Interview with Blair Singer on Leadership

Sep 5, 2014 | Civilisation, TheColumnist

Đọc bản Tiếng Việt

For almost three decades, Blair Singer has empowered people to achieve peak performance in business, sales, money, teams, relationships and life. He is founder of the Blair Singer Training Academy, a global sales and personal growth training company that helps entrepreneurs and organizations increase sales, improve profitability and build championship teams. The Academy is made up of professional mentors and business builders who work one-on-one with businesses and corporations to help them achieve double-digit growth in any economy. The Scottsdale, AZ resident travels the world teaching individuals and business leaders how to experience unparalleled personal and financial growth, return on investment and overall happiness. The Columnist sits down with Blair Singer to find out what their philosophy about business success is.

The Columnist (TC): The world is facing a lot of unity problems due to different approaches in achieving the same goals. This happens not only to macro levels but also within each organisation, among leadership levels and between managent and staff. How would you suggest organisations should do to solve this disunity from within?

Blair Singer (BS): That’s a very big question and it’s a great question. The reason it’s a good question is because it identifies the core problem which is unity. You cannot drive a team or organisation anywhere if you got different fractions moving in different directions. You outline pretty well by saying everyone wants the same goals, that are profitability, market share, happy customers, happy staff but with different approaches. My experience over the last 20 years working with other organisations, Fortune 500 companies and small organisations, my own organisation is that the job of the leader is to establish a context or an environment where everyone is on the same page to start with. This starts with understanding what core values of the organisation are, what core values of the team are and from there, developing a code of honor with a set of rules of how we are going to engage because it is very difficult to negotiate, to battle, and create unity if people play by a different set of rules. So it’s very important to have a core set of rules and this has been the strategy that works extremely well with the organisations we work with. For those organisations that already have these rules in place, usually they don’t have unity problems that you are talking about.

Certainly for political organisations, that’s different because there is no reason for them to come together to have the same set of rules. You‘ve got Israel and Palestine. You’ve got the rest of Islamic worlds. These are truly separate entities that may not have the same goals.

But what you are talking about is as business owners and managers, we have a different calling, that is we are all under the same roof for our teams and we do have a core objective that we are trying to achieve together.

There is a very distinctive difference as there are 2 worlds out there. We can’t have Pepsico and Coca Cola to come together to agree with each other too much because they are competitive entities.

In the case of for non-competitive entity, when you try to create unity within that entity, you’ve got to eliminate the competition within the entity and the way you do that is to establish the core values, pulling those out from the group and creating a very simple 10 commandments or a code of honor or a simple set of rules that everyone operates by. That’s one of the key strategies that we’ve always used and has worked extremely well.

TC: Very interesting sharing. You just mentioned about the Code of Honor. Can you elaborate more about that and how does it work for your own organisation?

BS: Sure, one of the things that I have been taught long time ago when I first went into business. One thing that most successful teams, organisations, religions and countries have in common is they have same set of rules, I called that is Code of Honor, that really hold them together. For Christians, 10 commandments are a classic code of honors. These 10 rules were designed 7 thousand years ago to hold the group of like-minded people with similar values, together, to protect those values and to protect the culture. Same is true for families. Same is true with an athletic team. Same is true with countries. Same is true with creating monetary policies. There is a certain base rules. The problem is once it’s broken, things will be in chaos. Classic example is when we left the Gold standards in 1971, we broke the core values and rules of monetary system, it is the point when we began recession, burst and depression.

Now how do you use or implement it? When you start a business, you sit down to create a code for yourself, how do you want your team to operate. If you have already got an organisation, got a team, sit down with your core leaders, your key players and decide what the rules are.

For example, for one of our first businesses which was freight trucking, some of our rules were Never abandon a teammate in need, Be on time, If you got a problem, you to the system to solve the problem first instead of attacking the person, No pointing finger or justify or blaming, Everyone takes personal responsibility, Everyone on the team must sell.

And these rules are unique to each organisation. When we did this for Singapore Airlines, when we did with certain teams in IBM, with certain teams in hospital emergency rooms, they have different rules important to what they do. And everyone joining has to subscribe and has to agree with those, and if someone breaks the rules and people do, such as someone is not showing up on time, part of the rules of having rules is that the other team members are the ones who call them on it or bring them to attention and get them to make correction. It’s not something that the management team or HR or somebody else need to reinforce that, if they have to enforce it, you don’t have a team.

The United State Marine force actually use that term. And what happens is when someone breaks the rule, they don’t need to wait for the commanding officer, as someone else in the team will call them on it and say “Look, you’d better shape up because this is what we all have agreed to” and if the person doesn’t do that, then sometimes disciplinary actions are used.

In a nutsell, that’s how it works.

And a lot of people don’t like it because they don’t like to have to confront a team member on those kinds of things. When someone shows up late at the meeting, they don’t want to the person to say “Look, you said you are going to be on time so I’m calling you on it right now. What do you want us to do to get you to be here on time?”

It’s uncomfortable for people to confront each other. That’s why we need a code of honor and that code of honor has to come with great communications skills, personal development skills to make people feel comfortable and be able to interact at a high level of communication.

TC: According to the law of precession by Buckminster Fuller, “70% of the jobs on earth were not directly contributing to the life-support of the people. Many are making money from money, or moving paper from one desk to another.” What are your thoughts on this? How can we have more businesses to think of the higher purpose?

BS: Well, this touches on a very important subject to me. I was also inspired many years ago by Dr Fuller. And what he said is humanity has increased the standards of living for most of the planet and increases its population mostly because businesses out there doing more with less for the purpose of making a profit actually increase standards of living by providing better food, better services, better healthcare, better education. It happens automatically, it is just natural by product or ripple effect of businesses trying to do good business and make money.

However, what he said is humanity has reached a point where rather than doing it by accident, in other words, rather than increasing quality of life for everybody simply by making a profit in business, what if we focus on improving quality of life for everybody, could you also make a profit of doing it that way with a different intention?

The thing is for most of businesses, I think, lots of businesses really add value to people lives. They provide great goods, services, convenience and entertainment, lifestyle, and all of these help people to prolong longevity of human life and existence (A) and (B) be able to create great technologies and great innovations for everybody.

The question that you are asking, is for what reason is the company selling their products. If it’s only for the purpose of making money, that’s what Fuller was talking about, that is fine. But whe Fuller said what if we did it out of the true mission or desire to support our fellow men? When you listen to companies that are doing very well, some mentioned in Jim Colins’ book Built to Last, Good to Great, these are organisations that truly felt that they had something offer to the community, a product or service that really benefits. Johnson & Johnson in is a great company in terms of healthcare products. Their mission statement is really to improve quality of people lives.

And I think the reason for that is twofold.

No. 1, I think just as a human being, as a responsible business owner and human being and leader, that’s our responsibilities to create something to improve the quality of life for everyone, not just to pull money out of it. That’s why Fuller really didn’t like foreign exchange because it’s just playing game with money, it’s a zero sum game where someone makes money, someone loses. He would say such function don’t do anything to enhance the quality of life for others.

I’m not going to make my comment on it, disagree or agree with this but that’s where he was coming from.

But I think, having that focus does 2 things: first of all is to improve quality of life; but it is also probably one of the most powerful recruiting tools a leader can have when you try to attract the great team players to your team.

I think we are living in an age now, and I’ve been in business over 30 years and I’ve seen the changes where young people are concerned of being part of something big, being part of something that makes a difference than they are about their incomes.

You can’t always pay people all the money they want as people always want more. But what you can do is you can say: “Look, being part of our team, this is what we are doing, this is our mission. Like my organisation, it is to improve quality of lives for everyone by transforming the market place, by creating the best teachers, trainers and facilitation leaders in the world, by transforming the way education is, the way people are educated in the workplace”. If that’s something that inspires you and you want to be part of something like that, then you will be on that team”.

And yes, you will be able to make good money if you are able to produce but the big thing is people want to be part of something that makes a difference and they do want to make a contribution. Right now in the US, a lot of time and money has been given to charitable organisations to help people. It’s amazing. Although organisations do receive tax incentives for doing that but beyond that, people devote even more money and time to it, so there’s a desire here. And as business owners or leaders, you can take look at your business, what values does it have, what is the bigger picture. And then as you are recruiting these great talents, you can say: You can make thousands here and there, at one place you can really make a difference and really be part of something that is life-changing for you, yourself and other people or at other places you make thousands just for thousands and go home at 5.00 o’clock. Of course there will be people who choose the 5 o’clock option, but is that the kind of person you want to be in your team? The answer is No.

Through my career, many times I sacrifice money for purpose and for mission. We can make money doing this but it’s really not what we are about. It’s really about we are creating; great leaders, great trainers, building champion teams, teaching them not only to be able to sell, but also teaching them how to accomplish the biggest sale of all, which is selling yourself to yourself, which is personal development. And it works for me and those organisations that I‘ve worked with over the years. I’ve been blessed to work with some of the greatest organisations on the planet, like L’ Oreal, Singapore Airlines, IBM, HSBC, and lots of great leaders and all those people and places that we ‘ve been able to work at that level have seen huge gains not only in profitability and market share, but also in the quality of talents that they attract.

TC: What’s the core question that you use to change the mindset of those business owners whose intention is only to make money?

BS: Well, first of all, I will differ a little bit with you. I think every person has a reason why. It’s just what is the WHY. Some of the WHY is broader purpose, the purpose of contribution. Some of the WHY is to make money. That’s a WHY too. I don’t make “making money” wrong. I’m trying to add values to a lot of people lives, I also want to make a lot of money too. Because we need to have that exchange.

So those people whose WHY is to make good incomes so that they can have the lifestyle for themselves and their families, there’s nothing wrong about it at all. All I would say to them is: How does it work for you? If it’s working well and you are happy with it, keep doing it. If you find that that’s not the level of fulfillment you are looking for, that you find that your whole life is to deal with things that drive you crazy, start looking at the bigger level, get yourself out of those day to day tasks.

I have a core value that says I’m going to create the greatest value to the greatest number of people that I can at the least costs to them and at the least disadvantages to others. I don’t want to do anything at the disadvantage of somebody else. I’m not talking about competitors, if they can’t keep up, that’s their problem. What I mean is, I don’t want to do it at the cost of people’s lives, at the cost of the environment, handicap people in a bad way. So, if a person cares about that, you may want to look at your business, maybe my business is making a lot of money and our staff is happy, but we know we are employing child slave labors somewhere in South East Asia, I’m not going to do that, I’m not going make that business decision, because it doesn’t support the greatest number of people.

So again, the way I coach people is to look at how beneficial your business decision you made is today? How does it benefit the greatest number of people? For example, does it benefit your family, your team, marketplace, global community, environments?

I would tell you that a business decision that benefits all of those, in my mind, is a great ethical decision.

But, if I’m working hard, making a lot of money, everybody is happy but my family is suffering, it’s not a good decision for me.

Or, if the environment is being polluted, because of the toxic waste my factory dumped into the river, that is not a good decision for me.

That’s how I work with people. Whatever you’re big you have to just ask yourself:

  • How does it work for you financially?
  • How does it work for you spiritually?
  • How is it working for you in terms of fulfillment perspective? Does it cause you stress all the time or does it bring to you the highest level of fulfillment?
  • And does it support the greatest number of people?

That’s my checklist when I work with people.

TC: What do you think is the biggest misconception of most of these companies when it comes to developing next-generation leadership?

BS: This biggest misconception of leadership is that most people still operate with the old leadership paradigm, meaning that a leader has to have all responsibilities, have all the right answers, and be some kind of super being or super star to be a leader. I think this is the old industrial paradigm. That changed back in 1990s and even before that.

Really, leadership is more about 2 things.

Leadership is more about facilitation, than that is about being the leader of the charge. A facilitator is somebody who is able to pull resources, able to get other people to step up to lead, able to tap on resources around them and set up other people to lead based upon their areas of expertise, able to sit in the middle and facititate like an orchestra conductor would do, and be able to pull the best out of everybody else, and not necessarily to be a person who has all the answers. Typically, whenever I’m in a workshop, and I say “you are in a team of 10 and you’ve got 30 seconds to choose one person to be your leader”, everyone is always pointing to somebody else as nobody wants to do it. Why? Because their natural response is that “I don’t want the responsibility”. And I think that’s the old paradigm. And your No.1 job as a leader is to facilitate.

No 2 is to be a great teacher. It’s to be able to feed your team with information and education and access and help them become who they want to be and who you want them to be. And that’s the teaching function. So I always say “teachers are leaders and leaders must be teachers”. And the year 2000s going forward, this is more important than ever and those organisations that get this do extremely well, and the ones that don’t get it will struggle massively and fail to recruit the best talents. The best talents will go to places where they know they continue to learn, to grow and their professional careers continue to blossom. You can’t expect someone to work with your company for life. You can’t expect people to work with you for more than 3 years before they move on because as they grow and mature they would want to do other things. With that expectation in mind that people are not going be with you forever, while they are there, they want know that they can learn and grow . So as leaders, you gotta to be a teacher, to facilitate the education that continues to change.

Our school systems around the world have failed miserably, in my opinion. Why? Because they got stuck in the old paradigm of what education is all about. Education is not about information. Education is about growing a human being, growing them to find their talents, to find what they are good at, and get them to be the best person they can be. And unfortunately the school systems have not done that.

Having said that I’m not here to change the school system, but what I’m saying is that workplace is now a new education place. So when people go to work, that’s much of a classroom. And now you are in the real world, real working environment where the lessons you learned you apply day to day, you find out by trials and errors to see what works what doesn’t, just like how you do in sales, in any projects. And to be able to set up a context of a learning environment, where people know that they are learning, there is education, there is debrief, etc. this is the job of a great leader to become a great teacher leader. And I can tell you that all the great organisations we have worked with not only grow, but also attract all the amazing talents because talents want to places where they can grow.

TC: While there are some emerging Asian companies, many companies still have this misconception about leadership. A lot of CEOs are left alone at the top, where they are always the one who thinks of the overall strategy and cascade down to staff for implementation. This approach has its limits when CEOs got tired and talents start to leave to other places.

BS: That’s right. You gotta ask youself “how smart are you”? I just know, having been an entrepreneur for more than 30 years, that I’m not that smart. I’m just smart enough to know that I’m not that smart. I’m smart enough to know in order to get what I want to get done, I need to find people who are smart and good enough in various areas to support and to put them in the code of honor, a context that they feel that they are respected and they can grow and take the heat off myself. Yes, of course, they need to know that I’m the boss and at the end of the day, I’m ultimately the one who is responsible for the team, community and shareholders. But at the same point, it’s the way you operate that determines the success of your organisation.

TC: With 2 people providing same products and services going after the same marketplace, what’s gonna be the difference?

BS: The difference is in the way they operate internally, the way they come to market, the way they sell, the way facilitate , the way they distribute, the way they take feedback from the marketplace, not the product itself. And I think this is the big thing that people don’t always get. For all great organisations that you read in books, it’s not about how great their products are necessarily. it’s mostly about how they bring themselves to the marketplace, how they operate internally. So, it’s not just the big WHY, but also the big HOW, how you do it.

One of the core content of personal development is how you operate in the inside get reflected on the outside. So you got organisations that run well in the inside where people feel respected, got nurtured, growing, excited, their energy is high and that’s going be well reflected on the outside. If that’s not practiced in the inside, it won’t be reflected on the outside. So you need to ask yourself what customers want.

TC: What do you think are the key driving factors for businesses to thrive beyond generations?

BS: To summarise what we have been talking about, the driving factors are that we need to pay attention to how you run your organisation internally: What’s the purpose? What’s mission? What are the rules? What is the code of honor? And, then to manage the context of what you are doing as hard as when you manage the content, the technical side of business. That gotta be the most important because we are living in a very complex environment and you can’t micromanage everything. The best that you can do is to hold the container that all that sits in it in a way that nurtures the growth.

I think focus on the context and environment is more important than content. That’s the first driving force.

The second driving force is to understand that the secret of success is about education in the marketplace, a combination of personal development and business development. In other words, you can teach people how to sell and market, that’s business development side, which is my specialty, you also need to give them the personal development trainings to win the war between their ears, to overcome their lack of confidence, to overcome their laziness, to overcome their procrastination . You gotta be able to focus on both. Giving people the technical skills alone in this environment is not enough. You gotta give them the personal development, communication skills, psychology skills, emotion skills, to be able to deal with stress, the complexity, interaction between other people. These are as important as and even more important than the technical side.

TC: Thank you for sharing. The last question is pertaining more about Vietnam context. Recently, during a recent 2 day workshop in Hochiminh city on Sales & Explosion program, you were mentioning about discipline problem among young entrepreneurs? How do you suggest they overcome this?

BS: The observation after 2 days is that they have a lot of energy and strength, tremendous optimism , willingness to learn and they learn very quickly. However, what I also noticed is they lack of discipline. Unless, I was driving them pretty hard, when they were left on their own devices, they were not as good at executing tasks and taking initiatives . I would say that particular group really need to work on the discipline, which is “doing what you are supposed to be doing when you are supposed to be doing whether you like it or not”, not about having to have some bosses or government or someone on the top to give you orders to follow.

You need to set up an environment around yourself, set up your own set of rules, setting your daily discipline, setting priorities, doing short terms goals setting to keep you alive and keep you on purpose until you begin to become a disciplined person. There are 2 types of disciplines: imposed dicspline and intuitive discipline in which you do it on your on.

For example, a person can be very discipline with their money, but not with their health. So how do you handle that problem? What they do is to have a coach who will impose discipline on you long enough until you become dicsiplined by yourself. And I think that’s the best way.

I also used to have business coach, health coach, personal development coach to get me to do what I know I need to do. When I get better, I don’t need these anymore because I have shifted from having imposed discipline to intuitive discipline.

TC: Thank you very much for joining us.

This interview was conducted for The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Consulus.

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