Today, I interviewed Stever Robbins, who is a leadership coach, entrepreneur, Harvard grad and radio show host. We talked about leadership skills at all levels in an organization, how to survive and thrive in this economy, how people can define their own success, and more. You’ll hear Stever’s background and what he’s learned along the way as well.

Can you give a few pieces of advice to people who want to become leaders in their companies, from the intern to the CEO?

“Become a leader by acting like one.”

Think of the leaders you’ve followed. Identify why you follow them, then emulate their qualities. Make sure you choose people you follow, not just people you want to be. You might admire someone because they’re rich, powerful, or have status. But you follow people who set a direction in your life and inspire you to great things. That’s who you want to emulate.

You can lead whether you’re an intern or a CEO.
In my experience, CEOs are no more likely than interns to be good leaders. Know your organization’s vision and direction. Hold it. Bring it into your decisions and into your discussions with other people. Constantly make sure your activities align towards that vision and mission, and help others do the same.

As far as inspiring people, recognize when they do a good job. Help them understand and appreciate the link between their accomplishments and the company’s vision. And help them link their own efforts into the accomplishment of a Much Bigger Goal.

The economy sucks and there is no job security. What is the smartest thing for people to do right now?

“If you have no job security, now’s your chance to learn to let go of your fears and embrace uncertainty.”

It’s not like you have any choice in the matter, so you may as well learn to enjoy the ride.

Welcome to reality.
You’ve never had “job security.” It’s nothing but a comforting fairy tale. People talk about job security, and get laid off a day later. People join companies with fantastic offers, move three thousand miles, and three weeks after they start, the company gets acquired and they’re stuck scrubbing toilets. The myth of job security is pervasive, but as far as I can tell, it has not existed within my lifetime.

What you do have is the ability to be valuable to people. Now’s a great time to do some self-examination and ask, “what value can I bring to the people and organizations I work with?” Your job may be short-lived, but your value isn’t. Meet every new person thinking, “how can I make this person’s life better?” Develop a habit of finding ways to make your skills valuable to others. Then go meet lots of peolpe. If times don’t pick up, you’ll have friends to watch your back in your post-apocalyptic battle for the remnants of the local supermarket. If times do pick up, you’ll have a strong network, a reputation of value, and everything you need to land on your feet.

How do you define success? For everybody else, how do you think we should measure success?

Being a graduate of Harvard Business School who chose to pursue a non-traditional path, I spent years feeling inadequate and worthless because I still need to work and have never made as much as most of my HBS classmates made in their second year out. I spent years worrying about money, power, and status, feeling like I was building the foundation for my future.

Then one day I woke up and realized it is my future, and I’m still not rich and powerful. If I continue to cling to that definition of success, by the time I’m finally “successful,” I’ll be way too old to enjoy it. And it’s not like carrying around that definition has made the last couple decades pleasant or fun, either.

“I define success today as getting up in the morning looking forward to my life.”

For me, that means having good friends, being of service to the larger world, and keeping a positive attitude. And after many years of working on it, my definition of success is now 100% disconnected from my external situation. I can look forward to my life even if I’m out of work, living on the street, and sick. Success is 100% a state of mind, nothing else.

For you, choose your own definition. Just be thoughtful about it.

Here are some questions to kick you off:

  1. How do you measure success in your life?
  2. Is that measure working for you?
  3. Is it providing you the life you enjoy on a day-by-day basis? And if not, how might you change it?

Leadership is apparent both offline and online. What examples have you seen recently of leaders taking charge, providing for their community and becoming successful?

My new job is working with Babson College, helping the President’s Office, led by President Len Schlesinger, guide the community through creating a powerful new direction and aligning themselves behind it. We’re just in the community-wide discussion phase, but already it’s exciting to see people getting engaged in the possibilities of creating a new direction for the school. Len invites in-depth discussion and changes his thinking based on what he hears. People aren’t used to that, and it’s very exciting for them to feel like they matter to the process.

How did you get involved with training executives at Harvard Business School? How did this help build your personal brand and what were the results?

In my first job out of HBS, I kept a correspondence with a Professor there, discussing how the education could have served me better. He later invited me to join the curriculum redesign effort.

Having the HBS brand behind me brings lots of credibility, but the HBS brand is a Fortune 500 corporate brand. I come from a series of startup companies and have an informal, results-oriented, out-of-the-box style. While corporations say they want that, they don’t. They want politically-savvy conformists who magically produce non-conformist results. My brand was a mismatch for that audience.

These days, I’m much more aware of how my brand works and who it appeals to. Entrepreneurs, high-potential leaders, and woman-led companies who are open-minded and results-oriented are who I mesh with. Before understanding my own brand and its fit with different market segments, however, I spent years banging my head against the wrong market.

Stever Robbins is the host of The Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More (#1 in business category 11/07, top 20 overall, 12/07). Stever has been a businessperson and entrepreneur since the late 1970s. Stever co-founded the early internet success story FTP Software, and has been a part of nine high-tech start-ups, four IPOs, and three acquisitions. He was COO for Building Blocks Interactive, and project manager at Intuit, where he co-led the development of the award-winning Quicken VISA Card. He currently serves as CEO of Stever Robbins, Inc., where he coaches executives and high-potential leaders. Stever is also a member of the career coaching staff at Harvard Business School.