Aaron is a seasoned leader with a record providing the vision and decisive leadership in operations, manufacturing, quality improvement and project management. He has a talent for developing high-performance teams, making effective decisions under any conditions, and quickly revising tactics to achieve goals within aggressive time frames.
Aaron attended the University of Minnesota and graduated with a B of S in Agricutlture and food Systems Management and attended the University of St. Thomas - Opus college of Business where he earned his MBA in Operations Management.
AE: The first thing that caught my eye when I found your profile is that you attended the University of Minnesota and I am from Minnesota. Is that where you are from; if not, why did you choose U of M? If so, how did you end up in Texas?
AS: Actually no; I grew up in a small town in North Dakota. Agriculture is prominent in the area, which did have an impact on why I chose Minnesota to go to school. While my family had a strong farming background, I began work in the processing end of food. The degree’s that Minnesota offered I thought it would be a perfect fit. The school is also where I met my wife of 19yr’s. We were brought down to Texas due to my wife accepting a great job opportunity. My job had become to feel stale and was excited for my wife and a new adventure in
our life. I’ve always been a fast act type of person, and when I put the house up for sale before she accepted the job, I think that told her how much I was ready for a change. We have been in Texas for 14 years have 2 kids and dog and love it.
AE: You are currently a Manager with T.A. Cook, an international management consulting firm focusing on Asset Performance Management. Can you describe your role?
AS: Yes; T.A. Cook is one of the leading consulting companies in the world on Asset Performance Management. I enjoy contributing my knowledge and working for a team that loves to geek out as much as me on process improvement and reliability. As I said, I come from a food background. T.A. Cook services
predominantly to large companies in petrol chemicals or asset-intensive businesses. The company started in Berlin Germany 25 years ago with Thomas Cook and Frank-Uwe Hess our two founders offering maintenance
management services to different clients.
Since then they have expends to 8 offices around the world assisting clients in maintenance, turnarounds, outages, manufacturing capital projects, and engineering. My role is a project manager dealing with conducting analysis, design and manage performance improvements with our clients.
AE: Did you set out with a career plan in mind?
AS: No, No, No! I never thought I would be supporting businesses in the gas and chemical industries. My background starts with food manufacturing, however, they are surprising similarities in the focus on regulation and processes.
Like most young kids I had dreams of being a doctor, lawyer, police officer or athlete. Not because that was my passion but I saw them has intoxicating and that is how I wanted to be viewed. As I got farther in my teens I became more practical what I could see myself doing in my career.
I do tell people that what helped me decide was spending my summers and weekends working in a pasta food processing plant. My dad suggested half-serious when I was a teenager and I guess after 4 years of working in
most of the processing area it might not be a bad career choice. That is what drove me to pursue my undergrad in Ag. and Food Systems Management.
One thing I don’t often share is I have a passion for entrepreneurship, however, having failed at 6 attempts in my life I’m very hesitant on how I select my next entrepreneurship project. Ha, ha, ha; I had a direction, which I still follow however, entrepreneurship is still a goal of mine. I have failed several times but I keep trying.
“Consider How One individual Changes Everything. Take a second and realize that in Dallas 85% of youth are considered “At-Risk” youth.”
AE: The second thing that caught my eye was your work as a mentor with the Foundation For CHOICE . What drew you to working with the organization and being a mentor?
AS: My wife and I felt fortunate given the opportunity to grow up in great families that emphasis values and commitment. We always discussed ways we can give back to the community. My wife volunteers her time to the church and our children school teaching art and helping the teachers on small projects. For me, I wanted to give back by mentoring. I initially was looking at helping rehabilitate formerly incarcerated individual or older youth students. In researching different non-profits, I found CHOICE; they were doing great work in the Dallas and Plano community mentoring “at-risk” kids. Mentoring at-risk kids are so rewarding, humbling, and gratifying. I would encourage anyone that is willing to volunteer to help; talking to these kids is so easy and can help set them on the right track.
AE: CHOICE is an acronym for Consider How One Individual Changes Everything. That resonates with me because I believe we are all capable not only of personal change, but we also have the ability to influence change in others, situations and the world. What do you think about that?
AS: Wow! You think big. I like it! For me when mentoring youth, especially those that want to do more in their life, they are often open to listen and want to learn. For me, that is what motivates me knowing that I'm helping others in a positive way. As a mentor, you can motivate your mentee to be confident, show them the pathforward that you took, and aim for bettering themselves.
AE: As a mentor what has been the greatest “ah ha” for you?
AS: Like the CHOICE acronym; Consider How One individual Changes Everything. Take a second and realize that in Dallas 85% of youth are considered “At-Risk” youth. Often these are single-family homes with mothers and sometimes fathers working full time and one or more jobs to support. This leaves little time to help young adults know the basics like writing a proper e-mail, how to interview, dress professional, or make a phone call to business; things you and I take for granted. It's rewarding doing small things like helping young adults learn how to apply for scholarships and find colleges they can afford. These are my “ah-ha” I can make a difference moments.
AE: How important is it for people to have a mentor?
AS:They can help mold your life. You find your mentor because you want someone that can advise and cares about your success. How can you tell me that is not important. When I starting mentoring at Foundation for CHOICE I thought I would be pushing the kids to get their stuff together and explain the importance of working hard and going to school. What I didn’t realize is that when someone is looking for a mentor is not to be their coach and show them why and how. These kids already know what they want but need help in finding how to get there. I mentored several kids and the one consistent is that they want to do more in their life.
The kids we mentored had to go through a rigid application process just to get a mentor that would help them the last 2 years of high school. We would help put a plan together for them after they complete high school. The value we brought to the kids is helping them find funding for college and create a budget so they can get through a 4-year program at a University. So often kids think they can just take out loans unfortunately even if you pull out all the financial aid available it is only enough for about 2 years of schooling.
AE: Do you see common questions, concerns or obstacles that mentees have?
AS: Of course; mentors often worry about giving bad advice, they don’t feel they have time, or they don’t feel they are “mentor material”. Listen; those that have struggled with those questions are the ones that make the best mentors. I love it when at mentee asks those questions because it tells me they want to make a difference.
AE: Did you have a mentor in your career?
AS: I have several. Some I would call my mentee and they may not realize. I think that is the one thing that can confuse those looking for mentorship is that there is no limit for those that can help. You can have as many mentors as you want. My other little advice on mentorship is finding those that are willing to give you some
time. I also wouldn’t necessarily ask them to be a mentor as sometimes people think there is a commitment and can turn them away. Instead; I would start by just asking for advice, but be specific and sincere; as not to waste someone's time. Everyone always will give an opinion but someone you feel would be a good mentor is authentic and you know all they want is you to be successful.
AS: I’ve certainly had several role models. I believe a role model is someone that emulates behavior that has a positive impact on yourself.
AE: Today more than ever leadership extends beyond the organization; do you think that organizations have a social responsibility when it comes to leadership?
AS: I’m sure if you asked any organization they would say; “yes”, and they may want to believe that they are obligated to be socially responsible. However, I challenge that most organization exist first to make money or be profitable and everything else is second until the 1st priority is in control. I think of Maslow's theory of hierarchy. There are certain tiers a leader needs to consider one of which is able to take care of themselves so they can help others.
“It is hard to find sustainable success without strong leadership.”
AE: Let’s talk about your experience with leadership. What do you think the most important skill leaders need to have?
AS: I’ve never met a great leader that wasn’t an outstanding listener. I’m always impressed when I meet someone briefly I consider a leader and they take time to say hello to you, remember your name, and the last time we met. It shows they care and that will win me over every time. It’s the simple thing I see a leader do.
AE: You deal a lot with technology, how has technology changed leadership?
AS: Technology has made it easier for bad managers to think they are leaders. If you think about it applications like Slack, Yammer, Skype, Texting, email, and social media have made it easy for the lazy manager to communicate. Managers are able to broadcast commands and expectations. This causes them to lose that interaction and struggle to build relationships with others. One-on-one or face to face has always shown the best way to see and show compassion.
Technology has prevented managers to practice the soft skills that all true leaders demonstrate. Now I’m suggesting not to use the applications. I use them myself and I think they are great I would only say it can great bad behaviors in good managers.
AE: What are your thoughts on servant leadership and emotional intelligence?
AS: The millennial generation is having a substantial impact on driving managers on how to work with their employees. Today if employees don't like their boss, it is much easier to find another job in a similar line of work.
The prior generations would endure it or slowly transition into another role with a different manager. Too often before the millennial generations, the managers would be chosen based on who worked there the longest, friends with the owners or shared in the same values and sometimes just being the loudest voice in the room.
The managers have to have personable skills, be real, be compassionate, and make decisions with the employee in mind are all the skills to keep talent. Today making decisions also means determining the impact on others and how they are affected. Today we see examples where more and more companies are eliminating the manager's big corner office and electing for open floor plans where managers and employees work together. This is done with servant leadership intentions.
AE: What do you think is the biggest mistake any leader can make?
AS: Failing to give feedback. Whether you are acting as the manager, coach, or mentor they should ready to give value added feedback
AE: People have so many more choices and opportunities when it comes to their careers and where they choose to work; how do leaders create a great place to work?
AS: I like to give people the opportunity to make their own decisions on managing their time. The easiest thing a business can do is let go on regulations and trying to measure and improve everything. Coming to an agreement on job expectation and realistic projects to help the business and their personal development makes the job rewarding and a great place to work.
AE: How do leaders impact culture within an organization?
AS: They are the foundation and the peek of any organization. It is hard to find sustainable success without strong leadership.
AE: How do leaders effectively develop high performing teams?
AS: First, the leader must have trust from the team, employees want to do better, and believe you are the person
that can show them. The rest is about working together to develop how they want their culture to evolve. It takes tenacity by everyone to encourage each other. There will be times when things won’t be running great. It’s important as a leader not to allow blame on each other but to continue to challenge the process. As the team continues to push for better processes they become stronger as a group. Then the leading becomes fun.
AE: If you could give a new leader one piece of advice what would it be?
AS: Leaders can be seen in many different positions and personalities. Don’t judge leaders on their job titles or how much they make.
AE: I start each day with a motivational quote, do you have a favorite?
AS: That’s a great way to live your day. I collect quotes but here is one I recently added to my list and it relatable to a project I’m working.
“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” ~Sir Richard Branson
Want to know more about Aaron connect with him on LinkedIn
For more information about the Foundation for CHOICE visit https://www.foundationforchoice.org/
Back in 2013 I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Tim Kincaid the CEO/Founder of Kincaid Coaching & Consulting. Tim specializes in strategic communications, organization development (OD), leadership development, and business/executive coaching. Tim has more than 25 years of corporate experience, a doctorate in human and organization learning, an MBA in aviation management, and serves as a faculty member at two universities.
His specialties include working with clients in the airline/aviation sector, individuals who are in mid-life/mid-career transition, entrepreneurs, and grad school faculty and students. Tim holds certification from International Coach Federation (ICF) he is trained and certified in several well-known assessments.
AE: You received your BA in Journalism-Public Relations and then went on to get your MBA, Aviation. The two seem to be different; what led you to Aviation?
TK: I've always been fascinated by aviation. Both my parents were pilots. Even before I decided on a major, I knew that whatever it wound up being it would be applicable to a career in aviation. I took an intro to PR course and decided to major in journalism/PR which, happily, is applicable to almost every industry. I set out to create a career in PR within aviation, and succeeded.
AE: What led you to leadership development and coaching?
TIM: I think I've always been a coach - I just didn't know what to call it! (Interestingly, I'm finding that what many coaches are saying.) Effective coaches seem to share talents for curiosity, empathy, and genuine desire to be of service. When I worked with a coach for the first time as a client, I had two thoughts - 1. "Wow, this is powerful and helpful;" and, 2. "I want to do this."
Leadership and leadership development fascinated me since I began my career. I could see the impact a leader has on the success and culture of an organization. In PR, I observed a lot of different leadership styles and became interested in learning more. The coursework for my doctorate in human and organization development degree had a heavy focus on leadership, and what it takes to be an effective leader. I like helping leaders and their teams be better, through coaching, consulting, mentoring, assessments, and training.
AE: As the CEO and founder of Kincaid Associates / Kincaid Coaching you do a lot of work with the aviation/airline/transportation industry which is very customer service oriented. Do you see unique leadership challenges that may not exist in other industries?
TK: I think so. Aviation is enormously complex. The aviation and transportation sectors are high-reliability, safety-critical enterprises and also are more highly regulated than most other industries. Customer expectations are high, often unreasonably so, and frequently not met. So much of the customer experience is beyond an airline's control - weather delays, security, natural disasters, sequestration, and (in the U.S.) the lack of a coherent national aviation policy. Also, I can tell you from a lot of years in aviation PR, the airlines receive more media and government legislator attention than almost any other business. The airline industry is a global enterprise and is a critical link for people, ideas and goods. Add to that margins that are razor-thin compared to other industries.
It's a business that attracts certain kinds of leaders and employees who thrive on the intensity, who find it an intensely interesting business. That goes for most airline employees I know, too -- we get "jet fuel in our blood" and which for many makes it hard to leave aviation for another industry.
AE: You have worked in the corporate arena and taught in academia. Is there a difference in the way people lead in those?
TK: Successful leaders incorporate context and in higher education must have the same leadership qualities, but they must apply those competencies in very different contexts.
Corporate and higher education environments are very different in both pace and focus. In the business world, it's all about agility, speedy time-to-market, and meeting investor expectations each quarter. For-profit companies must be responsive to customer demand, keep costs low, and be efficient enough to compete. They often receive immediate feedback on efficacy. And the tacit life-time employment contract with "the organization man/woman" is long gone.
Alternatively, higher education was structured for stability, not agility, and competition for student enrollment and funding has become fierce. They must become more customer (student) focused. For-profit universities and online learning are challenging traditional bricks-and-mortar schools. So leaders in higher education are grappling with overcoming literally centuries of inertia and tradition. Add to that, employment in academia is shifting, with adjunct faculty (aka contractors) doing a majority of the teaching, and the viability of the tenure system is being questioned.
AE: What are your thoughts on servant leadership and emotional intelligence in leadership?
TK: Now, more than ever, we need more of both! Both concepts have been around for several years, but lately they seem to be getting more traction. They are interrelated. Servant leaders are emotionally intelligent leaders. Empirical studies suggest that both constructs are essential to success in the 21st Century.
Emotional intelligence (self-awareness and management of emotions) and related social intelligence (noticing the impact one has on others) is uber-important. Just being the smartest guy/gal in the room is less of a predictor of success nowadays.
Today, a leader who is "tone deaf" to other people's needs, oblivious or ignoring the impact of their actions on others, is less likely to succeed professionally. The good news here is that while IQ (intelligence quotient) remains fairly static in adulthood, EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) can be measured, developed and improved.
Servant leadership and emotional intelligence are highly aligned. The so-called Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership describe qualities that servant leaders demonstrate: Person of Character; Puts People First; Skilled Communicator; Compassionate Collaborator; Has Foresight; Systems Thinker; and, Leads with Moral Authority. To embody these seven pillars, effective servant leaders must have high emotional intelligence - awareness of their own emotions and the ability to self-manage them in ways that recognize their impact on others. Some great news is that, like emotional intelligence, servant leadership qualities can be developed and enhanced.
AE: Has there been a leader that has inspired you?
TK: It's hard to pick just one. I've admired many leaders, each for different reasons. One I can think of as archetypical was an airline leader who was very smart, and also had good "people sense" (keywords: emotional and social intelligence). He was approachable, articulate, and demonstrated curiosity. I observed him in meetings where he would demonstrate humility i.e. not having to prove he was smart or knew all the answers. He asked a lot of questions, and allowed others to shine. When he had to make decisions, even tough and unpopular ones, he kept all the stakeholders' interests in mind - not just the investors - and he made what he discerned were the right decisions.
AE: What has been your greatest leadership accomplishment?
TK: Starting my own consulting and coaching business. Leading myself has been surprisingly challenging, and also satisfying. In his excellent book Drive; the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes that we're all hard wired to seek three things: mastery, autonomy, and meaning. If all three things are present, humans are engaged and motivated. However, I've found that I'm better at facilitating those things for others; doing it for myself is more challenging! So taking responsibility for getting those three basic needs met for myself has been an adventure. Some good news is that with this awareness, I'm succeeding.
AE: What is the one piece of advice you would give a new leader?
TK: Here's one with three parts: Be more curious; ask "powerful questions;" and, listen (and really "hear") more often. There is great wisdom all around, often accessible simply through observation, or just asking questions. 21st Century Leaders are naturally curious and allow that curiosity to emerge. Allen Mulally, who led turnarounds at Ford at Boeing, is known to be openly curious, genuinely inquisitive, and creator of a "safe space" for exploration. It's not an easy task to retrain senior leadership teams in an uber-competitive career environment, where one gets ahead by power posturing or using "sharp elbows"! Curiosity is a skill that effective leaders are smart to embrace.
Powerful questions are open-ended questions, without agenda, that elicit a more spacious answer than "yes" or "no." For example, asking "Did you talk to the prospective client?" will invite a short answer with little information. A more "powerful" way to ask might be "How did the conversation with the prospective client go?" Can you hear the difference? You'll learn much more than just it did/didn't happen simply by reframing the question to be more powerful. So leaders who ask "powerful" questions find they get richer, more useful data.
The third part, listen and really "hear" ties gives traction to the first two, curiosity/powerful questions. Asking a powerful question, but then not listening to the response or worse, answering it yourself and not even letting the other respond, scuttles the process and damages the relationship. Everyone longs to be "heard" - even if others don't agree fully. Effective leaders listen and really hear.
A word of caution is not to let any of these "go rogue" - curiosity can useful, and can also become a great way to mine for data, but it can derail a leader from using data to synthesize information and taking action. The endless data-mining can become like a hamster on a wheel, spinning endlessly but not going anywhere. Moderation in all things is so important.
AE: What has been your biggest leadership challenge in your career?
TK: Staying focused! That has been especially true outside of corporate life. When I was in the corporate world, the employment "mother ship" provided structure, direction, and work flow. As a "multi-preneur" now, doing several things that interest me, I must create my own structure and work flow. There are so many interesting "shiny objects" in my professional life that getting distracted is a challenge. I'm an executive coach and am a consultant for change management and leadership development. I also teach three university courses as adjunct faculty. That's a lot of stimuli! Going out on one's own had many surprises, and requires expanded leadership capabilities.
AE: The biggest mistake a leader can make is?
TK: Thinking s/he is the smartest person in the room. This is closely related another related mistake of consistently lacking humility, empathy, or authenticity. This plays out as appearing to have a "tin-ear" for the impact one's decisions or actions have on others. We see that kind of hubris or "Eddie Haskell" smugness (remember, from Leave it to Beaver?) smugness in the economic meltdown, failure of large corporations, war-waging, scandalized institutions, and disgraced politicians. An antidote and prevention is for leaders of all levels to undertake serious, honest self-examination. One way is for leaders to work with a coach, who is a trusted and unattached truth-teller, thinking partner, and accountability holder for the leader. Another tack is for the leader to raising their EQ - emotional intelligence quotient (which is shown to be a greater predictor of success than IQ). There are EQ assessments and coaching approaches that can help develop EQ.
AE: The most important thing a leader can do is?
TK: Keep learning. Successful leaders are confident enough in themselves to say "I don't know," and then go find out. "Finding out" can mean a variety of things - like doing some research, taking a training class, or even going back to school. But it can be as easy as eliciting learning from their peers or direct reports. The paradox is that risking the appearance of not being the expert on all things can actually demonstrate great poise, strength and confidence, and not weakness or limitation. And... sharing the spotlight by letting someone else shine as an expert AND gaining knowledge is a "two-fer!"
AE: Leadership means what to you?
TK: To me, leadership isn't a position. It's a state of being. It's granted, bestowed, earned, retained, and entrusted by followers. If this trust is abused or betrayed, leadership is lost, and hard to reclaim.
AE: I have always found the written word to be inspirational and motivational and so each day I post a quote on the Leadership & More blog and through other social media. Do you have a favorite quote?
TK: I'll give you three!...
"Change is inevitable. Drama is Optional."
~Rev. Debra Johnson
"Out beyond the beliefs of right-doing or wrong doing, there is a place. Meet me there."
~Rumi, ancient mystic and poet
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
~Peter Drucker, Management Thought Leader
Dr. Rand Fandrich is an experienced HR scholar/practitioner in the private and public sectors; Higher Education Administration; International HR Adviser/Trainer; and the Founder of the Expatriate Foundation.
In addition he has contributed to books that include:
OpenStax. (2018). Business Ethics. OpenStax. Expert Reviewer (SME) for the Global Work Environments and Future Employment Trends chapter 10: https://openstax.org/details/books/business-ethics
AE: Let’s start with what we have in common. We are both certified Human Resource professionals; what drew you to the field of Human Resources?
RF: Opportunity. While finishing my MBA, I was staffed working for the State of Montana in a contingent position – an opportunity arose to slide into the lead HR position due to a planned attrition situation, and WAM! I was in…. over my head!
AE: HR is a great place to get exposure to all kinds of leaders and leadership styles. Throughout my career I have come to believe that Human Resources should be the model for what is great and lead the way. What do you think?
RF: Agreed. I not only believe it should be but has always been (by default). As the organizational moderator/facilitator, often the function of servant leadership is a foundational role of modern strategic human resource management.
AE: It is interesting because HR practitioners have a unique opportunity to teach in a sense. In addition to being an HR professional, you have been in the academic teaching profession for a long time, what made you choose that?
RF: I believe many professionals – particularly those who are practitioners in their field – find a desire to strike a delicate balance of professional work and academia. Additionally, I subscribe to the idea that a terminally degreed person has somewhat of an obligation to give to the profession and community in which they have studied.
AE: You have been a professor at The National Graduate School of Quality Management, what has your teaching role like?
RF: Yes, NGS that has now been acquired by New England School of Business and Finance. My teaching has been specific to DBA courses and mentoring students as a Dissertation Chair and committee member. Exciting, challenging, and rewarding.
AE: Learning in an academic setting is quite different from learning in the workplace and I imagine so is teachings. Have there been any surprises, things you did not expect?
RF: Yes, mainly to witness firsthand how adult students are so uniquely different given their individual life circumstances. That is, their environment has induced such a complex person that – often – is 100% different than the students in their cohort/class. The diversity is amazing.
AE: I think that teachers are some of the greatest leaders in the world because they have the ability to inspire and bring out the best in people. Has there been one that inspired you, and how did they do it?
RF: Yes, more than one. They certainly are amazing leaders, and in a variety of ways. The ones that have impacted me the most were those that I naturally connected with; showing desire of knowledge.
AE: What is your approach to inspiring your students?
RF: I often use the one-on-one approach to quickly attempt to get to some of their core themes…about learning, about professional and educational success, etc. In doing so, I am best able to cater to their short term and long-term needs.
AE: The educational system in our country has some major challenges; from your perspective as an educator what should be our top priority when it comes to education?
RF: Well…you said it!
We all need to remember what the purpose of the educational system is…to educate. Prioritizing financial gain, or an antiquated educational system in which memorization, regurgitation and little retention is not going to get us where we need to go.
AE: You wear many hats, in addition to being an Associate Professor and Dissertation Chair, you are a DBA Course Developer/DBA Adjunct, run a Foundation, and train. How do you balance these things?
RF: Delicately, and with strategic undertones. When I chose to pursue this type of mixed professionalism, I gave up the 9-5 drudgery in pursuit of a career that was hard to define by traditional standards. The latter an obvious generational difference in the workplace choice.
AE: Do you see common themes when it comes to what leaders struggle with or the strengths they have?
RF: I do. I believe lack of communication and miscommunication are certainly common denominators in struggles (partially since this is the first time in recorded history that 5 generations are working under the same roof).
AE: Great points and from my own experience I agree. Time and time again I have watched leaders trying to protect their position. As a result, they insulate themselves from connections with people out of fear that they will somehow be upstaged or seen as dispensable. How important is leadership vulnerability in the success of an organization?
RF: It’s important beyond measure. Either the leader is strong enough to surround themselves with intelligent, well versed cohorts (i.e. huge impact) OR they are not (i.e. huge impact).
AE: How do leaders move beyond self-preservation in order to create an environment of connection, learning and growth for themselves and those they lead?
RF: Personal growth, professional development, and maturity.
AE: Do you think there is a set of common drivers to what leaders are looking for?
RF: Tough question. To narrow down a set number that would be common denominators of all successful leaders would be impossible; however, I do believe we could sum the majority of them up by the “ability to succeed” – does that make sense?
AE: Do you see common pitfalls for leaders when it comes to organizational culture and their influence or impact on it?
RF: Yes, lack of something…education, intelligence, knowledge, ability or a combination and the lack of self-awareness to recognize it.
AE: If you could give new leaders one piece of advice, what would it be?
RF: Appreciate diversity that surrounds you and embrace it’s power.
AE: In 2008 you founded the Expatriate Foundation for International Human Resource Management. Where did the idea and inspiration for that come from?
RF: Originally, the idea came from the coupling of my education (BA in International Studies, American University; MBA, Alpha Sigma NU Regis University, and my PHD Organizational Management: Emphasis in Human Resource Management from Capella) as well as my research and professional passions. It quickly turned into a resource for HR professionals around the world to earn HR re-certification credits for both shrm.org and hrci.org.
AE: Have there been any surprises ah ha moments in building the Foundation?
RF: None that seemed so surprising that I was shocked to experience them; however, I think when you lead something that is your own endeavor, you come to find that many of the age-old adages are played out and witnessed.
AE: You posted the following on LinkedIn “Diversity comes in a multitude of forms: gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, culture, socioeconomic background; all contributing to an individual’s unique experience of the world.” How do you think that the current state of divisiveness in the country is affecting the progress we have made in diversity?
RF: Initial impact being horrifying to everything we have gained as a society; however, I believe these types of societal plateaus act as a springboard for greater short- and long-term growth. Compare it to making a mistake a couple of times and learning from it more and more every time you make it.
AE: Are we having the right conversations about diversity or are we so polarized that we can’t?
RF: Short answer “No, we certainly are not. The conversation should be why is it such a struggle in the first place?...as the emphasis continues to be about identification of our differences and requesting approval from each other.
AE: Do you think the human race is capable of true acceptance of others no matter what our differences may be?
RF: Yes, very much so. And so much so that I believe we are terribly behind in this otherwise normal acceptance. That is what I was attempting to communicate in the previous question/answer.
AE: Is the current political rhetoric doing irreversible damage by alienating groups of people?
RF: Irreversible, certainly not. Damaging, horrendous, and possibly long lived, yes! How many generations will have to be raised and condition – educated and enlightened – to counteract the behaviors and ignorance that is being injected currently?
AE: What would you say has been your most rewarding accomplishment and what are you doing to continue to grow and develop?
RF: Certainly, my PhD. (…and I certainly thank my parents Doug and Helen Fandrich for their support and love)
I’m traveling overseas to Africa and the Middle East – over ten times within about 7 years for work (training HR professionals)
AE: What would people be surprised to know about you?
RF: I was born, raised and currently live in Helena, Montana.
AE: What is one thing you cannot tolerate?
AE: Looking back on your journey and knowing what you know now, what is one piece of advice you would have given yourself along the way?
RF: It would have been emotional support in the way of self-talk.
AE: I like to close all my interviews with a quote; do you have a favorite?
RF: I do not, however here is the most recent quote that I enjoyed very much:
“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.” – Georg C. Lichtenburg
As well as the first quotethat ever had a real impact on me:
"Never was so much owed by so many to so few" was a war time speech made by the British prime minister Winston Churchill on 20 August 1940.
If you want more information on Dr. Rand Fandrich you can find him on LinkedIn
For more information on the Expatriate Foundation visit their website or follow them on Twitter.
https://twitter.com/expatfoundation got them to where they are.
ANTHONY: You attended Texas A&M University and received a BS in Political Science with a Minor in Speech Communications. How did you find yourself working in recruitment?
ADAM: Good question! I planned on getting into law school and going that route. However, I had some friends that were in recruiting and they told me I’d be great at it. I thought maybe taking a year or two off from school would be good so I can save up some money, etc. Fifteen years later, I’m still in recruiting so the rest is history.
ANTHONY: What is the best part of what you do as a recruiter?
ADAM: I feel the best part of my job is ultimately helping people get a job. A lot of people I talk to have been working for years and just got laid off, whatever it may be. I always offer to help tweak resumes for people that I feel could use some of my knowledge and expertise for their benefit. It’s a great feeling when I can call someone with an offer for employment. That’s the end-goal for recruiters and it’s a great feeling of accomplishment when I can do that.
ANTHONY: You have worked as a recruiter for staffing companies as well as within non-staffing-based companies. What have you found to be the pros and cons of either or both?
ADAM: Pros for Staffing: Great money-making potential and there are always a lot of fun work events.
Cons for Staffing: The compensation is largely based on commissions, which only go up and down based on how many consultants/contractors you have working at client sites. I learned that I don’t want my compensation earning ability to be relied heavily on whether people go into work that day or not.
Pros for Corporate Recruiting: I have a direct line of communication with hiring managers versus working through an Account Manager on the staffing side. I can build stronger relationships directly with the hiring decision makers. Also, I get to work directly with the people that I recruit versus getting them hired at a client site (such as in staffing).
Cons for Corporate Recruiting: There is always a lot more “red tape” when working in corporate companies, especially ones that are publicly traded.
ANTHONY: My own career started in recruiting and I did it for many years. It can be a tough job because it is very reactive. How do you handle the stress that comes with it?
ADAM: I’ve been doing this long enough to know how I need to prioritize my day in order to get the work done. Yes, it can be very stressful, but I don’t let it get to me. I just take it one item/thing at a time and don’t get too worked up.
ANTHONY: Over the course of your career so far you have worked for some well-known and established companies. Have there been any that once you were “inside” you discovered it was totally different than you thought it was?
ADAM: Most definitely…just one company. RealPage. I was told one thing and when I started working there, I realized really quick that I had been a victim of the old “bait-and-switch”. Without going into details or naming names, it was by far the worst place I have ever worked.
ANTHONY: You never really know what you are getting until you are on the inside. During the interview process everyone is putting on their best. Today you are a Recruiting Manager, what kind of leader are you?
ADAM: An awesome one! Seriously, though…I’ve had such great managers and mentors in my career that I’ve learned how to be a true leader instead of just a “manager”. I’ve also learned what not to do as a manager (i.e. RealPage).
ANTHONY: I think the best lessons come from those kinds of experiences, but you have look for them and ask yourself, what am I supposed to learn from this? What has been the biggest surprise for you about what it is like to be a leader?
ADAM: Just how much time goes into being a great leader. It’s a non-stop job. Not only am I trying to do my job, but I also want my direct reports to do an amazing job and grow in their careers. It’s doubles the work, but double the reward in return.
ANTHONY: A lot of people don’t understand that being a good leader takes work. How do you inspire and motivate your team?
ADAM: I try and teach them as much as I can, but also let them fail from time to time. That’s how you learn. You fall down but then get right back up. I try to teeter on the line of being a manager and a friend. I want them to have a good time while they’re in the office working with me, but realize this is a business and we have an important job to do.
ANTHONY: It is a balancing act for sure. How do you handle difficult hiring managers?
ADAM: When dealing with difficult hiring managers, I see it as my job to get them on my side. Some have had bad recruiting situations in the past and might not be used to working with someone that takes pride in their job (me, in this case). I find that open communication, preferably in person when available, solves many of the issues.
ANTHONY: What is the biggest mistake you think leaders can make?
ADAM: Being a manager and not a true leader. Show by example and don’t just bark orders are your team. You’ll get much better work out of them, and they will respect you in return.
ANTHONY: Greatest lesson you learned from one of your leaders?
ADAM: No matter what the situation, keep your integrity at the highest level. That’s who we are as a person and as recruiters. Once that is gone, it’s hard to earn the respect and trust back from those around you.
ANTHONY: Have you had any role models or mentors in your career?
ADAM: Yes, I have been fortunate to have multiple role models and mentors in my professional career.
ANTHONY: What is the biggest challenge in filling positions in the current market with unprecedented low unemployment?
ADAM: The biggest challenge is the fact that I’m calling candidates about new job opportunities during the same time that ten other companies are contacting them, too. It’s a “candidate’s market” right now and I have to sell the opportunity as I’ve never had to in the past.
ANTHONY: We continue to hear companies say that there is a shortage of talent, do you think that is true?
ADAM: I disagree. They are out there…we just have to do our jobs and get them interested. Additionally, companies need to highlight or offer more perks for getting people to come join (working from home, company outings, pet insurance, out of the box things like that).
ANTHONY: The competition is certainly tough and adding perks is a way to attract candidates. Do companies move quick enough through the hiring process?
ADAM: Most companies do not. You need to make sure that people meet the right number of internal employees but it needs to be in a timely manner. Good candidates WILL NOT last in this market.
ANTHONY: I could not agree with you more! Having been on both sides of the table; as a recruiter I often found that managers were in no hurry and as a candidate it seemed my information went into a black hole a lot of the time. What advice would you give to job seekers who might be struggling to land a position?
ADAM: Give at it and don’t give up. I tell people all the time that “looking for a full-time job needs to be a full-time job”. Don’t just post your resume and pray someone contacts you. Get out there and network. Utilize LinkedIn. Utilize your contacts and previous managers/colleagues. I understand it can take longer for some people, but there is a company out there that will give you a shot. You just have to find them.
ANTHONY: I started my career in recruiting before we had personal computers and the internet. What has been the greatest advancement you have seen since you started your career?
ADAM: LinkedIn, hands down. This is by far my #1 source when recruiting. I pay for the Recruiter Seat and it’s paid for with my first two hires each year versus having to go to an outside recruiting firm.
ANTHONY: What advice would you give to someone considering going into recruitment?
ADAM: Take some HR classes in college or consider interning in an HR/recruiting capacity. You’ll get a good idea of what it takes on a daily basis.
ANTHONY: What inspires you?
ADAM: My kids inspire me. I had two of the best parents a kid could hope for. They taught me manners, values, integrity, hard work and love. They did everything for my sister and me, and I want to do the same for my kids. They’re why I do what I do and work the long hours that I do.
ANTHONY: You are a board member and volunteer with Foundation for CHOICE; what attracted you to the organization?
ADAM: I love giving back in any way that I can, but this foundation is doing great things for underprivileged high school student in the area. Some may not have a chance to go to college if it wasn’t for our foundation. Some of the poor home lives and don’t have the parental support that most of us had growing up. Our foundation helps them with their college applications, grant & scholarship applications, etc. It makes me feel so proud to be a part of such a great foundation like this.
ANTHONY: That is great and it sounds like they are doing some very rewarding work. What is the greatest reward as a board member and volunteer?
ADAM: Seeing our students graduate and go to college (many with their entire college paid for because of our foundation).
ANTHONY: There can be a wide range of challenges for students that impact their ability not only to learn but finish high school. What do you see as the biggest?
ADAM: Parental/Family support. If they don’t have that support and motivation, it becomes increasingly more difficult for the student to care about school or even graduating. Our foundation shows them they are capable of great things and we do what we can to help them achieve their dreams of going to college.
ANTHONY: How has being a volunteer changed your outlook and perspective on what student’s face?
ADAM: It’s opened my eyes to what other students deal with in today’s society. Social media has made things much more difficult for students (cyber-bullying, etc,) and I can’t imagine having to deal with all of that. High school is supposed to be fun, but it’s not for a large number of kids.
ANTHONY: I have long said I cannot imagine what it is like for kids today; we never had that the kinds of pressures when I was going to school. What role does business play in helping at-risk youth in getting an education?
ADAM: I feel the way a business works (or should work, that is) is great stuff to teach students (whether they’re at-risk or not). Both business and school require some of the same things…hard work, determination, good personality, strong work ethic, etc.
ANTHONY: I like to close my interviews with a favorite quote, do you have one?
ADAM: “When I’m sad, I stop being sad…and be awesome instead”. - Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris), “How I Met Your Mother”
Adam is an experienced/certified senior level recruiting professional. He's got mad skills in full life-cycle recruitment, diversity & military veteran recruiting, recruiting methodologies, internet & social media recruiting strategies/best practices.
“It’s funny really, I learned as a biomedical engineer that once you truly understand the root cause of a problem then the solution is typically quite simple.” ~Kevin Strauss
AE: I was drawn in by the opening statement of your profile “I believe people yearn to feel closer to others. Not to everyone but to the people who matter most to us.” It is what made me want to reach out and ask for this interview. I am curious though how you went from being a biomedical engineer to CEO of your own company that is focused on helping people strengthen their relationships and feel more authentically connected. It is not what I would imagine from someone in the field of science.
KS: My transition from biomedical engineer to a CEO focused on connection and emotional health is much more natural than you might think. As an engineer, I’m a problem solver and there was a time I was working in the area of behavior modification; mostly for activities of daily living (ADLs) such as remembering to wash your hands or turn off the stove. At the same time, I was trying to understand why I and others struggled with personal, romantic and professional relationships. I also was very curious “why people do what they do” especially in the workplace. I just didn’t understand people’s “irrational” behaviors. Then, one day while watching the TV show Boston Public I had the epiphany that most conflict seems to occur because someone isn’t sharing what they really think or how they truly feel. This led me down a now 18-year rabbit hole which continues to point to the realization that our relationships and connections (i.e. emotional health) drive our behaviors more than anything else. As an engineer, I’ve been successful with the approach that once you understand the root of a problem then the solution is typically quite simple. So, using the tools of the day, I created a platform to help people connect authentically and business around it.
AE: The way you explain it makes perfect sense to me and I can see that my initial assumption was off base. Today you work helping businesses improve their culture and engagement by balancing their wellness – especially their emotional health. Can you elaborate on that?
KS: I’m a big fan of health and wellness which includes being a 17-year, injury-free, Ironman triathlete and coach. I’ve also worked in Corporate America for 25+ years and I’ve experienced all kinds of environments. The reality is when most people talk about health they are typically referring only to “physical” health. However, we know there are other elements of health such as mental, emotional and spiritual. So, like the four tires of a car, you cannot inflate just one and expect your car to run well. That’s what we currently do by focusing on physical health primarily. Similarly, if just one tire is flat the car will not operate well and that applies to people. Then, combine those four elements of well-being with what I’ve learned about the human need for love, connection, and belonging and now we’re able to address the emotional health spoke of the wellness wheel.
Based on the latest research, 88% of workplaces are considered toxic, 85% of the global workforce is considered “disengaged” and 75% of people quit their job because of their boss or management. For me, I know that 4 of the 5 organizations I’ve left have been due to my boss or management. So, I ask the question “Why?”. It really doesn’t matter how many steps you take each day, how much you meditate, what you eat or how mindful you are because if your boss is a jerk and doesn’t listen or value you or if you don’t trust your senior managers, you’re simply going to 1) become negative 2) stop doing your best work and 3) quit. Not feeling heard or valued is not a mental health issue it’s a feeling and it compromises your emotional health. Yes, it can affect your mental and physical health but first, and quite quickly, it affects your emotional health.
AE: Not only do I believe that I have seen and experienced it firsthand. Everything is so interconnected and one thing affects another. To quote your website “Happy people are healthier (i.e. emotionally, mentally, physically, etc.) and they thrive in the workplace. The stronger our relationships and more connected we feel to others the happier we are.” Considering all the changes in the workplace and with the workforce, why is it so difficult for people to really connect at work?
KS: I believe our struggle to connect at work is similar to our struggle in our personal lives. Simply put, we’ve never really been taught how to genuinely connect and share our thoughts and especially our feelings. One of the greatest hindrances to connecting is the amount of shaming and judgment we receive when we do share or express our emotions. We’re training it into our children by ostracizing girls for “being too emotional” and for shaming boys by saying, “boys don’t cry”, “don’t be a sissy” and “toughen up”. Then, a child natural begins to adopt behaviors in order to avoid feeling that [emotional] pain. In the workplace (and society) we go a step further and have labeled anything emotional as a weakness. I believe our behavior to not connect at work is our way of protecting ourselves from pain which then reinforces our pain and creates a continuous negative feedback loop.
AE: Basically, it is what you say in your website profile where you describe how most people “show up” to work each day physically but their mental and emotional states are not well (including bringing baggage from home) and how they function is evident from their productivity, engagement and general culture around the office. What should they and their organizations be doing differently to change this?
KS: In 2018, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported 97.2% of employees to work their required hours each week. Physically getting to work is not an issue. The problem is what’s not happening once they’re there. People simply do not feel safe at work. It’s often presented as “psychological safety” but I believe it is more of an emotional safety rather than a mental safety issue. To me, mental refers to our cognitive abilities which include focus, concentration, and critical thinking. Emotional safety is when we feel like we can express ourselves without being judged, shamed or otherwise ridiculed or ostracized. How many people are afraid to share their ideas for fear of being shamed or judged which will hurt their feelings?
The people running organizations could adopt a non-judging and non-shaming approach to their operation. Managers could make greater efforts to actually get to know and connect with their team and work collaboratively rather than authoritarian. If you don’t really know or understand someone then you likely will not care about them. If a person doesn’t feel cared for or valued or like they matter then why would they want to put forth any effort?
People naturally want to work hard and do good work and with real support and encouragement, they’ll do just that. When a boss/manager believes and trusts their people and the people truly feel it then great things will happen. Rather than focusing on the “numbers”, we can focus on connecting with our people and then the numbers will take care of themselves.
AE: You make a great point about adopting a non-judging and non-shaming approach. I would add to that while organizations talk a lot about employees bringing their “whole” self to work, most of the time it is just lip service and the last thing they want. As part of your company Uchi, LLC , you offer FamilyeJournal and CorporateeJournal; can you describe how they work?
KS: FamilyeJournal (FEJ) and CorporateeJournal (CEJ) are online platforms designed to help people connect authentically with those who matter most to you. eJournaling is similar to those “card decks of questions” a family or group of friends will use around a table at a social gathering except 100% online and asynchronous (i.e. not in real-time). So, being online and using written responses provides a host of disinhibiting effects such as time to create and review answers, not being face-to-face so people tend to share more honestly and the ability to connect deeply across great distances or under the same roof.
Also, eJournaling is designed to be used with small groups of people (e.g. 2-12) you already know but want to know better and be closer. Your answers are never shared publicly which also eliminates the online bullying issue of most social media-type platforms. In short, users answer sets of 4 questions and read each other’s answers. When done consistently and over time you’ll gain a new level of rapport, familiarity and connection with those people and that, in turn, drives behavior. The only difference between FEJ and CEJ is the questions in our database with CEJ having more “work-related” questions.
AE: Your tag line for FamilyeJournal “Connect authentically with family and friends, near and far.” That is thought-provoking. When you consider our deluge of information we get today and the various social media platforms available; are we really connecting with purpose?
KS: I believe today’s social media and most forms of communication are more superficial and based on quantity rather than quality. We’re trying so hard to fulfill our need for connection and any little bit we get feels good so we try to get more of it. However, it is so instantly gratifying and therefore has very little value and wears off fast. On the other hand, by increasing the quality of our communication, connection, and sharing we’ll significantly increase its value. Unfortunately, that requires more time and effort to achieve but not a lot when done well and efficiently like with eJournaling (shameless plug). Ultimately, we need a little of both, instant and delayed gratification, so we can reach our goals before burning out.
AE: In our initial discussion about this interview we both agree that words matter and there is a huge difference between verbal and written. Do you think one is more powerful than the other?
KS: That’s a great question Anthony and I may not have a definitive answer for you. I believe both forms of communication are powerful and both can be effective given a particular situation. Similarly, both forms of communication have their drawbacks and disadvantages too. For this question, I’m not going to take sides and rather challenge the two or more people to choose their own preferred method. That being said, when it comes to expressing feelings, the written word may be easier but not necessarily more powerful.
AE: I read your blog post “World Peace is Finally Possible” and your statement that “humans simply (have) not been capable of World Peace because it was not until quite recently, in mankind’s 200,000-year history, that our basic needs for existence have been met consistently.” Really resonated with me. It is totally in line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What do you think is our biggest need today and how do we meet that?
KS: Thanks, Anthony. I’m happy my “World Peace” article resonated with you. The reality is clean water and food are still an unmet need for 80% of the world’s population. However, I believe, for the 20% of humanity that is able to survive, we are struggling to thrive because our need for love, connection and belonging – our emotional health, is most certainly NOT being met. We know this because, from the various research studying all kinds of behaviors, most improve when the person FEELS love and connection. As I state in the article, when enough people (I’m not sure what that number is) are being nurtured emotionally THEN we will naturally decrease our destructive behaviors because we will no longer be experiencing the profound [emotional] pain for which we are trying to alleviate.
AE: There is certainly a disparity around the world in terms of people having their basic needs met. But where those needs are being met, are we focusing on the wrong things and being dumbed down and desensitized in a way with the plethora of reality television and information?
KS: I do believe people are focusing on the wrong priorities but again, I believe this is for a reason. The reason is we are afraid to feel our emotional pain so we suppress, avoid or otherwise distract ourselves as much as possible. In other words, we “kick the can down the street.” Television, YouTube, social media, etc. all help to avoid dealing with our emotions. Granted, there are benefits to all of these outlets but it is also quite clear they’re not helping us either especially in the area of emotional health. Then, we blame the symptom (e.g. smartphones are the reason our kids are depressed) and continue to avoid the root cause. Even the “top” researchers and health professionals continue to follow a symptomatic path rather than digging deeper to the root cause. I realize these are strong statements but just look at the “war on drugs” and how the United States has now, for nearly 100 years, followed the same approach and our substance abuse problems continue to worsen. How does that make any sense?
AE: I believe that sometimes we create exactly the thing we are trying to avoid or prevent. Even if you say you don’t want something you are giving it energy just because you are focusing on it. The premise behind a lot of social media is to connect us but do you think we are missing it in our oversaturated age of information and social media? Perhaps too connected in the wrong ways?
KS: The short answer is yes. However, I do not believe humans have ever truly mastered the ability to connect authentically. This is especially true in our personal lives and then it merely transfers to the workplace. Social media and constantly being bombarded with information and material is just a symptom and the fact that too many people struggle to turn it off is a sign of their addiction to it. Addiction, in my opinion, is not a disease but rather a behavior, in its extreme, attempting to compensate for a pain which is, most likely, emotional (i.e. not feeling love, connection or belonging).
AE: What does authenticity mean to you?
KS: To me, authenticity means being real, genuine and honest, in your words and actions, with yourself and others.
AE: In addition to being a coach you are also a 17-year Iron-man Triathlete, do you see a connection in how athletes develop and leaders develop?
KS: That’s a tough question and one that may require a lot more thought. Most often, I believe an individual’s development is based on that person’s own life experiences. Great leaders inspire others and gain a following because others believe what they believe or present an idea in such a way that what they believe is possible. Most of the endurance athletes I’ve worked with are making goals for personal reasons and, quite frankly, oftentimes to prove to themselves (and others) they have value in this world. (e.g. If I complete endurance event XYZ then I feel important and have value or status.) Again, when we feel valued by others it nurtures our emotional health. It’s “ok” to need to be valued by others; that’s how humans and other animals survive and thrive. (e.g. A baby needs his mother and it feels really good, as a mother, to be needed by your baby. It’s quite natural.) I’ve also witnessed athletes who have traveled their own journey of fitness and then support others in such a way as to become a leader in their community. It’s an awesome transformation and quite inspiring itself!
AE: That is an interesting observation and it makes me think about how I have seen some leaders who are trying to prove their worth, value and position. As a result, they insulate themselves from connections with people out of fear that they will somehow be upstaged or seen as dispensable. How important is leadership vulnerability?
KS: I’m not sure the key to leadership is simply being more vulnerable. A person, like a leader, behaves a certain way based on their feelings about the world and the narrative they’ve developed over their lifetime. Unfortunately, “protecting their position” and fearing they may be upstaged are all signs of insecurity, low self-confidence, and self-esteem. The reality is, without a foundation of love, connection, belonging and support, a person will struggle to develop their self-confidence and self-esteem. They’ll continue to try and “do more” and “prove themselves” to the world in an attempt to convince themselves of their self-worth but it rarely ever works because the narrative in their subconscious, most likely from childhood, continues to drive their behavior.
AE: Excellent points and I agree, and I have seen the result myself with leaders leaving an organization or a series of organizations. So how do leaders move beyond isolation and self-preservation in order to create an environment of connection, learning, and growth for themselves and those they lead?
KS: I believe leaders could help themselves and others the most by nurturing their own emotional health. Emotional health is primarily nurtured through authentic connections and relationships with others. Leaders do not have to know everything and it’s unrealistic to think they do. They’re human, after all, right? By connecting with others and building trust and rapport by sharing who you are, what you think and how you feel is the key. Then, this practice must be repeated consistently or it will degrade. It will degrade just like a person’s fitness degrades when they do not exercise regularly. Once a leader’s emotional health is supported they no longer have a need to compensate for their pain because the pain is less. Then, their behavior will change and become more constructive and will trickle-down through an organization. There’s a lot more that can be done here to become a true leader but starting with a person’s emotional health is key, in my opinion.
AE: In coaching leaders, do you see common themes in what they struggle with or the strengths they have?
KS: I believe true leaders (of which there are few) share common strengthens such as a vision that inspires others to take action. Further, real leaders value and respect their followers and understand that without willing followers they’re not truly leading. On the other hand, most “heads of organizations” are not actually leading but are rather the “final decision maker”, if you will, and behave in a way that is opposite of a true leader. More often than not they are driven by power, status, money or some other motivator in an attempt to compensate for an unmet emotional need or pain of their own. This unhealthy scenario is quite likely why 88% of workplaces are experiencing a toxic culture.
AE: I had not really thought about most leaders being the final decision maker, but you are right, in most organizations that is exactly what they are. Do you think there are there a set of common drivers to what leaders are looking for?
KS: I’m not sure I understand this question. Are you suggesting that leaders may be driven by a set of common themes or factors? It seems to me, at least the leaders I admire, are driven to make life better for the people they serve. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and others like them were not interested in selfish or material gains. They each had visions that would serve their fellow man so we could live with freedom and liberty.
AE: Do you see common pitfalls for leaders when it comes to culture and their influence or impact on it?
KS: I believe leaders, such as in organizations, set the tone of culture. The more emotionally healthy the leader the more constructive the culture and vice-versa. When a culture is toxic, engagement is poor, productivity is low or turn-over is high, any one of these metrics is a clear sign the heads of the organization are struggling, most likely emotionally.
AE: So very true. Do you hear common themes or see common behaviors in the teams you work with when it comes to the challenges they face?
KS: Yes, most teams or people who are struggling with destructive behaviors are experiencing poor emotional health. I realize this may sound overly simplistic but humans really aren’t as complex as we seem to believe. Humans have basic needs and when those needs are not met we will behave in a way as to try and compensate.
When people struggle to listen, hear and understand each other they are more than likely desperate to be heard themselves. When people struggle to negotiate and compromise, they may be unclear of their true purpose or goal. Behaviors such as verbal abuse, micromanaging, shaming and judging do little to help improve a situation and more often make things worse. Heads of organizations can try to “motivate by fear” but that, at best, will achieve the minimum. However, true leaders who value and believe in their people will often exceed their goals.
AE: We could certainly do another entire interview on that subject! I believe that to be our best, we must be intentional about it. What are you doing to continue to grow and develop?
KS: Personally, I try to nurture my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health on a regular basis. I pursue knowledge and experience in the subjects that interest me and also take time to hear opposing views that may challenge my beliefs and values. I am by no means perfect in my pursuit of these goals. I struggle with my own personal narratives and work to understand and reframe them, when possible. I have my good times and bad times and I do my best to experience whatever emotion I am having. I try to “feel” as much as possible and rely on my family and friends when I become overwhelmed or out of balance. It’s a lifelong endeavor and it makes me happy to pursue it.
AE: What are the most important decisions that you face daily?
KS: Wow, that’s a great question! I think my most important decision daily is “am I being true to myself.” I actively try to honor my feelings, understand and pursue my priorities and ensure I’m living a life of honesty and integrity.
AE: Looking back on your journey and knowing what you know now, what is one piece of advice you would have given yourself along the way?
KS: I have learned so much over the years and continue to learn every day. This question alone could result in an entire book! I think one piece of advice I would give myself is “trust your gut”. This isn’t easy for me because I find it difficult sometimes to know if there are other factors influencing what my gut is telling me but with time, practice and experience I believe it improves. And by gut I mean “trust your feelings” because your feelings are the clues coming from your subconscious mind which is able to absorb far more information than your conscious mind.
AE: What is next for you professionally?
KS: Professionally I’d like to continue to learn and grow in my understanding of the human condition and how we can make the world a better place for everyone. A world where as many people as possible feel genuinely happy the majority of their days. I believe happy people do more “good” things and are less destructive to themselves or others. With less destruction and greater happiness, humanity can achieve world peace. That is my “professional” goal. Are you ready to join?
AE: What is next for the company, what can we expect?
KS: The mission of our company, Uchi, LLC , is to help people connect authentically with those who matter most to them. We are currently developing a dedicated app specifically designed to fulfill this mission and be a significant update of the eJournal website-platforms. In a sense, we see it as Social Media 2.0 where people will have an opportunity to nurture their relationships by sharing their real selves with 100% privacy of their accounts and information.
AE: If you could give new leaders one piece of advice, what would it be?
KS: For any new or existing leaders my hope is you will truly listen and value the people who choose to follow you and you must show them through your words and actions.
AE: I like to close all my interviews with a quote; do you have a favorite?
KS: One of my favorite quotes is from the philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704)…
“Don't unthinkingly follow authorities, whether intellectual, or political, or religious. And don't unthinkingly follow traditions or social conventions. Think for yourself. Look at the facts and try to base your views and behavior on how things actually are.”
Note: I seek to connect with anyone who believes I can help them or they can help me. I am not interested in "collecting" contacts and prefer authentic relationships. If you value the content I share then "Following" is always an option.
Kevin is a 16-year Iron-man Triathlete and Coach. After years of effort, Kevin has been able to piece together literature and develop a program to address a person’s basic need – the Need for Connection.
By Anthony T. Eaton | April 2019
I discovered Dave Lopez when I came across his website Harvard Misfit which led me to his book Still Point: Inner Peace is the New Success co-written with Joey McCarthy. Dave’s journey has taken him from humble beginnings in Texas to the halls of Harvard and from there to being a successful business owner. As interesting as his journey has been his experiences struck home with me and I found his responses to my questions to be thoughtful, introspective and insightful.
“I believe that inner peace and calm are commitments we make to ourselves, Energy follows the path of least resistance and we must master our emotions to find inner peace.”
AE: I am always interested in where people come from so let’s start at the beginning, where did you grow up, what was your childhood like, do you have siblings?
DL: I was born in Dallas, Texas, but grew up in Munich, Germany. We moved back to Dallas when I was in Junior High and High School. It was a family of 6, with 2 sisters and 1 brother. I was always aware of the lack of money and felt like we were very poor. Dad was always trying to make more of himself, striving for improvement.
AE: You clearly inherited that drive for improvement. At 23, after completing the Plan II honors program at the University of Texas Austin you attended Harvard and obtained an MBA in Marketing and Strategy. What attracted you to Marketing and Strategy?
DL: I’ve always had a penchant for creativity and ideas. I didn’t know when I entered into Harvard that I would find marketing and strategy most compelling. After the first two semesters, it became much clearer to me that my strengths and interests were more along those lines, as well as management.
AE: All kinds of businesses and industries need marketing and strategy, what drew you to working in retail?
DL: The touch, the feel, the look and the fit all drew me into retail. There is a right brain activity to sensing what will sell, how customers will respond and the new fashions of the season. My right brain is very active, and I was well-suited for a career in fashion. I enjoy the flair, the theatre of fashion and was also very good at the quantitative aspects as well.
AE: You landed a job with one of the prominent retailers in the country, Neiman Marcus, was it what you expected when you started or were there some ah-ha moments?
DL: I think there are always “aha” moments in every job. Neiman Marcus was no exception. I was shocked at the competitiveness within the management ranks. There was a spirit of trying to take down people who were really good at their jobs. The glamour and allure didn’t surprise me, but the daily dramas shocked me, to say the least.
AE: I recall that from my early career when I worked for a short time at Dayton Hudson, probably not on the same level but there is certainly competitiveness that is unique to the retail industry. From a leadership perspective, were there challenges that don’t exist in other industries?
DL: I’ll have to posture a guess here, as I can’t speak for leadership in other industries, such as technology or healthcare. The leaders in retail tend to lean on their personalities and become bigger than life. As you might imagine, there is a lot of scrutiny about how you look in retail, what you wear, and how much drama you can create. The best approximation to me would be the entertainment industry. A lot of bravado takes you much further!
AE: Having worked in a variety of industries I can tell you that it can certainly be similar. You managed to spend 10 years working for Neiman Marcus before starting your own business. What was the biggest lesson you learned that you were able to apply when you became the “boss”?
DL: When you’re on your own, you live and die from every relationship. There is no promise of an income stream tomorrow if you’re not hustling today. There’s no one to lean on to get the job done if you’re not up to it. Everything comes back to the owner. I couldn’t hide or make excuses. Nobody cared about those.
AE: In 1998 you started Lopez Wong and Good Company creating branding and strategy for luxury products. Were their any aha moments in running your own business?
DL: There are always aha moments, if you’re aware and looking for them! Owning my own business is terrific and my partnership at LWGC was terrific as well. I think I learned at that time how to be a good business partner and the art of negotiation with clients. Aha moments with clients were always around every corner. Never ceased to be surprised! People will shock you with their incredible kindness and incredible insensitivity as well.
AE: Yes, people will certainly surprise you on both fronts. What kind of a leader are you, how would you describe your leadership style?
DL: Driven and intense, but also laid back. I’m the guy who would conduct meetings and get everyone to laugh and relax and then put all my attention to accomplishing the organizational goals. I try to inspire rather than direct. I am philosophical and relational.
AE: Were there leaders that influenced your own leadership development, someone that you would consider a great leader?
DL: Yes I experienced some great leadership as well as the bad. From the best, I learned to behave comfortably, not as a boss. Andrea Jung would eventually become CEO of Avon, and sit on the board of Apple. She exhibited empathy and concern that was genuine, without being doting. I think great leaders have the capacity to communicate clearly, exhibit understanding and inspire. Sharen Turney would eventually lead Victoria’s Secret and she was an incredible strategist. Terry Lundgren, who would eventually lead Macy’s, was the consummate people person. David Yurman, who is the designer and founder, is an exceptional creative force and visionary. Michael Jefferies, at Abercrombie, was a great visionary.
AE: That is an impressive list! Inevitably we will all encounter the bad leader. What is the biggest lesson you have learned from your worst boss?
DL: Don’t listen to bad bosses. Ignore them as much as you can. Placate them but by all means, do NOT listen to them or take their direction. In one of my “bad boss” reviews, I stopped him, told him I wasn’t interested in what he had to say and asked him to just hand over the document to me. He was a senior vice president. There is no need to take abuse, and seniority is not a carte blanche to abuse those lower in “rank.”
AE: Leaders are just people and we all make mistakes, what has been the biggest mistake you have made as a leader?
DL: I hired a friend to work underneath me in a corporate job. It was a disaster. He blamed his failure on me, and the job wasn’t a good fit for him. In retrospect. It damaged our friendship beyond repair. I also made the mistake of creating a business outside my area of expertise (restaurants) and it did not become profitable and ended up costing me a great deal of money.
AE: I can relate to that experience, what do you think is the biggest mistake leaders make?
DL: Too emotional! Let go of the emotion - I mean, passion is great, but emotions in the workplace can get out of hand.
AE: Well said. Despite all of its challenges, I have found leadership has great rewards. What has been the biggest reward for you as a leader?
DL: What rewards me the most is watching people grow and develop, and of course, accumulate wealth.
AE: How has your life and viewpoint changed since you first started working?
DL: I realize now that it takes more than talent and skills to get into senior management positions. It takes a great deal of political savvy and you have to fight for what you get. It’s not going to just be “given” to you. I realize that some things aren’t worth fighting for and to know when to stop. I’ve learned that my happiness is my responsibility and nobody else’s. The real joys of life to me are now when I am able to positively impact someone else’s life.
“I think the notion of not fitting in is a universal concept, to which many people can relate.”
AE: In 2018 you published Still Point: Inner Peace is the New Succes; a book about dysfunctional characters who live from one emotional crisis to the next. What was the inspiration for it?
DL: My own life that was dedicated to becoming wealthy and “successful.” I learned that happiness comes from within, not from net worth.
AE: How has the book been received?
DL: I’ve had so much positive feedback from people who have found truths in it. It touches a chord, especially with those who have experienced difficult times and those who are young and looking for another way of defining success.
AE: The book reveals many things, among them 7 common obstacles that keep us in emotional bondage. Can you share one or two of those and give some context?
DL: Attachment is one of the major obstacles to peace of mind. Are you attached to an outcome or a person or a way of being? When we’re attached, our emotions are no longer in our control, rather, they are in the hands of that to which we are attached.
AE: How do you find inner peace and calm?
DL: I believe that inner peace and calm are commitments we make to ourselves, Energy follows the path of least resistance and we must master our emotions to find inner peace. Events will always happen to us, but our response to them is uniquely our own. I try to meditate daily for about 30 minutes, followed by setting an intention for the day. When my environment is orderly, I find that my mind is orderly.
AE: Your website is called Harvard Misfit, where did the idea of being a misfit come from?
DL: Well it wasn’t so much an idea, as a way of being. I’ve always noticed that I am different. From Harvard to a career at Neiman Marcus, I always felt like an outsider looking in. I think the notion of not fitting in is a universal concept, to which many people can relate. Did we fit in? To what extent did we exert tremendous effort to fit in? You look back and wonder why in the world did I try so hard to assimilate? Being different is far more interesting! I think Misfits are always looking for a home.
AE: Was the website just an outgrowth of your journey or was there a catalyst for it?
DL: I began writing stories about viewing life from a different vantage point. My journey was both inner and outer, and I share my thoughts and observations. My hashtag is #startbeingdifferent because there are different ways to view things, that opens up our minds.
AE: In your bio, you say “There was a time in my life when I realized that everything I’d worked to accomplish was falling into place and still, I wasn’t happy.” Was there a watershed moment for you or was it some kind of gradual realization?
DL: I was in a hospital bed in midtown Manhattan, having just returned from Bali. I had gotten terribly sick and was near death, unable to eat, and dropping weight daily. I was dying from a parasite and sat in bed and realized that the life I had created did not satisfy me. I was incredibly unhappy. Life would never be the same from that point.
AE: You write about a wide range of topics on the website from humor to relationships. Where do you find inspiration?
DL: The everyday experiences of life inspire my writing. I write about anything from love to friendships to how we look at life.
AE: I read the article you wrote Create a Job in 5 Steps and I really like the way you broke it down. Is that how you approached it or were those steps you learned?
DL: I am a learn-on-the-go type guy. I’ve never been able to read a recipe and apply it. I had to try it my way, season it my way, and make adjustments to the results. This article was a reflection of what I learned as I created my own business.
AE: Your article to be or not to be? Reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend about how we express sorrow at the loss, recognize and sing praises of people when they pass but so often take them for granted when they are here. Do we have it all backward?
DL: I think that we are very tough on one another while we’re alive. We are quick to judge, make someone else wrong or try to bring them down. This is done mostly so we can feel better about ourselves. When we come from a healthy sense of self, we won’t need to act out negatively on another person.
AE: In the article Coffee Talk you write “Giving anyone the “wrong” task in a group can and will cripple progress and destroy the creative synergies. You must have a strong sense of self to know your role in potential outcomes of any conversation.” I see this happen all the time. What techniques do you use to stay focused and also say no?
DL: When I enter into start-up opportunities or new relationships I show who I am without reservation. I am not interested in being appreciated for who I am not, so why not be honest? Too many times, there is posturing and a sense that we have to be a certain way to be respected or accepted. Self-reliance and self-acceptance are cornerstones to showing up in life with a degree of authenticity. I’ve said “No thanks,” too many an opportunity that doesn’t resonate with me. Sometimes I feel better about saying NO than YES. My litmus test is the degree of comfort I experience with a team or a person. If I trust ME, the need to trust another is diminished.
AE: Will there be another book?
DL: YES! The working title is currently The Chronicles of a Harvard Misfit
AE: What do you want your legacy to be?
DL: Kindness and love. Open the mind to seeing things differently. Let go of old paradigms that aren’t working for you!
AE: What is next for you?
DL: Whatever the Universe has in store! Perhaps a podcast!
AE: If you could give young people starting out their careers one piece of advice what would that be?
DL: Stay true to yourselves. Fight for what you want and think you’re worth. Don’t put up with unhappiness.- go seek it. You are the creator of your life and your destiny. Assume responsibility with joy!
AE: Do you have a favorite inspirational book?
DL: A lot of books appeal to me. Currently exploring the Science of Mind.
AE: I always end my interviews asking; do you have a favorite quote?
DL: “If I had a religion, it would be kindness.” - Dalai Lama
The average person gets 1 interruption every 8 minutes, or approximately 7 an hour, or 50–60 per day.
When I came across #Live20: Experiencing A Focused Life I was intrigued by how the author Luke Williams used blocks of 20 minutes to prioritize time, build routines, and attain goals. One of the biggest challenges for leaders is the ability to use time effectively to get the most out of it. In his book, Luke describes how anyone can use a Daily Path Agenda to build a routine that will help you take daily steps closer to your Vision.
“#Live20 is a mindset and requires mindfulness, confidence, and discipline. This book helps shape that mindset to get the most out of life, so you are experiencing time and not just spending it.”
While the book caught my attention, it was the opening statement of Lukes Linkedin profile that resonated with me “Let's Connect & Chat! My desired outcome on LinkedIn is to connect and engage through real conversations. My goal is to have at least one real conversation per day.” and so, of course, I had to ask for an interview.
AE: We put a lot of ourselves into the writing of any kind and that is especially true of writing a book. How has the book been received?
LW: Mostly positively. A few have found that they don’t really work well in a structure, routine-driven environment. Even in those cases, readers have provided feedback that they were able to take at least a few tips and incorporate them into their lives. I don’t know how many have been sold and if I never know, that’s fine. The success of the book for me is determined by authentic feedback
I get from readers (and not my friends and family) - the more people I can help the more success the book will be. I'd rather sell 100 and help 50 than sell 10,000 and help 49. I’m proud of the book and to have my name on it, which is another factor of success in my opinion.
AE: I can appreciate that, it is important to do things for the right reason. Your book centers around using 20-minute increments to align what you are doing with your goals and objectives. How has writing the book changed your own perspective on how you prioritize things in your life?
LW: It proved to me that if I traded a small amount of time each day to experience an activity that aligned with my goals, in this case, writing, I could achieve something that I previously had doubts that I would do.
AE: That is a great perspective and approach. How do you determine what is and is not important for you to focus on?
LW: I plan my core activities a week in advance, most of which are part of my Daily Path Agenda. For other activities, they are prioritized based on alignment to my goals. I ask myself, how will experience this activity help advance me closer to my goal(s)? And, to what degree will they help me advance.
"1 hour of planning will save 10 hours of doing."
AE: What is the daily path agenda and how do you use it yourself?
LW: The daily path agenda is a planning tool to help me prioritize my upcoming activities and ensure that I am very intentional about how I am trading my time.
AE: That makes sense and I can see how it can work. While 20-minute blocks work well for some people but couldn't that be 30, 40 or even hour blocks?
LW: This is a common question that I get. The amount of time that is traded for an activity that is aligned with your goals is not as important as the experience of that activity and the alignment with your goals/vision. A smaller number is a good start time interval, in other words, if you have a goal that involves writing, for example, sometimes getting started is the hardest part.
Knowing that the commitment of time is small makes the activity less daunting and easier to commit to and thus build a routine. For your routine, or Core20’s as I call them, trading 40 or 60 minutes for that activity might make more sense - A good example of this is exercise. Another related point is stacking 20-minute intervals to combine for 40 or 60 minutes is great. The 20-minute interval is to help maintain focus and awareness (mindfulness) of how and why time is being traded for a given activity.
AE: What are the challenges and barriers you face and how does this help you overcome those?
LW: I’m not very good at saying no. I have a desire to help as many people as I can. A leading daily goal for me each day is to have a 20-minute conversation (real conversation in person, on the phone, skype, etc). This allows me to help others, learn from others, meet new people, but often the result is that my desire to help others leads to me offering to trade my time to work on pro-bono projects that aren’t necessarily aligned with my goals.
AE: I am much the same wanting to please and help others. It can be easy to find yourself doing things that take time away from things that are important and fulfilling to yourself. How have you seen the benefits of time prioritization and building routines?
LW: I find that I get more of the right things done. By “right things” I mean activities that align with my goals. I have more small wins and can feel a sense of momentum toward accomplishing my goals and reaching my vision.
AE: Was there an ah-ha moment for you when it comes to managing your time?
LW: I recognized that it was a challenge and as an entrepreneur, I wanted to develop a solution. It started with me planning out my ideal day. The ah-ha moment was that I had a pattern of activities that were important to me and that the ideal duration experiencing those activities was 20 minutes.
AE: The idea of breaking down your time into manageable blocks seems like it would be a great approach to use in business. How do you think that could be implemented as a strategy?
LW: The blocks of time concept is absolutely applicable to business. I would say that communication about time prioritization is a more important strategy to think about in terms of improving performance, productivity, and culture. Related to time blocking in business, I would recommend that the highest priority tasks are blocked out on calendars. The blocked time should be non-negotiable. This is not to say that everyone’s calendar should be scheduled all day, but rather there should be a number of items daily (3-5 is a good number) that should be blocked out as priority activities to be completed.
AE: Leaders often fall into the "I am so busy" trap especially when it comes to actively engaging their teams then blame them for their own lack of engagement. What are your thoughts on that?
LW: Great point! People, and in particular those in management positions, wear “busy” as a badge of honor and a sign of importance. “I’m just too busy for…”. If Managers don’t prioritize their time to engage their teams the culture of the organization or team will not be positive (or at least not as positive as it could be). If rather than saying “busy”, those managers instead said that they have higher priority items they are working on it would force the managers to reflect on their priorities and either admit that their teams are not a priority or change how they are approaching and prioritizing their time and activities.
AE: I read your article You Can’t Spell Busy without BS. and it made me think about how we have become a society of excuses; why do you think that is?
LW: Humans are lazy by nature I think. The default mindset is to take the path of least resistance. We also aren’t very good at facing potential conflict. In my article, and in the book, I talk about how people use the I’m Busy response as a way to replace how they are prioritizing their time. It is difficult to say that you didn’t go to someone’s dinner party because you had a higher priority thing you wanted to do (experience as I say in the book and article). It is strange that so many people are just OK with “I’m too busy” as an excuse for not wanting to do something. We all have the same amount of time, it isn’t about being busy, it is about how we prioritize our time.
AE: What advice would you give to leaders; how can they benefit from the method you describe?
LW: Develop your Vision. The vision should be a concise paragraph that describes what your life will look like in the future. The vision should include all aspects of life, including Family, Health, Wealth, Career, Community and Legacy. Leaders in business should have a very clear vision for themselves and for their teams/companies. The Vision helps ensure that there is a guiding light or North Star as a point of reference to help identify which activities are aligned with that Vision and then prioritize those activities into daily routines. This becomes easier if we dispose of the notion of work-life balance, which I believe is a myth or at the very least misrepresented. The other piece of advice would be to improve their communication to be open and honest with their teams - an easy way to achieve this is to stop using busy and replace it with labeling priorities.
AE: That is excellent advice! Today we have more distractions now than ever before including a barrage of social media and "reality" television. How do you keep from getting distracted?
LW: Being aware of how I’m trading my time and using a timer to help bring my focus back to the present to reflect on the alignment of my activity with my goals. If what I’m experiencing is a distraction, TV, for example, I just need to be aware of it and make a decision of whether or not I want to continue down that track and experience watching TV or pivot into a more productive activity. A few other tips/recommendations: delete social media apps from your phone. ….
Another issue is that many people have a pavlovian response to their dings on their phone for notifications. It will take time, but I would highly recommend either changing your notification settings and only check your phone at scheduled times. This is really difficult but helps keep people focused on the present and their current activity.
AE: As a writer, where do you find your inspiration?
LW: I find inspiration in challenges. I think of myself as an entrepreneur who happens to write. I have an entrepreneurial approach to challenges which drives me to come up with solutions and in some cases that means writing, and in the #Live20 example, it was a method that I developed to solve a challenge that I was experiencing.
AE: What does mindfulness mean to you?
LW: The short answer is that it means awareness. Being aware of how one is experiencing activities and thinking in terms of the present.
AE: What is next for you?
LW: Writing, speaking, #Live20 Workshops, and launching a podcast in early 2019 (Grab A Cloud Podcast). Continuing the #Connect20 conversations and writing a book related to that experience/project is the thing that I’m probably most excited about.
AE: Will be a second book?
LW: Without a doubt. The #Connect20 chapter and concept will be the likely follow-up in the #Live20 series. I’ve also been thinking about editions that focus more on work and possibly a student edition. In addition to adding books to the #Live20 series, I’m working on a couple of projects related to entrepreneurship and culture.
Luke H. Williams was born in Iowa City, Iowa, and remained in his home state until 2008 when he moved with his wife and two daughters to Raleigh, North Carolina. Luke is a life-long entrepreneur and has consulted small business and agencies for two decades. His ventures include A record label, a catering business, a boutique wine shop, and a doomsday novelty item business. He is best known for founding CancerNeverSleeps and GrabACloud. Luke laughs at his jokes more than what is probably normal and rarely writes about himself in the third person.
Luke's debut book #Live20: Experiencing A Focused Life is available on Amazon. You can find out more about Luke and connect with him through social media: Twitter: @Lukewilliams712, http://www.grabacloud.com/
A CONVERSATION WITH | Cory Warfield
By Anthony T. Eaton | February 2019
I don’t remember where I first came across Cory Warfield, the CEO of ShedWool; but I do remember thinking this guy is probably so busy with his business he either won’t have the time or be interested in doing an interview. So, some time passed, but more than once I came across him online and after making an initial connection through social media, I asked the question; would you be interested in doing an interview, and he immediately said yes.
Even more surprising than my being wrong in my assumption and his saying yes was how quickly he responded to my questions.
AE: Your business ShedWool has taken off, are you surprised by the success?
CW: Not even close. We were offered a multi-million-dollar buyout pre-revenue. I think we know our product and tech is incredible and that we’re solving a real problem. Doing what we have without raising capital shocked many people, and I think our successes have surprised many others.
AE: What has been the biggest challenge in starting your own company?
CW: Many naysayers and people who want to tell me/us how “they’d do things” or what to do. Lots of people are happy to waste your time. Also the fundraising process. Nightmare. Waste of time. I shouldn’t have been talking to investors. I should have been talking to customers. No one gives you money until you don’t need it, but are happy to waste your time.
AE: Shedwool was founded in 2015 and today you are running a very successful company, how did your past experience help you get to where you are today?
CW: 20 years waiting tables gave me a solid servant mentality and taught me patience. And helped me be comfortable public speaking even more.
AE: Waiter to CEO, what kind of a leader are you?
CW: One who empowers and excites. I listen and get in the trenches. It’s cliche but I’ll never ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do - although sometimes it’s stuff I shouldn’t do like try to write code or try to sell (I don’t have the “skills to pay the bills”. I’d rather give everything away for free; no one trusts free and it doesn’t keep the lights on)
AE: Is there anyone in the business or tech world that you admire?
CW: Tim Draper. Richard Branson. And my co-founder John Wenzler.
AE: No one can do it all and it is important to surround yourself with people who can fill those gaps, but it is not easy. What do you look for in selecting people to work with?
CW: I admit and supplement for my deficiencies and hire talent to compensate. I look for team players who are honest and passionate. Sprinkle in patience and I can teach the rest!!
AE: Do you see common themes when it comes to what leaders struggle with or the strengths they have?
CW: I do. Ego. Caring about public perception. And self-doubt.
AE: I have seen that time and time again leaders the trying to protect their position. As a result, they insulate themselves from connections with people out of fear that they will somehow be upstaged or seen as dispensable. How important is leadership vulnerability in the success of an organization?
CW: Goes back to ego. Only team players who think bigger than themselves seem to excel any longer in this changing landscape.
AE: Do you see common pitfalls for leaders when it comes to culture and their influence or impact on it?
CW: Yes. Ego. Reluctance to change/holding on to “the way things are done”. Competition rather than collaboration.
AE: How do leaders move beyond self-preservation in order to create an environment of connection, learning, and growth for themselves and those they lead?
CW: Empathy and humility.
AE: What are the most important decisions that you face daily?
CW: How to empower and uplift my team, and where to spend my time as there’s always so much in the air. Luckily my team is strong and amazing.
AE: I believe we are all leaders because we are all influencers in one way or another having an impact on others whether we realize it or not. What are your thoughts on that?
CW: Totally agree. If nothing else we are leading our Selves and co-creating reality collectively.
AE: Do you think there are there a set of common drivers to what leaders are looking for?
CW: Looking for? I think automation, tertiary revenue streams, lean methodology! I think innovation is the derivative.
AE: Is technology outpacing our capacity to keep up with it?
CW: Not in my mind. Although I haven’t figured out IFTTT yet. Lol
AE: We hear a lot about artificial intelligence and technology taking the place of people. What are your thoughts on that?
CW: There will be other things people can do and or do better. Technology enhances humanity in my opinion. We all must always innovate.
AE: I think that conversations are essential because no matter your title or the type of business you are in, relationships and meaningful connections are what really make you and it successful. Do you think we are losing some of that in our oversaturated age of information and social media?
CW: I don’t, personally, but always support #LinkedOut too.
AE: We still have an enormous gap when it comes to women working in the area of technology, how do we overcome that?
CW: By talking about it. Actively trying to flip it on its head. Case studies and awareness. By hiring more women and paying them more. By focusing on inclusive and diverse workforces. Ultimately by not accepting the antiquated paradigm. Calling out bullshit for what it is.
AE: Have you or do you have a mentor?
CW: My advisor Prab Premkumar, my coach Rana Kordahi, and my partner Caroline Fernandes. And many more. Interestingly not one from my accelerator or post-accelerator. Also in life Dave Crane.
AE: What was it like for you growing up; how did it influence who you are today?
CW: I was kind of a “look at me look at me” type who always had a magnetism, although I’ve always been really good with being alone or ignored too. I loved raising families of kittens, speaking or playing music in front of crowds (even in junior high) and was obsessed with things from my grandparent's generation. Growing up lower middle class in the near Chicago suburbs had its positives and negatives but ultimately instilled a sense of community.
AE: What do most people not know about you?
CW: Well, I was homeless for a year twenty years ago eating out of the garage and sleeping in parking lots; I’m a freestyle rapper and punk musician; I aspire to explore the ocean floors; I’m an amateur cartoonist; I’m a sommelier; I have two mastiffs and a wife. But many people know all that - I talk about it all openly. But also as a waiter, I served Magic Johnson, Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan, Vince Vaughn, Steve Harvey, Keith Richards, the Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, etc. I’ve been on ESPN as a waiter for the bears rookie party year after year. And I’m learning Esperanto :)
AE: Looking back on your journey and knowing what you know now, what is one piece of advice you would have given yourself along the way?
CW: Listen more. Love more. Fail fast. Fail forward.
AE: What inspires you?
CW: Seeing people smile and succeed. Helping teach people skills and mindsets and seeing them “get it”. The understanding that we co-create reality
AE: What are you doing to continue to grow and develop?
CW: Reading networking and listening. A lot. On all counts.
AE: What is next for you professionally?
CW: My new venture Mentor You is literally going to change humanity. Pro bono consulting and business acceleration on and offline.
AE: What is next for the company?
CW: ShedWool? Temporary shift fulfillment and data-driven staffing decisions.
AE: If you could give new leaders one piece of advice, what would it be?
CW: Don’t waste time trying to raise money. Build a team and build culture. Listen to the market and prospective clients.
AE: I like to close all my interviews with a quote; do you have a favorite?
CW: Fail fast fail forward.
Find out more about Shedwool at https://shedwool.com/
A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL STEWART
By Anthony T. Eaton | January 2019
As an HR professional I am intrigued by organizational culture and the role it plays in business success so when I connected with Michael Stewart's and began to read about his company, background and experience, I knew there was a great conversation waiting to happen.
Michael is the President of Work Effects and leads a team of PhD. consultants and industry leaders to help clients resolve organizational challenges. Michael has over 25 years’ experience in leadership and culture and has consulted for hundreds of organizations ranging from Fortune 50 to small non-profits.
AE: How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today?
MDS: Like many people in this industry, I sort of stumbled into it. I started off thinking I was going to be in robotics and found this field contained a great combination of science, creativity, and the ability to have a tremendous and fulfilling impact on organizations and the people that work for them.
AE: Where does your inspiration and passion come from?
MDS: I have always been driven to have a lasting impact. That said, it is a belief that we can take soft, squishy, fuzzy stuff (like culture) and put real science and structure to it, greatly simplify it, and accelerate the ability to for organizations to accomplish their goals. It really doesn’t have to be as hard as many people make it.
AE: Your firm Work Affects describes its mission as “Building trusted leaders and purposeful cultures to help organizations achieve lasting results and competitive advantage” So how do you define organizational culture?
MDS: In the simplest form organizational culture is “how” work gets done. It is divided into two parts; first, there are seven traditional attributes common across organizations which measure a “healthy culture” - leadership, trust, individual/team/and organizational capacity, and climate. Second are the ten attributes which are unique to an organization and “aligned” to the strategy, eg customer approach, loyalty, operational approach, decision making, etc. To accelerate execution of strategy necessitates purposefully connecting the What (strategy & goals), the How (aligned culture), and How Well (healthy culture).
AE: That makes perfect sense, I like the way you break it down, very easy to understand and focus in on. Do leaders define an organizations culture or is it defined by the people that make up the organization?
MDS: The elements most critical to creating an aligned culture should be defined by the people who determine the What, the leaders. Elements related to healthy cultures are common across organizations, however, the words, artifacts, and symbolisms can be defined by any and all levels of an organization.
AE: Is organizational culture really understood or has it become a kind of cliché that is thrown around with little understanding of what it is?
MDS: Organizational culture is one of those topics in which you can ask ten people and get 20 different definitions. It is often used in the headlines and broad communications to describe an invisible force for bad actors. Mature practitioners know culture can be well defined measured and more rapidly changed.
AE: Are there a set of common drivers to organizational culture?
MDS: The common healthy culture drivers to create an aligned culture is the need for followership, leadership, trusted organizations, and trusted individuals. However, the drivers within an aligned culture are unique to each organization. A culture needs to be aligned to the strategy and every strategy is unique to that organization.
AE: So, it is really multiple things. Do you see common pitfalls for leaders when it comes to culture and their influence or impact on it?
MDS: The most common pitfalls I see for leaders is the belief that an event will change the culture. Events such as wordsmithing values to hang on a poster, doing a survey, conducting a town hall, do little to impact culture. Creation of a healthy and aligned culture is as simple as building daily habits for all people leaders whereby when the What is communicated so is How we think about doing the work.
AE: Do those who don’t have formal leader titles understand how they contribute to the culture of an organization?
MDS: Often times we run into the belief that all of this culture work is just extra work. We believe it is the work for formal and informal people leaders. It is quite simply the extra word, sentence, or paragraph to communicate How the What should be accomplished.
AE: How important is an individual vulnerability in the success of an organization?
MDS: Vulnerability is a component of building trust. If an organization’s trust quotient isn’t high enough to create followership, then a demonstration of vulnerability may be very important.
AE: Where does culture fit into mission, values, and vision?
MDS: Mission and Vision relate to the direction of the organization, are more directly connected to the strategy, and thus those elements of an aligned culture. Values relate to how people are expected to behave with each other and are or connected to a healthy culture.
AE: What would you say has been your greatest leadership accomplishment?
MDS: There are many to choose from so picking a greatest is like picking your favorite child. I would put them into two categories. First is the ability to be the chief instigator and push people’s thinking about what is and what isn’t possible and assemble a vision from 100’s of pieces. Second, is the ability to rally people on initiatives that should have taken 10-15 times longer and still produce quality, accurate, lasting results.
AE: That is a great response! Growth is so important in any role, whether you have a leadership title or not. What are you doing to continue to grow and develop?
MDS: I am continuously talking to new people and discovering what unique challenges and solutions they are putting in place. This helps me detect patterns in the market of what really works and what are fads.
AE: Is there a person that you considered as a role model early in your life?
MDS: My biggest role model early in life is my Granny Annie. She just had a cut to the chase but insightful way about her and was always a glass is half full person.
AE: What are the most important decisions that you face daily?
MDS: The important decisions often revolve around balancing what could be possible with what needs to be done now.
AE: As a leader of your own company, how do you encourage creative thinking with your employees?
MDS: It is built into our DNA. It is part of our commitments to every client. It is something I encourage each person to continuously challenge the status quo and ask for multiple solutions before decisions on a path are made.
AE: I like that, I feel and think the same when it comes to those I lead as well. How do you engage your team?
MDS: I am the chief instigator and have told my staff to please don’t work on any one of my new ideas unless I have had the same new idea for at least 90 days. I have a chief of staff that runs the daily engine which provides a great balance.
AE: What would you say is your best leadership characteristic?
MDS: Transfer of enthusiasm
AE: What is the biggest challenge you face as a leader?
MDS: Not having enough time and resources to pull off our grand vision of changing the view of culture throughout the working world.
MDS: Take more chances earlier in my career. Failure is going to happen and embrace the failure’s as much if not more than the successes.
AE: What has been your biggest failure as a leader?
MDS: Not carefully choosing my initial business partner.
AE: What is next for you professionally and your company?
MDS: For me personally it is likely cherry picking the fun and exciting work to get involved in. Continuing to build recognition and an evangelical client following.
AE: If you could give new leaders one piece of advice, what would it be?
MDS: Honestly assess your true strengths and weaknesses. Leverage your strengths and delegate your weaknesses by building strong relationships with those who are great at your weaknesses.
AE: I like to close all my interviews with a quote; do you have a favorite?
MDS: Transfer of enthusiasm and using two ears and one mouth proportionally are your keys to success.
If you are interested in connecting with Michael you can find him on LinkedIn.
To learn more about Work Effects visit their website at http://work-effects.com/.
A LOOK BACK | By Anthony T. Eaton
In 2013, I did my first interview with Career Coach and Author Michael Thomas Sunnarborg who would graciously write the forward to my first book LEADERSHIP CONVERSATIONS. Since then I have done dozens of interviews but the first will always be the most special because it was the achievement of a goal that would be the catalyst for so much to follow.
2019 will be a great year and off to an amazing start! As I work on finalizing my first interview of this new year I want to share the preface of my book as it represents not only what has come before, but what is yet to come with the interviews I will do throughout this new year.
noun lead·er·ship \ˈlē-dər-ˌship\
Simple Definition of leadership
· : a position as a leader of a group, organization, etc.
· : the time when a person holds the position of leader
· : the power or ability to lead other people
Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary
The simple definition of leadership is anything but simple. It may be natural that when we think of leaders we think of Presidents, Kings and Queens, heads of religious organizations or executives. We might also think of others in a positions of authority or power by virtue of their standing in the community or affiliation.
I believe anyone can be a leader, that everyone has the potential and opportunity to be a leader regardless of their status, education, position, gender or race. Everything we do has the potential to affect, influence, and potentially change someone else's life. Sooner or later, we will all be a role model for someone else and by definition that makes us each a leader.
For more than twenty years I have had the privilege to work in Human Resources; a profession that I am grateful found me. Over the course of my career, I have worked for a non-profit, local
government, public and private companies both large and small. These opportunities have exposed me to leaders with a wide range of leadership styles and skills giving me a greater understanding and appreciation for what make a good or even great leader. It has also given me the ability to recognize and understand what makes a poor leader.
Most of us are not born with leadership skills, they are learned through observation and experience, trial and error, mistakes and successes. Sometimes we unexpectedly find ourselves in a situation or position of leadership. Other times we may seek the role of leadership out. Regardless of how one gets there, being a great leader or even a good leader requires intention and work, it doesn’t matter if we are supervising, teaching, or parenting.
Everything I know about leadership I have learned from someone else. In 2012 I started writing and posting online when I decided to do interviews with people about their leadership experiences, thoughts, and Ideas. My objective was to initiate conversations and thoughts around what it means to be a leader in the broadest sense of the word. I wanted to share not only my own experience but the experiences of others.
Instead of doing the traditional face to face interview, I chose to do all of my interviews via email. By removing the time constraints that come with face to face interviews I could allow the interviewee to take as much time as needed to thoughtfully answer questions in their own words. In 2013, I did my first interview with Author Michael Thomas Sunnarborg, since then I have had the privilege to interview dozens of people from authors to consultants. It was always my vision to put them all together in a book; and here it is.
From the very beginning I intentionally limited edits of my interviews to ensure the voice of my subjects was maintained. For this reason, you may find that this book does not adhere to the standard rules of composition. If you are a stickler for proper structure of the English language please accept my apology in advance. Because my first interviews were all with men that is what is you will find in these pages. As I have continued to write I have continued to broaden my subjects. In 2015, when I created my website LEADERSHIP AND MORE, I began a new interview series entitled WOMEN ON LEADERSHIP. Perhaps another book is already in the works.
I love quotes. Every day I post a QUOTE OF THE DAY on my website and through my social media outlets. When I began doing interviews I would end them by asking my subjects if they had a favorite quote. Here I have included each interviewee’s favorite quote at the beginning of their interview as a way to introduce them and our “conversation”.
Every interview I have done is someone’s story I am privileged to be able to share. In each one I have found inspiration and hope you find something here that inspires you the way each of these interviews has me.