Monty Moran is a powerhouse of a leader. He became co-CEO of Chipotle back when it was the original burrito chain, and under his leadership, the company transformed into the fortune 500 superstar it is today. In his new book, Monty details his professional rise and how the soft skills of love and connection helped him propel his teams to new heights. The book is, Love is Free. Guac is Extra.: How Vulnerability, Empowerment, and Curiosity Built an Unstoppable Team. In our conversation, Monty takes us through his professional journey and his personal philosophy on unconventional, heartfelt leadership.
Emily Gindlesparger: I am speaking today with Monty Moran, the author of Love is Free. Guac is Extra. Monty, it’s so great to have you here on Author Hour.
Monty Moran: Well, thanks very much Emily, it’s great to be here.
Emily Gindlesparger: Let’s start, before we even dive into the content of the book itself with your journey through leadership and your exploration of leadership principles. Let’s give listeners an idea of your personal and professional background, which may take a while because I know you’ve been experiencing a lot of different areas.
Monty Moran: Well yeah, I guess I don’t know where to start, do you want me to start with birth?
Emily Gindlesparger: Well, it’s funny, I’m not sure where I want you to start either because I’m very curious about how your education in law informs your leadership. I’m also curious even before that about how having your mom as a spiritual teacher might have influenced the leadership concepts that you have around love and truth and really valuing vulnerability. I invite you to take whatever starting point seems like the genesis of when leadership began for you.
Monty Moran: Well, my mind works very chronologically, so I’ll just start at birth and then hustle through most of it. I was born in Newport, Rhode Island to a father named David Moran who was a cell biologist, who at that time was doing his post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University. Before which, he had received his Ph.D. from Browne and his undergraduate from Princeton University. So, my dad was a really educated fellow. My mom met my father when she was a nurse at Newport Hospital.
I was there for a couple of years but of course, I don’t remember any of it because I was a baby. My dad moved to South Colorado because he was sort of a wannabe American Indian, he always wanted to take me out on the plains and his preference would have been to live in a Teepee, to be honest. Anyway, we came out to Boulder and he became a professor at the University of Colorado Medical School in Denver. We moved to Boulder, Colorado, which during the very late 60s and early 70s was and I guess, it remains today, a place that’s very involved in spiritual teachings and spiritual work. My parents, you might say were, in some respects, kind of groovy I guess but they were also conservative in ways.
They’re conservative groovy which is a rare combination, I think. But anyway, we grew up with a lot of discussions around the dinner table about spirituality and about religion and my dad had loads of these brilliant people over for dinner. Guys who were Nobel Laureate types or authors in the fields of cell biology and histology and other sciences. My parents had really interesting people over to dinner a lot and our dinners were always very sacred. My mom cooked these beautiful meals, there was always wine, there were always candles, there was something very solemn and spiritual, but also really fun about these dinners. I was always expected to be there and expected to participate and be a voice, even as a young person. That was a big part of my upbringing.
From then on, public school education and I went to the University of Colorado, Boulder for my undergraduate degree which is in communication and had a minor in cell biology, which is what I started with because I wanted to be a doctor at the beginning. But towards the end, I figured out that working on people or in a laboratory might not be as suited to my personality as doing something more outward, with people walking around, instead of laying on tables.
I ended up majoring in communication and speech communication. I moved out to California after going to Norway for a few months to spend time with a girl who I’d met in Colorado, and went to Norway for a few months to learn the Norwegian language, loved it out there. Then I came back and moved to California.
I got a job in California as an insurance adjuster and in that position, which is a wonderful position, I got to know Los Angeles really well, it was a baptism by fire to an incredibly different world. That is to say, Los Angeles is so different from Boulder, Colorado. I learned so much just being there and actually, it was a bit scary at first because it was this giant place that seems materialistic and where I was not even a cog in a giant machine. I was a missing cog in a giant machine.
It took me a while to feel at home there. But once I did, I had a sense of pride of coming of age in such a big city. I ended up working with some attorneys in my job as an insurance adjuster and one thing led to another and I decided I was interested in going to law school. I applied to a number of law schools but then I chose Pepperdine University, in large measure because of its beautiful position right on the Pacific Ocean because I like to surf.
I went to Pepperdine University School of Law and graduated a few years later and began working as a lawyer in Los Angeles. Then some years later, I met a girl who I ended up marrying and we moved back to Colorado to raise our kids there. That’s my background I suppose, in a nutshell.
A Unique Law Firm
Emily Gindlesparger: We’re skipping the part that led to at least, part of the title of your book, which is that you became a co-CEO of Chipotle.
Monty Moran: Yeah, after returning to Colorado, I took up with a law firm here in Colorado in Denver, which at that time was called Messner, Pathic, and Reeves and I was there a couple of years before I became a partner. Then very shortly after that, the founder of the firm, whose name was Quirky Messner asked me to be CEO of the law firm. So, I became CEO, which is otherwise known as managing partner of the law firm, and I ran that law firm for eight or ten years and during that time, we had Chipotle as a client.
Steve Ellis had started Chipotle and there were a few restaurants. He asked me at one point to get involved doing the legal work for Chipotle and specifically, leasing. The truth is, I didn’t know anything about leasing at that point, I was a litigator–a trial lawyer. I said sure, I’d love to do it.
Then I went to the library and locked myself in there and learned everything I could about leasing for a couple of weeks and I started doing real estate leasing for Chipotle because I really wanted to help out the young company. Even though it was extremely low paying legal work and in fact, I offered to do the leases for 1,200 flat fee, which had been suggested to me by a partner in the firm who was a real estate practitioner named Ron Reeves. Had I known then what I learned later, I didn’t realize it would take me about 120 hours to do each lease, and it ended up being about 10 bucks an hour for my legal work but I learned a lot, and became a big help to Chipotle during a time when they needed help and didn’t have a lot of money to pay professionals.
Emily Gindlesparger: What inspired you to make that choice, to move over there?
Monty Moran: As I did legal work for Chipotle, there was more and more they asked me to do. So, they had a corporate office at that time that had many people in it who had many obstacles and I became known to the people at Chipotle as being a guy who solved a lot of problems.
I was less a lawyer I think in their minds–although they knew I was one–but more someone that when they gave me a problem, it tended to leave their desk and not come back. And so, I just did a lot of things to try to help out the company any way I could. Some of them were very lawyerly-like, some of the work I did was as a lawyer and some of the work I did was just as a guy trying to solve a problem. They gave me more and more work and then Steve would sometimes come over to the law firm to talk about the business issues, and when he came to my law firm, he noticed that the culture in the law firm was something he really admired.
Basically, we had a law firm where we had a whole bunch of lawyers and support staff who worked extremely hard but they loved what they did, and so the place was just lit up with enthusiasm. Steve asked, “How did you build this culture?” I used to say, “I don’t know,” but he said, “No, really, how did you build a culture?”
So, I started to sort of scratch my head and try to describe to him how I built it. After I described to him how I built the culture at the law firm, Steve said to me, could you come do this at Chipotle? I said something like, “No, I’m a lawyer, I’m loving what I’m doing here, but thank you.” He kept asking that over the next five years and he kept offering me a series of positions at Chipotle with greater and greater responsibility until finally, he offered me the CEO role.
At that point, the chairman of the board of Chipotle was a fellow named Jeff Kindler, who is an incredibly bright guy. At that time, he was the general counsel of McDonald’s Corporation, which owned about 92% of Chipotle’s stock. Anyway, Jeff came out and interviewed me and Steve had Jeff come out to try to convince me to do what Jeff had done professionally, which was make the jump from a private law firm to a public company. Because Jeff had been at a private law firm in DC and he went from being a law firm lawyer to the general counsel of McDonald’s.
Jeff came to me and said, “Hey, I know you love your legal work and I did too, but you have an opportunity to change a lot more lives if you come over to Chipotle.” Which at that time, or by that time, had about 8,000 employees, as I recall. I kept resisting because I loved my work at the law firm and I kept resisting and resisting year after year, not really wanting to make the move.
Then Steve said something that got in my brain. It was a smart thing to say I suppose, but it was quite a sales pitch to me. He said, “Why won’t you come over?” I said, “Well, I’m a lawyer. What do I know about running a restaurant company?” He said, “Monty, you’re not a lawyer, you’re a leader, lawyer is secondary. If you come to Chipotle, you’re going to have an opportunity to lead a lot more people and make a much bigger impact on their lives.” That weaseled its way into my ear and into my brain and I started to think, wow, maybe, just maybe, that would work.
Long story short, I agreed to go over to Chipotle and become President and Chief Operating Officer initially, and then co-CEO a couple of years later.
Emily Gindlesparger: Wow, back when Steve asked you how you built the culture at the law firm, what had you figured out by that time?
Monty Moran: I had figured out exactly how to create a culture of top performers who were empowered, and basically, that was by empowering each individual in the team and making sure that they were all working towards a common vision for our law firm, which is unusual because most law firms had visions like, let’s bill a lot of hours and make a lot of money.
That wasn’t my vision–my vision was to create a group of lawyers who became incredibly important problem solvers in the lives of their clients, that made sure to leave their clients in a better position than we found our clients. I would say that’s unusual for a law firm because lawyers are very expensive and usually people, after having an experience with a lawyer, are more akin to avoid it than to want to repeat it.
But I said we’re going to be friends, counselors, and lawyers to our clients. Our clients will learn to love and appreciate, count on, trust, and value us. I had this vision of building a law firm where we were incredibly helpful to our clients and left them in a better position than we found them. When I expressed that vision, it was soon after that, that they had asked me to run the law firm and be its CEO, and I brought everyone together for a meeting–here’s what it’s going to feel like to be in this firm, here are the kind of impacts we’re going to make in their lives. I would illustrate to all the people in the law firm, what it was going to be like to work there, and what it was going to feel like to be a client. I just kept talking about it and talking about it.
Finally, I saw that other people started to catch on. My vision became a bit contagious, and other people started to want it as well.
Then, I started talking about how each of us in the law firm was going to help each other and support each other and be like a tight family, like a family by choice, instead of by birth. That we were going to create the most amazing law firm ever. My ambitions about what I wanted it to feel like there were extraordinarily high. I wanted it to feel tight-knit like a family, where everyone trusted each other, where everyone cared about each other, where everyone was quick to jump in and help one another. It became that way quickly and we were able to attract amazing lawyers who came in and really were at their best at the law firm.
One specific thing I did, I think that was very unusual and very powerful was, in most law firms, partners try to keep the associates away from the client, so that the partner has all the, what’s called client control. You have control of the client, you know that when the client has another problem, they are going to call you, not the associate. I decided to completely reverse that. I thought, if I have the clients start to trust the associates and call them directly, even though I’m risking losing that client, because, for instance, the associate could get a great relationship with them and leave and say, “I’ll handle your work myself and leave the law firm.”
However, I decided that if I gave them that control, they would feel empowered to do better work and the client would be happier. The only thing I needed to do to make sure that those associates didn’t leave the law firm and make sure that the law firm was a better place to be than any other option they had.
That wasn’t super easy, but it was doable. And the way I did it was by making sure that the firm had an awesome culture where they felt super at home, super-empowered, where they felt that we as the partners of law firm cared about them immensely, that we would do everything we could to ensure their success, to help them in their professional and personal growth, and to care about them in every way you can care about a person, much like a parent for a child. People at the law firm felt awesome being there and didn’t want to leave.
When we gave them full client control, the clients felt great, they worked with people who billed at lower billable rates, they form tight relationships with junior associates who were appropriate for the level of work that they were doing and, of course, the client still had access to the partners or the more experienced attorneys where that was necessary.
Anyway, it became an unbelievable, powerful culture. People worked all the time, I mean, people on the outside of the firm, called us a sweatshop and I did nothing to dissuade anyone from thinking that because we worked extremely hard. Our work-life balance was that we like to work almost all the time, that was our work-life balance, and we were really happy.
Our firm thrived–it was growing immensely–over 40% a year, the firm was growing, in terms of revenue growth, probably the most profitable, non-national law firm west of the Mississippi River. We had a great income but more importantly, we had this culture amongst all the people who worked there, and it was really magical, it was awesome. Steve saw that and loved it.
Emily Gindlesparger: In your book, you write that your approach to leadership is not mechanical, that it’s more about intuition and vulnerability. How did you develop that style?
Monty Moran: It’s hard not to go way, way back on that one, but I’ve always been a very sensitive person, I think to a fault. Stuff hurts my feelings easily, I take everything personally and so I’ve often said of myself that I’m insecure, but people who got to know me over the years would say you’re not really insecure, you’re just sensitive. Isn’t that the same thing? No.
I don’t feel good in a room with a bunch of other people if any of them don’t feel good to be there. I tend to have this desire to make sure that everyone’s okay, that everyone feels important, that they feel seen and understood and valued, and that they feel like they belong in the room. If there’s anyone there who doesn’t feel that way, it plagues me, it bothers me, it hurts me. I don’t want to see it continue, so I always go and interact with them and find out what’s going on.
I appreciate it when anyone does the same thing for me. If I’m feeling down and someone notices it, I feel really seen and I feel really grateful that somebody noticed that I’m not maybe at my best. You can’t feel what other people are feeling or care about what other people are feeling unless you are in touch with your own vulnerability. Unless you can sort of feel the vibration of their own energy. If you’re just focused on yourself or self-centered, you might not feel what the people around you feel.
But for some reason, I’ve always been extremely attuned to what the people around me feel. I describe in the book how my relationship with my father might have been at the heart of that.
The Power of Being Real
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah, we see such beautiful illustrations of this care and this authenticity that you share with people and that you encourage others to share as well. Starting with that first story of Corina in the Chipotle restaurant in London. I was just so struck by how you really looked at this person managing this particular restaurant and looking at her crew who seemed effective but dissatisfied and were able to call out so quickly, that your team is not thriving because you are not being real with them. I wonder if you could tell how that story was important to you?
Monty Moran: Yeah, it’s not that she wasn’t being real with them, she was just not allowing her heart to be with them at all. Corina was this wonderfully strong, stoic, intelligent, hard-working person and is, I didn’t mean to say was but, Corina was so ambitious and hard-working that she wanted to run the restaurant, do the work and take care of everything herself. She wanted to prove that she was worthy of it, that she deserved it, that it was appropriate that she was the manager. She didn’t want to put any of the heartburn or hard work or responsibility on her employees, she wanted to shoulder all of that, and just have them do their role.
But the fact is, that just doing a specific role actually isn’t very empowering and when you’re a manager trying to do all the hard work yourself and keep all of the decisions to yourself, even though she was doing in the name of trying to be a great manager, what happened was, she cut herself off emotionally from her team. They didn’t feel that she cared about them.
They didn’t feel that she cared about them, they didn’t feel that she entrusted them with responsibility, because she kind of didn’t, she gave them tasks. When I met her, I quickly discerned that she was a wonderful person and powerfully warm deep inside, but she was keeping her warmth behind a shell or behind armor.
I could tell that she kept that behind because when I pointed it out to her privately, in her room, I said gee Corina, you’ve got all this pain inside, I can feel it. The moment I said that, she literally burst out crying. It was almost tears of relief that she had been seen and it was almost like I just popped a water balloon.
All this energy and tears and relief wanted to come out and all I did was sort of nudge it by suggesting, “Wow, there’s a lot of pain behind your eyes, what’s going on?” Since I looked deep into her heart, when she didn’t expect it, she just blew open. Then, what I found once she blew open was that there was this incredibly powerful, complex, loving, caring, emotional, spiritual heart that was available all of a sudden.
I said to her, “Your great leader lies in your vulnerability, it lies in this heart that you’ve just shown me. This is what your team needs to see.” Shockingly quickly she got it. I said, “Look, you are keeping your people from seeing your heart. They don’t feel the connection to you. How could they when you’re trying to keep them from feeling your connection with you? You are trying to keep them from seeing your weaknesses, but your weaknesses are your strengths,” and she got it.
She started to let her people into her heart. She started to say to her people, “Wow, I’m scared I don’t feel like I am doing a great job. I need your help, I can’t do it alone,” and once she said that, she invited them to become a part of her and become part of her mission to make it a great restaurant. Then they felt a sense of ownership. They felt the desire to do it for her. They felt a desire to do it for themselves and they felt they were a part of something. Once they’re a part of something, there was no holding them back.
Emily Gindlesparger: And I love that this story is the first one in your book. I am sure that it is not a coincidence at all. It is not a random choice because that story is really, I think, at the heart of so many leader’s experiences when they’re working with their own teams. Corina is certainly not alone.
Monty Moran: No, it is extremely common that particularly highly intelligent and ambitious people want to prove themselves. How do we prove ourselves in life? When we try to prove ourselves, what do we usually try to prove? We are trying to prove that we’re smart. We are trying to prove what we are capable of. We are trying to prove that we’ve got the answers. We’re trying to prove to our boss they’ve picked the right person–that they made the right promotion. That it is good that they’ve hired us.
So, it is kind of all about us. We are trying to prove that we are good, we’re worth it, we’re worthy. I know every job I ever got I wanted to prove my employer right for having hired me because I felt so grateful to have been hired.
I wanted to prove that they made a good decision. I tended to be much like Corina early on–trying to prove that I could do a great job and doing all the hard work and working late into the night and early in the morning. Late into the night and early in the morning, harder, harder, harder.
I did this when I initially came into the law firm and what happened was that I was a really, really good doer, but as long as I focused on me and my own production, I wasn’t a great leader. When there got to be too much work for me to do, just my own work–even when I extended my hours earlier and earlier into the dark hours of the morning and later and later at night. And after the kids went to bed until after midnight, eventually something had to give.
I couldn’t work harder to do my work for more clients. I had to create a team that could do that work and to do so meant I had to become a leader. It wasn’t something that wasn’t an option. If I wanted to continue to grow my practice, I had to become a leader.
There are thousands of super-ambitious people right now all over the country and over the world who are trying to do exactly what I did–trying to prove that they are good and that they are worthy, that they are doing a great job. But we can get caught up in that and it is actually fairly self-centered, even though it comes from a place of wanting to prove yourself, which is a wonderful thing, it can become egocentric and self-centered.
What’s harder is to realize, “Wait a minute, there’s all of this talent around me. There are these other people who are better than me at lots of things. They’ve got uniqueness that could be used to create a much better culture that could serve a client better than I could serve a client.”
If you start to really lean on the people around you and say, “Gosh, I can’t do it all. I need you guys. I need your help,” then people, boy they really perk up. Anyone who is asked to do something that they’re able to do and challenged to do more and more and more usually wants to do it.
They want to feel their own value in this world, and if you put them in a position where they can feel their value and see how powerful they can be towards solving problems and they see that they are helping you by doing it, it creates this wonderful, wonderful feeling between members of the team, where they’re really all in it together. That’s the magic of a restaurateur team at Chipotle and that’s the magic of a great culture.
Emily Gindlesparger: When you see leaders working to connect with the people on their teams, what do you think is the hardest part of that connection or the hardest lessons for them to put into practice?
Monty Moran: The hardest thing is realizing when your own ego is at work–when you are still trying to prove your own importance to the group, still trying to prove you deserve to remain their leader, when you are worried about you or how they view you, that’s the biggest impediment to becoming a great leader. Because most people who are really ambitious and hardworking, they have a big ego. Most people have a big ego. It’s a fundamental human trait to have a big ego.
That big ego is not a bad thing, you just have to realize when your ego is controlling you. You have to decline to let it control you. So, for instance, my ego in my law firm when I was a young associate and then working towards becoming a partner, the leadership of the firm started to notice, “Man, Monty bills a lot of hours. He’s profitable.” I said, “Yes, I am profitable. See? Look, I am working hard. I am profitable, look at me. Look at me.”
Then they said, “Oh, he does good work, but the clients are asking for more of his time.” I’m like, “Yes, see? I do good work.” So, when I became overwhelmed and had way too much work to do, I started to give it to junior associates and asked them for help. What happened was that when the billings went out, clients would see that I was doing less of their work and junior associates were doing more of their work. So, then the clients called me and said, “Hey, wait a minute. Why do you have these associates doing my work? Do you not care about my work anymore? Am I getting swept under the rug?” Guess how I felt when they said that.
Emily Gindlesparger: I would imagine crushed.
Monty Moran: No, I felt wonderful. That was like, “Look, see they want me. They want me, they don’t want me to stop working on their cases. They are noticing that I am giving it to junior associates. They want me to do it.” That is how I felt initially, right? But that’s my ego, see? So, the ego grabbed onto that and said, “Look, I am good. I am useful. They want me okay?” However, then I had to say, “Oh my god, that’s my ego. What’s the reality?
The reality is that if they don’t come to really appreciate the junior associates doing their work, if they don’t come to have a relationship with them, if they don’t come to see that there’s more value with the junior associate doing the work at a much lower hourly rate, they will never let me off the hook. The junior associate will never be able to grow, the culture of the firm will never grow, and the client base will never grow, and I’ll be stuck.
But see, it felt good to be wanted initially, but then I had to teach myself and train myself that the client being disappointed in having the junior associate do the work was my failure as a leader. The client’s desire to have me doing it all was my failure, not my success. So, I had to turn that on its head.
For example, if I said, “Emily, every time I get on the phone to do one of these interviews, any podcasts, I wanted it to be you to talk to me. You are the only one who can question me. I love the way you asked questions. Emily, you are wonderful. I just feel confident talking to you. I don’t want to talk to anyone else ever, okay?”
Emily Gindlesparger: Oh, well thank you, Monty.
Monty Moran: I mean that feels good, right? It just does. If you’re a human being you think, “Wow, he likes me. That feels nice. I am so seen. I am liked. He gets that I care.” That is a cuddly feeling. But then you have to realize, “Oh boy, how is this going to work because Monty needs to interact with other people at my company? It is going to be tough.” You have to realize that what you think is great and feels good is actually your weakness. You have to flip it right around.
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah, that makes total sense.
Monty Moran: Yeah, so that which I was flattered by was going to be my Achilles heel, you see. So, I realized, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to create a culture where the clients want the junior associates more than they want me, where they see the value in working with them. I’ve got to introduce them to the associate and say, ‘Hey, this is my associate David and the reason I’ve got you with David is David is really good at drafting leases and his hourly rate is lower than mine, but he is better at drafting them. This is a good deal for you.’”
The client will say, “Oh, awesome. Hey, nice to meet you, David.” Then they will call David and David would call them and I will be out of the loop. That out of the loop doesn’t make me feel good to my ego, but it makes me a much better leader because now I am empowering the associate and I am empowering the client to do what’s best for each of them, even when it doesn’t involve my daily interaction.
The Holy Grail of Leadership
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah, thank you so much for breaking that down. You have three different chapters in your book on empowerment–embracing empowerment, understanding empowerment, and practicing empowerment. How did this become such a big focus for you?
Monty Moran: To me, empowerment is the most important feeling that a leader can evoke from their team. Empowerment is a feeling–for starters, I mean that is what it is. It is a feeling. And as I say in the book, the feeling of empowerment is the feeling of being confident in your ability and encouraged by your circumstances, such that you feel motivated and at liberty to fully devote your talents to a purpose. This concept works in all areas of life.
If a great parent might be very, very strict, and intense and involved in their kid’s lives but what matters is not if they are strict and involved, what matters is they are empowering. Does the child feel confident in their ability and encouraged by their circumstances such that they feel motivated and at liberty to fully devote their talents to whatever purpose it is in their life?
In the culture of any company, if you want a powerful culture–and by the way, you can’t have a great company without one. If you want to have a powerful culture that helps achieve extraordinary results and changes your industry or changes the world, it has to be a culture of empowered top performers. It has to be. If it is not, you will fall well, well short of what you could otherwise achieve. If it is, you’ll surpass what you thought you could achieve.
So, empowerment is everything in a culture. It is the primary thing one needs. That’s why I talk about it throughout the entire book, it is, to me, the holy grail of leadership to be able to create the feeling of empowerment in the hearts and minds of those you lead.
Emily Gindlesparger: Incredible. Monty, thank you. This has been such an incredible conversation and your book is such a wonderful illustration. I mean we hit on a couple of the concepts in there but there’s a whole rich story of your life and leadership that you describe throughout the book. If you wanted people to take one or two things away from your book, what would they be?
Monty Moran: Find a way to make others better. The only real satisfaction in life comes from helping others be the best version of themselves. The heart of empowerment is to care about another person not just for your sake or what they can do for you, but actually care about them for what they want, they need, and what they can become.
Rejoice in watching them become the best person they can be, love to help them become successful. Enjoy the process of helping them be at their best, and then teach them, in turn, to make others around them the best that they can be. Because passing forward that scale of making others better is the most satisfying thing, the only actually satisfying thing I think in this life. I haven’t met anyone in the world ever who is satisfied with their life, who hasn’t made it a top priority, if not the top priority to help others be their best–to have a positive effect on those around you.
If you think about a great parent, a great parent has kids who are fulfilled and strong and capable and independent of that parent. They become separate from that parent, they don’t need that parent, and yet they love that parent, but they don’t need that parent anymore. Any wild animal who has young, what does that wild animal do if they want to be a successful member of the species? They teach their young to be independent, powerful, capable, strong, healthy, functional in the world. A great parent empowers their children.
A great leader empowers their team. A great teammate empowers those on their team. A great entry-level person helps empower the people around them to be at their best. So, do what you can do in your life to make others better. That’s why I dedicated my book to those who make others better. It is my goal to help people do that.
I’ve got obstacles to doing that like everyone, which is my own ego, my own insecurities, my own foibles, I’ve got loads of weaknesses, but if I can overcome those weaknesses enough to help others then I feel great and I feel worthy and it makes me feel like I have a valid and exciting purpose in this world.
Emily Gindlesparger: Overcome those weaknesses not by hiding them but by getting vulnerable and really focusing on others.
What Makes Us Special
Monty Moran: One thing I learned as a leader over many, many years is that when I was super smart and looked totally capable and looked like I didn’t need anybody, well that was something maybe I thought would be impressive to people. Other people might have been impressed, “Wow that guy is strong and doesn’t need anybody.” But how does that make them feel?
How do you feel if your parent–I like to go back to parents because it is the most common leadership role that we all have had experience with–how do you feel if your parent doesn’t need you at all, doesn’t ever think that you wash the dishes better than them, doesn’t ever think you mow the lawn as well as they could, doesn’t think you ever do anything up to your standards? How does that make the child feel? Well, it makes them feel distant from you. It makes them feel, “Well gee, dad’s really good at that stuff but I guess he’ll just do it. I guess he doesn’t need me.”
It makes you feel not needed and when you feel not needed it hurts. When you feel not needed it makes you not want to be the best version of yourself because you’re not even needed. Why would I work on being a better version of myself if no one needs me? So, when you show people your weaknesses, your vulnerabilities, your little foibles, and even pathetic traits, they start to go, “Oh wow, he’s human or she’s human, my boss. I guess since they’re only human, well crap, they need me because I could help them,” you see?
So, when somebody tries really hard to be perfect, as Corina was doing, her whole team felt sort of crestfallen, “Well, I guess Corina has got it, they don’t need me”. But when Corina came out and said, “Oh my gosh no, I need you. I’m scared that I won’t be able to do this, and I’m scared that I am not doing my best work and guys, I need you. I need you. I need you.” That’s what I encouraged her to do.
Go out to your team and tell them one on one, but also as a group, “I need you guys. I can’t do it without you. I am scared. I don’t feel strong, I feel weak. I feel frightened. I think I have been focused on me and not on you. I am sorry and I am changing the way I lead today. I need you guys to help me because I don’t have all the answers. I think I’ve got a great vision and I’d love to have you join me on that vision, but I don’t have the answers. I need all of you to pull it off.”
When people feel needed that starts the fires of empowerment in their heart and when they feel not only needed but they feel like they’ve got some skill to offer then the fire grows stronger. When they feel that the skill that they have to offer is unique, the fire grows even stronger to use it. When they feel like the leader won’t stop and won’t feel good until that person is at their very best, they tend to walk towards that version of being their very best and the fire still grows stronger in them.
So it is a wonderful and incredible and liberating and fulfilling and exceptional life, a moment in life when you see that your impact on another person is to draw their brilliance out, not your own, to draw their strength, their leadership, their love, their goodness out and have the world see them more in a brighter way. That’s what feels great as a leader and it does take getting over your own ego. It doesn’t mean that your ego goes away. My ego has never gone away. It keeps coming back and when it comes back, I sort of smile at it and say, “Oh yeah, there you are again, ego. There it is, that’s my ego.”
My ego is a little bit afraid now that I, for instance, at Chipotle when everyone started to become really empowered and when field leaders spoke as well as I did about these concepts, and when other executives started to really get the concept of how to create empowerment, I was less important.
I didn’t matter as much because there were a lot of other people who are getting very powerful in doing what I had perhaps initially taught. In some respects, your ego can then say, “Look, I am not as powerful as I once was. I am not special because now I’m like everyone else,” but what is the irony of that?
The irony is we all in this world tend to think what’s special about us is how we are different from someone else. You know, “I am the fastest swimmer in the world. I am faster than everyone else. I am special,” or, “I can recite the alphabet quicker than anybody else, that’s my thing,” or some people it might even be, “I’ve climbed the tallest mountain more times than anyone else. I am more important.”
So, we tend to think we’re special. But the reality is the thing that makes each of us actually the most special is the thing we have in common, which is that we are all part of a universal consciousness. We are all manifestations of the almighty, whoever that might be. You could call it God or Universal Consciousness or whatever. There are lots of neat words for it, but we are all worthy participants in this world. We are all an outgrowth of something sacred and beautiful and magical, and we all have that in common. That thing that we all have in common is much, much greater, and more powerful than anything that any of us has created for ourselves in this lifetime.
I could go to the gym every day and become a great big strong powerful guy but none of my muscles will ever compete with the fact that I have hundreds of millions of years of instinct that allow me to know things that I could never know by the amount of education that I’ve had in this lifetime. So, if we can tap into that which we all have in common, which is that we are all basically fragments of God, that is way more powerful than anything we can earn in this lifetime.
Our ego keeps telling us that what makes us special is what makes us better than, taller than, faster than, or somehow differentiated from others. That’s not really what makes us special.
What really makes us special is our heart, our love, our connection to others, and that is something that we can’t earn. We can only slow down, take a deep breath, and allow it to emerge.
Emily Gindlesparger: Man, I’m sure like so many others I could listen to more of you unpacking those concepts for hours and hours, and thankfully, you’ve written a book to at least attempt to get a lot of that down for us. Thank you Monty, and it’s been really awesome to hear not only your thoughts on leadership but your thoughts on life.
Monty Moran: No, it’s been a pleasure. I feel like we’ve been here talking for five minutes and I supposed it’s been longer than that. It’s really fun for me to talk about and listen, I am just learning and learning and learning every day. That is all I am doing is learning every day and hoping that I can keep my heart open to keep learning, because there’s such a vastly infinite amount that I don’t know and such a tiny little drop that I do know. But so far as that tiny little drop I can help others in their journey and I am eager to share it.
Emily Gindlesparger: Well thank you. Again, the book is called, Love is Free. Guac is Extra, and besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Monty Moran: So, they can get a hold of us at loveisfree.com.
Emily Gindlesparger: Great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today.
Monty Moran: Well it’s a pleasure and thanks so much for your great questions, Emily. I hope that I gave you some of what you were looking for.