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Wellspring - May 6, 2015

 Leadership Lessons Santa Cruz:
Interview with Jeremy Neuner
From Linked-in:

“I have the privilege of leading a team of 35 talented, passionate people who are accelerating a once-in-a-century shift in how, where, and why we work. At NextSpace, we work hard and we play hard. And along the way, we just might be changing the world.

NextSpace is the workplace for the new economy. We provide innovative physical and virtual infrastructure that freelancers, entrepreneurs, and creative class professionals need to succeed in the 21st century knowledge economy. In an increasingly disconnected world, NextSpace creates a collaborative community that is revolutionizing the nature of work.”

I had the opportunity to do this interview as Jeremy
and NextSpace are evolving to their next path.
How do you feel being told you are a leader?

I have always felt I had at least leadership potential whether it was at school running around on the playground organizing games, or in positions with titles of student government in high school and then later on I was trained in the military as a officer and a leader as a pilot, an aircraft commander, all of these experiences are training to be a leader in a direct way –Even in indirect ways  I always felt it was who I am.

Most of the time I am 51% excited and 49% terrified. However, sometimes it is the other way around. People always think the leader has perks, big office or more power or more prestige, etc.  Some of those are nice and true for some leaders. But not all leaders have those trappings.

My fear is mostly,” Now I have to face an expectation that I have to take people on a journey.”  That expectation can be really energizing and really daunting. I remember a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The reward of the general is not a bigger tent, but the command.” The reward is not the trappings. Reward is the command. A lot of the trappings are the burden of the position. 

Was there one event that drove your life toward leadership?

Always I had this sense that leadership is part of who I am. There is a lot of leadership models in my family as both my father and grandfather were in the military and my father had leadership roles at work.  There is no one specific experience that affected my decision.  I was on that path.

Leadership is not all joy and happiness – how to you deal with the hard times?

Part of what you do is to understand that there is a reason why you are here right now. There is some place that you want to go. Make sure you have that place you are trying to reach really clearly defined as it makes the fun times energizing and places the hard times in the context of something that you have to deal with when you are trying to get somewhere.  Have some fire in the belly around that – it makes the fun times better and supports in the hard times.

Hire a great team. Also I hire people who are smarter than me because more important they know things that I do not. So when the tough times come, I ask myself who in my group has that point of view to make it possible to get over that tough time. It is not being afraid to have this resource.

The leader is not about being all knowing. They are just to be leaders to us to help us take that next step.  Part of leadership is finding out what you do not know.

How do you learn to process past events?

We all screw up. Having that humility of not having to be perfect is important. Actually it is ok to screw up.  I do not have to be perfect.  I try to encourage it also in people who work for me. It means you are not pushing the envelope enough if you don’t make mistakes. Leadership and perfection should never be equated. Hopefully you screw up in a way that is recoverable and makes you better.

Who mentored you through this knowledge?

I learned a lot in the military.  I have always along the way managed to find a big brother figure to mentor me. They are usually someone who has a little more knowledge than me about the subject and is of my age or has a life similar enough to connect with me. They are someone who would like to work with me, an older brother, someone who will walk the path with me and help me along.

Is there a specific someone?

For me it is the sum total of all the people I have come across in my life.  I have always had that one person when I needed them.  Actually someone in just the last few days has showed up and helped me out through a dilemma. It is one of the ways to stay sane.

What keeps you up at night and how do you deal with it?

There is a high degree of expectation most is self imposed. Simply because you have that expectation that if you are the leader you must have it all “figured out”; you must know exactly where we’re going and have it all mapped out.

Actually it is seldom the case that you have it all figured out. A leader’s job is to lead through the all the steps, good times and difficulties, to a successful ending. So I ask myself, “Can I continue to stumble forward gracefully and fill the gaps I need to perform?  I worry that I am going to be somehow exposed someday as someone who could not do deliver.  Can I get up this morning and still keep going?  Will tomorrow be ok?”  You go through those highs and lows every day but the key question is: “Can I keep going forward gracefully?”

How do you correct yourself?

Most think about leadership that you are strong and powerful.  There are times when strong and powerful is required.  A lot of times it is about the fact that you are not strong and powerful.  Then the question is;”How do I compensate for those skills I do not have?  How do I bring others in to perform in my gaps?  How do I stay sane?”

Remember. Do not drink your own bath water. Do not believe: I am the Leader I am perfect.  I am privileged.  This is the path to failure. Use other people on your team help you gain more self awareness to be able to define yourself better.

When you feel bad what do you do to make yourself feel better?

It is mostly about keeping your head and your body together.

Sometimes I stress eat – I love nachos!  Keeping a really healthy body is important.  For me, going on a bike ride or a run helps a lot.  I am literally working the stress out of my body.  It keeps me sane.  It is important that I do it regularly.  Also helps to work off the nachos! (Everyone has their indulgence, accept yours and manage it.)

I try to take time to reread the great leadership texts that inspired me. To be honest, I do not do that enough.

I have learned to take enough time off to regenerate.  Many have the myth in their head: “If I am the leader I should be working the hardest etc…”  Yes, there is some of that that I impose upon myself.  However one of the best pieces of advice I have gotten is that I have an obligation as the leader to think clearly. That means I need to take a step back so I can see the forest for the trees.  Taking time off is what makes it possible for me to step away so I can do what I am expected to do as a leader.

Also if I do not take time off and regenerate I am being a bad model to those who follow me.  We have a peculiar western attitude of working too hard with our nose to the grindstone.  It is also important to have self awareness and know which part of me I am exercising right now. It is important to be a good model.

An important lesson I have learned is: Believe in yourself.  In the military as a helicopter pilot you got to a point where you are hovering over the person in the water who you are trying to save. You, the pilot, have done all the flying in the mission at this point. Then you give the mission to the youngest person on the helicopter team, allowing them to steer and move the helicopter to the correct position so they can operate the hoist and save the life of the person in the water. The mission is literally in the hands of the youngest person on the team. I am the leader.  I am there and I need to trust their training. My job is making them feel empowered and giving them the control required so they are motivated to success. At the end of the day you are sitting up there waiting for that person to make that final part of the rescue. As a leader I need the ability to give the control over the mission to others and give credit where it is due.

What message do you want to leave behind?

In Leadership the reward is to make something happen in the world. That is the privilege. There are plenty of people who do not have the ability to make something happen.  What a privilege it is to take your team no matter how big or small and make deliver on your vision.  Leadership is a responsibility to deliver on that.

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