Name: Clay Johnson
Title: Director, Total Rewards Consulting
Organisation: GBS Benefits
Clay Johnson leads the Total Rewards & Compensation Consulting practice at GBS Benefits. Prior to GBS, he built and led Compensation and Total Rewards functions at multiple companies as an in-house HR professional. Clay earned a graduate degree in Industrial & Organizational Psychology from Kansas State University, an undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, and the Certified Compensation Professional (CCP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) designations. A former adjunct professor for BYU, Clay currently serves on the Board of Advisors for UVU’s HR Program, presents at industry conferences, and acts as a peer reviewer for WorldatWork journal publications. Outside of work, you’ll typically find him listening to music, playing the guitar, or spending time with his three kids.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Clay's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Balance! With so many responsibilities at once, it can be easy to become overly focused on a given area: your people, processes, strategy, or stakeholders. I've found that it requires thoughtful consideration to understand what balance looks like and a deliberate effort to find it and keep it.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was a tremendously shy child who spent more time observing than speaking. This tendency made me a natural student of human behavior, particularly of parents, teachers, and coaches. I paid close attention to how their actions and intentions affected others. I nurtured these interests through formal education and work opportunities. In my 20s I had managers who saw my leadership potential and gave me increasing levels of leadership responsibility. By the time I was 26, I managed a department of 60+ employees. With each leadership role, I have learned new and valuable lessons from my successes and failures.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
If there's a perfect recipe, I haven't found it yet. I often feel like I could do better. As a father of three, I don't always have solid boundaries between "work hours" and "home hours," so I have to keep a sense of flexibility in my day. But one tool that I've found useful is to keep a simple record of each work day. For me, I'll start the day by writing down in a journal the 2 or 3 critical items for that day--the things that equal a successful day. And I end the day reflecting on my achievement of these critical items and my performance in general. Then I write a short paragraph to summarize the day and jot down any items waiting for me tomorrow. This process helps me stay flexible in dealing with daily demands, while also ensuring I achieve the most important things.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Give yourself some grace. I tend to set my own expectations above the level that others expect of me. Some days, this tendency is a gift that leads to high achievement. On other days, it leads to some pretty destructive self-talk. It's important to give yourself some grace--the same way you so freely extend it to those around you.
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?
Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. Reading and applying this book many years ago led to a significant change in my worldview. At the risk of oversimplifying, the book's key message illuminates our tendency to overinflate our own needs and virtues and to overemphasize the weaknesses of others. This distorted worldview results in thinking that we are more important than those around us, essentially turning them into objects and the source of problems.
While reading this book, I realized how much I related to the book's characters. As I consistently tried to apply what I learned, I was more able to see people as people, to see my own flaws more accurately, and to get back on track when I failed.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
It's not about you. (I know that's kind of a paradox.) As a young leader, the responsibility, pressure, and success can go to your head and distort your vision. Oftentimes in your sincere efforts to be a leader of others, your focus ends up primarily on yourself. I get it. I've been there. But it's not about you! Keep your focus on the needs and progress of those you lead, and you'll be surprised how much you grow as a natural byproduct.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
A couple of years ago, I led a talented team at a high-growth Tech company. While it was the most stressful and demanding role of my career, it was also the most meaningful and rewarding. I poured myself into helping each member of my team grow, enabling them to take on expanded responsibilities and ensuring they received credit for their contributions. They knew I always had their backs, and I knew they would do consistently great work for me. What we were able to achieve in just a few short years is nothing short of incredible. It was the highest-performing team I've ever managed, and I feel proud to have been a part of it.