He’s the owner of Refound, an advisory firm that offers leadership training and coaching for owners, executives and managers. He’s madly in love with his wife, tries not to spoil his daughter, and will never give up on the New York Knicks.
Jonathan is the former CEO and Chief Brand Officer of EMyth, where he led the transformation of a global coaching brand, and has worked in tech, clean tech, and the nonprofit world after graduating law school in 1998. He lives in Ashland, Oregon, a lovely town that’s too far away from a warm ocean.
Hi Jonathan, thank you so much for stopping by Activia’s Expert Insights section. Could you tell us a little more about yourself and what you do?
I’m an east coast / west coast guy trying to put them together. I’ve spent half of my life as a CEO and doing business development since graduating law school in 1998. And the other half of my life as a spiritual seeker - diving headlong into meditation, yoga, and all things alternative / cutting edge spiritual and personal growth. I’m here to teach the world that personal and professional growth are one thing, not two.
Are personal growth and leadership things you have always been interested in?
When I was 6 or 7 years old I used to lay awake at night wondering what it looked like at the “end” of the universe. Was it a brick wall? But then there would have to be something on the other side, right? That’s where I got my start as a philosopher I suppose!
For whatever reason, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have this quality, I’ve always been drawn to what seems to be happening below the surface that people aren’t talking about. And what bothered me more than anything was seeing someone, including me at many times in my life, who was letting the past get in the way of bringing their unique gift out into the world.
Your new book, Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For, was released in October - could you tell us a bit about it?
Absolutely - it’s my attempt to show leaders how to bring personal growth into the office in a responsible way. I see many organizations and leaders sort of layering personal growth and spiritual ideas into the workplace out of an earnest intention to make things better, without really thinking about what those tools are for or how to use them in a professional environment.
The book is about learning to embrace your role as an authority figure, instead of pretending everyone is equal (which just isn’t the case, unless your employees have the same ability to fire the CEO as the other way around), and seeing how you can create a thriving interpersonal climate, where the conversations that matter actually happen.
In the book, you draw on your own personal experiences - how have those experiences helped you to get where you are today?
I’ve learned to not think about myself in terms of strengths or weaknesses, or in terms of successes or failures. It’s all me, it’s made me who I am today, and it gives me all the fuel I need to keep working on myself to become a better listener, a better husband, and a better dad (which is even more important as my second daughter is on the way!).
How do YOU define ‘good authority’?
I’d say the first attribute is in the willingness to own your role as an authority in the first place. I see too many modern leaders try to abdicate that responsibility, either outright or in subtle ways, and try to be nice at the expense of giving people the boundaries they need to grow. The main attribute of bad authority is when a leader doesn’t own their contribution to a stuck dynamic or problematic situation. For example, a leader who hasn’t provided a reasonable timeline to reach a goal and then blames the team for not delivering on it fast enough. Good authority is the art of owning your contribution, being transparent with your team, and then moving forward in a collaborative way.
What leadership mistakes do you see time and time again?
The biggest gap in management training is that when it comes to giving feedback that people can use to grow, most leaders and managers (from the CEO on down) (1) wait too long to speak up, (2) aren’t specific enough when they do, and (3) don’t create clear consequences and boundaries for what needs to change and by when. They end up lashing out (or being passive-aggressive with their employees) as a result. The Accountability Dial is a method I developed to give leaders a process for how to break that cycle, to give feedback in real-time, in a personally supportive and meaningful way, with a clear requirement for change.
How do you become an authoritative leader without being too demanding?
Borrowed authority is the idea that until we investigate the beliefs about authority we inherited from our parents, teachers – not to mention the business culture in general – we’re still borrowing our leadership style from the past instead of discovering the one that genuinely expresses who we are today. In Good Authority, I offer that the opposite of good authority isn’t bad authority, it’s borrowed authority. What I mean by that is that most leaders have good intentions, but until we do the work, we’re bogged down by ideas and beliefs about what it means to be the boss that holds us back, and create pain and confusion for the employees in our care as a result.
How is the role of the leader evolving?
At a deeper level, and this is something I work on every day, is to re-examine what we think our value is as leaders. That’s a lot of what Good Authority is about, to learn how the highest value we can add to our teams, and in the rest of our lives, is to put our thumb on the side of the scale that’s about creating the space for others to discover that next better version of themselves, as opposed to tending to fill that space ourselves. I love leaders and have so much respect for anyone who throws their heart into a problem with no guarantee of success. The pivot is to see how not everyone works that way, and that to create the organization that can do more than you can on your own, you have to listen for those other voices.
Finally, it comes down to not shooting the messenger. I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve seen, in fact I’ve never seen one where this isn’t true, where one person becomes a scapegoat for the cultural dysfunction and is moved out (fired or pushed into quitting) and the message they were carrying never sees the full light of day. It’s a basic rule of group dynamics, but I see CEOs do it all the time, moving out the ‘disgruntled’ employee instead of leaning into the conversation and discovering the most powerful brand ambassador they’ve got.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Don’t put off the awkward conversation just because it’s awkward. Use that as a sign to talk about it with someone you trust, so you can engage this person you work with in a way that’s most likely to lead to move the conversation forward. If you’re intrigued by the Good Authority philosophy, I run a free Slack group for CEOs and Founders that people can email me about.
Jonathan's book, Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team Is Waiting For, is available to order now on Amazon. If you'd like to connect with Jonathan, you can find him on LinkedIn or on Twitter at @jonathanraymond.