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 Edward Gorbis, a Leadership Coach, and the Founder of Career Meets World, a coaching practice focused on helping growth-minded immigrants and first-generation professionals unleash their full potential by harnessing the power of their mind. In addition, Edward is the podcast host of Career Meets World. Check out Career Meets World, the podcast or message Edward on LinkedIn.
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?
As someone who immigrated from Ukraine to the United States at the age of 4, I had a tough time assimilating in K-12 and my early adult life. I was growing up in a household with loving parents that grew up in a completely different environment. They thought differently. They solved problems differently. They showed compassion differently. Between my immigrant upbringing at home and attending American schools, I often felt conflicted, misunderstood, and truthfully, confused about what was the ideal way to operate and show up in society.
I felt the same way in college and for many years in the workplace, constantly battling between “the immigrant way” of doing things and the current American way of showing up at work and in life.
My immigrant family instilled in me the discipline and focus necessary to be successful but did not provide me the tools, strategies, and communication skills to confidently convey my innate ability coupled with emotional intelligence. I was taught to get a steady corporate job with benefits, similar to those afforded to the them by the government in the Soviet Union. I experienced limiting thinking because of my ancestral lineage.
After obtaining a Bachelors and Masters in Civil Engineering, an MBA, and multiple certifications, I made countless pivots, suffered through a layoff, and ultimately did the deep mindset work necessary for me to overcome limiting beliefs. My greatest realization? The path toward life and career fulfillment and financial independence is not linear, it’s dynamic, and opportunities and money are abundant in the United States.
Through my upbringing, constant self-identity struggle, a great deal of education, hard work, and perseverance, I was able to break through my own limiting beliefs, gain the respect I craved, earn the promotions I wanted, and make money that my parents never thought was possible. Ultimately, I was able thrive as a senior leader at WeWork, one of the fastest growing startups in the world at the time, and eventually go on to start my own leadership coaching practice, Career Meets World.
When reflecting on all of my experiences, I became committed and focused on sharing everything I have learned with other growth-minded immigrants and first-generation professionals so that they can break through limiting beliefs, bypass obstacles in the workplace, and earn the promotions they want with the lucrative pay that they desire.
My parents afforded me a life in America coupled with tremendous courage. Now, as a leadership coach, I am partnering with people who have walked a similar pathway and empowering them to unleash their full potential at work and in life.
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?
One of my first decisions as a first-time leader was to host an offsite for my team. I created a robust plan for the day that included a session with a motivational speaker, team-building exercises, and an afternoon capped with a private sailing trip in the San Francisco Bay captained by yours truly. The day was productive, light-hearted, inspiring, and unifying for our team.
However, at the tail end of our sailing trip in the evening, one of the boat’s rotors suddenly gave out. This was critical because we could not effectively maneuver the boat back into port. Very quickly, this unexpectedly became an exercise of crisis management and a test for me as a leader.
What do we need to do to get us safely back to shore? What do I need to do to ensure everyone is calm? How can everyone be helpful?
I was terrified, particularly for everyone’s safety, but more so because I was not experienced in how to deal with this particular situation. I knew that I had to radio to shore and get help while also communicating the plan to everyone on my team. This was a consistent balance of communication with every individual on my team because everyone had a different reaction to the situation. After 30-minutes of signaling back to shore via radio, we were finally able to obtain guidance on how to safely guide the boat back into port with only one rotor. And fortunately, we all were able to laugh it off once we got off the boat. The day was unexpected and certainly brought the team closer together.
At the end of that day, I reflected on the situation and realized the importance of my reaction and everyone else’s reaction. We had reactions all over the spectrum because everyone had a different relationship with fear and different levels of crisis management experience. That incident, despite a full day of team training exercises, made me realize that we were not well equipped to navigate difficult times together yet. It inspired me to further invest in my team and provide them more team and personalized coaching to elevate their confidence and trust levels in themselves and in each other. I believe that this would allow us to thrive in any potential future turbulent situation.
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?
Everyone needs a supporting cast. I have been fortunate to be surrounded with family, friends, mentors, and a wife that continuously encourage and cheerlead for me. Their collective energy propels me forward and provides me the momentum that is my oxygen.
But there is one person who truly pushed me and challenged me in ways that I am forever grateful to have in my life. My own executive coach at WeWork, Jennifer Robinson, who is still my coach to this day, has inspired and challenged me to grow, learn, and lead with more compassion, focus, and joy. She helped me lead through the darling-days of WeWork to the onslaught of daily media publications that showcased the company’s failed IPO.
It’s where I learned crisis management as a leader and experienced firsthand what resilient leadership requires. When people are there for you during tumultuous moments, you cherish that and she now is a guiding force as I continue to scale Career Meets World.
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?
Every entrepreneur starts with an idea and vision for a product or service that will hopefully provide beneficial value to others. I started Career Meets World with the intention of teaching a broad audience about the intersection of your career and financial growth. I wrote countless blog posts on my website, posted diverse thoughts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, and joined various podcasts. Though admirable, it was not focused. I did not get the results I wanted nor landed any clients initially.
I knew I had to dial in on who I want to serve at first and then expand, but how exactly do you do that? When trying to niche down, I spent countless hours overthinking and wondering if I could ever find the right group of people to help and serve.
Starting a business is certainly not easy and requires every entrepreneur to tap into a different part of their brain and re-wire their beliefs before finding the coveted clarity. This is not easy to do, so my recommendation is to get help. I personally hired a coached, who is also my mentor, because I knew I was not going to overcome the mental blocks I was facing. Having someone teach you how to effectively operate your life, your career, or your business will provide you the everlasting confidence and belief system to overcome any challenge. Once you conquer your mindset, it will provide you the energy and empowering beliefs to take powerful action. This will feel daunting and gratifying at the same time, and it’s natural — new level, new devil.
For me, the inspiration to become an entrepreneur is rooted in my passion to help people overcome the same limiting beliefs and struggles that I endured. And through my own personal work with my coach, I pivoted Career Meets World to help immigrants and first-generation professionals unleash their full potential by harnessing the power of their mind.
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?
I had the pleasure to work at WeWork, which was considered one of the fastest growing start-ups in the world in 2019. When I joined the company in 2018, I was tasked with hiring the West Coast Account Management team — 21 people to be specific. We built a powerhouse for a team that collectively closed $25M in total contract value, quarter over quarter, for 1.5 years. Although I heavily lean toward leading with competency, because I value rationale, structure, and strategy, I often found that our team’s strength was predicated on sincerity and openness.
At the tail end of September 2019, WeWork’s coveted IPO failed miserably. Once the “Tiffany’s” of hypergrowth, it now flailed and my team was in a panic, wondering how the company would survive and whether they would still have a job. Being honest and transparent was the intuitive, obvious, and the most impactful road to take with my apprehensive team. To assuage their concerns, I shared stories of other companies that rebounded amidst turbulent times and was open about how I felt in the situation and what I was doing to cope with the uncertainty.
I ultimately did the right, yet the hard thing, recommending that they hedge and look for roles elsewhere just in case the company needed to resize and restructure. It was incredibly difficult. However, this approach created a camaraderie that I could have never envisioned. The team rallied around one another and continued to deliver impactful results despite the challenges in front of them. Yes, we did build a powerhouse for a team that collectively closed $25M in total contract value quarter over quarter for 1.5 years and it was all anchored in radical transparency and communication.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
My suspicion is that every human initially has the thought of giving up when life becomes “difficult.” The difference between a successful human and most humans is how long this thought lasts. How long do they allow themselves to sit with the idea that now may be the time to give up?
I’ve had this thought percolate in my mind constantly throughout my career and during my education. I never gave up though. I knew the struggle was part of my journey. I knew that every obstacle or perceived problem was happening for me, not to me. When I started to look at the world through the lens that everything is happening for me, I started to quickly overcome defeating thoughts without letting them deflate my energy or ability to continue on my path toward success.
And today, I am more energized than ever to help others reach the same level of motivation of drive. I am motivated to support as many immigrants and first-generation professionals who want to experience live-changing success in the workplace and in their relationships. I want to help end their personal suffering as I had gone through at various stages of my life. This mission propels me every single morning I wake up.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The number one role a leader has is to build trust with your team by investing into the individual people. When you invest in your team, you will experience exponential results.
When we do this correctly, leaders earn deep, unwavering trust. This is the most critical element during challenging times because when challenging times hit, a leader can clearly and transparently articulate what needs to be done as a collective unit to overcome the hardship.
Over and over, the most successful leaders continually operate through this powerful state of being. Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, and Brian Chesky, the CEO of AirBnB, were exemplary in their immediate response for their teams at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. They privately and publicly explained what, why, and how they were going to crisis manage, and because they had spent years building up trust, they were able to collectively weather the storm of the pandemic.
And in December 2020, just 9 months after the start of a tumultuous period, both companies experienced something special. Slack was acquired for $27.7B by Salesforce, a record amount for a SaaS company. AirBnB entered the public markets via a long-awaited IPO. Both liquidation events served as a reward for their employees, and it was a reflection of their leader’s ability to develop deep trust.
Leaders who focus on building trust and providing transparency are significantly better positioned to withstand challenging times.
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?
Uncertainty is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s predicated on our survival instinct and want to feel comfort and security. Whether it’s political turmoil or a reorganization at a company, people will often feel concerned about their future and productivity will go out the window.
The easiest way to motivate your team is to demonstrate high EQ, recognizing that your team has other responsibilities in their lives that require their attention. Pandemic or not, consider offering either a four-day week or shorter work days to help keep energy levels high. This provides them flexibility in return for extreme focus during the shortened work week.
By shortening the workday or workweek, you’re reassuring your employees that they’ll be able to address their personal needs. Extra time will also help them keep up with exercise, sleep and other wellness activities that’ll help boost their immune systems.
The best way to begin is by simply asking your team what would help them. Consider offering a combination of work-shortening options. Stagger the reduced schedules to help everyone get a time that works for them. It’s not about how much time a person puts into their work; it’s about the quality of their output.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Radical transparency. It’s not only the ethical action but the fastest way to retain your team and customers in the long term. Take the time to explain what’s happening, what are the implications, what are the options, and what are the proposed solutions. This type of intelligent thinking will help win over your team and customers when the world gets extremely noisy.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Every leader needs a vision. It doesn’t matter how small or big their team may be, have a vision. When leaders have a vision, they can start to formulate new plans regardless of what may be happening in the present moment.
As humans, when we focus on the future, we start to experience hope and possibility. We start to visualize the potential outcome beyond a specific moment in time. And in doing so, we’re able to unlock energy to create thoughtful and intentional plans.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle can be borrowed from The Three Musketeers, “One for all and all for one.” A company and its people need to bond together around the mission of organization. This is not a time for finger-pointing and “what-if” conversations. It is a time to recognize that you will overcome this turbulent time by rallying together and using your collective strength and knowledge to outlast the storm.
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?
During difficult times, businesses often make 3 common mistakes, in no particular order.
- They do not effectively communicate with their team and customers
No one wakes up and says, “Today, I want to deliver tough news to people I care about in my life.” It’s naturally difficult, but real leadership requires communicating with your partners and your team through the good times and the bad. People are scared and feeling uncertain about their job security and their business. It’s essential for leaders to be honest about the challenges the company is facing, even when they do not have all the answers.
2. They go into denial
When leaders do not mentally prepare for what a turbulent time may bring, they often ignore the facts in front of them and enter a long period of denial. They struggle to move from denial to acceptance and ultimately hurt their team or business. To allow yourself to process the new world around you, take the time to invest in yourself and your team during more calm times. Strengthening your mind is your ticket to success during difficult times.
3. They resist change and new ideas
Any leader would be scare to look at their business and realize it’s no longer sustainable. The most limiting mistake they could make is resisting change and turning a blind eye to new ideas.
I encourage founders and leaders to remember that they started their businesses by going against the grain, challenging the status quo, and entering a blue ocean. Mentally strong leaders are uniquely adaptable and are best equipped to pivot during arduous times. Creative thinking and an adaptive mentality are their best assets right now.
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?
For me, everything is predicated on relationships. I’ve spent my entire life focused on continually building new relationships and strengthening existing ones. Whether it’s with my team or clients, I know that we can have open and honest conversations about what needs to happen or how we need to adjust to navigate through the difficult times. This openness can only happen if we invest the time into building trust with people over time. There are no shortcuts.
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.
As a leadership coach and motivational speaker, I strongly advocate that leaders get hyper-focused on their micro-goals during turbulent times.
To so do, I recommend that high-performing leaders focus on 5 specific areas.
- Help your people upgrade their mindset
Our minds are malleable and everything we experience is a reflection of our belief system. By encouraging or supporting every team member re-wire their belief system, they will be able to unlock powerful energy to show up more confidently and effectively at work and in their personal lives, especially during challenging times. How do you do this? The simplest way is to either guide them through the work yourself or to partner with a third-party coach that can support your team in this growth process.
2. Clear out all the non-high-impact activities
We all have the same number of hours throughout the day with competing priorities. Encourage your team to create a not-to-do list with activities that steal their time and drain their energy. This will create more time in their day to focus on the activities that drive meaningful impact.
3. Create structure with flexibility
We all crave some structure and stability. However, difficult times require us to adapt and quickly adjust. When we have a well-designed structure, similar to the foundation or frame of a home, we can still operate within those boundary conditions even if there’s a massive disruption, such as an earthquake for example. The home will temporarily experience some uncomfortable shaking, but will most likely withstand a complete collapse. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create a dynamic structure that allows you to adjust when necessary.
4. Allow people to take risks with confidence
Giving your team permission to take risks will yield creativity and magnified results for your team. As a leader, this requires you to build long-term trust with your team through deep meaningful relationships. When you’re able to successfully do this, both parties will have the space to take risks on new, potentially ground-breaking ideas. This particularly is important when it’s “all hands-on deck” during turbulent times.
5. Positive reinforcement will go a long way to elevate morale during difficult times.
Everyone has their own unique strength, and it is your job as a leader to tap into the strength of every individual during difficult times. Let everyone leverage their power to help you overcome this period of uncertainty together. It’s the easiest, most-productive realization you can make as a leader during hard times.
Operating through a storm is not easy. Pilots and captains rely on their navigation systems as well as their intuition systems to navigate carefully. Leaders in the workplace are no different. Rely on your people, your tools, your systems to overcome the turbulence until the weather system passes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by Paulo Coelho, author of the Alchemist, “Close some doors today. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because they lead you nowhere.”
I have had my own set of experiences and built various relationships throughout my life. However, as my interests shift and ambitions become more focused, I realize that not everyone or everything is relevant in my life anymore. I have learned that it’s perfectly alright to close doors on experiences, organizations, and people in my life. This allows me more time to focus my energy on serving my community and empower growth-minded immigrants and first-generation professionals to unleash their full potential.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I love connecting and supporting people in their career and leadership journey. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, listen to the Career Meets World podcast, and subscribe to the Career Meets World newsletter to get weekly leadership tips.