Name: Benjamin Talin
Title: CEO & Founder
Benjamin Talin is a pioneering entrepreneur and recognized global leader in technology and innovation. From founding his first company at 13, Talin has excelled in various domains, including marketing, change management, platforms, digital ecosystems and digital strategy. He is a renowned keynote speaker and advisor to governments, EU commissions, and global ministries on pivotal issues like education, economic growth, digitalization, and the future.
As the founder and CEO of MoreThanDigital since 2017, he has propelled it to a leading position on digital and future-focused topics globally. With the upcoming launch of MoreThanDigital Insights, his influence is set to expand further. His board memberships, including at the Berlin University of Digital Science and advisory roles for Harvard Business Review and the EU Commission, underscore his commitment to sharing his expertise and shaping the digital landscape.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.
I hope Benjamin's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?
Leadership, to me, is fundamentally about setting an example—going above and beyond. The trickiest part of nurturing trust is its fragility; it takes years to build yet can shatter in a moment. My approach is to consistently keep my word, be direct, and own up to my mistakes. I'm not perfect; I've dropped the ball plenty of times, but I own these moments because they're as much a part of me as my successes.
Embracing the 'walk the talk' mindset wasn't an overnight change; it was a lesson hard-earned over time, with mentors who kept me accountable. It's one thing to talk a big game, quite another to live up to it day in, day out. Trust also stems from clarity of vision and the perseverance to see it through. Wavering, inconsistency, and lack of clear direction erode trust. I've learned to stay the course, provide stability, and maintain clear, unwavering communication. That's what I stand for and expect from those I work with.
2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?
Vision and mission aren't just buzzwords for me; they're the core of my entire ethos. They've come to life through my initiative, #bethechange, which evolved from a simple log-in button for MoreThanDigital to a fully-fledged NGO. This concept sets the tone for all our endeavors—it's the heartbeat of our actions, the essence of our collective impact, and the standard we hold ourselves to.
This guiding principle is woven into the very fabric of my life and work. It's reflected in the choices I make, from the mundane to the significant—from the clothes I wear to the partnerships I forge. It informs our hiring process and how we engage with the world. #bethechange is more than a tagline; it's a commitment, a shared identity among myself, my company, and our collaborators. We don't just carry the vision and mission statement; we embody it - We are #bethechange.
3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?
Adaptability is a cornerstone of my leadership philosophy. Understanding the unique aspirations and visions of those you work with is crucial. High-performing individuals with deep knowledge thrive under a shared vision without the need for close supervision. Conversely, skilled individuals who lack motivation benefit from encouragement to harness their capabilities fully.
Similarly, those with enthusiasm but less experience require guidance to channel their energy productively and opportunities to learn. For individuals with lesser skills and drive, what's often labeled as 'micro-management' is, in reality, a need for a leader who can provide the right support and direction to ignite their potential.
The pitfall of modern leadership is the search for a one-size-fits-all approach, usually derived from the latest best-seller. However, true leadership is a personal journey that must be tailored to the needs of each team member and partner. Yes, a leader must articulate the overarching vision and set the 'north star', but they must also recognize that each person requires a different form of empowerment—be it autonomy, support, or resources.
By grasping what personally drives individuals, a leader can unlock their fullest potential. This nuanced and empathetic approach is what distinguishes a mere manager from a transformative leader.
4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?
From the very beginning, mentorship and a sense of competition have been integral to my growth. I've always sought out those who could challenge me, setting a benchmark for me to strive beyond. Early on, my family and their friends—business owners and IT professionals—were my yardsticks of success and the first anchor point for myself. As I advanced in my studies and career, I always seeked out mentors and business partners that challenge me. Often they evolved into friends and continued to play a pivotal role in my development or are still a big part of who I am today.
The most impactful mentorship came from Hans-Dieter, who left an indelible mark on me through his rigorous feedback on my mistakes - and I had (still have) many. He meticulously dissected each interaction I had, every meeting we did, teaching me about the nuances and consequences of my actions. His lessons were tough, sometimes bringing me to tears - sometimes several times a day, but the value of his honest and penetrating insights was immeasurable. It’s through this relentless and sometimes painful process of facing my shortcomings that I’ve grown the most.
These challenges and the demanding nature of true, constructive criticism have shaped who I am. Even today, I can trace the ‘footprints’ of these lessons in my actions. Now, as a mentor myself, I aim to offer the same level of candid guidance. It's not just about being honest—it's about providing the kind of feedback that can forge resilience and excellence, all while the echoes of my mentors' words resonate in the back of my mind.
5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?
In my role, where the demands are as varied as they are pressing, distinguishing between what is urgent and what is important is crucial. Currently, as we're in the midst of repositioning the company and launching initiatives like MoreThanDigital Insights, my focus tends to lean heavily towards urgent matters that require my immediate attention.
To manage this, I structure my days around these urgent tasks, aiming to address them swiftly. This allows me to carve out dedicated time for important, but not immediately pressing, strategic tasks—such as creating new initiatives, marketing, and sales preparations.
Every Sunday, I take the time to organize my week, filling my Trello board with these significant tasks. Urgent tasks may be unpredictable, but planning for the important ones ensures I have a clear roadmap for the week. I focus on the outcomes I wish to see by the week's end and work towards them as efficiently as possible. It's about balance—managing the immediate while never losing sight of the strategic goals that drive long-term success.
6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?
I've found that rigid plans often falter. Instead, I focus on setting goals and desired outcomes. This approach allows me to maintain flexibility in how I achieve these goals, given that resources can fluctuate and urgent tasks can arise without warning.
My strategy involves reserving a portion of each day to tackle the unexpected while also carving out dedicated 'focus time' for working towards the week's or day's objectives. This method ensures that I am always progressing toward key milestones, regardless of daily fluctuations.
For larger strategic objectives, I break them down into monthly targets. This gives me a clearer vision of what preparations are needed to meet the end-of-month goals, allowing for adjustments along the way as necessary. Its about adapting as soon as possible but still being "on track".
7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?
Clarity in leadership is non-negotiable; I've learned this the hard way. It's a common misconception that others will naturally understand your vision or see the big picture as you do. The reality is, they often don't. Not because of a lack of effort or intelligence, but simply because they aren't as immersed in the subject matter as you are. Recognizing this has been pivotal.
To combat vagueness, I've shifted my approach. Now, when delegating tasks, I set explicit expectations. This isn't just about giving clear instructions; it's about ensuring that my team understands the objectives and has a precise roadmap to follow. It's about defining the 'what', the 'how', and the 'why' of each task.
By articulating clear expectations, I empower my team to deliver results that align with our collective goals, with fewer misunderstandings and less frustration. It’s about fostering an environment where everyone is synchronized in their efforts and intentions, which in turn streamlines our journey towards the vision we're all striving to realize.
And full transprency here: I am still not there where I want to be and I make a lot of mistakes every day. But I always encourage others to give me feedback and call me out on my mistakes. Leadership is learning - so be open to be criticized.