Brendan: Welcome to The Culture of Leadership. We have conversations that help you develop and become a more confident leader.
Whether you’re an executive seeking to enhance your leadership capabilities or a team member looking to contribute more effectively, this episode will provide valuable insights into how you can be the leader your company needs.
This is my conversation with Robert Jordan, a leadership development expert and creator of the FABS Leadership Assessment. We’ll dive into the four dominant leadership styles that FABS identifies—fixer, artist, builder, and strategist—and explore how each one can benefit a company in the right situation. Robert shares insights on the strengths and weaknesses of each style, and how individuals can leverage their dominant style while developing skills in other areas.
This is The Culture of Leadership podcast. I’m Brendan Rogers. Sit back and enjoy my conversation with Robert.
What is the difference between leadership styles and personality styles?
Robert: Leadership style is something that we coined to talk about how exceptional leaders have developed a process approach, and a system that develops over time. Personality, as everybody knows it, is universal among all of us. At this point, our research is not complete between the four styles that we're going to talk about and personality.
There are traits that we link to each of the four—fixer, artist, builder, and strategist. All of this is still from a scientific point of view, I would say in the testing stage, which is why I'm glad Brendan that you took the assessment and we can talk about that.
Brendan: Absolutely. When you say that the research is not complete, what research are you undertaking to try and identify linkages?
Robert: The book that we were talking about, Right Leader, Right Time, is based on 7000 executives from 50 countries, essentially showing up on our doorstep over the past decade. The reason those executives showed up is we run a company called Interim Execs. We are a matchmaker around the world. Organizations show up that have a leadership need. If we can, we're making a match between the organization and someone in the C-suite—CEO, CFO, CIO—or a team.
In the process of meeting all of these executives, we developed ranking, scoring, and screening. We had two discoveries from that. One was not so good. One was that the majority of executives showing up from around the world were having careers and leadership experiences that you would describe as okay or pretty good, but you wouldn't describe them as great.
The flip side was that if you look at the top 2%, 3%, maybe 4% of leaders—these are exceptional people having incredible careers—among them, we spotted these four distinct styles of leadership that we labeled fixer, artist, builder, and strategist.
Our research thus far is based on a set of a couple of thousand executives as opposed to something larger, which is why along with the book, we launched a free three-minute assessment that's called FABS. It's short for fixer, artist, builder, strategist. FABS Leadership Assessment. That's to put more science behind this.
Brendan: All right. You tell us more about the FABS, the fixer, the artist, the builder, and the strategist. Give us a bit of an overview of what those styles are about.
Robert: Fixer is, as the name implies, the energy of turnaround. Fixer is the person that has to run into a burning building. Just to be clear for all your listeners, Brendan, all leaders are a combination of abilities. We all bring every capability we have to bear to be a good or a great leader.
We're not trying to pigeonhole someone and say, oh, you're a fixer and that's all you are. We think it is matters of degree. What we would say is that exceptional leaders usually exhibited a dominant style or a dominant and a secondary. Over the course of a successful career, they tend to keep on reinforcing their best abilities. They tend to get better and better at collaborating with others whose strengths are complementary.
All leaders have to solve problems. For the fixer, this is how they get their energy. It's not just they got to run into the burning building to save everyone. They need to keep doing that over and over again.
To give you an example in the world, everybody's heard of this huge crypto exchange called FTX that blew up. As you and I are recording this, it was about three months ago that it went into bankruptcy. Immediately, a CEO was appointed, a guy named John Ray.
If you look at his background prior to FTX, where was he? He was at Enron, which years ago was a similar major disaster in the world. A guy like John Ray, this is what he does. He is attracted to disaster after disaster. That is where he thrives.
Brendan: It's interesting. Before you go into the other three, is there a need or have you identified a need for one of these four styles more often than (say) the other three?
Robert: I would say that they're all situational. It's simply a function of the modern world that now these different styles and people can be brought to bear in different situations. A book like this could not have been written 30 years ago because 30 years ago, for our parents and our grandparents, the way that you worked in your career was, in a lot of cases, if you worked for a big company, you wanted to stay there your whole life. That was the nature of employment.
That's not the way that employment works for most people around the world anymore. You're going to have a career now or children have careers now that are going to be much more varied and where you're moving around more. It's not going to necessarily look like the same ladder that you used to climb in previous generations.
Brendan: Are you saying Bob, just for me to try and understand that comment, that with more movement that's happened over the recent decades, that's enabled people to show more of their style and be attracted to more of these opportunities which has created the view of these leadership styles as an example?
Robert: Absolutely yes. Look at an organization like LinkedIn. The founder, Reed Hoffman, I understand his standard speech to new employees, it wasn't, welcome, you're going to be here the rest of your career. No. What he would say was, welcome. For many of you, this is a tour of duty, essentially. We want to make the greatest experience we can for you and for LinkedIn as an organization. But that acknowledgement that most people were not going to spend their careers there, just think about how different that is from prior generations the way you would think about employment.
A lot of jobs become more projectized. There are industries where this is already the case. If you look at, for example, how movies get made. A movie is the coming together of hundreds of different specialties, people. There are actors, but behind the camera, there are all kinds of functions—producing, the key grip, the financing and everything.
What we are all used to around the world is that these professionals will come together, make a great product, and when that is done, they will disband and move on to their next project. It doesn't mean that their careers have ended. It's the opposite, far from it. They make a great product, and that is their credential to move on and continue to do great work. A lot of that has become the way that work is now done around the world.
Brendan: I do love that term, tour of duty. It does, I think even just in what you explained there, respect the individual employee a lot more rather than having the expectation. Hey, we're going to have you for life, but we acknowledge that this is part of a journey in yours. We hope that you're with us for a period of time, and we hope to make that experience fantastic for you. To me, just hearing that, and I hadn't heard it before, it feels like it's more of a trustworthy approach. It makes me feel like I want to trust the person more just in them sharing that.
Robert: Yes. I think there's also good news in terms of the transportability of your own expertise. This is new. This is not something that we're all used to, but it's here. If anything, we've all gone through in terms of Covid and pandemic, simply accelerated it because there were so much more remote work, which gave everybody more a taste that they could be successful in career and productive, and not necessarily (for example) be tied down to an office or one location.
You're seeing this in survey research now. More people find a sense of connection, ironically, and connection to the mission of their organization while they get to be remote. In some intuitive way, it doesn't make sense. You think a way for us to form a cohesive team, we all need to be in the same place. That's not the way a lot of workers think anymore.
Brendan: Absolutely not. Where I live on the central coast of New South Wales, a beautiful, beautiful place, we have seen a mass exodus of people coming particularly from a place called the Northern Beaches in Sydney, which is a beautiful lifestyle as well, but a hell of a lot more expensive. They're coming up here doing remote work.
They can still go into Sydney a couple of days a week, but they've got the lifestyle, and they've got a lot more money in the bank once they sold their property in Northern Beaches and come to the coast. We've definitely experienced it. I got a lot busier on the coast, I have to say.
Robert: The artist sees the world as a blank canvas or a piece of clay to be molded. The example in the book—I keep using this; sooner or later, I'm going to have to stop—the standout example in the world today is still Elon Musk. This is because the creation of Tesla, the creation of SpaceX, and The Boring Company. These are world-changing innovations.
Most car companies around the world are now geared for a completely EV (electric vehicle) future. You can thank Elon Musk for that. There's really no one else that was pioneering or is outspoken 20 years ago. That's a huge impact. That's an incredible innovative spirit.
As you and I are recording this, Brendan, we're also at about three months in with Elon's ownership of Twitter. That is not a great example of, in that case, fixer energy. Elon may be able to get away with what he's doing. But for everybody who's listening here who is wired as a fixer or loves turnaround, that's not your playbook. Not my playbook, not your playbook.
But you look at what he's done, or you look at someone like Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison. That's the artist’s energy at work. Artist energy is the renegade. It's probably the person on your team who's more rebellious. They're not necessarily the most popular. They're not always agreeable, but they have this ability to continually generate new ideas and create these discontinuous leaps that will get a team or an organization past stagnation.
Brendan: I'm not aware that you know Elon personally, I certainly don't. We may be dealing in hypotheticals. Could you make a judgment that Mr. Musk is maybe not as self-aware as what he needs to be in taking on a challenge like Twitter and the leader he would need to be?
Robert: Actually, I did meet him for a grand total of 60 seconds.
Brendan: Did you get him to do the FABS assessment and say, hey, mate, this could have helped you?
Robert: It was at a private event, so there weren't a huge number of people around. At the time, SpaceX had blown up four major rockets on the launch pad. NASA, the US aeronautics commission, had just awarded SpaceX a $1.7 billion contract. I just thought, this is amazing.
He's meeting and there were a couple of people. I said, you blew up four rockets, and you got a $1.8 billion contract, how did you do that? His answer was completely, wonderfully inarticulate. I couldn't tell you what his answer was. His genius is what it is. It's pretty remarkable.
Brendan: Yeah, special person. But Bob, I feel like you're avoiding the question. Tell me about your view on Elon's self-awareness. Was he not as self-aware as what he needed to be in taking on this challenge at Twitter?
Robert: Not at all. My own opinion on it is it was the most boneheaded move. One of his things is what he calls first principles, which I think is wonderful. It's this idea of getting back to the physics or the core bedrock foundational engineering of something.
For example, I'm thinking about how you make a battery more affordable and longer range for cars? He's said, well look at the base materials that are in—the cobalt, the titanium, the nickel. What are they priced at to try to figure it out? That's a great way of thinking in terms of first principles for anyone for their business because we put all of these beliefs or ideas on top of our own businesses that may or may not be true.
This works great for physics and engineering problems, such as, how do you make a great electric vehicle? How are we going to get people to Mars? How are you going to create a vacuum-based tunnel that will move people at 700 miles an hour? That's great.
Twitter was not any of that. Twitter was something that personally he liked to use. It's questionable if it was really broken. It's highly nuanced. At its core, it's based on all of us. It's a very messy, human-based thing. I don't think that was absolutely the same example as what he was trying to do.
Again, I don't think that what he is doing is a playbook for any of the rest of us in terms of how to fix an organization. You want my prediction? At some point, he's already said, I'll take a vote of all my followers, should I find a CEO? That was his way of saying that this was not a great move.
My prediction is that if the markets do okay this year, you're going to see Twitter go re-enlist as a public company. That's his gracious or graceless way of getting out of it. Tesla is 20 years old, SpaceX is 20 years old. There is no way that Elon survives in leadership at Twitter for 20 years, it's impossible. The EU alone will prevent it.
Brendan: Fair point. Tom will tell us it always does. You made a reference to industry and career type roles. Engineer was the one you mentioned. In any of the research you've done, have you linked certain roles, professions to the type of leadership styles?
Robert: We have not linked it. We think that these styles apply across any industry or specialty. This idea of leadership style is something new. We're really starting on an exploration here with this. We see this, we're starting to describe it, and we can describe some of the attributes. But I'll be very eager to hear from any of your listeners if they take the assessment, whether they think they've been accurately portrayed.
I'll give you an example of a trait. Brendan, we've talked about a fixer. We think fixer is a linear ability. What I mean by linear is that take the example of FTX, the guy that's in there trying to save whatever assets he can. I can pretty much guarantee you that John Ray is not engaged in any other project or company while he's working on FTX. It tends to be that fixers are all consumed by one organization, by one thing they're working on.
The flip side is that artists cannot work on one thing at a time to save their lives. Elon is a great example of that. He needs this diffusion of energy, if you will, between SpaceX, The Boring Company, and Tesla. That is something we see as we're measuring this across artists leaders that's true for pretty much all of them. They need parallel. They cannot stand this linear. The same things apply when we talk about builders and strategists.
Brendan: It's that creativity side. They need to feel like they're creating things.
Brendan: Give us an overview of builder.
Robert: Builder is the energy that can take the small, emerging, nascent product, service, team, organization, set of clients to market domination. Each one of these styles has what you could think of as a mantra. For builder, that mantra is market. They have market domination on the brain. You can also look at it as a scale.
If you think about someone who's a really great leader who took a product, took it from small, took it big, and took the company public, or sold it, what tends to happen with that leader after they do that is they need to leave, they need to rotate off, and start again, whether it is related industry or something new. They need this ability to build to scale. When it reaches scale, it's probably no longer of interest to them.
I know most people in business, we all love this. I'm a builder, and it is true. You have to have builder energy in you, but we mean a specific definition here of builder, which is that it has this repeat focus on process and people, and just how you put all of this together to create a great product. Once it's dominant, move on.
Brendan: I probably found builder the most relatable because it's not where my style ended up, and I'm comfortable with the style I did end up with. But if it wasn't talking more about market domination and that view, what you just said about process, structures, foundations, and building, that part feels like me. But I've never been a person to feel like market domination. Taking somebody from here to there is the end goal and what gives me passion, what drives me.
Robert: One thing for yourself would be, do you tend to work with one company at a time, one project at a time, or do you like multiple? Are you tending to have lots of different projects, organizations, or clients going on at the same time?
Brendan: Yeah, multiple clients.
Robert: Got you. The way we think this is is that's more consistent with artist and strategist energy.
Brendan: Interesting. How far into your research are you with the supplementary styles and dominant style, but also, as you said at the top of the show, we've all got elements of each one? It's not about hey, we're just in this box, and that's it. Are you close to getting a secondary leadership style for people?
Robert: Actually, I could ask you this as well because you took the FABS assessment. It is going to return for people. You're taking this about three minutes. It will instantly then return for you a dominant style and a secondary. Then we’re asking for feedback, the most recent version of it. Once someone gets their result, they get descriptions of the styles and then this question, did we get it right? Yes, no. Click yes, click no.
One way that we look at this is to consider DNA. All biological life is based on just four proteins. DNA is made up of four nucleotides. That's it, but it's endless variations. Whether it's your aunt Mary, it's your puppy, your cat, the oak tree outside your window, it's all just endless variations on four different strings of proteins. In a way, this is how we're thinking about leadership style, which is we're all wired in infinite variation.
What we would say is, though, that exceptional leaders tend to have a dominant style. Over time, exceptional leaders tend to reject more of what is not for their highest and best use. Highest and best use is a phrase we like using in the book.
Brendan: Yeah, I like it. Highest and best use, most effective use of time, I think. I have to say, I must have missed it off the secondary. I didn't notice the secondary at all, so I'm going to have to go back and take a look at that. Anyway, tell me about the strategist.
Robert: Strategist is the leader of scale. Strategist is the leader in a complex or a vast organization. One of the leaders we interviewed for the book had been the Undersecretary of the Department of Defense in the US. That's an organization with several million people. When you hear a strategist talk about work, talk about leadership, that is radically different from fixers, artists, and builders.
Strategists, like (for example) the leader we interviewed, are talking about systems of systems. They're talking about influencing something where a one or a two degree shift in an organization can look initially not much different, but over time produce some vast effect.
Strategist leaders talk about loyalty. They talk about having been mentored, about mentoring other people. It's about cross training, it's about loyalty and longevity, typically within one or two organizations. That's a very different language from fixer, artist, and builder.
Fixer, artist, and builder, to use a phrase from Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits, he had this phrase, personal span of control. Fixers, artists, builders, tend to be leading in organizations where there are 5 people, 10 people, 50 people, maybe 100 or 150. But generally, there's a personal relationship between those people, which is how trust is formed. That's how they get things done because I know you and you know me.
The strategist does not have that available to them. In a complex or vast organization with thousands or tens of thousands of employees, the way that you're going to exert influence and excel beyond your competitors, is not just on personal span of control. Very different mindsets, very different language.
Brendan: Who would be an example that people would know, that would be a strategist in the world?
Robert: One of the great strategist leaders who just retired is Fred Smith. He was the founder of Federal Express (FedEx). Most leaders, they are what they are. We're combinations of the four. But for example, I'm a very strongly artist leader, to my peril. It's great that I'm really creative, but that doesn't mean I'm the most effective person even in my own company.
I'm very aware that I have to collaborate like crazy in being trusted and trusting my partners to do far better than I can at what they're good at so that we have a good organization. Fred Smith is one of the rare examples, I think. He just retired after 51 years. He founded FedEx 52 years ago. He rounded the bases, you want American baseball parlance.
He started as an artist because while he was in school, he wrote a paper thinking up this idea of overnight delivery of packages. There are famous stories about him. He couldn't meet payroll when FedEx was a young organization, so he went to Las Vegas and successfully gambled so that he had enough cash to pay the employees. That's a fixer. That is fixer scrappiness on the brain.
Certainly, in terms of being a builder thinking about how you scale, and in his case, country by country, how do you become dominant? How do you displace the state-mandated postal service? That's incredible. He arrived at strategist as his highest and best use, where you have an organization with 250,000 employees around the world, with operations in 170–180 countries. A remarkable strategist.
Brendan: It was remiss. I didn't ask you for an example. You gave examples of the first two for people that we would know in the world. What about a builder?
Robert: Builder is a lot harder because the examples tend to be localized. A lot of builders don't necessarily achieve Fred Smith fame because they do something great, it hits an IPO, and then they want to do it all over again. They tend to be less known to the public.
I'll give you an example, if any of your listeners have ever been to the US, Boston. I've occasionally been to Boston, and there is a dominant bakery in Boston. It's outstanding. Whoever started this bakery said, we're going to dominate the Boston Market, the city and the suburbs. We're going to have the best product, but we own it.
They're not in any other American city. I can't find this bakery anywhere else. At the heart of that organization, that's a builder. That is a builder who's thinking, I'm going to own this market, not the world. I'm just going to be dominant in this market.
For example, if someone's a real estate developer, market domination for those folks tends to be their town, and within a town, they want to be, for example, if you're a residential builder, the greatest developer in that town. Those tend to be more localized examples. We had a lot in the book, but a lot of those folks, I don't think your listeners would necessarily know their names.
Brendan: The two that came to mind when you're explaining it were Bill Gates and Steve Jobs around market domination. I don't know what their other traits would be, but they're the two that just sprang to mind. Would you categorize those two gentlemen in that builder leadership style?
Robert: They certainly have incredible builder energy. In the case of Steve Jobs, artist, I think, was more dominant because of his level of disagreeableness and renegade. At one point, when they were starting the Macintosh division, he flew a pirate flag on the top of the building, and it was a message to the rest of Apple to go away. That's not necessarily builder energy.
Bill Gates is another great example of all of these styles coming out. But ultimately, Bill Gates (I think) is strategist energy. To do what he did, if all he was was a great programmer, we would never have heard about him.
His ability to recruit other people, who in a lot of cases were far better managers, to negotiate with IBM early on, IBM the behemoth, and Microsoft was a little company with a piece of software called DOS. He convinced IBM to put his software on their computers, their hardware, personal computers, first ones coming out, and let him keep the rights. That's just a sheer act of brilliant negotiation. It shows exhibiting a lot of incredible qualities on his part.
Brendan: Is there one of the styles that is linked to longevity in a company?
Robert: I don't know. I think, regardless of the way that you are wired. Prior to this book, we had done a book where we interviewed 45 champion company founders. To get into that book, to be interviewed, you had to launch, grow, and sell a company for $100 million or build public at $300 million dollars. We were self-selecting for longevity there.
But as much as there were examples of leaders who could write something out for many years, there was at least an equal number who were only on part of the journey. They could be a great founder, then they would leave, and that was it.
This was part of the spark for us to look at leadership style, because for example, there are many people who are not great company founders, but they are great taking the small team or product to a point of domination, which is what got us thinking about what is builder mode, which is not necessarily what the world considers as classic entrepreneurship.
Brendan: I think if I had to pick one just from a feeling, it feels like to me, strategist might be one that has potentially more longevity. But like I said, it's just more of feeling attached to that rather than any hard data. The other comment I want to make is that, thankfully for us, today, and the world, that you are this artist-type leadership style because quite possibly, we wouldn't even be talking about this today if you didn't have this level of creativity in you.
Robert: It's kind of you to say that. Yeah, there's a crazy streak that said to my business partner, let's go spend six years on something that we have no idea if it'll ever come to fruition or if we're right or wrong.
Brendan: You're a blank canvas.
Robert: Blank canvas, yeah. This is why we also interviewed a number of organizational psychologists during the book because it was basically one crap question—are we crazy? We would present them with this framework.
All their backgrounds were very rigorous, scientifically-trained to look at an objective research, and to say, this is the thesis we have, this is what we're going to test out. Are we nuts? Luckily, we got a lot of validation from folks that we were on the right track. Maybe they were just being nice. I don’t know.
Brendan: Let's talk about blind spots. Let's go back to the first one you gave us a summary of the fixer. What are the potential blind spots that a fixer dominated leadership style needs to be aware of?
Robert: Blind spots is one way of putting it. I always thought of leaders who run amok. For example, fixer energy, one of the sparks for this is the prior book we did. One of the leaders said, if I put a fixer into one of my companies and it's not broken, he'll break it just so he can fix it. When I heard that, I thought that was so intriguing.
Fixer energy is unchecked. Here's an example. In the US, it was a leader. His name was Al Dunlap. His nickname was Chainsaw Al. He was brought in by the board of a company called Sunbeam. If you remember the maker of blenders, fans.
They hit on hard times, so the board went to Chainsaw Al who promptly came in and fired most of the staff. It was too far, it was too much. Ultimately in his turnaround work, he was accused of accounting fraud because there were no guardrails for his performance, and that's not a great playbook for fixers. This is why the example of Elon coming into Twitter and immediately firing half the workforce is not the playbook most fixers use.
Brendan: The fixers, in essence, are really people or leaders that could do absolutely anything to fix whatever's broken that could be within the realm of legal and not legal.
Robert: Yeah, not not even legal in many countries. When you talk to fixer leaders and say, what's the first thing you do when you go in, what we would hear from everyone is, you listen. There's no chainsaw. Elon went into Twitter day one with a sink sending a message.
Great fixer leaders, when they go in, they go down to the shop floor. They talk to the people running the equipment. They go to the administrative assistants who have been discounted and overlooked for years, but they have all this institutional knowledge and they know all the secrets.
In organizations that are not doing well, it tends to be that the board and the management team are not listening to anyone else inside the organization. They're sealed in their own little world. They know everything that works and does not work, and yet they're in incredible trouble. They tend to hear fixers going in and trying to uncover all of this intelligence in an organization that tends to be overlooked.
Brendan: Listening is one of these key characteristics, irrespective of your style, that all of these fantastic leaders have as a starting point. Is that what you're saying?
Robert: For sure, a fixer. I'm not sure for artists. I say this gently lovingly as an artist. Artist energy sometimes is running against everything which represents the status quo. Maybe it's not listening, but it's not active listening in the same way. For example, fixer and strategist need to listen and be present. There's a more distracted kind of thing going on for a lot of artist leaders that can still lead up to effective performance but it is not the same playbook.
Brendan: Where does that lead into the artists' blind spot? Where do they need to be mindful of?
Robert: The artist, to be successful, has to enlist and enroll other people. It's great to have creative ideas. You could have them all day long, but this is matched with leadership. That's how we're using this word.
You could apply it in the literal sense of an artist being a musician, a painter, or a sculptor, which is you have to produce the work. It's not just the idea. The successful execution is part of the game. In an organization, for artists, leaders, you still have to have this ability that you've come up with this leap, this thing no one else has thought of.
You still have to enlist and enroll other people in the organization to get it done. If they don't get it, then of course, there's always the entrepreneur route. We're not saying all artists are entrepreneurs, though, but there has to be this ability at the end of the day for the artist to actually produce the work.
Brendan: The creation, the idea side of that, and then creating something, is a key element of the artists, but it doesn't always mean that they are very good at finishing whatever the idea and creation has started from.
Robert: Yeah. We identified these four styles. What we also saw were three commonalities between fixers, artists, builders, and strategists. We see this continual doubling down that as they discover, they have these superpowers in one particular area that keep reinforcing and reinforcing. They start rejecting more of what does not fit that.
What goes along with that is somebody becomes more confident in their abilities. If they're in a good leadership role, they become better at collaboration. Everybody says, I'm a great collaborator and all of that. It's not actually true.
When people are not confident in their own ability, they tend to try to do too much. Try to be all things to all people. That doesn't lead to great collaboration. You actually need to be confident in your own abilities to then recognize someone else on the team, that the thing at which they are genius, you got to let them run with the ball if the team is going to be highly effective.
Brendan: I got that discovery. I guess I would put it into the self-awareness leading confidence. Was there a third commonality?
Robert: The third commonality, the way we phrased it, is exceptional leaders don't hide.
Brendan: Tell us more. What does that mean?
Robert: I'll use a negative example if I can to make the point. There's a major bank in the US called Wells Fargo. For a number of years, the way that they kept on increasing their sales every year was cross selling. They cross sold. In other words, if you had a checking account, they wanted to give you a credit card. If you had a credit card, they wanted you to have another account.
They did this for many years. Their sales rose. It turned out that millions of accounts were falsely set up. The customers never knew that the bank was opening new accounts and charging the money for more products.
The CEO of the bank gets hauled in front of the US Congress. He's on the witness stand. They're asking him, all of your quarterly earnings calls, they're all recorded, and you keep talking about your success, and it's due to cross selling and all of that. It turns out, millions of these accounts were falsified. The customer has never agreed to them.
The CEO said, it's not me. It's the board of directors. It's not my fault. Anybody that knows anything about business, even my daughters who are not in business, know that that's just not accurate. A board of directors is not setting tactical marketing strategy. It's not their job.
Luckily, that individual was banned from banking after that, but that's an example of hiding. Effective leaders want to be held to account. It is not that any of us succeed at everything or in all cases. We don't. But it tends to be that more effective leaders are more measured and holding themselves to account. If there are results, you can actually see what their performance is like. The flip side that we see is the majority of leaders, where they're doing okay but not great, don't tend to have a lot of measurable results, not a lot of accomplishment they can point to.
Brendan: What's the blind spot area that the builder needs to be aware of, the builder blind spot?
Robert: Early on, a builder tends to be very linear, and you can have a lot of success with that. Sometimes their egos get to them the more that they've done that. They think, if I did one thing successfully, I can do 10 things simultaneously successfully. That doesn't work as well for builders because again, we've seen it tends to be more of a linear strategy.
I'll give you another example of someone I admire greatly, but I think over extended as builder who is Sheryl Sandberg, the former number two COO at Meta, used to be called Facebook. Sheryl Sandberg is, I think by any definition, one of the greatest builders of the modern era.
When she joined Facebook, it was a couple of hundred employees, it was I think about $100 million in revenue, which sounds like a lot. But in the first seven years of Sheryl Sandberg being there, it went to 70,000 employees, and it went to $100 billion in revenue. That is a phenomenal example of building an organization.
Unfortunately, she stuck around for actually 13–14 years, and that was a builder too far. She had achieved market domination. It was pretty much all flawless track record. But then if you look at what happened in the next seven years, you had the Cambridge Analytica scandal, you had election interference claims, you had all kinds of negative feedback. She wrote some books that maybe put her too much into the public spotlight.
Of course, Facebook renames itself meta and gets into VR. I don't think that was really her energy there. I don't know what she would say, but as an observer I would say, man, if you would have just been there those seven years, you took Facebook to market domination. It's funny because when she joined, she said, I'm here for five years. She called the play herself, and then it went too long. What do you think of that as an example?
Brendan: I didn't know the name, but obviously I know the company and some of those journeys. I think it's a fantastic example. Again, if you're going to get the mind of these people, I suppose, and maybe that's the opportunity for further conversation. It seems like in that example and some others you've shared, they start out knowing where their strengths, their motivations, and their passions are on the type of leadership style, even if they haven't got this language around it.
Something takes them further. It's like they're not aware enough to make those decisions. I'm there, I've done my job, and now it's time to move on. Something's holding them back making them comfortable. I don't know what it is. You got any thoughts?
Robert: There's a lot around confidence here and your own self-discipline. This book, as I said before, couldn't have been written 30 years ago because this idea that your own particular genius, the way you lead, and your style that you could express it in so many different ways in the world, was not open to any of us in a prior generation. Now, because of the way work is organized around the world, it is.
You need to take that confidence into the marketplace. This is what you see. If you don't see it among our own cohort, folks who have been in the workforce 20–30 years, you are certainly seeing this in people who are new in the workforce.
I heard one graduate describe this and said, my career is going to be long, it's not going to look like a traditional ladder. It's more of a jungle gym that you're looking for your moves and more of an exploration. That's not a bad thing.
Brendan: Yes, I think a lot of people can relate to that jungle gym journey. Tell us about blind spots. I'm the strategist. My results came out as a strategist, my primary leadership style. What blind spot or blind spots do I need to be aware of and other strategists out there?
Robert: I've had two ideas around this. One of them is that nameless, faceless bureaucrat, who is within a vast organization with a lot of power, but absolutely no accountability. That is the worst expression of having power within a vast or complex organization.
The other way you see it visibly, though, I'll give you an example. In the UK and Britain recently, a company called P&O Ferries. They ferry people and goods between the UK and the continent. The CEO fired 800 workers on a call. That's illegal in the UK.
That achieved the twin distinction. He was hauled in front of Parliament. A member of parliament asking him, I'm paraphrasing here, but the question was, are you just incompetent, or did you really intend to be evil here? That's strategist kind of run amok, which is you lose your governor. You have this power, and you start making these decisions that don't make any sense.
It doesn't make any sense that there's a safety element to running boats and keeping everyone safe. When you move from permanent workers who presumably are well-trained to temporary staff in those roles, you could say maybe safety will degrade.
Brendan: I worked not for P&O Ferries specifically, but a division of P&O for many years in my early days. Maybe that's where I built my strategist gene for good or bad.
Robert: Yeah. I hope it's a great organization. I saw that story.
Brendan: It was for me.
Robert: It was.
Brendan: That's interesting. Why is this work so important? Why are you doing it?
Robert: First of all, the cautionary, the note to get out to people earlier in their careers based on what we've seen among these thousands of executives who were okay but not great, is that a lot of leaders actually tried to be all things to all people, and it never works. On the surface of it, if you say that to someone, they're like, well, of course. No one's all things to all people, Jack of all trades, master of none. Everyone denies it, but you see this in the results if they're only mediocre at best.
A message earlier on for folks, which is the unique capabilities you have, the more that you discover that in your journey, the better, and to trust that. It's not easy and it takes a lot of courage. Earlier on, one of the prime messages we want to get out to the world is that exceptional leaders reject more of what is not for their highest and best use. That's very easy to say.
When you were earlier in your career, that's nearly impossible to do. You're being ordered around by a boss. You need the money, you need the job, reject. Impossible. But what we see is that over a course of a career, more and more as a person acquires experience, acquires confidence as they succeed, they become much more directional and self-determining in what they're trying to do.
One of the folks we quoted in the book said, just because you have a song to sing, doesn't mean you don't have to learn how to sing it. Reach on this journey. You have that responsibility, but it's going to require courage to get to that thing. Folks have asked me, what should somebody do with this? My answer is, have a conversation within your organization or your team.
For example, if your wiring is artist, fixer, or whatever it is, this is genuinely who you are. If you're on a team where everyone is actually trying to perform well—we'll make that assumption—then the more you know me, the better I'm going to perform. The more I know you, the things that you love to do and you're great at, I need to pass the ball to you on those so that we as a team are going to excel more.
Brendan: Great questions, great conversation, great example. Where do you hope this work is in the next 2–3 years? What do you hope to have achieved with it? At what stage do you hope to be at?
Robert: The truth of the matter is, anybody that writes a book in business, if you did it because you're trying to make money, you're a fool.
Brendan: I have heard that a lot.
Robert: That ain't the plan. I very much hope that the FABS Leadership Assessment is out in the world and that a lot of people have taken it. It's a benefit to them because they got some insight into themselves. When it is something where we need help, because that is informing us to figure out how to refine this, make it better, and put out more information around what we've learned.
Brendan: We will put in the show notes the link to do the assessment. We'll push that out to our lists because having done it myself, there's certainly a lot of relevance, and people taking action in having a conversation around it is really, really important. We will encourage that, absolutely. I'm really keen to know, in your journey of leadership, what's helped you to become this more confident leader?
Robert: By far, the most important thing is having great partners, staff, and employees who are willing, able, and just can tell it to me straight. I'm only effective because of the fact that I'm blessed and surrounded with such wonderful people.
Brendan: I like it. I've been listening to a guy out of the states on his podcast about some entrepreneurial journey and some financial stuff. He talks about, nobody is self-made. If you think that you're crazy because it's all the people you have around you, all the support, and they're great at everything, I love that example of what's helped you become a more competent leader. Thank you for sharing that.
Thank you for introducing me to the FABS Leadership Assessment and the model that you've come up with. Very relevant. I found it very enlightening for my own journey, being the strategist, and where I think my strengths lie based on that. I also do resonate with some of the other areas. For me, they are secondary or other styles.
I'm going to actually start using this in my work with some of the leaders that I have because I think there is some valuable conversation. Hopefully, we can help you through The Culture of Leadership and you coming on and being a fantastic guest. We can help you get this out to the world a little bit more as well because I certainly see some enormous value in it.
I want to thank you for coming on. Thank you very much. You've been a fantastic guest on The Culture of Leadership today.
Robert: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.
Brendan: How do you know if you’re the leader your company needs? A great first step is to do the FABS Leadership Assessment, and learn about your dominant and secondary leadership style. You can access this free assessment in the show notes. The FABS Leadership Assessment is a tool that can help you achieve a greater level of self-awareness, which is a critical element of becoming a more confident leader.
These are my three key takeaways from my conversation with Robert. My first key takeaway: Confident leaders develop their leadership roadmap. They develop a process, approach, or system that evolves over time. They exhibit a dominant leadership style that reinforces their best abilities. They recognize that leadership is situational and their style is very based on the situation. Confident leaders create a leadership roadmap that allows them to showcase their credentials in different situations.
My second key takeaway: Confident leaders understand their blind spots. All leaders have blind spots, and it’s essential to identify and address them. Fixers (for instance) may dive in, break stuff, and try to fix it without considering the consequences. Artists may move against the status quo, but they need to enlist others to execute their vision. Builders may stay too long and let their ego get in the way. And strategists may become nameless and faced as bureaucrats. Confident leaders are self-aware and seek feedback from others to identify and address their blind spots.
My third key takeaway: Confident leaders act on self-assessments. They use tools like the FABS Leadership Assessment to become more self-aware of their leadership styles, strengths, and weaknesses. They have conversations with their teams to understand their leadership styles and how they can benefit the organization. They have great networks who will speak the truth and help them become more confident. Confident leaders don’t hide from their weaknesses. They act on their self-assessments to become better leaders.
So in summary, my three key takeaways were: Confident leaders develop their leadership roadmap, confident leaders understand their blind spots, and confident leaders act on self-assessments. What are your key takeaways from this episode? You can let me know at thecultureofleadership.com or on YouTube. Thanks for joining me and remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation.