Leaders Learn from Leaders with Adrian Simpson

Adrian Simpson is a Co-founder of Wavelength leadership group; for over 20 years he’s really been immersing himself in amongst some of the top firms around the world, including the likes of Apple, Tesla, Netflix, and Google. And we’re going to dive into some of those leadership secrets, but before we do, it’s The Leadership Hacker News. 

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: Purpose is a real key part of all leaders’ capabilities, but often leaders get it wrong. Commonly, we see leaders think that purpose should be the same as their company’s vision, mission, or purpose, but it shouldn’t. Believe writing a leadership purpose statement is not a onetime exercise at all. It’s something that should evolve, and it should connect the individual to the purpose of the organization. It’s incredibly important and it needs deep insight and deep thoughts. So, what is leadership purpose? Your leadership purpose is your statement about who you are as a person and how you bring those unique qualities into your world.

First and foremost, leadership purpose is about your values and what’s important to life for you. It’s often also considered as your why statement or your reason, your beliefs. Think about your leadership purpose statement as being your beacon, enabling people to have a real clear understanding of what your direction in life and work is. In doing so, it’ll help you drive the right behaviors on a daily basis and keep you engaged when circumstances around you can be challenging. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Your leadership purpose statement must be a living and breathing document that you can share so, others understand it too. And it’ll likely change as you change as a person, or your career grows or changes shape. So, you should always update it regularly. And remember your leadership purpose will not only help keep you grounded, and you stay on your path, will help you be a better leader and the leader you’re meant to be. Most important, it sets a declaration of the kind of support you’re prepared to give as a leader for the people around you. So, they can also buy into your journey. So simply put, think about the purpose, your why, and make sure it describes your values, your beliefs, and your vision, and how that aligns to the organization that you work and serve with. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. Let’s dive into the show.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Adrian Simpson is a Co-founder of Wavelength leadership group. For over 20 years he’s taken top leaders into the boardrooms and shop floors. Some of the world’s most successful, innovative and admired companies, including Alibaba, Netflix, Apple, Tesla, Lego, and Google but a few. Andrew, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast. 

Adrian Simpson: Thanks, Steve. It’s great to join you this morning. 

Steve Rush: Really looking forward to diving into some of the lessons learned from some of these huge conglomerates, but tell us a little bit about you, your background and how you’ve arrived to do what you’ve done?

Adrian Simpson: Gosh, so yeah, so a very, very brief resume. Started my career in retail with John Lewis Partnership then decided at sort of age 21 to go off to University in Manchester, did a degree in business and marketing. And just after University, I managed to stumble into a role with the incredible Tom Peters Group. And for those that aren’t old enough, Tom Peters was certainly in the 1980s, nineties, the most successful management guru of his time, his Jim Collins of his day, who wrote an amazing book called In Search of Excellence and sold many millions of copies and to give us sort of sense. So, I was putting him on stage in the 1990s at about $120,000 U.S. dollars a day back in those days.

So, and then one day, yeah, after being at the Tom Peters Group where I was helping put him on stage and find some, he really wrote about companies that had kind of amazing cultures that really just sort of got it. And indeed, I’m still visiting some of the companies he wrote about wrote about 30 years ago, like Southwest Airlines. The phone rang and a small innovation company called What If was on the phone. And one thing led to the other and a conversation snowballed into a coffee, a coffee into a lunch, a lunch into a come join us. And I moved into to join What If for 11 years. When I joined, we were 10 people when I left, there were 355 countries. And it was the ride of my life and had an incredible opportunity there to provide our clients with some inspirations, started running for the study tour events, and then 14 years ago made the jump to co-found Wavelength. 

Steve Rush: So, what is it specifically that Wavelength do?

Adrian Simpson: Our specialism is bringing the outside world in. Basically, we scour the world looking for examples of practitioners. What are the leaders? The organizations that have compelling stories to share with our clients and really providing our clients with a combination of what I would call inspiration, education and provocation. And our hypothesis really is at the level at which we operate at, is the leaders learn best from leaders. So, as I mentioned, sort of, you know, scouring the world, looking for practitioners you know, got real experience on topics that our clients were interested in. Albeit, you know, I was literally in America 10 days ago with a group of 20 leaders from all around the world. We had clients from Australia, from India, from Japan, from the Middle East, six across North America, the rest from across Europe, from lots of different organizations.

They flew into Dallas Texas on a Saturday. We began on a Sunday morning with a sort of half day workshop. And then for the first day and a half, we spent going inside the legendary Southwest Airlines and Ritz Carlton, really focusing on excellence in culture and leadership and service. So, they can value the three and a half days, looking at innovation, disruption, new business models, what’s next? And what’s next? Next. Doing some set piece visits but also doing some incredible things like going for drives in the world’s first, fully autonomous robots, taxis operated by crews to have no drivers in them at all [laugh] or doing metaverse meetings in the metaverse, Oculus quest headsets. 

So, we do things like that to very, very intense one-week immersions for very senior business leaders. We have at the other end of the spectrum, we have a digital only program called inspire, which is every single month. Typically, on a third Thursday of the month, we take a cohort of leaders from lots of different client companies live inside a great business, somewhere around the world of an audience with a really accomplished leader. Last week we hosted a session with Alastair Campbell on mental health. Next week, we have the former Prime Minister of Denmark. Helle Thorning Schmidt on how to lead the country. We’ve got Jesper Boring coming up IKEA Chief Exec. We’ve hosted Alan Jope Unilever’s Chief Exec. We are hosting Tim Steiner, Ocado Chief Exec in September, and they are just short, sharp, regular doses of live world class inspiration for our clients. And we’ve got amazingly 700 people signed up to that program from around the world. So, we do, you know, whether it’s digital only, short, sharp, live inspiration, whether it’s weeklong, or we have other programs, one called connect, which is sort of, has about 50 people on it and is UK based, it runs about nine months or whether it’s just, you know, helping clients bring speakers in for a particular offsite or conference. But again, any speakers we will use, will be practitioners.

Steve Rush: How awesome. So, you managed to really bump shoulders with, and as you said, immerse other leaders with these great leaders from around the world. What’s the reason your focus is heavily aimed at making leaders learn from other leaders.

Adrian Simpson: I just think there is a relevancy that you cannot get and that applicability that you cannot get from any other kind of learning when it comes to leadership is in my view. Now I’m not for a second saying there is not a role for, you know, academics and business schools and some kind of provocative, rigorous thinking. I think there is a role for that, but I suppose my best sort of summary when I had a chief exec who has been with me, a chap. He was chief exec of a fortune 500 company. He came with me to America for a week. He came with me to China for a week. And I said, you know, John, why are you doing these programs? And he said, it was very simple Adrian. He said, my previous HR leader, he said, kept on telling me to go to Harvard.

And I kept on saying to her, tell me where I should go to business school to learn about business from someone who never run a business and I’ll go. He said she didn’t. So, I didn’t [laugh]. And I thought, and he said, so when, you know, she put in front of me the chance to spend a week in the U.S. alongside peers from different industries, different sectors, learning from companies and leaders that were perhaps bit further ahead of us in terms of their narrative. He said it was a compelling proposition because they know what it’s like to sit in my seat. They know what it’s like to sit it as a board director with multiple stakeholders, internal and external, limited resources, having to make informed decisions. And he said with the greatest respect, no academic, no guru, no consultant knows that reality unless they have also at some point run a major business.

So I think it’s that sort of you know, real applicability I think and I think it’s, you know, what, I’ve, I’ve learned as well is that, you know, when you give clients the opportunity to hear from other leaders and learn from other leaders, you know, it’s easier almost to swipe with glee, if you like, what it is that they’ve done, you know. I mean, I’ll just give you an example. There was a, you know, I actually did a podcast myself with a tremendous guy called Fred Reid couple of months back, and Fred was the founding chief executive Virgin in America. He was the president of Delta Airlines, the president of Lufthansa. He went on to work with five years of Brian Chesky Airbnb and he also did a stint with Larry Page at his private company Kitty Hawk. So, you know, he is worked with Richard Branson, Larry Page you know, Brian Chesky, and also been a twice president and onetime CEO. And I was talking to him about the challenge of, you know, communication and how do you, as a leader, you know, build an understanding in the business of what business you are in and operational realities. And he told this fantastic story about when he was both at Lufthansa and Delta faced with that challenge, he decided to create a board game. And basically, what he did was he would invite cross sectioned cohorts of leaders from across the business, whether it’s air stewart’s, pilots, mechanics, ramp agents, didn’t matter. And they would be invited to take a day out, fully paid to play this board game.

But what the board game was full of was real operational data and decisions. And in sort of teams of eight, they have to like to make a decision. Are you going to give people a 3% pay rise? Are you going to buy new uniforms for the air stewardess? Are you going to pay the loan off on that plane? Are you going to buy the new plane? Are you going to make invest in the innovation fund? Because innovation director says we’re not innovating fast enough. Are we going to, you know, are we going to hedge on oil right? And he said, throughout the day, they had to make real operational decisions based on real operational data that we’d given them from the airline. And he said, the only decision in the day they had to make was to appoint a president. And he said, it was hilarious. They all pointed each other and said, it’s you, it’s you. <

Steve Rush: [Laugh].

Adrian Simpson: And no one wanted to be the president. And he said, because they suddenly understood the complexity of the decisions. And they all said, you’ve got a horrible job. And he said, no, I’ve got a complex job, right. And he said, but a genius was, you know, you’d be three weeks later. He’d be, you know, in some airline at airport, in the us. And you know he’d be getting on a plane and an air stewards would say, you know, Fred, it’s all about cash flow. You know, he said he was like, you know. 

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Adrian Simpson: But that was just a great example. And I was telling that story to, you know, some clients recently and one client just went, oh my God, that is absolutely brilliant, right. You know, I’m not saying I’m going to create a, you know, an exact board game like Fred did but that principle of how do I provide my frontline people with real operational data on which I’m going to ask them to make decisions, to help them understand the complexities of this business. He’s fantastic and I just don’t know if you get that level of insight from, you know, somebody who’s in a, perhaps more of a kind of academic world.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I totally concur with that on the basis that your MBAs and your academic degrees will give you the information and the foundations of which you can then take decisions and make decisions, but it doesn’t give you the level of intimacy you’ve just described, right?

Adrian Simpson: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. What clients love is, they like the kind of warts and all approach, you know what I mean? 

Steve Rush: Right. 

Adrian Simpson: Because again, some of the best sessions we’ve ever done at Wavelength is when we’ve had leaders who frankly are willing to talk with brute honesty about also failure and, you know, mental health issues and, you know, insecurities and imposter syndrome and all these things that, you know, so many leaders in the corporate world frankly, do suffer with and the challenge with, from time to time. But people aren’t willing to talk about them, you know, when they get a chance to hear a peer open up about how lonely is as a leader, you know, and their struggles with leadership you know, they find it really reassuring inspiring, informative, you know, and that’s leaves us feeling good as a business as well. We can help people who maybe you know, struggling with something to think it through, by providing them with some very relevant stimulus from somebody who’s been where they’ve been.

Steve Rush: Yeah, imposter syndrome’s an interesting one because my experience tells me that people have perception, this is just for junior managers or leaders moving from one place to another but every single leader, without doubt at one in time, would’ve suffered from that, right?

Adrian Simpson: Oh, unequivocally, unequivocally, it is probably the number one unspoken thing. I had a client years ago and they summarized it brilliantly. They just said, every year I kind of, I go slightly up the food chain, I get a business card with a bigger sounding, more important job title. I get more people. I get sent to business school to listen to academics who make me feel intellectually inferior. They give me a reading list that I’ll never got to get through and don’t understand. And then I look in the mirror and I kind of go, it’s just me. They’re going to understand it’s me, right. And my partner looks at me as well and goes, yeah, I know. And he went, you know, and someday I’m going to be found out, right? [laugh] and it’s so true that, you know, all of us, I think, feel that kind of, you know, you’re faking it, you know, you’re not real, but I think there’s great reassurance in the fact that it is unequivocally every single leader, doesn’t matter what level of seniority they’re operating at in my experience. And I have had the pleasure of working with some, you know, interviewing, hosting, visiting some incredible leaders around the world. And it’s just the same, it’s their universal truth.

Steve Rush: And what I’ve observed about this whole notion of imposter syndrome is actually it isn’t imposter syndrome at all. It’s just facing new challenges that they haven’t yet dealt with.

Adrian Simpson: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Rush: Which is why learning from leaders who have faced other things and other experiences is the best way to get into the real nitty gritty of how to deal with that and how to respond to it.

Adrian Simpson: Yeah, yeah. 

Steve Rush: Yeah. So, having had the opportunity to work with some of these fantastic organizations, if you had to peel back all of those experiences together, what would you say are the couple of attributes that would make a real great leader stand apart?

Adrian Simpson: I think one of them is, I think that there’s a, the fantastic guy called Ed Schein, who actually having just talked about you know, the role of academics, I think there is, you know, I think he is an am academic at MIT and I think great leaders recognize a truth that he articulated a number of years ago, which is the only thing of real importance that leaders do is set and define culture. And I think that is, you know, so I think first and foremost, the very best leaders understand that’s the most important thing that they do is set and define the culture and really pay attention to that. And if you do that, I think it drives and you know, in a related world, there was a lovely quote from the late great Herb Kelleher. The founder of Southwest Airlines who once said that power should reserve for weightlifting and boats, which I think is. 

Steve Rush: Like it.

Adrian Simpson: Just a great quote, but I think it talks to, you know, unfortunately quite a lot of leaders don’t realize that the most important thing they do is set and define culture and become obsessed by this thing called power, you know, and try and command, influenced by job title and you know, frankly, some not constructive behaviors where I think great leaders don’t do that. And so, I think, you know, if you do that, then there’s a number of things that I think that they do. So, I think they champion and encourage is probably, you know, number one. And again, I feel like there was a fantastic leader number of years ago, we interviewed who was a former board director of one of the world’s most admired companies. And he talked about everybody, every leader is a CEO. And we said, you know, he said, but not in the traditional sense, every leader should be a chief encouragement officer. 

Steve Rush: [Laugh] nice. 

Adrian Simpson: I just think that’s a really lovely mantra, right. Doesn’t matter what level of senior you are, think of your job as a chief encouragement officer, you are a CEO in that sense. I think another thing is, again, this goes to setting culture, great leaders are on message. What I mean by that is, it was Terri Kelly, actually the former chief exec of W.L. Gore & Associates behind Gore-Tex who once said well, what’s your wavelength group? If you have director in your job title, you are forfeited the right to complain in public [laugh], which again, I just love as a kind of mantra because it’s not about saying you can’t disagree. Of course, you can have a disagreement or a different point of view to appear or a colleague, but it’s about doing it in the appropriate forum, having those different, having those discussions, getting alignment, alignment, alignment, alignment, right. Because if you’re the kind of leader that sits in a meeting with your peer group, you know, vehemently pretend to agree with something. And then as soon as you leave, go down the physical corridor, the virtual corridor to the water cooler, and immediately undermine everything that’s been said, and everyone who said it. Well, what kind of culture are you creating?

So, I think, you know, to the point you talked about a little bit ago about imposter syndrome. I think they’re self-aware as well. I think really good leaders are self-aware that they, Alan Jobe Unilever’s chief exec. In fact, I’m doing a podcast later this week with Tim Munden, his former chief leading learning officer. At Unilever, they have a thing which is, inner game and outer game, which is, they have a belief that to be a really, really good leader. You have to, first of all, master your inner game, you know, what’s your sense of purpose? You know, who do you stand for? What are your values? You know. Are you frankly, as comfortable in your skin as you can be. And once you’ve done that, then there’s a chance that you can master your outer game, which is, you know, much more kind of the ability to enroll and engage others and, you know, create a great compelling culture and your operational excellence. You know, it’s a really interesting way about thinking of leadership. So, I mean, there are lots of other attributes to great leaders, but just in the interest of time, there’s probably a top, top group.

Steve Rush: The inner games, a really interesting one because it’s where self-awareness comes from as well. But also, if you cannot master that inner game, then, you know, the voice in our head, our virtual coach, our personal coach, call it what you will, is not going to give us the right context, messaging and mindset to allow us to master our outer game.

Adrian Simpson: Absolutely. 

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Adrian Simpson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I’ve done, you know, speaking personally, you know, I’m a great advocate for building yourself a real strong network of people that will help you with your inner game. You know, coaches, mentors, you know whatever you want, clinical psychologists, doesn’t matter, you know, like it’s lonely out there. It’s tough out there. Whether you are, you know, frankly, a large, you know, C-suite executive on the board of a large multinational, or whether you are a you know, a five person starter, you know, SME, you know, it’s lonely and surrounding yourself with really smart, you know, informed people, specific expertise that can help you with your inner game, I think is invaluable.

Steve Rush: Yeah. So, having had the benefit of working with some really inspirational firms, is there one that sets itself apart as being the most inspirational you’ve worked with?

Adrian Simpson: I think there’s probably two [laugh] if I maybe. 

Steve Rush: Let’s dive into them, yeah.

Adrian Simpson: For different reasons. So, the first actually is in India and it is the truly astonishing Aravind Eye Care system in India, which is the largest specialist provider of eye care in the world. And what makes it quite incredible is, it was founded nearly 50 years ago by a then 58-year-old retired opthamtalmic surgeon in a tier two town in Tamil Nadu in India, who, “as you do” at age 58 in a tier two town in Tamil Nadu province in India decides the problem of needless blindness as defined by cataract. Requires the solution of scale of McDonald’s. So, citing McDonald’s as his inspiration for their ability to basically execute at scale, he decided to create the McDonald’s of eye care and the Aravind Eye Care System was born with the purpose, which they’ve never changed to eradicate needless blindness. And although they’re structured as a nonprofit, the metrics are insane. So, they’ve treated something like 70 million people over the last 50 years. Their operational efficiency, their productivity is five times greater than any other eye care surgeon in the world. So, the average surgeon at Aravind will do five times the number of surgeries and the next best in the world. That drives a quality, which is about 60% better than the next best in the world. It drives a cost control, which is a hundredth of the national health service to provide cataract. So, you’re doing five times the level of volume at a hundredth of the cost at 60% better quality. They’ve never dropped an EBITDA below about 35% in 50 years. They’re in partnership now with Google on the application of AI. So that’s all the hard stuff that you, think’s pretty impressive, but that’s all-in pursuit of their purpose, eradicate needless blindness.

That means that nearly 50% of the people they’ve treated over 50 years have never paid a dime for the treatment. So, you’re running a cross subsidy business model, if you basically literally walk up to an Aravind Eye Care System hospital, and you have a choice. Turn left, free hospital. Turn right, paying hospital, and you may get a potted plant and a nicer meal if you pay. But when you get to the surgery, it’s the same surgeon. And they make a joke and say, it’s a bit like flying business class. We don’t change out the pilot. So, you’re getting the same quality as you do if you pay, but nicer frills. You add to that the fact that, so you’re making 35% EBITDA and giving away nearly, you know, 40% of your product. Their whole business model is to include the excluded.

That includes the people they employ, so are about 70% female workforce. They recruit about a thousand young women a year from rural backgrounds who are typically 16, who they recruit, train, educate to become the secret source of their productivity. They’ve a university with an open source to models. Another 300 hospitals around the world have been taught the Aravind process by Aravind. And if that isn’t enough, they’ve got a manufacturing arm that has about 10% of the world’s market interocular lenses or whatever lens you look at it, excuse the pun. Arvind is truly remarkable, about 5,000 people.

Steve Rush: Staggering results. 

Adrian Simpson:  It is absolutely staggering. So, if you had asked me about that, you know, the power of purpose there is just extraordinary. So, it’s the most purpose organization in the world meets arguably the finest performing organization in the world in terms of, you know, productivity, quality, cost, you know, EBITDA, I mean, all that stuff that the private sector cares about to drive a social impact, that beggers belief. So, for many reasons, they are remarkable at a more sort of, you know, classically well-known, so don’t get me wrong. Aravind had been subject to Harvard and Wharton case studies, I think even in INSEAD, so they are known, but I don’t think they’re known well enough, and we’ve taken groups to India particular twice to go them. We actually had one their board with us in America last week. So, we have a very close relationship with them, and we even got a series of films about them, but the other one would be Southwest Airlines. And I just cite them because, you know, this is the world’s most flown, successful, admired airline. And I think what makes them so remarkable is, you have to, first of all, I think really just understand the context in which any airline operates, you know, but Southwest, I was literally there 10 days ago with clients.

And they said, you know, we put 500,000 human souls a day in aluminum tubes, surrounded by jet fuel and fly them at 500 miles an hour [laugh] and you go, yes, wow. And you’ve got to do that with a level operational safety, which, you know, whether to zero tolerance. 

Steve Rush: right. 

Adrian Simpson: Add into that a business model, which is about low cost, high frequency and excellence in service is an incredibly tough [laugh] mix, right. 

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Adrian Simpson: Where you’ve got so many things outside of your control, oil prices, you know, heaven forbid, you know, terrorism, health, security, you know, weather, you know, I mean, all the things that can affect the profitability of an airline. So to operate in that context where they have built a culture of just positively, you know, relentless, compulsive, obsessive focus on people, you’re talking, you know, 50, 60,000 people to now go beyond America’s borders, to be flying to Mexico, to Hawaii, to Latin America, where they are now, because they you know, they want to become the world’s most flown most admired airline, as opposed to at the moment, they are certainly the biggest domestic carrier in America and people at the heart of their business, that the way that they do that delivers, you know, so their model is kind of, if you put people at the absolute epicenter of your business and you know, really compulsive obsessive focus on who you recruit and how you onboard them and how you enliven their spirit, there’s a decent chance that, that they will then deliver positively outrageous service or indeed did they now call it hospitality to your guests, your customers.

And if you’ve got great people delivering great service to your clients, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll make a profit. And that’s a model they’ve proven time and time again, to be over 50 years. 

Steve Rush: But again, it comes back down to power of purpose, right? 

Adrian Simpson: Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. I was in America 10 days ago with 20 clients and we began our week together visiting Southwest. And you talk about purpose, you talk about how to engage people. So, imagine, so we were there on a Monday morning when they were onboarding about 500 new employees across the business, ramp agents, flight agents, you name it. And imagine this was your first day, the first minute of your first day at your new company. Because we got as a Wavelength Group to go and line what they called the red carpet.

So, imagine in the head office, they literally put a red carpet down the middle of it. A shuttle bus pulls up, out gets 800 new employees. They walk in the door, and they are immediately greeted by cacophony of sound being made by about 150 Southwest employees from across the business, whooping, hollering, sounding clasping were clapping with signs welcoming them to Southwestern Airlines, right. And we got to witness that as a client group. So, you think significant emotional engagement, right. You know, look at that, the principle there, I’m not saying that every company should do that for their people, but imagine, and literally these new hires had their phones out and they were looking around them going, oh my God, oh my God, what’s going on? They were literally, literally you’ve arrived on your first day. And you are literally being, you know, welcomed by hundreds of people down a red carpet to the new Southwest Airlines family. And then you go through to a classroom, and you know, and now you’re there with, you know, 300 odd people and it’s like a celebration of your arrival. And within the first, literally 15, 20 minutes, there is a brilliant, brilliant video that is voiced by employees across the business that talks about the purpose of Southwest Airlines, you know, and its heritage and its values and where it’s come from. And it was just, you know, it was magical to witness.

Steve Rush: I bet, yeah. Sounds and feels just, you know, emotional connection from the get-go is going to really lay some solid foundations. Isn’t it?

Adrian Simpson: Absolutely. I mean, you know, yeah. I mean, it’s like, you know, if you contrast that with the typical onboarding process, if there even is one [laugh] in most, you know, companies small or large, and I think particularly in this sort of remote hybrid era where a lot of people are onboarding, you know, and being onboarded whilst at home, you know and probably then if they’re lucky they get a, you know, they might get you know, some sort of box in the post with a laptop in it. And basically, kind of like, you know, with an expectation to plug it in and tune into some sort of online tutorial on their first morning, you know, and I don’t know. So, I think either the principle there is, you know, and particularly in the context of this war for talent and the great resignation, right. You know, what can be learned from that principle of providing, you know, new hire employees with a fantastically emotional experience that will stay with them probably for the rest of their lives and the rest of their careers.

Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely. So, we’re going to turn the tables a little bit. So, you’re a successful leader in your own, right. As well as having the experience of being surrounded by great leaders. And therefore, I want to tap into your leadership brain now. 

Adrian Simpson: [Laugh]. 

Steve Rush: So, this part of the show, we’re going to dive into trying to distill all of those leadership lessons you’ve had. What would be your top three leadership hacks Adrian?

Adrian Simpson: Whoa, gosh, I don’t know I’ve got three. I think think my big reflection is, the power of networks. And what I mean by that is, again, you know, started off earlier and saying, you know, absolutely whilst I believe in leaders, learning from leaders. And I believe in that fervently, I also, you know, do every now and again, tap into it, admire some sort of work of selected kind of, you know consultants or academics. And there’s a brilliant book which I would advocate called the personal boardroom. And what the personal boardroom does is it talks about this point about the power of networks and not networking because networking is a concept, I think that sends most certainly British executives with an immediate allergic reaction.

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Adrian Simpson: And what, only in my personal boardroom is learning about who are the people that you should have around you that play a very specific role in your career. That you can tap into at times of need in terms of advice, when things are going well, when things aren’t going well, when you’re feeling low, when you’re feeling high, when you’re feeling, you know, in the middle, you know, who do you call and what the personal boardroom book does very brilliantly is, it kind of defines specific roles to say, ideally, and I like it as a visual to say, right, Steve, imagine, you know, you turn around in your house now and as a, you know, dining room table, and it’s got, I don’t know, 8 to 10 chairs around it, what their research indicates. And again, it’s reality based because they interview lots of really, really successful leaders is that those chairs should be each occupied by somebody playing a very specific role in your career. So, for example, your mentor or a sponsor or a coach, there’s a particular role, they love, they call the nerve giver, which I love, which is, you know, you’ve been asked to do a major presentation to your chief exec or, you know, the board, you are absolutely panicking. You call them up and they say, Steve, you’re gorgeous, you’ve got this, right. You know, who is that person in your role? Or they make a very interesting distinction between, you know, a coach who really, I think tries to you know, ask smart questions of you to help you figure out the answer and mentor who I think frankly is the sort of person you ring up and just says, do this [laugh] because they’ve probably been there and done it and they’re just much more directive in their advice. And then there’s a, you know, kind of a sponsor who actually is the person who’s in the room when the decision about you is being made, right. Who’s talking about you to the people that you need to be, you know. So, my sort of leadership hack would be about really thinking about, do you have a personal boardroom? And what I mean here is, this is not colleagues who sit alongside you every day. I’m sure there are some people inside your, but I think most leaders operate in an echo chamber. 

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Adrian Simpson: Where they’re talking to people just like them in industries, just like them, or indeed inside their own organization. And they don’t have that benefit of external validation, inspiration, nerve, you know, so I think my, maybe that’s more than one hack rolled into one, but I think that my sort of number one would be around that. But I think aligned to that would be around this. And I’ve touched a couple of times is that. Do not be afraid to ask for professional support and help from, you know, a coach. Coach can be brilliant and I’m a massive advocate of coaches. Someone you can talk to, external to your organization about what’s keeping you awake at night, or where do you want to go with your career? What’s your next play or whatever it is, your hopes or your fears are or whatever it is, somebody who you can ask really smart questions of you and help you think things through and catastrophize if you need to, but in a safe space. I’m world class catastrophization. So, I’ve used coaches in that capacity, or, you know, if you need even more help, if you need to, you know, I lost my father tragically very suddenly to a heart attack five years ago, you know, and I even undertake some grief counseling for a while to get myself back on the straight and narrow. I’ve even worked with a clinical psychologist at one point where I just was not in a productive, good space. And you know, she helped me really sort of, you know, understand that, and talk about maybe some structures and systems and processes to address that. And, you know, so I think my second sort of one, I think would be, yeah, is the power of specialists to really help you in your career and frankly in your life. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, awesome. Really, really helpful hacks and tips. Thanks Adrian. Next part of the show we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something hasn’t gone well. Might have been quite catastrophic, but as a result of the activity, you’ve taken some learning from it. And it’s now a force of good in your life and work. What would be your Hack to Attack?

Adrian Simpson: Well, I mean, in 2020, we lost 60% of our revenues in six weeks. Because my business was based on, you know, physical immersions. So, you can imagine that was somewhat catastrophic, kind of emotional state. But again, I sound like a broken record, but I, you know, I remember what happened was I was ringing up people in my network. Frankly, you know, very deflated [laugh] very you know, down and I couldn’t figure out what the answer was to the problem we were facing. And we were toying with, so we’ve always had this program called connect. That’s been at the heart of our business and fortunately we found a way to keep that program going. We managed to execute it in a sort of slightly hybrid digital way, but we were trying to turn up the digital element of the connect program to see whether we could add some more, you know, clients into the mix.

And it was a client, she now become a friend who I’ve worked with years. She said, for God’s sake, Adrian, separate the two things out. You have amazing access to the amazing content. Leaders have never been more isolated than they have right now. There’s never going to be a need to for what you can bring them, which is that inspiration, that education, that provocation. Create a digital only model. It will reduce your price point; it’ll make your business more accessible. And I literally came off that call. I got a piece of paper and I scoped out on a piece of paper. And she said, you know, call it something like inspire. And I went, great, brilliant idea. [laugh] I literally sat down and that was the Genesis of the Wavelength Inspire program, which we launched in January 2021. And it has been the absolute best thing we’ve ever done. 

We have now 657 people subscribed to it from all around the world. It’s made our brand far more accessible. It’s able clients to bring the outside world in its scale. You know, previously we only had to, you know, could only send 1 or, you know, 2, 3, 4, 5 people on our programs typically. Now they can send, you know, got 1 client with 150 people signed up to it. So that’s fantastic. And it’s taken us into incredibly new and exciting places. We’ve run sessions from South Africa, from Silicon Valley, from China, because it’s digital, you can also, you know, you can access the content in a different way. Yeah, you can’t sit still, I suppose Steve, you know, you cannot, sometimes you have feel deflated, you have to lick your wounds. You have to kind of like, you know, we made some, you know, it was very tough time, but ultimately you have to kind of pick yourself. And I had no idea, when come off that call and I did that one pager. And I said like, if we sell a hundred places, I’ll be happy and we sold 300 in the first go and now we’re at 700 and I just you know, in order to get going, get going [laugh]. 

Steve Rush: Exactly, yeah. 

Adrian Simpson: Keep moving forward, you know, keep trying stuff.

Steve Rush: Definitely. Now the very last thing we get to do is, you get to do some time travel bump into Adrian at 21 and give some advice. What would it be?

Adrian Simpson: It’s a really tough question to ask because I’m pretty happy with decisions I’ve made in my career. I think probably I think the one thing I would’ve done would’ve been to have got more help earlier in my career around some of things that, like all of us, we can display perhaps not brilliantly optimal behavior sometime. And I think you know, in my sort of late twenties, early thirties, you know, I’m driven by, you know, a passion and a belief and, you know, I’m energetic person and I love, you know, and that has some very positive attribute, sometimes not so positive. And I was too late, I think in realizing that I can’t just rationalize my way out what was going on [laugh] myself. 

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Adrian Simpson: And actually, the need to just stop, talk to somebody with real professional expertise to help me understand what was driving those behaviors and to direct them in a more productive way. So, I think I would have told my 21-year-old self, you know, don’t be, you know, I think, it’s either a combination of you feel like, you know it all, or actually it’s a sign of weakness [laugh] asking for help and support. And don’t be stupid. It’s a sign of neither

Steve Rush: Super advice. Something that we perhaps don’t even find out about until later on in life, when actually, you know, like you said, calling on that early, would’ve been really helpful. Love it.

Adrian Simpson: Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Rush: So, the very last thing we want to do today is make sure our listeners can connect with you. 

Adrian Simpson: Yeah

Steve Rush: So, how is the best way we can do that?

Adrian Simpson: Number of ways. So, obviously with a great website wavelengthleadership.com, follow me on LinkedIn, should be great as well, very active on LinkedIn. Also, do-little bit of Twittering, not so much on Twitter, but certainly very active on LinkedIn. And the website also, I’m featured on various podcasts. We host our own little series called Making Waves where I also get a chance like you, Steve, to interview some, you know, really, really interesting people or just ping me an email at adrianwavelandleadership.com and yeah, we’d love to fill any follow up questions, or anyone’s interested to discuss further.

Steve Rush: We’ll drop those into the show notes as well. So literally people can finish listening, click and connect with you. I just want to say, thank you. It’s been really lovely chatting. You’ve got such an enormous network that is now allowing us to learn from that and leaders learn best from leaders. So, thanks being on our podcast.

Adrian Simpson: Thank you, Steve. Really, really enjoyed it.

Steve Rush: Thanks Adrian.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers. 

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler their @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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