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7 Questions with Steven Roberts
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7 Questions with Steven Roberts
Name: Steven Roberts
Current title: SVP Global Operations
Current organization: Air Culinaire Worldwide
Innovative and result driven Hospitality Executive & Culinary Professional with over 20 years of senior level experience and leadership tenure in all aspects of executive management, strategic operations, culinary arts, and consistent success in achieving results; demonstrated hands-on leadership skills in specialty retail, private label production and culinary arts management. Highly skilled in corporate operational expansion, foodservice, design, negotiation, production, marketing, and culinary branding as well as comprehensive background in innovative culinary arts, operations management, sales & marketing. More than two-decades of experience in budgeting and finance, strategic planning, risk management, brand development, marketing promotion, strategic business development, and assessment/procurement as well as contract negotiation. A powerful team builder and facilitator in fostering an atmosphere that encourages highly talented professionals to balance high-level skills and maximum production. I maintain a high level of personal drive, confident nature, and an assertive attitude in achieving results. Extensive experience and success in supply-chain, transportation operations, warehousing, and distribution systems for internal and external product fulfillment.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Maintaining a balance of excellence in team culture, innovation and fiscal performance to ensure growth has been the most difficult challenge in my experience. As a consultant and executive, I've found that too many organizations are typically very good at one of the three rather than being able to create a holistic approach to ensuring that all three are achieved, which is what the most innovative and successful companies have in common.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I worked my way up through the ranks and wanted to hold every position possible in my industry in order to understand what it was like to actually work in every position within the business model of my industry. I'm an avid believer that you must be able to see through the lens of others in all roles to best understand how to support, develop and understand the challenges and support they need to become the very best versions of themselves while preparing for personal growth and opportunities within the organization.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I've created what I call a 'flexible structure of predictable results' in which I begin the day with meditation, fitness and gratitude, then "learning" - whether reading or watching instructional videos or bio's for 30-minutes to sharpen my skill set. I then have a modular approach to the mid-day in which I begin with key daily goals and appointments while blocking out 2-3 30-60 minute periods for focus-reflection time to recalibrate my day and decide how my actions are contributing to my version of the Pareto Principle and the actions and initiatives that will contribute 80% of my results from 20% of my actions. I end the night with refinement of key initiatives for the following day, mediation, reflection on what went well/as-planned/not-as-planned and key distinctions that I can use to modify my approach, plan and context for future performance.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The Leadership Triangle - Treat others as you would want to be treated - always begin with the results and why they matter when directing your team to initiate action - and lastly - lead by example in everything you do.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Though I've read many great books on leadership, I'd say the one that I wrote (The Architect of Excellence) taught me the most as it was written in a style that included context, emotion, spirituality and connection, which helped me to synthesize the lessons that I've learned through the years and I believe as you teach others, you learn at a deeper level and more intimately as we all learn by teaching others. In terms of another book that resonated with me - "Extreme Ownership" by Jocko Willink was excellent as it is written in a similar style and more humanistic rather than text-book in style.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
In simplest terms, you must make leadership a priority. In the day-to-day, in the creation of the culture, in the communications and personal interactions. Leadership is too often stereotyped as a certain set of skills, which there are many that lead to higher levels of leadership, but the pinnacle of leadership requires what I refer to as the "ethereal" which includes high-touch communication, authenticity, courage tempered with understanding and empathy, and NOT taking the approach that I make all the decisions and am 'the boss' ...when the optimal leadership level is servant-based, putting others first, inspiring them to bring forward ideas, strategies, energy, authenticity and reaching beyond their current capacity - while allowing them to fail without feeling afraid to do so
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Years ago I managed a small team that worked remotely. We got together face to face quarterly, but otherwise relied on email, text and calls to remain aligned.
This seemed a great method to allow collective efficiency and to keep everyone focused on their work. However it also created blind spots within the process and team.
Over time, a fellow director and I noticed one of our best team members seemed to become more and more disengaged. He wasn't bringing the same enthusiasm and high touch communication style to his work that we previously experienced.
In a conversation with his manager, we discussed the quality and engagement of his work. We asked what had changed and why he seemed to be distancing himself from his team. What happened?
Our epiphany: A lack of real communication-
As we continued speaking we both realized we had failed to check in with him and communicate effectively. It had actually been two-months since either of us last checked in with him as each thought the other was engaged with this formerly high performer.
Realizing the slow and consistent slide in his quality of work was as much our fault as his, and we took responsibility. We decided that it was upon us to take full accountability and immediately scheduled structured calls and business reviews with him to align the three of us on his behalf. This turned what could have been the 'blame game' and put all the responsibility on him to take this upon our shoulders and make the priority about what we were going to do to help him achieve the levels of success we knew he was capable of.
I began the process by apologizing that we hadn’t been checking in with him and that we had a clear plan with clear expectations as to what we were going to do to rectify this. Then we discussed what he had been doing over the past two-months and how he felt it was contributing to his success and that of the organization.
It was then I discovered that his interests and skills had also shifted and realized he wanted to make small changes to his role to align with his interests and strengths. We realized he also had new long term goals as well, so what we thought were great tasks that furthered those goals, were actually wrong.
What’s most amazing to me in retrospect is how quickly things turned around. After just two meetings where I listened and made small changes with his ideas and input, he started showing the past enthusiasm and quality work again that had been his strength for months prior.
From that point forward, I’ve always kept in mind that you can’t take any of your people for granted. You must make your team your priority and invest the time to check in on them with authenticity, and assume if there’s a problem it could just as much be you causing it as anything wrong with them.
And all it took was making time to listen and take action on what I heard.
Why it worked:
Great leaders have sworn by the value of high touch and communication. Yet, there wasn’t always qualitative evidence to show the results. I have never forgotten this lesson!