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. Rob Fazio, Leadership Psychologist and Executive Advisor.
Dr. Rob Fazio is the Managing Partner at OnPoint Advising specializing in global leadership and organizational success. His approach to advising combines original research on power, influence, conversations, and motivation as well as over 20 years of consulting to elite performers.
During the Covid 19 crisis Dr. Fazio has been advising hospitals and conducting presentations on Growth Leadership in Times of Crisis to support front line health professionals and executive leadership. His work on Flattening the Anxiety Curve has been featured on Fox News and in The Hill.
Based on his experiences in sport psychology and executive development, he teaches clients how to remove barriers to function at optimal levels. He has worked with executive teams and coached executives throughout organizations including the C-Suite, surgeons, and emerging leaders.
Dr.Fazio has contributed to Forbes, NBC News, NY Daily News, HER Magazine, CEO Magazine, Philadelphia Business Journal, and American Management Association. His advice on navigating turbulent times and politics has been featured in the NY Times and on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and local networks. His book, Simple is the New Smart (foreword by Neil Cavuto), features success strategies he has gleaned from over a decade and a half of working with athletes, executives, and people driven toward excellence. He developed the Motivational Currency® Calculator. This self-assessment reveals what drives people, how well someone can read another person’s motivators, and how effective someone is at using the best approach to tap into someone’s motivators.
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?
Happy to. Two parts of me growing up shaped what I do today. First, I was worried about everything, lacked confidence, and I didn’t want to live the rest of my life that way. I enjoyed sports but talked myself out of playing many times because I was so nervous the ball was going to come to me. The interesting thing is that when the ball did come to me, I knew exactly what to do and did it well. Second, my dad was an executive that commuted to NYC 2 hours each way from northern NJ. He was an extremely hard worker and was passionate about providing for and enjoying his family. However, he worked for a manipulative, power hungry CFO that often took those very two things away from him. He never talked bad about his boss (my mom took care of that), but you could sense it and see it when he got home from work. Somehow it led me to want to be someone who could turn around dysfunctional and poor leadership, because I knew first-hand how it impacted people’s lives inside and outside of work.
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?
Let’s call this one the ignorant American. Early on in my career I was doing a lot of international travel. Because I had doctorate in psychology and was trained in multicultural counseling, I thought I knew what I was doing. I didn’t.
The very first international trip I had was to Bangalore, India for a technology company. I was confident. After all I was a consultant. This was a basic leadership development session. The first day, being in tune with my cultural competence, I spoke slowly, didn’t use colloquiums or jargon, and started to facilitate the session. Early on, I noticed a number of participants nodding their head to the side, somewhat of a slow bobble. This was a clear message that they weren’t picking up what I was putting down. So I slowed down my pace. It kept happening, so I slowed down more and repeated myself. More bobble, more slowing down and more repeating. At this point it was going to take me a month to get through my first slide. I rallied through. At the first break I realized I needed some help. I asked a couple of participants “What does this mean?” as I demonstrated my version of the bobble. They said, “That means yes, we understand.” What a lesson. I presumed nonverbal head gestures were internationally interchangeable. Well, let’s just say the rest of the session was much faster in pace and with a lot less repetition.
I learned that no matter how much training we have, we always need to be in tune with who we want to receive our message. I also learned that I can speak incredibly slowly, which is an achievement for a Sicilian from northern NJ.
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?
I was at a big career crossroads. The firm I was at for just about 8 years wanted to elect me to Director, which mean I would become a senior partner and need to buy into the firm. I had to think about what made the best sense for my career. Do I invest in the firm or start my own? I sent an email to a friend, mentor, and someone I outright admire, Grace Killelea the CEO of Half the Sky. I asked if we could talk through a few things. Knowing that she is in demand, I knew it could be a while. Within a minute I had a note back asking, “Can you call me now?” In our conversation she listened and then told me it was a no brainer and told me to go out on my own. The moment I let my firm know I was going to go out on my own, she connected me with someone to help me brand and create a website, helped me think through a business strategy, and eventually connected me to someone who would help me get my first book deal. She elevated my business and believed in what could be. I continue to learn from her and every conversation she nudges me just a bit further to grow myself and my business. The most unique aspect is you can just feel that she enjoys helping other people be successful. She’s a powerful positive force that I am grateful that she is so graceful and giving.
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?
The purpose of my business is to help people and organizations help themselves be successful. I believe the success pie is large enough for us all. I have a strong passion around helping people be their best in the worst of times. I believe that is why I am often drawn to equipping executives to grow through turbulent times and guide executives through tough turn-around situations. The turn-around situations can be business oriented or a result of making a misstep that took a dent out of their credibility. I believe the more executives we teach to lead with a people first approach, the better results the business gets, and the less stressed people are around their families.
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?
The 2008 financial crisis was challenging one for most professions. Often in down turns, consultants are the first to go, but are also the most important people for leaders to have around. During that crisis while clients were tightening their budgets, I really tried to focus on the intersection of two things. First, continuing to develop ourselves as consultants by practicing what we preach. I encouraged people to find the strength to focus on what we can create rather than what we can’t control. I started suggesting that people create resources that would help their clients navigate what they were experiencing. Second, I focused on being closely connected to clients and being a sounding board. The intersection came from offering collective resources that may be helpful to them.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I didn’t ever consider giving up. There are always going to be ups and downs and a large part of what drives me is creating to collective success and the greater good. I view crises as a great way to strengthen my resourcefulness. Many people are resilient and can navigate turbulent times. One thing I learned early on in working with executives is that many of them score high on feedback related to dealing with tough times, but low on leading others through tough times. The combination of self and others focus is critical. As for what sustains my drive, that’s easy, Reese (5) and Rae (8 months), my two daughters. My wife and I want their kids to see people that can be their best in the worst of times. Our family mantra is, “We’re kind, strong, and help people.” We hope they live that way as well. Early indicators are they are getting it!
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
A person that has Calm Confidence and provides hope and a plan. A leader needs to be able to engage and equip people to accomplish more than they could on their own. The leader helps keep the focus on what’s important and be somewhat of an emotional support system.
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?
The positive shift in psychology we have experienced is that people are certain we will have uncertainty. People’s expectations have changed around having answers to everything and realize situations are more fluid. In some ways this has taken some pressure off businesses. However, it is critical more than ever to demonstrate respect and appreciation for a diverse range of styles and needs. The best way to do this is to diversify your approach to engaging others.
“How do we keep people motivated with all of this uncertainty and fear?” This is a question I continue to get asked from clients during the Covid-19 crisis. The answer is simple but not easy. A common mistake made is that you can motivate people. You can inspire people in the short term, but true motivation is internal and needs to be long lasting. Demonstrating a genuine desire to help people become successful and speaking their language is even more critical in uncertain times.
A shift is needed to stop trying to motivate others and invite people to be motivated. The type of motivation that increases engagement comes from what naturally drives people and lasts longer than a booster shot of enthusiasm. The way to reach people where they are is to appreciate the diversity of drivers and communication styles in people. A simple way to remember this is to key into mind Vibe, Vocabulary, and Vision. Vibe is how you interact with people and demonstrate that you genuinely want to play a role in their success. Vocabulary is using language that taps into people’s motivators. Vision is being forward looking, positive, and painting a picture of how individual contributions lead to collective success.
Think of motivation as a diverse approach to reach people where they are. In his book Human Motivation, Harvard psychologist David McClelland looked at social motives and what drives our behavior inside us. His work led to the development of motivational currency, which is a simple approach to reading and leading based on an appreciation of what drives each individual person. The core four motivators are Performance, People, Power, and Purpose.
By paying attention to what drives others you can adapt your language and approach to meet them where they are.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Same team. Having a guiding image, metaphor, or phrase really helps. I have found the two words, “same team,” serve as a guiding metaphor for me. I want the people I am communicating with during a tough time to have the acute sensation that we are on the same team. I don’t mean saying things like “we are in this together” time and time again. Because the truth is everyone’s circumstances are different and clichés make the person saying them feel better but often aren’t helpful. A more effective approach is communicating the actions that will be taken to demonstrate you are on the same team.
It is fairly clear that how a conversation starts is predictive of its success. Therefore, preparation is key. I believe the best way to communicate difficult news is to balance telling how it is with providing emotional and tactical support. Ideally you have already built a strong relationship based on credibility, consistency, and trust. People will always take tough news better from someone they believe in and want to follow. Work hard to build up this leadership capital, because you will need to use it at some point.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Leaders don’t have a choice. They need to lead or they will have to do the opposite and “deal” with what happens. When making decisions they can communicate their reasons for making those decisions and reinforce the fact that in certain times you will need to adapt as the situation evolves.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Keep your care in balance. Leaders need to spend equal time caring for themselves, their team, the business, and the social good. If you neglect one of them it will impact all of them.
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?
- Only listening to those who agree with you
It is dangerous to only create solutions or navigate a crisis with people who always agree with you. Intentionally stack your crisis team with people who are credible and courageous enough to disagree with you on substantial issues. If you are always agreeing you aren’t seeing the full picture.
2. Letting handling the crisis become the crisis
Business have a way of trying to push back or cover things up and that pours fuel on the fire. Be honest and transparent and take the medicine of any mistakes or miss steps. People will always find a way to uncover what was covered up.
3. Failure to prepare for the next crisis
We have an optimism bias in the United States. We are conditioned to believe that everything will be OK. While that may feel good, the truth is the next crisis or uncertain time is around the corner. Take time to think through what could happen to impact the business and what will you do. This is different than walking around saying the sky is falling. It’s a way to be proactive and strategic so the crisis has less of a negative impact.
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?
Having a diverse range of revenue sources is key. In executive advising that my mean creating an assessment that can create passive revenue. It is also critical to have alliances and partnerships so you can refer one another work. I have found that creating thought leadership during tough times to help others through the tough time has been beneficial. I also believe in offering support and even no cost advice to help your clients when times are tough.
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.
- Sacrifice and Show Up
In March 2020, CEO of the Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC reallocated 85% of their resources to be on the front lines and battle COVID-19. (Health Evolution March 23, 2020.) This decision was not easy because it put our country’s elite surgeons and healthcare professionals right on the front lines in an uncertain time where the science and data were not yet there to rely on. He sacrificed elective surgeries for the greater good. Here is a quote from Mr. Shapiro who made the decision just before the peak of covid in New York.
“First thing is, ‘What are your values and principles?’ Second thing is, ‘What decisions do you make against them?’ It has nothing to do with money. It has to do with winning this war. This war is against COVID-19. Period. End of discussion. All hands-on deck. No one is excused from participating to fight this battle.”
I believe in his courage to sacrifice revenue and “show up” by leading with a people first approach with laser focus on safety and getting NY and the country through a devastating crisis.
2. Don’t Hit the Easy Button, Explore Your Options
In turbulent times people want relief. This often causes executives to go with the first solution, rather than further exploring options. It’s key to have a diverse range of people who are willing to disagree to widen the options before a decision is made. People confuse the importance of acting early, which can just be effective communication, with being forced to make a decision too early. An example of this is Peleton’s decision during the treadmill crisis to push back and try to use logic and prove their treadmills are safe. The mistake they made was they brought data to a war that was going to be fought with emotion.
3. There is Such Thing As Bad PR. Get Good at It
Perhaps if you are a movie star looking to build Instagram followers the lame advice, that no PR is bad PR works, but not when it comes to business. A company can work decades to build up a brand and a CEO can take it away in a minute. Think back to BP CEO Tony Hayward during the handling of the Mexico oil spill. The quote that he will always be remembered by is “I want my life back.” Not the best look when 11 people lost their lives. He and BP became even more of villain.
Any executive that doesn’t actively train themselves and people who speak on behalf of the company on media relations are doing a disservice to the business, shareholders, and employees. Reporters are trained to make headlines and they love the “gotcha” moment. Having expertise in having emotional resourcefulness, how to present under pressure, and how to engage in an interview where you are not in favor is critical.
4. Communicate with Calm Confidence
Lack of clarity, control, and capability is the perfect storm for anxiety, burnout, and disengagement. American’s are attracted to and addicted to confidence. But a certain type of confidence works best, Calm Confidence. Calm Confidence is fact based that provides hope and a plan. Mastering interpersonal effectiveness in conversations and presentations allows for your messages to be heard.
5. Prepare for the Next Tough Time and Create Organizational Pre-Traumatic Growth
According to PWC, 20% of companies say that COVID-19 actually had a positive impact and they attribute much of it to organizational resilience. The framework used to build organizational strength is less important than having something that is simple and has a scientific basis. Turbulent times will continue to happen. Researchers Tedeschi and Calhoun at UNC have taught us about Posttraumatic Growth. Why not be proactive and build growth skills prior to the next event? You and your organization will be more able to not only remain resilient, but also able to lead others through the event. It’s important to know where your strengths lie related to the foundational skills that allow people to grow through adversity. The Growth Through Adversity Survey is a no cost way to understand where a leader’s strengths lie related to 11 growth skills that are found to predict growth following adversity and overall well-being.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
No matter how you feel, it will change. I feel, pun intended, that people get too enticed and overwhelmed by their emotions. Emotions are like the weather, they will always change and the more prepared you are for the tough ones, the less impact they have on you.
How can our readers further follow your work?
The best place to stay connected to me is on LinkedIn where I do a weekly segment called One Take Wednesday. It’s 2 minutes or less on all things leadership and life. Our website and GetOnPoint newsletter also have many free resources.
Video blog: https://onpointadvising.com/video-blog/
GetOnPoint newsletter: https://onpointadvising.com/onpoint-newsletter/
Crisis resources: https://onpointadvising.com/growth-leadership-in-times-of-crisis/