These days leaders have a lot of challenges on their hands, especially with an unpredictable economy. In order to learn about how leaders can stay grounded and confident in these times, I spoke with Bob Rosen, who is a trusted CEO advisor and author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World. His firm, Healthy Companies International, has worked with Johnson & Johnson, Brinks, Northrop Grumman, Citigroup, PepsiCo, ING, PricewaterhouseCoopers and other major organizations. He has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. In this brief interview, I talk to Rosen about how leaders can build a model that reflects their values, what they should do to confront obstacles, and the importance of physical and spiritual health.
Dan Schawbel: How do you go about building a personal leadership model that reflects your values and goals?
Bob Rosen: Begin by reflecting on what kind of leader you want to be and what you want to be remembered for: Is it being smart? Decisive? Generous?
Next, test how closely you hew to those values and goals by seeing how others perceive you. We’ve built an assessment for testing that. But there are many other ways to accomplish the task. You can, for example, choose a group of trusted colleagues and simply ask them.
With that information, you can focus on how to close the gap between your personal leadership goals and the reality of how well you’re doing now. Ultimately, the key takeaway is that a keen self-awareness is a critical cornerstone of great leadership.
Dan: Can you give an example of a leader who tapped into their higher purpose and the results they achieved because of it?
Bob: Let’s first step back. Our research has found that the key to effective leadership lies in certain personal forces—physical, emotional, intellectual, social, vocational and spiritual. Leaders grounded by those roots, so to speak, are able to take six specific actions essential to success. In other words, who you are drives what you do and that, in turn, determines your ultimate performance.
One of those six crucial actions for leaders involves tapping into the higher purpose of the organization—encouraging their people to act not just to fulfill their own agenda, but to achieve a greater good. One example is Ben Noteboom, CEO of Randstad Holding, a global staffing company based in Amsterdam. He took over the helm about ten years ago when the business was limping along. And he turned the company around by cultivating and training his people, and by inspiring them to reach for a higher purpose, to seek something bigger than simply winning market share. He believes companies have no reason to exist if they don’t add value to society or employ people motivated to build not just a better company, but a better world. And that’s helped him to increase revenues to $22.8 billion from $5 billion, while more than tripling the number of countries he’s active in.
Dan: What should leaders do when they face challenges that they didn't prepare for?
Bob: One of the qualities in our grounded leadership model that we’ve spent a lot of time testing is the ability to have an adaptive mindset. It means, in part, being aware of lessons and viewpoints you encountered in one set of circumstances that can help inform how you respond to challenges in other areas. An adaptive mindset keeps you from getting stuck in the past, allowing you to take previous experiences and apply them to different situations. Of course, it requires flexibility and an openness to new ideas and solutions.
I think of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as a prime example of someone who will benefit from having an adaptive mindset. He was enormously successful in pioneering a huge, global distribution system, but his acquisition of the Washington Post will call for a different business model. He’ll need to take what he has learned at Amazon and see how he can apply those lessons to a newspaper. But he also has to be careful not to jump to conclusions based on his past successes, instead, teasing out just what will or won’t help to reenergize the Post.
Dan: What is the connection between physical health and leadership success?
Bob: As I said before, grounded leadership rests on six roots, one of which is physical health. It’s really the foundation of everything. It gives you the stamina and energy to withstand the 24/7 demands of today’s world. But it requires understanding how inter-twined are the systems of body and mind, so you can develop a lifestyle that meets your needs. And you need a strategy for managing your energy over the long-term.
Dan: How can spiritual health make leaders more effective?
Bob: Spirituality can be an amorphous concept. But bottom line, it’s about connection at the macro level, a belief that what you do affects countless lives around you. Without it, you’re likely to promote selfish, parochial, financial interests to the detriment of social responsibility. With it, you can have a clear vision of your connection with all of humanity—where you fit in, what you can do to improve lives—making you a more empathetic, trusted and authentic leader.