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 Rob Pyne.
Rob Pyne, author of Unlock: Leveraging the Hidden Intelligence in Your Leadership Team, is a leadership coach and facilitator who helps teams unlock their collective intelligence and become smarter than the sum of their parts.
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?
On a sunny February day in 2013, I was in front of the Manly Ferry when I had a flash of inspiration. I’d lost my mojo for my career in marketing. I was thinking about what I could do which would help the world and pay my mortgage. My mind wandered back to my final year university project on human decision-making, and on the front of the ferry, I thought: “why don’t I start a business to help people improve their decision-making?”. My business was born right there — although these days I call myself a leadership team coach, not a decision-making trainer.
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?
In my very first leadership workshop, a CEO took me aside afterward and said, ‘That was great. But lose the cheap paper in your handout”. Ever since then, I’ve made sure the experience of working with me feels premium for leaders, right down to the paper stock I use.
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?
My mentor, Dr Amy Silver, told me it was time for me to write a book about my work with leadership teams in mid-2020. I thought about it for half a day and realized that if I treated it as a learning journey, not just a deadline, then it would be very motivating. I finished the book in 6 months, and it came out in June this year. It’s been a great waymarker in my career journey.
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?
On the front of the Manly Ferry, I decided my company’s purpose would be “to help the world make better decisions”. 8 years later, my work is to expand the impact and help with bigger and more far-reaching organizational decisions.
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 the height of 2020’s pandemic uncertainty, when it seemed we might enter a recession, I conducted some research into leadership teams. I found that this uncertainty brought them together. I noted that CEOs had to make many more quickfire decisions and that they need to involve their senior team and rely on them more. I learnt that leaders need to rely more on their top team to make better decisions when times are tough and the future is uncertain.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I like the quiet, “the obstacle is the way” — which treats the challenge as helping guide us to grow and learn and develop. Just like the challenge of writing a book, or getting through the pandemic which — in the first few months — saw an 80% decline in my business revenue, before bouncing back.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
It’s pretty simple in theory…gathering information, making decisions, and communicating them. I liken this to the central nervous system of the company. You need to be taking in lots of information through your sense, computing what it means, and reacting appropriately. You also need to be aware that other people are your ‘senses’ and your ‘actions’. So have a team around you to tell you what is really going on out there.
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?
I didn’t see motivation fall in the early stages of the pandemic. People pulled together. But when things seemed to come back to ‘normal’, then people started to switch jobs and be dissatisfied. I advise companies to consciously do a culture reset which can involve a few elements: how can we deal with increased customer demands, which have stayed insanely high?; how can we stay connected even when we’re apart?; how can we learn from each other and grow?
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
You have to balance the need for transparency with the fear of uncertainty. The mistake leaders make is to wait until they have the solution. Let’s say a valued team member is leaving. I’ve seen the leader fail to tell customers and staff until after the employee has left the building. Instead, I think you gain from naming the problem early, but also trying to directly address the uncertainties out loud. Don’t leave them unsaid.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
In my view, you can break down strategy into 3 processes or 3 horizons: strategic foresight, strategic planning, and strategic implementation. At each level you can factor in, and monitor, the uncertainty and unpredictability. One practical tip to deal with uncertainty is to consider your strategies and investments as bets, which reminds you that no plan is ever a foregone conclusion. At the foresight level, you can examine the trends and risks in the market. Then you can decide which bets to make with your plans. And finally, you can monitor the odds of each bet working as you implement them.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
A company’s values only mean something when they’re tested — so do the work on your values, standards, non-negotiables and use them when making tough decisions. Otherwise, they are meaningless and your company has no moral compass.
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?
A difficult economy provides an opportunity to prune your business. My business took a big hit at the start of covid, and it allowed me to rethink my business, and regrow it to the shape I wanted it. It became a significant plus and solved a series of challenges that were holding me back from high-quality growth pre-covid. We had to go 2 steps back to allow us to go 3 steps forward.
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?
- Use your values in your key decisions. So, when a tough decision rears up, don’t just consider the costs and benefits, consider your values. It will make decisions more effective in the long-run.
- Write things down. You can make better decisions when you see the big picture in front of you on paper, or on whiteboard. Your head is not always the best place to make decisions.
- Leverage the intelligence of those around you. Pick a smart group of diverse leaders, and then listen to them. And make sure they listen to each other.
- Communicate early and address uncertainty out loud. Tell the staff or the customer what’s happening. Acknowledge the specific concerns people may have. And tell them how you’re working on it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My late father always said “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” — and that is certainly true in business. You can have the best ideas, but if you don’t know the right people, it will be 100x more difficult to be successful.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Go to Robpyne.online
Check out my book: Unlock: Leveraging the Hidden Intelligence in Your Leadership Team