If you’re a seed/series stage founder struggling with the transition to CEO – Julian Harris is here to help you achieve greatness, lead your company to success, and slow down enough to make it all happen with a sense of calm and balance. He’s a commercial lawyer turned leadership coach – a holistic thinker, and a deep listener. His legal career has given him decades of experience advising major brands and working at the top end of big business. Now, he uses his ability to:
Support the founder to CEO journey; help leaders on their way to immense personal growth; guide entrepreneurs to realize their vision, and help my clients change the world.
He works with founders who have secured seed or series funding for their big idea – who are then facing the specific pressures (both external and internal) that come with the next part of the process, such as: leading a growing workforce; making effective or difficult decisions; managing stakeholder expectations; and finding the balance between work and private lives.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Julian Harris: It’s a story that is over 20 years in the making! When I was 18, I decided to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and become a lawyer. The law wasn’t something I was passionate about, but it was kind of expected that that would be my chosen career. Over the following years, while there were good times and some great experiences, I would regularly wonder whether there was something out there for me other than the law. I even had a few unsuccessful attempts at pursuing other avenues (for example, I spent a few months in a business development role for Manchester United Football Club).
A few years ago, I was talking to a colleague who suggested I speak to his sister who had newly qualified as a coach. I had a couple of conversations with her and absolutely loved the experience, so much so that I decided after the second call that I was going to be a coach. Coaching gives me the sense of purpose and fulfillment that I’ve never got from being a lawyer. Working with start-up founders and helping them change the world is such an incredibly exciting and privileged place to be.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Julian Harris: Building a coaching business from scratch is hard. When you go online, every man, woman and child seems to be a coach, so you wonder how you’re going to stand out from the crowd. You wonder whether you’re good enough, you wonder whether you have what it takes. And to be honest, that’s an ongoing conversation, but a conversation I actually enjoy having with myself. Have I ever considered giving up? Absolutely not! After so many years without it, I’ve finally found work that gives me purpose and fulfillment, so that thought has never entered my head.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Julian Harris: Not having a support system in place. I think there’s a culture in the business world (which is slowly changing, to be fair) that says to show you’re vulnerable, that you don’t have all the answers, that you actually need help, is weak. Being a business leader can often be a lonely place. Being an entrepreneur can often be incredibly draining mentally. This is why it’s vital for leaders, founders, entrepreneurs to have a support system in place. That can be one or more of many options: hire a coach; work with a mentor; put together a strong and supportive board; build a community of peers; employ a psychiatrist.
I would also say that most entrepreneurs have an unhealthy attitude toward personal wellbeing. Many will prioritize work over everything else. If you’re a business owner, you are the business’ number one asset, so you need to look after yourself. That means sleeping well, eating healthily, exercising regularly, spending quality time with the family, and taking time out for yourself to re-energize and rejuvenate.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Julian Harris: Most people define resilience as grit or being able to bounce back when things are tough. I think it’s more than that. It’s also – crucially – the ability to bounce forward. Not only to come through adversity but to learn and to grow from it. For me, resilience is like a muscle. You can exercise it, work on it, become more resilient. I wrote a piece on resilience not that long ago, with 5 tips to become more resilient:
- Be present. – Be aware of where you are and what you are doing at the moment. Your ability to be present has a huge impact on your well-being and your performance. I favor a short mindfulness exercise to help me become more present.
- Perspective. – The ability to get appropriate distance from the situations you are facing gives you a much better sense of perspective and can also help you to work out what are the things you can control (for example, your own choices) and not worry about the things you can’t (for example, what your boss or your employees might say or do next).
- Remember your thoughts are only thoughts. – We’re all too quick to put labels on what happens to us, but if we can pause before doing so, we might be able to think about an event more positively than the way we thought about it at the time.
- Let go. – At the core of why we continue to think about things long after they have happened is that we refuse to let go. People, who are best at letting go are those who ask themselves a simple question: ‘Will continuing to focus on this help me?’ If the answer is no, they let it go.
- Network. – Develop a strong social or professional network so you’re able to discuss what’s happening in your world, hear supporting voices and work on solutions to the issues you face.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Julian Harris: Nice question! I see a thriving coaching practice, working with fascinating individuals and extraordinary businesses, helping each of them change the world.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Julian Harris: Three of my core values are empathy, humility, and courage. I try to embody those values in all my conversations and interactions. When I do, when I’m being my authentic self, people tend to respond in a positive way.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Julian Harris: His or her own brand. I think it’s critical. In today’s world, there’s no hiding place. The force of public opinion – driven largely through social media – means that leaders can fall from grace literally overnight. Reputations can be destroyed in the blink of an eye. Business performance alone is not enough if behavior is found wanting, and in my view quite rightly so.
How would you define “leadership”?
Julian Harris: I love this question! Many of the founder CEOs I work with are “technical founders” – they’re engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers. They haven’t necessarily had a career in business before founding their start-ups, so they’re new to leading people. They’re learning as they go. I like to ask my clients “what does leadership mean to you?” and help them understand what kind of leader they are, and what kind of leader they want to be. With all that in mind, I don’t think it’s helpful to try and define the word “leadership”. It’s a multi-faceted concept and means different things to different people.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Julian Harris: When I was younger, feeling stuck in my career as a lawyer, I used to refer to myself as a “wannabe entrepreneur”. But then I found a mission so powerful (to create a successful coaching business) that I’m now a walking, talking entrepreneur! Similarly, many founders I work with had ‘regular’ careers before having incredible ideas and becoming entrepreneurs in order to try and commercialize those ideas and make a great change in the world.
I also think of the work of the business coach, Dan Sullivan, who says that people become entrepreneurs in order to have greater freedom over their lives (Sullivan’s four freedoms – freedom of time, freedom of money, freedom of relationship, and freedom of purpose). Is the desire for those freedoms something you’re born with? No, I don’t think so, certainly not in my case.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Julian Harris: I love this quote from Jurgen Klopp, manager of my beloved Liverpool Football Club: “I have only one understanding of the development and of making success, and that’s by going step by step.” Actually, I only became aware of this quote of his recently, but it sums up my philosophy of change and success. I don’t believe in shortcuts or quick fixes. I believe in the long game. Having a goal in mind is great, but if you don’t enjoy the process, if you don’t enjoy the journey (its ups and its downs), you’re missing the point.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Julian Harris 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 Julian Harris or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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