Tough Decisions And How To Make The Right Ones With David Russell


Our life’s journey is full of flashpoints and tough decisions. These can change your life for better – or worse. Join Tony Martignetti in this wonderful conversation with David Russell about his life journey and how he learned to make the tough decisions in life. David is an author, inspirational speaker, and the host of the popular Manage 2 Win Podcast. He shares his insights on learning from your failures and building relationships using honest conversations. David and Tony also talk about lessons learned in their journeys and how they can be applied to today’s world.


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Tough Decisions And How To Make The Right Ones With David Russell

It is my honor to introduce my guest, Dave Russell. Dave is the Creator of the Hire the Best, Avoid the Rest System, the most effective way for entrepreneurs to hire in any economic condition. He's also an author, host of the popular Manage 2 Win Podcast, Creator of Dave's Charm School and the Architect of the Three Strands Leadership System: The Three Most Important Practices of Effective Leaders. He lives in Roseville, North of Sacramento in California. He has a 100-pound golden mix named Max.


I want to welcome you to the show, Dave.

Thanks for having me, Tony. This is a role reversal since you were on my podcast. I loved having you there.

I'm looking forward to digging into your story and hearing your insights. It's a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Thanks. It's an honor to be here.

To give you a little sense as to how we roll on the show, we talk about what's called a flashpoint. We share people's stories through flashpoints, moments in your life that have ignited your gifts to the world. It could be something small or relatively big. Either way, as you're sharing your story, whatever comes to mind that you feel is important to share, we'll give you the floor to share that. We'll stop along the way and see what's showing up. Dave, with that, the floor is yours.

What I like about what you're doing here is you're helping people learn from other people's life experiences. My conclusion of life is that we all have wounds, every single person. If we talk on a personal level, one of the early flashpoints I had, which was not a specific date or time but I was raised by two very loving parents as the golden boy of three children. I was going to be the kid who could do anything. They were very loving and encouraging, but this was a terrible thing for them to do. It led me to think I was the smartest guy in the room when I was not. It led me to be stubborn. If I worked hard enough, I could get through any challenge.

These were some lies that they had not said but had accidentally perpetuated in my being type of thing. As I went through life, I made some different mistakes. I went into a marriage, stuck it out for 40 years and then divorced after 40 years because I realized it was a wrong decision to get in and there were some pieces to the puzzle there that were not good. It was an extremely painful decision. You talk about flashpoints. That was a tough one. The longer you're in, the harder it is to make that decision. It was very hard, but it was having the courage to say, "This is not going to get better. Although I'm old, I still have to make a different decision here."

On a personal point, staying there too back in the late '70s. In '78, '79, the best man at my wedding and one of my two best friends committed suicide. He went through some very tragic things. This led me down a path to consider asking Jesus into my life. I remember it wasn't any flashy moment there. You're talking about flashpoints. I was driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. I had been thinking about it. I talked to some people about it. I said, "Jesus, I'd like to give this a try. I believe that you want to give it a try." For 30 years, I was on autopilot and did the vending machine God thing where I prayed for God to give me things, but I didn't progress.

Most of us were raised to work hard and don’t give up. We weren’t taught to work smart.

Several years ago, as a flashpoint personally, I started meeting with a spiritual mentor and then had been working through this process to try to sense the Holy Spirit more in my life. On a personal level, it's very transformational. It's taking my Type-A personality that would make quick decisions or be upset because I don't know the answer yet. I am in between and trying to pause and saying, "It's okay. I don't have the answer right now. What do you think I should do, God?" I'm waiting for an answer. That's a toughie for a Type-A. Did you ever had that type of problem because you're driven too?

Yes. It's hard to reel from that moment, for sure.

If you take that personal foundation, then you layer it into a career. I went to college. I went to Cal Berkeley primarily to play water polo. My parents were not involved because they had got divorced. That's a whole another story and how that affected me. That was another flashpoint. I went to work on the floor in the stock exchange. I was down there for about five years or so. During that time, it spiritually changed where I was going. I left there and started going to business. I went through some businesses. I had a couple that had some temporary success but then crashed and burned.

I had HP in February 2000 and made a $10 million commitment to a startup idea I had. It was the end of the dot-com craze. A year later, they yanked the funding. I had a guy walk through the door and said he could solve all my problems. I didn't do a background check. I didn't think through it but he said what I wanted to hear so I could keep going. Remember that Type-A that's not going to give up, "If I keep working hard, I'll get there." It doesn't work if you're going in the wrong direction, Tony.

The way that you're telling your story, these are the quintessential peaks and valleys that you're going up and down. I want to start from where you started. There's an element of having trust in what's at the surface but realizing there's so much going on beneath the surface that you're not seeing immediately. Even that element of your parents having a message to you that they didn't know they were giving the invisible signs and symbols that were shared to you around, "You're the best, you're the golden child." Ultimately, what's the message in that sense, how that translates to what shows up and then how those symbols and signs can show up all throughout life where what's being told at the surface and what's going on is different.

I was raised with that message, "Work hard. Don't give up." I wasn't taught, "Work smart." I had to learn the hard way later. Those are two radically different things. Yes, working hard is important and not giving up is important. However, there are times when you're headed in the wrong direction. If you're starting in Texas and you want to get to California and you're driving to Massachusetts, you can drive as fast as you want and take whatever roads you want, but you're still going to Massachusetts. You're not going to California. I didn't realize that.

Years ago, I heard a great leader who said, "Great leaders ask great questions." As a Type-A, you don't ask questions. You're like, "This is where I need to go. If I don't go there, I'm going to miss that opportunity. I need to go there. There's never going to be an opportunity like that again." That's one of the big flashpoints that I would tell your audience. If you've got an opportunity in front of you and you think, "If I don't do this, I'm never going to have this opportunity again," you're fighting the odds there. The odds are about one in a million that you're never going to have an opportunity as good as that again. There are always other opportunities.

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It's funny that you said that because there's an element of hearing that, "Moving so quickly up the mountain." I have a mountain analogy I used in my book, where people rapidly ascend, but then when they get to the altitude of being at the top, they haven't built all of the emotional skills to be at that altitude because all they know is, "Go and keep climbing." They don't have the skills to be at that level.

There were a couple of phrases that I was reminded of from the stock exchange days when I worked down there. One was, "Bulls make money, bears make money, and pigs go broke." The other one is, "You never go broke taking a profit." Here we are in COVID, which the economy is going up and down, weird, and you have a number of people who have spent decades building a business and now they had been fighting off a decision of, "Do I close this thing?" The writing is on the wall that they need to close. If they didn't have the emotional attachment, it's clear, close it or figure out a way to pivot it so you can make it happen and move in another direction.

You take what you've got and move in a different direction, but you cannot continue doing what you're doing and then hope that you can make the bridge. It's a bridge too far. One of the things you've got to do is you've got to be able to step back and say, "I never go broke taking a profit. I can stop now. I can close the business and let it die. I've got money in the bank. I've got assets with relationships. I've got whatever I've got. Maybe I sit tight for a while and plan my next move. I go work for somebody else or whatever. Part of what I've got working on is shut down a division that's most vulnerable."

You have tough decisions. If you're stuck making these decisions, my advice is to talk to someone who's strong enough to tell you the truth and isn't going to back off where they're going to say, "You have to do X." You're going to say, "I don't want to do X." They'll say, "You don't have to." That's not the person to talk to. They may be your friend, spouse, special other, or whatever. That's wonderful, but that's not the person you need to talk to. You needed to talk to somebody who's going to say, "Look at the data. Here's what's going on. I know it's tough to separate yourself from the emotion, but here's what you need to do."

That's holding you accountable for the decision that you need to make in a very big way. That's part of what you're describing. People often talk about having an advisory board. Even if you're a small one-person company, it's great to have an advisory board because those are people who have an interest in seeing you succeed. They're going to be very blunt and honest with you when the time comes. They're not going to be sitting there and saying like, "Whatever you want to do is great." No, they'll be honest and tell you, "This is what I would do if I were you."

That's if you choose the right people for your advisory board. If you choose your friends and family, they may not stand up to you. If you choose your vendors who want to do business with you, they may not stand up to you. You have to be careful how you structure that advisory board and how you compensate them. If they're sharp people, they need to be compensated for their time and you want people who are not always going to agree with you. If everybody is agreeing with you all the time, that's a red flag. You got the wrong group because nobody is that smart where they're going to be right 100% of the time.

I want to take it back into the story around your journey to becoming where you are right now. Tell me about the early business journeys, especially when you started your first business and then once you sold your first business to HP, for example. That was your first one, right?

I didn't sell it. I'll try to skim through it. I went to work on the Florida Stock Exchange. I worked for a few different people. About two years before I left, I asked Jesus into my life. He gave me a different perspective. I started to realize I was just gambling down there all day long. That's what you do, trading equities. For me, it was not meaningful. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to do if you're good at it. I had a friend down there, Greg Georges. I'll even give him a call-out. He's a nice guy. He was a natural. He was very skilled at it. Whereas me, it was a struggle. I ended up quitting. I did carpentry construction for about a year and thought about what I wanted to do.

I got a book of ideas to do as an entrepreneur. One of them was to do trade shows. I went and did a health and fitness show and lost $3,000. I did a computer show and made $3,000. I said, "I'm in the computer show business. This is awesome." I went into the computer industry doing trade shows. That was my first business. In 1984, I could have sold the business and broke even, but remember, I'm that golden boy. I thought, "No, it's worth more than that." A year later, I shut it down and lost as much or more than what I could have sold it for. I was very foolish. I bumped around for a while. I did another business. That was assembling PCs, selling PCs, and doing a catalog of those. I had some success, but I also made some mistakes. That one crashed and burned.

I got the commitment from HP. We went out to build online stores for IT resellers and then they canceled the funding. The guy walked in the door and said, "I can do whatever you want. We can make this thing work." I was like, "Great." Tony, I should have made the tough decision and walked away, but it was the, "If I work hard enough, I can make this work. This is a great opportunity. There will never be another one." Those are two lies. A year and a half later, he had made, with my approval, two acquisitions where we took on $1 million worth of debt. In the business model we had, the numbers didn't work and neither of us was competent enough to understand it. It crashed and burned in August of 2002. That was emotionally draining. I lost almost everything I had personally as well as professionally.

If you're stuck making decisions, talk to someone who's strong enough to tell you the truth.

I got a job working for a company called CCH KnowledgePoint. KnowledgePoint was a software company that had been acquired by CCH, the legal publisher in Chicago. I started selling their software for doing employee performance reviews. I got that job in November 2002. In February 2003, I was on a sales trip in Texas by myself. I remember I got hit with depression hard. I was face down on the carpet crying and praying, "What do I do, God?" I always remember the red carpet. I have no idea what hotel I was in. I got my first prompting. The brain went clear and I got this clear message, "Go help people to avoid your mistakes." It was comical when you think about it. It was not, "Dave, you are so wise. Go teach people your wisdom and all your smarts." No, it was, "Go teach people to avoid your mistakes because you've made so many of them."

I realized that as a leader, I had leadership attributes but no skills and systems. I started looking for systems. At the time, I couldn't find one. I developed my system, which was Success with People. It was a 12-step program for leaders addicted to poor management habits. I worked with that for a while and then ended up leaving that company. That was another flashpoint. I had incredible sales. My sales were so high that they let me go because they didn't want to pay me for how much I was going to earn. It worked out. I got a settlement. That got me going with consulting in February of 2006.

You truly have learned so much from all of your failures. I don't mean to be harping on that. It's the fuel for bringing that into the interview. I love what you said about the systems that people need because you have the leadership attributes, but not the systems. Many people are lacking the systems for building that leadership.

We're not taught. Think of our nation. What if we took all the stuff that kids are being indoctrinated in school? What if we got rid of the Math requirement? That's much farther than it needs to be for many of the students, if not most. What if we did some testing and figure out, "Who's good at Math? Let's make them the best in the world?" I have a daughter. She has ADHD. The numbers move around on the page for her. She doesn't need to do the Math. She could use a course on how to manage a checkbook and how to understand, "I need to spend less than I earn." She needs that type of training.

Think if we taught kids how to get along. What if we taught them empathy, character, teamwork, leadership skills, communication skills, conflict resolution, but more importantly, how do you avoid conflict? How do you hold your ground but not get into a fight? All these different behavioral skills, what if we taught Americans how to get along and work more productively or interact more in healthier ways than any other nation in the world? We'd be killing it.

Start there and then let's go even broader than that. Let's make it a world thing. It's starting where you can and make an impact where you can. That's the power of that whole thinking. Education-wise, it would be great to see those types of changes happen where we're teaching the right skills at the right time.

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When you talk about relational skills, remember my life experience drove my ups and downs in my personal and professional life. If we help kids develop a better life skill, a more emotional intelligence type of thing, we might not have a divorce rate that's 50%. What if we went into these relationships where we could understand what we were getting into better and it wasn't so much on emotion? What if we understood in that relationship how to work through conflict and how to work through disagreement?

Going back to the flashpoints, I went into consulting. I was blessed in many ways and moved forward. I've learned a lot by working with people. I have implemented my systems. I took that 12-step program and now have it as Three Strands Leadership. The core and foundation I learned was the system. I call it systematic power. There are seven attributes to it. It's how you make decisions and how you interact with people a few on the top. There are four management disciplines, how you hire, how you manage, how you develop, and how you retain people.

That's a matter of power. That's the foundation and then it goes on to meaningful work, which I believe is the heart of leadership. If you can't get your people connected to meaningful work, you're never going to get the most out of them that you can get. They're not going to enjoy it as much. You're not going to enjoy it as much. That's the lifeblood. What holds it all together is sincere gratitude. You think about it, Tony, if we're not thankful for what we have, then we're not going to take responsibility for taking care of it.

You have to take care of those things if you're going to be grateful for what you have for sure. That's a starting point. You're right. If you don't see it as something that's valuable to you personally, you don't take care of it. You don't foster that need to continue to see where you can take it further. That's so powerful the way you described it.

As a leader, if my people don't feel I value them and I'm thankful for them, that's one of the biggest reasons for employee turnover. I don't think they cared about me. I didn't think I had a place to go. That's a big deal.

That's the one thing that I hear the most is the feeling of not being appreciated and not being cared for. That turns that inside dialogue because they're not hearing that back from the people they work for into, "I guess I'll do better by starting someplace different or getting something else happening." It's an unfortunate cycle.

It’s tough to separate yourself from the emotion, but look at the data and what’s going on and learn what you need to do.

It's very perpetuated in our media now, a victim mentality, self-centered mentality, and double standards. That goes to the victim thing where, "I have a standard for somebody else, but not for myself." "Why don't they appreciate me? I don't appreciate them," type of thing.

It goes both ways. That's why people often talk about that foundation of trust. Trust is like love. Both people have to feel it. That's so important around building trust. If you're the leader and you have people who are following you, there has to be an element of like, "Do I trust the leader? Does the leader trust the followers to come along the journey with them?"

One of the other thing I'd say as a flashpoint for me that's an ongoing struggle, I love what I do, working with leaders and their teams. The stuff that I do works which helps make it so I love what I do. However, there is a calling piece. It's my calling. To be candid with you, I love America. I was raised as a patriot. I had this strong inner drive to do what's right. It hurts me when I see things like the George Floyd murder. Not only was he murdered, but then nobody resuscitated him. People just took videos and posted them and then all this toxicity in our presidential campaign. As with so many Americans, every four years, I hope for a candidate I can believe in. It continues to get worse and all this infighting instead of people working together. We do have a lot of problems, but we're not working on the problems.

I still look forward to some point in my life when I can work on a movement that works on solutions to the problems and tries to unite people. Where can we come together? I had a first-time coffee with a neighbor of mine who I've said hi and been friendly for a year. I finally said, "We got a coffee. Come on. Let's get together." I'm a Conservative. He's a Liberal. He’s younger than me but he brought up hard topics to discuss. We didn't have to go into the coffee saying, "Let's talk about issues." It was awesome, Tony.

On the core thing, and I do believe this is in there deep inside and maybe more to the surface for most Americans, most of us want, "We'd like to get along. We'd like to be safe. We'd like to have our freedoms. We'd like to have a stable economy. We'd like to be able to trust one another." I'm not going to say that we agreed on everything we talked about, but we had the best dialogue. I was like, "Can we do this again? This was fun because you're bringing up stuff that strikes a chord with me." I never would have asked him those questions, but it was awesome.

Another flashpoint I would give to people is to think about what your calling is. For me, it's like, "When do I get to the calling? I'm waiting a long time." Sometimes some of us are slow. Moses was in the desert for 40 years. I've had that 40 years of experience. Think about the calling piece. Also, I would encourage people. Tony, if you look at new developments of houses in the past years, a lot of them don't have front porches. Whereas previously, people sat out on their front porches. Other people walked by and they greeted each other. Kids were playing in the streets. Reach out to a neighbor. Think about the sincere gratitude type of thing. Invite them for dinner, go to have a coffee, go for a walk or whatever. Get to know people. You're going to find some people in your neighborhood who are neat people.

I love that you brought this in because it's this element of opening the dialogue. The porch concept is so important because it's about getting out there and being okay with having a conversation with somebody, even if you don't agree with being okay with that. If you don't have a conversation, if you don't have that communication, then what happens is it festers. It becomes this closed-off situation. I think of my tagline, "Inspiration through honest conversation." That's what this is. It's about having an honest conversation. Even if it means that we're not going to walk away with the same opinions, at least you had a conversation around it and you say, "Yes, I respect that person. That's cool. That's all I needed to do is be able to respect that person for their views. That's fine."

I'm reminded there's a guy, Greg Koukl, who's an evangelist. What he does is he doesn't try to ram the gospel down people's throats. He just tries to plant a seed. He has a little technique that I use all the time and I encourage my clients to use it in secular conversations. He calls it the Columbo Questions. The old TV show, Columbo, the bumbling detective who always figured that out. The first question is, "What does that mean?" If somebody says something you don't agree with or you don't think you do, rather than immediately judge them or jump to arguing, say, "What does that mean? Can you give me some more details on that?" The second question is, "Why do you believe that's true?" or something similar.

I'll bring up something. I had this conversation with Andre, my neighbor, a great guy. I don't know how we got on it. I think we were talking about the toxicity in America and somehow he got on that, "In America, if someone is a murderer, then they can do their time, go through counseling, do whatever, and come out." There are a lot of Americans that will then accept them back into society, "You learned your lesson. You're good." If someone is a pedophile, they're never forgiven. I won't tell you what I say should be done to pedophiles.

I had this conversation and he brought up a good point. It was like, "Some of them will go through counseling, remorse and that type of thing. They'll come out and will not repeat that behavior. Shouldn't we also give them a fair shot at coming back into society, versus saying, 'You never come back?'" It was interesting because I said to him, "I think of Bill Cosby with his abuse of women and I grew up on Cosby records. The guy is hysterical. I loved The Cosby Show. When I found out how he's abusive to women, I wrote the guy off." I was like, "There's another side to him." There's a whole movement in America that we need to get rid of any of our historical leaders because they were imperfect in an area.

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It's interesting you bring this up. I wanted to react to it because of the fact that my eternal optimist believes that everyone has some good inside of them that allows them to be turned around. There's always hope to believe that something can happen to rehabilitate people. There are ways to take a toxic leader and make them into a better leader. It's the way of giving them a chance to express that. It's hard because the biases show up. That's what we're talking about. That is the linchpin of all of this whole situation. It's what's holding it all together.

I have two other comments I'd make on this. I worked in Prison Fellowship. I did cell ministry in San Quentin for a year, going and talking to guys. I read Charles Colson's book. Colson went back and forth on the death penalty. For a long period of time, he was against the death penalty because like you say, "Every human life should have value. There's a chance." He later commented and I don't think he changed his view for the majority of his life, particularly after his conversion. He stuck with no death penalty, but he did say that he met with some people on death row. Even as tough a guy as he was, they creeped him out. He was like, "I don't know if this guy can ever change."

Why I want to bring that up is we have to be real. By the way, I've met in that program a pathological liar, who was giving death threats in private and in public was the most converted, wonderful guy you'd ever meet. It's very dangerous. We're not recommending that that woman who's being physically beaten up, child, traffic person, or whatever needs to stay in a bad relationship. That's unhealthy because that other person is in a season of their life where they're dangerous. Maybe that person can heal, but that doesn't mean you stay and wait. It was like the bridge we were talking to with the business before, "Get out and separate. You need to protect yourself." The flip side of it is I do think we're a stronger nation. It's healthier for us as individuals if we can always have hope that someone can get better.

That's such a great note to end on. We've covered so many great topics and so much ground. Hope is the one thing that I want to hang on to. I have one last question. What is one book that has had an impact on you and why?

Can I say two?

You can say more than one.

The number one book for me is the Bible. The Bible is great, whether you want to approach it spiritually or not. The version I love is the Life Application version because it gives you notes at the bottom that give you context into the period of time. My reason that I love the Bible is not only for its wisdom, but I love the fact that Jesus' primary message, he only gave one commandment and that was to love. He said, "By this people will know you are my disciples if you love one another." It doesn't matter any other gifts you have. If you're not loving, you're missing the boat because that's the connection.

The second book I'd give you is Theodore Rex. This is one of my favorite all-time books. It's like 600 pages. It goes into the 700s with all the notes. This helped me spellbound. Theodore Rex is about the presidency of President Theodore Roosevelt. If you are a Type-A or an entrepreneur, you got to love this guy. He shouldn't have lived. He was a frail kid in the first place, but then he went out and did what he felt was right. He was a cool guy. Probably, you haven't had that one recommended before. Theodore Rex, I would recommend people check that out. The Bible whether you're looking at Psalms, Proverbs, or all kinds of stuff throughout, there are all kinds of wisdom and stories there.

I think it's been read by a few people here and there. Dave, this has been so much fun. I appreciate you coming on the journey with us. I can't thank you enough.

Thank you, Tony, for having me on. I don't get to mix the personal with the professional very often. I want to see people heal. I want to see them in healthy relationships, grow and enjoy life. I hope a couple of things I said can help some people out there.

Any other gifts you have don't matter. If you're not loving, you're missing the boat because that's the connection.

I know they will. There have been so many great messages that you've shared. I can't thank you enough. I want to make sure that I give you the people and opportunity to find out where they can find you. Where's the best place to reach you?

If you go to, it has links there to our podcast and all the other stuff. There's an email address. If you want to email a question to me or whatever, they can do that. I'm happy to talk with anybody. Fortunately, I don't get hundreds of requests at the moment, but I have a flow that I can manage. I wish people the best. That's all.

Thank you, Dave. Thank you to the readers for coming on the journey with us. I hope you're leaving with some great insights. Reach out to David. He's an amazing character. You'll love talking with him.

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About David Russell

David is a hiring and leadership expert working with organizations worldwide. He is recognized as a premier leadership and company culture coach, author or co-author of five books including two on leadership and Dave's Charm School, host of the popular Manage 2 Win Podcast, and Hire the Best, a complete hiring system to attract, qualify, hire, and onboard top talent.

A sought-after keynote speaker and trainer, Russell is the architect of 3Strands Leadership, the three most important practices of effective leaders.

David is the founder of Manage 2 Win, a management consulting firm located in the Sacramento, California area. He is the author of 5 books, the creator of over 75 lessons on business soft skills, and the podcast host of over 100 episodes. His systematic and conscientious approach has helped leaders and organizations in all industries improve leadership systems, engage employees, and strengthen company culture.


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