Change Proof Podcast | Michael Geary | Authentic Leadership


Authentic leadership is not about having all the answers, but about being transparent, acknowledging uncertainties, and relating to others to empower them. This episode brings you Michael Geary, CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services and the SMPS Foundation. Today, he talks about the world of leadership, transparency, and the human side of executive roles. He shows the importance of acknowledging personal anxieties and feelings and encouraging others to feel comfortable expressing themselves at work. Discover how transparency and relatability in leadership create an environment where authenticity is valued and employees feel empowered. Tune in now!


Show Notes:

  • 02:11 [raw audio] – It’s All About People
  • 29:14 [raw audio] – It Doesn’t Happen By Chance
  • 46:41 [raw audio] – Numbers Don’t Lie
  • 58:35 [raw audio] – Sensitivity To Self

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Authentic Leadership With Michael Geary

We’re going to have a great show. I’m so excited for my guest, Michael Geary. Michael is the CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services and the SMPS Foundation. I know Michael. I’ve had the good pleasure of spending time with him and his team at an event where I was the keynote for. I can tell you this organization is amazing. Michael’s insights about business, marketing, and life are truly special. Sit back, relax, and get ready to enjoy my interview with Michael Geary.

Mike, It’s fun to have you share little snippets from your life and encapsulate your entire career and life all in the paragraph, all that good stuff. I know I always enjoy that. My question to you out of the gate is, what is one singular thing that’s not in your bio or CV that you would love for people to know about you?

I have to stick with one. You’re right. When you have to write a bio and people say, “Give us your story,” I’ve been in that career for many years now. I’m proud of all the things that I’ve done. Your bio is balanced. Oftentimes, it’s just a list of things that you’ve done and some accomplishments. For sure, my sector association management on how we measure or look at careers is like, “What organizations have you worked for? What has been your job?” It’s often chronological. What people know about me is I am absent-minded sometimes.

It’s a chronological listing. What I would like for people to know about me, which hasn’t come across in the words but I hope comes across when I meet people, is that I am passionate about what I do. I’m passionate about people. I know that’s overused. People say that all the time, but my job working with an association or these organizations of people is we don’t build things like widgets. We develop products that we do sell. We do organize experiences, but it’s ultimately all about the people.

If you’re not into people, then you can’t be in this job. What I often explained to our boards of directors that I have worked with in my entire career is that working in this sector, and this is true for any nonprofit sector, whether you’re working in a charitable organization where you’re feeding people or it’s a humanitarian concern, children, whatever it might be, is that you have to really be with the people. That’s your goal, ultimately. That’s not reflected in my resume or the short profile that I offer people, but that’s how I landed in this career.

It was when I was merely in my twenties that I was enjoying being in leadership positions like in my college fraternity. There was an opportunity to work for the national office, do leadership training, and work with the other student members of the organization. That excited and motivated me. I always have to remember that I have to come back to that. Life is not perfect. Life is not easy all the time. I have to come back to, “Sometimes the mechanics you’re broken, but let’s focus on the people.” That’s what keeps me going.

I love that answer, Mike. I do for a variety of reasons. If I was going to condense that down to three words, this is going to be funny for you. To answer that question in three words, I would say, “I’m into people.” You are because, as you said eloquently, you couldn’t do the work you’re doing, and I want to get into that. We’re going to talk about the work you’re doing because people who are reading don’t know what that is yet. You couldn’t do that work if you’re into people. I love that because it goes without saying not everybody’s into people.

Even less now since the pandemic. I’ve definitely been impacted by that experience of being separated from people. We joke about it. In fact, I’m with my peers, friends, etc. If you want me to get together for something, it’s got to be really good. It’s not like all people. There are times when some people, “I’m okay staying home.” Those people don’t know who they are, so no offense. I don’t mean that literally anybody specifically. We’ve evolved and we’ve certainly impacted it and made it how we work with people, this interaction on video. Even that is like, “I got to be committed to the person because now, I’m just seeing an avatar on the screen. Who is this person on the other end?”

You have to remember that it is. Remember that I also didn’t act like a person because I was being watched and had to try to maintain a normal personality, behavior, or whatever, as we talked this way in the video. This is through people who are working with my organization, members of my organization, customer groups, etc. There’s been a change. I would think about how we work with people or patients. Sometimes, we see that in society acting out in more locations with people because we’re looking for expediency, perhaps like, “I can get on this call.” We have to remember these arguments on the other end, be empathetic, think about them, and become ready to come from an area with the people in the video.

It’s interesting. I don’t know how deep into the psychology you and I are either interested in getting or qualified to get. I’d say this. The way that we have interacted with people has changed so dramatically over the last several years. The pandemic created a great deal of isolation, whether in a group of just yourself as many people were sheltering in place by themselves or in small groups, the little pods. It is a term that was used for a bunch of things but really was isolating. It certainly shrunk our world down to something insular.

It’s interesting that part of what we’ve learned how to do is to interact with people in almost like a video game setting. This is a video. I can see your body language a little, but not entirely. It’s just different. When we think about empathy and what it means to be able to feel or appreciate what it’s like to be someone else and what their experience is about, has it become more difficult to do that because we see people in almost as those avatars in a way we never did before?

You’re good at them. I probably should zoom out of my camera because I see your hands. It’s not getting too deep, but body language is important. One of the challenges of video conversations is that we don’t see the whole body. We don’t know how to process that. We’re not wired with that. We could talk for hours about this. I know that’s not part of our interview.

That’s fascinating.

It’s real. It’s interesting now and always in business and we’re talking about people. We have to remind ourselves that it was a few years ago, which is nothing on the spectrum of humanity, that we all went through this together, but how quickly we forget sometimes. By the way, this is not happening because of that. We want to move on. We wanted to forget about it, but still, there’s a long tail of this always on how we do business with each other and how people interact with us customers.

Change Proof Podcast | Michael Geary | Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership: There’s a long tail of this and always how we do business having each other all people interact with us customers.


I have full-body chills from what you’re saying, honestly, because it’s so true. The world, the trajectory, and how we are evolving. There was an inflection point that was just a short couple of years ago. I don’t know if it feels this way to you, but it’s almost like a time gap, this black hole in space.

Pre-pandemic, which we know where that is, and then something in the middle, and then now. I’m guilty, too. I forget sometimes. I forget what happened. I had that conversation with you a few years ago. Sometimes it’s a bit of a border. We didn’t go anywhere. We were stuck in our houses or apartments. CEOs have been saying this for a long time, “I don’t know what happened,” to know something that happened.

I didn’t think it would go here at the moment, but I’m glad it did. I want you to tell us a little bit about SMPS so that people understand why you’re into people and why. If you weren’t into people, you couldn’t do that work. Lead that company because you are at the helm. I want to understand. Given what that organization has been doing for a long time since 1973 or something, and it’s a long history legacy, what was it like when everything just shut down the way it did? How did you guys get back up on your feet?

There are 2 buckets here, 2 communities. I remember clearly the Friday afternoon. We met with our staff in our office. We subsequently moved but sat in the conference room in another office space. I remember sitting down with everybody and saying, “You’re going home. We’re not going to work here. We’ve got the advice and directives of governments. Don’t come back, but please take everything with you. Take your laptop and computer. You have a camera, etc. Be prepared to work at home for a while,” which is the joke. I remember that meeting.

I have a very sharp memory of that. Fortunately, as an organization, we were actually prepared. Everybody was already equipped with a laptop and computer. We were already using Skype at the time to do some work at home. We have allowed people to do some remote work already. It was not new to us, but we had everybody being at home. We were like, “Let’s go. We’ll see you online on Monday.”

I remember a quick little story. That first week, the weather was beautiful in Washington DC. I remember sitting on the patio of my home, having a Skype call with other people in the office. All of us are commenting, “What a beautiful day. I can’t believe you’re sitting outside,” because we never did that. We always sat in an office. None of us had an office at home at the time. The business with SMPS, we moved along.

Give us the acronym again for the folks.

SMPS is the Society for Marketing Professional Services. What we do is help people excel in their careers. Part of that is hoping their companies, architecture firms, engineering firms, construction companies, and all the different verticals in that industry, everything from dam building to road construction, university, housing, retail, government buildings, and all the things that get built in this country and members in Canada as well, so both countries around the world. We help them grow their careers and companies.

We do that through education, networking, etc. On the people side, we were cut off from the people. We do a lot of things and events in person. We put on probably ten conferences a year. All of that stopped and so did every other organization. Most businesses stop having staff meetings and business travel. It took a long time for us to adjust. As a business, we had to figure out our next financial model because the revenue from the organization comes from people joining and paying membership dues and then people paying these to attend events or buy a webinar, which excelled during this time.

Primarily, a lot of our activities were in person. We’re going to rethink your entire way of doing business. We can no longer rely on this as being a primary source of activity or revenue for the organization. We need to continue to ride through this pandemic however long it’s going to last, which we all thought was going to be very short. Everything seemed in a room at the moment until months later, this is a permanent or semi-permanent situation. With people, we had to figure out a different way to interact with our members. We organize a lot more online. We knew that people still wanted to get together, so we created online activities.

We have lots of Zoom, which was the primary thing at the time, which grew to be the primary software. We did a lot of things on Zoom. We found other online applications where you can have networking events. We virtually have little rooms where you can go from room to room and have discussions and topics, maybe on a business topic like how you are responding to proposals now that you can’t do presentations in person. Also, rooms like, “What are you watching on Netflix?” We can get business there for sure, but we also need a little low-light conversation about it, “How are you having fun? How are you surviving or thriving through this experience?”

Our whole business changed at that moment. It has continued to impact us nowadays. We still think about that. My earlier point is that we think that anything we do has to be good because we want people to show up. They want to be there, but nobody wants to waste their time. Nobody wants to be in a lot of that. Nobody wants to get dressed up. I’m not projecting this on all people. I’m included here if I don’t feel like it’s going to be worth my time to be there. The expectations for organizations like ours have completely changed. It is not a hard adjustment, but it is certainly consuming to always be Disney World or Amazon, especially now that individuals have gotten so accustomed to shopping online.

There’s an expectation that there’s more immediacy in how you deliver experiences, services, and products to people. We’re in the people business. It is people that design and build things. It’s our people that create those business opportunities for those companies. One of the things that’s different from perhaps a lot of other industries, with the architecture, engineering, and construction industry remaining in business, is preventing a lot of that work from outside. Construction is primarily an outside activity.

Change Proof Podcast | Michael Geary | Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership: It’s our people that create those business opportunities for those companies.


There are already so many things in the pipeline that companies couldn’t just say, “We’ll just have to wait.” They’re already designing. They’re already perhaps building. All the work was going. All the companies in this industry had to change the way that they interacted with each other. There was a bit of a gap or delay where the bandwidth on computers to design is not the same necessarily as my MacBook. It requires a different computing power. Firms generally didn’t have that in mobile formats that would work out systems. A few of us go into the office, and then we evolve, develop, and get the technology so they can work remotely for all the safety concerns.

We all know the supply chain issue that took a long time to get computers that would service this multimillion-dollar industry and any other industry. It was an interesting juxtaposition of the organization that services the industry along with others like the American Institute of Architects and the American Council of Engineering Companies. There are many more like Associated General Contractors. Their members were still in the field and working almost normally, yet the organizations that were servicing them, we could not mirror that.

We try to be close to that with them to be in the trenches with our members. They’re working the way they want. They know that we’re here for them and available, but it changed everything at that time for us and them as well. It’s almost sitting at that in the sideline but from a high 30,000 view where there wasn’t one way to work and do the things. We know people counted on us. We still had to get it done.

I’m thinking you guys are at that height, let’s say 30,000 feet, to see the way those businesses were operating. They’ve probably changed forever, meaning the way people work now is different than before the pandemic, and they are likely not to resemble what it was like before the pandemic anytime soon, if ever at all. Are you seeing that? Are you seeing the hybrid model or even more virtual thing that has become the norm in your membership? You have 7,500 members or something.

We represent thousands, something like 4,100 companies. The construction portion of AE&C or Architecture Engineering & Construction has to be done outside. It’s the best. We think it will go back to normal. They’re dealing with other people’s issues in the construction industry.

They have labor challenges.

Labor challenges have always existed, and they’re much more difficult now. It’s not like any other industry is looking for talent or any labor to come fill the gaps. As time has gone on, generations have entered the workforce. We know that the youngest of Gen Z are now entering the workforce at 23 years old or so. Their last years of high school or early part of college were all remote. They’re comfortable working in that way and then everybody else had this hybrid situation. Companies are wrestling with that way now.

We look to what the big employers are doing as models because they have the talent and research capabilities to figure it out, but it works. In the Washington, DC area, people look to Amazon as a major employer, the federal government, and other major Fortune 500 companies. What are they doing? We wonder if that works for us or another company.

[00:20:11] Firms or companies are trying to figure that out. There’s a sense of, “Can we get back to what was before but recognizing that’s never going to happen? How do we get there?” It’s no different in any other industry. There are generational conflicts between everyone in the office every single day to know, “I need to work. I want to work.”

There is a shortage of talent with people who are qualified to be engineers, architects, and construction managers who have a college degree or are pursuing or have licensure to do so. They always agree. Some of them are part-time and some of them want to be in the office all the time. There’s probably the way now at least for a while. I don’t know if it will change the law. I always talk to CEOs of firms and they talk about it. They’re struggling with retaining competing interests, and I know we always talk about generation but the generational differences in how we want to work or expect people to work for us.

At the same time, we know that the AE&C industry is booming. It is gangbusters. There was certainly a bit of slowdown during the early days of the pandemic I mentioned because they’re trying to get work done and organized, but now, people are very busy. The biggest challenge is we need more people to be architects and engineers in the pipeline, too, but now. Employers are being flexible because they want to get the work done.

The biggest challenge is we need more people to be architects, the engineers now on that in the pipeline, too. Click To Tweet

You began to do your events differently. The event space is one of your verticals. I would imagine it was all virtual for a period once you made that transition. What are you seeing now? What does the event space look like for you all a few years further on?

I’d love to hear the answer from you about it because you’ve spent a lot of time in events also, and that’s why we connected at one of our events. People want to be really motivated about it and know that it’s going to be a worthwhile event. I don’t say this not because of me, but we have a great reputation. Our brand is strong among our members. They can trust us that when they pay the fee and get on a plane or whatever it is, they’re going to have a great experience. We get it right every single time.

Sometimes a coffee’s cold, but they can trust that we’re going to get the job done for them and they’re going to have a meaningful, impactful event. We know that because people tell us this when they do the surveys after the fact. We went through a time period of transition where we had an in-person thing and got a virtual option. We are done with that now effectively. We’re doing all of our key activities in person but doing a lot more online. It’s not an and/or. It’s a yes/and, “We’re doing this and.”

We’re offering a lot more online activities. The industry is designing and building, but as I said, people have to do that. One of the things we do is bring people together for that purpose. We still have to offer that. They build these relationships, networking, and business opportunities because they’re learning together. Certainly, we’re not having cocktails virtually, but they get to know each other. As they’re learning together, they build their relationships in the network that way. We’re doing it yes/and. It’s all the way now, as much as we can.

That’s what I’m seeing or have been seeing for a while as well. We were using Zoom. We brought Zoom to our company thanks to our COO back in 2015 to 2016. It was really early in their business model. They had great customer service. You could literally call them up. I’m not knocking Zoom now, but you could call them up and get a person on the phone. They fixed whatever it was immediately. It’s changed just a little bit since they scaled more than they probably could have imagined. I find that virtual events can have a tremendous impact and you can facilitate them at a deep level. I have an affinity for life in person and you and I are supposed to go there.

I was able to be at one of your Pinnacle events. I was thoroughly impressed with the experience that people had. The hotel was beautiful. All that was impeccable and that’s what you’d expect with the first class event. I’m referring to what I heard from participants when I was with them without them even knowing that I was there to facilitate and be a keynote speaker for them. It was what I heard in those moments that impressed me. A Capstone project was provided as one example, and people got into it. They were ready.

It’s interesting that you bring up the fact that for people to get out of there, break away from the screen, and be in this mode of I’m wearing a Change Proof t-shirt, but I can be with a jacket and a tie and I could be wearing my pajama bottoms. Also, my slippers, even if I’m in a full suit. This is what people have gotten used to. For them to have to get dressed fully, get to a car, go to the airport, fly someplace, spend time in a hotel, etc., the bar or the standard for what makes it worth it has changed qualitatively. There’s a difference between an event now and an event a few years ago. That’s been your experience, too, I expect.

I thank you for the nice words. You have to be intentional about it. You have to talk about it. You need to train for it. Our staff, who are our customer service people, talk about these things when we’re having events. We’re like, “This is how we are going to greet people. We’re going to treat our guests for coming to the event. This is how we’re going to support them. This is our expectation.” It just did not happen by chance. You have to work at it, talk about it, and try to create a culture around it.

It doesn't just happen by chance. You have to really work at it and talk about it and try to create a culture around it. Click To Tweet

If you try to do this first within your own organization, like how you work with each other, but then that transfers out when people interact with the organization. We all have had bad experiences with a lot of your retail outlets or travel companies that are just awful. Why aren’t you working at this better or more differently? Travel may be peaking now, but it may not always, and why aren’t you getting at it? That’s actually how we choose event space and host facilities. That’s part of it for us.

That’s important. We had that conversation with the leadership team at the hotel or wherever it might be or event space, “These are expectations for service by your staff. People should be ready to be checked in when our members arrive and all the things.” We feel that anyone who works with us is an extension of our brand because we’ve picked them. We chose them. They represent us in a way. They certainly are reflective of our values and expectations. There’s a whole other episode around choosing vendors.

That’s so true.

It’s not just because you’re concerned they’re going to say the wrong thing. That’s also a concern, but they are representatives of you. If you’re going to pick someone, pick the right one that they’re going to carry through that brand when they’re interacting with us directly or with our members.

I’ll shout out to the Four Seasons in Minneapolis. That was where I was for that event with you all. That hotel and its staff were amazing. I know it only because I enjoyed all my interactions and the facilities were beautiful. It’s Four Seasons, so you expect that, but I also had to do a virtual event while I was there, which just turned out that schedule-wise, I had an important virtual event to do. They were phenomenally helpful to me in regard to that because there was an issue with the internet that happened to be the case. The team is incredibly responsive. As a leader of an organization, we all have our pet peeves or the things that are most important to us.

I don’t know if this is the same for you these days, but communication, as cliché as it sounds, is one of these things that I truly believe. It is the calling card of a well-run or impeccable organization. When the communication is impeccable, when it’s really good, even if the problem isn’t solved, and in the case of the Four Seasons thing, the problem wasn’t solved. We had a workaround and all that, but they had a problem with a vendor, so it was an issue. However, the communication was impeccable. Their responsiveness was so spot on.

I could be empathetic. I was able to be understanding. The relationship was strengthened by that. Nowadays, with people who don’t answer, don’t respond to emails, and don’t respond to text messages when that’s the form of communication, it’s pretty remarkable to me. I know there’s psychology that goes behind this. To me, it’s one of those things that is back to basics. When talking about football, we’d say it’s blocking and tackling, or in some other analogy, it’s something like that. The simplest thing is you get an email and you don’t know how to respond.

It’s a part of this avalanche that people face every day. It’s as easy in three seconds to say, “Received. Thank you.” If you could say, “I don’t know that I’ll get back to this for a week,” that’s even better. The point being, to use the term ghosting folks, that itself is a distinguishing feature. I work with a lot of organizations both on the front end of events that they put on because they bring me in to speak, etc., but we are a consulting firm, which is called WorkWell that has these longer-term engagements where we dig into these things.

It’s remarkable how poor communication is within some of the biggest, most well-known publicly traded companies out there and their communication is abysmal. It’s one of those areas that the pandemic didn’t contribute favorably to that. Is that a thing that you see? If it’s not that, then what would be that one thing as a CEO that you go, “If we could just get this thing dialed in, everybody would be better off?”

Two thoughts. I want to go back to quickly to reiterate and reinforce that brand candidates differentiate what is perceived to be a homogenous industry, which is hotels. There are millions of hotel rooms in the world, but brand candidates differentiate in that. Yes, it can cost more money for sure and we’ve got to pay for it, but the Four Seasons brand is fantastic. We use it almost exclusively for this specific conference. It’s for senior levels. It’s actually not much more expensive than most hotels, but it provides experience for our members.

We want them to feel like they’re being taken care of. That’s what you’re going to get there. I’m not being paid by Four Seasons, but we keep going back to them. Something you said was that you talked about the stress that is impacting people and the lack of recovery from stress, which I love. I remember you saying that. I’m reiterating it to myself. That’s part of our formula in this conference. When you’re done for the day, it’s not a stressful conference, but it’s an intense conference. You can go up to your room and it’s nicely acquainted.

It’s relaxing and they made up the room for you. You know all the things and you’re like, “I can escape from the tension of the day in a really beautiful environment.” That’s part of our formula for this conference. It’s not just a hotel room and ballroom. It is intentional because we want them to have that experience. What they do is that in communications, they have an app where a person is responding to this app.

It’s not AI. When you check in, they will ping you through the app and encourage you to download it. If you need anything, questions like, “What time is coffee serving in the morning?” within five minutes, someone has responded. Communication is fantastic. It’s not 100% perfect now, but by and large, it’s pretty good. There used to be this column in the New York Times business section, maybe in the magazine. I forgot now. It’s been a few years. It was called The Corner Office. They interview the CEOs of companies.

I thought it was one of the best things that the New York Times used to do on a regular basis. They interviewed the CEO of a company that provides social media services to major corporations. You interact with McDonald’s on Twitter. You’re tweeting them something. It’s really not a McDonald’s employee that’s responding to you. They have a contractor that’s managing that. This is the difficulty of doing that sort of thing for major corporations. One of the questions they always ask the CEOs in this column is, “What are some of your biggest challenges and how are you overcoming them?” They asked her, “What is your biggest challenge?” Her biggest challenge was communications in their company.

I know it sounds ironic that she says words like that. “I run a communications company. This is what we do.” That’s her biggest challenge. It’s a people thing. Get back to people. You can’t fix all of it. I am not a perfect communicator. Ask people here and they’ll tell you sometimes that I’m not great at it, but we have to work at it, be intentional, and strive to be better communicators. Reading that column gave me a sense of comfort like, “It’s not me alone.” I used to work for a major technology company. I’m not going to say which one, but you probably use their devices every single day. He had an important role as a regulator in product development.

We have to work at it and be intentional and strive to be better communicators. Click To Tweet

I was saying, “You are amazing for working for this company that’s worth a trillion dollars. You have all the resources in the world you want. How is it?” He’s like, “It’s so frustrating. The communications internally are awful.” “You do communications. You create devices that help us communicate.” I remind myself of these stories and say, “I’m not alone in this challenge. This is common.” I am also reminding myself, obviously, like, “Don’t fall into that trap. I got to think about it. I need to be more intentional about these things, especially in a leadership role.”

Also, being in a leadership role, I forget or I’m not aware of that. I have blind spots. I have opened something where I wasn’t aware of something that I shouldn’t have been aware of for whatever reason. I still am accountable for that. There are societal things that are challenging in communicating as an individual, but it is something I get to remember. I have takeaways from your program and remind myself that I need to take care of things myself, too. I’m responsible for myself. Probably the biggest challenge in communication around leadership is that there’s a great book called Friday’s Laws. Dr. Friday was a psychologist who wrote a book. It was a summary of all the things he learned, having thousands and thousands of patients or clients.

He has a top ten things that he learned. They’re so simple but good reminders. One of the things he says is, “I’m only responsible for what I say and do. I am not responsible for what you say and do.” Knowing that, I can’t be afraid to say and do what I need to say and do. We’re not talking about yelling at somebody or calling their name. That’s not excusable. It’s not that, but being afraid or anxious about what someone might do in response is not my responsibility. That’s your responsibility. I’m responsible for what I say and do. I know it will impact you. I’ve considered all that.

The other thing around communications with the psychology thing was if people do not change, you have to change first and then they’ll change. I bring that to work every day. I cannot make anybody do anything. I can change myself, either my expectations or maybe I am not communicating well. I have to think about that as I’m addressing a challenge or whatever. Pandemic or not, those are universal, perpetual challenges.

It’s an inside-out game both personally and professionally, but organizationally speaking as well. I resonate with what you just said. Somebody said this to me, and I thought it was a great way to phrase it. “When it comes to communication and being blunt, if you’re being helpful with your clear communication and maybe even that blunt communication, if it’s intended and is helpful, then by all means, that’s what you should do.”

There’s a difference between being helpful and being hurtful. That’s where we, to your point, have control because no one knows your intent except you. If your intent is to be hurtful, it’s probably a good idea to not communicate that way, not send that email, and not provide that “feedback” because you’re looking to take something away from somebody. We do have to check ourselves whether we’re in the roles we’re in or in other roles that we’re not being passive-aggressive with what we’re doing. What is your true intent? Is it to be helpful? If it’s helpful, then say it like it is.

Saying, “I’m responsible for what I say,” does not excuse me for being impolite or passive-aggressive, etc. At the same time, I don’t have to hold back on what I want to say if I know it may not be comfortable. There’s a whole theory around candidate conversations. I got a speaker at the conference several years ago. This is pre-pandemic. I wish I could think of the name because you may even know them. Basically, they teach people how to confront. The skills of confrontation are important to learn, but one thing you learn is that you do have to confront. We think confrontations are awful, but confrontation can be very helpful. You have to be the bad news. We use that word. It’s a loaded word, but it is.

It is a loaded word. I’ve taught this topic in the past as well because it is something I’m interested in, and I have come from the standpoint of rules of engagement. We won’t go there now, but it is a very important thing for us to look at how you engage. What are the rules for engagement when it comes to communication in personal relationships as well as those relationships in or out of the office, etc.? I have two questions as we wrap things up. I feel like there’s a further discussion, so we might schedule a second part of this.

I want to get your take on the economy at the moment and I want to circle back to what you said earlier. When I was presenting to your folks, which as you say, you’re Pinnacle leaders, C-suite, or senior level leaders, we talked, among other things, about how we deal with stress and first understanding that stress is not the issue. That is not the enemy and we can’t blame it for burnout, mental fatigue, anxiety, or any of these things.

It’s the lack of recovery that’s the challenge. I want to understand what you have done with that. You might still be noodling on it. You may have evaluated where you have appropriate recovery or where it is that you’re increasing areas for recovery for yourself. I want to get your own take on that. First, what’s your feel about the economy? So much of the event space and gatherings, in general, have to do with the corporate perception of where we’re headed in the market.

There’s no truth that it will in the economy. Numbers don’t lie. People say, “Numbers don’t lie.” How you interpret numbers is up to the individuals. Over my career in this environment, which has been most of my career, I’ve personally known and seen a variety of economists. They come from different perspectives. Sometimes, there is little political influence. Sometimes, it’s just a perception of numbers and how they want to think about them. There’s no truth, but here’s what’s being said now and then you can interpret.

I’m mostly an optimistic person, so I like to interpret things more optimistically. There’s opportunity and things. The economists I’ve been seeing and hearing from are, in terms of our industry, it’s very strong. I’ve mentioned earlier that there’s a lot of momentum there. The federal infrastructure bill is having a huge impact in the media sense but in the long-term because roads don’t get built in a day. I am using that old expression. Dams or schools don’t get built in a day. All the things that the infrastructure bill will support are going to take time. It will be multiple years out there being designed and implemented.

What’s nice about, at least for a lot of companies, is there’s some guarantee that there’s funding at federal and state levels. They can make decisions. That’s where the truth is. It’s like, “How do we read the economy?” It is because we have these other factors that are not yet playing a direct role necessarily in spending employment. Economists do an hour-plus-long presentation. I’ll say a summary is the expectation now, people are thinking that things are strong and good. There will be a mild downturn in 2024, maybe in Q3. That’s expected.

It’s going to be hugely significant and probably not a recession. There are crystal balls, but they’re not perfect. They’re all cracked and cloudy. No one can really project because no one projected a pandemic. We do scenario planning for multi-years out, but we didn’t think about the pandemic happening. Things can happen. There’s going to be a political change in the US and how that plays a role. People have opinions, but there’s no truth. We don’t know unless we look at the past behavior. I think people feel good about it.

As humans, we’re a little afraid sometimes when there’s too much good and there’s got to be the other side of the coin. I know that the general board is starting to think about contracting, building back a bit, and looking at overhead costs. The short-term is a long-term thing. That is how artificial intelligence is going to be utilized to save what they say overhead, but they really mean labor. For an organization that supports people doing new marketing business development, that’s an overhead cost. Marketing professionals do not bill for their time. They go out and capture business. They work on keeping business, but it’s an overhead, so there’s concern in a broad sense of what AI will do with anything that will impact the employee.

Now, we think it’s going to change some of their job functions, but you still need a human doing lots of things. I do know that companies are thinking about how they might pull back on some things, especially larger firms with a huge overhead. Can they get more efficient? Every company should always be thinking about that. It varies. In our industry, based on it, it is a publicly traded company over a privately held. Most companies are privately held, but there’s more pressure on publicly traded companies to meet the value and demands of their shareholders.

They are thinking about it differently. That’s my economic report. Generally, I think we’re good for a while. There may be a little downturn and we’re already thinking about it. That’s one of the concerns back in the presidency of George H.W. Bush. He refused to use the word recession. He knew that when he said, “There might be a recession happening,” people would contract. It is very psychological.

There is a visceral reaction to certain terms.

That’s right. It will change our behavior. I have another friend who’s an economist. One of my favorite expressions is, “People can afford what they want. If you want it, you’re going to figure out how you can import it.” For companies, if we want the business, you can figure out how we can afford to get it no matter what else is happening.

We work in the private and the public sector, so everything you said aligns very well with what we’re feeling.

I just made it up.

No, that’s good. I like to say your budget is a reflection of your values. That’s another way of saying what you just said.

Yes, where you spend your money.

It’s interesting where companies often see what is mandatory required, it’s not negotiable, and the things that they somehow think are less not negotiable in those times when they’re looking to be a bit more conservative or hedge their bets just a bit. It is interesting. The public versus private is different. There’s a different positioning there, too. I want to get the answer on that recovery piece. Before we get there, the AI piece is quite profound. There’s a lot of unknown and uncertainty there. It’s one of the things I love.

When we present, we present on AI as well, not from a technology standpoint but from the standpoint of resiliency, from an operational standpoint, as well as from the side of wellness and how people interact with new tech, what it means to them, and how they respond in the face of change. This is probably the most dramatic change I’ve seen or potentially since the internet began to move people in a very different way. We’re not even in the first inning yet, so it’s pretty remarkable. On the side of recovery, what have you taken to heart when we were together? I’m putting you on the spot, but I want to get your thoughts on that.

I was thinking about the story you told and the challenge of an unfortunate situation you experienced as a lawyer. You recovered from that. It’s good to know those stories because you can recover from adversity. You always can. It may not be easy and may not be overnight, but you can do so. That story is a good reminder of that. I don’t know why you tell this story, but that was my biggest takeaway like, “Bad things happen in the world. I just have to figure it out and I need to move on.”

The way to move on may be you are on your own or with professional assistance or otherwise. With your question about recovery and stress, a lot of organizations are feeling a lot of stress because we are still in this change. It’s not done. Not to beat a dead horse, but the pandemic being done and its impact on our society and business. We wish it could be ignored, but it isn’t done. I don’t say that to be dramatic, which is real. People are still wearing masks. There’s some stress in society whether they should still wear a mask or choose to if they feel that’s the right thing for them to do. Those things we can think about, the stress and anxiety about that is still around, and all the normal things as well.

Change Proof Podcast | Michael Geary | Authentic Leadership

Authentic Leadership: A lot of organizations are under our feeling a lot of stress because we are in this change still like it’s not done it pervertible day horse pandemic being done and its impact on our society and our business.


For me, I am not good at it historically in the recovery base. Your statement, when you said that, really helped and reminded me I’ve got to take the recovery time. I’ve always been the kind of person who, when I go on vacation, still checks my email for work. I went on a vacation and said, “I’m not checking email. I am available if there’s a crisis. Call or text me because I’m not going to be on my computer.” I was about 85% on that. I did peek a little bit because there are people I couldn’t communicate that to, so I wanted to make sure that everyone knew that if they had a crisis, they were aware that I was on vacation, for example.

I’m trying to practice that, and you have to practice that until it gets comfortable with, in this case, disconnecting from my lifeline and disconnecting from people. Also, something I’ve worked on as a person is knowing who I am and what my comfort level is with people. As we grow older and mature, we build different skills and muscles to react differently. If I’m going to be in a situation where there’s a huge crowd and I’m feeling anxious about that, I take a moment to think about it and say, “Do I have the strength now to deal with this? Do I want to get on the subway or don’t want to wait for the next train?”

Both answers are correct, but I want to make sure I’m doing it with my eyes wide open. I’m just not going to throw myself in. I understand this whole theory around sensory issues. We have phobias, etc., and a sense of you want to jump on it. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about, over time, I learned that what’s right for me was not right for me and I could make a decision, “Is this good or bad for me now?” or whatever, like healthy, unhealthy, or whatnot.

It sounds like a small thing, but it’s not because it’s self-awareness. It’s a sensitivity to self that isn’t selfish. Part of what we try to get across is that it isn’t being selfish, it isn’t wrong, it isn’t hurtful, or disloyal to your company or your family to actually take care of yourself.

That’s where the anxiety comes in for a lot of people. “This is not what people expect of me. I’m going to rub something for somebody else.” Let’s take the silly analogy like getting on a subway train or going off to do a thing. In my opinion, I think about this overcrowded train, and my anxiety is I think a lot of people are supposed to be American. “Am I going to hop on the train? Are we going to get trapped in the tunnel?” There’s all that kind of thing that goes up. It happens to me, too.

I also think, “If we don’t get on the train now, we’re going to be late for the thing and that’s going to impact the people.” I’ve also learned that you have to build up that strength to say, “I’m not comfortable doing this now,” get acceptance from whoever you’re with, and be honest with them, like, “This is not a good thing for me now.” If you interact especially with your spouse or your family and you’re sharing this, they know that you’re not being dramatic. You’re just being real. “Let’s wait a moment for whatever situation might be and then we can go out another time.”

The final thing I want to say regarding that is how important it is not only for you. I’m happy to hear that some of what you’re doing in increasing your consciousness around that, being aware of it, then acting upon it like you did on your vacation, even 85% or whatever it might be. As you say, nothing’s perfect. That’s not the goal anyway. It provided not only a benefit to you, but it has this other benefit that I don’t know that we’re always fully aware of.

That’s how other people respond to us the way that we actually impact other people’s lives by what we do or don’t do. To me, when you did that, whether you know it or not, you gave permission to others who knew that was in that circle that were aware that you were away and weren’t going to be necessarily checking each and every moment that when they were to take their PTO and do something that they could actually unplug because the expectation would be similar that they could disconnect and that things would still be okay because their leader did the same.

You have to be a role model in these circumstances. It’s another silly thing. I’m on the stage a lot doing lots of presentations, speaking, introductions, etc. I get stage fright, too. I get anxious about going up on the stage full of strangers. I tell people that. I’m feeling nervous, but it creates the environment to say, “It’s okay that you do, too, because I know you do feel that way.” We’re all anxious. I’m not a professional person. You may feel that too, Adam, sometimes.

I won’t digress from that. If you have a pulse and something matters to you, then you can have some feelings about it that you want it to go well. That’s entirely to be expected. It’s what you do with it. It’s how you then reframe it so that it’s useful to you and, in your way of reframing it, you share it. Your transparency allows you to be more relatable. That helps you in that moment.

Sometimes, I will share those thoughts. I have a different approach because I speak all the time. For me, it’s useful that I remember and remind myself that it’s not about me. That’s applicable in so many areas of my life that anytime I make it about me doesn’t seem to go well. When it’s not about me, it’s about service, about others, love, or anything else that’s important, then it goes a whole different way.

There are five models of leadership and one of them is modeling away. It’s all the things like showing up to work on time. Also, saying to people that it’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. One way that I can model is when people know I’m also feeling it or when I’m feeling this. Please, it’s okay. You can, too. I don’t have to put up this shield of, “I’m the CEO and I am animatronic. I will go tackle it.”

It's okay to feel whatever it is you're feeling. Click To Tweet

We’re still prehistoric in the sense that we have uncertainty. I wrote a book about change and it is about uncertainty. When there’s uncertainty, people make stories, and most often, that’s the worst-case scenario. If the CEO, who’s the person who represents the ultimate power in an organization, is guarded or covert even and you don’t know what they’re thinking, what’s their agenda, or any of that, you make up stories.

Often, it’s the scariest story possible, but when that person is transparent, real, and relatable in the way that you’re talking about, they don’t have to be afraid. It’s a whole different environment. To me, it’s remarkable. I meet a lot of leaders, and more often than not, the school of thought is that the less they know, the better.

Often, a lot of CEOs are figuring out as they go along anyway, whether they want to admit that or not. They certainly don’t want anybody to think that they don’t have all the answers, so they perpetuate that whole myth. That’s a whole other episode. Mike, I have so enjoyed this conversation. I really do want to schedule a second one because I feel like there are a lot of other topics you and I can talk about on a non-expert level.

We’ll talk about all of these and discuss all that. It’s all very impactful on employment situation and customer service.

If you have a comment or a question, You can leave that question or comment there for Michael or myself. It won’t be a bot and AI that answers. It will be us. Feel free to do that. We appreciate it. Mike, I just want to say thanks again for your time. I love this conversation.

Same, thank you.

I so appreciate it.

No surprise there. Michael Geary really provided so many insights. The depth and breadth of the conversation that we had about business was super. It was great to be part of it. I so enjoyed that conversation with him. I kept finding myself wanting to ask him more questions, which is why the show went longer than it typically does, but the juice was worth the squeeze, as they say. I hope you find it to be the case as well.

We got to talk about everything from where the market is now and thoughts about where it’s headed as well without prognosticating too much and without trying to pretend any of us have a crystal ball. We got to discuss a lot of those things, and Michael has a cautiously optimistic view. We talked about marketing. We talked about the event space and his role as CEO of a major player in the association of marketers for architects, engineers, and construction professionals and their teams. That association has been around since 1973.

They celebrated their 50th year in business for a reason. I love the conversation. It was tremendous insight there. It can be brought back to your own teams. It could be shared with others. As is always the case for me in doing this show, my hope is that it has a ripple effect so that whatever you’ve read that might make sense to you, something that you’ve learned, even that you’re willing to share with others around you, that’s what creates that ripple effect. That’s what we’re after in doing this. If there’s somebody that you think would benefit from reading these insights or ideas that you read, please feel free to share that with a colleague, a friend, or a family member.

That is super helpful. That only contributes to our mission here in doing this work. Also, if you’ve got a comment or a question for Michael and me, feel free to go to and you can leave that question or comment there. If the show really lit you up and you want to leave a review, it’s just stars. You could do more than that if you wanted to, but those five stars are super helpful in terms of the algorithm and getting this show in front of more people.

Lastly, check out your own level of resilience. How resilient are you? How resilient is your organization? How resilient are your teammates? Feel free to deploy this tool. It’s free. It’s complementary. It’s our way of giving back. It is something that we ourselves gain great insight from. Do that by simply going to

In three minutes or less, you’re going to get your own particular score in four zones of resilience and you’re going to also learn about resources to help you elevate your capacity, productivity, happiness, well-being, and work-life harmony, and all those things that we all want so much out of our work and our non-work experience. That’s a tool that’s there for you. We appreciate you being a part of this community. As always, I want to say thank you for that. For now, I will say ciao.


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About Michael Geary

Change Proof Podcast | Michael Geary | Authentic LeadershipMichael V. Geary, CAE, is the CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services and the SMPS Foundation. Prior to SMPS, he served as the President & CEO of AmericanHort and Horticultural Research Institute, the horticulture industry association and research foundation, and concurrently as the executive of the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association and the Nursery & Landscape Association Executives. Earlier he was the Executive Director of the American Institute of Architecture Students and served in senior staff roles for the National Association of Home Builders and The Delta Chi Fraternity. Michael has more than thirty years of association management and organizational development experience. He is a graduate of the University of Florida and earned a certificate in Diversity & Inclusion from Cornell University and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation from the American Society of Association Executives in 2000.