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Author: Gary Frey


The Power of Core Values & the Impact of a Hand Grenade


My boss welcomed me into her office & shut the door. I had no idea that meeting was about to deliver the impact of a hand grenade.

“Welcome to OUR company. We’re glad you’re here,” she greeted me.

She quickly moved to a topic sacred to her & to the company: Core Values.

She smiled but took on a serious tone. She said, “We stand for 3 things: 1) Do the Right Thing, 2) Teamwork & Trust, 3) Have a Passion for Winning – in that order.”

It wasn’t marketing gibberish. These were expected & rewarded behaviors here. She continued, “My job is to make sure the CEO knows who Gary Frey is. Your job, once you’ve built your team, is to make sure I know who your stars are. Hire your replacement & never be afraid to hire people smarter than yourself.”

Servant Leadership: She didn’t just talk about it. She LIVED it. She led by example.

Her peers & the CEO recognized her for it. She had the most coveted object in our company tucked away on her shelf: a Waterford crystal hand grenade. She never mentioned it. She didn’t have to. It was legendary. A precious few were given by the CEO to associates who had “jumped on the grenade” on behalf of our associates & customers.

She remains the best boss I’ve had. My takeaway: Know your core, lead by example, & when necessary, “jump on the grenade.”

(NOTE: This post launched on LinkedIn on 1/15/2018 to honor my former boss and our former CEO who set the tone as well as gave the coveted “Crystal Hand Grenade” award. By 2/14/2018 it had been viewed by 7.9 million people. Amazing.)

Improve Efficiency & Effectiveness? Start by Asking These 5 Questions.


Communication. Is it just me or is it really lacking in the workplace?

The #1 challenge when two or more people are working together is communication (anyone married?)*

So how can we make it less frustrating and more effective?

The key is an effective communication rhythm.

How is yours?

Give yourself a gold star for each of the following meetings that you and your team are consistently implementing:

A) Daily?

B) Weekly?

C) Monthly?

D) Quarterly?

E) Annual?

If you didn’t get a 5-Star meeting rhythm rating, don’t give up. There’s still time to dramatically improve your meeting rhythm, drive greater organizational communication, alignment, and effectiveness. When executed properly, you’ll save you and your team precious time and unnecessary frustration.

Insight CXO helps bring clarity and alignment to people, strategy, execution & cash flow in measurable sprints across the organization – from the management team on down.

*Scaling Up. Verne Harnish created the “Rockefeller Habits” based on the leadership and management principles used by John D. Rockefeller. #3 of 10 Rockefeller Habits: “Communication rhythm is established and information moves through the organization accurately and quickly.”

Make This Quarter Count. Align.


Is everyone aligned with the #1 thing that needs to be accomplished this quarter to move the company forward?* Do they even know what it is?

If not, consider these 3 questions:

1) Have you and your management team identified & prioritized the three most important “rocks” or priorities that must be accomplished in this quarter to hit your one-year goal?

2) How have you communicated these priorities & gained buy-in/ownership throughout your organization?

3) Have you set a “theme” for this quarter’s #1 priority & set up a “scoreboard” to make the metrics top-of-mind & increase engagement?

Insight CXO helps coachable CEOs inspire leadership, accelerate growth, & crush the competition. We bring clarity and alignment to people, strategy, execution & cash flow in measurable sprints across the organization – from the management team on down. Our goal is to help you double your business (or more) in 3-5 years.

*Verne Harnish created the “Rockefeller Habits” based on the leadership and management principles used by John D. Rockefeller. #2 of 10 Rockefeller Habits: “Everyone is aligned with the #1 thing that needs to be accomplished this quarter to move the company forward.”
Changed Life

A vulnerable conversation from 1995 that surprisingly went viral in 2017…

Changed Life

“What do you do for a living?” I was asked by another soccer dad on the sideline. I wanted to lie. I was unemployed in a new city & embarrassed.

Six months after moving across the country, my job vaporized. A few months later with no income, I was living on fumes with two little boys & my wife depending on me.

I felt like a loser. As I watched my 4 yr-old play “swarmball” with his little teammates, I wondered how I would provide for my young family. Honestly answering the soccer dad’s question was almost too much. I paused.

“I’m unemployed.” I ashamedly replied. (Lying would have only made me feel worse.)

“What’s your background?” he asked. “I’ve turned around & run advertising agencies.” I responded.

“Send me your resume. We just reengineered the marketing department for a large bank. They’re looking for someone like you.” he said.

At one of my lowest moments in my life, a complete stranger’s question had the potential to dramatically change a desperate situation. Had I given into the pride that was tempting me to lie, I would have missed it.

Within a few weeks, I had a job offer with a raise & a signing bonus. Crazy.

20+ years later, that soccer dad & I are still friends. I thank God for the kindness of a stranger & for the unexpected blessing of swallowing my pride.

(NOTE: This post launched on LinkedIn on 11/20/2017. By 12/31/2017 it had been viewed by 8.28 million people. Amazing.)
Outward Focus

Mind Whiplash for Overcoming Stage Fright: Focus Outward vs. Inward

Outward Focus

A comment card from many years before was tormenting me again… “Gary is better 1-on-1 than in speaking in front of a crowd.” My take: “He sucks at public speaking.”

As I was preparing to serve as the emcee at another 2-1/2 day retreat with hundreds of notable business owners & their spouses, I was being haunted by stinging (& true) words from my past.

I felt like Moses must have felt when he was asked by God to go back to Egypt & deliver a speech to Pharaoh. Moses replied, “Oh, my Lord,…I am slow of speech & tongue.”

As I poured out my fears in prayer the night before our retreat, it hit me: “A servant isn’t to be concerned about how he is PERCEIVED. A servant is to focus on SERVING — not on how people are perceiving him.”

Mind whiplash: Focus outward, not inward.

At the retreat, I fought hard to focus on SERVING our guests in my emcee duties rather than how they were perceiving me. When I would see someone in the audience tune me out, I forced the thought, “Serve them!” Not, “How am I doing?”

Amazingly, as I shifted from how I was BEING PERCEIVED to focus on how I was SERVING, I started having a blast.

Those pesky post-event comment cards? Many commented on how welcome I made them feel & how natural I was in speaking before an audience.

If they only knew…

Insight CXO helps bring clarity and alignment to people, strategy, execution & cash flow in measurable sprints across the organization — from the management team on down. We’re here to serve.


Address These 4 Questions & Unlock Greater Opportunities for Growth…


Besides success, what did Hugh McColl & Sam Walton have in common? They walked among their troops. They personally sought frontline input.

Management ALWAYS sets the tone.

In every successful company in which I worked or advised, C-Suite members routinely walked among the frontline & sought their insights.

They didn’t outsource it to HR or Marketing. They weren’t isolated in their ivory tower.

If you are serious about scaling up, deepening employee & customer loyalty, gaining more freedom, & having more fun along the way, here are 4 questions to address from the 5th Rockefeller Habit*:

1) Are ALL of your executives (& middle managers) having a Start/Stop/Keep conversation with at least one employee weekly?

2) Are the insights from employee conversations shared at your weekly executive team meeting?

3) Is employee input about obstacles & opportunities being collected weekly?

4) Do you have a mid-management team responsible for the process of closing the loop on all obstacles & opportunities?

If you are actively addressing these, congrats! If not, we’re here to help.

*Verne Harnish created the “Rockefeller Habits” based on the leadership and management principles used by John D. Rockefeller.
Executive Health

Four Questions to Evaluate the Health & Alignment of Your Executive Team*…

Executive Health

Looking for ways to help realize your company’s growth goals? Here are four questions to evaluate the health and alignment of your executive team:

1) Do your executive team members understand each other’s differences, priorities, & styles?

2) Does your executive team meet frequently (weekly is preferred) for strategic thinking?

3) Does your executive team participate in ongoing executive education (monthly is recommended)?

4) Is your executive team able to engage in constructive debates and are all members comfortable in participating?

If you are looking for outside help in strengthening & aligning your company’s executive team, we’d love to help.

Insight CXO helps coachable CEOs inspire leadership, accelerate growth, and crush the competition. We bring clarity and alignment to strategy, people, and execution in measurable sprints across the organization – from the management team on down. Our goal is to help you double your business (or more) in three to five years.

*Verne Harnish created the “Rockefeller Habits” based on the leadership and management principles used by John D. Rockefeller. #1 of 10 Rockefeller Habits: “The executive team is healthy and aligned.”

So, What if Yours is “Brand D”? Try this…


Don’t panic but ponder this: Our minds are filled with ladders. Unfortunately, there are only three rungs on each category ladder that really matter.

I’m not sure if there is scientific proof of the three-rung theory that is central to the marketing classic, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” but anecdotally, I’ve found it to be true. So much so that since 1990, Al Ries and Jack Trout’s book on the subject became “must reads” for my employees and clients.

My paraphrase of their premise is this: People have “ladders” in their minds for pretty much everything. The tough part: there are only about three rungs on a ladder in which people can remember or that matter to them. If your company or product brand isn’t one of those three, you are pretty much hosed from a market share standpoint.

Think about it for a moment.

What are the three top cereal brands that immediately come to mind? How about the top three pest control companies? What about the top three motor oil brands? The top three life insurance companies?

If I asked you to name the top seven in those categories, you’d likely have a tough time getting past the top three or four.

If your brand isn’t in the top three, what do you do? According to Ries and Trout, you set up a new ladder – create a new category that resonates with your target audience AND one that you can ideally own the top rung.

A fitting example is NyQuil. The cold medicine category already had three brands on the top three rungs of the ladder before NyQuil came on the scene. What did they do? They created a new ladder: “NIGHTTIME Cold Medicine.” Simple. Brilliant.

If you haven’t read, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” as part of your brand positioning strategy, I highly recommend you do. Looking for outside help in addressing your company’s brand positioning as part of your growth strategy? We can help.

Soccer Team

3 Powerful Business Lessons from a Colombian Superstar Turned Coach…

Soccer Team

To everyone else, Hugo Galeano (#4) was a Colombian soccer superstar. To my son and our family, he was a defining and positive influence who exemplifies the lasting impact a great coach can make. Hugo’s actions gave me three timeless lessons that I’ve tried to embody when I am coaching other CEOs and their teams.

In Colombia, Hugo was a superstar athlete and national hero. He had it all – skill, speed, money, fame. He eventually left Columbia after the 1998 World Cup – years after the tragic 1994 World Cup in which one of his teammates was murdered for an own goal. When we met him in 2001, he was living in Charlotte far from the notoriety he enjoyed in Colombia. He was still playing soccer at the USL level with the Charlotte Eagles but he was also coaching a group of 12 year-old boys. One of those boys was my son.

1. A great coach isn’t focused on himself – he’s focused on the team he’s coaching.

Hugo was a Colombian hero and his native language wasn’t English. In spite of his fame and difficulties with English, he clearly communicated to all (kids, parents, and other teams) through his HUMILITY and ACTIONS that this gig wasn’t about him. It was about the kids – individually and collectively as a team.

2.  A great coach sees the potential in others and helps THEM see, believe, and achieve it.

At first glance, many of the kids assigned to his team weren’t the top athletes in the league. My son was a goalie initially largely because he could wear cool gear and not have to run as much as the others. In one of the early games, he was scored on unmercifully. Yet, Hugo saw potential. He helped my son see the potential he had within himself. Under Hugo’s mentoring, I saw my son develop a passion and belief that he could become a great goalie. He blossomed into an intensely focused, accomplished athlete who excelled as a goalie throughout high school and college. He is now an active CrossFitter. Hugo was the coach whose wisdom, humility, and encouragement unlocked my son’s potential and positively impacted him, his team, and our entire family by his example.

3. A great coach facilitates daily discipline and short-term milestones to realize the team’s ultimate goal.

Hugo tapped into the individual and collective goals and dreams of the kids. With those goals and dreams set as the destination, he encouraged THEM to find the drive from within to adhere to the daily discipline of the fundamentals so that when it came time to meet their competition, they were ready. They set long-term goals, worked on short-term tasks, and worked together as a championship team because of it.

Does your team have alignment in your long-term goals? How well are they working together on the short-term priorities necessary to reach your long-term goals?


Three MindShifts for Turning Setbacks into Triumphs…


Setbacks. I don’t know any goal-oriented person that loves them. They delay us. They frustrate us. They can derail us. Or, they could become an opportunity to shift into something far better than we could have imagined.

I used to love the challenge of running marathons. I trained for years in high school and college as a sprinter in swimming so the challenge of endurance racing on land was something completely new and exhilarating to me. Plus, running gave me the chance to get outside and see more than lane lines, walls, and lap clocks.

One day, after getting only a couple of miles into a long training run, I developed an iliotibial band (IT band) issue that made it impossible to run beyond a mile without debilitating pain in my knee. I tried everything I could to keep pursuing my passion for marathons but it quickly became apparent that my body just wasn’t going to cooperate any further – at least without some much-needed healing and a course correction.

1.  When a setback comes and muscling through the pain doesn’t work, it’s time for a change.

My wife could sense my growing frustration and ensuing crabby disposition so she encouraged me to join her for a spinning class at the Y one Saturday morning. In my arrogance, I thought sitting on a stationary bike in a room full of women was well beneath me. But, since I couldn’t run, I acquiesced. Boy, was I an idiot. That spinning class kicked my butt. (The instructor was aptly nicknamed, “The Machine.”) After 45 minutes, I was humbled. In the middle of an embarrassingly sizeable pool of sweat covering the floor, my legs that were used to hours of pounding the pavement felt like Jell-O. These women led by “The Machine” schooled me. However, I had NO knee pain! I had to go back for more. A new challenge captured my imagination.

2. Humbly embracing wise outside counsel might set you free.

Little did I know that heeding my wife’s suggestion would become the springboard to my next fitness passion – cycling and ultimately, triathlons. Had I not listened to a trusted coach (my wife) who could objectively suggest new options that I had missed (or ones I was simply too proud to consider), I could have settled for likely path of lethargy, greater frustration, pity, greater injury, etc. Instead, she popped me out of my mind-rut and launched me into a new season of fitness goals, challenges, friendships, and really rewarding experiences.

3. Lessons learned from one setback can help you conquer the next one. (And yes, as long as you are alive, there will be more.)

The lessons I learned from my “coach-for-life’s” loving course correction has helped me weather far more challenging and consequential business challenges that eventually came my way in my business career. When I have had my dreams or goals repeated sidelined by my own mistakes, the actions of others, or the simple misfortunes of life, I’ve had to aggressively seek new potential opportunities beyond the setback. Having outside trusted counsel has certainly helped propel me into new possibilities I simply wouldn’t have considered on my own.

What setbacks are you currently facing in your personal life or business? How have you been able to lead your teams beyond disappointing performance and spring into something that has been surprisingly positive? How is your business coach helping your team unlock new possibilities that could be even more rewarding than your previous direction?