Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Today’s True Leadership”
Leaders today are facing numerous unprecedented challenges that are requiring them to adapt in ways that many, if not most, are not yet prepared or trained to do. Just a few of these challenges include the dramatic rise in remote work, the proliferation of artificial intelligence and new uses of A.I. that will transform the nature of work, mental health challenges of their employees, the need to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive work cultures, and more.
Overseeing these required shifts in work and workforces demands that leaders themselves become more personally adept at the process of change, which requires a number of key qualities including self-awareness, self-evaluation, innovation, openness to critique and learning, flexibility, and understanding how to inspire and motivate others through tumultuous times.
To learn more about how to become the type of leader that can embrace their own growth while successfully leading enterprise growth, I caught up this month with Robb Holman, a sought-after global keynote speaker and author of three transformational leadership books—Lead the Way, All In, and Move the Needle. Holman was named one of the world’s top 30 leadership speakers by Global Gurus in both 2022 and 2023, and was recently inducted into the Power List of the Top 200 Biggest Voices in Leadership in 2023. His innovative “Inside Out Leadership” philosophy has been featured in publications including Inc., Forbes, and Fast Company. Holman is Founder & CEO of Holman International—a global consultancy that teaches leaders how to lead from the inside out and make the lasting and transformative impact they long to.
Holman shares about “Inside Out Leadership” and its transformative qualities for organizations and work cultures today:
Kathy Caprino: Robb, as a leadership consultant, what are you seeing is the one of the biggest workplace challenges in recent months that is different from what was experienced in the past?
Robb Holman: Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, research showed there was an overall feeling of lack of purpose and passion among many professionals in the workplace, resulting in a disconnection between personal and professional life. The pandemic exacerbated the issue, causing high levels of stress and anxiety and threatening wellbeing. Despite good intentions, leaders often pursued ineffective tactics to motivate their teams, such as cash bonuses, stock options and increased vacation time. These efforts resulted in team members feeling that these approaches were just a means to an end (getting employees to feel better about work), rather than actually supporting employees to thrive, engage, and grow, not only in their productivity but in what they were learning and contributing.
According to a Deloitte survey, nearly 70% of executives are contemplating leaving their current jobs to work for organizations that prioritize their well-being. Additionally, the same study found that 57% of non-management employees share similar intentions to quit their jobs for the same reason.
To address this challenge, leaders need a new approach that I’ve described as “Inside Out Leadership”—an approach that inspires and generates sustainable change rather than pushing for change. When we inspire people, we’re reaching their hearts in a way that transforms them from the inside out. And this transformative movement requires that leaders learn how to approach their leadership from the inside out as well.
Caprino: What are some core convictions, mindsets and behaviors of an “inside out” leader?
Holman: Professionals often define themselves by what they do (what they’re functionally working on, or their titles and levels, etc.), leading often to an identity crisis when those things are somehow taken away or diminished. We proudly proclaim our titles, accomplishments and accolades, but this leaves us feeling empty when things go wrong at work. Similarly, we feel great when we achieve success, but this too is fleeting.
By focusing solely on what we do or our titles and levels of power in the hierarchy, we lose sight of who we really are. Instead, we should take the opportunity to discover our true selves and find meaning beyond our job titles and positions.
By knowing and understanding your core identity, your convictions are established on a solid foundation. In other words, your beliefs and values that guide your decision-making process and behavior are deeply rooted in your sense of self and who you are as a person.
I believe that having a clear sense of purpose is crucial for Inside Out Leaders. This allows them to lead with authenticity and inspire their team members to achieve greatness on terms that are meaningful to them. Additionally, it’s important for leaders to focus on self-care, self-awareness, and self-reflection as part of their personal stewardship. By prioritizing these aspects, leaders can better care for themselves and effectively lead their teams, ultimately making a positive impact on their organization. Lastly, expressing gratitude is another important aspect of leadership. It can help build positive relationships, foster positivity, and improve overall well-being.
Caprino: How can inside out leaders leave a lasting legacy?
Holman: Your impact on the relationships you have is the key to leaving a meaningful legacy. If you want to make a lasting difference in your organization, it’s important to understand the significance of being fully present with each team member. By valuing the discipline, beauty, and power of being present with one person at a time, you can have a greater influence and impact on those around you.
As Steven R. Covey explained in his groundbreaking book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 2 is “Start with the end in mind” and it’s vitally important.
It’s not just about achieving personal success or recognition but also about making a positive impact on the world and leaving it a better place than when we entered it. When we focus on the end that we’re trying to achieve, and ground that in a focus on purpose, people, and process, we can create a legacy that will endure long after they are gone.
One thing I want to emphasize too in this process is a focus on building strong relationships with others and investing in their personal and professional growth and development. Something powerful I’ve learned in this process is that when we truly embrace our unique identity, our intense and obsessive focus on ourselves begins to fade away and our need and desire to serve and support others comes to the forefront.
Caprino: There was an event in your early life that spurred in you the wish to lead from the inside out. Can you share that event and its impact?
Holman: When I was just 21 years old, I was diagnosed with a mysterious mass in my midsection. I was in a great deal of pain but waited for a good amount of time before seeing a doctor, because I was deeply afraid of the outcome. But finally, the pain became so extreme that I couldn’t ignore it any longer, and went to numerous doctors who did a battery of tests, all of which showed a large mass.
They shared their concerns with me about the severity of the situation, and recommended I consult with a top specialist. The fear of the worst was crippling, but after several weeks, I eventually I met with an ultrasound specialist who took more tests. Then something incredible occurred. In reviewing the ultrasound results, he shared this, “I have no words to describe what I’m seeing here, but what you had coming in, you no longer have.” The mass was gone. It was nothing short of a modern-day miracle that radically altered my perspective on life.
Suddenly, I realized that there was more to life than just winning basketball games and partying with friends. This experience forced me to confront deeper questions about the meaning of my life and purpose. It was a moment of struggle and uncertainty that made me realize the fragility of life and confront my own mortality.
This experience has led me to ask myself, and help other leaders reflect on these important questions:
What is the true purpose of my life?
What really matters most to me?
How can I make a difference in the world?
How can I use my talents and strengths to serve others?
What legacy do I want to leave behind?
Confronting these questions can be uncomfortable but empowering. They can help us focus on what’s truly important and live with greater intention and purpose.
In the end, it’s up to each of us to decide how we want to respond to life’s challenges. We can choose to be buried in self-pity and struggle, or we can choose to evolve and grow. Sometimes, the most difficult experiences can lead to the greatest transformations.
Caprino: Where can we begin to embark on leading inside out?
Holman: Here are several questions to ask yourself to build a lasting legacy:
• Are you building on an existing legacy, or creating your own? What can you do each day or week to further support that legacy?
• On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest, and 10 being the highest), how much effort are you putting into being fully present—with yourself and your team members? What keeps you from being more present and how can you shift away from that distraction?
• Who is someone that you look up to as a mentor? Who are you mentoring? Who are your peer-to-peer mentors and how can you connect to more inspiring mentors and mentees?
In the end, leading from the inside out allows people to understand that their life is a holistic wheel with many spokes, not separate boxes that they navigate between. They can draw from their unique identity and personal purpose, and inject that purpose into fully supporting their teams and workforces to grow and thrive. Once their true purpose is clarified, they can unleash its power in all areas of life and help others around them do the same.