An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be emotionally intelligent. Consider the impact of your actions on others because you never are able to see yourself as others see. Being emotionally intelligent really means knowing how your emotions impact your decision making and how they are affecting others, especially in times of crisis and difficulty. It’s about being sensitive to how others respond to situations so that your vantage point is as balance as possible. Emotionally intelligent leaders are those who will be the most successful, particularly in this season where we’re going to have more uncertainty, not not less. Emotionally intelligent leaders will be those who will weather the storms much better.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lawrence M. Drake II.

Dr. Lawrence M. Drake, II is a dynamic and focused global leader whose domestic and international experience has led him to be a champion of targeted recruitment and people development. After more than four decades as a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and researcher, Dr. Drake is now President & CEO of LEADership, Education and Development, a 21st century learning access advocacy organization, and the Chairman of executive development consultancy Hope 360, Inc. He was recently appointed Dean of the College of Business & Entrepreneurship at Bethune-Cookman University. He is a member of several boards, alumni associations, and professional organizations such as the International Coaching Federation, Forbes Coaches Council, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. His most recent collaboration Business Success Secrets: Entrepreneurial Thinking that Works (2021) is now both a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller. His book Color Him Father (2019) has received critical acclaim within the US and around the world. When he is not leading organizations, writing, or serving his community, Dr. Drake enjoys spending quality time with his wife, three daughters, two sons and six grandchildren.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I spent over forty years as a corporate executive, moving twenty times and living and working around the world. Through these experiences, I learned to think entrepreneurially about everything. When I left the corporate world, I began to apply my knowledge to a variety of industries. I realized that applied leadership and helping people become the best version of themselves while believing in possibilities of “what can be not just what is” were my zones of genius.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I remember when I partnered with another entrepreneur on a venture. I was doing the payroll for our team. We weren’t using ADP or anything — we were actually calculating the payroll ourselves. When I added all the numbers up and compared the payroll to what we had in the bank, I realized there wasn’t enough money to pay me. I had to let my family know not only would I not get paid that week, but I wasn’t sure when there would be enough to pay me because of all the people we had on the payroll to keep the business going. It wasn’t very funny then, but as I look back, I wondered how I could not have known the balance between how much money was in the bank and how much needed to be paid out. I think I just had wishful thinking — I was hoping that money would magically appear so I could be paid too — but that didn’t happen. That went on for six months — for six months, I didn’t get paid at all. It was quite a time; I found out the real meaning of being a broke entrepreneur!

What I learned from that is that I was a bit ambitious in terms of hiring people. What I should have done is hired only what I needed rather than hiring what I thought I was going to need. I ended up hiring beyond our capacity in terms of customers and revenue coming in. I haven’t made that mistake since — it’s a pay as you go methodology when you’re starting a firm. You don’t hire more than you actually need, and everyone has to understand that if we don’t have work, we don’t have employees.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many people, it’s hard to single out one — but I will share three stories that are especially meaningful.

In my corporate career, I will never forget my first boss Denny Larson. He was a young vice president at the company and I thought a lot of him because he was smart and savvy. One day, he called me into his office and asked me about my goals and career trajectory. I told him I wanted to be a vice president at 35, be a CEO before I’m 40 and retire when I’m 45 — I was in my mid-twenties at the time.

So he looked at me and he said, “Well first of all, Larry, you have to look the part. Meet me after work.” I was a little nervous, but I liked Danny and I trusted him. We got in his car and he took me over to his men’s shop and I’ll never forget the guy who waited on us — his name was Marv Soldner- real tall, lanky, skinny guy, looked like Mr. Magoo, but he was an incredibly nice man. And Danny told him to measure me for a suit. Now the back story here is I never had a suit — ever — because I couldn’t afford one. And so, he fitted me and asked what kind of suit I wanted, what color and all of that. He bought the suit and told me to come back and get it in a week. And then he leaned over to me and he said, “Look, if you’re going to get those things, if you’re going to do those things, you’ve got to look like you’re ready and prepared to do those things. Put some money aside every paycheck to buy some clothes. Make sure you look the part; make sure people take you seriously when you come into the room. And that has stuck with me my whole life. And, you know, when I look at my closet, I look at how I dress today, it has a lot to do with that lesson Danny taught me.

The second story is about Price Cobbs, my executive coach for 20 years, who passed away about two and a half years ago. He wrote the book Black Rage. He was an M.D. by training — he was a psychiatrist, and he was very interested in diversity long before we were having conversations about it like we are today. Price was over 80 years old when he died. When I lost my oldest daughter, Price was the first person I thought about when I started to look for therapy to help me get through that time. He was one of those people who would set you straight. He started coaching me when I was at PepsiCo, when I was a senior executive there. There were only 13 Black men and women in the senior ranks. He took a liking to me and I took a liking to him, and he was my coach for the rest of his life. He was always there and I made very few big decisions without talking to him about it.

He was a father figure, a friend. A confidant, a jokester. He was all of those, and I miss him terribly. He was instrumental in helping me really look at myself which, as I tell my executive coaching clients, is the reason you need a coach. I tell executives, particularly Black executives, that we’re never good at being able to see ourselves like other people see us. Part of coaching is being able to help you really see yourself like other people see you or at least have some vantage points so that you can be much more emotionally intelligent about what you do and how you do it. Price was very good at that; I learned not only how to be a better executive, but I learned my craft through paying attention to the way in which he coached me and others. Price was a coach for a lot of successful Black executives that I know — everybody from Ann Fudge, to Carla Harris to — you name it. He was a coach to all of us.

Finally, I can’t forget my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Solomon. She would get down on the floor with me and teach me how to count. She was very patient and very kind; I think about her all the time.

Those are three people who come to mind who have helped me — there are many, many more.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I have three companies, so it’s hard for me to single them out, but let’s stay with the coaching business — I didn’t found it, my wife did. She and I reimagined the company — it used to be called Visions plus Solutions, but when we remarried, we changed the name to Hope 360, Inc. Hope stands for “helping other people excel.” She would always say that our company is here to give people hope. We’ve coached executives for 22 years and that is always the aim — how do we help them see a better version of themselves?

We’re all about purpose. We talk about coaching from a 360° perspective, which is mind, body and spirit. Individuals are not one dimensional, and neither should their coaching or our coaching practice be, so we focus on the total person. When we do that, we find purpose not only in the work we do, but we help them find purpose and we talk a lot about them finding their why. One of our key tenets is helping people realize why they do what they do. I’m a psychologist by training, so I have a natural need to be in that space anyway. But as a coach, it’s not about pathology — it’s all about helping individuals figure out how to be the best version of themselves in every space and area of their lives — whether at work or at home, raising children, single, married, building a company, or navigating their career. All of those are situations in which the passion and the purpose we have are married.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

In 2008, when I was CEO of one of my investment partner’s portfolio firms, our mission was to build the brand of legacy recording artists of all genres. Our end goal was to make this company the choice destination and primary connection source for music, entertainment, and information. Due to a significant slowdown in ad spending, we couldn’t afford to cover our costs — it got to the point where we had only 90 days cash. The economic recession prevented a lot of our investors from continuing to provide funds. While we found two angel investors who got us through another three months, the company folded in 2009. The lessons learned from this experience was that even if you have a terrific concept, you must be aware of the ebbs and flows in the market. We didn’t realize how big of a downturn the market was in at the time.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I don’t know any entrepreneur who doesn’t say, “You know what, I need to go back and get a job, you know, because this is outrageous. This is hard.” And that’s particularly true when you’re not getting paid, business is not moving fast as you want to, or you don’t think you’re going to get the clients that you need. My drive comes from my faith. I’m very resilient in the sense that I’ve had a lot of doors closed in my face over the years, and that’s still happening.

There’s no one who runs an organization who doesn’t experience doors being closed in your face. When I was in high school, I was the kid who always wanted to ask that girl that was really cute to dance but I never did because I was so afraid they would say no. And and I can remember the times that I asked and they did say no and I was just crushed. And it made me even more gun shy. Some people wouldn’t believe that I’m an extrovert because I’m shy about a number of things — I think it’s because I’ve experienced some rejection over the years. However, I’m a resilient person. I work very hard — I’m not one to just throw in the towel; I’m going to stay with it as long as I can.

Probably the best example I can give is my marriage — this is my third marriage. I first got married when I was 20 and stayed married for 18 years. I foolishly got married a second time, stayed married 12 years, and now I’m in year 14 of my third marriage. I’ve been married practically my whole life — can’t figure out why I do that — but this time, thank God, I hit the jackpot. I don’t think there were very many women in the world who would have been as resilient as she was for me when I lost my oldest child. I’m glad I stuck with the idea that marriage could work, regardless of having two that didn’t.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most critical role of a leader in challenging times is for your people to feel like you are with them and you are present. They need to see that you have unshakable faith — that it’s going to work, that you’re going to get it. That they see you as someone who is committed wholeheartedly. And even if it’s not going exactly to plan that you’re faithful about it, you’re realistic enough to know, and you’re committed to an outcome. Even if you don’t make it, they will know you were there with them until the end. Your people need to know that you’re present, they need to know that you’re there.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Uncertainty is a fact of life. We never know what’s around the corner completely. But I think in terms of inspiration, having purpose is really important to people. If you’re fighting for something and you really believe in each other, nothing is impossible. Everybody wants to believe that they’re going somewhere. The moment in which we believe that there’s nothing else to do and no place else to go is the moment that we can’t continue to strive and it’s when we lose that we’ve lost everything.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Be straight, no chaser. Don’t try to beat around the bush. People can handle the truth if you give it to them. Be respectful, but don’t hide the truth because it’s hard. When I was at PepsiCo, we had to eliminate 250 management jobs. My HR director and I flew to about four or five cities on the same day to have these meetings and let these people go in person — it was hard. But what people appreciated was we told the truth and respected them enough to be honest and tell them in person. Some people cried because they had been with the company for 20 years — but we had to tell them straight, not send a note or letter in the mail. They appreciated that.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

There is a Biblical proverb that says without a vision, the people will perish. I believe this and have practiced it in my life. You sent a vision for where you want to go, not a goal. Now, you may not reach it — really, visions are designed that way. But once you set it, all of your plans will come underneath that vision, and you can work on it regularly and adjust as needed. Yes, the future is unpredictable — but there will always be uncertainty. Life is about ambiguity; our ability to be agile and nimble in environments like that really determine our ability to stick it out, our ability to deal with uncertainty.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

The number one principle that will guide a company through difficult times is to be true to its mission and purpose.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

First, some companies are too ambitious, meaning they may overstate what their ability is or what they can actually do.

Second, many companies don’t have a clear strategy and purpose. In other words, they haven’t clearly identified the problem that they’re trying to solve or their product is trying to solve, and they don’t develop a good strategy and implementation plan. They haven’t chosen a proper strategy because the problem they’re trying to solve is not clear.

Thirdly, some companies hire bad people. When you hire bad people, you don’t have the best individuals to help you implement your strategy, and you will pay the price for that. There’s no substitute for having good people and good leadership, and there’s no substitute for having a clarity of purpose.

Finally, some entrepreneurs are arrogant. They think they know the answers to all the questions, and they refuse to hire the people that can provide answers because they’re intimidated by people who are smarter than them. Solid leaders and astute entrepreneurs don’t make this mistake.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

The number one strategy is to constantly examine whether or not the product I’m trying to sell is something the market really wants or needs. It’s important that you make what you can sell rather than selling what they can make. If you do something really well and you’re really good at it but the market’s not buying it, you have a problem. Be agile enough to maintain your direction. Have multiple ways that you can improve your margins and improve your top line growth and your net income on your profitability. There’s only a few ways you can make money — you can sell more, you can raise your prices, or you can get new products in your portfolio.

During the pandemic, a lot of businesses changed what they offered, the way it was offered, and the price. They found new niches and, in some cases, built entirely different companies. That’s how the best entrepreneurs think — they’re always looking to the market to help them adjust.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Listen to the market, your people, and your customers so you can understand how everything is playing out and how you may need to respond in a crisis or uncertain situation. When I worked at PepsiCo running the KFC business, I was very concerned about our product offering. Our customers were telling us that our service was mediocre and they were visiting us once every 52 days, which was less than most quick-service restaurants (QSR). At the time, we only offered dinner — we didn’t have lunch or breakfast. The market was telling us that if we wanted to be competitive, we needed to have some semblance of one of those or both of those, and we also needed products that were unique to us. One of my markets was Chicago. I knew I couldn’t change everything, but I could adapt our product offering to complement what we already had on our menu. I got the company to change our uniforms and added a few soul food items to appeal to our customers in that market. We added macaroni and cheese, green beans, and cornbread and did a media campaign called “KFC is cooking.” The campaign was a huge success and our customer count improved significantly. People would come just for the sides even if they weren’t buying chicken, which improved our visitation rate and purchase rate. Since we had good margin on those products, we generated additional revenue. We also made the environment within the stores relevant to those customers. I replicated our Chicago success in Detroit and our other urban markets.
  2. Be agile and willing to take measured risk. When I lived in Africa and was managing the Coca-Cola business in several countries there, one of our biggest challenges was that our water packaging wasn’t meeting the needs of our customers. There were local vendors who were selling water in plastic bags, while the Coca-Cola water was in a plastic bottle and very expensive. We realized there was an opportunity to change our packaging and create something smaller and more moderately priced that would be competitive against non-branded products. We also changed our juice ingredients and provided jobs for farmers who weren’t getting their products to market as efficiently as they needed to; this was important because their crops were supplying our juice business. We partnered with a manufacturer co-op in Ghana, shipped those products, and got them moved across the border to Nigeria. This was a win-win situation because we were able to support the local farmers and expand our business into new markets.
  3. Lead by example — you shouldn’t ask your people to do things you’re unwilling to do. If you look at it, you have to walk the talk — your audio and video need to match! When I was in corporate, I couldn’t ask my people to work late or make sacrifices if I wasn’t willing to do the same. I don’t sit back and watch, that’s not how I lead and it’s certainly not what I believe in. In my early days at Coca-Cola, I asked my team to go out into the market and look at what was happening in real time. Since I asked them to do that, they had to know that I would be out there as well. I went out Thursday to Monday every single week so that I could lead by example.
  4. Act with integrity and honesty. This is especially important when you have to deliver news about layoffs, but there are other times when you have to deliver unpleasant news, and you have to do it with integrity. People want to know the truth — resist the temptation to use the company or anything else as a crutch. When you are respectful and deliver the truth the way you would want to hear it, people will have more respect for you.
  5. Be emotionally intelligent. Consider the impact of your actions on others because you never are able to see yourself as others see. Being emotionally intelligent really means knowing how your emotions impact your decision making and how they are affecting others, especially in times of crisis and difficulty. It’s about being sensitive to how others respond to situations so that your vantage point is as balance as possible. Emotionally intelligent leaders are those who will be the most successful, particularly in this season where we’re going to have more uncertainty, not not less. Emotionally intelligent leaders will be those who will weather the storms much better.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Yes, my favorite quote is that if you can change the way people think, you can change the way they behave — that is my life quote.

It’s important to recognize how to help people be the best version of themselves. Oftentimes, the difficulty is getting them to think differently about themselves, think differently about others, and therefore act differently. There is a Biblical proverb that says “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Our thoughts have everything to do with how we behave. We have to examine our thinking constantly and make sure that we’re open to rethinking.

Alvin Toffler, who was a futurist and businessman, said that literacy in the 21st century will not be defined by whether or not you can read or write, but whether or not you can learn, unlearn and relearn. It’s vital that we have a quest for lifelong learning, that we continue to reexamine the how and why behind our thinking. Make sure that you’re allowing yourself to see the world through a multidimensional lens.

People are multidimensional and complex, so you have to allow yourself to think differently about them. For instance, how do you allow yourself to think differently about racism, systemic racism, and the socioeconomic challenges that we face today? The opportunity to behave differently really requires you to examine your thinking and then examine why you think the way you do. Since we’re products of our environment, we have to constantly step back and reexamine our thinking. Our environment may have taught us one thing, but the world today is in a different state. If we don’t adjust, we’re still operating with the original thought patterns we had when we first learned instead of unlearning and replacing it with new information. If you change the way people think, you can change the way they behave.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Dr Lawrence MDrake II: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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