Perspectives from the Top

Reflections on the Top - Jaime Blaustein

Episode Notes

Chris revisits the key points made by Jaime Blaustein, adds his own insights and gives listeners some suggestions for practical actions they can take immediately to help them get where they want to go.

Episode Transcription

Welcome to every one of our Perspectives from the Top community of listeners around the world to “Reflections on the Top”. And through your support and sharing with friends it is around the world as Perspectives from the Top now has listeners in 46 countries. “Reflections” is to help you get the best from the series by me reviewing the key insights from our latest guest. 

Our latest guest is Jaime Blaustein is Co-Founder and CEO of Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center. After battling addiction for several years in his late teens and early 20s — and going in and out of seven addiction treatment facilities before finally getting clean — Jaime Blaustein is now leading a team of health professionals helping others through their tough times. After recovering Jaime gained his MBA and, after time in Wells Fargo and Lord Abbet, a mutual fund manager, he became an investment banker at Credit Suisse in its Global Industrials coverage group in New York City. Here he was responsible for advising clients in on significant financial and business decisions. In September 2021 he decided to give up his investment banking career to found the center for those with mental health challenges seeking support.

What was really interesting about talking to Jamie was not only that I found it a really interesting interview but it also made me ask myself questions about why I doing the things that I do, both at work and in my personal life, how do I get myself to feel good and keep away from perhaps the things that I don't enjoy. So hopefully for everybody listening it's helped you ask some questions of those questions even if you are not facing a major problem, just to take a step back and look at where you are and what you're doing.

The reality of life is that, as human beings, we prefer to feel good than bad and we will do things that help us achieve that in relation to both our work and personal lives. But in some circumstances, particularly where there is a predisposition as Jamie had, this can end up in some form of addiction. Jamie made the comment that all of us are somewhere on this spectrum between not being addicted to something and being addicted. At the extreme it will lead to addiction of some form and that on the spectrum there is a point at which we lose the power of choice to stop, which he did at 19.

But even with his 6 unsuccessful and one successful rehabilitation Jaime discovered that some elements of having an addictive personality can help you be successful. But I think for everybody listening the big question for all of us is where does my buzz come from, how and when do I feel really good? What am I doing to get that, what impact is that having on myself and others and where am I going to end up if I continue to seek more. And then the question about am I in control of what's happening. But underpinning that his very interesting question about when I'm not doing anything, when I'm not occupied, just being myself, am I on edge in some way? 

A very powerful question which few of us ever ask, which then leads on to the other question which is so why am I not at ease? It may be something in relation to my personal life but equally it may be something that relates to my work life and with either maybe some reflection is called for.

Jamie made a really interesting point about the logic that you aren't going to be able to think about how to improve things if you have a broken mind. That you need to surrender to that fact and perhaps listen to others so you can take the right actions to as he put it “act your way into right thinking not think your way into right acting.”

Now that makes me think about this balance of those people who say that if you “will” things to happen you can make it happen, and Jaime's comment that if you act right then the thinking will follow. But perhaps if you think about it both are true, yes you can visualise where you want to be, but also you need to take action to get there. The on going interaction of having a thought and taking action, then reflecting on the action outcome to developing your thinking. It’s a simple reflective feedback loop that works and which we should all perhaps use more often. 

Jamie's comments about a broken mind being unable to think clearly may seem to some listeners as being extreme in terms of day to day life but I think the essential point is that Jamie is saying when you are in a position where you are so confused that you cannot see a way out that's the time to surrender and seek help. And I think that's just as valid in both the confused world of the work and personal environment as it is where Jamie was with his addiction.

But also he made the interesting point that, to some degree, you can only control what you do, you can't control everything around you. One of the things that I say to leaders is there are some things that you can control – your area of control - and things that you can't control but which you worry about – your area of concern. If your area of concern is about the same as your area of control then you will be more focused and less stressed. The greater your area of concern in comparison with your control the more distracted and stressed you become. It can be difficult, but try to focus on the things that you can control and don't worry about the things that you can't control, because you can't do anything about them anyway. 

Jaime quietly made a really nice point which was easy to miss, that it was his experience that if you do good the world tends to co-operate and good things happen. Maybe not always the case but in general terms if you do good for others they will probably do good for you. Remember the underpinning psychology and neuroscience which powers this that we have spoken about before?

Interesting that in the tough world of investment banking where Jaimie said he was under intense pressure and held to account but that the one thing that made a difference was leaders who were focused and expecting the best but doing so with support and empathy and delivering developmental feedback if things were not up to the standard they wanted. Rather than leaders who just held to account in a destructive way. What he was picking up on, even in an environment of intense pressure, was that if your leader supported you, showed they cared about you and helped you be your best you felt good about your job despite the pressure. Those leaders who just ask that simple question “how are you doing?” not just in relation to the job but to you as a human being and genuinely showing they care about you. And Jaime mentioned that it has to be “real talk”, so that you know they mean it. And as all of us know from experience we can tell if they don’t very easily.

But this also reflects one observation I have made since the start of my career, particularly with my training as a military officer, which is that as the pressure builds on both the team and the individuals within any environment the quality of leadership has to rise as well so that it outweighs the impact of the increased pressure. Otherwise the pressure will degrade the performance of the individuals and potentially cause the breakup of the team.

This interestingly leads on to a point Jaime made earlier that where there is a negative culture and people are under significant pressure it is possible that this then tips them into seeking help from someone like him and his colleagues. As he said, we are all to some degree, human pressure cookers. It's worth saying here that some level of pressure is good for us as humans, we flourish on challenge, it stimulates our brains and can even help them grow and make new connections. But that’s realistic challenging objectives in a supportive environment. That challenge pressure isn’t stress, but when its unrealistic expectations, lack of support and blame culture it becomes stress as we know that despite our best efforts it's not going to work. That’s the destructive leadership Jaime mentioned, and which I sadly expect everyone listening has probably experienced at sometime. 

Jamie made a really interesting comment that he wouldn't change anything in his past. That he has taken more positive value out of his experience than negatives, that on his journey as he put it “for every step backwards was five steps forward”. That when he went into investment banking he realised he was significantly more prepared for the volatility and stress than his colleagues straight from Business School who had not had the same experiences. Confirming the point that’s come out with other guests that tough times teach us a lot about ourselves and the world, as long as we get through them, and even though they might not have been pleasant at the time.

During his time in investment banking outside his job Jamie was spending time helping others who were going through similar journeys, when, by pure chance, an opportunity came up for him to combine both his passion for helping others and his passion for business via The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health centre. He was approached by an expert clinician, Ben Brafman, who had previously thrown Jamie out of a rehabilitation programme but who had subsequently noticed that he had moved into investment banking and felt maybe Jaime could now help him. For Jamie it met some important criteria that he had aspired to but not as yet being able to achieve:

  1. One being able to help more people with addictions
  2. Meeting needs of the wider general underserved mental health population
  3. To be his own boss 
  4. To be a more holistic professional – using more of his MBA expertise. 
  5. To have equity in a business. 

In these interviews we've often discussed with guests the importance of having time for reflection, the importance of having a break. We think that this applies perhaps just within the context of day to day events but obviously as the problem gets bigger than a longer break may be needed, to take time out and to assess. And that's what Jamie and his team try to do, to help people by looking at the psychological, clinical, and spiritual aspects to find a solution that works for them. 

But certainly what is clear, and indeed worrying, is that Jamie said in a significant proportion of cases he sees something around the problem was work related. Not maybe that the cause of the problem was purely work related but that the environment at work combined with the other factors had created a tipping point for the individual.

This is quite clearly the case from my experience. For example I have seen people having difficulty at work not because the culture at work was that bad, not because their boss was that bad, but because, for example they were experiencing stress within their personal lives, where the lack of a supportive environment at work was the tipping point.

So this goes back to the real need for leaders to understand their people holistically not just within the work context. When I speak around the world and ask leaders what were the actions their best boss did which made them so special one of those that always comes out is that “they supported me, but they also knew when I needed it”.

But this plays back into Jaime's experience in how he now operates as a CEO of a small business. The adjustment that he made moving into healthcare from investment banking. Experiencing as we all have if we have changed business sectors or indeed organisations, the value of your perspective. When you ask people “why do you do things like this” that often the reply is “well that's how we've always done it here.” That doesn’t mean it’s the best way now – that’s the power that your new perspective can bring.

Within his new world Jamie found that there was plenty of empathy but not necessarily always sufficient accountability and business focus which he was then able to contribute. But for him it was clearly a learning experience balancing his approach to match the needs of his new team, expecting accountability and delivery but also by using support and empathy to bring them up to a higher level of capability to achieve that.

But he made the powerful point, which I personally also adhere to, that you cannot judge people against pure output or delivery. As I quoted to Jaime I have often seen two people on a team who are producing the same level of output but one person may be coasting on the other one may be giving their best. We agreed perhaps the best measure is whether people are giving their best bearing in mind the capability that you as a leader and the organisation have given them compared with what you are asking them to do.

As Jamie said, and I think it's perfectly valid, leaders shouldn't be tolerant of laziness, and if there is a shortfall in delivery leaders need to ask the question first of themselves, why is this person not able to deliver? Is it because I have not given them the capability or support to be able to do what I ask, and in any event then asking the person how they can be helped to deliver in the future with your support.

I expect that there are many of you listening, both leaders and not, who've been in a position where you have been unable to deliver, or had problems delivering what you were asked to do not because you weren't putting in the effort but because you didn't necessarily have the full capability or the resource. 

Given his expertise I then asked Jaime what he thought anyone of you listening should do if you were suffering some of the problems that he deals with at the center. His advice was if you think you may potentially be addicted or nearly addicted, and we are not only talking drugs here, it could equally be alcohol, gambling or something else which could have a negative effect on you and others around you. His two questions were quite simply: 

  1. Do you want to stop? 
  2. Can you stop? 

And that if necessary you should seek help and take time off work to deal with the issue once and for all as he did. Certainly if it is a building mental health issue you should not try and suppress it but again seek help.

At a lower level all of us at various points in our careers feel the stress that it's causing us, the impact that it's having both professionally and personally, and how that can build to a point that it is starting to cause health problems. Jaime had the simple question that you should ask which is “why am I doing all this?” And “are the benefits of the job significantly outweighing the negative factors?” If not then you should try to move on. 

Now that seems to be a very simple analysis of what you should do. The problem is that when we are in the midst of a stressful job we often find it really difficult to take that step back and objectively analyse the situation and make a plan to deal with it. I go back to Jaime's point right at the beginning about if you have a broken mind you can't think your way out of a problem. Now in these situations you are probably not suffering to the degree that Jamie was but it's certainly true that many of us get locked into a behavioural pattern, even if it's in an environment that we don't like, and find it difficult to breakout. 

But here we go back to what has come out of all the interviews with successful leaders that we've done and you've heard, which is that’s its so important to regularly take time to talk to and reflect with somebody else you trust, and unofficial mentor if you want to term it that way. If you have an official mentor who you are happy to talk to then do so. But I would seriously advise everybody listening to have someone objective who you can talk to openly and honestly when you need to.

Jaime's advice for all of us going forwards is so simple just do two things : 

  1. Ask people genuinely “how are you doing?”
  2. Expect accountability for delivery but do so with empathy showing you care making sure you have given people the capability.

I would also add as a leader you should add some inspiration as well ! 

Of those I would suggest that the first one you can apply from now to anybody you know not just at work. Just having people around you who show an interest in you as a human being is something that can power you through tough times if they do arise.

I just wanted to finally emphasise the power of the simple actions that Jaime has set out, and indeed have other guests, so these are the hard figures. If you are a leader who does the following things compared to a leader who does not bother these are the potential increases in effort you could get from your people by doing them. 

If all leaders in an organisation do these simple things together with the other things that our guests have mentioned you can get 30% more effort from 60% of people which could, depending on the circumstances, put up to 10% on bottom line for free. That's a return on investment that any organisation would be mad to ignore.

With the previous guests and now Jaime hopefully you are seeing a pattern of simple actions you can take to be more successful. Share these interviews colleagues who would benefit so they can grow and develop with you. Certainly I will be using these powerful points in my speaking and Masterclasses in the future.   

If you have any thoughts or questions contact me on LinkedIn or via email as detailed on the Perspectives website. don't forget to sign up to Perspectives from the Top. It's free, so you don't miss any of the more than 25 great episodes in the future. 

That’s it for now, so onwards and upwards until our next episode!