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 Leslie Jones.
Leslie Jones is the founder and CEO at SpiralMethod. She’s also a master executive coach for leaders seeking a balanced, holistic approach to life and business while having a huge impact in the companies and people they lead. As a lifelong learner and entrepreneur, Leslie has started numerous businesses over the past 25 years including Leslie Jones Coaching, Jones Associates, Let’s Go Live, the InnerActive Institute, and SpiralMethod.
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 have a degree in psychology and I chose that because I didn’t actually know exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. I figured it would teach me about people and how could that be a bad thing? From there, my career path has been more of a winding road than straight and narrow — from running speaker bureaus to sales to a contract employee. But the one common thread throughout my career is that I’ve always been fiercely independent which bodes well for being an entrepreneur. I struggled early on with corporate America and the social structures about exactly how to live my life and make money, which meant I had to reinvent myself time and time again — sometimes month to month, and sometimes not knowing how I was going to pay my rent or mortgage. When I started my first company, Jones Associates in my 20’s my dad told me that sounds perfect because you don’t do well with authority.
All that to say, I constantly challenge the status quo and encourage others to do the same and chart their own course. Maybe that’s why I’m now helping folks in authority positions learn how to be better leaders.
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?
The story that comes to mind is back when I was in my early 20’s, just starting out, I was going to the 30th floor of a New York City building in downtown Manhattan with a major company. Now mind you, I’m not a city girl and didn’t carry a briefcase or wear a suit and I had to walk through a very fancy security screening process. It was a weird system and I had to get a ticket and put my bag through security. I had no idea what I was doing, bumbled my way through and had to ask for help just to get through. I was a basket case and was spinning in circles like what do I do right now? I was a mess! It made me feel like I didn’t even know the basics. I felt naive and young in the world of business like I was in kindergarten and everyone else knows these things and I don’t.
But what it taught me is that there’s always a first time for everything, and some firsts will be harder than others. It helped ground me in my expertise as I constantly reminded myself that I was invited to be in a meeting with a client and a body of professional coaches and I, too, was of that caliber. I could have let my embarrassing blunder take me out and send me running back home. Although I had to get connected to my value in the face of feeling really silly and young and unskilled, and knowing I still deserved to be there. We have to get past our inhibitions to arrive at our contribution.
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?
Greg Greenwood, who I’ve actually now brought on to be the CEO and help lead SpiralMethod. Greg has been a constant positive force in my life. I truly wouldn’t be where I am today without him. Greg is a master at connecting people and at serving the community and leaders so when he finds gold and value he spreads it. It’s his life mission. Over the years Greg has referred dozens of clients to me and he always does so with pure generosity and doesn’t want anything in return. Plus, he has such credibility and influence that people truly listen to him. His intentions are to serve and empower humankind. I’ve always said that he literally fed my kids over many, many years! I’m sure I’m one of thousands of people he’s helped.
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 core purpose for me since my 20’s has been to positively change the way human beings live and interact in community. To transform the way we connect to self, others and something bigger than ourselves. This has been my life’s purpose and mission and all my companies have had that mission or iterations of 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?
When leading a team during a difficult time, I believe in fundamentally giving everyone a voice and allowing time for our humanity to show up on our team. This is demonstrated through regular check-ins where you aren’t just jumping right into work content, but rather asking how someone’s weekend was and getting to know more about their personal lives. Sometimes we get too focused on the results side of business and lose sight of the personal aspect. During turbulent times, my team and the companies I work with have had more of an emphasis on the experience, love connection and having a voice so we can innovate and co-create together to find the best way to move forward, reevaluate results, change timelines, etc.The most important thing we can do as leaders is be honest with what we are dealing with and encourage honesty within our teams.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Many times! I have two tools I use when I feel like giving up that might seem a little unorthodox. First of all, letting myself feel like giving up and being open to that I might. Sometimes I think to myself that I’m just going to liquidate everything and move to Hawaii and live in a tent. So I visualize or even start writing down that plan. I go through the process like it is a viable option. The other thing I’ll do is I’ll go on LinkedIn to look for a job. This all might sound silly but for me, those two exercises are connected. Mapping out the plan of the option to give up and letting go of everything I built. After these exercises I always come full circle back to where I am, firmly planted in my commitment with ideas to make changes and look at what isn’t working and what is causing me to feel like giving up. We cannot avoid or squash or depress the giving up feeling. By letting ourselves go with that energy and not resisting it we allow ourselves to bump into walls and wisdom abounds.
What sustains the drive for me is how wonderful my work is. SpiralMethod is magical and reliable so anytime I’m in a session with clients it is completely fulfilling. However, it often still feels like pushing a boulder up a mountain. So I focus on just committing to the next thing and reminding myself that the purpose of this business is bigger than me and truly transformational. SpiralMethod is a tool to shift humanity in ways that are needed because what’s happening for us as human beings is costly. Every SpiralMethod session makes a difference. I can sit with a small group of people and watch the transformation happen. Everyday I’m filled up by the courage and commitment of the human spirit, the power of people, and the magic that can happen when we surrender to vulnerability.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
It’s imperative that leaders hold space and truly listen to their team’s voice and stay grounded and balanced. To do this successfully, leaders need to do their own self and spiritual care. Those around you are likely going through anxiety, trying to keep up, having fear come up, and desperately trying to stay afloat during challenging times. So it’s imperative as leaders that we rise above the chaos and noise so we are stable and consistent for others. We have to be the ones who up-level the conversation. We have to remain at a higher level and maintain a solid support system for others to depend on.
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?
Distinguishing what we know and what we don’t know is incredibly important — not pretending like you have all the answers, but rather being honest with yourself and the team. It’s OK to stay in the “here and now” and acknowledge what we don’t know and provide the space for others to contribute their voice. Instead of casting a big vision for the future and trying to inspire, perhaps focus on what is happening at present. This gives people comfort. Pretense or looking too far out into the future tends to create more anxiety. Avoiding the current reality or the anxiety of what is coming up or what is unknown creates more fear and lack of trust. As leaders, we need to be clear on what we can and cannot guarantee. By letting people in on the reality of what’s really going on instead of pretending helps build trust. This, in turn, helps people make authentic decisions and choices; and therefore everyone can participate and work together to get through the uncertain times.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
First, it’s important to clarify and secondly communicate your intention, commitment and partnership to the team or customer. Then, prepare them by setting a frame. For example, emphasizing that the relationship is really important to you, and that the partnership or commitment is shifting and you want to talk about some things that are happening. Admit that there is some bad news and, at first glance, it’s not going to feel good, and then reiterate that you are going to work through this together. By framing intention, preparing them that there will be changes and solidifying that there is still partnership or relationship, demonstrates you are being transparent with them and not abandoning them and will help to ensure a good outcome. Lastly, be honest and say it straight up. Say all of it. If it’s bad news, get to the point and don’t try to sugar coat it or just say 80 percent. People can handle it. Believe, trust and honor. People are grown-ups, and they can handle it.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Plan for the short term and base it on more general or global visions or intentions. Commit that you’re going to stay the course. That you are going to honor all the people involved, are going to stay true to who you are, and that your mission isn’t changing (unless it is — then share it in full). The future is always uncertain which is why you need to stay true to your aligned vision. How we show up with integrity in unpredictable times matters.
The companies that have gotten through uncertain times have likely committed that failure is not an option. It never crossed their minds that they’d close because of COVID, for example. Others have said, “We aren’t going to make it” and gracefully let go. So being honest and in integrity with your commitment is critical. You may have to adjust structurally. You can still make all sorts of plans based on the data you have on hand, and what is happening and adjust. Short term planning with clarity and continual reassessment is the best focus I’ve found in turbulent times.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Stay connected, communicate, and let go. Staying connected to what truly matters, such as family, health, fun, team, or community. The organizations and companies that are in trouble are those whose leaders are isolated and are trying to hold too tight to something. Let go! Establish and agree on whatever is working and let go of the rest. We have to challenge everything — the status quo, plans, ideas and what we think is right.
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?
One of the most common mistakes I see is people clinging on to the past and initiatives they’ve invested so much into or trying to “get back to normal” instead of focusing on what’s needed in the new norm. A lot of businesses also resort to micromanaging or dictatorship. They cling out of fear, and don’t want to let go so they become demanding and rigid and they lose their team’s engagement.
To avoid these mistakes, leaders need to remember the basics and what matters most like: family, health, friendship, community, play, fitness, mindfulness, nutrition and rest. We won’t get the deep-needed value if we are “resting” and not really resting because we are thinking about work the whole time. Carving out even more time for people and the things that matter in life is necessary. Such that when we put our mind to the problems that our companies are facing we are grounded, strategic and creative. We have our frontal lobe. Turbulent times will bring up fight or flight, and bring us out of our frontal lobe.We need more of what matters so we can show up creatively and show up as our best selves.
Another thing to keep in mind is remaining agile. Challenge everything, every expense, every activity, every assumption. Question everything. Ask yourself, “Is this efficient? Do we need this? What is this serving? Is it true to our values and strategy?” New times call for new measures. You must be willing to let go of what is not working and adjust even though you’ve invested tons of time and money into something. If it’s not useful or productive in the current landscape, let it go.
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’ve found that getting creative and leveraging strategic partnerships helps to grow traction during a difficult economy. In fact, last year I was inviting people into my program at discounted pricing because I wanted them to be partners for the long term and everyone was more open to being creative with their time and money when they felt like they were valued as a partner. We’ve even done complimentary training sessions to serve the community and now we have deeper relationships with more people that are paying off. It’s important to cultivate these types of long term strategic partnerships where you are both investing in relationships now that are going to return value longer term. Staying true to delivering value whether you are getting paid or not in every interaction is critical. Also, ensuring you’re being of service to what is needed. During difficult times, people need to talk about their anxiety and they want to have space to talk honestly about what they are dealing with.
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.
Communicate, communicate, communicate, which means being an extraordinary listener.
Invest in your company culture in terms of health and people.
Come from purpose over profit.
Let go and trust your team members to perform.
Stay authentically connected with your team.
Challenge prior assumptions and strategies.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The way that we spend our days is the way that we spend our lives.”
How can our readers further follow your work?