Robert Murray is an author, speaker, executive, chairman, advisor, and associate professor. His book It’s Already Inside: Nurturing Your Innate Leadership for Business and Life Success is a terrific blend of storytelling, personal experience and wise counsel that will make you laugh, cry and learn.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Bob a few questions about a wide range of topics.
Cultivate Your Inner Leader
Bob, let’s start with the title.
It’s Already Insidegives us a glimpse into your philosophy. You believe that leadership is innate, that everyone has the DNA to lead. How did you develop your philosophy?
Good question. I believe that over the years we have evolved with many characteristics that have helped human beings become who we are (the good and the bad!). Buried in the soup we call our DNA are so many lessons that have enabled us to grow, innovate and thrive. Leadership is one of those traits. Some don’t know it or have had their confidence and competence squelched by the conditioning of their parents, teachers, coaches, society, etc.
Leadership is not always about being the loudest, most charismatic or the most extroverted in the room. Leadership comes in all shapes, sizes and conditions. There are the traditional leaders that we are used to seeing in business and society. However, there are many leaders that silently toil away in organizations and use their abilities to influence decisions—or those that bolt from the office at 5:00 and go into the community to lead scout groups, volunteer organizations or little league teams. They are moms and dads that lead their families, their neighborhood and the local school PTA.
Work Harder Than Anyone Else
Terry Fox is the famous one-legged runner who inspired millions. You grew up with him and watched his struggle against cancer and his response. Watching him taught you some powerful lessons. For those of us who only watched or read about him, give us an inside view of what he was like.
Terry was the most determined and dedicated person I have ever met. His energy was infectious, and he inspired everyone around him to be their best too. You just couldn’t help digging deeper and working harder from his influence.
A man who does not think and plan ahead will find trouble right at his door. -Confucius
We’re often temporarily moved and motivated when we hear a story like Terry’s. But, how do you take Terry’s incredible attitude and let it really grab you and change you for good? What’s your best advice on cultivating such a daily attitude?
What I learned from Terry is forever imbedded in me as the person and the leader I am today. However, on those dark and cold days when I wake up with the feeling of, “Oh crap, I just don’t have it in me today,” I think of how Terry dragged himself out of a warm bed every day at 4 in the morning and faced the fight head-on. Then I start moving and I get my head back into the game.
Celebrate Team Victories
Most of us don’t work in solitary confinement, so we need to learn how to best work in teams. What did you learn about teamwork from watching a Formula One pit crew?
F1 Teams are an amazing example of strategy and execution. The success of the team comes only from every single person on the 20-plus team understanding their role, responsibility and most importantly, trusting that the guy beside them is going to do his job as well as they are doing theirs.
Getting their car out of the pits 0.1 second faster than the competitor’s is the difference between winning and losing. And, by everyone on the team knowing the strategy, they are able to execute flawlessly.
Here is the cool part though! When their team wins, only the driver can stand on the podium. No one on the pit crew stands back and says, “Oh, there he goes again. What a show-off!” They all celebrate for their teammate. In our corporate world, it is usually the sales person that gets to stand on the podium. If your organization had the kind of teamwork they have in F1, the sales guy may get to the ‘President’s Club.’ However, the whole team supporting him or her would be celebrating.
Keep It Simple
We often overcomplicate things, making more of a problem than we should. Genius is often in the simple answer. Would you briefly share the lesson you learned from NASA on the power of keeping it simple?
As a turnaround expert, I see organizations all over the world that think the only way to win in the marketplace is through complex, so called intelligent thinking. NASA in the early days used the Fischer Space pen, which could write upside down, in high and low temperatures, in high G-forces and in weightless environments. The pen cost the Fischer Pen Company $12million to develop. The Russians used a pencil – 25¢ at the local drugstore!
Complex is hard to execute. Employees struggle with complex. Customers get frustrated with complex. If your average grade 8 class cannot figure out how to make it happen, your plan is too complex.
Steve Jobs once said “that the ultimate in complex is simplicity.”
Be in Game Shape
Many people reach a point in a job or career where they feel stuck. How do you help them tap into their ‘inner leader’ and get them on the right track?
Get a plan.
Ask yourself the Magic Question, “What does ‘good’ look like?” Where can you see yourself in 5 years? Write it down. Review it every day. You become what you think about. The world around you will turn up all the opportunities you need to fulfill your plan.
Write down 5 goals for the year. From that list build 5 goals for the month. From that list, build 5 goals for the week, and finally, build a daily list of 5 things you will do.
Take care of yourself. Eat like a world-class athlete. Get fit. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Do something that stretches your mind. Being in ‘Game Shape’ helps you deal with chaos around you and allows you to think clearer.
I’m always striving to become a better listener. What’s your advice on how to strengthen this skill?
That’s a tough one for executives because we like the sound of our own voices. To start with, ask yourself why you talk more than you listen. Is it ego? I find this is especially true in the board room.
When you have that figured out, practice silence by building listening muscles. Become comfortable with who you are and not the ego that may be getting bigger than the person. Be aware of what you are thinking about while someone else is talking. Are you thinking about what to say next? Are you waiting for the other person to breathe so you can speak? Our brains are only capable of one thought at a time (well except for my wife’s apparently). When you discover you are not listening to what the other person is saying, refocus yourself.
I’ve been involved in various business turnarounds and know you have as well. I want to specifically talk about cultural turnarounds. What steps can a leader take to help turn around a company culture?
A leader gets the culture they deserve. If the organization does not have an integral vision, purpose, value set and strategy along with what they do better than anyone else in the marketplace, they will struggle with culture.
Culture starts with the people that get recruited and how the company on-boards them. Those two ‘people’ steps alone set the stage for the culture and the team that lives the values and delivers the vision and strategies.
In a turnaround, I always start with values, vision and purpose. Not just stuff for the board room wall but real deep embedding of the values and plan into the team. Some will not survive the journey. However, some will rise to become rock stars!
A Canadian based airline called WestJet has an amazing culture that is built purely on hiring people that have the same values and have a “WestJet” attitude. Similar to Southwest Airlines, WestJet has rarely had an unprofitable quarter. Also similar to Southwest, WestJet’s competitors cannot replicate the success because they do not pay enough attention to vision, purpose, values and culture.
Why is it important to learn to say no? When is this most important?
In business as in life, you cannot be all things to all people. Saying “No” helps you stay true to your goals and helps you ignore shiny objects.
When is it most important? When saying “Yes” will violate your values.
It’s not every day that an executive advisor, professor and chairman of a business group learns leadership lessons from a blond, spiky-haired rock star. Tell us about what you learned from your unexpected encounter with Billy Idol.
I was running with Billy Idol one morning (Why? I will have keep it short so as not to give that chapter in my book away by telling the whole story), and we got to talking about a desperate situation I had in a business turnaround, one where my entire focus was on the part of the team that would be losing their jobs. He simply pointed out to me that the part of the team that was staying on with the business still needs direction, caring and support.
It was like I was hit across the face with a cold, wet fish. My focus shifted to both sets of employees and the business survived and thrived.
Your advice to “always be reading something” is something I appreciate. What authors or books remain “within reach” on your bookshelf that you turn to again?
Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers by Robert Kriegel
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by Kim, W. Chan and Renée Mauborgne
Do the Right Thing: How Dedicated Employees Create Loyal Customers and Large Profits by James Parker
What is “cloud time” and why is it so important?
I have never solved a tough problem when I was sitting at my desk. My most creative solutions come to me when I am out for a run or walk, washing the car, mowing the lawn, standing in the shower or at 3 in the morning!
The best thing a leader can do for themselves, their team and their organization is to occasionally ‘goof-off’ by getting up and going for a walk in the middle of the day without any technology or agenda. Try it. You will be amazed at what happens!
I call this ‘Cloud Time.’
It’s Already Inside: Nurturing Your Innate Leadership for Business and Life Success