Coach’s Corner: Q&A with Brian Szepkouski
AJO’s Coach’s Corner blog series this month highlights Brian Szepkouski, a leading authority on the language of leadership, international executive development and strategic planning for business expansion.
With a passion for inspiring individuals to reach their highest potential, Brian is an expert in evolving leaders who role model consistent influence to empower teams who want to collaborate and give more discretionary effort. We’re honored to share some of his insights.
AJO: What advice do you have for young professionals entering the workforce?
Brian Szepkouski: I have been fortunate to work for corporations that sent me to rural towns across the U.S., capitals in Europe, the jungles of Central America, and various Asian nations. Through those experiences, I learned a lot about life and business: how people think, how they value and approach relationships, what trust is all about, and what my company’s products and services would mean to them.
For me, thanks to those extensive travels, I learned how to put myself in someone else’s shoes and see how we, as a company, could best serve their needs – while still, of course, making a profit. I literally raised my hand, when I was a young corporate guy, to represent my company abroad. That expanded my mind and provided a “classroom” in which real learning – outside of my college studies or hunkering down at my desk – could ever provide. I urge young professionals to get out there and discover the world and find out what communication, culture, marketing, and sales really mean on a global level. Our reliance on others, persons and other nations, is not going away ─ it’s only increasing, and companies today need people who bring a wealth of cultural knowledge and diverse perspectives and experiences.
AJO: What do you enjoy about collaborating with AJO?
Brian Szepkouski: I feel AJO is deeply committed to its clients and understands their business concerns, and always comes in with a personal touch. I’m constantly impressed by the way the company listens to prospective and current clients and seeks to build customizable solutions that are well-suited to various corporate cultures. I admire the AJO team and the consultants that come with a multitude of real-world experiences and expertise across multiple industries. Additionally, AJO believes in providing opportunities for its consultants to come together regularly and share knowledge – which further provides a real spirit of comradery and cooperation. For AJO, it’s always about constantly raising the bar in terms of quality!
AJO: What trend happening in the US workplace today do you find startling?
Brian Szepkouski: The other day I attended a webinar and learned about the new viral term “quiet quitting,” and subsequently had a visceral reaction. Apparently, this term – now catching fire on the internet – is about how workers will opt to do the minimum in order to maintain a “meaningful life” outside of work. What a waste of time and spirit to spend hours each day in a job doing as little as possible. As a boomer (albeit one with kids who are both millennials and Gen-Z members), I simply cannot wrap my head around this. I would be disappointed if my own kids ever chose this sort of “posturing” rather than creating a meaningful dialogue about what’s really going on.
Hopefully, in this virtual reality we’re in, all of us are learning, perhaps again in a new way, that honest communicating and listening, while suspending judgment, are essential. If there are work-life balance issues, let’s work together to solve these – and be willing to create workarounds. One of the main tenets of excellent leadership is motivating employees to the point that they willingly want to give more discretionary effort, not less. Corporations, leaders, and employees need to take notice of quiet quitting – and then take action to start asking what role each of us plays in this equation. We should focus on how we can create a workplace culture that is supportive and rewarding for both the employee and the company.
My hope is that employees will courageously speak up and never rely on the “silent protest” of quiet quitting as a means to “voice” their displeasure with their workplace. I hope too that corporations will implement proactive ideas and procedures that support their employees in being the best they can be both personally and professionally.
AJO: What has living and working abroad taught you that you bring into your engagements?
Brian Szepkouski: Living for six years in Japan turned me on my head. I soon realized that trying to show up as an effective leader in a culture that is so different from the U.S. is not for the faint of heart. Besides the need to re-learn the basics of managing others in a new culture and crafting a vision that people could believe in, I had to stop and do some hard self-reflection. What had my own culture taught me? What is my own default style, and what I am trying to prove, anyway? These questions gave me pause.
I am not sure I would have ever felt the need to answer those questions if I hadn’t stepped outside the borders of the U.S. Spending time for introspection became a necessity. Understanding what it means to negotiate a “fair” deal and, more basically, how others want to be treated was constantly on my mind. What role could I play in these areas?
As an executive coach now, I work with my clients on understanding the role culture plays in how we interact with others, how we experience our world, and how we can appreciate (and value!) the views and responses others bring to our discussions and meetings. Thanks to Japan, I understood a different sequence: listen carefully, think, and then speak. Not exactly what I had been doing prior to relocating!