In this episode of Partnering Leadership Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Kon Apostolopoulos, founder and CEO of Fresh Biz Solutions and the co-author of 7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis. Kon Apostolopoulos shares how leaders can lead their organizations through and post-crisis.
● Kon Apostolopoulos shares his perspective on what it takes to lead post-crisis
● How purpose-driven leaders create great organizational culture
● Kon Apostolopoulos talks about the importance of flexibility in leadership
● The Leadership Paradox and how it relates to successful leadership
● The role of resilience in building a positive organizational culture
● How to lead effectively with greater gratitude
Also mentioned in this episode:
James Kerr, Founder of Indispensable Consulting and author of INDISPENSABLE: Build and Lead A Company Customers Can’t Live Without
Andrea Simon, CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC) and Author of Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business
Todd Cherches, Co-Founder & CEO of Big Blue Gumball
Connect with Kon Apostolopoulos:
Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:
More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited to be welcoming this week. Constantinos Apostopolous. Along with his colleague, Dr. Elliot Gourguris, he wrote seven keys to navigating a crisis. And he is affectionately known as coach Kon because he serves as a coach and a guide to leaders and organizations as they navigate the crisis and beyond. We spend our time on this episode talking about the six essential leadership skills for the next normal.
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Now, here is my conversation with coach Kon.
Kon Apostolopoulos, my friend. Welcome to the Partnering Leadership podcast.
Oh, thank you for having me Mahan, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
I am thrilled coach Kon, because I know about your background, your experience, and can't wait to share it with my community.
Now tell me a little bit about whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing helped you become the kind of person and leader you've become Kon
Ah! now that's an interesting question. So let's start with the easy ones then. Thank you very much. The best way for me to describe it is I guess I would call myself a citizen of the world. I've spent part of my life, my early stages in Australia, where I was born as the child of immigrants there. Those same parents took us back at a relatively young age, along with my sisters back to Greece, where I formed a lot of my high school, my college, my military experience, and my early working experiences in Greece.
And then this last chapter in my life I've spent here in the United States, the last 24 years. And really, really appreciated this country for its beauty and all the opportunity that it offers. So in many ways, that's why I say I'm a citizen of the world. I've had the opportunity to live on three continents, travel to four for work, and really been exposed to a lot of different cultures and backgrounds.
And it's some of that understanding and some of that experience that you bring to your clients. And specifically, right now, you've been talking about the leadership skills that it takes for the next normal, as we are currently going through this crisis and you focus a lot on purpose Kon.
What is it that's different with respect to purpose, from your perspective that we're going to have to deal with as leaders post this crisis?
That's a great question. Now, the concept of starting with purpose is not new. I'm sure your bookcase is full of books as mine of the great thinkers, whether it's Peters or Collins or Sinek, or all the others that have talked about the importance of our why and the importance of our purpose.
But where can it be more important than at a time of crisis when we're out of balance? When things are up in the air when there's so much uncertainty. I think one of the few things that we can anchor our behavior with is our purpose.
As a business leader, you know it, and I know it as a team leader, we look at that, we anchor our behaviors into what's important. We look at our mission, our purpose. Why is it that we do what we do? Now, that may be from a business perspective, it may be in a community perspective, it may even be in a family perspective. But we all look at it and say, okay, what is that North star? What is it that we can point to, to start getting out of this mess?
So it starts with us looking at our purpose and saying anything that I do needs to align with that purpose. That's how I'm going to get out of whatever mess that we're in right now. And that's what I'm going to work for. Because last year was not an easy year. We had so many things going on. Now, whether it was COVID, whether it was the financial pause, the uncertainty out in the streets with the protests and counter protests. But even more importantly, the mental health crisis that we were dealing with during this time kind of threw us all for a loop.
Now, coming out of this as we move into the next year, and we are now into this next year, what have we realized even so far? Even though the calendar changed, the situation didn't change drastically around us. But what is that universal truth? That's our purpose. So we need to March towards that, look at your mission, your vision, your values, your story, and let that guide you as a business leader for first of all.
So that's what we mean when we say acting on our purpose. But not just that, because I like to play with the word purpose, especially when it comes to leadership. Because it's also about acting with a purpose. Everything that we do need to be something that's directly related to what we're trying to accomplish our strategic priorities. The reason why we exist. So acting on our purpose and with purpose becomes a key part of a leadership skill set. As we move into that next normal.
Now, one of the challenges I see Kon, is almost all the leaders I interact with believe that they are purpose-driven, their organization is purpose-driven.
So what is it that you see the leaders that are effectively purpose-driven doing differently than the ones that pay it a lot of lip service?
Yes, because everybody's a good captain when they're kind of in that harbor in that safe port and everything else. But it's the storms that make the really good captains. And that's a big part of where you look at it. And as a good captain, you always will look at your compass. You always try to figure out where you are and how you're navigating towards that.
They may not always have the clear answers in the moment about what we're going to do. But they always pull out that purpose, that mission, that vision, and their values and say, well, no matter what we do, I don't know what that is. As a senior team, we may have to decide on that, but it has to be consistent with this purpose that we've set forward.
What we've told people, our customers, our stakeholders, that we believe in and how we execute. Now is the time for us to see that.
Crisis does not create character. It reveals it. And that character is reflected in how we drive towards our purpose.
Let me give you an example. If I may, one of my clients is a major construction company. Construction is one of those industries that truly, truly has a lasting legacy. They build things and you can pass by 20, 30, 50 years later. Or if you're in Greece, like I was 2,500 years later and still see buildings standing. So. Builders leave a legacy behind them, but they're also very unique in their approach to things.
So this one client that I love working with. And I'm partnered with them for years, their purpose as stated is that "We build. We build trust. We build communities, we build people." And that's reflected in everything that they've been doing.
As we've been working even from last year into this year and beyond. We partner through this process. And we look at that purpose. Well, one of the areas that we focused on when the crisis hit. Back last year. One of the major impacts to them is that they are an essential industry. So they had a good part of their workforce out, still in the field, despite all of the dangers and everything else. So they were essentially essential of frontline people.
As an industry, construction really focuses on employee safety, on team members, safety. One of the first mandates as a leader that you have in the construction business, for example, is that everyone goes home safe and in one piece. Now, that could be because of the nature of the business itself, but it's also at a time of pandemic. That's an important part of it.
So we work together and we found a lot of great options about how to maintain a safe environment for the employees that were required to be there. They didn't really have a choice like you and I. So we created that environment where it was safe, but we didn't just stop there. As a business leader strategically, what we were able to do is create that environment, but then we wanted to take it and all of that investment that we made in creating that environment became a competitive advantage because not everybody was at that same level. Not everybody put that emphasis on that safety for their employees and that investment then turned and became that competitive advantage.
We went into bits for example, for a new job when they were doing presentations. One of the things that we decided to do is incorporate the plan that they had in place for those safety pieces. So now if you're going in to build or add onto an existing hospital or a school or somewhere where people are very concerned about what kind of environment you're creating. Now that became a competitive advantage.
So now that purpose that they had manifests itself in the way that they behaved. So they created that safe environment for their employees, but it also what their stakeholders and their client’s new and existing clients at ease and allow them to continue to operate and work and even gain some market share during these difficult times.
So that's one example we can see what purpose makes a difference. Operating on purpose and with a purpose.
What a beautiful example of Kon of purpose, not as a statement, but purpose in action, which eventually led to it becoming a competitive advantage. That is absolutely fantastic.
Now you say that that purpose is key. However, at the same time, leaders need to remain very flexible as they help lead their organizations into the next normal.
So let's talk about that a little bit. And I will share a little parable of story.
In my youth, one of the adventures that I took was I traveled to Italy and in that unique space between mainland Italy, and Sicily, there is a body of water that is between those spaces. And it goes back and forth. Tide changes every 12 hours, essentially. It's around that Messina area, and that area is so full of fish. And it's so robust that the locals there really go out and they really enjoy.
Well, one of the things that they've created that is centuries old is that they equip their boats with a crow's nest that is extremely high, so they can see far and see the fish. And on the bow, they have an extension out where the person with the harpoon stands, because we were going for swordfish fishing. And when we go out there, I tried and I went out, all the way out to the bow and I went all the way up to the crow's nest. And the difference between how you felt the movement of the ship at those points versus in the middle of the ship is very different.
Now, as a leader, you can say I'm purposeful because we were purposeful in our activity with the boat, but we also had to remain flexible because you can feel the movement of the water or the direction of where your target was going and you had to adjust. That didn't change. The purpose was still the same, but how we got there, we needed to adjust to make those changes.
A lot of times, leaders don't realize is, especially with the senior leaders that I work with all our time in the C-suite. Small adjustments at the top have serious cascading effects down at the front lines. And part of what we encourage them to do is understand and accept the fact that people in the front lines will feel those changes a lot more and they are required to have real-time flexibility in everything that they do.
So that's a key part of it. Now, let me take this story now into our world right now.
During the difficult months at the end of last year, especially. When I was meeting with a client, a regional president of a company that I was working with. He was very concerned at the time we were going through our second wave possibly even third and things have gotten really difficult because they had invested in infrastructure in a larger office prior to the pandemic. This was this massive space, thousands of square feet. And they barely had anybody in there for safety reasons, obviously. And he was very concerned.
He was very concerned, also, not just about the investment, not really playing out, but he was very concerned that people would lose connection with the purpose and the mission of the company. The culture would start loosening and productivity would fall. That was reinforced by a couple of bad episodes of bad examples that he had with a couple of people that will take an advantage of the work from home policy. And he felt really upset about that.
So he approached me, he says, “I got to get them back in. I got to get them back in” and I'm like, okay, well, let's talk about this. What's going on? So he shared with me what was going on. I said, okay, this sounds to me like there's more to it. Let's talk about this. I said you sound like you're concerned about productivity. Well, What's been the productivity like? He says, "we've booked the best three months in our history."
I'm like, okay, so this isn't an issue of lack of productivity. It's something else. What is it? "Well, I just don't want to going around and playing golf or cutting their lawn or doing something else and not focusing on working." So I said, okay, so, do you have any examples of that? They struggled to find one or two examples.
I said It's so one or two people out of all of this workforce, seems to me like an exception. So do you really want to manage to the exception or do you want to manage to the rule? Sounds to me like productivity has been there. We have some concerns about maintaining the glue, the culture that we have, and keeping people connected. But beyond that, those probably two people that you're concerned about would have probably done the same thing here. They probably would have been surfing the net with the door shot at their office or doing something else. So. It's not everybody else. I also shared with him Mahan, the fact that there was at the time late November, I believe it was, there was a report published out onto the economist at the time.
And there was a study that was recently completed prior to that, where they showed that out of 65 Western countries, they had gotten reports that on average productivity, actual work time had increased by 30 minutes a day. It's a very broad generalization, but it gives you an indication that during these difficult times to work from home, people were actually more productive at times than they had been in the office.
So productivity was not the issue. As a flexible leader, one of the things that I encourage my clients to do is stop counting how effective your people are by how many hours they spend at their desk. That is not the measure you should be looking at right now.
Over the years, I've been a big proponent of that. And this has given us a wealth of data to really go back and do the case studies.
So you look at it and you say, okay, look at it very differently. It's lazy management to just attach productivity to how many hours I'm on the computer. Look at my results. I'm a performance and change management expert. Performance is about results. It's about outputs. It's not just about effort. It's about what did you get done? I encourage a lot of the people that I coach, that I work within my workshops, etcetera, to start getting beyond that and start measuring performance based on those outputs on productivity. It requires us to be flexible and to look at things very, very differently.
It also requires us to take a more flexible style in how we manage things. And sometimes as a team leader, for example, imagine you're managing a project team, like many of our audience might be doing. And they coming from different departments, even from different parts of the US and the world.
Traditionally, it's not uncommon for us to be able to work. If I have a partner that's in Europe or in Asia or in Africa or in Australia, they're in different time zones. I need to have that flexibility to be able to work at times that allow us to collaborate, but even within this, okay, can I be asynchronous in my productivity?
I take the football. I take the ball, I move it. As far as I need to move it, I put it down. You pick it up when your day starts and then you go further down. And all of this requires us to really amend our stuff. We cannot afford to have the old approach of command and control and manage things the way that we did. This next normal requires us to be a lot more flexible in our approach.
Absolutely coach Kon. Two points you made that I want to underline and emphasize. That for leaders, if they understand those and truly embrace it, they will become transformative for their organizations.
One of them, don't manage to exceptions. A lot of times leaders managed to those exceptions and they do have that one person here, the one person there that took advantage of the system and come up with policies and procedures and systems meant at that one bad Apple and bring down the performance of everyone else rather than managing the trust level that those other people deserve.
So that's one of them. And you mentioned the other one is focusing on outcomes and results not hours worked. I'm a big advocate of O K R's, objectives, and key results. In many instances, the leaders were still used to looking at the number of hours people would show up and sit at their desks in front of the computer. To your point, they could have been browsing the web or doing whatever, but there was a reassurance, that because this physical body is in the physical office space, they are getting work done.
If that is the way we want to look at outcomes of our organizations, we're in deep trouble. So we better listen to your advice and focus on outputs, outcome, results, rather than activity.
Now, yours so mentioned coach Kon the need for leaders to embrace a leadership paradox. What is that?
The leadership paradox is a concept that I came across quite a few years ago. I think it was in an early on, in like, 2013. I came across it in a PricewaterhouseCoopers report at the time, and it kept my interest. Over the years, I've been exploring the concept and because it speaks to my own nature if you will. Being a child, a product of diverse cultures, living in multiple places, having the need to embrace diversity and different ideas and perspectives has prepared me from that piece. It's almost like, what we would define as a Janusian thinking like from the old Roman God, Janice, that looks in opposite directions. The leadership paradox essentially takes concepts that on the surface might appear opposite and brings them together and synthesizes them.
It's a requirement that we have in today's environment, where it requires us to take a much more of a growth mindset to learn, unlearn and relearn things at a very fast pace. But the leadership paradox does those things, it synthesizes ideas that are required for us to be able to operate in this new and challenging environment.
It's a manifestation of the flexibility that we. Just talked about. Let me give you an example. If I'm managing a dispersed workforce right now, as a manager of that team, I have to do two different things, for example, I have to embrace the reality of their situation and be empathetic to them because you know what, maybe they're not just in a situation with they are a project team member, but they're also a parent that has to homeschool a kid. There's somebody who might be taking care of a loved one that's older, or that can't be somewhere else that all of a sudden. They are now wearing multiple hats at home. They are in a situation where perhaps they have a home office, but perhaps they don't, perhaps they're sitting around the same kitchen table as their kids and their spouse. And all of a sudden you look around and they look like a bunch of Eastern European hackers pounding on their laptops, trying to figure out what's going on. Well, I have to have a sense of empathy to that reality because that's the reality that they're in. Not all of us have the luxury of having high-speed broadband, our own office, and an assistant sitting outside my door. That's not the reality that most people deal with. So as a leader, I have to be empathetic to that.
But on the other side, as a good leader as well, I have to display and exhibit tough love. I have to set firm boundaries. First of all, to what we were talking about to manage to the results and the output that I expect, but at the same time to also protect them. Because as we said, they tend to work a lot more at home, protect them from burning out. We don't know how long certain changes may take place. We didn't expect last year to last, as long as it did. We all thought though, it was a couple of weeks, couple of months, all of a sudden it went a lot longer. So we have to pace ourselves. We have to look at that very differently. So empathy and tough love, seemingly two opposite ideas that we synthesize together in this leadership paradox. And now I can display that. I can be both things.
Let me give you another example. Managing a dispersed workforce. We have the technology. This technology, for example, twenty years ago, when I worked on a project team on people working remotely at the time, the numbers have always been there. People that have been in business for a while know that having a dispersed workforce makes sense from a financial standpoint, because you've cut your overhead, there's a lot of benefits to it. That was never the issue. The issue that we came across with two primary factors, technology, and trust.
Nowadays, we have the opportunity through the advancements in technology like you and I. Now, We have thousands of miles apart, but we might as well be in the same room. We're carrying on a conversation. The technology has finally caught up and it's there. We can exist this way. We can work this way. But in addition to that, if I'm managing a dispersed workforce, I have to increase my human touch.
Why? Because you and I in the office might take those five minutes as we walk from the conference room to the break room and we can catch up. I can find out all those little things. Hey, Mahan how was your weekend? How's the family doing? Did your daughter get those braces or how did the kids do with their soccer tournament?
All of a sudden now, we are building those bridges. I understand as a leader, how my team is doing, I have my finger on the pulse, but when I'm here and you're there and we're isolated by all that distance, I have to use that technology to increase that human touch. I have to get to that point where now I have to purposefully set up that five minutes and check-in and maybe just ask the question. Hey, Mahan how are you really doing? No, no, no. Don't, don't just give me the fine, how you really doing what's going on. So I have to show, display my humanity at a much higher level, and very purposefully using that technology.
So those are two examples, a third one that I want to bring because this might have a greater impact to the broader business communities.
Another paradox that we have is making sure that we can trim the fat at any given time while still maintaining muscle in our operation. A lot of business leaders panicked when financial downturn happened and they found themselves in a difficult situation. And one of the first areas where they cut was their overhead for labor.
So they let go a lot of talent without really much consideration about who they will letting go. What they didn't realize is that we're cutting areas, departments, or functions, or operations that were key and vital to their success, to their ability to go forward. Essentially they were cutting the branch that they was sitting on without much understanding.
With my clients as I've coached them over the years. One of the things that we do from a human capital management standpoint is we constantly have our finger on the pulse of our talent. We segment the talent, we have a good sense of talent management, and we know who are our top players, who are our valued contributors that are the heart and soul of a particular role or particular function. Who's underperforming, and who's not responding to the coaching and everything else that we're doing.
So we understand at any given time what that bottom five, ten percent looks like. My clients were in a position when they had to make cuts. If they were ever in that. Difficult situation, they knew exactly if we were to cut without really cutting into the muscle of the operation.
And in actuality Mahan, I have to be honest. I encouraged them to look around and upgrade some of their talent because all of a sudden the market was full of free agents that were looking for work. That we're talented and we're difference makers. Many of them to pick up a lot of that talent and really top-grade their operations coming out of the slowdown into this new environment.
Yes, for leaders, coach Kon, that sort of have the patience and have the understanding of the leadership paradox. As you talk about it, they can really almost step back and look at a longer arc of helping their organization. Maneuver not only this crisis but the many crisis that are going to come down the line with respect to whether it is their talent or other aspects of the organization.
Now, you also mentioned that resilience is one of those things that we need to embrace both going through the current crisis and into the future.
Everyone talks about resilience and there's been a lot of talk about the individual resilience.
Based on your experience, what would you recommend and what have you seen works in terms of leaders, helping their teams and organizations become more resilient?
This is where you realize that there's no substitute for experience. There just isn't.
You can read all you want about resilience, but it's something that you have to experience and live. Speaking of reading, I mean, along with our good friend, a mutual good friend, my partner, my co-author author, Dr.Elia Gourgouris, we wrote about the subject last year and the seven keys to navigating a crisis.
That book was all about creating a roadmap to resilience. What we communicate in the book and what we've talked about it since, as we've developed and worked with leaders is that resilience comes from a sense of confidence first and foremost, a belief, if you will. A belief in your abilities. Organizationally, when an organization has been through tough times and the members of that organization have not believed that they can weather the storm. That's a big starting point for resilience, but it's also a big part of this when it comes to resilience is also looking at the situation very realistically. Not from a fear-based perspective that paralyzes us, but rather from a true understanding of where the dangers are. And looking at that and saying, we need to take X, Y, Z action and steps to really address the real dangers, not the fear, not the anxiety that's caused by that, but the real dangers.
And lastly, because crisis and beyond that and change itself. When we're in the throws of that, many of us look at it and think our entire world has changed, but that's not really the case. If we catch our breath, look at things, realistically, we can really identify what is changing and what isn't.
Think about all of the areas that we've talked about, even so far, the purpose, that's still the same, our ability to be flexible. That's still the same, our ability to synthesize the concepts, that can still remain the same.
So we still have many of the same stakeholders going forward. We need to look at that and say, okay, what's really changing and really focus in on those areas and then address those areas appropriately.
Resilience allows us with the confidence that we've gained over the years of addressing that with the clear-eyed perspective of knowing exactly where we surgically need to intervene and address that. And the belief that as a team, we are strong enough to overcome that. With our purpose, now, we can get into that. That's where a lot of the heart resilience comes from.
You and I were impacted last year, probably as a group, more than most. When our work is dependent on our ability to present to coach, to facilitate, to consult with our clients. But we were hampered by the shelter in place requirements.
You and I lost a lot of ground at that time. We could sit around and look at it and say, okay, we're lost. We might as well close down shop. We're going to go bankrupt. But is that really the reality we've been through all the difficult times? 2008, 2005, 2001, these are crises that have existed, not just we've been through, but we actually moved ahead.
Every one of those crises gave us the opportunity to launch into another part of our business. So there was confidence in us, in our ability to overcome. Get another challenge here. We looked at our operation. I mean, I did, I know you did as well. And we said, okay, I can't meet face to face to coach all of these executives that I have lined up. I can't go to that workshop that I've prepared for a hundred or two hundred people but what can I do? Well, the technology is there. All of a sudden, now I can pivot. I can make that adjustment. And now look at and say, what's not changing. I'm still here. They're still there. So what I need to adjust is move from that in-person to a virtual situation. And now I can continue to coach one-on-one and actually probably more effectively this way. And I can still do workshops. We're learning the new technology. Perhaps we get some help from other people to help us go facilitate this piece. But now we can essentially have an entire summit if you will, and go through this process and have amazing presentations during this time and still engage people in a different way.
So this is part of where resilience come from and for anything we've come out stronger on the other end because guess what? Now, I have clients that are on all corners of the map. Across the world. I used to coach people just here in Colorado, for example, in the front range, because I could get here or I could get on a plane ride.
And now I can coach people that are in Singapore, in Tokyo, in Berlin, in Athens, London, Sydney, anywhere.
I'm totally with you coach Kon. Having spent a big part of my life on the road, traveling to many countries, including beautiful Greece, which I absolutely adore, especially to people. I decided I didn't want to travel to spend more time with my girls as they were growing up. So primarily focused on clients in the greater Washington DC area.
But one of the blessings of this crisis, there's been a lot of negatives, but one of the blessings of it for me has been the fact that many clients are now willing to operate virtually, therefore that has opened the relationships and the connection and being able to serve people, not only across the country but also globally.
Now, with respect to leadership, you also say leadership is action, not position. What do you mean by that? Coach Kon
I think we all know people in the organizations that we are in currently or in the past where they may have a title, the title does not make them a leader. That's different. I always differentiate those in my workshop.
I do separate even workshops themselves on the supervisory, the management skills versus the leadership skills. But in the term leader, there's an implied expectation of action. If you're going to lead, you need to step forward at times. So you need to show the way with your actions, with your behaviors.
All of those things are very, very important. And to lead at the end of the day is a verb, It's not a noun, Mahan. That's part of what people embrace. That's what people expect of us. So the leadership piece of this, the core part of that, we're talking about leadership skills, we got to have actions.
Now, the reality that we're dealing with is this transition in this next normal. And it requires us to take steps. Effective leaders, a lot of times know when sixty seventy eighty percent of the information is enough for them to make a decision because they have the experience before all of the other skills that we've talked about to build on, on the resilience, to have good judgment about what they're doing, they can hedge their bets, they know when they have enough information to act and act, we must. Because a lot of times, we can not sit around like deer in the headlights. There are too many people expecting us to show the way and to carve out.
Now the term navigation, we used it in our book last year, and many people since have used it as well. But to navigate, think about the concept of navigation as an action. A navigator is somebody who has that experience, recognizes the signs and the particular situation or area that they're in, and then can follow those signs to where they need to go to, to their purpose if you will. They may not exactly have been here, but they've been in a similar situation where they can use that ability to execute and move and find their way through that. They know where the waterhole is. They know where the clients are going to be. They know what they need to do in a particular situation. So they take those actions, but they don't have to do it alone. A good leader does not create just followers. Great Leader creates more leaders. So you want to be able to reach out to the people on your team and ask and say, Hey, what is it that can we do here? How can we get beyond this? So we can go together.
In one of the examples as with another client that was trying again, to kind of get to that next level. They thought they had to have all the answers. And I corrected him. I said, look, you've done a great job. We've spent a lot of effort to bring in the right people onto the team. We've trained them well, we've done a good thing here. Why don't you ask them? See how they feel about how we move forward. You don't have to have all the answers as a good leader. Maybe the action you need to take is to ask and then collect that information, get that consensus. Let's figure out how we're going to go and then move forward.
If we don't have that, then, by all means, act, lead, let's try something. But before you get to that point where you feel paralyzed, why not embrace that concept, bring your team and collaborate, and let's find a way forward.
Building on your analogy of navigation, coach con, the leader needs to be clear on the direction, but be willing to say, I don't exactly know how to get there and ask the question. How do you think we can get there? So absolutely both factors play a big role in leadership.
You also mentioned the importance of gratitude. Which now, obviously through the crisis, we've seen how important it is for us to be grateful.
What role do you think gratitude plays in leadership and why do you believe that it's going to be even more critical as a leadership skill in this next normal.
That's an excellent point, especially as we moved into this next normal.
Last year, if it taught us anything, it really sharpened our awareness of what really matters, what matters most to us on a core level. Yes, to our businesses. But this impacted way beyond just our businesses, it impacted our livelihood. It impacted our lives. It made us look around and hug a loved one's a little bit closer. So it did give us a greater sense of what matters to us.
It also rekindled inside us as business people, our focus, and our appreciation for our ability to act the way we did. I was very grateful simply for the fact that I could do my work remotely like a lot of other people. And with limited exposure to the dangers of things like that. So it gave me that gratitude.
As things opened up, I'm looking at it saying I can move around a little bit more. I have a greater appreciation for that. But as a business leader, let's break it down to the heart of it.
Even before 2020, before the crisis. At the beginning of 2020, what were we talking about? The war for talent? How are we going to get more talent that's already out there and belongs to somebody else? How am I going to find the horses that are going to run the race based on my strategic priorities?
Well, as we looked at that, people were throwing money at talent, they were trying to recruit at this way and the other, but all of the studies over the years that we're now revisiting, tell us what. That people, if they feel they're being compensated equitably and fairly for the job that they're doing, money is not the differentiator.
It is the environment that I'm working in, but above all, it's that direct relationship with my supervisor, with my leader and what best manifestation of that relationship is there, then a gratitude and an appreciation for the talent that you have on your team by saying thank you. All of the reports that we have over the last years tell us how thank you goes so far in making sure that you have a workforce that's engaged, that's willing to participate.
The late 2020 numbers showed us one thing. For example with Gallup, they showed us the biggest increase and the biggest drop in employee engagement since they started doing this. It went all the way up to thirty-eight percent engagement early on, even early on in the pandemic into the month of April, I think May when they did a spot check and it dropped down to thirty-one percent before the end of the year.
That to me was a big indicator that people were willing to engage with the mission, but as leaders, if we left them unattended, if we didn't appreciate them, if we didn't engage with them appropriately, if we weren't grateful for their efforts, that engagement dropped and all of a sudden people were operating very differently. And now those exceptions will becoming more and more and more and more.
The companies that continue to engage their workforce to continue to participate with them. The leaders that stayed connected, high tech high touch to their workforce came out of this and are coming out of this in a much stronger place. Where they can continue to really be effective.
Gratitude for your employees, gratitude for your customers. What have you done above and beyond to support that? I know that even as a customer, I looked at the small businesses in my area and I wanted to support them during the difficult time because I knew that this was their livelihood and that gratitude was returned back.
Gratitude is a human connection. It's a human instinct that connects us, engages us. As business people. We all know it. Business development is relationship development. You can have an effective relationship without trust, without gratitude for each other, and an appreciation for our connection.
And as many organizations continue to operate virtually and some into perpetuity, having a certain level of their employees operate virtually. That gratitude requires more intentionality behind it also. As you mentioned earlier, it's not as if management by walking around that the leader is as likely to run into people and show sincere gratitude. So there has to be more intentionality behind it.
Now coach Kon, are there any leadership resources, books, podcasts, anything that you find yourself recommending to others? Obviously, in addition to your own book.
As a podcast right here. I love listening to you. I was a big fan even before I had the opportunity to join you on the show. So this is a place where people can come to get honest information, experience and a lot of those things and you do such a wonderful job, Mahan with navigating this piece.
As far as other resources, there are a couple of our good friends, actually, three that come to mind that I would love to share with our audience right now. One of them, Jim Kerr, wrote the book indispensable. Right way for business people that want to understand this whole concept of gratitude and also how to build that loyalty with their client base and with others.
So indispensable by James Kerr is one of them.
Another one that comes to mind is rethink, a friend Andrea Simon's book that talks about the female leader and the evolution that's happened with that. The December report that came out, the unemployment struck me so hard because 140,000 positions were lost. All of them, women, net, net. Men actually in that same period gained net, net positions. Not that there weren't men that were let go, but women were disproportionally impacted.
We need to get back to that, we need to continue to reverse that trend, we need more talented women in the workforce in all levels, especially in leadership roles. To be able to bring their gifts, their talents to the organization, to make us stronger, to make us better in that process.
And the third one on the topic of leadership that comes right to my mind is Todd Cherches’ book, Visual Leadership. And I think that's a great way, especially at times when we're trying to enhance our ability to communicate to others. That's a book that's chalked full of practical advice about how to really make that connection. Because as he says, a picture says a thousand words. So you can pack a lot into his book with visual leadership.
Coach Kon, I am very grateful for you and so are all these other leaders, it's incredible because Jim is a dear friend, Andy is so as Todd and the audience can also get a sense of your kind generous personality because you gave a shout out to all of these wonderful friends, which is kudos to you.
Now, how can our audience find out more about you and connect with you?
Two very simple ways. One is for anybody that's on LinkedIn.
They can find me under coach Kon and Kon with a K. I spell it that way on purpose instead of a C. It's hard to get people to trust you when you spell it with a C. So, coach Kon on LinkedIn, they can find me there. Please feel free to connect, reach out to me. Let me know that you're a friend of Mahan's part of his audience and let's connect on there.
The second place is through my website, www.freshbizsolutions.com.
Thank you so much, coach Kon one of the things, as I mentioned that I am grateful for is having the pleasure and opportunity to get to know you and to get a chance to share some of your leadership insights with the partnering leadership community.
Thank you so much for joining me, coach Kon.
Thank you for having me Mahan, it's been a pleasure.
Founder and CEO of Fresh Biz Solutions and the co-author of 7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis.
KON APOSTOLOPOULOS is the founder and CEO of Fresh Biz Solutions, LLC, a human capital management consultancy, which provides performance improvement and training solutions to help organizations develop their people, improve business results, and reap the benefits of a comprehensive talent management strategy. He is also the co-author of “7 Keys to Navigating a Crisis. A Practical Guide for Emotionally Dealing with Pandemics & Other Disasters” and a regular contributor to the Thrive Global and Achievers Engagement blogs.
As a speaker and expert in performance improvement and change management, Kon has delivered hundreds of workshops and corporate events for leaders in North America and Europe, sharing fresh ideas and best practices that engage his audiences and empower participants to take the next bold step forward in their professional and personal lives. Transitioning from a successful career in the performing arts, primarily on stage and television, to the business world, he brings a strong reputation for doing things the right way. Drawing on his multicultural experience, he can synthesize diverse perspectives to create positive change for clients.
Leveraging his strong interpersonal skills, Kon is a facilitator of results – a connector of dots, a conduit, a catalyst – who makes things happen. Not afraid to ask the tough questions, he brings an open mind, a keen ear, and a strong commitment to excellence. He becomes a trusted partner to business leaders and stakeholders at all levels, delivering tailored solutions that typically exceed their expectations, improve organizational performance, and increase profitability. He brings proven success in projects of all sizes, enabling clients to capitalize on growth opportunities, maximize return on their spend, and reduce costs.
Through the explorative process of guided discovery, Kon moves clients to new areas of realization and self-awareness. In creating an environment of trust, he challenges his clients to go beyond conventional thought and their own self-limiting beliefs to create new possibilities. This work, in combination with the prioritization of what matters most, positive reinforcement, and effective goalsetting lay the foundation for empowerment and accountability.
When not coaching business leaders, Kon gives back to his community by coaching young soccer players in local, state, and Olympic Development Programs. This has earned him the name “Coach Kon” as he has helped hundreds of student athletes develop life skills through their participation in sports.