Sally talks Self-Leadership with Jas Johal

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Jas Johal
Delivery Manager, Tech Industry

Over 25 years experience helping clients to manage people and projects to shape and deliver technically-challenging projects and programmes of work while still retaining the passion and enthusiasm to drive teams to excellence.

My project management experience spans across a wide range of industry sectors: including retail, insurance, financial services and integrated oil and energy trading.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with a diverse range of clients throughout Europe, Asia and Australia in both the large corporate & SME sectors, and can bring a wealth of practical knowledge and experience to your organisation.

Clients I have worked with include Suncorp, RACQ, Virgin Australia, Barclays Capital, BP, Logica, NYSE, Automobile Association and Swiss Re.

I have skills across many project methodologies and frameworks; however, I consider myself a passionate Agilest, believing iterative and continuous delivery, coupled with continuous customer feedback and improvement is the key to success in delivering the complex, simply.

Acknowledged for someone who uses a consultative approach to manage and influence project teams to deliver enterprise IT solutions from initiation through to production delivery and support.

Connect / Follow Jas on LinkedIn.


#selfleadership #courage #confidence #influence #leadership #FAILforward #FAILbig #technology #ICT #projectmanagement #australia

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Interview Transcript

– Hello, Sally Foley-Lewis here with another episode of the Spark Self-Leadership Series, all about firing up your confidence, influence and courage through self-leadership. And I’m delighted to be joined by Jas Johal, who is the Delivery Manager for 4impact. Welcome to the Spark Series, Jas.

– Hi, Sally, thanks for having me.

– My pleasure. So tell me who and what is 4impact? I know it’s tech, but tell me more.

– It is tech. So we’re a consulting and technology services company, which is a long winded way of saying we try to help our clients deliver technology projects, consultants and then take a project through into a managed service scenario as well. So we support them all the way through the journey. I think the key for me around 4impact and why I’ve been with 4impact for so long, is around the fact that we base it around humans. So we are very focused on people, both our clients, but also internally with the company as well. So we try and get the best people working alongside us, and I’m very fortunate that my teams, I think, are the best of the breed.

– Nice, and I like that. Especially when, in my brain, which could be further from tech, and I’m the people kind of side of things. I love hearing that you’ve got that people and that tech blend going. So I think that’s fantastic. So then let me ask you this, let’s kick this conversation off and tell me from your perspective, what is self-leadership to you?

– Yeah. I’ve also been thinking about this since I lined up this chat with you. I think it changes for me quite regularly. So I think I have a core basis of principles that I’ve always worked into. And they start from when I was a kid and what my parents taught me, which is hard work and accountability. So I always start everything I do, both in personal life and in work life, with those two things in mind, that it’s hard work and accountability. And then it’s what you layer on top of it. For me, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve worked in a lot of industries with a lot of different people and it’s the people that make me the leader. And it’s my relationships with clients, with people I work with, with management team and how we face challenges on a day-to-day basis. I think if you ask people, they’d probably say what my leadership style is and the way I tend to lead myself, is I’m very focused on tasks. I like to say I’m awake every single day. So yes, we all wake up in the mornings, but I like to be, in my mind, I’m awake and I’m listening to things and I’d set myself challenges on a daily basis and I work from that basis. And that may come across a little bit OCD, and my wife certainly thinks so, but for me, it helps me then to, if I’ve got that in the back of my mind, I can then sort of build stronger relationships with people and I can do what I call the people’s stuff a lot easier because I’ve already got everything clear in my mind as to where I wanna go, have an outcome at the end of it, and then help my teams and lead by example. And that’s the leadership I try to solve. Try.

– It sounds like you’re very goal driven.

– I am very goal driven. Yeah. And you don’t always get your goals, but it’s what I said at the start, it’s hard work and accountability, as long as you give your best and you try that. I think people see that and then sort of develop that. And hopefully it helps them as well.

– Yeah, I love that. Thank you. And I like that, I’ve not heard people talk about hard work and accountability as a key piece or even as a foundation to self-leadership. I think there’s an assumption that it’s there, but to really be quite explicit about it is, it’s nice to hear that, so thank you. So when we think about characteristics that we often hear leaders need to have, like confidence, courage and influence, in your mind, how do those three things link to self-leadership?

– I think again, going back to certainly around confidence. That I’m not the most outgoing person, so I am a bit of an introvert, but I think I have the confidence over experience. So it hasn’t come easy. It is sort of, you work up to that confidence and then flows the courage to go into situations that you’re not used to. As a leader, you have to have that courage to sort of show people that you’re willing to take that challenge and move to the next stage. I’ve been really lucky. I started my career as a graduate many years ago in the UK. I had a really strong female leader who actually put me into leadership positions quite early, which was a bit scary, but it built that confidence and that courage and made me then want to influence the people I speak to. Early on, I learned how to sort of have those relationships with people, even though it scared me. It scares me to this day. I still have moments where I’ll go into conversations where if it’s not in my confidence zone… So yeah, everyone feels that. I guess that’s the coach side of it. I try to sort of portray to my teams and sort of just make sure that no one has the right answer to everything. We all learn as we go, both in personal life and in work life.

– And what I’m hearing you say is that it’s not about not having fear or not being even a little bit of anxious about something, it’s in spite of that, still doing it, and that’s where the courage lies. And I think one of the things… Here comes your poodle. Yay! One of the things I love is that, you had a leader who saw something in you and I wonder, and I’m just going to put words in your mouth here, and tell me if I’m wrong, but the knock-on effect of her confidence in you, does that rise your competence in you?

– Oh, absolutely. And yeah, I hope along the way I then pass that back onto somebody else. She certainly did that for me. I mean, I was probably 18 months in, on a graduate programme where I became a leader. And for me that was scary, but she was there every step of the way. And I try to do that with the people I work with as well, and sort of say, that’s what a daily challenge is. If it was gonna be easy, it wouldn’t be worth having so go out there and try it, I don’t mind if you get things wrong. Nobody gets things right every single time.

– Yeah. And I think that’s interesting. So when something does go wrong, what part of self-leadership kicks in for you?

– Oh, we work in an agile environment, which I know it’s the buzz word, everyone still talks agile, but in the tech world, it’s quite big for what we do. And we have this thing called a retrospective at the end of a period of time, two weeks, four weeks, ahead of a project. And for me, that’s a reflection and reflecting on what I’d done each day and sort of thinking, “Well, I could have done that better.” I’ll give you a good example. Probably earlier on in my career, I would not be very emotional. I’d be very black and white about things. And as I then saw became more mature and start to work into being a leader, I probably went the other way. And it was a case of me going back and sort of going, “I could have done that slightly differently, I could have handled that situation better.” And it’s taught me how to sort of have relationships with people, which obviously in your personal life, you have anyway. But for me, it’s a foreign thing to have relationships at work where you’re actually thinking about the relationship and making sure the other person’s well and okay. And so on and so forth. There he goes.

– Your puppy agrees, that’s all. That’s a relationship right there. I think he is vouching for you. Absolutely. And I totally agree with you because I think at the beginning of the show, you’re talking about getting the right people in the role and it’s a tech industry. And I often have a perception from an outsider’s perception that people skills is one of the last things on the agenda in the tech world, and that’s either fairly or unfairly, my filter, but I think that it’s great to hear you say that, that this is really something that’s come to the fore for you, particularly, I imagine as a leader, that sense of making sure that everyone’s okay and that piece of retrospection, I think is valuable. It sounds like you’ve got reflection on your own performance, but also the feedback loop is really making sure it does go through and loop through and the feedback’s coming.

– It really is that, it’s that feedback loop. And to your point about teams, I mean, one of the things I try to do, I’ve built teams both here and in the UK for many years now. And the one thing I’ve learnt is, you can get good technical people and you do want good technical people who are just technical. But you cannot do with just them. You need the people who can manage relationships and do some of the technical. So you’ll find that I subconsciously, when I build a team and sort of work with people, I’m picking a core of skills and then they sort of pick the team around them. So I’m not actually doing it myself. I actually encourage that in those guys to sort of say, “Right, we’ve got really strong technical person here and we have to have that in an IT industry, but we need something to balance that as well.” And you have to have that balance across teams to make it work.

– Absolutely. And I think any organisation where the leader’s picking people that are like them like that doppelganger, or they’re only picking one style of employee where their strengths lie in any one area is falls absolutely short. You’ll certainly see a big… What’s the word I’m looking for? You might get really quick, short wins, but you’ll actually have long-term losses because you’re fighting hard to keep a relationship with a client, or you’re fighting hard to make sure that your contracts are renewed, your service agreements keep going. And it reminds me of an organisation that had done just that and the pole boss hadn’t seen who he was employing. And when it was brought to his attention, he realised that his organisation had a reputation of being a one hit wonder, as in, they could only get one contract and people wouldn’t renew because the relationships weren’t there, the other skills, like you’re talking about, just weren’t there in the team, so I think that’s fantastic.

– You really don’t want to have me on a team either. I think that’s probably one of me is enough on a team. I think you’re absolutely right, you’ve got to have a blend of people.

– I’m sure you’re fine, but I’d take your point in, that we do, we need a range of skills and to be able to see the gaps across the team is also really important because not only is it about your self-leadership and your self-awareness and your ability to see, “Well, this is what I bring as a leader, and this is who this person brings, and this is what this person brings, and this is what this person brings.” Being able to see all that line it up and go, okay, now, where are the gaps in this that I’ve got to fill? That’s a skill in of itself.

– And that, for me, when we were talking about self leadership at the start of this is, one of the layers I’ve built over time is I can pick people pretty well. So when I’m putting the teams together or I’m working with people, I know the jigsaw pieces that I need to put together to build that team. And that’s come over time, that’s not something that you sort of instantly know that is one of the things you’d have to do. It’s experience.

– Yes, definitely. Yeah. So let’s just take this a little bit step further and look into one of the things I’m really keen to hear about from senior leaders like yourself is, some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way. And I think not that you ever wish bad things on people, but let’s face it, bad things happen. And it’s usually in that messy stuff that we get the greatest growth. And so I’m interested to learn from you if there’s been something, an incident or something that’s happened, where you could see how it has impacted your self-leadership. And what did you do to reignite yourself leadership or the lessons for yourself leadership from that incident? Now, you don’t have to share the incident, but I’m more interested in than the lessons or the reigniting of your self-leadership.

– I guess we’re going through one right now, the pandemic’s probably one of the key ones, but the one that stands out for me is I’m old enough to having been involved in IT and the GFC. So I actually worked in the Lehman’s Building when they carried their boxes out of the building that day, which is a sobering position to be in and it certainly puts things into perspective. And I went through a period of time there where I didn’t work for nine to 12 months. And I think that’s where your leadership really takes a knock. And it did for me, and it was a case of, I know all these things; about hard work, accountability, self-awareness, although probably not so much self-awareness at that time, but I actually didn’t know my way out of that. And I still did the daily things, wake up and try and put challenges in front of myself, finding a new job was gonna be a challenge, so on and so forth. But I did the one thing I probably do a lot now, but never did before, and that was asked for help. And that was predominantly driven by my wife saying, you need to do something, talk to someone other than me. And that’s what I did. I went out and got myself a counsellor and I spoke to them about career building and so on and so forth. And it was asking for help. And I think that’s probably the one thing I carry through with all my teams at the moment is, it’s okay to ask for help and please do. I’m open about it, I’ve done it. I did it at that time in the GFC and I did it a couple of years ago, just personally because I needed to talk to someone. I don’t think there’s anything negative to it. For me, it put me back on track. Absolutely built back my confidence, and I started to do the little things right. Again, I started treat treating unemployment as a job and all of a sudden, all those things come back to you.

– Yeah. Thank you for sharing. And I have to 1000% agree with you that asking for help is such a vital thing to do that we look at it so wrongly in so many ways, when it is something that helps us get out of our own way, it helps us put an issue in front of us so we can look at it with a bit more clarity of distance and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. And I think it’s also, I love Les Brown who’s a famous professional speaker who talks about personal growth and things like that. And he says asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. And I also think from a leadership perspective, and even the self-leadership perspective, it’s the knowledge to know that you’re not the expert in everything. And it’s the smarts to know you need the expert. And I know Richard Brenton, that’s one of his famous things out of his book about putting the right people in the room and knowing you don’t know everything, but that’s what it’s about. So I really appreciate you saying asking for help, and sharing that where you got your help from. Because I think having a counsellor, having the expert is just so vital for our own success in life.

– Yeah, it is. And I went through the friends. I asked friends and family members. Yes, it helps to an extent, but they’re not the experts at this. And to your point about, you can’t be the expert, I absolutely probably thought early in my career that I was the best at what I did in leadership roles and whatever. I so know that wasn’t true. I so know that now it’s the people I surround myself with and all I’m really doing is empowering them to be able to sort of rise up and sort of help me deliver whatever. So I may get the pats on the back of the end of it, but it’s really all down to the people around you.

– Yeah, yeah. And I love that. And I think you more of a facilitator of making things happen and the conduit to make it all happen. So I totally appreciate that perspective, yeah.

– Yeah, that’s how my management might look.

– Okay. Shh. And I think your point also about friends and family, they love you dearly, but one of the things that I find is that it’s well-intended bad advice and it comes from love, it doesn’t come from the expertise you need. And I say that with all loving respect to them. I’ve got a great relationship with my husband where I say, “Sweetheart, you don’t have to agree, you just have to accept.”

– And that about sounds like my wife there.

– And he’s beautiful with that, he says, “I will never understand why you do what you do, cause he’s the exact opposite to me, but I accept you for who you are and what you do, and we’ll get you whatever you need in the way of the experts I need to be in front of or the help I need.” So yeah, I totally resonate with what you’re saying. I also resonated with being young and thinking I know everything, so I will move right past that piece.

– That’s the reflection there, isn’t it. That’s going back to reflecting back on, you can say that. And I openly say that to graduates who we work with at the moment I’m a keen advocate of bringing graduates into a company, into an organisation. One, because I was graduate at one point and thought I knew everything. And when you see graduate come in, you don’t knock their confidence and say, actually you don’t, but you help them sort of guide them into a position which helps them get that of their ambulation.

– Yeah, love it. I love that, thank you. So then speaking of graduates and younger staff, and when I say younger, I mean in level of experience and maturity around their role and their career, how do you help them far up their own self-leadership?

– I guess that goes back to the type of person that is. I think you are going to get different people, not everyone’s gonna be wanting to be a leader, but there are people you see that in. For me, I’ve always, when I’ve built teams and put teams onto projects, I start with a core. It’s a bit like a sporting team where you have your key players who you pick every single time and you build around them and the ones you build around them may or may not want to be leaders, but the ones in the middle do. For me, first thing I’d say to everyone is, you’re gonna fail. There’s going to be times when things aren’t gonna go the way you wanted to do, but I’m right here. And I had a conversation with a young guy who works for us over in Manila. And I put him into a lead position at a client. He wasn’t sure about it, still probably isn’t, but I made a call to him, we spoke about it and I sent him a video of something, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it. It’s a Denzel Washington speech to college graduates where he says, “You will fail.” And he cited Edison for the light bulbs, how he had thousand experiments before he find the light bulb, but he found the light bulb. So it doesn’t matter how many times you fail. That’s the motto I try and put in him, put into people’s heads and get them going. And I send that video to this young guy and he was so grateful. And you could tell it was just that confidence that he knew that he could come to me. And that’s the personal thing. I try, now that I’m a little bit more mature and older, I can sort of go away from those task lists and everything, because I’ve got all of that in my mind sorted. Now I can spend time with people and help them as I go along.

– Yeah, and I love that messaging to the staff member about you found a way in which to connect with them. And I think that message that Denzel Washington in that video, if I remember it correctly, it’s okay to fail, but get back up and keep trying and keep finding, take the lesson and persist. And I think being able to send those messages in different formats is really valuable.

– I use that with my daughter right now, cause she’s quite anxious at the moment. And one of the key statements in that video was fall forward. So you’re gonna fall. So if you’re gonna fall, fall forward. And she recites it back to me now. She’s taken that on board, she’s a 10 year old girl and it’s boosted her to that little bit where she knows she’s gonna fall forward, which I think is great. And that’s a great motto to sort of pass on to people who are experiencing lack of courage or confidence at that point.

– Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I love that. Thank you for sharing that. And so I guess just to make sure we’re sticking to time here one of the questions I love to dive into with senior leaders is, what do you wish you knew about self-leadership just in your early leadership days or before you stepped into your first leadership role?

– Oh yeah. Probably touched on a couple of them. One is you’re never always right. I think that. But that comes over time. I think if somebody had said to me way back, you not always right, I would have probably disagreed with them anyway. So there was no point in them saying anything to me, but I think the one thing is asking for help. I think that for me, certainly over the last 10 to 15 years is really strong for me. It’s I think you have to ask for help and not think that you’re the only one going through that. And sometimes for me, that’s me going to my team and saying, “Right, we’ve been given this challenge, I have my thoughts, but I’d really like to find out what you guys are thinking.” I might as well go back to my own thought and sort of say, “No, we’re doing it this way,” and that’s what we’re gonna do, but I’m a lot more open to asking for that help. That’s something I wish I could have known when I started, is ask for help.

– Yeah. And I love that because it’s not just asking for help, but you’re also asking for input in that example you just shared, because imagine if you’d gone off on your tangent and you’d missed something that could have made triple the value or saved triple the cost or any sort of opportunity loss because we stuck with our blinkers on and just stuck to our own thinking and thinking that we were right. There was that, asking for help when you need it but also my idea is not always gonna be the idea necessarily.

– Yeah, no, don’t get me wrong. I still have those moments where I’ll go through and still have my idea and stick with it. And then I have been, that’s it on the back of the head where I’ve got it wrong. And I think the next thing you learn is put your hand up and admit your mistakes. It’s that fall forward thing. People used to think, certainly when I started out like, failure was seen in a different light to the way it is today. And I don’t think it’s failure. I use that word, but it’s actually as human nature, we’re not always gonna get things right.

– I love one of my old mentors said, I don’t even remember when it was now, but it stuck with me. It was like, fail fast and fail often. And then he would lean in and say, “And fail quietly.” You can always fail quietly, however, I love that permission that it gives you to fail fast and fail often because once you get through your failures, the faster you get through your failures, the faster you get to the successes.

– That’s a Richard Branson thing as well. He’s quite keen on that as well.

– I wonder if it’s where he heard it from.

– And I think I’ve met Richard Branson cause I worked at Virgin, one of my first jobs at 4impact. And he comes across like that sort of person when you meet him in person as well. He is quite, admit that you you’re gonna make mistakes. It’s just one of those things and actually makes you a better leader. For me, it’s certainly made me a better leader. You pick yourself up and then you learn from it. You reflect, you go back and look at it and think, “Yeah, I could have done that slightly differently.” Or sometimes there’s nothing you could have done, but you still fell.

– Yeah. I think you make a really good point. You still need to reflect, even if there was nothing that could have been done. It’s one of those moments where this was out of my control and I have to learn to know that I could not have controlled that. And so weird now, do I invest my energy? Do I spiral down, wishing I could have controlled it or do I acknowledge that and let it go.

– Yeah. And that’s something that happens regularly. And it’s one of those things that you can’t just beat yourself up about it. I’m obviously experienced and age will sort of teach you that I do know boxing soft, so I get to the point where, okay, there’s no point in me worrying about that. I can’t change it, I can’t get back. There’s nothing I could have done any way. Just park it, learn from it and move on.

– Yeah. Yeah. Look Jas, I want to talk to you for another 17 hours, but your dog will not let us, I know that because I just saw your puppy jump on the sofa. So hopefully that’s permitted in your home.

– He owns the house so it doesn’t really matter.

– All our pets own our houses, we don’t own them. Love it. Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom and sharing your stories and your experiences and thoughts around self-leadership, I really appreciate it. Do you have any last words you wanna share before we close out.

– Fall forward, would probably be my engage. It’s my thing at the moment because of my daughter. It does start my day on the right notes as well, and I hope it starts your day in the same way.

– Oh, thank you. And here’s a shout out to your daughter. Thank you so much. Jas, really appreciate your time and we will see you again on another episode of the Spark Self-Leadership Series: Firing up your confidence, influence and courage through self-leadership. Bye for now.