Bert Martinez: Welcome Today on the show, Doug Fleener. Doug is known as the daily performance expert. Doug Fleener is an ex addict turned successful CEO.
Today Doug and I were going to be talking about the day that makes the year that makes life. It’s how to transform your work and your life with one day of success. Doug Fleener, welcome to the show.
So talk about your background. How did you go from an Ex addict turned successful CEO?
Doug Fleener: Well, so, yeah, my story starts in I’m, we were talking beforehand about the beach and the ocean. And so back in the eighties, I was actually in the marine business. So, I was in South Florida and I was living out what I like to call my Jimmy Buffett song.
And, you know, one of my greatest aspirations in that time or accomplishments is that I made a bet with a guy I could go a year without wearing pants. I did wear shorts. So, but that kinda tells you who I was in my twenties. And, I actually, again, this was in the eighties, and, so I had a lot of clients who were drug smugglers and, I had a pretty good gig going for a while. I would order the product into a marine supply store and trade it for cocaine.
And, you can only keep that one going. So the vendors want to be paid. And, so in, and in the book, there’s actually a story. I’ll give it away a little bit, but it was actually one of my last drinks and drugs, I woke up in the center seat of an airplane. No idea how I got there, and I had bankrupted a family business. So my life fell apart in, in early late 86, early 87.
And, my father told me, you know, I needed to go into recovery or he was my business partner, so he’s gonna kill me. And, I went into recovery and, you know, I hit rock bottom and I started to climb out of my life that I’d done and I had to learn how to live without a drug and without a drink a day at a time. And, I had to start all over. I had to get rid of that business. I mean, it was bankrupt. So what I ended up doing was, I needed to find a job, so I went to work for The Sharper Image and, a great company to work for at the time. They had all the cool products. The Internet completely busted them.
But, I ended up just realizing that, I needed to move out of Florida and, moved to Boston too, I wanted to watch the Celtics play. It’s the only reason I moved to Boston. I knew 1 person. And, you know, it’s, I got really lucky, and I had the right time, right place, and we all, you know, a lot of the time we get luck. Sometimes we don’t always see it when it’s in front of us. And, I met a guy who worked for Bose Corporation. Went to work for Bose.
And, he actually one of the reasons I wanted to ask him about working there was because he seemed to never be working and he seemed really happy. So I’m like, how do I get this job? And, so I got the job, and ended up becoming a sales rep, but I always had these years at Sharper Image. I always had retail in my blood, and Bose was starting a retail division. And right time, right place. So, basically, I took them from 1 store to a 100 stores, and this was before matter of fact, we had stores for about 2 years and Apple came to us and said, hey. We’re thinking about opening our stores.
Well, you know, can we learn from you? There’s Apple. There are a lot of Apple stores now and no Bose stores. So, They did a great job, but, you know, Microsoft didn’t have anyone who really had stores.
And, in 2001, kind of everything changed, I decided I wanted to go a different direction in my life and ended up speaking, consulting, and then a client asked me to actually run his business, and so I ran that business for a while.
But all along the way, you know, what I discovered was that the principles I learned in recovery were helping me in business, and that’s why I ended up after, that business I just was running was based on low interest rates. So we exploded during the pandemic. We had to lay off the majority of the staff when interest rates went up. So, that’s when I really, you know, put it down. I was like, you know, these elements of recovery that I’ve lived my entire life. So I’ve been clean, almost 37 years.
Bert Martinez: Wow. That’s fantastic. That’s incredible. You know? So, again, your book, The Day That Makes a Year, makes a life transform your work and life with one day of success. That that kind of encompasses or or that is kind of like the recovery was it, philosophy. Right? You just take it one day at a time.
Doug Fleener: Absolutely. And so right in those early days, those one day at a time is how I got through. I mean, you know, you realize that when I stopped drinking and drugging, my life was a disaster. I mean, I’d let down everyone in my life. I was morally. I was spiritually. I was physically. I everything was bankrupt.
And so, you know, the only way to yeah. I had been actually a blackout drinker for about 350 nights a year. So, you know, then all of a sudden, I stop drinking. It was talked about, you know, it had to change my life. And, so yeah. So those concepts and that’s why there’s 6 principles in the book and the very first one is, you know, called the day. I mean, you know, all success happens in the day.
It’s what I do today that makes my tomorrow, that makes my year, makes my life, and so that’s the first principle. So, yes, it’s not a recovery book, I think it’s based on the things that I learned to be able to apply in business.
Bert Martinez: So one of the things in the book that I like, and I wanna talk about this because I think it’s human nature not to take responsibility for your mistakes.
But in your book, you talk about taking responsibility as a superpower and why you need to own your mistakes.
So talk about this because, again, especially, You know, when you’re in your twenties and thirties, man, making a mistake, you think it’s the end of the world. You try to hide these things. But what’s interesting is you look at some of these powerful CEOs, and the good ones admit their mistakes.
What is it about admitting your mistakes that makes you turn it into a superpower?
Doug Fleener: Thanks for asking that. So what I learned is then again, I’m gonna go back to my recovery days . The only way that I could rebuild my life was taking responsibility for what I had done.
And I had to own it. And somewhere along the line, I probably heard it. I don’t have anything original. I’m just pretty good at interpreting it.
Sometimes it is, you know, that you can’t change what you don’t own. You can’t change what you don’t own. So when I blame, when I make excuses, when people act in a certain way.
You know, one of the things they taught me in recovery is that I was responsible for everything that happened in my life. Now when they told me that, It was the opposite. So I own it. And so, I don’t own Bert’s actions, he could say something, upset me. Who knows? We still have a ways to go. And, but, you know, what I do on my own responsibility is for my reaction.
So that’s really so when you actually start to take that on and I think, when I was in my twenties and thirties, everything was a major issue and everything was a disaster. And, I didn’t like to make mistakes. I mean, I grew up in a family. You went to great lengths to not admit you did something wrong. And so but what it does is it allows you and, you know, it’s interesting, you know, especially for people say in business, when you make a mistake, the faster you own it, the faster you take it to your boss and say, not blaming anybody. Here’s what happened. Here’s what I did, and 2 more things.
Here’s what I’m gonna do to fix it, and here’s what I’m gonna do to not do it again.
Bert Martinez: And I think, Obviously, look, being in that kind of, family situation, that makes it tough, but I think that’s very human. I mean, what’s interesting about that, it’s not like your parents come to you and say, okay, in this family and I don’t know, maybe yours did this, but, most people aren’t told directly, we don’t admit our mistakes. This is something that we learn.
And it’s interesting because what I have realized is that when somebody gets up on stage or, you know, not necessarily stage, but, just stands up, Whether it’s on stage or, you’re having dinner or a family setting, it doesn’t matter, and you say, here’s a mistake I made. We don’t think of them as weak. We think of them, wow. This person is brave. That’s courageous.
But we have this weird thing that if I admit a mistake or if I admit that I don’t have all the answers or if I admit that I’m weak in this area, that somehow that makes me bad or look bad, but at the same time, when somebody else does it, we’re thinking, man, that that person is so courageous to admit that, and and it’s just weird to me that we have this dichotomy. But it’s so important because, first of all, especially when you lay out your 4 steps there, when we go through those 4 steps, it gives us an opportunity to learn and grow and become a better leader. And one of the things that helps us make good decisions is learning when we make some bad decisions. So I just don’t know. I don’t know where again, with that what is it? Shame? Embarrassment? What is that?
Doug Fleener: Yeah. And I think you make a great point that when we see it in others, we admire it when we see it in ourselves. And I think it’s about sometimes, you have to separate who I am compared to what I do. Right?
And so I’m a human. I’m gonna make mistakes. Right? I say things I shouldn’t say. And now I will say that one of the things that helps me is every day when I wake up, I try to really work on who I’m gonna be as a person that day.
And then at the end of the day, was I that person? When I’m kind of locked in like that, I have a tendency to not make the stupid mistakes, with my partner and my kids but I think it’s understanding that it’s not what happened. It’s not who to blame. And so I think, you know, when you quit blaming people, you quit blaming yourself.
Bert Martinez: Right. And it’s interesting because taking responsibility, Not blaming others, not looking for an excuse. This is a hallmark of a good leader. Whether it’s a parental leader or a CEO or a boy scout or whatever. When you can sit there and say, yeah. You know what? I own it. I made that mistake. I learned from it.
This is what I’m gonna do, not to do it again, and here’s how I’m gonna fix it. You know, you’re like, okay. Cool. I’ll you know? One of the great things about humans, for the most part, is we’re willing to give a second and even a third chance. I mean, there’s a history of CEOs that have screwed up, of politicians that have screwed up. And when they take ownership and especially, again, back to your 4 steps when they say, listen. I made a mistake. It’s not gonna happen again.
This is how we’re gonna fix it. We’re like, okay. Let’s see, let’s see what this guy does. Not to pick on anyone particularly, I’m just gonna use them as an example, back in the day when Bill Clinton was accused of wrongdoing, and he was trying to tiptoe around, you know, I did not have sexual relationships with that woman. You know, you knew from his face, his body, Language that he was lying, and all of the energy and money that was spent on trying to catch him in his lie, I forgot how many I think it was a couple of million but it was just we as, you know, as investigators and as humans, and we didn’t wanna give that up. We wanted him to admit it. And what’s so interesting is finally, when he admitted it, it was like, okay. It’s done.
So let’s move on. But let me talk about this because I think another important thing in your book is that you mentioned “micro changes”. Talk about micro changes and why this is so important.
Doug Fleener: I think the thing is that again, in these principles, they all fit together. So if we just, go back real quick to take responsibility.
It is when you make a mistake, it doesn’t define you. It doesn’t define you going forward.
It’s just something that happened that day. And so, you know, the micro changes to me is about every morning I get up, I try to improve 3 things a day. It can be my business. It can be me personally. It can be something around the house.
And, I know a lot of people and they’ve been very successful. They’re kind of focused on that 1% improvement. I don’t I can’t do math. I don’t know what 1% looks like, but what I can do is change 3 things a day. That I can do. And, you know, when you change 3 things a day, you get a thousand ninety five improvements in a year. That adds up.
Bert Martinez: And what I like about that, I’m like you. I don’t know what 1% is. How do you measure 1% of Today or whatever. But when you’re focused on making 3 changes a day or 2 changes a day or just even 1 change a day, then you can say, okay. I’ve made 365 changes or, you know, whatever it is, a thousand whatever changes if you’re doing three a day. That to me is an awesome Strategy for total improvement. You’re focused. You know what you’re doing. You’re changing 3 things a day as opposed to 1%? What does that mean?
Doug Fleener: And so it really connects right to the micro changes is that, look, if I’m gonna change 3 things a day, I’m not going to make some humongous improvement. So whatever my big improvement, excuse me, in my business, in my personal life, it’s all gonna happen in these steps and these small things.
And, when I talk about in the book about one day success, I just have a goal. I have a goal to be better than I was yesterday. If I can be a better person, I can be a better business person, I can be a better partner. And so, for me, it allows me to be really connected to what I’m doing and who I am. So, again, with micro changes, I’ll, I just every day, I’ll look at any type of work I do and actually in the book, it’s not in the book, but there’s a guy I worked for who used to tell me that every day I walked in that Sharper Image Store to look for one thing to improve. And I’d be like, there’s nothing to improve. And he would look over there and see 50 things to improve. And so I wouldn’t look. I didn’t know how to look for him. But when I know I just wanna be a little bit better and so that’s something I can just do. How can I make this better? It’s an easy question to ask yourself.
Bert Martinez: And I like what you said there, he was looking for opportunities and you weren’t, and so that was the difference. He could see 50 things that could be worked on, And at that time in your life, it’s a great store. Everything’s clean, and everything’s supposed to be where it’s at. I don’t see anything that needs to be improved. But the reality is we can always be a little bit better. I mean, that’s what life is all about is to get just a little bit better.
To Your point, it’s not about saying, hey, I’m going to be this much better. I’m going to change everything by tomorrow, but if I can just do those 1 or 2 or 3 things, micro change over a period. It’s colossal.
Doug Fleener: And then, you know, and if you take it back to my story in 1987 I was a disaster. And I didn’t know how to live without drugs. I didn’t know how to not live without just getting loaded every night. And so it’s not like I’m gonna walk into some recovery meeting and become a brand new person. I had to start to make those little changes, and it’s a journey. It’s as you said, it’s about each day, am I getting a little bit closer and making everything a little bit better to the person and the business that I want, and that applies regardless of what you do.
Bert Martinez: No. I think that’s a great principle or a great strategy. One of the things that I love about The 12 step program that most of us are familiar with, they’re very keen on not putting a bunch of pressure on yourself. You’re taking it one day at a time. You’re taking it 1 hour at a time and Knowing that we all sometimes slip and we have to start over again, but if you slip up or if you make a mistake, you don’t beat yourself up over it. And I think that’s again, it’s a human nature thing to do that, you know, to just clobber yourself, and that Is counterproductive. So I love this idea of micro changes.
Let’s talk about the power of intention. How to choose what to prioritize? Because I think this is really tough for many people. So give me your take on this.
Doug Fleener: Well, one of the things I do for working is I work with business owners to become more effective. And I tell you, and this work came out of I used to do a lot of consulting with businesses.
And, yeah, one of the things I discovered is every time I worked with any business, we’re working on the marketing. We’re working on this and that and everything. What I can realize is that if the owner would just change a little bit of how they worked. They could change so much more. And I really like the business owner because they have the power to change whatever they want. You’re inside a company, not as much, but it still applies.
And, what I discovered is how to help you become highly active so quickly. And when you get down to it, when everything’s a priority, what? Nothing’s a pro. So first is understanding what are the 1 or 2 things right now that really matter in your business? And, I hear a lot of people talk about staffing and, regardless of the biz I have a coffee shop around the corner. They just opened up. Little independent place closed down. They gotta temporarily close because they can’t find staff. It is hard to find staff.
We know that. And so if you’re, to me, that if you’re dependent on staff and those people are in business, that’s your priority. And so what are you doing every day? People just get kinda stuck in doing their to-dos. And so I always talk about that.
Intentional actions can create intentional results. And so what are you gonna do today? What are the 1 or 2 things you’re gonna do to move those priorities forward and just it becomes that. Let other things fall.
We also have a tendency, and I know I was guilty of this, of working on the things I’d like to work on. Not the things that I really need to be done.
Bert Martinez: Right. Not the hard stuff or the boring stuff. I wanna work on this because it’s fun. I resonate with this.
Doug Fleener: I enjoy that, you know, making that really funny, little Facebook post, but, you know, but I have no staff. So it’s understanding that, right, it’s about priorities, and then what are you gonna do on a daily basis. You know, if you know, then you don’t get results without action.
Bert Martinez: One of the things, That I’ve been working on this year. I got this idea from, He has a podcast. He’s a neuroscientist, Heiberman or Heberman. Can’t remember his first name. Doctor Huberman. He’s musically dressed in black and he’s got a beard and and kind of, so he talks about, He quantified.
There’s that saying, it’s not the end. It’s the journey, or it’s not the gold, it’s the journey. And so he kinda really from a neuroscientific point of view, he talked about If you can only get a dopamine hit from reaching your goal, you make reaching your goal so much harder because you’re not enjoying the process of reaching that goal.
You gotta train your mind to get a dopamine hit from, as you mentioned, doing the boring boring stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you can do that and get a little dopamine hit there, then you’ll be able to do a little bit more. And a little bit more, before you know it, that really boring, horrible task, then you get a bigger dopamine hit. And so I just love that idea. So that’s what I’ve been working on because like you, I’m like, I don’t wanna call anybody. I know I gotta call those 3 people and give them really bad news, and I’m gonna put that off till tomorrow.
Alright. Let’s talk about this, because one of the things that I realized doing all the stuff that you’ve done, Giving up the drugs, the drinking, changing your life, even figuring out, the 3 things you’re gonna work on or the 3 things that you’re gonna give priority to, to me, takes courage.
So What I find is that sometimes people say, well, this is what I need to do, but it scares me. So what do you tell to a CEO? What do you tell to somebody who says, I know what I gotta do because we all do, but I’m scared to do it. I don’t know how to get started. How do you deal with fear? How do you deal with that paralysis?
Doug Fleener: That’s a great question. So yeah. I am right. I mean, it’s really simple, and I’m a pretty simple guy. You just gotta get started. And, I find that I try to build this group of people around me that I communicate, text, call, talk to on a very regular basis. And one of the things that I have found is to get started on something is I gotta speak it out loud to somebody. And, you know, I need an account, you know, there’s some accountability And so I need to say to somebody, hey, I need to get this done and and I do it with a lot of people. So what, you know, what are you gonna do today? And, you know, the fear most of the time, is just it’s really not really valid at all. So yeah. Look. If you gotta walk across a tightrope across the Grand Canyon and that’s what you have to do, then that’s some fear. Yeah. But, you know, but if you wanna right. If you’ve got a, you know, call, like I say, make that phone call to somebody. You gotta do something. It’s usually not fear. Mean, right, it’s uncomfortableness, and I think there’s a big difference.
Bert Martinez: There is. You’re right. I mean, when you look at those 2, there is a huge difference. Right? You gotta let somebody go. Totally uncomfortable. It is a little scary. You gotta get somebody to hear awful news. I’m not saying you should do it like this, but in the worst case scenario, you could send somebody a text message and say, I’m sorry.
Gotta let you go. I mean, that’s kinda cowardly, but it’s better than not doing it. Or because this has happened to me, somebody actually hired me to let go of a couple of their employees. You hire somebody. You get it. You can find a way. And I like what you said. Look, sometimes the only way to do it is just you gotta get started and and Using your 3 principles there or your 3 things, what’s the one thing you could do to get this one thing started? Because it ain’t gonna get resolved unless you get started.
And there’s just sometimes, there’s just no way around it. You just gotta do those hard things. You know, life, in my opinion, is about doing Hard things over and over again. It’s, you know, being a running a business, that’s hard. And in some cases it’s scary. Having a family? That’s hard and sometimes scary.
You know, we have 5 kids, and each time a child was born, It was scary. It was like, this is gonna be rough. And then the last child turned out to be twins, so we went from having 3 kids to 5 kids, and that was a huge game changer. And then on top of that, they were twin girls. So I always tell my girls, This is when they started talking to boys around the age of 13 or 14. My hair just fell out, and they said, no more. Okay. We can’t take it.
But, Yeah. I mean, that’s really what life is, if you’re doing scary things over and over again. I I don’t think we ever stopped being scared. We just changed. So if you grew your business to 500,000, Great. Now to get it from five hundred thousand to a million , that could be a little scary, but you get it to a million, and then that next goal is 2 million you know, it is just it’s what your whole book’s about is this never ending improvement thing. That’s really what I think life and business is all about.
Doug Fleener: So true. And I just love this, you know, your connection to, like, being a parent. Can you, you know, can you imagine, like, the kids came home. Like, hey. What’s for dinner? You know, I just have too much fear to make dinner. You’re just not gonna happen today. And yeah. It’s just yeah.
And just real quick on this is, you know, when I used to spend a lot of time going and I used to go to a client’s place for one day, and I’d spend the entire day with them. And, the people who are struggling the most have the most ideas. And it’s funny because I was like, you know, what can you tell us? And at the end of the day, I’d just be like, just do what you’re supposed to do. You know how to do it. Just do it. You know? Now you had it right.
Bert Martinez: That’s right. Just Fantastic. Well, you know, so this is strategy because I’m one of those creative people. I can come up with ideas all day long. I’m constantly coming up with an idea. And at one point, I would not only come up with an idea, but then I’d have to buy the URL, the domain name for it. So at one point, I had, like, a thousand.
So, What I started doing is I have a journal, an idea journal. I’ll write it down there, get kinda get it out of my system. I finally come to grips that I’m not gonna buy any more domain names. And as a matter of fact, I just sold one off. So I was like, yes. I’ve had this domain name for, like, 12 years.
I finally sold it. That’s the you know, that’s probably I might waste 10 or 15, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour. Doing a brain dump into this idea journal, but it’s so much better than spending real time and real resources, money, whatever, taking somebody off of another priority to get to waste time on this that I don’t have the bandwidth. We don’t have the bandwidth to do any more than we’re doing. We’re a tiny little company.
Alright. So let me ask you this. You’re sitting around. You’re thinking, you know, I need to write a book. What was the catalyst for your book? What kinda got you off center and made you write a book? Because as we know, writing a book It’s scary. It takes time. You know, you’re you know, you have through a bunch of rewrites, so it’s not an easy task like buying a domain name. So tell us about your book, A journey.
Doug Fleener: So it really started with, about 11 months ago, I had laid off a bunch of people in this company. I went to the owner. Hey. Someone else needs to be laid off. Me. So, and it was the right thing to do, and, you know, just so, anyway, I, it’s like, alright. What am I gonna do in this next chapter? And, but the more I thought about it, the more I just realized, you know, really, I wanted to be able to get down on paper what it was in recovery that helped me be successful.
And, you know, and again, it’s not a recovery book. You don’t have to have a drug addiction or be a workaholic or whatever for these principles. Look, everybody’s read the book and I’ve actually had a lot of non business people reading the book. They all say the same thing. It’s so simple. It is so connected. Because I’m really into simplicity and don’t, you know, I can draw up a hell of a theory and do nothing with it. And, so anyway, I was like, you know, I wanna just figure out what all these are and what all these are connected to. I’ve been living it for 30 some years, but I hadn’t always named it.
And so I actually worked with a guy, and I think that’s the other thing that helps me is when I wanna get something done, sometimes I hire a coach, I hire a professional, I hire someone to help talk me through it. And, sometimes I chat with AI that’s also become kind of a brainstorming tool. And, anyway, when it finally clicked on what I was gonna write about, I was really big on streaks. And so like that. Yeah. So it’s how I’ve lost weight. Well, back I lost 50 pounds. So I do the streets.
And so I use an app on a Mac. It’s a great app called Day 1, and it’s a perfect journaling. So I journal every morning, every night, and then I do streaks. And I’ve used streaks in businesses in business to help people be successful. You’re gonna do this higher level thing, this one next right thing, you’re gonna do how many days in a row can you do it? It’s front of mind. It’s accountability. And so, I’m like, when it all came together write the book. I wrote every day, and I never missed a day.
And then, of course, the editor. You’ve done the process. Alright. Yep. Actually not as bad as I thought, you know. I think with some of the software we can use today, it’s much easier than it was, say, I wrote another book 20 years ago, so I’ll plan to write another. 20 years. So much easier. And, so for me, what it was is just getting it and just getting in that daily habit. And it’s funny because that’s what the book was about. And then every day, what I would do in my online journal is I’d write down how many words I wrote, how many words I had called to date and what percentage was to be done. And that’s to tell you know, again, and I think when we work that way so I do it in many different ways is, you know, every day, what’s my highest priority? I can only look at the news so often, and so that’s, that’s actually how I got it. It really went to intentional actions, great intentional results.
Bert Martinez: What I like about the Streak strategy, interestingly enough, I learned about Streaks from my twin daughters. They were, like, 13 or 14. They were driving us crazy. They were bickering. It was just constant chaos and contention, so I took their phones away. And they were freaking out. Talk about addiction and recovery. They were freaking out. The 1st 3 days, man, they were like, I need my phone. And I asked them, what’s so important that you need your phones? And they said, I’m gonna lose all my streaks. What?
Has a streaky thing. Same strategy. How many days can you go back and forth with somebody? Which is Psychologically smart, but, you know, when you’re just Snapchatting with somebody for whatever you know, Again, kind of a waste of time, but for them, at 13, 14 was incredibly important. But using it the way you’re using it, what a smart way. And then the 2nd time I heard about streaks was from this guy. You may have heard of him. His name is Jerry Seinfeld. And so Jerry does the same thing.
He said he told Seth to see how many times in a row he could write new jokes, and he talks about keeping the street going or could he call it a chain, keeping the chain going. So can you do it for 3 months nonstop or for a year nonstop or whatever? And, again, back to the dopamine hit. I mean, this is a great way to get a dopamine hit because you did the streak. You did what you were supposed to do today. You did that maybe it was you wrote that 1 page or whatever it was you wrote or you did that one thing, but you did you’ve done it now for, you know, 65 days consecutive, that’s a win.
Doug Fleener: It was kind of a letdown when I finished, to be honest. Like, oh, the streak ends. Not, you know. But one of the things I do is I journal every morning and I journal together. And it doesn’t have to be anything, but it gets it out of my head. And I just find the written word doesn’t lie to me.
I’ll lie to myself in my head. But when I put it down on screen, you know, it’s pretty powerful. And so, you know, that’s something I’ve done for a long, long time.
The book The day makes the year makes a life. It’s on Amazon, Barnes and Noble. Appreciate if you buy 2, give 1 away. And, you know, one of my concepts is give to get. So if you wanna get things in life, you gotta give things in life.