Interview: Aaron Marino on Leadership

Aaron Marino of I Am Alpha M

Aaron Marino is a male image consultant, men’s style expert and entrepreneur who helps men build confidence, realize their true potential and get more out of life.

I first discovered Aaron and his image consulting business several months ago when I was trying to learn how to match patterns. Since then, I’ve watched tons of his videos on men’s fashion and personal branding. His videos are high-energy and filled with useful information to help you look (and feel) your best.

Over the years, Aaron has built quite the following online. Most of the videos on his YouTube channel have over 10,000 views. He has thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter. And his fan base is growing by the day.

So I decided to reach out to Aaron a few weeks ago to schedule an interview to discuss business, entrepreneurship and leadership. Graciously, Aaron accepted my invitation and set aside some time to chat.


JOHN: Welcome, Aaron. I’m glad to be talking to you. I’ve been following you for a while, and it’s nice to finally connect.

AARON: Thank you, John. And the fact that you still like me after following me for a while is a good thing.

JOHN: Well, I found your videos really insightful and valuable. And every now and then, I laugh. So it’s all good.

AARON: Excellent. Excellent.

JOHN: So what is Alpha M?

AARON: To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out. It has been a constantly evolving business. When I started it, I would have told you it was a men’s image consulting firm. When it started, I was working with guys. They would fly in from around the world (around the country at that point), and we’d go shopping. It was really designed to help guys just look better and feel good about themselves. When I started posting YouTube videos back in 2006, it totally morphed. I started realizing that there was a larger audience out there, and guys from around the world are pretty much the same. We just want to feel good, and we want be able to look good. We all want to be confident. Really that’s, I think, how my business sort of evolved. I would say now it’s not really a “self-help.” It’s a guy empowerment company that really just tries to figure out how to make you feel great. And feel good about yourself. I really feel that if you can accomplish that that everything else in your life really falls into place. You can accomplish so much more when you feel good about yourself and you’re confident.

JOHN: Absolutely. After watching your videos for quite a while now, it reminds me a lot of the Art of Manliness. I’m sure you’re familiar with that blog.

AARON: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve actually corresponded with Brett a few times. So yeah, I am familiar with it.

JOHN: Yeah. I mean, it’s the same basic principle. You start with fashion. But really, it seems like it’s about being a better man in general.

AARON: Right. It is. And that’s really what my goal has been. Style is one thing. But really, it’s about the person. You know, we cover grooming. We talk about fitness. But as a whole, it’s really just about being the best man you can be. For some reason, we’ve gotten off track as guys and as a society. And we put value on things that are really insignificant. I’m trying to talk about things that matter. I really feel that I’ve got a unique opportunity in helping and talking to young men. Because I really feel that there’s a lack of role models and people that set good examples for the young men of the world. So that’s really what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make the world a better place one guy at a time.

JOHN: It’s interesting, too, you know. It starts with just that one guy. In your particular case, your friend who was just like, “Hey, man. Could you help me go shopping and pick out some stuff?” And then, he tells his friend. And he tells his friend. The next thing you know, you’ve got videos getting tens of thousands of views on YouTube. You’ve got online products now. You have a full-scale consulting service. You have a customer service department who thanked me for an email that I sent them a long time ago. So, I mean, it’s really building out into quite the booming enterprise.

AARON: Yeah. I wouldn’t call it a “booming enterprise.” But it’s definitely evolving into something that’s bigger than I had expected.

JOHN: I was just going to ask you that. Where are you now? Is it anywhere close to what you imagined it would be?

AARON: Well, it’s funny. When I started this business, I really didn’t know what to expect. You know, I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. I owned a few nutrition stores. I opened a little fitness center. The thing that I have a difficult time doing is sort of envisioning what it could be or how I’m going to get there. I really focus on the here, the now, the “What’s going on?” It hasn’t been until recently when I started looking more big picture. I’m amazed at where it is. And I’m amazed at the potential. I’m not satisfied. But as an entrepreneur, I don’t think you’re ever satisfied. I really don’t know where it’s going to end up. But I’m really enjoying the process of learning. It’s getting bigger every day. And I just have so much fun making videos. I’m allowed to do something that I love doing, and I’m making a living at it. It’s pretty cool.

JOHN: That’s awesome. I think it’s inspirational for me personally as somebody who wants to be an entrepreneur. But I’m sure that it will be inspiring for other people as well. So many people are interested in starting their own business, but they don’t really know how to start. They just want to do something. So hearing stories about somebody who just sort of “bootstraps it” and just digs deep and just does it, I think, is really inspiring. And it seems like you fell into it. Your strategy at first was not really there. You just kind of started making videos. Then, after a while, it’s, “Hey. I could actually do this for a living.” Now, here you are.

AARON: One of the most interesting things is that I’d go into this thinking one thing. “Customers are going to want this. This is what they’re going to relate to.” And it’s totally different. So you need to sort of morph and be fluid and be willing and able to sort of analyze what they’re giving you. The customers and the client base will tell you what they want if you listen. I think that you have such a better chance of success as an entrepreneur if you don’t get too drawn into thinking that you know best if that makes sense. So listening to them and having an idea of what they want and allowing enough freedom and flexibility laterally in order to really just adapt to what they’re looking for.

JOHN: It’s sort of that balance between what Steve Jobs said, “People don’t know what they want until you show them.” But at the same time, the market will tell you what it needs. They may think they want something. But you, as the entrepreneur have to kind of listen and dig deeper into that underlying psychology to find out “What is it they need?” They say they need this. But what they really need is this which is totally different like you said.

AARON: Exactly.

JOHN: Very cool. I also mentioned in our emails back and forth that I wanted to talk to you a little bit about leadership because by now you’ve got a following on Twitter. You’ve got a following on Facebook. Your YouTube videos. Lots of people are watching that. So I kind of wanted to take a little bit different spin and, rather than just talking about fashion, I wanted to dig a little bit deeper into your thoughts on leadership because you are a leader of the community that you created. So how exactly do you define leadership personally?

AARON: It’s so interesting. Leadership, in my opinion, is doing what is right as opposed to doing what is comfortable. So many times we, as humans, fall into a pattern of following. Almost, you know, that herd mentality. I really feel that leaders and successful leaders are people that don’t necessarily just follow the norm and follow what is expected. But they do what is right and what is, at times, uncomfortable. They’re willing to take that step. A lot of people are not. We, as humans, don’t want to be uncomfortable. And I feel that leaders are willing to take that leap, and they’re willing to be uncomfortable at times.

JOHN: Recently, I’ve heard it said that “Managers do things right; leaders do the right things.” So kind of going into that you know, managers will do what they’re supposed to but a leader is going to do what’s absolutely essential. They’re going to make sure they do the right thing and focus on the right thing.

AARON: Yeah. Absolutely.

JOHN: What makes a “good” leader in your opinion?

AARON: I think a leader needs to be confident at times. They need to be humble. They need to be open to suggestions. Going back to earlier, I really feel that people that are successful leaders, successful entrepreneurs, they’re able to listen to constructive criticism. Even the criticism that isn’t constructive. You think and you gain such strength and insight by not being too steadfast and rigid in your ideological beliefs or your expectations. I really feel that a good leader actually is receptive to criticism.

JOHN: Absolutely. Because that’s what’s going to make you better. That’s what will make you better as a leader is being receptive to that criticism. Not necessarily taking it all to heart personally. But using it as a gauge, of sorts, to maybe change course if you need to.

AARON: Exactly.

JOHN: By contrast, what makes a “bad” leader?

AARON: A bad leader… I feel like they don’t allow the people that work with them or around them to basically do their job. I feel like bad leaders do micromanage. They try to control too much. You know, the idea of a leader and somebody that is controlling the team or steering the ship is that they take people and they let people be experts or strong. A bad leader tries to control and dictate every aspect. Whereas a good, solid leader let’s people do their job.

JOHN: It kind of goes into Daniel Pink’s idea of “autonomy, mastery and purpose.” I’m not sure if you’re familiar with his work. But those are the three biggest things that employees seek in a good employer. The ability to be automated without somebody watching their every move. The ability to continually improve on a skill and develop and grow as a person and as a professional. And then, having a purpose–having your work actually mean something. Where you’re making a contribution to the world. And if people have those three things–autonomy, mastery and purpose–they find that they’re very happy at work. I have that situation personally. I’m sure that you have those same qualities in the work that you do.

AARON: Yeah. Absolutely.

JOHN: What advice would you offer to somebody who wants to kind of follow this entrepreneurial path and start their own business? What are the challenges they’ll face? How do you keep driving forward when things get tough? And how do you kind of adjust your vision and develop those goals that are so important to keeping it on course?

AARON: Entrepreneurial advice… Develop a thick skin. And don’t post YouTube videos if you’ve got thin skin. As an entrepreneur, I would say if you find something that you’re passionate about… Everybody talks about passion, and it’s sort of cliche. But if… if… Do you mind if I curse?

JOHN: Not at all. Say whatever you want.

AARON: Okay. What is that saying that I heard? “To be successful, you need to be first, fabulous or you’re fucked.” But it’s kind of true. To be a successful entrepreneur, you do have to have a different kind of stomach because knowing going into it it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be perfect. In my mind, I have failed more times that I have succeeded. The difference between and entrepreneur and a regular person who is not an entrepreneur is that entrepreneurs don’t dwell and they don’t focus on failure. They may fail. But an entrepreneur doesn’t focus or dwell on setbacks. It’s not that they won’t happen. They do happen. But you take that and you move forward and you readjust. When something doesn’t go my way, I dwell on it, and I’m upset for about fifteen minutes. Then, it’s, “Alright. Well, that happened. Now, I’m going to set new goals. I’m going to adjust. And I’m going to move forward.” It’s that constant reevaluation and that constant changing of direction… There isn’t a straight line. If you go into business thinking there is “from point A to point B,” and you’re going to get there by just going and maintaining course, it doesn’t happen. The turns in the road are going to happen. But as long as you’re headed in the [right] direction, you’re in good shape. Just don’t dwell and wallow in self-doubt and self-pity. If something doesn’t work out, that’s okay. Figure out a way that it’s going to work.

JOHN: It’s that idea of resiliency–of being the Phoenix as it were. You die, and you fail. But you get up. You dust yourself off. And you frankly drive the fuck on because life is going to continue happening and you have to move forward. You can’t stop. You have to just keep going forward. Even if it sucks.

AARON: Exactly. And it will suck at times if you take the entrepreneurial route. The other thing you need to realize when you’re doing your own thing: Allow yourself to celebrate the little accomplishments. Try and find something good every day. Celebrate the little victories. Now, don’t get hung up and pat yourself on the back for too long. But if something good happens, acknowledge it. It’s okay to be proud of yourself.

JOHN: Absolutely. At the same time, I would also say, “Celebrate your failures, too, because those are going to help you refine your path and continue your development.” I follow a blogger, Ramit Sethi. His website is I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. He actually has a Gmail tag called “failures.” If he hasn’t updated that tag in a couple of months, he knows he has to change something. I read recently, “If you’re not failing on a regular basis, you’re not trying hard enough.”

AARON: Pretty much.

JOHN: That’s about the time that we had set aside for our call today. Any closing thoughts?

AARON: Be passionate about something. You know, it’s so cliche. But if you’re passionate, people will see your passion. Being an entrepreneur, being a leader… It’s not for everybody, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be. But if it’s in your heart and in your spirit, and it’s something that you can’t get that nagging “I want to do it. I want to try it. I want to give it a shot,” [out of your head], you need to give yourself a chance to do it. Because regret is the most horrible thing. Just leave it all out there. Do your best. I just wish everybody the best of luck because we were meant to fulfill our spirit, our destiny and whatever we were created to do.

JOHN: It’s like the great Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

AARON: Exactly. Very good. See, you’ve got all the good quotes. I just stammer and stumble around and beat around the bush with all these things.

JOHN: Well, I’m a huge mega-nerd that does nothing but read stuff. So that’s kind of a summary of myself. But definitely, Aaron, I want to thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it. And hopefully, the people who read my blog will also find it useful.

AARON: Absolutely, man.

JOHN: It’s definitely been a pleasure, man. I definitely look forward to staying in touch.

AARON: Absolutely. Send me a link, and I’ll post it on my social media and stuff like that.

JOHN: Awesome, dude. You have a good weekend. Don’t get in too much trouble.

AARON: Well, I’m going to watch some episodes of Dexter, have some pizza and have a drink. How’s that?

JOHN: That sounds like a fantastic night.

AARON: Well, let me know when it’s up, and sent me a link.

JOHN: Will do. Take care, Aaron.

AARON: Alright, buddy. Bye bye.

JOHN: Alright, bye.

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