Oleg Konovalov On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Vision — There are millions of not happy families. There are millions of meaningless businesses that are dying as insects because leaders are not thinking about making their businesses meaningful. The difference between meaningless and meaningful and valuable for you and others is vision. There is a true leader behind every strong vision. Vision is the domain of future-thinking leaders because they are in charge of value creation for people, not because they are smarter or higher in rank. They are prepared to go beyond themselves for others.
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 Dr. Oleg Konovalov.
Dr. Oleg Konovalov is a global thought leader, author, business educator, consultant, and C-suite coach. Oleg is named among the top eight global experts in leadership and shortlisted for the Distinguished Award in Leadership by Thinkers50. He is on Global Gurus Top 30 in Leadership, is the #1 Global Leading Coach (Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Award), and has been named one of the Global 100 Inspirational Leaders 2022, along with Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey.
Having been named ‘the da Vinci of Visionary Leadership’ by many leading authorities of our time, Oleg is considered #1 in the world in the field of vision and visionary leadership.
He is the author of The Vision Code, Leaderology, and other books.
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?
My key areas are vision and visionary leadership. I’ve been thinking about this for more than twenty years fully, understanding its critical importance for life and business. I even remember the start of this path as if it happened yesterday. I climbed to the top of one of the mountains in the Arctic in the middle of nowhere. I sat at the top and gazed around into this great tranquil wilderness, basking in the solitude. Suddenly I realized how little, powerless, inconsequential, imperceptible, and insignificant I am compared to this world. Something whispered within me — ‘What is the meaning of what I do? What do I do for the future? Who am I and where do I want to be? How can I escape mediocrity?’ Since then, I’ve been thinking about vision from different angles aiming to explore its nature and present it simply and practically.
A vision cannot be bought. It can’t be merely found. It has to be created. The greatness of success is defined by the greatness of vision.
In other words, I attempted to find the golden ratio of vision and unlock this secret knowledge that I shared in my book, The Vision Code.
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?
Everything we try to do in life and business is an experiment or a beta-version of something that we develop from mistakes.
I have lived almost half of my life in the Arctic and still love it. It remains in my DNA. The Arctic brings out your true self.
It’s a harsh environment where you can experience all four seasons in one day. This is a place where you fully realize — I am not the master of nature, I only have the privilege of being a part of it. Here the risks are high and the consequences of mistakes can be dramatic.
The Arctic is a place where you must unconditionally help others and be grateful for every little help you receive.
I have a great friend, Igor, with whom we went through many fishing adventures and faced many difficult situations. Once, we decided to go fishing for brown trout in the chain of lakes far away in the tundra and only about one kilometer away from the Barents Sea coast.
Besides fishing, we wanted to gather Arctic roots. Arctic root or Golden root (Rhodiola rosea) is similar to the well-known Ginseng. Arctic root helps to increase energy, stamina, strength, and mental capacity, improve athletic performance, resist the effects of stress, and help manage depression, anxiety, and other symptoms. Saami and Lapland people believe that Arctic root takes strength from the rocks and gives it to people.
It was late September and the first patches of snow were scattered everywhere along the tundra. The vegetation was nearly gone which made it difficult to spot the desired root. I decided to dig out a few roots that looked right to me. Then I ate them without blinking an eye. Something wasn’t right and we decided to go for roots near the mouth of the creeks after fishing.
In a couple of hours, I felt very sick. Everything was blurry. I was rushing for a toilet again and again. It was a limbo between falling asleep and rushing outside. I lost about ten kilos of weight in one day.
We decided to get back home. Igor took my heavy backpack and went ahead of me, paving the way, making tea, and helping on steep ascents and descents. We walked for a few hours back to the car and by that time I got a bit better.
Here we met a local Saami guy who was chasing reindeer. He looked at me and asked what was wrong. I explained my experiment of testing different roots. The guy laughed for minutes and then explained — ‘Before going for a few months to a den for a winter sleep, the brown bear eats the root which helps to clean the digestive system. You are a brown bear with a clean stomach now. You ate this root.’ Now, at least, I know that transformation from a human to a brown bear is such fun.
I learned from this mistake that a great partner is a blessing allowing you to go very far and withstand any challenges. Friendship or partnership is about giving to gain. If you are not prepared to give first, you are not a leader. No one can clap with one hand. A partnership is clapping together with four hands.
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’m blessed to have a chance to learn from incredible global leaders and top experts. Marshall Goldsmith, two-time Thinkers50 #1 Leadership Thinker and #1 Executive Coach taught me a great lesson — ‘Learn as much as you can; help as much as you can.’ Alan Mulally, ex-CEO of Boeing and Ford, taught me that leadership is a labor of love. My great friend and co-author, John Spence, author of ‘Awesomely Simple’ infused me with the best approach to strategy — if it is simply structured, it will work.
I’m grateful to Garry Ridge, ex-Chairman and CEO of WD-40 Company for many lessons and a lesson on humility, in particular. A few years ago, after an extended online interaction, we finally met in person. I approached Garry with great respect and appreciation for his role — ‘Good afternoon, Mr. Ridge’. Garry smiled and responded — ‘Oleg, for you, I’m Garry. My father is Mr. Ridge’.
Leadership and influence are about being with people acting for their needs, and not being distant and defending your status.
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?
Purpose is the general direction of an organization and its areas of focus.
Vision is an aspiration for the future that we strive to make a reality today. It is a collective agreement and a firm decision on where we want to be in the future and what our future will look like. Vision is a pragmatic, multidimensional space in the future that we aim to explore and draw value from.
The difference between a vision and a purpose is simple — a vision can be passed as a legacy to the next generation, whereas a purpose remains purely mine.
My purpose is to explore grand solutions that allow leaders to leap into something untapped. My initial vision was to explore and make vision accessible to all. Now, my vision has evolved to the next phase which is to create a million visionaries across the globe and make a vision a lifestyle of the next generations.
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?
I have a simple approach — the tougher and more uncertain time is, the clearer I must be where in the future I lead my team.
We live in a world now where consensus has become very important for everyone to secure. The biggest problem is that vision cannot be created through consensus. It can only be created by strong leadership and that’s where strong leaders stand out. Consensus comes into play when a leader has no idea where to go and seeks instead to please everyone. Pleasers don’t create value either for people or themselves. We are short of leaders who see new grounds and people prepared to follow them.
In other words, there is a space between the present and the future for which a leader is accountable. The leader’s ability to think and act is defined by the essence of this space. True leaders see responsibilities on how to lead people to the future regardless of circumstances.
A leader must be a rock and ensure the vision of the prospective future is much greater than any problems. During the COVID times, we focused on how we can create the market for vision and visionary leadership and how we can expand this market. We focused on a solution, not on problems. As a result, over these tough times, we trained and certified leaders from forty countries, and visionary leadership competence is considered a meta-competence of the 21st century desired by many leaders at all levels.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I’m only a human. How many times did I consider giving up? The answer is — many times. How many times have I failed? — Many times.
I learned a few lessons:
– Neither life nor circumstances can break you if you are not prepared to give up. You define when the final whistle will sound, no one else.
– A loss is never final. Opportunity is never single or a one-off. Persistence always pays off.
– Willpower to continue is when fate kicks you and breaks its own leg on you.
Every time I’m thinking about giving up, I’m setting a greater goal that inspires me to do more. This gives me the energy to do more, think bigger, and act on a greater scale.
This is about inspiration, and far less about motivation. Motivation is to do something within our capacity. Inspiration moves us to do something beyond our capacity, firmly believing that we can do it. There is not much energy behind motivation which results in a short-term push. Inspiration is a source of energy born from within and feeds vision that provides even more inspiration in return.
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 all the time since my childhood. I wrote a few successful books myself. Yet, I learn from people more than I learn from books. No book can replace the experience of meeting new people and seeing different wonders with our own eyes, helping us to understand ourselves and our place in this world.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Managers are responsible for the present. Leaders are responsible for the future. This is about what your people would achieve under your leadership.
The most critical role of a leader is to be clear about where in the future he or she will lead people and what they will gain from the future created together.
This is about confidence. Confidence comes when one is sure that he or she fulfills and even surpasses his or her commitments to customers and employees. The leader must be credible and authentic. A confident leader doesn’t waste his or her energy on self-doubt. Instead, that energy is directed to whatever is necessary to make the vision a reality. A visionary leader gains credibility by adding value and delivering on his or her promises.
People with good intentions make promises, but true leaders with good character keep them. In the end, leadership is judged based on how a leader’s promises meet people’s expectations.
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?
Life is uncertain and the future is even more uncertain. The only certainty in the uncertain future is a strong and clear vision. It navigates people, making them think beyond challenges and their doubts.
There are two important things that leaders can do to inspire and engage their teams in uncertainty.
Firstly, make people free by showing where we go. We are not free when we don’t know where to go. A clear understanding of the goals gives freedom. Freedom is in knowing where to go and what is needed to make this journey. One must be free to be able to make decisions and one must make decisions to remain free.
No one is free if they get caught up in a myriad of conflicting choices and questions that cause more frustration. As a result, such people become hostages of doubt and never move closer to their goals.
Secondly, make others the co-owners of your vision by communicating a vision and showing what people will gain for themselves. Vision defines and explains why and where effort should be focused. The leader, therefore, has to communicate the vision effectively to inspire others.
People need to know or understand what we are trying to do because they have to be part of the vision itself. If they are not part of the vision they will leave. Very quickly that becomes a very transitory population and not a solid team.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Panic within a team when in distress is more devastating than the challenge itself. Take care of the trouble-spreaders. Let people calm down and set them to act meaningfully.
I made one short trip with an incredible captain, Charlie Newcombe, an old-fashioned, ‘sea wolf’ breed. He was a relief captain as he had already retired but still made very successful trips when he was willing to keep his adrenaline running high.
Once, we chatted with Charlie about different things and somehow, the conversation turned to ships in distress that sent SOS signals for help.
Save Our Souls (Save Our Souls) is a well-known, internationally recognized distress signal when the risk of loss of life is high. Every ship has an SOS button.
Here Charlie made a skeptical face and asked me — ‘Do you know that saving means a reward to a saver?’ — and continued — ‘There are a lot of cases when an SOS signal was sent without real risk where captains simply gave up without doing anything. For a good captain, in severe cases, when there is nowhere to wait for help, the SOS signal can be read differently — not as a call for help from the victims of the circumstances, but as a signal to action.’
Before pressing this red button, think of SOS as Sink or Swim. This is about what else you, as a captain, and your crew can do to find a solution. This is for awareness, the action that is manifested in this distress develops from the actions of everyone, and not from the expectation that someone will come and miraculously solve every problem for you. You decide to wait for someone’s help or to act.
Fortunately, I never faced an ‘SOS’ situation at sea. However, I had a few ‘SOS’ events in business facing the risk of losing everything. In such circumstances, an avalanche of problems falls on me from everywhere. Distress is a great sea term vividly explaining such an event. Whatever I considered a solid to fell into pieces, the phones of those who seemed reliable partners weren’t answered, and funds melted like snow on a sunny day.
The first reaction is to do what I can. Then the most challenging and dangerous phase comes — panic and helplessness. This is the most dangerous stage where you want to press the ‘SOS’ button screaming for any help. Panic blocks consciousness.
Think before pressing the red button. Is it about true distress or is panic that is making me thoughtless?
As soon as I calmly analyzed this, I found that it was not my business in distress, but myself. There is always a solution to disaster. There is always someone ready to help when I know what kind of help is needed. People can’t help if I just scream without knowing what I need.
In leadership, the ‘SOS’ signal is to be used only when you realistically see a need for it, not when panicking without thinking calmly. Stay calm and confident and the solution will come.
A leader is a dealer of confidence. Leaders are always in demand as people need them and their unique qualities to complement and develop their own. People don’t need leaders who feed their stress.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I love a military saying — when you go to a fight, you fight the fight. You don’t fight a plan.
Execution is successful only if all involved have a strong will to see it through. The leader’s role is to maintain the team’s will and focus. This is where many businesses fail being focus on the plans and not the execution of the vision. The prize is a completed vision, not a pile of plans.
To win in this fight, a visionary should help the team to focus on completion and make flexible plans in accordance with a changing reality. No plan can predict and address all challenges that could appear in the course of execution. Life will always throw you curveballs.
Being focused means making rational use of resources for the achievement of this goal. A team with a focused understanding of a goal understands the resources it will require.
Success at any cost is an attitude that sounds desperate rather than effective. It wouldn’t attract investors into business or professionals to join you. No one sensible would be prepared to invest money, time, effort, or reputation into something desperate and ineffective.
Those with a strong will to win become winners, those without a will to win have already lost. Their towel is already thrown in before the first round starts.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Life put me through different experiences — from facing a force-eleven storm on a small trawler in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to the successful execution of global-scale business projects highlighted in the international media, from having nothing at hand to being considered among the elite of global thought leaders.
A few years back I found myself in a tough professional crisis after some heavy losses. I was exhausted, losing self-confidence, and had no clear idea of where to go. My previous achievements actually held me back, restricting forward-thinking and keeping me in a cycle, making the same mental mistakes again and again.
One day I asked myself a simple question — What is greater, my goals or my problems? My goals, without a doubt! The answer was so obvious and powerful that it hit me like a bolt of lightning.
I realized that if I was aiming to reach goals beyond my immediate needs, beyond my comfort zone, I needed to explore and adopt new ways of thinking every time I aimed for something new. I must find new and deeper meaning at every stage of my life and professional development.
Life is meaningless and empty unless I make it meaningful. I’m responsible for making my life meaningful. The greatest beauty in the world is a fulfilled life. I steal from the world if I’m not using my life purposefully.
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?
There are three typical mistakes many businesses make.
The first one is that many businesses are focusing on money and not on value creation. Many believe in money. But money can’t buy meaning nor reflect a true value. Vision defines a meaning for many years to come and reflects value for people.
Many focus on technology. We will have driverless cars, but we will never have people-less organizations. The future is not about technology but what we will create for people. A technological mistake can be corrected easily. A leader’s mistake that prevents people from evolving to their potential can have repercussions for decades.
Everything we do is about people, not processes. We create a new reality for the benefit of others, not for the sake of processes.
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.
- Accept that you are a leader
The first step in developing a leadership mindset is understanding that you are a leader and need to consistently improve your mindset and leadership skills. Mindset defines where to put your energy and how to distribute it in the most efficient way to achieve your vision. Many years ago, I learned this lesson in a tough way trying to command instead of leading people. I realized that in leading my team I was mainly responding, not listening to understand. I wasn’t an involved leader; I was a talking head responding to every noise not hearing what had been said and what people felt; I was thinking about my position, not on a role of being a leader.
2. People, people, people
The highest purpose of leadership is purposeful acting for and with people. Without people, vision and strategy are only empty intentions put on paper. This is about creating value for people and not about feeding one’s own ego. Yet, we all have an ego. This is okay. A matter is to what extent we control an ego for the sake of people. Every time I shifted my focus from people to myself, I was losing great team members. These were reflections of losing people by losing myself.
There are millions of not happy families. There are millions of meaningless businesses that are dying as insects because leaders are not thinking about making their businesses meaningful. The difference between meaningless and meaningful and valuable for you and others is vision. There is a true leader behind every strong vision. Vision is the domain of future-thinking leaders because they are in charge of value creation for people, not because they are smarter or higher in rank. They are prepared to go beyond themselves for others.
If a vision is a collective understanding of where in the future we want to be and how it will look, then a strategy is a team agreement and focused execution of how to get into the future in the most effective way. Vision creates direction. Strategy creates focus.
Strategy is the art of making good assumptions defining the most efficient path between the present and the future. Strategy relies on humility accepting mistakes and learning from them. Leadership is a game that requires you naturally to think in strategic terms. Playing tactics always led me to the same outcome — failure.
Simplicity is an elegant way of thinking about complicated things.
Being a big fan of salmon fly-fishing, I realized that learning how to tie strong knots is a fishing basic. Mastery is in how to tie fewer knots. It took me a while to imprint this firmly into my fishing and leadership practice.
We all trained how to make things complicated but never trained how to make things simple. Yet, complications turn people off and are hardly executable. Simplicity reflects structured thinking which allows solving complicated problems and finding elegant solutions. Simplicity gets to the essence of what we do and why and makes people understand it, allowing them to withstand the toughest tests.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The Buddhist quote says the minute you stop expecting life to be simple, fair, and easy, it becomes simple, fair, and easy.
I learned not to waste my energy fighting against uncertainties. I accept uncertainty and make it my way of life.
Most uncertainty is generated by people themselves. Their doubts, worries, and resistance to change feed uncertainty. I must focus on my role and what I can do, and my life becomes simple, fair, and easy.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can contact me contacting me on my website https://www.olegkonovalov.com/
Or, connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-oleg-konovalov/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Oleg Konovalov 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.