Joey Klein Of Inner Matrix Systems On The Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Sara Connell
Vision is your golden ticket. Vision (a clear destination that includes specific outcomes) is the most important thing to embody, share, and train inside your business. It serves as context and supports you to have an answer to any question. Vision and your “why” is what will wake you up and light you up when things get tough. And vision is the foundation of a company’s culture.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Joey Klein.
Joey Klein is the founder and CEO of Inner Matrix Systems, a personal mastery training system for high achievers. For more than twenty years, IMS has delivered a proprietary methodology that rewires, trains, and aligns the nervous system, emotions, and thought strategies to create real-life results. Klein has been a lifelong learner whose current work at IMS is a synthesis of intense study and practice in several disciplines including meditation, martial arts, psychology, and spiritual traditions.
Prior to founding IMS, Joey was an executive with an international personal transformation company, working as a senior trainer teaching practical spirituality and self-mastery programs throughout Japan and Europe. In 2005, he was invited to speak at the International Peace Summit for the United Nations.
As a result of his research, training, and experience, Klein has long been considered an expert on the inner game of performance. His writings have been published in 14 countries. He is the author of the new book, The Inner Matrix: Leveraging the Art & Science of Personal Mastery to Create Real Life Results. Joey has been interviewed for his expertise by a wide variety of media outlets including: CEO World, Self Magazine, INC.com, Yahoo Finance, NBC, CBS and Fox.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Absolutely! Thanks so much for having me. My own journey started a little over 20 years ago when I left my home in Andover, Kansas, in search of whatever it took to find peace. At the time, I didn’t have any aspirations to start a business or support people; I truly just wanted to find whatever it took to get out of the pain I was in. I had found myself on the dark side of partying to numb the pain and depression I was battling. To put it mildly, I was out of control. So, I packed my bags (from the basement of my parents’ house) and set out to travel all over the world to find some relief. I traveled to the ashrams of India to the temples of Thailand in search of finding any answers that would give me access to peace. With such a sharp focus on personal development, I started finding things that really worked for me. I ultimately landed in LA and got connected with a prominent psychologist in the city. Because of the support I was able to provide her daughter in the form of teaching her inner training techniques (what people often call meditation), and the measurable difference it made for her, the psychologist began to send me her most troubled clients that had hit a wall in therapy. I was able to teach them specific inner training techniques that created a measurable shift for them as well, often within the span of about 30 minutes. That same mentor, the psychologist, recommended that I start charging for the consulting I was doing with her clients. My business was born. Over the years, I’ve really just honed the skills that created results for people over and over again, and created a system of training that could serve many more people than could fit in my private practice.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’m not sure it’s necessarily a funny mistake, but a big mistake I made at the beginning of building my business was thinking that something had to be perfect before I executed it.
When I look back to when I wrote my first book, it was a five-year plus process getting that book written and then published. I was so obsessed about it being perfect that I didn’t execute it as efficiently or as effectively as I could have. I missed out on influence that I could have had in people’s lives, the positive impact that we could have had, and company growth that would have occurred sooner had that happened more quickly and more efficiently.
Did I create a better book because I spent an extra three years developing it? Maybe. But it probably was not significant for what it was meant to produce or that which it was purposeful for. It would have been more than good enough had it been launched and written two or three years prior. I recently finished my second book (The Inner Matrix: Leveraging The Art & Science of Personal Mastery To Create Real Life Results) and it’s lightyears better than the first book and took about 1/5 the time to complete!
That’s just one example of where I’ve learned this lesson — to execute. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be extraordinary. We just have to get started, and we have to execute. Then it’s through the process of execution that we learn to ultimately hit the mark. If we fail to execute, because we’re waiting for something to be perfect or extraordinary, we often never get to extraordinary because we get into that place called failure to launch. There’s a lot of credence to pivoting to it being good enough and, I’m just going to put this out here and try it, because it’s the process of trial and error that creates excellence, not getting it perfect out of the gate.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people I’m grateful for and many mentors I’ve had who have supported me on my path. No one achieves success or significant impact without support, and I make it a point to be especially grateful for the people, past and present, who have been on this wild ride with me! One person that has had such a tremendous impact on me, both during the time he mentored me, and even today because of what I learned from him, is Grand Master Tejune Lee. Master Lee was my martial arts coach and led me to winning three World Championships in Martial Arts, three consecutive years in a row. The thing that Master Lee embodied so fully, and the thing that sticks with me as one of his greatest leadership lessons, is that living by a set of key principles will serve both in leadership and in life. He taught me through example that when one lives by a set of principles, both as an individual and inside an organization, it serves as a north star and provides coherence among teams. Relying on principles gives us the answer to even the toughest questions and when these principles are communicated clearly and regularly, people know what to expect and can feel safe because they understand the standard to which everyone is striving for. Lots of companies have core values, which is valuable for sure. But principles are ways of being that don’t change whether the circumstance is inside business or not. An example of a key principle that Master Lee embodied and that I have adopted as one of my own is the idea of “showing up.” Master Lee taught this principle in the context of showing up for our martial arts training, no matter what, each day. Of course, I understood that “no matter what” meant I should always show up for training. But then one day I was sick. And I thought for sure that “no matter what” didn’t apply when I was sick. Oh, but it did. Then I would have an injury — a sprained ankle or twisted knee — and I would think, surely, no matter what doesn’t apply now!? Oh, but it did! I remember one day I had slid my foot across the wood floor as part of a form I was training, and I hit a nail in the floor that ripped through my foot, all the way through the tendon and the bone. I was bleeding, in significant pain, and probably needed a doctor. I felt absolutely positive that this would be the one time where I was excused from training the next day. When I approached Master Lee to show him my injury, he simply said, “See you tomorrow for training.” I was shocked (and to be honest, mad!). But I was also stubborn and thought, sure, I’ll show up for training, and bleed all over his floor — that will teach him! I showed up, though. And got through training. And although this may seem cruel, it’s a principle that has served me well as an entrepreneur and a human. No matter how hard things get, no matter how dismal things may seem, whether that be in my business or in my life, I have a commitment to “just show up”. And that has served me tremendously. And fortunately, my foot healed just fine.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The vision and purpose for Inner Matrix Systems is the same today as it was on day one when I started. I’ve always strived to answer these two questions as effectively and efficiently as possible to create impact and value.
- How do we in the most effective way support people to come out of and eliminate the suffering they know?
- How can we support people to create a life better than they could even imagine?
When the company first started, it was just me working to answer these questions in my one-on-one private practice. But as I continued to ask those questions, the business evolved, and now we answer them through weekend seminars, classes, and online training globally that impacts thousands. We will never stop asking those questions and our training and the ways in which we answer them will continue to grow and evolve until we’re serving millions.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
In the world we live in uncertain and difficult times are invariable. As leaders it’s important to understand that and prepare. Our teams look to us during difficult times because they want to make sure that they will be okay — that they will still have jobs — and they want to feel safe.
I have a seminar company. Until 2019, IMS produced solely in person events. In March 2019 when the entire world shut down, our business ended overnight. We canceled events and scrambled to support our clients. Our busines is in the business of supporting people through difficult times and we were also trying to navigate the unknown ourselves. I’m proud to say that our team was able to pivot and create a new digital offering within a matter of weeks. This was possible because we did a few key things during this time that can help any leader during difficult or uncertain times.
- We got clear and reminded ourselves of our vision. Before any of this happened and COVID-19 ended our business — What was the vision and specific outcomes we were looking to create? Where were we headed? Vision and intended outcomes should NOT change, regardless of circumstance. Getting clear on where we were headed, instead of focusing on what was happening, allowed us to move forward clearly and definitively.
- We asked ourselves what the opportunity was in this situation that we could leverage? Instead of getting lost in what was happening and allowing ourselves to create stories about what it could mean, we looked at it from a place of opportunity and how we could serve.
In this specific example of pivoting our business during COVID-19, our vision never wavered. Because we looked at this from a place of opportunity, we were able to be creative and collaborative to find a solution. It also opened up a whole new way to serve our clients. We are thrilled to be able to offer virtual seminars and classes as well as our in-person offerings. COVID-19 gave us the time and space to figure out how to produce virtual offerings that really supported people, something that probably wouldn’t have happened (at least for some time) if we were still traveling and putting on in person events.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
As an entrepreneur, the thought of giving up or quitting is going to come up from time to time. It certainly has for me. Both in training entrepreneurs and being one myself, I’ve never come across an entrepreneur at any level that hasn’t wrestled with the notion of is this all worth it? I’ve had times where I wanted to quit. And because I know those times are imminent, I have a plan and strategy in place beforehand to rely on when these times come up.
I always go back to my “why”. My “why” is personally meaningful and tied to something that motivates me.
My “why” is to support people in a place of suffering to learn tools that can create a life better than they could imagine. This is personally meaningful to me because of where I came from. I grew up in Andover, KS. And although I had loving parents, no one around me was thriving. I was inside such depression and panic that there were times that I didn’t want to live. Today, I live a life that is extraordinary and get to live in a way and work in a way that few people have access to. Having access to this life that I didn’t know was possible is a driver for me to see what’s possible in this life and support other people to do the same. This certainly motivates me. But when things get really tough and I consider quitting, I also think about what it would mean for people if I gave up. I think about the people that rely on me — my team — and what it would mean for them to lose their jobs. I think about our clients that rely on IMS. I think about all the lives that won’t be supported if this training isn’t available. I think about what it will mean for me if I don’t live my life all out.
Motivation comes from putting emotional importance on the outcome we want to create, which then translates to getting us to take action. My “why” is the driving force behind motivation and getting me through even the most difficult times.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
Oh wow, so many! The one that comes to mind this moment is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl. It’s a book I often go back to and re-read, especially when I’m feeling challenged and don’t’ know the way forward. It’s a story of a man that survives a concentration camp and ultimately leverages the experience afterwards to support others. I love this example because I really can’t think of a more challenging experience, being in a concentration camp, and it’s inspiring to read how this man took that experience and moved forward to create a legacy that serves others, even today.
When I think about the challenges I face in business, even though they may seem so big at times, I think of Viktor and the way he was able to transform that horrific space for himself and hold on to hope and an idea of existence that he would live, even though there were never any examples that it was possible around him. It gives me context and perspective around my own “problems.” Basically, if Viktor could find a way through surviving a concentration camp and ultimately use that experience to serve and support others, then I can get through whatever challenge I am facing. It’s a book that is both humbling and inspiring and one I highly recommend.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most important things a leader can do is be an authentic example of belief and hope during challenging times. By instilling a sense of collaboration and support that we as a team can move through this challenge helps create a sense of safety and hope. The role of a leader is to create and maintain the vision and outcome we’re pursuing at all times, but especially during challenging times. And that can be hard because the nature of challenging times brings uncertainty and stress. But if a leader can align himself/herself and come from a place of opportunity and authenticity that this too shall pass, the opportunity can be leveraged for growth. As a result of moving through it, we’ll be better. The outcome and a better reality is just around the corner.
This role as a leader is not about providing a false sense of positivity or lying to people. But clear communication and naming that this time is challenging, along with a path to move forward, goes a long way. Teams are often willing to come together to support through challenging times when there is authenticity, hope, and support in the space.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The most important thing a leader can do to boost morale and move through a challenging time is to create certainty. Certainty provides safety. Safety gives access to creative and critical thinking, as well an inspiration, which is exactly what is needed to move through tough spaces.
Although the nature of challenging situations breeds uncertainty, there are always things that are certain and can be controlled and influenced. Things like how we support our clients, how we treat each other as a team, and how we respond to difficult situations are all within our control.
Leaders who can get their team focused on what they can control and what is certain will create a sense of reassurance, confidence, and willingness to move through the time of uncertainty with inspiration.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The number one rule to communicating difficult news is transparency. Whether delivering this news to your team or to clients, transparent, direct, truthful communication goes a long way. This doesn’t mean you have to share all the minute details with everyone. But share the facts of the situation, own it, and name what you’re going to do about it moving forward to answer for it.
The worst thing leaders do around difficult news is avoiding it or not naming it directly. Sometimes we think that just sticking our head in the sand and not addressing it means no one else will notice the problem. That creates unrest and distrust. Also, when a leader doesn’t deliver and position the news, people have wild imaginations and will create stories about the situation that are far worse than the actual situation.
It’s easy to be a person of integrity when things are going well. But great leaders leverage the opportunity of challenge by embodying morality, integrity, and principles to name the difficult news, own it and what it means clearly and directly, and naming how to move forward. This tells both your team and customers that they can rely on you, that you’re there for them, and that you’re in it for the long term. Difficult things happen and the value comes from how it’s handled.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The whole job of the leader is to have a plan and be prepared for the uncertain. The future is going to be unpredictable, and that is predictable! Leaders can do a few key things to prepare for an unpredictable future.
- Be relentless. Be committed and unrelenting in achieving a named outcome. It’s the commitment to an outcome or result that is the first step in ensuring the result happens. Keeping this vision in the forefront is key. Although things may come up that change the strategy around how to get to those outcomes, the outcomes should not change.
- Remain Flexible. When naming and executing a strategy to move you towards your named outcomes, be agile. Things come up where executing a strategy becomes impossible. This does not mean that the outcomes should change, just the strategy. Communicating to your team that a certain strategy is merely current best thinking helps to position it that the strategy might change.
- Measure, evaluate, and pivot as necessary. No one likes executing something that isn’t moving us closer to the goal. When executing a strategy with the goal of achieving an objective, be brave enough to throw out a strategy that isn’t working. How do you know when to abort? You only know if you’re measuring and evaluating progress consistently. Name a timeframe for the strategy to work. At the end of that timeframe, decide if you’re making progress or not, and decide next steps.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The most important thing that a company can do to navigate through the toughest of times is to orient around people first. Ask yourself: How do we care for the employees, the coworkers, the clients? And how can we show up and understand what they need during these difficult times? The most successful companies understand that people are the most valuable resource they have. During turbulent times, if a leader orients around how can I serve my people instead of what can I do to save my bottom line, then people will trust you and be there through those turbulent times. This isn’t to say that difficult decisions won’t have to be made. Cutting expenses by laying people off may be a reality. But if a leader approaches these tough decisions from a people first perspective and communicates how the tough decisions ultimately serves them, a company is much more likely to survive.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
It’s kind that you positioned this question asking my opinion on mistakes other businesses make. The truth is, I’ve been guilty of each of these and work to be mindful not to commit them again.
- No Communication or Bad Communication. When a leader does not communicate difficult circumstances or communicates them poorly, it can have a negative impact. If something isn’t going well and you choose not to communicate it, you’re not fooling anyone. People know something is up, and oftentimes they will create worse stories than what is actually happening if left to their own devices. No communication creates mistrust and unrest in the culture. Bad communication is communicating things like “everything is okay,” even when it’s obliviously not. Lying to the team sometimes happens with the best of intentions. Leaders can think they are shielding their team from worry or stress. But the impact is often that the team feels lied to and untrusted to handle difficult news. Transparent and authentic communication builds trust and creates a culture of collaboration.
- Avoidance. When a leader responds to challenging circumstances by burying his/her head in the sand and ignoring the issue until the absolute last possible moment, the challenge can proliferate and take on a life of its own. Tend a challenge as soon as it shows up so you’re most effective at managing it and can solve for the actual challenge and not also have to manage the fallout ignoring it creates.
- Adhering to business as usual — no matter what. The world is ever-changing (and sometimes volatile). Sometimes a business strategy that has worked for years can stop being effective overnight. People who stick to what’s worked, even when it’s clear it’s not working anymore, are on the road to demise. Being agile and open to optimizing the way business is done is imperative to grow and stay relevant.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Vision is your golden ticket. Vision (a clear destination that includes specific outcomes) is the most important thing to embody, share, and train inside your business. It serves as context and supports you to have an answer to any question. Vision and your “why” is what will wake you up and light you up when things get tough. And vision is the foundation of a company’s culture. When my business ended in 2020 due to COVID, it would have been easy to put my head in the sand and give up. Instead, it was IMS’ vision that carried us through and aligned us with how we could turn this not great situation into something valuable. If we hadn’t been committed to our vision of supporting people to eliminate suffering in their lives and create a life greater than they could imagine, we would have left people high and dry during one of the most difficult and unprecedented situations the world had seen in quite some time. We aligned with our vision and our “why” and came up with a way to turn our programming virtual to support even more people than we could have if we had been in person. Our commitment to vision is what got us through.
- Know your principles and live by them to create a business you’re proud of. It’s easy to be a person of morality and gumption when things are going well. Without a set of principles, it’s much easier to skimp, belittle, or sell out when the going gets tough. Naming, communicating, and training a set of principles (and then actually upholding them) supports teams to know what to expect and how to conduct themselves when things aren’t going well. One principle that we are inside of at IMS is putting our people first. That means our customers, for sure, but also our team members. Several years ago, one of our team members was on stage introducing me before a live event. Before the intro, she was sharing with the audience some other programs we had available and inviting them to the registration table to find out more. When she asked if anyone had any questions, a gentleman raised his hand and was in a state of anger that he was being sold to and said that he hadn’t come to our event to hear about what else we had for him to buy. He had some unkind things to say and the whole audience went quiet. The experience wasn’t great for our audience or our team member on stage. Instead of letting the awkward moment pass and moving on with our program, I unmuted my microphone from off stage and addressed the gentleman kindly but directly. I let him know that if he was unhappy with our program or the value he was getting, that I would happily refund him at the registration table. Afterwards, our team member and several audience members thanked me for addressing the situation head on. Our team member felt supported and our clients felt protected since the situation was addressed directly in the moment. Because we have this principle, I knew exactly how to manage the situation from a place of calm.
- Put your people first. I mentioned this as one of IMS’ principles and think it deserves its own place on this list of important things Leaders can do during uncertain or turbulent times. People are the heart of a business and things don’t happen without them. My Team works exceptionally hard. We have programs about 40 weekends per year and a lot of our team works both in the office and at our events, which can often be 15+ hour days, 7 days a week during program runs. Recently, we had a tight program turnaround. We finished one program on a Sunday evening and had another program about 3 hours away the next day, beginning at 10am. The team packed up one program and set out for the other on Sunday evening. It was the middle of winter and a few people on our setup crew got delayed due to weather. Fortunately, we had a few people that made it through the storm and were happy to set up on their own, even though they were exhausted. I, too, was exhausted, from facilitating a 3-day program and prepping for the start of our next one, but I went to the venue and helped with set up. It was a no brainer for me. I used to do my own set up when I first started out and knew how much more work there was when even just one person didn’t show up. I knew the work would go much faster with help and I was happy to do it. I took the set-up team (now only 3 people due to others not able to make it) out for dinner after was finished setup and was floored at how much it meant to them. Even though we were all tired, the team felt more connected and more inspired than ever. Putting people first is good for business, but more than that it’s the right thing to do and can make a big impact during difficult times.
- Be genuine and transparent in your communication, especially when communicating challenges. Your Teams and Customers do not live under a rock. They know when something is happening, and without clear communication and a plan, I promise they will make up something far worse than the actual challenge. A few years ago, we made a big pivot in our business and the type of programming and training we offered. It was a shift that needed to happen to move towards our vision, but I knew the change would not come without some fallout. Before we started this shift, I had a company-wide meeting to share the strategy, and the opportunities and risks this major change would trigger. One of those not-so-great side effects of revamping and changing the way we delivered our training was that we lost about 60% of our client base. We became a different business and that business served different clients. That loss of clients meant a loss of revenue, which was stressful. But at every juncture, I shared the facts and what it meant for the business and for our people. It was a really tough year, but we weathered it as a team and I’m proud to say made the shift. I was so impressed by the dedication and passion of our team, and I truly believe that they were fueled by knowing what was happening and what the plan was to move forward.
- Be acutely committed to self-care. Especially amid difficult or challenging times, it’s so much easier to support and lead when you’re getting enough sleep, great nutrition, proper movement, and have a practice that supports peace. Make an ongoing commitment to take care of yourself so that you’re prepared and able to be there when things get tough. At the beginning of building my business, I burned the candle at both ends. I was in full-time training for martial arts, supported clients inside my private practice, and was traveling all over the world learning from my amazing mentors. Instead of sleeping, I was building my business on the side. I was exhausted, but figured it was what I had to do to make things work. That went on for many months, until I became really sick. Invariably, I would be in bed for a week at a time, recovering from a program or travel. I had to cancel appointments with my clients, and I found myself not able to show up for the things that were important to me because I was sick in bed. It was awful because I was letting people down. It took me many years to do the work to fully recover. Now, I prioritize my health and ensure that I am taking proper care of myself so that I can be there for my clients, my team, and the people that mean the most to me. It’s imperative to take care of yourself so that you’re ready and able to lead during difficult times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oprah Winfrey’s quote, “You can have it all. Just not all at once,” is one of my favorites. I remind myself of it when things just don’t seem to be coming together. I stop and start naming all the things in my life and business that are going well in that moment. And then I remind myself that more is coming and that the outcome I’m driving towards is on the way. If everything happened all at once, this life would be pretty boring.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much! You can find out more at joeyklein.com or get a free copy of my book, The Inner Matrix: Leveraging The Art & Science of Personal Mastery To Create Real Life Results by visiting theinnermatrix.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!