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An Interview with #SHRM18 Speaker James Robbins

#SHRM18 speaker James Robbins is a management consultant, adventurer, and motivational speaker. And he is certainly no stranger to the SHRM annual conferences. This will be his 7th conference, and he jokingly quips that he thought they would have been tired of him by now. But as someone who has seen James speak several times, it’s not much of a surprise why he continues to be invited back.

I was fortunate enough to select his session “Nine Minutes on Monday” to attend at #SHRM12 in Atlanta. I was so impressed by the presentation that I proposed him as a potential speaker for my company’s annual training event.

This year, James will presenting not just 1, but 2 different topics: “In•dom•i•ta•ble: Seven Shifts to Extraordinary Resilience”, and the enormously successful “Nine Minutes on Monday: The Quick and Easy Way to Go From Manager to Leader”. It was my honor to speak to him about both.

KE: What is resilience, and why is it so important for leaders?

JR: Last New Years Day, I was together with a bunch of friends, and we were sharing what each other’s words were going to be for 2017. I chose ‘Indomitable’. It’s not a word you hear very often. It means to have an unconquerable spirit. Not as in a desire to rule, but rather that you can push through obstacles without it getting the better of you. We could also call it mental toughness. And it’s definitely a learned character trait.

[Ralph Waldo] Emerson said that "the world makes way for the man who knows where he's going". Looking at my own self, there were definitely times when I lacked resiliency. And it usually happened when I was experiencing professional burnout. Vince Lombardi said that “fatigue makes cowards of us all”. Sometimes our own worst enemies are ourselves. It can cause us to lack confidence, abandon goals, put off having the necessary tough talk with your team member, or pass up on growth opportunities.

That’s where resilience comes in. It isn’t the inability to get knocked off your game, but it’s the speed and effectiveness with which you bounce back.

KE: How does an accurate self-identity tie in to resilience?

JR: It all stems from social identity theory. The more anchored you are to who you are as a person (your values system, beliefs about yourself, etc.), the more you can insulate yourselves from social judgement.

The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) illustrates this very well. Participants would perform a series of activities, including an oral presentation, in front of a panel of people, who were coached to give negative feedback (not paying attention, sighing as though bored, etc). The whole point being to stress the participant out. The test was designed to test the levels of cortisol in the body, which is a hormone that is released in response to stress.

Another group of participants, prior to doing their activities, was asked to write a quick bio about themselves and what is important to them. In these participants, the spike in cortisol was measurably less than the participants who did not do this self-awareness activity.

If you ask me, at least 80% of what holds us back in life is worrying about what people will think of us. Having an accurate view of who we are and what really matters to us, allows us to push through these moments of self-doubt.

KE: What was the genesis for Nine Minutes on Monday?

JR: I do leadership training as part of my business, and I was working with a man who just got back from a 2-day-long conference. And he had with him this huge binder full of management “stuff” that he learned. Then what did he do? He put it on a shelf in his office, and I knew that was where it was going to stay. There was just too much there; he had no chance of committing to real change. And it was all knowledge, rather than practical tips.

I realized that we overestimate how easy it is to change behavior. If we want to grow as leaders, there are certain behaviors we have to learn, and get good at doing consistently. I approach it as a process of slow and steady. If the process is simple, there’s a much greater chance of committing to it, and more importantly, sticking to it.

That’s what “Nine Minutes on Monday” is, it’s a set of habits that will help you become a better leader.

KE: How has your passion for the outdoors and adventure helped to craft your point of view?

JR: I believe having diverse experiences is good for you. It helps avoid a narrow point of view. It’s also important for people to explore their passions. Beyond what I do in leadership, I am also very interested in marketing and psychology. It helps me keep a well-rounded view of the world.

Beyond that, being outside and getting away from it all helps me to arrest my life long enough to see things from a different perspective and appreciate my relationships. Recently, my sons and I took a trip to Costa Rica. We were able to enjoy some pretty deep conversations, where we don’t always have that opportunity while life is happening.

James's is presenting "In•dom•i•ta•ble" on Sunday 6/17 at 12:30pm, and "Nine Minutes on Monday" on Monday 6/18 (yep, you read that right) at 4:00pm. You can also connect with James online:

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