Joshua Berry of Econic On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &…

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Joshua Berry of Econic On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

The first one is that you need to stick to your values and constantly reflect on those. The story that comes to mind would be of Yvon Chouinard, who eventually would go on to found Patagonia. When he had his first company Chouinard Equipment, they were continuing to grow and eventually became the largest outdoor climbing gear manufacturer in the United States and North America. Long story short, they started to see that the equipment they were manufacturing for rock climbing was actually damaging the environment. They had then decided to stop manufacturing what was then the most profitable part of their business. All because they went back to a focus on sticking to their values. That would be the first, and most important thing.

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 Joshua Berry.

Joshua Berry is the founder of Econic, a consulting firm and Certified B-Corp focused on innovation, leadership, and the future of work. A world-class facilitator and speaker, Joshua has sparked change at organizations like John Deere, US Bank, P&G, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ameritas, and Teach for America. His passion is creating space for people to grow. Joshua’s new book, Dare to Be Naive: Unleash Ripples of Impact in Life and Business, debuted in March 2023. For more info, visit

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 moved around a lot as a kid. (Fun fact: I lived in 14 different houses before I was 16.) Eventually, I went to school for international business and Spanish. My first job out of college, which was at a human resource consulting firm, needed me in Barcelona the day after graduation — which was cool and very nerve-racking at the same time. I spent about 10 years there, going through a variety of positions.

I eventually left to go work on my first startup, which was over 10 years ago. We put our house up for sale, we were pregnant with our fourth kid, and that ran into problems pretty quickly. This led into a couple years of working with startup companies. These years planted the seed and eventually evolved into Econic, which was founded in December 2015. Since then, Econic has mainly focused on consulting, training, and development — specifically with innovation and work culture.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Within the first couple months of working for that first job, I was doing training with someone from Mexico City and another consultant who was my senior there. I kept using this word naca, which I thought was just a colloquial term, like a friend or buddy. Apparently, I was using it incorrectly… It meant like a bumpkin or twit, and I kept calling her client this word. So, that was a big mistake. I finally got pulled aside by the senior consultant, who was understandably like, “What are you doing? I can’t believe we hired you here for this.”

A good lesson I learned from that was not putting on the front to pretend like I knew things that I didn’t know, which has always been a hard thing in life. Oh, and choosing your words carefully!

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?

I don’t think there’s one particular person, there have been many along the way. But the first story that pops in my mind is a leader named Larry. I often get complimented for my facilitation skills, which in part I learned from Larry. He very much didn’t have a script with what he was doing. It was listening to what people needed and being able to flow with that.

Another thing I took away from his sessions was to never do for the participants what they could do for themselves. It was a very interactive and collaborative approach to learning and facilitation. Larry did a great job of showing me how you can have highly user or participant-focused training.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When Econic originally started, it was because we saw a place for corporate and startup innovation to come together, and how that collaboration would be better than those things apart. I would say that Econic has evolved into an even deeper, purposeful organization that it wasn’t at that time.

A couple years after founding Econic, we refounded it, if you will. The purpose of Econic became to help people practice the behaviors that grow themselves and their companies. At the end of the day, it was this idea that work itself can be used to help people grow. Part of our responsibility was to find opportunities that would fit with where our people naturally wanted to grow, and then create opportunities for that to happen.

The vision that aligned with that purpose wasn’t for Econic to be a certain size or number of people, but rather the vision was based on the question of: How could Econic be resilient enough to weather the inevitable coming and going of people? Because if it was built on the idea of creating space for people to grow, and if somebody’s next growth opportunity was outside of our organization, I needed to have an organization that was resilient enough that it was alright. I didn’t intend to ever get to a spot where Econic or my goals were more important than that person’s goals.

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?

The first thing that came to mind about difficult or uncertain times was regarding a project with a client that wasn’t going very well. We were owed some money and could have sent an invoice for it. We even had a team meeting to talk about how it wasn’t going very well and what we wanted to do. One of our core values then, and still to this day, is to give more. What we mean by giving more is that we always want to be on the giving or abundant-minded side of things. This was a good reminder for the team, that even though we were a small business and that was the contract, that if we could always work out of an abundance mindset, things typically took care of themselves.

So, I would say that time and again, this give more concept has kept our team grounded during uncertain or difficult times. It’s created resiliency for the team and helped us operate without a giant safety net underneath everything we’re doing. We rely back on our principles and values, using those to help guide the decisions that we’re making. This abundance mindset always helped us through those uncertain times to understand that if we just keep trying to do the right things, which oftentimes it was — think abundantly, trust, assume positive intent — that things typically took care of themselves. And even if they didn’t, we still felt good in how we were approaching things.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I get a lot of energy out of helping people grow. I can’t recall specific times when I considered giving up and going back to being a solo consultant, versus having a team. I remember a number of times where I thought about how I made better money and there was less stress when I didn’t grow a team around the work we were doing. However, the motivation to continue pushing through that was truly the reason why I think we’re in business. The business was to create space for people to grow and that when we find more work — that creates more space for people to grow.

Another thing is that I acknowledged that there were things I’m really good at and things that I’m not as good at. And what this means for drive, is being able to create opportunities for me to grow in the spaces that I do best and sometimes that creates opportunities for other people to do the things they do best.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

I read a lot of books, so let me just share one. It’s the book called Doing Good Better by William MaCaskill. What I appreciate about his book is the empirical, research-based approach it took to figure out ways to be more logical with our altruism. As someone who probably goes more off of gut, like most people, being able to think about the question of, “Are there evidence-based ways to give where you could actually have a greater impact on the world?” was profound. It absolutely did make an impact for me. It started to shift the way that I gave and reflect on the intention behind my actions.

For example, when people sent me a request to give to a campaign in honor of someone, I would still try to help or give to them, but I would be much more intentional about thinking, “Why am I doing this now?” Was it because I believed that I could make a difference in this cancer research? Or was it because I was trying to honor this person? Or was it a symbol of our friendship? A number of times, it turned into because I cared enough about our friendship.

That book, along with many others, have continued to impact and inspire me in the way I lead.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

I think just to create space for people. If it’s a challenging time, people are moving through something. A lot of times there are old ways that served them that they’re needing to let go of, or process, or grieve through. There are new feelings that are emerging. I think one of the greatest things we can do as leaders is to create space for that and make it okay for people to feel all the feelings as they’re sorting through them.

I could see people answering this question with how a leader needs to create a light at the end of the tunnel and an amazing vision for people to follow along to, which is likely also needed, but I’m more of a leader to create space for people to work through that and learn some of those things on their own, versus simply following someone else through that. I’d rather create space for other people to figure out how they’re supposed to grow into the next best version of themselves.

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?

The small thing that I’ve done for people is lead them through an exercise where they do a growth curve of their life and I’ll have them draw it out. There’s a plus and minus and a bunch of hash marks for every 10 years of their life. Then, they draw out the simple path of their life in terms of where it’s been positive and where it’s been negative. The thing that I do with that exercise is to help people see that they have been resilient, they have gone through hard times before, and that they may be experiencing a hard time now… but they likely have been through things like this before, at least most people have. That reminder of their own resiliency is quite powerful.

As far as inspiring, motivating, and engaging your team — it’s about taking a step back and creating space for people to express what their fears are, what their concerns are, and to challenge which of those stories are true and what things can be worked on. Where are the assumptions that they can go test and learn from? It encourages them to think that maybe those are just stories they’re telling themselves. I think creating space for unpacking those thoughts is better than some outside “Ra! Ra!” motivation bit.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Be empathetic and understand how it’s going to resonate with other people. Also, to understand that you’re not going to be able to anticipate how it’s going to resonate with everybody. Many times, I’ve tried to anticipate how it’s going to work, and I often miss what it is. If I’m truly acting out of generosity, abundance, or care — I have to also acknowledge that I can’t control how everybody else is going to receive or respond to those things. I think you can create a bunch more noise than is actually needed.

Another principle is to just get to it, so both you and them can move forward from it. I remember somebody said if you’re going to get cut, you’d rather get cut with a sharp knife than a butter knife because a sharp knife, even though it may hurt, will cut clean, and it will heal, maybe not even scar. But having to saw through something with a butter knife, like your own skin, takes a long time, it hurts a lot more, and probably doesn’t heal very easily.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

I think leaders have to realize that the planning is more important than the plan itself during unpredictable times. They have to understand what assumptions they’re making. It’s important to acknowledge the assumptions they’re making about those ideas, then go learn or test against those things. Continue affirming the values or principles that they’re using to make those decisions. Have a little bit more looseness with their practices or how they’re going to accomplish things.

Essentially, I would double down more on the why, the values and principles beneath, and be flexible with how things are going to get done.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

You don’t have to think that you have to solve it all by yourself. Remember that you’re in it with your employees, even your best customers, your other stakeholders, et cetera. By continuing to bring people together — involving them in the right ways at the right times as you move through things together will likely increase your overall success, versus trying to do it all yourself.

I suppose my number two principle would be being open to stating what you don’t know and being vulnerable in those ways, because everybody else is also going through those uncertain times.

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 common mistake I’ve seen is that they try to control things more than they actually can. Realizing the actual level of control you have or lack of control is important in business, and in life.

Another mistake is trying to varnish over the facts or truth, trying to present too rosy of a picture — especially when keeping employees in the dark on things. I think being able to be honest, authentic people is better than not. Obviously, you don’t want to unnecessarily worry people, but at the same time — I think people appreciate being treated as adults and as if they matter, that they’re significant enough to understand what’s going on.

The last mistake would be not thinking through strategic optionality. This involves really looking at the probability of things by asking yourself, “Does this continue to keep options open or does this lock us into things where we have to be right about what we’re doing?” So, whether committing to the building of something, asset allocation, big hire, or any of those things — just be realistic about how does this keep options open or make new options, versus did we just make some decisions that limit future options that we have?

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.

The first one is that you need to stick to your values and constantly reflect on those. The story that comes to mind would be of Yvon Chouinard, who eventually would go on to found Patagonia. When he had his first company Chouinard Equipment, they were continuing to grow and eventually became the largest outdoor climbing gear manufacturer in the United States and North America. Long story short, they started to see that the equipment they were manufacturing for rock climbing was actually damaging the environment. They had then decided to stop manufacturing what was then the most profitable part of their business. All because they went back to a focus on sticking to their values. That would be the first, and most important thing.

A second one would be to constantly give more and lead from abundance. When we were entering into the pandemic, there were a lot of people who were losing business. At Econic, we always had a history of continuing to be generous and giving more to clients — trying to go above and beyond when serving them. This came back to us during the early months of the pandemic. We had clients reaching out to us to say, “Are you okay?” and asking if we needed any other work. One client extended a project for us that I know they could’ve started without us, because they were a much larger company — and they were able to help us from a cash flow standpoint. Another company found a project where they could use some help. So, because we gave more, it inspired other people to have a virtuous circle and give more.

A third would be transparency. Create transparency where appropriate and understand that it may sometimes be more uncomfortable than you desire. Again, during uncertain times, one of the things we started to do was share more of our financials, modified income statements, and what our run rate was with all employees. By creating that transparency, even if it wasn’t always great, it allowed everybody to have a little bit more information and not wonder what was going on.

Fourth would be to make space for people to share their concerns and how they’re feeling. If they’re going through turbulent times — chances are they’re talking to somebody about it. If you’re a leader, it would be great for you to create a space for them to talk about it with you. For example, we had one project in particular that started off rough. People were not getting along as well as they needed to, and it was very uncertain. Through a good, facilitated exercise they were able to share what was working or not working. The structure of these exercises made it okay for people to start to show their concerns. Again, you have to make space for people to get some of that stuff off their chest.

The fifth one would be to be real and vulnerable with your team. During a retreat last year, I shared some partnership ideas I had with our team that did not land as well as I thought they would. On the plus side, people expressed a lot of pride for the things that they’d been working on and the things they wanted to continue that were not in alignment with some things that I saw. I needed to come back the next day and be able to admit that I was wrong. I was quite vulnerable with them about the things that I was trying to do and what was important to me. Opening up myself, gave them permission in this space to be more real and show their own emotions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Love never fails.” It’s on my wedding ring, but it’s come through a bunch of times in my life.

If the answer to whatever questions we’re working on doesn’t end in “love,” then it’s probably not the final answer. That’s helped in a lot of ways. It probably goes to the lesson I mention in the fourth chapter of my book, Dare To Be Naive. It’s about the illusion of winning and losing. I can pause and stop, and consider what it is that I think I’m actually losing. Is that really true? Because if love — at least my definition of love — being the active concern for the growth and development of another or the beloved, I think that wins out at the end of the day in so many ways.

It’s happened when we’ve lost clients, when employees have left, when I needed to talk to someone about a hard topic — being able to get back to that root of understanding that I can approach things through care, growth, concern for others, or love for that other person — helps me go through those hard times. There’s something deeper that’s happening there, beyond all the turbulence that’s happening up above.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Readers can follow my work at

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thanks for having me!

Joshua Berry of Econic On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain &… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.