Productivity • Operations • Technician Tips • Business Tips • 63 minutes

Keith Mercurio: Leadership Skills More Imperative to Success Than Tech Training

May 18, 2021

Episode Overview

“Cherish those who seek the truth, but beware of those who find it.”

— Voltaire, expounded upon by Keith Mercurio

A licensed plumber and professional consultant, Keith Mercurio believes in training by example. ServiceTitan’s senior director of executive success is also the founder/CEO of the Ethical Influence Institute. Before that, he was director of training for Nexstar Network

On the “Toolbox for the Trades” podcast, Mercurio talks about hurdles to growth, changing mindsets, and why people like to learn side-by-side rather than via the traditional classroom teaching method.

Here are Keith Mercurio’s top tips for creating great companies and workforces:

The trades need great businesses.

Mercurio says he’s spent years glorifying the trades, but he’s careful not to over-glorify the industry. 

“I want to be careful about inviting people into the trades,” he says. “If we’re going to do it, we have to provide extraordinary small businesses, show the entrepreneurial side of what is here, and what’s so compelling and appealing. 

“The beauty of it is we have this industry that is so bulletproof, recession-proof, and even pandemic proof. If you can take business mastery into this field, it’s not as vulnerable as many others.”

Nexstar is a beautiful thing.

Mercurio was hired as one of Nexstar’s first full-time trainers and spent eight years helping members achieve success. 

“I still have tremendous affinity for that organization,” he says. “The success of the members is not just a tagline, it’s literally their mode of existence. It’s set up to remain member-owned. No one person will ever become wealthy off it. Instead, it has to be about making members successful.”

The biggest hurdle to growth is … yourself. 

Sure, there’s a lack of available talent in the industry, but that’s not the biggest hurdle to growth, Mercurio says. 

“The No. 1 hurdle an owner needs to overcome is themself,” he says. "I’ve witnessed leadership that says their team doesn’t get it and they can’t find good people. They constantly look externally at factors that are limiting their growth.” 

He says talented leaders are investing in their own personal growth and development, and that attracts talent.

Side-by-side learning works best. 

Mercurio has seen time and again that people don’t enjoy learning from a teacher as much as they like to learn alongside a fellow student. That’s why, he says, his first obsession is his own growth and development. 

“I am actively engaged in my own ongoing development,” he says. “The more material curriculum and real-life active struggle I have to share with these owners and leaders that I'm working with, the more that we can go on that journey together.”

Don’t tell somebody they’re wrong and expect them to agree. 

Business owners can be set in their ways and don’t like to be told by a trainer that they’ve been doing it all wrong, Mercurio says. Better, he says, is a process of questions that lead someone to see where they stand in business practices. 

“I go through an emotional interviewing process about what they’re up to and so on,” he says. “And then, if I hear somebody say ‘I can’t find the right people,’ the question is, ‘Are you sure you're the right person to lead this business?’ 

“That would be an antagonistic version of the question, but once the relationship is real enough, that’s the type of the conversations we have. Because the nature of mankind is to create this big complaint so we can just continue doing what we've been doing.”

Think about what you think about. 

Mercurio credits trade-industry icon Weldon Long with the introspective advice to “think about what you think about.” 

Mercurio adds that “if you really start paying attention, you see that thought patterns are looping and looping and looping, but we don't ever stop to think about what we’re thinking about,” he says. “We just think about it, and we start to relate to that as though it’s reality.” 

Mercurio says Voltaire was on the right path when he said, ‘I cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.’”

Why? Because seeking the truth is an eternal quest, Mercurio says, and it’s always possible to know yourself or the world around you better. 

Powerful thinking trumps positive thinking. 

If Long and Voltaire have got you in a thoughtful mood, noodle on this: Mercurio says powerful thinking is different and better than positive thinking. 

“It’s not just turning a negative into a positive,” he says. “It’s understanding the effect of the language that we’re using in our thinking. And, what that’s doing to our problem-solving, to our opportunistic capabilities, and to what we’re seeing, hearing, and experiencing in the world around us.” 

Leadership training is more important than training. 

At Nexstar, Mercurio found that 80% of companies were training techs and frontline staff, but only 30% were engaged in leadership training. 

“Technicians were having a truly transformational training experience,” he says. “Then, I’d see them again a year later and we’d have to redo a lot of it.” 


“I started to realize managers and business owners weren’t doing the work to support the shift in these human beings,” he says. “These transformed human beings were going back into their old environment. Well, that environment is going to win nine times out of 10.”

Be genuinely curious. 

Training, introspection, and change can be big, scary ideas in business, but Mercurio says the best thing a leader can be is curious. 

“It’s been said that the quality of the relationships in our lives is in direct proportion to the quality of questions we’re asking,” he says. “That goes for the questions we ask ourselves and the questions we ask others. Fundamentally, if you want more in your life, start asking bigger questions.”

Recommended research and reading

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miquel Ruiz Making Sense podcast by Sam Harris The Tim Ferriss Show podcast by Tim Ferriss Ted Radio Hour on NPR

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About the Show

Toolbox for the Trades is a podcast where top service professionals share the tips, tricks, and tactics they use to succeed in their industry. Hosted by Jackie Aubel, this podcast is brought to you by ServiceTitan—the leading home and commercial field service software.

Episodes will feature stories and strategies to help contractors grow and scale their service business.

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