As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Benjamin Ritter.
Dr. Benjamin Ritter, is a Chicago, IL, and Austin, TX, based leadership and career coach, regional learning manger for YPO, national speaker, podcaster, author, mentor, and passionate about guiding others in finding, creating, and sustaining a career they love. He believes that everyone deserves to feel their work is meaningful, and yes, that means you.
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?
Thank you so much for having me! I have a background in Organizational Leadership, entrepreneurship, healthcare, and have been coaching for the past 10 years. My work as a leadership and empowerment coach developed because back in 2015 it was the only path that seemed to fulfill my desire to work in the realm of professional development. I was working as a healthcare executive and side hustling as a coach at the time but felt stuck, underutilized and didn’t feel that my work was meaningful.
Now it wasn’t as simple as I’m making it sound, as anyone that’s felt that their work isn’t the best fit may know. I spent a lot of time withdrawing and becoming resentful towards my job. But luckily, I was able to realize what was going on and that I was the cause, I expected my work to give me meaning instead of creating it. So I took my career into my own hands and asked myself what I was trained to do, passionate about, and what challenges I wanted to face and I crafted my career to fit those answers.
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?
There are many moments in my career where a person said one thing that changed my trajectory and made a major difference in my life. I remember when I was first deciding on how to craft my business; structure, pricing, next-steps etc, I spent a lot of time connecting with other coaches on linkedin. There was one conversation that truly empowered me to just take action and not worry about any of the other stuff. The advice was along the lines of, find the one thing that you want, the one thing that will move the needle toward it, and the one thing you need to do to make progress toward that every day. Cut everything else out.
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?
As my slogan is live for yourself and create a career you love I’m all about my business being founded on it’s purpose.
What is funny to mention though is that the way that I define my purpose had to be redefined for my target client. I’ve always wanted to help lead others to take back control of their work and life but that doesn’t really resonate with people, neither did the concept of live for yourself (not until after they went through a coaching program). What has hit home with a lot of people though is the idea of creating a career you love and finding meaning at work.
It’s important when creating or communicating your purpose you test what the market will resonate with. You don’t have to change your purpose, just maybe how you convey it.
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?
At the core of my leadership style and what I guide clients toward developing is the concept of humanistic leadership, leading the whole person, and self-leadership, empowering others to lead themselves. During uncertain or difficult times these areas become even more important. Leaders need to understand what their teams are going through (at home and at work) and communicate the same from themselves and about the organization. It’s also incredibly important during these conversations for leaders to encourage and give their teams permission to ask for what they need, from resources, and work and relationship adjustments.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Giving up on one thing doesn’t mean you have to give up on your purpose. I don’t really perceive stopping one thing to do another giving up, it’s more an adjustment, and at the core I am still living true to my values. This focus on value aligned work leads to a never-ending source of motivation and drive.
Of course there are going to be days when you need to relax and build space to refuel your soul, but I always remind myself of my values, the impact I’m having, and my plan moving forward.
The combination of values and clarity can lead to magic.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader at any time is to create, adapt, and sustain an environment that motivates your team. It’s that simple but I can’t stress how important this is, and how nothing else truly defines a leaders responsibility more than this.
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?
It’s wishful thinking that you will always be able to boost the morale of your team. You don’t control their emotions as a leader, you can only provide the ingredients to help them be more inspired and motivated.
In times of uncertainty it’s important that you create as much clarity and transparency as possible for your team. Tell them what’s going on, all the things that you and they can do to help, what the organization is doing, and the results that may happen in the future. Good or bad news your role is to help your team understand what’s going on, the plan, and potential results, and throughout the process as for their assistance. Help them feel part of everything.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Communicating difficult news is best done my communicating it. You may roll your eyes at that advice but so often employees are the last to know about information that concerns them the most.
Whenever there’s a need call a meeting with your team, explain what’s going on, and leave room for questions. Next it’s also best to have 1:1’s with your team afterward to gauge how they feel and field any questions that tend to arise when employees have time to process and talk to each other without management involved.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
A leader’s plans don’t have to be perfect or right and most of the time they won’t be (unpredictable times or not). But it’s important that you make time to develop potential options while also including your team. Uncertainty requires that you give ownership to your team throughout the planning process.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Find a way to create corporate transparency through turbulent times. If it’s an all associate meeting, CEO live chat, weekly coffee updates, whatever you want to call it. Don’t hide information from your employees, and throughout the process when possible get their feedback, opinions, and even let them submit potential solutions (make sure to let them know that their ideas were read, valued, and considered).
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?
Businesses are always going to make mistakes. The goal is to try to do them with the buy-in of your employees so they can’t get too angry about them (this is sort of a joke but also too true).
Some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen businesses make is that they make decisions in silos that impact other departments, they lack standardized processes, and valuable high achievers aren’t given opportunities to grow.
Each one of those mistakes requires that businesses build in time for leaders and teams to evaluate their work, know about what other departments are working on, and individual employee strengths. These aren’t mistakes that are going to be fixed over night but a lot of improvement can be made by calling them out and making them organizational goals.
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?
I know the focus of this article is on turbulent times but a business should always be evaluating revenue streams, costs, client trends, market competition, and be aware that nothing is ever a given. A successful business requires a lack of ego so that you can be aware of how things are changing. Too often I’ve seen companies fail because leaders want to bull through a market that is showing all signs of failing.
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.
- Focus on building and sustaining a foundation of trust with your team. As mentioned previously, transparency, communication (not just about what work to do, or problems, but also solutions and just to chat), will create greater trust throughout the team. You need to be seen as supportive not directive.
- Be aware of the work your team is doing, and ensure that your employees strengths and interests are being matched with the right work, and that they are able to delegate or are at least being recognized for work they might not like.
- Ensure that your team has the resources they need to do the work they are doing (all equipment and training). This is especially important in the remote environment where now employees have been sent home and might not have the office space, a fast enough internet connection, a clear microphone or camera for video calls, child care for their families, etc.
- Evaluate working relationships and communication between team members. Mediate any conflict where possible, and promote close relationships on projects. To this regard encourage connection and social time outside of scheduled (weekly) meetings.
- Highlight the meaning that you feel about your work and remind your team members about what drew them to their work in the first place. Meaning is the source of motivation and engagement for individuals.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The journey is the destination.
As leaders we tend to see the future as the goal instead of the moment. When it comes to managing teams, who your employees are right this very second and what they are going through matters more than anything else.
From a personal level it’s a reminder to enjoy the now instead of planning on enjoying the future while sacrificing the present.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’d love for everyone to connect with me on linkedin, https://www.linkedin.com/in/ritterbenj
Check out my content on youtube and why not have some fun and just google Dr. Benjamin Ritter or Live for Yourself Consulting.