7 Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned From Mel Robbins


I met Mel Robbins at the Caesars Palace pool in Vegas.

It was a few years back and we were speaking at the same conference. I flew in the day before my speech and she was staying the day after hers so we had a bit of overlap.

I managed to catch the end of her speech and watched as she turned an entire audience just electric. People were laughing like they were at a standup show, crying like it was the end of The Shawshank Redemption, and you could just feel something special was bubbling up inside everyone. She did the hardest thing to do as a speaker – completely shift the energy in the room. At the end everybody rose up into one of the longest standing ovations I’d seen. I decided to join the scrum waiting to talk to Mel afterwards and then we exchanged phone numbers and vaguely agreed to meet by the pool later. I said I was going to the gym, she said they had dinner plans with a friend and their daughters, and the pool is like a thousand people anyway, so who knew if it would really happen.

But a few minutes later a picture of an icy pina colada with a chunk of pineapple in a plastic Caesars Palace cup arrived by text message saying “This is waiting for you.”

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It was the first text I ever got from Mel. I learned pretty quickly she doesn’t do anything half-assed. Since then I’ve watched as Mel has become the most-booked female speaker in the world, sold more books through Audible’s self-publishing platform than anyone, and is now about to launch The Mel Robbins Show on daytime TV this September 16th.

But more than all the accolades is the person underneath. As I’ve gotten to know Mel I’ve found her so dynamic, magnetic, and endlessly captivating. She connects with people, very quickly, on their deepest level. When she starts talking you can’t stop listening because her words feels like a little hammer pinging at the nerves in your heart. She’s like a wise old Ivy League academic but gabbing with you like your mom at the kitchen table at two in the morning.

And since I don’t go very often from sipping pina coladas by a pool with someone to watching them launch their own national TV show I thought it would be worth looking back and reflecting on seven things I’ve learned from Mel Robbins over the past few years.

Here they are:

7. Don’t say you’re authentic. Be authentic.

A few times I’ve forwarded Mel’s weekly newsletter over to my wife Leslie. The first time I did so she wrote “Wow, she wrote you such a long note!” I said “No, that’s her newsletter. It goes out to like half a million people.” She couldn’t believe it because the writeup was so personal. She was talking about “leaking” after having three kids and recommending people check out pelvic physio and, larger scale, confront the little things they’ve been putting off because they’re too worried or embarrassed to address them. She was pinching her stomach fat rolls and making a hashtag for them while encouraging everyone to love their bodies and do the same.

I wrote a list of my favorite newsletters and for Mel’s I wrote that it feels like I’m hanging out behind the scenes with an A-list celebrity who’s somehow radically self-aware, authentic, and even self-critical.

A good example is how she’s been sharing the news about her new TV show. The common trope when something huge happens is to be all humble-braggy about it. You know, “I can’t believe this is even happening!!!”, “I am so surprised and humbled by this!!!”, and hashtag blessed and all.

Mel’s approach has been so different, so authentic.

She’s been talking about having dreams when you were a kid that are almost so ambitious you don’t want to admit them to yourself or others. Becoming an astronaut! Working for Disney! Headlining a concert! And then she shares that having a TV show has been one of those dreams for her and then she openly shares how she got there.

She never spoke about her TV show with lines like “OMG I GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING IT’S CRAY CRAY!” That angle has never resonated with me because we all know you killed for it so why not just tell us you killed for it?

It’s the truth. It’s refreshing. It’s authentic.

6. It’s okay to cry.

Have you ever cried at work?

Or seen someone cry at work?

What does almost everyone do when that happens?

Urgently grab for tissues. Shake their head and wipe them away. Say “Ugh, I’m so sorry.” Head to the bathroom. We try to cover it up. Of course we do. We have spent decades preaching stoic virtues of keeping it all together and even shaming our more natural human tendencies in professional settings. No intimacy! No hugs! No tears!

But not Mel! I have seen her crying a dozen times and her reaction always surprises me.

What does she do?

First, she doesn’t hold back the tears. They don’t come with that usual embarrassment or silly attempt to cover them up. They just come. And then, even more surprising, she announces it!

“I’m tearing up right now” or “Oh my gosh, I am crying” or something similar. It’s incredibly humanizing and gives permission to those around her who are also feeling big emotions … to feel it, too.

I have been in so many work meetings or company conferences over the years where something profound has been said, a really touching service story has been shared, or maybe an emotional video has just played. And whenever I look around the room in these moments most people are blinking really fast or quietly dabbing the corners of their eyes. A normal reaction! We try to cover it up.

But lately when these moments have happened and I have found myself on stage or with the mic I have tried channeling Mel and simply saying “That was beautiful … I’m tearing up.” And then what happens? You can feel the giant emotion in the room just release. Everyone blossoms. People smile, let tears flow, and ditch the embarrassment.

In many ways Mel taught me how to give space for deep emotions in group settings.

In a world where “holding it together” is more typically praised, but where we all feel things all the time, this is a huge gift.

It’s okay to cry.

5. Screw the script.

Mel has sold more books off Audible’s self-publishing platform than anyone. (I just checked and she has over 50,000 reviews on there across her books.) The book that launched her on the platform was The 5-Second Rule.

But here’s the funny thing.

If you download and listen to The 5-Second Rule it doesn’t sound like an audiobook. You hear papers ruffling, you hear her messing up and swearing afterwards, you hear her going on wild tangents way off script.

When I asked her about it she said “We hired a producer off Craigslist and he had never submitted a recording to Audible before. I don’t think we paid him for post-production. We didn’t think to. He didn’t think to. So he just uploaded the whole file without taking out all the mistakes. Like he didn’t edit it at all.”

Well, turns out the “mistakes” are what’s popular. From a few of the top reviews:

  • I felt like she was in the car with me. I appreciated the mistakes that were left in, rather than edited out.

  • It's refreshing how Mel Robbins doesn't sugar coat anything. She says it exactly how it is, no BS. On a side note, there are parts of the recording where Mel obviously screws up and has to repeat herself and start sentences over. She could've edited that out but she didn't and I feel there is something so raw and authentic about that.

  • I felt more like I was speaking with Mel as opposed to her speaking at me… fantastic, transformational wisdom…

Audiobooks sound so polished and professional. Big name actors! Perfect voices. But is that what we want? Think of the feeling you get when you pick up an expensive and fancy real estate agent brochure in your mailbox with a glossy sheen and full color pictures on cardstock … compared to the little handwritten note. Think of the big chain with a thirty-foot tall neon sign out front, uniformed teenage employees, and scripted questions… compared to the mom and pop shop on the side of the road.

Which do you prefer?

I gave a speech called “Building Trust in Distrustful Times” at SXSW this year and one of my arguments was that “In an era of bots we trust brains.”

The world we are designing for ourselves is so… perfect now. We actually crave more human experiences. With flaws. And mistakes. And no makeup. (As a side note, Mel once told me the most common note she gets on her YouTube videos is “I’m glad you don’t wear makeup in them”)

There’s a huge lesson here.

Mel has sold thousands of books on Audible. This is a book that was self-published. No publisher! No one who knew what was going on was involved! She booked a booth. She hired a producer. Entrepreneurial, sure! But then when you listen you hear her ruffling the papers, getting lost in the script and saying “Oh, fuck”, her laughing at herself when she screws up. And all these other million tiny pieces of humanity.

What’s the lesson? Have a script. Then screw the script.

4. Shout your flaws.

Mel has ADD.

No, not in the way people say it when they lose their keys or while giggling at a party after forgetting the name of the person they just met. I mean Mel has clinical ADD and takes medication for it.

She can’t remember chunks of her twenties because her severe anxiety at that age was so debilitating.

She also spent a lot of years on Zoloft.

How do I know all this?

Because she talks about it openly. And by sharing the challenges she’s faced, and is facing, she makes it easy for people to open up to her.

I think that’s part of the reason why podcasts are growing so rapidly. The big name podcast hosts sound so human. They shout their flaws! Rich Roll talking about his alcoholism, Pete Holmes talking about his sex life. What used to be TMI can now be the most vulnerable and human way to connect.

What’s another benefit of shouting your flaws? I interviewed famed restaurateur Jen Agg on my podcast 3 Books and asked her why she posted on Instagram a long and radically self-aware list of her flaws. What did she say? “In a weird way, it’s a defense strategy. Because it’s like ‘here they all are.’ Now what are you going to say about me? Or do to me? You got nothing. I already said them for you.”

Shout your flaws.

Disempower your flaws.

3. Don’t pay for accolades.

Did you know accolades are for sale?

They absolutely are.

For example, if you have $50,000 you can get an accolade which says you went to Stanford and brandish it all over your resume and LinkedIn profile … even though you really just bought a 5-day executive session they sell to anyone who can write the check. Do you want to be a New York Times bestseller? It’s for sale. According to Wikipedia, it costs about $200,000. Do you want your YouTube video to have a million views? Need your podcast to have a million downloads? It’s for sale. Absolutely for sale. As long as you don’t mind blasting people with ads and have a few hundred thousand dollars handy you can have it all!

Everyone knows money talks in our world today.

And if you want it, they’ll sell it to you.

Demand creates supply.

But here’s the thing about Mel: even though she has a crapload of videos that have gone viral with millions of views … she’s never paid for it. I can’t think of many others who can say this. She doesn’t feed Google or YouTube with endless thousands of dollars to prop up her ego and view counts.

Oh, and the New York Times bestseller tag? She doesn’t have it. Maybe she never will! But she doesn’t care. She’s too busy changing the world with her ideas to spend time and energy caring about whoever is busy counting how many books she sold in certain bookstores or whatever. She can’t be bothered.

In his 1974 Caltech Commencement speech Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are the easiest person to fool.”

One problem with paying for accolades, of course, is you always know you paid for them. So if you embed a tiny little lie inside you that means you’re going to have to spit gloss that turd forever as you show it off to people or your cover’s completely blown.

You can do it if you want to, of course.

It’s just not a pleasant way to live.

What’s one solution?

Don’t pay for accolades.

2. Ambition is beautiful

Are you ambitious?

If so, do you admit it to yourself? Do you declare it about yourself or share it with others? Or is it one of those rougher-edged aspects of your personality that you sort of cover up or feel a bit embarrassed about … like I did for years?

One part of my story very quickly: My wife told me she didn’t love me anymore when I was 28 years old. We had been married two years. We had just bought a house. It broke my heart. I moved into a small downtown apartment. I was blogging till 3:00am every night. I had huge bags under my eyes. I had pounding headaches every day.

My worried mom suggested a therapist and helped me find one. When I met him we connected right away. I really liked the idea of spending an hour focused entirely on moving my thoughts forward. I had never done that! And one of the exercises my therapist had me do was begin to slowly articulate a series of words that I was looking for in platonic and romantic relationships. It took me the better part of a year to do it. With a lot of thought I found my four words: curious, creative, romantic, optimistic. I dated for a year but never quite clicked with anyone. And then I realized! There was a word missing. A word I had never even admitted to myself. What was it? Ambitious.

I was ambitious.

In my case, it would be a better fit if I was with someone ambitious. And today I am.

I’m not sure if growing up in the suburbs and going to a great public school with great teachers just meant that my ambition was never stoked. Nobody blew billows on it telling me I need to go to enrichment camps and write standardized tests to study internationally or whatever.

But ambition, if you got it, isn’t ugly. It’s beautiful. Finding a great partner is ambition. Raising wonderful children is ambition. Doing passionate work is ambition. Ambition helps us live our deepest and most intentional lives.

Mel Robbins may be the most ambitious person I know. There’s a reason she flew around giving 500 speeches in the past three years, is managing a team of 75 people, and is shooting a full new hour of television every single day.

She isn’t afraid of her ambition. She doesn’t hide it. She doesn’t apologize for it. She rides it, she corrals it, she wields it.

And the world benefits.

1. People want to hear what they don’t want to hear

We want to be our best.

We want to live our best lives.

But it’s hard to change. Very hard. Incredibly hard. We want to, though! It’s why Self-Help is the largest section in the bookstore and why straight-talking tough love books are at the top of the charts. It’s why /getmotivated is one of the world’s largest subreddits with over 15,000,000 members. It’s why I spend my time thinking and writing about how to improve my own life and why (I think) you spend time reading them.

We want to get better.

We want to live our best lives.

But to do that we often need to hear what we don’t want to hear. We have to be told to cut ties with the relative who’s negatively affected our family for years. We need to be pushed to quit the job with the abusive boss. We have to make a giant leap to leave the romantic relationship that’s making us feel worse about ourselves.

Why are there so few signals in this world helping us make those big decisions? Well, many reasons, but a big one is because most of our friends don’t have the courage to give us the tough love. There’s so much downside. They could hurt their relationship with us. We may reject them or get into a fight. Honesty and blunt feedback are in short supply.

Enter Mel Robbins.

She plays the role of the friend who loves you but who also will smack you over the head with what you should do. Time and time again, in the most velvet-hammery way possible, I’ve witnessed Mel give tough love to people who just need that push. Like here. Or here. Or here.

She’s done it for me, too.

When I’m sweating some random numbers (“number of followers”, “bestseller list rankings”, etc) she gives me a big verbal slap telling me I’m an artist who shouldn’t care. I should just make art. And that resonates with me … because she’s right, of course. And I move forward in my thinking.

The truth is people want to hear what they don’t want to hear.

Mel is just one of the bravest people telling us the truth.

I’m so proud of Mel.

We need her voice in the world right now.

And I can’t wait to hear it every single day.

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