We were lucky to catch up with Randy Ross recently and have shared our conversation below.
Randy, appreciate you joining us today. What do you think Corporate America gets wrong in your industry? Any stories or anecdotes that illustrate why this matters?
We are in the midst of what many in corporate circles are calling the “Great Resignation.” I prefer to call it the “Great Transformation.” People are transitioning jobs at an alarming rate. The question is, “Why?”
The cascading events of the last two years have caused many people to re-evaluate their lives. A global pandemic, and resulting outfall, caused most people to reconsider what was really important to them. No longer are they satisfied working in an unfulfilling job, nor are they tolerant of toxic cultures. They are tired of throwing their time away simply making more money for an organization. They want a healthy life marked by doing something significant that aligns with their personal values. But most organizations still seemingly don’t get it.
People want to be a part of something in which they can be proud about investing their time, energy and resources. They want to be a part of a company that is doing good. And, they want to enjoy doing it with people that they like. When people like what they do, and they enjoy who they do it with, they do it better.
In a panic, many companies are throwing money at the problem in the hopes of keeping top talent. But, it’s not all about pay and perks. It’s about being a part of a community that is making a difference for team members and for customers. What organizations should be focusing on is providing growth opportunities for their team members. When companies invest in developing their leaders, then those leaders invest in developing their team members. People want to be a part of an organization that believes the best in them, wants the best for them and expects the best from them. That kind of belief drives the culture of the organization. And, it’s a healthy culture that will keep your best talent from walking out the back door.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I like to think of myself as a messenger of practical wisdom and needed hope to help untangle the biggest challenges facing today’s business leader, tomorrow’s workforce and the future marketplace. As a student of philosophy, psychology and axiology, I have been enamored with human motivational theory.
I write books that help leaders craft environments that inspire their team members to bring their best to work every day. As an international keynote speaker, I bring principles to life that help people understand their purpose and find meaning and fulfillment in their work. We also work with organizations, deploying leadership development tools that will guide managers and team leads to craft a culture that is compelling, where creativity and collaboration abound. We work with small local companies and we work with multi-national global companies, with a focus on culture, employee engagement and leadership development.
I am most proud of the fact that we have worked with some of the world’s best companies in helping them refine their culture and equip their leaders to be prepared to face and embrace whatever challenges may come. Our newest offering, called Fireproof Hope was designed to equip leaders to be prepared to face Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity and do so with Confidence and Clarity. Thus, they are able to turn Adversity into Advantage by applying the principles and practices of Applied Hope.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
Making life better involves being better at life. Maybe the greatest benefit of walking through fire is the fact that we have the opportunity for our character to be refined. But the path to character refinement is not an easy journey. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. I can’t offer you seven simple steps to a better life. It requires far more soul-searching and reflection. It requires vulnerability. It requires humility. However, if we stay committed to do the hard work necessary to strengthen the core of our being, the fruit will ultimately be sweeter. We will bring true fruit to life, love and work. Sometimes, the very things you want to remove from your life are the very things that life can use to help you improve. A challenge can be life’s chisel, chipping away at the rough edges of our character. In 2002, when I was forty-two years old, I was forced to make an unexpected vocational transition. I was relieved of my duties as the leader of a thriving non-profit organization. To put it bluntly, I was fired. Not because of anything of my doing. I had done nothing inappropriate. And I certainly wasn’t incompetent. Rather, a series of curious extenuating circumstances left the board of directors bewildered. The details aren’t important to my point, but I can tell you that it was an excruciatingly painful chapter of my life story. I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned. I felt that I had been unfairly dismissed and I was embarrassed. I had led and built the organization from its inception into a thriving, high-impact enterprise that was truly making a difference in the lives of many throughout our community. It was my dream job. And then it was gone. It was tough.
Lest you think that I am playing the victim card, there is much that I would have done differently if I had the chance to do it over. I spent quite a few hours with counselors and coaches dissecting the cadaver and assessing what I could have changed if given the chance. I learned and grew through the process. But the pain and stress at the time were almost unbearable. Almost overnight, I found myself a single parent of two preteens. And, thanks to a beleaguered board, I was also unemployed, with a highly specialized set of skills and no other job prospects on the horizon.
I wish I could tell you that the transition was easy, but it wasn’t. In fact, for a number of months I had a hard time envisioning any future at all. Fortunately, I had a strong network of support. From my relational sphere, I received immense encouragement, counsel and emotional support. Their investment of time and energy eventually gave me the strength to begin to dream new dreams. I began to explore the possibilities.
Several months later, a financial group in the mortgage space discovered that I was available. The president of their Florida operations reached out to explore my interest in joining their team as the Chief People Officer for the state. I was ecstatic about the possibility of heading up the Human Resources Department of this dynamic burgeoning group, whose core values were so closely aligned with my own. However, before the offer could be culminated, word came down from corporate that the position was redundant. There was already a Chief People Officer at their home office in Atlanta and there would not be a second one in Florida. If I still wanted to come aboard, I would have to go through extensive training to become a loan officer and originate in the field for at least a year to learn the industry. Then, I could explore other possibilities within the organization, if I wanted to do so. It wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself at forty-two. I would essentially be starting over from the ground up in an unfamiliar industry.
I was at a crossroads. I had no background in financial services. I didn’t have a clue about loan origination. It wasn’t something that I was honestly interested in doing at the time. But the offer was before me and I didn’t have many other options to consider. So, I made a decision to reinvent myself. I took on the challenge. I would learn an industry I knew relatively little about and I would do so because my children and I needed it. It wasn’t my preferred path, but it was the path before me. I made a decision to pursue it wholeheartedly. I threw myself into the training and graduated near the top of my class. I hit the field with the enthusiasm of a recent college graduate. After my first eleven months of helping people “fulfill the dream of home ownership,” I was in the running for Rookie of the Year in our company and was among the Top Rookie Originators in the country. But before I tout my praises too highly, let me remind you that just a few short years later, the housing market crashed. Probably, in no small part, due to placing people like me in roles like that. I’m just saying!
But here is the rest of the story. After originating loans in Florida for a year, I moved to the corporate offices in Atlanta. By then, I had remarried and moving to Atlanta gave us an opportunity to be closer to my new bride’s aging parents. The organization created a VP role for me in the Recruiting Department. There, my team and I had the opportunity to create programs for our strategic partners that kept our funnel of candidates filled with prospects, brought new loans to our officers and became a windfall for the organization. It was a win on all fronts. And, it was an exhilarating ride.
In 2006, just before the housing market crashed, I reinvented myself again by assuming the role of Chief People Officer for a group in the automotive space. That run was short-lived, as I made the brilliant decision to hang out my own shingle and start my own consulting business in January of 2008. I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to launch a new endeavor. Attempting to build a solo business, timed with the start of the Great Recession, was an adventure of a lifetime (I say that tongue-in-cheek). The only thing that kept me going during those early days was a vision of what I believed could be and the agility to try multiple paths. When one path became impassable, I diverted to another. When the horse that I was riding couldn’t cross the stream, I changed to another. When the projects I was working on faltered, I thought up fresh ones. The only thing I knew for sure was that tomorrow was going to be better than today. Quite frankly, it had to be. I believed in what I was doing. And, fortunately, my wife believed in me too. We had hope.
That was several years ago now. And I am thrilled to tell you that I am still putting food on the table and loving life. I can honestly say that I could never have dreamed that my life would run this course. I could never have envisioned it. I can also tell you that I wouldn’t trade a single minute of it for anything different. I have the confidence of knowing that I can weather even the most severe of storms. I’ve been there and done it. I’ve had to re-imagine life and work. I’ve had to start over. I’ve had to re-goal. I know it can be done. It’s hard. It’s stressful. It’s, at times, overwhelming. But that’s what makes life the great adventure. Embrace the unexpected. Sometimes, the very things you want to remove from your life are the very things that life can use to help you improve. The fiery trials of life can serve to refine your mettle. And adversity can become the anvil upon which your life is forged. Challenges can grind off the rough edges and smooth out your character. Allow the process to temper you until your being is sharp.
None of this is to say that goal-setting is not important. It is. But maybe what we become is more important than what we do. With hope as your guide, you can look a little deeper and do the hard work of cultivating your character. When you do, you will have sweet fruit to savor no matter what season of life you may be in.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
Lesson: Don’t run from the heat. By facing and embracing challenging times, you can turn Adversity to Advantage and rise to the occasion.
On one of our trips to the wine country of California, my wife and I made plans to take a hot air balloon ride over the lush vineyards of the surrounding hills and valleys. The morning of our aerial adventure, the weather was cool and moderately breezy. As the sun rose over the rolling hills, we arrived at the launch location in time to watch the crew make preparations for our flight. It was a fascinating sight to see.
Dual propane burners, capable of producing thirty-six million BTU of heat per hour, were blasting hot are into an enormous multi-colored envelope. As the behemoth awoke from its slumber, it began to take shape and waft gently in the morning breeze. When the big bright bag had harnessed enough heat, it began to slowly rise. The crew scrambled to tether it to the ground, lest it float away. Passengers quickly boarded and the balloon was released from its shackles. It began to rise. Floating free from the restraints of being earthbound, we took flight into a cloudless sky. It was mesmerizing.
The first thing I noticed during our ascent was that the breezes which were so apparent on the ground were now gone. Because we were being carried by them, we could no longer feel their effect. The only way we knew the breezes were still blowing was by marking the speed of our travel as we passed objects on the ground. In the basket, it was eerily calm and peaceful. It was surreal.
The morning ride, though it lasted for hours, seemed to go by in a matter of minutes. Rising and falling at our pilot’s will, we were carried on the now brisk breezes across the hill country, enjoying the breathtaking beauty of the lush landscape below. From our elevated perspective, life looked different. It was calm; it was peaceful. We had risen above the chaos and clamor of the activity on the ground. We were untethered from the restrictions of our earthbound existence. We floated freely on the winds.
Though our course had been charted before launch, our final landing spot was chosen by circumstances beyond our control. Wind currents and landscape determined our final destination. Given those variables, our drop zone changed a number of times before our trip finally came to an end. On the ground, our chase team scrambled to keep up, flexing to our ever-changing flight. When the conditions were right and an opening in the terrain identified, we made our final descent. Eventually landing far-removed from our original destination, we had created a memorable experience. One that I have often pondered and from which I have gleaned some powerful principles.
There are a number of lessons to be taken from that hot air balloon experience. That sunny, breezy morning in Napa, I learned that in order to rise, you must first harness the heat. The burners used to inflate the balloon produced enough heat to incinerate everything in the immediate area. Yet the experienced crew was able to capture what otherwise could have been a destructive force and utilized it instead to inflate the bright bag that would eventually lift our craft. Without extreme heat, the aerial adventure would have remained grounded. Heat and pressure are necessary, whether creating a diamond or a Super Ball. Life sometimes brings the heat. When it does, you don’t have to resign yourself to getting burned. Instead, you can harness the heat to elevate yourself and rise above the circumstances. Heat, when captured correctly, creates lift.
Another observation that I made was that while it’s necessary to chart your course, you cannot always choose where you will finally land. Though we had a flight plan, our drop zone was ultimately determined by additional considerations. Wind speed and direction and finding a clearing safe enough to set down were factors that demanded our flexibility.
Life is a journey, with turns and detours in the road along the way. It’s rarely ever a straight path to your goals. While hope has a plan, it pursues that plan with an understanding that there will be obstacles which may require choosing an alternate pathway, or even re-goaling at times. To be successful in any endeavor, you must set a course and take personal responsibility for your actions along the way. To a great extent, your choices will determine your destiny. But where you ultimately land will likely be influenced by conditions beyond your control. Wind currents and weather conditions are always changing. They may alter your flight. That’s alright. There’s joy in the journey.
It was also interesting to note that the winds that we experienced on the ground were hardly detectable once we were in the air. Rather than standing against them, we were being transported by them. There are times that we must brace ourselves against gale-force winds to stand firm and not lose our footing when it is necessary not to give ground. However, there are many times that it would be wiser to go with the flow rather than fight the inevitable. While fight or flight responses quickly deplete energy, learning to flow with the circumstances can conserve resources.
I am not suggesting that you allow yourself to be pushed around indiscriminately by the winds of chance nor drift away from your purpose. But, when expedient, momentum may be garnered by leveraging the wind, while controlling other elements of your flight. Sometimes it’s just better to go with the flow and make adjustments along the way. Ride the wind and the waves when you can, while staying at the helm to navigate as necessary. Wisdom demands flexibility. Agility is the ability to take advantage of the wind currents and weather conditions. When riding with the wind, life is peaceful and carries you with minimal effort. Whenever possible, harness the power of the wind.
And lastly, if you are able to rise above constraining circumstances of an earthbound existence, then your sight line significantly changes. When floating high above life’s landscape, you can see things more clearly. Your field of vision increases. The horizon expands as you rise. An elevated perspective can change the way you see everything.
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