Transcript How to be an Authentic Leader

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Mitch Simon 0:10
Welcome to another episode of team anywhere where CEOs, leaders and experts are building teams, companies, organizations, and amazing cultures

Ginnie Bianca-Mathis 0:21
share how to lead from anywhere in the world. I’m your co host on the East Coast, Judy Bianca Mathis,

Mitch Simon 0:28
and I’m your co host on the West Coast. Mitch Simon. And we invite you to join us team, anywhere.

In today’s podcast, Ginni, and I interviewed Jonathan eberman Dean and Professor of practice at the School of Business and Technology at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, Managing Director amplifier advisors and chairman and managing director of tandem NSI In today’s podcast, Jonathan shares with us how he has led the growth of the School of Business and Technology during the pandemic through connecting to a larger mission, while displaying authenticity, servant leadership, empathy, and humility to stay connected with his teams and his students. Jonathan starts every week with a video call with his office manager, video calls with his professors, and a once a week video call with his students. his advice when delivering video calls is to speak from the heart and not from a script with a focus on providing hope, in clarity. The secret to successful leadership as a virtual leader is giving both autonomy and expecting accountability. Towards the end of the podcast. We get real with Jonathan talking about the issues of leadership right now. which include dealing with despair and uncertainty, as well as the opportunities that this time provides like reading, picking up the guitar, and asking the deeper questions of what is our personal why and whom are we here? Serve. Welcome to another session of team anywhere with Jonathan aberaman. We’re really excited to have Jonathan on, on Team anywhere today and we’d love for you to just introduce yourself. And there’s so many things that you’re up to right now. Jonathan, why don’t you share with the audience what you’re up to today?

Unknown Speaker 2:22
Well, I’m currently the Dean of the School of

Unknown Speaker 2:26
currently Dean of the School of Business and Technology at Marymount University. You know, I’m so overwhelmed managing things COVID I think I blacked out from them and what I do all day, but I’m being a very MT and I also have an innovation consulting venture capital business that I’ve been running for years called amplifier ventures. So between those two things, I’m probably one of the busier people in Northern Virginia and having a good time doing it.

Mitch Simon 2:52
Great. Well, we wanted to really today explore what is you know, how you are leading virtually, you know, beyond the four walls. And let’s just just dive in first into your running a business school, virtually tell us tell us a little bit more about that in in some of the challenges you’re facing and how you’re overcoming them.

Unknown Speaker 3:11
Well, welcome to my control center, otherwise known as my home office. And I guess like just about everybody right now. You know, it’s interesting, those of us that are fortunate. We’re fortunate that we can work from home, right? I mean, it’s, it’s, in fact, we’re, we’re in a very interesting moment in time where if you’re lucky enough to have a job that can be telecommute. That’s a really big deal. And I think that for me, you know, around technology, I’ve been involved technology for 30 years now in various ways venture lawyer than as an investor. Now Mailman School of Business of technology. And so I’m very familiar with technology, its limitations and how ultimately it’s really a tool. And so, when you talk about managing a business enterprise, Virtually which is the way I look at managing the university, it’s it’s an it’s an enterprise, a lot of the same roles that you would use and apply in the physical world, you just you convert to the virtual world. So for example, I think that as a leader, it’s really important if you want to map as a, as a servant leader, Visa V, an authoritarian leader, and it’s something we’re going to talk about because there’s a big difference and create an agile organization. You know, if you’re managing as a servant leader, you have to be authentic. So demonstrating authenticity and the physical world, you know, you certain clues that you’ll use open door policy, getting coffee with people doing things like that, well in the virtual world, what’s more authentic than doing your meetings without a zoom background so people can see I’ve got my cat in the background hanging out you can see my guitars and you know, you’re going to sense that there’s something other than the The boss is at work and and i think that things like that. Things like acknowledging if you have a distributed team, you have to force serendipity. You can’t leave meetings for walking down the hall. So there are standing meetings that I have with my team once a week where it’s not mandatory, it’s just Hey, I’m going to be on zoom at noon on Wednesdays, you want to come in great if you don’t, but I’m going to make sure everybody knows what’s going on. Based on what I see, key people, you make sure you schedule standing meetings. But at the same token, you also have to understand that most serendipitous meetings are five minutes long. So you can’t schedule one zoomy after next to the next because people get burned out. And then so I think it’s really just more than anything else. It’s understanding that the tools are different, but the governing principles remain. And you have to just find ways to adapt your behavior so that the tools don’t get in the way. You know, I mean, for example, if you’re the kind of magic says, Oh, you know, I’ll just see people when I see them. Well, that’s never going to work in a virtual environment. You know, I don’t care how great you are and just hanging out with people and say, let’s grab a slice of pizza. That’s great. But that does not work in a virtual world. So you have to be, I guess more than anything else. You have to not be proud of this resume describe it. This is a moment where you talk about authenticity. This is a moment where if you are too damn proud of yourself, to adapt your behavior, people can tell and when they’re when they’re managing their own lives, you know, kids, not at school, worrying about their, their health and all the rest of it. I mean, if there’s ever a time to be authentic, it’s now people just smell they can smell it, and they can see it, right. So I think in a lot of ways, we really learned at the School of Business Technology and I and it reinforced for me, if you create a culture that has agility within it, and then you throw new things with people, they adapt because they Ready to adapt, because you have a you have a learning organization. And I’m really proud of that. And I’m sure we’ll talk about some of those examples. But to my mind, the real story, the real thing that I think everybody watching this or listening, if you’re a leader, and you’re trying to say what to do, if you can’t think about what else to do, imagine you were back in the office and how you, you you communicated well, and just figure out how to let the technology not get in the way of you doing? What’s the best advice you give anybody? Tell

Mitch Simon 7:29
me what are some of the rituals that you’re utilizing that that take advantage of the technology? To demonstrate your authenticity to demonstrate that you use you do care?

Unknown Speaker 7:42
Well, I think so. So first of all, I think that that email is an absolutely wonderful and terrible tool for communicating with the people you work with email. First of all, very quickly, people get overwhelmed particularly if they’re managing everything they’re managing, so Thank you, you know, I I underemphasized emails, and I overemphasize video communications. And so one way, like I mentioned is I regularly do team meetings as efficiently as possible, but through through zoom, or you could use teams or Google doesn’t matter. Another thing I’ve done pretty consistently is I’ve maintained the ritual of starting my workday every day at 830. With a video call with my my personal assistant with my office manager every day, even if all we do is just talk for 10 minutes about the weather. My day starts the same way that the key chair people in my school I’m meeting, you know, regularly on a particular Kane’s schedule, and then with the students, a lot more video blogging, you know, I’m using Vimeo to communicate, particularly during the spring, the crisis, you know, doing a video once a week to the students and one thing that I think is really important talking about authenticity. reading from a script is disaster. You know, people who’ve I want to communicate this to you forget it Don’t bother, you know, you just, you’re better off getting into a video for 30 seconds and saying the kids, you know what, this is awful. This is awful. It’s awful for me too. But we will get through it together. That’s so much more important than I want to give you the following 15 data points. It’s just so I think that it’s it’s more, it’s more understanding that that you need to communicate, let’s put this way you need to be tolerant of, you’re not going to be able to communicate as much data to people as you do in an ordinary environment. You know, you can’t give people memos with 27 data points, you know, it’s like, I need you to focus on three three things right now. And you focus on these two things today. And and understand that ultimately, that’s going to be your level of communication.

Mitch Simon 9:51
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors, Marymount University, Arlington, Virginia School of Business and Technology, innovative solutions. skilling for the what’s next and oyster organizational development dedicated to higher performance, business success, and leveraging teams that can be found at oyster And finally, we Django, designing customized talent acquisition solutions at we JU

Ginnie Bianca-Mathis 10:26
Let’s go back a bit because of your philosophy of leadership. But coming on to the school of business was not an easy step for you to take. And I’m going on to ask you to emphasize what were the leadership things you needed to concentrate on in order to build the team and then take those and translate it, you know, when you had to do it all online.

Unknown Speaker 10:57
So the way you go into a situation Like that as you understand that you’re with a group of highly intelligent people who overall chose a career based upon autonomy, and being the smartest person in the room. So if you go into a situation say Hello, I’m here you should follow me they’re gonna look at us be like, really? And and I should do that because So, so the first thing I did was I sent an email to everybody in the team saying in effect, I know it was imposed on you at least that’s the way it seems. I want to get to know you all. Because ultimately, I work for you. And apparently that I learned later people really, I mean, so and then I walked the walk, you know, then I spent the first month and a half I was there talking with each Professor individually, at least once if not more, asking them what they wanted out of their career, not what not what I wanted to do but what what do they want out of their career? What do they want out of life? And and I think that that allowed me to get to know my team, get to see what excited them and then it allowed me as leader to start To think about, well, here’s where I want the organization to go, which was multidisciplinary education, more agility and the things we deliver. Change the cadence. So the MBA provide a template in mind for what I wanted to do. But I knew that I had enough people in the organization that actually had the same vision. They just didn’t necessarily know yet. So then it was able to start saying, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did x, knowing full well, that a lot of people like Jenny, who’s one of my leading faculty members, that may have been thinking about that, too, you know, and, and so and I think that’s really what servant leadership is, you don’t come in and say, we should do this. You come in and think I there are a lot of ways that we can get to where we need to get to what does my team want to do? So, you know, you start to do that. And then if you start to make commitments, little things or big things, whether it’s, you know, I’m gonna watch you’re gonna watch out for you as we go through budget cuts, or I’m gonna watch out for you as we think about tenure progression, right? I mean, I really care about you all as people and you start to enjoy promise something you can’t deliver, but you deliver what you say gonna promise. So before COVID you know, we all looked, I looked at the market position and said, You know what, we need to focus on upskilling and adult learners because we have a business and technology school. And the most important skills according to all the data I’ve seen in our market is management and Python. So we’ve got that in our school. So we need to create more upskilling opportunities and we need to create more cross disciplinary opportunities and we need to accelerate our graduate programs so I went to the professor said, Hey, you know what, we need to shorten our graduate programs so we can do them in a year, which means you’re gonna have to teach eight week terms of 16 week terms. And yeah, I know the industry. But then people said but wait a minute, that makes business sense. Okay, let’s do that. You know what, we should create certificates to help adult learners because will, you know, so as a result, putting a covert aside right now our school is up 8% you’re hear from the standpoint of enrollment and 20% up on credit hours because we went to an advocate and so in the middle of this terrible situation, our university Our school is growing. And so what is COVID? What How does COVID fit together? Well COVID happened I sat down with the faculty whenever we come in said guys, I don’t know when but I can tell you I’m looking at the tea leaves are going to close. Remember Jimmy I mean, it wasn’t like nobody told us we were watching newspaper and and watch it was gone. I said, sometime next week or two, we’re gonna close. So you guys, we all need to get ready to be online. And and we had some professors who didn’t even have a computer with a webcam. So I ran off the Best Buy and bought a bunch of computers and we had a little party where I gave a bunch of people their first laptops. And, and yeah, and suddenly we were online. But you know what, everybody was ready. When I’m ready. Yeah, and but I knew they’d be ready and here’s why. Because I knew because I got to know them all. But they all cared about the students. So we went online, but the education continued really well. Because,

Ginnie Bianca-Mathis 15:06
you know, as you said, you knew what was important to us. And so you could tap into that, in order to keep the vision going, well, it’s proven you get you get greater results, you get greater bottom line results, your people are more engaged, productivity is higher, without question.

Unknown Speaker 15:24
No, I mean, without question, you look, it’s not just it’s not just employees. I mean, if you look at, if you look at the companies that outperform they tend to be companies that have a very clear why, for the people that work there, and for the people that the outside stakeholders, there’s a why and the other and they tend, you know, conscious capitalism, right. I mean, I think that those types of companies outperform. But the other interesting thing is another group of companies that tunap performing, we don’t think about our family enterprises. If you look at the performance of family on enterprises, on the public markets, Visa v companies are not they outperform And I think that it’s all very consistent, which is that if people have a reason for why, you know, then it’s a lot easier to get to the house. But if people have an answer for the why you never get to the house, because they’re scratching their heads thinking, What’s in it for me? Who are you? What does winning look like? You know?

Ginnie Bianca-Mathis 16:18
That’s right.

Mitch Simon 16:19
We’ve heard, we’ve heard on some of their interviews that what COVID-19 is going to do is basically if you’re a great manager, the technology is gonna allow you to really be an incredible manager. If you’re a horrible manager, with COVID, you’re you’re really going to get lost right now. I’m just wondering, in terms of servant leadership, what do you think are the most important tools that are available now to really be an even stronger servant leader, you know, given technology and given the disbursement of your workforce?

Unknown Speaker 16:57
Well, I think the number one thing is you need to figure How to right now in the COVID situation, I think that you need to really understand that people are stressed, people are frightened. And a lot of people are frankly at sea right now in what I would call the crap if occation of information. I mean, there’s so much information available now but you know, it’s the point where there’s propaganda jamming up so it’s it’s so hard right now for anybody to feel that they’re getting the information they need to be able to figure out how to match COVID. And, and so if you’re in the middle of a situation where the there’s this existential threat, I mean, we’re all we’re all hardwired, just on a deep level, fight flight. We’re all hardwired to avoid danger. And we’re being bombarded right now with a danger that we can’t quantify because there’s not enough good information. For reasons that we all could acknowledge, so if people live in an information Apocalypse, what can you do as a leader to help them you have to in the first instance, give them reliable information about what you can control? You know, think about yourself if you’re in coma right now you are, you’re the one thing in everybody’s life that can be consistent. And and can be, can be clear that a moment when everything else is up in the air, right. So this is a great opportunity for a leader. You know, because if you just say, Hey, I think this and this is going to happen, and then it happens. Your team saw that’s great. I talked with Jonathan I feel better. Right. So So I think it starts it starts there. It starts with acknowledging that people are frightened, it starts to acknowledge that people are stressed out. And frankly, the best run organizations right now are figuring out how to accommodate that. Whether it’s teleworking policy or if it’s not a teleworking policy, it’s acknowledgment that people are going to be putting themselves at risk when coming to work. So make sure that you have a mask policy in place. They are unapologetic about that, you know, you just gotta let people know that you understand that this is a really bizarre, scary time. And once you do that, then I think you worry about the other stuff. But to to make pretend that COVID is just as this thing that doesn’t concern you as a leader, I think is is just foolish.

Ginnie Bianca-Mathis 19:36
Right? That’s where the authenticity comes in. Here’s what I know. Here’s what I don’t know. Here’s what I think might happen. I’m not sure but get ready for it. Um, it’s the leaders who try to dance around things. I don’t know who they think they’re fooling because everyone knows and can see it and hear it. Well, I think that’s right.

Unknown Speaker 19:55
Look, I think the other problem right now is that

Unknown Speaker 20:00
I think that organizations feel like they need to provide certainty to their employees. And, and it’s a really uncertain time. I mean, look, if we don’t know what’s gonna happen with the unemployment insurance or what’s going to happen with, you know, with with additional help for the states, I mean, there are some there’s so much variability right now and how the economy is going to look in October, it could look a lot better, it could look a lot worse, we just don’t know because it’s outside of any organization control. These are macro things. People want to know, am I gonna lose my job? The inclination is to say, Well, no, of course not. You know, you may not know it might be more authentic to say, you know what, right now revenue is looking pretty solid. I feel pretty good about the future or you know, what revenue is looking kind of shaky right now. We may have to make some hard decisions in a month or two.

Unknown Speaker 20:51
Maybe you can help me find some revenue. You know, I mean, look, why is my fat

Unknown Speaker 20:58
right me Why is why is sp Up 89% right now, because in the spring is a guys, we didn’t find students started work the problem.

Ginnie Bianca-Mathis 21:07
So, clarity, again, these two things, these three clear messages, not these 10 things and we go off and end up doing none of them.

Unknown Speaker 21:17
Right. The other thing I’ll tell you is that I’m a firm believer that if you have to make significant adverse changes in organization, if you have to do layoffs, if you have to restructure, because some people that are watching this list of this are going to be thinking, well, that’s great, Jonathan, but you know, I’m gonna have to make some hard decisions. The one thing I’ve learned in life is you need to tear the band aid off. If you think that you’re going to need to cut people, you know, you may need to cut people 30% but maybe you get by if you did, 15 out 50 Let’s do 30 Just do it. Get it out of the way and turn the people that are left and say I’m not gonna upset you again. You’re on the team. Let’s get back to work. It’s so important organizations. will bleed to death. Yeah, if they if they try to piecemeal and I think that’s probably the biggest threat that a lot of organizations have right now is I don’t give you bad news or I’ll just dribble it out, as you say, Jenny, and what ends up happening is people will always assume the worst, and will always build a narrative. So just, yeah, rip the band aid off. And there’s a scary Yes. You know, what I

Mitch Simon 22:25
want to hear you saying is, is that leaders today need to not only get real with their people, but really a real with themselves. So, I’m just wondering, you know, fortunately for you, the University University as it has grown in this time,

Unknown Speaker 22:40
which is really our school has absolutely,

Mitch Simon 22:43
really great. I’m just wondering for you personally, you know, you know, yes, the three people on this call right now are fortunate that that our work is we can we can do our work from where we are. I’m just wondering, where are you growing in your In your leadership in your, your spirituality, in your ability to overcome obstacles, you know, what has these last four months done for your thinking or your abilities? One of the things you’re really focused on right now that’s really challenging you as a human as a leader.

Unknown Speaker 23:19
I think that the hardest thing right now for all of us, is it’s just depressing. I mean, it just that the whole environment, you know, between the election and COVID whatever side of the spectrum you’re on right now, it’s just it you’re literally feel like you live in a society that’s just falling apart. And, and it’s only going to get worse as we get through November because sadly, what I’ve learned from watching political campaigns is the most effective tool the consultants seem to have is to demonize the other guy. So we’re going to be it’s going to be a spiral of, of sadness. For so what I think is that The biggest challenge I see for myself and for anybody is, how do you combat this feeling of despair? Right? So I think we ought to start to acknowledge that for anybody, me included, the sameness, right? I mean, yes, I’m working really, really hard. I have days where start 830 and go six, seven, zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom. It’s exhausting. But you know, at the end of the day, every day is a day that ends and why, you know, what day is a blurs day. I mean, it’s just, it’s, it can be just relentless. And so for somebody like me, who who likes to travel, you know, who likes to experience different things who has a life outside of work? That’s based on curiosity. This is a very difficult time. Because there are only so many books you can read before you want to go to a museum and there are only so many museums you want to go to before you want to travel and it’s just very hard. I think it’s hard for interpersonal relationships. I see this in my friends, you know, If you’re not careful, all you do is get together on zoom or social distance and talk about how awful it is. Right? Oh my god, it’s terrible, you know, Fauci this. So I think that for me, the biggest, most difficult thing has been to as an action or in person to be able to tolerate that there are moments that I just can’t, I can’t act. Right. And so that’s one. I think the other thing is people like me who were very action oriented type A, I mean, I dress it up, I think, the servant leadership, but ultimately, I really am competitive, I want to win, right? I want I want to win with my team, but I really want to win and very action oriented is, this is not a time right now where you can necessarily be action oriented to the same level because the economy’s not good and all the other things described. So you have to just, I’ve had to learn how to let some things go. Maybe that’s and I wish I could tell you it’s easy. I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard. People who are driven ambitious, this is a very difficult time. So what I’ve, what I’ve said is just have in your mind, you’re going to accomplish something other than getting really nice sweat pants, learn how to use zoom. You know, so I’ve been reading more history books and playing my guitar. I play my guitar so much when you first locked out, I got really bad tendinitis. Like, last month or so it’s been exactly it’s been making me insane. So, but those are the big things. I think. I think it’s just just letting go of some things that you just don’t understand. There’s things you can’t control. And you know, Mitch, you touched on spiritual spirituality. I think for a lot of people, you know, the the, the idea that there’s a higher power, there’s a higher reason gives people comfort. So I see a lot of that in different ways. I don’t think that everybody is religious, certainly not. But I think everybody has their personal why that This is why copies are why we have a personal why. And and if we are not feeding that, I think that creates less stress. You follow me? It’s all about me. And

Mitch Simon 27:11
is there? Is there one question we should be we should be asking you that we’re not asking you some viewpoint that you have about, about this the world of virtual work given given all of your experiences with all the companies that you’ve started.

Unknown Speaker 27:25
So I, I think that the most important thing I want to communicate to everybody who’s thinking about, well, how do I, how do I make sure I’m the best leader I can be in this moment? I think the most important thing is to pat yourself on the back for asking the question. I mean, most people don’t actually take the opportunity to ask the questions. They just live they just act. You know, over my life. I’ve as I mentioned earlier, I’ve helped start 20 Technology businesses of venture investor. And every time when I helped other people as large other people’s money making investment, I was most concerned about investing a founder who had two big characteristics. And if they didn’t have a mind didn’t invest. The first one was empathy. Now, empathy doesn’t mean that necessarily a warm and cuddly Steve Jobs was the most empathetic people in the world because he understood that the silly device ultimate was going to satisfy unbelievable customer demand. He understood the importance of design. He was empathetic, he understood, he understood how to connect with people, empathy and self awareness. Because Because people who are narcissistic or sociopathic, who are bipolar, who are just impulse driven, generally are unable to correct their behavior because they’re not self aware. Now, sometimes this pathology and it can’t be helpful. Most of the time when people have these behaviors. It’s because something happened to them in their childhood which set them up for that which they Can’t Fix unless they’re self aware, self aware people are always particularly combined self awareness with empathy are highly effective leaders, because they asked a question and they listen to the answer. So, my best advice right now for anybody in a leadership role is ask the question, am I doing a good job? And take the answer and act on it. And don’t be afraid. If somebody comes back and says, You know what, what you just did was absolutely stupid. That was terrible. Or that was great. Don’t, you know, don’t don’t accept the initial answer, drill down and really get good data, you know, because ultimately, it’s authenticity.

Mitch Simon 29:42
Yeah, so I guess, you know, talking about the silver linings in COVID right now, and it really is from a leadership perspective, is it’s an opportunity for you to really go out and get really good feedback. Because I think in an earlier conversation we had Jonathan is, you know, today is not yesterday. It is it is The game has changed. A lot of people haven’t realized it. Those who have realized that are self aware, those who have relied who have realized it, understand that it’s the game is now about empathy. It’s about connection. And I just want to thank you for this interview. This is this is fantastic. All right. Thank you and thanks for joining us another episode of team anywhere.

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