As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need to Be a Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Adam Bandelli.
Dr. Adam Bandelli, author of WHAT EVERY LEADER NEEDS, is Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates, a leadership advisory firm based in New York City. Prior to founding the firm, Bandelli was a partner at Korn Ferry where he led the private equity assessment practice for North America. Earlier, he was a partner at RHR International serving as one of the firm’s leaders on CEO succession and leadership development. Bandelli received his PhD and master’s degrees from the University of South Florida in industrial-organizational psychology, and a bachelor’s degree concentrating on psychology and business management from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is a frequent speaker at Fortune 500 companies, leadership retreats, and business and professional settings.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Sure, my name is Dr. Adam C. Bandelli, and I am an NYC-based business psychologist and leadership advisor. I own and run, Bandelli & Associates, a boutique management consulting firm. At the core of what we do is the belief that the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. Prior to starting my firm in 2016, I spent 10 years working as a consultant and leadership advisor for a global management consulting firm. My work focused on CEO succession, senior team effectiveness, executive assessment and integration, transformational culture change, executive coaching, and high potential development with some of the world’s largest companies and organizations.
I started my career as an HRBP for a global technology company. During that time, I worked with some of the best thought leaders in my industry. It was my first exposure to leadership competencies — the skills and behaviors that make for effective leadership in any organization. This was the start of work I would do for the next twenty years, which culminated with my first book, What Every Leader Needs: The Ten Universal and Indisputable Competencies of Leadership Effectiveness (www.whateveryleaderneeds.com).
After spending four years as a strategic HRBP, I decided to pursue my doctoral degree in industrial-organizational psychology at the University of South Florida. I got to work with seasoned experts in my field on leadership, motivation, and organizational effectiveness. My training and education as a business psychologist culminated with my doctoral dissertation, which focused on leadership, relationships, and influence. I developed a conceptual framework of the five essential skills that every leader must have in their repertoire if they are to successfully connect with people and build strong, long-lasting relationships. I’ve used this model for relationship development throughout my entire career and it has helped my clients have tremendous impact and influence in their personal and professional lives. It has become one of the cornerstones for the work we do at my firm. My consultants build genuine and authentic relationships with our clients. This contributes to the deep trust and partnership that we have with senior executives.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Upon completing my doctoral degree, I was recruited to join a global management consulting firm. After going through a rigorous interview process with 10–15 different leaders from the firm, I accepted their offer and flew out to Chicago for their annual global conference. This was an internal staff meeting where every consultant in the company was in attendance. On the first day of the conference, I walked into the main auditorium in a three-piece suit. I quickly realized that the dress code was business casual. It was quite an embarrassing moment but taught me a valuable lesson that I have used throughout my career. You need to know your audience before stepping in the room. Yes, it is important to dress to impress, but you must understand the context and culture of an organization if you want to have an impact upon it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I met my first mentor. He was the Chair of the Psychology Department at my university. In my freshman year, I took his introduction to industrial-organizational psychology course. I was fascinated by the work he did as a consultant and leadership advisor. At the end of the semester, I wrote him a letter to thank him for all that I learned in the class. A month later I received a call from one of his graduate assistants that he wanted to invite me to come to a presentation he was giving at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference in NYC. I jumped at the opportunity to learn more. His talk was on a concept I had never heard before — emotional intelligence. This was a year after Daniel Goleman wrote his groundbreaking book. My mentor and I went out to lunch later that day and I told him I wanted to learn all that I could from him. This started a partnership between us for the next four years and set the course and direction for my purpose and calling in life.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When I started my consulting firm, I had one goal in mind — helping leaders develop and grow into the best versions of themselves. I believe I’ve been called to identify, unlock, and unleash the full potential of the senior executives I work with. The vision for my business is to be one of the best leadership advisory consulting firms in the world. We exist to help our clients build strong, long-lasting relationships with their people, teams, and organizations. Our mission is comprised of three things: a) courage — we challenge our clients to believe in the impossible; b) strength — we empower our clients to capitalize on their greatest talents, skills, and capabilities; and c) fearlessness — we inspire our clients to be bold, take calculated risks, and drive lasting positive change.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
To effectively lead in times of change and uncertainty, you must continually sow into the relationships and lives of your people. When we entered the COVID-19 global pandemic, I knew I had to do something to keep my people connected and engaged. We also had to do something to support our clients. So, we did two important things. First, for my people, I set up weekly Zoom meetings where everyone could discuss how they were doing personally. This was not about business priorities or our work. It was about how my people were doing mentally and emotionally. What challenges were they facing on the home front? How were they dealing with working remotely? Were they taking time for their health and physical well-being? Next, we started doing short sixty second videos to help our clients navigate the pandemic. We reached out to some of our largest client organizations and asked them to submit questions about how to effectively lead through times of uncertainty. My team spent the next fifteen weeks releasing a video a week answering some of the most pressing questions and issues. You can visit our YouTube channel (search for Adam Bandelli) to see all the videos we have released over the last year and a half.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
The first year I started my firm was extremely challenging. I had a network of senior executives that I had worked with in the past, but I was building my website, putting together our service offerings and marketing materials, and trying to establish a brand for the firm. There were many days when I felt I was over my head and didn’t know how we were going to bring money in the next month. There is a saying in the leadership advisory world with our client work, “feast or famine.” That first year was mostly famine. I had to tap into my personal savings to keep the ship afloat. The motivation to continue was the mission and purpose that I had. I’ve always known that I have been called to do this type of work. I develop leaders. It is not something I do. It is who I am. That sustained my drive and perseverance during the challenging and difficult periods. It kept me passionate and determined to stay the course and pursue my goals and dreams.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Leadership is about influence. We can only have influence if we are consistently building strong personal relationships with our people. Great leaders take time for their employees during good and bad times. In fact, they spend more time with their people when things are not going well. A leader’s role is to provide support, encouragement, and inspiration to their followers. They must model the right behaviors and walk the talk. You can only have sustained excellence in your organization if your people know that you’re in their corner and have their backs.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?
In my latest book, What Every Leader Needs: The Ten Universal and Indisputable Competencies of Leadership Effectiveness, I talk about the power of inspiration to boost morale and build people up in times of uncertainty. There are three things that great leaders do to keep their people motivated and engaged. First, they consistently reinforce their vision for the organization. If you want to motivate people and drive commitment, you need to be able to captivate your audience around a shared mission and purpose. Second, you need to speak words of encouragement. As leaders, what we say matters. When leaders recognize and praise their employees, it goes a long way. The right comment at the right time reinforces the value everyone brings to the team. It motivates people during challenging periods and adversity. Lastly, it is critical to spend time developing others. This should always be a priority but is even more important when people are navigating uncertain times. When you help others develop and grow, we create cultures of excellence.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
When communicating difficult news, you must be open, honest, and transparent. People value candor and authenticity. If you want to inspire loyalty and dedication from your employees, they need to know what’s going on in good and bad times. When challenges arise, get your team together and discuss the key issues. Ask for input from you people about how the team might work together to solve the problem. When it comes to your customers, always keep lines of communication open. Great leaders keep their clients and customers informed. They look around corners and anticipate things that might change. They are not afraid to consistently solicit feedback so that their processes, products, or services can be improved.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I’ve found that there are four important things leaders must do. First, you must have a vision for the future. Vision is about developing a clear sense of mission and purpose that provides direction to others. Leaders who clearly translate and communicate goals and priorities in a simple and succinct manner get buy-in from their people. Second, you must be committed to your people, teams, and organization. Commitment is about persevering with confidence and composure under difficult and high-stress situations. Committed leaders have the fortitude to stay the course and make tough decisions for the benefits of the enterprise. Third, consistency matters. Consistency is about leading with character, courage, and integrity at all times. Consistent leaders demonstrate the courage of their convictions. They know when to listen and when to press a point. They understand and embrace the benefits and burdens of leadership. Lastly, great leaders make plans for the future through innovation. Innovation is about applying continuous improvements to processes and procedures over time. Innovative leaders refine goals and objectives along the way. They drive the creativity needed to effectively manage the rapid pace of change.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
It’s all about relationships and compassion. Compassionate leaders have an impact on people through open communication, social awareness, and what I call relational intelligence. Relational intelligence is the ability to successfully connect with people and build strong, long-last relationships. Great leaders empathize with the experiences of others during turbulent times. I’ve seen this with many of our clients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Strong leaders do not overly rely on their personal experiences. They take time to establish rapport with others. They understand people and value diversity, equity, and inclusion. They build trust over time by being committed and consistent with their people. They use their influence for the greater good. They possess a deep understanding and the ability to anticipate the needs of others through active listening and being inquisitive.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Sure, one of the biggest mistakes leaders make during difficult times is only focusing on performance objectives and financial outcomes. We all know businesses need to drive revenues and hit their targets; however, if this is the only thing you focus on at the expense of your peoples’ mental and emotional well-being problems start to quickly surface. Another mistake is not taking time to check-in with your people. We are all dealing with different challenges right now. Some employees had to spend the last year home schooling their children. Others had to care for elderly family members. If a leader doesn’t show empathy and compassion, they lose buy-in, alignment, and commitment from their people. Lastly, when leaders are not passionate about their work it can have a detrimental effect on the people around them. Employees look up to leaders that demonstrate a positive and optimistic sense of energy and enthusiasm. Passionate leaders operate with a never-ending desire to be the best in their area of expertise. This galvanizes the folks around them and moves people to exceed performance expectations.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
It’s all about planning, forecasting, prioritizing, and consistency. When I released, What Every Leader Needs in April 2020, my team put together a massive marketing and promotional campaign that we rolled out to all our clients and network partners. We put together promotional gift boxes with pens, journals, mugs, and bookmarks along with the book. This went out to over 500 of the leaders in our global network. We also launched a video series on the ten leadership skills in the book. When leading and running your own business, you must keep an eye focused on the future. You need to be looking around the corner and anticipating where future revenue will come from. We do the traditional annual forecasting but go a step further to identify new markets and industries that we want to penetrate in the upcoming year. I’ve found this to be tremendously helpful when navigating challenging and turbulent times.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Set a Vision for Your Future: You need to have an idea of where you want to take your business. What is the impact and influence that you want to have on others? What products or services do you want to provide to your customers? What do you want your mission and purpose to be? Several years ago, I helped an executive vice president of a Fortune 100 electronic retailer set the vision for her team. She was new to the role and was succeeding a predecessor that had been leading the team for close to a decade. She had to get an idea of what she wanted her team to focus on and get buy-in and alignment from her people. We were able to put together a compelling vision for the team and it helped them drive results for the next two years of their journey together.
- Consistently Demonstrate Vigilance: Vigilant leaders demonstrate personal accountability and ownership for decisions, results, and consequences. They establish clarity of expectations and accountabilities regarding deliverables, timelines, and key milestones. They use structure, process, and strong procedures to instill a sense of urgency in their people. During the pandemic, my team worked with a clothing retailer that needed to change their entire business model and adjust to the changes that were occurring in the external landscape. Their CEO rallied the troops around the changes that needed to be made, and then held people accountable to driving results. I coached him on how to engage and inspire his people while being vigilant to get their desired outcomes. Their organization was one of the few retailers that came out of the pandemic stronger than they were going into it. His commitment to vigilantly following up with his people is what made it possible.
- Build Up Your Endurance: Endurance is about having stamina, resilience, and tenacity to achieve your goals during times of change and uncertainty. Leaders have dealt with unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. Their employees are working harder than they ever have before. The lines between work and home life have disappeared. Leaders who possess endurance remain persistent under adversity and setbacks. They thrive under pressure and have effective strategies for managing stress. A CEO for one of our financial services clients has demonstrated endurance over the course of the last year. I have coached her on staying committed to the mission and vision for her people and the organization. We have focused on creating a greater emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion across their enterprise. We also built a high potential talent development program for their star performers. She has initiated all these programs by demonstrated courage under fire amidst the challenges of COVID-19.
- Develop Your Relational Intelligence: Relational intelligence in the ability to successfully connect with people and build strong, long-lasting relationships. In my next book that I’m releasing in 2022, Relational Intelligence: The Five Essential Skills You Need to Build Life-Changing Relationships, I discuss the framework for how leaders can effectively engage and interact with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. Relational intelligence is a skill set that all leaders need to learn and practice on a consistent basis. We currently use our proprietary Bandelli Relational Intelligence Model in all the work our consultants do with our clients. This shows up the most in our executive coaching work and the engagements we do around senior team effectiveness. Relationally intelligent leaders have the most influence and impact on their people because they put in the time and effort that is required to touch the lives of others.
- Learn from Your Mistakes: Wisdom comes from understanding how today’s decisions will impact tomorrow. You can only acquire wisdom through experience. Good experiences are helpful to repeat successful behaviors, but we learn the most from setbacks or failure. You must be mindful of things that don’t go your way and learn the valuable lessons that they provide. When you go through a challenging or difficult season ask yourself this question, “what did this come to teach me?” If you learn the lesson, you will not make the same mistake twice. I’ve been coaching a senior executive in the technology industry for the last two years. When we started working together, he had several blind spots and derailing behaviors that were having a negative effect on his leadership. Through our process of assessment and feedback, we identified the key areas and put a development plan in place to drive change. Today, he is leading a team that is engaged, inspired, and motivated because he learned from his mistakes and made the necessary changes to show up better for his people.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Wow there are so many to pick from! Here’s three mottos that I live by: “A great man doesn’t seek to lead; he’s called to it.” “You’re much stronger than you think you are.” “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’ve been called to do the work that I do. It is a blessing to touch the lives of my clients and help them reach their full potential. Through my personal challenges, life circumstances, and experiences, I have learned to harness the power and lessons learned from my setbacks and failures. Even in the moments when I have been weak, I have always focused on the inner strength, drive, and perseverance that keeps me going. As a business psychologist and leadership advisor, I have the ability to influence and impact my clients and their organizations. This comes with great responsibility. I don’t believe in doing anything half-hearted. If your passionate about something, give your all and constantly strive to show up tomorrow better than you did today.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow us at our firm’s website (www.bandelliandassociates.com). You can also find information about my latest book, What Every Leader Needs: The Ten Universal and Indisputable Competencies of Leadership Effectiveness at (www.whateveryleaderneeds.com). Your readers can subscribe to the Bandelli & Associates YouTube channel (search for Adam Bandelli) for the latest videos on leadership and organizational effectiveness. They can also follow me on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/adambandelli/), Twitter (www.twitter.com/abandelli), and our firm’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BandelliandAssociates).