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 Janine Garner.
Janine Garner is the best-selling author of It’s Who You Know, From Me To We and her latest book Be Brilliant — how to lead a life of influence is available in bookstores around the world.
Janine is a global thought leader on connection. She is obsessed about the power of connection and how this helps to build brilliant relationships, unlock incredible and innovative collaborations, unleash leadership potential and ultimately help businesses make money, drive performance and fuel momentum.
She is a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School of Executive Education in the Art and Practice of Leadership and holds an honorary doctorate in Science from Aston University (UK) and a Bachelor of Science. She is also a Partner of Thought Leaders Global, the world leaders in education for commercially smart experts.
Over the past two decades, Janine has worked with thousands of high-profile leaders and helped countless of Australia’s top 50 ASX companies and multinationals — EY, CBRE, DXC Technology, Hewlett Packard, Micro Focus, Optus and CBA to name a few.
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?
I was born to a working-class, farming family in the north of England. My dad was a poultry framer and my stay at home num juggled kids, the farm and the market on weekends. I was the first generation to go to university thanks to a government grant and moved away from home at 18. I moved to London at 22 to start my marketing career and at the age of 29 decided to pack it all in and start again on the other side of the world, Australia. Since then I’ve built a successful marketing career, failed two start-ups and founded and sold another business. I am now an author, speaker and leadership trainer and my work has seen me travel the world delivering keynotes and running workshops for organizations looking to unlock and develop the talent within their walls.
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?
Oh my goodness — so many! The biggest mistake is that I tried to do everything myself — I was the CEO, the COO, the perceived master of absolutely everything and of course I couldn’t do it all. So I don’t necessarily think it was the funniest mistake but wow did I learn from it when I hit rock bottom from sheer mental exhaustion. And I see the same happening with many entrepreneurs and start-ups — our passion and vision push us on to keep investing more and more hours, to keep going but at some point mistakes kick in and you have to get help and support. No-one is successful alone.
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?
Again there are so many people that have helped me along the way from mentors to cheerleaders, from people keeping me sane and in the moment to teachers pushing me to do more. And I think part of leadership is identifying the help you need and seeking out the right support at the right time. My mentor for many years was Matt Church, the founder of Thought Leaders Global. Without his support, reframe and constant pushing there wouldn’t be the unique IP that I have created and now share around the world. But equally without the constant encouragement, support and belief of my husband who is absolutely there, partnering me the whole way it would have been challenging to travel the world, build a business, invest the hours needed alongside raising a family of three.
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?
My vision is and always has been around unlocking potential in others. I have refined this over the years and now have a very clear mission — to unlock brilliance in 10 million people over the next 10 years, by 2030. You see, when we unleash the potential within ourselves we create the environment for hose around us to do the same — and so the potential ripple effect of this impact is was core driver in everything I do.
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?
During times of uncertainty and challenge, emotions, anxiety and stress levels are all heightened. It is our job as leaders to meet people where they are at, to provide the safe environment that facilitates open conversation, debate and ideation. For me, it’s about slowing everything down to gain perspective so that, like a thermostat, I can monitor the temperature as needed. Sometimes my role is to turn up the heat just a little to unlock the ideas and push thinking. Other times is about turning down the heat to remove tension and fear and create a sense of clam. During difficult times for me it is about ta commitment to replace disconnection with connection, complexity with clarity and fear with calm. Ultimately, it’s about creating an environment to identify the real work that is needed to navigate the difficult times and then providing the inspiration to move forward.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
When I first left corporate I decided to bootstrap my own business. This meant long hours, a lot of hard work, hustle and not much cash. After 18 months, my husband’s company went into receivership and he lost his job. With no regular money coming in we hit rock bottom financially. We had to sell up, downsize to a rental, live off credit cards — we even went as far as having conversations with mates about camping in their backyards.
I remember at the time feeling I had to give up, questioning what right I had to be following my dream when I could get a job, earn some cash and support my young family through this difficult time.
One night I sat at my desk, crying my eyes out telling my husband I would give it all up and find a job to which he said, “Don’t you dare! I believe in you. I know you can do this. I have your back.”
And that was all the fuel I needed to open my eyes and make a change. I took back control and I worked. I dug deep, I hustled and I invested in the right people around me to keep me focused and on track. Since then his continued support is my fuel to get through all the high and lows of life, work and business.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think the most difficult role during challenging times is taking the time to slow down, to gain perspective, to get on the proverbial balcony and look at what is really going on, what is really being experienced, what people are really feeling and worrying about to then make the next move, ask the next question and make the next decision. Too often we rush into decisions and actions based on past experiences — but the reality is that right now we are navigating times that have never been here before — the multiple macro elements of economic challenge, health challenge and social challenge. Right now, we need to be brave enough to test, to try, to fail, to review, to unlearn and to relearn — to trust our intuition and to intentional provide hope and inspiration to move forward.
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?
During times of uncertainty leaders have to manage the disequilibrium that is being experienced. It requires leaders to work hard to create a safe holding environment, one of security and trust. It requires decisiveness but with compassion for how people are feeling and a confidence in decision making. Ultimately during times of uncertainty leaders have to work to maintain a constant presence, to be seen versus the complacency of inaction.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Communicating difficult news is never easy and is probably one of the hardest things we all have to do as a human. I always try and approach the delivery of difficult news by intentionally being attention out, always thinking about the other person’s perspective on the situation, their personal values and with a curiosity about what they are worries about losing. When news is delivered from an attention in perspective it always becomes more about you that them — and this fuels disconnection.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I have been discussing with my clients the concept of surrendering to the concept of ‘time’ and rather considering ‘Now’ plans, ‘Next’ plans and ‘Later’ plans identifying key triggers to move to the next phase. The challenge of setting traditional 90 days, 6 months, annual plans is that we actually have no idea what things will be like in that time. The risk is we become fixed in our approach and solutionising versus engaging in the true adaptive challenge we are facing. I’ve also been asking 3 key questions:
“What has changed?”
“What hasn’t changed?”
“What are the real problems now that we can help solve?”
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Take time to gain perspective on what is really going on with the work at hand, the people involved and the processes being followed. Ask the curious questions — what’s really going on? What information am I missing? What don’t I know that I need to understand before making a decision?
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?
- Forgetting about the actual work that needs to be done and becoming emotional in response and decision making
- Being complacent and indecisive when teams are looking for leadership, for hope for inspiration to do the work
- A lack of collaboration — Not asking for help or seeking other input and advice
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 believe we need to keep investing in positioning ourselves, products and brand during difficult times — it’s about being there and being remembered when times change. Light touch networking reaching out and connecting to check in or share information doesn’t have to cost money but does require a priceless investment in time and energy. I have continued to produce and share content and moved my delivery and work to on-line to support clients. In fact I launched my latest book — Be Brilliant right in the middle of this pandemic on July 1 and evolved our go to market strategy to one of engaging and working collaboratively with a cheer squad from my social media network.
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.
- Create a space of security and trust
- Be decisive and take action
- Lead always from a place of compassion and care for others
- Explore collaborative work
- Maintain a constant presence
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons — for me this is about a preparedness to own your spotlight, to stand out and to shine in your own personal brilliance because only when we do this can we create the space for others to shine too.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Find me on Linkedin at janine garner
Online at janinegarner.com.au
Buy my latest book — Be Brilliant — how to lead a life of influence at major online retailers