Everyone seems equal in the world of advanced technology. It’s because we all have access to the same source of knowledge—the Internet. All we need is to read what’s out there. It seems quite simple, right?
I notice that people often need answers to more complex questions. They look for solutions to their teams’ problems, new innovative methods to drive their teams’ success. In some cases, they seek professional support, motivation, and inspiration that only a real, personal experience can provide. That person can be a leadership coach.
As part of my 30 Under 30 leadership program, I had an inspiring Leadership Levers business training with a leadership coach and President of the Board of United Business Development Peter Strupp. To me, taking responsibility for developing my own career was a great motivation in itself. The training made me start wondering about the valuable sources of motivation and, most importantly, what can motivate a leader-to-be. If you’ve ever seen yourself as a leader but wondered how to become a successful one, perhaps you’ll find some answers in my discussion with Peter.
You came to Poland in the early 90s. What was the purpose of your trip?
I was bored with life in the United States. I grew up in a beautiful town in suburban New York City. I was very comfortable and secure, but I was twenty-five years old and searching for some real challenges in my life. As Communism collapsed, I could see the opportunity was in Poland. I realized that if the Balcerowicz reforms and liberalizing the economy worked, there would be a lot of new opportunities and adventure. I majored in history at university and wanted to be part of this amazing historical transformation. I was able to get a job with the Polish-American Enterprise Fund, which had originally been capitalized with $240 million by the U.S. Congress to invest in the new private sector of the Polish economy. Our headquarters was in the former Communist Party headquarters building, so it was really a great vantage point to be part of the changes here.
How different was Poland back then compared to the USA? What was your first impression and what shocked you the most?
Poland was the first foreign country I ever visited. I thought it was like being on another planet. On the one hand, you could see all the damage that Communism had done. It was a deep shock to me to see the results of totalitarianism, and it gave me such a deep appreciation for what freedom means and the resilience of the Polish people. On the other hand, it was great to see all the new business ventures being created. It seemed like everybody had three different business cards for each new venture they were starting. Many Polish people are very entrepreneurial by nature. They had to be in order to survive in a dysfunctional system. It is absolutely amazing to see the transformational success that Poland has created.
I imagine that your first steps in Poland were hard. What was your motivation to stay rather than give up and go back?
Oh sure. I failed several times. But I think with persistence and resilience you can have a lot of success. Failure is normal and should be understood as the price to pay for success. As for staying or leaving, I mentally “burned my boats” meaning I created a deep commitment mindset within myself whereby I refused to go back to the United States without achieving success as I defined it.
My big break came when I bought into a small struggling temporary staffing company that become one of the fastest growing companies in the recruitment sector here and which we later sold successfully to Randstad. That was a huge challenge and a lot of fun. We also created one of the strongest learning and development companies on the market here.
You are President of the Board of the United Business Development. What business knowledge can you share with your partners and clients? Are there any trends that you see in leadership in business in Poland? If there is room for improvement, what should change?
Our company United Business Development (formally Learning Systems Polska) has trained over 150,000 business professionals since inception in all major CEE countries. We have worked with over 700 major corporations in this region.
There is still a lot of change that needs to happen in the area of leadership. Our research shows a deep correlation between constructive competencies such as integrity, transparency, innovation, communicating vision, and inspiring others; and hard KPIs such as sales and profit growth, employee engagement, and customer loyalty. It just makes good business sense to pursue these competencies in productive leaders.
There are still see too many “aggressive” managers who play the political game, withhold information from others, communicate poorly, are passive aggressive in behavior, and create high levels of stress with their employees. They think they have a title like “Director” and they are leaders. Very often they do get short-term results but burn through people.
Since talent retention in Poland is becoming critical due to demographic changes, there needs to be a continual focus towards constructive behaviors that the research show delivers superior business results over the short and long term but use a completely different style of leadership. You get the greater success that way. It is not about being “nice” (although we should be nice!). It is about being smart business people. Retaining talent requires proactive constructive leader behaviors.
I am committed to helping in this area through our strategic partnership with Zenger-Folkman, which is a global authority in this area. We work with hundreds of leaders now, and the results are optimistic.
What advice can you give to young people that think of becoming leaders in the future? What should they be aware of; what should they focus on?
I can only stress to focus on your mindset and attitude first. Technical skills are very important, but the attitude is what drives success. Get this right at the very beginning. Understand that failure is normal. Build perseverance in what you want to accomplish.
In your opinion, what is the hardest thing about being a leader?
Well, being a leader can have its challenges. You really can feel very isolated sometimes. It really helps to have a group of peers you can talk to very candidly to get feedback. I am a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization here in Poland. We get together on a regular basis to really open up on our challenges and to support each other. That has been extremely helpful to gain perspective on issues.
Every company, small or big, is really about people. They build it and bring prosperity, revenue. What is the biggest challenge in leading a company? Would you agree that communication is a very important thing and should be a top priority?
An organization taps into the large direction of supply and demand. The company, like a sailboat, needs to catch the wind and then navigate successfully through it. The biggest challenge in leading a high-growth company is to ensure that the resources are there and are anticipated to support the high growth. Leaders develop other leaders for the bandwidth needed to support high growth. Leaders “feed” their people through providing both the hard resources (money, people, time, information, focus) as well as inspiration, development support, regular feedback, recognition, and celebration. Communication is extremely important. The vast majority of leaders still under-communicate and do not use communication skills correctly.
You have the “Extraordinary Coach” Zenger Folkman Trainer Certification. What does it mean to be extraordinary based on your experience?
The extensive global research carried out by our partners at Zenger Folkman shows that “good is not good enough” when it comes to leaders affecting business results in a significant way. It really requires a few specific areas where leaders at extremely well grounded with a few profound strengths. We teach our customers how to integrate a few critical leadership behavior areas where they are highly effective (rated in the top 10% of all leaders), which translates to overall business effectiveness. There is a lot of positive news in this area in terms of how to change behavior and its effect on results.
Many young people think about their careers and yet wait for the right moment for the career to come. What advice would you give them as a leadership coach?
I would say jump in and get to work. Do not worry where you start. Concentrate more on your mindset and attitude. Learn as much as you can from where you start. If you are a highly proactive professional, you will always have opportunities in front of you. Time is only finite; not opportunity.
Do you believe in tailoring your life? That we should make each moment count and, by improving ourselves, we can be better in what we do at work?
Well, I certainly believe we should treat ourselves better first. Get more sleep, less electronic distractions, regular exercise, nutrition, and peace of mind. We can only have a strong commitment to helping others when we take care of ourselves first. Often people go the opposite way and they burn out. So yes, I am committed to self-care.
In addition, I think those written goals that are constantly pursued will help drive results. And the good news is even slight changes in behaviors can have big effects. I can recommend Caroline Arnold’s book “Small Move, Big Change” that gives a lot of practical examples in this area of changing behavior and building new habits. I also learned that each of us has a very idiosyncratic way in which to pursue change. Stick to what feels good for us and not others. The real action, of course, gets you on your way. People need to look at how proactive they really are after they have decided where they want to go.
Do you have a motto?
Yes, I do. It is a Japanese proverb: Fall down seven times, get up eight.
What is your favorite book? A book that influenced your business or life thinking the most. Is there a book that you can recommend?
I am a voracious reader. I mostly read history and biography. I am also a sucker for good self-motivation books. A lot of people are cynical about that genre, and I get that, but there are a few really good books to read and reflect. I also think reading every day is really important. Learning is a lifelong pursuit. One of my favorite self-help books is “Maximum Achievement” by Brian Tracy. It is also published in Polish. Mr. Tracy gives a clear roadmap to follow in order to have results in different aspects of our lives.