As an entrepreneur, there’s always the temptation to think of yourself as above the people working for you. However, a good leadership mentality is all about mentorship, guidance, and making sure your employees get what they need from you. Executive coach and consultant Julian Roberts talks to Ben Baker about how a good leader acts, especially in relation to his employees. Good leadership is not about being a manager who puts himself above his employees and lets everyone know it. Let Ben and Julian help you find your way to be the best leader you can be in order to lead your company to success!
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The Good Leadership Mentality With Julian Roberts
I’ve got Julian Roberts from across the pond. I’m bringing in the UK. Maybe we’ll talk Brexit, maybe we won’t. By the time this is over, who knows where we’ll be. I want to bring Julian over because he is a leadership guy like I am. We met through social media. We probably met through Curt Anderson, who is another guest of mine that was on in 2019. Julian, welcome to the fray. I love the fact that you were able to make it.
What a great welcome, Ben. I appreciate that. That’s good. I’m used to the eight-hour time difference. My daughter is in Canada as well, so we have a great link there. She’s not too far away. She’s about four hours away from you. It’s good to be here.
It’s four hours if the road is clear. If there’s snow on the Coquihalla, it could be a 12 or 15-hour trip. You never know. It’s one of those things from the coast to the interior, you’d never know what the snowplow is going to be like and the road is going to be closed. I hope that she stays warm this winter. I hope that she’s doing it. I think she’s in nursing. We desperately need new nurses. Kudos to her for being part of it. Let’s talk about what you do. You do leadership consulting for small to medium enterprises and it’s necessary as businesses grow because there is a 75% or 80% failure rate of businesses in the first five years. The number is astounding. A lot of it comes down to the fact that people are good at what they do, but they’re horrific at the business of business. They may be good accountants, they may be good lawyers, they may be good programmers or whatever, have an idea, but they’re not good at the business of business or the business of managing people. Because that’s not what they love. Tell me a little bit about what was the impetus for you to get into the leadership game? Where did you come from? Where are you now? Where is the company going?
I’ve been in a leadership capacity for the last many years. I’ve worked for big corporations, people like Heinz, to small family businesses. I’ve managed teams of 25 down to 5. I’ve developed strategies for companies and being successful and I’ve loved it. I’ve always loved leadership. I’ve always loved bizarrely getting more excited when an individual unlocks that potential or an individual changed behavior that had a greater impact, even more so the winning a contract. I started to realize this back in 2016 and start to think the corporate world is not for me. In fact, wanting to go on my own, do my own thing. I did a pivot then to go into the world of consultancy. Working with small businesses or entrepreneurial businesses and helping them in the whole aspect of leadership. There are a lot of people out there who are good at starting a business, good at the passion and the idea. They’re innovative and they’re on trend or thinking further ahead of trends, but they’re bad at managing a business.
They’re not willing to admit it either, a lot of them.
No. I met a number of entrepreneurs in my time who I love dearly and think they’re amazing, they’ve got great ideas, they’ve got great passion, but they see something shiny every day and they’re off chasing the shiny toys. It ends up causing business havoc. They don’t go far and they’re going to spread themselves thin. I love getting alongside entrepreneurs, CEOs, business owners, and taking that passion, taking that innovation and vision they’ve got. I don’t want to lose that because that’s important. All of us bring an element of structure but still got fluidity to it. Because it’s important to be fluid in certainly small business and give them some focus and some strategies.If you keep going for the shiny stuff, you’re never going to get anywhere. Click To Tweet
My style is a coaching style, so I’m not telling them what to do. I’m bringing out to them and bringing some form to them. I remember one entrepreneur. I won’t name who they are or the business, but an exciting business, forward-thinking. They’ve got loads going on, but they weren’t making any cash going forward. I went in there and I spent about a month developing the strategy. The entrepreneur/owner bought into and it was agreed on and everybody was involved in it all. What made it helpful is this strategy then gave a focus for the business, a focus for the people, and a focus for the owner. When any else came in that wasn’t aligned to this strategy of where they were going and how they’re going to do it, that gave confidence known to the staff or to the owner to say, “We’re not going to do this.”
It almost gave a filter. Let’s put it on the back burner for now and then move forward. It helped them. It gave some focus, gave some clarity, and enabled them to start to move forward and start to win bigger than they were winning. I’m not dismissing their ideas, just put on the back burner. I love working with people and I love unlocking their potential or their business potential, whatever it may be. I say that it excites me because it’s wonderful to see somebody take that business that I know nothing about. I don’t need to know all the details. I help them deliver it in a way and take it to the next level. That’s whether that’s taking something to a new market or takes them onto another step change and then helping them how they manage their people. You’ve got to bring people along with you all the way along in terms of taking a business forward. The people are important and we say that, but they are important and it’s important to take those people with you. Entrepreneurs love them.
I could say I’m an entrepreneur now because I have my own business, but they’re not always the greatest at taking the people with them. Sometimes they need somebody, just as a mentor to say, “There might be another way going about this. How about this? What about this? You thought about this?” Somebody who’s a bit more no agenda, they’ve got their back, is supportive, and that’s what I do. I focus more on also coaching in terms of the personal development side as well. There’s a leader, owner who may have a limiting belief perhaps of what they can achieve or what they can deliver and then smashing that. Then seeing them flying, doing some great exploits, which I would never have thought they could do.
My philosophy is to leave no person behind. It comes out of the military, but it’s absolutely true. It says that when you’re building an organization, especially as it starts to put gas on the fire and you go from being 5 people to 10 people to 30 people to 50 people to 100 people to 1,000 people to 10,000 people. That whole philosophy, that whole culture blows apart if it’s not paid attention to. You don’t have what you call that standard. It’s that stick in the ground that you sit there and say, “This is what we believe in as a company. This is what’s important. This is what we do.” I love the fact that you sit there and say, “This is what we do as a company.” All decisions need to rally around that central point. Know all this is moving forward to how we hire. How we promote, new projects we bring on board, new customers we bring on board need to rally around that standard. Everybody in the company understands this is what we do, this is why we do it. That’s a challenge. How do you work with leaders who have a squirrel mentality? It’s all of a sudden that dog and they’ll say, “Squirrel.” They’re off on another tangent, that shiny thing to get them to sit there and say, “We need to focus. We’re not trying to put handcuffs on you, but we need to put guard rails out there on the bowling alley.” How do you get them to buy in on that?
This is where the engagement at the start, it is almost asking them what would they like to have happened? What do they want? If they want to go from $1 million to $5 million over the next 3 to 5 years, then I will then point out a roadmap of how that can be as a way. That means they need to be not only committed to the process we’re going to take them through but committed to me and how we’re going to work. I will challenge them and cause them to push them. I don’t want to kill their ideas, enthusiasm, passion or expertise. I want to take what they’ve gotten from an observer. Usually from afar, we’ll see a lot more in fresher eyes. Once I’ve got that commitment and they’re willing to work with me and then work as organizations do that, then we’ll map it out. It goes back to my approach and how I lead anyway is to empower people.
It’s important too, when you empower people, the risk, and I talked to this with entrepreneurs because they’ve built it and they’ve done everything from sweeping the floor to now doing the accounts or whatever it may be. They do everything and they will continue to do everything, they seem to think, because that’s the way they’ve always done it. I talk about you’ve got to empower your organization because you may bring people on who got some good ideas. There is a risk in empowering somebody because they may do it in a slightly different way. They may fail, but they may even do something in a more productive or efficient way and that is an even better opportunity that may happen. I talk about empowerment with them. I talk about there will be at risk, but if without risks, you’re not going to get and they go into risk-taking anyway.A business will never grow unless the owner lets go and empowers the people. Click To Tweet
You’re turning around on them about letting go and then using a strategy, some guard rails, however you want to do, and a bowling alley is a good metaphor. It is that. It’s still got fluidity to it. It keeps everybody focused. We’re all going this direction. This is how we’re going to go about it. Let’s keep on that track. Otherwise, if we keep going for the shiny stuff, we’re never going to get anywhere. Keep turning back on ourselves, it will come down to the accountability, come down to them making a choice to go, “They’re going to do this,” otherwise they won’t grow. I’ll tell them that. I said, “If you don’t let go, you don’t let us do this, it won’t happen.” We have to have those conversations.
I think that’s an important conversation to have because you and I are entrepreneurs. We are 1, 2-person organizations. We do what we do. We work with different organizations, but we don’t have staff. What we do is help people. We facilitate projects as those projects happen. When you move people from being an entrepreneur with an idea to a small business, to medium business, to a large size business, to enterprise, there’s a mentality shift that has to happen with leadership. How do you get people to understand the control freak mentality that most entrepreneurs have? I have it and that’s probably one of the reasons why I’m still an entrepreneur. I have 30 staff. I call it giving it up for Lent. I gave up 12, 13 years ago. I gave up my 30-staff. I gave up my partnership and I went off and went into consultancy and I’m much happier. You have these people that fail when they try to move from entrepreneurship to small business, medium business because they can’t let go. How do you coach or mentor them through that to be able to sit there and say, “It’s okay that people fail. It’s okay that people don’t have the exact same philosophy you do, but this is how we’re going to grow as a company?”
It is a challenge because I’ve dealt with owners who will say that staff, that person doesn’t have the same passion as me in this business. I say, “They never will because they don’t own it.”
Gary Vaynerchuk said that. That was one of his famous comments.
Sometimes the reality is people won’t be fully into it as you are because it’s not their business unless you give them shares and options in various ways. There are ways of trying to incentivize people. Aside from that, it is hiring the right people. First of all, it’s creating a mindset with the owner that you’re not going to grow unless you let go and empower, period. You’ve got to do that. How you do that? You do it in a way that’s in a managed structured way where you hire the right people. I get involved with that process as well. I’ll help whether I was interviewing or assessing CVs. You hire good people. When you got those people, rather than saying, “I want you to do it this way because I’ve always done this way,” you either then pay for them for what their expertise is and you empower them.
You also support them and give them the resources they need, whether that’s from spending time with them or that could be training. That could be equipment, whatever it may be, whatever resources mean and it’s a step process. It’s like letting go. I say to an entrepreneur, “You don’t do it in one hit because that’s when you make mistakes.” You take somebody with you. They come with you. They see how it’s done. The next time they go and they do it, you watch them, you observe, you have feedback, you have very good one-to-one sessions. It’s all done in a proper way and then you slowly build that trust. It’s a trust thing. That’s the issue with anybody in entrepreneurial business owners letting go is trust and there’s the whole trust equation as it is.Building trust doesn’t happen overnight. Click To Tweet
Credibility in my mind is completely right there. It’s your credibility and your ability to deliver on something. It’s over your ego and so less of your ego, the greater the trust. You’ve got to take time to build that trust. It doesn’t happen overnight. For the entrepreneur, build trust with your team. Get a good team involved and do a step process and structured way of building that and then create that transparency and dialogue, an openness, and that’s how you create it. Not in a way that you’re constantly there all the time and not letting people get on. It is hard. I know it is hard when people build great big empires and they’ve done it already. A lot of the businesses built upon them as a personality. It can be a challenge. I know it is, but there is a way of doing it and it’s a staged process. It’s like anything. You’ve got to put a strategy in place. How are we going to do this? It’s a wrong thing to say, “Do it. This is how we’re going to do it,” and you help them in that process and you move them through that process. I see myself as a guiding hand within that aspect of the business.
I think what’s important is to move people from a managerial mentality to a leadership mentality. You’re right, a leader leads people. They show people and empower people. A good leader empowers people. It gives them the tools, the confidence and the ability to make mistakes that are going to be eventually in the best interest of the company. It’s giving people and saying, “You’re not going to do it right the first time and that’s okay. If you’re not doing it right the fifth time after we’ve gone over it four times, then we have a serious learning problem.” If people are constantly striving and they understand the objectives of the company. If they understand the direction of the company, if they understand the values of the company and they make mistakes with those things in mind and their philosophy is the best interest of the company. Leaders should never be looking at those things as a way to admonish.
They sit there and say, “What went wrong? How can we do this better next time?” That’s leadership versus managerial. Managerial berates, and they write people up, and they micromanage people, where a good leader makes space for people to make mistakes, grow, learn, engage, and become the next leader of a young set of leaders. My question for you in that is when building a leadership mentality with these CEOs, with these founders, whatever, are you working with them to sit there and say, “How are you creating the next level of leaders within your organization?” Are you teaching them how to lead the next level of leaders and be able to instill a leadership mentality throughout the organization?
I think with people who’ve built a business, you’ve got to give them an incentive for leadership and an incentive for letting go into successions or planning, so to speak. The incentive is increased, so headspace for new projects. That’s the mindset you’ve got to get ready because if you’ve got an entrepreneur or CEO build a business and who loves building, grabbing new stuff, shiny stuff. If you give him the incentive that you put this leadership in place, a structure or succession plan, however you want to do it. It will give you headspace for the future to think, to go after new projects, that do other stuff free time, whatever you want to call it. It’s that motive and incentive then enables them to go, “I want to do this. I want to start having them on. I want to start going to build a succession plan and I’m working my way through.” That’s the important thing otherwise if the incentive is just to hand it all over to do nothing, that might be the case. That might be the incentive. I don’t think it’s very motivating. They like to see other things. A lot of CEOs, it’s the headspace they have lack of. One lady I worked with, she wanted some more headspace. She’s like, “I hate all this stuff I’m involved in.” We put some things in place that enabled her to, in a trustful way, hand-on other people that gave her some headspace to do the stuff she wanted to do.
She wants to be more on the marketing side because that was her gig, it’s more than operational. She brought in the right people and then they got on, did the stuff, and it gave us some headspace to do what she would enjoy doing, pushing the brand forward, doing the PR and everything else. That’s what she did. She’s good at it as well. It’s creating an incentive that then says, “If that’s what you want to do, then let’s put this in place.” A lot of my role with CEOs and owners, as much as I can be challenging to them, came to a place where they want to do it. Because that’s your first question and it’s that motive. If they don’t want to do it, that does not work then. I do that even with my clients. They were doing personal development coaching with me, leadership coaching. I say to them, “You’re going to do all the hard work. If you’re not in this, there’s no point. You’ve got to be accountable for this. I’m not one to waste my time or your money doing this. There’s no point you are going away and having no impact because that’s what we want to do here, isn’t it?”
It’s funny because giving people or leaders the ability to have that space to be the future thinking. I think that every company needs to have somebody within the organization whose job it is to be looking five years out. Not 10 years out, 20 years out, 50 years out because that’s crystal ball gazing. The world is moving way too fast. To be able to sit there and say, “What are the challenges that could be facing us? What are the new opportunities? What are some different things that we can be doing as a company? What are the things that could affect us?” A mentor of mine used to go away on three two-week vacations every year. It was a big enough company that he could do that and he says his executive assistant was the only person who had his cell number. The rule was she was not allowed to call it unless he had to get on a plane and come home. His attitude is, “I’ve put the right people in place and I trust them to do the right things. They understand the philosophy of the company, the direction of the company, and the values of the company. As long as they’re doing things within that mindset, I will support them. Even if they make a mistake, I will support them, but you cannot call me because I am doing deep thinking on my vacation, unless something has gone horrifically wrong that I need to get on a plane in the Galapagos and come home.”A leader should be self-aware and know in a way that they’re not good at everything. Click To Tweet
That was a great philosophy. A lot of it comes down to, and I noticed that you’re either certified or you have somebody that does DISC training for you. It’s one of the many programs out there. We do StrengthsFinder, you do DISC. It’s a lot of different things, but it’s a matter of understanding what your strengths are. It’s a matter of understanding these are the things that I do well and hiring people to do the things that I don’t do to augment my strengths. Instead of focusing on, “I should be better at accounting or I should be better at programming.” It’s hiring the people that passionately love to do that. How do you bring the DISC training as a way to open up people’s eyes and help them hire the right people around them to make sure that they can let go and they can have that time to be forward-thinking?
It’s part of the protests of self-awareness. That’s ultimately what it is. DISC is a psychometric test, so there are many of them out there and we know there are loads out there. To me, it gives another dimension to you. Some are better than others and some are 360 so you can get a bit more of an input from everybody else. The core of it all is creating that self-awareness for the leader and knowing in a way they’re not good at everything, as I think they sometimes do. I try to do it in a way that would get them to that place. I will get them to reflect. I’ll give them questions that will cause them to reflect and to understand and in that space, give them some headspace to realize, “I’m not good at that,” or “I’ve got a bit of a blind spot there.” I use DISC as a way because it’s quite a nice structured way and it highlights things. I go a bit deeper than that through talking with them and through a coaching session. We’ll then highlight things. Often, I don’t do the end. They’re always asking, “What do you think?” I’ve got permission to say something and then I’ll give some observations. You can pick up quite a lot by how they speak to their staff and how they interact. I will foster that relationship with an owner that will enable me to give them some quite challenging, not in a negative way, not criticism and challenging stuff.
I allow them to open up a bit more to build upon that. If they’re not good at people, how can we enable them to be good enough for people that will take my business forward? They can be the best dealing with people, but allow them to have some interaction, knowing full well that they are more introverted or more geared towards seeing something in numbers or on a spreadsheet. Some people like interaction with people and then some people like to talk about the weekend and some people are talking about golf or whatever it may be. I’ll use psychometric, but I’ll use my coaching session to open up that self-awareness and then use that as a way of then helping them develop further if they want it. They’ll open those blind spots. That’s important.
You talk a lot about coaching. On your website, you have coaching and mentoring programs. What do you see the difference? Because coaching and mentoring are different, but most people don’t understand that. What do you see as the difference between those two teaching styles? Why would you use one over another with a certain client?
In some ways, coaching and mentoring are almost like a continuum from one end to the other end. Coaching for me is it’s specific. It’s goal-orientated. It’s sitting down with a client and we’re going to work on three goals for the next six months, their positive future goals, development goals or whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is and it’s for a period of time. The intervention is led by me questioning and little me telling or advising. I use various techniques but I might use that GROW model and then get them to a place of options and then have ideas of how to step forward in this goal they want to achieve and they may come up with 3 or 4 themselves. I will say something like, “I’ve got an idea. Do you want me to bring it up? Do I have your permission? Yay or nay?” You can get rid of it if you don’t want to use it. That’s coaching. It’s quite specific.
Mentoring, however, it’s different. Mentoring is like a long-term piece. In mentoring, you’re usually in a similar role, industry-type level. I can coach anybody anywhere in the context of the industry. Mentoring is you’ve experienced something of what they’re experiencing. Either you’ve been in that position or that industry or that type of organization. Mentoring is more long-term. Mentoring is more like somebody will come to you and bounce off ideas. You must sit down once every month or two months and it’s a little bit more advisory as in sharing your experience and sharing what you think might be a good idea. What do I do with a CEO? I offer a combination of all that. I do a three-month program with them where we go quite specific on what they want to deliver because it’s important some specifics. You’ve got me for three months. What do we want to deliver? That’s important and then we go through that.A word not used in the business world is 'serving.' Click To Tweet
What’s the problem? How do we fix it? It’s strategic and tactical at the same time.
“I want to do X, Y, Z. Let’s do that.” I know quite specific. In between that, other stuff crops up and it may be more business-oriented. I’ve got a business background as well and I will then be a sounding board, another opinion, something objective, I’ve got no hidden agenda or stuff and I might mentor. I say, “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” and I’ll be quiet. Advisory, it’s slightly different. I wouldn’t say that in a coaching session. That’s to me the difference is. They do merge a little bit.
I have always been a mentor. I do a lot of mentoring after university. There are people that I bet I’ve mentored for 5, 6, 7 years and I’ve watched them grow and it’s amazing, the stuff. I get phone calls out of the blue and say, “What do you think about this?” It’s great. I do the same thing with my mentor. It’s more of an ad hoc when I have issues, when I have problems, when there are things that I’ve never seen before. It’s nice to have somebody you can call up and it’s not formal, “Will you be my mentor?” If people that I know that I can call up and say, “You’ve been down this rabbit hole. You know where the ladder is to get out of it. Could you show me where that ladder is, please? At least give me some of the ideas.” That’s important for everybody because none of us know everything. None of us have an unlimited perspective, having a viewpoint from somebody else’s. It’s important to have both male and female mentors in everybody’s life. I truly do. Having that male-female perspective is huge.
When you were coaching, I agree with you. It’s specific. It’s strategic and tactical at the same time where you’re sitting there going, “This is the problem. How are we going to work through this?” It’s putting people’s feet to the fire and say, “You said you were going to do this. Did you?” “You said you believe this.” “Prove it to me.” Those conversations get a lot more uncomfortable sometimes. The mentoring conversations too. I like where you’re going with that. You talk about your philosophy is about integrity, servant leadership and sustainability. Integrity is huge. We’ve talked about this off and on, but talk to me about what you mean by servant leadership because that is important and I think it’s misunderstood.
For me, it’s always being in a mindset of I’m not in this leadership role for me. I’m in it for the people. To all the teams I’ve led over the years, I’ve always had a mindset of, “How can I be a better leader for them in terms of developing them, in terms of taking some heat from the top?” They make it or not get. “How can I defend them?” It’s that mindset. I’m in it for them but not here. That’s my minions. You must do this and must do that. It’s a mindset shift of, “How can I help you? How can I be a better leader for you? I still lead them. I still share a compelling vision and moments. This is what we’re doing, this is how we’re going to do it.” These are the strategies and you’d be all clear and that’s important. It’s, “How I can help you help me develop that strategy? What do you need? What resources?” It’s that mindset of serving. A word not used in the world of business is the word serving, from the cafeteria probably. It’s silly things like going and getting somebody a coffee. It’s being a bit more turn it around rather than saying, “I’ll sit back in my chair. Can you get me a coffee?” It’s not that at all.
My favorite visual for that is the movie Lawrence of Arabia where they’re sitting down. I’m trying to remember what the name of the character was, but he says, “I am a river to my people.” It was like everything that he did, he did for his people. They loved him for it. Whether it’s taking care of people, whether it’s making sure they’re fed, whether making sure that their families are fed, making sure you know that they’re led, that the vision is there. We all need to give people the belief that we’re going to take care of you as leaders. We’re going to take care of you. We’re going to take care of your family. We’re going to make sure that this organization survives and thrives so you’re going to be able to have a place to come and be happy coming to work. I think that’s truly servant leadership. I’m with you 100%. The best way for people to get ahold of you is JulianRobertsConsulting.com. It’s been a real pleasure. This is the last question I ask everybody before I let them go. When you leave a meeting, when you get in your car and you drive away, what’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you’re not in the room?
I made a difference. Whatever I said, shown, did, I made a difference. I made an impact. The impact came through values of integrity. Not of it’s all about Julian Roberts. It came through a humility side of it. That’s important to me. Those values are important. You talked about sustainability. That’s important to me because whatever I do personally or business-wise, it’s got to be for the long-term. I’m not in it for the short-term. I’m not in it to make quick bucks and run away and drive away with my loot, so to speak. It’s about I want to be able to go back and keep going that relationship. That’s important and it goes back to the whole people’s side of things as well. It’s longevity of what I do.
That’s what it is. It’s those long-term relationships. It’s building trust. It’s letting people know that you’re there to help them and that you have their interests at heart, first and foremost. Julian, thank you very much. I loved having you as a guest. You created some real value, so thank you. Keep doing what you’re doing.
Thanks, Ben. I appreciate it.
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About Julian Roberts
I help unlock leadership potential with clarity, self-awareness and overcoming limiting beliefs. I can still remember the day in 2016 when I decided the corporate world was no longer for me. After 25 years of success in the business world, I realized I valued watching one of my direct reports win, more than winning business myself. My core driver was and has been the desire to unlock another’s potential.
Why? I love working with people and watching them achieve what they can’t yet see but deep down really want. So, in 2017, I pivoted into Executive Leadership Coaching to formally learn techniques I could use to replicate for others what I was already doing. As a result, my self-awareness increased. I realized I, too, had my limiting beliefs to address. When I finished with the process, my clarity, my purpose, and path were clear.
I have a real passion for SME’s (Small Medium Enterprises) and entrepreneurs, especially for leaders within these organizations. My coaching helps leaders unlock their potential so they can grow and develop their people whilst accomplishing critical business objectives.
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