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Tips From The Top: One On One With Joe De Sena

I spoke to Spartan CEO and New York Times bestselling author Joe De Sena about his best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Joe: What’s surprising is that I enjoy bubble baths, but it can be a challenge because I prefer cold water, which makes it hard for the bubbles to grow.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Joe: Failure and challenges have brought me to where I am today and are the premise behind Spartan, where the obstacles on the course act as a metaphor for those competitors who face off against it. I moved to Vermont in 2002 with the goal of creating a mainstream adventure race that would motivate others to get fit. After making plenty of mistakes and losing almost all of my savings, I developed the right concept in 2010 – nearly 8 years later.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Joe: An effective leader is determined – they will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals and elevate the team around them.

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them?

Joe: I’m fortunate because my job allows me to meet with so many leaders of industry and military – from Richard Branson to Tim Ferris – and I walk away with something from each of them – whether it be business, personal or spiritual guidance. The best piece of advice I have received is to never trade money for time. Time is our most valuable asset.

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Joe: The only way for someone to take their leadership skills to the next level is to learn from their mistakes and the guidance of others. Early on in my life, I was told to create a personal board of directors that I could turn to for advice and I have built a network of mentors that have helped guide me to where I am today.

Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?

Joe: It’s important to build a team of people whose skills complement one another. I learn from everyone around me at all levels, and it’s important to put the right group of people together who can absorb knowledge from one another and work together to carry out a shared vision.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they impacted your development as a leader?

Joe: As an adventure racer, I’ve been in situations that have pushed me beyond my breaking point and allowed my body and mind to perform tasks that I never thought possible – and that has driven my development as a leader. Approaching all of life’s obstacles knowing that they can be overcome with determination and the right approach – and encouraging others to do the same – allows individuals to move to the next level.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Joe: Point of reference. It’s everything. We work with a lot of adaptive athletes and people who have had to overcome great challenges in their lives and at some point they have made the decision to look at the glass half full, instead of making excuses. If you approach life with the attitude that “I can” versus “I have to” for everyday tasks, you’ll be much more likely to succeed. 

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