SL 52: Jim Bellas, Diplomatic Language Services

Thank God it's Monday.

Welcome to the Supreme Leadership podcast where we interview business leaders every entrepreneur should follow. I’m Alinka Rutkowska, CEO of Leaders Press and today I’m excited because we’re taking to Jim Bellas, CEO of Diplomatic Language Services.

Throughout his interview you can feel Jim’s passion for life and for his business - a “Thank God it’s Monday” attitude - where you know that he enjoys his weekends but he also can’t wait for Monday when he’ll make things happen business wise.

Jim explains how fundamental the onboarding process, how important mentorship is but we also talk about the dark side of mentorship.

As a bonus, Jim also lists various books that help you grow as a business person.


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Deborah:                All right. So, Jim, can you tell me one unique way your particular company has been affected by or improved upon by mentoring?

Jim:                           Well, mentorship is an organic process here as opposed to a strict, "Go find somebody and engage them to mentor you, or to do that for someone else." Instead, the general concept is to take that mentoring is a relationship in which somebody with more experience or more knowledge helps somebody who has less experience and less knowledge. And with that, the whole process of onboarding is a systemized way of making sure that somebody is given the attention and given the instructions that are appropriate for the exact stage that they're at. So if you have someone who's very experienced and you brought them onboard, you're going to treat them differently than someone who's brand new, first job out of college, or second job, or the first time that they've encountered the kind of work that they're now going to do for us.

Jim:                           So that whole process of bringing somebody onboard is a process of mastering the art of delegation as much as it is the art of mentorship, that someone who knows nothing about what they're doing needs to be highly directed, and then once they become more knowledge ... and they know where the bathroom is, they know where their desk is, they know how to get in and out of the building, and work the levers of the company, then they're put into a position of being coach. And then from being coach, they're supported, because now they've gotten most of the talents, they just need to be periodically acknowledged. And then ultimately, when they're fully self-actualized, that's when you arrive at the level of delegation. And at any point along those, they could be a mentor for the person that's directly behind them, in terms of that process of coming onboard.

Jim:                           Fundamental to all of that is creating an environment where truth-telling, and trust, and respect are the fundamentals, that if you can't tell the truth about, "I don't know what I'm doing," then you're doomed to be stuck in that particular position. So as an example, when I first kind of took over this company, there was a great deal of fear about who I was, and I published an article for everybody to read, and I said, "The only mistake you can make is not to tell the boss you made a mistake. And if you don't make that mistake, you're doing fine. And if you don't know that you made a mistake, and you find out about it later, the only mistake you can make is to delay admitting that you didn't see that you'd made a mistake." The whole goal of that is to present me with problems I can solve before it's too late, and if somebody's hiding something, boy, then now I've got two layers to get through. One is I need to be a detective, and then I need to be a problem-solver.

Jim:                           So that whole environment, nobody gets punished for telling the truth, they in fact get rewarded for it. And that then builds this whole environment of trust. On the other side is the respect to know that if you're not making mistakes, you're probably not doing enough, you're probably not stretching enough, because very few of us go through life with 100% batting average, and in fact nobody does. So recognizing that you're going to strike out on a real regular basis, you should be respected for having made the effort, and you should be trusted for having told the truth.

Deborah:               Okay. I like that. Have you ever, just throughout your career, worked in any kind of formal mentoring programs within a company?

Jim:                           When I was growing a company that I had successfully grown to a certain level, then wanted to leapfrog to another level, I reached out. And I've not had a super positive experience with mentoring, ultimately, because the process of engaging this chap who had succeeded at a much higher level than myself, and we hit it off, our values appeared to be the same, he liked me and I liked him, I was certainly impressed by all he had done, he made introductions for me to people that I wouldn't have had access to, and all of that was very helpful. Where I failed in that, was I began deferring, increasingly, to him, as so many different issues came up, and my gut would say, "No. This is the wrong decision," I would nonetheless defer to him. And so there's a seductive side to mentorship, where it enables you to do some things you couldn't do otherwise, but it also puts you in the position of second-guessing yourself and not trusting your best instincts. And [inaudible 00:09:58].

Deborah:               Are you still there?

Jim:                           So that's the dark side of mentorship. Now, that having been said, having a connection that can get you entree to places that you can [inaudible 00:10:15] information or experiences you haven't, by all means, that's really valuable. I just would caution anyone that it's difficult.

Deborah:               Okay. So we learn through mistakes as well as mentors, and I was wondering, could you maybe tell us about a big mistake you made at some point during your career and how it helped teach you?

Jim:                           Well, I think the one I just highlighted, was subsuming my own instincts and capabilities to a mentor may have been probably the biggest mistake that I made. Another one that didn't take ... probably had to learn it several times, was that I was not going to be able to do everything all of the time, and that I had good the fortune of early on recognizing the core of that, that an entrepreneur is not the lonely guy with his hair blowing back on the top of the mountain, he's actually the guy at the bottom of the hill trying to climb it and find the people that he can attach himself to on ropes, and we pull each other up, so that I was really good at marketing, and I attached myself to someone who was really good at the product, and I was fortunate enough to attract somebody who was really good at finance. And the three of us ended up ... I mean, I was the guy that got all the attention frequently, but without them, no way could I have succeeded the way ... And that pattern repeated itself throughout my life. And as I've done the reading, increasingly, you hear about Steve Jobs, what you don't hear about are the finance and product people that really made the difference for him to create what he did and do what he did.

Deborah:               And speaking of reading, sometimes we can learn from books, books can serve a kind of mentor's role in our life and our career, so I was wondering if you can maybe talk about some books that have been really important or formative for you and the way that you do business.

Jim:                           Yes. Early on, the foundational books are Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, and then more recently, and still probably the best book out there, is Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I mean, that book is a constant reread for me. And by reread, meaning I pick a particular chapter and work on that particular aspect. A transformational book for myself personally was What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. It's just a genius book, that you can read through all the things that made you successful. And this is a guy that consults with million dollar employees that are failing at their next position, the board's about to fire them, and they bring him in to have them go through it, because the thing that got them to that CEO position was not the thing that was going to make them successful in that CEO position. And it's just a remarkable read to go through that.

Jim:                           And most recently, for me it would be Brene Brown with The Transformative Power of Vulnerability, and a more recent book, Daring Greatly, and her whole premise of the things that make us courageous are when we address the places where we're vulnerable, and are willing to be vulnerable with ourselves and with others as well. It's a remarkable book. She's got some great TED Talks for those that are less readers and want to get the core message. It's really worth checking out Brene Brown.

Deborah:               Excellent. [inaudible 00:14:28] to check her out. Could you tell us maybe about some of your biggest mentors, personally?

Jim:                           Mentors. No, again, with the jaundiced view I have of them, they would've probably been coworkers. The ones that appreciated my strengths, brought their strengths, and the two of us working together created a mentorship of me really appreciating the things that they did extremely well, that I struggled with, and them appreciating what I really did well, that they wouldn't have even wanted to take on. And so a chap from my early years was Ed [inaudible 00:15:18], who gave me the courage to go out and do it on my own, as opposed to continuing to work for someone else. And Ed was a government worker, a customer, but his belief in me and my trust in him, we formed a partnership that lasted for over 25 years, and led to a business that started out as a mom-and-pop and grew into a company that attracted venture capital financing, that I never would've done had he not been my mentor for not just finance but also for the core values of a business, the respect of people, and the commitment to trust and respect being the foundation of a relationship.

Jim:                           So I learned that in a very meaningful way, as you go through the struggles of starting up a business and all the fear that can come with that, and his confidence in me and my trust in him created a mutual mentorship for each of us. In later years, it was relinquishing control of the day-to-day operations to someone who was a much better operator than I was, which then set me free to go back and be the creator that I could be. And so Jim [inaudible 00:16:47] would've been a mentor for me, as a general manager that came on and successfully ran the company in a much more methodical, predictable, organized way, and still with the same core values that we both held, and setting me free to then do the creation and marketing that I'm naturally good at, as opposed to making the trains run precisely on time.

Deborah:               Gotcha. Okay. Well, so over the course of your career in business, how have you personally served as a mentor?

Jim:                           Well, there's the parent-child relationship, and I guess the easiest way to describe it is to be the change that you want to see, and walking the talk to actually doing the things that you say. So in a parent-child relationship that happens continuously. At work, being with people and having them recognize ... or create an environment where they can recognize their strengths, and for the culture of the company to focus on their strengths, for the performance review system to be centered around not finding the areas of weakness and saying, "Okay. So you're really good at these six things. Let's now concentrate on this one where you're no good," and instead, recognizing that they're not excelling in a particular area, figuring out how you can diminish that portion of the job and relegate it to other people, and then focus them on the one, two, or three things that they really are really good at.

Jim:                           And the other aspect we talked earlier about, delegating, and putting them in the position of being able to operate at the level at which they really have achieved already. And finally, encouraging everybody to be a multiplier of other people. And I didn't mention it earlier, but a formative book for me was Liz Wiseman's Multipliers, and it really dovetails well with the whole [inaudible 00:19:21] strength-finders based culture, in that you operate in ways of asking questions as opposed to giving instructions, and looking for ways to augment somebody as opposed to compete with them, and setting up relationships where it's about the team winning as opposed to one particular person being a star. Not sure if I'm answering your question as directly as you'd like, but, again, for me, mentorship is more of an organic process of creating an environment.

Jim:                           And the whole thing for me, in business ... I just was on a retreat with my son, and he's president of the company now, and he was expressing this frustration of seeing what he wanted to get done and not being able to get there, and sometimes just wanting to give up. And I said, "Gosh. You got to know that that's a feeling that you have whenever you take on anything, that you'll begin to say, 'Why am I here 7, 8, 9, 10 days in a row, 14 hours a day, when I should be spending time with my significant other, or my children, or just taking some time for myself?', and then remembering that regardless of any negation that happens as a result of failures or mistakes, that what you've done is created something that you wanted to have, to create a better world by doing my part to create the world that I have some influence over, to be the kind of world that I'd want to live in, to treat people the way I want to be treated."

Jim:                           And the people that you employ, the livelihoods that you create, and the personal growth that you see happen in other people, that's what kept me going in those times where it was just exhausting or it really didn't feel like I had succeeded in any particular way, was a reminder of that overall good that's being created as a result of my efforts, as a result of my ability to attract other people that want to achieve the same goal.

Deborah:               How about in the context of YPO, is there any kind of mentorial relationships fostered within the organization?

Jim:                           The genius of YPO is in a hidden aspect of it, and that's a forum. And it's a group of 6 or 10 equals, members of that same organization, non-competitive. They have obviously achieved some level of success to be a member of YPO. Requires having been the leader of an organization that achieved a particular volume of revenue, employed a certain number of people, before the age of 40, so they've done something in their lives. And they're now in a room with you in 100% confidential, non-judgemental way. And it's transformational in that you're not there to prove that you're better than anybody else, you're there to have your personal board of advisors help you see what you're trying to get done, what you're trying to express, what you're struggling with, and to be able to process it in a way that you can't do in a company. When you're the head of it, there's a cascading fear that's created if you're starting to explore things at a level that addresses your core fears.

Jim:                           And so in that environment, I can present on my business, on my family, and for myself, and it's a fully-integrated approach to being able to understand what's keeping you from getting what you want, what is it that you need to do. And it's less about advice-giving and it's more about experience-sharing, that when it really is working, somebody else in that room has had the experience that you've had, and can ask the questions and share the experiences they've had. It's been a fundamental, core source of strength for me, to be able to take my greatest fears to that group and come away with having addressed not just the problem but also the underlying emotions that went along with it.

Deborah:               Okay. So it's a meeting of minds and just a sharing among colleagues.

Jim:                           It's a personal board of advisors. It's someone that you can go and process, hear your own voice trying to explain what you're trying to get done. YPO is also terrific on the education, and the organization itself is sort of equal parts of networking, and education, and a social aspect to it. So it's a holistic approach that way. Probably the best experience I've had in any business organization has been with YPO. And getting involved in the leadership at the local chapter level, where you have a chance to get things done without having authority over anybody, that's a transformational experience as well, to do it through a negotiation of common purpose, and aligning people around wanting to make a great experience for a year, either with education or with overall leadership of the organization. Now, that was a terrific experience as well.

Deborah:               Okay. So to switch gears a little bit, and to think specifically about entrepreneurs, what would you say is the area that most entrepreneurs need mentoring in?

Jim:                           The most. Well, let's just go fundamental. I think the sooner somebody figures out that they're not the be-all and end-all of what's going to happen, that they need to surround themselves with people that are going to augment them, to fill their areas of incompetence or less competence and that magnify their area of great competence, I think that's it, is to recognize that you're not Hercules, you are part of a team. I suppose in the common vernacular it would be the group of superheroes as opposed to the superhero, you're not Superman, you're part of the Avengers, and taking that mindset.

Jim:                           I think the second thing is to understand that everything takes longer than you say it will, and to recognizing that stamina is not to be undervalued, that grit, stamina are the pieces that will carry you through the fact that you said it was going to take three months, and it's now three years later and you still haven't done it. But there's, what's it called, an optimism bias that causes us ... or enables us to do something, but it also puts us into positions that we didn't foresee all the things and all the unintended consequences that were about to happen.

Deborah:               Okay. So stamina, perseverance, and then also we're looking at delegation and recognizing when delegation is in your best interests.

Jim:                           Right. And I think remembering that the core reason that you're doing what you're doing, again, for me it was to make the world better, that doesn't go away, that's a goal worth persisting at. But sometimes a specific thing that you're trying to get done isn't, but if it fits in the environment of creating a better place to work, or a better place to shop, or a better product for the world, or a better service, that in that small way of fixing your part of the human body by fixing your cell of it, that's worth achieving. And creating the kind of environment that you'd want to work in, that you'd want your kids to work in, that you'd want your best friends to be in, that's worth doing.

Deborah:               So if you were to write a book yourself, what would be your key message to entrepreneurs for them to be able to replicate your success?

Jim:                           Thank God it's Monday. Weekends are really great, but looking forward to what you're going to do on the first day of the week, I think, is an attitude that makes things possible, that makes things happen, that puts you in the mindset of creating as opposed to responding, being responsible for making something good happen for other people.

Deborah:               Okay. Well, thank you so much, Jim, for taking the time to do our interview today. We really appreciate it.

Jim:                           Well, thank you. I'm looking forward to hearing what you've come up with and I look forward to continuing to follow the series.

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