We are continuing our theme of meeting some of the Barcelona´s most influential personalities. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Tobias Rodrigues, a coach of IESE Business School and a founder of TobiasRodrigues.com. He was born in Canada but now is happy to call Barcelona home. Tobias has a degree in Philosophy, Philology and Conflict Resolution. In 2011, Tobias was inspired to create a 12 step system that boosts self-confidence, maximizes people skills and perfects communication.
We met at the bar of Pulitzer Hotel and started the interview over a cup of coffee.
Being a trainer and coach has helped you understand people and groups. In your opinion are great leaders born or can they be taught?
Great leaders are born to be taught. There may be a genetic influence in leadership but you´ll need to develop it. Even Alexander the Great had a mentor, Aristotle. Lots of us might be born with the potential to be a leader but to perform as one is a different thing.
What skills does a person need to be a good leader?
To be in charge does not make you a leader. One thing is to have power given by an institution; another is to lead. The defining factor is to have people want to follow you, and for that they need to trust you. For this you need skills: convey self-confidence, show you listen, understand non-verbal communication, motivate people and communicate effectively. Leaders need to see people as people, not just employees. Like they say: the professional is always personal.
Tobias knows what it takes to become a leader but I was curious to know who the most inspiring leaders are for him here in Spain. “I’m not really inspired by the personalities the world is proposing as leaders. I’m not saying they’re not there. I´m just saying that I get confused when these personalities end up involved in things like scandals and corruption. So I choose to follow people locally, to be inspired by those I get to know, colleagues and friends. I can depend on them and trust them. They’re my leaders.”
My friends at the FEM taught me a great framework: To create a team you need three elements. The 1st is integration: every member needs to feel they’re part of the team; they need to know their role and everyone else’s. The 2nd is incorporation: to reach the team’s goals the leader wants to align them with the members’ expectations. The 3rd is acceptance: the group needs to accept the leader as a such, not only as a manager. When one of these is absent, the team eventually crumbles.
In his work, Tobias deals with a lot of “conflict” style situations. How does he remain objective without taking sides?
It’s not realistic to think we can be 100% neutral or objective. We are people: we always have an opinion. So I pick my side, which is the best solution for both parties and that requires their joint cooperation. And I let them know that. With all the respect for legal system, sometimes rulings don’t meet the needs even of the party that ‘wins’. My job is to overcome this by enabling parties to find the solutions they need.
What are your problem solving tools?
I created a 12 step system that builds relationships and solves problems in the workplace. For instance, there’s a tool that empowers us to consistently choose the thoughts that give us power and abandon those that pull us down. There’s also a communication tool for tense situations that enables us to say what we want the way we want. What is unique is that my tools are memorable and practical, and therefore can realistically be used in real life situations.
From your experience, what motivates employees the best?
I wrote a post, “The Pyramid of Fulfillment”, about things that motivate us. I suggest tapping into people’s interests and values and have them find their own intrinsic motivation. There are three things that are common to most people. First, we want to be in control of our work and life. No one wants to be bossed around. Second, we desire to be good at what we do. Nobody wants to suck. And third, what we do must have a meaning. Leaders want to make sure these components are met, and empower their teams to feel proud about their work.
Incentives and team buildings are often seen as an employee motivation tool that brings the team closer and makes them perform better. I asked Tobias if he thinks it is important for companies to have such activities. “Yes. Science shows that when we do things that differ from our normal activity, we stimulate the more creative parts of the brain. So, activities away from the workplace develop creativity. In addition, employees often struggle to find a greater meaning for what they do. Teambuilding activities are a space to create meaning for the team and their work. And when this happens it has long-lasting effects on team performance.”
It is obvious there are cultural differences in the ways we communicate. What advice would you give to survive misunderstandings?
Misunderstandings are often due to assumptions. We want to minimize them because different people do things in different ways. Assuming everyone will act in the same way is a mistake. Instead, I suggest curiosity: ask for motivations and clarification. In a multicultural environment, miscommunication is no longer a cultural issue.It’s an issue of interaction between individuals. The key is to get to know each other.
Have you noticed any differences in attitude to failure and success in the different cultures you have worked with?
Different people look at the same event and reach very different conclusions. This has to do with culture. I look at culture in terms of stories. In every culture, different stories are being told and we are incorporated into them as characters. What is important is to realize that characters have the power to change stories. We are not slaves to our cultural narratives; we are agents within them. I would empower people and have them realize they can change their life stories.
Tobias has done quite a bit of studying and has had various work experiences. I was curious to know what his greatest success is. “I’ll tell you my latest. About three and a half years ago I arrived in Barcelona with my wife for the first time. I had been teaching in Rome but decided to change careers. I knew no one in Barcelona. Today, I can call wonderful Barcelona home. I completed another master and changed my passion into a profession. It’s priceless to do what you love! I work with fantastic people, like the fellow coaches and students at IESE, one of the top 10 business schools in the world. I´m very happy with how it has turned out and I owe it to the people — my wife, new friends and colleagues — who continually support me along along the way! Thank you!”
My mission is to make relationships in the workplace more pleasant and effective. I aim to work with many teams in corporations and organizations to answer some of the stimulating challenges of the professional world. Also, where there’s a good leader, there’s a great team. So, I’d also like to assist leaders in becoming the inspiring people their teams need. The future is going to need inspiring leaders in the professional and personal fields!
I would like to thank Tobias Rodrigues for his educative and eye-opening thoughts and advices.