Meet Jeffrey Custer, one of the co-founders of Level Up Courses where they are ridding the world of toxic leaders. He has a degree in human development and social policy with an emphasis in economics from Northwestern University.
Jeff has spent the last 30-odd years of his career in various leadership positions from running my own business to working at a Fortune 500 company. Level Up Courses was founded in 2021 to train and educate new and aspiring leaders to be successful in their roles and avoid toxic behaviors. It’s all structured around theLevel Up Role Model that focuses on five key areas where leaders must be proficient: strategy, change management, processes and systems, relationships, and self.
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Jeffrey Custer: Hi, I’m Jeff! One of the co-founders of Level Up Courses where we are ridding the world of toxic leaders. I have a degree in human development and social policy with an emphasis in economics from Northwestern University. I’ve spent the last 30-odd years of my career in various leadership positions from running my own business to working at a Fortune 500 company.
Level Up Courses was founded in 2021 to train and educate new and aspiring leaders to be successful in their roles and avoid toxic behaviors. It’s all structured around our Level Up Role Model that focuses on five key areas where leaders must be proficient: strategy, change management, processes and systems, relationships, and self.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Jeffrey Custer: One of the things we saw accelerate during the pandemic is popularly called the Great Resignation. There were seeds of this happening before the pandemic as baby boomers retired in droves. I heard organizations repeatedly say this retirement wave was coming. However, many of them kept saying that long after it had arrived. This shift in the labor force only sped up during the past two years. The structure of the labor market has fundamentally changed, and employees have more opportunities than ever.
Which also means they’re leaving organizations faster. Some studies have shown that roughly 2/3 of people leave their job because of toxic leaders. To thrive and hold onto employees, organizations must eliminate toxic behaviors from their leadership ranks.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Jeffrey Custer: In addition to the Great Resignation, we saw a massive shift to remote work. Organizations that once thought everyone had to be under one roof were suddenly forced to rethink their assumptions. Leaders must now learn how to work with a remote or hybrid workforce. They must increase and learn new ways to communicate more effectively. They must rethink onboarding, training, and team building. It’s no longer confined to those organizations that have offshore resources. It’s everywhere now.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Jeffrey Custer: With the advent of remote work, the need for engaging, quality training content has increased. Day-long seminars with uninteresting presentation styles and forgettable content are being replaced by more compact, upbeat mini trainings. Short, easily consumable, and engaging content has always been at the core of our products. Plus, we built our course on the number one engaging learning platform on the market that prioritizes positive reinforcement and gamification (it increases student satisfaction, engagement, and completion). Learning about and developing your leadership skills and style can be fun and enjoyable.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Jeffrey Custer: One of the best pieces of advice I got as we started our business during the pandemic was to figure out whether we were selling a commodity or our expertise. I was told you can’t do both effectively. Being a commodity is a numbers game where you must have the best price and a lot of potential customers. And it seems that someone always figures out a way to undercut you.
That can become expensive if your success rate is low. If you go with selling your expertise that gets you out of the pricing wars. But it can be really challenging to find the right clients that will value your product or service. WHAT ARE WE IMPROVING IN 2022? Dialing in on the right people, building brand awareness and cementing ourselves as a thought leader.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Jeffrey Custer: I think many of these digital adaptations and moves made during the pandemic will likely continue, especially if remote working is here to stay. Not commuting or being stuck in an office all day has certainly given people time back in their personal lives that I suspect they won’t easily give up. Online business isn’t going away, but I do think that people are hungry for aspects of their lives to return to in-person.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Jeffrey Custer: Probably around 12 counting both laptop and phone.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Jeffrey Custer: I think I’m in a unique position because my team is me and my three sons. So, to start with we already share a common background of knowledge and experience. That being said, we use our personal and professional stories as a framework to introduce ideas and concepts of leadership and ways to avoid perpetuation toxic leadership traits.
We infused those stories into our online course, but they take center stage more often in our weekly blogs and newly launched podcast, The First Cup of Joe Show. The four of us all have a hand in producing that content, so even though we live in three different time zones we’re always sharing stories and ideas to help usher in the next era of great leaders.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Jeffrey Custer: For our business, it’s standing out among the crowd. There’s a lot of places you can learn leadership from. But there’s not a lot of places you can learn leadership on your own timeline, that’s accessible 24/7 on almost any device. We really want to fill that gap for individuals or organizations that don’t have the infrastructure or bandwidth to provide their own leadership development program.
In general, we’re at a crossroads. Employees have more power and/or are less willing to put up with jobs and working environments that operate on the mentality of “that’s just how it’s been.” And organizations are in a unique position to take how they’ve had to operate for the past two years and use it to rethink their future or return to the past. We’re really just starting to see the ramifications of those two opposing forces hit head on and I’m sure months or years down the road will be very telling as to which side won.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Jeffrey Custer: You know, we’re on a mission to rid the world of toxic leaders. So, I think we’re always trying to find ways to connect with new people and teach them about leadership. And coinciding with that, we’re learning how to best identify the right prospect to sell our product. Because I certainly don’t want to try to sell our product to the wrong person. That’s a waste of everyone’s time. Our product is valuable to right person or organization. We’re working on building an easily identifiable brand that cuts through the marketing noise to talk to the right people and find the values of working together.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Jeffrey Custer: Many leaders certainly aren’t that self-aware. You know, I think what often comes to mind when you hear statistics like that are the bosses who yell or throw objects or temper tantrums. They are certainly toxic leaders. But you can be a toxic leader and not do any of those things, it’s really a spectrum.
At some point, nearly all leaders will express some sort of toxic behavior—it’s really inevitable. It could be seemingly less obvious traits like exhibiting poor communication skills, not working at the right level for their position, or failing to recognize people. If those behaviors continue over time, it’s a toxic trait that organizations need to eliminate. To do so, several steps need to be addressed. First, top leadership must recognize and admit there’s a leadership problem. Second, existing leaders who exhibit those toxic traits must commit to change or be removed from their role.
This step will be very painful. And finally, to ensure long term success, organizations must train new and aspiring leaders to be effective and avoid toxic leadership traits.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Jeffrey Custer: I would choose teleportation. That way I could instantly travel around the world to meet with people. Video calls have become a great way to connect but for me it can’t replace a hearty handshake or even a hug with a real person. I’ve developed so many acquaintances and friends around the world it would be so much fun to go see them all.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Jeffrey Custer: Success to me is measured by aligning day-to-day activities, plans and goals to my underlying values.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Jeffrey Custer for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Jeffrey Custer or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.