What do Kind Wednesdays, George Mason and great leadership skills have in common? Steve Gladis! This month we interviewed the CEO of Steve Gladis Leadership Partners to learn about his top advice for CEOs, what lessons he’s learned from teaching over the past 20 years, and his research on happiness. Read the full interview below!
Helios: What makes you excited? What are you passionate about?
Steve Gladis: The main thing that I’m passionate about is good leadership. At this point in my life, I’ve been lucky to have mostly worked with good leaders at the FBI, the Marine Corp, UVA, and now in my own business. I’ve worked with not-so-good leaders and having been a leader myself, I appreciate good leadership. It’s a lot more fun to work for someone who is a really good leader than someone unskilled in leading others. Most of us spend more time with our colleagues at work than we do with family, and I wanted to protect people who work for bad leaders. I’ve dedicated my work now to coach leaders on how to become better. Leadership is a long range play , not a short term one, for all companies and that’s why you invest in education, because it’ll have an impact in the years to come.
Helios: What advice can you provide to CEOs that you wish someone told you years ago?
Steve Gladis: I wish someone had told me that questions are far more powerful than answers. When people come to you with a problem, you’re much better off asking questions to help you and them understand what the issue is, and asking them what do they think are the best opportunities to solve it. The first place you always start is by hearing what they think. By asking questions you can hear them discuss it and often come up with answer. Great leaders don’t give you the answers, they help you determine how to get to that ‘ah-ha moment’. In other words, you’re trying to teach them how to fish, not feed them the fish. Smart leaders engage you to think about the issue. They create a safe environment and provide what I call a “loving curiosity” about how best to help you by relaxing you and asking good questions. Until you relax it’s hard to solve problems—and the person closest to the problem is usually the best person to solve it.
You also never get any pushback because it was their idea. It doesn’t mean you won’t fail. What if they come up with the wrong answer? Stay open to the idea that they could at least try it. For instance, when Edison discovered the light bulb he tried hundreds of solutions that didn’t work first before he was successful. Let people experiment and learn something. You will learn what you didn’t know too.
Helios: I know that you teach at the George Mason University Office of Continuing Professional Education. How long have you been teaching, and what are some of the things that you’ve learned from the experience?
Steve Gladis: Yes, I do teach at Communications Department at GMU, but I’ve also been teaching at the FBI Academy and a number of different universities for over 20 years. First of all, I love to learn myself. That’s part of the whole idea – I just love to read, learn, and understand. I also have an urgency to teach whenever I learn something that I think might help someone else. All of us really stand on the shoulders of the people who went before us. I want to save people the time and energy it took me to figure it out. I want them to figure out new things that we don’t know. I get a chance to see generation after generation to come through and learn how to Twitter, Facebook and blog. I keep current because I don’t want to be irrelevant. Every time I learn something, there’s something new that can pass that on to other people. I tweet once or twice a day and maybe someone else will pass it along too.
Helios: What’s the most common challenge you see business leaders face? And how do you help them solve it?
Steve Gladis: One problem that people have is self-awareness. They really don’t know how they are coming across to other people. Others may well perceive you completely differently than you think you’re projecting. A lot of times it’s quite shocking for leaders to hear that. I coach them to start thinking about it—to become mores self aware (easier said than done!). I often ask, “Do you want to keep doing that or do you want to change?” Another problem is self-regulation. People sometimes have difficulty because of anxiety, depression or anger. If you’re a leader, neither of those three are good options. Sometimes you get leaders who aren’t very empathetic. Empathy is most important for leaders. The other challenge I see often is the ability to maintain multiple relationships with people of all levels and stripes within the organization. You have to have relationships with the guy who empties your trashcan, the chairman of the board…everyone. They are all different and you have to figure out how to adapt to those people. The really smart people are able to do all of these things. These are the core of emotional intelligence and I think it’s the core of leadership actually.
Helios: You often write book reviews on your blog, any other favorite recent read?
Steve Gladis: A book I really liked a like is called Your Brain at Work by David Rock. It basically talked about how your brain is always on survival and its two parts – fight or flight. Without getting all the way into, it’s a great read. You’ll be fascinated by it. [Click here to read Steve’s book review]
Helios: Will you tell us a little bit about ‘Kind Wednesday’ and your focus on happiness?
Steve Gladis: I just finished writing a book on happiness and did a ton of research on positive psychology. I came up with 3 big findings:
1) Get social in your life. The people who have a social network – good friends, strong families, great associates at work – are by far the happiest people in the world. Define this by people who truly care about you and people you truly care about.
2) Get strong at work. We found that people who get to use their strengths most of the day (80/20 % of the time), those are the happiest people. The most miserable are people who work in jobs that they hate what they do.
3) Get positive. I am talking about your physical health, go for walks, keep your body moving, eat a healthy diet, and get plenty of sleep… all those kinds of things. Then the second part of being positive is spiritual, so believing in something that is beyond you. Being concerned about something that’s not all about you whether it’s a community, a god, whatever it is. You just can’t think about only you. The default is thinking about yourself. People who get physically fit and believe in something bigger than themselves, practice being grateful, kindness and optimism.
That’s why every week I celebrate ‘Kind Wednesday’. I write about it on Facebook and when I forget about it, people usually remind me, ‘where’s kind Wednesday?’ I am intentionally kind to 5 or so people that day. I also write three things that I am grateful that happened in that day every night before bed. There’s a study that showed if you write down three things that went well at the end of each day, for 15 days that even severely depressed people in the experiment were less depressed at the end of it. You inherit 50% of your happiness mindset from your parents, 10% from your life experiences, and 40% is wide open for you to determine. That’s why we say to work at being social, work at working harder, and to get positive. You can affect 40% and that’s a pretty big number.