What Makes A Leader And Why Does Everyone Need To Be One? With Dave Robens 

July 15, 2020

LBL Dave | What Makes A Leader


True leaders make a difference in the people they lead. Ben Baker is joined today by Dave Robens, a personal development specialist who coaches people around the world and helps develop leaders within businesses. With a background in occupational therapy and the experience of working in geriatric care, Dave has such a profound insight on personal development, which he uses in this episode to define his concept of leadership. Seeing the need for every person inside an organization to be a leader, he emphasizes the leadership skills that really matter in an organization’s drive to succeed.


Listen to the podcast here:

What Makes A Leader And Why Does Everyone Need To Be One? With Dave Robens

It is exciting to have you all here. Week after week, I am amazed by how loyal and how wonderful my audience is. You email me at Ben@YourLivingBrand.com and send me comments. I'm up on every single listing device that you can think of like Spotify or iTunes. Pick the device and the platform that you love and follow and subscribe. The more subscribers I have, the more that we can spread the word. The more conversations that we can have, the better it is. It’s all about getting the word out, what makes you unique, valuable and how do you communicate your value to others. It's such an important thing, especially in today's world. I have the honor and the privilege of having Dave Robens on my show. Dave is a life and executive coach. He's an OT, so he's an Occupational Therapist, a group facilitator and an open and honest person. This is coming from his platform on LinkedIn. Dave, welcome to the show. My open and honest friend, how are you?

I'm doing well. Thank you so much, Ben. I'm not surprised that you have the following that you do because you're such a lovable guy. You're so cheerful and happy. I always see you with a smile on your face. You’re warm, welcoming and it's always great to be in a container with you for sure.

It's fun. You and I broke bread. I can't remember exactly how long ago it was but we had such a good time. We sat there for close to two hours and laughed. It was a great conversation and the breadth of the subjects was wonderful. I got to get to know you so much better. I consider it an honor and a privilege because that's what my life is all about. It's getting to know people and finding out who's got a different viewpoint than mine, who sees life in a different, skewed way than mine and what can I learn from them? I can learn from everybody. I can sit there and say, “There are people out there that know a lot more about a whole range of subjects that I know nothing about.” It's up to me to find these people and bring them into my life and say, “I know nothing about X. Can you explain it to me in a simple way?” I love the fact that you do that and you're able to take complex thoughts and make them simple. That's a real gift.

Thank you so much. It's not limited to you but one of the things that you and I have in common that is the source of energy in a lot of the work that we do is curiosity. Curiosity about others, how things work, “truth” and how to help other people be their best.

It's true and it's fun. We look at it from a different point of view but it's important. It's all about leadership, communication and helping people be better. It's about helping people achieve their goals and helping them lead other people in an effective way. That's what I'm about. You're sitting there on the executive coach side and we attack the same problem but from different viewpoints. That's neat because we each come from it from a different point of view. We each have a different history, set of intentions and a different clientele but there's so much to learn from each other.

I come at it all through an occupational therapy lens, which is maximizing somebody's ability to function. Let's say a CEO hires me to not only work with himself or herself but also with a number of people either on the leadership team or even throughout the entire company. In that venue, it's about turning every single person in the organization into the leader that they can be. If you are sitting on the executive leadership team and all of the people working with you at a different level are leaders, it makes it much more possible for that team to focus on ingenuity, creativity and where they want to go next. There's so much less management needed when everybody in the organization is a leader.

You use two words and these are one of least favorite words and one of my favorite words. My favorite word is leadership and my least favorite word is managerial. I look at things and thing that you're right. Leadership is an attitude and mindset. It's not a title. There is no one out there that I know of who has on their business card leader. It's that mentality that thought that we get up every morning and say, “How do we make the people around us better?” That's a leader. It doesn't matter if you have 5 or 5,000 people that you're responsible for. That's a leadership mentality.

There’s much less management needed when everybody in the organization is a leader. Click To Tweet

When I used to work in the public healthcare system, I had this one person whose title was manager and she was absolutely fantastic. At her retirement party, I remember saying, “Thank you so much for being a leadership island in a sea of management.”

Do you want to get into that? I know where you're going with that. What's your thought process behind that?

I have this sense that many organizations lack the ability to train people to be what they want to see from them. They train them to do tasks, rather than train them into the entire mentality of the organization. When you train somebody to live the brand of the organization, then you're creating leaders. When you're training them to manage tasks, then you're creating even a hierarchical system where you're in charge of this task somebody is in charge of making sure that you get that task done. Everybody ends up busy managing that there's no actual room for each.

It's the, “I need to document my entire life to justify my life to somebody else who's going to document their life to justify their life to somebody else and up the food chain it goes,” instead of taking the time I'm rolling up your sleeves. I call it you're leading from the middle. I'm a big believer in leading from the middle. It's not a hierarchical format. It's being down there with the people that you're working with the team. Some people you need to give a little bit of a push, some people you need to grab a hand back and pull some people forward. The majority of the people want to see you marching with them arm and arm and be part of the process.

People call it frontline managers. They graduate to directors, vice presidents, senior vice presidents and whatever. You're all leaders. The people that are sitting there inspiring others, trying to get the best out of others, giving people around them the opportunity to grow, make mistakes and learn from it and are coaching and inspiring and mentoring are leaders. The people that are sitting there going, “You were late five days in a row. If you're late tomorrow, you're fired,” are the managers. It was Simon Sinek who said, “A leader says, ‘You're late five days in a row. Is everything okay?’”

I love the way that Simon Sinek transitions all of these little stories into inspirations. There was a client I had and I was talking with her. She was telling me about why she missed many appointments with me. She was trying to create some reasoning because of some under underlying guilt that she had. I was like, “There's no reason for you to feel guilty. In fact, I'm the one who's guilty here. What should be going through my mind at this time is not any resentment toward you whatsoever. I'm trying to figure out what's missing from what I'm doing with you that has you missing our appointments. Why is what I'm doing not so inspirational to you that ten minutes before we start, you're almost bouncing because you're excited that in ten minutes, you and I are going to be working together?” It’s pushing it onto them, recognizing my role in and taking responsibility for it.

LBL Dave | What Makes A Leader

What Makes A Leader: If every person working for a team is a leader, it makes it more possible for that team to focus on ingenuity, creativity, and where they want to go next.


As leaders, it's our role to sit there and say, “Maybe it's not them. Maybe it is me. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. Maybe there's something wrong with the process. Maybe there's something wrong with the procedure. Maybe it's the way that I'm couching something. Maybe it's the way that I'm not communicating in a language that's effective to that particular person.” Those are the important things. We're going to get into this because we're in a COVID-19 world, where there is a new normal and I want to get into that and what all that means in terms of leadership. I want to go back and I want to do a Genesis story for you because we're already into this, but it's important for people to understand what got you to where you are. Everybody's got a Genesis story, a brand story and also a, “This is where I was. This is where I am. This is where I'm going.” Dave, what is your brand story?

Everybody takes their own trajectory. The most interesting piece for me is that I had no idea where any of it was going. We have these ideas of what our future can and would look and the universe keeps on surprising me all the time. I was in acting school. I was convinced that I was going to be an actor and the interesting piece for me was that every other actor I was in school with, they would come to me with their stuff and they would talk to me. I was able to hear and listen to them. I didn't even recognize that was going on or that that was the case. Partway through my acting program, my father had a stroke unexpectedly.

It totally changed the trajectory of my life. Shortly thereafter, I decided I'm not going to go back to this acting program because I'm going step up to the plate and help my dad take care of himself and also help my mom adjust to that change. In doing so, I was basically either working with my dad in a hospital or rehab facility or working at my mom's home helping her adapt the home for his upcoming physical needs. I discovered that there was this gap in the market. I created a company called Helping Hands Family Care Management in order to help seniors adjust to changing abilities or to help persons with disabilities adjust their lives in homes to what were inabilities.

It's so needed, even now.

As I was developing that and marketing it, I made a presentation to a group of occupational therapists saying, “Refer to me and I'll help coordinate all of this for people.” They said, “If you want us to refer to you, you need to be an OT.” At that point, I went back to school and got my master's in occupational therapy. Halfway through that, I had my daughter, my first child. When I came out of the program, my wife said, “JOB.” There wasn't a lot of space at that point is to continue to grow my company. I started working in brain injury out in the valley and I switched from that to taking care of people in their homes on the east side of Vancouver. After that, I switched into a specific home visiting geriatric program that was working with people who were facility level care, but who wanted to stay in their homes. The focus became about their goals and what they want their life to look like.

The number of physicians were like, “I don't know what to do here. Call Dave. He's the function guy. How can we get this person to stay at home?” I was working with people in their 80s, 90s and 100s and absorbing a ton of wisdom, but not only the wisdom that's gifted to me by somebody who's been on the planet for that many decades also witnessing how narrow their thoughts had become. I went into work with this one guy I love, Mike. He had had nine strokes. He was paralyzed on one side, but he was so determined to drink his iced tea. He would go to the fridge with his one, more functional side and he poured the iced tea and he'd be walking as best he could with only one functional side, back to his chair in his living room with ice tea in his hand. If he had it in his hand, he couldn't walk or without holding on to something. He was falling up to four times a day.

Leadership is not a title; it is an attitude, a mindset. Click To Tweet

Every time he had to hit this alert button that he had, the fire department would come and he'd get picked up, put in his chair, his iced tea would be on the floor, but the firefighter would give them a cup of iced tea and he'd be sitting in his chair, happy to have the iced tea. I said, “There's a whole number of things. You have a little pass-through, a little window. Why don't you take the ice, put it there, walk around holding on to something and slide it along the table?” He said, “No.” I had an ongoing joke with the physicians. You create the anti-stubborn pill and we're going to succeed with every single client we've got.

It was such a narrow thought that I said, “I'm not going to let this happen to the next generation of people.” I developed a curriculum and started running Men's Group on the beach with a fire. If it was raining, we would build a shelter together and it was a ten-class curriculum to help people open up their minds to all possibilities. After working with him weekly for eight months, “I've got this idea, Dave. Why don't I take the ice tea and I put it on the counter, I push it through and I can walk.” As long as it was his idea. Eight months later, it was great and no pressure on him. I was never putting pressure on him but I was like, “What are your ideas? What can we do to help prevent you fall from falling?”

Somewhere along the lines, we've misinterpreted what we want, which is autonomy and we've labeled it as independence. We fight for independence when what we want is autonomy. Mike was a great example of that. What he wanted was autonomy, but he was risking his autonomy by fighting for his independence. Let's say he falls, he hits his head and now he's in a facility. He's lost all of his autonomy. Maybe not all of it. He's working by their schedule, “Meals are at this time. You need to be in bed at this time when there's a worker to help get you into bed.” He's lost a lot of his independence and his autonomy by fighting for his independence. His autonomy would have been more likely to be maintained if he had taken that iced tea glass and put it through that pass through. After working with him for that long, we went from falling four times a day to falling once every 8 or 9 days.

I developed this curriculum and in this curriculum, one of the men in the Men's Group was like, “You've changed my life. I'm the COO of a company. I'm bringing you in-house. I want you to be an in-house coach for everybody in the company.” My more typical occupational therapy work moved into more life and executive coaching. I started coaching his executive leadership team as well as him and his entire working team. I was working with him. I was there each hire, now they're at 22. They've grown exponentially since and he's the CEO of the company. That's the origin story or as I like to call it the superhero origin story, not that I'm any more of a superhero than any of us but it's nice for us all to think of ourselves as some form of a superhero with some form of superpowers.

It's an interesting journey because it led you to believe that there's always a different way. That's an important thing for anybody to think about. Especially in today's society. There is a different way of looking at things. We all get trapped into, “We've always done it this way. We're always going to do it this way,” because that makes sense. That makes sense based on our current thought process and the fact that we haven't stepped back and said, “What are some different ways of thinking about this? Let's talk to a bunch of people and say, how would you handle this situation?” That's not a sign of weakness.

Everybody seems to think that it's this horrible sign of weakness as leaders to gather opinions. It doesn't mean you have to take everybody's opinion. There's no law out there that says you have to take everybody's opinion but when you gather opinions, you may say, “There are parts of this that are that I like.” What if we put them all together and we can create something that’s from good to great? That's an amazing thing about what I'm hearing that you're doing. You're opening up people's minds to possibilities and getting people to have those conversations that what always has been and doesn't mean that's the way it always has to be moving forward.

LBL Dave | What Makes A Leader

What Makes A Leader: When you train people to manage tasks, you create a hierarchical system where everybody ends up so busy managing that there’s no actual room for leadership.


That comes from Einstein's idea around not being able to solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created them. That speaks to a lot of the work that I do around people's ideas and how so much of what we do and the way we think is trapped in automation. It's based on all of our past, which is what I call our training. Everything that's happened to me is my training. Other people call it past, I call it training. With that training, it's led me to a number of automated ways of thinking. I like to talk to people about their internal boardroom. In your head, you've got a boardroom, it's got as nice a boardroom office as you want.

It's got as nice a boardroom table as you want. The ceilings can be high or low, depending on what you like, but most of us have a boxed-in and enclosed full board room with lots of board members. We're standing at the head of the table as CEO and have no idea that we are standing at the head of the table as the CEO. Here comes my little hurt, Davey, that's always been anxious since he was made fun of in the playground. He's the one who sits next to me in the boardroom and he's like, “You’ve got to be cautious. If you say something bad or you say something, you're going to feel stupid. You're going to get caught with your zipper down and somebody's going to make fun of you.”

That's my automated thought. That automated thought has the closest ear of the CEO but if as CEO, I can say, “Davey, I love your input and I'm grateful that you've given me this memo. What I need you to do is stay in your beautiful corner office with an incredible view and I will call on you when I need you. I appreciate your input. I'm open to everybody's input in the room but I need to remind myself that I'm the CEO. Even though that thought is crossing my mind, I don't need to invest in that thought.” It’s like right now. I might invest in N95 masks but I'm not going to invest in a swimming pool.

That thought that's coming in saying, “You’ve got to be cautious, scared, worried and you need to keep everybody in line.” I don't need to invest in that thought that's the public swimming pool. That's not the N95 mask. The N95 mask is like, “Gather the ideas. Figure out which components of those ideas are the ideas to live your brand and to live as the CEO of you. Amalgamate them, throw them away, choose them, whichever you want but be intentional with your decision and your investment as you move forward.

Being intentional is important because you're right we all have self-doubt. We all have that nagging little voice that goes on in our voice in our minds. The question is, how loud do we allow that voice to get? I love what you say because I always say that we are a combination of the experiences and the thoughts that have gone on in our minds so far. Where have we come from? It doesn't mean that's where we're going to be. It only means that these are our experiences to date. This is the set of tools that we have to help us make decisions moving forward.

As we make those new decisions, it adds to that toolbox. I love what you're saying is the fact that we need to gather new and different thoughts around us and not be threatened by them. The reason is every leader should hire people that are smarter than they are in certain particular places. You're not going to be the CEO, the CFO, the CMO, the CIO or all those things in one company unless you want to have a company of one. If you want to be that solopreneur and grow your company to $250,000, $350,000, $500,000 and hit that ceiling, you can be a company of one.

When you train somebody to live the brand of the organization, you’re creating a leader. Click To Tweet

You could have every skillset that you want inside of one person, but you're only going to go so far in life. If you want to grow a company and want to be somebody that takes it and build something that is, at one point viable, sellable and scalable, you need to gather as many different opinions around you that have skillsets in areas that you don't and not be threatened by them. It's the culmination of those experiences, of those 10, 15, 20 people and the people that they hire and train below them that make your company better and grow.

An excellent thought because this is a tendency amongst some coaches. A number of coaches think that they need to be the guy who has the answers for other people or it can guide other people into their own answers but don't necessarily translate that into needing their coach. I have a coach. I love that you brought up the self-doubter in us because he taught me an incredible lesson around what both he and I label is the negative self-talker. I remember, he and I were having a conversation. It was casual land he says to me, “You know that employee that you've got.”

I'm lost here. What are you talking about?

I don't get it. He's like, “You’re a negative self-talker.” I was like, “Yes. I know that guy.” He said, “How long do you think he's been working for you?” This was a few years ago and I said, “Thirty years.” He said, “Has he ever had a break?” I said, “No.” He said, “You're telling me you've got a guy who's been working with you 24/7 for 30 years. Dave, that guy needs a break. He needs a vacation.” Immediately I said, “Where's my motivation going to come from?” He said, “Wouldn't it be nice if your motivation came from a good place?” I work hard for my coach. It was interesting for me because, for about three weeks, there was no negative self-talker but I didn't notice it until after that three-week period when the negative self-talker came back.

There he was making fun of me for saying something that got an eye roll, where I thought that I lost somebody because they weren't making eye contact anymore or whatever the story was in my head, where he thought he knew what was going on for them. Instead of having my negative self-talker labeled as the negative self-talker, I call him the jester. When I have these thoughts, I think it's hilarious, “I've lost Ben. He's not laughing as much as he was at the beginning of our conversation.” I laugh at that thought because, how does he know? Who is he to make that judgment? That changes the role of the negative self-talker from a soul eroder to a comedian.

I truly and absolutely love that analogy. I also look at it, sit there and say, “What are the cues that are missing from the other person?” While we're thinking about our own self-doubt or jester with anything, what's going on in their mind? They may be sitting with you and talking to you about leadership issues and their wife or their husband or whoever could have been having this enormous row that morning that's completely distracting them that you haven't brought to the surface, but it's totally undermining the entire conversation. It has nothing to do with you and the current situation but it's reflecting through the conversation, in the fact that you can see that they're disoriented, disorganized or whatever. If you're not picking up on that and sit there and say, “Is there something else going on? Is there something else we should be talking about? I know we've got this on the agenda. I know we created this agenda and this agenda is important but are you okay?”

LBL Dave | What Makes A Leader

What Makes A Leader: Leaders are those people who give the people around them the opportunity to grow, make mistakes, and learn from them.


That's beautiful because that's what happened when I switched from soul eroder to comedian. All of a sudden, I wasn't distracted by the thought. I could pay way more attention to my idea or philosophy in a lot of the work I do, lives in that all of the answers are there. They're all in the room already. If you pay attention, you will pick up on them. The less that negative self-talker plays around in my head as a soul eroder and the more it plays around as a comedian, the less distracted I am and the better attention I can pay to the individual to figure out what's going on. Plus, if I'm not eroding my soul, it's easy to step into a question that’s saying, “Are you okay? Is everything all right with you?”

It allows you to focus on the other individual. I'm going to bring up the Peter Principle because it's one of my favorites is, we're so focused on ourselves because we haven't been given the training to focus on others. Too many people become managers, vice presidents, presidents, directors, whatever within a company without being given the training of how to do it effectively. There are many people out there, the Peter Principle for people who don't know what the Peter Principle is. You are promoted to the level of your incompetence.

It's a sad thing to say but we're all given the opportunity to fail. We're given the opportunity to fail because people do not give us the support that we need in order to achieve our goals. I stress this with every leader I know. Give the people that on your teams, the ability to achieve their goals. Understand what their goals are and help them achieve their individual goals. Help them grow to the next level of leadership. I love what you said about being a coach and having a coach. You cannot achieve your next level until you have somebody out there who's been down that road and hole who can help you out of it.

You can only take people as far as you've gone yourself.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of people that call themselves coaches now that are two steps in front of the people that are trying to help and they're trying to call themselves experts. That's the real danger. I asked everybody out there to sit there and say, “Make sure that if you are hiring a coach or somebody, dive into the have a deep conversation about goals, wants and needs and make sure you're comfortable with this person.” A coach that's good for me is not going to be the coach that's good for Dave and it’s not going to be the coach that's good for you. We all need to find somebody that resonates with us that we trust and we're willing to be open and honest with. That takes time.

That's exactly why I offer to anybody an initial coaching session, that's 90 minutes. It’s a bilateral interview. Do they want to work with me? Do I want to work with them? Am I going to be able to help them? Am I going to be able to take them to where they want to go? Are they keen and inspirational? Are they ready to be inspired? For them, am I that inspirational guy? Am I the person who can help them get there?

Leaders need to gather new and different thoughts around them instead of being threatened by them. Click To Tweet

I offer that same 60 minutes free of my time and it's bilateral. Is it good for me? Is it good for you? It's got to be good for both of us because if it's not good for both of us, it's not good for either one of us. Why am I charging you from day, one from minute one until I understand whether I can help you or not, whether we're simpatico, whether we're able to have open and honest conversations with each other and be able to work with each other? That's so important.

I agree and mutually beneficial relationships are the best ones.

This has been an amazing conversation and I want to finish it off with a couple of things. The first question is what's the best way for people to get in touch with you?

People can get in touch with me through my LinkedIn profile or they can get in touch with me through my website, DaveRobens.com. If they're more interested in men's group work, they can check out MensGroupVancouver.ca. Those are probably the best ways. If they’re followers of yours, you know how to get in touch with me and I'm happy to receive any contact through you. I would appreciate being in touch with anybody. The number of people I get to work with also help me grow.

The last question is because I know you want to talk about the ever-adjusting brand and this is going to allow you to have that question. The question I always ask people and this is something I asked, 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?

Particularly for creating your brand story, I feel like I'm always on the cusp of creating my perfect brand. That is because my brand is me. A great example was at the peak of my company, the work that I was getting and the income. My wife and I decided that we're going to move to Bali. There was this opportunity for our children to go to an incredible school that focuses on developing leaders around sustainability. It's called the Green School and we decided to shut everything down. We called it our pretirement because we want to get used to being with each other without a lot of stuff to do at a great point in our lives, while we could still race, run, engage in things that were quite active.

We took a year to do exactly that and to step into either bravery or fearlessness depending on how one likes to see it and for me to live my brand. Make brave choices to live the life that you want to live and live the life that you want to create. I'm always pushing my envelope to do what is best for me and my family and what I want to create for myself and my family. I feel blessed that I have a wife who's on board with that and who I can support with her living the life that she wants to create as well. Making decisions like that are part of me living my brand. That makes it so that I'm always on the cusp of creating my perfect brand. Most people call it walking the walk instead of talking the talk.

LBL Dave | What Makes A Leader

What Makes A Leader: If you want to build something viable, sellable and scalable, you need to gather as many opinions from people that have skill sets in areas that you don’t.


I call it creating a living brand because your brand is also evolving. Let's ask that question one last time because it's important. When you're when you walk out of the room and drive away, how do you want your customers to think about you when you're not in the room?

I want them to recognize that I'm inspirational. When I talk about creating my own personal mission, vision and values, my mission is world peace. My vision, in part, is one person at a time and another part of that is through inspiration. Ultimately, I want people to see me as inspirational and that component of that lives in some of the work that Viktor Frankl did historically and it's maximizing that moment between stimulus and response. Quite commonly, we react to a stimulus rather than respond to a stimulus. Reaction lives in automation response lives in intention.

If we expand the moment between the stimulus and response, we can respond rather than living in automation. Viktor Frankl talks about that's where our power and freedom lies in the moment between stimulus and response. A lot of my work lives within that moment and it's quite difficult to not feel inspired and inspirational when you're being intentional with that moment. It’s when you're continuously taking that moment between stimulus, response and living it doing exactly what you would consciously. Intentionally choose to do, so you're responding each time in full alignment with your mission, vision and values.

Dave, keep living an intentional life. Thank you for being an amazing guest and thanks for giving us such great insights.

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Ben. You're such a lovable man. I appreciate anytime that you and I get to spend together. I appreciate this opportunity as well.

We'll go break bread again soon. Take care and we’ll talk soon.

Thank you. Be well.


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About Dave Robens

LBL Dave | What Makes A LeaderDave Robens is a function expert! He completed his Masters degree in occupational therapy many moons ago, and this propelled him into the world of maximizing one’s ability to create the life they want. His career started off collaborating with persons with brain injuries, then he transitioned into working alongside people aged 80-100+. The wisdom he gained from his clients transformed his life. He created and facilitated personal development courses and ran them for men and women separately.

All classes in Vancouver were held outdoors by a fire. If it was raining, the group would build a shelter together before leaning into the growth-focused material. He was also blessed with the opportunity to run a condensed version of the program while living abroad, in Bali. His return to British Columbia landed him on the Sunshine Coast where he continues to coach people from around the world. He also helps develop leaders within business, refurbishes company cultures, and creates conduits for effective communication in the workplace.

You can connect with Dave for a free 90-minute powerful coaching conversation through daverobens.com

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