CDRE 19 | True Leadership


True leadership is not about ruling over others like a lion, but about empowering and transforming them like a lamb. A lion in lambs’ clothing is not a disguise, but a symbol of true leadership that inspires others to achieve their dreams. This episode features Zach Smith, a certified coach, speaker, and leader trained by John Maxwell. He specializes in helping people communicate effectively, think creatively, grow their businesses, and achieve their goals. Zach gives advice on managing people based on his experience of reaching high positions in Fortune 500 companies and serving on leadership panels and boards of directors. What sets Zach apart is his dedication to victory and success through others, while also being a committed father, husband, and friend. He truly cares for people and has been a source of inspiration and motivation for me personally. Join us as we uncover the traits that make Zach a “lion in lamb’s clothing” and learn how you can apply his leadership principles in your own life.

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Lion In Lamb’s Clothing

Need help managing people? Why not attempt this by creating powerful transformations in them through communication, creativity, business growth, and multiplication? My friend Zach Smith joins us and shares his secrets on how he helps people achieve and protect their dreams. A certified John Maxwell Coach, Speaker, and Leader, Zach has reached some of the top ranks with Fortune 500 companies and is sought after to serve on leadership panels and the board of directors.

One of the things that I love most about Zach is that he is dedicated to victory and success through others. Yet, he is one of the most committed dads, husbands, and friends that I know. That’s rare. Usually, people are one or the other but not both. He truly cares for people. I was at a personal low in my life and Zach was the guy that I needed to jumpstart my success engine. Being around him, you will see why Zach Smith is a lion in lamb’s clothing.


CDRE 19 | True Leadership




Do you remember when we first met?

I do.

I’ll put you on the spot here. Let’s see.

Back at the first trustee meeting at Bloom Church.

No, it was before that.

That I don’t know.

It was at a kid’s birthday party a long time ago. Up in Springfield at Jump Mania. It was one of those places. It wasn’t Jump Mania.

I was with Jacob. I do remember that. We were in the lobby at the check-in in Kansas and whatever that road was.

At kids’ birthday parties, it’s like what do we do? While the kids are hanging out, you mingle with other parents and stuff. I remember talking while the kids were jumping up and down. Those places are so crazy. At any minute, you’re hoping that your kid doesn’t become that statistic but you’re so easy to talk to. We had a lot of similarities. We did meet at Trustees at the church. Again, I felt like I knew you already.

I’ve always enjoyed talking to you and I have enjoyed getting to know you. I feel like since COVID, you and I have spent a little more time together. It wasn’t because of COVID. It’s life happenings and I very much feel the same.

It’s interesting when I was asked to be on the trustee board, my first response to Mike, the pastor was, “I’m not this yes man. I’ll do this but my goal is to bring all of me, which is passion and opinions.” You are that as well but you are a lot more mild-mannered than I am. Your approach to conflict and touchy situations is a little bit more professional than mine.

Where I go right for the throat, you’re like, “Before we go for the throat, why don’t we draw a picture and talk about these three things?” I love that detailed approach. You and I make a great team on that trustee board because even though we both have the same desire. Even the minute when something gets brought up, I look over at you and I feel like the same thing is on our mind.

I’m not so sure about this one. Where are we going here?

We approach it. We surround them. I love working with you because you have the best interest at heart and in mind and you’re so professional.

Again, I don’t think there are many people that would say that about me that work with me at work or work with me.

That can’t be true.

I do enjoy listening to other’s perspectives and that probably stems back to an organization my wife and I met and called Up with People, which we can talk about that if we get to there.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard about Up with People. Tell me about it. How do you guys met there and what do you love about it?

I was pretty lost as a person back in 1997. I got my life back on track in 1998. Things were going well and I was like, “Nothing seems right.” I was talking to my mom late one night and I was like, “Mom, I don’t know what’s next for me. I could go to this university, that university, and I could quit and get a full-time job but none of it feels right.” She was like, “Pray about it and you’ll know.” I was like, “Okay.” I prayed a little bit about it and two weeks later, my mom got a call from a family friend that said, “This organization called Up with People is coming to town. It’s students from all over the world and they stay with host families for 4 or 5 days. Is there any way you’d be willing to help because I know you got a couple of empty rooms with your kids off in college?”

My mom said sure after talking to all of us. In fact, I said to my mom, “As long as we get a Swedish girl, I’m in, Mom. That sounds great.” We said yes. We can take three people. Two weeks later, there was a Swedish girl, a Canadian girl, and a girl from Utah staying at our house. It was quite funny because my mom told that in a joke and that lady told the people that organizing it then they were like, “If they want a Swedish, put it there.”

You have not because you asked.

That’s right but what was fascinating is that the point of this organization is you have people from all over the world that are between the ages of 18 and 25. You go to a 70 City Tour over the course of a year and in each city, you stay with a host. It’s amateur. This isn’t professional or anything. It’s all amateur but you stay with host families, perform a Broadway-style show and you do community service in every city. It’s non-denominational. There’s no faith. It’s just a student leadership program.

What I loved so much about that organization is they were so good at meeting people where they are and trying to learn about them. My wife and I got put in the same cast. We didn’t know each other before then. She’s from Iowa and I’m from Michigan but six months in, we started dating. I don’t know. It was meant to be, obviously. That organization taught me to have hard conversations about things with people that have polar opposite opinions of you but to try to listen to understand.

In this Up with People organization, you’re out talking to people in the community. These are the hard conversations that you’re having. Describe a scenario where you would stumble into a hard conversation.

The most growing and challenging conversations happened among my cast members. I had some challenging conversations with host families who had different things. When we were in certain parts of Europe, there were some people that would look at an American and like, “You’ve got guns blazing everywhere.” These judgments that we all have in all people to sit down with a castmate who you consider a friend and to talk about abortion or religion and they feel the exact opposite of you but you love this person.

It does bring a change to your perspective or some amazing people that I met from Germany that are in my cast that I consider friends. They’re our friends to this day. I still talk to them. They talk about how there’s still this shame. I don’t know if it is the right word. I don’t think that was the exact word they used but this burden over what their country did but it wasn’t even their grandparents at this point that did those terrible things with the Nazis. There’s this pride in America over a flag and in Germany, there is not that same pride. Learning those types of things about their perspective is very interesting about people.

The hard conversations you say came with the people you were doing life with. That’s risky because you’re traveling to 70 cities with these same people. There’s this built-in vacuum and you’re stuck with these people, so there’s an incentive to come out of that conversation with a positive outcome. Is that what you mean?

It’s an incentive to love this person that you’re in this cast with.

Was there ever a situation where you just couldn’t come out of it in a positive way?

I try not to speak in absolutes. I can’t recall one, that’s for sure. The majority of the time, you weren’t trying to make everybody get on your page. You were trying to learn about the other person.

If there’s no significant data point, if the answer is not yes, then there is no burning emotion attached to a memory. That tells me that you endeavored to understand people, to make your point of view known but to leave the conversation with mutual understanding.

I would say it was a result of how the organization as a whole functioned. That wasn’t because of me or because of the person I was talking to. That was because of the standard that was put out by the leadership in our cast.

I think that that skill is for the most part lost. Even a few years ago, back in the last election cycle, there were differences of opinion inside one building.

In politics, there was a different opinion.

Can you believe that?

That’s crazy.

It’s crazy and there was no attempt in any way, shape, or form, even inside our own building. I’m, for the most part, a peacekeeper here. Sometimes being the peacekeeper means, “I’m sorry but you have to leave.” Not for a political reason but for other reasons. I always give everybody a voice no matter what. It was interesting how that wasn’t always returned, especially in that political format and how a prevailing opinion of the office created an overall alienation or animosity toward one group or the other group. Yet, here we are doing life together.

We’re not traveling to 70 cities together but we’re literally showing up, leaving our home, leaving our kids to come and spend and do life together here. There’s not that same respect. I’m going to ask a tough question. How do you think we get that back in our homes, our businesses, and our families because that is so lost? You’ve got a lot of experience living that and doing that. How do we get that back? How do we have these conversations with people where we can express an opinion without hating somebody right out of the gate for having a different opinion?

It comes from genuinely trying to understand someone. You have conversations with people who think differently than you and not try to convince them that you are right but rather seek to understand them. I think that’s where it comes from. Believe me, I am so far from perfect at this but as a general life philosophy, I try to be intentional about this. My leadership and work have a very diverse set of beliefs and personalities and that stuff. It’s because you try to seek.

In fact, one of my leaders said to me, “Zach, honestly, I appreciate how you lead because you have a tough group of people to leave. Not because they are tough but because they’re all very different.” I said, “It’s not tough because I’m just connecting with Katie, Tyler, Todd, Jason, and so on and so forth all down the line.” I’m making these individual connections and that’s what it is. It’s individual connections. I’m not trying to make you me or make you believe what I believe. I want to understand you and help you get to the next level. To tie it back to Up with People and a real-life experience that we had. One of our dear friends from our cast is a lady named Delphine, who lives in France. Our family was fortunate enough to take a trip to Europe and in that trip, we ended up in Paris.

Kelly and I met Delphine and her husband outside Notre Dame. She had brought this homemade schnapps that they had made and some wine, cheese, and meats. We sat out having a picnic in the evening and it was awesome. This was back in the early 2000s. At this time, the general consensus in Europe was more on the liberal side and we had George Bush as President here. At that time, my wife and I very much consider ourselves neutral as far as politics. We had voted for George Bush. I’m just going to say that it’s because it serves this story. She was asking us lots of questions about why we supported him. For her, this is what she was seeing in Europe, how it was impacting the world, and how we were doing things in America.

We had lots of conversations about this. We’re sitting now at Notre Dame having a great time, laughing, and having a good time. This guy comes up to us and says, “You Americans.” He just starts berating us in French. Delphine, after about a minute of this, stands up and lays this guy upward, upside, and down the other. I don’t know what she said and that guy turned his tail and walked away. She said, “I’m so sorry.” I said, “No, it’s okay.” This is not a reflection of you or even France. This is one person.

At the end of this whole time that we’d spent with Delphine, she said, “I don’t agree with your political perspectives on this situation but what I know is that you guys love people and you’re my friends. That’s what matters.” I thought that was so beautiful. Putting what we believe into place and loving people first because whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Liberty, whatever you are, I don’t care. My job is to love you as a person. That’s my job.

Isn’t it funny how we love borders? I remember when I started my publishing company and I was pedaling my graphic novel in Oklahoma. People would come up and say, “Are you folks from around here?” I was like, “We’re from Missouri. We’re in your backyard.” They’re like, “We don’t want it.” When I was in Missouri peddling that graphic novel, they were like, “We’ll support local artists.” I get that and I love that because you have to support local and it’s somebody’s job to support their community.

They’re supporting their community. I don’t hold that against them but even sports teams. We love our colors, religions, and nations. It’s interesting how we love those things. We love our labels but the best way to make an impact or as humans to move the ball forward from a human perspective is to take those down. I’d love to get to that point as a globe where we can start making progress.

I think labels make us comfortable. We fit into this group. This makes sense and to a degree, comfort is good. Often, comfort is the enemy of progress. We get so comfortable and so ingrained in this one way of believing that everything should be this way that we then take out the perspective of someone who’s experiencing the world differently. That’s where they’re seeking to understand. It is so important.

Labels make us comfortable. To a certain degree, comfort is good. But often, comfort is the enemy of progress. Click To Tweet

Let’s talk more about your superhero origin story. You said that, back in the late-‘90s, you were feeling lost as a person. You joined Up with People and had some great life experience there. What was next for you?

Let me back up for one-half second if you can. It’s almost impossible to embarrass me but that sometimes makes people uncomfortable because I’ll share my stuff. I went away to my first year in 1997, the fall of 1996 to college at Western Michigan University and got a 0.8 I think. Not a 1.8 or 2.8. I failed and didn’t go to class. I was not trying. I’m partying and all this other stuff. I came home and my parents gave me a curfew earlier than my younger sister who was a junior in high school and I deserved it.

I worked through things to then eventually get to that point where Up with People happening and went on trying to be better, which is a whole story we could talk about another time. Fast-forward to after Up with People, I was convinced. It sounds crazy but I was convinced that Kelly and I were, this was it.

You weren’t married yet?

We were just dating. We’d only known each other for less than a year and we traveled on the road.

You bond quicker. You have to.

Also, it can create a false sense of what’s happening too. I think we were both pretty aware of that. You didn’t know. Again, it’s easy to say now that we knew. I wanted to go back on the road in the education department. She was going to go back on the road as a dance captain for the cast. She got the job and I was offered not that job. I was offered a different job but it was a traveling job that I wanted to be with a cast. Not travel ahead of the cast.

I turned it down and I was devastated because I knew that’s what I was supposed to do. I was 100% positive. I go back home, I get a job working at a restaurant, and go back to the youth group that I was pretty involved with. This guy at a Catholic Church, which is where I grew up, had built an amazing youth program that had 3 or 4 kids coming every Sunday night to their youth program. It was a strong program so-and-so that they started marketing to other Catholic churches in the area.

He asked me to come to them for their big presentation night. He’s like, “You grew up in the program and now you’re here serving in it. Would you come?” I was like, “Sure.” He goes, “I don’t know what I want to use you for but I’d like you to.” I go to this meeting, at one point and he goes, “I’d like to bring Brian and Zack up because they went through this program. They’re now serving in it and let you guys ask questions.”

This lady raised her hand and said, “How would you say your relationship with God grew as a person who grew up in this plan then now serving in this program?” I couldn’t tell you what I said, Jeremy but I can tell you what I felt in my heart came out. One more word would’ve been too much. One less would and I was like, “Are we finished?” I have nothing else to say. God just took over. She sat back in her chair and gave me this thumbs up. The next day, she called me and said, “Father Ken the Pastor of the church would love to meet with you?” I said, “Great.”

I was going to a non-denominational church at the time down the road from where this church was. I thought they wanted to pick my brain. I go in and I tell them. They ask me questions and I told them what I thought. What I was unaware of was this was a job interview but I had no idea because I was oblivious. I said, “I think the Catholic Church does this wrong in general for youth because of X, Y and Z.”

There was nothing. There was no harsh tone to it. It was my opinion of why I thought that. The next day they called me and said, “We enjoyed your conversation. We’d love to have you come back, so we can talk a little bit more.” I was like, “Sure.” I hung up the phone and I go, “That was a job interview and I didn’t realize it.” Fast-forward, I did 2 or 3 more meetings with them. They hired me on this amazing church in Troy, Michigan called St. Anastasia. They’re amazing people. Super supportive of youth ministry and growing kids in faith with Jesus. It was awesome. I did that from 2001 to May of 2005, so four years and some change.

Did you learn anything significant that you’ve carried with you from working with kids and youth that you apply now?

I think that in general, kids are good at trusting their gut and going with it. The older we get, the more that we tend to try to play it safe. Kids got nothing to lose.

Kids are really good at trusting their gut and going with it. The older we get, the more that we tend to try to play it safe. Click To Tweet

They don’t have to play it safe. There’s nothing to risk. There’s a passion there and an authenticity. The same authenticity that you brought to that interview-non-interview. That’s what they were looking for. They were looking for someone that was going to unabashedly give the opinions that they needed to improve the systems that they were working on. How long did you do that again?

It was about four and a half years.

You stuck around for a while. I’m most impressed with you. The people who work a job, especially those who work in Corporate America, but you work for a very large Fortune 500 company. You work for Aflac. Everybody knows Aflac. Every time you say you work for Aflac, their marketing is so good. I’m sure there’s a duck joke in there.

That speaks to how much your company is paying attention. I’m a customer. That’s another way that we met. In our relationship, I was like, “We would like to offer this service to the people who work with us.” You delivered. You delivered a super-quality person that came and worked with us. We still work with her. It’s a benefit to the people who work with our organization. A lot of people complain about their jobs. They consider corporate America or jobs trading time for money but I’ve never heard you complain about your job.

In fact, I’ve only heard you speak positively about your job. You seem to look forward to the opportunities that it’s creating for you and the ability that you have to lead the people that you have the privilege to lead. I truly see you believe that. I believe the same thing. That’s how I recognize it. At the same time, you also want to influence people who are above you in a positive way. I’ve always had a rebellious spirit to authority. Not all authority but it’s hard to find an authority figure that is real and cares.

My rebellious spirit came. I’ll go ahead and tell you two stories. I worked for the Olive Garden when I first moved to the area. They had this plan. At the Olive Garden, whenever you go and you buy a plate of food, as a waiter, you get numbered. It’s very corporate. They know exactly how many plates you sold then any drink or alcoholic beverage or additional salad or dessert was considered an add-on.

The number of add-ons was divided by the plates that you sold, so you had a ratio of add-ons. At the end of the day of your busy work session, the manager had to come along and sign off on your add-ons. “Zack, you had 0.22 add-ons, how do you get to 0.75? how many pieces of flare are you wearing?” Those rules are so true but that’s how you govern a large body of people. That’s how you move the needle economically at a corporation. I get that.

What the local management had done is they had said, “Here’s our top 10 and here’s our bottom 10.” I had a real problem with that as a rebellious twenty-something. At that point, I recognized that you can only incentivize people to success and that the fear and the embarrassment that they were using by publishing the bottom ten people was ridiculous. I wasn’t afraid to tell them. That didn’t necessarily give me the influence that I needed to be able to make changes. They heard me but I’m not sure it was well received.

In general, a serving job, and I believe everyone should do serving because I think you can learn so much from it. It’s a great career to learn a lot from. Especially in a corporate environment like that with Olive Garden or any other huge thing, they have these metrics they want to hit. It’s such a finite way of looking at it. You’re also dealing for the most part with an age group. Again, there are all different age groups but an age group that’s looking at a job, not a career. Is that fair in that type of industry?

I think that’s part of it. Whereas like, if you have here with people, this is their career. Real estate is a career. At my office, they’re working with Aflac or representing Aflac as a career. I post a scoreboard up in my office. I’m not trying to shame anybody. I want people to know what they have to do to get to where they want to go.

If you want to inspire people to get to the top ten, you want to inspire people to move up. However, the fact that there was nobody in between and there was a top 10 and a bottom 10, it wasn’t the scoreboard. It was a shame board and I didn’t like it at all. There was no communication and no listening to the actual boots-on-the-ground people. If a directive came from the corporate headquarters, they said, “All bartenders,” and I was a bartender by this point, I had to wear these Black shirts with these Black sleeves.

Now as a bartender, I rolled up my sleeves because I stood in a puddle all day and all night and I had to wash dishes. Somebody has got to wash those dishes. If you want to clean beverages, you have to wash dishes and dry them off. There’s a process while you’re making drinks and making drinks for the restaurant and talking to people and providing excellent customer service. The waiters had to wear their sleeves rolled down. They couldn’t roll up their sleeves.

Here I am as a bartender, rolling my sleeves up and the waiters complained because they had to roll their sleeves down but the bartenders couldn’t. The waiters didn’t have to wash dishes. I communicated to the management staff. I was like, “I’m soaked. It’s not providing a great presentation. Here I am, a bartender, and my arms are soaked. I’m trying to provide drinks to people, so I kept rolling up my sleeves.” I got in trouble written up for rolling my sleeves up.

Eventually, the rebellious nature kicked in because there was no listening. There was no care for the actual functional nature of a person that is showing up and doing the job. I was providing excellent service. I was a certified trainer at this time. Still, instead of talking to my management staff or listening to them, I cut the buttons off my sleeve. I said, “Here, I can’t leave them down,” and got in big trouble for that. How would you manage that as a manager?

I’d fire you too.

Well done.

How old were you when you were there?

The late twenties.

This, for you, in your late twenties was not something you viewed as a career, or was it at that point?

I was providing for my wife and myself. It wasn’t a career but I needed it to live.

I’m not in that world. I did that for a year and a half. I wasn’t even a bartender. I was a server.

Still, you’re a leader in a corporate environment. The reason why I’m asking you this question is almost like I wish that you were my manager back then because I would’ve felt that you were approachable. I would’ve felt that you would’ve listened to me but I didn’t feel that with the middle management that I had there.

One of the things that I admire about you is that you operate in this corporate structure and you do listen to people. I hear you talk all the time about how you try to promote people from point A to point B. You, as a true leader, create breakthroughs for the people that have the privilege to spend time with you. You are also trying to create breakthroughs for your company by influencing the people up. How do you take a rebellious kid and give them a breakthrough?

I think candor is so important. First of all, with rules, outside of things like fraud, there’s always a gray area. Logically, you don’t want me serving drinks to the customers with arms that are dripping from my sleeves. I wasn’t there so I don’t know but I feel like I would’ve heard that and go, “That doesn’t make sense. Can you do your best after you wash the dishes to dry off and button up? Can you try that? Can I see how that works?” I feel like that’s what I would do.

Appealing to my nobler motives. That’s Dale Carnegie’s thing.

Going back to what we were talking about earlier, we’re trying to understand the why. Why are you saying you can’t do this? I’m not saying, “No, these rules could move on.” Explain to me why, then you can make adjustments that allow for. It’s one of the reasons that I don’t work for Aflac, technically. I represent Aflac. I’m an independent agent but I want to represent them very well. It’s an amazing company. I’m so thankful that I do get to represent them. All the agents on my team are also independent agents, yet we work together as a team. We, as an organization, are here to influence people. When you do that, the only way to effectively make massive changes to people’s lives, you have to listen.

You have to adapt and not make these blanket rules that apply to everybody across the board, no matter what. You got to be willing to listen to why that might not work for someone. Also, if you say, “Let’s try it but if it doesn’t work, we’re going back to this.” It’s not just the freedom to do whatever you want. It’s like, “I understand what you’re saying. Let’s try it but if it doesn’t work, we got to try something different.”

When you first started working with Aflac, at what point did you start to have some success? At what point did you feel like, “This is a company I can succeed at?”

My story was one, as I think for most people when they become their own boss, they run their own business. You’re battling yourself the whole time. You’re bringing out the best version of yourself and battling your flaws all at the same time. I say to people all the time who join our team, “The longer you’re in this career, the closer the mirror on self gets. You’re forced to face the flaws and the strengths.”

Go into that. Talk more about that. If I was somebody who you were telling that story to, what does that mean and how does it apply to me as an independent contractor?

One of the most influential people in my entire career, his name is Jeremy Fry. He’s one of the most wildly motivated people I’ve ever met in my life. He doesn’t have an off button. He’s good at work-life balance. He’s super motivated. When he first started with Aflac, his trainer had to call him every morning at 7:30 and wake him up. He was able to be fed through this career of becoming the best version of himself, of which he’ll never arrive like I won’t and you won’t. You never become the best version of yourself but we keep trying. I think those are the types of things that I went through in my career for sure. When I first started, I would get up and get dressed.

While I’m eating breakfast, I would maybe watch Sports Center then I would finish breakfast then I’d go, “I want to finish this story. This story is good. I’m curious about what happened there.” Suddenly, I’ve been sitting there for an hour watching TV because what I didn’t want to do was go call on businesses and do that. I would never have said it in those terms back then. I convinced myself to do something different that was not productive.

Poke it with a twelve-foot stick. I’ve said that to people all the time. It’s like, we come in, we want to poke this with a stick, then we want to poke it some more. Instead of solving the problem, we poke it. I’m going to leave that because I’m going to poke that again tomorrow.

Instead of going and grabbing it and figuring it out.

Go and take a bite, start chewing, and see what happens. That’s interesting. The thing is that you’re highly decorated now at this company. Let’s talk about that a little bit. You’re eighteen years with this company. I asked you for a list of accolades because I didn’t want you to have to brag about yourself. I’m not sure I can’t either because I didn’t understand what those things meant. There was a lot of Aflac-specific jargon there.

I’m going to ask you to go ahead and talk about what it means to be like a President’s Club two-time qualifier and why that is significant because there are only very few people that achieve that. You’ve reached a level where in such a region there are only about 30 of those people in the country. That’s a high-level management position.

That would qualify for President’s Club. There are 30 people. There are about 300 and a change of people in my level in the entire company so 10% of people can potentially qualify. It’s the highest group award that Aflac has for people. There are 100 agents across the country and there’s 20,000 agents that Aflac has or something like 15,000. There are district sales and coordinators. I think it’s about 50 or 60 of those that can qualify for President Club. At my level, there are 30.

First of all, I believe that my skillset or the mirror of myself was built for the level I’m in now. I get to have one-on-one touch with the people that are in the field that are talking to business owners like you. Lindsay talks to you and helps you. I’m able to have an impact on Lindsay’s career and all the agents in my office. That, for me, is important. I need to know that the people on my direct team, I’m having a direct impact in their careers. I need to feel it and see it. It’s important to me. Those are some of the words. To answer your story completely, then if I rambled into a circle, let me know and we’ll tie it up.

We love to ramble in circles. Let’s go.

When I was interviewing for companies on top of wanting to have flexibility, I wanted to have a certain level of income potential that I could work my way to upward mobility in the company. I thought additionally that I wanted to work for a large company. I wasn’t convinced of this but the reason I thought I wanted to do that was because no matter how good I get, there will always be someone better for me. That for me was not a bad thing. That was only a good thing. In 2020, I had the best year of my career. 2021 was the best year of my career to that point then in 2022, we did it again.


Thank you. By best year of my career, what I mean is we were changing our agents to the arcs of their careers.

Let’s say that again because I don’t want people to gloss over that. When you say you’re having the best year of your career, it’s because you’re helping people have breakthroughs.

For sure, 100%.

Talk about that.

I remember a very good friend of mine in the business. Him and I ran our organizations together when I was a field trainer or a district sales coordinator. We got promoted to this role at the same time also. He had hired this lady and it was Thanksgiving weekend. He said to her, “Do you have any big plans for this weekend?” She was like, “Yes, my husband and I are going to go Black Friday shopping.” He was like, “Oh.”

In his head, he thought to himself, “That sounds terrible. I have no interest in going Black Friday shopping.” She said, “We’ve never had the money to be able to do something like this and now we’re going to take literally thousands of dollars and go Black Friday shopping because we’ve never been able to do something like this.” He thought to himself, “It’s so easy to forget what this career can do for someone’s life when you’ve been in it for a long time and how it can change someone’s life in what they’re capable and what’s possible.”

That’s interesting. This is what I love about the things that we do together. Somebody shows up at your front door and they’re a new person. They don’t know anything about what you do. They don’t know any of the fortune and glory that they could receive. I always think about Indiana Jones. It’s fortune and Glory. Also, look at all the things that happened to Indiana Jones along the way in the pursuit of fortune and glory.

That’s a great analogy.

You’ve got tribal disputes, giant rocks rolling at you, people shooting at you, and snakes on a plane. Those hopeful people looking at you have no idea what they’re about to experience. It’s the same for me with new real estate agents. I know that they’re going to experience it but you can’t sell that part of it. I know that I will be there for them. That’s what I mean when I tell people I will not let them fail.

I know that they’re going to take off in a plane and they’re going to be a snake in there. I’m going to tell them what to do when that happens. Describe to me what goes on in your mind when somebody is approaching you and it’s a qualified person. You know you want to hire them. What goes on in your mind when you meet these people?

This is a part that I love because I remember when I was interviewing many years ago for positions and I was doing my sales jobs. The vast majority of the sales interviews I’d walk out going, “That person was so full of crap.” You could feel it. It was gross. I said I want to make sure that when I meet someone, if nothing else, they say, “That guy was super authentic. He didn’t just try to sell me a bill of goods. He was trying to paint a realistic picture.”

I talk about the good and the bad in the interview, how their struggles, and why agents fail. I talk about all this stuff because I feel like if I can get them into my training process with my team, my field trainers are amazing. I know we’re going to have a high success rate, way higher than the industry standards and we don’t go into all that stuff. I know it’s true. I need to make sure I’ve prepared them for the roadblocks ahead that are going to come.

We talk about what it’s like in the market and why you’re going to hear no. We talk about how every business in Springfield’s probably been called on. You got to be ready for that. Do you want to be another sales agent that walks in once and doesn’t go back? Are you going back to trying to build a relationship with someone? That’s what this is about because we’ve all bought something from someone that was way more expensive than we intended to spend or it was something we had no intention of buying but we bought it. Why do we buy it? It’s because that person that we were talking to totally listened to us, connected to us, and explained to us why this might be a better option.

That’s why I have it because I needed a great benefit. I didn’t know anything about Aflac except for the duck and that it’s not really insurance. That’s what I learned through the education process when Lindsay came. I also realized that there are all these other different packages that are offered that can help you in certain life events.

I bought almost all of them because I’m the guy. I’m the guy when an insurance guy sees him and comes walking in his direction. I’m like, “I got a lot of stuff to protect.” Do you know how some people say, “You’re only as old as you feel?” My saying is, “You’re only as old as the amount of insurance you have to pay,” because you have so many responsibilities. When you carry those responsibilities, you have to take care of people. I love that about what you did for me and my company. I appreciate that. Anything else you want to say about the people whom you lead?

Great leadership is influenced and it’s nothing more, nothing less. That’s what it is. With that, influence then comes empowerment and all sorts of other things. The ability to do things on their own. I think what most people struggle with is letting go. I struggle with it.

Great leadership is influence, and it's nothing more, nothing less. And with that influence then comes empowerment and all sorts of other things. The ability to do things on their own. Click To Tweet

What do you mean by letting go?

Here at your office, are you above cleaning your toilet, sweeping a floor, or cleaning the counter?

Not all.

Is that a profitable thing for you to be doing in your business during the moneymaking times of your week?

Probably not.

It’s figuring out in everybody’s career, what are those things that, it’s not that you’re above them at all but they’re not profitable to helping your business get to the next level, whatever you want that level to be. The thing that I view differently that I know my team knows about me is that I don’t want more of anyone. I want more for people. Once someone’s reached the level that they’re content with, don’t work more. Don’t change your business. Keep doing it that way because you got where you want to go. Until you get to that point where you’ve got the residual income you want, you’ve got the monthly revenue coming in that you want, keep tweaking and don’t stop. Not for me because you’re not where you want to be.

There’s a stopping point. First of all, let me say that I love that because my philosophy has always been growth. You talk about that mirror coming forward. I’m always thinking about, “How do we capture more market share?” I never stop people. I always keep pushing them and I coach them to create systems and to become the CEO of their own business and to hand things off. However, I’ve often thought that people sometimes might be happier at reaching a certain level then sustaining that because that’s okay. I was reading Simon Sinek’s, The Infinite Game. I love that because of the sustainability of life, business, marriage, and all the things that you have to manage. That reminded me of that when you said that.

I think that the leader of an organization should always be thinking in a way bigger, better, and further but the people on their team are about what they want. Not what I want for them but what they want. I have seen the people who’ve been with Aflac for years. I took over in 2017. Especially since COVID happened, it changed their business.

The leader of an organization should always be thinking in an infant way bigger, better, further. But the people on their team, it's about what they want, not what you want for them. Click To Tweet

In 2022, we had three agents who had been with us for over a decade that had their best years ever in sales. It was because I’m not pushing them to do more. One, they’re growing themselves. They’re the ones doing it. Nobody on my team is successful because of me. That is a fact. That’s not opinion. That’s not me trying to be humble. That’s the truth. Do I think that my leadership team and I provide opportunities for growth? People get to choose do they want to grow or not.

Let’s talk about the people who lead you. One of the things that impress me about you is every time I talk to you, it seems like the people who lead you are more impressed. I always love to hear the stories of you winning. In fact, when I was going through a difficult time as a leader and as a person, I reached out to you to have lunch with you because I wanted to be in proximity to somebody that was winning.

There’s modeling there. There’s a success that leaves clues. I knew that there was an energy coming off you that I could pick up on and I wanted to be around you. Why is it that you’re gaining ground in the influence game with the people who lead you? One of the things that you’ve said is that you want to have a positive impact on this company and because you’re so successful with the people that you lead, you want to be able to share those tactics.

I’ll disagree with you. I’ll say that it is because of you that they are succeeding and more people need to know what you know. I’m one of your biggest fans. Let’s talk about how you influence those people that lead you in what you’re doing to make a positive impact within this structure. A lot of people who are in that structure, they have no influence. Their circle of concern is here. Their circle of influence is here but your circle seems to match.

First of all, there are a lot of thoughts I have on this, so we’ll try to cover them real quick.

Take your time.

I’ve had three people in my career that have had a massive impact on the trajectory of my career. The first person was a guy named Chris Ashton, the second person was a guy named Sean Smith, and the third person was a guy named Jeremy Fry. All of them are in positions at least one level up from mine and from a corporate structure standpoint.

Not one of them would say that my success is because of them because I’m the one that had to do the work but all of them had an influence on me and an impact in my career. That is a fact. I’m the one that had to go do the work. I had to choose to do that. The people that I certainly think we created an opportunity for learning and growth had to change how they did things for them for their business to grow.

That’s why I say, “It’s not because of me that these people had the best year of their career to this point.” They had to choose to do it. I think that’s the difference. It’s not me trying to be humble. I very genuinely believe that. They’re the ones that had to go do the work. To recap what I was trying to say with that as far as the people and the influence within the company. Am I recapping right?

How are you gaining ground with the things that you would like to do?

I think that most people don’t dream big enough. I would say that was very much me. I went to a conference and the person on stage said, “You got to dream your biggest dream.” I’m recapping in a terrible way. It was very powerful when they said that you got to further that dream then you got to realize you’re getting started with what your potential is because God wants the best. All the inner parts of your heart, God wants that to happen for your life. I thought, “I want to be a part of changing the culture of that company.”


CDRE 19 | True Leadership


How dare you?

That’s not because the culture is bad. In fact, the culture of this company is awesome. I love representing it. It’s an amazing company where the leadership listens and tries to the best. When I thought that, I was like, “I don’t even know what that means.” In 2022, I got the opportunity to serve on a territory council of which there are four territories in Aflac. I was representing the Northwest Territory. I’m 1 of 10 people in my role. That was awesome.

I received an award in 2022 for the person in my role as the number one person in the territory. It was called the RSC of the Year, Regional Sales Cor of the Year for the Territory, which was a great honor. There are some amazing people in this territory that I genuinely look up to. That was a wonderful award to receive then because of how the team’s performance and how people are growing, I was offered the opportunity in 2023 to join Aflac’s National Council. There are fifteen people in my role that now serve.

I was with the director of sales and with fifteen of my peers then all the vice presidents of the different departments for two and a half days. We walked through stuff. The point of that is to learn how Aflac’s corporate structure is impacting what they’re trying to accomplish and for us to share the field’s perspective of these things so that they can grow and the company can try to adapt to what is happening in the field.

I’ve talked to my team about wanting to have this influence. This is the linchpin to all of it. I represent a Fortune 200 company. A Fortune 500 company like Aflac. This is a performance-based business and if our team doesn’t perform, it doesn’t matter how true the words seem that I’m saying, our voice matters a little bit less because we didn’t have the results. The time of delivering on the results is what matters the most. You’ve got to do it month after month, year after year, and quarter after quarter, all those things.

Now what’s interesting about that, especially finishing Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, is I’m not a slave to a quarter. I’m always looking at my processes and the systems within my organization. We’re going to fight like crazy but we’re not going to hit our target for the first time in a while this quarter. I’m certainly sad about that. Who knows? We’re going to give it everything we got. I’m not worried about this quarter. I’m worried about making sure my team hits their targets, so everyone can. I am concerned about making sure we’re set up for next quarter and the year because I’m already working on next year’s stuff. I’m thinking much further ahead than a quarter or a year. 

Is it your performance or is it something else that is causing the people who lead you to recognize you? How often do they see how you operate? What feedback do they have on your leadership style and why did they select you?

You’re selected based on your results so that’s part of it. You have to achieve your quota for the year.

How about that as a stopping point for the conversation? You are selected based on your results. That is such a gigantic statement because we talk about relationship building and how that’s such a huge deal. In fact, sometimes nobody cares about that because what matters is what your results are. I recognize that big when I was a real estate agent and I wanted to serve people at the highest level.

There was a nightly rental owner that I knew. There was a client of mine. They had some people coming in from Hawaii to stay in their property. It was an exchange. Because they were exchanging a Branson property with a Hawaii property, they wanted everything to be ship-shaped. They were absentee owners and they couldn’t get someone to mow the yard.

I literally took my lawnmower. I didn’t even have a truck. I put it in my car and I drove out there. I mowed the yard to make sure it was great. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get the listings sold in time. It happens sometimes to some agents. Sometimes you’re that guy or that gal. It didn’t matter, the level of service that I provided, the above and beyond. What mattered was the result and I hate that. I had to be honest with you. I hate that because it takes all the effort that we have to spend as people building relationships and it crumbles it up and throws it in the trash in that basketball over the waste basket. How can you help me get back to normal here? 

Jeremy, you’re never going to get to normal like me. Cheers to you on that one. I’m good being not normal. That’s me for sure.

Me too.

I think that in the end, you’re going to have wins and losses in life. I am probably not going to serve on this council for the rest of my career. I hope that I get the opportunity to serve here. Believe me, I’m going to give everything I have for our team to be on this council for a long time to have a big impact long-term.

Do your best with what you have and never lose sight of what’s possible. Having just said, “I don’t think I’m going to hit this quarter.” At the bottom of my email signature, it has a Michelangelo quote. At least the internet told me it’s a Michelangelo quote, which is, “The greatest danger for most of us is not setting our goals too high and failing but setting them too low and succeeding.” You’re this low bar of expectation in life.

If the internet said it, it’s true.

I think Abraham Lincoln said that on the internet first.

The internet said that 98 of all statistics are made up on the spot or was it 92? It doesn’t matter. It’s right either way. One of the quotes that you sent me from your business trip. I love that you sent me quotes. I love the relationship that we have and I used one of them as an intro to the show that was released because it was all about data, that, “In God we trust and everyone else must bring data.” I love that. It’s so true. In some of those things that you are doing, I want to talk about that mirror coming closer and becoming the best version of yourself. What are you doing now to become the best version of yourself?

Again, I don’t get embarrassed easily. I’m at the point where I’m dealing with long-term inner struggles with stuff and I’m trying to overcome them. I’m an overweight guy. I’m super comfortable with who I am. I know who I am but I have been working and failing at that for a few years. It’s not I don’t shame myself. I’m not proud of being overweight but I know who I am. I’m working on things like that that are long-term things to work on as a person. I think that if I’m going to be the best version of myself, health is a very significant part of that. Thankfully, alcohol has no impact on health.

Not at all. The internet said that. You’re a John Maxwell certified trainer and that’s not easy to do. That’s a dedication of time away from your family and your business.

You can pay for it and do nothing with it.

A lot of people won’t go through the work and effort to do it.

For me, I do genuinely try to constantly improve. I’m one of those people that I’m aware of, especially in the leadership role with my team. I’m never satisfied. I don’t mean that in a negative way. When I accomplish a goal, I was like, “How can I get better from this? How can I grow from this?” When I’m sending an accolade to my team and if this person had a great day at this, I’m like, “Congratulations. What are you going to do tomorrow?” That’s my gut reaction because I want them to grow from it. I have to realize, “Sometimes you need to stop and say, ‘Great job. I’m super proud of you for accomplishing this. You should be proud of yourself too.’” It’s those types of things that I think Maxwell has gotten involved in transformational Ozarks.

You’re a vice chair of that. Mike and I talked about that on our show. He gave a ton of credit to Tyler but you’re right by Tyler helping him spearhead that project.

Tyler is the spearhead. Honestly, I’m probably more of a sounding board for Tyler. That’s the role I’m in. I’ve got a lot going on at work and got a family. For me, the order of life is God, family, and work. I’ve got to do all of them excellently. I love transformational Ozarks. I’m very thankful to the Maxwell people that have come here like John Griffin. Genesis has been here. They’re amazing people that are investing in our community.

I’ve learned a lot from interacting with them and how they interact with us in this community. All they’re trying to do is give and that has been very impactful for me in thinking about my team, my family, and our church, like, “How can I give?” I don’t mean financially. I mean how can I give and how can I serve with that?

Why do you think John Maxwell and his organization have been so successful over the years?

This is a Maxwell quote but leadership is influence. Nothing more and nothing less. I think John, very authentically as a human being is an influencer. Not in today’s terms of TikTok and those things. Although, they’re getting more social media savvy for sure. I think they want to influence people very authentically. That’s why that organization as a whole has been so successful and they’re working on a tough transition. How do you take someone like John Maxwell and plan for a day when he’s not alive and for this organization to continue to have an impact in the world?

It’s a succession plan.

That’s a challenging thing to do.

Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie did it. There’s a model, perhaps.

It’s a lot though. It’s hard and I applaud them for what they’re doing. With the interactions I’ve had with them, I cannot speak highly enough about what they’re doing and the authenticity with which they’re approaching. I don’t mean us here. It’s what they’re doing across the world. They’re doing country transformations. I could talk about that for hours, so I will stop there.

Let’s ask, what’s next for you?

I have been asked by some of my colleagues that have recognized what my team has done. “Are you interested in the next level?” I say, “As long as I don’t have to move. I’m not interested in chasing a title down.” I do my work for my family to go back to that order of life of God, family, and work but all need to be done excellently.

If the opportunity presents itself where I could move up in the company, I would certainly love it but I’m not going to move for it. I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing and I’m going to continue to try to break ground. I sit in the room for two and a half days with the director of sales and all the vice presidents of the company. I’m being involved. Me and my peers had this amazing year. We were listed as the RSC of the year for my territory. I went into that room and I was not a big deal and that was a great thing. It was cool to go, “There’s a whole new level of things for me to try to accomplish here at this level now.” It’s like a whole new door that’s been opened.

Isn’t that humbling?

It’s awesome.

Chris and I joined Mastermind. You have to have a certain level of success to qualify into this Mastermind. It was an invite-only thing. We got in and the first thing I thought when I walked into that room was, “I don’t belong here.” It was humbling but also inspiring at the same time because people who are wired like us can’t help but turn it on when the time comes.

I challenge you. The next time you walk into a room like that, go, “I was meant to be here.” I understand that feeling and I certainly felt that way. In fact, the meeting started with the director of sales saying to all of us, “You’re here. You earned your spot here. What do you want to get out of this meeting?” When he said that, I was like, “I’m not saying anything. I’m going to let my peers who’ve been here talk.”

He goes, “I want you to know, we have two in-person meetings this year and if you don’t talk much, we’ll say thank you for being a part of it and you won’t be back next year. We want your input because you earned your spot here.” That was a very empowering moment. I’m very thankful for that leadership move at that moment. It’s easy to be the new guy in the room and say, “I’m going to watch for a bit and not say anything.” He empowered us for sure.

That’s good. Any other leadership nuggets or advice you might give to somebody who wants to expand their influence that you believe holds close to your heart that you haven’t had a chance to share yet on this conversation?

At the core of who I am, I believe that every single person on this planet was made to be great. I give this example often and I’ll talk about this in interviews. Steve Irwin, remember him? The crocodile Hunter. I don’t give a crap about crocodiles but I loved watching that guy because he was made to care for crocodiles in the wild. I loved watching his show.

Every single person on this planet was made to be great. Click To Tweet

Whatever that is, that fuels you. Chase that down relentlessly, whatever that is, and do it authentically. Don’t chase a title if it doesn’t matter to you. Don’t chase income if it doesn’t matter to you. Chase the things that speak to your heart. I don’t mean that in the rosy, kumbaya way, and authentic things in your heart. Chase those and be relentless on it because that’s where fulfillment in life comes. It’s the inner parts where the joy comes from, what you were created to be when you chase those down and you don’t give up on them. “This is what I was made for. I’m not stopping until I get there. Whatever there is.” That’s what you have to do in life.

I wholeheartedly agree. Sometimes, I believe we need to chase the things we already have too. What you described to me is passion and passion is so important to me. I said this to somebody on a Facebook post. I said, “God loves passionate people. Why did God choose the Hebrew people?” I know but I don’t want to get into it on this show. They would tear their clothes. If somebody got mad, there was somebody pulling a sword out of it and somebody might die that day.

There’s a passion like chase your wife, your kids, and your hobbies relentlessly. Chase your life’s work with incredible passion. If you’re not passionate about it, find something that you are and chase it. I truly believe that because you get one go-round. I don’t want to die with seeds in my pocket. I want to be one of those guys that end up in the grave. I don’t want to be wearing a suit like people talk about. I want my jeans dirty. I want holes in them. I want the souls and my shoes worn out and to say, “I’m ready for this,” because I’ve lived 3 lives in the course of 1. That’s what I’m after.


CDRE 19 | True Leadership


I think that’s something that I struggled with. You get this passion, this excitement and you want everyone to come with you on the journey. Not everybody is meant to come with you on your journey. It’s sad because you feel like you understand what this person could have or what it could be like. I don’t mean financially. I just mean in life, what their life could be like in a joy way and those things. Yet, that’s not some people’s journey to come with you. In this career, one of the things I am thankful for is, as I said earlier, I don’t want more from people. I want more for people.

It’s okay if someone doesn’t want to make a six-figure income or whatever it is. If someone wants to make $30,000 a year, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. These things that maybe I’m motivated by, it’s fine if this person is not because that’s not their calling. This goes back to the very beginning of the episode. Meet people where they are and love them there. That’s it. We’re here to love people. I’m not trying to push you into what my life is like. I want you to live the life that you were called to live. Whatever that looks like. I have to realize that’s not my perspective on what I want your life to be like.

What can we do for you? What do you need? What are you looking for? How can we help you?

Thank you for asking that. I went to my Aflac interview years ago to work on my interview skills. I had no interest in selling insurance.

It’s not insurance.

Truthfully, nobody grows up dreaming of selling insurance. That’s not a thing and yet, I found this very fulfilling career. The reason that people tend to look at a career like this is because there’s this thread of discontent in their own career whether it’s an income thing, flexibility of schedule, or opportunity to move up, whatever those things are. If anyone out there knows someone looking for a career change, I cannot recommend a career like this enough. The good news is this company has people all over the country and I can certainly help get people connected.

How do they connect with you?

We can do an email address or whatever. We’ll figure that out. I’ll talk to you afterward about this. We’ll get something in there so people can reach out to me directly and how to get hooked up with just me getting info. This career isn’t for everybody. That’s the other thing too. It’s about learning this career. I think that’s what it’s ultimately about.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to Zack Smith. I appreciate you as a friend and as a guy who helped me through a tough time. I appreciate this conversation with you. I hope you bless people.

Thank you for the invite. I appreciate it.

You bet. Cheers.

A big thank you for tuning in to the end of our show. I know your time is valuable and I hope you got a few takeaways that are going to help you get a greater return on that time. I know you will. If you did enjoy it, I’d sure appreciate a share or a comment. Feel free to subscribe for instant access to new episodes and offers. There’s also a ton of free content and ways to learn more and engage more at Until then, we’ll continue to bring you recipes for success and real stories from real people who like you are living out your divine purpose. God loves you. No matter what happens, don’t give up.


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About Zach Smith

CDRE 19 | True Leadership

Experienced Regional Sales Coordinator with a demonstrated history of creative business growth in the insurance industry. High belief in helping other people reach their full potential and that everyone was made to be great, but you have to be the one to be dedicated to greatness.

Skilled in Agent Development, Intercultural Communication, Health Insurance, Customer Service, and Employee Benefits Design. Strong sales professional with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services from Oakland University.