Robert Mixon – Founder of Level Five Associates
About Robert Mixon:
Major General Robert W. Mixon, Jr. has achieved over three decades of extraordinary leadership success in diverse organizations, including the United States Army where he commanded the 7th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, Colorado prior to his retirement in 2007. Subsequently, he served in executive leadership positions in both for profit and not for profit companies prior to starting his own leadership company, Level Five Associates, in 2014.
Robert’s invaluable expertise and broad business range have powered a history of developing successful process improvements that drive productivity, reliability, and client satisfaction. Such traits have consistently enabled Robert to achieve an impressive command of the skills needed to manage ongoing business planning processes while developing strategies to meet future challenges.
General Mixon has positioned Level Five Associates as a thought leader in all facets of business strategy, finance, and operations, and he has become a trusted advisor to a number of outstanding companies in diverse fields. He’s a published author in several key aspects of business excellence:
- Co-author of a best-selling book on Amazon, “Cows in the Living Room: Developing an Effective Strategic Plan and Sustaining It”.
- Author of “We’re All In: The Journey to a World-Class Culture”, which became a “Best New Release” on Amazon in 2017.
Prior to assuming the role of Owner for Level Five Associates, Major General Mixon achieved notable success for over three decades creating positive outcomes in Financial Management, Executive Leadership, Strategic Planning, and Cultural Change.
Emerging from the unprecedented challenges of 2020, Robert has just published his new e-book on leadership, “Who Saw This Coming? Now What Do We Do?” which is available via his website. He also publishes a bi-weekly blog with over 2,000 subscribers.
Transcript of Robert Mixon:
Alan Olsen: Hi, this is Alan Olsen and welcome to American Dreams. I am visiting here today with Robert Mixon. And, Robert, welcome to today’s show.
Robert Mixon: Thanks, Alan. It is great to be here with you.
Alan Olsen: Robert, you have quite a background and without spoiling it (for the listeners) I would like to have you (in your own words) tell us that background and how you arrived at where you are today.
Robert Mixon: Okay, Alan I think my story is somewhat of the American dream. In that context, I have shared with you that I grew up the oldest of six kids in Atlanta, Georgia. I did not walk uphill to school in the snow both ways. I was just a product of a middle class American family, trying to make it the 1950s and 1960s. My dream was to be a college football player one day, and in high school, I was fortunate enough to, if you remember the show, Friday Night Lights, we played in County stadiums with 10-15 thousand people and I was a quarterback in my team. And we were a fairly mediocre team. But every quarterback in my conference was recruited by a major university and and so one night, I came home from working in the gas station after football game. And there were two West Point football coaches sitting in my living room with my dad. And in those days, and today, Army football is one of the best, proudest programs in America. And I really didn’t have the dream of being an army officer per se. I had a dream of being a West Point football player. That dream changed over time. And as I had the opportunity to, to become a member of The Long Gray Line in 1970, the 17 year old kid at two weeks out of high school, I learned very quickly that it wasn’t about football, it West Point was an entirely different story and pathway. And I had the privilege of playing a little bit, but I was fairly mediocre and, got hurt and that that dream kind of went aside. I stayed at West Point because in those days, despite the Vietnam War, which was very unpopular, and the military, which was wrongly blamed for much of the strategies of the Vietnam War, we had, in our class of 1974, we developed a band of brothers, and it was all male in those days. But it was indeed a culture of its own. And so I was able to stay with it, and graduate went into the Army as Second Lieutenant found another band of brothers and sisters in the army, although it was a very difficult environment in the mid 70s, because of the challenges of getting coming out of the Vietnam War, seen by most Americans as a defeat, and a military that was trying to go from draft to volunteer. And so we were half of one and half of the other. And we really had a hodgepodge of men and women in the army and nation that really wasn’t behind us very much. Many of us, many of us stayed, but a lot of good officers left because they were discouraged that the fact that the culture had had really declined in their view. And we have managed to work our way through it, and emerged in the 80s with a new pathway and a new charter. And I do I talk about that here to do just a little shameless plug promotion on one of my books We’re All In I talked about my journey and the Army’s journey through the 1980s and 1990s, which led to a the development of a world class military that I was absolutely proud to be part of. And I was able to stay for 33 years, and privileged to become a general officer to command division installation. And at that point, I knew that the Army’s journey for all of us was temporary. And so I moved on and entered the corporate world. In 2008 2009, president of manufacturing company went right into the Great Depression and found out how difficult not only difficult times you could have in the military, you have difficult times in the corporate world too.
Alan Olsen: It is interesting timing, by the way. 2007 Wow!
Robert Mixon: It was tough sledding Alan as you know. And we got through it, learned from it. I went to another manufacturing environment inside a 501 C3, for intellectually disadvantaged people. And we also began a program called warrior salute for men and women who had post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma. And we help those men and women as part of the family of what was CDS monarch at the time to regain their lives. And that program is still very viable today, having graduated over 400 men and women, military veterans through that life and Job Transition Program that CDS monarch championed, I then decided that the next phase of my American dream was to have my own company. And based on the mistakes I have made as a leader, maybe I can help other individuals not make as many mistakes, and other organizations not make as many mistakes. We founded Level Five Associates based on the mantra that value-based leadership works if you have the right values. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of executives and companies and organizations of different type of missions. And I have learned a lot from it. And for me, it is a labor of love. And I don’t know how to retire. So that’s what I’m doing now. As my journey continues with Level Five Associates, which has brought me to this stage of life.
Alan Olsen: Who are your heroes and why?
Robert Mixon: I probably my first heroes, my mom. My mom, Gay, (Hi, Mom, hope you are listening) she is 90 years old now. And she raised the six of us just about by herself, and was a very humble, yet firm, person who basically led the family. She has been, she was then, and always will be one of my heroes. I had the great privilege to be on the personal staff of two four star generals: General Crosbie Saint and General Colin Powell. And being inside their inner circle, was a remarkable opportunity for me to be with level five leaders. That term comes from John C. Maxwell’s description of the ultimate leader, as well as Jim Collins description of the ultimate leader, and I had a chance to be with two of the of the military’s greatest leaders and be inside their inner circle. So I would say that mom and General Saint, and General Powell are three of my heroes. I also had the opportunity to work with Mr. Sankar Sewnauth, who is the CEO now of CDS Life Transition. CDS Monarch became a larger entity. And he is also an example the American dream of first generation American. And I think he is one of the one of the people I put in my heroes category, because they represent all the all the goodness that that we can portray, as leaders who care about those we lead. And yet, we are humble. We believe in servant leadership. That is where I think my heroes come from people who represent that attitude towards life and towards each other.
Alan Olsen: Let us roll through the big six leadership principles.
Robert Mixon: I developed the Big Six (of course, this isn’t rocket science) not original thinking (because I don’t think I have ever had an original thought). Based on making a lot of mistakes along the way, and learning from some very smart people who were very patient with me, we develop the big six principles. And the first one is called Set the Azimuth. Many people don’t know what Azimuth is, but basically, I got it from the military. It is the cardinal direction of your organization. So the first principle is, we need to set and sustain our Azimuth. As an individual and as a team. Where are we going? What is our mission? What is our intent? But then that is vision in a much more distinct way? What are our values? What do we believe in? And then what is our culture? What are the behaviors that we are going to represent that demonstrate that our values are coming to life? The second principle is Listen. As mom, my hero told me, God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. I didn’t pay much attention to that for most of my adolescent and adult life. But I realized now that the most effective listeners are effective leaders. And there is a corollary there, those two qualities are interwoven. So we have to learn to listen, I don’t think it’s a natural tree, just as 90% of leadership is learned. Only about 10% is part of our DNA. The third principle is Trust and Empower. Empowerment is where trust comes to life. But we have to, we have to build trust and demonstrate trust. If we’re going to grow ourselves and others to as we say in the army be all they can be. The fourth principle is do the right thing when no one’s looking. And as we say in the better got this be swell. We can all do the right thing all the time. The world is very stark, it’s either right or it’s wrong. Well, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Leadership is art, not science. And we have to figure out as leaders, how to value the process over the outcome, how to do the right thing, when it’s difficult, have the conversation would maybe difficult when it’s the right thing for the individual in the organization. Be the standard. The fifth principle is when in charge take charge. that doesn’t mean being loud and profane. A lot of people have some misconceptions about generals that we all run around being loud and perfect, that is absolutely not true. Being in charge, when in charge is being the Calm in the Chaos, it’s being the one who has tactical patients, where you can be a good bad news taker, but you have to learn how to do that. And the greatest leaders are ones who have that tactical patients who can be in charge and be the Calm in the Chaos. The six principles balanced the personal and professional, everybody thinks balance is about work life, number of hours, work number hours with the family. That is not the case. Balance is about finding what matters in your life, and the greater goodness of the organization. And pursuing that framework. We have to have four batteries inside us physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. And if we don’t charge those batteries, then we don’t lead people the way they deserve to be led, we have to charge those batteries. And we have to nurture the charging those batteries in others. And so those six principles are really the interlocking components of building journey to a world class leadership model, maybe you’re from level three to level four, very few of us will ever be level five. But the self awareness is key. And I think you have to work at it. I conduct a series of workshops, one on each of the six principles. And usually they’re half day long with a small group of leaders. And we work through practical tools to apply these principles. Not very esoteric. So if we want to talk about the right brain left brain, that I’m not the right person to deal with. But I certainly enjoy a long term relationship with an individual or a team of individuals who really want to move the needle, and become leaders of character and capability to a greater level than they have today and to grow leaders who are going to be better than they are. And I think that’s part of the servant leader model as well.
Alan Olsen: Robert, I’ve done well over 1000 interviews and different individuals. And I can really feel that your three decades of leadership have really helped you to develop these guiding principles that you work with others. You’re not just talking, you’re walking the talk you have been able to apply this. And I also love the the coin you phrase as servant leader. The other person I’ve heard that from is Ken Blanchard, who is one of my guests on the show, it says it’s so well. That is if the leader is a servant, to those who are inside the organization, I want to move into your leadership development program at Level Five that that you offer to individuals and teams. Can you summarize how you approach it?
Robert Mixon: Yeah, I think first of all Alan, I would say that when, when someone or group of people approached me about working together, I asked them, what outcomes they are looking to achieve. And if they want to be better leaders are better teams, that’s a little bit too broad. That’s sort of like boiling the ocean. We need a neck it down a little bit into what specific outcomes are you looking for. And based on those goals and objectives, either as individuals or teams, then we develop a specifically tailored program for the individual. For example, executive coaching, I have now have 12 executives that I have a one on one coaching program to help them build a personal leadership philosophy and an action plan to bring that philosophy to life. With teams and organizations we build around the big six principles, also with that personal leadership philosophy, that I helped them develop that personal mission statement, who am I? What do I do? Why do I do it? And then the philosophy we bring it to life using the big six principles in the series of workshops that we conduct. And after the Big Six, then we have a next six because there’s a sustainment part of this model that I think is important. You know, you you can’t really build a leadership development program in a week or 30 days, I’m not a big fan of the drive by leadership programs, I want to have an enduring relationship, where we trust each other just like principle three on trusting and power. But we also grow together, and we’re invested in each other. So that’s really what the level five program is designed to be. It’s designed to be enduring. It’s designed to be practical, application focused, and outcomes based, so that which is measured gets done that you know, that in your career, we need to have metrics of progress. So people understand that, hey, we’re making progress here in each of these principles, or in my action plan. And here’s how I measure the fact that I’m achieving, you know, measurable progress, and not just aspirational, feeling better type of leadership development, I think it has to be practical application. For example, you know, in the Asmath, setting the Asmath, I’ll ask him many times, individuals and teams will develop the value of they want to respect to be one of their values. And I said, Well, how do you define that? They said, well, respect is that we have regard for others. Okay, that’s a good definition. Now, how are you going to bring that to life in a culture? Well, one of the things you bring to life is you say, in your culture statement, we do things on time. individuals and organizations that do things on time, demonstrate respect for the people, on their teams, in their organizations. And it’s one of the elements, I think, of world class leadership is that you live by this mantra, and you walk the talk.
Alan Olsen: So what prompted you to write your latest book, Who Saw This Coming; Now What Do We Do?
Robert Mixon: We all know, Alan the world changed two years ago. And it changed significantly. And there were a number of components in that in that change, then, and COVID was part of that one of those components. Another one was the manifestation of tremendous social upheaval, which was, I think, it was a time for us to deal with it. And it remains a time for us to deal with it. So when I wrote Who Saw This Coming Now What Do We Do, I was really addressing the fact that the big six principles are still viable, we need to apply them even more intensively now that we’re in a world of greater uncertainty, that there’s more hybridization, if that’s the right term of our workplace, and our our business units. That doesn’t mean we still don’t demonstrate servant leadership, and caring leadership that is very focused on growing people. And that’s what I really talk about in the book. How do we sustain this model in a world that has changed significantly, and be the call in the chaos for those that we leave those that we serve.
Alan Olsen: Well, Robert, I appreciate you coming on today’s show. Now, I’ll tell you, I can feel inside of you this mantra of leadership and experience that you have been able to develop and to pass on to others in your program at Level Five Associates. And you for people that want to reach out to you how would they go ahead and do that for more information on Level Five Associates Program?
Robert Mixon: Yeah, thanks, Alan. The primary way, I think you learn more about us and reach out to us is through the website, www.levelfiveassociates.com. You spell out the five, there, you’ll see an overview of who we are what we represent. And then you can also have the contact form there. Or you can reach out to me personally at Robert@levelfiveassociates.com. And if you don’t hear back from me, you’ll know I’m probably seriously ill or have passed away.
Alan Olsen: Now you also have your own podcast I understand.
Robert Mixon: I do! The Journey With Those Summit is the podcast series that is inside Level Five, puts together and I interview executives, different walks of life, talk about their journey, how they’ve applied one or more of the big six. So now we have the privilege of being on podcasts like yours, the American Dream and the good work you’re doing but I have the opportunity to host a podcast series of my own and you can find episodes on the website.
Alan Olsen: Excellent. Well, Robert, I appreciate you being with us today.
Robert Mixon: Thanks Alan wish you all the best as well.
Alan Olsen: Thank you I have been visiting with Robert Mixon, founder of Level Five Associates. Thanks for being with this day on American Dreams.
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This transcript was generated by software and may not accurately reflect exactly what was said.
Alan Olsen, is the Host of the American Dreams Show and the Managing Partner of GROCO.com. GROCO is a premier family office and tax advisory firm located in the San Francisco Bay area serving clients all over the world.
Alan L. Olsen, CPA, Wikipedia Bio