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Conscious Business Leadership: An Interview with Adam Markel

Every interaction in life is about “closing the gap” – closing the gap between you and another person. We are all connected. Embrace that in order to thrive.

Our next conversation on Conscious Business Leadership is with bestselling author, renowned keynote speaker, business mentor & CEO Adam Markel.

Adam is a recognized expert in professional and personal reinvention. A highly sought-after keynote speaker, transformational leader and business mentor, he guides individuals and businesses to capitalize on change and magnify their impact.

After building a multi-million dollar law firm, Adam became CEO of one of the largest business and personal development training companies in the world, overseeing more than $100 million in sales. His unique expertise is in combining practical business tactics with accelerated learning strategies to embrace change, encourage innovation and increase sales for people and organizations worldwide. Adam Markel inspires, empowers and guides people to achieve massive and lasting personal and professional growth, whether it be as a keynote speaker, facilitating corporate workshops or mentoring individual.

What experience has inspired you the most in your journey of becoming a conscious business leader?

I have failed many times in my life. I had a short attention span in school and brought home poor grades,  but somehow I made it to college and met the woman of my dreams. I was rejected by Harvard and a slew of other law schools, but years later I passed the bar exam on the first try and enjoyed a successful 18-year career in the profession. However, I was quite unhappy in my work as an attorney, leading me to pivot out of law and into my dream job as the CEO of a large training company. Five years later, my business partners squeezed me out, so I started a new company with partners that I love and respect to this day. I have made and lost and made millions again several times. As Michael Jordan once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” 

Resilience isn’t just about being strong — although it helps to be. And resilience isn’t just about surviving setbacks — although there will be times when you have to. Resilience is about being strong, taking a beating, and then coming back as something greater. When you’re resilient, you become like a spring, meeting an opposing force and bouncing back again.

Producing your first book to disappointing reviews — as I’ve had happen — and then immediately starting work on book number two? That’s resilience. Launching a new product to dismal sales — as has happened numerous times in my career — and then stepping up your marketing efforts to turn it around? That’s resilience.                                                      

Resilience isn’t just about facing adversity. It’s taking that adversity and using it to fuel your forward motion; it’s about taking a setback or disappointment or failure and using it as a springboard to launch forward. For truly successful people, adversity inevitably creates momentum.

The reference to the book with dismal sales is one I know intimately — but my last book, “Pivot,” became a #1 Wall Street Journal hit, and every “pivoter” has also faced adversity. The ones who were resilient, who bounced back stronger and wiser, are the ones you hear and read about. The ones without resilience simply never came back. Resilience is the yeast in the pivot recipe; you need it in order to rise.

Being a business leader or owner is tough even on the best days, and to do it well certainly requires resilience. It requires flexibility. It requires improvisation. It requires self-awareness. It requires transparency and humility — lots and lots of humility. It requires the ability to pivot almost constantly — that is, to make small, continuous changes that preserve your momentum. More important than intelligence and even talent, resilience is the single most important trait required to succeed.

And as one unknown author put it best: “Never let success go to your head. Never let failure go to your heart.”

What three tips would you give to any leader for making a meaningful difference in the lives of their direct reports?

Tip number one is to show empathy.

Be genuinely interested in what is happening in the lives of those around you. Show people, by what you do, that you have their backs

Next, lead by example.

You must model what it is that you want others to do. If you are unwilling to model from the front and do hard things first, it’s unlikely that people will see you as a credible leader. One of the most important things that you can demonstrate is how to create healthier habits, including routines to improve work-life balance.

Finally, learn to look and listen hard.

Give others an opportunity to be seen and heard. We use a simple feedback look with our employees, contractors, and clients. It consists of three open-ended statements: “What worked for me was… What didn’t work for me was… What could be done differently is…” When you are truly interested in what others think and feel you will learn and grow faster than ever.

What are mindset changes that business leaders need to make in order to truly create a working environment that fosters inspiration, connectedness and transformational personal growth.

I think the most important mindset change that you can make is to recognize that other people are just like you, and their performance is motivated by the same factors. You perform best when you feel good about yourself and when your work is connected to a higher purpose. You perform best when you feel loved and taken care of, and when you feel that other people have your back. You work best when you are held accountable from a place of love, rather than a place of judgement. All of those things must be effectively modeled by the people at the top. If leaders themselves are not self-aware or willing to be held accountable, or if those leaders create an environment where people feel unsafe, or where profits are more important than people, then they are setting an unhealthy example.

How do you see the connection between business success and personal transformation for today’s leaders?

I use my son Matthew as an example of how business success is connected to personal transformation. Some years ago he was working for a digital marketing company and doing really well at that. Despite making a solid living and being in charge of a large book of business, Matty knew inside that he wasn’t fulfilling his personal mission. He wanted to start and run a company of his own. He wanted to have a bigger impact in the world and for his family. It hasn’t been an easy road, but the company he and his partner founded is making a difference and earning significant market share in the process. Matthew is a great example of someone who spends time working on himself and getting regular feedback from his family, friends, and in men’s group meetings.

What it takes to succeed in business is very much what it takes to create success in our personal lives. Personal transformations and business transformations are mirror images of each other because the common denominator in all of those situations are us.

What’s the biggest change in the way organizations will need to function in the future related to using its human capital compared to ten or fifteen years ago?

One thing that’s true of the younger workforce, whether they are millennial or Gen Z, is that they are keenly aware of the way that companies use and abuse their workforce. They are hostile to the exhaustion model that companies have perpetuated for many many years. They understand that the model of doing more and more with less and less has made companies tremendously wealthy for their shareholders, but has done little to lift the net worth of workers. By contrast, there is a cost to those same workers: health issues, ever-present levels of anxiety, and poor work-life balance. The future of work is now, and what now is telling us is that workers are prepared to leave jobs where they don’t feel their best interests are being considered and where they are denied the flexibility to work in ways that are healthy for them. So companies today and in the future will need to change the way they relate to their workforce in order to be successful. Some of those new relationships will involve more flexible work hours, remote work situations, and allowance for recovery times when projects require extensive periods of intense focus. It’s also likely that more creative performance-based compensation packages will be used to inspire workers to work efficiently and effectively to accomplish goals, and that those workers will be compensated in accordance with the value that they bring to an organization based on the success of their work product.

Purpose and community are more important to younger generations. How do you see those focus areas to improve business?

More than ever before it is important for workers to buy into an organization’s purpose; employee buy-in to that higher purpose leads to increased connection and greater unity with both co-workers and  leadership.

When I was 19 years old I was a lifeguard. We learned a very important lesson after a swimmer drowned on our watch. We learned that we had to be vigilant and that we had to take our job even more seriously than we had previously. We learned that to ensure everyone’s safety, we needed to adopt and buy into a collective higher purpose so that we could be impeccable in our work. We adopted the mantra that “No one goes down on our watch; we either make the save or we die trying.” This mindset was quite intense, but our entire lifeguard crew  was bought into that purpose. We were one with that purpose. All of us — one community, one crew — knew that our purpose was vital. That’s why it was so important that we would have each other’s backs always rather than see that purpose fail again.

Given your commitment as a conscious business leader what’s your approach to developing leaders to encourage greater consciousness?

My commitment is to speak to leaders as often as I possibly can, to lead by example, and to share with them as transparently as I can what my journey has been like: what’s worked for me, what has not worked for me, and what I’ve been able to do differently. I also believe it’s important to share the value of humility. The value of being transparent and honest. The value of being vulnerable. The value of doing additional work outside of the work of business — the hard work of looking honestly at yourself to  evaluate and assess where you are in your life. The work of learning to quiet your mind to create stillness. To create mindfulness so you can become more aware, more awake, and more capable of finding guidance within yourself. To become more capable of trusting that guidance within yourself so that you can make the best decisions possible, consistently and reliably and from your heart.

What do you see as the key qualities of a conscious business leader?

I believe that the most important qualities of a conscious business leader are self-awareness, transparency with others, willingness to lead by example, and choosing to lead with their heart and not just their head.

A solid homework assignment is to ask some people who are close to you to share in writing two or three of your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Collect the responses and share them with your team to see how closely they agree or disagree with the assessment. When you have all the data to reflect on, let your team know what improvements you are committed to making for your own self-leadership. It may be scary at first to be so vulnerable but your team will appreciate you and your example of transparency.

What is your biggest challenge as a conscious business leader?

I think the biggest challenge of being a conscious business leader is the temptation to put profits above people.

What do you think are the biggest changes we will see in the workplace 20 years from now?

Due to conscious business leadership growth I think the feel of the workplace will change greatly over the next 20 years, because successful leaders are going to be people who are more conscious themselves. That’s the evolution of our species. It’s the evolution of our planet. It’s the evolution of our society, our global community. We are coming to know more about ourselves, about each other, and about the universe — and as a  result of that knowledge we can’t help but change. Many of those changes will be for the better, involving a higher degree of understanding, of empathy, of compassion and of seeing a bigger global picture. Many of the changes that I see coming will involve the continued addition of technology and the collaboration and cooperation between human beings and artificial intelligence. Augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics, and other systems will inevitably change the way products and services are made distributed and sold.

How can our readers follow you or your company on social media and get a copy of your book?

That’s easy. Take the Resilience Assessment Quiz. People can follow us by going to our website www.adammarkel.com. They’ll find links to all of our social media and a place to purchase our latest book, “Pivot: The Art and Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life.”

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