Name: Benjamin Talin
Talin Benjamin founded his first company at the age of 13, and many more have followed. His passion is changing the status quo with technology and innovation. His experience now ranges from marketing, change management, and digital product and strategy development to platforms and complex ecosystems. One of his greatest desires is also to share his gained expertise.
The experienced keynote speaker speaks on topics such as innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship, start-up, and new technologies and advises governments, EU commissions, and ministries on issues of education, economic development, digitalization, and the future. Since 2017, Benjamin Talin is also founder and CEO of MoreThanDigital, which has become one of the world's leading platforms for digitalization, innovation, and future topics.
Next to this, he is also a member of the Board of Berlin University of Digital Science, Member of the Advisory Council of the Harvard Business Review, Member of the Swiss Digital Society Initiative, Member of the MIT Tech Review, a Steering Committee member of the Internet Governance Forum and member of the EU Commission's Digital Skills and Jobs Initiative.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Benjamin's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Well, when you're the leader, it's usually lonely. It's hard to find people with the same passion. People who understand the same vision, and many keep wanting to "bad mouth" you. Because they don't understand the challenges and struggles you have. This constant distrust and questioning of your bigger vision can lead to a lot of frustration and also loneliness. I've found out: The less I bother with other people's opinions and only filter out the feedback that really moves me forward without questioning my vision is the most important. Even in my realationships, it's always been difficult, because when you're working for your own bigger vision, it's hard to just work 9-5 times. You're on fire for it, you live it, you literally have no hobbies besides your business - because it feels like a hobby becomes a reality. But that also underscores the point that it's hard to do something that doesn't fit in. The more you deviate from the "norm" and the bigger the vision and the "reality disruption" the less you feel understood - sadly.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
To be honest ... I don't know exactly when I became "a leader". Because leaders exist at all levels, in all places, everywhere. I've just always done what I thought was best, and I usually needed someone to champion an idea, communicate that idea, or take the lead in times of change, because I've done a lot of change management, turnaround management, and consulting. Of course, when you're running your own projects and startups, it's more necessary to take the lead and be the leader - and I have to say, quite honestly, that I was very bad at the beginning. I had too big an ego, was too self-centered, and had so much to learn and am still learning. The problem is that you have to learn and practice to become a "good" leader. It doesn't happen overnight and can't be learned in any courses. As I said, leaders show up in different places, and I too always encourage my team or partners to take the lead. After all, why should I lead when I am clearly not the expert in the field. I'm just communicating the vision, the big picture, but on some topics someone else has to be the leader to get us from point A to point B. I can't program, for example, so someone who understands that has to be and become the leader in that situation. So I'm always proud of the fact that many people around me can be a leader, too and I'm happy to take a step back and just coach and support and let them grow.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My calendar is the "whip", so to speak, that keeps me on task. I also have a agile board that manages my week. My days and my tasks, from "little things to do" to "things to work through at quiet time" (where I need time and quiet time to get them done - like this interview). Most of my days are pretty chaotic between 8am and 6pm, and full of meetings. In the evening I have time to work through the things that didn't get done during the day. Since I manage many projects and launches at the same time, my days have to be so "unstructured". This is because of discussions, fast meetings, etc. that need to get done in order to be fast and "agile" (btw. I hate that word). So one part of my day is structured. The tasks I need to do are structured. But most of the time I am reacting on others and need to align my time and attention to different topics when they arise - but that is how start-up life is when you are involved in so many topics.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
I was reminded very deerly that you can't just trust people no matter how much you want to believe in them. As a leader it is not just that you want to inspire but you also need to really take care of measuring, controlling and making people accountable. It is hard to learn when you trust someone and after months of trust there is little to no output. And I needed to realize again that regular check-ins, regular updates, clear KPIs and milestones are as important as communication of the vision. Giving people a "north star" and that they know what the purpose of their work is.
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?
Honestly ... no single book has had a major impact on me. I prefer to read a lot of articles and my main source has always been my mentors and learning from experience. Books are nice, but they only tell you part of the story - and don't really change you until you've experienced it yourself & "been there and done that."
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Get out there, do your best, learn, be open, listen, accept feedback. Find a good mentor, and most importantly, accept challenges. To me, being a leader is like exercising a muscle. So think of it as a constant workout and build the muscle before you want to win the race.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
One of the most difficult moments was when our major customer abandoned us. We were told that he was going to leave us after not paying for 4 months, and he abandoned us. We had everything done and then I had to fire my employees. There were a lot of tough discussions. There were a lot of challenging conversations. Honestly I could have done better, but it was the first time I had a situation like that. It was one of the hardest times when you have to close a business. You're personally liable. You have to lay off over 20 employees. You've given them hope and then you feel like you're letting them down.