Leadership is both a gift and a challenge. As a leader, you are constantly pushed to your breaking point. You have to be disciplined, calculated, focused, determined, and find ways to break through the blockages. Adam Kreek, one of North America's top executive business coaches, joins Melanie Parish to talk about leadership and what people should be thinking about their own leadership right now. He also highlights the importance of getting clear about your leadership goals – what you’re driving towards. Adam founded KreekSpeak Business Solutions in 2008 and have been coaching, writing, speaking, and training ever since. His bestselling business book, The Responsibility Ethic, teaches us the “how” of self-leadership, driving personal and professional results in individuals and organizations.
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Leadership: Getting Clear About What You’re Driving Towards With Adam Kreek
I'd like to introduce Adam Kreek. He's one of North America's top Executive Business Coaches. He specializes in leadership development and strategic planning. He has degrees and certifications from Stanford University, UBC Sauder School of Business and Queens Smith School of Business. He's a guest lecturer at the University of Victoria. He teaches strategies and skills of self-leadership, leadership, high performance and perseverance to corporate and government teams globally through keynotes workshops and online seminars. He's coached, trained and taught thousands of people, including teams at Microsoft, General Electric, Mercedes-Benz, L’Oréal, Shell, YPO, EO, TEDx, and most importantly, Adam walks the talk.
As an entrepreneur, Adam runs two small corporations, KreekSpeak Business Solutions and Ergo Eco Solutions, a low-carbon initiative that connects small businesses with governments. He's a two-time Olympian. He holds 60 international medals, including Olympic Gold and multiple Hall of Fame inductions. In 2013, Adam made the first-ever attempt to row unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to America. It’s the subject of NBC Dateline Documentary Capsized. Adam's new book, The Responsibility Ethic, teaches us the how of self-leadership, driving professional and personal results in individuals and organizations in a world overly obsessed with why, Kreek gets us back to the more challenging how. I'm excited to have him on my show.
Adam, I am excited to have you on my show.
It's great to be here.
We're going to dive right in. I'd love to hear what's happening in your business? What's happening in your work?
There's been a reset within my personal business. The primary driver of income was live events. I would travel to conferences and present there. I delivered keynote addresses and run people through workshops. My job is illegal or becoming less legal, but it was for a while. I had to shift our business. I had a small stable of executive coaching clients that I kept on board for intellectual stimulation and growth and that thing because I liked it. Now, because of COVID, we've shifted heavily into that space. I'm in the process of acquiring more clients, putting it out there, have been able to increase. I've been surprised at the amount of clients I've been able to acquire over the COVID space. It's fascinating.
Why do you think they're coming to you right now?
A lot of them I've had established relationships with before. I feel like in coaching relationship, there's a level of intimacy that delivers value in that. You have to build a relationship before someone develops the trust with you to start exploring those deeper issues. A lot of the people who came on board have been hovering in the background for 1 or 2 years when I started blasting out saying, "I'm opening my gates and accepting more clients." They started coming in and saying, "Let's do this."
I know the whole world is experimenting now. What should people be thinking about in their own leadership?
Leadership starts with the self. When we talk about leadership, there's an opportunity to observe your reaction. That's where a lot of leadership power comes from. I've been thinking a lot about change management. Often, I'm brought in to speak about change management, run workshops on change management, or often coaching individuals who are enduring change in their organization. They've either been promoted or there's been a merger and acquisition, some big change in the organization. Often when I'm working with the leaders or senior leaders, they're the ones driving the change. They're not the ones having change forced upon them. This COVID crisis forced change upon everybody. People in senior leadership positions got the opportunity to feel what it was like to endure change and to have change forced upon them. If used appropriately, it will help senior leaders have more empathy and understanding for the people that they lead within their organizations who constantly have changed forced upon them by the ideas, vision, direction and influence of the leader.
That's a fascinating idea that leaders have had change forced upon them in a way that they often have forced change upon those in their organization before. That's such a fascinating way of thinking about this time.
It's a gift. That's fundamental to my personal philosophy, my coaching philosophy. I wrote about that in my book, The Responsibility Ethic. It's based on this locus of control, idea of the psychological concept. Stop me if I'm rehashing old conversations you've had. I feel like it's an ancient concept that comes from stoic philosophy. This idea that if we focus on what we can control, which is often our response and we create as much space as we can between an event and our reaction to our event, we are able to be more effective, proactive, and in the way that we direct the future. Coming back to this idea of having change forced upon us, it doesn't force us, but it gives us the opportunity to look at our locus of control.
What can I truly control in the face of change? What can I observe? How can I generate the most benefit from this uncomfortable, unlikely situation? There are some businesses that have been shut down. There are some businesses that are struggling, but I'm working with a lot of businesses too, where people are struggling for the other reasons because they're super busy. If you're in a larger organization, now you have to have pandemic protocols. People have been building new websites, shifting online, figuring out how to do business, and how to mitigate risk in a different way. How to put up the procedures for when the next inevitable pandemic shutdown occurs?
It's like the Olympics for change management.
Except you don't have four years preparation.
You're thrown in the deep end.
You're showing up and be like, "Everybody, it's the Olympics. Melanie, you're in swimming, Adam, you are a long-distance runner, go."
I know your background is in the Olympics and I swim, which is funny. Tell me what your background in a world-class competition brings to your work? How do you use the principles of what you learned in the way that you do your work?
When I was an Olympic athlete, I rode in an eight-man boat at Olympics world championships international. I did that for under a decade international high-performance competitive sport. What I bring to my world of executive coaching is a sense of awareness of what it takes to do great things at the highest level. I've had to do that a number of times in my life. I've had successes and I've had failures. I've gone through that and I've discovered a number of tools that have been useful to achieve that. I share these tools with clients and then I've been in the speaking training and executive coaching space since 2008. There's been a lot of skill acquisition there to share with my clients as well.
The sporting background is interesting because it's almost like a Petri dish is how I describe it because the rules within a sporting environment are clear and they're precise. It's like a science experiment, a leadership experiment you know exactly what the outcome should be. You know when the race will be. You're able to plan because there are deadlines that do not shift and will never shift. I won't say will never shift because the Olympic stuff shifted because of the pandemic, but on rare occasions, you know four years from now that you're competing in this one race. You know the time of the race and when you'll be doing it.
Everything is geared towards that because there are many constraints, you don't have to worry about the unknown as much. You can push other components of the human condition, the human psyche, human psychology to its max, to past its breaking point and figure out your limits more effectively and try things at work and try things that don't work. In the confines of high-performance sport, I was able to learn a lot about human psychology, the psychology of performance, this culture of leadership, I was on a team boat but it's almost like rowing in a team of introverts. Everybody works alone together.
In my practice, when I'm talking to top leaders, I feel like they are pushed to the edge of their breaking points. Is there any wisdom that you have from your time for the strain of leading or the strain of pushing through?
You should be pushed to your breaking point and that's why you are the leader. That's why you're in this position. That's the gift and challenge of leadership. You wanted this position. If you don't want it anymore, if you don't want the growth that comes from challenge and pain, then you need to change your position and where you are in the organization. This is one thing, the power of choice and acknowledging that you worked hard to get here. This was a conversation you'd have often as an Olympian, you'd wonder, "This is hard. I don't want to do this." Not only is it a physically grueling exercise, but it is emotionally grueling.
I have to be disciplined and restricted to my lifestyle in the people I socialize with. The way that I monitor my thoughts, the way that I respond to a situation, I have to be disciplined, calculated, focused, determined. Find ways to persevere and breakthrough blockages. The conversation we'd have often was if you're loving it 55% of the time, you're probably on the right path. If you're loving it all the time, then you're not pushing hard enough. You're not on the high-performance path anyways. You can be in the country cup path if that's what you want to be. There's a lot of dissatisfaction that comes with staying comfortable. You'll be uncomfortable in other ways if you're always comfortable or you're pursuing comfort.
The other thing that I would say comes from my Olympic coach this little British man. He would say things like, "When you are in the middle of a revving race and you feel absolutely knackered and you feel like you can't go any harder, you are only 1/5 dead." What he was saying is that, "You have more power within you than you could ever possibly imagine." When you are pushed to your limit, you're not at your limit. You're just complaining. What is stopping you? When you get to these breaking points and these points of challenge that's the gift. It helps you identify, I call them keystones that need to be placed in the foundation of your leadership lighthouse, to allow you to have more influence, to change the world, to express the values and influence the values of your organization and the values of the society in a way that you feel confident about.
I'm curious about this whole idea. I feel like people are clear on the fact that, “It's become uncomfortable and they are only 1/5 dead in leadership.”
You've got another 80% to go.
There's another 80% to go but what I find is challenging is that there's this sense of not knowing what the goal is. It feels sometimes there's no end in sight. How do you find true North when we're in a time like this?
Every new beginning begins with a time of wandering. Often, when we think of new beginnings and we think we want that true North, we think of the new beginning where we had that a-ha moment in the past where we identified the true North. When we had it, we had the confidence, we started moving towards the true North, but we forgot about the time of wandering that preceded the pivotal moment of recognizing the star that you're going to follow. There's an element of accepting the wandering, accepting that the wandering is part of the process of finding. That is the first step of the process and you are doing it correctly.
That's what I would say to a client who was asking for advice and they wanted some mentorship in the relationship. I can go even to my own personal experience. I'm going to go back to the whole rowing thing because there was an international rower for eight years afterwards, move on to the next thing. I looked down my crew, everyone has been relatively successful. One guy manages a bank and other guys, a solicitor, a lawyer, the other guy's a doctor, other guy is a top-level bureaucrat, and other guy is that photographer, mortgage broker and engineer. I've gotten most of them, but everyone had to find a career path and everyone's careers were a little different, but after it's a mid-change. Everyone was in their early 30s when they were transitioning from this sport.
They weren't young, they weren't old, but there are still slotted into adult life. They had no one immediately finished their sporting career and then transitioned to this new career, going through change immediately. They all wandered around like, "Maybe I should do this." They moved here, moved there, and there are turmoil, angst, and discomfort. That's what spawned the new North Star. It's the metaphor of birth that is not lost. I can't imagine what it's like to give birth to a creature, to a child, but I've seen three of my own children born. No matter how you want to put it, it's sweaty, it's painful, it's bloody and it's beautiful.
We need to accept that this time of change every new beginning begins with a time of wandering. We are birthing a new North Star and new ideas. We resist change because it's painful and it's a lot of work. This was a core philosophy of our training. As athletes in that our coach, he also recognized that you change most effectively when you are uncomfortable. Change happens quickly when you are uncomfortable and you get used to discomfort. He would create environments of stress so that people would change quickly. This is what we have in COVID. We're going through a time of stress to change, to grow. There are going to be amazing businesses that come out of this crazy time that is going to thrive and they're going to change the world.
I hear that. My daughter's a chef and she says, "Mom, all the restaurants are going to go away." I always say like, "The restaurants aren't going anywhere, they may have new ownership. They may have new investments because there are beautiful restaurants sitting there ready to open again." What do you think about, should all businesses be saved? What should we let fail at this time?
To be honest, I am grateful for government support and backing throughout this because it’s given times to get our feet under us. There's been a little bit more grace in the transition and your families aren't collapsing. That's an important thing to do. Change takes time, but it's also painful. I don't think we should prop up businesses, we should give enough time for people to wrap their heads around industry change so that they can find their new path and pursue it. You know this as a business and a leadership coach if you're building a new business, it will take 4, 5 years for you to get established and humming and rolling.
If you're going to tack courses, if you're a career person, you have to find that next corporation that values you, that wants to pay you and what you feel your worth. That takes time. It's nice to have enough income that the Buddha's off your throat, where you don't feel threatened for survival but not so much that you're living in a country club and you don't have to do anything. It's finding that balance of compassion, but not removing the individual hunger for betterment and control. Does that answer your question? I don't feel like I was too direct, but I gave us a good framework.
Where can people find you, Adam? Where can they find your book?
They can go on Amazon, search The Responsibility Ethic, Adam Kreek. I play on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can find me there and I'll usually respond to you within a couple of days. You can contact me through my website, www.KreekSpeak.com. I've got a newsletter. I send out once a week. Lots of people love it. Thousands of people subscribed to it. If you want to have weekly leadership boosts to try to keep it pithy and put it in some pretty pictures and quotes to keep your mind popping.
Thank you so much for being on my show. It has been such a pleasure to connect with you and get to know you a little bit and to find out what you're thinking about leadership.
Thank you, Melanie. You're doing a great job and a great service. Keep it up.
I have enjoyed being with Adam Kreek. I've loved talking with him about how to be a leader and what it means to be pushed to the breaking point. When we think about finding the target condition, his experience being a part of an Olympic team is powerful that because you're headed toward one goal with laser focus, you can push yourself beyond every limit that you can ever think of. This is why I believe it's important to be clear about your target condition. What are you driving toward? How do you hold laser focus on the thing that you want to happen in your life and of your business? It is such a powerful place to have a singularity of focus. Eliyahu Goldratt always said that, "Management attention was the biggest bottleneck in North American business." I believe this is true as leaders, we wander off and we forget to stay focused on the things that matter to us. It may be staying focused on experiments and any goal that you want to accomplish, but that laser focus powerfully takes organizations forward. I've enjoyed talking with Adam. It's been such a pleasure. Go experiment.
About Adam Kreek
Adam Kreek is one of North America’s top Executive Business Coaches, who specializes in leadership development and strategic planning. He has degrees and certifications from Stanford University, UBC Sauder School of Business, and Queens Smith School of Business. He is a guest lecturer at the University of Victoria and teaches strategies and skills of self-leadership, leadership, high performance and perseverance to corporate and government teams globally through keynotes, workshops and online seminars. Adam has coached, trained and taught hundreds of thousands of people, including teams at Microsoft, General Electric, Mercedes-Benz, L’Oreal, Shell, YPO, EO, TEDx, and most importantly, Adam walks the talk. As an Entrepreneur, Adam runs two small corporations – KreekSpeak Business Solutions and Ergo Eco Solutions, a low carbon initiative that connects small businesses with small governments. Long-term clients include leadership teams from the Aerospace, Finance, Public Service, Nutrition and Clean Energy Sectors. Adam is a husband, father of three, and an active volunteer in his community and nationally through his work past and present with various health, youth empowerment and human rights not-for-profit organizations. A two-time Olympian, Adam holds 60 international medals, including Olympic Gold, and multiple hall of fame inductions. In 2013, Adam made the first-ever attempt to row unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to America, the subject of the NBC Dateline Documentary, Capsized. Adam’s new book, The Responsibility Ethic, teaches us the how of self-leadership, driving personal and professional results in individuals and organizations. “In a world overly obsessed with why – Kreek gets us back to the much more challenging HOW! His back to fundamentals approach is a timely reminder of the enduring principles of success, and from someone who has lived them first hand.” – Peter Sheahan, CEO, Karrikins Group
A public speaker, consultant, workshop leader, author, and Master Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, from whom she received the Prism Award, Melanie is an expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, strategic hiring, and brand development.