CONTRIBUTOR
Managing Editor and Podcast Host,
Techstrong

Synopsis

In this Leadership Insights video interview, Amanda Razani speaks with Jim Vaselopulos, CEO of Rafti Advisors, about finding clarity and working more intelligently in the workplace.

Transcript

Amanda Razani: Hello and welcome to the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. I’m excited to be here today with Jim Vaselopulos, and he is the CEO of Rafty Advisors. How are you doing today?

Jim Vaselopulos: I’m doing great. Thank you for having me, Amanda.

Amanda Razani: Excited to have you on our show. So can you share first a little bit about your company and what services do you provide?

Jim Vaselopulos: Yeah, I’m really an executive coach and a business advisor at this point in my career. I’ve spent a lot of my time in my career in tech and built and sold some companies, and now I help other people run that same playbook and help them not make mistakes I made or help guide them along paths with things I’ve learned through the years.

Amanda Razani: Wonderful. I believe you authored a book. Is that correct?

Jim Vaselopulos: I did. It’s titled Clarity: Business Wisdom to Work Less and Achieve More. Really, it’s trying to help people cut through all the distractions and all the things that occupy our mind, that lead us astray so that you can really get to the meat of the matter and focus only on that which matters most. When you do that, I think you’ll find that you can really accomplish so much more with so much less effort. It sounds very counterintuitive, but the reality is, once you’ve done it a number of times, you realize it’s super powerful. For me, I wanted to share that with people. I figured out some stuff that really works well, and I didn’t want it to just die with me. It needs to be shared with the world.

Amanda Razani: I’m sure that’s something we can all work on. So what led you to write the book?

Jim Vaselopulos: I did figure out a bunch of things, and, of course, doing the work I do now, it was really important for me to work with other people, to share it, because once you find something really awesome, you want to tell people all about it. What was interesting is, I think when you do coaching and you do advising, you spend a lot of time even improving your craft because the students sometimes educates you as well. So as I got deeper and deeper into it, I was reading more, and I’ve got a podcast, and I was talking to authors writing all kinds of other books. I got really deep into all kinds of different subjects, and I thought wisdom was what I wanted to write a book on.
I talked with a bunch of other folks who’d written books on wisdom, but then I realized what people value when they work with me is not my wisdom. It’s the clarity they receive. So I really went deep on understanding how do people get that. How do I provide the clarity that allows them to work less and achieve more? And so I just wanted to codify it and understand it more deeply, and nothing gets you to understand something deeply teaching it, and then, if you want to understand it even further, write a book about it. Then I just really felt like I really have a deep understanding of this now, and that’s a good place to be.

Amanda Razani: That’s fantastic. So you work with a lot of business leaders. From your experience, what are some of the roadblocks they face when it comes to trying to implement new technologies or digital transformation initiatives?

Jim Vaselopulos: The biggest roadblock is, I think, the thing that leads us to stray the most. It takes us off the correct path, is the technology itself. We call it digital transformation. We get focused on the digital part or the technology part, and we forget about the transformation. It’s not really the technology that’s transforming. It’s the people who are using it, the people who are working with it, the people who are supporting it. So I think the thing that gets us jackknifed so many times is not really looking at the people and understanding that change is a process. It happens one person at a time. It doesn’t happen collectively. You don’t wave a wand and just say like, “Oh, we’re all going to do things differently now.” And to really pay attention to the transformation part and how we get people along a certain path because people don’t change like technology does.
Technology goes up in this ladder where, every year, we’re faster, better, stronger, more capable. People go in this circular pattern. That’s how we change as societies, as organizations, as people, and we go along a different path. So to align technology changes with the way people change and try and fit one end into the other doesn’t necessarily work well. For digital advancements to have any value in the marketplace, people have to embrace them and they have to support them. So you’re always better off working on the people side of the business better.

Amanda Razani: Absolutely, and that’s definitely an issue I’m sure many leaders encounter is that many people are hesitant when it comes to new technology. They’ve done something one way for so long and they’re not so sure as to why it needs to change and they’re not comfortable using the new technology. So finding that clarity and having those conversations, where do you think that business leaders should start when they first begin this process, when it comes to the clarity and the communication?

Jim Vaselopulos: I think you need to start with, “What is the real opportunity? What is the problem you’re trying to solve?” And really understand that deeply at a business level. Forget about the technology. The technology is completely irrelevant for a long time. We get into trouble when we try and buy a piece of technology to solve a problem. It’s like buying a treadmill but not really solving the real core problems. It’s like the treadmill, usually collects dust and clothes. You got to look at the real problem, and I think too many business people are ignorant with regard to technology and too many technology. People are ignorant with regard to business. It’s really the combination of both that help us get to, really, addressing the root cause of a problem. So I think that’s one of the things that comes out pretty strongly in the book, there are a bunch of symptoms that occupy our time that we need to kind of recognize as symptoms.
Just because you have a headache or you have a fever, the problem isn’t the headache or the fever. There’s an infection or something else that’s causing that. What we need to do is get there and then understand what’s the value, what’s the problem, what we need to be doing, and how does that affect our lifestyle. We may find out that I need to drink more water or, I need to do this other thing to prevent these problems. That gets at the root of any kind of transformation. Forget about digital. Getting stuck on that word is just going to cripple you. It’s a transformation, whether it’s a transformation of the way your business model works or it’s whether the transformation of your body because deciding to get healthier. Either one, it’s the transformation that matters.

Amanda Razani: Absolutely. At the end of the day, it is that human element and side of things that is at the core of all process changes. So looking toward the future, what advice do you have for business leaders as they do try to innovate and advance their companies?

Jim Vaselopulos: Yeah, I think if there’s… Innovation, advancement, it’s always fun, it’s great, it’s cool, and we’ve talked about people a lot, but I’d say curiosity is really important. I think business leaders need to really have a curious mindset. If you are a leader, you have to be curious. Because you can’t just take things that people say or do at face value, you need to dig a little deeper. You need to be curious and say, “That’s interesting. Why did you decide to do that?” Or, “Why do you do it this way?” Or, “Why is it that you don’t want to change?” And I think it’s really important to make sure that anytime you want to judge and be critical of a situation or a person or a position they might have about being resistant to change or being too anxious for change, is to be not just accept that but to be curious.
So anytime you feel that sensation to judge, I’d say really use that as an indicator that you should pivot very quickly into curiosity and ask more questions. Why is it that I feel this way? Why is it that this person’s resistance changed? Why is it that they can’t wait for this change to happen? Because those are all great things, but until you understand the backstory, until you understand where that person is coming from, you’re only operating with really a small amount of the information you need to be successful.

Amanda Razani: So being curious, being good listeners, it sounds like. Are there any other characteristics or traits that you say are helpful to a leader when it comes to communicating in the workplace?

Jim Vaselopulos: I think communication is always critically important, but I think there are maybe three elements that I think really stand out and, I think are often ignored, and with regard to communications especially, I would say it’s sequencing, timing, and patience. The first thing is, certain things need to be done in a certain order for them to make sense. It might be a fantastic idea, it just might not be a fantastic idea right now. That gets to timing. Or it might be a fantastic idea, but it needs this other thing to happen first. To be able to be patient is so critical because you don’t know when you need to be patient if you don’t know the correct timing. If you don’t know the correct timing, you don’t know the correct sequence. So all three of those work together to put together what I would call is a strategy of saying, “Here’s how we’re going to accomplish our goals.”
So many times, when something’s new, we just can’t wait to get it out there. We can’t wait, and we’re impatient because we’re so excited. But you need to do a bunch of other things first. You need to educate people. You need to understand. You need to make sure that something that you build can be supported. There are so many things that go on with getting sequencing, timing, and patience right. So your communications can be dramatically exciting, you can be a wonderful communicator, and you can tell a great story. But if you couple that with something that is poorly thought out from a strategic standpoint, from a sequencing standpoint at the wrong time and just too early or too late, it doesn’t matter how good you are as a communicator. So it’s really piecing things together in a well-constructed, well-thought-out plan, and I think the three elements of that are sequencing, timing of patients.

Amanda Razani: One last question. If there’s a key takeaway for our audience today, what would that be?

Jim Vaselopulos: Yeah, I think there are a number of different things that are important for people to consider, and for all people, we need to work together. You’re never going to do this alone. We need to really… I think it’s okay to bring a culture of understanding and empathy and love even into the workplace to just say, “Hey, let’s really appreciate one another.” And if you can, as a leader of anything like this, make sure that every interaction you have with another person, if you can go into that interaction with the goal of leaving that other person feeling one inch taller, just a little bit stronger in their stride, a little more firmer in their voice, a little bit more confident about what’s in front of them, you’re doing a good job. So it’s not about going into a conversation and convincing someone, winning, or doing anything like that. It’s helping them feel one inch taller. If you can do that on a regular basis, I think you’re going to find, you really have success as a leader.

Amanda Razani: Thank you for coming on our show and sharing your insights with us today.

Jim Vaselopulos: It’s my pleasure. It was a joy. Thank you, Amanda.

Amanda Razani: I look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Jim Vaselopulos: Thanks so much. Have a great day.

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