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7 Questions on Leadership with James Black

Name: James Black

Title: CEO

Organisation: GivLyfe LATAM

As the CEO of GivLyfe, my expertise in the Environment & Sustainability sector is rooted in a background in plant cultivation dating back to the late 1990s. My journey has led me to develop a deep interest in the living soil and its associated microbiome, recognizing their vital role in sustaining life on our planet. From my youth, I've experimented with various plant growth methods, ranging from conventional chemical fertilizers to adopting a holistic approach that emphasizes supporting natural processes, starting with the soil. This pursuit of knowledge has driven my passion to preserve and improve the health of the planet's microbiome over the past 25 years.

Through years of cultivation and learning, I have gained a profound understanding of the relationship between a plant's biological properties and the ecosystem provided by the growing medium. I now appreciate the intricacies of the relationships between microorganisms, plants, and soil, and how they are all interconnected. It's clear to me how important it is to preserve these relationships and their impact on the health of our planet.

As the CEO of GivLyfe, I am committed to promoting sustainable and holistic approaches to plant cultivation that prioritize the health of the soil and its associated microbiome. At GivLyfe, we aim to revolutionize agriculture and foster a greener, healthier, and more sustainable planet.

In addition to my role at GivLyfe, I am also the Co-Founder of CO2 Sequest, where I am fueled by an unwavering passion for combating climate change and protecting our environment. Leveraging my expertise in sustainable agricultural practices, I am dedicated to leveraging high-yield carbon credits and promoting sustainable land management to drive positive change and address the urgent climate crisis we face.

Throughout my career, I've had the opportunity to be involved in various cultivation projects. For instance, I served as the Head of Cultivation for Cultivo Paraíso S.A.S., where I optimized plant growth and health using biodynamic and organic cultivation methods.

My passion for sustainability and environmental responsibility is at the core of my work. I believe that by prioritizing the health of the soil and embracing biological methods, we can make a profound impact on the climate crisis and preserve our planet for future generations. With my expertise and dedication, I am committed to shaping a sustainable future and fostering innovation in the Environment & Sustainability sector.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope James's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

One of the most challenging aspects of being a leader in the Environment & Sustainability sector has been navigating the complexities of sustainability and promoting holistic approaches to plant cultivation. Sustainability initiatives often require balancing economic, environmental, and social factors, and finding the right strategies that align with these goals can be a delicate task.

Another significant challenge has been fostering innovation and change within the industry. Encouraging the adoption of sustainable practices and convincing others to prioritize the health of the soil and its associated microbiome can be met with resistance in some cases, as it often requires breaking away from traditional and conventional methods.

Furthermore, addressing the urgent climate crisis and driving positive change, as I am doing with CO2 Sequest, can be challenging due to the complexity of climate-related issues and the need to engage various stakeholders, including governments, businesses, and communities.

Overall, leadership in the Environment & Sustainability sector demands a deep commitment to the cause and the ability to inspire others while navigating these challenges and promoting change for the betterment of our planet.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I became a leader through a journey that combined my passion for sustainability, plant cultivation, and my desire to help people. There have been several significant turning points in this journey.

It all began in 2001, when I entered the medical cannabis industry in Colorado as a caregiver. This experience ignited my passion for cultivation and, importantly, my dedication to helping people through alternative and sustainable means. I recognized the potential of plants and the vital role they could play in improving people's lives.

In my subsequent role, I had the opportunity to develop the post-booking sales department for Carnival Cruise Lines. This experience was transformative as it allowed me to apply my skills and approaches to a different industry, where I could promote sustainability and customer satisfaction. My leadership and creative thinking were responsible for the department's success, which later spread to all cruise lines worldwide.

Throughout this journey, I realized the profound interconnectedness between cultivating plants, promoting sustainability, and helping people. This understanding became the cornerstone of my leadership philosophy. My ability to adapt, innovate, and make a positive impact on both the environment and people's well-being solidified my path as a leader in the Environment & Sustainability sector.

My passion for preserving the health of the soil, fostering innovation, and, most importantly, helping people has been the driving force behind my leadership in this field. It's a journey that continues to evolve as I strive to shape a sustainable future and create positive change in the world.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My workdays are carefully structured to balance my professional responsibilities with my personal life. Here's a breakdown of my typical day:

Start the Day Early: I wake up at 5 am every day. This early start allows me to have some quiet, reflective time and set a positive tone for the day.

Mindful Morning Routine: The first 30 minutes of my morning are dedicated to reading and spending time outdoors. This helps me stay informed and connected with nature, both of which are essential to my work and personal well-being.

Meditation for Clarity: Following my outdoor time, I engage in the most important part of the morning, a meditation session typically lasting 30–60 minutes. This practice helps me center myself, gain mental clarity, and maintain a focused mindset for the day ahead.

Structured Workday: My official workday begins at 8:30 am. During this time, I focus on my responsibilities as the CEO of GivLyfe and the co-founder of CO2 Sequest. I am deeply committed to promoting sustainable plant cultivation and addressing climate change, so my work is primarily centered around these initiatives. I oversee various projects, collaborate with my team, and engage with partners and stakeholders in the field.

Family Time: It's important for me to maintain a work-life balance, especially with a family as large as mine. I wrap up my workday at 5 pm to spend quality time with my wife and our eight children. Family is a top priority, and I cherish these moments with them.

Evening Routine: After family time, I engage in a structured evening routine that includes dinner with my family, some relaxation, and time for personal reflection. This helps me wind down and prepare for the next day.

Early Bedtime: I aim to maintain a healthy sleep schedule, so I usually go to bed early to ensure I get enough rest for the following day.

This structured daily routine allows me to be productive and focused during my work hours while also nurturing my personal life and well-being. It's essential for me to find that balance and continue my mission of sustainability while being there for my loved ones.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A recent leadership lesson that has been strongly reinforced in my role as a father of eight and as a leader in the sustainability sector is the importance of leading by example and exemplifying integrity. It's not just about talking about the values and actions we "should" follow but actually living them.

I've been reminded that, as a leader, it's essential to walk the talk. When I speak about the significance of sustainable practices, environmental responsibility, and the value of family, I must ensure that my actions align with my words. Whether it's in the workplace or at home, my integrity and consistency in living out these values set the tone for those around me, including my team and my children.

This lesson serves as a powerful reminder that effective leadership is not just about imparting knowledge or directives; it's about embodying the principles and values we hold dear. By leading by example, we inspire others to follow suit and create a positive impact in both our professional and personal lives. It's a lesson that continues to resonate deeply with me as I navigate my roles as a father and a leader in the Environment & Sustainability sector.

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?

One book that has had a profound impact on my leadership is "Principles" by Ray Dalio. This book significantly influenced my approach to leadership and decision-making.

"Principles" provided me with a systematic framework for decision-making and problem-solving. It emphasized the importance of having a set of clear, well-defined principles and using them as a guide for both personal and professional choices. It helped me recognize the value of creating a culture based on these principles, where everyone, from my team members to my family, understands and aligns with the core values and beliefs that drive our mission.

The book also stressed the importance of radical transparency and open communication, which I found particularly relevant to the collaborative and innovative nature of the sustainability sector. It reinforced the idea that honest feedback and open dialogue are essential for growth and progress, both in business and in life.

"Principles" has become a cornerstone in my leadership philosophy, guiding my decision-making, communication, and approach to fostering a sustainable and values-driven environment in my work at GivLyfe and CO2 Sequest. It has not only shaped my leadership style but has also helped me inspire those around me to embrace these principles, resulting in a more cohesive and effective team dedicated to our shared goals.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I could offer just one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be to "Learn from everyone and every situation - even the new guy will teach you something." Regardless of your position or experience, every individual and every situation can provide valuable insights and lessons.

Never underestimate the power of learning from those around you, whether they are seasoned professionals, colleagues, or even newcomers. Everyone brings a unique perspective and knowledge to the table, and by remaining open to learning from others, you can continually expand your understanding and improve your leadership skills.

This advice encourages humility, a willingness to listen, and a recognition that leadership is an ongoing journey of growth and development. Embrace every opportunity to learn, adapt, and evolve, and you'll become a more effective and well-rounded leader.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One meaningful story that stands out from my time as a leader is the transformative experience of trying to lead a team in Armenia, Quindio, Colombia. This chapter in my leadership journey was both challenging and enlightening.

In 2018, my family and I made a significant move to Armenia, Colombia, without speaking the Spanish language and with limited understanding of the local culture. This posed unique challenges as I assumed a leadership role in a new environment. Learning the language was undoubtedly difficult, but even more challenging was comprehending the nuances of the culture.

For the first time in my life, I found myself listening far more than I spoke. The language barrier forced me to rely on non-verbal communication and alternative methods to connect with my team and understand their needs. It was a humbling experience as I realized the importance of empathy, patience, and active listening in leadership.

I learned by watching and interacting in unconventional ways due to the initial language barrier. The culture, with its rich traditions and values, was mind-blowing, and adapting to it required a deep level of respect and adaptability.

After two years of complete immersion in Colombia, I emerged as a different person and a more culturally sensitive leader. My time with Cultivo Paraiso became one of the most valuable experiences in my career, not only in terms of professional growth but also as a testament to the power of adapting, learning, and embracing new perspectives as a leader. It reinforced the idea that effective leadership transcends language and is rooted in understanding and respecting the people you work with.

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