We live in a world where we’re bombarded with information. From social media, to the 24-hour news cycle, to clickbait headlines, to what diet we should be on, or even what new exercise technique we should be doing. On the one hand, it’s an amazing time to be alive and have access to so many different choices but, on the other hand, we can reach paralysis by analysis because there are so many things that we can choose from.
Since it’s our choices that determine the course of our life, how do we know we’re making the right decisions? This is what Jeff Dudan set out to answer in writing his new book, Discernment. Jeff provides readers with a set of tools, models of thought, beliefs, and principles they can use to make the best choice. After a long coaching career, as well as running several successful businesses, Jeff shows that refining discernment is a lifelong process that requires trust and intentionality.
If you do the work, you’ll become the type of leader and problem solver people seek out when they’re wrestling with tough decisions. Without further ado, here is Jeff Dudan.
Miles Rote: Hey everyone, my name is Miles Rote and I’m excited to be here today with Jeff Dudan, author of Discernment: The Business Athlete’s Regimen for a Great Life Through Better Decisions. Jeff, I’m excited you’re here, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Jeff Dudan: Thank you, Miles, I’m happy to be here and excited to talk with you today.
Miles Rote: There’s so much to dive into. Before we dig in too deep, let’s just start with a little bit of background on who you are and what inspired you to write this book.
Jeff Dudan: Absolutely. My name is Jeff Dudan and I grew up in Chicago, Illinois. By trade, I was largely a basketball player growing up and then, late in my high school career, we got a new football coach at the school and he wanted to throw the football, so where do you go to get great receivers other than the basketball court? There was a moment where he came through class and pulled me out and said, “I’d like you to try out for football,” and it was really a life-changing moment for me. It set me on a path of going to university, and chasing the ball around a little bit, so I walked on to a school, right out of high school, the University of Northern Iowa.
I didn’t apply myself and had to leave after the first year. We had a conversation and we all agreed that it was best that I didn’t return for a second year. I dropped back to junior college in Chicago, and then I ended up with a football scholarship out to Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina. It was really there, at that time, where my life started to transition, where I started to take life a little bit more seriously, but I needed money.
I started a painting business while I was in college, painting student housing apartments with my roommate. That was really my first entrepreneurial experience, and we grew it into a substantial business over the summer, and we recruited our younger brothers to come to the university and take it over.
When I graduated, I got a call from a buddy who was responding to South Florida in the wake of Hurricane Andrew to help the people of South Florida recover. He called me, and I went down there with my business partner, after painting season, and it was just devastated. We threw in with his company for a little bit and eventually, we helped the people of South Florida recover, and we cut our teeth in the restoration business. After 18 months there, in 1994, we moved up to Central Florida to start a business with three partners. Then the next year, I moved back up to North Carolina to start our second location, in the insurance, restoration, and reconstruction business.
Growing a Business
Miles Rote: You did a lot of work with Hurricane Katrina too, didn’t you?
Jeff Dudan: We did. That business grew and we started to expand around the southeast. Over the next 10 years, we responded to nearly every disaster that made landfall in the United States, and in the Caribbean. We grew into a significant company, doing those types of repairs. Then we also had local businesses doing fire and water damage, and mold remediation, and indoor air quality services, and all things like that. Things that affected buildings to help them be clean, safe, and healthy.
It was interesting, I always had the aspiration to franchise the business, and we just never could make it a priority. One by one, as the partners decided to do something different, eventually, I bought my last partner out in 2004. The next year, we brought in some consultants and we started to organize the business a little differently, and educate ourselves on growth strategies, and things like that.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit. During this time, I had started a family. I had three children, my oldest was seven at the time, and Hurricane Katrina hit, and I was forced to lead the response down there. I was out of town for three months and what I realized, on my way home, was that I was missing my son’s first football season.
The way that I grew up, I had made an intentional decision that family was going to be important, and that I was going to try to be home for dinner and be present. I remember specifically the moment that I said, “If my business continues to grow like it is, and I see other people that are in similar businesses, they’re traveling all the time, they’re in California, and Texas, and Puerto Rico,” we were working in all those states. It was that decision, I said, “Well, your values are what you tolerate.” It was at that point in time that I decided, “This isn’t going to work for me. I have to find a way to build this business and, at the same time, meet the obligations that I wanted to meet as a father and a husband.” It was at that moment, I said “Well, we’re going to pursue franchising.”
I assembled the staff when I got back and I let them know that we were going to sell all of the locations under a franchise model, which we did in 2006, 7, and 8. We learned how to be a franchisor, and we went to the market in 2009, to the general public, offering our franchises for the AdvantaClean business. We awarded and had operating 230 locations by the time we sold the business in January of 2019.
Miles Rote: Wow. There’s so much I want to talk about here. I mean, this is a high-level overview but as anyone who has been in business at that scale, the number of decisions and complex decisions, and hard decisions you have to make are incredible. Of course, you’ve written a book on discernment and all about how to make decisions. One of the ways that you use to guide you to make those decisions, you’ve already touched on, which is values. You even have a set of family values that you guys live by.
Could you share what that looks like and why values are so important in the decision-making process?
Jeff Dudan: Absolutely. Values help us choose and inform all of our decisions, they inform who is in our life, who we spend time with. Values inform what business decisions we make, so understanding what you must have and what you will not tolerate is fundamental to making aligned decisions and making good decisions. Values are one part of discernment, but there is really a lot of training that goes in.
For example, if you want to be a basketball player, you want to be a football player, you’re going to know that you’ve got to work on your dribble, you’ve got to work on your footwork, you’ve got to work on your free throws, and all of these things that you have to train on. The purpose of the book really is entrepreneurial encouragement. Anybody who wants to be an entrepreneur, who desires to create freedom through entrepreneurship, who desires to improve their lives and the lives of others through business, that’s who this book is written for. It’s important to understand there’s an intentional way to build your muscles in business.
What are the things that you need to train on? What are the key things that are going to inform your decisions? Because there are no absolutes, in life or in business, but what can you do to increase your probabilities of making better decisions? The quality of our decisions really determines the quality of our life.
Miles Rote: I couldn’t agree more and this isn’t anything that is new to you, this is something you’ve been doing for a long time, you’ve been coaching for a long time. In addition to playing college football, and coaching people on your staff and in your business, you’ve actually been a coach, and helped guide people to make these decisions.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a coach?
Jeff Dudan: Communicate clearly, set expectations, and make sure that everybody knows what their role is. I coached over 30 youth sports teams while I was building this business, and I often wondered, “Why am I taking the time to do this? Is it prudent to take this much time away?” What I found was, in working with young people, other than it’s just a passion to pour into young people, and watch them become a team, and watch them grow, it was really kind of a laboratory to say, “What does leadership look like to a bunch of 12 year old’s?”
How can you most effectively get this disparate group of children, who come from all backgrounds, who have joined this three- or four-month season for all different reasons, some of them are serious about it, others, just want something to do, sometimes their parents force them into it, how can you take this group of people in over a three or four-month period, and make them care about the mission, make them care about each other, make them find a reason why to really pour themselves and apply themselves to this?
How can they have fun inside of this? How can they make it an enjoyable experience, and then how can they walk away from this experience and take something with them that’s actionable, that they’ll be able to look back in their life and say, “You know, I had some basketball coaches when I was in high school and, fundamentally, I still use the tools and tactics that they taught me as a freshman and a sophomore in high school. These two guys were ahead of their time and they really looked at the mental aspect of the game. We had goal cards, so we would write down goals, simple goal setting cards, and we would put them in our bathroom mirror, or we’d have them in our locker. We were constantly setting goals, whether it took two charges or get eight rebounds or become a better left-hand dribbler.”
What I always want to do, I don’t care if it’s in coaching, or if it’s in business, or help working with franchise owners, is I just want to connect dots and try to find a way to give them tools to make them better. They can use whatever it is that I have and everything that I’ve learned from my journey and my experience, and they can incorporate these things into their life, and improve their outcomes.
Miles Rote: That’s such a cool exercise because, in addition to making the goals on the cards, you’re putting them in places that you’re constantly seeing on a regular basis. You’re being influenced by those goals too, which are really influencing even how you make decisions, and that’s one of the things of your book is, really, the quality of the choices you make determines the quality of your life. How much training do we really get in school when it comes to making decisions? As you mentioned, a lot of it can come through coaches and really influential people in our life.
Why do you think it is hard to get training in these areas?
Building Discernment is Experiential
Jeff Dudan: That’s really a good question. The information that you need to be well rounded in discernment is disparate. You have to incorporate a lot of perspectives. First of all, I believe that everybody needs to have an adventure in life. Most of what we learn is going to be through the adventures that we put ourselves on, the stories that we hear from others, the books that we read, the conversations we have, the people that we meet.
Building discernment is experiential. I look at it today and it’s like, all right, everything is programmed with our kids. If you want to be a baseball player, you’ve got hitting lessons, you’ve got speed and agility class. Nobody goes out and just plays anymore. There’s this structure and, while structure is good and effective, it’s hard for kids today. Many kids have so many good choices and they are so programmed that there’s no white space.
There’s no white space for them to think into. You need time alone to think, to discover, to dream, to evolve. I have a friend who shared with me that, he says, “All of life is just an illusion. It could all change tomorrow.” You can change it tomorrow, an external circumstance could change your life tomorrow, but it’s really just an illusion. It’s an illusion that’s created by the decisions that we’ve made in the past.
I mean, we are exactly where we are in life because of the decisions that we made, to put ourselves where we are. If you want to change your life, you really just have to change the underlying decisions.
Many people get caught up in, “Well, I can’t change that because of all of this stuff from the past,” but you will never find your future by looking in the past.
Your future can be anything that you’ve created. As you build confidence in your thinking–you build confidence by informing yourself, and training on the things that I talk about in the book, and really building these models of thought, as opposed to a part opinion. What I mean by that is, when somebody brings me a situation or a scenario, I’ve developed multiple models of thought that I will lay this against.
The models of thought to consider how I feel about this. When you develop the ability to think in terms of scenarios, and what is likely to happen, what is the likely outcome, it really creates a powerful future in terms of the quality of the decisions that you can make. How do you get there, right? How do you start today as a 20-year-old? What are the things that you need to be doing on a regular basis to train your talent and to create this fundamental baseline for good decision making?
Those are the types of things that I really wanted to try to deliver in the book. Really, when I thought about writing the book, I thought, “Okay, what would be important? What do I think the most important things would be for my kids to know?”
Miles Rote: I think one of the most important things you touch on, which you are describing now, is that it is not necessarily even about being right or wrong at the moment, but the average of being right over time, and having a certain mind state in getting to a certain place where, by default, because of the filters or because of the differences since you are running things through your values, that over time the decisions you are making are towards the goals that you want out of your life.
Jeff Dudan: Yes, absolutely. Nobody is right all the time, and it is your batting average over time. The older I get and the more that I am around people that I considered to be wise, and that have had long careers in business, or have done something meaningful, whether it be corporate social responsibility, or whatever it is, I really have come to appreciate the amount of time or the amount of wisdom that they apply to decisions.
I say in the book, time kills all deals, right? So, you can’t over-analyze things. What you are looking to do is you are looking to build the point where you know enough about it to move forward, and where you can create asymmetrical risk versus reward. What I mean by that is you have to understand that part of decision-making is being able to evaluate what the downside is. What is the worst thing that could happen if I make this decision and, on the other hand, what is the opportunity for the upside?
Great decision-makers have this uncanny way of hedging their downsides and eliminating nearly all the risk. If you can eliminate most or all of the risk in a decision, and it is all upside, you have to know a little bit less about it, or you can take a little bit more of a chance on it.
Values Start with Purpose
Miles Rote: When you developed these systems and ways of thinking, you don’t become paralyzed at the moment, trying to figure out the exact right answer, but instead it is more of, as you described, a system of trying to see if you can mitigate risk, and trying to look at it more holistically and objectively.
I want to return to values again because I think it is such an important filter in what we are describing here. Since you have so much experience with values, whether it is creating values for your family, for your company, or just living values in your life, what would you tell someone who wanted to build better values to help them make decisions? How would you recommend they get started?
Jeff Dudan: Well, so what is a better value? Values are subjective and they have to be personal to you. Nobody should tell you what you value. I think that your values are going to be aligned with the outcome that you want to have, either for your life or your business. For example, if you were to look at Zappos’ values, they have a set of values that are interesting and fun. They live them. Buying shoes and the things that they sell is fun, and they really use these values to encourage the people that engage with their customers to do anything it takes to make it a fun and enjoyable experience for their customers. So those values work for them.
For AdvantaClean, our values were CARES: Community, Accountability, Respect, Excellence, and Service. Contrasting to Zappos, at AdvantaClean w show up on people’s worst day. They were trying to sell a property and they found a bad environmental issue, or their house flooded, or burned down.
So our values had to attract people that had empathy, and that would go out there, and honor the opportunity for the customer, by not overselling them something they didn’t need just because they are in a crisis situation, but making sure that they did a sufficient job, and gave the customer everything that they needed to be returned to normal. So those are the ways that values lived inside a business.
There are two rules. It is not what is on the walls, it is what is in the halls that really matters, and it is how these things live in your business every day.
Say I am somebody that is looking to start to work and I say, “What is important to me?” First of all, Kevin McCarthy has an incredible book called The On-Purpose Person. You know really, your values start with the purpose that you believe that you serve on this earth, and why do you exist? What is the purpose that you can hang your hat on in life, every day? Starting with the deep dive and trying to understand–it is not this altruistic purpose, it is what lights you up.
What makes you excited? I mean if we want to be our best authentic self, then we need to live in a place where there is passion for what we do. That is different for everybody. I am telling you, if you find something that you can be passionate about, and then you go to work, constructing the foundation of discernment, and values, and work ethic, and how you think about where you spend your time–the two greatest, most precious things in life are time and love.
How do those fit into how you occur every day in other people’s lives? And, invariably, when you start to understand who you are and the impact that you want to have in the world, there is a business around it that you can marry up with those things, and create an incredible business because you are going to be passionate about it.
Miles Rote: Yes and there’s so much that happens too, behind the scenes in your subconscious that, by default, is just playing and when you have your values aligned, and then you are thinking about business or you are thinking about your life, if those values are always there on the surface, it’s as though all of your decisions are running through those values. Then, as you make choices in your life, you feel less paralyzed about which choice to make, because you are guided with those values.
This is one of the best things about your book, in my opinion, is it helps people get better at discernment and, since discernment is so important, it is really critical though that we get it right.
A few other things that really help with discernment that you touch on, are vision and goals. There is a phrase that I want to read aloud in your book. I will paraphrase it but essentially it is, “Vision shows you what success looks like and where you want to go, whereas goals are the landmarks along the way you know you need to hit in order to make it to the destination.”
So, in other words, if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll never get there. So why are vision and goals important when it comes to discernment?
Jeff Dudan: Yeah, so I think you paraphrased me and also, I think, a phrase from Alice in Wonderland. Was it the Cheshire Cat who said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there?”
Miles Rote: Yes.
Jeff Dudan: Something like that. I have come to understand that our future informs what matters in the present. You have to have a clear future. Nothing happens great anywhere until somebody is willing to make a bold declaration and maybe separate themselves a little bit from the crowd in doing so.
That bold declaration becomes a vision, and it becomes a vision that you can share, and that you can have people join you in that pursuit of that vision, or the pursuit of a worthy ideal. So, really understanding where you are trying to go.
There are some resources that I share in the book that will help you create either a three year painted picture of where you want to go, or what does it look like when you get there? What are all the ways that you can describe what it looks like when you get there? It can be a little bit fuzzy, but there are ways to put language around it that say, “You know, if we do this right, here are the types of things that will be happening for us in the future.”
Then strategy, which many small business owners or many young entrepreneurs recognize the word strategy, but they don’t really know what it means. When I hired those consultants in 2004, it was really my first exposure to a strategy process. Whether you use Traction by Gino Wickman or The Rockefeller Habits, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish, these are all strategies. Strategy is really about closing the gap to the future desired state from where you are today.
What are the steps, and what are the order and priority? Who is going to do it, when is going to happen, how are we going to get there? And then what is the order in which we need to accomplish things? What does success look like in every step along the way? So, strategy in its simplest definition is closing the gap between your present state and your future state. The goals are really the stepping stones along the way that get you to the next step.
Miles Rote: A lot of people think of goals as their vision. I think some people can confuse these things. For example, they set a goal to lose 10 pounds, but I think that almost becomes a stumbling block in the sense that it is short-sighted. Instead, you have a vision that, “I want to be healthy and this is what health to me looks like,” then you can set the landmarks to get there.
Jeff Dudan: Is it to lose 10 pounds, or is it to feel better? Is it to have better cholesterol? Is it to have more energy? Is it to be able to stay up? And some of the people that have incredible results in fitness and things like that they tie it to something that really matters. I am not able to play with my kids because I have 50 extra pounds on me and I really want to be able to be present and run around, or something that is meaningful to them.
So, the vision is this future state, as you said, and then the goals can be the short-term type checkpoints or milestones that you’re pulling yourself toward the ultimate vision with.
Take Chances & Read
Miles Rote: This is so important for thinking about just making decisions and making choices and, of course, that is one of the most important things that we can do in our lives. So, thank you for writing this book and I highly recommend it. If readers could take away one or two things from Discernment, what would it be?
Jeff Dudan: Trust yourself to take chances. Don’t be bound by other people’s opinions of what’s right for you. I believe that we should highly prefer experience versus advice, because everybody has advice. As you try to increase your discernment, I would intentionally look for people that are willing to share their experience with you. Make sure that, when you are taking advice from people, that they have the experience that informs what you are trying to accomplish. So, experience over advice is really critical.
Then the second thing–and I know that we live in the land of smartphones–but read. Having a conversation with what is going on inside of somebody else’s head, that they organized for you, is the most incredible way to inform your discernment. I don’t know that, with all of the social media, that people read as much as they used to or read as much as they should, but I think that is the one thing that you can do to improve the quality of your life, is to just make it a habit and be a voracious reader. Now work at it.
Miles Rote: I could not agree more. I think your advice about experience over facts is so spot on. Experiential wisdom is so critical and, like you said, even when you are asking people for advice you are asking of their experience, not of facts or knowledge. So that is so beautiful.
Jeff, this has been such a pleasure. I am so excited for people to check this book out. Everyone, the book is called, Discernment: The Business Athlete’s Regimen for a Great Life Through Better Decisions, and you can find it on Amazon. Jeff besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Jeff Dudan: You can find me at jeffdudan.com, you can email me at, and that will be the best place to get a hold of me. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Instagram, or just Google me up, you won’t have a problem.
Miles Rote: Amazing and Jeff will be coming up with a podcast soon, everyone. So, ensure that you follow him and stay tuned for that. Jeff, thanks again this has been such a pleasure.
Jeff Dudan: Thank you, Miles.