Stephen Shedletzky of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why on building credibility and getting those who you admire to take a risk on you

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Stephen Shedletzky is the Head of Content and Communication at Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. Every day, Stephen wakes up to engage people in meaningful ways so that we live in a more fulfilled world. As a part of his role, Stephen guides the internal direction of Simon’s growing team and works with a number of leaders and organizations to discover and articulate their Why by delivering keynote speeches, facilitating workshops and coaching. Before joining Start with Why, Stephen founded his own career development and leadership consulting firm Inspiraction, worked in change management consulting at the global professional services firm EY and held other Business Analysis roles at Suncor Energy. Stephen is a graduate of the Richard Ivey School of Business and is a semi-recent new father of a wonderful little girl.  

Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career?

Ten years ago, I was still in university and didn’t know that the career I have now existed. While I was in business school, I always gravitated towards the people side of business and loved those types of courses. I learned quickly that if you don’t think about people and don’t understand people, it doesn’t matter how brilliant a strategy may be. My first position out of school was as in the Leadership Development Program at Petro Canada Suncor and on my first day on the job, 1000 people were let go. It was a hard time as I had signed up for a position which I thought I understood but the context of the environment changed drastically once I got there. After working there for a year, I was let go after a few of the interns who I had been informally mentoring turned down full time job offers, citing conversations that they had with me. At the time, I truly felt I was providing an objective view of the company. Alas, I will admit that I was toxic to an already tumultuous culture. I didn’t believe in what the company was doing and how leaders were behaving. That is when I was sent Simon’s TED talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”. After leaving Petro, I landed at EY in their People & Organizational Change Consulting group. This was certainly a step in the right direction though I left shortly after joining to start my own consulting business in aiming to truly bring my Why to life. After a few years of doing that, I had the opportunity to join Simon Sinek’s team. I started in the mail room in 2012, answering fan email, which turned out to be a brilliant way to learn the content.

What are some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way so far? How have they contributed to your current success?

I’ve come to realize that the times in which I have been the least successful are the situations where I have shown up to prove instead of showing up to improve. There was an important Start With Why strategy meeting I had been invited to attend early on in my time with the team. Even though I was invited to be in the room, I showed up attempting to prove why I should be there. I was already in the room – I didn’t have to prove anything! It was pretty messy. Fortunately, I owned up to it, the team gave me feedback and I’ve continued to take myself on to grow in this area.

I’ve also learned that three quarters of an answer is better than an answer and a half. As an extrovert, learning how to be concise and share what needs to be shared without going overboard has been an important learning opportunity for me. The best time for our thoughts and opinions to be heard is when they are asked for. Not to say that there aren’t times when you need to speak up but it’s important to be cognizant of the impact that three quarters of an answer can have on a conversation.

Lastly, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you need to do it. In my current leadership role on our team, it’s natural for me to want to facilitate and move things forward, though it is often more effective if I help lift other people up to do that work instead of me just taking the reins because I am strong in a particular area. Leaders give other people the space to grow.

You started doing some very high level leadership work at a young age. How do you go about building credibility when you don’t feel like you have it yet?

Simon once told me that you don’t need to necessarily be an expert to have credibility. You just need to care and you can ask an expert when you need an expert’s perspective. I originally thought that I needed a PhD in order to do the kind of work that I wanted to do. We have a rule on our team which is you only speak about things that you care about and know, but caring trumps knowing. You of course need to be well researched but there is no more effective sales tool than genuine passion. To build influence and credibility, you first need to genuinely care about what you are talking about and not think about self-serving things like a bigger paycheck or more status. I think we get stuck with things like credibility when we don’t care about what we are talking about and are only doing it because we are concerned with external things but if those don’t matter and your goal is to bring to life a cause or an idea that is meaningful and impactful, your ego no longer matters (as much!). If in the process of building your own credibility you find you aren’t being heard, start working on your communication skills and find others who you admire and pick their brains about how they went about building their own credibility.

What does leadership look like to you? Who are some of the leaders you admire? 

The leaders who I admire aren’t the people who love the spotlight and enjoy being the person who everyone looks up to. I have the most respect for the individuals who become leaders for the purpose of an important cause and for the sake of others. They are often introverted, awkward and don’t like the limelight. Carl Elsener of Victorinox and Ryan Hartman of Insitu are two amazing people who lead from a true sense of purpose and do it for the right reasons. I really admire the people who are incredibly passionate and called to go and do something amazing to better the world.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to those new to the workforce to help them get ahead of the game in today’s marketplace and be fulfilled by the work they do?  

Our successes are usually not a measure of how good we are. Our successes are a measure of the risks that other people are willing to take on us.  Therefore, the question then becomes what are the conditions that you are creating to make others want to take a risk on you? Find the people that you respect and admire and get them to want to take a risk on you.

You also need to understand what truly makes you happy and fulfilled. A lot of us don’t understand the things that truly make us happy because we live in a very “me” centered society. Find something that you care about and start thinking about how to bring other people along for the ride. We say we “want to make an impact” but we have to figure out the impact we care to make in order to pursue it. An African Proverb states, “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.” In terms of being fulfilled by what you do, I think that’s a very important idea to bring to life.

Along the way, just remember that truly making an impact takes years to accomplish. There is no such thing as an over-night success. Make sure that you are aligning yourself to something that you care about which you are willing to invest a lot of time and effort into. The beautiful thing about impact is that it is never done. Living our Why is a never ending journey. We can inspire a legacy that follows us.

Aubrey Chapnick