Jeff Chambers
Founder & CEO Lumin Digital

I’m a Fintech entrepreneur who has spent 25 years bringing investors, talent, and partners together to build creative and highly sustaining technology companies that improve lives. I’m as passionate about building great products as I am about creating organizations that are admired by employees and clients alike. With this formula, I started Lumin Digital, a company that’s breaking barriers and inventing new ways for people to work, cooperate, and deliver digital banking experiences like never before.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Jeff Chambers from Lumin Digital about how leading with vulnerability retains top talent.

Some Conversation Highlights:

How do we undo the mindset that was pervasive in all American business for a while?

The way that we’ve approached it at Lumin Digital is to be, first of all, you have to change the mindset of the leader and the leader’s purpose. Again, if you think about traditional corporate America or you think about historical references, whether it’s the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, you think about leaders in history. They’re viewed as really, the brains and the power and the creativity, the inspiration behind a movement. And there’s a reason for that because there are these innate human tendencies in how we structure tribes and what we think of leaders when it comes to top talent. And there are these innate tendencies that we tend to lean into, that allow leaders to become, sometimes, more powerful than they should be or to take more credit than they deserve, like leading with vulnerability.

And with Lumin what we decided is, we took a step back and we said, “Okay, let’s redefine the role of a leader. And let’s not just wing it, let’s not make it up, let’s go and look at history, let’s look at experts, let’s look at, what does Warren buffet say? What does Reed Hastings make Netflix say? What does Patty McCord from Netflix? Where people like Ray Dalio and Ed Catmull from Pixar, even Brené Brown. I’ve got three teenagers and her books about vulnerability were absolutely transformative when my kids were young, five or six years ago. And what we decided, the thesis was that leaders had to be… They were going to be imperfect. It’s like, you go watch a movie and nobody wants to watch a movie with a perfect protagonist, okay?


 

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 26 minutes

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Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast with William Tincup. Of course, comments are always welcome. Be sure to subscribe through your favorite platform.

Music:   This is RecruitingDaily’s recruiting live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William Tincup:   Ladies and gentlemen. This is William Tincup and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Jeff on from Lumin Digital. And we’ll be talking about, this topic is going to be fantastic you all. Just going to [inaudible 00:   00:   46] go ahead and tell you, how leading with vulnerability, retains top talent.

Jeff:   All right.

William Tincup:   This is going to be fun. I might have build it up a little bit, Jeff. I’m sorry about that.

Jeff:   Yeah, go ahead. I thought you were handing it off to me there.

William Tincup:   Sorry about that.

Jeff:   Beautiful.

William Tincup:   However, I love this topic and I can’t wait to get into it. Would you introduce yourself and Lumin Digital?

Jeff:   Yes, absolutely. William, thank you for the introduction. And I’m really excited to be here today to talk about this. This is something that is… It’s really near and dear to how we run the company. And it’s something that we like to say that, at Lumin, you’ve heard the quote that we sit on the shoulders of giants of generations that came before us and we spent a lot of time at Lumin being very intentional about the kind of culture and company we’re building. And a lot of that has come from past generations and experts or folks, I might talk about some of that later here today, but I’m absolutely honored and excited to be here and talk to you about what’s working for Lumin.

William Tincup:   Love that. This idea that maybe, you or I would’ve grown up with that, the leader had to be all powerful, all knowing, superman, Wonder Woman like character, that’s not the leader of today.

Jeff:   I couldn’t agree more. Probably, about 10 to 15 years ago and the management team, for full transparency, I’ll share with you that many of the folks that work with us at Lumin, including most of my management team, we’ve been working together for 10 to 20 years and we have a lot of history together. And about 10 years ago, we stumbled across this analogy that, popular media and especially the entertainment industry, they portray leaders, the ultimate leaders are like James Bond.

William Tincup:   Right.

Jeff:   But the best leaders are more like Columbo. They leave with questions, they listen intently, they don’t have to be the person out front, they don’t have to have an expensive tuxedo on. And for us, our leaders aspire to be more intellectual and more like Columbo than James Bond. That’s really where we come from.

William Tincup:   Yeah, I love this. The vulnerability, the relationship with the intentionality of letting other folks around you, the space to be themselves while also giving them some guidance. I love the Columbo reference because it was, asking great questions and it was also listening with intent and learning. Processing and learning and getting better to then deduct an outcome where, when leaders are so much of it. Especially, you and I talked pre-show about command and control that came out of manufacturing world war II, world war I, where it was clear intent. The general said we have to take hill. General’s never wrong. Actually, General Lee was wrong at Gettysburg but anyhow, Generals are never wrong and we take that hill. And so how do we undo the mindset and how have you all undone that mindset that was pervasive in all American business for a while?

Jeff:   Yeah. The way that we’ve approached it at Lumin Digital is to be, first of all, you have to change the mindset of the leader and the leader’s purpose. Again, if you think about traditional corporate America or you think about historical references, whether it’s the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, you think about leaders in history. They’re viewed as really, the brains and the power and the creativity, the inspiration behind a movement. And there’s a reason for that because there are these innate human tendencies in how we structure tribes and what we think of leaders. And there are these innate tendencies that we tend to lean into, that allow leaders to become, sometimes, more powerful than they should be or to take more credit than they deserve.

And with Lumin what we decided is, we took a step back and we said, “Okay, let’s redefine the role of a leader. And let’s not just wing it, let’s not make it up, let’s go and look at history, let’s look at experts, let’s look at, what does Warren buffet say? What does Reed Hastings make Netflix say? What does Patty McCord from Netflix? Where people like Ray Dalio and Ed Catmull from Pixar, even Brené Brown. I’ve got three teenagers and her books about vulnerability were absolutely transformative when my kids were young, five or six years ago. And what we decided, the thesis was that leaders had to be… They were going to be imperfect. It’s like, you go watch a movie and nobody wants to watch a movie with a perfect protagonist, okay?

William Tincup:   Right.

Jeff:   You think about most startups. They’ve got a protagonist, they’ve got a leader that’s perfect, no. At Lumin, our leaders are imperfect. We’re into it, to a degree, it’s okay to be a flawed protagonist because the purpose of a leader is to serve our people. And this is something that was referenced in a book, Good to Great 20 years ago. But we started with redefining leaders as a servant role. And the purpose was to set context, to lead through context and to provide support, guidance and resources.

What I mean by context is simply that, we define and we inspire our people to yearn for the horizon on the ocean and we don’t tell them how to build that boat to get there. When it comes time to build a boat, we got to make sure we’ve got capital. But I would say William, going back, and I’ve taken a long way to answer your question here, but how do we kickstart that process? I think, we need to think about what is the leader’s role? And once we figure that out and we get to a more vulnerable support type definition, then we can start to think about, okay, what is the employees role? And I could talk to you more about that in a bit here but we’ve got a lot of pretty interesting ideas on that.

William Tincup:   I love that. Do you have a favorite Brené Brown quote?

Jeff:   I don’t. I will tell you the one thing that sticks in my mind. Memories are formed when you have an experience or you read something and it triggers emotion.

William Tincup:   Right.

Jeff:   And I’ve got three teenagers today. And one of my teenagers is a fun loving, very social guy. Just really willing to… He’s the ultimate in being vulnerable and having fun. And she was talking about, in one of her books about how she had a friend that her kid would sing and dance in grocery stores and just always having a good time and how the parent would get embarrassed because that’s not really socially acceptable. And the parent would tell the child, “Hey, don’t behave like that in public. Don’t act too happy in public.”

And that resonated for me because one of my kids is like that. And my wife and I used to say, “Hey, tone it down a little bit.” So I don’t have a favorite quote but I do have a favorite lesson. And that lesson is, let people be who they want to be. Don’t be so constrained by social norms. And that was my takeaway as a parent and it really transformed our perspective on how to… Kids and teenagers are adults. I mean, they’re just like adults, we’re all the same. So it really transformed my perspective about even my own leadership style. Do I need to show up to an all-hands meeting and be scripted and polished? Or do I need to show up and be a human being that is there to serve my people and I’m a representative of our people and I’m there to support them and I don’t have to have all the answers I can’t…

William Tincup:   No, in fact, in today’s world, if you have all the answers, that’s probably a problem. That’s probably an indicator that something’s wrong. I love that story from the Brené Brown’s and yours as well. There’s a bit, I don’t know to the quote exactly but she talks in vulnerability in the sense of, it’s the first thing that we ask from people and the last thing that we give. And that stuck with me because I resemble that remark. That was the one that stuck with me. What are some of the examples as you were redefined leadership for yourself and then for your leadership team, getting everyone board into it? What are some examples of vulnerability that you’ve seen? Without naming names or anything like that, just some examples of when people have been vulnerable.

Jeff:   Yeah. Well, I’ll give you some direct examples of Lumin. When we started Lumin, we had these all-hands meetings and we would have one a month. And I would put together this really nice presentation and we would try to squeeze a lot of content and Q&A into one hour. And the content was pretty well choreographed. It was scripted and choreographed and I knew what I was going to say and I had talking points. And as the company got larger, it just felt like we were going through the motions of an all-hands. And I had to step back and I had to think, okay, how do we make this more impactful? How do we make it more authentic? And the rule is now, that I will put content in our all-hands meetings. I’ll put content out there that, it’s unconventional and my delivery of it to the team is not scripted.

And I will be much more transparent in the delivery of that content to our folks. And I will tell you what, and I’m just sharing an example, William of myself here.

William Tincup:   Sure.

Jeff:   But what we will do, is at the end of that monthly meeting, we have a half an hour of open Q&A. And we allow, and we’ve modeled this behavior in the company for many years but we say that at Lumin, we’re not going to be a successful company, unless people are free to speak their mind. Now you got to be respectful.

William Tincup:   Right.

Jeff:   But you’re free to speak your mind. Through practice and doing it all-hands. I think, Lumin’s up to its 50th, we’re going to have our 50th all-hands meeting next week. We do them every month. With regular practice we have, employees are not afraid to ask tough questions in all-hands meetings with 150 people on the call where, it might be something that you would not typically hear an employee ask of a CEO.

And I have been very clear with our people that I’m okay being asked tough questions. I’m even okay if you ask a question that embarrasses me. As long as it’s respectful and it’s positive intent behind the question. And what that allows is… And I would tell you that, not just myself but our leaders, we practice this day in and day out in everything that we do, every meeting we’re in. And the seniority of a leader should not factor into what you can and cannot say to that person. And that means that, that leader has to show up and either have the bravery to speak when they need to speak or have the bravery to not speak. To shut up when they need to be quiet. But if leaders are willing to be imperfect and leaders are willing to be vulnerable, then what we are essentially doing is we’re inspiring and empowering the collective creativity of all of our people that are there, all those divergent opinions.

We’re encouraging them to commit and to engage in helping the company do the right thing. So I would tell you, that’s an example where I can’t think of a lot of CEOs, the companies I’ve worked for in the past that would put themselves in a situation like that. And it is something I will tell you that, I’ve seen it model pretty well. This idea of listening and supporting and vulnerability. I’ve seen this model pretty well with our parent company, with PSCU, with Chuck Fagan, he does a really good job of this as well. I would tell you, it’s something we model day in and day out, William. And…

William Tincup:   [crosstalk 00:   14:   29] you live it.

Jeff:   Yeah.

William Tincup:   I mean, that’s ultimately what you’re saying. This isn’t once a month. The meeting is once a month but you’re doing it actually to every day. Probably, every hour, every meeting and it just becomes second nature. It’s interesting that you mentioned title tenure, et cetera. Some of the things that we would think of, of what you can’t say at different ranks. I had the pleasure of working with two billionaires and in both cases, they’re 25 years apart from one another. In both cases, I’ve called them Mr and then their last name. Mr Walden, Mr Bass. And both cases, they corrected me and said their first and it’s thrown me each time it’s happened. It’s thrown me for a loop like, wow, okay. All right. We’re going to do that. All right, cool.

But I love that you bring it back and you’re like, “Hey, listen, it doesn’t really matter.” Good idea can and does come from everywhere. Which gets back to how do we retain our top talent? You’ve enabled them but with vulnerability, you’ve enabled them to be their best form of themselves. And they get to ask those tough questions because you know they have the tough questions. You know that they want to ask you their tough questions and you’ve allowed them the opportunity and that helps you, that helps them. Now they’re at a place where they can ask those questions and it’s probably freeing for a lot of employees because they don’t get that experience everywhere.

Jeff:   Now, a lot of our new employees are very suspicious, quite frankly in the process. And I’ll tell you William, we’ve had to evolve. When we started the company, we had 20 people. I would meet one on one with our employees once a month and it was 30 minutes, “Hey, what’s going on? How are you doing? Is your job rewarding? Do we respect you?” The one I love to ask is, do Lumin’s leaders model our core behaviors? Our values? But I used to do one-on-ones with all of our people. And of course, when the company hit 40, 50 people, that system totally broke.

William Tincup:   Right.

Jeff:   And I moved a couple, about three or four years ago, I moved to a weekly CEO round table format where we invite 10, it’s about eight to 10 random people come to a virtual zoom CEO round table with myself and it’s once a week. I do once a week and it just… So if you’re an employee, once a quarter, you’re going to get invited to a smaller format. And the objective is to keep me grounded, to keep me aware and to give our employees direct access to me, to build familiarity and to reinforce the company’s commitment to our employees.

The reason our employees are here, is to be creative and to build value and to go self organized and do some amazing stuff. And my job there, is to make sure that we have a coherent long term vision and strategy, make sure that we’ve got capital, make sure that we uphold our principles and our core behaviors and really, just to set that context that I talked about earlier. But what’s funny about these weekly CEO round tables, when I started that process a couple years ago, I was showing up and running it like a mini all-hands.

I had a slide deck and I will tell you, William, every all-hands, every employee orientation meeting we do, every CEO round table, we send out a short survey and we let people tell us, what do you think? And people beat me up pretty bad about their first CEO round tables. They are like, “Jeff, it’s like in mini all-hands. We want to connect with you, we don’t want to hear this pitch.” We’ve evolved that process where it’s like, Hey, how’s it going everybody? What’s going on? And that model has yielded some pretty substantial insights by me. I talked about leading through context and you can have an organization that has the best value system inside and out.

But if, as a leader, you are unaware of what’s going on inside of your company, then you stretch that company too far or you overcommit that company or you don’t get enough capital. What you’re going to do, is you’re going to create context where the value system will be strained. Imagine, William, if I said you have to do 20 podcasts today, if I was your owner or investor and I said, “Hey, William, I want you to do 20 podcasts today.” It doesn’t matter how good your value system is. It’s going to be stretched. What we’re really conscientious about is being mindful and graceful about how we scale the company, how we set context. And it’s pretty interesting model. It’s working out pretty well so far.

William Tincup:   Absolutely.

Jeff:   What the end result is, when we say we’re going to go do something, we generally hit that objective.

William Tincup:   Yeah, well, there’s trust. I mean, ultimately, vulnerability and respecting one another and living one’s values. You’re building each of the brick by brick, you’re building that trust and so when you say you’re going to go do something, people at that point, generally, probably believe that you’re going to go do it. Two quick questions. One is, have you seen any barriers to vulnerability? Just in going through this transitional moment for yourself, your leaders, your firm, et cetera. And on the other side of that is, are there some folks that just don’t thrive in a high candor or an environment where vulnerability is okay?

Jeff:   There’s two constraints to a more contemporary approach to leadership where you operate or you lead in accordance to servant leadership.

William Tincup:   Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff:   Vulnerability, transparency, inclusion. The number one constraint that we see is, people are either suspicious of it or they think you’re naive. They’re like, “What is this guy talking about? He clearly doesn’t understand how the world works, this guy is either an idealist, this is not how capitalism works.” You have to be careful when you’re working with outside stakeholders. You don’t want to overemphasize some of these principles because it will come off as potentially either naive or inauthentic. When we hire new employees, we don’t try to convince them when they start. We just try to describe the context.

And then we tell them, “Hey, have your ears open, listen and get back to us and tell us if this is right or wrong.” This is who we are. As we have new employees come into the company, we’re really careful to not oversell it. Problem number one, it sometimes comes off, like I said, a little bit potentially as naive. Problem number two, I read an article on fast company magazine last week and the new buzzword in the industry is vulnerability. And I thought, oh boy, here we go. Now vulnerability, the same things that have been overplayed and completely exhausted and over harvested like culture and values and mission statements. Well, now vulnerability is falling into that because companies are being quick to say, “Yeah, yeah. No, we’re all about vulnerability too.” But they really don’t understand it.

William Tincup:   Right.

Jeff:   And it’s giving it a bad reputation. This article said that the most authentic… The two things that the article said were becoming buzz words were authenticity and vulnerability. And what really was disheartening, it was a little deflating is this one quote that the article said, the most authentic place in a company, is the bathroom. Where you are just in there and you don’t have any… There’s no pretense. You don’t have to be somebody you’re not. And I thought, well, that’s really unfortunate because that probably is how most or how a lot of companies will eventually process authenticity and vulnerably.

William Tincup:   Yeah. And again, that should be in the reception area. If we’re talking about physical space, it should be in the reception area. It should be everywhere. It should permeate like air. It should just permeate the entire office, again, in a physical space. Last question because I know you got to run. Advice you’d give because you’ve been on this journey. You’ve been on this journey for a little while now, you’ve learned a couple things. If there’s leaders that are out there that are listening and they haven’t started this journey, what would be your advice to them? That first step of, it’s not going to happen overnight but what’s the first step that you’d give them as advice as to their journey?

Jeff:   Knowledge is power. And I would say that there’s two big things you can do. Go start just consuming books. Start plowing through books. There’s an amazing book that was transformative to me, written by Ed Catmull all about Pixar called Creativity, Inc. Go get that book, read it, underline it, take notes. And as you read through books, put into practice the same day, the next day, try to put stuff into practice, try to habitualize some of this wisdom and knowledge that is out there. Everything that you need to do to become a great leader an authentic leader, has already been written. So go read, pick up books. Like Ray Dalio has a great book about the principles of work and life. Patty McCord and powerful. I’m a huge fan of Patty McCord. Reed Hastings wrote a book about Netflix, called the No Rules Rules. Love that book.

And then Brené Brown, Warren Buffet. Go watch YouTube videos on Warren buffet and see how he talks about how he invests in companies that have management teams that are shaped with integrity, not profitability, not value creation. Go get books and then find a mentor. Find a mentor and then put that stuff into practice immediately. Don’t try to build a thesis and do a big bang approach to transforming your leadership but start where every day of your journey is about absorbing knowledge. That’s already been written, putting it into practice, learning through experimentation and raising the bar every day, every week and hold yourself accountable to it.

William Tincup:   Drops mic, walks off stage and watch some Columbo. Just FYI, which is great.

Jeff:   Yeah. If you’re a kid that grew up in the ’80s, I don’t know where you can find it but there’s probably out there on Hulu or Netflix or somewhere.

William Tincup:   It’s got to be somewhere. Jeff, thank you so much for your time. I know it’s precious and I appreciate you sharing your wisdom with our audience.

Jeff:   Okay. William, thanks a lot. It was a pleasure. Thank you.

William Tincup:   All righty. And thanks for everyone listening to RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time.

Music:   You’ve been listening to the recruiting live podcast by RecruitingDaily. Check out the latest industry podcast, webinars, articles and news at recruitingdaily.com.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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