Joel Blake OBE, is a business growth strategist and founder and managing director of Cultiv8 Solutions, an award-winning corporate entrepreneurship consultancy for the professional services and education sectors.
Joel helps organisations harness the power of diversity, entrepreneurship and technology to improve competitive advantage, increase commercial value and make a social impact.
What does ‘leading differently’ mean to you?
To me, leading differently means the ability to identify your uniqueness - whether that’s as a leader in a world-leading organisation or a leader in your own business, or as a community leader. It’s utilising your difference and making that the foundation of your approach to leading others. So whether that uniqueness is about your own mind set, your perception, your values or your beliefs - it’s being able to identify what makes you different, but in a way that adds value to other people, and then leading them accordingly.
So what is unique about your leadership style?
My unique difference is that I come from a very entrepreneurial leadership approach. So I believe entrepreneurship is nothing to do with a business, it is absolutely about a mind set that you develop through experience.
So all my life I’ve always thought entrepreneurially about situations I’ve found myself in. As a young person living in an inner city with a sense of ambition I wanted to look at the best ways of coming out of my circumstances. I wanted to be able to lead others but never forget who I was.
Having an entrepreneurial sense of leadership has always enabled me to stay authentic and down to earth, and very much grounded in who I am in my approach to dealing with other people. So I never believe I’m better than anyone else, but no one is better than me either. Everyone has something to offer. It’s how you internalise your own experiences in order to achieve your own purpose and that, for me, is the entrepreneurial mind set that I believe I bring to my own sense of leadership.
What has been your greatest learning experience that has helped you develop this entrepreneurial style?
In fact there were two main incidents – one very personal and one professional. The personal one was that at the age of 14 I went through a stage which would be classified as depression now, and it got to a stage where I felt that I wanted to take my own life - and I attempted to do so.
And in some weird and wonderful way I was saved by a stranger who didn’t even know that they’d done something that stopped me going through with it. That was an incredibly transformational point because it made me realise that the circumstance they were in was, in my own eyes, worse than the situation I was in. So who was I to have the view of myself that I had at that time?
So I used that as an opportunity to say ‘look, from here on, I want to help other people achieve whatever they want to achieve in their life, regardless of any difference that they have.’ Until that point I had thought that my difference was the very thing that was holding me back and stopping me from achieving what I wanted to achieve.
From a professional standpoint it was actually getting my very first client. My first real business was in 2007, creating a mentoring service based on my own experiences. But it was about me being honest and real about what those experiences were, to help individuals who were in a similar position and understood where I was coming from.
To get my first client, which was a corporate client, from being my authentic self, for me was a really transformational moment. Because it meant that it wasn’t about fancy marketing, it wasn’t about big budget, it was about authentic value that someone had seen - and the value I had was something they wanted. And it just gave me the confidence I needed to continue on this journey.
What can people expect to learn from your session?
This is about being honest and realistic about who you are as an individual and being able to use all those elements of you to achieve whatever you want to achieve in your life, your business, your community or work.
I’m not a theoretical person in the sense that I’m not going to give them frameworks around leadership. I’m not going to give them textbook answers, but what I will give them is real, honest, practical insight based on real life experience.
I’ll give them a blueprint based on, essentially, 12 different elements that I’ve identified and used, that they can use in any aspect of their leadership that they wish to engage in.
Looking to the future - how do you think leadership is changing?
I think there are three key ways in which leadership is changing. One is the advent of technology. Technology is ensuring that ideas you had yesterday may be outdated tomorrow and so you’ve got to be more agile and flexible, and be willing to utilise technology to accelerate your ideas.
I think the second thing is that leadership is becoming more socially ethical. Leaders now want to see how you connect with others based on who you are and your values. So I think leadership is becoming much more personalised, more about the ethics of the individual, not just the ethics of the organisation. Those two things now have to marry.
And the third thing is the level of diversity that we have. So you have race, gender, disability and age - but what we also have, is more diversity within diversity. If you look at age, for example, there’s a huge difference between someone who’s 50 plus and someone who’s 16 or 17. But we are living in a world where their views are just as relevant and as valid and when we take that age diversity and combine that with gender and race and disability and religion, there is a rich mix of ideas and culture and experiences that can be accelerated and used and leveraged in the right way to drive innovation, to drive opportunity - to drive leadership in new ways.
So I think diversity, technology and ethics have changed the way that we need to lead, and the way that leaders operate.