach.

Now, let’s get into the interview.

CEO to CEO leadership discussion

Who is Prodromos?

GUI COSTIN: My name is Gui Costin, the founder of Dakota. We're a 60 person firm. We're in the investment business, where we raise money and then we have a software product. More importantly, with 60 people and we have over 30 sales people it requires a lot of coaching and training. 

Just give a short background on Prodromos, who you work with, what you do, but then let's talk about the problem that you saw in terms of other consultants coming in and where they basically fell down. Also, what you guys are trying to solve for.

JIM STAGNITTA: Well, what we do is we have an approach. When people came in to work with me and my teams over those years, they didn't do the reconnaissance. They didn't put the time in to actually try to understand, observe, and collect the information they needed to truly understand where my challenges were and where my team's challenges were.

That's really where we feel like we separate from a lot of people in our space. You know, first we're not academics. We've actually led. We've led in stressful situations and where there were high expectations. We've had to develop cultures. Sometimes we've done it really well, and sometimes we've not done it so well. But we've learned from all of those experiences.

What our approach and our focus is, is to actually make or to enact change, to help and be involved in these teams as they evolve, to be their after hours. You know we don't have the approach when we talk with our partners - we're not attorneys, we don't charge you by the minute. Once we're engaged, we're there to help you and support you. Sometimes you just need someone to vent to, other times you may want some insights and thoughts. We tend to engage with our partners anywhere from a month, to six months, to a season.

Evolving behavior

JC GLICK: The questions matter. And you have to ask questions with only the intent to learn, right? That's it. And I think it's interesting because we might agree on the principle of the players now, but you have to ask the right questions. Because what the players know, and again, let's look at how they've been conditioned their whole lives.

Who are the captains of teams? The best players. Not the best leaders. That continues in the NFL and I'm going to tell you that I actually called Jim the other day because we were talking to an NFL player. And he gave me an answer that was the best answer, I mean, we've worked with the NFL for seven years now. We've never gotten this answer. And I said, "What's your role as a leader on this team?"

And without even thinking about he goes, "To make everyone around me better." We have never heard that in the NFL or the NBA since doing this. It's the best answer a leader can give. Now, I will tell you that is not what most teammates think that their leader needs to be. It's what they need, so you have to ask the right questions.

You can't say, "Who do you think the best leader on the team is?" Because what they're probably going to tell you is who the best player is. What you really want to say is, "Hey, who do you think really takes care of you out there?" "Hey, who's always the last at practice?" "Hey, who's putting themselves in a position behind others?"

So asking those questions. I agree, I think they know, but you got to ask the right questions. And what we constantly see with leaders is, they're asking questions and they're either not giving people the opportunity to answer them. Because they pause, and instead of just being comfortable with silence, we think we need to fill it.

Or they're asking questions that they already know the answer to, which is again, look at the conditioning that we've had, right? When have you ever been asked a question as a child that there wasn't an expectation of the answer?

Prioritizing collaboration 

GUI COSTIN: Is there one core set of challenges that most organizations have that you both can go in and help solve for? Is there a kind of consistency?

JC GLICK: As Jim was saying, a lot of consultants will come in and tell you everything you're doing wrong. We're not there to tell you everything you're doing wrong. We recognize that your workforce has been conditioned over your entire life to behave a certain way. This is the one thing that all of you face.

For example, within every company leadership always complains about collaboration. We've conditioned our children for 18 years  to not collaborate: keep your eyes on your own work, don't share your answers with anyone else. We don't grade people on group projects, we grade on the possibility of having one group project a year, but that's not real life. We've conditioned people to be the way they are. 

You're not a bad leader or have a bad culture because your people don't collaborate. You just haven't spent the time to de-condition them to remove them from that. I believe a lot of it is understanding that good leaders or bad leaders, we're all facing the same kind of conditioning that's been bred into our workforce. What we have to do is teach them that there's another way to think.

Obedience vs. Capacity

GUI COSTIN: You're basically starting with the end in mind. I always say that if I'm going to coach you on something, I'm trying to put you at the highest level of professionalism. Meaning everything we're going to ask you to do, is in your best interest for your professional development.

True coaching is trying to always make it about them. You're saying not just the physical equipment, but also the mental decision making. If you can do that and coach them right away from the beginning to develop them, they're going to become amazing soldiers, amazing salespeople, and amazing players.

JIM STAGNITTA: Whether you're in the military, you're on a sports field, or you're in a business, one of the challenges we find that leaders face is that their people are obedient. By saying obedient, I mean they just do what they're told. Leaders tend to think that they have to have all the answers, when really what they should be doing is developing the capacity in our people, giving them the tools, resourcing them to be able to handle situations, and without having to come to the leader to get the answer.

An example in sports is your coach can call a play and the defense or your enemy has a vote. They can come in, they could double-team the receiver, they could come out in a zone instead of playing man to man. If your team is obedient they're just going to go run the play that the coach gave them. If your team develops capacity, they're going to be able to handle the unknown. They're going to make the adjustment, they're going to make the decision.

Whether it's a sales team, a sports team, or it's a military team in action you want to prepare your people to be able to give, empower, and resource them to be able to make decisions, develop, and in turn develop the next level of leaders coming up with them behind them.

The question we ask leaders all the time is, what is the goal of leadership? The goal of leadership is to make the team better.

GUI COSTIN: This can be so impactful to a team and organization. What I love about your coaching is you guys think so differently about leadership. Think about what you're just getting at with the term “different”. 

I coached my son's golf team for nine years, and I took it seriously, but I played college golf. Today in college golf if you ever watch it, which is mind numbing, it's a six hour round of golf, and the coaches literally play the game for the players. My son was 11 or 12 years old, and I made a commitment that I could only say two things to him, “Great swing” or, “Great shot”. That was Johnny Miller's line. One day as we're playing my son says, "Dad, what do you think, bump and run or flop shot?" I'm like, "What do you think?" And he goes, "No, no, no, just tell me. Like what do you think?" I had to tell him when he’s in the situation, I won’t be there to tell him what to do, and he has to make the decision. 

I always took the philosophy of figuring it out. Give your team the capacity to figure it out. The strength of what you guys coach and what's such a difference is how you teach leaders to think like that. It's not intuitive. Because leaders do, like insecure parents, just want to make every decision for their kid.

JC GLICK: We're so afraid of watching our children or our employees fail, because we think the consequences are so great. I was very fortunate to have a really great commander. I was going on my fifth rotation to combat and he asked me what my goals were. I said what I believed at the time, which was to bring all my guys back. 

He goes, "Stop. That is a stupid goal." And I was like, "Okay, I've been told since I was a cadet that's what my job is." And he goes, "You're going to think you have everything right, and you're going to make a mistake at some point in combat. The cost and consequence of that mistake will be one of your Rangers lives. I'm going to tell you that if your mistake is not born of negligence, meaning you should have known something or you should have read something that you didn't, it's okay."

That completely changed how I looked at mistake making. Here's this guy who made it to four stars and commanded a very high level, and he just told me that it was okay if I made a mistake, even if the cost was a ranger's life. I later understood why that was important as a warrior, but it really made me look at the civilian world and leaders very differently. If this guy could say that I could lose a life, and if it wasn't born in negligence it's okay, then isn't it okay that my kid gets cut from a team every once in a while? Isn't it okay that they fail a test? Isn't it okay that they blow a sail? I mean can we really look at these things in context and say, alright, maybe we've taken this zero failure idea a little too far.

Trust matters most

GUI COSTIN: When you look at Jeff Bezos, obviously the founder of Amazon, and look at his north star based on the core principles, they aren't like the off the shelf core principles, they are really well done. We've done this at our organization. We have these concepts called Dakota-isms that guide everybody: walk the eight feet, sell apples to apple buyers, throw your hat over the wall, don't go cowboy. 

When I think of working with a consulting firm on leadership, what would be some of the tactical key takeaways that you leave an organization with? Or on a continuous basis that you establish for them so they can follow that?

JIM STAGNITTA: Sure - our tagline says it all, people over everything. We believe that as a leader if your people trust you and believe you have their best interest in mind, they will do anything for you. Creating that culture and environment can be really uncomfortable for leaders.

Leaders give up ownership and allow their people to make decisions, and sometimes fail and learn from those decisions. However, we believe that when leaders take on and embrace that approach, there's sustainability and consistency in the outcomes for that company. 

We believe that leaders have certain traits. One of these that we help develop is curiosity so the leader is not just coming from their own personal perspective, because that's their own story in their head. This usually leads to the worst case scenario.

Sometimes my children do some things and I shake my head. I go, "Why would you do something like that?" Then when I truly ask, "Hey, tell me why you did that." There's some real merit in why they made that decision. We have to be willing to do that with our people, and we have to empower our people and give them ownership. We don't look for change, we look for evolution. People don't like change, but they will evolve.

When you're working with us, we're going to challenge you. That's what we're there for. It can often be uncomfortable for the leader to give up some power and give up some ownership to allow their people to make mistakes.

GUI COSTIN: Let's dig a little deeper on that concept of curiosity. Going back to Jeff Bezos, he said you have to go 6 layers deep within the organization. If you think about institutional knowledge within a company, if you're a leader and you're not asking questions to that person who probably has the answers, you've just never asked that they feel uncomfortable speaking up. You have to dig right in order to get to the answers. 

Can you talk about that? Because to me, if you're talking about one key distinction of working with you guys, you have to get the leaders curious to ask the questions.

JIM STAGNITTA: There's two parts of it. They have to be authentic in their curiosity. They have to have humility. They have to actually be willing to listen to understand the problem, not just listen for the sake of listening. When you do that and you are authentic, your people will start to give you answers.

We talk about it all the time. If you sit-in a room full of people, whether it's a sports team or whether it's a corporation and/or a sales team, and you ask them a question, “What happens if the person that you're trying to sell to gives you this answer right away?” What you're going to get out of 90% of the people in that room is something negative. When you do just a little test of probable vs. possible, this is only probable, but this is possible, you find out that the percentage to make that a positive is much higher. 

If you're not curious you're only coming from one perspective. That's your own, and it's just to stitch your own story. Getting people to understand and ask questions at every level. Getting them to ask questions, it also helps you to understand how people learn, how they develop, how they think.

GUI COSTIN: This is so interesting because I have two kids that play college lacrosse, obviously Jim you did. You coached college lacrosse for 30 years. But there was always this line from either John Nostrant or Paul O'Grady, and they always talked about how you select captains. And they would always say the players know. You ask the players and they know who the best leaders are. 

Transformational vs. Transactional

GUI COSTIN: Coming to the end, I do want to talk about sales - because it's one of my favorite topics. Sales are all shades of gray. Working with sales teams can be invaluable for the sales leadership. I also believe people feel the most threatened when someone tries to change their sales process. However, if they have this willingness to be a lifelong learner and get better, the results can be exponential.

So if you're a sales leader, walk me through why you consider working with other groups within an organization vs. just the sales leadership team or sales, why it's so difficult, and then what you believe you can do to help sales leaders.

JIM STAGNITTA: I think a lot of times salespeople are like individual sports guys. They rely on themselves and produce for themselves. When you have an organization and you have a culture, it only takes a few people within that culture to take it down. When you have a culture and then you have a sales team that is based on individual production and reaching certain goals and receiving certain honors, it's contrary to the rest of the culture in the organization.

This is another one that’s really a challenge. We haven’t been successful 100% of time time. Sometimes it's hard to break that. That comes from the top. If the leader and the CEO are not willing to look at sales as something that is more transformational in relationship than transactional, we're going to fail.

That challenge becomes, getting the sales team and CEO to understand that the transformational aspect of sales should trump the transactional piece of sales, if that makes sense.

GUI COSTIN: Really what you're getting at first off with sales, is it has to come from the top, and it's difficult. In our pre-discussion we were talking about how tough it is to unpack something that's already existing within a sales organization. I encourage you as a sales leader to have these worthwhile conversations. Because the smallest little changes can have such a big impact.

I think every situation is going to be a little bit different, but getting in and analyzing what's really going on and having a consulting group like yourselves to facilitate this is really worth its weight in gold.

JIM STAGNITTA: I mean, here's a key piece that's really uncomfortable, right? It's that capability vs. capacity piece. Capability is learned, while capability could be a script that you recite on a sales call. When there's some pushback, you need capacity and the ability to adjust in real-time. That's where resilience comes in, right? Real-time challenges.

If you just continue to follow the script and push in this direction, you could be going completely off where your prospect needs you to be. We’ll often run into very capability-based sales teams where we try to instill the idea of capacity and being able to think on your feet and make adjustments - actually lead the client and be able to provide for them what they truly need, not what you think they need.

GUI COSTIN: Right, value. So JC, any comments just as we're talking about sales teams in your approach?

JC GLICK: I think that what we do with sales teams, and again, I certainly don't consider myself a sales person. So for me, it's really about talking to the sales leaders about why they do certain things and what the benefit they think of that is, especially if it's what I think is contrary to what could get them to the next level. We know at the base of human requirements is a need for connection.

It's at the root of everything we do, we have to have this connection. Everybody gets this wrong and they think, “Oh, I need purpose”. People need purpose and connection. Once they find connection, then they'll find purpose. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad. But if we start to look at something that separates people such as, “Hey, here's our number one salesman or number two salesman or number three salesman.” Hey, that's great. You've just put a whole lot of pressure on the number one salesperson. The number five salesperson feels like a turd. 

Do you think that that's what's going to motivate them? For some it will, about a third. If you said to your team, “I don't want one great salesman and four mediocre salespeople. I would rather have five good salespeople.”

The question is, how do we connect these people in a way that's meaningful, so they can all be successful and lift each other up as they climb? It's not a threat, it's actually what we want them to do. So asking the questions like, "Okay, so what would happen if we did it this way?"

To watch the full interview, click the video below! 

Written By: Morgan Holycross, Marketing Manager

Morgan Holycross is a Marketing Manager at Dakota.