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Jason Walker on How To Navigate Uncertainty.

Jason Walker is a Co-Founder of Thrive HR Consulting and a thought leader on the topic of HR Strategy and Execution. In this interview, he shares insights with The Industry Leaders about how to navigate uncertainty as a business leader.

Could you please share a bit about yourself, your background, and the journey that has led you to become an entrepreneur? What makes your perspective unique on the subject of leadership and navigating uncertainty?

I was always a very poor student in grade school, middle school and high school. I had undiagnosed learning disabilities that were detected later in life. Most people thought I was dumb and had a very low estimation of my abilities. So I was told virtually every day I was stupid and I would not amount to anything. Over time that took an emotional toll on me and I wondered how I was ever going to support myself and be able to live in society when I was considered dumb and nobody believed in me or wanted me. It was very scary thinking what was I to become? Do I have a future? I learned that you have to forge your own journey in life and it only belongs to you. You can’t listen to others and you have to have a plan of what your destiny is going to be. It may be uncertain but if you have a plan you will get there.

You and your business have presumably faced some interesting challenges and changes over the years. Can you describe a key moment when you felt uncertainty was at its peak?

For me I fight uncertainty everyday if I am being honest with you. I always ask myself did I work hard enough? Why did that idea fail? Am I good enough to do this? I have to reassure myself with positive thoughts that I am moving in the right direction. My anxiety rears us when emails are not coming in, people are not asking us for support. I start to worry about what I am doing wrong. But I have to focus on the fact that the world does not run on my schedule. That if I have a plan and I am working it that all things will work out.

From your experience, what are the core principles or values that guide a leader during uncertain times?

Being honest and ethical everyday is a core principle for me. There is nothing more important than your family, friends and business associates knowing that you above reproach. If you have that principle even during uncertain times they will turn to you because they know they can count on you when things are not going well. You are not going to call the person who is a little bit shady when you are down and out.

How do you cultivate a culture of resilience and adaptability within your team? Can you share a practical example where this culture made a significant difference?

I have worked in really brutal environments in my time. People in your face screaming at you, demeaning which they thought was their way of making you better or driving excellence in the organization. That does not work, never has never will and does not work now. I have had people who forgot to include millions of dollars when I worked in corporate HR in a spreadsheet when we were preparing something for the board and at the last minute we had to scramble and get in on the board deck. Things like that happen. But we need to focus on creating a culture where people can bring things up without fear and then we don’t berate them, we help them look at the error and work with them to fix what happened. I have always had extremely low turnover on all my teams because people value being respected and coaching and treated fairly. Which is what I have always tried to do.

Many aspiring leaders struggle with the fear of failure, especially when the path ahead is unclear. What strategies or mental frameworks have you developed to overcome this fear and embrace uncertainty as an opportunity?

For me I am more afraid of standing still. If we don’t try something new or continue to diversify our offerings somebody else will. I don’t want to be the person on the street watching the Porsche fly be be, I want to be in the Porsche moving. I like trying to make things happen. I am more scared of not doing something. I have had some great ideas in our business and I have had some bad ones. I think you need to let go of the fear of having a bad idea. At least you tried something and now you know more about it than you did before. I think we learn more in failure than we do in success.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes leaders make during uncertain times? Can you offer a real-life example where recognizing and avoiding such a mistake led to success?

In uncertain times we tend to undercommunicate. We get scared about talking about bad things. As humans we don’t really want conflict we don’t want strife so we stop talking. However, that is the worst thing to do. When times are tough you get in there and talk about what is happening, as a leader you forge a vision of where we are going. Talk about how we are getting out of the situation, talk about how we are going to improve revenue, talk about how we are going to do all this work now that we lost 20% of the department because of layoffs. Somebody once said to me the best leaders are those leaders that can make order out of chaos and uncertainty and I have followed that ever since.

Looking towards the future, how do you plan to continue evolving your leadership style to meet new uncertainties and challenges? What advice would you give to others looking to do the same?

People want different things in 2023. They want to be managed differently and they want companies to operate differently. They want to work differently. We have a workforce that wants change. As a leader you have to be ready to adapt to what people want. You can complain all you want that you don’t like it or you won't’ manage that way or your old way of doing it is better. However, you won’t be around very long if you don’t change and adapt. I mentioned earlier that I worked in brutal environments where you were treated harshly. That is no longer acceptable, many things that were, are not anymore and if you are not going to evolve with the times the world is going to roll by you and you are not going to be going with it.

You've clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow through experience. Are there any books, mentors, or resources that have particularly influenced your leadership style? How would you recommend others to approach their leadership development journey?

My mentors are my wife and daughter. I find they have insights, I don’t. They shape me in ways that I did not think about. They are invaluable to get me thinking about things in a new or different way and can say it in a pretty direct way that gets my attention. Your family sees you for who and what you are and they have insight that others don’t. I appreciate their guidance.

For those who want to learn more about your leadership philosophy or explore the products and services offered by your company, what's the best way to connect with you or find out more about your work?


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