Robert Jordan has launched companies and helped other owners and investors build their companies for 25+ years. After founding the first Internet-coverage magazine in the world, Online Access, and landing on the Inc 500 list of fastest-growing companies, Jordan sold the magazine and began taking on interim CEO gigs. High multiple company sales and IPOs followed.
In 2007 he started an online network for interim executives around the globe, expanding to 2,300 executives from 45 countries. Jordan then co-founded InterimExecs, helping owners and investors with powerful leadership on demand through InterimExecs RED Team (Rapid Executive Deployment).
Jordan is author of How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, and publishing partner for Start With No, Jim Camp’s bestselling book and audio on negotiation.
His new book, RIGHT LEADER, RIGHT TIME: Discover Your Leadership Style for a Winning Career [G&D Media / March 29, 2022], is the executive reader’s one-stop guide to assessing their distinct leadership style and a step-by-step plan for optimizing that style to best suit their business and scale its growth.
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What is the job of a doctor it is to cure illness and in general is to solve all illness? Well, that's a wonderful goal. I don't think any individual doctors thinking, Oh my God, if I actually cared all of my patients, I'm not going to have a living.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, but it would be a heck of a lot easier and good for society.Robert Jordan:
It's like when you know, when you're driving on the expressway, the only way you can drive is you look at the horizon, right? It's a hypothetical point 510 miles down the road. If you look straight in front of you in a car, you'd crash. And it's the same way with leadership and clearly from what you're saying the same with HR, which is you keep on working to perfect your team and your function. It's a hypothetical future that you're not going to reach but you have to go in for it. That's your point of becoming Excellent.Kyle Roed:
This is the rebel HR Podcast, the podcast where we talk to HR innovators about all things people leadership. If you're looking for places to find about new ways to think about the world of work, this is the podcast for you. Please subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform today. And leave us a review. Rebel on HR rebels. Hello, rebel HR listeners. Thank you for joining us this week really excited for the conversation with us today. We have Robert Jordan. He is co founder and head of the leadership at interim execs has a new book written with Olivia Wagner called right leader, right time, discover your leadership style for a winning career and company. We're going to be talking all about leadership today. Really excited to get into the conversation. Robert, thanks for joining us.Robert Jordan:
Thanks so much, Kyle. It's a pleasure to be with you.Kyle Roed:
Well, I'm really excited for it. And we had a great conversation. Just before I hit record here, this is going to be a lot of fun to dig into. I do want to start off, just to learn a little bit more about you and your background here. Robert, tell us a little bit about your leadership journey. And ultimately, what led you to write a book about leadership?Robert Jordan:
I, I have your classic entrepreneur. It's I'm glad you named to this rebel, HR a classic entrepreneur background. Early in my career, I started the first magazine anywhere that covered online and internet. It sounds impressive, because we predicted the internet beforehand. But the other way we describe it is any mistake you could make in business. I made it I including some wonderfully boneheaded HR moves like hiring one of my best friends and not thinking, Well, what happens if this goes wrong? I can tell you what happens is for the rest of your life, there's a little cloud over that friendship. It's not the right person. But so I have background, launching a lot of a bunch of companies, some that failed. And some that did remarkably well. I've now been in three IPOs. And I developed a particular expertise for myself around helping investor groups reach an exit. A lot of entrepreneurs, they're really great on the front. And the idea, the vision, the passion. And if they haven't done it before, generally, they're not so good at figuring out exactly, you know, if you're not going to go public, if you're not wanting a million, what are you going to do to get a return for your investors, I got good at that. And over time, kind of fell into this job title of interim CEO. And when social networks came around Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, we launched an organization that's now known as interim execs. And it has a team called Red Team Red stands for Rapid executive deployment. And so organizations from around the world call us and we're a matchmaker for project needs in the C suite, if there's a need for a CEO, CFO, CIO or a team to take on a special projectKyle Roed:
interesting and I think that's that's going to be a perfect transition to what we're going to be talking about today, which is the the distinct leadership styles and when they're appropriate to, to leverage and so let's let's keep going down that path of kind of the entrepreneur because I can imagine that many entrepreneurs probably started their company because they just had a desire to build something or to create something or they love the customer or they just had kind of a an itch to scratch. But when you get to a point where you have to exit or scale up or or become more quote, corporate, you know, that's a pretty tough transition for for many Folks, and I think many HR professionals, a lot of times, we're kind of, we're kind of on the sidelines watching this and wondering, you know, why? Why are my leaders struggling right now, or, you know, all this change and, you know, growth, maybe where, you know, expectations are changing, maybe we had an ownership structure change. And now, expectations from that ownership group are different. You know, there's just, there's so much there. And from our seat, a lot of times, we're trying to help lead through that. And a lot of times, we are trying to figure out what's going on, you know, how can we help our teams be successful, and when do we know when somebody is the right fit, or when the role is right for this person. So before we get into that, I want to talk a little bit about the distinct leadership styles that you have observed and that you cover in your book.Robert Jordan:
Sharon, and before we dive in Cali, I do have to say, I, I, I'd be hard pressed to think of a time that word is not more vital for HR folks to show leadership and where your leadership is needed. We could dive into any thing, which is related to those challenges, such as the great resignation, we are in we're in a time of greater fluidity and mobility, and where voice among people who are coming into the workforce, and not that many years in it is completely different from our parents or our grandparents generation of what it is to work in a company. You look at so many hot button issues that HR now has to address, or has to, at a minimum be in a support role. To the rest of the leadership team. I have in mind, not that I want to go there. But Disney, you know, Disney employees launched a website around the CEO. The website is many of your listeners, I'm sure know, it's called Where's Bob J. Peck? That would have happened in a prior generation of business? A public kind of protest against your own CEO. Yeah.Kyle Roed:
Yeah. Yeah, it is a it is a new day and age, there's, you know, there's a megaphone available for people. And, yeah, the the virality opportunity of frustration, right. Yeah, and I think we've we've seen that, you know, when you look at things like, you know, kind of the trend of like, woke CEOs, right? Like, individuals who actually want their company to stand up for whatever their social views are. Yeah, and that's, that's not anything that I ever learned in my PHR certification course.Robert Jordan:
Ever, none of us have. There is some degree to which social awareness behooves all of all of us, I believe. And then there's a line beyond which it's like, how deeply is a corporation supposed to go? Right. So you know, when you see a major investor, like BlackRock, and for years now, they have been advocating for some form of awareness, for example, on the environment, it's just it's not acceptable anymore for a corporation. Nevermind the law in terms of say pollution, there's a responsibility here, right. But how far is this going to go? In terms of political direction? Well, you and I can have an answer. As managers in a business, the employees in the company could have a completely different idea of how far or not that is, but that's a challenge. And that, that is where the HR function, I think, becomes more and more vital. And, and less of, oh, it's just the the administrative side of it.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. Well, yeah, you're a great fit for the podcast, because that's basically what we say every single show, I think, in one way, shape, or form. And so often, you know, we are, first of all, we have to demonstrate self leadership. So, you know, we have to be leaders ourselves, but then we're also trying to coach other leaders on how to, you know, appropriately respond to situations and you know, what kind of training and development do we need to put leaders through so that they can be prepared for for some of the, you know, the disruptive environment that we're in? And then probably most importantly, how do I pick the right leader to to, you know, to step into a department, and, you know, it's funny because I I can give you more case studies than I would like to admit about it. individuals who have hired to go into leadership roles that looked great on paper and had every single letter behind their name that you would want them to have. But if they weren't the right fit, if it wasn't that right seat on the bus, you know, so to speak, then it was an epic disaster. Really, or, you know, it was just it. You know, it was something where it was, there was always something off, right? We just never really got where we wanted to go. And, you know, I think a lot everybody who's listening, this right now is probably shaking their head up and down going, yep, yep, I've been there.Robert Jordan:
And compounding all of this is the room the remote nature of some of work, you know, so for example, Kyle, you and your company, because you're actually manufacturing real things. You know, there are people that have to show up, but for much of, of work in the world, that that where you could be remote makes the job of evaluating, hiring, recruiting training even harder, because it's much harder to see body language. And if we're not going to physically be in contact every single day. The challenge is magnified?Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. Yeah, it's not. It's not that the challenge is different. But it's, it's harder, you know, it's, it's, you can't be lazy anymore. And, you know, randomly bumped into one of your direct reports, who might be having a rough day, at the watercooler and read their nonverbals and say, oh, you know, is everything okay? You know, now you might be sitting on a zoom screen, and they're like, they've got a box of tissues, and they're having like, the worst day of their life, but they're smiling and like acting in front of the screen for you. And unless you have that level of relationship, you'll never know. Right? And I think I think we're seeing some of that.Robert Jordan:
Well, you're you're touching on in the book. And I know, we're going to talk about this right leader right time, we identified these four distinct leadership styles. We also identified the three common elements among these extraordinary leaders. And one of those common elements. That way we put it is no hiding. And it was a phrase that one of the leaders we interviewed for a prior book, used, he talked about the difference between being at a big pharmaceutical company, as opposed to when he had his own company. And there were only a couple 100 employees. And at one point, when he was only in the smaller company, he said, you know, you can't hide stuff in a big company. You know, you can you can hide in these days, when it comes to everyone being remote, you can hide for quite a while.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, we'll take it from someone who used to work at a company 300,000 That eventually got to a company with 1300. That is, that is true. The smaller you go, the less the less dark corners there are heightened. So you just got to be better. All right, so let's shift gears, because I want to dig into these and and and I really, I think it's really important that we put a label to some of these these things, because leadership in and of itself, I think, is a term that can be very muddy, right? It can mean a lot of different things. And so I think one of the things I love about your approach is that you've you've really kind of defined this into four distinct styles. So what are the what are the four styles of leadership?Robert Jordan:
The four leadership styles are fixer, artist, builder, and strategist. And one of the things our research pointed out is that there is no more one size fits all. It's very interesting that there are other fields, there are other professions where this came around years ago. And yet, when it comes to business leadership, this really still hasn't dawned on most businesses. So for example, in medicine, Kyle, if if you had a problem with your foot, I'm gonna say, Kyle, you, you really ought to go see a podiatrist. I am not going to say you know, I know this great heart surgeon. You got to see him for your foot. And this is so obvious to us. Now in the Western world. It is the same for example, in law, if you've got this brilliant thing you want to go patent, do not go to a litigator, go to a patent lawyer. Well, in leadership, in business in organizations for profit, nonprofit, we have this kind of transference going on that if someone does one thing well, we start thinking, well, they could do anything great, and it's just not true.Kyle Roed:
That's a great example. And I'm sure that you know that heart surgeon probably did read something about the foot in anatomy class like 25 years ago, right, but probably not the right person for. Yeah, absolutely.Robert Jordan:
And the recognition this has gone on so long and healthcare has come so far in life expectancy, the western world is so vastly higher, that you don't it's not even a given inside that profession, that the heart surgeon will say, Oh, no problem, we take a look at your foot. Was there your friend, they're not going to do it? It's it's become that clear that expertise has a reason. Not true leadership of organizations yet.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. But I think it's really interesting to think about it in that terms. And you can to, you know, to go back to a I had mentioned earlier, when you get muddy about what leadership is, it gets really hard to select the right leaders, and it gets really hard to diagnose, you know, what might be going on? So I think the you know, the kind of the first question is for us who are sitting here and maybe we have teams of our own or we are trying to influence others? How do we determine what our leadership style is?Robert Jordan:
It's a great question. I'm gonna give you a couple different answers. One of them is that we have been working to develop a leadership style assessment. And because of these four styles, fixer artists, builder strategist, fa b s fabs for short. We are about to launch the fabs leadership assessment, it is free. It's going up on to a new website, we've launched called right leader.com. So one answer is we welcome everyone to go to right leader.com And take the assessment and and see if we we can give you some insight into your style. Okay. The second thing is that I think for a lot of people simply having the conversation with people that know them, or even just thinking about what it is that turns you on, is going to be revelatory. So if I gave you a quick description, the fixer is the leader who loves running into the burning building. And what we distinguish in terms of that ability is, is that once they fixed one situation, they put out one fire one division, one client, one company, they will tend to gravitate to the next major challenge. And if they're given something that's too steady state, it's going to bore them beyond belief. Okay, artist is the person who views the world as a canvas or as a piece of clay. There are standout examples, whenever anybody thinks of Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs, preeminent artists leader, but many of us are called to or compelled to feel like an artist leader. If you're the person in the organization that you just can't not think up new ideas. It could be anything from messaging to product to service to design, okay. Builder is the person who has market dominance on the brain. This is the person who thinks about taking a division, a team, a client, from something at smaller state, generally below scale, and thinking of structure system process that will move to some kind of dominance, whether it's in a particular market, I was just in Boston, Boston has this incredible Baker bakery downtown called Tatay. They are dominant, they are the greatest pastries in Boston, I don't think they're ever coming to another city. But in Boston, they crush it. There's the heart of a builder in in that local business. And the fourth strategy is strategist. And that leader operates at scale. That is the person who is incredibly comfortable beyond personal span of control. How do you move an organization forward? When you're in the 1000s or 10s of 1000s? of employees? It's a completely different proposition from the person who was used to say managing 20 or 30 or 50 people.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think about that, and, you know, in the context of, of human resources, you know, a lot of times I'm thinking about this as when I'm going to market and I'm looking for a new a new hire, you know, and so often we try to we try to put together these, these job descriptions that say everything without saying anything, right, like, you know, every last like two pages on the straps. But you know, thinking about it in those terms. It's it's, you know, honestly, I think it's rare error that we actually have the conversation about, you know, what does this person need to do in the environment that they're in? Versus what tasks do they need to achieve? Right? So is the department on fire? Get a fixer? Do we need to scale into the 1000s? And we want somebody that can manage that complexity. Okay, strategist it is right. But so often we're stuck in just trying to find that perfect candidate as opposed to actually finding the right leader. It's really powerful. I think that's, that's really interesting. So as you were kind of, you know, researching this and through some of your experience, what led you to kind of realize the that, that these distinct styles really make a difference? And then when can you tell when maybe there's a mismatch there?Robert Jordan:
too? Great question. The, it's so so our research started through this company, interim execs. And at that organization, we had been approached by about 7000, executives from 50 countries, and an interviewing those folks, what we discovered over time, we started ranking scoring screening, what we discovered was the vast majority of leaders are having careers that are just so so kind of mediocre, not awful, not necessarily great. And there was a commonality in those folks, which was tending to be too much of all things to all people, there was a kind of dilution going on, in terms of taking on too many different roles, as opposed to figuring out, as we call it, the book highest and best use, what is the thing at which I'm completely energized, great. I can never pronounce this author's name, but he wrote the book flow, writing about, you know, the this flow experience you have when you're completely in the middle of, of what is your unique ability to dance all in one set. So we saw all of this example of what was not optimal. In our experience with red team, we would have this ringside seat, we own the client relationships. So we're talking to the board, we're talking to the owners, talking to senior managers while and engagements going on and we're saying, how's it going? Are you happy? Is this executive or team doing great? And we're turning around the executive or the team, we're saying, Are you happy? Is is this awesome? Is this organization, the right fit for you whatever. And, and this pattern became so glaring, which is these four distinct styles between fixer artists, builder and strategist, it was like this can't be an accident, that in one hand, you have this more undifferentiated mass of leaders who are playing more swiss army knife, I'll do anything, I can solve anything. As opposed to this much more limited group, what we call fabs leaders, who tended to reject more rejected or what they felt was not their highest and best use. So we felt we had to write about that. That's what we're trying to get at.Kyle Roed:
Well, I feel that, you know, it's really interesting. And it lines up with, you know, this is more anecdotal. But some of the, you know, some of the research that's out there that's showing, showing that, like, an HR generalist role is really potentially not the best use of somebody's talent, because it is, like you said, it's like that swiss army knife. But some people are good at certain things, and some people are good at other things. And so it's like, if you look at all the like, you know, Myers Briggs and pi and all these, you know, all these like personality assessments, basically, what they all say is there's a, there's a continuum of what people are good at. And they they, you know, very rarely are they right down the middle, right? So, so why would you try to like force somebody to do everything across the continuum, eventually, you need to try to kind of find that right fit. And it's, it sounds like this is kind of in that same theme. Am I on the right track here?Robert Jordan:
You're totally on the right track. And and, you know, one of the psychologists we, organizational psychologist we interviewed for the book, he said, You have to be spiky. And what he meant by that was that if you were looking at a chart or a graph of you, Kyle or me or anyone else on your team, have these desired qualities, traits, skills, all of these things, you need to be spiky and a couple of them not all of them no Human being is, and when you think of a team, and you can even think of this in terms of the HR team, what builds in a creative team is different spiciness that what you are, our best at is not going to be the same thing that I'm best at. And that's going to help us to become a better team simply in terms of having that conversation to know each other better.Kyle Roed:
I love that spiciness, I'm going to remember that I'm going to say, you know, I'm telling my team, my next meeting, hey, I need you guys to be more spiky.Robert Jordan:
More spiky, and we're gonna be more creative.Kyle Roed:
I love it. I love it.Robert Jordan:
The opposite of this, if you don't mind, I mean, this is on the radical end, I think for a lot of your listeners. But you know, we had the good fortune to interview one of Google's senior managers. And he had a team in the hundreds, which is big for a Google team. And he talked about their continuing drive to self obsolesce themselves. It wasn't with the goal that they were working themselves out of a job at Google. But because Googles mission so much is that things that are done by hand can be automated, that teams were working very hard to figure out how to go do that, it in no way meant you don't have a job at Google, when you get done with the project, you would move on to a new project. But it called for a degree of self confidence. And understanding and faith, the organization, the rest of your team, which is we're going to do the best job we can here. And then we're going to move on to another challenge. It's really interesting thinking, even for organizations that are not wired like Google,Kyle Roed:
I love that. In fact, I would argue that should be every HR person's job. Our goal should be to be so bored at work, because we've got our leaders where they need to be our employees know what they're doing. Everybody's trained, we don't have any turnover. So we don't have to hire, you know, the only hiring to do is for growth. And we've automated every last administrative headache to the nth degree so that all you have to do is you know, as a leader is just hit approve or something, you know,Robert Jordan:
like it's a pie in the sky. But who doesn't? And it doesn't mean you're going to be fired?Kyle Roed:
Oh, heck no, I'll get promoted. If I do that.Robert Jordan:
You go to your doctor, what is the job of a doctor it is to cure illness, and in general is to solve all illness? Well, that's a wonderful goal. I don't think any individual doctors thinking Oh, my God, if I actually cared all of my patients, I'm not going to have a living.Kyle Roed:
Yeah. But it would be a heck of a lot easier for and good for society.Robert Jordan:
Because from the HR point of view, I had not considered it but in a way, it's like when you know, when you're driving on the expressway, the only way you can drive is you look at the horizon, right? It's a hypothetical point 510 miles down the road, if you look straight in front of you in a car, you'd crash. And it's the same way with leadership, and clearly from what you're saying the same with HR, which is you keep on working to perfect, your team and your function. It's a hypothetical future that you're not going to reach, but you have to go in for it. That's, that's your point of becoming Excellent.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. And I think it from my standpoint, and I think I probably fit into the artists category is like sitting here thinking to myself, like, from my standpoint, I'm just trying to make sure that people are confident enough in what they're doing, that they can march that path without like, going into that self preservation mindset, right? Because we all know that's, that's, that's a quick way down the drain. But, yeah, as you know, unfortunately, we don't have a three hour podcast. But I would encourage everybody to if you want to dig in you know, we are just scratching the surface here but the book again is right leader right time, discover your leadership style for a winning career. And company, I think some really great content in here. And some things I guarantee you if you took this fixer artists, builder strategist, mindset into your next position that you hire for leadership, and you ask that question of your team, what do we need? I think you're going to have a better outcome because you're going to get people aligned around what you actually need, as opposed to what do you need this person to do? And that's I think that that's, that's really important really great. Really great insight, something I'm going to, I'm going to take away from this. With that being said, I want to shift gears, I want to go into the rebel HR flash round. So question number one, where does HR need to rebel?Robert Jordan:
Oh, I'll leave your your listeners with a phrase cross-pollinate. And that's how I want to see you all rebel, which is figure out your spike Enos. And I'm sure a lot of people know it, and just start thinking about the people around you, which is what are they spiky at? Because that's where we want to support each other.Kyle Roed:
I'm with you. And I can guarantee you if I had a bunch of people on my team that were just like me, we it would be terrible. Absolutely terrible outcomes. I agree 100%. We wouldn't get anything done, we'd have a lot of ideas. It'd be super fun. But we'd all get fired. So all right, question number two, who should we be listening to?Robert Jordan:
Well, I'm fans of of, for example, David Brooks, wrote a book called Second mountain. And first mountain is those are those things you do for power, status, money, fame, fortune career. And second Mountain is what what do you do for meaning and significance? And commitment? And commitment is a word that resonated for me so strongly that I've been talking with people about that. And it resonated as well, because it right leader right time, this whole idea of highest and best uses around what are you committed to?Kyle Roed:
All right, awesome, we have to check that out. I am not familiar. So that is a new one, I will put on my list. Last question, how can our listeners connect with you and get their hands on this book?Robert Jordan:
That would be great. They could go to interim execs.com. Or they could go to right leader.com, which is where the fabs leadership leadership assessment is. And the book is available. Our distributor and publisher always want us not to just say Amazon, of course, it's on Amazon. But it's on target. It's a target and Barnes and Noble. And everywhere else you find business books.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, highly recommend it. Just, you know, a little bit of a teaser today. You know, this is one of those conversations, I think we probably could have kept going for hours, but just really appreciate you putting the work out there. Just wonderful insight into leadership. And we will have all that information in our show notes as well. So open up your podcast player, click in there and you'll be able to find access to all of Roberts content there. So, Robert been absolute joy. Thank you so much for joining me.Robert Jordan:
Thank you so much, Kyle. It's been a pleasure.Kyle Roed:
Thanks. Take care. All right. That does it for the rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at rebel HR podcast, Twitter at rebel HR guy, or see our website at rebel human resources.com. The views and opinions expressed by rebel HR podcast are those the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast. Maybe